Football played a light-hearted and fitting farewell to gentle giant, Alan McDonald on Monday night.
The former Northern Ireland skipper tragically died on June 23, at the tender age of 48.
Big Mac wasn’t just a hero to thousands of fans up and down this country; at Premier League club, Queens Park Rangers, ‘Macca’ was every bit the legend.
And to pay tribute to the man and the player, former Northern Ireland international stars and a who’s who from QPR down the years strutted their stuff at Seaview to officially launch the Alan McDonald Trust, set up by Alan’s wife Tonia and close friends. More than 800 caps were on show between the Northern Ireland Legends starting line-up and manager, Pat Jennings.
And the public — from home and further afield didn’t disappoint, neither. They paid tribute to the man whose career embodied pride and passion — as one banner so precisely stated.
Having given his all for his country on 52 occasions, spanning 10 years, it was fitting (unlike the shirts) to see a host of former team-mates give their time, such as Jim Magilton and Iain Dowie to pull on the green shirt again.
As both managed the Rs in recent times, they were popular figures for both sets of fans.
McDonald, who also gave QPR 17 years of service as a player and assistant manager, was remembered in one of the few serious moments of the night during a minute’s applause in his memory, respective captains, Sammy McIlroy and Les Ferdinand swapped the number five shirt, which had been retired for the night.
As Master of Ceremonies, Jackie Fullerton, pointed out, the tribute game could have been sponsored by Weightwatchers, as opposed to McLean Bookmakers!
The pace, power, accuracy and work ethic may have diminished over the years but the competitive edge still poked through for both sides.
QPR, managed by Gerry Francis, included former favourites like ex-England internationals Ray Wilkins, Ferdinand and Andy Sinton.
When they got down to it, the chances came thick and, er pedestrian. Jimmy Nicholl’s cross slapped Iain Dowie square on the jaw and trickled wide, then Gerry Armstrong fluffed his lines in front of goal. Yes, he does miss them, too.
Tommy Wright may not be as agile as he was in his heyday but he showed he still has it between the posts on several occasions.
Commentator, entertainer and housewives’ favourite, Fullerton, was giving his best performance ever at Seaview — which isn’t much of a boast given he is a former Crusaders ‘player’.
Kevin Gallen was first to roll back the years, drilling the ball past Wright.
But Wright, who was given leave from Northern Ireland’s preparations for this evening’s World Cup qualifier with Luxembourg, was keeping the boys in green in it.
Both managers rang the changes at the interval to ensure the players had enough energy to sign autographs after the game.
Paul Furlong doubled the QPR lead before a comedy routine interrupted with Jimmy Quinn’s goal-bound shot blocked on the line by his team-mate, James Quinn.
James then made up for it, pulling a goal back but Gallen soon restored the two-goal lead.
Northern Ireland substitute, Glenn Ferguson still had time to get in on the act, scoring a consolation, his first — and last — for his country.