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Why a word in Bertie's ear could bring Irish Cup to Coleraine

By Ivan Little

Footballing legend Bertie Peacock has been the secret weapon from beyond the grave for the success of his hometown team Coleraine's run to the Irish Cup final, one of the club's biggest fans has claimed.

The Bannsiders take on Linfield in the Windsor Park final tomorrow.

Former Radio Ulster presenter and north coast ambassador Alan Simpson insisted that Bertie, the one-time Coleraine manager who died in 2004 at the age of 75, was the side's talisman.

So in awe of him is Alan that he conducts a special ritual before big games.

The Portrush-based Coleraine supporter explained: "I go over to Bertie's statue in the Diamond in Coleraine once a week and touch it for good luck.

"I then have a word with Bertie, but I'm not telling you what I say. That's between him and me, but I always round off by saying, 'Come on the Bannsiders'."

Alan, the match-day announcer at the Showgrounds on Saturdays, admitted that he got strange looks from passers-by in Coleraine when he comes face-to-face with Bertie.

"But it's hardly surprising, especially when the rain is pouring down, that people wonder why I'm talking to a statue," he conceded.

Bertie Peacock was a huge favourite at Glasgow Celtic, where he won league and cup medals. He also played 31 times for Northern Ireland and was part of the side that reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

Bertie went on to manage Northern Ireland, and gave George Best his first game in a green jersey alongside another debutant, legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings.

Returning to the Irish League where his career started, he was player-manager of Coleraine, whom he guided to the Gibson Cup in 1974.

While Alan never got to see Bertie play, he came to know him well during his retirement.

The Peacock statue, which was made by acclaimed sculptor Ross Wilson, who lives in Portstewart, was unveiled in 2007 by Pat Jennings at the opening of the Milk Cup, which Bertie helped to establish.

Alan, who attended the "magical" ceremony, admitted that his custom of visiting Bertie's statue did not always result a victory for Coleraine.

But he reckons he has had more successes than failures and does not want to break the habit, particularly in the run-up to Saturday's showdown, which is expected to draw more than 12,000 fans.

"The town is buzzing - it's real cup fever," Alan said. "So far, the club has sold around 4,500 tickets and there are special buses and trains laid on to bring the fans to Belfast.

"I can't remember excitement like it. There are blue and white flags all over the place and shops and businesses are bedecked in the club's colours. There are even cars in showrooms with messages for the team.

"The final is the talk of the town, even among people who have no interest in football.

"Our manager, Oran Kearney, has turned the team into something special. They're young and they're playing great football.

"The fact that David Healy has moulded Linfield into a championship-winning side has added extra spice to a final between two attack-minded, in-form teams."

Just last month, Linfield trounced Coleraine 5-1 at the Showgrounds on their way to winning the Danske Bank Premiership title.

But Alan insisted: "That's been forgotten. People here are convinced that Coleraine can lift the cup again for the first time since 2003."

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