Chix dusts off the history books and takes a look at Jimmy McAlinden. An Irish legend who both Pompey and Stoke City should be proud to be associated with.
Down the years there have been many footballers who have played for both Pompey and Stoke City but few of them can claim to have had as colourful and interesting career as that of Irish international Jimmy McAlinden.
Having started his career with his home town club Belfast Celtic*, McAlinden went onto play for Pompey either side of the war and then to Stoke and Southend before becoming one of Irelands most decorated club managers.
It has been said many times that ‘Jimmy Mac’ was destined for stardom from the day he was born on the Lower Falls. As a pupil of Millford Street School he excelled at football and won several schoolboy caps before he turned 14. It was not until a couple of years later however that his career started to take shape.
In 1934, aged 16, McAlinden was spotted playing for Glentoran Reserves by officials of Belfast Celtic. A professional contract offer followed and considering he had grown up in the shadows of Paradise it didn`t take Jimmy long to accept the £2 per week to realise a boyhood dream.
‘Jimmy Mac’ developed quickly and playing in a deep-lying inside-right role subsequently became one of the fastest and most effective players in the Irish League – Just at the time that Belfast Celtic were becoming the dominant force in Irish football.
Although he missed an opportunity to further his reputation when injury kept him out of the showpiece Irish Cup Final of 1937, Celtic were sweeping all before them so it took him only a year to make up for it by scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 final replay win over Bangor. It was during this pre-war period that McAlinden also won representative honours for the Irish League and gained the first of his international caps when Northern Ireland drew 1-1 with Scotland at Pittodrie.
McAlinden never hid his ambition to play in England and given the quality of his performances and Celtic’s dominance it was of little surprise that he was linked to a move across the Irish Sea. Enquiries were made by Spurs and Huddersfield, but it was to be Jack Tinn’s 1st Division Pompey that stepped in with an Irish League record-breaking bid of £7,500 in December 1938
Across The Irish Sea
Having broken the bank to sign him Pompey pinned a lot of hope on the young Irishman – And it was hope that was to be quickly repaid. Having made his debut against Chelsea, Jimmy went on to became a regular in the Pompey side and was widely acclaimed as ‘Magnificent McAlinden‘ by the Fratton faithful.
Within six months of his arrival he was playing in the FA Cup Final at Wembley against league leaders Wolves and once again McAlinden was to make his mark.
Just before half-time Jimmy crossed the ball over the stranded Wolves goalkeeper for John Anderson to score from close range and give Pompey a 2-0 half-time advantage. ‘The rest’, they say, is history and Jimmy added an FA Cup winner’s medal and the honour of being the first Irish League player to win the trophy to his already impressive career achievements.
As with so many of that famous cup winning side, World War II interrupted what would have been a glittering career as Pompey were forced to suspend all professional contracts. Jimmy did wear ‘The Crest’ three times in wartime regional leagues but later returned to Paradise.
Back in Northern Ireland with Belfast Celtic, McAlinden added a ‘War-Time’ League, Gold Cup and two further Irish Cup winners medals (1941 and 1944) to his collection.
At the end of the war ‘Jimmy Mac’ moved to Dublin based Shamrock Rovers and although he only played for one season he helped them reach the 1946 FAI Cup final – This time however, he was to find himself on the losing side as Rovers went down 3-1
Back with Pompey – Another distinction
Once Britain had settled down a restless Jimmy returned to Pompey for a second spell, during which he achieved another rare distinction:
When McAlinden began his international career in 1937 Ireland was represented by two rival associations – The Northern Ireland based IFA (whom he had represented twice whilst at Belfast Celtic) and the FAI of the Irish Free State – Both associations claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and therefore selected players irrespective of their birth place.
A June 1946 tour of Iberia, organised by the FAI in an attempt to establish an all-Ireland team, saw Jimmy play against both Portugal and Spain to become one of the first Northern-born players to play for Eire
The FAI efforts did not bear fruit however, as come the resumption of the Home Nations Championship later that year McAlinden won his third cap for Northern Ireland in their heavy defeat by England
In September 1947 having scored 9 goals in 59 games in Royal Blue, 28 year old McAlinden left Pompey once again and joined today’s opponents Stoke City for a club-record fee of £8,000
City manager Bob McGrory believed Jimmy was the answer to the Potters’ troublesome inside-forward position but McAlinden never really settled at the Victoria Ground, and after a little over a year of inconsistent performances he was transferred to Division Three (South) Southend United for £6,500
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
A few days after joining The Shrimpers in October 1948 McAlinden gained his final Northern Ireland cap (the first awarded to a post-War Southend player) in a 6-2 defeat to England at Windsor Park. With a total of 7 international caps and a having played in all wartime internationals for Ireland (although they did not count as caps) Jimmy hung up his international boots.
