Sunday, 28 April 2013

Billy Walsh

1955 - 1957 : Eastern Suburbs AFC (New Zealand)
1961 : New Zealand
1964 - 1966 : Melbourne Hakoah (Australia)
1967 - 1969 : Melbourne Hungaria (Australia)

The quietly spoken William 'Billy' Walsh was a Manchester City legend and record breaker who lined out for no less than 4 different national teams.

He was born in Dublin in 1921 but moved to Manchester, England with his family in 1928. As a teen became the subject of a dispute between Manchester United and Manchester City, who both claimed he had signed for them. After being signed by a United youth coach who also coached at his school, Walsh was taken to City by his mother, where he was given a job as an office boy. The FA intervened and gave Walsh the choice of clubs; he chose City, but the club was also given a fine of 5 guineas.

Although born in revolutionary-era Ireland, Walsh opted to play for the England Schoolboys as a youngster, earning 3 caps in 1935.

At City, he turned professional in 1938 and would become a first team regular during the 1940s. Naturally, his early career was hindered by the Second World War, but as an Irishman he wasn't conscripted to the British military. A war time league was organised in the UK during the conflict, allowing Walsh to finally prove his talents. He played over 200 games for City during this time, and then played over 100 matches for the Blues in the late 1940s.

When Walsh began his international career in 1944 there were, in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations – the Belfast-based IFA and the Dublin-based FAI – claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and selected players from the whole island. As a result several notable Irish players from this era, including Walsh, played for both teams.

In 1944 he made his debut for Ireland (IFA) at Windsor Park against a Great Britain XI, in which Ireland were beaten 4-8. However, in Walsh's subsequent 5 appearances with the team, he was a part of some respectable results.

Then, in 1946 he was selected by the FAI Ireland team, and played 9 times for them. His debut in '46 was a 0-1 home defeat to England at Dalymount Park (the first time England played an FAI side). Walsh was also part of the Ireland team that famously beat England 0-2 at Goodison Park in 1949.

Walsh (back row, far right) with Ireland in 1949

Brief player-manager spells with Chelmsford City and Canterbury in the early 1950s followed, before he took charge of Oldham Athletic in 1955, replacing Liverpool-bound Bill Shankly.

In 1955, Walsh emigrated to New Zealand, where he came out of retirement to play for Auckland-based club Eastern Suburbs, with whom he also acted as player-coach.

Eastern Suburbs AFC were founded in 1934 after a merger of two local clubs. The club gradually became one of the strongest teams in New Zealand during the 1940s and 50s. In 1951 they won their first FA Cup, a competition they would win a further 4 times. Later they were also crowned national champions in 1971. Known as the Lilywhites, they play at the Madills Farm in the Kohimarama suburb of the city.

While with the Lilywhites, Walsh famously played for the Auckland XI in a 3-0 victory over a touring Austria Vienna, which was the more impressive since the Austrians had twice beaten the New Zealand national team 7-1 in the preceding weeks.

Today, the club is a semi-professional outfit playing in the Northern League of New Zealand.

After finally retiring, he took up full time management in Australia. His first job was with a team named Melbourne Hakoah. Founded in 1927, Hakoah means "strength" in Hebrew. They were similar to the better known Vienna Hakoah, being formed by Jewish immigrants to the city. Naturally, as Europeans the main focus of Hakoah was football.

The Victorian league was dominated by immigrant sides in the 1960s. Names like Hellas, Polonia, Slavia, Juventus and Yugoslav United demonstrate this. But Hakoah were the first successful non-Anglo migrant team in Australia, winning the league 4 times prior to Walsh's arrival. They played at the now-demolished Middle Park, which could hold over 20,000 spectators in its heyday.

(Note: Australia didn't have a national soccer league until 1977, so until then football was divided into regional leagues.)

In his time with Hakoah, Walsh signed a number of Irish players such as Michael O'Hara (who in 2002 claimed to be Hitler's son), James O'Neill and John O'Neill who he'd lured from Luton, Darlington and Drumcondra respectively.

