Legend hopes to inspire the next generation

Harry Gregg besieged by young admirers at the lunch of the Harry Gregg Foundation in Ulster University Coleraine.    photo:Derek Simpson
Harry Gregg besieged by young admirers at the lunch of the Harry Gregg Foundation in Ulster University Coleraine. photo:Derek Simpson

Harry Gregg may be an icon of world football, but the former Manchester United goalkeeper has never forgotten his humble beginnings.

Born and raised at 34 Windsor Avenue in the shadow of Coleraine Showgrounds it was clear from a very early age Harry was going to have a strong love affair with the game.

And so it was to prove as he began his footballing journeywith his friends kicking a ball about in the nearby fields.

What a journey it was, from signing for Manchester United to being named the best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

Now with the launch of the foundation, named in his honour, Harry hopes it will help the future generations of the local area achieve their own footballing dreams.

“That’s the only reason I’m here,” Harry said after the launch.

“I hope they have the chance to have at least part of the dream, if not the full dream that I had - that’s why I’m here tonight.

“We used to play on the meadow across the way from my house, myself and all the lads in the area, we played for hours and those times meant everything to me, they made me what I am today,” he said.

“Now we, who gave the game to the world, are being taught the game by those we gave it to because we don’t have enough young people playing on their own meadows.

“We must encourage them, sell them the dream and give the game back to them.”

Peter Doherty, or Peter ‘The Great’ as Harry refers to the man, was a majore inspiration on his own career.

Doherty played as an inside left for Glentoran, Manchester City, Blackpool Derby and Doncaster Rovers amongst others.

Doherty signed Gregg when he was player-manager of Rovers and also guided the gifted goalkeeper to the World Cup Finals of Sweden 1958 as manager of Northern Ireland.

Doherty remains an inspiration to Gregg to this day and he willingly put his name to the Foundation in Coleraine in the hope that perhaps more young people can fall in love with the game just as he did.

“The most important thing for me is that young children should be left to grow in the game like flowers in the garden,” said Gregg last night.

“They will develop their own way before they need any coaching, the young people of the day should be able to dream of being a footballer, as I once did on the streets of Coleraine and surrounding

“Tell them about Peter ‘The Great’, the man who lived at the Station Gates just around the corner from me, just a few hundred yards.

“He was the King, he was the man and the footballer I wanted to be when I was ten, for he was the best player ever to play for Northern Ireland.

“We didn’t have TVs in those days but we heard and read about his exploits in England, winning the league with City and the Cup with Derby.

“We used to wander around the Station Gates in the hope of glimpsing this wonderful man, this hero of mine.

“Bill Shankly used to call him ‘The Ginger Tom’, and said he never got a kick against him; ‘he was stopping them, starting them and scoring them, that was Peter Doherty’ he used to say.

“He inspired me and I hope young people can get the same enjoyment that I was lucky enough to have in my lifetime in the game.”

Coleraine FC Academy’s community charity, which will be renamed the Harry Gregg Foundation, facilitates weekly programmes for over 4,000 people.