Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Former Linfield chairman Billy McCoubrey passes away

Billy McCoubrey died in hospital yesterday, aged 84
Billy McCoubrey died in hospital yesterday, aged 84

Linfield Football Club has lost one of its best recognised former chairmen following the death of Billy McCoubrey.

The 84-year-old had been ill in hospital in recent weeks. He passed away yesterday and the Linfield team wore black armbands during their Europa League match against AIK Solna in Sweden last night.

As chairman of the Blues from 1996 to 2003, Billy often challenged Northern Ireland's football hierarchy over what was the best way forward for the domestic game.

He got frustrated when barriers were put in the way of what he thought was going to be change for the better. Indeed, the current set-up, with the Irish League now running independently from the Irish FA and with its own staff, was something that Billy wanted to see happen some 15 years ago.

An accountant by trade, first with Inglis Bakeries in Belfast and then Milanda Bakeries, Billy took the reins at Windsor Park at one of the most difficult times in the club's history, at least in a financial sense.

The club desperately needed to cut its costs and it had the ideal man in charge for that. Although he wanted nothing but the best for his beloved Blues, Billy's employment background meant that balancing books was paramount, and he ensured that a strict budget was adhered to.

On one occasion he met in a restaurant a player the Blues were interested in signing – one who would have greatly enhanced the squad.

After being handed a sheet of paper with a list of his demands, Billy said: "The bad news, son, is that you are not going to become a Linfield player.

"The good news is that the food here is excellent, so neither of us will have had an entirely wasted journey."

That was a reflection of the man. Businesslike when he had to be, but always polite, friendly, humorous and determined to uphold the professionalism that Linfield has always prided itself on.

Originally from the Shankill Road, Billy settled in Bangor and was a fine footballer in his day, winning more than 30 medals with the 46th Old Boys.

When his playing days were over he became a regular at Windsor Park, joining the management committee in the early 1980s before, having made a significant impression, he made the natural progression to become chairman.

After serving for seven years he was sensationally ousted when he lost out as five men fought for three places on the board at the 2003 AGM.

It came as a shock, but Billy walked away with his head held high, never speaking out against those who had voted him out and, undeterred, he was still a regular at Windsor Park until recent years, when his health made appearances at matches less frequent.

Paying tribute, current Linfield vice-chairman Billy Kennedy said: "I'm deeply saddened at the death of my close friend Billy McCoubrey.

"Billy was a great chairman of Linfield, a trusted colleague at board level and a man of the highest integrity.

"His commitment and loyalty to Linfield was total and we will all miss his camaraderie and jovial personality in the directors' box at Windsor."

He is survived by his wife Annie, daughter Anne, and sons Billy and Stephen.

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