Jackie Sinclair: Goalscoring winger who helped Newcastle United win their only major trophy of the last half-century
Thursday 16 September 2010
The Scottish international Jackie Sinclair was that rare and cherished footballing commodity, a winger who could be counted on to score plenty of goals. At least, that was the case during the mid-1960s with Dunfermline Athletic and Leicester City, for whom the effervescent little Fifer found the net on average once every two games, a ratio of which even the majority of specialist strikers would have been justly proud.
Yet perplexingly, after he joined Newcastle United as a 24-year-old seemingly on the threshold of his prime in December 1967, the Sinclair tally nosedived dramatically. However, he did play an influential role in lifting the European Fairs Cup, which remains the perennially under-achieving Magpies' only front-line trophy in more than half a century.
Brimming with brio and self-belief, Sinclair was, at his best, a direct and penetrating raider capable of flourishing on either flank. He could accelerate explosively over short distances, his characteristic high-velocity darts a potent menace to the most organised of rearguards. In addition, he was plucky and industrious, he could reach the byline and then cross or cut inside with equal facility, and he possessed a stinging shot in either foot.
As a boy he shone for a local amateur side, Blairhall Colliery, before becoming one of the first recruits for Dunfermline Athletic by a rookie manager called Jock Stein, who was destined one day to guide Celtic to the game's most exalted peaks. Sinclair signed professional forms shortly after his 17th birthday in the summer of 1960 and lost little time in making his senior debut before returning to the reserves to hone his craft. His first major impact came with two goals in a home victory over Airdrie in November 1961, after which he matured rapidly under the inspirational Stein, emerging as a key performer in the Pars' most glorious era to date.
In 1962-63 Sinclair starred in a remarkable fightback from a 4-0 first-leg Fairs Cup deficit against Valencia, scoring twice as Dunfermline triumphed 6-2 at East End Park only to lose 1-0 in the subsequent play-off. But his finest campaign was 1964-65, in which he scored 20 times under the new manager, Willie Cunningham, and set up countless opportunities for a promising centre-forward by the name of Alex Ferguson as the Pars finished only a point adrift of League champions Kilmarnock, and lost 3-2 to Celtic in the final of the Scottish Cup.
That was enough to secure the dynamic 21-year-old, who had scored 33 times in 61 League games, a £25,000 move to Leicester City, then a significant power in the English top flight. After scoring in his first match for the Foxes, a 3-1 home reverse to Liverpool, the diminutive Sinclair forged an occasionally comical-looking but superbly effective pairing with the lanky Northern Irish striker Derek Dougan which was hugely instrumental in City remaining entrenched in the top half of the First Division for the next two seasons. To the surprise of many, it was the Scot who was top scorer in both campaigns, returning 22 and 21 goals respectively and missing only a single game in the process.
It was during this bountiful interlude that Sinclair earned his only full cap for Scotland, when Portugal visited Hampden Park as part of their warm-up for the 1966 World Cup finals in England. Eusebio and company prevailed 1-0, but Sinclair had done enough to earn selection for Scotland's next game, against Brazil, only to be forced out through injury.
He continued to thrive at club level, though, and most Leicester fans were nonplussed in December 1967 when, despite scoring 50 goals in 103 appearances he was sold to top-flight rivals Newcastle for £67,500. In those days that was a sizeable sum, but as he had been on target to top the club's scoring charts for the third season in succession, it appeared to be a perverse decision by his fellow Scot, manager Matt Gillies.
Still only 24, Sinclair was expected to light up Tyneside as a prolific foil for marksmen such as Wyn Davies and Bryan "Pop" Robson, but somehow the chemistry was not quite there. The 5ft 6in attacker remained a thrustful competitor, but he seemed less inclined to shoot than in his Filbert Street days, and sometimes he found it difficult to resist pressure for his place from rivals such as Jim Scott and Alan Foggon.
Still, nothing could detract from Sinclair's sparky contribution to the Fairs Cup triumph of 1968-69, during which he scored in the 2-0 aggregate victory over Rangers in the semi-final, then performed brightly in the final, in which the Hungarian side Ujpest Dozsa were beaten 6-2 over the two legs.
Thereafter he failed to do himself justice at St James' Park and in December 1969 he moved to Sheffield Wednesday in exchange for the striker David Ford. Sinclair competed manfully in a poor team which was relegated that spring, and which never rose above mediocrity in the Second Division over the next three campaigns.
So it was hardly surprising when he was loaned to third-tier Chesterfield in the spring of 1973, then spent a brief stint with Durban in South Africa before returning to his first League club, Dunfermline, that August. Though 30 by then, he brought much-needed experience to a Pars squad which only narrowly avoided demotion in both of the next two seasons. There followed a final season with second-flight Stenhousemuir in 1975-76 before he left the League, later working for the National Coal Board, Stirling University and Dunfermline Golf Club.
Sinclair, whose older brother Willie played professionally on both sides of the Scottish border, and whose uncle, the Scottish international Tommy Wright, served Sunderland in the 1950s, continued to maintain a close interest in the game, not least because his son Chris played for four Scottish clubs, including Dunfermline, for whom he featured in the 1991-92 Scottish League Cup final. The family's love affair with football was reflected also by his cousin, another Tommy Wright, who appeared for Leicester and five other clubs in the 1980s and 1990s.
John Evens Wright Sinclair, footballer: born Culross, Fife 21 July 1943; played for Dunfermline Athletic 1961-65 and 1973-75, Leicester City 1965-68, Newcastle United 1968-69, Sheffield Wednesday 1969-73, Chesterfield on loan 1973, Stenhousemuir 1975-76; capped once by Scotland, 1966; married (one son, one daughter); died 2 September 2010.
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