Any fan will feel it when one of the players they have watched and loved passes. “One of our own” is one of the more personal chants and feelings that is prevalent these days and it can be naturally enough applied to the death of a former player. I received the news whilst out of the country late at night on Thursday from my editor that Yorkie was with us no more. The news had my soul back at the Oval instantly.
For that phrase “one of our own” is hitting me and many others now hard in the solar plexus in a way I wouldn’t have envisaged. As I think about him now he was my own age when he came into the team and so I can feel the cold draught of mortality pass by me. I now see that he was the first identifiable contemporary to carry what might have been myself into the Glentoran team. If I had been anything approaching a footballer that is. My Glentoran team. Our Glentoran team. Ron Manley’s Glentoran team.
It counted then for me and all these years later it counts so much more. Ron, you carried me and no doubt many others on to that special pitch of ours and you brought moments of joy to us all. That tail end of the seventies was a tough season for the side. But you were put up there beside Blackie who had arrived nine months earlier and you started to imprint memories. Strong, sustainable and golden memories that are tangible, really hold them in front of you tangible because I saw you so often all my life at the Oval. And when I saw you my life and times at the Oval gathered weight each time.
There you were always nearby chatting in that easy way you had with all and sundry adding meaning to everyone else who place importance in following our club. For the club meant so much to you Yorkie and you meant so much to us because you had played and supported and loved Glentoran. You never realised that you carried that glow of love around with you. But people like you do carry it because you gave to the club. You gave your ability and then you gave your time and support back.
You didn’t know that sitting along with other players signing Sam Robinson’s book a year or so back added so much substance to that event. You didn’t know that simple act of sitting there gave honour and importance to the launch of that book that day. You didn’t know that seeing you there reminded people of exactly why they were buying that book. Buying that book was to remind the fans of people like yourself. For your continued presence around the Oval meant you physically were passing the history of the club down the generations. You were the strongest link to that undefeated League Championship side of 1981.
It would remind people of your distinctive determined running style as you formed that spearhead with Blackie. Scoring that goal against Linfield in January ’81 whom we hadn’t beaten for about three years. Scoring against Progres Niedercorn that following September under the lights. Setting off on that mazy, bewitching run right in front of the Sydenham end to score against CSKA Sofia and we were thinking “O Yorkie”. And it would remind everyone of you, central and smiling in that white Clock Shop shirt in late April 1981 as the team beat Crusaders to win the first league I had witnessed following the club. I thank you for that Yorkie. We all thank you.
You took us onto the pitch with you and you kept that alive every time we saw you at the Oval down the years. There are few who could do that as well as you. The Oval is a poorer place now that you have gone. I never knew you though many did. But the Oval is a richer place because of people like you. And it’s not just Glenmen who know that. So many across the league be it players or fans know that as well.
Ron Manley – one of our own? Ron, it was you who owned us and for those of us who watched and knew you we are humbled and thankful.