Memories of Busby’s Olympics striker go on show

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IT was 1948 and the opening match of the “austerity games”, when Harry McIlvenny surged forward, collected the ball and lashed it into the opposition net.

The goal clinched the first game for the Great British football team, managed by Matt (later Sir Matt) Busby, and sparked a march towards the semi-finals before they were finally beaten by Denmark.

McIlvenny, who at the time played as an amateur for Bradford Park Avenue, was a leading light in the squad which was the last Great Britain team entered into an Olympic Games until London 2012.

Now as the country’s latest generation of football stars prepare to take on the world in this summer’s tournament, his treasure-trove of Olympic memorabilia has gone on public display for the first time.

McIlvenny studied at Harrogate’s Ashville College before joining the RAF where he served in India and Burma during the Second World War.

Yesterday, a collection including the number nine shirt he played in, Olympic Medal, match programmes and letter inviting him to participate in a trial match – went on display at the school for an exhibition showcasing its Olympic heritage.

The memorabilia was donated by Jane Cockroft, the daughter of McIlvenny, who was also vice-president of Yorkshire County Cricket Club before he died in 2009 aged 86.

“My father was an amazing man but never really talked about his achievements,” she said. “He was invited to play in a team selection match, but just as a reserve.

“However, he must have impressed Matt Busby as he went on to play in all the matches, even scoring the winning goal in the opening game.

“He was incredibly fond of Matt Busby and was devastated when he heard about the 1958 Munich plane crash because he knew a number of the players.

“In 1949 he broke his leg playing for Bradford Park Avenue and his mother, who had collected all his memorabilia, said that since he would be sat around he should get around to sorting it out – but he never did.”

McIlvenny played 60 League and Cup matches for Bradford Park Avenue, scoring 17 league goals.

In 1948 he scored in five consecutive matches, and in 1949, scored one of the goals and made the other in Avenue’s celebrated 2-0 FA Cup win at Newcastle United.

Between 1950 and 1953, he played 89 games and scored 90 goals for Bishop Auckland – which he joined as a result of his long friendship with fellow Olympic representative Bob Hardisty.

As a cricketer, he played originally for Rawdon, then Pudsey and joined Bradford where he remained until the early 60s, being in the side that won the Priestley Cup in 1960. He was also vice-president of Airedale & Wharfedale Senior Cricket League, which annually presents a trophy for wicket keeping in his name.

“I’m delighted the school is showing such interest in my father,” Mrs Cockroft said.

“He attended Ashville from the age of 14 and loved it so much he even named his house after it. He was a natural sportsman and during his four years at the school, his sporting achievements surpassed his academic ones, being a member of several teams including the cricket and tennis team.”

Ashville Pre Prep School headteacher Carol Berrie said: “We are very proud of our Olympic links and delighted to put Harry McIlvenny’s memorabilia on display.”