The Original Bedlington Terrier.
We have now got used to the faux "Bedlington Terrier" constantly posting on Clarets Mad, but unfortunately he is not the real Monty. The one and only original "Bedlington Terrier" was the diminutive, fierce tackling Geordie, Brian O’Neill.
Brian, like many others I have written about for Clarets Mad, was a product of the Clarets late 1950’s and 1960’s scouting prowess in the North East of England. He was born in Bedlington on January 4th 1944 and came to Burnley in 1959, as a fifteen year old in preference to him heading south and joining Arsenal.
Brian O'Neill was recommended to the Clarets by Jack Hixon, a man who sent several other star players to Turf Moor; notably those two wonderful wizards on the wing, Ralph Coates and Dave Thomas.
Jack was also notably responsible for discovering Alan Shearer for Southampton and he also exposed Steve Bruce to the professional game.
Brian played in the old right half back position and became a full time professional on his 17th birthday, but had to contend with the now legendary Jimmy Adamson for a place in the first team.
He managed to play just 2 games in the 1962/3 campaign, making his debut against West Bromwich Albion on April 30th, 1963.
O'Neill was soon doing enough to become established in that position and in the following season played 35 games, scoring twice. He was a regular fixture on the Burnley first X1 team sheet until he left Turf Moor in 1969/70, having played a total 277 games for the Clarets.
Brian scored 25 goals from his midfield berth and many Burnley fans felt his departure was a major contributing factor in the club's ensuing relegation.
He isn’t a player I saw as much of as I would have liked. The seductive charms of east Lancashire’s females and college studies took precedence over football, but Brian’s fierce reputation was well known.
He may have been diminutive in stature but he certainly could put himself about, developing into an aggressive tackler, He was also blessed with real pace and his reputation as a right footed sharp shooter brought calls that he should play for England.
Sadly Brian was only got capped at England under 23 level, his Burnley and Jimmy Adamson links, perhaps proving too much for Sir Alf Ramsay’s taste? He certainly epitomised his “Bedlington Terrier” nickname which said it all about how he played.
He played in teams that were brim-full of star names for much of his time at Turf Moor and he certainly pulled his weight, helping to develop those lucky replacements for the stars Burnley sold. He always wore a smile, trade mark long sleeve shirt hanging out of his shorts, his hands pulled up inside them, socks down to his ankles.
He was of the Billy Bremner, Nobby Stiles, Norman Hunter and Tommy Smith mold, always got stuck in, and thrived in the often neck deep, muddy conditions that prevailed back then, which would be deemed totally unacceptable now.
He became a huge fans and players favourite with his ebullient personality and on the field leadership. He famously scored the winning goal against Man United with a 30 yard shot that hit the net with Alex Stepney beaten all ends up, just 2 minutes from the end of a classic encounter.
His last game for the Clarets was against Leeds United at Elland Road in April 1970, before he was sold to Southampton for £75000. Sadly the dogmatic Burnley Chairman Bob Lord continued to sell players simply to compete and survive in the in the old First Division.
Burnley had become becalmed as a mid-table First Division side by the end of the 1960s, and the following year the Clarets were relegated. It is an inescapable fact that Burnley simply could not replace a veritable army of top quality players.
The sale of Brian O’Neill epitomised the flawed strategy of selling at least two of their best players every season.
Brian played for the Saints for four years, often best described as combative and often being asked to “take care” of players by manager Bates and suffering suspensions as a result, one being eight weeks long.
He notably flattened Sheffield United’s new star Tony Currie after just two minutes and saw Bates smiling and giving him the thumbs up!
He became known as “Buddha” for sitting out his frequent suspensions and with today’s referees he might never have found his way out of the players’ tunnel! His teammates were constantly on the lookout.
Brian was notorious for “borrowing” boots; it was alleged he never owned a pair of his own. Mick Channon reminisces about sifting through the boot hamper with Brian on a Friday night to find a pair for the Saturday match!
The Saints were subsequently relegated four years later, despite beating Everton 3-0 with Brian scoring and Lawrie McMenemy, the new manager clashing with him. After playing 171 games and scoring 19 goals, he was sold to Huddersfield Town for just £40,000.
Brian enjoyed two seasons with the Terriers playing 61 games and scoring three goals, before moving to non-league Bideford as player manager and eventually moved out of the game entirely, while still only in his early thirties.
He got involved with Saints centre forward Mick Channon in buying a £400 race horse during his time at the Dell. They called the horse Cathy Jane, named after their two wives, to avoid complaints of spending too much time on their new four legged passion.
It is reported that Brian still helps out at the now famous horse racing stables of Mick Channon. He tried to mirror Channon’s success as a trainer but it didn’t work out and Brian is still living in Southampton and it is believed he regularly attends their games.
This appreciation of a true Clarets legend was written by “Oldcolner” on behalf of Clarets Mad. (TEC).