Donegal FA Cup legend rememberedPosted: March 18, 2014
This Saturday March 22nd Sheffield United entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers in a League One encounter at Bramall Lane Sheffield. But this is no ordinary fixture as Sheffield United will be celebrating the exact date the football club was founded 125years ago and they will be hosting a series of events ahead of the game to launch its anniversary celebrations. Central to the festivities is paying tribute to their great players of yesteryear of which one in particular stands out for all Sheffield United supporters young and old – Kerrykeel native, Billy Gillespie.
Billy Gillespie was born in Kerrykeel on 6th August 1891, and went on to become the most famous Irish footballer of his generation, the highlight of which came in 1925, when he was the first Irishman to captain an English FA Cup winning team, leading his Sheffield United team to victory over Cardiff in the Wembley final. To this day it is the last major trophy the Sheffield club has won and a game in which he played a major part, his performance described as follows by the football writers of the day “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.”
The Donegal man was equally influential for his country, scoring two goals on his international debut for Ireland against England in 1913 as the Irish defeated England for the very first time. He repeated the feat the year after, notching another two against the English as the Irish destroyed the home side at Ayresome Park Middlesbrough, the boys in green running out 3-0 winners. He was to leave his mark on the local football scene when he returned home to manage Irish League side Derry City in 1932. Gillespie was required to take a red and white team strip with him as part of the deal. These colours of course would be adapted by Derry City, the candy-stripes we see them wear to this day.
So it’s fitting that this Saturday, Gillespie’s descendants, his grand-daughter Jane Bull and great grand-son Andy Bull will be introduced to the Bramall Lane faithful in what is sure to be a memorable afternoon. Both Jane and Andy have fond memories of their visit to Kerrykeel last September where they unveiled a plaque to the football great at Rabs Park Kerrykeel – and a return to Donegal is on the agenda for them and indeed Sheffield United representatives who were most impressed with the numbers attending the football academy in the region.
Later in the year the club will be announcing the result of polls designed to discover United’s greatest ever goal, manager and player. With the club currently in the FA Cup semi-finals, fans thoughts will invariably turn back to Billy Gillespie and that Wembley victory. It may be nearly 90 years ago but football fans never forget their history and their heroes.