Irish League Lives: How a starring role on a melting ice pitch made Justin McBride's Glentoran dream come true
He'll never be a contestant on Dancing On Ice, but Justin McBride admits he skated to a fabulous 16-year Irish League career on the back of a performance on an ice rink!
As a fresh-faced teenager, Justin was on the books of Carrick Rangers, then managed by Jimmy Hill.
When he progressed through the system he was handed a first team debut by Robbie Barr, who had replaced the former Linfield and Derry City man.
But it was his display in the Soccer Sixes - a tournament staged at the Dundonald Ice Bowl - that propelled Justin into the spotlight.
The competition, however, was remembered for all the wrong reasons when the ice began to melt, leaving the surface tricky and treacherous.
"I scored four goals for Carrick against Linfield in the final. We won 4-3," recalls Justin.
"The conditions were in my favour because the ice started to melt underneath the surface. It was hilarious. The markings on the pitch starting peeling off, people were slipping all over the place, but I managed to keep my feet.
"I must have done enough because the telephone calls started the next day."
It was the start of a fabulous journey. Although he was on the radar of a posse of clubs, once Glentoran made contact it was a done deal.
"I was thrilled to learn that Tommy Jackson wanted to meet me," adds Justin. "I went to his house and he informed me he wanted to sign me as an amateur.
"Personally, I was just over the moon to be associated with Glentoran. When Tommy told me I would go straight into the first team squad, it went over my head - it was all pie in the sky to me.
"I was living in east Belfast. It was a dream for me. When I turned up for pre-season training, I kept going into the reserves dressing room. Tommy called me out to say, 'I'm not telling you again, you are a first team player'.
"It probably doesn't happen in this day and age, but I was in awe of the people sitting around me.
"The late kitman Teddy Horner, who was Glentoran daft, had my initials on my peg. The kit was laid out. I thought I was a real pro. The boots were all cleaned. It really was something else.
"I was a Glentoran fan, I supported the team as a boy. I used to watch the guys back in the 1980s, which I feel was the best team ever. It was the Billy Caskey era with Raymond Morrison, Barney Bowers, Jimmy Cleary, Alan Paterson and Andy Mathieson."
Did you know...?
- Justin joined Glentoran from Carrick Rangers in August 1991, scoring 132 goals in 330 games during a decade at The Oval.
- Following two years at Linfield, he moved to Ballymena United.
- After another two-year stint, Justin was brought in as player/ coach at Ards, where he eventually moved into the manager's seat.
- His last involvement in football was as Jamie Marks' assistant at Shankill United.
Although he was starry-eyed, Justin still managed to bag a hat-trick on his debut at The Oval against Ballyclare Comrades.
"I was really keen to do well," he says.
"The team was going through a bit of a transition, but there were still a few boys there - Barney, Paddy (Paterson) Casko, Nutts (Morrison) and Gary Macartney, what a goalscorer he was. There were a few young lads coming through - Gary Smyth, David West and myself. There was a nice blend. We won the league title in my first season."
When Jackson's six-year spell at the helm came to an end, he was replaced by Tommy Cassidy and, even though he led the Glens to an Irish Cup win in 1996, results were on the decline.
"Cassidy went through a bit of turmoil," stresses Justin. "He brought in Billy Sinclair as number two.
"I felt Tommy was unlucky as manager. When I arrived, we had 11 players in the first team all from east Belfast
"Tommy decided to look further afield and brought in Gerry McCabe from Scotland and Glen Little from England - the local talent was drying up. Liam Coyle, Declan Devine and James Quigley all arrived from the North West. They were good players in their own right.
"Then there was a new breed of young lads coming through -Colin Nixon, Stuart Elliott, Andy Kirk, Paul Leeman. They emerged from Paul Kirk's youth squad.
"Tommy wasn't afraid to bring them into the first team. But results were still not what was required and Tommy was given the push."
Following his long association with cross-town rivals Linfield, and then spells with Derry City and Ards, Roy Coyle was back at the club where his football odyssey began to replace Cassidy.
"He came with a big reputation," adds Justin.
"When Roy took over, the likes of Nicky, Stuart, Andy and Leeper had a bit of experience. He got them at the right time. It was the start of another good era for the club. We won the Irish Cup in Coyler's first season. He was very successful.
"In those days, playing in Europe was a given every year. Unfortunately, it's not like that now.
"Stuart and Andy ended up going across the water. Glen Little then went back to England again. They all had great careers over there."
After three Irish League title wins, four Irish Cup successes and a multitude of other medals, Justin parted company with his beloved Glens in 2001. "I was there for close on 11 years," he says. "Coyler was about to sign Darren Fitzgerald, who was coming back from Rangers.
"Three of us were put on the transfer list - Chris Walker, Rory Hamill and myself.
"When I questioned him (Coyle) about it, he told me it was only to get people off his back. Even though it was my benefit year, I knew the writing was on the wall.
"I wasn't going to go anywhere - I was determined to fight for my place. When I came back in the summer for pre-season, Coyle told me I wasn't in his plans."
At only 28 years of age, Justin was still in his prime.
There were no shortage of takers when his release was made public. Coleraine, Portadown and Glentoran's biggest rivals Linfield headed the chase.
When he put pen to paper for David Jeffrey, Justin went from hero to zero with many Glens fans.
He says: "Glentoran supporters have their own perception of what happened in terms of me joining the Blues. The bottom line is I just wasn't wanted at The Oval. It was a big decision for me. I don't know how many ex-players I contacted asking for advice.
"It was no surprise a section of the fans turned against me. In fact, some of the supporters' clubs actually took my picture off their wall.
"A friend still ribs me about it - he tells me there is a big dirty mark still on the wall where my photograph once was. Some of them still don't speak to me in the street.
"I also knew the Linfield fans would be hard to win over, given my background. I remember talking to Sammy Pavis on the Holywood Road one day about it. He was a player who made the successful move between the clubs. He told me he still gets called Judas by some Glentoran people 40 years later.
"So I knew the stigma that came with the move. People thought I was going after the money, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Linfield had a stringent wage structure. They had a cracking team with the likes of Glenn Ferguson, Noel Bailie and Peter Thompson.
"I scored a hat-trick on my debut against Crusaders.
"I came on as a substitute for David Larmour. It was a decent start and a nice way of trying to win over the fans."
McBride went on to spend two seasons at Ballymena United before moving into coaching with Ards.