Ards FC Hall of Fame

                   

 

 

 

 

 

BY ADRIAN MONAGHAN

Born within the shadows of Windsor Park, William Macauley Humphries surprisingly signed for
Glentoran, his first senior club, in 1951 after being spotted playing for the Pitt Street Mission football
team. Billy’s time at the Oval was spent mostly with their reserve eleven, although he did break into
the first team in the winter of 1955 when Frank Grice gave him an opportunity as a replacement for
the injured Sammy Lowry.
As an amateur he was also a registered player with East Belfast in the Northern Amateur League,
and played for them in the Steel and Sons Cup final when they defeated Dundela 3-0 on Christmas
morning 1954.
The 1954/55 campaign proved to be a bad one for Glentoran - a real low being reached with a 5-0
walloping by Glenavon in the semi-final of the Irish Cup in March. Humphries, rather unfairly, was
made a scapegoat for that defeat and never played for them again. The Oval side had changed
managers, with Jimmy McIntosh replacing Grice. McIntosh had his own plans for the club and it was
clear that the outside-right was not part of them:
“The new manager did not fancy me and I was allowed to join Ards. A year later he tried to get me
back. But there was no way – I was enjoying playing for George Eastham.”
Three days before the cup mauling he lined up for East Belfast in a County Antrim Shield first round
tie against Ards at the Oval. The amateur outfit shocked their senior opponents by recording a 1-0
victory. Perversely this embarrassing defeat would be a godsend. The winger was in scintillating
form; his performance was head and shoulders above anybody else on the park.
Ards boss George Eastham knew a player when he saw one and invited Humphries down to
Castlereagh Park to have a look around the place at the end of May, for Tommy Hamill’s benefit
game. Eastham was being canny: John Charles was guesting for Ards that day and he knew the
gullible youth would be impressed.

Humphries was won over, especially after walking over the Castlereagh Park lawn and agreed to sign
up for the 1955/56 season. Billy’s first game in a red and blue jersey was in August 1955 in a
sensational 5-0 win over high-flying Glenavon in the Ulster Cup at Castlereagh Park.
He played thirty-one matches for the first team in his debut season and was rather unfortunate
when injury deprived him of a County Antrim Shield winner’s medal when Ards defeated Linfield 4-1
in May 1956.
Billy was firmly established as outside-right in the side which finished third in the League in 1956/57,
but it was the following 1957/58 season when he really made a name for himself, his dazzling right
wing displays helping Ards to the League Championship.
Cross-channel clubs were taking notice, and it looked like he would be signing for Blackpool. The
prospect of playing alongside the great Stanley Matthews had obvious appeal for him, but he
eventually plumped for Leeds United for a fee of £6,000.
Shortly after running out for Ards against Cliftonville in September 1958, Billy signed for the
Yorkshire club and made an instant First Division debut the following weekend (27 September)
against Arsenal at Elland Road. Billy was instrumental in winning the penalty kick which gave the
home side a 2-1 win.

