Bertie McMinn 1958-2018 – A tribute
It is with great sadness that Lisburn Distillery report the passing of club legend Bertie McMinn who sadly passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Bertie McMinn was spotted by Distillery scout Norman Brady playing in the Old Boys League for his church team 51st Old Boys and was eventually coaxed to join Distillery in September 1974. After impressing in a handful of matches for the Seconds, Distillery manager Jimmy McAlinden gave the 16-year-old his senior debut. That was on 5th October 1974 in an Ulster Cup game against Larne in at Seaview (Distillery’s home ground at that time). Bertie made an immediate impression, scoring after just six minutes in a 1-1 draw. The team that day was:— Bertie McGonigal; Brian Nicholl, Sean Quinn; Tommy Brannigan, Malcolm Nicholl; Ray White; Cyril Hewitt, Bertie McMinn, Gerry Scannell, Alan Welsh, Mickey Hodgkinson. Sub: Steve McMurtry. He played regularly throughout the rest of the 1974/75 season making 30 appearances and scoring 6 goals. In May 1975 he was selected for the Northern Ireland Youth International squad for the European Finals in Switzerland, however he did not play due to an ‘indiscretion’ involving Bobby Campbell and a car.
By the start of 1975/76 after fending-off approaches from other clubs, he had decided that he was a committed Whiteman. He helped the team reach the County Antrim Shield Final where they were beaten by Ballymena United 4-0 on 7th May 1976 at Inver Park.
By 1976/77 he was showing his prowess as a penalty taker, sharing those duties with the regular post-holder, Brian Jess. By then he was the regular No.8 scoring 10 goals and playing in every game of that season including the Irish Cup Semi-Final at Seaview, where they were beaten 3-0 by Coleraine in the replay on 22nd March 1977 after a 0-0 draw three days earlier.
It was a hard league for a youngster in the Seventies, but he learnt how to play the ball quickly, take hefty challenges, ride rough tackles and to anticipate contact, especially inside the penalty box.
In 1977/78 Bertie had his best scoring season in a Distillery shirt, firing home 12 times, including one in the losing County Antrim Shield Semi-Final when Glentoran won 3-2 at the Oval.
In August he was bought by Glenavon for £8,500 but he did not have a productive time there during 1978/79 and returned to Distillery after just one season for a reduced fee of £3,000.
In 1979/80 he had another double-figure scoring season with 11 goals wearing the no.10 shirt and becoming the team’s regular penalty-taker. By now he was a firm fan-favourite and always first choice on the teamsheet.
By the time that the Whites, who had been playing at Seaview and Skegoniel Avenue, moved to their new ground at Ballyskeagh for the 1980/81 season, McMinn was constantly the ‘starman’ and ‘midfield maestro’ in a team that was struggling to win games. In December 1981 Roy Welsh was appointed as manager and he immediately made McMinn the team captain. His form was recognised when he played for the Irish League XI against OFK Belgrade on 15th February 1982 at Windsor Park. On 4th May 1982 Distillery played in the County Antrim Shield Final but lost 2-0 to Linfield. Bertie had been instrumental in getting them there, but on the day had to settle for a runners-up medal.
The following season Linfield denied him again in the County Antrim Shield when they won 2-0 in the semi-final. However it was Linfield who willingly were the opposition in Bertie’s Testimonial match on 10th May 1983 and they brought a big crowd with them.
Bertie played in every game of the 1983/84 season, scoring 8 goals, as Roy Welsh started to build an exciting youthful team around him, shifting him to a central midfield role.
In 1984/85 he scored 11 goals including the only hat-trick of his Distillery career in a game against Newry on 10th November 1984. He also played in another losing County Antrim semi-final, this time losing out to Crusaders on penalties after a scoreless draw.
Success was just around the corner though as the 1985/86 season turned out to be one to remember. Roy Welsh added striker Bobbie Elliman and youngsters Allen McKnight and Tom Cleland to complete the best Distillery team of the ‘eighties’.
The CAS Final between Ballymena United and Distillery was played at the Oval on Tuesday 29th October. Ballymena, who were managed by former Distillery Manager, Jimmy Brown, were on top early on with a long-range effort from John Sloan and a lob from Jonathon Speake, but the Whites gradually came back into the game after a nervous start. Bertie McMinn had a 20- yard shot spectacularly tipped round the post by Ricky Adair and then just a minute before half-time, the Whites took the lead. Paul Williams crossed from the right and Adair challenged by Smith and Elliman punched the ball straight to Tom Cleland who calmly steadied himself before shooting the ball into the net. An all-action second half saw Francis Smith go close when he latched on to a bad back-pass in the 61st minute only for Adair to smother his shot. However, five minutes later Ballymena were back in the game when Stevie Conville crossed from the right and Jonathan Speak equalised with a diving header. Ballymena’s elation only lasted a minute as Bobby Elliman sent Francis Smith clear to shoot past Adair and put the Whites’ hand back on the trophy. The last five minutes saw an amazing end to the game when Elliman missed a glorious chance in the 85th minute when he rounded the keeper after a great run down the left by Tom Cleland but then inexplicably shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy. However, a minute later Liam Burns, who had, along with Tony Ferris, brilliantly kept Ballymena star man Colin O’Neill, who was being watched by Everton, quiet all night, set off down the left and thumped the ball forward. It fell invitingly into the path of the on-rushing Paul Williams and the 22-year-old hit a spectacular 30 yard right-foot volley into the roof of the net for a tremendous third goal for the Whites. One minute from the end Alan McKnight saved a Colin O’Neill penalty and the Whites had won the County Antrim Shield 3-1. Bertie had his proudest moment in a Distillery shirt as he raised aloft the trophy as team captain.
