At the Crowne Plaza Hotel on May 11, I had the privilege and honour of announcing the induction of the great Joe Bambrick into the Linfield ‘Hall of Fame’ - the award of the Torrans Trophy cementing his legendary status as one of this club’s All-Time Greats.
522 Linfield goals in 357 Linfield appearances between 1927 and 1934 (along with a brief return in 1943) secured his place as one of the ‘great men who made our club great’.
At the time of the award announcement, we were not aware of the existence of any known descendants of the recipient of the hugely prestigious Torrans Trophy which previously had been awarded to Noel Bailie MBE, Glenn Ferguson, Isaac Andrews, Alex Russell, Martin McGaughey, Peter Rafferty, George Dunlop, Sammy Pavis, Tommy Dickson and Bobby Braithwaite.
Imagine therefore my surprise and delight when a few days after the award was announced on Linfieldfc.com, I was contacted by Joe’s nephew - 73 year old Walter Veale, living here in Northern Ireland.
After a brief conversation by phone, Walter invited me to his home so that I could show him the trophy that had been awarded in honour of and by way of tribute to his uncle who in a major poll chaired by Malcolm Brodie MBE to coincide with the 125th anniversary of this club in 2011, was named the 4th Greatest Linfield Player of All-Time (just behind Tommy Dickson, Noel Bailie and Jackie Milburn).
What a pleasure and privilege it was to meet Walter and his wife Marie and to listen to their memories of the man who they were proud to call their uncle and whose 6 goals in Ireland’s 7-0 win against Wales at Celtic Park on February 1, 1930 remarkably remains in the Guinness book of records almost 90 years later, as the most international goals in a single game scored by a British Isles Player.
I will share some of their memories, many of which were a tale of a bygone Belfast, very different to the one we all know and love today.
Joe Bambrick was born in November 1905 in Burnaby Street off the Grosvenor Rd but from the age of 5, he lived at 219 Roden St, close to its junction with the Donegall Rd.
The humble home was awarded a blue plaque by the Ulster historical circle in November 2006 to mark the lifelong residency of an Irish footballing icon and appropriately, it was Malcolm Brodie who performed the unveiling of the plaque in honour of the man he had grown to know well in his later years. Walter was proud of the role he had played in campaigning for the blue plaque in recognition of his uncle’s connection with the local area and he recalled how Linfield provided the refreshments in the viewing lounge after the ceremony.
Joe remained single all his life and he shared his 219 Roden St home with his sister Florence (Florrie) Elizabeth who married Englishman Arthur Veale who had served in the Forces and who he had met while stationed in Holywood.
While Joe had no direct descendants, his sister Florrie had 4 children - Brenda (no children), Joe (one daughter Joanne), Jim (two daughters in Australia, Sharon and Dawn), as well as Walter who had 2 sons Christopher (48) and Nicholas (40).
Walter grew up between 1945 and 1968 in the 219 Roden St council house home of his uncle Joe and mum Florrie and while he was too young to see Joe play for Linfield, he has countless personal memories he was willing to share.
Walter and his wife Marie (originally from Sandy Row) remain lifelong Linfield supporters and they confirmed that their uncle Joe’s most cherished football memory was the 4 goals he scored for Linfield in the 4-3 Irish Cup final win against Ballymena on March 29, 1930, a few weeks after the 6 goal haul against Wales at the same Celtic Park venue. His Irish Cup winners medal can be viewed on the National Football Collection website.
Walter spoke fondly of his uncle - a clerk in the drawing office at Short Brothers and Harland - a quiet, modest man who never drove and who he described as ‘dapper’.
In his later years, Joe Bambrick met up frequently with Malcolm Brodie, Tommy Dickson and various former team mates and ‘foes’. Joe served as a scout for Linfield after his playing career and Walter has very clear memories of Tommy Dickson calling at their Roden St home to take Joe out once a week.