In later years, Hakoah's supporter base began to dwindle due to assimilation and a lack of renewal from younger supporters and it was amalgamated into South Melbourne FC in 1983.

A year later, Walsh moved across the city after leaving Hakoah, and took up the reins of Melbourne Hungaria.

This club was relatively new, having only been established in 1957. As with Hakoah, Hungaria had a strong immigrant background and were founded and supported by the city's Hungarian community. Although they began to challenge for trophies in the mid-1960s, by the time of Walsh's arrival they had no major silverware to speak of.

Walsh had a talented players at his disposal, most notably Australian international Attila Abonyi In his first year with the club, Walsh tasted the greatest success of his managerial career. In a memorable season Hungaria were crowned champions of both the league and the cup. This unprecedented double were Hungaria's only trophies and made Walsh a highly respected figure in Australian football.

Walsh with Hungaria
However, Hungaria's success was short lived, and in the following off-season they lost 10 first team players to wealthier competitors. This hit the club hard, and they finished in 10th place in 1968. The following year, another disappointing finish in 9th saw Walsh leave the club to be replaced by Rale Rasica.

The 1970s and 80s were yo-yo decades for the club. Following the season of 1987 the club struggling to stay afloat finally closed its doors.

Walsh settled in Queensland, returning to Manchester on occasion for big matches at Maine Road. In May 2003 he was was chosen in a 'parade of legends' prior to the club's final game at their old ground.

Billy Walsh passed away 2006 aged 85. He was cremated in his Manchester City shirt and his ashes were placed in the Garden of Remembrance at City's new Etihad Stadium.

Phil Babb

2000 - 02 : Sporting CP (Portugal)

After six years and one League Cup medal with Liverpool, Phil Babb's career was coming to a stand-still. So in 2000 on the advice of Peter Schmeichel, he made a bold career move by Irish standards in signing for Portuguese giants Sporting Club de Portugal. 

There was no fee paid for the central-defender, as the 29 year old Babb was surplus to requirements at a changing Liverpool under Gerard Houllier. Yet, in spite of his accepted faded status, Babb went on to become a major player for Sporting in two years with the club.

Babb wasn't born in Ireland, but rather hailed from Lambeth in London. However, he would earn 35 caps for the Republic, including four appearances at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

His career began in Newcastle, but he played his first senior matches for Bradford City from 1990 to 1992. He next moved to Coventry City where he made a name for himself, and won his first caps for Ireland. After the World Cup he moved to Liverpool. He was a mainstay at Anfield until Gerard Houllier became coach, when he began to be sidelined. A brief loan spell with Tranmere proved fruitless, and in the summer of 2000 he was technically released by the Reds.

Also wanted by FC Porto, Babb's move to Sporting was intended to revive his once illustrious flagging career. After impressing so much during World Cup '94, he had been seen as Paul McGrath's heir apparent  But years of inconsistency at Liverpool since 1998 had damaged his reputation, and he was loosing to competitors for an Irish shirt.

With over 100,000 registered fans, Sporting CP are Portugal's most well supported side. They constitute one of the Tres Grandes of Portuguese soccer, along with Benfica and FC Porto. Playing at the (newer) Estadio Jose Alvalade the club have won 18 Portuguese League titles and 15 Portuguese Cups. In Europe they were Cup Winners' Cup Champions back in 1964. 

In the 1999-2000 season they were crowned champions of Portugal for the 17th time. This was their first title in nearly two decades and that summer, manager Augusto Inacio was lookin
g to bolster his squad to defend the title. Chilean international Rodrigo Tello, Dortmund striker Jovan Kirovski and Portugal legend Paulo Bento were all drafted in alongside Babb for this purpose.

Other squad members were Mbo Mpenza, Peter Schmeichel, Hugo Viana, Ricardo Quaresma and Mario Jardel.

Babb (back-row, seventh from left) with Peter Schmeichel and the Sporting team

Sporting also decided to sign his international team-mate Alan Mahon, perhaps as a guarantee against Babb becoming homesick.

The season started with mixed fortunes for the Lions and they found themselves sitting in 11th place by the end of September with Babb failing to really make it into the first XI for most matches.

