Footballers' Lives with Mark Glendinning: ‘It’s very hard to watch someone you love dying but Mandy was so brave and I know she would be so proud of the boys’
In the latest installment of our popular series, Irish League legend Mark Glendinning reflects on a glittering career in the local game and the joy of watching his sons follow in his footsteps.
Q: How did you get involved in the game?
A: My dad David played for Crusaders and Larne, also at left-back. Tom Smith at Carnmoney Colts took me down to Bangor when I was 15 for a trial. I was playing in centre midfield and I can remember telling my dad 'I won't get in here, the other lads are bigger and stronger'.
He said 'tell them you'll play left-back'. I thought I couldn't do it but I volunteered and haven't looked back. I also played for UUJ and for my dad's Old Boys team. My dad ran a team called the 11th Old Boys and they used to meet on the Shore Road. Every time they played on a Saturday they were in a fight, and it was standard behaviour back then.
I took challenges from tough guys early in my career, it's part of the game. My brother David also played in our Old Boys team. I always loved kicking a ball around.
Q: And was your big breakthrough at Bangor?
A: Nigel Best was there and in charge of the reserves. I've a lot of respect for him for giving me a chance. Ronnie McQuillan was first team manager and John Flanagan took over. At the age of 16 I was put in to play with men but Bangor had good players like John O'Connor, Tony Fraser, Stephen Brown, Geordie Gibson and Raymond Hill.
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Nigel took charge and of course we won the Irish Cup in 1993. Paul Byrne scored the winner in the third final against Ards, and although I scored in two of the games, I think we'd have been happy for it to finish on one day.
Tommy Leeman was marking Paul over the three games and that must have been the only time he got away to score the goal. Bangor are a great club with great people, and it's a shame the way they hit hard times, but they appear to have stabilised and are on the right track. They have good, loyal fans and it would be nice to see them come back.
Q: Did you feel you were destined to become a footballer, like your father?
A: I probably wasn't the most confident person around. I wasn't confident in my own ability and I didn't think I was a good player. I thought I was just okay and that attitude probably held me back.
Q: Are you being modest there?
A: No, I had the chance to play across the water a few times. There was a deal done for me to go to St Johnstone when I was in my early 20s at Bangor.
I just thought 'I'm not good enough for that' and turned it down. Glentoran and Linfield showed interest but I never considered myself good enough.
Q: Was it a lack of belief in your own ability?
A: That's right. It's a regret I have now because St Johnstone wanted me. I just didn't feel I was good enough.
Q: Have you always been hard on yourself?
A: I've been self-critical, which is not a good thing. I couldn't shake off that self doubt. I tell my sons Ross and Reece (at Ballymena United) to enjoy the game.
One of the biggest compliments I received was when Roy Coyle put me in one of his all time eleven teams. Coming from him, that meant something to me, but I'd probably say 'why not this player, perhaps he should be in'.
Q: Did you have further opportunities to go across the water?
A: I had trials at Port Vale and did okay but it didn't work out. I like my home comforts too and we had our first child.
Family was the priority but there is no escaping the self-doubt I had. I just lacked belief and turned down chances to play for Linfield and Glentoran before Roy Coyle did sign me.
Q: Given those feelings of self-doubt, did you then surprise yourself by having such a successful Irish League career?
A: It has been a surprise because I never considered myself a great player. I worked hard but didn't have expectations. I'm still in awe of players like Jim Cleary, Lee Doherty and Billy Caskey when I play in charity games. They are real legends.
I looked up to those players, including George Dunlop and Lindsay McKeown, they taught me a lot. Lindsay got me sent off one time at Bangor and I can remember him winking at me as I went off the pitch!
I was a young kid and it made me laugh, we are good friends now. Myself, Alan Dornan and Jeff Spiers used to kick lumps out of one another but we laugh about it now. I would do anything to win a football match but I have mellowed out a bit in the last few years. I would two-foot my son Reece if I had to. You have to do these things!
