Wor Jackie (1924-1988)

"He was the most exciting thing I've every seen on a football field"
(Bob Stokoe, 1989)

HE WAS CHRISTENED JOHN EDWARD THOMPSON - JET - and surely no other footballer had such an appropriate set of initials to embark on a career in the game. When Jackie Milburn walked into St James Park, boots in a brown paper parcel in August 1943 there started a special association not only between player and club, but also between player and the whole of the north east region. One that remains strong as ever, several years after his death in 1988.

Milburn - modest and likeable - formed a bond with his fellow Geordies like no other. They adored him and he adored them back. To a wider audience the name of Milburn became very quickly synonymous with Newcastle United and with Tyneside, even to people who had only a passing interest in the game. He became the club's foremost ambassador.

From established football stock in Ashington, Milburn was born only a few days after United had lifted the FA Cup at Wembley in 1924. His family were all soccer mad and he is a member of what is perhaps the greatest footballing clan in Britain. The first Jack Milburn played in goal for Shankhouse and Northumberland during the pioneer days of the game. Then there was 'Warhorse' Milburn, a famed local player. He had 13 children and several played football. Tanner Milburn appeared for Ashington during their Football League days and the family grew even further when this particular Milburn had four sons, as well as three daughters. The boys of course took to kicking a ball around.

Tanner's brother, Alec also played for Ashington after turning down a chance with Spurs and he produced Wor Jackie, while Tanner's offspring turned out in league football too; George, Stan, Jim and Jack. All played for Leeds United except Stan, who appeared for Chesterfield and Leicester City, as well as the Football League side. All were tough and noted performers. Additionally Jimmy Potts, the Leeds 'keeper, married into the Milburns too. It was quite a family which becomes further entangled as Tanner's daughter, Cissie, is of course mother to Jackie and Bobby Charlton. And it was Newcastle's Jackie Milburn who readily put the family name into the headlines when he became an England international during the 1948/49 season.

Jackie had left school in 1938 when aged 14. Instead of going down the pit, the young Milburn took a job in Dorking as a pantry boy, far flung from his future success. Home sickness soon brought him back north though, where he started his football career assisting Hirst East Old Boys and later Ashington YMCA. War in 1939 saw Milburn try to join the Navy but, lacking height, he was rejected. Twelve months later he had shot up to 5'10" and had become an apprentice fitter at the local colliery. His football progress was outstanding. He appeared for the local ATC and for the county side and was soon at St James Park making an impression in a trial match.

In his first game he scored two goals, then really caught the eye the following weekend - all with a borrowed pair of boots. His performance could have been picked from Roy of the Rovers. Playing inside-left for the Stripes against the first team Blues, his side were 3-0 behind and Jackie had been a flop. But in the second half, after an inspired talking to by trainer Joe Richardson, Milburn rattled six goals into the net. Jackie was on his way to becoming a Newcastle United legend.

A week later Stan Seymour signed Milburn for the statutory £10 registration fee and United's boss was convinced that he had found a gem. The youngster immediately made his debut in a wartime fixture at Valley Parade, home of Bradford City. United went down 2-1, but as Jackie recalled it was, "The most memorable moment of my career, even those Wembley victories can't match it. To pull on the black'n' white jersey for the first time was something special".

The following game was his home debut, a return meeting with the Yorkshire club and it took Milburn only two minutes to show the Geordie public what was to follow - the first of nearly 250 goals scored for United - and it was achieved with his first kick too. He continued at inside-forward during those mid forties, a position that many judges, including Charlie Buchan, reckoned was his best. He also played on the flank and showed the swiftness of foot that was to create many goals from the centre-forward position. That important change occurred in October 1947 and his first game in the famed Number 9 shirt resulted in a hat-trick. He was a reluctant centre-forward, but George Martin persuaded him to stick it out, maintaining he had all the assets to become a great leader.

Milburn topped the scoring list as United were promoted and in Division One he went off like a bomb. Defences had no answer and he was soon representing England, scoring on his debut. He went on to play 13 times for his country, scoring nine goals including a hat-trick against Wales. To many it was a dozen appearances too few. Milburn became a Geordie legend - the pit-man turned hero. He was a versatile player, operating over the seasons in all forward positions for United. He worked hard at his game, once saying, "I would kick a ball against a wall for hours". Jackie was not the selfish or ruthless type of leader. He looked casual at times and would always consider passing when perhaps he should have had a crack at goal himself. He hated heading the ball too, due to a fibrositis complaint. But he was still a radiant player. Milburn had the ability to hit the ball, "He was the most natural striker of a ball I've ever seen". And could he run, devastatingly fast. When in full flight he was breathtaking and once ran 200 yards in 19.7 seconds. He possessed flair for a special finish and was noted for scoring from what seemed impossible angles, and also on the run where his control of the ball was nigh perfect. Milburn's famous trick of sliding on one knee to tackle a defender, hooking the ball and then sprinting away is one that surprised many a centre-half. Bob Stokoe was to remark, "He was the most exciting thing I have ever seen on a football field".

By the turn of the decade Milburn was the spearhead to United's double FA Cup triumph in 1951 and 1952. It was in the first of those finals that Jackie was elevated to superstar status with a double strike worthy of any Goal of the Season award. Another final followed in 1955, and another memorable goal. Milburn remained at Gallowgate until the summer of 1957 when he moved to Linfield as player-manager. He was 33 years old and was offered a lucrative deal .... £25 per week, £1,000 signing-on fee and a club house. After a basic £17 wage packet at St James Park it was heaven.

Milburn turned out in the early days of the European Cup - scoring two goals - and helped win League and Cup honours in Ireland. He was named Ulster Footballer-of-the-Year in 1958 and was equally as popular at Windsor Park, netting some 150 goals. In January 1963 he tried senior management with Ipswich Town after a spell coaching with non-league Yiewsley and Carmel College. He succeeded Alf Ramsey who took charge of the England side but, at Portman Road, Milburn had a rough passage. Inheriting an ageing squad, he had to rebuild and Ipswich were relegated. He noted, "the pressure was unbelievable". He was too nice a guy to wander in that managerial jungle and left East Anglia to return north a year and a half later.

Entering the newspaper world, Milburn remained for over 20 years covering north eastern football from the press-box. Given the Freedom of the City - and few hold that honour - Jackie Milburn remained a gentlemanly and modest individual to his final day. When chatting about his belated testimonial match in 1967 he said, "I was worried to death that no-one would turn up. Ten years is a long time. People forget". Jack, modest as ever should have known better. Geordies do not forget heroes and Jackie Milburn was their biggest. Almost 46,000 crowded into St James Park for the midweek spectacular.

No other player has scored more senior goals for Newcastle United and it is doubtful if anyone in the future will approach the popularity which the name of Milburn still holds in the north east of England.

This article is from the site "THE MAGPIE ZONE" @ http://www.geocities.com/~shearyadi/

close window