Andy Devanney, personal and family friend of John Connelly, remembers one of the all-time greats.
In the late 1950s my dad worked for Central Motors in Burnley as a diesel mechanic. Meanwhile my mother, who he had yet to meet, used to stand on the Turf with her father and a group of people including a guy called Jimmy and his father. Fast forward 30 years and I was working behind a bar pulling pints, most notably a pint of Bass in a barrel glass!
You may be wondering about the significance of these events. Well, Central Motors used to be the main coach and taxi firm in Burnley. They were also used by the Club and my dad would frequently drive the team from Turf Moor down to Gawthorpe and back again. He met and got to know many of the players, especially John Connelly.
Jimmy, the guy my mother used to stand with, was John’s brother who I eventually met at John’s 60th birthday party.
As for the pint, that was drunk by the very same player. However, he was just a bloke in the pub. I had no idea he was a double league title winner, FA cup finalist, European Cup semi-finalist and moreover a World Cup winner. He was just JC.
It is with great sadness that I learnt the news of his passing. I am truly honoured to have known him.
Finding out all those years ago that he knew my parents was one of those small world moments but it enabled me to look at him as a family friend as well as a regular customer in the pub. Indeed, John attended my 21st birthday party. How many people have had a World Cup winner at their 21st?
John was one of those people who told it straight. A spade was most definitely a spade and if you didn’t like it he would tell you where you could store it. However, I haven’t met many, if any, people who didn’t hold JC in high regard. He was a true gentleman and very modest.
I have seen him be introduced to someone as a World Cup winner only for him to completely deny it, leaving the person completely bemused. I think he used to enjoy that. It certainly made me chuckle.
He was always good for a natter, especially about football. He followed Burnley’s progress with great interest as he also did with Manchester United. However I have to say that he never really cared for Blackburn Rovers results, or at least that’s the impression I got. Maybe I’m biased?
He has told me some superb tales over the years particularly one involving the Rovers team bath. I can’t recall the culprit and that’s probably for the best because he recalled scooping water up to wash his hair only to find something floating in it and it wasn’t a football.
Another occasion he told me about a time at an away match when the Clarets weren’t playing particularly well. While he was taking a corner he heard someone shout “John” from the crowd and he turned as he thought it was someone who he knew, only for them to say “come and stand with us”. I won’t tell you what he called them but those of you who knew him can probably guess.
But I think one of my favourite anecdotes he told me was when playing away at Bradford, at least I’m sure it was there, when he wasn’t feeling 100%. He recalled the pitch being a quagmire and very difficult underfoot so when he collected the ball just over the half way line he decided to let one fly instead of running down the muddy pitch. To his surprise and delight it flew in the top corner.
Some people may not be aware that John was once a justice of the peace sitting in the local magistrates’ court. He also used to be a volunteer carer for a chap for many years and would spend time taking him out here, there and everywhere. I actually looked at nominating him for an MBE about a year ago. I wish I had now as I think he would have more than deserved it for services to sport and the community.
He had a superb sense of humour. This was especially evident when he said he was going to title his autobiography “John who?” He found this particularly amusing. I always got the impression that he didn’t see himself as someone who was famous. He knew he had a good living at the time and he was never resentful of the amount of money footballers earn these days. This was even more impressive considering that he wore number seven for Manchester United which has since been work by Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Cristiano Ronaldo. He really was a humble man.
He did actually start writing his autobiography and it’s a shame that this project never came to fruition. One of the problems being that he didn’t think anyone would want to read it. If playing for Burnley, Manchester United, Blackburn, Bury and England and playing with players such as George Best, Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Alan Ball and Geoff Hurst and winning two league titles and a World Cup winners medal, plus scoring 200 league goals and seven international goals for England, means no one wants to read your book then it’s a poor show. I’m pretty sure that people would want to read it, I know I would. I hope one day that what he started can be finished and published if not just for his family’s sake.
I remember asking him how his day had been once. He proceeded to tell me about the telephone conversation he’d had with Bobby regarding lawnmowers. So we chatted for a while about lawnmowers, as you do. After a few minutes something crossed my mind. “Do you mean Bobby as in Charlton?” I asked. Yes was the reply.
But my favourite memory of John has to be the time when he finally received his World Cup winner’s medal. He proudly brought it in to the pub to show everyone. I was lucky enough to hold it. It was larger and heavier than I would have imagined. You could see he was proud and wouldn’t he be. His only complaint was that it was presented to him by Gordon Brown.
The last time I saw John was at my dad’s 80th birthday. He wasn’t very well at this stage but we had a good natter as always and showed him a picture of the bar named after him in the Bob Lord stand that I had took at a recent game. He joked that at least it wasn’t the toilets.
I hope the Club see it in their hearts to have a lasting tribute to one of our greatest ever players. Personally I’d like to see the Longside named after him. The John Connelly James Hargreaves Stand has a ring to it.
The world will be a sadder place without him. We have lost one of our greatest sons and I have lost a much respected family friend. I hope they serve Bass wherever he is.
Rest in peace me old son.
Please leave your tributes to John Connelly, one of Burnley’s greatest ever players, below.