Jim McLaughlin Story: Part 1
In a new series, Sean DeLoughry looks back over the career of the legendary Jim McLaughlin. In part one, Jim begins his career at Derry City before making the move to England.
Jim McLaughlin was born in Derry on 22nd December 1940 and grew up in Derry’s Bogside, within a mazy dribble of the Brandywell.
From an early age he was a regular at the venue. A successful winger in youth football, McLaughlin was clearly a star in the making on the local scene. From the age of 15 he regularly tagged along with first team training, offering his services as a ball boy and eventually helping out delivering corners during training and playing in informal training matches.
Derry City Juniors
He was signed up for the juniors in 1957 at the age of 16 and soon made a big impression. For much of the 1950s Derry City had laboured in the bottom half of the Irish League. An ageing squad could not compete at the top end with Linfield, Glentoran and Glenavon, and it provided McLaughlin with the opportunity to make the breakthrough at a young age.
First Team Breakthrough
City began the 1957/58 campaign with the usual myriad of cup competitions that started the Irish League season. Their Ulster Cup and Gold Cup campaigns were consigned to history before the City Cup competition began by September. The City Cup was played as a one-series league, with clubs playing each other just once, either home or away. The Candystripes began with a solid 4-2 win at Bangor, then lost 3-0 to Linfield before hosting Crusaders on 21 September 1957. The 16-year-old McLaughlin was happily training with the first team as usual that week, when he got the surprise call that he was to start against Crusaders.
He quickly settled into the game and was not really intimadated by the occasion or his older, more experienced opponents. By all accounts it was an impressive debut, one he capped with a goal for himself in a comforatable 3-1 win. The Derry Journal were quick to recognise his talent and summarised McLaughlin’s performance: “He is star material”.
If McLaughlin enjoyed his winning start and a goalscoring debut a reality check was just around the corner. Derry travelled to Lurgan for their next City Cup match, against bogey team Glenavon, and endured a humiliating 9-1 thrashing. McLaughlin evidently played well enough to retain his place in the team. He played in City’s seven remaining City Cup games as Derry finished midtable. He did not miss another game all season.
City’s league campaign started inauspiciously with three defeats, but McLaughlin impressed and retained his place. He had played a dozen first team games before his 17th birthday and celebrated his birthday by helping Derry to a rare away win at Linfield.
Soon he was attracting the attentions of cross-channel clubs. Derry’s form was erratic in the league as they took up their usual position in the bottom half of the table. After the Christmas break Derry to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup. He scored in a 2-1 win away to Crusaders in the first round, and in a 3-2 win at Bangor in the quarter-finals of the competition.
But the semi-final was a disappointment for the Foylesiders though, as a strong Ballymena United side ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. Derry eventually laboured to eighth in the table with the form of their young winger a highlight of the season. McLaughlin ended the season in style, scoring five goals in two league games against Cliftonville, for a total of 16 goals in all competitions. It was clear that Derry would struggle to retain his services.
Towards the end of the season he travelled to Holland with West Bromwich Albion for a youth tournament, but it was their cross-city rivals, First Division Birmingham City that eventually gained his signature. Derry City ended the season with a glamour friendly against Celtic. A very strong Celtic side ran out 7-0 winners in what was to be McLaughlin’s last game for the Candystripes. Soon after the game the Derry City board accepted a healthy offer of some £4,000 from Birmingham for the services of their young star winger.
All of this meant that at the age of 17 Jim McLaughlin was off to play in the top division in England!
Part Two will appear soon!