With World Cup fever well and truly in the air, this week we celebrate the career of a footballer who represented Northern Ireland at both España ‘82 and Mexico ‘86. He is towering defender, John McClelland.
He is one of a small band of Northern Ireland players who can say they were part of two World Cup finals and was in Billy Bingham’s side which famously defeated Spain 1-0 in front of 49,000 people at the Estadio Luis Casanova in Valencia 32 years ago. Gerry Armstrong’s goal is, of course, the stuff of legends, but McClelland played a huge role in a strong defensive display on a night that has gone down in history.
The centre-back won 53 caps in a green shirt, scoring one goal in a win over Turkey. He made his international debut as a substitute in a 1-0 victory over Scotland in 1980.
McClelland was born in December 1955 and was raised in the Newtownabbey area. He began his footballing career for Portadown and his talent took him across the Irish Sea where he played for Cardiff City, Bangor City, and Mansfield Town, before signing for Glasgow Rangers for £90,000. He won a Scottish Cup winner’s medal during his time at Ibrox and went on to captain the side, before Watford paid £225,000 for his services.
He later played with distinction for Leeds, Notts County, St Johnstone, Arbroath, Wycombe Wanderers, Yeovil Town and Darlington. He even had another brief spell in the Irish League, signing for Kenny Shiels’ Carrick Rangers in the 1993-94 season. He made 11 appearances for the Taylor’s Avenue outfit.
The highlight of his club career was undoubtedly winning the First Division title with Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds, the last season before the formation of the Premier League.
The class of ‘92 included Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, David Batty, Lee Chapman and Eric Cantona.