He stayed at Leeds for little over a year, scoring two goals in twenty-six appearances. He gained
valuable experience playing alongside Don Revie, Jack Charlton and Wilbur Cush during this period.
Unsettled, Leeds never saw the best of him and he returned to Ards, who were managed by Len
Graham, in November 1959.
“Ards had got an inkling that I wasn’t too happy and brought me back to the Irish League. They paid
£2,000, which I am told almost broke the bank at the time.”
If Humphries was disenchanted with his experience in England it didn’t show, and he was soon
starring for his adopted club again. Under the guidance of Scot Tommy Ewing, he was back to his
dazzling best in the 1960/61 and 1961/62 seasons and made the first of his fourteen international
appearances for Northern Ireland when he was capped against Wales in April 1962.
Once more Billy came to the attention of the English scouts. After politely turning most of them
down, his disillusionment at Leeds still weighing heavily on him, he eventually gave in to the
persuasive tongue of Jimmy Hill who lured him to Coventry City.
As the 1961/62 season came to its conclusion Ards were still in with a shout for League honours, so
the fiercely loyal club man would not sign for the Midlands outfit until he had completed his
commitments to the County Down side. A home defeat to Linfield on Easter Monday ended their
hopes of the title, and Billy signed on the dotted line for the Sky Blues after the match in a deal
which brought £14,000 into the Ards coffers.
Four days later he was making his debut against Hull City in a Third Division match. Billy was to
become something of a folk hero at Highfield Road and was part of the side which won the Third
Division in 1963/64.
Midway through the following season the winger was transferred to Welsh club Swansea Town who
were struggling at the bottom of the Second Division. Humphries won the hearts of the Vetch Field
fans immediately but couldn’t save them from relegation. Ards received a nice present of £1,200 as
a sell-on clause as part of the deal which took Humphries to Wales.
He won a Welsh Cup medal when Swansea defeated Chester in 1966; he made the last of his
international appearances against Albania in May 1965 as a Swans player. His involvement in full-
time football ended when he was released from his contract at the end of the 1967/68 season.
Still only thirty-two, the international still had a lot to offer, and after turning down overtures from
other more prosperous clubs, Billy signed for Ards in the summer of 1968. He was also keeping a
promise he had made to Chairman Harold Black:
“Harold loved the club. He was the fellow who kept it going. He was also an excellent administrator.
He made me vow that I would give him first option if I ever returned home.”
George Eastham, who brought him to Castlereagh Park way back in 1955, had been re-employed as
Ards boss and knowing Eastham’s style of football suited him, Billy had no hesitation in signing for
the Newtownards club for the third time. By this time he had made a name for himself as a
visionary, ball-playing midfielder.
He was immediately installed as club captain and proudly lifted the Irish Cup at the end of his first
season back home. Billy was as shocked as anybody when Eastham was sacked in March 1970. He
was even more surprised when the club offered him the role of Player-Manager a few weeks later.
Humphries had never given any great consideration to management: it came as a natural
progression to him at a club that was his very life. He won his first managerial honour when he

hoisted the County Antrim Shield aloft in May 1972, but it was to be the success he brought to the
club in 1973/74 that he will be best remembered for.
That memorable campaign saw the County Down outfit lift the Ulster, Gold, Irish and Blaxnit All-
Ireland trophies, a season that Ards became the kingpins of local football while playing an attractive
brand of football. They famously defeated Standard Liege at Castlereagh Park in September 1973 in
a UEFA Cup tie that ranks as one of the club’s finest achievements.
Billy captained the side that evening and went on to play seven times in the various UEFA
competitions for Ards and as a result holds the European appearance record at the club. He would
have made it a unique eight out of eight (excluding Intertoto) had he not signed for Leeds United
days prior to the return game against Stade de Reims in 1958. Billy also represented Swansea Town
in the 1966/67 Cup Winners’ Cup, when he togged out twice against Slavia Sofia.
Humphries retired from playing activities in 1976 at the age of thirty-nine, although he continued as
team manager until 1978. He returned as manager in 1980 through to 1982 in between spells as
General Manager, director and manager of the Social Club.
After leaving Ards in December 1982 he had a stint as the boss at Bangor before dropping out of
football to concentrate on running his successful newsagent’s business in Castle Street in
Newtownards.

Playing Career

Glentoran 1952 – 1955 (12 appearances – 3 goals)
Ards 1955 – 1958 (128 appearances – 38 goals)
Leeds United 1958 – 1959 (26 appearances – 2 goals)
Ards 1959 – 1962 (106 appearances – 41 goals)
Coventry City 1962 – 1964 (126 appearances – 24 goals)
Swansea Town 1964 – 1968 (169 appearances – 27 goals)
Ards 1968 – 1976 (345 appearances – 58 goals)
Northern Ireland 1962 – 1965 (14 appearances – 1 goal)

 

 

