Harry Gregg was hailed “an extraordinarily ordinary man” and “a heroic figure” following his death at the age of 87.
The former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper was referred to as a hero following the Munich air disaster on February 6, 1958, in which 23 people were killed.
Gregg survived the crash and twice returned to the burning fuselage to drag United team-mates and strangers to safety.
He rescued United team-mates Sir Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet from the BEA Flight 609, as well as a 20-month-old baby and her badly injured, pregnant mother.
In nine years at United, Gregg played 247 times, including, incredibly, a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after the Munich tragedy.
Charlton said Gregg should go down as “one of the greatest names in Manchester United’s history”.
“Lady Norma and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg,” the 1966 England World Cup winner said in a statement on United’s website.
“I was proud to call him a team-mate. For all the matter of fact things Harry said about that night in Munich, for me, he will always be remembered as a heroic figure.
“It’s incredible to think that he went on to play in a match against Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after that tragic night.
“A shining light both on and off the pitch. For so many reasons, he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest names in Manchester United’s history. Harry will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time.”
Gregg himself was always ill at ease with the title ‘hero’ and on Monday the Harry Gregg Foundation paid tribute to a man who remained “grounded firmly in principles” throughout his life.
“Harry was an extraordinarily ordinary man,” read a statement from the Foundation released to the PA news agency.
“Extraordinary in that, despite all that he had experienced and achieved over his lifetime, he was grounded firmly in principles, morality, justice and respect, sometimes to his own detriment.
“He always remained amazed in the fortunes of life experience that a young Henry Gregg of 34 Windsor Avenue was to be bestowed with.
“Harry scorned fame and notoriety and was always uneasy in the company of pretentious ‘Big-time Charlies’ and self-indulgence.”
The statement concluded: “Another Busby Babe, never to be forgotten!”
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who took his United team to play in Gregg’s testimonial in Belfast in 2012, said: “Harry was a man of great character and a true legend at our club.
“I remember that he was always very excited and proud to host our youth team at his boarding house for the Milk Cup every summer, so he could recount the tales of his playing days. I loved his company and the many pieces of advice he gave me.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time. God bless Harry.”
United – who will wear black armbands against Chelsea on Monday night – said in a statement on their website: “It is with deepest sadness that we have learnt of the passing of former player Harry Gregg OBE.
“Harry was one of the greatest goalkeepers to have played for Manchester United and also one of the greatest men. His bravery in rushing to the aid of team-mates and other passengers during the Munich air disaster will never be forgotten.
“After the disaster, he was integral to the rebuilding of Sir Matt Busby’s team and he remained a cherished part of the Manchester United family for the rest of his life.
“Harry’s contribution to the United story could never be underestimated. The affection in which he was held by generations of supporters was immense and, although it has been said many times before, we will not see his like again.
“In short, he was, without question, one of the great figures in United’s history and his name and deeds, both on and off the field, will always be remembered and revered. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the club go out to Harry’s family and friends.”
Current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking to Sky Sports, said: “He was outspoken, he had opinions about football and he’ll be sadly missed by everyone at the club.
“He was a heroic figure, not just a goalkeeper but he saved people’s lives. He will never be forgotten at the club.”
Gregg became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when Sir Matt Busby’s United paid Doncaster £23,000 in 1957 and he was voted the best at the World Cup a year later.
He won just 25 caps for his country during an international career that was hampered by injury.
Irish Football Association president David Martin said: “Everyone at the association and in the Northern Ireland football family is saddened to hear of the death of Harry Gregg.
“He was one of the greatest and most famous players to come from our country and, of course, he was one of the heroes of Northern Ireland’s famous 1958 World Cup squad.”
Gregg had spells with Windsor Park Swifts, the reserve team of Linfield, and his local club Coleraine before moving to England to sign for Doncaster at the age of 18 and played for Rovers between 1952 and 1957.
When he retired from playing, a managerial career followed with spells in charge of Shrewsbury, Swansea, Crewe and Carlisle.