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.
After the dramatics of the victories over Arsenal and Fulham in the league, we go into today’s encounter hanging onto coat-tails of the top three. Who would have thought it? Hopefully Sunderland, Stoke or our neighbours down the road caused an upset yesterday to enable us to climb even higher in this crazy league campaign. With Gary Monk’s Swansea side sandwiched between Europa League encounters against Rafas Napoli, today is a great chance to put more points on the board. We faced Swansea in not to dissimilar circumstances last season. As they prepared for the League Cup Final, the reds showed no mercy to run out easy 5-0 winners at Anfield, it was ample revenge for the reds as Swansea defeated the reds on route to their first domestic trophy. Same today please, but can’t be greedy all the time, 1-0 would do! Be just 11 league games left then. Exciting times.
Swans fans don’t need reminding it was the current reds supremo Brendan Rodgers who finally guided them back to the promised land back in 2011, and the captain on that historic day, Gary Monk is now in the opposite dug-out after the rather surprising dismissal of Brian Laudrup. But aside from that there is a special bond between the two clubs – for it was Swansea who provided the opposition at Anfield the day after Bill Shanklys funeral in October 1981.
Managed by one of Shanklys great players, John Toshack, Swansea had climbed from 4th to 1st division in four years. On route he had enlisted the help of European Cup winners, Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan in what was an unbelievable journey for the Welsh side. On this particular match day, Tosh would pay his own personal tribute to Shanks. During an emotional minute’s silence before the match started; he proudly wore the red shirt of Liverpool with his famous number 10 on the back. Looking back on the game itself, Swansea went two goals in front before a brace from the penalty spot by Terry McDermott levelled the game at 2-2. Terry might find himself a tad lucky to be awarded the second spot-kick. Dai Davies in the Swansea goal took exception to Terry’s second pen by casually flinging McDermott into the net after he levelled. The media would have field day today, have a look on http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/13843449. After that game the reds were lying in 13th position, 10 places behind their opponents. Come the end of that season, normal service had been resumed with the reds on top but Swansea finishing a very creditable 6th position in the top flight.
The excellent relationship between the sides grew over the years, Ray Kennedy lining out for the Welsh side and the likes of Jan Molby, who went on to play for and manage the Swans in the mid-1990s, reaching a play-off final at Wembley in 1997 but losing to Northampton Town.
And amongst the playing staff today we have Joe Allen on the red side and injury permitting we welcome back Jonjo Shelvey to Anfield. Jonjo divided opinion amongst the reds fan-base, but was never shy in the challenge, and hey he got up Fergies purple nose as well. Whatever happened to that side he managed anyway?
It’s not too often Everton gets a mention in this publication without some sort of witty punch-line but here goes:
Just a few weeks back Everton Football Club held a ceremony at Anfield Cemetery to rededicate the grave of one Will Cuff. In the role of Everton FC secretary and chairman, Cuff served the club for 60 years, overseeing four league titles and two FA Cups – but he also played a huge role in bringing together Liverpool and Everton after the bitter spilt in 1892.
Speaking at the graveside, author of the book ‘Across the Park’ and football historian, Peter Lupson, said; “You all know that in 1892 there was a terrible split, out of which Liverpool emerged as a separate club. It was a bitter split. It began to slightly thaw by the time John Houlding had died and in 1902 three Everton and three Liverpool players carried his coffin, which was something of a breakthrough.”
But it was the result of Will Cuff’s friendship with a man who had a similar status and stature at Liverpool called John McKenna that enabled the clubs to continue to heal the rift. Lupson explains; “These two men together, through their deep friendship, brought about a unity between Everton and Liverpool that was remarkable when you think about the depth of the split. Within two years of Houlding’s death they’d arranged for joint match programmes to be published from 1904 to 1935 – that’s 1,100 joint match programmes. In 1906 Everton won the FA Cup, knocking out Liverpool in the semi-final 2-0, but when Everton came back with the trophy, McKenna and all the Liverpool directors were at the station to welcome them home and congratulate them. “
When McKenna died in 1936 it was Cuff who led the tributes saying “I think the greatest man in football has gone” he continued “He will live long in the memory of all who had anything to do with the governing of football. Fearless, outspoken, and absolutely honest, he was well named Honest John”. The following year, Cuff unveiled a plaque at Anfield in memory of his friend John McKenna where it is still displayed.
