4 August 2006

Jackie Blanchflower

A key player in Northern Ireland's successful 1958 World Cup qualifying campaign, Jackie was cruelly injured in the Munich air crash, robbing him not only of a place at the Finals, but of his career and of eight of his Manchester United colleagues...

Name: John Blanchflower
Born: 7 March 1933, Belfast
Height: 5.11 ft
Weight: 11.10 st
Position: Inside-Right / Centre-Half
Died: 2 September 1998

Representative Honours: Northern Ireland: 12 Full Caps/1 Goal (1954-1958), 6 Schoolboy Caps (1945-1947).
Club Honours: (with Manchester United) Football League Champion 1955/56; FA Cup Runner-Up 1956/57; FA Charity Shield Winner 1957.

Club Career:
Teams
Seasons
Signed
Fee
League
FA Cup
Europe
Other
Boyland
-
-
Youth
-
-
-
-
Glentoran
-
1946
Youth
0/ 0
-
-
-
Manchester Utd
51/52-57/58
Mar-50
Youth
105/26
6/1
5/0
*1/0
TOTALS
-
£0
105/26
6/1
5/0
1/0
* Charity Shield

Biography:
For all his achievements on the football pitch, Jackie Blanchflower will forever be remembered as two things - "younger brother of Danny" and "Munich survivor". It is unfair that these two things override his playing career, as he was certainly one of the most gifted players Northern Ireland has produced, and some have speculated that if his career had not been ended at just 24 years-of-age, he may have gone on to outshine his more celebrated sibling.

Jackie, who had briefly been on the books at Glentoran, signed for Manchester United as an apprentice from Belfast junior club Boyland in May 1949. He turned professional the following March, but had to wait until November 1951 to make his firstteam debut, against Liverpool at Anfield. It would be the following season before Matt Busby called on Blanchflower again, and not until the season after that that he became a regular in the starting eleven.

In his early days at Old Trafford, Blanchflower was a creative inside-right, twice taking his seasonal goal-tally into double figures. By the time of the 1955/56 Championship winning season he was more often found at wing-half, or at centre-back, the position for which he is perhaps best remembered. Possessing a good touch with both feet, Blanchflower's only real deficiency was a lack of pace, and his physique brought him the nickname "Twiggy" from his teammates.

Jackie's first four international caps were won as a forward, and brought one goal, the opener in a 2-1 win over Scotland. From 1956, when available, the number five green shirt was his, and of the eight games he played in the back-line, Northern Ireland lost just one.

Having lost his place in the Manchester United side, Blanchflower's eleven appearances meant he missed out on a Championship medal in the 1956/57 season. He did however win his place back in time for that seasons FA Cup Final. After just eight minutes United's 'keeper Ray Wood left the field with a fractured cheekbone following a clash with Aston Villa's Peter McParland. It was Blanchflower who stepped in, and despite his heroics in front of a crowd of 100,000 people, United lost 2-1.

Jackie Blanchflower made, what turned out to be, his final international appearance in a 2-1 win over Italy at Windsor Park, in the World Cup Qualifier that clinched Northern Ireland's place at the 1958 Finals. Sadly he was not to play his part in Sweden, and how the depleted Northern Ireland side that took to the field in the latter stages of the competition could have used such a versatile player.

The irony of Munich for Blanchflower was that he had lost his centre-half spot to Mark Jones earlier in the 1957/58 season, but he was still in the nominated squad to make the trip to Belgrade for the European Cup quarter-final tie in February 1958. When the plane crashed on the return from Yugoslavia, after stopping to re-fuel in Munich, Blanchflower found himself caught in the tangled wreckage, and it was only the bravery of teammate Harry Gregg that saved his life.

After Munich Blanchflowere worked hard to resume his career, but his list of injuries - including fractured pelvis, arms and ribs and crushed kidneys - meant that a return was impossible, and in June 1959 he left Old Trafford for the last time as a 'player'. He continued to suffer the effects of Munich after retiring, and persued a career as an accountant. Later he became a popular after dinner speaker and entertainer, remaining a popular figure at clubs in the north of England.

Jackie Blanchflower died of cancer in September 1998, just a few weeks after he attended Old Trafford for a Munich Testimonial game.

Northern Ireland cap Details:
21-03-1954 Wales... A W 2-1 WCQ
02-10-1954 England. H L 0-2 BC
03-11-1954 Scotland A D 2-2 BC
08-10-1955 Scotland H W 2-1 BC. 1 goal
11-04-1956 Wales... A D 1-1 BC
06-10-1956 England. H D 1-1 BC
07-11-1956 Scotland A L 0-1 BC
16-01-1957 Portugal A D 1-1 WCQ
05-10-1957 Scotland H D 1-1 BC
06-11-1957 England. A W 3-2 BC
04-12-1957 Italy... H D 2-2 FR
15-01-1958 Italy... H W 2-1 WCQ


Summary: 12/1. Won: 4, Drew 6, Lost 2.

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