Belfast Telegraph

Down Memory Lane: The day local football was shamed

By Malcolm Brodie

Jones incident still shocks almost sixty years on since Christmas clash

December 27 1948 - a day of tragedy for Irish League football and one which, as the club's official history said: "Linfield's image was tarnished by a fringe group of irresponsible so-called supporters."

With Christmas falling on a Saturday the traditional Linfield-Belfast Celtic match was switched to the Monday at Windsor Park where Jimmy Jones, Celtic's 20-year-old bustling centre-forward was attacked at the end of a dramatic 1-1 draw by a crowd who invaded the pitch, pushed him over the reserved enclosure terracing and broke his right leg.

That incident generated headlines throughout the world, was the centrepiece of argument, controversy and litigation for a prolonged period. Even today, 58 years later it is still a talking point among football fanatics.

Most Linfield-Celtic encounters were high octane affairs - intensive, colourful and with biting rivalry yet history shows there were some magnificent fixtures. That in 1948 was explosive, a single spark capable of igniting the fire.

Let's therefore look back on that winter afternoon. Linfield's Scottish-born centre-half Bob Bryson was carried off in the 35th minute with an ankle fracture after an accidental collision with Jones; then Jackie Russell, the Linfield forward, collapsed after being hit point-blank on the chest by a ball and he too was stretchered to the dressing-room.

The Windsor Park tinder box was ready to explode and an undiplomatic half-time announcement over the public address system that Bryson had broken his leg didn't help matters. Indeed it was like a red rag to a bull.

Celtic winger Paddy Bonnar and Linfield inside-forward Albert Currie were ordered off in the 72nd minute. Fighting broke out on the Spion Kop terracing which is now the site of the Alec Russell stand.

Referee Norman Boal, a newspaper man from Newtownards awarded a penalty when Celtic inside-forward Jackie Denver was brought down by full-back Jimmy McCune. Up stepped Harry Walker, most accomplished half-back in Irish League football never to win an international cap, to score from the spot.

Celtic, with 10 players now appeared certain to beat Linfield reduced to nine men. With four minutes remaining Isaac McDowell the Linfield captain who died in South Africa a few years ago, sent a high ball into the box where Billy Simpson snatched the equaliser - a goal he remembers vividly.

Spectators raced onto the pitch sent back by police, some with drawn batons and when the final whistle went there was a further invasion, the Celtic players, goalkeeper Kevin McAlinden and full-back Bud Aherne being hustled. This was how Jones dramatically described what happened as he lay in hospital next day: "When the whistle went I started in the usual way for the pavilion. Then I noticed the crowd surging onto the field. They came towards me. I could see nothing but heads... I didn't know what to do and couldn't find a policeman. Somehow I made it to the running track and was thrown over the parapet into the reserve enclosure. I got up, ran and I was kicked. I tried to get up again. It was hopeless. My leg wobbled. I heard a policeman say 'If you don't stop kicking I'll use my baton'. I think the crowd must have had it against me for the Bryson incident."

Linfield officials were embarrassed, outraged that their name had been besmirched. The Celtic counterparts were incensed prompting them to issue a directive statement which said the "incident in its gravity is without parallel in the annals of football". They called it a "concerted attack" and complained about lack of precaution.

Linfield held an emergency meeting 24 hours later, apologised to Jones and deprecated the "ungentlemanly conduct" and would take all possible steps to stamp it out. They stated that the Bryson-Jones collision was " a pure accident" for which Jones could not be held responsible.

And they added: "No accident or occurrence on the field of play could justify conduct so alien to the high Linfield tradition."

The riot was raised in the Northern Ireland parliament, the Irish FA closed Windsor Park until February 1 for all home matches and Jones, ruled out of Celtic's historic 1949 United States tour in which they defeated Scotland 2-0 at the Triborough Stadium, Randall's Island made a £10,000 malicious injury claim and in an hour-long reserve judgement he was eventually awarded £4,361 compensation.

Jones, left with one leg shorter than the other was transferred to Fulham but due to a technicality the English League refused to register him so he returned and played a major role for Glenavon taking the Irish League Championship out of Belfast for the first time in 1952. In his career between 1948-65 he scored 646 goals for Celtic, Glenavon, Portadown, Bangor and Newry. That record has yet to be broken.

Celtic eventually withdrew from football in 1949 leaving a void in the Irish League which has never been adequately filled.

The teams on that sad, sad day, a sordid part of local football history, were:

LINFIELD: Russell (A); McCune, McMichael, Currie (A), Bryson, Walsh; Thompson, Russell (J), Simpson, McDowell, Lavery.

BELFAST CELTIC: McAlinden; McMillan, Aherne; Walker, Currie (C), Lawler; Campbell, Hazlett, Jones, Denver, Bonnar.

Belfast Telegraph

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