Clarets Legend Series (Jimmy McIlroy MBE)

Jimmy McIlroy – Clarets Greatest Ever Player

James McIlroy MBE, was a Northern Ireland international footballer who played for Glentoran, Burnley, Stoke City and Oldham Athletic. He was regarded as the Clarets greatest ever player, having made 497 appearances, scoring 131 goals for the club.

McIlroy, was born in Lambeg, County Antrim and he was introduced to football at an early age as his father, Harry who played for Lisburn Distillery whilst his uncle, Willie played for Portadown. After leaving school he joined Glentoran Football Club making 18 appearance scoring 8 goals in the 1949-50 season.

Burnley signed the inside-forward in March 1950 from Glentoran just £7,000 and he soon cemented his reputation as the finest inside forwards since World War II. A perfectly balanced, highly intelligent player with excellent ball control and the ability to make a telling pass he soon became a favoruite at Turf Moor. He struck up an immensely fruitful partnership with his great friend Jimmy Adamson, contrasting characters the two were the inspiration of a fine team that won the First Division championship in the 1959-60 season.

McIlroy’s other great partnership came in the remarkable Northern Ireland side of the late 1950s, where he made a wonderful relationship with captain Danny Blanchflower. The two of them shared great technical skill and a sophisticated approach to the game that made them the creative force in a side which, astonishingly, beat Italy in Belfast to knock them out of the World Cup eliminators in 1958.

Subsequently, in the 1958 FIFA World Cup finals in Sweden, Jimmy McIlroy played in all Northern Ireland’s games as they reached the quarter-finals, only to be knocked out by France. McIlroy’s first cap for Northern Ireland had come at Wembley against England in 1951 and he did not miss a home international until 1960. He retired from International football in 1965 he had won 55 caps and scored 10 goals.

Aside from the First Division title win, he helped Burnley to fourth, second and third places in the league over the next three seasons, and was instrumental in getting them to the 1962 FA Cup final, which Burnley lost 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur. Such was his status that when the footballers’ maximum wage was abolished in 1961, he became one of the first players to be paid £100 a week.

Early in 1963, McIlroy fell out with the Burnley manager Harry Potts, after which the club chairman the abrasive Bob Lord unexpectedly allowed the forward to be transferred to Second Division Stoke City for a derisory £25,000. At Stoke City, McIlroy found himself partnering the great Stanley Matthews quickly striking up a partnership which enabling Stoke City to return to the First Division. He also played in the 1964 League Cup final at Wembley Stadium, which Stoke City lost 4-3 to Leicester City.

McIlroy remained at Stoke City until 1966, when he became player-manager at Oldham Athletic in the old Third Division. After guiding them to a 10th place finish in the 1966-67 season, the team slumped to a sixteenth place finish the next campaign and he resigned as manager on the opening day of the 1968-69 season after a 4-0 loss to Luton Town. He then moved to Bolton Wanderers as assistant manager to Nat Lofthouse. McIlroy took over as manager in 1970 but departed after only two games in charge in a row over selling players.

After leaving Bolton Wanderers he returned to the town he loved working as a bricklayer before later became a football writer for the Burnley Express covering the Clarets. In 2008 he was given the Freedom of the Borough of Burnley which he was honoured to received before the club give him a testimonial match in 2009. Perhaps his biggest honour came in 2011 New Years Honours List, when he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to football and charity.

Such was the man, that instead of attending Buckingham Palace to be presented his MBE by the Queen, he made the decision to accept his honour at Turf Moor in front of the Clarets supporters so that they could be part of his celebrations. Having been part of Burnley Football Club for seventy years the club and its supporters came out to bid farewell to this true gentleman and club legend, when he sadly past away on the 20th August 2018. However, he will always be remember as both new and old supporters watch the Clarets from the Jimmy McIlroy stand in years to come.

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