Q: Has the game changed much?
A: The players are fitter now and more technically and tactically aware. Sometimes I think they are over-coached. I think every challenge now is contested and the referees need to be strong as they are put under so much pressure.
I think the players are protected more and they don't expect a heavy challenge. In my day I was kicked and got on with it. I was chased around Ballyskeagh one day by Davy Neill when I was 16 because I hit him with a late tackle. I can remember tackling Casko (Billy Caskey) when I was a kid at The Oval.
Billy got up and said: 'Great tackle wee man, but don't do it again'. I challenged him at a throw in and his elbow hit my face, but what a player, and he taught me a lesson. He's a good friend and I've huge respect for him.
I like a good 50-50 challenge, and at the end of the game the guys shake hands and get on with it. I think the fans appreciate that too. They pay in to see that passion and commitment. Sometimes I think I couldn't play today because the physical side of the game is gone.
Years ago referees were more tolerant, now it's one bad tackle and out comes the yellow card. You can get booked for celebrating a goal as well. I call it passion but it's been taken out of the game. I don't like the plastic pitches either. I know they have financial benefits but my view is football should be played on grass.
Q: Your Irish Cup record is phenomenal… eight finals (or 10 if you count the two Ards v Bangor replays). You must have so many memories.
A: That's why I was very disappointed for Ross when he was left out of the Linfield team in the 2016 final against Glenavon. David Healy went for Gareth Deane and they lost 2-0.
I was gutted for Ross, who had played most of the season, as I know how big a day it is. I say to players they have to enjoy it because it comes and goes so quickly, but if you win it it's a fantastic day. I was lucky enough to win it with three clubs (Bangor, Glenavon and Glentoran, right), unfortunately I lost it with three clubs too!
I loved the occasion and the atmosphere. I think winning the Irish Cup with Bangor was a major highlight as we had to beat Glentoran and Linfield before winning the final. I got two league winners' medals though missed the infamous 'Morgan Day' game at The Oval as I was suspended.
That was a difficult day as I was trying to protect the boys as bottles were being thrown into the stand.
I ended up winning Footballer of the Year and my dad was in tears when I won the league, which was nice. He was a big influence on me and followed me everywhere.
He passed away when I was 38 and it knocked my enthusiasm for the game. I played in a legends game shortly after he was buried with my mum's blessing as it felt the right thing to do. I needed that and enjoyed it.
Q: What happened to your father?
A: He had a massive heart attack in Spain, aged 65, similar to what happened to Tommy Breslin. That was very sad, I had a lot of respect for Tommy and I enjoyed talking to him about football.
The back to back title wins he had with Cliftonville will never be forgotten. Many good teams have been unable to do that.
Q: How's your mum doing?
A: Margaret lives in Rathcoole and I see her every day. I work in Shorts and nip down to see her and get my lunch. I always liked to do well for my family. My mum would listen on the radio every Saturday and she's still doing it to follow the boys.
Unfortunately, my dad never saw the boys play, it's a shame. He was more opinionated than me, I'll just watch them. I did miss a lot of the boys' early career as I was playing but I can watch them now.
I did a bit of coaching with Greenisland which I enjoyed. Reece was there before he moved to Linfield.
I can't give coaching 100% commitment because I want to watch the boys.
Q: Could you pick a best player you've played with?
A: Raymie McCoy at Glenavon was some player. He was superb. I used to shout at him to pass the ball and he would ignore me and stick it in the top corner, a real legend and gentleman.
We just missed out on a league title and should have achieved more.
Q: Your toughest opponent?
A: All of them! Myself and Tim McCann had good ding-dong battles. Johnny Jamison was probably one of the harder players I played against, he whipped in so many dangerous crosses.
Q: Do you miss the game?
A: I do, I miss the training, getting ready for games and playing. I always tell players to play for as long as you can. When you don't get the butterflies in your stomach before a big game anymore, you miss it.