Team: — Alan McKnight; Robert Beggs, Liam Burns; Neil Cummings, Marty Quinn, Paul Williams; Tony Ferris, Bobby Elliman, Francis Smith, Bertie McMinn, Tom Cleland. Sub: Buster Andrews. Note that Cummings, Ferris, Smith and McMinn had all played in the losing 1981/82 CAS Final. But for Bertie McMinn it was third time lucky as he had also played in the losing 1975/76 CAS Final when Ballymena were the victors. It was a fitting revenge. So Bertie got the only winners medal of his Distillery career in the CAS Final of 1985/86. That season he scored 11 goals once more.
In 1986/87 he scored 8 goals. It was a very poor season for the Whites with only five wins all season and three of those were against junior teams. There were some heavy defeats but Bertie soldiered away and only missed two games.
The 1987/88 season was a landmark one for Bertie. On Boxing Day he scored his 100th goal for the Whites in a 2-0 League victory over Crusaders at New Grosvenor. Then in January 1988 with the Whites in a dreadful losing run, he was actually on the verge of joining Carrick Rangers when manager Alan Campbell Snr resigned and Bertie was appointed as player-manager of Distillery. He won his first game in charge on 16th January 1988 as the Whites travelled to Bangor to achieve a brilliant 6-1 League victory with a great hat-trick from future New Zealand International Greg Little. On the 14th April 1988 in a home League game against Newry, Bertie made his 500th appearance for Distillery and thus became the only Distillery player to ever reach that target. The Cawood Chalice Trophy had replaced the County Antrim Shield that season, but the Whites once more had the heartbreak of reaching the semi-final only to lose to Ballymena United.
Just six games into the 1988/89 season he surprisingly resigned and joined Ards for a fee of £3000. As player-manager he had been unable to raise the Whites game, winning only 7 games out of the 26 that he had been in charge. He turned out for Ards for the rest of the season and in October of the next one, 1989/90, he scored a hat-trick after coming on as a substitute in a League Cup game against UUJ. In March 1990 Bertie took over as manager of Ards after Peter Dornan left. He didn’t have much success and within six months he was replaced by Roy Coyle in October 1990. Ards loss was the Whites gain as manager Billy Hamilton brought him back to the club in December 1990, to add some experience to the side. In 16 appearances he scored 2 goals in 1990/91, whilst feeding the teams three strikers: — Billy Hamilton, Michael Surgeon and Ian Adams. He left at the end of the season and so finished his 15 season Distillery career, with 524 appearances (a club all-time record) and 105 goals, including 30 penalties.
Bertie joined ‘B Division’ Dungannon Swifts for 1991/92 and scored a phenomenal 42 goals that season. He was a class act at that level with 11 of those goals being trademark penalties and he also got two hat-tricks. His two goals in the 2-1 victory over Killyleagh YC clinched the Intermediate Cup for the Swifts. In 1992/93 he scored 14 goals and notched another hat-trick in an injury-ridden season.
In August 1993 he moved to Moyola Park as assistant manager, scoring 17 goals (4 pens) and netting another hat-trick in his first season there. He scored 9 goals in 1994/95 and helped the team reach the Craig Cup Final.
After retirement from playing, Bertie started to pass on his experience by coaching at Amateur League side Shankill United and by 2007 he had taken on the manager role after Tommy Leeman became manager at Larne. He had immediate success guiding them to League titles on a couple of occasions and went on to remain at the club even after stepping down as manager.
After leaving Distillery Bertie went on to manage his local club Shankill United in 2007 and indeed guiding them to back to back league titles between 2008-2011. After standing down as manager he remained involved with the club sitting on their management committee from then to the present day. The McMinn family have been stalwarts of the club, Bertie’s son Ryan a first team player, his daughter Kerry having been involved behind the scenes for 11 years and his grandson Mason playing in their youth team.
Bertie McMinn is a Distillery and indeed Shankill United Legend. For the Whites he was an immensely, talented and skilful midfielder, who could ‘ turn on a sixpence ‘, and win a game. An extremely loyal player who established himself as a penalty expert, both in winning them and scoring them. A fan-favourite who will never be forgotten by all those who knew him, particularly those who watched him play during those dark days in a struggling team — Bertie would brighten up every match at some stage.
Bertie’s funeral will take place on Monday 8th October at 9:45 Am from St Matthews church, Woodvale Road going on from there to Roselawn Cemetry.
Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go to the McMinn family circle at this time.