THE GAME OF HIS LIFE; Eddie McIlvenny - the Iron-Man from Greenock Who Skippered America's Team of Office Clerks, Truck Drivers and Cannery Workers to a Sensational Win over England 60 Years Ago and Altered the Entire Course of World Cup History

Daily Mail (London), May 29, 2010 | Go to article overview

THE GAME OF HIS LIFE; Eddie McIlvenny - the Iron-Man from Greenock Who Skippered America's Team of Office Clerks, Truck Drivers and Cannery Workers to a Sensational Win over England 60 Years Ago and Altered the Entire Course of World Cup History


Byline: by STEPHEN McGOWAN

RAVAGED by the savage effects of Alzheimer's disease, Eddie McIlvenny died with little recall of his finest hour-and-a-half. In the years which followed his passing from pneumonia in 1989, the tale of how an unsung, working-class Scot came to anchor England's gravest and most humiliating World Cup defeat threatened to slide into obscurity.

The rediscovery of an old notebook, allied to a highly evocative World Cup draw for the 2010 Finals, changed all that. In two weeks, Fabio Capello's England face the United States in a rerun of a remarkable encounter 60 years ago in Brazil.

On June 29, 1950, a semi-professional football nation humbled Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Co, leaving the headline writers scrambling for new adjectives. Like so many of the 20th Century's greatest feats, the foundations of America's triumph were forged amongst the sprawling shipyards of the Clyde.

Edward Joseph McIlvenny will probably never reach the Scottish Football Hall of Fame at Hampden. Neither has Greenock, the town of his birth, recognised his story with a statue or plaque.

In nearby Port Glasgow, where younger relatives still live, they can tell of the uncle who led a fledgling American team to the result which shook the World Cup to its foundations. There are, however, no flag days or galas devoted to commemorating a modest figure in British footballing history.

Even in America, McIlvenny's memory has been besmirched by Hollywood, the 2005 movie The Game of Their Lives wrongly portraying a Philadelphia Nationals team-mate as the captain of the side which beat England 1-0 in the 130,000-seat Mineirao Stadium, Belo Horizonte.

For the last nine of his 64 years, the father-of-two lived quietly with his wife Sheila in Eastbourne, fighting the effects of premature Alzheimer's, a debilitating illness alarmingly prevalent in footballers of the 1940s and 1950s.

His son, Stuart, and daughter Shona knew of their father's footballing legacy. Yet only when a small notebook emerged, no more than 40 pages in length, did the full story become apparent.

'I have some notes my father made a few years before he died,' Stuart told Sportsmail. 'They are very valuable to us now because he never really spoke about himself before he contracted Alzheimer's.

'I was only 16 or 17 when that happened. He was a proud man and it was very disconcerting to see someone who had achieved something remarkable in his life being forced down that path. It was devastating to witness.

'That's why it's important he has left us the notebook in his scrawled handwriting. It's something I've managed to keep and treasure.

'It's not the only memento of his career. I managed to keep the form he signed when he joined Manchester United in 1950, while the United States shirt he wore against England earlier that year is in the Old Trafford museum.

'The jersey almost didn't make it there because when he returned from Brazil he gave it to my cousin John in Port Glasgow.

'Dad just felt it was finished with and didn't mean much. Later, though, he had a change of heart and asked John if he could get it back.

'John only agreed when dad offered him one of his Manchester United shirts as a trade-off.' The youngest of nine children born amidst the grime of the shipyards in 1924, Eddie was never expected to become the footballer -- his older brother Jim being regarded as the more accomplished player.

He left St Mungo's Academy in Greenock with a gift for numeracy, but, through necessity, followed his father, Arthur, into one of the vast Clydeside yards as an iron driller, writing later of 'the 60-foot girders, which would swing back and forth in the wind'.

A central defender with the local Boy's Guild, then junior team Klondyke Athletic, his football career began in earnest at 18 when Wrexham offered a two-week trial following a tour of the north of Scotland with a Scottish Junior Select. …

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THE GAME OF HIS LIFE; Eddie McIlvenny - the Iron-Man from Greenock Who Skippered America's Team of Office Clerks, Truck Drivers and Cannery Workers to a Sensational Win over England 60 Years Ago and Altered the Entire Course of World Cup History
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