The town of Burnley is in mourning this week following the death of Jimmy McIlroy, aged 86.
A genial character, Jimmy was the epitome of the “gentleman footballer” who provided the inspirational creative force behind Burnley being English Champions in 1960.
Jimmy’s huge popularity will no doubt endure – a stand is named after him at his beloved Turf Moor, where his funeral is scheduled to take place next Friday. He played for the club for 13 years and was known for his exceptional skill, and for elegantly and balletically beating his man.
Born in Lambeg in County Antrim, Jimmy signed for Glentoran in 1949; Burnley bought him the following season for £7,000. He went on to play 439 times for the Clarets in the First Division, scoring 116 goals. Besides winning the title, he helped Burnley finish fourth, second and third in the league over the next three seasons, and played in the 1962 FA Cup final, which Burnley lost 3-1 to Spurs. However, in 1963, McIlroy fell out with Burnley manager, Harry Potts and was controversially sold by Chairman Bob Lord.
Previously, superpowers of the world game had courted Jimmy’s services. One such approach came from Sampdoria, who Jimmy said, “promised me all sorts; a villa overlooking the Mediterranean, an international school for my children, wages way beyond what I was getting in England.
“But when I went back to the hotel and told my wife she said to me: ‘What would we want to leave Burnley for?’
“I’ve never regretted it. From the moment I arrived it felt like home, and it has been home.”
Jimmy was appointed an MBE in 2011, and typically he didn’t fancy the fuss of going to Buckingham Palace, instead receiving the award on the pitch at Turf Moor. In an age where the term “legend” is lightly thrown, McIlroy was a true giant of the game. Burnley is grieving the loss of its greatest ever player; an exceptional talent, worthy of the “world class” label – an adopted son of the town, whose legacy will be long remembered.