For some reason Glenavon in my head carry not only one of the strongest provincial club profiles in local football but also throughout the league in general. I’ll try and come up with a few proper reasons for this but the great thing about perception is that’s just the way it personally is. However, let me try and see if you agree with any.
One thing I think in these matters is a notion I have that a name of a team which is not the name of a town or city carries extra resonance. If you think about it there are plenty of them in the Irish League that require the reader (who may not be local) to dig to find out where the devil Linfield, Cliftonville or Glenavon are for example. This tends to happen more with city clubs that usually signify districts whereas provincial clubs represent their town, city or coat of arms. So Glenavon, without doing the full research on this as a country club you are fairly rare in that respect. Port Vale are the nearest that come to mind in this sort of line of thought. They add proper oomph to Lurgan anyway.
What else? They have proper history and their successes are reasonably spread throughout their time to keep the blue light from North Armagh fluorescent. I think I knew they were the first provincial club to win the league and cup double in 1957 but didn’t actually know they were the first NI club to enter the European Cup or if you must, the Champions’ League. Isn’t that something to be proud of?
What about that ground of theirs? I’ll not quite say Irish League perfection as I do miss the old terrace at the hospital end which was a great if draughty spot. Most Irish League fans are in general agreement that Mourneview is a great ground to visit. All things perfectly proportioned, neat and tidy and the quirky changing rooms beside the main stand. Just on the name Mourneview – I’m sure you can see the Mournes from some point in the ground and perhaps it was on that old, now removed terrace but I cannot recollect seeing that famous mountain range from that spot in the ‘Orchard county’. I think perhaps my head is in Armagh and I tend not to think of South Down when on such intense football duty.
For a lot of my time on local football watch they tried to keep up with Ballymena with regard to moving managers out and on. Seventeen I make it and they used to have a habit of doing it at rare moments ie….sacking the manager as he popped his head into the boardroom to borrow some sugar for his tea. Ok I exaggerate but that is how it used to come across. The present incumbent has been there since 2011 so the club’s provisions are kept at better levels obviously.
They generally have surfaced over the years to win occasional Irish Cups. The nearest flirtation with the League was the famous last day of the 1993/4 season when most neutrals wanted them to win in the three team toss up that day of themselves, Linfield and Portadown. Outside of Belfast most folk tend to think of the Glenavon / Portadown derby as being the biggest and most intense with due respect to the combatants either end of the A26 though that is slowly changing.
At the moment Glenavon’s image has very much come under the tutelage of manager Gary Hamilton. Most football fans deep down have an understanding, sympathy and respect of players or managers in this case going to work for their hometown club or the one they support. Man Utd fans may be the exception here with regard to Alan Shearer but then again most of them aren’t from Manchester. It is fair to say that many an eyebrow hit vertical when Gary was appointed manager as he has a touch of the Johnny Depp about him. This fairly or unfairly tends to happen to gifted players who were apparently ambivalent about the training field, but he has shown a certainty of single minded direction on that club that shows no sign of letting up. His leadership affects Glenavon at all levels on and off the pitch. It’s also never dull on a Glenavon touchline.
The club have a seriously well – functioning youth wing that the manager is not at all shy in dipping into to fire the Glenavon furnace. There may be others but Singleton, Burns, Marshall and Sykes have been at the vanguard of this and that fearlessness of the manager to give these guys their heads is much admired. One thing that does annoy a lot of folk though about the club is their habit of wearing the liquorice allsort orange and black away kit at the drop of a hat, colour clash or not. Other clubs do it too but they are the worst in this regard.
As mentioned earlier they have punctuated the years at regular intervals with a good and glorious legacy. Nowadays it tends to be fairly bold print most of the time. Let nobody forget that the Irish League’s leading scorer Jimmy Jones was Mr. Glenavon and suitably enough number two on that list was Glenn Ferguson who had great years at Mourneview. Anyone who knows their history will know of that tiger of a player Wilbur Cush who was a mainstay of the 1958 Northern Ireland side. Other names that bring Glenavon to mind down the years include Terry Nicholson, Paul and Colin Malone, Stephen McBride and Cup heroes Gerard McMahon and Tony Grant. Rory McIlroy’s centre – forward uncle Mickey McDonald deserves a shout too.
I think there are more but of the more well – known who follow them journalist Jim Gracey and Sports Council supremo Antoinette McKeown come to mind. So between Glenavon and Tayto crisps at either end of the Tandragee Road there is plenty of substance. Both seriously Northern Irish in character!