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Obituary: Jackie Denver

By Eddie McIlwaine

Football veteran Jackie Denver, who has died aged 87, had a memorable career at Belfast Celtic and Glenavon.

His son Alex said: "I never saw my Dad playing — he had retired before I was born. But I am constantly being told what a wonderful player he was and how he and Billy Cush, who was his cousin, and Jimmy Jones fitted so well together at Glenavon.

"Jimmy isn't too well these days, but his son Trevor is hoping to get him to the funeral."

Friend and former player, journalist Gordon Hanna, said: "Jackie was the best uncapped player to come out of Northern Ireland."

Denver’s death means that only Jones, of the famous trio with Cush, who helped Glenavon take the Irish League Championship out of Belfast for the first time in the 1951-52 season, is still alive.

Ironically, both Jones and Cush won Northern Ireland caps.

"Glenavon, which was then managed by Jimmy McAlinden, were 10 points ahead of the field in that title-winning season," added Hanna.

"They inspired a great team, which is remembered to this day."

Denver joined Belfast Celtic from Shankill Young Men in Lurgan and, with Jones, who also began his career at Celtic Park, helped manager Elisha Scott win many trophies before that dark afternoon, in December 1948, when Jones was attacked during a pitch invasion at Windsor Park after an announcement that Bob Bryson, the home team's centre-half, had broken his leg during a collision with Jones.

Belfast Celtic toured the USA in 1949, but left the Irish League soon afterwards and Denver was transferred to Glenavon, where he was joined by Jones two seasons later after he had a brief encounter with English club Fulham.

"Jackie was special for Celtic and equally special for Glenavon afterwards," said Belfast Celtic historian Martin Flynn.

"He and Jones remained firm friends in their retirement and Jackie was proud that Alex also played for the Lurgan club and later was involved with their junior academy.

"When there was a Celtic, or Glenavon, event or ceremony, you could be sure both of them would be there and both sets of fans were always delighted to see them.

“It was a great sadness for both of them that the other ‘Muskateer’ — as the three of them were nicknamed at Mourneview — died prematurely, years ago."

Belfast Celtic Society chairman Padraig Coyle added: "Irish football has lost a legend and a gentleman.

"Jackie battled bravely for years against serious illness, but never lost his passion for the game."

Denver, whose wife Patsy died a few years ago, is survived by sons Alex and Alan, daughter Pamela and six grandchildren.

His funeral service, conducted by Canon John Moore, will be held at Shankill Parish Church, Lurgan on Wednesday (2pm). He will be laid to rest in Lurgan Cemetery.

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