The event coincided with the 40th Anniversary reunion of the Squad organised by the Wooden Spoon Children’s Charity of which Willie-John McBride is currently President. The legendary players who were flown in from Scotland, England and Wales by Flybe, lined up to watch the unveiling and included Fran Cotton, Alan Morley, JPR Williams, Phil Bennett, Andy Irvine, Alan Old, Roger Uttley, Gareth Edwards, JJ Williams, Phil Bennett and Billy Steele. The Irish stars comprised Willie-John McBride, Syd Millar, Mike Gibson, Fergus Slattery, Tom Grace, Jonny Moloney, Stewart McKinney and Dick Milliken.
“The Invincibles”, a specially named Q400 aircraft, has been unveiled in the presence of the squad members including team captain Willie-John McBride, by Fred Kochak, Flybe Routes Director accompanied by Andrea Hayes, Flybe’s Regional Manager North.
Fred Kochak explains, “In May 1974 a squad of 34 rugby players from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales formed the British and Irish Lions Squad to travel to South Africa. They were to play against a country not beaten in 78 years. When they returned in July 1974, having won 21 of their 22 matches and drawing the other, they returned as “The Invincibles” and are widely regarded as the greatest northern hemisphere side of all time. Their passion, commitment and determination is legendary and we are delighted to make our own unique tribute to what they achieved and the values they continue to represent.
Dedicating an aircraft to such sporting icons is our special way of saying congratulations and a thank you to “The Invincibles”. As she flies across the Flybe route network, we hope that “The Invincibles” will act as an inspiration to others”.
From today the Flybe Q400 OE will feature a life size image of Willie-John McBride framed within a set of rugby posts. Below the cross bar are listed the 34 names of the full 1974 British and Irish Lions Squad. Alongside the image is the new name of the aircraft, “The Invincibles”.
Adds Mr Kochak, “The Invincibles celebrate their 40th anniversary today and Flybe recently marked its 30th year operating out of George Belfast Belfast City Airport. Two very different milestones but both demonstrating a strong legacy of achievement and commitment which is assured well into the future, both here and throughout the rest of the UK.”
Flybe has previously named five other aircraft to honour local sporting heroes – George Best and Mary Peters in Belfast, Kevin Keegan in Newcastle, Matt le Tissier in Southampton and Adam Stansfield in Exeter.