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Clubs pay tribute to one of Irish League's true greats Arthur Stewart

obituary

By Graham Luney

Glentoran and Ballymena United have led the tributes to one of the Irish League's greatest ever defenders, Arthur Stewart, who has passed away at the age of 76.

The former Northern Ireland international, who was part of the legendary Detroit Cougars, was a class act on the pitch and immensely popular off it.

As well as earning international recognition, he gave outstanding service over a 20-year career to both Glentoran and Ballymena United, both as a player and as a manager.

At the Glens he became a hero, winning three Irish League titles, one Irish Cup and many other domestic cup competitions during seven memorable seasons at The Oval.

He starred in the legendary Detroit Cougars team that toured the United States during the summer of 1967, just after winning a first full international cap - six more followed.

Later that year he earned a move to Brian Clough's Derby County for £10,000 and he spent two and a half seasons at the Baseball Ground, captaining the club in the old English Second Division.

Stewart made a total of 35 appearances and scored two goals for County.

His hometown club was Ballymena United and that's where he began to stamp his class on the Irish League landscape, coming to prominence during the 1960/61 season, winning his first senior medal with the Sky Blues when United lifted the Ulster Cup for the first time in the club's history.

He also gained five caps for the Northern Ireland Amateur International side and was dubbed the "second Danny Blanchflower". Within months of his arrival at the Oval, Stewart, still just 19, had by the season's end made 52 appearances for Glentoran.

Perhaps the best year of Stewart's long career was 1967 which began with an Ulster Cup success, by February the Gold Cup and Irish League title had also been claimed, and the City Cup was added with a final win over Linfield.

Stewart was rewarded for his form with his first cap, in a 0-0 Home Nations draw with Wales.

With him crowned as the club's 'Player of the Year', the Glens departed for America to take part in the trail-blazing US Soccer Association championship. The Detroit Cougars, the name given to the Glens team, held their own against sides from across the world - including Stoke, Wolves, Hibs and Shamrock Rovers. As the 1967/68 campaign began Stewart continued his good form. He added two further caps, featuring in the famous 1-0 victory over Scotland alongside an on fire George Best.

After his spell at Derby he moved back to Ballymena in August 1970 and stepped in as player-manager in 1971. In 1974 he was named Ulster Footballer of the Year and he also played for Distillery, New Jersey Americans, Bangor City and Cliftonville.

Stewart, went on to manage Glentoran in the late '70s and was also boss of Ballyclare Comrades in 1981 and later managed Ballymoney United.

The east Belfast side stated: "Everyone at Glentoran Football Club was saddened to learn of the passing of Arthur Stewart.

"On behalf of the president, chairman, board of directors, staff, players and supporters, we extend our deepest sympathy to Arthur's wife Eileen, sons Paul and James and his surviving brothers and sisters; Allen, John, Trevor, Dorothy and Olive.

"You are all in our thoughts and prayers at this sad time."

Ballymena United paid tribute, saying: "It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of former player Arthur Stewart.

"Not only would he be high on the 'greatest player' list for many supporters of that era, but Arthur was also revered as an absolute gentleman from those who knew him."

The Sky Blues added: "Arthur was one of the greatest players to grace the famous Sky Blue shirt and an honour to call him one of our own."

Belfast Telegraph

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