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Born: Sunday 11 May 1924, Ashington, England
Died: Sunday 9 October 1988, Ashington, England (aged 64)
Position: Centre Forward
A lightning-quick player who was effective in any of the five forward positions of the day but was most at home at centre forward, Jackie Milburn was the star of the Newcastle United team that won three FA Cups in five seasons during the 1950s. Although often overlooked at international level, he became a real hero at Newcastle and set a club goalscoring record that would last almost 50 years after his retirement.
Milburn was born in the mining town of Ashington, just north of Newcastle upon Tyne, on 11 May 1924. Part of a talented footballing family, his father and uncle had both played for Ashington, a Football League club in the 1920s, while four of his cousins also played in the Football League. Most famously, the sons of another of his cousins were Jack and Bobby Charlton, World Cup winners in 1966. Growing up as a Sunderland fan, Milburn was an outstanding sprinteras a schoolboy, winning several local titles. At that time his footballing ambitions were to be a winger.
Leaving school at 14, Milburn eventually found work as a fitter in an Ashington colliery, a reserved occupation which meant that he was not called up for active service during the Second World War. After appearing in local football, he went for a trial with Second Division Newcastle United in 1943 and after scoring six goals in one match, was signed up. Appearing regularly in wartime matches over the next three years, Milburn usually featured on the right-wing or at inside forward.
In the first post-war league season Newcastle had ambitions to win promotion to the First Division and put together an expensively assembled squad, but only finished in fifth place. Early in the 1947-48 season, Milburn was reluctantly persuaded by his manager to move to the centre forward position and the change was a resounding success. He scored 21 league goals as Newcastle finished second to Birmingham City and returned to the top flight. Milburn would remain at centre forward for the rest of his career, his ability turn and create space in tight situations and then shoot powerfully with either foot making him ideally suited to the role. He was also far more adept at tackling than most forwards, a skill which often took opposing defenders by surprise.
Early in his first season of top division football, he was called into the England team for the first time and scored on his debut against Northern Ireland. Over the next few years Milburn was in and out of the national team, often missing games with injury but scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Wales in 1949. In 1950 he was named in the squad for the World Cup in Brazil, but missed the opening win over Chile and the humiliating defeat to the USA. His only World Cup appearance came in the must-win final group game against Spain, which England lost 1-0 and went out of the tournament.
Newcastle were becoming regulars in the top five of the First Division but were never able to finish higher than fourth, however they did reach the FA Cup final in 1951. In the match against Blackpool, Milburn scored twice in the space of five minutes early in the second half to give his club their first major trophy in 19 years. They would retain the trophy twelve months later thanks to a 1-0 win over Arsenal. Milburn was now one of the biggest stars in the English game, although he always remained the same quiet, modest man he had always been.
Newcastle struggled over the next couple of seasons, partly due to Milburn having missed a large part of 1952-53 with a knee injury which ultimately required surgery. However by 1954-55 he was back in top form, as Newcastle enjoyed another excellent FA Cup run to reach the final again, this time against Manchester City. In the first minute of the match, Milburn won his team a corner and when left with a free header, opened the scoring after just 45 seconds. Newcastle went on to win 3-1 and Milburn's goal remained the fastest in a Wembley cup final until 1997.
Despite his fine form in league football, Milburn had by this time long been out of favour at international level. With Nat Lofthouse as first-choice centre forward, he had not played for England for four years but in October 1955 was recalled for a game against Denmark in Copenhagen. Appearing on the right wing, Milburn had a poor game and was never selected for his country again. At club level too there were signs that his form was fading, with years of heavy smoking taking their toll on his previously incredible speed.
With his confidence suffering, Milburn decided to leave Newcastle in 1957 having scored exactly 200 goals for the club in all competitions. He accepted an offer to become player-coach at Northern Irish side Linfield. With a maximum wage in effect in England, Linfield were able to offer him a considerably higher wage than he had received at Newcastle. In his first season in Northern Ireland, Milburn scored 29 goals to finish as the leading scorer in the Irish League and win the Player of the Year award.
Milburn was leading scorer again in 1958-59 as Linfield claimed the league title, before leading the team to cup success in 1960. He also represented the club in the European Cup, his only taste of European club football. After leaving Linfield he returned to England and played for non-league club Yiewsley before being named manager of Ipswich Town in 1963. He took over from Alf Ramsey, who had led the club from Division Three South to the league title before being appointed England manager towards the end of the 1962-63 season.
Milburn was in charge for the last few games of that campaign, securing Ipswich's top flight status after a season of struggle, but the championship winning team he inherited was ageing. Milburn replaced the entire squad, but could not prevent relegation in 1964. With the maximum wage having been abolished, he was becoming disillusioned with the way the game was developing and the increased power held by players. and Milburn left management early in the 1964-65 season.
Having left football, Milburn became a journalist for the News of the World and spent the next twenty years reporting on football in the north of England. In 1967 he was awarded a belated testimonial by Newcastle and with typical modesty was worried that no-one would turn up. In the event, more that 46,000 packed into St James' Park. In his early 60's, Milburn developed lung cancer. He died in October 1988 at the age of 64, with more than 30,000 people lining the streets of Newcastle on the day of his funeral. A stand is named after him at St James' Park and statues stand both in Newcastle and his home town of Ashington.
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- Published on Friday, 09 March 2012 14:23