Raise a glass to vintage Claret
Feature by Tony Scholes
Updated Thursday, 25th October 2001
On Tuesday 28th December 1999 Burnley entertained Oxford United in a Second Division game that was to be our last game of the 20th Century.
Jimmy Mac came out to the strains of Martha and the Vandellas singing ‘Jimmy Mac, when are you coming back’ as Turf Moor rose as one. His arrival on the Turf Moor pitch had been preceded with the introduction of his former colleagues Adam Blacklaw, Alex Elder, Tommy Cummings, Brian Miller, John Connelly, Ray Pointer, Jimmy Robson, Brian Pilkington, Trevor Meredith and Bill ‘Chalky’ White.
The week after (Friday 7th January 2000) Frank Keating from the Guardian wrote the following excellent article that we reproduce here in full.
Memorial to McIlroy recalls Burnley's successful early 60s
Only greybeards now would nominate the Burnley sides of the late 1950s and early 60s as one of the Football League's top 10 teams of the 20th century. But they were. Ditto if you named the executive designer and architect of those teams, Jimmy McIlroy, as one of the century's top 10 inside-forwards. And he was. Only Johnny Haynes of England was as beguiling a presenter of a bespoke pass, short or long, as the man who played 500 league games for Burnley, 100 for Stoke City, and 55 for Northern Ireland which took in the 1958 World Cup.
Still in the soft Celtic brogue of his homeland, the ever-modest McIlroy remains as articulate, as liltingly romantic, as poetic as his football used to be as he recalls last week's ceremony. "Of course there were tears. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I think we all were.
"From the day I arrived I was Claret all through. My beloved old mentor Danny [Blanchflower] used to scoff and say, 'Jeepers, how can you stay in a place like Burnley when the world's your oyster?' I just never wanted to leave. When Bob Lord [the chairman] sold me to Stoke, I still lived in Burnley. When you see a sepia photo of me in Stoke's stripes it just doesn't seem right, it's me as an alien; crazy, but I feel only authentically 'proper' if my jersey's claret and blue.
"Finally, it was my turn, and now I was treading my old field again... and I was bathed in the arc lights once more. Oh, the emotion - soppy, really - and just about every square yard of the pitch brought back a distinct memory to me in vivid imagery and recall... a shot from here, a tackle precisely there, a particular pass from this precise spot, a goal or two, or just a little wee shuffle I once made exactly here... it was uncanny, so intense, an almost indescribable sort of ecstacy, I sup pose. I looked around and suddenly there were my four lads from the forward line, us five together again, waving up to the throng, drinking in the applause, embracing each other, old men now, but old men transported back, magically, to be 40 years younger... and, jeepers, oh what deeds we did together...
"Oddly, it was not at Turf Moor that us five transcended everything, it was under the floodlights at Leicester's Filbert Street towards the end of the championship season. Although we were only two points above Danny's marvellous Spurs at the finish, perhaps we realised that night that nobody could stop us being champions. A sort of purity, an utter untouchable magnificence, possessed us and we blended into one, each truly on song as in a single melody. I think it finished 6-3. None of us wanted it to end. Nor did the crowd. Nor the Leicester team. They were as stunned as us at the, sort-of, word-perfect drama of it. It was like the opera, when the whole arena stood to applaud us off, as a way of saying they couldn't bear us to go.