Ernie Hannigan

Ernie and those heady days with Preston

ERNIE Hannigan, who died in Perth on May 21, was never forgotten in Lancashire in England where he played for Preston North End in the 1960s.
He was interviewed by the Lancashire Evening Post when he was on holiday in Preston in July, 2007.
Here, we reprint that interview:

Ernie Hannigna

THE ACCENT is hard-as-granite Glaswegian, he’s spent the last 36 years living on the Australian coast, but Preston is never far from Ernie Hannigan’s thoughts.
For three-and-a-half seasons the Scottish winger lit up Deepdale, the highlights including scoring the winning goal which knocked the mighty Tottenham out of the FA Cup and netting a hat-trick in a remarkable 9-0 victory over Cardiff.
And if he has one regret in life, it was leaving North End and moving to Coventry City in pursuit of top-flight football.
Life at post-Jimmy Hill Coventry wasn’t the happiest for Hannigan.
Eventually he left the English game behind for a journey around football which first took him back to his native Scotland, then on to the United States, Hong Kong and finally Australia.
He liked Australia so much, the Western coast city of Perth to be precise, that he settled there in the early 1970s and enjoys a prosperous life by the sea.
Preston remains on his radar, though, and the 64-year-old tries to get back as often as juggling family life – he has three daughters, seven grandchildren and an eighth on the way – and a thriving industrial cleaning business allows.
One of his visits came this week, as part of a five-week holiday which had previously taken in Las Vegas and Ireland.
Home for the last few days has been a friend’s house in Penwortham, and it’s there we chatted about the old days.
“I had a great time at North End, and the worst thing I did was to leave them when I did and join Coventry,” said Hannigan.
“You have your ups and downs in life, and looking back, I shouldn’t have left Preston because things were going so well there.
“But at the time I wanted First Division football and Preston got good money for me, Coventry offered 50,000 and I think I was sold for 60,000 in the end.
“We had a good little team at the time, Howard Kendall, Alan Spavin, Alex Dawson, Alan Kelly, George Ross, Jimmy Smith.”
Hannigan kicked off his professional career at Queen of the South, the Dumfries-based club having spotted him playing amateur football in Glasgow.
And his first reaction to becoming a full-time footballer was to burst into tears!
“I cried my eyes out because my dream had been to play for Celtic, but that chance had now gone,” said Hannigan.
“But going to Queen of the South turned out to be a great move, I was 16-years-old and George Farm – Blackpool’s goalkeeper in the 1953 FA Cup final – was manager there.
“I stayed until I was 20 when Preston signed me for 15,000, I arrived in the close season after they’d been in the cup final.
“It was a good club to be at, the dressing room always seemed happy, and perhaps there being so many Scots in the squad help me settle so well.
“I’ve many good memories, and getting to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the 1965/66 season was a great experience.
“In the fifth round we played Tottenham at Deepdale, we were in the Second Division and Tottenham were on the best teams of that era.
“Jimmy Greaves, Don McKay and Pat Jennings were in their side, and Greaves gave them the lead inside the first two minutes.
“Big Alex Dawson equalised, though, and I scored the winner.
“Alan Spavin put a free-kick into the box, Jennings came for it and I thought he was going to punch the ball.
“But he slapped at it instead, the ball fell towards me and I hit it first time into the back of the net.
“In the quarter-final we played Manchester United and held them to a 1-1 draw at Deepdale.
“The replay at Old Trafford was on the following Wednesday night and it was 1-1 going into the last few minutes.
“I’m convinced to this day that if the game had gone into extra-time, we would have gone on to win it.
“George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton had their socks down round their ankles – they were really feeling it, but we seemed fresh.
“But near the end the ball came off George Ross’ shin and went for a corner, and when it was delivered into the box, I think it was Bestie who got his head on it and United were 2-1 in front.
“They scored a third goal just after and that was us done.
“I didn’t realise that was the last time Preston had reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup.
“On the last day of that season, we played Cardiff and we were safe from relegation by then.
“But we didn’t half play well that afternoon, everything we hit seemed to go in and we won 9-0!
“I scored a hat-trick, so did Brian Godfrey, and one of my goals was even a header – I didn’t score many of those.”
Coventry came calling part way into the 1967/68 campaign, former Manchester United skipper Noel Cantwell having taken over as manager from Jimmy Hill and making Hannigan his first signing.
It meant he played in the top tier of English football for the first time, but Highfield Road wasn’t the happiest spell of his career, and eventually he joined Morton.
Hannigan said: “Cantwell was a nice guy but I used to argue with him all the time about the way he wanted me to play.
“I was a winger who wanted to take players on, but he wanted my first touch to be a cross into the box to aim for Tony Hateley and Neil Martin who were our two big centre-forwards. After leaving Coventry, I had a year back in Scotland with Morton, before I went to play for New York Cosmos for a short time in 1970.
“I also had a few games playing for a team called Elizabeth in New Jersey, briefly came back to play for Raith Rovers, and then had a handful of matches in Hong Kong.”
It was around this time he went on holiday to Australia, and while Down Under, Hannigan was offered the chance to play for Sydney.
“I was at the tail end of my career by then, and didn’t really fancy the Sydney offer,” he recalled.
“Then someone else recommended Perth – they wanted me to play the last nine games of that season.
“So I went there and Perth hit me like a ton of bricks, I loved it.
“I met my current wife Jennifer there, and apart from a few months back in Scotland, I’ve been there ever since.
“Perth is a beautiful city. I live just three miles from the beach, and I’m not too far off retirement – I’m 65 in January.”

*THREE days after Ernie’s death, Preston won promotion to the Championship, beating Swindon 4-0 in the play-off at Wembley. On hearing of Ernie’s passing, the club said: “We at Preston are saddened to learn of the death of Ernie Hannigan.
“After a season as Dave Wilson’s understudy, Hannigan began to feature more regularly over the course of the 1965/66 season, scoring vital goals in league and cup action. He was an ever present in the Preston line-up the following season and finished as the club’s top goalscorer with 11 league goals.
“Everyone at Preston North End would like to pass on their thoughts and condolences to Ernie’s family and friends at this sad time.”
The Coventry City Former Players Association said it was very sad to report the death of the former Sky Blues winger. “We saw him in 2010 when he returned to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the only Coventry squad to play European football in the UEFA Cup in 1969-70.”

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