Carrick great Jimmy Brown: 'I was stabbed, lost my baby brother and helped write one of the greatest Irish Cup fairytales. It's been an amazing life'
Carrick great Jimmy Brown on '76 heroics, personal pain and his advice for Mallards underdogs
It was only right and proper that I bought the refreshments. Jimmy Brown should never have to buy a drink in Carrick.
Something rather stronger was flowing up the road at Taylor's Avenue on April 10, 1976 after Gary Prenter twice slammed the ball into the back of the Linfield net in an extraordinary Irish Cup final at The Oval.
Martin Malone had netted an early goal for the Blues but they underestimated the never-say-die spirit instilled by Carrick's 25-year-old player/manager Jimmy Brown.
It was only the third time in the competition's history that a second-tier team had humbled a top-flight giant.
Willowfield overcame Larne 1-0 in 1928, Dundela embarrassed Glenavon 3-0 in 1955 and now Championship side Ballinamallard United will aim to rewrite the history books by conquering Crusaders at Windsor Park this afternoon.
Can United manager Harry McConkey do a Jimmy Brown? And the fairytale needn't stop there as the Fermanagh boys could also embark on a remarkable European adventure just like Carrick's Class of '76.
Forty-three years on from that golden day in east Belfast, Jimmy wears a proud smile as he recalls the historic events.
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"Linfield scored after a minute through Martin Malone and all our plans to defend well in the early stages went out the window," recalls Jimmy, who lives in Larne with his partner Louise and works a few days a week at the Prom Cafe in the town's leisure centre.
"But I had trained hard, worked at my game and I had a never-say-die attitude which I tried to install into the players, many of whom had it anyway.
"The players understood the standards that I expected. They were a great bunch of boys who didn't complain. We had won the Intermediate Cup earlier that season but the Irish Cup win was magical.
"There was a great camaraderie in the team and a huge desire to win. You had inspirational guys like Albert Macklin and some deemed not good enough by Linfield including myself, George Matchett, Davy Allen and Gary who scored the two goals. The Blues had thrashed us 6-0 in the Cup the previous season so we made sure it didn't happen again!
"Linfield had Jim Lemon, Roy Coyle and the Bald Eagle Peter Rafferty and as they scored after only one minute you have to give our boys credit for turning it around.
"It was a backs-to-the-wall performance at times and we got a bit of luck when we needed it.
"Coleraine were league champions and they couldn't beat us over three matches at Coleraine, Taylor's Avenue and Seaview.
"Larne took us to a replay but we prevailed and emerged fearless. We beat Ballymena in the first round and they couldn't beat us, so three top-flight sides were swept aside.
"We played three preliminary rounds before the first round proper when the senior teams came in. Lisburn Rangers could have put us out but Carrick man Gary Reid scored a winner in the last minute. We certainly had to work hard to earn the Cup win. Carrick had a big social club in those days and about 1,500 people were on the pitch celebrating that night."
But Carrick's heroics weren't finished. European glory was to come. An unlikely European Cup Winners' Cup adventure followed and FC Aris Bonnevoie of Luxembourg were conquered 4-3 over two legs.
Next up was a last-16 date with FA Cup holders Southampton, managed by Lawrie McMenemy.
"Southampton had beaten Manchester United in the Cup final and were a top side," adds Jimmy. "We beat Aris 3-1 at Seaview and Eddie Connor was outstanding. He scored the crucial third goal which helped to carry us through. I became good friends with Lawrie, who invited me over for training sessions. Southampton beat us 9-2 on aggregate but it was an amazing experience for the team.
"For a second-tier, B Division team to win the Irish Cup and then in Europe, it's mind-boggling. Modern-day teams are now going full-time to try to get into Europe."
It was a defeat that left young Linfield player/manager Roy Coyle distraught and as he went on to become the most successful manager in the history of Irish League football, it's fair to conclude that what happened that day was a lesson he well and truly learned.
"Roy always said after that final that he could never underestimate anyone," says Jimmy, who went on to manage Newry, Cliftonville, Ballyclare, Glenavon and PSNI. "He went on to win trophies with Linfield, Derry City and Ards so that defeat certainly affected him.
"I think Roy was distraught that evening.
"Roy brought me to Ards and we had great times there and at Glentoran. There is respect there. There is no chance I could work with Roy if he didn't respect me. Like David Jeffrey and Bryan McLoughlin, we were a great team.
