Byline: JOHN GIBSON
JACKIE MILBURN was fleet of foot, handsomely athletic, and modest to a fault. A winged god.
Roy of the Rovers must have been modelled on his like.
His mum was obviously clairvoyant for she christened him John Edward Thompson... JET. And wasn't he just!
Few players achieve recognition so great that they are instantly known by only their first name but Wor Jackie was certainly one of the chosen few.
Born in the upstairs flat of his grandparents' home in Sixth Row, Ashington, in the shadow of the pit yard and shaft leading to the coal face, Milburn came from footballing stock. His cousins Jack Milburn (Leeds), George (Leeds and Chesterfield), Jim (Leeds), and Stan (Chesterfield and Leicester) were renowned Football League players and their sister Cissie's two lads, Bobby and Jack Charlton, were to grow up into World Cup winners.
Yet, despite this pedigree, Newcastle United didn't discover Jackie Milburn. He discovered them. Just before the start of the 1943-44 season when he was 19 and working as a pit engineer, Jackie saw an advert in the local paper inviting young players to write to St James' Park for a trial. A pal with a more flowing hand put pen to paper for both of them.
Jackie recalled some years later: "The Toon gave me a game in midweek when I was lucky enough to score two goals in one half. As a result I was chosen for the final public trial against Newcastle's first team the following Saturday.
"Long before the 2pm kick off I arrived at the ground with my boots in a brown paper parcel and sat on the steps outside eating a couple of pies for my dinner.
"Many of Newcastle's best players were away fighting the war but they still fielded the likes of my great hero Albert Stubbins, Scottish international Jimmy Gordon and one of the finest left-halves in the game Dougie Wright who was on army leave. The game was billed Stripes v Blues and for the first time in my life I was allowed to wear the famous stripes."
However, by half-time Stubbins had scored twice and Milburn's side were three goals down. Joe Richardson, a sturdy full-back who remained for years on United's backroom staff, didn't mince his words. "You'd better buck up your ideas, son, if you want to come here," he told Jackie.
"I decided it was all or nowt," said Milburn. "And, believe it or not, I managed to score six goals in the second-half as we rattled in nine against the first teamers. I was on my way."
A triallist who ate a couple of pies for his bait and then proceeded to score six goals within 45 minutes against the first team stars... now tell me Roy of the Rovers isn't really Jackie Milburn!
Forty eight hours after that epic performance young Jackie was back at SJP with his dad Alec to see the boss Stan Seymour.
"The minute we entered his office Stan slid his arm round my dad's shoulder and led him towards the desk," Jackie told me. "'Come on Alec,' he said, 'let's have a drink.' "Out came the whisky bottle and before long dad was pie-eyed. I was sitting in a chair immediately behind Stan when suddenly I noticed that he had his hand behind his back. In it were two five pound notes, my signing on fee, and he fingered them like a magician fanning out a pack of cards. I had never seen so much money in my life and I was mesmerised.
I couldn't sign quickly enough."
A superstar, a legend, was about to be born.
One last major decision had to be made however. Milburn had to become a No.9. That came about when top scorer Charlie Wayman, controversially axed from United's FA Cup semi-final defeat in the 1946-47 season, took umbrage and shot off to Southampton.
Shortly afterwards manager George Martin, Stan Seymour, skipper Joe Harvey, Milburn and trainer Norman Smith were sitting around having a natter and the subject turned to Wayman's replacement.
"Jackie's the man," declared Martin. …