Alex Mills feature on Linfield Seven Trophy Legend Ken Gilliland
Posted : 6th April 2019
Below is an excellent feature on Seven Trophy Legend Ken Gilliland by the leading local sports journalist Alex Mills which was published in last week’s issue of Sunday Life and which is reproduced here with the kind permission of the writer and the paper.
IRISH LEAGUE LIVES
PICTURE the scene! A triumphant Linfield team with seven trophies on parade, prior to the days of open top buses.
An aging lorry improvised. Regardless of the transportation difficulties, the streets from the top of the Shankill Road through to Sandy Row, were thronged with people determined to celebrate the most iconic achievement in the history of Irish League football.
The cavalcade of celebration lingers vividly in the memory of former defender Ken Gilliland, now a spritely 83-years-of-age, but a regular at the fabulous Aroura Leisure Complex in Bangor, attending five days a week.
When Ken joined the Blues in 1954, under the managerial reins of the irrepressible Gibby MacKenzie, he didn’t realise he would not only scribble his name into the fabric of the club, but into the annals of local football history.
Incredibly, it was the second time Linfield had enjoyed a clean sweep of local trophies – seven in total. Gilliland and his team mates emulated the achievements of the side that lifted everything in front of them 40 years earlier.
However, the second time around was classed as a much greater success because there were 12 teams competing in the Irish League, as opposed to six back in 1921/22.
Having learned his trade with Boyland Boys’ Club, Ken was lured to Windsor Park, starting out with Linfield Rangers, before progressing to the Swifts.
“We made it to the final of the 1956/57 Steel & Sons Cup, drawing 3-3 with Larne at Grosvenor Park,” recalls Ken. “But we duly lost the replay. I was called into the first team after that, making my debut against Portadown.
“That was me until the day I walked away 14 years later. I was first choice right-back for a long time and proud to say I was a ‘one-club-man’. Where could I go after Linfield?”
Ken experienced many momentous moments in a fantastic football journey. When the great Jackie Milburn arrived on these shores to become player/manager at Linfield, it ranked as one of the most sensational career-moves in the history of domestic football.
Stitch in the mesmerising class of Tommy Dickson -- ‘The Duke of Windsor’ -- Hubert Barr, Bobby Braithwaite, goalkeeper Bobby Ervine, and Raymond Gough, the basis of that Seven Trophy winning side was beginning to take shape.
“Milburn was the most outstanding crowd-pulling import the country had ever seen – his presence alone added 5000 to attendances,” recalls Ken. “He scored goals like we’d never seen before . . . he struck a ball so hard.
“Jackie was a big, burly man, but he could play. He was also a nice guy. My wife and I had dinner several times with him at his Holywood home.”
When Milburn was replaced by Isaac McDowell in September 1960, the Linfield trophy juggernaut began to gather momentum. It was the following season unthinkable began to unfold.
The Ulster Cup took up residence at Windsor Park, followed by the City Cup. The Gold Cup and County Antrim Shield were added, along with the North-South Cup, which was held over from the previous season – the Blues beating Glentoran 7-1 over two legs.
McDowell’s side then defeated Portadown 4-0 in a one-sided Irish Cup final. The previous week, the Blues battled out a scoreless draw with Derry City to finish level with Portadown at the top of the league table, both teams on 31 points.
In fact, the Ports, then managed by the colourful Mackenzie, required only a draw at home to Glentoran in the final match to secure the crown, but were ultimately beaten 3-2.
It meant the Blues and Ports went head-to-head in winner takes all affair at Solitude on May, 17, 1962. The Linfield team for the record was: Irvine, Gilliland, Graham, Andrews, Hatton, Parke, Ferguson, Barr, Reid, Dickson, Braithwaite.
Goals from Jim Reid, who bagged two, and Braithwaite ensured history would be made -- the Grand Slam had been completed. That team became immortals of an institution, founded in a Belfast linen mill in 1886.
