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Sporting Lives with David Craig: I feel humble and unworthy. Some famous stars are in Hall of Fame, and some who should be aren't

Ex-NI ace David Craig on his life after football, playing with Best and being honoured by Toon

Special night: David Craig and Rob Lee after their Newcastle Hall of Fame induction
Special night: David Craig and Rob Lee after their Newcastle Hall of Fame induction

By Steven Beacom

David Craig is 75. The Comber native is a support worker taking care of elderly people with learning disabilities.

Before that, he was a newsagent. Go further back and you'll find he was a milkman. He's as happy and content to chat about those jobs as he is to talk about his more celebrated first career.

David Craig started out as a footballer, becoming a mighty fine one in the process. Actually, he's one of the best to ever put on a Newcastle United shirt. The club confirmed it last month when the full-back was inducted into their Hall of Fame on the same night as a more contemporary hero, Rob Lee.

Craig played 435 times for the Geordie outfit over a 14-year period. He was also capped 25 times for Northern Ireland.

"I actually ended up in Newcastle by default," he said.

"At first I moved to Scunthorpe in January 1960 and spent three months there but didn't really settle and didn't do myself justice.

"I returned home and started to serve my time in Andrews Mill on the Falls Road in Belfast. I got the chance to go to Newcastle only because a very good friend of mine, a lad called Wallace Reid, who had a good career at Linfield, was given the opportunity to go to Newcastle before me and didn't settle very well.

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"They were looking for someone to give him some support and as I was a mate of his they picked me and that's how I ended up at Newcastle. Wallace only stayed for a year and I stayed for the rest of my life!"

When he finished playing, Craig decided to stay in Newcastle having married local girl Veronica. They have four children, Tara, Nicholas, Kathryn and Sarah and eight grandchildren, seven of whom are in Australia after Nicholas and Kathryn emigrated with their families.

In his early days at St James' Park, two Northern Ireland greats helped Craig out.

"Dick Keith took me under his wing and advised me. He was very good to me and was a big influence. I used to babysit for him which helped. Alfie McMichael was there as well and he was similar," he recalled.

"I played in the first Newcastle team to win the FA Youth Cup in 1961 and was in the 1964-65 team that won promotion to the old First Division and we won the Fairs Cup in 1969.

"It was Newcastle's first venture into Europe and the whole place was jumping with excitement. In the first round we beat a very good Feyenoord team that actually won the European Cup the year after.

"To win anything you need a bit of luck and we got the rub of the green and managed to win it. We weren't a team of stars. We had one star and that was Wyn Davies and the rest of us were decent players. The crowd carried us through the competition and in the next two seasons we were unlucky not to win it as well."

If triumphing in Europe was Craig's career highlight, there was heartbreak when injuries ruled him out of the 1974 FA Cup final against Liverpool and the League Cup decider versus Manchester City two years later.

"It was devastating to miss out on two Wembley cup finals but the injuries that I had meant I had no chance of playing," said a philosophical Craig.

David Craig in action for the Toon
David Craig in action for the Toon

"It wasn't as if they were niggles. I dislocated my elbow ahead of the Liverpool game and for the game against City I had torn my medial ligaments."

Such was Craig's consistency, he was one of the most admired defenders in the country yet did not move to a more successful club.

"Back then it wasn't like today with players having agents and moving around all the time," he stated.

"I had no reason to leave Newcastle. No one ever wanted me for a start! There was a rumour that Bill Shankly wanted to buy Frank Clark and myself from Newcastle for Liverpool but I was always happy so why would I leave?"

Footballers earn so much money in the modern game, they don't have to work when they hang up their boots. Not so in the 1970s, though talking to Craig there is a sense he wouldn't have had it any other way.

"When I retired in 1978 I had to earn a crust so I bought a milk round along with a player called Ron Guthrie, who was an ex-team-mate at Newcastle and played in Sunderland's winning 1973 FA Cup team. I did that for four years and had four great years," he said.

"After that I spent 20-odd years as a newsagent. The last 19 years I have spent as a support worker for people with learning difficulties.

"It is not like a job to be honest. I don't feel like I'm going to work. I thoroughly enjoy doing it. I work with elderly gentlemen with learning difficulties. Two of them have died in the last few years but we are still working with one and it is a good thing to do."

Craig would have played more times for Northern Ireland but for Arsenal stalwart Pat Rice, who was also a highly-rated right-back. Regardless, he remembers his days alongside George Best, Derek Dougan and Pat Jennings with fondness.

"I loved playing for Northern Ireland and played alongside some great lads and great players like Bestie, the Doog and big Pat," he said.

"You couldn't get three better than them but for some reason we didn't produce the goods and qualify for a major tournament at that time.

"Bestie was a brilliant boy and a truly, truly great player. To have him in the side was a joy. Behind him you'd turn around and look at big Pat and you'd think with him in goal we'd never lose but somehow we didn't win that many games.

"I heard recently that one of my old international team-mates, Martin Harvey, died. He was a great player and lovely lad. Martin and I didn't like flying so we spent many happy hours at the back of the aeroplane having a little whiskey!

"In 1973 I played for an All-Ireland team against Brazil in Dublin and I was very proud to be involved in that game with quite a few of my Northern Ireland mates."

Craig was also proud to be inducted into Newcastle's Hall of Fame. He joined an impressive list of names which includes Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, Jackie Milburn and Sir Bobby Robson.

"I feel very humble about it and very unworthy to be honest," said David, speaking from his home in Newcastle.

"There are some very famous players in it and some who should be that aren't and hopefully they will be inducted in time. I was very proud on the night. Newcastle has been good to me. The Geordies are very like the Irish. They are warm, friendly people and I've had a wonderful time here."

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