During this period of enforced football inactivity Linfieldfc.com will provide occasional programme articles on our former players.
The choice of Jim Lemon as the first former player to be featured in this series is deliberate, as he was to have been one of the 3 special guests in a Question and answer pre match function prior to the recently postponed home game against Larne.
CULT HEROES – JIM LEMON
by James Kennedy
Hands up if you’ve played against Pele twice and never lost. That’s one of the claims to fame of former Linfield star, Jim Lemon.
“I played in the United States, first with Chicago Sting, then Philadelphia Fever and New Jersey Americans. George Best was with Los Angeles Aztecs at that time, but when I played against them, Bestie did one of his famous disappearing acts!”
As a boy, Jim emigrated to Australia and while down under, he played Rugby League. Eventually the family moved back to Northern Ireland, and Jim played football at Dundonald Boys High School, living just across the road, and Ards Boys, before signing for Glentoran Olympic.
“I started off well at The Oval, making my debut for the Olympic on a Friday night, then on the Saturday I was invited to play for the Seconds and scored a hat-trick!”
However, Jim, who, with the benefit of hindsight, describes himself as impetuous, moved to Distillery as part of a deal which saw striker Gerry McCaffrey move to East Belfast, and while at Grosvenor Park, he first encountered future Linfield great, Peter Rafferty.
“The Raff was just one of many good players at Distillery then, but they were one of many clubs I only spent a couple of years with. Jimmy McAlinden was manager, and we just never hit it off, so I moved on to Dundela, losing in two successive Steel and Sons Cup finals. One of them was against Linfield Swifts, a team including Davy Nixon. We had a bit of a run in; wee Nicky likes to remind me of that!”.
Next up was a spell at Irish League new boys Larne, and during a win at Castlereagh Park against Ards, Jim wound the opposition up by sitting on the ball on the halfway line!
“The manager saved me from a lynching by substituting me, and I was soon on the move again, this time to Linfield”.
Jim was one of Roy Coyle’s first signings, having stood out when Larne played at Windsor, and he made such an impression on his new manager that Coyle was predicting great things for him, including international football.
“I never got a cap, but I suppose I did go ‘international’ when I ended up in the States!”
Jim’s stay in the US saw him rub shoulders with many great players, with Willie Morgan, Gordon Hill and Jim McCalliog among his teammates, and he also played against Rodney Marsh, Mike England and Gordon Banks.
“I’m not 100% sure but I think I also faced Bobby Moore”.
Having moved back to Northern Ireland, tragedy struck Jim when his wife passed away aged just 30. But he played football at Sligo Rovers, under manager Billy Sinclair.
“I had an arrangement with Sinky that if an offer came for me to go Stateside again, he wouldn’t stand in my way. So I played indoor football for a while before coming back home again”.
Spells at Carrick Rangers and Glenavon followed, and when it came near to time to hang his boots up, Jim became manager of Tobermore Utd.
“That didn’t work out. I didn’t think that they could play football, and the club didn’t think I could manage, and we soon parted company. You might say that they were right!”
Jim doesn’t watch much Irish League football now.
“The characters I played with during the 1970s were great lads, and we still have the odd get together around Christmas when The Raff comes home from Spain. George Dunlop does the organising, and I spend a few hours with them, Davy Nixon, Peter Dornan and various others. Today’s players are athletes compared to us. I always loved training and playing games, but football was different back when I played”.
Roy Coyle's team of 1976
Standing - Len Hiller, Eric Magee, Gary Cully, Peter Rafferty, Ken Barclay, Peter Dornan, Billy Hamilton, Cyril Hewitt, Frankie Parks, Kenny McKeague.
Sitting - John Garrett, Terry Hayes, Jim Martin, Roy Coyle, Ronnie Bell, Herbie Pearson, Jim Lemon.