It’s a great honour and a privilege to play sport and to take part. What is an even bigger honour is to tell people that you were the champion at that sport in your country. I was and we were. I am proud to say I was and really, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was a national football champion in my home country of Northern Ireland. The only football team I had officially played for was 10th Bangor Boys Brigade. The Boys Brigade in Northern Ireland is a church related movement. Football is just a passion. For many years at 10th Bangor we played matches of all types. We were a mostly Protestant side and we often played a Catholic school in Bangor regularly as a “cross-community” pre-season friendly. It was a far cry from the media excremented troubles. We gelled as a team and a unit. These days as a Catholic Northern Irish nationalist living in Poland, it’s always fond memories reflecting on those glory days of the 1990s.
We also used to play a shitload of matches in Belfast’s Belvoir Park and Ballysillan. In my time playing for 10th Bangor I must have played on over 50 different pitches, some even on gravel, plastic and indoor five a side. The 10th Bangor team was always in the top 3 Bangor teams (we used to have rivalry with 1st Bangor and 9th Bangor). In terms of Belfast area cups, we had often reached semi finals and finals and won them, but never the national cup for all of Northern Ireland. It was fitting, inevitable, justified and deserved that in my final year playing for the Under 18s, that we should concentrate on the Northern Ireland National BB Cup. A team from Bangor had never won it before and slowly but surely we set about doing it. 10th Bangor Boys Brigade was the mastermind of Maurice Williamson, who was not just our captain, but he was the captain of the Belfast Battalion. Our entire BB days were brilliant times. Maurice worked tirelessly for the BB to ensure we had a great time in those BB days and it’s something I will write more about sometime.
I’m writing this ten years after this triumph, so details are hazy and facts may not be correct. Some time I’ll drag out some old photos and history books and try to find the entire story. I’ll begin in September 1997…
I had not played football properly for a good while, and had started a course in journalism and media at Belvoir Tech in Belfast. I was still a NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) in the BB, looking after a squad of boys as some kind of leadership in my teens. At the start of October 1997, we travelled on our annual trip to Scotland, which was a football trip with added banter. I attended these trips in 1996, 1997 and 1998 (the details of which will be posted on here when I get together all the information and photos to reminisce someday). On this trip I took the role of cameraman, taking videos of banter which is locked in a timeframe. There was no ceasefire, there was no peace, there were Orangemen marching down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. This was people having fun in an uncertain Northern Ireland. If life was to change forever after this era, we definitely didn’t know it then. Going to Scotland to play a Scottish BB team and then watch Glasgow Rangers was life as we knew it. In our golden little worlds, these were the trips of dreams. It was on the 1997 Ibrox trip I decided to take up playing football again. This was because I didn’t play in the match but felt jealous of the team camaraderie. We bate the Glasgow team 4-2 I think on their home patch, with Alan Thompson firing an obvious treble and Eddie Hunter chiming in with a goal. Watching from the sidelines with manager (and injured player) Ricky Barr, I soon realised this team was special. We played football as God intended. Find a way to the goal with skill and passion. When we returned to Belfast, I was soon back on the pitch and playing up front again.
It was easy to settle back in. We had team spirit in that team. We had team morale. We had good players like Magoo and Tompo, we had more average players like myself. I turned up and was loyal. But it was a team. We worked as a team. We were all about 15-17 at the time.We travelled to matches on the team bus. Always a bit of banter and randomness on those trips. We had our home pitch mainly at Valentines in Bangor. Matches would normally be on a Saturday afternoon at 2 pm if I remember right. We played in a few trophies that season. The Belfast Battalion League, The Belfast Battalion Cup, The NI Five a Sides, The British Cup (well, not really but since we bate the Scottish team, we’d have considered ourselves champions of “Northern Britain” at least) and the BIG ONE – The Northern Ireland BB Cup. BB ends properly when you turn 18, so this was our last chance for the silverware. Many of the team would be too old in the next year. In fact the previous year featured Rick Willis, Bob Millar, Eddie Hunter and Dunnars. This was a great team as well. But the season of 1997 – 1998 was the one where it all came together.
