Veteran football manager left humbled by MBE honour

·3-min read

One of Northern Ireland’s best known football managers has said he felt so humbled to learn he is to be recognised with an MBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

David Jeffrey played for Manchester United reserves team in his youth before forging a career as a manager of teams including Linfield and his current side Ballymena United alongside his job as a social worker.

The 58-year-old is to be honoured for both his contribution to football as well as community relations in Northern Ireland.

Mr Jeffrey said he was particularly excited to tell his parents who he described as his biggest inspiration.

“I am absolutely privileged and honoured to such an esteemed recognition, my parents will be extremely proud, they have been with me from as a young boy playing for the Northern Ireland school boys against England coming across on the Liverpool boat,” he told the PA news agency.

“They followed me everywhere and particularly when I was managing Linfield, they were regular attenders at Windsor Park. They have been an enormous support.

“I just can’t believe how privileged that I am to get this and I feel so, so humbled.

“When I got the email, you could have knocked me over, I really never thought, considered, imagined, it was just never on my horizon.”

Mr Jeffrey has balanced community work and football from when he returned home to Northern Ireland in 1982 after a spell with the Manchester United reserves team.

“My first proper job was as a voluntary community youth worker with New Mossley Presbyterian Church, the whole reason for me going there was because I played for Linfield, I said in an article at the time that I had done some youth work when I was in Manchester, the minister picked up on that, and that rationale was that football would be common ground and would help establish a way of getting to know people and work with people,” he said.

He later went on to train as a social worker in the 1990s.

During his almost two decades managing Linfield, his social work career continued.

“I have always combined the two, it has made for a pretty hectic lifestyle I suppose in that it is doing two full-time jobs but I think one complements the other.

“Being in the community, that is my ultimate, helping and supporting others. I just see myself as being there to serve whether as a senior social worker, a community worker or as a football manager, I am there to serve and that is how I see my role.

“You have to keep things in perspective, and there is no greater perspective than when you go into work the next day and are leading a team working with older people or with physical difficulties or complex health care needs.

“As important as football is to me, having had another career alongside it has made it hectic but very much kept things in perspective.”

David Jeffrey celebrating with fans
David Jeffrey managed Linfield (Haydn West/PA)

Mr Jeffrey described his experience with Manchester United starting as an apprentice, looking after the playing kit of the first team.

“You would have got to the training ground before everybody else to make sure that the firsts team and everyone else had their boots and kit laid out properly, you trained yourself and before going for lunch, you were clearing the kit up again and cleaning the boots for the afternoon training sessions,” he said.

“It was the best training ever but it totally deglamourised football.

“I was signed for three years as a professional but only ever got as far as the Manchester United reserves and later came home and played with Linfield.

“It certainly is a different place to now. Back then you did your apprenticeship and learned humbling lessons that you took with you.

“Things have changed now but at the end of the day it is improving the quality of the game – you can’t stand in the way of progress.”

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