TOMMY FORDE

By Adrian Monaghan
An upholsterer by trade, John Thomas Forde first came to prominence with hometown club Distillery
in the early 1950s. His time at Grosvenor Park was brief, but spectacular. He debuted as a right-
winger in April 1951 in a 0-1 defeat at home to Linfield, the last League game of the 1950/51 season.
He toured Scotland with the Whites in May of the same year and played at centre-forward against
St. Mirren, East Fife, Stirling Albion, Dundee and Hearts. At the start of 1951/52 he played in the
first four games of the season before he was sensationally transferred to Wolverhampton
Wanderers for £5000 --- that was after only five senior competitive appearances for Distillery!
After only two months at Molineaux, Forde, unable to break into the first team, was back in the Irish
League, signing for Glenavon, and returned to his full-time profession as an upholsterer. Tommy
was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he unwittingly helped his new club get expelled
from the Festival of Britain Cup in 1952. Before his departure to Wolves he had played for Distillery
in the competition, then foolishly appeared for Glenavon in their semi-final tie with Crusaders.
Things would get better for Tommy in Lurgan as he would play his part as Glenavon won the League
Championship for the very first time in 1951/52. They were the first club from outside of Belfast to
achieve this feat.
Tommy stayed another season at Mourneview Park before signing for Ards in the summer of 1953.
George Eastham had taken over as Player-Manager in Newtownards and made the striker his first
signing. He made his first appearance for Ards on the 15 August, 1953, a game in which they
defeated Portadown 5-3.
Ards – M.Murphy, J.Moore, T.Hamill, J.Tucker, W.Kane, D.Corbett, T.Forde, J.Thomson, G.Baker,
G.E.Eastham, G.R.Eastham.
Playing on the right wing or at centre-forward, Tommy would finish the 1953/54 campaign as the
club’s leading scorer with a twenty-five goal tally from thirty-six starts. Like his debut season at
Glenavon, Forde finished his first term at Ards with a winner’s medal. This time it was a Gold Cup
one when Distillery were defeated 2-1 on 12 May, 1954 at Seaview.
Although he was well enough built for the job, Tommy was not the bustling, aggressive type of
striker that prevailed at the time. He was a cool, calculating ball player who possessed a great
footballing brain.
Boss man Eastham recognised these attributes and shrewdly moved him to the right-half position, a
role that he would make his own at the club. His versatility would see him occasionally fill in at
centre-half, and perversely, it was in this position that he gained all his four international caps for his
country from 1958 to 1960.
It was Peter Doherty who awarded Forde an international call-up as stand-in for regular centre-half,
Willie Cunningham. His debut, something of a baptism of fire, was against Spain in the giant
Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. Over 100,000 crammed into the ground on the 15 October, 1958. He
had the unenviable task of marking the great Alfredo di Stefano that night and could do little as the
hosts overran the Irish to record a 6-2 victory.
General Franco was to be in attendance at the game and as a result the Spanish side contained no
fewer than seven Real Madrid players in their line-up; the great Real side were known to be his
favourite team. As it turned out Franco did not make an appearance as the ten day mourning period
for Pope Pius XII had not ended.

Forde’s other international appearances pitted him against notable centre forwards - Bobby Smith
(England and Spurs), Alex Young (Everton and Scotland) and Uwe Seeler (Hamburg and West
Germany).
He picked up a County Antrim Shield winners medal when the Newtownards men destroyed Linfield
4-1 at the Oval in May 1956. A third medal was soon on its way as Ards beat off the challenge of
Forde’s old club Glenavon to clinch the League title in 1957/58.
The Belfast man had the honour of captaining Ards in September 1958 when they entertained Stade
de Reims in the following seasons European Champions Cup. Rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite,
Tommy didn’t look out of place as he elegantly strolled around Windsor Park in the company of a
host of French international players.
In his eighth season at Castlereagh Park he received a joint benefit along with Dessie Hunter and the
club organised a glamour game against his former side Wolverhampton Wanderers in May 1961. His
days in Newtownards where coming to an end though and he played his final match for the club on
the 21 April, 1962. This was a League game at the Oval that Glentoran won 1-0.
Ards – T.Moffatt, D.Hunter, R.McGuicken, T.Forde, A.Corry, J.Lowe, F.Reynolds, B.Humphries,
M.Lynch, V.Maguire, F.Lunn.
Now thirty-one, Tommy re-joined his mentor George Eastham at the Whites for the start of the
1962/63 season for £200. Manager Eastham brought him in as experienced cover for his fledgling
squad. His ‘second’ debut was on 18 August, 1962, at centre-half in a 7-0 Ulster Cup thrashing by
Linfield at Windsor Park.
In the following three games he played at right-back and after this he was missing from the squad
for three months. In late November he returned to the team at left-half for a spell. Tommy’s last
game was on Wednesday 13 March, 1963 in a 3-2 County Antrim Shield victory over Chimney Corner
at Grosvenor Park. Although he only made 12 appearances in 1962/63, he played a part in Distillery
winning the Irish League Champions (five appearances) and City Cup (one appearance).
His return to the Grosvenor Road didn’t last long, after only twelve appearances he emigrated to
South Australia in 1963, and made an enormous contribution to the soccer scene in this state. He
played for Enfield City briefly, then joined West Adelaide Hellas. He captained and coached them to
their first league title in 1966.
He led the SA state team against Everton in 1964. He continued to coach Hellas until 1974, and
returned for further spells at the helm in the 80s. He has also held the position of state director of
coaching. Toms brother Hugh, a former Ards playing colleague who was capped for Northern
Ireland as an amateur, also emigrated to South Australia.
After a short illness, Tommy Forde passed away in early 2012, he was in his eighty-first year.
Tommy was a class act on the football field who brought great honour, not only to himself, but to
Ards Football Club and he will be long remembered as one of Ards’ all-time greats.
Appearing in 316 games over ten years, he became the second player at the club to gain full
international honours. He would also represent the Irish League Select side on seven occasions and
play for an Irish FA XI in April 1959. While on Ards’ books he collected a Gold Cup medal, one for the
County Antrim Shield, and of course, he played a leading role in Ards’ pursuit of the Holy Grail – the
League Championship success of 1958.

