The family of an Irish sporting legend who died in the UK 13 years ago said they’re delighted he’s “finally home” after scattering his ashes on a famous Cork cricket ground, writes Eoin English.
Noel Cantwell’s daughters, Kate and Liz Cantwell, were speaking after a moving prayer ceremony today on the grounds of the Cork County Cricket Club on the Mardyke, where the Cork-born former Manchester United skipper, Irish soccer and cricket international embarked on his illustrious sporting career.
Born on the Mardyke in 1932, one of the best full-backs of his generation and one of Ireland’s first international soccer stars, Cantwell e died in Peterborough, England, on September 8 2005, aged 73.
Noel Cantwell’s family, daughter Kate Cantwell, niece Allison and daughter Elizabeth pictured spreading Noel’s ashes at Cork County Cricket Club. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Kate, who was joined by her sons, Sam and Joe, her sister, Liz, and extended family and friends, said today was a day of mixed emotions.
“I’ve had my dad with me at my home for 13 years. But this is a really special place for us. It’s like coming home really. I always felt that he should come back to Cork, because this is his home,” she said.
Following prayers by Fr John Finn, she told the gathering: “I know you will continue to tell the stories about the Cantwell boys, and my dad’s memory will definitely live on here forever.”
Kate said her father, who was born on December 28, 1932, at Elm Villas on the Mardyke, the youngest of eight children, loved as a child to play cricket with his brothers, Frank and Gerard, at the Cork County Cricket Grounds.
She described him a natural sportsman, who could pick up a ball of any size, a bat or a club, and play football, cricket, and rugby to a high level.
Cantwell played for Cork Athletic and Western Rovers before joining West Ham, aged 17 – lying about his date of birth so he could sign, Kate revealed.
He scored 16 goals during his 245 league appearances, and in 1960, aged 29, he was snapped up by legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Matt Busby, for £29,500 — a then record for a full-back — and was a key player as Busby rebuilt his squad following the Munich Air Disaster.
He scored 19 goals in 121 league appearances during his seven-year career at Old Trafford, captaining United to the 1963 FA Cup title and winning the league in 1965 and 1967.
He won 35 caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1953 and 1967, scoring 14 goals during his international career.
He later managed Coventry City and then Peterborough United, winning the fourth division championship and securing promotion in the 1972-73 season, he coached in the US, winning the Eastern Division Championship of the North American Soccer League with the New England Tea Men in 1978, before returning to Peterborough.
“But if you were to ask my dad where home is, he would say Cork,” Kate said.
Cantwell played cricket for Ireland five times, between his debut against Scotland in 1956 and his last match in 1959.
“He used to get into trouble with Sir Matt Busby because my dad would spend summers travelling to Ireland and beyond for cricket,” Kate said.
David Griffin, treasurer of the Cork County Cricket Club, described Cantwell as a very fluent, stroke-making batsman and a brilliant fielder.
He was so good, he was approached by Essex with a professional contract – but Kate said he declined because it would mean no summer visits to Cork.
She also told how she used to take her dad’s ashes out of the sideboard and pop his urn in front of the TV for ‘good luck’ during big games, most recently, the Manchester derby.
“When I got my dad out at half time to produce a little bit of magic, well sorry Mr Mourinho, I think your luck might have just run out,” she joked.
The sisters said their mother Maggie, who died late last year, struggled with life after Noel died, and really never wanted to let him go.
They discussed with her their hopes of bringing their father’s ashes home to Cork when they all attended the unveiling in 2015 of Noel Cantwell Walk nearby.
“She said ‘I think it’s time’,” Kate said.
Update 2.51: Ashes of famed Irish sportsman Noel Cantwell scattered at Cork County Cricket Club
The ashes of Irish sportsman Noel Cantwell have been spread in Cork, a stone’s throw from where he grew up, writes Steve Neville.
Cantwell captained Manchester United in the 1963 FA Cup victory and won 36 caps for Ireland – scoring 14 goals – in an illustrious career.
Having died in 2015 at the age of 73, Cantwell’s ashes were kept by his wife, Maggie, in their home in London. After she died late last year, their daughters – Kate and Liz – requested that Cantwell’s ashes be scattered at the Cork County Cricket Club.
Cantwell had played cricket on top of his football career. He batted for Ireland, scoring 48 runs in two innings.
Today, Cantwell stopped at his final resting place, having his ashes scattered at the famous old cricket club.
Earlier: Ashes of Irish sportsman and ex-Man United captain to be scattered in Cork today
The ashes of an Irish sportsman and former Manchester United captain are set to be scattered in Cork this afternoon, writes Steve Neville.
Noel Cantwell, who passed away in 2005 aged 73, was a cricket player before becoming a football star – winning 36 caps for Ireland and scoring 14 goals.
Cantwell played for Cork Athletic before joining West Ham, captaining the side to a Division Two championship in 1958. He then joined Man United, spending six seasons in Old Trafford and leading the side to an FA Cup victory in 1963.
Noel Cantwell with the FA Cup in 1963. He captained Manchester United in the final which they won 3-1 against Leicester City.
He signed for the Red Devils for £29,500 – a record at the time for a full-back.
The left-sided player’s ashes are to be scattered at the County Cricket Club in the Mardyke, Cork having begun his sporting career there.
At 2pm today, Cantwell’s daughters – Kate and Liz – will bring his ashes to the cricket club.
The Reds legend’s ashes were kept by his wife, Maggie, in their home in London. After she died late last year, their daughters requested that Cantwell’s ashes be scattered at the Cricket Club.
Cantwell had previously played cricket for Ireland, scoring 48 runs in two innings.
In 2015, Cantwell was honoured by Cork after a walkway near his childhood home was named after him.
Noel Cantwell Walk was unveiled on the Maradyke with his family having been deeply moved at the time.
At the unveiling, his wife Maggie hailed Cantwell as a “true son of Cork.”
His sporting prowess didn’t stop at just football and cricket, Cantwell also won a Munster Junior Cup with Cork Con in 1951.