Jimmy McIlroy: A footballer whose artistry was something special

Jimmy McIlroy

JIMMY McIlroy's name is synonymous with the greatest era in Burnley FC's history.

As a younger Clarets fan I never saw him play, but listening to friends over many years I learned his artistry was something special.

In the golden era for Lancashire town clubs in 1950s, Jimmy was to Burnley what Stanley Matthews was to Blackpool and Tom Finney to Preston.

Fans throw the word `legend' around - but McIlroy fit the description and was held in the highest regard by fans of his club and Northern Ireland.

Although Jimmy had been ill for some time, news of his death was a shock. Just last week, I walked past Danny Blanchflower's house in east Belfast. My thoughts turned to the 1958 World Cup squad, Jimmy and his poor health.

I received a text shortly after 9am from a friend simply saying "Jimmy Mac has passed away".

I had the privilege of meeting him once, after a pre-season friendly between Glentoran and Burnley in 2008. Jimmy had played at the Oval before making the move to east Lancashire in 1950. It was a brief meeting, interrupted by Billy Bingham, but Jimmy was a gentleman.

Prior to the match, elderly Glentoran fans were remembering McIlroy fondly. When we mentioned that McIlroy was at the match, their eyes welled up. More than half a century after he left Belfast, he was still much-loved.

He was adored in Burnley, where he remained and lived up until his death. After football he found employment with a local newspaper as a sports reporter and feature writer. His later years saw him recognised for his magnificent contribution to the club and town.

Until recently he was still a regular visitor, before he finally and sadly became incapacitated.

He remained a universally-loved figure, humble about his achievements while never failing to give credit to his team-mates of that golden era, and a perfect gentleman.

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