Despite joining the Shrimpers at the age of 30, McAlinden still had something to offer. It was said that his range of passing was beyond anything seen before or since at Southend which invariably led to a number of ‘bigger clubs’ chasing his signature once again – At that time in his career however, they were rejected as Jimmy joked that he “would never consider a move sideways!”
An attempt was made to bring McAlinden back to Pompey for a third time in 1950 but the move ran into problems when Directors Vernon Stokes and Harry Wain were suspended over irregularities. Jimmy himself was later caught up in controversy after it was alleged that he received illegal payments during his second spell with Pompey – As a result he too was suspended; for the first two months of the 1950-51 season.
In spite of the suspension McAlinden served Southend as club captain and became something of a cult hero among Shrimpers fans and to this day is remembered as being possibly the best player ever to play for the club.
By the early-mid 1950s McAlinden was in the last years of his playing career and began to look to the future and whilst still playing for Southend he started taking coaching courses at Loughborough College in the hope that one day he would turn his hand to management
In April 1954 Jimmy accepted the position of player-manager at Glenavon and made his last home appearance for Southend United in a 4-1 win over QPR. In a memorable send-off, Harry Warren the Southend manager led the crowd in three cheers and loud applause as ‘Jimmy Mac’ left the field for the final time.
And on to management
Needless to say the man who achieved so many feats as a player achieved even greater prominence as a manager.
McAlinden’s reign at Glenavon lasted 13 years, a period which saw the club have unprecedented success by winning every IFA trophy possible – The ‘Double’ was claimed in 1956/57 as was another League title in 1960. Two more Irish Cups in 1959 and 1961 together with two Gold, three Ulster and three City Cups were also claimed – Then in 1965 without warning he surprisingly resigned.
McAlinden scouted Irish talent for Coventry City and Liverpool for a few years before in February 1969 he accepted another managerial job, this time for Distillery. Once again Jimmy brought success. He guided the club to two Irish Cup Finals the second of which they won with a certain Martin O’Neill (Who Jimmy later sold to Forest for £26,000) scoring twice. ‘Jimmy Mac’ had guided the club into Europe for the first and only time in their history.
When, during the ‘troubles’ a firebomb attack caused Distillery’s home ground to burn down, the club found itself in turmoil and was forced to vacate the grounds it had called home for most of its existence. In the Summer of 1975, with the club homeless and struggling for consistency McAlinden decided to leave, but he was out of football for less than a year before taking charge of Drogheda United
In McAlinden’s three year term, Drogheda never failed to reach the semi-finals of the FAI Cup! Furthermore they finished in the top three in the league in each season Jimmy was at the helm, a record which is unequalled by any other manager in the history of Drogheda United.
Finally in 1979 McAlinden retired from football to concentrate on the game he claimed had helped keep him calm throughout his career – Golf
Few Irish footballers have ever equalled the heights scaled by Jimmy McAlinden of the great Belfast Celtic and although like many great players of that era he was robbed of his peak years by the Second World War ‘Jimmy Mac’ more than made up for it throughout his career
Towards the end of his life Jimmy said of his time with Pompey;
“It was a huge change which I never regretted. It was a wonderful life and if I had my life to live over I would do the same again”
To have such a iconic Irishman associated with our famous old club is one thing, for him to claim that he would have done it again is an honour indeed.
Jimmy McAlinden died in November 1993 aged 75. His funeral attendance was one of the biggest ever seen in Belfast.
Most readers will know little if anything of Belfast Celtic Football Club so it’s worth spending a few minutes to put them into context
Named and founded on the same principles as their Scottish counterparts Belfast Celtic were arguably the most successful team in the history of Irish football. Although named Celtic Park their home in West Belfast was known to their all-inclusive Irish Nationalist fans as Paradise.
Having won their first league title in 1900 Celtic became a recognised force in Irish football but the political violence that engulfed Ireland in the 1920s spilled on to the terraces and Celtic were forced to withdraw from the Irish League for four years. Despite this, they went from strength to strength and were crowned champions for the four consecutive years following their return.
The end however came on Boxing Day 1948 when, during the annual grudge match against rivals Linfield, opposing fans invaded the pitch and attacked several Celtic players. The Celtic board felt that the attack demonstrated that the police were incapable of protecting Celtic fans and players and at the end of the season, following the feeble sanctions imposed on Linfield by the League, Celtic withdraw until they felt that the safety of their spectators and staff could be guaranteed.
Belfast Celtic never played another competitive match!