Belfast Telegraph

Sons of rival Irish Cup final bosses unite against cancer that took both of their dads

A young John Hutton (left) in the Cliftonville dugout with his father, Jackie (right), and Jackie Patterson
A young John Hutton (left) in the Cliftonville dugout with his father, Jackie (right), and Jackie Patterson
Bertie Neill
Stephen Neill
John Hutton

By Stuart McKinley

Forty years ago, their fathers stood on the touchline at Windsor Park as rival managers in the Irish Cup final.

Today they will step out together, united by a bond that goes far beyond football - even though that is a common link throughout.

Both John Hutton and Stephen Neill lost their fathers to cancer within the space of a couple of months in 2015. Jackie Hutton led Cliftonville to Irish Cup glory against Portadown in 1979, when a last-minute goal left Bertie Neill - and the 14-year-old Stephen - heartbroken after a 3-2 defeat.

Their shared loss has motivated them to take part in Prostate Cancer UK's March For Men, led by Sky Sports personality Jeff Stelling, which will cover 26 miles across the four main Irish League stadiums in Belfast.

Northern Ireland is the second stop on the four-day event, which started in Glasgow yesterday and will take in Cardiff tomorrow before finishing in London, at Wembley Stadium itself, on Sunday evening.

One 26-mile march isn't enough for 51-year-old John, though, there were too many signs for him to ignore when the Glasgow and Belfast marches were announced, prompting him to do both, along with his son, Matthew.

"I'd done Movember and some other things for charity cancers, even before dad died," said John.

"It was weird how this happened, though. Unbelievably, it was on April 23, on what would have been dad's 75th birthday, that I spotted the March for Men on the internet.

"I thought I might give it a go, then the more I looked at it, the more the signs were there that I should.

"The Glasgow walk was finishing at Hamilton Academical - where dad started his career - taking in Ibrox - he was a Rangers fan and all our family are Rangers fans - and in between the last two grounds, Motherwell and Hamilton, is Bellshill, where he grew up.

"When I saw the four Belfast venues, it was telling me that I just had to do that as well.

"All four venues are significant to our family and it's quite emotional for us. It's a walk down memory lane as much as anything else.

"Glentoran was the first club that he signed for when he came to Northern Ireland after meeting my mum. He won the Irish Cup at Cliftonville and then finished at Crusaders. The walk finishing at Windsor Park really put it on to me because we had that special day there in April 1979 when Cliftonville won the Irish Cup."

Stephen's family has football in the blood on both sides. As well as Bertie joining Tottenham Hotspur in the late 1950s, he had a varied Irish League career and coached at Oldham Athletic and Stoke City before winning trophies with Bangor and Portadown and later managing Distillery.

Stephen's uncle on his mother's side was Northern Ireland great Jimmy McIlroy.

"I've had many members of my family suffer from different forms of cancer, including my dad, and just in the last few days, we've had another friend die from the disease," said Stephen.

"Too many of them have been down to late diagnosis and too often, we are afraid to get checked out.

"I've never done anything about it before, but I thought it was about time now that I am in my mid-50s and I should get up off my backside.

"The local connections to the March For Men were screaming out at me. Dad managed at all four grounds during his career and although my uncle Jimmy is more well known as a legend at Burnley, he started out his career at Glentoran and then played at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland."

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