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Tommy Leishman: Legendary Linfield boss who led club to European quarter-final dies aged 83

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Tommy Leishman, centre, with Noel Bailie and Ciaran Gargan at a supporters' awards night

Tommy Leishman, centre, with Noel Bailie and Ciaran Gargan at a supporters' awards night

Tommy Leishman, centre, with Noel Bailie and Ciaran Gargan at a supporters' awards night

Tributes have been paid after the death of one of Linfield’s most successful managers, Tommy Leishman, who led the club to the quarter-finals of the old European Cup over 50 years ago.

Leishman (83), who won an English Second Division championship medal with Liverpool, passed away in his native Scotland after a long illness.

Blues chairman, Roy McGivern, said Leishman was a Linfield legend and vice-president, Billy Kennedy, described him as a ‘colossus’.

Leishman once said: “You put the blue shirt over your head and you go like the wind.”

Stenhousemuir-born Leishman was player-manager of the Windsor Park club in the mid-60s when he made 110 appearances and scored 24 goals.

He was named the Ulster Footballer of the Year in the 1965-66 season when he guided Linfield to the Irish League title.

But his greatest achievement was taking Linfield to the quarter-finals of the European Cup – the forerunner to the Uefa Champions League - the next season when they narrowly lost 3-2 on aggregate to CSKA Sofia from Bulgaria.

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Leishman later said the decision by Linfield’s management committee to transfer goalkeeper Iam McFaul to Newcastle United had cost the club a place in the semi-finals, where they would have played Inter Milan, who later lost 2-1 in the European Cup Final in Lisbon to Glasgow Celtic.

Leishman said: “The Bulgarians were a very good side and almost knocked out Inter Milan in the semi-final. I think we were unlucky to go out in the end.

“It was a tremendous experience though and I don't think we realised at the time what a fantastic achievement it was for a part-time side whose players were getting £6 a week."

Linfield director, Stephen Shaw, who kept in touch with his boyhood hero, said: “Tommy was a one-off. He was a tough tackling, no-nonsense half back on the pitch but a softly spoken and humble man off it.

“I brought him over to Belfast for Linfield’s 125th anniversary dinner in the City Hall in May 2011 and took him back to Windsor for what was to prove an emotional visit.”

Former Northern Ireland manager, Bryan Hamilton, who played under Leishman, said: “Tommy made a big impression on me. He was very much a winner. And I think that’s important”

After quitting as Linfield’s boss, Leishman, following a family bereavement, stayed on for a season as a player under new manager Ewan Fenton before joining Scottish side Stranraer.

During his time at Linfield, fellow Scot John Colrain managed Glentoran and the two were seen as bitter rivals. But Leishman later revealed that, unknown to fans, he had once helped Colrain to move house.

Leishman was recently seen in a TV documentary about Bill Shankly’s push to take Liverpool to the First Division but he never got a game in the top flight of English football.

In Scotland, Leishman also played under another legendary manager Jock Stein at Hibernian.

A website associated with Liverpool FC said the club were deeply saddened by Leishman's passing. It said he had played over 100 times under Shankly and helped Liverpool return to the top flight of English football in 1962.

Linfield fans at Thursday night’s game against Bosnian champions Borac Banja Luka in the Uefa Conference League will hold a minute’s silence in memory of their former boss.

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