That month his Ireland career took a further nose dive. Two days prior to a World Cup qualifier against Holland, Babb was arrested along with Wolves winger Mark Kennedy following a late-night incident in a Dublin street. Both players were sent home in disgrace and did not travel with the rest of party to Amsterdam for the game which finished 2-2.

Babb after signing with Sporting
As Portuguese champions, Sporting were entered into the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League. They would compete in Group A alongside Real Madrid, Spartak Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen. Babb didn't feature in the club's opening 2-2 draw with Real, but made his European debut in the next match. Coming on in the 65 minute as a replacement for Pavel Horvath, he was unable to prevent the Lions from losing 3-2 away.

His next match wasn't until November 7 when Sporting limped out of the competition with a 0-0 home draw with Bayer. Real would go on to beat Valencia in the final that year.

Domestically, Sporting finished 3rd in the Primeira Liga, thus failing to reach the next season's Champions League. They also failed to reach the final of the Portuguese Cup, amounting in an utterly underwhelming season.

Babb had been largely overlooked, making a total of 19 senior appearances for the club, netting one goal. The next season, things would be different.

2001-02 saw Sporting sack coach Inacio and hire Romanian tactician László Bölöni as First Team Coach. With over 108 international caps to his name, Bölöni's tenure with Sporting was his second in management. This spellt good news for Babb, as it was under the Romanian that he would thrive at the club.

That season, Sporting would compete in the UEFA Cup, where they met Midtjylland of Denmark in the First Round. Babb himself got on the scoresheet in a 3-0 first leg win. A Second Round 7-1 hammering of Halmstad was followed by a Third Round pairing with Italian mega-club AC Milan.

Babb scores Sporting's first goal against Midtjylland

They were well beaten 2-0 in the first leg after goals from Shevchenko and Inzaghi, but did manage a 1-1 home draw a week later, with Niculae getting ont he scoresheet.
Babb takes on Milan

Domestically, Babb was beginning to establish himself as a first team regular. Strong and confident performances alongside André Cruz in the centre of defence were seeing Babb resurrect his career.

Sporting were crowned champions of the Primeira Liga, winning with 5 points ahead of fallen-club Boavista. This would be Babb's only league winners medal of his career and he made an incredible 39 appearances for Sporting that season.

That famous league win, was followed up by a Portuguese Cup (Taça de Portugal) Final tie with Leixões on May 12. Babb was named on the bench and 37000 fans filled out the Estádio Nacional in Lisbon to watch the Lions win 1-0, resulting in an unprecedented double that year. 

The Irish defender would leave that summer with two honours to his name. A rather successful take. The following October, a 17 year old Cristiano Ronaldo would make his first team debut for Sporting.

Babb announced on May 24th that he had turned down a new offer from Sporting would leave the club, saying at the time: "I love Sporting and Portugal, but I have decided to return after two good years here. The call was mine and my family's. For us at this moment, the best decision is to get back." 

He signed for Sunderland in England's Premier Division, but couldn't help the club from getting relegated. The next year in the First Division, he helped the club (by then under Mick McCarthy) reach the Play-Off semi-finals, but no further.

In August 2002, Babb was finally recalled to the Ireland squad by Mick McCarthy for an away match against Russia. This return would turn very sour for the defender however, as his first touch was an own goal, and Ireland lost 4-2. This would be Mick McCarthy and Babb's last appearance for the Republic.

Babb retired in 2004 and now works as an agent and sports manager. His impact at Sporting cannot be underrated, and he remains one of our finest football exports to the continent.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Bulova SA (Hong Kong)

Bulova SA first entered the league of British Hong Kong in 1977, slotting into the Third Division. Sponsored by the famous watch company; the club had a three year plan to reach the First Division by 1980 and set about searching Europe (in particular Britain) for footballing talent. 

The club's three year plan, was achieved in just two years, and by 1979, the club were among the elite of the colony's league system.

Bulova take on Liverpool
Bulova's success was built on signing expensive Europeans and organising money-making exhibition matches against top British clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester United. This is a model that would be copied by clubs in Japan, the middle-east and the USA in years to come, and marked the first financially geared tours to Asia by European clubs.