I would have played for nothing just to get a game of football. I played for 23 years and found it hard to stop. Stephen (Baxter) rang me when I was 38 about coming to the Crues but my father had just passed away and I lost interest.
My heart wasn't in it anymore after leaving Glentoran so I started to follow the boys, but it was a privilege to play in the Irish League. I've a dog called Rocco and enjoy his company!
Q: Are you hard on the boys?
A: I'm honest with them, I believe they would want that. I'll maybe come in with a negative and end with a positive.
Reece has great natural talent, while Ross is driven and works very hard. They worked with good pros at Linfield like Michael Gault, Winkie (William Murphy) and Dougie (Steven Douglas) and they were first class with the boys.
They had to listen to players who have been there and done it. It's hard to listen to stick coming from the stands but I've had to ignore it. I've heard Linfield legends get abuse from the fans, you have to forget about it. David Jeffrey has been great with them too.
Q: How supportive were Linfield at that very difficult time when your wife Mandy passed away in April 2014 following her cancer battle.
A: The whole Linfield Football Club were excellent, they were first class with the boys and helped us with anything we needed. The whole football community helped us and it was our saving grace as a family.
I made a lot of friends in football and I could lean on them for support. We boot each other during a game but everyone was there for us when we needed it and I'd do anything for them.
Listen and see if you can help someone because we are so grateful for that support. Sport allows you to put things to the back of your mind. We have our rivalries but the football family is there when you need it.
Q: How proud of the boys are you, after everything they have been through?
A: I am proud of them, and their mum would be too. They are two good lads who don't cause me problems, they are a credit to themselves and their mum. They do miss their mum, of course, but she would be very proud of them, as would my dad.
One of our proudest moments was watching them play for Linfield against Rangers at Ibrox. Mandy was ill but still prepared to follow the boys, including to Ballinamallard when they played for the first time together at Linfield. Mandy only watched me in a few Cup finals but she took more of an interest when the boys' careers took off.
Q: You've come through a few difficult years, how have you coped?
A: I'm getting on with life. Football is a large part of my social life and I play when I can. I enjoy helping someone else. It's good banter when the guys get together and we raise money for charity.
Philip Stevenson deserves a lot of credit for organising the matches but they are social events too. The guys have helped me out and I'm keen to help others. It also keeps me fit.
I got to know Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers through his work at the Hospice and he's a gentleman who has always been willing to help me.
The Hospice were first class with us and it takes a special type of person to work there. Cancer is so common now and it annoys me when so much fundraising has to be done to fight it.
Q: When Mandy was diagnosed was it like a bolt out of the blue to you?
A: Absolutely. I didn't know anyone with cancer but then when she was diagnosed with breast cancer our lives changed. As soon as you hear that word, everything changes.
Mandy lived with the cancer for a year and a half from diagnosis. She was a brave woman who kept a lot of things from the boys, which was the right thing to do. It's not nice, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
Cancer can claim your life in a matter of months. Mandy was always positive and I'd say the boys miss her advice. If she had something to say she would say it, she didn't hold back and would have done anything for anybody. Mandy always protected the boys, looked after them and made sure they came first.
Q: The grieving process is different for everyone, how do you feel now?
A: You have to move on with your life. You learn to live with it while always missing the person. I can relate to other families going through something similar. It's not nice to watch. It's a hard thing to do to watch someone you love dying.
You always have that hope that everything will turn out okay but the reality is different. There's a lot of brave people out there fighting cancer and Mandy was one. It's important to talk to people, it does help. I'm 50 next year and love watching the boys play for Ballymena United. Mandy's mum and dad are first class and still see me as their son. Mandy's father Albert still goes to the games too.
Q: Would you consider dating again?
A: I take things as they come, if it happens, it happens. It has to be right. My mum never met anyone else. I'm definitely not going on Tinder! As long as the boys are happy, I'm happy.
Date of birth: April 2, 1970
Place of birth: Carrickfergus
Previous clubs: Bangor, Glenavon, Glentoran