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‘He was always the quickest to run home, so he got the Beano first’
9:30am Thursday 1st November 2012 in News
WHEN John Connelly made one of his visits home to Clock Face for a pint with his two brothers, there will have been plenty from younger generations unaware they were in the presence of one of the town’s greatest sportsmen.
It was not quite the case about half century ago, when schoolchildren of the 60s from that mining community would wait for the fleet-footed winger to pay his weekly return to his parents’ home.
“They would come knocking on the door of the family home” as John’s younger brother Jim fondly recalls.
“They knew he would come home and visit every Thursday to see us and our parents (Harry and Margaret).
“Ever the gentleman, he would go outside and have a kickabout with them.”
By that time the lad who had once been the star of the St Theresa’s, Sutton Manor, school team had already been picked by Burnley scouts and gone on to score goals for England and Manchester United, playing alongside greats like Best, Law and Charlton.
Vast changes in the sporting culture mean such heartwarming stories are unlikely to be repeated these days.
But if it is an anecdote that underlines how sporting life has changed, it is also an illustration of the qualities that so endeared him to friends and family.
Aside from the footballing wizardry and quicksilver pace that took him to the pinnacle of his profession, he was, at heart, a gentleman, admired for his down-to-earth nature and humility.
Jim, 69, a plumber still living at the family home, adds: “Lots of tributes have been paid to John on television and in the national press and what many have said is what a nice person and a gentleman.
“That stands for something when people say that at the end of your life.”
Sharing some of his favourite memories, Jim told the Star: “John was one of the fastest wingers in the league - like a whippet.
“When we were kids he was always the quickest to get home, meaning he got the Beano first.
“He was part of the St Theresa's school team that won everything in front of them.
“It is quite funny really because that one school team featured three players that went on to turn professionals.John himself, John Quinn and Dave Morris, who both signed for Sheffield Wednesday.
“One of my favourite memories was when John walked off the field after a professional match with his arm around Johnny Quinn from the opposition – like mates forever.”
Jim, who also lost eldest brother Dennis to cancer 14 months ago, described the pride the family felt when John was finally awarded his 1966 World Cup Winner’s medal in 2009.
Up until 1974 FIFA awarded medals only to players who appeared in the final. However, three years ago they decided squad members from nations who had won previous tournaments should be recognised retrospectively.
He added: “There are only 22 England players who have been awarded one of those medals - and John is one of those.
“Everybody was made up, including our older brother Dennis, who died last year.
“He was lucky to play for England in the World Cup 66 opener against Uruguay and hit the post twice. He always said that if he had scored Alf (Ramsey) may have stuck with him.
“So many of his football colleagues got in touch with John during his battle with cancer - from Gordon Banks and Peter Bonetti, to Bobby Charlton and his great friend Roger Hunt.
“John was a regular visitor to Clock Face - when mother died we said we'd always meet up for a drink on her anniversary at the Clock Face Hotel.
“It was something we kept up until they (John and Dennis) were both taken ill.
“He even brought along the medal to show people in Clock Face, not to show off though – he just wasn’t like that.”