1979 - 80 : Terry Conroy

"This red-haired ghost impressed me at Anfield where he was bundled over the touchline by a massive Liverpool defender. Terry got up took the return pass and after battling down the wing he flicked the ball past Tommy Lawrence with the out side of his boot. That is flair"
Daily Express journalist Derek Potter.

The red hair and the wide flair made Terry Conroy a club favourite in over 12 years with Stoke City. As a Potter he won the League Cup in 1972 and the now-defunct Watney Cup in 1974. He earned 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1969 and 1976, and scored 2 goals.

Born in Dublin in 1946, Conroy spent his early years with local side Home Farm. At the age of 19 he moved North of the border to sign for Belfast-based side Glentoran, where he won the Irish League in 1967 and the Irish Cup in 1966. In 1967 he impressed Stoke City manager Tony Waddington enough in a pre-season friendly for the Mancunian to sign him for £10,000.

In 1979, at the age of 33 and with 333 games and 66 goals under his belt, Conroy left the Victoria Ground and signed on a free transfer for Hong Kong based club, Bulova SA.

Conroy's shirt from Bulova
The 1979-80 Hong Kong First Division season was Bulova's first as a top flight team. By this time, they had not signed the foreign legion of later seasons, and Conroy was the only major import in the squad. The club's established top player was Hong Kong international Chan Fat Chi.

Bulova finished well, ending in 3rd place, the Championship was won by holders Seiko. They also finished as runners-up in the FA Cup in 1980. The Irishman would not stay for another season, and after picking up his final pay cheque, he departed the colony to return to England.

Conroy spent one season with Crewe before returning to Ireland in 1981 spending the remainder of his playing career with Waterford United and Limerick before retiring in 1983 at the age of 37.

After retirement Conroy began doing PA work for Stoke. In 2011 he was admitted to hospital for health problems arising from a suspected vascular aneurism. He is now a welfare officer for the Football Association of Ireland, as well as an Ambassador for Stoke City.

1983 - 84 : Peter Foley

Peter Foley was born in England, but captained the Republic of Ireland at U18 and U21 level. He spent a majority of his career with Oxford United during the club's rise through the lower leagues of England.

He earned a senior call up to the Irish team in 1981 for a European qualifier away to Malta. However, as Oxford were playing a game the same weekend, he was refused permission to travel to Valletta. Bad luck would frustrate Foley's international ambitions for a second time a year later when an injury forced him out of contention. He never managed to earn a senior cap.

Foley was a striker, and left Oxford in 1983 after scoring 90 goals in 306 games. (He is the joint third-top scorer in club history alongside John Aldridge.)

At the age of 27, Foley was offered the chance of picking up good wages by moving to Hong Kong with a now-stronger Bulova.

In 1982, the club had triumphed in the Hong Kong FA Cup and had transformed since Conroy's time. Most of the squad were now foreigners, and the side was a major force in the colony's game. Alongside Foley in the team would be former Tottenham keeper Barry Daines, Chester legend Bob Delgado, England international Brian Greenhoff and Scotland midfielder Tommy Hutchinson.

In the league that season, Bulova once again finished second to Seiko. 

Foley appears for Bulova against Seiko

In the 1983-84 Hong Kong Senior Challenge Cup, Foley's Bulova faced Happy Valley in the final. After a scoreless draw, the game was replayed with Bulova winning 2-0. 

Foley (fifth from left, back row) celebrates winning the Senior Challenge Cup

This would be the club's last season in football, as they withdrew from the Hong Kong league that summer. Although they had spent big on signings and friendlies, crowd attendances remained paltry to the relative size of Hong Kong's population and the apparent popularity of the game in the colony.

Foley returned to England where he played lower league football until retiring in 1987. He followed this with spells as manager of Oxford City, Marlow, Didcot Town, and, most recently, Ardley. In 1994, he managed Marlow to FA Cup 2nd Round victory over his old club Oxford, the first time in the club's history that they had beaten a league side.

