| 15.5°C Dublin

Red angels Man United legend Sammy McIlroy says getting his parents out of NI 'was the best thing I ever did'

McIlroy was famously the last signing made by legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby, and left Belfast for Manchester in 1969 at the outset of the Troubles

Close

Sammy McIlroy says moving his parents to Manchester while he was playing was good for them

Sammy McIlroy says moving his parents to Manchester while he was playing was good for them

Sammy McIlroy says moving his parents to Manchester while he was playing was good for them

Red Devils great Sammy McIlroy said this week that “the best thing I ever did” was get his parents out of Belfast at the height of the Troubles.

And talking to the Sunday World, he reveals that Manchester United agreed to buy them a house so they could escape the war-torn city.

McIlroy was famously the last signing made by legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby, and left Belfast for Manchester in 1969 at the outset of the Troubles.

He scored on his debut in the Manchester derby aged just 17 and went on to score 71 goals in 419 appearances for the Red Devils and spent 13 happy years at Old Trafford.

Born in the shadow of The Oval in east Belfast, McIlroy kept in touch with his parents regularly and was spooked by the violence in his native city.

And when matters got really hairy, McIlroy asked then manager Tommy Docherty if the club could help his folks move over to England.

Close

Sammy McIlroy in action

Sammy McIlroy in action

Sammy McIlroy in action

 

“The club was great about that,” McIlroy told the Sunday World. “It was the height of the Troubles, around 1973-74, and it was a worry for all of us.

“I used to phone home regularly, and my mum was telling me what was going on in east Belfast. It was really bad at that time.

“I spoke to Tommy Docherty, told him what was going on back home and asked if there was any chance of getting them out.

“He said ‘100 per cent’ and spoke to the club about my parents on my behalf. Manchester United bought a house for my parents and I paid them back.

“It was the best thing I ever did, getting my folks out of Belfast. It gave me so much peace of mind to know they were safe.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

“And my dad loved it, because he followed Man United. He got to all the home games and got a few away trips as well, so it was a particularly good move for him.”

Box-to-box midfielder McIlroy played in three FA Cup finals for United, beating Liverpool in 1977 but losing to Southampton in 1976 and Arsenal in 1979.

Close

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

 

He also played for Northern Ireland and won an impressive 88 caps, playing in the Spain ’82 World Cup finals and captaining the international team in Mexico four years later.

Away from the field of play, McIlroy also reveals he had a brush with death in  Manchester in 1973.

Sammy Mac was involved in a car crash with his pregnant partner at the time, but remembers nothing about the incident and says the medics believed he was written off as well as his car.

The 66-year-old was driving to a chippy for a fish supper when he was T-boned by another car, leaving McIlroy out for the count while the medics attended to his partner.

“It was January 1973, teatime, around five o’clock,” recalls McIlroy. “I used to go to the Cavendish Road in Stretford for a chippy.

“It was only a few minutes away from Old Trafford, the guy John who owned the chippy made great fish and chips, and he looked after me but I didn’t make it to his shop.

“I was turning right to go down the street to the chippy when another car came in and wiped me out. It hit the driver’s side of the car, my side of the car, and I don’t remember anything about it.

“I was unconscious for ten days. I think I had four or five broken ribs and a punctured lung. Luckily my partner at the time got nothing at all, it didn’t affect the baby or nothing. She was OK but I was completely out of it.

Close

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

Sammy was looked after in lodgings when he started out

 

“When the ambulance arrived, my partner heard the paramedics say ‘look after her, she’s pregnant. Forget about him, he looks gone’.

“Believe it or not, one of the first times I woke up, I had Paddy

Crerand over me and the Doc (Docherty). Paddy had brought the Doc up to see me at the hospital.

“I could see them but I didn’t know what they were saying, I was just completely out of it. I knew and remember absolutely nothing about it but I was picking lumps of glass out of my back for the next 18 months! The specialist said my fitness kept me going but it took me a long time to recover from the crash. The Doc took me to Switzerland on a youth team trip in May and said he would give me every opportunity to get fit, but I couldn’t breathe properly.

“I found it difficult to regain my fitness initially, it took me a good few months because the breathing was a concern. Fortunately I got back into the team and everything was alright.”

Living and growing up in east Belfast so close to The Oval also posed a more tribal threat to McIlroy at times, as he was a Linfield fan in the heart of Glentoran territory.

“I had to duck and dive a little bit!” laughs the current MUTV pundit. “My old man brought me up a Blueman because he played for Linfield Swifts.”

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy