John Edward Thompson 'Jackie' Milburn was born in Ashington on May 11th 1924. His father, Alexander Milburn, was a coal-cutter at the local colliery. Also known to fans as “Wor” Jackie and 'the first World Wor' in reference to his global fame, was a football player for Newcastle United and England. ("Wor" in the Geordie dialect means "our"), and remains United's 2nd highest Top Goal Scorer of all time with a total of 200 goals. The initial letter of his three Christian names also led him to be called “Jet” as in the “Ashington Jet”.
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, a game that Newcastle United lost 2-1. In a game against Stoke City, Newcastle won 9-1 and 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, supposedly 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 and 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."
Milburn grew up in the coal mining town of Ashington, Northumberland, 15 miles north of Newcastle, Milburn's employment as a fitter (repairing heavy machinery) had reserved occupation status during World War II, which meant that he remained in Ashington. He was the son of Alexander Milburn, the uncle of the four professional footballing Milburn brothers John ('Jack') Milburn born 1908 (Leeds United and Bradford City), George Milburn born 1910 (Leeds United and Chesterfield), James ('Jimmy') Milburn born 1919 (Leeds United and Bradford City), and Stanley ('Stan') Milburn born 1926 (Chesterfield, Leicester City and Rochdale), who were brothers of Jack and Bobby Charlton's mother Elizabeth 'Cissie' Milburn born 1912.
In 1943, Milburn signed for Newcastle United after writing to the club in response to the club's advert for trialists in the North Mail Newspaper. He arrived at St James' Park with a pair of borrowed football boots wrapped in brown paper, and his lunch - a pie and a bottle of pop. Milburn made a huge impression and was invited back to a final trial match - the Stripes v the Blues. Milburn's Stripes found themselves 3-0 down at half time, but then being switched to centre forward in the second half, Milburn scored six times as his side turned around the deficit to win 9-3. Club supremo Stan Seymour quickly signed Milburn up, although the 2nd World War meant that he still worked in the mines whilst also turning out for Newcastle United in Wartime League games from 1943-1946.
At first, Milburn played as a winger, but switched to centre forward after Charlie Wayman left the club to join Southampton in October 1947 and was given the club's legendary number 9 shirt. Milburn later said in the 1981 publication, 'Jackie Milburn's Newcastle United scrapbook', "I was fortunate enough to wear Hughie Gallacher's shirt and virtually every Saturday he'd be waiting for me outside the main entrance, always at the same time in the same place, ten yards from the door. "Hi, Jackie, you're doing fine," he'd say, "but l've got a little tip for you..." Then he would mention something he had spotted in my play the previous game. Throughout my playing days I always listened intently to any advice the big names had to give."
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.
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 on to win the game 6-2.
Milburn was the central figure in Newcastle's FA Cup campaigns of the 1950s, which saw the club win the Cup three times in five years; 1951 (scoring twice in the final), 1952 and 1955 (scoring the then quickest goal in FA Cup final history after 45 seconds). Milburn also made 13 appearances for England, scoring 10 goals. Milburn left the Magpies in June, 1957 to join the Belfast club Linfield as player/coach at Windsor Park, where he won 9 trophies (including an Irish League title and Irish Cup win), and finished as leading league goal scorer in two consecutive seasons.
After retiring as a player, he went on to briefly manage Ipswich Town, before returning to Tyneside to become a sports journalist for the News of the World newspaper. In 1967 he was given a belated testimonial match by Newcastle. Milburn had worried that ten years after leaving the club, people would have forgotten, but he needn't have worried, as almost 50,000 turned out at St. James' Park for the match which featured a host of stars including his cousins, the famous World Cup winning brothers, Bobby Charlton and Jack Charlton, and the great Hungarian player Ferenc Puskás.
Milburn quickly became a hero on parts of Tyneside once League Football returned after World War II in 1946. He played 395 games for Newcastle, and is the club's second highest league and cup goal scorer with 200 goals; six goals behind Alan Shearer. Shearer's European goals take his total to 206, there were no European games in Milburn's day, although he still remains the club's top goal scorer with 200 league and domestic cup goals, and 38 wartime match goals during World War 2, seeing his total record score 238 goals in 492 games.
Away from football, Milburn was a shy, quiet and modest man, well liked and respected by all who met him. There exists a story whereby Milburn met Cardinal Basil Hume, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and a huge Newcastle United supporter. Both unassuming men, they were in awe of each other. After a conversation, the talk moved on and one suggested an autograph would be a good idea. The other agreed. Both men stood back and expected to be the recipient of the autograph, without realising the other man wanted their autograph in return.
As part of their 'bonus', the Newcastle United players were given cigarettes by the club. Those who didn't smoke gave theirs to smokers and Milburn always had a ready supply. Milburn died at the age of 64 on October 9th 1988 of lung cancer, at his home in Ashington. His funeral was held at St. Nicholas' Cathedral in Newcastle and saw over 30,000 people turn out to pay their respects.
In 1988 Newcastle United opened their new West Stand at St James' Park and named it after Milburn. In addition to the Milburn Stand at St. James' Park, two statues of the footballer were commissioned. One stands on Station Road, the main street in his birthplace Ashington, the funds for which were raised by the Civic Head, Cllr. Michael George Ferrigon during his term of Office. The other, in Newcastle, was originally situated on Northumberland Street but now stands at Milburn Junction, where Blenheim Street meets Corporation Street and Bath Lane, just a minute's walk away from St. James' Park.
Milburn was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006 in recognition of his contribution to English Football.