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Roy Rea

Name: Robert Rea
Born: 28 November 1934, Belfast
Died: 5 April 2005, Toronto (Canada)
Height: 5.09 ft
Weight: 11.00 st
Position: Goalkeeper

Representative Honours: Northern Ireland: 1 ‘B’ Cap (1957), 4 Amateur Caps (1956-1957), Junior, Youth, 2 Schoolboy Caps (1949); Irish League: 13 Caps (1956-1959); Intermediate League Representative.
Club Honours: (with Glenavon) Irish League Champion 1956/57, 1959/60; Irish Cup Winner 1956/57, 1958/59; Gold Cup Winner 1956/57; Ulster Cup Winner 1958/59; City Cup Winner 1955/56, 1960/61; (with Glentoran) Gold Cup Winner 1962/63.
Awards: Ulster Footballer of the Year 1963.

Club Career:
FA Cup
Banbridge Town
(Mid-Ulster League)
* 219/0
* 44/0
Toronto Italia
(Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League)

Roy Rea was a star with Banbridge Town, one of the leading Irish Junior teams, in the early 1950s, gaining recognition from the Irish FA at Youth and Junior level to add to the Schools honours he had won as a boy. His potential was spotted by Glenavon, who signed him as goalkeeping cover for Walter Durkan for the 1953/54 season.

It took Rea a few years to establish himself at Mourneview, but by Glenavon’s historic 1956/57 “Double” winning campaign he had finally displaced his good friend Durkan. Widely considered the finest ‘keeper in the Irish League through the late-fifties, Rea’s name was constantly linked with moves across the water. He established himself in the Irish League side ahead of Linfield’s Alex Russell and also made the Northern Ireland Amateur team’s number one shirt his own. He won rave reviews for his performance in Glenavon’s first ever European game, a 0-0 Champion’s Cup draw with Aarhus in Denmark, but could do little to prevent the Danes running out 3-0 victors in the second leg at Windsor Park.

In 1957 Peter Doherty made it clear that he considered Rea a potential Full international when he was included in the ‘B’ game against Rumania – he had little to do in a 6-0 victory. Rea was also included in Northern Ireland’s squad for the 1958 World Cup Finals (though he didn’t travel to Sweden) and was in the party that travelled to Spain for a friendly in October 1958. In 1959 Rea won a second Irish Cup winner’s medal as Ballymena were defeated 2-0 in a replayed Final, and the same season also helped Glenavon claim the Ulster Cup

By the end of the ‘fifties it became clear that Rea was unlikely to live up to the predictions of those who compared him to Elisha Scott, “slim, wiry and daring”. Cliftonville’s Jack Milligan and Coleraine’s Vic Hunter were now challenging Rea for his place as the Irish League’s number one number one. At Glenavon he was being challenged for his starting place by young Jack McClelland, only to be given a reprieve thanks to McClelland’s transfer to Arsenal in 1960. Things began to go wrong again for Rea mid-way through the 1960/61 season when injury ruled him out and Jimmy McAlinden signed Joe Kinkead as stand-in. Kinkead impressed enough to earn a place in that season’s Irish Cup Final team, ahead of the fit-again Rea, as Glenavon shocked Linfield 5-1 at Solitude. It was to be a month into the following campaign before Rea regained his firstteam place.

Rea was allowed to leave Glenavon in 1962, the club feeling a serious knee injury had signalled the end of his top-class career. He was one of Isaac McDowell’s first signings as boss at the Oval, as Glentoran sought to recover from one of the most disappointing seasons in their history – not only had they finished 1962 in seventh place in the Irish League, but arch-rivals Linfield had claimed a seven trophy “clean-sweep”. In what was a generally disappointing season for Glentoran, though undoubtedly an improvement on the one before, Rea put in some stunning performances, notably in a 1-0 win at ex-club Glenavon, and in a 1-1 Co. Antrim Shield draw with Linfield. He also played in Glentoran’s 3-1 Gold Cup Final victory over Derry City, and in Glentoran’s first ever European outing, an 8-2 aggregate Fairs’ Cup defeat by Real Zaragoza which was described as a “footballing lesson”.

With almost a month of the season remaining, and in the wake of his naming as Ulster Footballer of the Year, Roy Rea departed Belfast for Toronto Italia. His final game on Irish soil was, appropriately enough, against Linfield at the Oval. He put in a magnificent performance as the Co. Antrim Shield second round replay match ended 1-1; indeed one of his saves is still talked about. Rea left the pitch with a guard of honour from both teams’ players, the fans’ applause ringing in his ears. A week later, with Rea already in Canada, Glentoran lost the second replay 3-1.

Roy Rea remained in Toronto after his playing days were over, and died there in 2005.

Northern Ireland B Cap Details:
23-10-1957 Romania H W 6-0

Summary: 1/0. Won 1, Drew 0, Lost 0.

Northern Ireland Amateur Cap Details:
21-01-1956 Wales... H W 2-1
25-02-1956 Scotland A W 3-1
19-01-1957 Wales... A L 1-3
23-02-1957 Scotland H W 4-1

Summary: 4/0. Won 3, Drew 0, Lost 1.

Irish League Representative Appearance Details:
31-10-1956 Football League.. A L 2-3
21-11-1956 Western Command.. H W 3-1
18-03-1957 League of Ireland A D 2-2
22-04-1957 League of Ireland H L 1-2
09-10-1957 Scottish League.. A L 0-7
30-10-1957 Football League.. H L 2-4
13-11-1957 Western Command.. H W 6-0
17-03-1958 League of Ireland A D 2-2
03-09-1958 Scottish League.. H L 0-5
29-10-1958 League of Ireland H L 2-3
12-11-1958 Football League.. A L 2-5
23-09-1959 Football League.. H L 0-5
14-10-1959 Scottish League.. A L 1-7

Summary: 13/0. Won 2, Drew 2, Lost 9.

Picture kindly sent by Nils Johansson