John (Jackie) Milburn, was born in Ashington on 11th May 1924. His father, Alaxander Milburn, was a coal-cutter at the local colliery.
Milburn played on the right-wing for Hirst East Senior Boys School. He was also a talented runner and won several sprint championships in Northumberland and Durham. He idolized Joe Hulme, who played for Arsenal. Milburn later told his son: "Arsenal's Joe Hulme was my hero. As the commentator ranted about his terrific bursts of speed I vowed to my pals that one day I was going to be a fast winger just like him."
Milburn left school at the age of 14. He travelled to Dorking to work as a servant for a local landowner. However, he failed to settle in the job and returned to Ashington to work in a shop until he reached the age of 16 when he began work as an apprenticeship as a fitter for the Ashington Coal Company.
Milburn played football for the Air Training Corps. His speed and goalscoring achievements resulted in him being selected to play for Northumberland against Yorkshire in 1943. Wilf Taylor, a director of Newcastle United, saw the 19 year old have a great game and he was invited to have a trial with the club at St James Park. He scored two goals in his first game for the club. In the second trial match he banged in six goals after coming on for the regular Newcastle centre-forward, Albert Stubbins. After the game the Newcastle manager, Stan Seymour, told Milburn that if he signed for the club he would go straight into the first team. At first his father rejected the offer but after negotiating a £10 signing-on fee and 30 shillings (£1.50) a match, he allowed Milburn to sign as a part-time professional.
In training it became clear that Milburn was the fastest player at the club. He was selected to play as outside-right against Bradford City at Valley Parade on 28th August 1943. Newcastle United lost 2-1. In a game against Stoke City, Newcastle won 9-1. After the match, the opposing outside-right, Stanley Matthews, told Milburn that "you have a bright future if you continue to play like that." By the end of the 1945-46 season Milburn had scored 14 goals in 39 games.
At the beginning of the 1946-47 season Stan Seymour sold Albert Stubbins to Liverpool. In October 1946 he signed Len Shackleton for a record fee of £13,000. He joined a forward line that included Milburn, Ernie Taylor and Charlie Wayman. Shackleton made his debut for his new club against Newport County on 5th October. He scored six goals in the record 13-0 win.
It was hoped that Milburn would help Newcastle United get promotion to the First Division. However, they only finished in 5th place. The average home gate was 56,350, the largest in the world. Newcastle did much better in the FA Cup and reached the semi-final where they were beaten by Charlton Athletic 4-0.
In 1947 George Martin became the new manager. He decided to switch Milburn to centre-forward in a game against Bury. The move was a great success and Milburn scored a hat-trick. He continued in this position for the rest of the season. He developed a great relationship with inside-forward, Len Shackleton. He later pointed out: "Len Shackleton was a master craftsman and thanks to him I got among the goals. I clicked with him because I expected the unorthodox. If he ran one way, I ran the other, and sure enough the ball always found me. On the other hand, Len's quick-witted humour often caused me to laugh outright and lose control of the ball."
Not everyone appreciated the skills of Shackleton. His captain, Joe Harvey, argued that Shackleton was developing into a crowd entertainer rather than a team footballer and seemed more interested in beating four or five men than passing the ball to a better positioned team-mate. He added that "Newcastle would never win anything with him in the team". In February 1948 Newcastle United sold Shackleton to Sunderland in the First Division for the record fee of £20,050.
On 17th April 1947 Newcastle United gained promotion to the First Division by beating Sheffield Wednesday 4-2 in front of 66,483 spectators at St. James Park. Milburn was the star of the side, scoring 20 goals in 39 league games. As Paul Joannou points out in The Black 'n' White Alphabet: "He had devastating pace and a lethal shot in either foot. Jackie was especially remembered for his ability to swivel in tight situations to power a drive towards the net... Milburn could join expertly in approach play, and possessed tremendous ball control running at speed, as well as a marvellous sliding tackle that took the ball from opponents."
Milburn continued his work as a coalminer at Hazelrigg Colliery and he purchased an old motorcycle. Dressed in full pit gear, he could often been seen racing to the ground after work. Milburn told Mick Bell, who was a shop steward at the colliery, that he believed that working on a Saturday morning was affecting his performance on the field. After consulting with the other workers, who were all Newcastle United fans, Bell now went to see the colliery manager and threatened strike action if Jackie Milburn was not given the morning off on the day of a game. Faced with the threat of industrial action the colliery manager reluctantly agreed to Bell's request.
