Northern Irish football is mourning former international player and manager Bertie Peacock.
By Kenny Archer
Northern Ireland football is mourning former international player and manager Bertie Peacock, who died on Thursday aged 75.
Peacock achieved much success both on and off the pitch but was held in great affection as much for his character and for what he continued to put back into the game after his career was over. Indeed, his death occurred during the Northern Ireland Milk Cup, the youth tournament known across the world that he helped establish 22 years ago, an event initially based around his native Coleraine.
He began his playing days with his hometown club, Coleraine FC, and he moved on to Belfast side Glentoran FC before joining Scotland's Celtic FC in 1949. Nicknamed 'the Little Ant' for his prodigious workrate as a player, he went on captain the Parkhead club and won Scottish League and Cup medals in his time with Celtic, when he received 30 of his 31 international caps, beginning against Scotland in 1952.
World Cup run
Representing Northern Ireland at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden, he helped his team to the quarter-finals. Fittingly, his last international appearance in 1962 came after he had returned to Coleraine. That same year, aged only 33, he succeeded Peter Doherty as Northern Ireland manager, a post he held for five years. During that time he gave a first international cap to George Best.
Bertie managed his beloved Coleraine for 12 years too, leading the Bannsiders to their greatest period of success. Under his control they won the Irish Cup for the first time in 1965, and again in 1972, then he lead to them to their only Irish championship title in their history in 1974.
Former Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham, who played alongside him in that 1950s side and brought him to the 1982 World Cup in Spain as part of his backroom team, said: "Bertie was a great pal, a modest, quiet sort of a guy, and he was part of a great midfield with [Danny] Blanchflower, [Wilbur] Cush, and [Jimmy] McIlroy. As a player he was always busy, with a great left foot."
Northern Ireland and Manchester United FC goalkeeper Harry Gregg commented: "Bertie had a great football mind and so many people in the game today have benefited from listening to him."
New Cliftonville FC manager Liam Beckett, who played for Peacock at Coleraine, declared: "He was a 5ft 6in (1.68m) giant, a tiger on and off the park who commanded respect from players. Bertie did so much down the years for young people in particular and his death will leave a void that cannot be filled."
A Celtic spokesman stated: "Our thoughts and prayers are with Bertie's family at this sad time. He was a true Celtic hero and he will be missed by everyone who knew him."
That was confirmed by Victor Leonard, chairman of the Milk Cup committee and a close personal friend, who recalled: "Bertie Peacock could walk into any supporters club and receive a rousing reception. It didn't matter if it was Celtic or Rangers. It was wonderful and always brought a smile to his face."
Mark of respect
Flags flew at half-mast at all Milk Cup venues after his death and a minute's silence was observed before all remaining matches as a mark of respect. Bertie is survived by his wife Ruby and only son Russell.