Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Jackie Denver and Jimmy Jones double act had fans in paradise

A 2012 article by the late Malcolm Brodie on Belfast Celtic and Glenavon legend Jackie Denver, who passed away on Sunday, aged 87, in his home town of Lurgan.

Published 22/07/2013

Former Belfast Celtic players Gerry Burrell, Jackie Denver and Jimmy Jones at Windsor Park
Former Belfast Celtic players Gerry Burrell, Jackie Denver and Jimmy Jones at Windsor Park
The Belfast Celtic team which toured the USA in 1949 - Back Row, Elisha Scott, Dan McSparran, Robin Lawler, Joe Douglas, Jimmy Murdough, Mick O'Flanagan, Billy McMillan, Kevin McAliden, Charlie Currie, Reggie Simpson, Patsy McAliden, Austin Donnelly (chairman); Front Row: Paddy McGuigan (trainer)Alex Moore, johnny Campbell, George Hazlett, Jackie Denver (5th from LEFT), Harry Walker, Tommy Aherne, Paddy Bonnar, Tom Dorman.
The surviving members of the Belfast Celtic side who were invited for the first time ever to Belfast City Hall for a civic reception with the Lord Mayor Cllr Pat McCarthy, pictured are (left to right) Gerry Burrell, Jackie Denver, Sam Gillispie, Ossie Bailie, Jimmy Jones and Jimmy Donnelly.

They went together like Scotch and water, milk and honey. The double act of Jimmy Jones and Jackie Denver with Belfast Celtic and Glenavon graced Irish League football in the never-to-be-forgotten years of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.

Two wonderful players whose names rolled off the Celtic and Glenavon fans' tongues with the fluency of Best, Law and Charlton at Manchester United.

Jones and Denver were inseparable on the pitch throughout their career and off it too. Each Sunday night for years it was a ritual for them to walk from Lurgan to Waringstown and back, talking about tales of yesteryear.

They are two of the fast-dwindling survivors of Elisha Scott's wonder team at Paradise. Both still reside in the Lurgan area fighting against the battle of advancing age, with Denver a double leg amputee.

Jones and Denver, the most outstanding inside-forward never to be capped by Northern Ireland, played a fantastic role in the Celtic story and when the club withdrew from football in 1949 after the infamous attack on Jones at Windsor Park, it was only natural they would gravitate to Glenavon. There they joined the iron man Wilbur Cush to become known as the Three Muskateers.

Celtic's demise saw Denver signed immediately for Glenavon in 1949, but Jones didn't arrive until two years later after a registration mix-up prevented him from entering top-class English football.

What wonderful memories I have of this trio. Take Jones (pictured) for instance. I interviewed him in hospital the day after the Windsor Park horror. He spoke openly yet with no sense of despair.

His career obviously was in jeopardy, his ambition to be a member of Celtic's USA tour during which they defeated the Scottish national team 2-0 at the Triborough Stadium, New York.

He didn't make it, but later gained three caps, scored a record-breaking 646 goals and was a key figure when Glenavon took part in the 1960 New York tournament.

Jones was a first-class scoring machine, Denver not far behind him. Jones contributed much to Glenavon both as a player and a manager and, of course, they won the Irish League title in 1952, the first time it had been taken outside of Belfast.

There were no ifs or buts about it as they finished 10 points ahead of the chasing posse. Glenavon swept all before them and in 1954 won the Ulster, Gold and City Cups.

Few would disagree with Denver's view, expressed to my late colleague Bill Ireland: "1952 was perhaps the best season in the history of the club and I personally have never played in a better Glenavon team. It had quality in every department."

Denver owed his start in the Irish League to Belfast Celtic stalwarts Peter O'Connor and Johnny Leathem who passed his home on their way from training.

They invited him to join the Celtic Park staff, but he had quite an apprenticeship to serve before the big break-through.

He was in good company with the reserves -- among them the legendary Charlie Tully and Kevin McGarry. "Celtic were a great team in those days," said Denver. "They won everything in sight and seldom stopped a match."

He loved Glenavon. "You always felt great stripping in the dressing room alongside players like Jones, Cush, Liggett and the others. Glenavon feared no-one in those days."

Denver's decision to quit playing football and the departure of the late Cush to Leeds United was the break-up of the team of all talents.

The trio still played their part with Jones becoming the manager and Denver in charge of the youth, while Cush, hero of the 1958 World Cup campaign, was the role model for every Lurgan youngster.

And then came the ultra-successful 14 year managerial spell under Jimmy McAlinden, the man who got results. That, however, is a story for another day.

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