Belfast Telegraph

Our sporting lives and times: James Quinn: 'When David Healy scored against England it was best moment of my life'

Our Sporting Lives And Times: James Quinn

Raring to go: James Quinn on NI Euro qualifier duty in Liechtenstein in 2007
Raring to go: James Quinn on NI Euro qualifier duty in Liechtenstein in 2007
No way: Quinn protests after goal disallowed
Family support: James Quinn with his sisters Debbie (left) and Paula after controversial clash at Millennium Stadium in 2004

By Steven Beacom

Seven seconds. That's how long it took James Quinn to clatter into Ashley Cole and set the tone for what turned out to be a remarkable evening at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland were playing England in a World Cup qualifier on September 7, 2005. Sven Goran Eriksson had David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney in his team. Most felt Northern Ireland had no chance.

Not Quinn. With Peterborough at the time the striker, who had made his international debut nine years before, was already a big favourite with the Green and White Army for his all action style and commitment to the cause.

The night Northern Ireland beat England 1-0 with David Healy scoring, Quinn entered Windsor folklore for a challenge that set the tone for the famous victory.

Now first team coach at National League side Solihull Moors, Quinn recalls: "On the day of the game I spoke to my best mate from Coventry, Stuart Kennedy, who I'd gone to school with.

"He was an England fan but he wished me all the best and just before he hung up, he said, 'By the way, don't fall for that Ashley Cole Cruyff turn…he does it all the time and people go sliding past him'.

"That had never occurred to me but in the first few seconds of the game as I'm running over to close Cole down I thought about the Cruyff turn and felt that he was going to cut back inside.

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"To him it may have looked like I was going to slide past but I checked back and he pulled the ball inside and I had the momentum to basically trod all over him. I felt his ankle squash underneath my boot and I went up his leg and caught him on the head as well."

Smiling, the 44-year-old added: "To be honest I thought I was unlucky to give away a free kick! I could have been away with the ball and David Healy was free in the middle. That challenge was all down to my mate saying Cole checked inside a lot. Funny enough Stuart and I were talking about it the other week and we had a good laugh about it."

Before kick-off Windsor had been at fever pitch. After Quinn's early marker the home fans became even more frenzied, intimidating England's players and inspiring their own.

"It was important for us to show we were going to be in their faces right from the start," says Quinn.

"It wasn't just me, the other lads were getting stuck in and you could tell England were unsettled by it. There was a phase of tackles when Dave (David Healy) and Davo (Steven Davis) went in on them and then Damien Johnson had a go at Lampard, Beckham and Gerrard.

"We were up for it and you could tell they just wanted to get the night over and done with. We knew the longer we kept our fans in the game they would spur us on and that's exactly what happened.

"They got louder and louder and the louder they became the more we grew in confidence and we ended up getting the result.

"When Dave scored that was one of the best moments of my life. I still think about it now and see it in my head. I had the best view in the house because I'm only about 10 yards away from the ball as he hit it and I was standing close to the Kop when it went into the net.

"The place erupted. I'm not surprised that stand nearly fell down several years ago and they had to build a new Kop because if you had my view that night you would have seen the foundations shake. It was the most unbelievable moment of my career."

Though born in Coventry, Quinn played 50 times for the country he saw as his own and was able to represent because his dad Jim and mum Pauline were from Belfast. Sisters Debbie and Paula were and still are James' biggest fans, travelling all over to support him.

He scored four times at international level - the first against a highly rated Belgium side as a 22-year-old was his best, a rasping 25 yard rocket in a 3-0 friendly win.

"Enzo Scifo was playing for them. He was quality and they had a good side. I took the shot on out of pure innocence and youth. I was very excited that night because it was my first start at Windsor," he states.

"I didn't sleep for about three days. It was the best goal of my career, not just in terms of quality but what it meant as well."

Quinn played over 400 times in club football in a 15-year career. Best known for his time at Blackpool and West Brom he also enjoyed an educational spell in Holland with Willem II. Knowing his days as a Northern Ireland player were over he surprisingly quit the game aged 32 in 2007 pointing out that if he couldn't play for his country he'd rather retire.

"I do regret it a little bit now that I may have retired too early. I fell out of love a little with the domestic game and I thought it best to call it a day. I gave my all for every club I played for but it felt more special playing for my country," said Quinn, a popular dressing room figure.

"I was brought up a Northern Ireland fan living in England. There weren't many of us!

"I'd be walking around as a six-year-old in my Northern Ireland kit and you'd get teased about it or bullied about it because everyone else was wearing England kits.

"All I wanted was for our country to do well and show these people what we were about. I never thought I would be lucky enough to represent Northern Ireland.

"I remember watching the World Cup in the 1980s with my dad when we were in the finals. It was huge for my dad to see me play for Northern Ireland. He was actually scared of flying but the fear started to go away so he could get to matches. He worked on a building site all his life and was very proud to go into work after internationals especially when we beat England."

Quinn, a genuine guy with a sense of fun, chuckles at the 'old school' socialising on international trips back in the day. There is sadness too when he thinks about an iconic away game in Wales in 2004 when Northern Ireland drew 2-2 playing with nine men after Michael Hughes and David Healy were sent off. Robbie Savage also saw red on a controversial night at the Millennium Stadium where Quinn ran himself into the ground and was the subject of a lovely gesture by the late, great Gary Speed.

"I got booked for taking the kick-off and the referee, who was having a bad night, said I was time wasting. Ultimately that booking cost me playing at Old Trafford against England," he recalls.

"Gary Speed was playing for Wales. He told the referee he shouldn't be booking me and tried to defend me. He was a brilliant lad and it broke my heart when I heard he had died.

"Our away support in Cardiff was unbelievable. Our fans outsung the Welsh in that cauldron."

Post playing career Quinn coached in America and at Tranmere. Now he is relishing his role with ambitious Solihull Moors.

Quinn says the best player he ever played with was Northern Ireland record goalscorer Healy.

"The best I played against was the legendary Italian Paolo Maldini. I got his shirt after the match and I'll tell you this, I deserved it. He kicked me all over the place. What a player," adds Quinn.

Then there's his song, arguably the best ever for a Northern Ireland player referencing namesake and another Kop favourite Jimmy Quinn.

'He's tall, he's thin, he looks like Jimmy Quinn, he's Jimmy Quinn, he's Jimmy Quinn'.

James says: "I loved that song and playing for our fans and Northern Ireland. It really did mean everything to me and my family."

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