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Irish League Lives: Trevor McCullough on landing move to Liverpool


Trevor McCullough 
Photograph by Declan Roughan

Trevor McCullough Photograph by Declan Roughan

Trevor McCullough Photograph by Declan Roughan

Having just arrived off the cross-channel ferry in Liverpool, Trevor McCullough didn't quite know what to expect.

Not only was he a naïve 15-year-old, but he was away from home for the first time.

Like any ambitious young footballer, he wasn't going to let the opportunity of joining one of the world's most famous clubs slip through his fingers - he was a goalkeeper, after all.

The starry-eyed east Belfast lad was met by Liverpool's chief scout Geoff Twentyman when he trooped down the gangway on Merseyside.

And within 24 hours, he was mingling with some of the top names in the game. Trevor admits he had to pinch himself - especially when the legendary Peter Thompson settled down beside him on the team coach.

"Geoff met me at the ferry and took me to my digs quite near Stanley Park, which was between Anfield and Goodison," recalls Trevor.

"The following day, he took me to the ground to meet the other apprentices.

"After getting our gear, we were told to go to the car park where there were buses to take us to training, so I boarded. The next thing, Peter Thompson sat beside me. He was followed by Roger Hunt, who played in England's World Cup-winning team, and then these two giants appeared - Ron Yeats and Larry Lloyd.

"They were two man-mountains. They had to straddle both seats on the bus. They were followed by Emlyn Hughes, Ian St John, Tommy Lawrence, Chris Lawlor, Geoff Strong, Tommy Smith - everyone respected him.

"When we arrived at Melwood, Geoff took me to meet Bill Shankly. My jaw must have hit the ground. He was with Joe Fagan, Bob Paisley and Roy Evans. It was fairytale stuff."

Trevor also got the opportunity to train with the legendary Gordon Banks.

He says: "A guy called Tony Waiters, who was a member of the England squad at one time, and Ronnie Moran looked after us, the youth team.

"Tony played for Blackpool before being appointed coach and it was through him I got to train with Gordon Banks at Stoke City. It was awesome and he really was a nice guy."

Like most kids after leaving home at an early age, Trevor became unsettled and Liverpool agreed to his release after six months.

"I became friendly with a lad called Gareth Hughes, who was Emlyn's brother," says Trevor.

"Sadly, both have since passed away. Gareth and I shared digs and became great mates. I even named my son after him."

On his return to the province in 1969, Trevor was again met at the boat terminal - this time in Belfast by Glentoran boss Peter McParland.

He laughs: "No one told me he'd be there but I signed for the Glens there and then. I opted out of football for a short time, just to get my head cleared after the Liverpool experience."

Although Trevor was the recognised understudy to Albert Finlay, he was fast-tracked sooner than expected into first-team duty.

He remembers: "Albert was a member of the great Glentoran team. Most of them were involved with the Detroit Cougars' tour of America, although Albert missed out on that trip.

"He was a steeplejack and suffered a horrendous accident at work which really ended his career. Suddenly I was thrust into a side with the likes of Billy McKeag, Walter Bruce, Jim Weatherup, Billy McCullough and Tommy Morrow."

When Alan Paterson arrived, Trevor had a battle on his hands to hold down a first-team shirt.

"I couldn't believe it when Alan walked into The Oval," he goes on.

"We were classmates in Strand Primary School. It was such a coincidence that both of us went on to play for Glentoran at the same time."

When Alan joined Sheffield Wednesday, Trevor finally made the No.1 jersey his own. He was an unmistakable figure between the posts, with long-flowing locks and Mexican-style moustache.

"I don't have a League title winners' medal, which is a little regret," he admits.

"We were runners-up to Linfield on quite a few occasions. But I've some great memories and I'll never forget the great European nights, playing against sides like Borussia Monchengladbach, Ajax and Juventus. People only dream about that. I still have the programmes and mementos.

"Unfortunately, the club went through a bit of tragedy over the course of quite a few months. Rab McCreery sustained a horrible leg break playing against Brann Bergen.

"The game should not have taken place because the pitch was under water. Within a few months, Billy Walker and Billy Murray suffered similar injuries (broken legs), while Jonny Jamison picked up a serious calf muscle injury; his leg was ripped open.

"Then the club had to deal with the tragic and sudden death of Roy Stewart after the home leg of our European tie against Monchengladbach.

"Roy and I were room-mates on away trips. It affected the team badly. I don't think a lot of our heads were right after that, I know mine certainly wasn't. I found it difficult to get over it."

The arrival of Denis Matthews at Glentoran presented Trevor with another challenge - and he found himself out of favour once again.

"I always had stiff competition for places in the form of Alan and then Denis," stresses Trevor, who now lives in Bangor. "I must say both lads were fantastic with me, I've no gripes whatsoever. Denis was a class goalkeeper, cool and a great pair of hands."

Alan Campbell offered Trevor the chance of first-team football at Glenavon - and he relished the opportunity, moving to Mourneview Park in 1977.

"My dad and all his family were from Lurgan," smiles Trevor. "And my dad's cousin, Cyril Carson, was on the board. Apparently Portadown were interested in me, but I had no choice in the matter. I was never going to Shamrock Park.

"The problem with Glenavon was they changed managers too often. Alan left after a few months. He was replaced by a local guy called Billy McClatchey. Then Billy Sinclair arrived.

"He built a good side - Mickey McDonald, Alex Denver, Robbie and Davy Dennison, Brendan McGuicken, Laurence Stitt, Gerry Clarke, Brendan Tully, Eric Bowyer, Gerry Higgins. The three Malone brothers were there at one stage, Paul and Martin and Collie.

"It was an awesome team. We were pipped into second place by Linfield in the title race back in 1979 and then we lost the 1981 Irish Cup Final against Ballymena United. I had five great years down there and wouldn't have changed it."

The arrival of Terry Nicholson as boss signalled the end for Trevor.

"I wasn't too happy the way it developed," he recalls.

"We were all at the PFA dinner at the Europa Hotel - the end of the season bash.

"When the Glenavon contingent then walked in, Terry shook my hand and said, 'Trevor, you'll not be playing next season because I'll be in goals'.

"Nicky was a good goalkeeper, but he'd had his day. I think he could have handled my departure better, he wasn't very diplomatic. I was 29, so I decided to forget about football to concentrate on my working career in Short Brothers before it became Bombardier.

"A guy named Cecil Archer was my mentor. He was once a linesman in the Irish League... and he was a Linfield fanatic. He took me under his wing and pointed me in the right direction in terms of management. I've the utmost respect for him - even though he was a Blueman!"

Trevor was lured back to the game by Terry Kingon, who was managing H&W Welders. He played in 12 successive games before disaster struck when he broke his right leg in four places against Dungannon Swifts at Tillysburn.

Even though he never kicked a ball for three years, he was thrown one final football lifeline by Bangor manager Ronnie McQuillan.

He concludes: "Ronnie invited me to train at the club. I went down the following Thursday night. My fitness was pretty good. Ronnie had a very dry sense of humour, even though he worked for the inland revenue.

"He asked me would I mind putting my name on a form, just in the case of an emergency. As soon as I signed it, he said, 'You are playing on Saturday against Portadown'.

"I saw out the rest of the season, but that was definitely me finished."

Did you know?

  • Trevor played 147 times in his eight years at Glentoran.
  • At 17 years of age, he became the youngest goalkeeper to appear in European football when he featured in both UEFA Cup games against Eintracht Brunswick in 1971-72.
  • Trevor was capped as an outfield player for the Northern Ireland Schoolboy team in 1969 when Sammy McIlroy was stretched off.

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