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How Linfield fan Norman Little has ensured historic seven trophy clean sweep of 1962 will never be forgotten

 

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Thanks to a twist of fate and a timely gift from an uncle, Norman Little charted every twist and turn of Linfield's clean sweep season in 1961/62.

Thanks to a twist of fate and a timely gift from an uncle, Norman Little charted every twist and turn of Linfield's clean sweep season in 1961/62.

Glory boys: the all-conquering Linfield squad celebrate their remarkable seven-trophy haul in 1962 with their fans

Glory boys: the all-conquering Linfield squad celebrate their remarkable seven-trophy haul in 1962 with their fans

The Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

The Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

Some of the memories

Some of the memories

Some of the memories

Some of the memories

Linfield legends: Bobby Braithwaite

Linfield legends: Bobby Braithwaite

Linfield legends: Billy Ferguson

Linfield legends: Billy Ferguson

Linfield legends: Hubert Barr

Linfield legends: Hubert Barr

Linfield legends: Tommy Dickson

Linfield legends: Tommy Dickson

Brought to book: Norman Little with his scrapbook that captures the extraordinary achievements of the Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

Brought to book: Norman Little with his scrapbook that captures the extraordinary achievements of the Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

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Thanks to a twist of fate and a timely gift from an uncle, Norman Little charted every twist and turn of Linfield's clean sweep season in 1961/62.

Three thousand miles away from Windsor Park in a quiet corner of Canada, the newspaper cuttings about one of the Irish League's most famous triumphs may be fading but not so the memories of an exiled Linfield fan who's proud of his remarkable record of his club's clean sweep of all seven trophies that were on offer nearly six decades ago.

 

And this week Norman Little has been dusting down his giant-sized scrapbook which includes every report of every game in the Blues' all-conquering 1961-62 season that climaxed with an historic play-off win over Portadown at Solitude, a victory that brought the Irish League trophy to Windsor exactly 58 years ago tomorrow.

Chartered accountant Norman, who just happens to be my brother, is still like a walking encyclopaedia of Irish League history from the '50s and '60s even though he hasn't lived here for half a century.

Father-of-two Norman, who lives in Oshawa, nearly 40 miles east of Toronto, still remembers the Portadown game in front of 18,000 fans as if it were only yesterday.

And if he should need to fill in any gaps in his memory all he has to do is open up his scrapbook, which even has the autographs of the players who struck gold for Linfield in that unsurpassable season.

"They're all there - the Duke, Tommy Dickson, Bobby Irvine, Hubert Barr, Bobby Braithwaite, Ken Gilliland, Billy Ferguson. Iconic names, legendary players," he says.

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It wasn't until the Blues beat Ballymena United in a Co Antrim Shield semi-final that it dawned on me that the clean sweep of all the trophies could just happen.

Norman marvels at the serendipity that led to him as a 15-year-old keeping the exhaustive archive of an amazing season in the first place.

He says: "An uncle, Billy Surgenor, who was a manager for Mackie's engineering firm in Pakistan, came home in the summer of 1961 with a massive book that he'd had made.

"It measured nearly two feet by 14 inches and uncle Billy thought it would make a brilliant stamp album for one of his nephews but none of us had any interest in philately.

"I hit on the idea of using it as a scrapbook for Linfield's 1961-62 season. And as I was something of a statistics buff, I thought I would not only gather up every newspaper report of the games but I would also make detailed lists of players' appearances and their goalscoring achievements.

"Obviously I had no idea how the season would turn out. Linfield weren't much fancied after a run of fairly indifferent form.

"They had strengthened the team by signing Hubert Barr and Sammy Hatton, but there were question marks over the goalkeeper Bobby Irvine, who had initially been released at the end of 1960-61 before the club had a change of heart and kept him - which turned out to be an inspired decision.

"At the start of the season Glentoran and Portadown were the teams that all the pundits in their pre-season predictions said would take the honours."

But that's not the way the season panned out. Linfield were virtually unstoppable and the trophy cleaners at Windsor Park needed more and more polish as the weeks and months went on.

However, the possibility of a grand slam had never really occurred to Norman, whose home in east Belfast was close to Glentoran's Oval stadium which he, and I, could see from our bedroom window.

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The Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

The Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

The Linfield clean sweep team of 1961-62

 

Norman says: "It wasn't until late in the season when, with five trophies captured, the Blues beat Ballymena United in a Co Antrim Shield semi-final that it dawned on me that the clean sweep of all the trophies could just happen."

By that stage Norman's scrapbook had already cost him a small fortune. He bought all the papers that carried reports of Irish League games - among them the Belfast Telegraph, the Ireland's Saturday Night, the News Letter, the Northern Whig, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express and all the Sundays.