"Looking back, I've had ups and downs in an amazing career. I went to the old Ballygomartin School in Belfast and was a schoolboy international before I signed for Linfield aged 16 and made my debut at 17. The Blues had players like Isaac Andrews, Eric Bowyer, Sammy Hatton, Ken Gilliland, Phil Scott, Sammy Pavis and Bryan Hamilton so it was hard to stay in the first team.
"I was born with a bit of ability and I've been helped by various managers who made me more technically aware of the game. Billy Bingham was sensational when he was Linfield manager. He could inspire anyone and I'm not in the least bit surprised what he went on to achieve."
Sadly, Jimmy can no longer share Irish Cup final memories with his heroic skipper George Matchett and striker David McKenzie.
"My good friend and club captain George died and, sadly, my striker David McKenzie passed away last month," he adds.
"I was at Ballygomartin with George but he was three years older. We played in Linfield teams together.
"I found out the news of George's passing while on holiday but thankfully I returned home the day before his funeral and was able to attend.
"George was a great leader, a good talker and intelligent man. In the final, one Linfield supporter ran onto the pitch and George dropped him. I don't think the referee saw it!
"David scored a hat-trick against Larne in our semi-final replay at Seaview and I was sad to learn he passed away, aged 71."
Although there was a glorious end to Carrick's Cup run, there's a tragic footnote too.
Before Carrick faced Ballymena United in the first round, they had seen off Brantwood, RAF and Lisburn Rangers.
And, tragically, a young Brantwood player, Raymond Golding, died after colliding with a wall as he was challenged by Matchett.
"The two players collided and Raymond's head hit the wall," says Jimmy. "He was a substitute and I can remember talking to him before the game. I said, 'How are you, what's your name? Good luck', but I never spoke to him again.
"I went to the hospital after the game and his father was understandably distraught. It was a tragic event. George arrived at the hospital and I had to encourage him not to go in. Everyone was distraught and in the midst of our concerns for the young boy the game and result had meant nothing. You never forget seeing something as terrible as that."
Brought up in the Highfield area near the Shankill, Jimmy had to toughen up from an early age but one family tragedy shaped his outlook on life forever. When only five-years-old, his younger brother William's heart stopped functioning just six weeks after arriving into the world.
"My parents Billy and Martha travelled to all my games and gave me great support," he recalls.
"But William was only six-weeks-old when we lost him. That was a very difficult time as the day my dad's second son died, his mother also died. They passed away on the same day and my dad had to bury them both on the same day. I can still remember seeing the small white coffin in the bedroom.
"I was too young to take it all in. Just before William died, I was taken away to hospital with the measles and it was a torment for me but the doctors couldn't take any risks. William died a fortnight later with a heart issue.
"For the rest of my life I've asked myself the question, 'Why did I survive?' I'm 69 and never had a heart problem. My mother was told she couldn't have more children and with any success I had in my career I always thought of William and wondered, 'Why him and not me?' It's a complicated psychological issue.
"Now, as a parent, I look back and wonder how my parents carried on and dealt with my career. How traumatising must it be to bury your son and your mother on the same day?
"I've a daughter Julie and son Gary - named after Gary Prenter - and two grandchildren, Jackson and Oliver."
Jimmy is proud of the Irish League family for keeping the game alive during the darker days of our Troubles and in one horrific incident, he became the victim of a terrifying assault.
"There was a lot of nonsense going on related to the Troubles but everyone involved in Irish League football deserves credit for keeping the show on the road," he adds.
"They were dark times but so many people kept the game going. When I was at Newry, I travelled there and back without a problem. I was living in Highfield near the Shankill and I got stick from both sides when I accepted the Cliftonville job.
"In the 1980-81 season I was attacked with a knife and was stabbed on the top of my shoulder as I got out of my car to go into the house. It was about 10pm after I had finished training. I ended up in hospital and got stitches. Luckily, I wasn't seriously hurt. I wasn't going to let people stop me doing my job but an incident like that would scare anyone."
More than four decades on from his own golden moment, Jimmy has been kindly invited to the final by the Irish FA and he's intrigued to see if a new Cup fairytale can be written.
"I would say to Harry McConkey and his boys not to even think about just turning up to make up the numbers," he says. "We were a second-tier team that played in the old B Division and had to play 10 games to win it.
"Crusaders will be firm favourites but so were Linfield when we beat them. If the players' attitude and preparation is right and they do the job the manager asks them to do and never give up, they can win it.
"They've got to stay in the game for as long as they can and that will give them more belief."
Jimmy never found out where his Cup final shirt from 1976 disappeared, but memories of that astonishing win over Linfield still bring a smile to his face.
It's over to you, Ballinamallard.