Kings of the north coast. Blue and white stripes on the Bann. Indeed…..the Bannsiders. I have often wondered how they managed to steal that moniker for themselves when Portadown could perhaps have done the same. To be fair they are a bit closer to it I think so we’ll let that one go. Anyway…..they did and that’s that. The Ports have more to worry about for the moment.
I would hazard a guess again that many fans of the Irish League would have a reasonably soft spot for Coleraine or ‘Cowlrain’ as the vernacular would have it. Riding high this season they are proper contenders for the title as we speak and I suspect many would be happy enough should they win it…….on that loose but certain basis that football fans in their more lucid moments indulge in that ‘it’s good to see things shared around’ process from time to time.
They play at ‘the Showgrounds’ or is it ‘Ballycastle Road’. I remember hearing one fan saying it was always the latter to him as he resented sharing his team’s name with their rivals further south along the A26. It is a name that is particularly Northern Irish. But it is a proper and typical Irish League ground mixing the big modern new stand with the older terrace coverings at either end of the ground. Both these ends tend to house both home and away core followings, and with the big open terrace left to accommodate the TV cameras everybody is happy. Any ground which tends to have home and away fans at either end of the ground is never short of atmosphere as this is one of the basic tenets of British football.
Its approach through a carriageway of roundabouts and at the end of a road of industrial and residential estates is also very similar to many other British grounds. For many visiting fans the big thing was the long drive to the north coast, at least until Ballinamallard joined. It does have that north coast allure especially in the summer months. Many a fan will have spent a weekend up there on the back of a match. This has been reinforced with the residence of the Milk/ Super Cup in these environs.
Coleraine have only won the Irish League once in 1974 and the Irish Cup five times …….but that tends to surprise more than a few as they have been ‘thereabouts’ more often than not. This was certainly true in the eighties but it says a lot for the club that they have this image. Like Ards, 1974 looms over the club as their finest era. Managed by the great Bertie Peacock, stalwarts such as Ivan Murray and Vince Magee (what a beard) were the backdrop to the goal scoring machine that was and is forever Dessie Dickson. The guy simply scored non – stop for Coleraine and to this day is probably more synonymous with the club than any other player. Ginger hair, blue and white stripes, mad grin and the ball in the net. It was as simple as that, year after year.
Returning to manager Bertie Peacock, what a coup and plus for the club that a statue of the great man stands resplendent in the town centre. Not sure that happens anywhere else in the Province. Linked to this splurge of civic pride an oblique thought comes to mind. It could well be that a lot of it comes from ex player and local broadcaster Liam Beckett, but for many looking on and listening, it has always seemed that Coleraine FC is actually Ballymoney in disguise. This seems to hang as so many players and good players at that, have emanated from the smaller town down the road. Certainly a lot of the 1974 side seemed to but it would be interesting to see the percentage of players down the years that have filled the blue and white to see if there is more to this than perception.
Their pitch is well known for being fairly heavy but like one or two others at least it is there to be played on as the club nearly went under due to a serious bill owed to the tax man. A huge loss they would have been to the league but alongside a new company, actor and fan Jimmy Nesbitt performed his best role yet with financial help. He can frequently be found watching his team and adds profile to the club alongside ex Radio Ulster personality Alan Simpson.
As touched on earlier the image of Coleraine is bright rather than dark, be it those bright stripes or the location on the north coast. Other players to add to the mentioned over the years should be the irrepressible Felix Healy, Stephen Carson, Raymond McCoy, Paul Gaston, Packie McAllister to float a few. The club is also be very proud of NI internationals of recent years alongside Carson and Healy, namely Harry Gregg, Allan Hunter, Terry Cochrane and of course present legend Gareth McAuley.
Harry Gregg, hero of Munich ’58 is like the patriarch of them all and the fact that he still lives up there carries huge weight to the club’s profile and history. The current side are fairly lighting up the local league and credit to Oran Kearney (who would probably top the list of managers who doesn’t offend other fans) for this. They are the only major provincial side that I have not seen win an Irish Cup and I wonder will that occur in the near future. Perhaps this season they will be ‘there’ rather than ‘thereabouts’ in one of the major competitions.