Belfast Telegraph

Lions legend Willie John: I thought the Provos would target me after killing my pal

By Jim McDowell

Ulster, Ireland and Lions rugby legend Willie John McBride has confessed he thought terrorists would murder him during the worst days of the Troubles.

The sporting giant was referring back to the killing of his friend and Ulster rugby second row team-mate, John Haldane.

The building contractor was gunned down by the Provos at his Duncrue Street office in Belfast's docklands during the nadir of sectarian murders in September 1991.

The IRA later tried to claim the cold-blooded killing was a case of mistaken identity.

The 54-year-old's firm, like others targeted by the Provos, had been supplying construction material used in army bases and police stations.

Now, Willie John has blasted John Haldane's assassins as 'b*******'.

He recalls that he lost "quite a few friends" because of The Troubles, which he characterises and castigates as "that stupid carry-on".

Poignantly he adds: "I think of John Haldane, who played for Queen's (University) and Ulster, a successful businessman.

"I was with him two days before those b******* went in and blew him to bits with a machine gun.

"There wasn't an ounce of badness in him. Mistaken identity, they said.

"There was a guy I'd put my arm around in the second row for Ulster."

Pointedly, McBride says he thought: "They did it to him. Could they do it to me?"

The thought was particularly relevant as Willie John held a senior management position with the Northern Bank at the time, and both republican and loyalist terror gangs were targeting banks for armed robberies and kidnap ransom payments.

"I had 38 staff in the bank, a mix of Protestant and Catholic, an excellent staff," he told yesterday's Sunday Times in an interview previewing the looming British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

He added: "It was important to keep chatting to them, because you didn't know the pressures they were under.

"We had situations where they were under pressure from those b*******, who wanted to know the movements of the branch manager, what time he came to work, who carries the keys, and so on.

"You had to live with that responsibility," he said.

And yet, this former captain of the Lions squad which went undefeated in South Africa in 1974, and who is one of the immortals who won a series against the All Blacks in 1971 - the only tourists to clip the wings of the Kiwis in their own country - says that living with threat and danger back home in Ulster helped him on the rugby paddock.

He said: "A lot of those things you take back into rugby, because at the end of the day, it's all about people."

Belfast Telegraph

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