BBC pulls plug on one of their longest serving sports broadcasters
Published 07/11/2015 | 13:40
Jackie Fullerton will be at next summer's European Championships in France... as an interested spectator.
His days of commentating on Northern Ireland international matches are over, 37 years after they began.
And when Michael O'Neill's men run out at Windsor Park next Friday night for a pre-Euro 2016 warm-up game, a man nearly half Jackie's age will be behind the BBC Northern Ireland mic.
Joel Taggart has got the nod for the visit of Latvia - and the veteran he replaces was one of the first to congratulate him.
"It's the right time for a younger man to take up the reins," says broadcasting legend Jackie, who will turn 73 just before the end of this current football season.
"I have to move on, the BBC have to move on. I've loved commentating on the big Northern Ireland games, loved every minute of it, even loved the pressure associated with it, but I'm not getting any younger.
"I'm 72 now and I'm due to have a new hip fitted early in the new year. The plan is to get over to France, sit back, relax and see Northern Ireland compete out there."
Ballymena man Jackie, who works as a freelance these days, says he will continue to do "bits and pieces" for local BBC before finally calling it a day.
He reckons he's done live commentary on over 100 Northern Ireland matches since his 'debut' - for Ulster Television - back in September 1978.
"That was the Republic versus our boys in a Euro qualifier at Lansdowne Road; the first time the 'two Irelands' had met each other", he recalls.
"It wasn't much of a game, finishing 0-0, but I thought I did all right."
John Alexander 'Jackie' Fullerton, MBE, who is renowned for his unflustered delivery and meticulous pre-match research, joined the BBC in 1992 after 19 years as a presenter with the corporation's rivals.
The popular father-of-three was the local Beeb's sports anchor and number one football commentator until his 'annus horribilis' of 2004 when he was controversially removed from his regular role on the flagship Newsline programme and underwent triple heart by-pass surgery.
But he returned to commentating in 2005, although the live Northern Ireland commentaries were curtailed two years later when the Irish FA signed an exclusive deal with Sky, restricting the BBC to highlights packages.
Next Friday night would have been a comeback of sorts for Jackie but a BBC Northern Ireland statement to the Belfast Telegraph, in which they turned down the opportunity to name the match commentator, suggested a change was afoot.
There are, however, no regrets, just highlights. Ironically, two of those have coincided with Northern Ireland defeats. "Commenting on the England match in 1979 (European Championship qualifier, 4-0 to England) was a special moment for me," he says.
"As a young footballer (he played for Ballymena United, Cliftonville, Derry City and Crusaders) I, like many others, dreamed of playing at Wembley. It didn't happen, but commentating was the next best thing."
Jackie, who married his beloved Linda 47 years ago, was also behind the mic when Northern Ireland's amazing 1982 World Cup adventure came to an end when they lost 4-1 to France in the Spanish capital Madrid.
"It was our wee country at the World Cup finals; it doesn't get any better than that," he says.
"And now, after nearly 30 years, we're back at a major championship. Exciting times lie ahead."
The best moments, invariably, involve Northern Ireland's record goalscorer David Healy; the brilliant hat-trick against Spain (Windsor Park, 2006) and the all-time high - that winning goal against England in Belfast a year earlier.
"I do have one regret about that," concedes Jackie.
"I flew out to Majorca on holiday the following day; looking back, it would have been great to hang around and soak up the post-match atmosphere and excitement.
"You don't witness something like that every day."