McIlroy opens up about 1973 car crash

Former Manchester United midfielder Sammy McIlroy tells the incredible and miraculous story of his career-threatening car crash, on the latest episode of UTD Podcast.

The Belfast-born player became Sir Matt Busby's last signing as United manager and played for the club through the 1970s, making a total of 419 appearances for the Reds - which places him 23rd in the all-time list.

However, that number could have been much smaller, as he reveals in the latest episode of our podcast series. That's because a routine trip to go and get fish and chips in January 1973 resulted in a car accident, which could have had fatal consequences for the United hero and his then-partner, who was expecting a baby.

“[Afterwards], I was told by one of the doctors that the fire brigade and the ambulance had said 'Leave him, he’s gone. Look after the lady that’s pregnant,'” McIlroy said. 

“They actually thought I was gone. I don’t remember anything about this, I just remember waking up in the hospital 10 days later.”

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Sammy McIlroy
Sammy McIlroy opens up about his 1973 car crash.

The incident left McIlroy with multiple injuries and although he came out of it alive, despite the fire brigade's assesement, he'd face a long road to recovery in hospital.

“I was turning right down to the chip shop and this car comes from the side, 'woosh' into my side, the driver's side, and that’s all I know,” he continued.

“[I was] completely out of it, unconscious for ten days. Four broken ribs and a punctured lung. Luckily my partner at the time got nothing at all, it didn’t affect the baby or nothing. She was okay but I was completely out of it.

“Believe it or not, one of the first times I woke up I had Paddy Crerand over me and the Doc [then-manager Tommy Docherty]. Paddy had brought the Doc up to see me at the hospital. I could see them but I didn’t know what they were saying, I was just completely out of it.”

The Northern Ireland international, who would go on to win 88 caps for his country and also later managed them, was then asked about how his parents reacted to the news that their son had been in a terrible accident. 

“Because I didn’t have a phone, I don’t actually know how they found out but it was in the papers the next day what had happened.

“It was just tragic. There wasn’t any social media like it is now. That’s just how people found out.

“After that, I brought my mum and dad from Belfast the following season, ’74-75. With the Troubles [in Northern Ireland] and what had happened and stuff, I brought them over.

“The club were fantastic, they bought the house for me, behind the Stretford End, Coley Street and I paid them back. I told them, because of the Troubles, get them over here because it’s not great over there, so the club helped me with that.

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Sammy also talked about Sir Matt Busby's influence.

McIlroy was ruled out for five months as United struggled to an 18th-place finish in the 22-team First Division.

He later resumed his career, helping the Reds recover from the ignominy of relegation the following season and was part of the side that claimed the FA Cup in 1977, beating Liverpool in the final to deny the Merseysiders a Treble.

After leaving Old Trafford, he played for Stoke, Manchester City, Orgryte in Sweden, Bury, Modling in Austria, Preston North End and Northwich Victoria, before retiring at the age of 38 - a remarkable achievement, given what had happened in 1973 and how long it took for him to recover, as he details:

“I think it happened in January 1973 and the Doc, who had got the job then, tried to get me ready in the middle of May to go on a youth tour to Switzerland which we used to do quite a lot in those days.

“I went, tried to play again but I was nowhere near ready for the following season. With the breathing and my lungs and everything, I couldn’t really get going.

“I went to that youth tour and played a few games but it was nowhere near”

Listen to the tale in full, and more stories from Sammy's career, now.

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