A former mayor of Lisburn has told of the high esteem in which the late Jimmy McIlroy was held, both in the place he was born and in his adopted home of Burnley.
Ivan Davis, who stepped down from Lisburn Council in 2010, said: “I was deeply saddened to hear of Jimmy McIlroy’s passing on Monday.
“Some years ago I had the privilege of attending Jimmy’s testimonial dinner in Burnley. The tributes being paid to him at that time and at the present time are all richly deserved.
“At the testimonial dinner the great and the good of Burnley were there and it was obvious the high esteem he was held in at the club.”
Mr McIlroy, who died aged 86, made Burnley his home after moving there from Lambeg. He was not only well known as a footballer in the English town, he also forged a career as a journalist with the Burnley Express.
In 1999 Burnley FC named one of their stands after the Clarets legend.
Mr Davis, now 81, was a UUP councillor on Lisburn council when a similar honour was given to Mr McIlroy in 2005 by naming a park after him.
The former councillor said: “What a delight it was to be at Ballyskeagh to see Jimmy cut the ribbon to officially open McIlroy Park.
“I remember some years ago Sir Tom Finney talking about Jimmy McIlroy and saying, ‘If you take the most expensive and talented midfield players in the Premier League and blend their skills into one player his name would be Jimmy McIlroy’.
“The great Matt Busby and the great Charles Buchan also described Jimmy as one of the best inside forwards of all time.”
Mr Davis said he knew some of Mr McIlroy’s family including his sister Doreen who was married to the late Bertie Neill, a former Irish League footballer and manager.
At Oldham Athletic Mr Neill teamed up to form a management team with his brother-in-law Mr McIlroy.
Mr Davis said: “My thoughts are with the family circle at this particular time. His name will never be forgotten.”
As well as meeting Mr McIlroy off the field, Mr Davis had the pleasure of seeing him in action many times for Northern Ireland: “I remember along with my brother who lived in England at that time being at Wembley in 1957 when Jimmy scored his first goal at the famous arena to beat a great England team 3-2.
“It was Northern Ireland’s first victory against England for 30 years and their first at Wembley.
“I saw him play at Windsor as well. He was an incredibly gifted player and he was a real gentleman.”
Alex Elder, who like Jimmy was a Lisburn man who transferred from Glentoran to Burnley, said: “He was my idol when I was a kid. He came from a village about four miles away from me.
“I followed him to Burnley and I was in the same digs that he was in 10 years before. My wife and I then later baby-sat for his children.
“The word legend is used very lightly but he was a true legend and I’m sure everyone in Burnley will remember him with the highest regard.”
A book of condolence was opened on Tuesday at Burnley’s ground – Turf Moor – for supporters to pay their respects to the former Clarets’ player and president.