We did lose a few matches of course and didn’t win the League or the Belfast Cup. I can’t remember ever losing that season to a large amount of goals. I remember a 4-2 defeat to 93rd Belfast at Ballysillan. I couldn’t tell you much more. As Stan (team manager) and Tompo (team captain) once said “let’s skin them.” This is why we concentrated on the cup really. It started with a home match at the Valentines where we beat a Comber team 9-0 or something. I probably scored in this match, likely that Magoo and Tompo got hat-tricks and Keith Freel and Colin Walker must have also scored. I really don’t remember properly. I think there’s a photograph somewhere of that team. That was the first round. We then found out that the Newtownabbey/Belfast (I think) team had pulled out with not enough players, so we got a bye to the Quarter Finals. This meant further away trips and the possibility of travelling to Londonderry, Coleraine or Omagh for an away match. The BB draw however, still kept things quite regional and we ended up with a Ballymena team, but away from home. Playing away never bothered us, we liked it. The whole day out. Get on the bus without boots and shinpads on. Enjoy radio music and banter. Turn up in the away changing room, gets the boots, shinpads and wintergreen (!!!) on and and kick ass on the pitch. That day we played 1st Broughshane away on a great wee muddy pitch near Ballymena. I played the whole match that day for sure, as did Colin Walker. The reason I remember this is that it was Colin’s 18th the night before and loads of the team had got plastered in Bangor Rugby Club and then back at Colin’s. I was tanked, I was still 17, and about to play in a national quarter final. The first half finished 0-0. We were getting on top slowly. Then I remember so well, the second half had kicked off and the ball was rolling through towards the Broughshane keeper. I got some pace together and ran through to which was basically an open goal, as the keeper had moved to one side. I stuck a left foot and it cranked the post! I had missed a glorious chance. I remember Tompo the captain calling me an eejit! At the time I felt it too, thinking we would rue that miss and they would get a breakaway goal. But Keith and Mike were excellent in defence, and Tompo and Magoo started the charge all over again.
Within minutes Magoo had fired us 2-0 up, I think Tompo and Magoo added another each, and we had banged a good 4-0 victory. It was on the bus journey home that I could laugh about my miss, which I blamed on alcohol. Though somehow George Best would have scored it after a bottle of whiskey. On the way back we stapped for a pastie supper (excellent food I have missed for 5 years living in England) and we were in the semi finals. I wouldn’t drink alcohol before the match again. I reckon that day in Ballymena was pissing it down. I would so love a video of that match right now. Sadly it won’t exist anywhere. Maybe my miss wasn’t that bad and maybe Magoo’s goals were worthy of the World Cup. We’ll never know. Then onto the Semis and these were played at Easter in Belvoir Park, Belfast. Again I started the match and we went 1-0 down to 7th Portadown (I think). I didn’t stand much chance against the Portadown defenders, they were big strong lads, so Tompo and Magoo pushed up and me and Colin did the wings. I definitely played a ball down the line, to which Magoo latched onto and took about 3 players out of the game to fire us level. I have a newspaper report I wrote for the Spectator, I will have to find this!! Then I came off as sub for debutant Stuarty McCartan who took no time in chipping the goalkeeper from 18 yards in off the bar! He was mobbed. Everyone jumped on wee Stuart. That was 2-1 and somehow we knew we had made it to the final. As time passed on, Magoo ran through unmarked and unchased and made it 3-1. Magoo used to love it, wonder what he’s up to now! We were in the final. We all had dreams of playing at Windsor Park or The Oval. Or wherever it was to be played…
