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Malcolm Brodie: Milburn’s magic during Newcastle's glory days

How tragic to see the deteriorating shambles that is currently Newcastle United, a club with a proud tradition, founded on the dignity and honesty of the working-class.

A club now the butt of jokes and tabloid cartoons, embarrassed by some officials’ behaviour and that appalling expletive-littered rant at the media by acting manager Joe Kinnear.

No wonder Geordies, the finest people in the world, are cringing in shame at what is happening to their beloved club.

There has always been a close sporting affinity between Northern Ireland and Newcastle from that era in the dim distant past of ex–Distillery full-back Billy McCracken whose defensive tactics led to the introduction of the offside rule.

Local clubs over the years have provided many players for Newcastle as this catalogue show - Alfie McMichael, Dick Keith, George Hannah, Tommy Casey, John Cowan, George Eastham, Tommy Cassidy, David Craig, Alfie McMichael, Dick Keith, Keith Gillespie, Jimmy Hill, Aaron Hughes ,David McCreery, Iam McFaul, Michael O’Neill and Tommy Wright. Quite a galaxy.

And, of course, Newcastle United’s ultimate icon Jackie Milburn, with many years left in his career, joined Linfield on June13, 1957 becoming as big a legend here as he was on Tyneside. When the news broke in Ireland’s Saturday Night everyone assumed it was a fairytale. How could Linfield afford him? Milburn was not the normal cross-Channel has-been entering local football to collect a pay off. He had many seasons of his career remaining...

For three years he captivated the Irish League scene, added thousands to attendances at every match, scored fantastic goals and ranks among the most accomplished of centre-forwards in Northern Ireland domestic football history.

Milburn was Ulster Footballer Of The Year in 1957-58, twice the League’s leading scorer with 55 goals in 1957-58; ,56-in 1958-59,, 34 in 1959-60 and nine in 1960-61; before his departure to succeed Sir Alf Ramsey as manager at Ipswich Town. He inspired Linfield to nine trophy triumphs including the 1960 Irish Cup Final 5-1 win over Ards at the Oval. The others came from Billy Ferguson (2) and Ray Gough...

Wor Jackie, as the Geordies called him, the pit boy from Ashington, was one of my closest friends in football, a man of simple charm, a true sportsman, whose value in to-day’s transfer market would be astronomical.

As I watched Newcastle tearing itself apart over the last few months, my thoughts turned to him and those other great centre-forwards portrayed in Paul Jonnou’s book “Shirts Of Legend”, who have been the heroes of countless fanatical fans.

His magical goals - 353 in 177 appearances - were the lifeblood of Newcastle win

ning the FA Cup three times in the early Fifties, scoring both goals in the 1951 Final against Blackpool and setting a Wembley record in the 1951 final against Manchester City after 45 seconds. He died after a courageous battle against lung cancer on October 9, 1988.

The Newcastle tradition of brilliant centre-forwards goes back to the formation of the club although the first to attain widespread attention was Scottish international Hughie Gallacher who, after many abortive attempts, was signed from Airdrie. He spent 14 seasons in English football ,scoring 143 goals in 174 appearances for Newcastle and many others for Derby County, Notts County, Grimsby Town and Gateshead.

Because of his diminutive stature Gallacher, only 5ft 5ins, was laughed at by fans when he arrived on Tyneside. Surely, this was not the player who had earned rave notices north of the border? They soon changed their tune, however, when his genius became mesmeric, his predatory skill lethal, and he was eventually appointed captain steering them to the 1926-27 First Division championship.

He was also a member of the Scotland team, dubbed the Wembley Wizards, that defeated England 5-1 in 1928.

Jack Harkness, Scotland’s goalkeeper, later entered football journalism with the Sunday Post. We shared a room in a still devastated Berlin covering England’s 1956 match at the Olympic Stadium with West Germany, the first after the Second World War. His recollection

of the Wizards was fascinating and he described Gallacher as “ a genius - the greatest centre-forward I have known and that includes Dixie Dean. Gallacher always made headlines, sensation, controversy and intrigue followed him even in Belfast where he scored five goals in the 7-3 victory over the Irish League teasing home fans performing irritating tricks with the ball!.

There was a tragic finale to his life when he committed suicide, aged 55, by throwing himself underneath the York to Edinburg express train at a crossing near his home in June 1957.; he had been in a distressed state of mind prior to appearing at Gates head Magistrates Court on charges of assaulting the youngest of his three children. One headline the next day read “Hughie Of The Magic Feet Is Dead.”

Yes, that No 9 shirt is as much a symbol of Newcastle as the Tyne Bridge and the Blaydon Races.

Belfast Telegraph

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