Last week, I set the scene for the development of football in Carrickfergus. This week, I move things forward a bit more.
Part 2 – Not Just For Fun
The first evidence of competitive football in Carrickfergus appeared in the autumn of 1889 when Carrickfergus Athletic played Fisherwick of Belfast in the first Round of the Junior Challenge Cup. The match was played at playing fields just off the Albert Road, with centre-forward Gee scoring all the home side’s goals in an 8-1 win. In the second round, Athletic played Belfast Athletics. With the Belfast side 1-0 up, Carrickfergus scored an equaliser that wasn’t given as the referee didn’t see the ball cross between the posts. Carrickfergus lodged an appeal after the match, and based on evidence from spectators and players, a re-match was ordered which Belfast won 1-0.
The Athletic continued to play friendlies, often against much superior sides such as Linfield 2nds and Cliftonville 2nds as their reputation grew. Barn matched up against lower level opposition such as Larne Grammar School. A common fixture for all the Carrick-based sides was against the soldiers of the Gordons Highlanders who were based in Carrickfergus Castle.
For the 1890/91 season, Carrickfergus Athletic moved their home fixtures to the pitch at Windmill Hill, and again entered the Junior Cup, as did Barn for the first time. Fortunes were mixed: Carrickfergus reached the second round by beating Centre Presbyterian Association 4-3 but then losing 5-1 to North End, while Barn exited at the first time of asking, losing 10-0 to Thistle.
The remainder of the season was filled up with friendlies against other Carrick-based sides, as well as a few further afield such as Whiteabbey. The most unusual of opponents were “Brown’s Blacks”, a visiting entertainment troupe from Kentucky who were the equivalent of the now politically incorrect Black & While Minstrels, taking the field dressed as “natives, women and others in fancy dress.”
Many locals assumed that the two Carrickfergus teams would merge to create a single entity, but the Athletic entered the Junior Alliance League for the 1891/92 season, but not any cup competitions, whilst Barn entered the Junior Cup and County Antrim Shield.
With players able to represent both sides, as there were limited restrictions on such matters, effectively the Athletic and Barn selected players from a shared pool. This proved to be a successful arrangement.
The Athletic held their own in the first season of league football, the highlight being an away win at the best team in the Alliance, Newtownards Rangers . Having settled to play their matches on the Barn field, the club introduced admittance fees of 2d per game, or a season ticket for 1s 6d. In the Junior Challenge Cup, Barn lost 5-1 to Wesley in the second round after beating Ballyclare Rovers in the previous round.
It was in the Co. Antrim Shield that Barn made a name for itself. A first round 4-3 win over Ballyclare Rovers set up a tie against a strong Clarence side at the Barn Field. The match was played “under protest” as the visitors arrived later than the agreed kick-off time, with Clarence winning 2-0. The subsequent decision of the appeal was that the match be replayed, with Barn this time running out 4-0 winners.
The third round pitted Barn against well-established YMCA (Belfast), but they overcame the odds to win 6-4 and thereby qualify for the semi-final of this Senior competition. It proved to be a step too far as Lancashire Fusiliers, a team that finished third in the Irish League that season, won handsomely.
Final part next week.