But it was even sweeter when it was decided we dress up in suits, do an FA Cup Final style documentary and get a party bus down to Loughgall in County Armagh, where we would face 4th Portadown. Half way we stopped at an Armagh nature reserve, by the lakes and enjoyed lunch and banter there. We didn’t kick a football until later. I’m not sure if we went in as favourites. The bookies don’t tend to cover the BB Cup! But we were certainly the better team in the entire match, which was 90 minutes and then a further 30 minutes of extra time. The memory is not here for me for the whole match, but Rick Barr took my place in the final as he was back from injury. I think that was the only change. And no complaints from me of course! We all wanted to win the trophy and I’d have picked Rick Barr ahead of me myself, as long as I could get a decent crack as a substitute. I think I was with Davies and Stuart McCartan on the bench. I was the first of our subs to come on, during the second half. By that time we had gone 1-0 down, only for Bru to score an incredible free-kick and Barrso to fire us 2-1 up. By the time I took to the field it was 2-2, and heading for extra time. I played a ball through and Ricky Barr latched onto it and scored with ease! Again I must dig out the match report. It was 3-2 to us going into the last seconds of injury time and we had won the cup. Somehow though they equalised with the last kick of the match. I was a bystander from the half way line as they equalised from a corner. Then Stan and Tompo gave us the old team talk. WE SHOULD WIN THIS. LET’S SCORE THE NEXT GOAL and give them something to worry about. We did and it was Ricky Barr who headed in a corner (I won the corner!) to make it 4-3. As time ticked by, again we should have won, but they equalised again, just before extra time had ended. We had practised penalties during the week and wanted to play the penalty shoot out, however the NI BB Final had never been such a good match and a close draw before! They didn’t know what to do. As we sat around, Barrso mused that we were the Champions anyway no matter what. Then the news came that the match would remain a 4-4 draw with no replay or no penalties. We rejoiced. We were the Northern Ireland Champions. 4th Portadown were as well. We shared the trophy, though that takes nothing away from the fact that we won it. Tompo lifted the cup and we were presented with medals by Colin Nixon (Glentoran Captain). A few of us went for a beer down the Windsor that night (or the next?) and we had done it. It wasn’t the world cup, it was hardly the Irish Cup. But it was a high an honour as we could have earned playing for 10th Bangor Boys Brigade. We were the Champions of Northern Ireland. How many people have been champion at something in their country? (Don’t answer it, just remember how fucking good it felt).
Here’s a wee bit on the team members (apologies for any mistakes or people left out):
Andrew Davey (Davies) – GOALKEEPER. Strong powerful and also prone to play outfield.
Neil Millar (Baboon) – GOALKEEPER. Strong and youthful with fight. When Davies played outfield, Neil Millar would come in.
Paul Ormsby (Ormo) – RIGHT BACK. “If in doubt hit it out”. Though more often than not Ormo would be playing the ball down the line to his colleagues.
Michael McClelland (Mike) – CENTRE HALF. Mike had the brains to outsmart the opposition, plus his height would win the ball in the air.
Keith Freel (Freeky) – Deputy Captain. Freeler would play midfield or in defence, and when Tompo wasn’t around he would lead the team with a mixture of comedy and discipline.
Brian Hutchinson (Bruiser) – LEFT BACK. Bru was a wee bit of a hidden gem. He could smack a decent free-kick and score the odd goal, but he always played left back as he liked to get the boot in as well.
Steven Wilson (Giggles) – CENTRE MID. Was in and out of the team. No idea on the nickname really…
Chris McCaffrey (Spunker) – LEFT or RIGHT WING. Chris was the youngest player, but could play a decent cross in till the box.
Stuarty McCartan – ANYWHERE. UP-FRONT MAINLY. Stuart was a late comer into the squad, he struck the semi final winner from 18 yards and got a bench place in the final, which was well deserved.
Jason Patterson (J) – CENTRE MID. The white “Paul Ince” without being racist. J was a big like Steven Wilson, in and out of the team, not sure why.
Peter McIvor (Magoo) – CENTRE BACK/CENTRE FORWARD. Magoo could play anywhere and scored a few goals on route to the final, as well as filling in defence the odd game. He specialised in heading the ball away or indeed into the net. Great player.
