Feature by Tony Scholes
Updated Tuesday, 21st June 2011
Date and Place of Birth
18th June 1943 - Carrickfergus
Transfers to and from Burnley
junior then pro - June 1960
to Preston North End - March 1968 (£45,000)
First and Last Burnley Games
Arsenal (a) - 11th May 1963
Nottingham Forest (a) - 24th February 1968
Preston North End, Brighton and Hove Albion, Halifax Town
Burnley Career Stats
|Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Others||Total|
Profile by Tony Scholes
About three or four years ago I heard Steve Bruce, then manager of Birmingham, say in an interview that a team was only ever as good as its strikers. It was a good point; the most important thing in any game is putting the ball in the net and the better your forwards the more often you are likely to do that.
Burnley have had some good strikers, or centre forwards as they used to be called, over the years, but in my time watching the Clarets none have been quite able to match the goalscoring exploits of Willie Irvine who, for two and a half years, was as good as anyone in English football when it came to putting the ball in the net.
Willie arrived at Burnley from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland in 1960 just past his 17th birthday by which time he'd already won honours for his country at schoolboy level. He was soon into his stride when it came to scoring goals.
Back then the Burnley Express would always publish the result and scorers of all Burnley's junior teams and soon my dad was telling me about this lad Irvine who was scoring goals just about every week, and more often than not he'd get more than one in a game.
From 'B' team to 'A' team and after just over a year with the club he got his chance in the reserves. It was against Barnsley and he netted a hat trick, had one disallowed and even missed a penalty. He was one of two debutants that day in the reserves, the other was Willie Morgan. The first team were going well and we had this quality of playing coming through from the junior teams.
Even so, Irvine couldn't get a regular place in the reserves, such was the strength in depth at Turf Moor, and had he played just occasionally as we won the Central League in that 1961/62 season. In the following season he established himself with Andy Lochhead now in the first team.
What a season it was for the young Irvine. There were a collection of goals in the reserves and that led to him being capped by Northern Ireland at Under-23 level in February 1963. Two months later and he was in the side against Wales at Cardiff for his first full international and he was still to get into the first team at Burnley.
That chance finally came in the last away game of the 1962/63 season against Arsenal at Highbury whilst still 19. Inevitably he scored, in fact the first goal of the game as we won 3-2. He retained his place for the one remaining game against Birmingham at Turf Moor. We won 3-1 and he scored all three.
With Lochhead and Jimmy Robson in possession of the first team shirts he still had a wait to get anything like a regular place in the team. There were just seven appearances in the 1963/64 season with another four goals.
He couldn't be held back any longer, and in 1964/65 he won a regular place in the team alongside Lochhead and for two and a half years the goals just kept coming and coming.
Lochhead himself was a prolific scorer, but Irvine netted 25 goals that season and then, as the Clarets chased the title, scored no less than 37 during the 1965/66 season. 29 of those goals were in the league thus setting a new post-war record for league goals in a season, a record that still stands to this day.
It was the same in the following season, another 16 goals by January and Burnley looking again to get up with the top teams in the league as well as enjoying a Fairs Cup campaign. Then disaster struck in an FA Cup replay at Everton.
A shocking challenge by Everton's Johnny Morrissey left Willie with a broken leg and out of the side for the remainder of the season. Burnley's form inevitably dropped and we had to settle for a fourteenth place finish, our lowest finish for fifteen years.
By the start of the next season he was back and scored on the opening day of the season against Coventry. He scored six in nineteen games. That's a good return for a lot of players but for Irvine it was nothing like his previous record and his time at Burnley was coming to an end.
There were problems between him and coach Jimmy Adamson, and that surely played a part, but the injury had also had an effect and he wasn't quite the same player on his return. By February 1968 he'd played his last game in Burnley colours and a month later was transferred to Preston North End for £45,000.
Playing outside the top flight he found his goalscoring boots again. He netted 27 league goals for North End before signing for Brighton in March 1971 for whom he added another 27 goals in a side that reached the old second division under Pat Saward.
His last move took him to Halifax in December 1972 but he left at the end of the season, walking out after they'd tried to prevent him from playing in the John Angus Testimonial at Turf Moor. Willie Irvine played in that game, a final Turf Moor appearance.
After many years away from the Turf in any official capacity, although still very much a Burnley supporter, he returned about a decade ago to work alongside Tommy Cummings and Andy Lochhead on match days, hosting the corporate guests.
Any people have been taken on a tour of Turf Moor with Willie Irvine as host, and he continues to this day with Jim Thomson having now joined him and Lochhead.
He's a genial host but he was one phenomenal goalscorer the likes of which I've never seen since at Burnley. When that injury came he was just 23 and you have to wonder just what he might have achieved had he remained fully fit throughout his career.
He would surely have smashed every Burnley goalscoring record, even that of George Beel who scored 188 goals for Burnley. There again we would probably have sold him for a massive transfer fee.