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Football: Ginger Fonz is still rockin' and rollin' after 25 years

Irish FA turn out to honour kit-man McKinley

BY Mark McIntosh

He's been described as the unsung hero of the Northern Ireland football team down the years.

Fans of Irish League and international football instantly recognise him from his days as either a physio with Portadown and Lisburn Distillery and now he is Glentoran's kitman.

Derek McKinley is the man in question and he recently celebrated 25 years service with the Irish Football Association.

The Ginger Fonz, as he is known to the current crop of international stars stepped into the job on the eve of Billy Bingham's Northern Ireland qualifying for the World Cup in 1982 and he hasn't looked back since.

Told to wear his best gear, Derek was summonsed to the IFA, where he works, for what he thought was a photo call only for him to be met by players past and present as well as the IFA top brass and current boss Lawrie Sanchez.

"I was totally surprised when I walked through the door and saw all the faces waiting for me," said Derek. "The IFA told me the staff were getting a photograph taken but I was stunned. I'm so grateful to the IFA for thinking about me and to everyone who turned up.

"I've loved every minute of the 193 games I've been kitman for and I look forward to making it 200 in Sweden next year all being well. Thankfully my health has always been good and I've never missed a match since taking over after the death of Bobby McGregor. "I love the job and hopefully I'll be about to do it for as long as the IFA need me."

Throughout the years, Derek has become an integral cog in the IFA wheel and the governing body recently acknowledged his outstanding service.

"People sometimes take what Derek does for granted but he makes life so much easier for all of us," said Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez. " I had always enjoyed his company on trips and I know the players think the world of him.

"It must seem like he has been there forever though as I remember him when I was playing."

IFA President Jim Boyce also paid tribute to Derek's commitment to Northern Ireland.

He said: "Whenever there is a problem Derek is always there to lend a hand and it was very important for the Irish Football Association to recognise the contribution he has made over the 25 years.

"The place would not be the same without him."

Former assistant manager and hero of the 1982 World cup in Spain, Gerry Armstrong, said: "Derek was a friend to all the players when I was in the squad and it says a lot about him that those same players are all still personal friends of his now.

"He is a gentleman and the players have always held him in the highest esteem.

"What he does usually goes unnoticed to the outside world but we could not have got through some trips without him."

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