Jim Hagan: Lineker Who?

Jim Hagan played for several clubs in five different countries in a career spanning over 20 years and was once named a better player than Gary Lineker, more on that later, but despite the majority of his career being played out in the 1980’s when Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland side qualified for two World Cups, Hagan was never given a senior international cap for his country.

Hagan was born in Monkstown, just outside Belfast, he began his footballing career at Larne and combined playing with his job as a booking clerk for ferries between Larne and Stranraer. Hagan became a reliable defender in Brian Halliday’s Larne team and was named Ulster Young Player of the Year in the 1976-76 season. Hagan’s performances for Larne seen him called up to the Northern Ireland squad, then managed by Danny Blanchflower, but his only appearance for Northern Ireland was a testimonial Northern Ireland played against Glentoran for Bobby McGregor. Despite international recognition alluding him there was still overseas interest in Hagan and he eventually signed for Jimmy Hill’s Coventry side, then in the top flight of English football, in November 1977 for a fee of £25,000.

Hagan made a number of appearances for Coventry in a five year spell but ultimately he was unable to nail down a place in the side and spent time on loan at Torquay United, American side Detroit Express and Chinese side (see, football did exist in China back then) Seiko, where he helped the Hong Kong-based side win a clean sweep of trophies – the league, cup and senior cup. He returned to Coventry and made a handful more appearance and was even included in Bingham’s 40 man provisional squad for the 1982 World Cup in Spain but unfortunately didn’t make the final cut. Hagan was released by Coventry at the end of the 1981-82 season and was soon snapped up by Birmingham City, remaining in the top flight of English football.

Hagan immediately established himself as a regular in Ron Saunders side and made a total of 35 appearances in his first season and continued to play regularly the following season as City were relegated to the Second Division. Hagan remained with Birmingham despite their relegation and played a part as the club won promotion at the first time of asking, though he did make fewer appearances than in his previous two seasons. Hagan returned more regularly to the side the following season but it was to be a difficult season for Birmingham on and off the pitch. Saunders departed as manager and was replaced by John Bond but the former Manchester City and Burnley manager was unable to prevent City’s relegation, financial difficulties also led to Chairman Keith Coombs resigning and the club had to let several administrative staff members go. Things didn’t get any better the following season for City as they finished 19th out of 22 teams and avoided back-to-back relegations by just 2 points, Hagan also made only 12 appearances in the league that season and eventually departed the club after making 137 league appearances and moved on to the next stage, perhaps the most extraordinary, of his career.

Hagan made the surprising move of joining up with Spanish top flight side Celta Vigo, they were being managed at the time by former Nottingham Forest and Arsenal player Colin Addison. Hagan was one of only three British players plying their trade in Spain, the other two being Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes. In his first season in Spain Hagan helped Celta Vigo to a top half finish and incredibly was named Spain’s Overseas Player of the Year, just to give you an idea of some of the other names that were in non-Spanish players that were in Spain at the time there were the two aforementioned British players and European Championship winner Bernd Schuster and Real Madrid striker Hugo Sancez. Despite this award and the face that Hagan could boast the fact Linker never scoring against Celta Vigo while he was in the backline international honours still never came his way, he did receive a number of call ups but never made it off the bench.

After leaving Spain Hagan returned to Northern Ireland and had a brief stint with Larne again before returning to England with Colchester United. Hagan only played twice in for Colchester before moving on to Sweden via a third spell with Larne and after a brief spell there he returned to Northern Ireland and served Ballymena for three years as Player-Manager, before spells as Carrick Rangers, a fourth and final spell at Larne as a player were he also served unsuccessfully as player manager, Crusaders and finally he hung his boots up after a stint with Coleraine.

After retiring Hagan served for a time as Sunderland’s Youth Development Officer but eventually returned once more to where it all began, as he took up a similar role with Larne and then in October 2005 became Assistant Manager at the club working alongside Kenny Shiels. When Shiels stepped down as manager at the end of the season to take up a position with the Irish FA, the Larne board turned to Hagan. Unfortunately for Hagan his second spell in charge of Larne was as fruitless as his first as the side won one of their eight league games with Hagan at the helm and were dumped out if the County Antrim Shield by junior side Wakehurst and eventually in November 2006, just six months after he was appointed, Hagan was sacked. Hagan followed his time at Larne up with a spell in charge of another Larne based side, Wellington Rec.

Hagan has since retired to live full-time in Spain but can look back on his playing days with fond memories no doubt, from playing part-time while working as a booking clerk to rubbing shoulders with footballing legends like Lineker and Schuster. However, Hagan does have to accept being known throughout Northern Ireland as possibly our greatest player to never one a senior international cap.