Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Day the top Provo met the Man Utd star

By William Allen

Published 05/09/2007

Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand (left) met Martin McGuinness and a delegation of hardline republicans at a house in the Bogside in 1975
Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand (left) met Martin McGuinness and a delegation of hardline republicans at a house in the Bogside in 1975

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness today confirmed that he took part in a secret meeting in which a former Manchester United star urged IRA leaders to renounce violence.

The revelation about the astonishing episode, that occurred in the Bogside in 1975, came in Paddy Crerand's book Never Turn The Other Cheek, which was published this week.

The meeting took place in a safe house as hardline republicans, including members of the Provisional IRA, were at loggerheads with nationalist leaders over a rent and rates strike.

A card-carrying member of the Labour party, Mr Crerand, who made 396 appearances for Manchester United and was a star of the 1968 European Cup winning side, had a keen interest in politics.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph today, he said he sought a meeting with republicans because of a friendship with former SDLP leader, John Hume, and because he thought the hardship caused by the strike - including water being cut off - should be brought to an end through a joint approach.

His book says he had no doubt that Mr McGuinness was the senior figure among the group that included IRA members and other republicans.

Speaking to the Telegraph today he said: "I was a big friend of John Hume, who was then a teacher in Derry. I'd known him since about 1960.

"They (republicans) wouldn't speak to John."

He had another close friend in Derry, Jim Harkin, who helped him set up the clandestine meeting at a safe house.

"I told John I would try to convince them that they should speak to him. I went into Glenfada Park in the Bogside, taken by a brother-in-law, and it was a dark, dark night," said Mr Crerand.

None of the 10 people he met - including Martin McGuinness - wore masks or tried to conceal their identity.

In his memoirs, Mr Crerand wrote: "I told them they needed to become political and renounce violence if they wanted to achieve their aims, and that the only way of solving their problems was by dialogue, and by not shooting each other."

"They were all football fans," he told the Telegraph today.

"Maybe that's why they agreed to meet me. I just told them they should all talk to each other. I never would have gone in there unless I thought I could get my views across.

"They weren't political at all. It was not a political movement, and only became political afterwards.

"We spoke mostly about football, but they were adamant they were going to do their own thing. I told them they were all f****** mad."

After leaving the meeting, Mr Crerand did not meet Mr McGuinness again until he turned around at George Best's funeral and saw him sitting beside loyalist politician, David Ervine (PUP).

He said today that he recalled Mr McGuinness saying: "It's been a long time since I seen you."

A spokesman for Mr McGuinness said today that he could confirm that the meeting took place, but could not make any further comment.

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