Man City and Sunderland legend Johnny 'Jobby' Crossan turns 80

JOBBY CROSSAN turned 80 today but the former Man City and Sunderland legend didn't want any fanfare or fuss befitting of one of Northern Ireland's finest players.

Thursday, 29th November 2018, 8:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 2:54 am
OCTOGENERIAN. . . . .John 'Jobby' Crossan pictured at Brandywell this week. The former international footballer celebrates his 80th birthday this week. (Photos: Jim McCafferty Photography)

Instead, he celebrated the milestone following his normal daily routine, opening up his sports store on Messine’s Terrace where he spent the morning ‘shooting the breeze’ with his friends.

He’ll spend a quiet weekend in Malin in Co. Donegal with friends and perhaps treat himself to the odd gin and tonic to toast another impressive milestone reached.

‘The love of my life is football’, he insists and his career in the game has certainly provided him with so many fascinating tales involving some of the finest footballers ever to have lived.

“I was fortunate I could play a bit,” he said in his own understated way as he recalled some of his magical tales in his Shandon Park home this week.

Born in Hamilton Street in 1938, Jobby, arguably Derry’s most famous footballer, can look back on an iconic career which included lining out for Standard Liege against the famous Real Madrid team of Ferenc Puskas, Gento and the great Alfredo Di Stefano in the European Cup semi-final of 1962 (He scored twice against Rangers in the previous round).

“Playing Real Madrid at the Bernabeu was definitely one of the stand-out memories in front of 120 thousand.” he said. “Di Stefano was always a step ahead. I remember doing a lot of running in that game, doing the job of marking Di Stefano. He was the complete player.” Madrid went on to win 6-0 on aggregate.

“I was at a Football Writers’ Dinner at the Café Royal in Oxford Street, London some time afterwards and as I was heading up the stairs to the function room I spotted Alfredo Di Stefano and he shouted ‘Standard Liege!’ and shook my hand. I was chuffed,” he beamed.

Jobby Crossan, eighth from the left, pictured with the Standard Liege team prior to the European Cup semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in Belgium. The Madrid side includes the great Alfredo Di Stefano (third from right) and Ferenc Pusks (extreme right).

He’s also shared a pitch with George Best, Pele and Eusebio and has been referred to as ‘Ireland’s Jimmy Greaves’ during a colourful career which began at Derry City before he was famously banned from playing football in Britain and Ireland.

He had been found guilty by the Irish League of being paid as an amateur and asking for more than £750 signing-on fee in a projected transfer from Coleraine to Bristol City. He was forced to play on the Continent with Sparta Rotterdam in 1959 before moving to Standard Liege in Belgium as one of only two permitted foreign players the following year. It was there where he rubbed shoulders with some of the game’s legends including Pele in his first match with the Belgian side in a friendly against Santos and later Botafogo’s Garrincha.

He finally returned from enforced Football League exile to sign for Sunderland for a £30,000 fee in 1962 which was famously mocked by the legendary Brian Clough. “Clough said to me; ‘Young man. Do you know they broke the record to buy you so you can make goals for me.’ I told him it would work out and it did.”

“We were good friends until the day he died.” And Jobby went on to become Sunderland’s top scorer than season with 27 goals!

Jobby Crossan leads out the Manchester City side as captain during the 1965/66 promotion winning season

The talented inside left was the subject of some staggering transfer fees and was once getting paid more than Clough due to a court case which abolished the £20 a week maximum wage cap for footballers. “Clough reared up on me because I was £45 a week,” he recalled.

His first kick in English football hit the crossbar in a game where Clough netted a hat-trick against Grimsby.

He went to Man City from Sunderland for a £40,000 fee in January 1963 after scoring 48 goals in just 99 appearances at Roker Park including in the promotion-winning season of 1963/64.

He captained City to promotion and was adored by fans of the Maine Road club and still travels regularly to meet up with his good friend Mike Summerbee to watch them play. After being left out of the team or ‘rested’ as manager, Joe Mercer had put it, he requested a transfer and moved to Middlesbrough in August 1967.

Jobby pictured with the Division Two trophy and City manager, Joe Mercer

A second spell with Standard Liege followed before he finally retired from the game and returned home to open a bar in Ferguson’s Lane before purchasing his sports shops in the 1970s which he still runs to this day.

Jobby also enjoyed an impressive international career, notching up 24 caps and 10 goals for Northern Ireland. He made his N. Ireland debut against England at Wembley on November 11th 1959 - his mother Maggie’s birthday and he netted one of his most cherished goals against Gordon Banks in another meeting with the English at Wembley in 1963.

However, his classic 25 yard volley at Windsor Park as N. Ireland defeated Poland in the European Nations Cup tie in 1962 is one of his favourite strikes which was labelled ‘a goal in a million’. “I got both feet off the ground continental style and volleyed it home,” he told the late sports journalist, Malcolm Brody in an interview 10 years ago. “It was one of the most memorable goals of my career.”

While he was a technically gifted player, Jobby also never shied away from a tackle. “My temper could be severe and I could nail you if the opportunity presented itself,” he said with a stare. “But I enjoyed my football.”

Even as an Octogenarian, Jobby is frustrated he can’t be in the thick of the action at his local five a-side game which involved former N. Ireland and Derry City legend, Felix Healy. He now organises and watches from the spectators’ gallery at Templemore Sports Complex on a Friday night.

Amazingly he just recently hung up his boots due to knee cartilage damage but football is still very much a huge part of his life as he regularly watched Derry & District FA. games which he was heavily involved in.

“Its terrible, shocking not being able to play anymore,” he said. “Especially when you’re playing along with a lock of dummies,” he laughed.

“My life was football. I always wanted to be a footballer growing up. I’m in decent health and keep myself fit so I can’t complain.”

Jobby may be 80 and while he’s gutted to be officially retired from playing his local five a-side, he has an incredible story to tell and many happy memories of a fascinating, unique career.

“When I was three I was playing football with my brothers in the street and I’ve just recently stopped playing, so it’s been a good innings,” he smiled.