In 2013, I thought about doing some research into Carrick Rangers’ history, as the club prepared for its 75th Anniversary the following year. The starting point was 1939, when the club was formed – or so I thought. As I trawled through newspaper archives from that year, I realised that there was a back story. Not just for a few years, but deep into the middle of the nineteenth century, before organised football appeared. Here, then, in the first of three parts, is how my favourite team came about……
Part 1 – The Football Factory
By the mid 19th Century, the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim was an important cog in the textile industry. In 1852 Barn Spinning Mills, a flax spinning operation, opened for business, built on the site of a previous cotton mills that had been there since the middle of the eighteenth century. The Mill owner, James Taylor (James Taylor & Sons, Ltd), insisted it became an integral part of the community. It paid for the construction of The Barn Mills National School at Scotch Quarter and a Barn Mills Reading and Billiards Room, known simply as the Reading Room.
James Taylor lived in a converted Barn, from which the Mills had earned its name. The road on which he walked from the Barn to the Mills became Taylors Avenue. James ensured that an area of land opposite the Barn be retained for children to play on, and a venue for the pupils of the school to hold their sports day: the Barn field.
In 1880, the Irish Football Association (IFA) was formed, comprising of representatives from football clubs mostly based in the Belfast area. In its infancy, it operated as the organising body for the sport across all of Ireland, adopting the Association Rules used by the Scottish FA. They created the Irish League, an invitational football league for all of Ireland (although initially all of its member clubs were, in fact, based in what would eventually become Northern Ireland).
Football, under Association Rules, first appeared in Carrickfergus in 1884 when Carrickfergus FC, led by former Regimental Sergeant Major Chapman, began playing friendly matches. The first record of such a match appeared in the local newspaper, the ‘Carrickfergus Advertiser’, in November 1885 when Glentoran of Belfast were the visitors, the game played at Boneybefore. Carrickfergus FC also played against Mountcollier, Oldpark and Magherafelt, among others, but never established themselves into formal competitive football. They renamed themselves Carrick Castle FC shortly before disbanding in 1886.
In 1887, a group of schoolboys in the town formed Victoria FC. Like Carrickfergus FC, they only played friendly games, but still clocked up almost 20 matches a year.
As football became more popular, the IFA encouraged the formation of Regional Associations to promote competitive football to the masses, particularly at Junior grass roots level. The County Antrim Football Association held its inaugural meeting on 23 April 1888, at the Commercial Hotel, Donegall Street, Belfast. The founding seven member clubs were Belfast Athletics, Cliftonville, Clarence, Distillery, YMCA, Oldpark and Whiteabbey. These clubs were joined shortly thereafter by Ballyclare, Linfield Athletics, Mountcollier and Beechmount.
Aided by a grant from the IFA, the Co. Antrim FA set about organising a competition for its members, the County Antrim Senior Challenge Shield, for which the first round draw was made in November 1888. Continued expansion of football in the region permitted the Co. Antrim FA to found additional competitions for junior teams: the Steel & Sons Cup in 1895 and the County Antrim Junior Shield in 1900. The ‘Steel Cup’ trophy was donated to the County Antrim FA in 1895 by David Steel, principal of Steel & Sons Ltd, wholesale jewellers, silversmiths, cutlers, watch-makers and opticians. This competition remains one of the premier Junior Cup competitions to this day.
In 1889, the workers of the Carrickfergus cotton mill, James Taylor & Co (Barn Mills), got together to form Barn Football Club. They played their first recorded game against Carrickfergus Athletic in a friendly on 5 October 1889, losing 2-0. In the same year, Minorca, Castle Star and City Rovers were formed in Carrickfergus and played a series of friendlies as the game of Association Football increased in popularity.
Part 2 next week…