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Back Then: The truly legendary reign of John Colrain

New book chronicles the legacy of Glentoran's revered former player-manager

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 07/04/2015

John Colrain arrived at the Oval in 1966 and led Glentoran to back-to-back league titles
John Colrain arrived at the Oval in 1966 and led Glentoran to back-to-back league titles
John Colrain arrived at the Oval in 1966 and led Glentoran to back-to-back league titles

Just how long does it take to become a sporting legend? According to dedicated Glentoran fan Philip Stevenson in a book he has written about the late John Colrain, the club's one-time player-manager, the answer is two years. But only if the person bidding for a place in Irish League folklore has the quality and character required.

"And Big John had these two essentials in abundance," says salesman Philip, who is launching the tome in the McLean Suite at The Oval on Saturday afternoon (1pm) when four of Colrain's children, daughters Lisa and Laura and sons John Jr and Paul are coming over from Scotland for the ceremony.

Another son, Kevin, can't make it to Belfast, but has written the foreword to John Colrain: A Life in Football.

Apart from his charm and personality which earned him the respect of the Glentoran faithful, Colrain, a Scottish international, knew his football.

He arrived at the Oval in 1966 and over the next two seasons, led the team to back-to-back Irish League titles, guided them to a draw at home to Rangers and oversaw unforgettable performances against mighty Benfica in the European Cup, drawing 1-1 at the Oval and 0-0 away, only to lose the tie on the away goals rule.

And author Stevenson adds: "Let us reminisce about a tour of North America under the guise of the Detroit Cougars on which John and his Glensmen took on some of the best from the UK, Europe and South America and held their own in a US League."

Big John, who died 30 years ago at the age of just 47, spent four seasons at Celtic with the late Bertie Peacock among his team-mates. He later played for Clyde and Ipswich Town before heading to Belfast as player-manager at the Oval.

Glentoran fan Stevenson has spent many years researching the John Colrain story, speaking to former team- mates like Walter Bruce, John Kennedy and Danny Trainor and other players who worked under him, his family and friends and the Glentoran fans who fell under the spell of this most charismatic of managers.

Don't miss a Tornado barrelling through skies of Aldergrove next week

A reminder that the RAF still has a role to play at Aldergrove will happen on Thursday, April 16 when a ground attack Tornado GR4 flies in from 12 (B) Squadron at RAF Marham to conduct normal training in the skies of Co Antrim. "It will be a rare opportunity to see the Tornado at work," says Squadron Leader Jacqueline Rankin at the base which has been known as RAF Aldergrove since the 1920s and was once exclusively Air Force.

The occasion will be used to showcase the roles of the reservists of 502 (Ulster) Squadron and of RFCA (The Reserve Forces & Cadets Association).

Wing Commander James Armstrong, commanding officer of the comparatively new 502, says the squadron now has 100 part-time recruits and is thriving. A highlight of the Tornado visit will see the plane detour on April 16 to the North Coast on its way to Aldergrove for a celebratory flypast to launch the Air Waves Portrush 2015 air show. It will be seen in that flypast over the port at around 11.45am. The Portrush aerial spectacular, which is among the biggest air shows staged annually in the UK, will take place over the weekend September 5 and 6.

Belfast Telegraph

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