Five Manchester United players featured in the Northern Ireland starting line-up for six matches in the late 1970s: Tommy Jackson, David McCreery, Chris McGrathand, Sammy McIlroy, and Jimmy Nicholl. Former Manchester United favourites Trevor Anderson and George Best also featured.
Samuel McIlroy was born 2 August 1954 in the much troubled city of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Being brought up in the very heart of Protestant East Belfast, he was steeped from an early age in a marinade of politics and religion. Nonetheless, East Belfast has produced a great number of immensely talented Manchester United players up through the years including household names such as George Best, Eric McMordie, David McCreery, and Norman Whiteside. After being discovered by famous United scout Bob Bishop while still a schoolboy player, McIlroy was advised by his family to seek his footballing fortune in the calmer climes of Lancashire as Northern Ireland was tottering on the brink of Civil War.
The last youth player to be signed by legendary Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, Sammy McIlroy arrived in Manchester as a modest, fresh faced 14 year old in the summer of 1969. Finding the net on his United debut against fierce rivals Manchester City in November 1971, the gifted youngster quickly became a massive hit with the Old Trafford faithful. Eventually establishing himself in the Manchester United first team during the 1974-75 season, McIlroy proceeded to make a total of 391 appearances for the Reds. The young veteran also played an important part in United’s nothing but fantastic revival under Tommy Docherty in the mid 1970s, winning the Second Division title with the Reds in 1975 and the FA Cup two years later.
Finally deciding to leave Manchester United at the end of the 1981-82 season, Sammy McIlroy went on to appear for Stoke City, Manchester City, Bury, Preston North End, and Northwich Victoria. The hard working Ulsterman also had an extraordinary international career, gaining a total of 88 caps for his beloved Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1987.
“The Protestant people in Northern Ireland were used and abused by the British. How could you have working class people living in poverty voting Tory? You looked at two working class people shooting each other and you asked how was that possible. It was divide and conquer, the British trait from the year dot.”
Paddy Crerand quote.