Bulova were formally dissolved in 1985, never to appear in football again, but remain the only Asian club to feature two Irishmen in their history.

In later years Tim O'SheaColin Baker and Sean Tse would carry the flag for Ireland in Hong Kong football.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Paul McGee

1974 : Toronto Italia (Canada)
1975 - 77 : Montreal Castors (Canada)
1986 - 87 : HFC Haarlem (Netherlands)

Paul 'Ski' McGee was a journeyman Irish forward who represented more than 18 clubs in a 24 year career. His talents would take him to Canada, England, Northern Ireland and Holland, as well as spending various periods back in Ireland.

Hailing from Sligo, the Irishman began playing senior football for Sligo Rovers in 1970, at the age of 15. Unsuccessful spells with lower league English clubs followed before he made a name for himself at Finn Harps in the mid-70s, where he won the FAI Cup in 1974.

It was while with Harps, that he spent the summer of '74 on loan with Canadian side, Toronto Italia.

Now defunct, Italia competed in the Canadian National Soccer League, a predecessor to the modern Canadian Soccer League. Although Canada's best clubs at the time (Toronto Metros and Vancouver Whitecaps) played in the NASL, the CNSL was still a professional league drawing moderate attendances.

Football in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, was still an immigrant game, attracting mainly Italian, Jewish and Eastern European communities. This was reflected in the make-up of local teams including Italia, along with the Polish White Eagles, Toronto Croatia and Toronto Hakoah. However, as the immigrant community was more used to watching better quality football, club owners scoured Europe to find cheap summer loan deals.

Naturally, Italia was made up of predominantly Italian footballers, as well as a cluster of Argentinians. McGee was the only Irishmen with the club. Italia failed to win the Championship that season, but McGee did well, contributing 26 goals in 36 games making him the league's top scorer.

Back in Ireland, McGee returned to Sligo, winning the League of Ireland in 1977. While with Rovers, in the summers of 1976 and 1977 he moved across the Atlantic again, both times to line out for the Montreal Castors. The Castors were a French-Canadian club and played at the 9,500 capacity Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard (CSCR).

In his first season with the Castors, they came up against Toronto Italia in the Regular Season Championship, but sadly came up short. Life was tough in the CNSL for players back then. Although largely professional, facilities were below par, and McGee and his teammates would regularly have traveled by bus around the large span of continental Canada.

In the season of 1977 the Castors were victorious, claiming the Championship, by beating Italia in the final. With the Quebecois side, McGee contributed 67 goals in 93 games over his two spells. The club would win successive titles over the next two years but in 1979, after failing in a bid to join the more prestigious NASL, the Castors folded as a franchise.

McGee looks back fondly on playing in North America, telling the Irish Times, "My time in Canada helped me become stronger and fitter and I think it stood to me."

He signed for Queens Park Rangers after this last spell in Montreal, ending his relationship with Canada for good. While with QPR he made the first of his 16 senior international appearances for the Republic of Ireland. He scored on his debut against Turkey and would score 3 more goals between 1978 and 1980.

30 April 1980; Ireland Players pictured from (left to right) are Tony Grealish, Gary Waddock, Gerry Ryan, Mark Lawrenson, Kevin Moran, Paul McGee, Gerry Daly, Chris Hughton, Dave Langan, Don Givens and Gerry Peyton. before the match, Republic of Ireland v Switzerland, Friendly International, Lansdowne Road, Dublin, Soccer. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Over the next 10 years, McGee wandered between Britain and Ireland, transferring regularly between clubs and achieving little. By 1985 he was with Galway United, and playing some of his best football since he left Canada, culminating in a League of Ireland Cup in 1986.

He was still with Galway at the beginning of the following season when they faced FC Groningen in the First Round of the UEFA Cup. Galway lost the first leg 1-3 at home and he second leg 1-5 away. Despite this large deficit, McGee had played well enough to earn the attentions of Groningen's rivals in Holland, HFC Haarlem.

(Groningen went on to beat Don Givens' Neuchatel Xamax in the 2nd Round).

