Kilrea's Martin O'Neill featured in new BBC series 'Pitch Invasion: How the Scottish and Irish Changed Football'

Kilrea’s Martin O’Neill is one of the footballing greats who will feature in a new BBC series about the influence of players from the island of Ireland and Scotland on English football.
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Best, Dalglish, O’Neill, Shankly, Ferguson, Brady, Busby, Keane…they are among the icons and legends of English football’s top tier who were pivotal in making the league’s big-name clubs some of the most dominant and successful across England and conquered Europe’s elite club competitions.

Players and managers from Scotland and from the island of Ireland shaped English football’s top flight in a way that still resonates to this day.

A new three-part BBC series, Pitch Invasion: How the Scottish and Irish Changed Football, explores the seismic influence those key players and managers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have had on English football.

O'Neill, Best, Dalglish,  Shankly, Ferguson, Brady, Busby, Keane… They are among the icons and legends of English football’s top tier who were pivotal in making the league’s big-name clubs some of the most dominant and successful across England and conquered Europe’s elite club competitions. (Credit: DoubleBand Films)O'Neill, Best, Dalglish,  Shankly, Ferguson, Brady, Busby, Keane… They are among the icons and legends of English football’s top tier who were pivotal in making the league’s big-name clubs some of the most dominant and successful across England and conquered Europe’s elite club competitions. (Credit: DoubleBand Films)
O'Neill, Best, Dalglish, Shankly, Ferguson, Brady, Busby, Keane… They are among the icons and legends of English football’s top tier who were pivotal in making the league’s big-name clubs some of the most dominant and successful across England and conquered Europe’s elite club competitions. (Credit: DoubleBand Films)

The series focuses on those talents from Scotland and from the island of Ireland that left a legacy on the English game from the ’60s right up until the start of the Premier League. That includes the Manchester United team built by Busby in the ’60s after Munich, Liverpool’s dominant dynasty spearheaded by Shankly and later by Paisley and player-manager Dalglish.

Causeway Coast man Martin O’Neill helped Forest taste European glory while Liam Brady and then Charlie Nicholas dazzled the Highbury faithful. That dominance arguably culminated in the ’79 FA Cup between Manchester United and Arsenal featuring only seven English players from the 22 on the pitch.

With contributions from superstars of the era including Graeme Souness, Martin O’Neill, George Graham, John Aldridge, Charlie Nicholas and Niall Quinn, football fans can savour archive footage of these legends of the game with each episode focusing on a particular forte: Genius, Guts and Glory.

There are also insights from the current crop of players and managers into their careers at the top level. These include Aston Villa’s John McGinn, West Ham manager David Moyes, Manchester United’s Jonny Evans, Aston Villa and Scotland captain Rachel Corsie and Wigan Athletic’s Josh Magennis.

Narrated by Rhona Cameron, the series features well-known faces from the world of sport and entertainment recalling their memories and analysing this golden era for their homegrown players including Patrick Kielty, Amy Irons, Chick Young, Sanjeev Kohli and Ardal O’Hanlon.

Graeme Souness says: “We’re a bit excitable. We’re a bit too passionate at times which can sometimes get you in trouble but I think there’s been a great contribution from the Celtic people to the English game.”

Jonny Evans says: “A lot of English players have unbelievable massive clubs all on their doorstep. And for us it’s a bit different. You got to have a certain determination to prove yourself. You got to be better than the English players, put it that way.”

Chick Young says: “Shankly understood that this was the working man’s game and he knew that football was entertainment and how much people needed it. Liverpool weren’t always the great club that they are now and he was a key player in the whole process of bringing that on.”

Pitch Invasion: How the Scottish and Irish Changed Football, is a DoubleBand Films production for BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Scotland. All three episodes available on BBC iPlayer from Sunday 21 January.