“If we won three trophies within the year, the club would have been doing well . . . the supporters happy,” adds Ken. “Basically, we had a team of good footballers. We thought nothing of it.
“We started that season winning . . . and we simply carried on winning. After three or four (trophy wins), people started to take notice. The team was stuffed with some wonderful footballers.
“When you had boys like Dickson, Braithwaite, Gough, Sammy Hatton, Barr, Tommy Stewart and Billy Ferguson, you soon learned how to win games.
“They were guys who could dig you out of the trenches. They would get you the goal you needed, perhaps a crucial equaliser or a winner. Dickson was a great man for that – he could always conjure up something special.
“When you win games, it makes things easier . . . it gives you the appetite for more. To be honest we never felt any pressure. Although we were expected to win certain games, we never stopped putting in the effort.
“You don’t get anything without hard work on this planet. Coleraine, Glenavon and Portadown were always difficult teams to beat. And, the rivalry with Glentoran was as strong as ever.
“They had Albert Finlay, Harry Creighton, Billy McKeag, Walter Bruce, Arthur Stewart and big Trevor Thompson up front. There was nothing easy, you had to graft it out most of the times. The crowds in those days were massive.
“Cliftonville were recognised as an amateur club, probably the weakest team in the division, having to apply for re-election most seasons, but we still had a fair amount of respect for them.
“We were obviously over the moon with what we achieved. It’s nice to say we are part of the club’s history. I’m proud to say that I was a Linfield player all my career. I joined as a young man and grew up with the club, through my 20s and into my 30s
“We had a victory parade on the back of a lorry, which started at the top of the Shankill Road and ended up at Windsor Park, was a fantastic occasion, the route packed with people, waving scarves and singing.
“And, the odd pub manager came out and handed the boys a bottle or two, not that I took any drink in those days. It was marvellous . . . it may have been on the back of an old lorry, but we didn’t care.
“We were also treated to a Civic Reception and dinner by the Lord Mayor at the City Hall.”
However, that achievement was always going to be a difficult act to follow and Ken, who worked as a project manager in the ship repair division at Harland and Wolff, admits the team were soon brought down to earth.
“I do recall we were show hand-clapped by the supporters at Windsor Park, not long into the new season,” he laughs. “Over the next seven or eight years, we had a change of managers, with Dickson having a go before Tommy Leishman and Ewan Fenton came in. Then Dennis Violet.
“But I knew my time was coming to an end. My contract wasn’t renewed and I left after the 1970 Irish Cup final.”
Over the last 20 years, Ken has taken up trekking and hiking. A lot was said about team a celebrities that recently took on the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro -- Ken achieved it 10 years ago.
“I’ve also visited Everest Base Camp; I’ve climbed Mount Kenya . . . I went to Sicily to climb Mount Etna, while I’ve completed three sky-dives and wing-walked on an aeroplane.
“I also passed a scuba diving course in Egypt . . . and regularly turn out for Aroura in walking-football games against other leisure centres -- I still have that competitive streak. But I’ve still time to fit in my singing commitments with Queen’s Island Victoria male voice choir. I enjoy life.”
Did you know?
Ken was born on October 3, 1935 and he signed for Linfield in 1954, making his debut two years later when he replaced Dick Keith, who was transferred to Newcastle United.
He made 17 European appearances for the Blues. He received a benefit game in the 1964/65 season against a star-studded Leeds United team, managed by Don Reive, which included Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles, Peter Lorimer and Allan Clarke.
As a Seven Trophy Legend with over 400 appearances for Linfield, he was made a Life Member of the club he served with such distinction and loyalty as a first team player for 14 years. Appropriately, Ken’s final game for the club was an Irish Cup final win against Ballymena United at Solitude in April 20, 1970.
In total, Ken won 27 medals with the Blues, which included five Irish League titles, three Irish Cup successes, four Ulster Cup wins, five City Cup, four Gold Cup, four County Antrim Shield victories, one Top Four victory and one North South Cup.