Johnny Darling


Johnny Darling – Blue Star of the East


Written by ‘Ulsterville’


For generations of Linfield supporters attending games at the Oval the Vulcan Bar at the corner of Dee Street and Newtownards Road was a familiar landmark but little did most of them know that next door to the Vulcan stood a confectionary shop with the name of the owner – one John Darling – displayed on a sign above the shop. Johnny Darling in fact was one of the greatest names in the history of Linfield Football Club who had been born in the Newtownards Road area on 30th October 1877.


He played junior football before joining local club Glentoran but never played for their first team. He then joined Linfield making his debut as a 19 year old in the 1896/97 season and for almost two decades was an outstanding player for both Linfield and Ireland, playing 497 games for the ‘Blues’ and scoring 109 goals. He was in 8 Irish League Championship and 6 Irish Cup winning sides and also had City Cup, Co Antrim Shield and Charity Cup winning medals to his name. He also won 21 Irish caps scoring one goal and 16 Inter League honours scoring two goals in the process.


Along with keeper Willie White and Sam Swan he was part of the Linfield team known as ‘Darling – White Swans’. Johnny was the complete footballer, comfortable in both defence or attack and he played with some of the greatest names in our history such as the Torrans brothers, Bob Milne, John Peden, Johnny Houston, Fred McKee, Billy Scott (brother of Elisha), Davy Rollo ‘the Pocket Marvel’ from York Road and the great Marshall McEwan who sadly lies in the ‘Paupers Plot’ at the City Cemetery.


Darling played in many famous Linfield wins scoring twice in the 6-1 home victory over Belfast Celtic in December 1897 and netting another in a 6-1 league win at Celtic Park the following year. In the 1903-04 season the Linfield team bus was attacked at Derry Celtic by stone throwers – nevertheless the Blues won 3-2 with Darling (2) and Jimmy Maxwell the scoring the goals. In the return league game at Balmoral the Blues beat the Derry Celts 7-1 with Paddy Hagan (4), Jimmy Carnegie (2) and Darling the goal-scorers. If that wasn’t enough Derry Celtic were hammered 5-0 in the Irish Cup Final that season which was played on St Patrick’s Day at Grosvenor Park with Darling (2), Hagan (2) and Milne the goal-scorers. The 1903-04 season also saw our biggest win over Belfast Celtic by 8-0 in the City Cup at Balmoral with Johnny Darling hitting 4 goals with Hagan (2), Stewart and Carnegie getting the others. Sadly Paddy Hagan was later killed at the Battle of the Somme with the Royal Scots. Darling continued to be an outstanding servant to Linfield up until the First World War and he enjoyed a lucrative benefit game from the club.


Although living all his life in the Newtownards Road district he was a Blueman who never lost popularity with East Enders. One of a famous trio of half-backs which represented Linfield (Darling, Milne and Maginnis) for several seasons, he smilingly agreed to play for his club in every outfield position and also played in goal when the keeper was injured.


He was a member of the Star of the East Masonic Lodge and was Vice-President of Dundela Football Club as well as being Vice-President of the East Belfast Working Mens Temperance Club.


Johnny passed away on the 8th February 1946 at his home on the Newtownards Road and is buried in a family plot with his wife and daughter at Dundonald Cemetery. The writer visited Johnny Darling’s grave recently and which is maintained in good condition. It was said of him that “his wonderful record was never sullied by one ungentlemanly act on the field of play. He was a sportsman in the truest sense of the word whose passing will cause the deepest regret to all who had the privilege of his friendship”.