Ballymena United: A History (Part III)

NIFL Premiership

Ballymena appointed Scot, Alex McCrae as manager in 1957, an appointment that brought success instantly in the form of an Irish Cup win in the 1957-58 season accompanied by a third place finish in the league. That team is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the team’s history, with the Irish Cup victory coming through a 2-0 defeat of Linfield, managed by former England international Jackie Milburn.

The following season, United went on another cup run, again reaching the final of the Irish Cup and were heavy favourites to retain the title against Glenavon. The result didn’t go their way this time, however, as they lost a replay 2-0 after a 1-1 draw.

In the 1961-62 season, the Braid men came the closest they have, to winning the league championship, finishing just 2 points off the pace eventually finishing in third, in manager Geoff Twentyman’s second season in charge, after he had won the Gold Cup in his first season with the club.

After this season of almost accomplishing their ambitions, Ballymena’s success dried up, and they went through a period of managers in succession with no further silverware won in the 60s decade after the Gold Cup in 1960.

The club did, however, reach the Irish Cup final again in 1970, but again were defeated, this time by Linfield 2-1 at Solitude. United had taken the lead in the game, but then mistakenly tried to sit back and see the game out and were unable to do so.

In 1971 Ballymena won the City Cup for the only time in their history, with a Bobby Averill giving the club a 1-0 victory over Ards. The clubs faced each other in another final in 1974, this time in the Irish Cup and another difference was a vital one as this time it was Ards who came out victorious, winning 2-1 at Windsor Park.

United lost another Irish Cup final in 1978 losing 3-1 to Linfield who completed a league and cup double with this win. Because of this Ballymena qualified for Europe for the first time and would compete in the following season’s Cup Winners Cup. When the draw was made, they were paired with Belgian side SK Beveren losing 3-0 in both legs to succumb to a 6-0 aggregate defeat.

During the 1978-79 season, Alan Campbell became the manager and formed the best side seen for Ballymena United since Alex McCrea’s team of the late 1950’s. The team was always competing for the major honours, including falling just short of the league title again, finishing in second place in 1979-80.

The 1980-81 season was a remarkable one for the County Antrim side, as they won both the Irish Cup and County Shield along with finishing in third place in the league. The Irish Cup win lead to a draw against Italians AS Roma in the 1981-82 edition of the Cup Winners Cup, to whom they lost 6-0 on aggregate despite battling valiantly.

After Alan Campbell resigned in January 1982, he was replaced by his assistant Ivan Murray, he was, however, not able to get the team to reciprocate their best form and was sacked to be replaced by Ian Russell, who many thought would bring success back to the showgrounds.