NI Cup boss Leonard says Eusebio was ‘perfect gentleman’

Jan 6, 2014 | Graduates

Legendary Portugal footballer Eusebio, who has died, was a guest of the Northern Ireland Cup back in 1996.


The former Benfica striker, aged 71, was one of the world’s finest players of his generation and top goalscorer at the 1966 World Cup Finals in England.

Northern Ireland Cup chairman Victor Leonard says: “I had the pleasure of picking him up at the airport when he flew in from England. Bertie Peacock and Harry Gregg were with me and they all got along famously.


“I was driving to the Culloden Hotel for our draw and as we passed the Oval he told us he had played there. I actually couldn’t believe it because I hadn’t realised he had!

“I honestly thought he was just making polite conversation and that I had maybe picked him up wrong! But of course he was absolutely correct.

“He spoke glowingly of the reception afforded to the team by Glentoran back in 1967 and remarked how well they had played in a 1-1 draw.”

Eusebio, who scored in that game, had agreed to return to Northern Ireland all those years later while visiting England to take in the Euro 96 finals.

Explained Victor: “He was based in Nottingham with the Portugal national team for the Championships and nothing was too much trouble for him during his trip to Belfast.


“Harry and Bertie spent a lot of time with him and he knew them quite we’ll because they talked for a long time about football and matches they had played in.


“I have met many famous footballers I’m my time as chairman of this tournament and Eusebio stands out as one of the most humble and personable.

“He was so gracious, had time for everyone; the perfect gentleman and made a lasting impression on us all.


“He had great sense of humour and laughed a lot too.”


Victor added: “It is fitting that he is being remembered as one of football’s all time greats. He was not only a star on the pitch but equally one off it.


“He was delighted that our competition was bringing the world’s young players together and he was a terrific encouragement to us.”