FOOTBALLING legends were among the hundreds who turned out yesterday to say a final farewell to former Northern Ireland and Queens Park Rangers captain Alan McDonald.
Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong and Jimmy Nicholl – as well as current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill and his Windsor Park predecessor Nigel Worthington – were among almost 600 mourners who crammed into Ballygowan Presbyterian Church yesterday.
A number of players from Mr McDonald’s former London side QPR also flew into Northern Ireland specially to attend the funeral.
The Rev Brian Black conducted the service, which he described as a thanksgiving for Mr McDonald’s life.
Speaking to the News Letter last night, broadcaster Jackie Fullerton, who gave a tribute in church yesterday, said whilst they were there to mourn “Big Mac”, it was also a celebration of the football man’s life.
“I first met him [Mr McDonald] as a nine-year-old when I was at Crusaders. He was a starry-eyed kid who just wanted to play football,” said Mr Fullerton.
“He went to Queens Park Rangers aged 15 and played 483 times, the third highest in the club’s history – he was a legend at the club.
“The thing I remember is that in 1984, when he was 21, he said to me he couldn’t wait until he got his first senior cap – he was always confident, never big-headed or arrogant, but he had a belief in himself. He said to me, ‘Jackie, I can’t wait to get a senior cap’ – it was not a matter of if but when.”
The service finished with the singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was interspersed with a rendition of We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland.
Originally from Rathcoole in north Belfast, Mr McDonald was in the QPR side which reached the League Cup final in 1986, losing 3-0 to Oxford United.
During his international career with Northern Ireland, the Belfast-born player won 52 caps and scored three goals.
He is fondly remembered for his heroic display at Wembley in 1985, helping Northern Ireland earn a scoreless draw against England – and securing them a place at the World Cup finals in Mexico.
More recently, he managed Irish league side Glentoran, guiding them to the league title in 2009.