In the second part of this career retrospective interview with legendary Glentoran manager Tommy Jackson, Tommy spoke to Ian Clarke about the second half of his trophy laden tenure. Not least about two seasons that will live foirever in the memory of any Glentoran supporter lucky enough to have witnessed them.
3. THE JACKSON YEARS (1987-1993)
Part Two: Seven Up (1989-93)
1989/90: This will be forever known as the “7-Up Season”, as we played Linfield an incredible seven times and won each one.
By the start of the season, Raymond Campbell had bedded in well, joined by expensive new striker Stephen Douglas from Bangor, left back/midfielder Seamus Heath from Luton Town, and the returning Ron McCreery after eight years away. Left back Conor McCaffrey – son of ex Glens striker Gerry – had also established himself in the first team squad while making the first of his 364 Glentoran appearances was 20-year old centre half Gary Smyth.
Four trophies were won this season. First was the Ulster Cup where goals from Macartney (2) and Caskey saw off Glenavon 3-1 in the final. Then the Budweiser Cup Final saw goals from the same two players plus one from Campbell beat the Blues 4-2 on their own turf. Our Big Two rivals were again seen off, this time on penalties after a scoreless County Antrim Shield Final at the Oval. The Irish Cup also returned to Mersey Street in one of the most enjoyable of our finals when, despite losing both Macartney and Campbell to injury early on, we beat newly crowned Champions Portadown 3-0 through a rare goal from George Neill, a far from rare one from Raymond Morrison and an excellent finish from Stephen Douglas, After a few rough encounters over the course of the season this went down well.
1989-90 Irish Cup Winners
“I know those seven wins were a highlight for any Glentoran supporter. They were definitely one for me. I’d happily have beaten them 100 times. I always loved beating Linfield as a player but as well as that, not long before I left Crusaders, I’d had a bust up with them over a player they tapped up. So, I had even less love for them then than I normally did. That was another very good season for us. We had very few injuries – just Nuts and Hillis I think - Gary Macartney was brilliant all season. He scored 39 goals in around 50 matches. He was always a great player but that season he was unplayable. I think he scored in three of our finals that year and probably would have scored in the Irish Cup Final if he hadn’t gone off hurt early on.
I was pretty confident going into the Cup Final. Portadown were a very good team but they were going for the Double and that’s always difficult. The year we were going for it we won the league at Coleraine and I worked on the players all week to make sure they stayed grounded and focussed for the final. A bit like when the Glens played Cliftonville a few years ago they caught them off guard because they’d let their momentum slip. I thought we could do that to Portadown. For all the talk about their forwards I didn’t think they were as good as ours, particularly Macartney, so I felt if we approached it right, we’d beat them. All that went out the window when Macartney and Campbell went off injured early on. But Billy Totten came on and had the best match he had for the Glens and Nuts came on and scored his usual important goal”.
1990/91: As is so often the case with Glentoran title defences, this one was a non-event as we finished third, eleven points behind Portadown and one behind Bangor. No one had come in over the summer while Pat McCoy and Norman McGreevy had left. The lack of new blood showed s despite a decent start we were eight points behind Portadown by the New Year, a deficit we never looked like clawing back. The only really positive moment of the season was a 2-0 win over Ards in the League Cup Final, both goals coming , surprise surprise, from Gary Macartney. We reached the Irish Cup Semi Final but the general feeling among the support was that the great players remaining from the 80s times were starting to show the rigours of so many years competing at the highest level.
Tommy and captain Terry Moore with the League Cup
“That was a very disappointing one. We hadn’t been able to strengthen in the summer and that showed badly as the season went on. Macartney and Hillis both scored plenty of goals but no one else did. If I remember right players like Manley and Douglas weren’t available too often and a lot of our players got niggly injuries. We won the League Cup against Ards but overall, it was a very flat one after the previous few years.”
1991-92: Following the disappointment of the previous season there was again little major transfer activity over the summer. Tom Cleland and Billy Totten both left, while the only close season incomings were John McAuley and Bobby Kincaid (both from Ards) and a local player at that stage known only for his performances for Carrick Rangers in the Soccer Sixes, Justin McBride. So, there was no real sense optimism in August as we prepared ourselves for what we thought would be nine months of slog. We couldn’t have been more wrong as from day one we got off to flier, losing just one of our first 17 games, beating Cliftonville to win the Gold Cup with a wonderful late solo run and finish from Barney Bowers for the only goal of the game, and winning the league by a twelve point margin, losing just one league match and scoring 78 league goals in the process!
The league was won with an unfamiliar line up as much of the backbone of our previous championship team barely figured through either injury or age, allowing players like Hillis, McBride, Mathieson, McCaffrey, Gary Smyth and Andy Mathieson to establish themselves. Hillis and McBride joint top scored with 20, while in midfield Raymond Morrison in his tenth season and Andy Mathieson (really nailing down a starting spot for the first time) were veritable goal machines with 18 each. Macartney also weighed in with 16 as the Glens went top after 12 games and never once looked like stumbling, clinching the title at Carrick with three games still to play!
