Jimmy Mac lines up against Burnley for the first time
In February 1963, we had sold Jimmy McIlroy to Stoke City and it was on 2nd November in the same year that the Northern Ireland international played against Burnley, the club where he had spent almost thirteen years before the less than amicable parting of the ways, for the first time.
It was a time of scandal in the town centring around the Mechanics Institute, which had opened in 1855 and had often been the venue for such sedate activities as whist, chess, snooker and billiards, as well as providing reading rooms. The council had approved a recommendation from the Improvement Committee to grant a lease to the owners of Casino Club (Bolton) Ltd who planned to turn the building into a top line variety venue that would also include gaming.
The company did stress that the cabaret shows would not include any striptease, and let’s face it that would have been much too futuristic and risqué for Burnley in the early 60s, but the major concerns from the public were over the news that bingo would be played. It certainly upset Councillor Pilling who spoke out against such activities very strongly, but Mr Atherton Howcroft, speaking on behalf of Casino Club, said that the bingo would be played only as an interlude lasting approximately twenty minutes and that it would not make big money because most of the profit would go in prizes. He also stressed that no one under the age of 18 would be allowed to join the new club.
On to the football, and if you wanted to see this game then you had to travel to Stoke. There was no Sky coverage of football and this was before the advent of Match of the Day. In preparation for televised football though you could rent a new ultra modern dual-standard television for just 9/- (45p) per week from Nu-Vu on St James’ Street.
Never mind Ultra HD, widescreen, Sky Q and Netflix, this wonderful new television would provide pictures of both BBC and ITV and was fitted with a tuner able to receive the new improved 625 line pictures that would soon replace 405 lines.
So the exodus for Stoke was large, it was the day Burnley fans had been waiting for, just eight months after a brief statement from Burnley Football Club had, according to Keith McNee, sparked the biggest sporting eruption in the town for years.
Burnley would have Fred Smith making his debut at left back in place of Alex Elder whilst Brian O’Neil would play despite Jimmy Adamson being in the travelling party of fourteen players. Adamson had just that week turned down the opportunity to become national coach of the USA team. “Jimmy Adamson stays at Turf Moor. He’s 33 now and he’ll be with us when he’s 63 if I have anything to do with it,” chairman Bob Lord said of it. It was Lord who sacked Adamson when he was 45.
Burnley were seventh in the table, Stoke were 17th but McIlroy was convinced Stoke would win. He was so keen to play well that he’d been getting up at 7 o’clock every morning that week to go training up Towneley to get himself fitter for the game. “The game should be a lot of fun,” said the ex-Claret who had been named by Tony Waddington in the Stoke team two days before the game.
It was fun, it was a cracker of a game, played in front of a big crowd of over 37,000. And for much of the game it looked as though Jimmy Mac’s prophecy of a home win was a sound one.
With just 19 minutes gone they took the lead, and it was Mac who set up the goal with a ball out to Gerry Bridgewood and his cross was met by Keith BEBBINGTON who headed home past Adam Blacklaw. Only seven minutes later, and another right wing cross, this time from Calvin Palmer, and we were two down as John RITCHIE headed in.
We weren’t in the game, Stoke were full value for their lead, and as half time approached things got even worse when RITCHIE got his second, tapping the ball home from close range. It had been a disastrous first half for Burnley against a rampant Stoke side for whom McIlroy had been inspirational, but he was to fade away during the second 45 minutes as the Clarets mounted a comeback.
John Connelly was the main architect as we pulled back two goals in a minute just before the hour. Firstly he caused confusion in the Stoke defence, enabling Andy LOCHHEAD to push the ball over from no more than a yard out, and within a minute he crossed the ball from the right and Stoke full back Tony ALLEN turned it into his own goal.
We were very much in the game now. This was nothing like the first half, but try as we did the third and equalising goal would just not come. We went into the last ten minutes still 3-2 down and then disaster really struck. Former Blackburn inside forward Peter DOBING increased Stoke’s lead and it looked all over.
There were just six minutes to go when Connelly went down holding his face with Eddie Clamp standing over him. Referee Leo Callaghan, and what a good referee he was, ordered Stoke’s former Wolves wing half off the field and the home side would have to play those last six minutes with ten men.
The incident had brought Burnley a free kick just outside the box and Gordon HARRIS hit a rocket of a shot to give us a third goal and a chance. Time was short but with just over a minute to go Trevor Meredith got in a cross which goalkeeper Lawrie Leslie fumbled. In stormed HARRIS to blast the ball home and bring us level.
John Talbut was booked at this point, and bookings were very rare events in the 1960s. It baffled supporters but the player explained that he’d held up four fingers on each hand to Stoke centre forward Ritchie. “I couldn’t help it,” he said, “But the referee was right to book me.” It was the last action of an enthralling game that ended with that 4-4 scoreline.
The Stoke directors, quick to get one over on Lord, had been boasting at half time how the win was wrapped up. The Burnley Chairman got his own back at the final whistle. And it was revealed that Burnley had played with a severe handicap in the first half with O’Neil playing with severe stomach cramp up to half time. I’ve no idea how that was cured during the interval.
Most Burnley fans came home delighted to have rescued a point, although there were some who readily admitted they would really have preferred to see Jimmy Mac get the win he craved against Bob Lord and Burnley.
The teams were;
Stoke: Lawrie Leslie, Eric Skeels, Tony Allen, Calvin Palmer, Eddie Stuart, Eddie Clamp, Gerry Bridgewood, Peter Dobing, John Ritchie, Jimmy McIlroy, Keith Bebbington.
Burnley: Adam Blacklaw, John Angus, Freddie Smith, Brian O’Neil, John Talbut, Brian Miller, Trevor Meredith, Andy Lochhead, Jimmy Robson, Gordon Harris, John Connelly.
Referee: Leo Callaghan (Merthyr Tydfil).
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