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Irvine: My heart's always been with Burnley
WILLIE Irvine should have been disappointed that he was on the end of a 1-0 defeat, but secretly he was pleased for his beloved Burnley.
The free scoring centre forward hadn’t been a Claret for over four years.
Indeed, he had left Turf Moor for rival club Preston North End.
But even when he then moved on to Brighton, his heart always belonged to Burnley, and he was delighted they were in the process of going back to the big time, as champions, when the teams met in the 1972/73 season.
“I felt for Brighton at the end of the game - we’d been beaten 1-0 by a Martin Dobson goal - but I was pleased that Burnley had done it,” said Irvine.
“I loved the club just as much then as I do now, even though I was no longer playing for them, so I was pleased they won promotion that year.
“It was a great game, either of the sides could have won it.
“Jimmy Adamson was still the manager, Jim Thomson was marking me ... but I didn’t see him all afternoon.
“Alan Stevenson was in goal and made an excellent save from me. He just laughed at me after.”
He wasn’t the only one who had a smile at Irvine’s expense that day.
The Irishman captained the Seagulls against the Clarets when he was reunited with old team-mates on the south coast in November 1972.
It was a common gesture in those days when players faced their former teams.
It didn’t make the afternoon any easier for Irvine. But his new team-mates helped to break the ice.
“When we came out of the tunnel we always went the same way, towards the Brighton fans,” he explained.
“I ran out to the supporters, and kicked the ball gently towards the goals. I turned round and all my team-mates were at the other side of the pitch.
“They’d played a trick on me, but I saw the funny side.”
Entertainment played a big part in his spell at Brighton.
“Going there was a big move for me geographically. They’d asked if I could go on loan for three months, and I was in a magnificent apartment in Shoreham. My next door neighbour was Ronnie Corbett,” said Irvine.
“He was fabulous - a lovely man - and I was always having a laugh with him.”
He wasn’t the only famous face Irvine came into contact with.
Being on the south coast thrust him into a celebrity lifestyle.
“The chairman had a nightclub just out side of Brighton where we got to meet stars of entertainment like Dave Allen, Des O’Connor and Gerry Dorsey as he was known then, before he became Englebert Humperdinck,” said Irvine.
“We got to meet them all. They used to come to the game on a Saturday afternoon and then we went to see them on a Saturday night.”
He added: “It was a middle of the road club, but it was a very well supported club and I loved my time there.
“We were getting gates of 36,000. It was brilliant.
“And we were on crowd bonuses as well so it was worth £100 each to us per home game.”
His two old clubs go head-to-head at Turf Moor this afternoon, in what promises to be an entertaining game against Gus Poyet’s side.
“My heart’s always been at Turf Moor,” added Irvine, who is the Clarets’ special guest this afternoon, and making the half-time draw.
“I was 16 years old when I came here and it was a pleasure to grow up with so many tremendous footballers.”