"I used to get some strange looks from newsagents as I purchased copies of all the papers," says Norman, who reckons that he (and I) missed only four of Linfield's 63 games that season. "And then I had to spend more money on fountain pen ink, blotting paper, and the glue to paste in all the cuttings."

Norman slaved for hours over the scrapbook, cutting and pasting all the newspaper cuttings into it and writing up all the facts and figures.

He says many Linfield performances during the season were 'marvellous' but he concedes that there were 'ordinary' ones too.

"A lot of things went the Blues' way," he adds.

And Linfield's Irish League triumph underlines the point perfectly.

For Portadown should have won the Gibson Cup at a canter.

All they had to do was get a point from their last league game of the season against Glentoran at Shamrock Park and the title was theirs.

But the Ports blew their lines. They contrived to lose 3-2 to Glentoran with Albert Mitchell missing a penalty in the last minute that would have taken the Gibson Cup to County Armagh.

The result meant that Linfield and Portadown finished level on 31 points and as goal difference wasn't an option back then, the two teams had to face each other in a Test match at Solitude in a last winner-takes-all shoot-out that would decide the destination of the league title.

Norman says: "Before the game, in a bid to bolster his team, Portadown's manager Gibby Mackenzie signed three Scots, Jim Sharkey (Celtic), John Fairbairn (Partick Thistle) and Ian Spence (Stirling Albion)."

A number of Portadown fans questioned the wisdom of the move, saying it would upset the balance of their team who had got to know each other so well.

There was also dismay at the impact the signing of the three imports would have on the morale of the Ports players, upset for their colleagues who were left out of the side.

Linfield's coach Isaac McDowell saw his rival's last-gasp dip into the transfer market as an act of desperation and used it to gee up his players, who he said had served him so loyally.

Even so, the early omens weren't good for Linfield at a packed Solitude where the gate receipts totalled £1,700.

Hubert Barr missed a penalty and though Jim Reid scored for the Blues just before half-time, Portadown equalised soon after the interval.

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Some of the memories

Some of the memories

Some of the memories

 

The cuttings in Norman's scrapbook show that Linfield bounced back and goals from Bobby Braithwaite and another from Jim Reid sealed the 3-1 win that sparked wild celebrations at Solitude with thousands of fans clambering over the fences onto the pitch to hail their heroes, who showed off the Gibson Cup from the old white house in the corner of the ground.

Thirty years later, a UTV colleague, Stephen McCoubrey, and I produced a video documenting the history of Linfield and unsurprisingly the grand slam featured prominently.

Ironically, the Linfield captain Tommy Dickson told us that he didn't rate the seven-trophy team as the best Blues side he'd ever played in.

"We were a very lucky team," he said. "We scored goals in the last minute and it just seemed that the circle had come round and it was to be our year. We just got on with it."

No film of any of the games was ever found for the video and the only footage that was unearthed was of a victory parade through the crowded streets of Belfast to mark the clean sweep.

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Glory boys: the all-conquering Linfield squad celebrate their remarkable seven-trophy haul in 1962 with their fans

Glory boys: the all-conquering Linfield squad celebrate their remarkable seven-trophy haul in 1962 with their fans

Glory boys: the all-conquering Linfield squad celebrate their remarkable seven-trophy haul in 1962 with their fans

 

Dickson revealed that the Linfield players celebrated with a weekend trip to Portrush, funded by the sale of pictures of the team to supporters.

In the Weavers to Winners video, goalkeeper Bobby Irvine said he didn't want the season to end at Solitude.

"I wanted it to go on because it was so nice," he added.

Winger Bobby Braithwaite, who emigrated to South Africa, said: "We had workers in Billy Ferguson, we had goalscorers in Hubert Barr, we had great defenders in Sammy Hatton and a fantastic goalkeeper in Bobby Irvine.

"But we all did a little bit. We tried not to be personalities but we did become personalities because we blended together and we worked together."

Full-back John Parke agreed that one of the secrets of Linfield's success was their closeness.

"A lot of us had grown up in the game together in the youth international team," he said, adding that injury robbed him of the chance to win all seven of the winners' medals.

He went on: "I got five of them and I think I cleared £40 but money didn't really matter. It didn't come into it."

The recent death of full-back Ken Gilliland at the age of 84 means that there are now only four survivors of Linfield's seven-trophy team - Bobby Irvine, Billy Wilson, Isaac Andrews and Hubert Barr.

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Some of the memories

Some of the memories

Some of the memories

 

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern, who has written extensively about the side, said their achievements would never be forgotten.

As for Norman Little, he says he hopes his scrapbook might find a new home at Windsor Park or in a museum or library.

He adds: "It is showing its age but I'm sure it could be preserved by experts.

"A Linfield official urged me after the seven-trophy season was over to leave the scrapbook in my will to the Blues, but at the age of 15 that was not a priority. But I suppose it is historic and I would like it to end up at Windsor Park."

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