     LEGEND NO 1  

  Billy Humphries

            

Tommy Forde - 5.bmp

By Adrian Monaghan 

Damien Byrne, born 6 April, 1954 in Dublin, was one of the finest footballers to grace Irish football, both north and south, during the 1980s.  In a career spanning twenty seasons, Byrne won Player of the Year awards in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the only man to do so.  He started his footballing odyssey as a forward, but midway through his career switched to centre-half. 

His time at Ards lasted only two seasons, but what an impact he had.  He quickly became club captain and an ever-present in the centre of defence.  He would score two goals in 77 appearances for the Castlereagh Park outfit. 

Byrne played schoolboy football for hometown club Home Farm and made his senior League of Ireland debut for them on 12 October, 1973 against St Patrick's Athletic. He stayed only one season with Home Farm and in the summer of 1974 he signed for Dundalk, however by the end of November he had moved on to their County Louth rivals Drogheda United.  

During his time at Drogheda Byrne would win League of Ireland representative honours. The closest he came to winning a trophy was playing on the FAI Cup final losing Drogheda side of 1976. When he left Drogheda in 1983 he was their all-time leading goal scorer with 47 goals. 

Byrne moved north of the border and signed for Crusaders in 1983. Their boss, Tommy Jackson, had been a long-time admirer having come up against him numerous times during his tenure as Waterford United manager from 1978 to 1982.  He spent two years at Seaview and won their Player of the Year award in his second season.  

It was Jimmy Todd who brought him to Castlereagh Park in September 1985. It all looked a bit ominous at the start as Byrne’s Ards career got off to the worst possible beginning; he was sent off on his debut against Bangor in October for an alleged off the ball incident with John Flanagan. Byrne protested his innocence stating: “I have never hit another player”.  An appeals committee later overturned the referee’s decision and Byrne’s red card was rescinded.   

Ards – T.McDowell, R.Hill, R.Dornan, D.Byrne, I.Brown, T.Kelly, T.Kincaid, A.Dornan, D.McClurg, S.Baxter, R.Kincaid. Sub: S.Galway. 

The Malahide man was a class act, his game had everything.  He was commanding in the air, strong but fair in the challenge and he had a natural ball playing ability that is rare in defenders. Byrne went on to win the Ards Player of the Year in his first season at the club. 

Because of his appearance and style of play, fans often compared him to the great Billy Nixon, to be mentioned in the same breath as the cultured Ards star of the 1960’s and 70’s tells you how good Byrne actually was.  

Jimmy Todd’s sides of the mid 80s were the best Ards teams since the halcyon days on the 1970s, a third-place finish in both 1956/86 and 1986/87 were great achievements for a club working on a small budget.  The top three finishes plus a semi-final Irish Cup defeat to Coleraine in 1986 were as close as Ards, and indeed Byrne got to any silverware though. 

Damien went on to win his second Ards Player of the Year at the end on the ‘86/’87 campaign.  He was also named the Northern Ireland Football Writers Player of the Year in the same season.  It was in this season that he won Irish League representative honours when he was called up, along with teammate Stephen Baxter to the side which defeated the League of Ireland at Newry in March 1987. 

