The news that Jim Iley had died at the age of 82 on 17th November took me back to my first days supporting Newcastle United. When Joe Harvey took over as manager at St James’ Park on 1st June 1962 he inherited a club in the Second Division with a very good youth team but low morale on and off the pitch. He realised that he needed to build again and allowed the likes of Alf McMichael and Ivor Allchurch to leave. To replace the experience lost one of the first signings he made was a 27 year old called Jim Iley from Nottingham Forest for £17,000. Jim played left half and had been close to earning a full England cap when he played for Spurs, earning an England under 23 cap (when that was a real achievement) and Football League representative honours before he came to the North East. Harvey called him ‘a complete footballer’ and made him captain of his team.

Iley was a class apart in the Second Division. He had excellent close control and a powerful left-foot shot as well as great stamina – a complete box to box player despite the balding pate (whatever happened to baldy footballers?). Harvey continued to build over the next couple of years but Iley remained the cornerstone of the team, even after he lost the captaincy to Stan Anderson in 1964.

Our promotion season of 1964/65 was built around the central three of Anderson, Iley and John McGrath with Iley driving the team forward, making lung-bursting runs from midfield, often ending in a shot – a latter day Rob Lee. His season culminated in a man of the match performance against Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday 1965. Only the top two teams were promoted in those days and if Newcastle could beat third placed Bolton promotion would be mathematically certain. However, Bolton had Francis Lee and a certain Wyn Davies in their team and had been chasing Newcastle and Northampton Town all season. A crowd of 59,960 were crammed into St James’s and saw a game where both teams went for victory. Davies and Lee were a constant threat but Iley pulled the strings in midfield and we took the lead with a goal from Willie Penman. It fell to Iley to clinch promotion as, after a lovely bit of interplay between Anderson and Dave Hilley, he ran onto the ball 20 yards out and crashed it with tremendous power past Eddie Hopkinson in the Bolton goal. The place went crazy and, in that one moment, he earned a lasting place in the United Hall of Fame.

Jim regained the captaincy for United’s first season in the First Division and his experience was invaluable as we struggled to stay in the division. Although he was quiet off the pitch his influence was clear on it as young players like David Craig, Frank Clark and Pop Robson benefited from his driving will to win. He stayed with the cub until January 1969 when he moved to Peterborough to become player manager.

He later managed Barnsley, Blackburn, Bury and Exeter City. In total he played 249 games (six as sub) for Newcastle United and scored sixteen goals but, for those who were there, nothing will eclipse the thrill of that moment back in 1965 when he took us back to the First Division. A United icon who will be sadly missed.

WALLACE WILSON – FOLLOW WALLACE ON @WALLACEHWILSON