THE death of Italian football legend, Gianluca Vialli, has stirred memories of when the ex-Chelsea boss took his side to play Omagh Town one year after the 1998 bombing atrocity.
The former Sampdoria striker had a long-running battle with pancreatic cancer and the 58-year-old’s death was announced last Friday.
Vialli was an extremely popular figure in the footballing world, and back in 1999 was manager of a star-studded Chelsea team that agreed to play a friendly match against the now-defunct Omagh Town to raise money for the Omagh Bomb Appeal Fund.
The game was played at St Julian’s Road on July 28, part of a famous trio of fixtures that also had Omagh Town playing Manchester United and Liverpool FC.
Vialli promised the-then Omagh Town manager, Roy McCreadie that his side ‘would put on a show’ for the 7,000 people who attended the match.
He also promised to bring the most famous names in his star-studded Chelsea line-up – and the Italian was true to his word.
The London side included 90s football stars such as Dan Petrescu, Roberto Di Matteo, Gus Poyet, Tore Andre Flo and Carlo Cudicini. In the stand watching on were even more legends including recent World Cup winners Didier Deschamp and Marcel Desailly, who were flanked by Frank Lebouf, Chris Sutton, and perhaps Chelsea’s greatest player, Gianfranco Zola.
Roy McCreadie said the game was a great success and praised Vialli for keeping his word and playing a ‘fantastic side’ against his Omagh Town players.
Speaking to the UH this week, Mr McCreadie said, “Gianluca was a true gentleman he could not have been friendlier or more helpful to me and my staff.
“He brought a fantastic side on that day and the whole squad was there. The team stayed in Northern Ireland for the entire week and did their pre-season training in Belfast.
“They had massive stars back then with the likes of Zola and the big french centre-back, Marcel Desailly – it was an unbelievable occasion.”
Speaking of Vialli’s passing, Mr McCreadie said the sport had lost “one of the nice guys.”
“I was very sad to hear of Ginaluca’s passing last week, I know he had a battle with cancer. He really was a nice guy and although I didn’t spend a lot of time with him apart from the day of the match, I think the people of Omagh who were that that day will remember him fondly.”