And when Will Cuff died in 1949 his service was conducted by former Liverpool captain Parson Jackson where the Liverpool chairman stated ‘Will Cuff was a man who set a grand example to everyone in football’.
It’s refreshing to see clubs honouring their past stalwarts whilst also acknowledging the role of other clubs also. Which brings us to Tom Watson, the first great English manager, Watson won the league title three times with Sunderland and a further two times with Liverpool. To date he is still the longest serving Liverpool manager in the clubs history. In a previous issue we highlighted the embarrassment that Watson now lies in an unmarked grave in Anfield Cemetery. Thankfully both Liverpool and Sunderland intend to mark his achievements. Black Cats historian Rob Mason and Liverpool FC museum curator Stephen Done have been in discussions with various interested parties to agree on the wording and it is hoped the memorial will be in place before the clubs meet on March 10th. However this may change due to possible FA Cup action, so check the clubs website or Red All Over The Land on facebook where we will post up any details of the event. davidmoenblog.wordpress.com
Derry City are known throughout the football world as the Candystripes, but the story about how they got their colours has a distinct Donegal flavour. It’s all down to one man, Kerrykeel born and Sheffield United legend, Billy Gillespie.
Billy Gillespie was born in Kerrykeel, on 6 August 1891. The son of a policeman he made a name for himself in local junior football ranks and was quickly signed up by Derry Institute when he was just 17. It was to be the start of an outstanding career.
Northern giants Linfield made an offer for Gillespie in May 1910, but Leeds City beat the Windsor Park outfit to seal his signature. It didn’t take long for Gillespie to make an impression with the Yorkshire outfit. He opened his scoring account for Leeds in the 1-1 draw with Birmingham at Elland Road on October 1st. It was a start of a goal-scoring spree that resulted in Gillespie scoring seven times in the following eight games. After a poor run of results he lost his place in the side and after playing the first four games of the 1911/12 season, Gillespie was left out again.
On 22 December, the Yorkshire Post broke the news that the Irishman would be leaving Elland Road for a fee in excess of £400. It was a fee the board said they could not refuse as the club was in financial difficulty. However it would be a decision they would regret as Gillespie went on to prove himself as one of the outstanding Irish players of all time, enjoying a 20-year career at Bramall Lane and scoring over 130 goals in nearly 500 games.
The Kerrykeel man made his international debut in February 1913, scoring twice as Ireland achieved a first historic victory over England (This was a period when Ireland players were drawn from both sides of the border). One year later he was a member of the first Irish team to secure the Home International Championships. Gillespie was a thorn in the English side as seven of his thirteen international goals came against the English. That international goal haul was an Irish record, which stood until 2004 when David Healy took his international total to fourteen goals. In total Gillespie would win 25 Irish caps.
At Bramall Lane, Gillespie was well on the way to becoming a Sheffield United legend. He suffered heartbreak when missing the Blades’ FA Cup triumph in 1915 as he was out with a broken leg. But ten years later Billy Gillespie captained the Blades to victory in the final against Cardiff City. The scribes of the day were impressed; “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.” To date this is still Sheffield United last major honour.
In 1932 Billy Gillespie returned to Ireland to take over as manager of Irish League side Derry City. As part of the deal taking him back to Ireland, Gillespie had to take a red and white team strip with him and Derry City adopted the colours, the candystripes we see them wear today. He led Derry City to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League.
When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.
The Donegal man is still revered in the Yorkshire city and deserves to be mentioned in the same company as Donegal and Ireland heroes, Pat Bonner and Shay Given. December 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of Billy Gillespie signing for Sheffield United; it could be the ideal opportunity to honour the Sheffield United, Ireland, and most of all, Kerrykeel legend.