This is a series essentially looking at clubs through the eyes of ‘other’ fans..ie the rest of the Ulster Irish League watchers. It is not a club history or anything like that and ain’t meant to be taken too seriously. That said, I am already chuckling at a few clubs’ fans who are already foaming at the mouth before a line is written about their club. It won’t encompass every club as you have to have a certain amount of green shield stamps to qualify and whilst some of you are working that out we’ll start at A.
So a lookee at Ards to start off this little series. This is what happens when you head the alphabet. Or am I breaking myself gently in. I think it is fair to say that amongst most Irish League fans Ards might generally feature as one of most fans’ favourite other clubs. At a loose guess I would also throw Distillery and perhaps Glenavon in there as well. I’m not sure that you want fans of other clubs having you as their favourite other team. It suggests you aren’t very successful and therefore are not a threat.
But it is always more than that surely when rival fans like you. Football fans when they settle down are pretty good at getting a lot of the entirety of a club when they look beyond their own perimeters. So what are the things that I will hazard a guess jump out at you when considering Ards. For the present generation they are very much the homeless and indeed they have been in Bangor for such a while that many forget that it is not Newtownards. That will go down like a lead balloon in North Down. But it is a bad situation and most will be glad when they go back home as their fan base will certainly increase and one of the worst things as a fan is not having a ground. The rest of the Irish League wishes team well in this quest.
For years though they were guardians of the peninsula sitting at the neck of the Portaferry Road. On a trip down there one was always conscious of a few things. The proximity to the airbase next door was a unique feature and also the magnificence of the Castlereagh Park pitch. Its playing surface was meant to be a dream to play on and had a reputation that went not only beyond Strangford Lough, but the Irish Sea itself. What else resonates? Looking up at Scrabo tower, the defining feature of the town was always a great sight. Many are aware of Harry Cavan, the IFA supremo who was also for years the main man at Ards. For younger folk he would have been in charge of the IFA thirty to forty odd years ago.
Historically as well, 1974 is fairly well known as being the heyday of Ards when they won trophies all round under the tutelage of one Billy Humphries. Before that some would be aware of the revolutionary Englishman George Eastham who created successful teams on the pitch and took on the authorities in all sorts of ways off it. He seemed to be a fellow visionary along the lines of Jimmy Hill who revolutionised Coventry City and football in different ways. Names from my earlier footballing years that come to mind would be Ray Mowat who seemed to play forever – I think he may even be the record appearance holder, and Jim Campbell who if I remember correctly was the beanpole scoring forward and chef for a while.
As we trundle through the years more names come to mind who are more recognisable for many. Alan Dornan and Winkie Murphy were two defensive stalwarts who moved to Linfield and indeed I remember Stephen Baxter starting out down there. Keeping the Crusaders link going Roy Walker was a defensive force and other names synonymous would be John Bailie who has been with the club on and off for many years. I’m fairly sure I remember a young Glenn Ferguson as well in the late eighties starting his several hundred plus odd goals there and David Jeffrey was found there immediately after his playing years with Linfield. In the last twenty years NI fans were grateful to the club for providing goalkeepers Alan Fettis and Paul Kee to the team.
That brings me onto the most prevalent memory that I have of the club – that being their twice replayed Irish Cup final of 1993. For them to lose that to their derby rivals Bangor no doubt bit hard. The demise of Bangor as well no doubt is a loss for many as no matter what fans say, they do like playing their rivals. More recently the club have yo – yoed a bit but seem to have settled for the moment in the Premiership. Colin Nixon is a well respected Irish League man and is also a well known footballing son of the town along with his brother Darren and that seems a good arrangement to many looking on.
I think most would say they have a proper pedigree as a club and that is recognised freely across the board. In otherwords, if you were to take a straw poll of Irish League fans as to their ideal Premiership, I suggest a big majority would have Ards in there. They have a robust history which stands up well to scrutiny to those who wish to play hardball on that score. I think also that many are aware of a tight contact to the town with sponsors and social links being very strong. The final snapshot that keep the club out there is ‘The Social Club’s lead man, compère and journalist Keith Bailie who never fails, objectively of course, to get red and blue fondant on the cake.
For me, my favourite thing about Ards was always being allowed to sit by the old clubhouse inside the perimeter wall beside the pitch at Castlereagh Park in the days when you could. You got very close to the goals. Long may the ‘blaugrana’ of the Irish League continue to flourish.