Willie Irvine

Last updated : 14 November 2011

The Hall of Fame Number 3 – Willie Irvine

Date of Birth:

18th June 1943


Place of Birth:

Carrickfergus


Burnley debut:

Arsenal (a)
11th May 1963



Other Clubs

Preston North End
Brighton and Hove Albion
Halifax Town

This week we are moving forward and inducting our first striker into the Hall of Fame. Our third entry was without doubt our greatest goalscorer in modern day football and his record in the 1960s was so good it really does take some believing.

And we have chosen this of all days to induct Willie Irvine into our Hall of Fame because today he celebrates his 60th birthday, a fact difficult to believe for those of us who saw him play. It doesn’t really seem that long ago.

He arrived from Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 1960s initially as a junior but he was soon well known to the Burnley public. As he learned his trade in the B team and then the A team we were constantly reminded of his goal scoring exploits via the local press with hat tricks and more seemingly every week.

Nothing changed when he moved up into the reserves either and on his Central League debut in October 1961 he scored a hat trick, had a goal wrongly disallowed and missed a penalty in a 6-1 win over Barnsley.

It might seem difficult to believe but he couldn’t hold down a regular place in the reserves such was the strength of our squad at the time. But when Andy Lochhead won a regular first team place in 1962/63 season Willie got a regular slot in the reserves – and of course continued to score goals.

The reserves won the Central League for the second season in succession and such was his form in front of goal that he won an Irish Under-23 cap in February 1963. Two months later he lined up for his first full international in familiar surroundings alongside fellow Clarets Jimmy McIlroy and Alex Elder and his brother Bobby who was in goal.

In May he finally made his first team debut at Burnley, not many players get a game for their country before their club. It was at Arsenal and we won 3-2 and do you need to ask? Of course he scored.

Three days later he scored all three on his home debut against Birmingham that brought the season to a close.

Amazingly that didn’t win him a regular place and he played only seven games in the following season, adding another four goals, but he couldn’t be kept out of the side any longer.

From the beginning of the 1964/65 season Willie Irvine became a regular and for the next two and a half years he and Andy Lochhead were alongside Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean as the best strike force in English football.

Lochhead was no slouch when it came to scoring goals and in consecutive seasons he scored 24 and 23 respectively. At the same time Irvine scored 25 and an astonishing 37, yes 37 goals in one season with 29 of those in the league.

That’s a post war record for a Burnley player in the league in one season, his 28th (the record breaker) coming at Villa Park at the Holte End too.

Burnley were once again becoming a force, how could they not with goal scoring like this, and finished the 1965/66 season in 3rd place. We were up there in the following season too until disaster struck at the end of January, and this disaster was no accident.

It was an FA Cup replay at Everton that we eventually lost 2-1 with Willie scoring the goal but the crucial moment came when his leg was badly broken in an incident with Everton winger Johnny Morrissey. It was an awful premeditated attack by Morrissey that even forced Everton manager Harry Catterick to apologise.

Not as though that was any consolation and we weren’t to see Willie Irvine in action again until the beginning of the following season. Needless to say he scored in his comeback game, as did new signing Frank Casper in a 2-1 win over newly promoted Coventry. But things weren’t just right.

The fact is that he hadn’t fully recovered and was never to fully recover from the injury sustained at Goodison Park. He scored a few goals that season but in the March (1968) he was sold to Preston and the Irvine era was over. He was still just 24 years old with what should have been years and a whole load more goals in front of him.

Take a look below at the figures, look at the goals scored against the games played. You probably won't believe the figures but that is just how good a goal scorer he was. But for that injury he would have smashed every Burnley goalscoring record there was.

From Preston he moved to Brighton and then Halifax and his departure from the Shay and subsequent retirement from the game owed much to Burnley. He was refused permission by Halifax to play in a testimonial match for John Angus but was so keen to play he left them and retired and he was there on the night in the Claret & Blue again.

He’s Irish, and it doesn’t take a lot of working out when you speak to him, but he is as much Burnley these days and without doubt a Claret. That’s not bad for someone who nearly got straight back on the train home when he first set foot in the town with the smell of the brewery and the abattoir welcoming him at Burnley Central Station.

In 1987 it was an emotional Willie Irvine who spoke on television about the club as we faced the Orient match, as committed and as concerned as anyone else. And today he is still at the Turf entertaining sponsors on match days along with Tommy Cummings and his former striker partner Andy Lochhead.

He is without doubt the best goal scorer I have ever seen in a Claret & Blue shirt and somehow I don’t think I will ever seen one better. Welcome to the Hall of Fame Willie.


Burnley Career Record

Season

League

FA Cup

League Cup

Others

Total

A

G

A

G

A

G

A

G

A

G

1962/63

2

4

-

-

-

-

-

-

2

4

1963/64

7

4

-

-

-

-

-

-

7

4

1964/65

33

22

4

3

-

-

-

-

37

25

1965/66

42

29

3

5

4

3

-

-

49

37

1966/67

23

13

2

1

-

-

3

2

28

16

1967/68

17(2)

6

0(1)

-

4(1)

5

-

-

21(4)

11

.

Total

124(2)

78

9(1)

9

8(1)

8

3

2

144(4)

97


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