Haarlem were established in 1898, and won their only National Title in 1946. They also had two Dutch Cups to their name, in 1902 and 1912. Playing home matches at the 3440 capacity Haarlem Stadion, their nickname was Red Shorts. Dutch legend Ruud Gullit began his career with the club, but had left by the time of McGee's arrival. Gregory van der Wiel and Arthur Numan would also spend time at the club, subsequent to McGee's tenure.

Haarlem Stadion

At Haarlem McGee would be afforded the opportunity to partner Dutch legend Johnny Rep up front, in the last season of his great career. Also in the squad was an Englishman named Keith Masefield, while another Irishman knocking about in Holland that year was Paul Bannon who was playing for NAC Breda in the Second Division.

Although McGee was never more than a squad player he enjoyed the change of pace that the Dutch game had to offer. "I enjoyed over two years in Holland. It was a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my playing time there," he said.

In the Dutch (KNVB) Cup, Haarlem made it as far as the second round, only to be beaten by De Graatschap 2-1. In the league, the club were battling relegation, and found themselves amongst its contenders by mid-season.

Dick Advocaat
So it was in January of 1987, that Dick Advocaat was appointed manager to the club, and McGee's chances in the first team would dry up. In all, he made only 14 appearances scoring 2 goals.

Advocaat's impact was soon felt and the club began climbing the table and found themselves in safety by May. McGee's time in Holland was over, however, and he left that summer. Nevertheless he had done his part in helping the club avoid relegation, and stay in the top flight with a 12th place finish.

That summer Frank Stapleton would arrive in the Netherlands to begin his ill-fated spell with Ajax.

McGee in later years
Haarlem would remain in the top flight for another two years, before finally falling from grace in 1989. In 2010, they filed for bankruptcy and became yet another extinct club in global football.

McGee returned to Galway as player-manager, winning the First Division Shield in 1992. Stints with Derry and Athlone either side of several more spells for Sligo followed before he hung up his boots in 1993. He obtained his UEFA Coaching badges and later managed Limerick 37 and Salthill Devon. He still maintains a close relationship with Sligo Rovers, whom he dedicated one of his Ireland shirts to, in 2012.

His career was a mixture of achievement and obscurity really. He created a record for an Irish player in transferring between clubs on a total of 34 occasions and never achieved as much as his 16 caps seemed to suggest. However, Paul McGee remains 11th all-time leading goalscorer in League of Ireland football with 143 finishes. A fine record for a decent footballer.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Steve Heighway

1981 : Minnesota Kicks (U.S.A.)

Steven Heighway was a winger from Dublin, who became part of the most successful Liverpool team of all time. In 11 years with the Anfield club, the Irishman collected 5 First Division titles, 4 Charity Shields, 3 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup and 1 European Super Cup. This haul marks him as one of the most decorated Irish footballers of all time.

In addition to football, Heighway excelled in education, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Economics & Politics from the University of Warwick. This achievement earned him the nickname 'Big Bamber', after Bamber Gascoigne the host of University Challenge.

He would play under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, two of British football's greatest coaches. He also played alongside Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness.

He earned the first of his 34 Republic of Ireland caps on 23 September 1970 against Poland. He never managed to score a goal for Ireland, although he did have a goal disallowed against Bulgaria in a 1978 World Cup qualifier. 

Between 1979 and 1981, his appearances for the Reds became rarer and more sporadic. Heighway was by now in his early-30s and knew that to find regular football before retirement; he would have to leave Merseyside. Heighway's record at Anfield was 444 games and 76 goals.

He decided to move to the United States, and signed for the Minnesota Kicks.

This NASL franchise from Bloomington were established in 1976. They played at the city's 48000 capacity Metropolitan Stadium, or the Met as it was known. Between their foundation and Heighway's arrival, the Kicks had seen some success in the NASL. They finished 1st or 2nd every season, but failed to lift the Soccer Bowl. Match attendances were initially healthy too, with 1977's season seeing an average of 32,770. 

The club's new coach in 1981 was Englishman Geoff Barnett, a former Arsenal goalkeeper who had previously played for the Kicks. New team-mates included Scotland international Don Masson, former Aston Villa midfielder Ian Hamilton and ex-Birmingham defender Tony Want. However, Heighway was certainly the squad's most high-profile foreign import.