Gary Rainey – CENTRE MID. Gary was in the same year as Keith Freel. Gary used to play midfield, in a sort of Batty or Lennon role at the time, though Gary always got forward more and stuck the odd goal in. There was also a story about him once being sent off for calling the referee a sheep shagger. Honesty is the best policy.
Alan Thompson (Tompo) – CENTRE MID. Tompo was the inspiration behind the team spirit and morale. He sussed the chance to join 10th Bangor from a Groomsport team just before the transfer deadline and inspire the blue and black army to success. Tompo used to shoot from 40 yards even if it never went in. He took the penalties when Barr wasn’t around and was a battler to the end.
Colin Walker – RIGHT WING. I hope I’ve got this right, but I’m sure Colin was right wing, with the odd jaunt up front. Colin chimed in a few goals and hit some corners in, using more skill than muscle to run rings round the defenders.
Ricky Barr – CENTRE FORWARD. Ricky was injured for a lot of the season if memory serves, and me and him rarely played in the same team. It would normally be me and Magoo up front or Rick and Magoo, with me replacing Rick as sub. Ricky Barr was a great player. He had composure, skill and the eye for goal. I could be totally wrong here, but I think that Rick’s first match back was the final, where he typically hit a hat-trick. In that match, at least, I played on the same pitch as him, taking up a midfield role as a substitute in the final.
Jonny Blair – CENTRE FORWARD. I was once dubbed the centre forward who didn’t score! Not always the main part of my game, as I was always there and always loyal. I tend to think that I made the big centre halfs mark me for the whole game, so my mates could run through and get all the goals. I stand by that! Though I did score 2 or 3 in the season, I think one of them, I used my hand and then volleyed it in, but I cannot remember. One of these goals was a match winner against 92nd Belfast. Either way I set up two goals in the final and started a lot of matches. Magoo and me up front was the Lafferty and Healy really. Ricky Barr was injured for part of the season and this allowed me my chance to play in every match in the NI Cup! I remember missing a terrible chance in an away match at Broughshane when it was 0-0. I was clean through and struck the post. My team mates bailed me out as we bate them 4-0.
Stanley Auld – MANAGER. Behind every great side, there should be a great manager, and sure enough Stan had it all. He looked like Bryan Hamilton for a start. He gave an award for man of the match. He gave us a monthly newsletter (these are the things I hope I’ve kept in a box somewhere, possibly even with the cup run details). He inspired us on and off the pitch. His ability to call people by a different name was also quite amusing. Tompo became Tommo, Davey became Davies. Stan was the man!
Route to the NORTHERN IRELAND BOYS BRIGADE CUP FINAL 1997 – 1998 (Under 18 level)
January – We bate a Comber team 9-0 I think. No idea who scored, so I’ll claim one and give Tompo a hat-trick. Guess the others.
February – A Newtownabbey team pulled out so we got a bye I think.
March – We won 4-0 on a muddy pitch v. 1st Broughshane just outside Ballymena. Magoo (3) Tompo (1)
April – We bate 7th Portadown 3-1 on a windy day at Belvoir Park. The scorers were Magoo (2) and Stuart (1)
May – We became NI champions with a 4-4 draw with 4th Portadown in Lakeview Park, Loughgall on a fantastic day out in County Armagh. Scorers were Ricky Barr (3, 1 pen.) and Brian Hutchinson (1).
What are they all doing now?? No idea really, some married, some with kids, some still playing football I’d guess, some serving time for terrorism, who knows? I see Michael McClelland about 4 times a year for Northern Ireland matches, and Neil Millar also. I’ll try and catch up with Colin Walker some time for a tin of Harp. I also bumped into an unchanged Tompo in 2007 outside a bar in Belfast. There may be some on this team who will never meet again, as life moves on. For this moment and for this time, this was the best under 18 team in Northern Ireland BB Football. The only people that can argue with that are those on the 4th Portadown team that day.
The facts and figures may not all be correct but in those days, we didn’t have mobile telephones, internet, digital cameras or peace in Northern Ireland in the same way that this current era enjoys. Anyway you look at it. We were the Champions!