As a boy Bobby Robson watched Milburn play at St James Park: "I used to watch Newcastle back in 1948 when I was 15 and so Jackie Milburn meant a lot to me... He was tremendously quick... a good taker of a chance and I liked his energy. He was a good individual player, but also a team player and he worked hard for them. He would chase defenders too and try to recover the ball and then go on the re-strike. He had tremendous pace, always robbed the ball from behind defenders... He started playing outside-right but could play centre-forward and it was hard to decide just which was his best position."
Soon afterwards Milburn was diagnosed with external otitis that caused inflammation of the ear. His doctor told him that coal dust could be causing this problem and Milburn decided to end his career at the Hazelrigg Colliery and to rely on the £12 a week being paid by Newcastle United.
Milburn won his first international cap for England against Northern Ireland on 9th October 1948. The team that day included Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney, Neil Franklin, Laurie Scott, Frank Swift and Billy Wright. Milburn later recalled that Matthews came over to speak to him just before the kick-off: "He told me that when I saw him running down the wing I had to get to the far post and wait on the edge of the six-yard box then he would cross the ball. He said he always put a lot of top on it to fool the keeper, to make it hang, so that would give me time to close in. The great man was true to his word and I headed in my first international goal from his inch perfect cross. He was a genius. The greatest." England went onto win the game 6-2 with Mortensen getting a hat-trick. Milburn also played against Wales (1-0), Switzerland (6-0) and Scotland (1-3) that season.
In February 1949, George Martin, the Newcastle United manager paid £17,000 for Bobby Mitchell. He joined a team that included Milburn, Bobby Cowell, Joe Harvey, Frank Brennan, Jack Fairbrother, Bobby Corbett, Charlie Wayman, Charlie Crowe, Tommy Walker, Ernie Taylor and George Robledo. That season the club finished in 4th place in the First Division. Once again Milburn was top scorer with 19 goals in 34 games.
Milburn upset the English selectors by asking to be left out of the tour of Norway, Finland, Sweden and France, preferring to go on the club tour of Canada. "The truth is I never received the kind of service I should have as England's centre-forward. At least not the kind I did at St. James' Park. It seemed to me that a lot of the England players were simply out to impress as individuals, just to secure their place for the next game."
Tom Finney, one of the players who Milburn was presumably complaining about, took a different view: "Milburn had an inferiority complex. He never thought he was as good as he was. Prior to a game he'd be talking himself down and saying the feller he was playing against was a great player." Finney replied: "Well you're a great player - you've been selected for your country."
Milburn was recalled for the game against Wales on 15th October 1949. He responded by scoring a hat-trick in the 4-1 victory. Milburn also made the fourth goal for Stan Mortensen. Milburn commented: "I was particularly pleased with two of my goals because I scored them with my head." This was followed by appearances against Portugal (5-3) and Belgium (4-1). However, Milburn failed to score in these two games. However, he remained in the team that played against Spain (1-0) and Wales (4-2).
Newcastle United continued to do well in the First Division finishing 5th in the 1949-50 season. Milburn was top scorer with 18 goals in 30 league games. Other scorers included Tommy Walker (12 in 38), George Robledo (11 in 30) and Bobby Mitchell (8 in 38).
Newcastle finished 4th in the 1950-51 season. Once again Milburn was top scorer with 17 goals in 31 league games. The club also enjoyed a good FA Cup run beating Bolton Wanderers (3-2), Stoke City (4-2), Bristol Rovers (3-1) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-1) to reach the final against Blackpool.
The defences were in control in the first-half. The deadlock was broken in the 50th minute when Milburn collected a pass from George Robledo to fire home. Five minutes later, Ernie Taylor cleverly back-heeled the ball and Milburn scored with a powerful shot from 25 yards. Milburn had won his first FA Cup winners' medal.
Newcastle United had another good FA Cup run in the 1951-52 season, beating Aston Villa (4-2), Tottenham Hotspur (3-0), Swansea City (1-0), Portsmouth (4-2), Blackburn Rovers (2-1) to reach the final against Arsenal. Arsenal had finished 3rd in the First Division championship whereas Newcastle managed only 8th place, their lowest position since promotion in 1948.
