Jerry Harris: Cork City mourn the passing of a club legend

Noel Spillane pays tribute to a dedicated servant of Leeside soccer, who was involved with the game since the 1950s and hugely popular at Turner's Cross and beyond
Jerry Harris: Cork City mourn the passing of a club legend

Jerry Harris, Cork City FC, waves to the crowd after the club won the 2016 FAI Cup. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

ONE of Cork’s greatest sporting characters, Jerry Harris has died, aged 81.

He was synonymous with Cork City and is a former club chairman, secretary, kitman, and financier; he was extremely popular at Turner's Cross and renowned as approachable, always pleasant and hugely passionate about Leeside soccer.

He was a talented player himself too, and when he was 52 he was still playing in the Munster Senior League, having featured across five decades.

The late Noel O’Mahony brought him to Cork City in 1986 just two years after the club’s formation and entry into the League of Ireland. He acted as reserve team manager and was part of the senior management team as well and helped them win their first league title in 1993.

Former Cork City football club secretary Jerry Harris. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Former Cork City football club secretary Jerry Harris. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

PEDIGREE

Four years later, Jerry was appointed Head of Recruitment for the U18s and managed the Youth team.

At that time, he signed three players – Alan Bennett, Damien Delaney and Joe Gamble – who went on to play for Ireland at senior level. Another of his protégés was Brian Barry Murphy, now head of Manchester City’s U23 squad and he was capped at Ireland U21 level.

Between 2000 and 2017, Jerry doubled as club secretary and kit-man for Cork City while also running his own haulage company.

As club secretary, players like Brian Carey, Damien Delaney, Alan Bennett, Joe Gamble, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Conor Hourihane, Alan Browne, Kevin Long and Chiedozie Ogbene all played internationally for Ireland.

Jerry was known the length and breadth of the country from Cork to Derry, Dublin to Galway and had been involved in Cork and Irish soccer for over 70 years and was heavily involved with Cork Alberts and Cork United in the 1970s. He helped finance Cork soccer at a time when it looked doomed.

As secretary and chairman of Cork United, he signed English stars like Ian Hutchinson and Bobby Tambling of Chelsea, Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan and Miah Dennehy when he returned from Nottingham Forest.

Legend has it that Jerry almost persuaded the great Dutch winger, Johan Cruyff to sign from Ajax in 1981!

It's a rare event when words fail to describe the magnitude of an individual’s contribution to sport which, in this case, is soccer and Jerry Harris is the man involved.

It is important that we all recognise his amazing contribution to Cork soccer; there were times that without his selfless dedication week in week out, League of Ireland in our beloved city wouldn’t have been able to function and society, as well as sport, would have been in a much poorer state.

In 1976 when Cork Hibs' efforts to remain solvent were unsuccessful Johnny Riordan, Denis O’Leary, Jimmy Byrne, Wally O’Sullivan and the dynamic Jerry Harris launched Albert Rovers to fill the vacancy.

It was a recessionary period in Irish soccer. Attendances were falling weekly and Albert’s, playing out of Flower Lodge, soon inherited the problems which sunk their predecessors.

UNITED APPROACH

Jerry Harris worked ‘morning, noon and night’ to keep the club afloat. In an effort for greater recognition they changed their name to Cork Alberts and later to Cork United to try and woo spectators back.

Eventually, they transferred the base to Turner’s Cross – a masterstroke - which resulted in an immediate increase in attendances. Jerry invested heavily in Cork United and signed Liverpool legend Ian Callaghan and Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson. He also brought Miah Dennehy home to captain the team.

Carl Davenport with Jerry Harris, John Brohan and Noel O'Mahony. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Carl Davenport with Jerry Harris, John Brohan and Noel O'Mahony. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

It’s amazing what a few wins can do and in 1981 the turnstiles at the ‘Cross clicked merrily mid-season as United began to enjoy a winning run. Remarkably, despite picking up only one point from their opening nine matches, Cork finished ninth.

That mid-season flourish gave them breathing space and even though gate receipts varied between £300 and £6,000 they faced the future with greater confidence. Jerry had big plans for Turner’s Cross and negotiated with the FAI but in those pre-Jack Charlton days money was not available.

Changing weekend habits were impacting on the League of Ireland and United suffered more than others and several postponements also had crippling effects. To their credit, Cork United fought doggedly to the end which was imposed in June 1982 despite protestations from Jerry who wanted Cork United to continue.

Jerry, though disillusioned and over 40, resurrected his career as player-manager with Albert Rovers in the AUL. In ’86 he had a brief spell in charge of Glasheen before answering a call from Noel O’Mahony who appointed him manager of Cork City reserves.

It was the beginning of a love affair with Cork City.

Harris’ contribution is unparalleled and he rates alongside the Proles of Drumcondra, the Cunninghams of Shamrock Rovers and the late and legendary Ollie Byrne of Shelbourne in terms of distinguished service to the game.

Before he became famous Jerry was an international schoolboy trialist with Glasheen; played rugby with Highfield; won an FAI Youth Cup medal when his team went through a whole season in 1957 with a 100% record.

A club statement read:

"Everyone at Cork City FC is truly saddened to learn of the passing of Jerry Harris.

"Jerry was involved in Cork football since the 1950s and was involved in Cork City FC from its earliest days. Jerry served in many roles over the years, as a player, a coach, a kit man and, most recently, as club secretary until his retirement."

The club’s Chief Operating Officer, Éanna Buckley, commented: “This is a truly sad day for Cork City FC, for football in Cork and for the League of Ireland. Jerry devoted his life to Irish football and to Cork City FC in particular. He was considerate, diligent, measured and absolutely meticulous in his work for the club; no task was unimportant when it was for Cork City FC!

Jerry Harris, Cork City FC secretary and Éanna Buckley, administrator, at Turner's Cross, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Jerry Harris, Cork City FC secretary and Éanna Buckley, administrator, at Turner's Cross, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“For me personally, Jerry was a mentor who showed me the ropes when I first started working for the club; I genuinely would have been lost without his experience, his knowledge and, most of all, his kindness. Jerry was not just a mentor and a colleague, but a friend too. 

"It was that kindness that set Jerry apart from many others; he always had time for everybody and always looked out for people. 

I do not think there was anybody, player, coach, staff member, supporter, or anyone else, who came across Jerry who would have had anything but a kind word to say about him.” 

Sincere condolences to Jerry’s wife Rose, his brother Mick, his sister Betty (Cody), son Tony, daughter Audrey and grandsons Damien, Caen and Maximo,  as well as his extended family and friends.

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