Not even the Irish schoolboys’ selectors were interested, and that was after our Cregagh Under 15 team had beaten their representative side 2-1. ‘Too light, too small’, they said, forgetting the old maxim that if they’re good enough, they’re big enough. Then, because Cregagh and Boyland played in different leagues, Bud arranged a match between our Under 17 side and them.
I was not quite fifteen at the time – too small, too light – but I scored twice and we beat them 4-2. That was enough for Bob Bishop. Off went the telegram, and back came the reply from Old Trafford: ‘Send the lad over and let us have a look at him.’
The day they told me was one of those moments in life when time stands still. I was so thrilled. As usual I was kicking a ball about in the street, and I can remember being really annoyed because I had to leave the game and go into the house to see the gentleman who had come to see me. I went in, and there, sitting at the table with a cup of tea, was Bob Bishop. I knew something was up because of the flush on my mother’s face. It was similar to when we heard I’d passed my eleven-plus. He asked how I was, asked how my football was going, and then he came to the point of his visit.
‘How would you like to play for Manchester United?’
I couldn’t believe him; couldn’t see how he could mean it.
Manchester United! Even an Irish club would have been too much to expect. But the most famous club in England. I couldn’t do anything but laugh. And then he explained. There’d be a trial for two weeks during the school holidays; it would be all arranged.