Tommy Casey, the former Northern Ireland and Newcastle half-back and one of the 1958 World Cup heroes, died yesterday in a North Somerset nursing home after a long illness. He was 78.
They called him the Iron Man because of his tenacious tackling, total commitment and phenomenal workrate - he would have gone through a brick wall. Nobody wore the green jersey of Northern Ireland with greater pride than he did.
Casey, who made eleven Northern Ireland appearances, scoring two goals, won an FA Cup medal with Newcastle in the 1955 Wembley win over Manchester City, scoring two goals and his wife Margaret, a Geordie girl, proudly wears the medal on a necklace.
An Ulsterman to the core, Casey started work with Jimmy McIlroy, later his Irish team-mate, as a bricklayer on a building site near Finaghy shortly after the end of the Second World War. Football, however, gripped them both and they quit to concentrate on becoming professional footballers - Casey with East Belfast and Bangor and McIlroy at Glentoran before departing to England.
Casey, born in Comber, brought up on the Shankill Road and a pupil at Argyle Street School, was capped at youth international level when with Bangor en route to Leeds United then managed by the sergeant-major-like Frank Buckley. That move heralded the start of a merry-go-round of club s including Bournemouth and Newcastle United, whose chief scout Billy McCracken, former renowned and controversial Irish full back, sent him to St James Park for what he described as “one of my best captures.” Portsmouth and Arsenal had been in the market for him, too.
The Newcastle era was the zenith of his career winning eleven Northern Ireland caps, selection for the 1953 coast-to-coast Canadian and USA tour., the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and of course that cherished FA Cup triumph in a team which included Jackie Milburn, George Hannah, and Bobby Mitchell.
He had spells at Gloucester City, Portsmouth, Welsh League club Ammanford, player-manager of Distillery, coach at Everton, Coventry, Grimsby, Bristol City, Swansea, Italia Roma (Toronto), and K R Reykjavik (Iceland).
His ultimate achievements in the game he loved were winning the FA Cup medal and being a member of the 1958 World Cup squad in which a wonderful bond still exists to this day although there are now only seven survivors - Harry Gregg, Norman Uprichard, Peter McParland,Billy Simpson, Sammy McCrory, Jimmy McIlroy and Billy Bingham. All members of the 1953 Canadian touring team have passed on- apart from Uprichard who now resides in Hastings.
His biggest disappointment was when a then high ranking Irish FA official promised he would put his name forward as a candidate for the vacant Northern Ireland managership but never did. That deeply hurt Tommy who had been reared on the moral code of the Boys Brigade and was a man of honesty and integrity
When he retired he rarely attended a game and his main interests were playing golf and operating the fishmongers business he ran from a van near his Nailsea, Bristol, home. He rose each day at 4:30 am, went down to the market, bought the fish had breakfast and then went on his run.
Jimmy McIlroy today paid this tribute to him:” He battled all the way to the end. You couldn’t have wished for a more loyal or honourable colleague - hard man that he was.”
Tommy is survived by his wife, Margaret, son Paul and daughter Karen to whom sympathy of all in football is extended.