In the 19th minute Wally Barnes was injured in a tackle with Milburn. He tried to carry on but he was forced to leave the field in the 35 minute. Arsenal's ten men fought magnificently against the marauding Newcastle forwards. They held out until the 85th minute when George Robledo headed in a Milburn cross. Milburn had won his second FA Cup winners' medal.
Newcastle United struggled in the First Division the following season and finished in 16th place. Milburn had a niggling knee problem and only played in 16 games. He eventually had his cartilage removed but even when back to full fitness he only managed to score 16 goals in 39 games in the 1954-55 season. That year Newcastle secured a top ten position. Stan Seymour was developing a good team that included Milburn, Jimmy Scoular, Bobby Cowell, Frank Brennan, Alf McMichael, Tommy Walker, Bob Stokoe, Ronnie Simpson, Bobby Mitchell, George Hannah, Vic Keeble and Len White.
Newcastle also had a good FA Cup run in the 1954-55 season, Plymouth Argyle (1-0), Brentford (3-2), Nottingham Forest (2-1), Huddersfield Town (2-0), York City (2-0) to reach the final against Manchester City. Milburn later recalled how the game started: "I won a corner on the right and Len White ran over to take it. Manchester City's captain, Roy Paul, was standing next to me as Len placed the ball, but he suddenly yelled, 'Bloody hell, I should be marking Keeble,' so off he darted to find big Vic, who was more widely noted for his prowess in the air. Len fired the ball in my direction and there was I standing all alone like Grey's Monument. I headed the ball past their keeper, Bert Trautmann and that was it."
The situation got worse for City when Jimmy Meadows suffered a serious knee injury in the 18th minute. Just as in 1952 Newcastle had just ten men to beat. Despite this disadvantage City equalized when Bobby Johnstone beat Ronnie Simpson with a diving header after good work from Joe Hayes. In the second-half Newcastle United made their numerical advantage count. In the 53rd minute Bobby Mitchell made a run down the wing before scoring from an acute angle. Soon afterwards George Hannah scored from a pass from Mitchell. Milburn and Newcastle had won the FA Cup for the third time in five years.
Vic Keeble developed a very good relationship with Milburn. He later recalled: "My partnership with Jackie was great. I'd nod them on and he could really move off the mark. Sides all look for balance and that is why we complemented each other. Jackie was a prolific striker, not great in the air, but had two terrific feet. Pace is everything and that made him very dangerous. He could really thump a ball. Even from 30 yards, the ball would go in like a rocket. Jackie would burst the ball today!" Milburn also praised Keeble: "Most players prefer to head either to the right or the left but Keeble could do it either way with equal effect. He scored so many goals with his nut that I swear he had studs in his forehead."
Milburn was recalled by England against Denmark on 2nd October 1955. England won 5-1 with Nat Lofthouse and Don Revie both scoring two goals each. Milburn failed to score and later admitted: "In spite of being moved into the middle late in the game, I'm afraid I left my shooting boots at home. I just so desperately wanted to do well." It was the last game that Milburn played for England. He had scored 10 goals in 13 games for his country.
Milburn's form continued to deteriorate.Jack Charlton played against him in the 1956-57 season. "I had a good game against him. I got to the ball first and thought, he's not as quick as he used to be. I tackled him a couple of times and he fell down."
Milburn was a heavy smoker and this affected his stamina. As his son later remarked: "At just 33, he was beginning to feel like a much older man." Milburn himself said: "I relived every kick of the last match and then began worrying frantically about the next. My confidence had completely gone."
In 1957 Milburn decided to leave Newcastle United. He had a tremendous goal scoring record at the club: 177 in 353 Football League games and 23 in 44 FA Cup games. Although Milburn was not good enough for the First Division in 1957 he received an offer to join Linfield as player-manager in the Irish League. This included a five-year contract, a £1,000 signing on fee, a large detached four-bedroom club house and a £1,300 salary. Milburn was a great success in Ireland and scored over 100 goals in two seasons.
In 1963 Milburn was appointed as manager of Ipswich Town. At the time they were league champions but that season they finished in 17th place. The following season they finished bottom and were relegated. Milburn resigned and became a journalist working for the News of the World.