I first shook Jackie Milburn’s hand in the Spring of 1956. I was 4 years old. My dad ran the Newcastle Hotel in Rothbury, in the heart of Northumberland.
(By then, ‘Wor’ Jackie was a Newcastle legend. He’d scored the quickest goal to date at a Wembley cup final, after 45 seconds against Manchester City the year before. Jackie scored two goals, in the first of the three successful finals over a period of five years. He went on to become Newcastle’s all time top scorer until a certain Mr Shearer surpassed Jackie’s eventual tally of 200 goals in 353 games.)
That day, Jackie had driven a bus up to Rothbury with the whole Newcastle team aboard. Not only was Jackie a prolific goal scorer, he also held a PSV licence.
I was in the kitchen at the back of the hotel and remember this huge silhouette of a man standing in front of the window. He smiled, lent over and stretched out his hand. My dad said, “Paul, this is Jackie Milburn!”
I subsequently got to see him at St James. All I can remember is being passed over people’s heads and sitting on the cinder track so that I could see the game. No hooliganism or health and safety restrictions in those days. The public were expected, by and large, to look after one another (jumpers for goalposts).
I shook Jackie’s hand again in my early teens. My cousin and I decided to watch Newcastle youth team play, one cold frosty morning, before the afternoon’s big match. Jackie was writing for the Chronicle (I think) at the time. We sidled over to him and after saying “hello”, Jackie had plenty of time to blather to us youngn’s about football. I remember his welcoming smile again and the gentle tone of his voice.
Jackie didn’t get a testimonial until 1967, 10 years after he left Newcastle. He wondered if the Newcastle fans would remember him. Over 50,000 turned up. I was one of the lucky ones. Ferenc Puskas, who was by then a ‘tubby veteran’, played. He could hit a sixpence (a ‘tanner’ in those days) from 40 yards. The other ‘star’ I remember that night was Len Shackleton (who scored 5 goals in Newcastle’s record 13-0 victory over Newport County in 1946). The grey haired ‘twinkeltoes’ Shackleton still had plenty of skills to show off.
‘Shack’ had the ball on the wing and feinted a cross field pass in the air. The ball left his feet and literally curved in the air back to the wing about 20 yards up the pitch where Shack collected it without breaking stride.
I didn’t get to attend Wor Jackie’s funeral procession in 1988. I was living ‘doon sooth’. I regret not going. 250,000 Geordies lined the streets of Newcastle to pay their respects to a great man, both on and off the field.
You can watch a fan-made Jackie Milburn tribute video here: