Talented sports journalist who held his hometown club dear

Gordon Hanna.
Gordon Hanna.

Gordon Hanna, one of Northern Ireland’s most respected sports journalists, has passed away at the age of 70.

A trouper right to the end, Gordon, typically, defied illness to carry on working in the sports arena until it was no longer physically possible in the summer just past.

In a career spanning over 50 years, he filed reports to every newspaper circulating in these islands and his voice was also heard on radio and television as he chronicled the fortunes of the Northern Ireland international football team and Irish League clubs, at home and abroad.

His own home was in Lisburn, and previously Hillsborough, but at heart he was a Lurgan man, having been born and educated there, learning his trade both in football and in journalism in the town.

Gordon attended Carrick Primary School and Lurgan Tech, where he struck up a friendship with Fred Bunting.

Fred left the Tech and joined Morton Newspapers and Gordon wasn’t long in following him, taking up a position as a reporter with the Lurgan Mail shortly after leaving school.

Fred recalled: “Gordon was a real pro. I wasn’t surprised when he got promoted to editor of the Ulster Star. I enjoyed working with Gordon and also playing football with him. I never made it further than junior football but Gordon went on to play for Portadown. Again, this didn’t surprise me. He was good at whatever he turned his hand to.”

Although Gordon was a Glenavon man through and through, inspired by the great title-winning Glenavon team of the late 50s and its Holy Trinity of Denver, Jones and Cush, it was Portadown who gave him the break he dreamed of.

He played for the Ports as a winger in the early 1960s under manager Gibby MacKenzie

Recalling his days at Portadown, team mate and current manager Ronnie McFall said: “Gordon was a decent player in an era of exceptionally high standards.

“He was also a brilliant journalist from the old school, one you could trust. His affinity was to Glenavon but he would have helped any manager who asked for a telephone number or an introduction to one of his contacts.

“Above all, in the 50 years I knew him, Gordon was always a gentleman, courteous and a pleasure to work with. I cannot recall him ever uttering or writing a malicious word about anyone.”

A press box veteran of football at the highest level, including Northern Ireland’s 1982 and 86 World Cup finals, Gordon’s lifelong passion in the game was reserved for his home town Glenavon FC and, knowing his time was short, their Irish Cup final victory in May, which he reported upon, meant the world to him.

As well as his time at the Lurgan Mail and Ulster Star, Gordon was Northern Ireland football correspondent for the Weekly News and later, the Sunday People.

Journalistically, he was at the top of his profession, respected by colleagues and readers as a brilliant wordsmith and endless source of breaking news.

A great all-rounder, he was, in later life, golf correspondent of Sunday Life, and throughout his 50 years in the profession, a regular contributor to the Belfast Telegraph, having been a close friend and confidante of the late Malcolm Brodie.

Belfast Telegraph group sports editor and fellow Lurgan man Jim Gracey said: “Gordon was an outstanding journalist who contributed much to the profession and local sport.”

Top footballers were among Gordon’s closest pals, most notably Gerry Armstrong, Pat Jennings and the late George Best.

Gordon’s extensive contacts book was always open to successive managers of the Lurgan club, quietly acting as a go-between in numerous transfer deals - and two of those in particular provided him with his biggest scoops.

The first came in 1990 when he persuaded his long-time pal Gerry Armstrong to sign on for Glenavon in an Irish League title push against Mid-Ulster rivals Portadown, in probably the local game’s biggest coup since Linfield’s famous 1950’s capture of Jackie Milburn.

Armstrong, the Northern Ireland hero of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, justified Gordon and Glenavon’s faith with a late season rush of goals, but just not enough to deliver the title the club still craves in a photo-finish with their rivals.

The following year Gordon was at the heart of an even more audacious move, helping secure the signing of former Celtic and Scotland captain Roy Aiken for an Irish Cup Final showdown against Portadown.

Having quite literally made his own headlines, Gordon and the club he followed loyally from boyhood were disappointed yet again by a disapproving Irish FA hierarchy who unearthed an archaic rule to prevent Aiken playing in the showpiece, and by Portadown again, who went on to win the League and Cup double.

Away from football and family, his main interest was the work of the Rotary Club in his adopted Lisburn.

Gordon is survived by wife Anne and daughter Judith, having been pre-deceased by PR Executive son Jonathan in 2006. His funeral service took place last Friday at Hillsborough Elim Church, attended by a large number of figures from football, the media and his many friends from the local area, followed by interment in Blaris cemetery.