Heighway, back-row fourth from left, with the Kicks squad

Heighway's first game for the Kicks was on May 3 in the season's opening game against Montreal Impact. 22000 people came to the Met to witness a thrilling 3-3 thriller.

His first goal was on June 27 in a 4-0 home victory over Dallas Tornado, and his second strike came on July 29 in a 4-1 away win against Gerd Müller's Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

He scored again on August 9 against Toronto Blizzard, as the Kicks ran out 3-0 winners at home. He also managed to get on the score-sheet in an otherwise forgettable 7-2 thumping from Chicago Sting at Wrigley Field.

The Kicks finished the regular season as 2nd in the Central Division behind Chicago. In the playoffs, they defeated the Tulsa Roughnecks 4-1 on aggregate. The second leg against the Roughnecks would the Kicks' last ever match at the Met

However, they failed to defeat Fort Lauderdale in the Quarter Finals, and the season was over. Their last ever game was on September 5, where they limped off 3-0 down to the Strikers at the Lockhart Stadium in front of just 10000 fans.

Because of serious financial strains, dwindling attendances and a lack of corporate interest, the NASL was slowly declining. The close season of 1981 saw 6 teams fold alongside Minnesota. The league would continue for a further three years, but it's best years were behind it.

Heighway, for his part, had an industrious season in America, in spite of his age. He made over 30 appearances for the Kicks, scored 4 goals and created 8.

Heighway would remain in the United States throughout the 1980s, first playing indoor soccer for Philadelphia Fever and then youth coaching at Clearwater Charges. In 1989 he returned to Liverpool to take charge of the club's youth academy, bringing through the likes of Steve McManaman, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. He retired from football in 2007.
Heighway with the Fever indoor squad

Best remembered in Liverpool where his name is mentioned in The Fields of Anfield. In Minnesota he did his best and was a success in a sadly sinking ship.

Paul Bannon

1986 - 87 : NAC Breda (Netherlands)
1987 - 88 : PAOK (Greece)
1988 - 89 : Larissa (Greece)

Paul Bannon was born in Dublin in 1956. Excelling as a young striker, he was signed by English club Nottingham Forrest as a teen but failed to make an appearance for the club. At the age of 22, he moved to Carlisle United where he made over 150 appearances in 5 years at Brunton Park. In 1983, at the age of 27 he moved to Bristol Rovers, where he spent three years (including loan spells at Cardiff and Plymouth).

At the wise age of 30, Bannon made the unusual move of crossing the English channel and signing for a continental club, Holland's NAC.

Founded in 1912, NAC hail from the Southern Dutch city of Breda. The club have won a solitary league title, in 1921, as well as one Dutch Cup in 1973. Today, they play home matches at the Rat Verleigh Stadion, a modern 19000 capacity ground. However, when Bannon signed in 1986 they were still playing at the NAC Stadion, their spiritual home since 1939, which held roughly 10000 fans.

In 1986, Dutch coach Leen Looyen brought Bannon to the club, with the intention of the Irishman becoming the club's main attacking threat. The club were then playing in Holland's 2nd Division, the Eerste Divisie. Having been relegated twice in the 1980s, the club were keen to get back to the top flight and remain there, and Bannon was intended to be a part of this project.

The old NAC Stadion

However, the season ulitmately finished in dissappointing fashion, as NAC ended up in 8th place, missing out on promotion. The domestic Cup was also a disaster for NAC, as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to minnows SC Enschede in the First Round.

Bannon himself failed to settle or even establish himself in the squad, making only 9 appearances all season, although his did manage to score 6 goals.

So, in the summer of 1987, he was on the move again, this time moving further South to Greece, where he signed for PAOK FC.

Panthessaloníkios Athlitikós Ómilos Konstantinoupolitón, or PAOK as they're better known are one of Greek football's biggest clubs. Based in Thessaloniki, they have won the Greek Championship twice and the Greek Cup 4 times. Home matches for PAOK are played at the Toumba Stadium, which holds 29000 spectators. The club's nickname is the Gypsies.

