Ballymena man was on last Great Britain Olympic football squad

WHEN Great Britain’s football team takes to the field in the Olympic Games this summer for the first time in more than half a century, a Ballymena man will know better than most exactly how they feel.

Hubert Barr was a member of the last GB squad to compete in the football tournament at the Olympics, at the Rome Games in 1960.

And while he went on to enjoy a hugely successful career both in the Irish League with hometown club Ballymena United and particularly Linfield, as well as across the water with Coventry City, Hubert is in no doubt about the impact that being part of the biggest sporting event in the world had on his life.

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“It was one of the greatest things that happened to me in football,” Hubert told Times Sport.

“To be chosen for something that was open to amateur players from the whole of the British Isles was a wonderful honour for us all.

“Playing in the Olympics was something we took very seriously - we trained every weekend outside London and I was flying over and back every weekend.

“I was teaching at the time in what was the Boys’ Intermediate School but the Olympic tournament was in August so it didn’t interfere with my career, although I have to say the school was always very good at giving me time off when it came to representative matters in football.

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“I still have a photograph of the boys on the steps of the plane - getting away to Rome wasn’t the sort of thing that happened every day back then!

“We stayed in the Olympic Village and we would have seen quite a bit of the other members of the Great Britain team who were competing in different sports.

“That was the year that Cassius Clay was competing in the boxing but I never saw him - people tended to keep to themselves and do their own thing.”

Unfortunately for Hubert, he didn’t play any part in Great Britain’s group matches, where a win, a draw and a defeat were not enough to see GB advance to the knockout stages.

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“I was on the bench for our games, but it was a fantastic experience to be part of the Olympic Games. We lost our first game 4-3 against Brazil, which was probably a pretty decent result, and then we drew 2-2 with Italy in the Olympic Stadium in Rome, watched by a crowd of 50,000.

“We beat the country which nowadays is called Chinese Taipei in our final game but it was Brazil and Italy who went through.

“Even though the tournament was over for us, we got to see a fair bit of Rome as a city and we also got to watch some of the Games - I remember watching Anita Lonsbrough winning a gold medal in swimming.”

Fast forward 52 years and Hubert admits he has mixed feelings about Great Britain’s return to the Olympic footballing stage.

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“I hope it works out well but the world has changed since we played in 1960.

“In our day, everything was amateur - even the athletes weren’t paid the huge sums they are today. Now, everything is professional and people devote their whole lives to their sport - it’s a far cry from us having daytime jobs and playing football on top of that.

“Even though it’s professionals who will play this year, I’m glad that there is a limit on the number of over-age players a country can pick - I think young players should get a go at it.

“In our day, going to the Olympics would be the highlight of any player’s career - I’m not sure some of the ones who play in London this year will be able to say the same,” added Hubert.