During this period of enforced football inactivity Linfieldfc.com has provided weekly programme articles on some of our former players.
The series commenced 13 weeks ago with an article on Jim Lemon and has continued over the past 12 weeks with features on Tommy MacDonald, Stephen McKee, Eric Bowyer, Tony Gorman, Lindsay Curry, Damien Curran, Colin McCurdy, Martin McGaughey, Roy Walsh, Frankie Parkes, Warren Feeney senior and George O'Boyle.
In this week’s article Linfieldfc.com reproduces an article from April 2019 in which the spotlight was focused on the legendary former club captain Noel Bailie MBE.
CULT HEROES – NOEL BAILIE MBE
by James Kennedy
With 1013 games, 10 Irish League titles, 8 Irish Cup winners’ medals, 1 Setanta Cup winners’ medal and umpteen other medals and numerous personal awards, statistics, impressive as they are, only tell a small part of the story of Noel Bailie MBE, a man for whom the term ‘Legend’ was invented.
A fresh faced 15 year old Noel signed for Linfield from Hillsborough Boys’ Club in 1986, and who could have predicted that his 1st Team career would span 4 decades, 2 centuries and 2 millennia? Making his debut for the senior team in March 1989 in a Co. Antrim Shield tie at Ballymena Utd. One club man Noel would go on to become a regular in a side that racked up trophy success after trophy success, with many of those trophies being hoisted first by Noel as the club skipper.
“I played as sweeper for Hillsborough Boys’ alongside future international Gerry Taggart. That was an easy job as Gerry was always a giant and I just picked up the pieces around him. But I must have done something right as Jim ‘Stick’ Thompson and Gerry Burrell came to watch me and persuaded me to sign for Linfield”.
Starting off in the Linfield Rangers side, a young Noel played in a variety of positions, including centre forward (he scored on his debut!), and in 1989 manager Roy Coyle handed him his first professional contract.
The Coyle era was by this time coming to an end, and when Eric Bowyer took over the manager’s role, Noel hardly got a look in as the team struggled.
“I didn’t play as often as I would have liked during the early part of the 1990s, but when Trevor Anderson was appointed as manager in 1992, I got a lot more game time as he knew me from our days with the Rangers team”.
Anderson brought immediate success to the club (2 League titles and 2 Irish Cup successes in 3 seasons), but his shrewdest move was to make Noel his captain.
“Alan Dornan had been captain but when he moved on, I got the arm band, and I was proud to lead the team for the next 15 years”.
In January 1997 Noel was one of many who were surprised to learn that Anderson was leaving the club, to be replaced by David Jeffrey.
“I don’t need to tell you that, after a difficult start, the majority of the ‘Jeffrey Years’ saw success after success, culminating in the Clean Sweep season of 2005/06. That squad of players are now in the history books for ever and ever, and we are all friends for life”.
It is perhaps surprising that Noel never got the chance to test himself in full time football across the water in England or Scotland.
“I never had much interest in full time football, but if I had got the chance to play for Arsenal I’d have been away like a shot! But, sure, I’d have missed out on many memorable games against European teams, trips to various countries, and that night in Copenhagen when we almost made it through to play AC Milan in the Champions League.
Noel played his last game for The Blues against Portadown in 2011, again lifting The Gibson Cup, and that was it for him, as he had no interest in coaching.
“Nobody was in any doubt about my attitude to coaching, but I did eventually agree to become a scout for the club, and I’m still doing that”.
And what about his special award from Queen Elizabeth II? “Sadly, my mother didn’t live to see me pick up my MBE, but I took my Dad and 2 children to Buckingham Palace with me. And what really made my day was that it was Her Majesty herself who presented me with the medal. Talk about proud!”
Which all just goes to show that even our longest reigning monarch knows greatness when she sees it!