Bannon was the second man from the island of Ireland to work with the club, after Northern Ireland great Billy Bingham briefly managed them in 1977.

Bannon's new manager at PAOK was another Dutchman Thijs Libregts, previously of Feyenoord and PSV. Some of Bannon's new teammates were Greek internationals Stefanos Borbokis and Nikos Karageorgiou. Bannon was one of only two non-Greek players in the squad, alongside Yugoslavian Nikola Nikić.

Bannon got off to a good start, scoring and setting up goals. In October however, he received his first red card in Greece, getting dismissed in a league match against Levadiakos.

In December, Libregts switched to fierce rivals Olympiakos. Greek coach Michalis Mbellis was appointed as his successor.

Later that month, Bannon became part of PAOK history when he scored the opening goal of a 6-1 home win over Olympiakos at the Serres Municipal stadium.
PAOK 6-1 Olympiakos

Bannon heads PAOK's first goal

Bannon was also in the first XI on April 17th 1988, when PAOK grabbed a 2-1 away win over local rivals Aris Thessaloniki. PAOK were still fighting for the league title, although a 2-1 loss to Olympiacos two weeks earlier had left them trailing Larissa and AEK Athens. In Charilaou, in front of 20.000 spectators, PAOK fell behind on the 57th minute when Vassilis Dimitriadis scored the opener for Aris. The reply was swift, just two minutes later, through Giorgos Skartados. PAOK secured victory on the 86th minute courtesy of a Sotiris Mavromatis’ strike.

The season went well, as the Gypsies finished in 3rd place, behind Champions Larissa and capital giants AEK. Libregts' Olympiakos ended up in 8th.

Bannon's season was a success, as he played 20 matches and notched up 9 league goals, making him the club's top scorer. Despite this, and despite his popularity with fans, Bannon was released that summer.

He wouldn't wait long to find a new club however, as Champions Larissa came calling that July.

Athletic Union of Larissa 1964, AEL or Larissa for short, hail from Larissa in the Thessaly region. They are thre only club from outside Thessaloniki or Athens to have won the Greek Championship, having won the title the previous season. In 1985 ans again in 1987 they lifted the Greek Cup. Their nickname is the Queen of the Lowlands.

His new coach was Vladimír Táborský, who was capped 19 times by Czechoslovakia and playing alongside Bannon was Polish international Krzysztof Baran.

In the Greek Cup that season, Larissa topped their opening group, before hammering Niki Volos in the Second Round. In the Quater Finals against OFI Crete, Bannon headed a goal in the first leg in a 2-1 win. They would go as far as the Semi-Finals that year before succumbing to Panionios 2-0 on aggregate.

Larissa's first foray into Europe ended prematurely. In the First Round of the 1988-89 European Cup, they were drawn against Don Givens' former club Neuchâtel Xamax, of Switzerland. They overcame the Swiss 2-1 in the first leg, but fell to the same scoreline away. The match went to penalties, and Larissa lost 3-0. The Cup that year was won by AC Milan.

Bannon missed his penalty against Xamax

On the League front; club finished in a disappointing 6th place, missing out on European Competition the next year. 

Bannon was released that summer. He was by now 33 and was in the winter of his playing career. With this in mind, he returned back to Ireland after 15 years to sign with Cork City. 4 years with them, and 2 with Cobh Ramblers would see out the rest of his time, and he retired in 1995. 

He was never capped by the Republic of Ireland, which seems harsh until one considers the arguably better talent Ireland had up front during his time, in Niall Quinn, Tony Cascarino and Frank Stapleton. Playing in Greece, Bannon was always going to be a peripheral figure in Charlton-era Irish football.

In later years, he would be followed to Greece by other Irishmen. Ronnie Whelan would coach there in the late 1990s, while Ian Daly would endure a short spell with Aris in 2009.

In 2012, Irish international Liam Lawrence would follow Bannon through the gates of the Toumba Stadium and play for PAOK. He would spend two years at the club before returning to England in 2014.

Paul Bannon was the first Irish professional footballer in Greece.