The pre-Troubles and pre-Westlink Belfast Joe Bambrick socialised in, was very different to the lay out of the area today, with Joe regularly meeting up with friends across the nearby Grosvenor and Falls Rd area and as Walter advised, high profile players such as Celtic’s Elisha Scott, Linfield’s Joe Bambrick and others rarely had to buy their own drink.
Joe may have been a huge footballing name but there was little money in the game in his era. He lived in a modest terraced council house and as it didn’t have a bath, it meant Joe would regularly nip down to the nearby Windsor Park to avail of the facilities available there.
Of course, the Windsor bath was to be the cause of a major hand injury Joe sustained, as he slipped and put his hand through a pane of glass, as he attempted to get out of the bath after a training session in December 1930. Although the injury ruled him out for the remainder of the season, surgeons were able to repair the damage. Walter spoke of how the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ of the time provided daily injury updates and bulletins on the recovery from this career threatening injury of the ‘Windsor lad’.
One of the most fascinating lines in the handwritten personal records of the former Linfield chairman David Crawford refers to Joe being presented with a goat and how he was allowed to graze the goat at Windsor Park. I was keen to find out more about this most unusual presentation to a Linfield player and Walter had recollections of his uncle Joe owning a goat for a period.
His Roden St home didn’t lend itself then, as it wouldn’t now, to providing grazing space for a goat and Walter had memories of the goat grazing in allotments at the nearby Blackstaff, Broadway, and pre-Midgley Park area behind the Kop Stand, as well as Windsor itself.
Walter shared numerous clips from scrapbooks, as well as memories of tales he’d been told by his uncle Joe. He recalled how Joe had travelled extensively with Chelsea, including a trip by plane to Czechoslovakia. He also spoke of a social meeting as a Chelsea player with the then Prince of Wales in London, prior to his coronation and subsequent 1936 abdication as King Edward VIII. Walter recalled how Joe had told him he’d enjoyed a great life and travelled widely and met many important people through football.
Through it all, Joe retained a deep love for and pride in his hometown club of Linfield and in 1979 he was awarded a Testimonial dinner in the Windsor viewing lounge in his honour.
Walter recalled how the dinner, attended by over 300 people was a who’s who of some of the greats of yesteryear, including Glentoran’s goalscoring legend of the same era - Fred Roberts.
Joe passed away in October 1983, having lived his last few months being cared for in a home in the Annadale area. Walter recalled the funeral service leaving Houston and Williamson in Clifton Park Avenue and proceeding down Agnes St towards the Shankill area.
Joe was laid to rest in Roselawn cemetery and ironically, the final resting place of another favourite footballing son of Belfast - George Best - is located just a short distance away. Just as Linfield honoured Joe Bambrick with the ‘Hall of Fame’ award on May 11, so too the NIFWA indicted George Best into their ‘Hall of Fame’ just 2 nights later at the same Crowne Plaza venue.
The main family name of the grave headstone is MANDERSON - Joe’s niece - but added to the headstone has been the wording Bambrick - Footballer - along with his immortal catchphrase - ‘Head, heel or toe, Slip it to Joe’.
Joe’s portrait proudly hangs in the Linfield boardroom in the Railway Stand at Windsor Park, alongside similar images of Jackie Milburn, Tommy Dickson and Glenn Ferguson as a constant reminder of and tribute to some of the ‘great men who made our club great’.
It is a source of great pride for all at Linfield that the name of ‘one of our own’ - the very local Joe Bambrick - remains in the record books because of his goalscoring exploits at the nearby Celtic Park on that historic February 1, 1930 date, almost 90 years ago.
One day that record will undoubtedly be beaten but this club will always be firecely proud of Joe’s achievements in the shirt of his club and country.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat
I am sincerely grateful to Walter Veale for the welcome and the fascinating insight into the life of a Linfield legend during our 2 hour meeting last week. Walter is pictured below with the Torrans Trophy awarded in honour of his uncle and the cartoon image of Joe by the Belfast Telegraph’s Rowell Friars includes an original Joe Bambrick autograph on one of the football boots.
Above - Joe with his sister and below Joe in the middle of the front row in an historic photo at Celtic park on February 1, 1930.