Belfast Telegraph

Jimmy Jones: genius, gentleman... legend

local football mourns the passing of a memorable character and goal machine

Graham Luney

Irish League football is mourning the passing of a legend. In football, there are good players, great players and special players. Jimmy Jones was a special player, a special talent and he leaves behind special memories.

Anyone privileged enough to watch this goal machine find the net with consummate ease will cherish those memories.

Statistics are often brandished about and carry little significance but Jimmy's stats tell an extraordinary tale – it's the story of a genius at work, a genuine legend.

Northern Ireland's top goalscorer with 646 goals – 331 in the league – he was some distance ahead of other leading marksmen Glenn Ferguson (563) and Joe Bambrick (561).

Jones was the leading scorer in the Irish League for 10 successive seasons from 1952/53 to 1961/62.

And he scored a remarkable 74 goals in the 1956/57 season – a league record that still stands.

The late Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor Malcolm Brodie remembered Jones as a "relentless scoring machine."

He was born in Keady, County Armagh on July 25, 1928 and earned legendary status with his goalscoring exploits in the colours of Glenavon.

Just a few months ago, the Jimmy Jones Suite was established at Mourneview Park to honour the contribution of the Lurgan Blues' former player, captain and manager.

He scored 517 goals for the club and was too hot to handle during that golden ten-year period from the 1952/53 season.

Jimmy was also captain on the club tour of the USA in 1960 and manager from 1969-72.

His goals helped fire Glenavon to three league titles – including their first league championship in 1952, a first triumph for a side outside Belfast – and three Irish Cups.

The fearless class of 1952 was probably the greatest ever Glenavon team as they cruised to the championship, 10 points ahead of anyone else.

In 1954 the team went on to win the Ulster, Gold and City Cups.

But even before Jones dazzled for the Lurgan Blues he had hit the headlines, though not for desirable reasons.

His glittering career began at Belfast Celtic where his sharp-shooting skills were spotted by their manager, former Liverpool and Ireland goalkeeper Elisha Scott.

Jones linked up with Jackie Denver, a lethal partnership that continued at Glenavon.

Denver, a close pal of Jones, sadly passed away in 2012 in his home town of Lurgan.

Jones notched 63 goals in his first campaign for Belfast Celtic, before his future was plunged into doubt following an explosive derby with rivals Linfield at Windsor Park on December 27, 1948.

During an ill-tempered 2-2 draw, which saw both sides reduced to 10 men, Linfield defender Bob Bryson suffered a broken leg in an accidental clash with the Belfast Celtic striker in the 35th minute.

Mid-way through the second half, it was announced on the public address system that Bryson's leg had been broken – and tensions rose among the 27,000 strong crowd.

On the final whistle, angry Linfield fans invaded the pitch and attacked Jones who was knocked unconscious and sustained a broken leg of his own, which would require four operations to set.

He was thrown over the wall which surrounded the pitch as rioting broke out at the end of the game.

"I was scared to death," Jones later recalled. "I tried to get up, but my leg was hanging limp."

In 2003, Jones was invited to become the inaugural President of the Belfast Celtic Society and remained in this position until his passing.

A Belfast Celtic Society statement yesterday read: "Jones's life was saved by his friend Sean McCann, the Ballymena United goalkeeper.

He subsequently spent many months recuperating in the same hospital where leading orthopaedic surgeon James Withers had fought to save his leg from amputation."

Celtic withdrew from football in the summer of 1949 and there were fears Jones' career was over but Malcolm Brodie recalled: "I interviewed him in hospital the day after the Windsor Park horror. He spoke openly yet with no sense of despair."

The striker was devastated to miss Celtic's USA tour during which they defeated the Scottish national team 2-0 at the Triborough Stadium, New York.

But he fought to return to duty and he signed for Fulham in 1950 for £3,000, however a technicality led the English Football League to reject his registration and he could only play reserve-team games for the west London outfit.

In 1951 he returned to Northern Ireland and Glenavon where he weaved his magic.

Jimmy also played 14 games for Portadown and had spells with Bangor, Larne and Newry but it was his goalscoring heroics for Belfast Celtic and Glenavon which thrilled Irish League fans.

Jones made three Northern Ireland appearances. He scored once and remained unbeaten on the international stage.

He also scored three goals in the Irish League team which defeated the Football League 5-3 at Windsor Park in 1953, a remarkable performance.

While football was his number one passion, he was also a motorcycle enthusiast, competing in the North West 200 and Skerries 100 races.

His sad passing at the age of 85 has unleashed a wave of glowing tributes and cherished memories.

His contribution to Irish League football was immense.

Perhaps his performances lacked a little flair or flamboyance but he once said: "I'm there to put the ball in the net – nothing else."

And he did precisely that... 646 times.

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