Skip to main content

Billy Cush

“Small in stature, he stands head and shoulders above most others in ability” - said Malcolm Brodie of Wilbur Cush. It’s hard to argue against Cush’s inclusion as a true Northern Ireland great…

Name: Wilbur Cush
Born: 10 June 1928, Lurgan
Height: 5.05 ft
Weight: 11.07 st
Died: 25 July 1981, Lurgan
Position: Half-Back / Inside-Forward

Representative Honours: Northern Ireland: 26 Full Caps / 6 Goals (1950-1961); Irish League: Caps (1948-1964).
Club Honours: (with Glenavon) Irish League Champion 1951/52, 1956/57; Irish Cup Winner 1956/57, Runner-Up 1955/56; Gold Cup Winner 1954/55, 1956/57; Ulster Cup Winner 1954/55; City Cup Winner 1954/55, 1955/56; (with Portadown) Irish Cup Runner-Up 1961/62.
Awards: Ulster Footballer of the Year 1957.

Club Career:
FA Cup
Shankhill YMCA
Leeds United
87/ 9
* all domestic games

The diminutive but barrel-chested Wilbur Cush played 26 times for Northern Ireland in six different positions - he was equally at home either attacking or defending. A "terrier" with a "heart bigger than his body" he could not be intimidated by larger opponents.

Cush spent over a decade as the "engine room" of the Glenavon side the collected a variety of medals, including the Irish League twice, the Irish Cup, the Gold Cup twice, the Ulster Cup and the City Cup twice during the most successful period in the club's history. In addition he played in Glenavon’s 1955 3-0 Irish Cup Final defeat by Dundela, one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history.

Cush’s chance in English football finally came at the age of 29, just months after being crowned Ulster Footballer of the Year, with a £7,000 move to Leeds United in November 1957. His skills and work-rate were rewarded when the Elland Road club awarded him the captain’s armband following the departure of John Charles. He was feared by opponents, Stanley Matthews equating a Cush tackle to "being hit by a tank".

Of course Cush will be best remembered for his goal against Italy that clinched Northern Ireland’s place in the 1958 World Cup Finals, and for his performances at the Finals where he played in all five games, at inside-right and left-half, scoring with a header against Czechoslovakia in a 1-0 win in the opening game.

An iron man, at those finals he played through the pain barrier as the Northern Ireland squad was depleted by injuries. Indeed, whilst playing at left-half against France in the quarter-finals his own elbow was so sore, that he was unable to take the throw-ins, and Northern Ireland crashed out of the World Cup to the team Cush later called “the worst team we played.”

His spell in England ended in disappointment when Leeds were relegated in 1960, and Cush returned to the Irish League with Portadown having played 90 League and FA Cup games. Dejected by this failure, Cush fell out of the international reckoning until a word-in-the-ear from Peter Doherty gave him the belief to regain his place for the 1961 end-of-season tour of Europe, and he won his final cap against Greece in October 1961.

With Portadown Cush was unlucky not to add further winner’s medals to his collection, as the Ports ran all-conquering Linfield close on a number of fronts before losing out in the League Championship play-off decider, the Irish Cup Final, finishing as runners-up in the City Cup and losing the Ulster Cup Section A play-off replay. In November 1966 Cush returned to Glenavon, playing first-team football beyond his fortieth birthday.

On retirement from playing he briefly coached at Glenavon before leaving football all together to become a butcher and work on his golf handicap.

Wilbur Cush died in the summer of 1981. Speaking later, Harry Gregg described Cush as "the most underrated player in the history of Irish football" who "never got the credit he deserved".

OzWhite Leeds United Site Profile

Northern Ireland Cap Details:

07-10-1950 England....... H L 1-4 BC
01-11-1950 Scotland...... A L 1-6 BC
03-10-1953 Scotland...... H L 1-3 WCQ
11-11-1953 England....... A L 1-3 WCQ
16-01-1957 Portugal...... A D 1-1 WCQ
10-04-1957 Wales......... H D 0-0 BC
25-04-1957 Italy......... A L 0-1 WCQ
01-05-1957 Portugal...... H W 3-0 WCQ
04-12-1957 Italy......... H D 2-2 FR. 2 goals
15-01-1958 Italy......... H W 2-1 WCQ
1 goal
16-04-1958 Wales......... A D 1-1 BC
08-06-1958 Czechoslovakia N W 1-0 WCF 1 goal
11-06-1958 Argentina..... N L 1-3 WCF
15-06-1958 West Germany.. N D 2-2 WCF
17-06-1958 Czechoslovakia N W 2-1 WCF
19-06-1958 France........ N L 0-4 WCF
04-10-1958 England....... H D 3-3 BC.
1 goal
15-10-1958 Spain......... A L 2-6 FR1 goal *
05-11-1958 Scotland...... A D 2-2 BC
22-04-1959 Wales......... H W 4-1 BC
03-10-1959 Scotland...... H L 0-4 BC
18-11-1959 England....... A L 1-2 BC
06-04-1960 Wales......... A L 2-3 BC
03-05-1961 Greece........ A L 1-2 WCQ
10-05-1961 West Germany.. A L 1-2 WCQ
17-10-1961 Greece........ H W 2-0 WCQ

Summary: 26/6. Won 6, Drew 7, Lost 13.

* Many sources list Bingham as the scorer of the first Irish goal against Spain. The more probable scoring is Cush, as listed in the following year's News Chronicle Football Annual.


Christian T. said…
Some minor sources say it was "Wilbur William Cush"... what do you think?

jcd said…
Again Christian it is not something I have seen myself so I can't say one way or the other. I worry that it may be due to the nickname "Billy" and that even the "W." in my bio is incorrect (in fact I've removed it as I can't confirm it with a reliabble source).
Anonymous said…
It was Wilbur, Billy was a nickname. His father was called William (nicknamed "Billyboy"). His youngest brother was called William.

Hope this helps.
Darren said…
My Uncle has told me stories about Wilbur Cush, so it's great to read the above. I think the facts speak for themselves that he was a great player and a Irish League and Northern Ireland Legend. Our Wee Country's equivalent to England's Duncan Edwards.