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'I could sit at home now and wallow in self-pity or get up and keep moving. But it's Dorothy's memory that keeps me going'

Irish League great Bobby Carlisle on a stellar career, sad loss of his wife... and saving a George Best penalty

Much missed: Bobby Carlisle
Much missed: Bobby Carlisle
House proud: Bobby Carlisle at his home in Lisburn
Safe hands: Bobby Carlisle while at Cliftonville
Bobby Carlisle and his late wife Dorothy

Bobby Carlisle is the type of man who can light up a room with his smile and light up your day with his warmth.

It's little wonder he's one of the most popular figures in Irish League football.

An outstanding goalkeeper for over two decades, a respected reporter and pundit for BBC Radio Ulster for even longer and today in charge of the prestigious Ulster Footballer of the Year awards, Bobby is coming 70 with the energy and effervescence of someone half his age.

Hard to believe that five years ago his world seemed as though it was falling apart.

Family and friends were worried about the former Linfield, Larne, Ards, Portadown, Glenavon, Newry and Cliftonville player when the love of his life, dear wife Dorothy, died in 2014.

The passionate Liverpool fan says it's his family, friends and the memory of his darling Dorothy that have kept him going since.

Proud dad to Paul, David and Victoria and doting granddad to Annie, Polly, Johnny, Lois and Rosa, Bobby says: "Dorothy died in 2014 and was buried on her 65th birthday on February 5. It was very difficult. As many people do we planned for the future and it didn't happen unfortunately.

"I had been going out with Dorothy from I was 15 and got married at 21. People told me I was too young but I feel fortunate to have been married to Dorothy for so long.

"I could sit at home now and wallow in self-pity or get up and keep moving. I say to people old age will find us all but I'm doing all I can to play hide and seek with it for as long as I can. It's Dorothy's memory that keeps me going.

"My three children have also helped me so much. They have been so supportive, particularly since Dorothy died. Before Dorothy died one of the things she said was that she was pleased we had a family that was so close and she was right.

"I've been lucky to have a great family and wonderful friends around to support me."

Those 'wonderful friends' include ex-World Cup referee Alan Snoddy and Glentoran great Billy Sinclair.

"We talk about investing in money but the best investment we can have in life is in friendship," adds Bobby, who started his goalkeeping career as a teenager with Linfield.

"I signed for Linfield just a couple of months after England won the World Cup. That's how old I am," he says with his cheery grin.

"I played a few games in the Linfield Rangers team and then Iam McFaul was transferred to Newcastle. They moved Tommy Moffatt into the first team and I was put in the Swifts. Within three games Tommy got injured and Linfield scoured the country to get a goalkeeper and couldn't sign one.

"They had a selection committee at the time who would choose the team and tell Tommy Leishman who he was using on Saturday. I was in the team because I was the only one available. We won 4-1 and I did quite well.

"I had tonsillitis before my second game and took medication to play. If I hadn't, the late Phil Scott, a midfielder, would have had to go into goal. It was against Crusaders and a man who became a good friend of mine, the late Mervyn Law, scored four goals against me in a 4-4 draw. I was at fault for at least two and a half of the goals!"

Bobby would move on to Larne, then Ards before legendary Portadown boss Gibby McKenzie came calling.

"I had seven wonderful years at Portadown. We had a really good team and it was Gibby who made me as a goalkeeper," recalls Carlisle, who inspired the Ports to Texaco All-Ireland Cup success in 1974.

He relished a spell with Glenavon and was ready to retire when his long-time pal Jimmy Brown made a request.

"I became like a goalkeeping Sam Allardyce. Every time a club needed a dependable goalkeeper I got offers," he recalls.

"After I'd finished at Glenavon I was going to pack it in and then Jimmy Brown took over at Newry. Jimmy is a charming, charismatic character and when he left my house that night, Dorothy, who thought Jimmy was wonderful, said, 'I can't believe you have signed for a manager who wears white shoes with a black suit'. Then he went to Cliftonville and got me to go there as well!

"I had planned to stay for a short time but ended up at Cliftonville for almost a decade and it was probably the most enjoyable time of my career.

"I'm very proud that when I go to Solitude people still want to say hello. I won the Ulster Footballer of the Year award in 1984 while I was at Cliftonville and that means a lot to me."

Carlisle is regarded by some as Cliftonville's greatest ever goalkeeper. The long-time Lisnagarvey High teacher, who continues to work for the school in a liaison capacity, also has the distinction of scoring for the Reds against one of his former pupils.

"It was against Distillery and Robbie Beck was their goalkeeper. I felt sorry for Robbie that night," says the 69-year-old.

"Actually one of my proudest days in football involved Robbie because when I was reporting for the Beeb one day, Robbie, Davy Collins and Paul Prentice, three of my former pupils and three goalkeepers in our school teams, were all playing in the Irish League on the same afternoon."

Another moment to savour in his broadcasting career came after a famous Northern Ireland victory over England in 2005 at Windsor Park.

"I managed to break all Fifa and Uefa rules to get along the touchline that night. After the final whistle I stood back to give Lawrie Sanchez a moment to shake hands with Sven Goran Eriksson and I went forward to get the first interview with the Northern Ireland manager after a remarkable victory," he says.

"Of all the things I did with the Beeb that is the one I loved the most because it was such a special night.

"Lawrie gave a fantastic interview. He was the only person in the stadium staying calm."

The best player Bobby played against was Coleraine and Derry City great Felix Healy. The best he played with? Glenavon's Jim Harvey, who went on to be Sammy McIlroy's assistant manager with Northern Ireland, and Trevor Anderson at Portadown. Anderson later played for Manchester United and his country and managed Linfield.

Throughout his career Carlisle was renowned for saving penalties. It is one in a friendly that sticks in his mind because of a certain George Best.

"I was playing for an Irish League Select versus an Annalong Select. George was playing for Annalong and in the second half they got a penalty and the big crowd wanted George to take it," states Bobby.

"He hit it down to the bottom right hand corner and I managed to save it. A woman behind the goal was absolutely furious with me but George was great about it.

"He shook hands with me and we spoke after the game. He was a quiet, nice guy and told me what a good save I'd made. Coming from George, that made me very happy."

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