Northern Ireland

William McCrum: 125th anniversary of Milford man's move to change football forever

Gerry Armstrong scores a penalty for Northern Ireland against Finland in 1984
Image caption Penalty kicks, like this one by Gerry Armstrong for Northern Ireland in 1984, can leave fans and players alike with hearts in mouths

Antonín Panenka, Euro '76. Chris Waddle, 1990 World Cup. Roberto Baggio, 1994 World Cup. Gareth Southgate, Euro '96. John Terry, 2008 Champions League.

Each one a moment of either joy or heartbreak, depending on which colour of shirt you wore.

Football's highest dramas have often come from the penalty spot.

The inventor of the sport's penalty kick was an Irishman, William McCrum, from Milford in County Armagh.

Image caption In spite of his family's wealth and his invention of the penalty, McCrum died penniless in 1932

His legacy to the world was to leave fans of the beautiful game on the edge of their seats, time and time again.

Thursday marks the 125th anniversary of McCrum's penalty-kick proposal being accepted by the International Football Association Board, which supervises the laws of the game.

The son of a wealthy Irish linen manufacturer, McCrum was more interested in sport than business.

He was a goalkeeper for Milford Everton in his home village and he was no fan of goalmouth foul play.

Image copyright PA
Image caption It has been 20 years since Gareth Southgate missed a crucial penalty in the Euro '96 semi-final shootout against Germany

As a result, he devised the penalty kick to thwart unsportsmanlike behaviour.

But his proposal was met with scorn when it was first made in 1890, according to Joe McManus, a historian and writer from Milford.

"Opponents on the board called the suggestion the 'Irishman's notion' and they didn't accept that players would play in an unsporting manner," he said.

"But in between 1890 and 1891, there was so much foul play around the goalmouth that they had a rethink and it was introduced into the laws."

Image caption Fifa funded the restoration of McCrum's grave in Armagh after a campaign by Northern Ireland fans

Mr McManus said McCrum's love for amateur dramatics could have had an influence in his invention of the spot-kick.

"When you think of it, the penalty is a supreme moment of drama, of theatre, and a goalkeeper becomes centre stage," he said.

"So maybe this was something that prompted his thinking - it was theatrical."

McCrum's place in sporting history was a little-known story until about a decade ago, according to Mr McManus.

Image caption A bust of McCrum sits in the same field in Milford he played football on in the 1880s and 1890s

"There was no great talk about it until developers put in a planning application to build houses on the field where Milford were playing at the time of the invention," he said.

"Residents, including myself, opposed it on the basis of the historical attachment and McCrum's story came to life again.

"The English press jumped on it and a compromise was agreed to build houses around the field, which was left to be developed as a memorial to McCrum."

In 2010, a monument to McCrum was erected in Milford on the same field he played on about 120 years earlier.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Philip Johnston (top), pictured with Northern Ireland players Niall McGinn, Conor McLaughlin and Oliver Norwood, says he hopes McCrum will smile on the team at the Euro 2016 finals

Former England striker Gary Lineker paid a visit to McCrum's grave at St Mark's Parish Church in Armagh city in the late-2000s to film a BBC documentary and Mr McManus accompanied him.

He said: "I remember Lineker standing over the grave, head bowed, and he said: 'This man has a lot to answer for!'"

Last year, a campaign by the Milford Northern Ireland Supporters' Club led to Fifa, world football's governing body, funding the refurbishment of McCrum's grave.

Philip Johnston, the club's chairman, said the village's "favourite son" had "changed football forever".

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Terry famously broke down in tears after his penalty miss helped Manchester United to the 2008 Champions League

He and other members of the supporters' club met the Northern Ireland players last week before the squad set off the for Euro 2016 finals in France.

"We told them the penalty kick was invented in Northern Ireland, which many of them were not aware of," he said.

"Hopefully McCrum will be on our side at Euro 2016.

"A wee penalty against Germany would be nice!"

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