LONDON: Jimmy McIlroy, possibly the greatest player in the history of Burnley and one of the finest in that of Northern Ireland, has died at 86.
McIlroy, a playmaking inside right in the tactical terminology of the 1950s and 1960s, was a member of the Northern Ireland side who reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup before losing to the France of Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine.
He scored 10 goals in 55 appearances for his country between 1951 and 1965.
McIlroy also played 497 games for Burnley between 1950 and 1962, winning the championship title in 1960. Burnley reached the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup the following season before losing to the Hamburg of Uwe Seeler.
Burnley said: “[The club are] deeply saddened to learn of the death of our greatest ever player. A giant of a man. The thoughts of everyone connected with the club are with his family and friends at this sad time.”
McIlroy started his career at Northern Irish club Glentoran in 1949 before moving to England with Burnley one year later. He went on to score 131 goals during a time the club describe as their “golden age”.
In 1962 Burnley finished league and FA Cup runners-up after which McIlroy made 116 league appearances for Stoke before moving to Oldham and retiring from playing in 1967.
He was appointed Oldham manager in 1965 but left in 1968, and also took charge of Bolton for a brief period in 1970.
Burnley’s Turf Moor stadium has a stand named after McIlroy and he was given a testimonial by the club in 2009.
In 2011, he was made an MBE for services to football and to charity, deciding to receive the honour at Turf Moor instead of travelling to Buckingham Palace.
In the years following his retirement from football, he worked as a writer for local newspaper the Burnley Express.
Irish Football Association president David Martin said: “Everyone at the association and in the Northern Ireland football family is saddened to hear of the death of Jimmy McIlroy.
“He was one of the greatest ever players to come from our country and, of course, he was one of the heroes of Northern Ireland’s famous 1958 World Cup squad. Jimmy was also a real gentleman and he will be sadly missed.”
A Stoke City statement read: “We are saddened to learn of the death of Jimmy McIlroy at the age of 86. Jimmy was a key member of our 1962-63 Second Division title-winning side and the thoughts of all at the Bet365 Stadium are with his family and friends at this sad time.”
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in 2008, McIlroy revealed he turned down lucrative offers to leave Burnley, including one from Italy’s Sampdoria.
He said the Italian club’s manager met him on the morning of the 1962 FA Cup final, which the Clarets lost 3-1 to Tottenham, and “promised me all sorts; a villa overlooking the Mediterranean, an international school for my children, wages way beyond what I was getting in England”.
McIlroy added: “But when I went back to the hotel and told my wife she said to me: ‘What would we want to leave Burnley for?’
“I even had a chance to go to South America, River Plate in Argentina, at the age of 31 when I went on tour with Stoke there.
“Again I rang my wife and said there’s good money here etc and she just said: ‘Sure, but what would we want to leave Burnley for?’
“I’ve never regretted it. From the moment I arrived it felt like home and it has been home.”