by Mick Hoban, long time friend and teammate of Jimmy Conway
Jimmy Conway, a legendary former captain and assistant coach for the Timbers in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, passed away on Friday, February 14 in Portland. He was 73 and for a decade had suffered from trauma-induced dementia.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, on August 10, 1946, Jimmy came up through the famed Stella Maris FC, an academy-like training club for players of ages 5-18, which has produced 24 full international team members. At 18, Jimmy signed his first senior contract with Bohemian FC, Ireland's oldest existing football club and member of the League of Ireland's first division. In his first season with the Gypsies, he helped guide the team to a strong second place finish. After another year with the all-amateur Bohemian FC, he was signed by Fulham FC and he spent the next 10 years as one of the premier midfielder/wingers in English football. While with the Cottagers, Jimmy earned the first call-up as an international for the Republic of Ireland; he would put on the green jersey a total of 20 times for friendlies and Cup qualifiers scoring three goals.
After two seasons with Manchester City, Jimmy joined the Timbers for the 1978 NASL season under new manager Don Megson. After advancing to the Soccer Bowl in the inaugural 1975 season, Portland struggled on the field, missing the playoffs in both 1976 and 1977. Megson called on Jimmy to provide stability in the midfield and relied on Conway to improve the build-up on attack through his accurate passing. Jimmy's composure on the field and the respect he got from teammates made him the perfect choice as captain, too, and he became an immediate fan favorite. Jimmy's addition to the starting 11 paid off with a the team achieving a 20-10 record in 1978, advancing to the third round of playoff games before falling to the mighty New York Cosmos.
Jimmy played two more seasons for Portland before retiring as an active player, playing 433 career games in his career without a single caution or ejection. He would serve as an on-field assistant coach for Portland in 1980, and would finish his playing career with the Timbers for their 1980 indoor season. He returned to the club as an Assistant Coach with the USL Timbers from 2001-2005.
After his playing career Jimmy joined the Oregon Youth Soccer Association in 1981 where he became Director of Coaching. He held that job for 28 years. His coaching programs reached more than 24,000 youth players and guided some 1,100 adults to USSF coaching certification. Along the way, he also collected his “A” coaching badge from USSF and was added to the national coaching staff.
Jimmy's high energy level and love for the game saw him also become head men's coach at both Pacific University (1983-87) and Oregon State (1988-1998), where he holds numerous program records at both schools two decades after retiring from day-to-day coaching. Eventually, he made his was back to the Timbers as an assistant during the club's A-League/USL period.
Conway was diagnosed with trauma-induced dementia in 2009. When his medical diagnosis was determined, former Timbers teammate Mick Hoban, his wife Linda, the Conway family and a group of volunteers, spearheaded a series of events in 2010 including a testimonial dinner at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton that reunited Jimmy with hundreds of former youth players and coaches, teammates from Irish, English and U.S. playing days, college athletics administrators, and U.S. Youth Soccer and Oregon Adult and Youth Soccer representatives. He also was honored by the Timbers with a testimonial game at the stadium in August 2010 and an induction into the club's Ring of Honor the following season. Since then, the TA has fervently honored his service with banners, chants and periods of applause during MLS games even though most Army members are too young to know him as a player.
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Noeleen, sons Paul and Mark, daughter Laura, eight grandchildren and 10 siblings.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions toward research on Chrontic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with contact sports and his family hopes soccer's leadership will consider amending the game's rules to reduce chances of developing this deadly concussion-related disease. Contributions in Jimmy's name can be made by mail to:
Boston University Research - CTE Center
Attn. Elizabeth Fay
72 E. Concord St., Robison-B7800
Boston, MA 02118
Alternately, online contributions can be made to: BU CTE Center
Please make note in the online form that the donation is in memory of Jimmy Conway.