Following on from their exploits in earlier days, as covered in the previous article on Ards, I will continue to look at the history of the club from 1970 until more recent times.
George Eastham was sacked as manager of Ards in 1970, replaced by Billy Humphries who returned from England and took on the role of player-manager.
Despite being noted as a team that played fantastic football, Ards were unable to obtain much success on the pitch. In the 1972/73 season, however, ‘Big Two’ rivals Linfield and Glentoran both struggled which enabled Ards to again qualify for European competition, this time in the UEFA Cup after finishing second behind North Belfast side Crusaders in the league title race.
A draw against Belgian giants, Standard Liege, led to a crowd of 8,000 attending the first leg at Castlereagh Park. The home side managed their first, and to date only, European victory that night winning 3-2 with goals from Desmond Cathcart, William McAvoy, and Ronald McAteer, the latter two scoring their goals from penalty kicks. In the second leg, however, Ards found it to be a step too far to progress to the second round losing 6-1 with Dennis Guy scoring the goal for the away side.
Ards built on their European exploits in the domestic season enjoying their most successful season as a club in their history, winning the Ulster Cup, Gold Cup, Irish Cup and Blaxnit Cup for a memorable season for the North Down side. In their fourth Irish Cup final, Ards recorded their fourth Irish Cup win defeating Ballymena United 2-1 in the showpiece final at Windsor Park.
No more than a couple of weeks later, Ards had defeated Finn Harps and Drogheda, both from the League of Ireland, and were again facing Ballymena in a cup final, this time in the Blaxnit Cup. Ards again emerged victorious, winning 3-1 to round off a fantastic season for the club. The Blaxnit Cup is still held by Ards as this turned out to be the last year it would be competed for.
In the 1974/75 Cup Winners’ Cup, Ards faced PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands losing 14-1 on Aggregate. Several of the players who had formed the successful previous season decided to move on to pastures new after this. From 1976-79 the club finished third in the league for all four of these successive seasons.
In December 1982, Billy Humphries was sacked with the successful period of the mid 70’s nothing more than a dwindling memory and the club losing money. Despite this, Ards had not had a bad start to the 1982-83 season, and Humphries did not set foot in Castlereagh Park again until well into the 90’s.
Jimmy Todd eventually took over the reins but was unable to make the club any more successful, and the 90s came about with the club having gone the entire decade of the 80s trophy-less.
After a short-lived spell as manager by Roy Coyle, Paul Malone was appointed in his place. Despite not being a popular manager, he did lead Ards to the Irish Cup final in 1993 along with captain David Jeffrey, where they lost to local rivals Bangor in a second replay after two drawn games. Meanwhile, there were improvements being made to Castlereagh Park with the construction of a new stand being the primary emphasis.
Roy Coyle returned to the club and ended the 19-year trophy famine Ards had endured, by winning the 1993 County Antrim Shield with a 4-2 victory over Crusaders. This was followed up by lifting the League Cup the following year.
The club was continuing to have financial difficulties, and it was proposed in 1998 that Castlereagh Park be sold, and the proceeds be used to build a new ground. Although the contract and amount to be received for the ground was kept secret, this was agreed upon. These directors were replaced in 2000 by a consortium of local businessmen, hoping to save the club, however they did not last long before also leaving.
In the midst of all this, Ards were relegated from the top flight in the 1997/98 and had to wait three years before Trevor Anderson was able to lead the team to top the First Division table in 2000/01 and promotion back into the top tier for the following season.
The truth about the ground sale emerged and Ards were finding it difficult to get any of the money agreed upon for the sale of the ground. An agreement was eventually reached with the new owners, and the monies were received. These were, however, required to pay off creditors, whose bills seemed to be rising, leaving the club unable to afford a new ground.
Ards remained in the top flight until again being relegated in the 2005/06 season finishing bottom of the 16 team league with a record of won 6, drawn 2, lost 22 and finished up with 20 points.
Ards were again in the Premiership for the 2013-14 season, only lasting the one season, however, as the newly promoted team struggled, again finishing bottom of the table with 24 points 12 points behind Warrenpoint Town, who were the closest team to them.
The club did not have to wait as long this time to be promoted again, reaching the top flight again for the 2016-17 season by winning the Championship in 2015/16. The club managed to consolidate its place in the top flight this time, finishing 8th just outside the Europa League play-off spots with a record of won 13, drawn 8 and lost 17, giving them 47 points at the season’s end.
Irish League (Tier 1):1
Irish League (Tier 2): 3
2000/01, 2012/13, 2015/16
Irish Cup: 4
1926/27, 1951/52, 1968/69, 1973/74
Irish League Cup: 1
Gold Cup: 2
Ulster Cup: 1
Blaxnit Cup: 1
County Antrim Shield: 3
1955/56, 1971/72, 1993/94
Steel & Sons Cup: 1