If ever an opus of iconic Northern Irish players was written, Jimmy Jones would have his own special place.
The free-scoring striker – who died last week at the age of 85 – was part of the famous Glenavon FC team that delivered a first league championship for the Lurgan outfit in 1952. Jones was the club's top marksman in ten consecutive seasons, from 1952/53 to 1961/62, and scored a remarkable 74 goals in 1956/57, a league record that still stands. He bagged 517 goals and won three league titles and three Irish Cups during his time at Glenavon, while his career tally of 646 goals is another record that is unlikely to be broken.
At the unveiling of the Jimmy Jones Suite at Glenavon's Mourneview Park stadium, club chairman Adrian Teer hailed Jones as a "genuine legend". "Jimmy's goalscoring record is phenomenal and his contribution to Glenavon Football Club was immense," said Teer. "When you saw Jimmy on the pitch, you wondered 'what can this guy do?' But he could score with both feet and was a great header of the ball. People talk glibly about legends in sport, but Jimmy Jones is a genuine legend of Northern Ireland football."
Never renowned for his footballing guile and skill, the burly, square-shouldered frontman once declared: "I'm there to put the ball in the net – nothing else." The three-times-capped Northern Ireland forward spent two years with Belfast Celtic FC after being spotted by their manager, former Liverpool FC and Ireland goalkeeper Elisha Scott. He notched 63 goals in his first campaign, before his future was plunged into jeopardy following an ill-tempered derby with rivals Linfield FC on 27 December 1948.
During the fractious 2-2 draw, which saw both sides reduced to ten men, Linfield defender Bob Bryson suffered a broken leg in an accidental clash with the Belfast Celtic striker. On the final whistle, incensed Linfield fans invaded the pitch and attacked Jones who was knocked unconscious and sustained a broken leg of his own, which would require four operations to set. "I was scared to death," Jones later recalled. "I tried to get up, but my leg was hanging limp."
Sadly, the incident also sparked a decision by Celtic to withdraw from football once that season's commitments had been fulfilled. When Jones returned to full health and fitness, he signed for Fulham FC for £3,000, but a technicality led the English Football League to reject his registration and he was reduced to playing reserve-team games for the west London outfit. "It was frustrating," said Jones. "I would love to have found out what I could have achieved in English football."
In 1951, Jones returned to Northern Ireland where he joined home-town club Glenavon, and it was at Mourneview Park that he came into his own, forming a prolific partnership with the late Jackie Denver, a player he had honed his predatory skills alongside at Belfast Celtic. The late Malcolm Brodie, a doyen of Northern Irish football journalism, wrote: "Jones was a relentless scoring machine and Denver not far behind him. They went together like Scotch and water, milk and honey. They were the perfect blend."
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