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John O'Rourke: Footballer


Barking and Dagenham’s Forgotten Footballer
John Porter
Acting Assistant Archivist, Heritage Services
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Barking and Dagenham has a proud football heritage. Dagenham has produced the likes of Sir Alf Ramsey, Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, while Barking can boast of being the birthplace of three of England’s most famous captains, Sir Bobby Moore, Sir Trevor Brooking and John Terry.

A collection of documents held in the Borough Archives reveals the forgotten story of another professional footballer brought up in this borough: John O’Rourke.

John O’Rourke was born in Northampton in 1945 after his family were evacuated out of London but moved to Dagenham after the war. O’Rourke was a well known professional footballer in the 1960s and early 1970s and was recognized as a prolific goal scorer.

As a schoolboy at Cambell School and Bifrons Secondary School in Barking, O’Rourke played for Barking Schools Football Association (a collection of Barking’s finest schoolboy footballers, chosen to represent Barking in nationwide tournaments) and it is from a fascinating collection of documents deposited by the Barking Schools’ secretary, Mr. J. Smith, that we can trace O’Rourke’s journey from star player of the Barking Schools’ team to a career as a professional footballer.

The entire collection spans from 1936 to 1969 and includes match day programmes, match day tickets, newspaper cuttings, match reports, balance sheets and letters of correspondence.

It is from a series of programmes and accompanying newspaper articles covering Barking Schools’ progress in the English Schools Trophy Competition in the 1959-1960 season that we are first introduced to O’Rourke. Indeed, a programme for a 5 Round tie against a Hackney Schoolboys team pits O’Rourke and his teammates against Rodney Marsh and Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, both of whom would go on to become iconic players of the 1960s and 1970s.

The collection of local newspaper articles provides an especially evocative record of Barking’s progress in this competition. A newspaper article titled ‘Barking Boys Were Superb’ provides a detailed match report on Barking’s 6 Round match, a one-nil victory over Swindon Schoolboys, courtesy of a John O’Rourke goal. O’Rourke’s prowess is clearly indicated by his description as ‘the Leader’. Unfortunately, Barking were defeated in the Quarter Finals by Stockton Boys, a result which is confirmed by an article from the
Barking Advertiser.

However, the story of O’Rourke’s rise continues to be told by documents in the collection. A programme for a prestigious schoolboy trail match between the North and the South of England on 20 February 1960 reveals O’Rourke’s national recognition with his selection in the starting lineup of the South team. The programme’s notes inform us that selection will be made after the game for the even more prestigious schoolboy match, England verses The Rest.

A newspaper article from
The Football Telegraph reveals that O’Rourke’s South won the match 5-4, with O’Rourke gaining a mention for creating one of the goals, while a programme for the England verses The Rest match on 5 March 1960 confirms O’Rourke’s selection in the team representing The Rest.

Although O’Rourke may have missed out on being selected for the England team on that particular occasion, we discover that he was later selected for England Schoolboys from a telegram sent by Mr. Brindley, Barking Schools’ chairman, wishing O’Rourke ‘the best of luck’ prior to an England verses Scotland Schoolboys match in Aberdeen. The collection also contains a handwritten letter from O’Rourke to Mr. Brindley, thanking him, Mr. J. Smith and Mr. Otagari (Barking Schools’ team trainer) for all their help and encouragement in helping him to achieve an England schoolboy ‘cap’.

The collection then skips forward a few years, revealing O’Rourke’s successful progress
into professional football with a series of newspaper cuttings.

The article titled ‘The Cast Off Who Became A Hero’ informs us of O’Rourke’s prolific goalscoring form at Luton Town, after being released as a youngster by both Arsenal and Chelsea. The article reveals that O’Rourke has scored 21 goals in the last 18 league games.

Two other articles describe a dispute between O’Rourke and Ipswich Town, O’Rourke’s third club (after Middlesbrough). The article reveals that O’Rourke has been transfer-listed and suspended by Ipswich’s manager, Bobby Robson, for refusing to train.

The final article in this collection, dated the 20 November 1969, informs us of the resolution to O’Rourke’s problems at Ipswich, a £80,000 transfer to Coventry City.

O’Rourke would eventually retire from professional football in 1974, having scored 64 goals in 84 games for Luton Town, 38 goals in 64 games for Middlesboro, 30 goals in 69 games for Ipswich Town, 17 goals in 52 in games for Coventry City, 12 goals in 33 for Queens Park Rangers and 4 goals in 21games for AFC Bournemouth.

O’Rourke also made one appearance for the England Under 23 team, against Turkey in Ankara, and scored one goal.

8 February 2010

John O'Rourke  Ipswich Town
John O'Rourke Ipswich Town
John O'Rourke Footballer
John O'Rourke Coventry City

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