“This was a great season. Gary Macartney was getting older and we didn’t want to be too dependent on him. He got 16 goals but that was the season Gary Hillis really came good for us with 20 and generally he played very well all season. Justy McBride also came in and he hit it off from the start. I’d seen him playing for Carrick in a 6 a side tournament in Dundonald. He looked really sharp and balanced even in that environment, so I checked out more about him. He was only an amateur, so I was able to approach him. He came round to my house and signed that same night. He got 20 goals that season as well. He was a great signing and went on to be a great player for the Glens.
(photograph Thomas Sewell)
Morrison had one of his very best seasons for us with 18 goals, but Andy Mathieson was one who really made a difference that year. Andy had been there the whole time I was. He’d played a lot of matches but hadn’t really established himself. But I always knew he’d be a player. He worked very hard to get to the level he did and had a great career at the Glens. That year he sometimes played in midfield and sometimes up front and he was just as effective either place.
The defence was also very strong. Alan Paterson was always a very good keeper, but he and Dean Smyth played about half the matches each and they both did well. John Devine was still young, and Gary Smyth was very young, but they had to play together in the middle most of the season. They really stepped up and it was very satisfying to see such young players take on leadership roles.
It was great to win the league that season with so many changes taking place. Barney and George Neill were there and still doing well for us, but Paddy missed a lot of matches, Caskey was injured early on and didn’t recover till the summer, Terry barely figured and I don’t think Jamie started a league match because of injuries. No one would have predicted the Glens winning the league without those players, but I had a lot of confidence in those players. Others like Stevie Douglas, Seamus Heath and David West came in and did well when we needed them so overall it was a great team effort.”
1992-93: After the unexpected but very comprehensive league win the previous season, this turned out to be Tommy’s final season and the only one without a trophy in his time at the Oval as either player or manager. In the close season the only new arrivals were left sided player Eamonn Kavanagh from Omagh town and wide man Jim McCloskey and teenage midfielder Damian Kelly from Bangor. Former midfielder Sammy Troughton came back after nine years away and a couple of months into the season, former Hibs and Northern Ireland forward Mark Caughey signed after a spell with Ards. Terry Moore had retired, Seamus Heath had gone to Distillery and Ron Manley’s sixteen-year Oval career had come to an end with a move to Cliftonville. Jacko was also hit with the shock departure of Conor McCaffrey to Ards after playing in the Charity Shield season opener. So, for the second time he had to start the season without a recognised left back. That was rectified by spending £25,000 on Michael Smyth from Ballymena United.
Despite a difficult start, being out of three knock out cups by the start of October, League form was pretty decent, and we were top on goal difference at the start of December. That day coincided with an injury to Gary Macartney who, although 33, had scored 15 goals by that stage. It would be another 28 games before Macartney was able to start. That led to a run of just one league win in five that left us seventh by the New Year’s Day match. Also, Raymond Morrison, Ulster Player of the Year, hadn’t played since the Marseilles match in September and wouldn’t start again until April. To add to Tommy’s injury woes, Gary Smyth wouldn’t play at all until March and Justin McBride managed just eleven matches all season. Sadly, injuries finally took their toll on Billy Caskey who played the last of his 440 matches on 2nd January.
With the club sitting seventh but still in the Irish Cup, short term signings were made. Former Man City midfielder Tony Henry and journeyman target man Billy Whitehurst came in on that basis while midfielder Kevin McKeever joined from Portadown, but it made no difference. We made the County Antrim Shield Final but lost to Carrick Rangers and were beaten by eventual winners Bangor in the Irish Cup semi. Despite finishing seventh in the league, 19 points behind the winners, Linfield, we were actually top scorers with 70 goals in 30 games, 21 more than the Blues. But with 40 conceded our lack of a stable defence was our biggest undoing. At the end of the season Tommy left, after leading the club to an incredible 17 trophies in just six and a half seasons.
“This was a sad one. Marseilles was a great experience, but we struggled right from the start. Older players who’d done so well for us were always getting injured, so we struggled to get a team out week after week. The mood around the club was generally low and training them harder would have made their niggling injuries worse and hit their morale even harder. The better players still did well and Macartney got 20 goals despite a long spell out injured. But Justy and Gary Smyth nearly missed the whole season while Billy Caskey had a terrible time with injuries in his last season. Of course, when that happens you need to freshen things up but there wasn’t much quality available so we finished up bringing in players a Glens manager wouldn’t normally go for plus loan signings of older players from England. We were bringing them in just because we needed faces but that’s not something a Glentoran manager would be used to doing.
It was sad to go from Glentoran, but I’ve got great memories of great times as a player as well as manager. The main abiding memory was that week at the end of 87-88. Winning the league at Coleraine one Saturday then the CUP AT Windsor the following Saturday was an experience no one could put a price on. I’m really proud to have been involved in that.
Glentoran is my club. I’ve still got a lot of good friends at the Oval and I get to a lot of matches either with my brother Jim or with Gordon Scott. I’m just looking forward to getting back to it soon, to see the Glens continue to improve the way we have so far this season.”
Tommy (left) and Roy Coyle meet FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Senor Infantino's visit to the Oval in March this year