"Inside-forward Jimmy McAlinden was the only Belfast Celtic player ever to win an
English FA Cup medal. He achieved this honour within six months of leaving his beloved Celtic to join Portsmouth in December 1938 for a record transfer fee of £7,500. Portsmouth surprised Wolves 4-1 in the 1939 final at Wembley.
McAlinden was acknowledged to be one of the fastest players in the Irish League when, in 1934, he signed for the club which he had supported all his life. Belfast Celtic officials, realising that there was such a talented player living so close to Paradise, also moved quickly to sign McAlinden when he played for Glentoran Seconds against Celtic
'You could say they had no trouble signing me. It was my boyhood
dream to be a Belfast Celtic player. I started with £2. It went up to
£2.50 and finished up at £3.50 in 1938-9. Back then that was big money for a 16-year-old. It was great getting paid for something you
would have done for nothing anyway.
McAlinden, who did not have any other job, trained as a full-time professional three or four mornings a week and developed his skills alongside his playing heroes Norman Kernaghan and Harry Walker.
'With Harry at the back and Norman on the wing you couldn't wish for a better triangular threesome in football. It was terrific.'
Jimmy McAlinden was part of the Belfast Celtic team that dominated the Irish League under
Scott's direction. He missed out on an Irish Cup medal in 1937 because of injury. A year later he scored in Celtic's 2-1 defeat of Bangor. And he would also win medals in the 1941 and 1944 Cup finals.
McAlinden never hid his ambition to try full-time professional football in the Football League but had to be patient until the opportunity came his way in 1938.
'There had been talk in the papers for a couple of months about Norman Kernaghan and myself going to teams like Huddersfield and Tottenham Hotspur and
I was hoping that something would materialise. Then, in early December 1938, Portsmouth came in for me and in a matter of a couple of weeks I was over there. It was a huge change which I never regretted. It was a wonderful life and if
I had my life to live over I would do the same again.
'Portsmouth put a great deal of faith - and money - in me and it was justified.We won the FA Cup in 1939 so it was money well spent. Playing at Wembley is something one would not forget. Lots of people have scored hat-tricks against Linfield, but not too many have FA Cup medals.'
At the outbreak of war, the Portsmouth players had their contracts terminated and McAlinden rejoined Belfast Celtic. Before going back to Portsmouth after the war, McAlinden spent a season with Shamrock Rovers in Dublin. He subsequently moved on to play for Stoke City and then joined Southend on 5 October 1948 for £6,000.
McAlinden was capped four times for Ireland and went on a postwar tour to Spain and Portugal with the Republic of Ireland. When he retired from playing football,
Jimmy Mac, as he was known, managed at Glenavon, Distillery and Drogheda."