The Irish League is in mourning after Linfield legend Sammy Pavis passed away in hospital following a short illness.
Just three years ago, the former star forward had spoken to Alex Mills to give an enthralling look back at his Irish League days at Distillery, Glentoran, Crusaders and the Blues as well as his amateur snooker career.
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Some people don’t require a tardis to turn back time -- it can happen in the blink of an eye. Straight-talking Sammy Pavis, an Irish League goal scoring phenomenon, comes into that category.
Even though he was brought up as a proud east Belfast man in the shadow of City’s iconic Shipyard and was thrilled to wear the green, red and black shirt of Glentoran, Sammy became idolised on the other side of town.
He is one of an elite posse that has sampled Big Two action at close quarters and, having been lured to Windsor Park, he went on to carve his own little niche in Linfield’s history by:
- Bagging a staggering 225 goals in a blue shirt
- Scoring on his debut against his former colleagues, just two days after his move
- Making 11 European appearances, hitting the net on four occasions
And, finishing fourth in the European gold boot award in 1967/68, behind the legendary Eusebio.
Although a master craftsman at putting the ball in the net, Sammy was also ahead of the game on the green baize as he was later to become the Northern Ireland amateur snooker champion.
“I pride myself in being an east Belfast man,” he admits. “I was born and raised in the back streets, quite close to the Shipyard. When we heard the horn sounding at night, which meant it was quitting time, you lifted the ball and got into somebody’s hall, otherwise you would have been trampled on as the workers poured out.”
Sammy, whose older brother Norman was a fierce, tough tackling half-back with Crusaders, chuckles when he recalls his early days in the game, that began with George Eastham at Distillery.
Having emerged from boys’ club football on the Newtownards Road, it wasn’t long before he was introduced to the Irish League. He remembers: I faced wee Wilbur Cush in my second match . . . he played for Portadown in those days. He asked me if I was related to the Pavis that plays for Crusaders? I told him he was my brother.
“Wilbur replied, ‘if that’s the case, I’m going to break you in two’. He was a tough wee man.
Norman and Wilbur used to kick the tripe out of each other, but they were the best of friends.”
Crusaders was Sammy’s next stop-off, but it was only for a four week period because he was snapped up by Scunthorpe United. After two months, he became homesick, missing his girlfriend Freda, who was to become his wife. “We are still together after 58 years -- we are married for 52 of those,” he boasts. “But she still shouts at me.”
On his return, Sammy joined Glentoran. However, when Gibby McKenzie arrived things turned sour. He stresses: “He had a reputation for transferring players. He refused to play me in the first team, even though I was scoring bags for the seconds. When I questioned him, he said ‘I’m going to move you on’.
“He told me to report to the Oval that Saturday. I thought I was going to get a game, but Gibby retorted, ‘I’m transferring you to Bangor. Meet Charlie Tully at the Grand Central Hotel tonight at six o’clock’.
As fate would have it, the Glens were playing Crusaders that day. I told our Norman what was going on. He lifted McKenzie up by the shoulders and pinned him against the wall. Only for Trevor Thompson, Billy McCullough and Harry Creighton, Gibby would have been in trouble. They managed to pull Norman off.”
Sammy eventually got his move across town to join Glentoran’s fiercest rivals Linfield. He adds: “Tommy Dickson was manager for a short time, before Tommy Leishman came in for two years. He was then replaced by Ewan Fenton.
“Leishman was a big Scot. He called a spade a spade, which I liked. Over the next three years, I scored 177 goals. I hit 63 one season . . . 58 in another and then 56. When Billy Bingham was appointed manager, he had us training four nights a week. I must say, his training methods were top class.
“For some reason, he didn’t start me in every game. I approached him, pointing out the goals I’d scored when I was in the side. His reply to me was, ‘football is not all about scoring goals, Samuel’!
“Wee Billy had a touch of arrogance about him. He wanted everyone to know he was boss. I don’t mind admitting that I’m also a strong-minded person. If I have something to say, I’ll say it. That’s the way I was brought up. My mother always preached to us not to allow anyone to bully us, so I suppose it was a clash of personalities.
“I had six great years at Linfield. I won every medal, probably two and three times over. I took the head staggers a few years ago and sold the lot. They were sitting in a box in the house. I advertised them and got a great response. It’s surprising the interest came from England. Medals, are medals. My biggest memory is what I’ve achieved in life.”
Sammy’s goal scoring exploits almost earned him international recognition, but because of his links with the NIPFA, his dream was shattered.
“I was a member of the PFA along with Billy Sinclair, Johnny McCurdy and many others,” adds Sammy. “We wanted better conditions and an increase in wages, from £6 to £10. There were big crowds in those days -- there was no shortage of money.
“I was told by a certain Northern Ireland selector (which was the procedure in those days) that I was due to be called up to join George Best and Derek Dougan for a Northern Ireland game against Israel. There was one condition -- I had to leave the PFA. I turned him down and my call up was scrubbed.”
Sammy duly moved on to Crusaders -- persuaded by the irrepressible Derek Wade -- but a horrible cruciate ligament injury brought his career to an abrupt halt at the age of 32. “In my first game, 50 fans from Ballymoney Linfield Supporters Club turned up at the match, which was a great gesture,” he recalls. "Derek chased me in the Shipyard for about a fortnight, trying to get my to sign. Funnily enough a Linfield Board member, wee George Best, told me not to be leaving because Bingham would be away in a few months. But I was really cheesed off.
“When I retired from football, I returned to my first love -- snooker. I hit my first 100 break at the age of 13. We played with old ivory balls. Sometimes they would crack and parts would fall out. In football, I played all over Europe and I did the same with snooker, going to places like Sri Lanka and Singapore.”
In his prime Sammy rubbed shoulders with the best, including Kirk Stevens, Steve Davis, Cliff Wilson, Cliff Thorburn and the controversial Alex Higgins.
Sammy concludes: “Higgy had a poor personality, but he was an unbelievable player.
“My wife and I were in London for one of the big tournaments. Most of the players stayed in our hotel. Higgy joined us for a meal. He was the perfect gentleman. But he was a different man when he had a crowd around him . . . he played to the gallery. That’s when he behaved poorly.”