Funeral Day Fills Kelly With Pride

Striker Speaks Of His Fondness For Legendary Manager

David Kelly pictured while with Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland squad. “I still remember that photo,” he tells us. “I was playing Niall Quinn!”

David Kelly has paid tribute to his international mentor Jack Charlton – and expressed the fervent wish that there will be a memorial service to him later in the year.

Thousands lined the streets of Ashington in Northumberland today for the funeral of the World Cup winner, who passed away aged 85 ten days ago.

Now Kelly hopes football friends and colleagues of Leeds’ all-time record appearance-maker will have the chance to say their own goodbyes when it is safer to do so in a few months’ time.

“I had ten wonderful years with Jack and the Republic of Ireland and have only lovely memories of him,” Kelly said. “He was an expert at everything he did and transformed Irish football.

“Taking us to the European Championships in 1988 and then well into the tournament at the 1990 World Cup and in the USA in 1994 was an outstanding achievement.

“The people over there think so highly of him, as we all do. He did so much in the game, of course, and his life is very much one to celebrate and be thankful for.”

Kelly was still a free-scoring Walsall striker when Charlton hoisted him from out of the Third Division and, importantly, out of England’s clutches.

The young Brummie was in the early weeks of a 27-goal contribution to the Saddlers’ promotion-winning season when the Irish manager made his decisive move.

“We were playing at Rotherham in 1987 and I had just been named for the England under-21 squad to face Czechoslovakia,” Kelly added.

“We won the game at Millmoor and our manager Tommy Coakley told me afterwards that there was someone to see me. The other lads thought I was about to be sold but Tommy led me up into a smoky room where Jack was sat at the bar with his assistant, Maurice Setters.

“I put my hand out and said: ‘Hello, Mr Charlton. I’m David Kelly.’ He replied: ‘I know – do you want to come and play for me?’

“He told me it would be in the senior international against Israel in Dublin. I said ‘yes’ and it went quiet. So I thought ‘Right, time to go’ and that was it really. A call-up that lasted all of 20 seconds.”

Kelly was only 21 when he lit up his international debut by becoming only the fifth Republic player to score a senior hat-trick. He went on to total nine goals in his 26 caps, the first few of which were won while Mick McCarthy was still in the side.

Mick McCarthy – a man out of the same mould as Big Jack?

“The two of them were similar in some ways,” he said. “Both centre-halves, both quite blunt, absolutely no-nonsense.

“I also won some call-ups with Mick as manager before he told me in the hotel one day that he was building a younger group of players and wasn’t selecting me.

“That was fair enough and they were both straightforward in dealing with you. I am sure they both knew we enjoyed a drink as a squad but they had a way of getting the very best out of us as well.”

Kelly, who qualified for the Republic through his Irish-born father, gave himself the perfect send-off to Euro 88 in West Germany. He scored a hat-trick for Walsall against Bristol City in a Fellows Park replay to the two-leg Division Three play-off final.

The news was very well received – especially by former Saddlers directors Dick Homden and Jack Harris – on the open-top bus taking Wolves players and officials around the town on the same afternoon in celebration of their Fourth Division title and Sherpa Van Trophy double.

Kelly, now 54 and a Wolves player for two seasons from the summer of 1993, parted company with Northampton as a coach earlier this year, although he said the disagreement he had was with a backroom colleague and not with the manager, former Molineux skipper Keith Curle, who has since led the club to promotion.

Thomas Publications