Ballymena United: A History (Part I)

NIFL Championship

Ballymena United was formed in 1934 following the demise of Ballymena Football Club at the end of the previous season. Simon McCrory, William McNiece, and Mr. T Moore created the club aiming to keep Irish League football in Ballymena. The new club was elected unanimously to the Irish League at the AGM on 20 June 1934.

Despite being a new team, Ballymena approached the new season with some confidence, including taking the unprecedented step of hiring a manager, departing from the old way of a selection committee. The man chosen for the job was ex Ireland international, Joe Millar, who joined from Bournemouth & Boscombe, this led to an influx of Scottish players to the club through Millar’s many contacts in Scottish football.

Despite this confidence, the County Antrim side could only muster a tenth place finish; they did, however, make it to the semi final of the Irish Cup.

There was not any upturn in fortune in the 1935-36 season, with the club again finishing in tenth place and failing to progress in cup competitions. Before the 1936-37 season, Jock McNinch left for Sligo Rovers meaning there was no longer any remaining connection to the old Ballymena and effectively dashing the Sky Blues hopes of a more successful season. Before leaving, however, he was granted a testimonial by the club, the first player to have been given the honour by the club.

Following on from this departure, the club finished bottom of the league for the first time, claiming only four wins during the season. There was a bright side, though, as the club again reached the semi final stage of the Irish Cup before being defeated by Belfast Celtic, who would go on to beat Linfield in the final to claim the trophy.

United started the 1937-38 season as poor as they had been the following season, commencing with a 9-1 loss to Derry City, and continuing to lose their next six games, before the board appointed Steve Mitchell as player-manager. This appointment led to a great upturn in the clubs fortunes, as they won 14 of their remaining 17 games, rising from bottom to fifth, finishing 8 points behind champions, Belfast Celtic. Another monumental achievement was reaching their first final as Ballymena United, in the form of the County Antrim Shield, where they lost 3-2 to Linfield.

The club continued this confidence into the following season when they almost completed a historic double, falling just short of both the League and Cup titles. They finished an agonising 5 points behind Belfast Celtic in the league and lost 2-0 to Linfield in the Irish Cup final at Solitude.

The following year, however, United went one better and won the Irish Cup with a 2-0 victory over Glenavon. This was the last season before local football was suspended for the war, and with the club not having another competitive match until the 1946-47 season, you must wonder what might have been for the club, with a group of supremely talented players, had the war not broken out.