JIMMY McILROY last night told for the first time why Burnley Football Club chairman Bob Lord sold him to Stoke City 36 years ago.

The Turf Moor legend revealed his friendship with a boardroom rival of Lord's - Reg Cooke - prompted his shock departure.

McIlroy's sensational revelation answers one of soccer's biggest mysteries. The day McIlroy was placed on the transfer list in February, 1963, following an FA Cup defeat at Liverpool has been seen by many as the beginning of the end for the Clarets glory years.

The reason behind the split and McIlroy's subsequent move to Stoke City has always remained shrouded in mystery.

Generally it was felt only three people ever knew the real reason - Bob Lord, the then manager Harry Potts, and McIlroy himself.

Both Lord and Potts have since died and last night McIlroy, now 68, threw some light on the matter for the first time.

McIlroy - widely regarded as the Clarets' finest ever player and now back in the fold at Turf Moor after having the East stand named after him - yesterday shed light on the events that rocked the town.

After reliving his glory days at the official launch of the club's new history video 'A Rhapsody in Claret and Blue' McIlroy spelled out that his relationship with the Cooke family led to Lord, Burnley's autocratic chairman, demanding that he leave the club he had helped win the League Championship in 1960. He said: "It was the worst day of my football career. I can remember Harry Potts calling me into the office at quarter-to-ten to break the news and say that he was putting me on the list."

McIlroy, who played 497 games for Burnley following his arrival from Glentoran in March, 1950, said: "Immediately I knew it wasn't Harry's decision because he looked in pain. He looked more stunned than I did so obviously he had been told by Bob Lord that I had to go."

"In fact some time afterwards I learned from a Burnley director that Lord had called a meeting at his factory on the Sunday morning and he said to Harry Potts 'McIlroy has to go.'

"And I gather that Harry said 'I still need him' and Lord is supposed to have said 'well either he goes or you go. I've told this to many people and I don't think anyone accepts it. I was very friendly with the family of a Burnley director, who everyone knew Bob Lord detested. He was called Reg Cooke.

"At one time he was vice-chairman of the club and I was friendly with his son and in fact in away games his son used to bring me back in his car.

"I can remember Jimmy Adamson saying to me one day that Bob Lord won't like this, being so friendly and seeing so much of the Cookes. "But I thought I'm not going to let Bob Lord choose my friends for me. But I'm convinced that's the sole reason Bob Lord put me on the transfer list. I feel sure that my friendship with the Cookes ended my career here."

McIlroy admits that being told he had to leave Turf Moor was the worst day of an illustrious playing career that also brought him 51 caps for Northern Ireland.

And reliving the episode on video yesterday brought the memories flooding back.

"There was one moment, and I was glad I was sitting at the back, because it was at the time of me leaving Burnley and seeing the crowds' reaction I actually had a tear in my eye.

"I feel a bit daft saying that but it happened. And it brought it home to me once again how much I meant to the Burnley fans and I now realise how much they mean to me."

'Rhapsody in Claret and Blue', the official history of Burnley FC is currently available by pre-ordering with the club and will shortly be available on general release.

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