Byrne’s fine display in the representative game brought him to the attention of southern clubs and interest was shown from many clubs, Waterford and Limerick included, but he subsequently joined hometown side Shamrock Rovers in the summer of 1987.  Manager Todd tried everything in his power to persuade the cultured defender to stay, but at 33, Dubliner Byrne was getting weary with the travel and indicated that he was after a move closer to home. 

Todd commented at the time: “Damien phoned me on Monday night before he signed for Shamrock Rovers as a matter of courtesy as he is no longer under contact which is typical of the man, both on and off the park.  I told him he will be missed and it will be hard to find a better player anywhere in Ireland.” 

Despite making one appearance in the European Cup in October of that year for Rovers, he was persuaded by Brian Kerr to join his new look St Patrick's Athletic side. St Pats needed to beat Dundalk in the last game of the season to win the league, but drew and had to be content with a runners up medals again. 

 In 1990 Byrne went one better as he became the first St Patrick's Athletic captain in 34 years to lift the League of Ireland trophy. At 36, the blonde-haired defender had the medal he craved and so richly deserved. 

He was voted the Personality of the Year by the Soccer Writer of Ireland to complete his North/South double. Byrne missed the majority of the following season as a knee injury threatened his career. He came back in 1991/92 but mainly played back up as St Pats young defenders took over. He retired from playing in 1993 to take as assistant manager role at Bohemians. He stayed with Bohs less than a season and then began managing local junior side Lusk United. 

In 2002, Ards supporters, in a poll on the club website, were asked to choose the best eleven players to represent the club.  Byrne was one of those selected and rightfully took his place alongside such luminaries as George Eastham, Billy McAvoy, Billy Humphries and Tommy Forde.   

Damien Byrne.jpeg

DAMIEN BYRNE

BILLY NIXON

Billy Nixon 1967.jpg
Billy Nixon at Castlereagh Park 1960s.JP

By Adrian Monaghan
With thanks to Billy Graham
Reared at Greengraves Road just outside Newtownards, Billy Nixon first caught the attention of the local
football public with his displays for the Ards Tech side of the late 1950s. George Eastham took him to
Distillery and handed him his debut against Cliftonville in March 1960.
A year later he was on his way to Division Two side Norwich City after making only fourteen starts for the
Whites. Norwich were keen to sign Billy’s colleague Roy Welsh, but he turned the move down. The
Norfolk club then returned with an offer for Nixon, who didn’t have to think twice about joining the Carrow
Road side.
An amusing story does the rounds that the inside-forward signed for Norwich even though he had a
compound fracture in his leg. The English side cottoned this on while Nixon was undertaking his
medical. Boss Archie Macaulay phoned Eastham demanding an explanation. The quick-witted Eastham
retorted: “But if you thought he looked good enough to buy with a broken leg, what’s he going to be like
when he’s fully fit?”
From Norwich he moved on to Shrewsbury Town, where fellow countryman Jim McLaughlin convinced
him his future lay. His injury woes continued and he had the misfortune of a double leg break during his
stay with the Gay Meadow club. At just twenty-four his career was considered to be as good as over as
a consequence of his horrendous injuries sustained at Shrewsbury. In the summer of 1965 he returned
home, by which time George Eastham was back at the helm at Ards, and he was not long in bringing him
on board at Castlereagh Park.
And so ‘Nicky’s’ love affair with Ards Football Club had begun, although his debut at the Brandywell
against Derry City on the first day of the 1965/66 season was to be something of a disaster, Ards falling
to a heavy 6-0 defeat.
Ards – S.Kydd, M.Bittles, J.Menary, J.Kennedy, R.Houston, J.Bell, J.Herron, J.McClurg, R.Keogh,
B.Nixon, R.Mowat.
George Eastham’s Ards sides of the mid-60s were going through something of a transitional period and
subsequently Nixon was tested in various areas of the pitch. About six different positions later he
eventually found his niche at left-half. The cultured Nixon revelled in his new found role to such an
extent that he was voted the club’s Player of the Year at the end of the season, participating in all of the
team’s fifty matches.
Billy was a player who looked after his fitness and amazingly he only missed thirty-two out of a possible
483 games for the club during his first ten seasons. He went on to play a total of 502 games for Ards,
and was the first player to do that in one spell.
His medal haul at the club saw him land two Irish Cup, an Ulster Cup, a Gold Cup, a Blaxnit Cup and
County Antrim Shield honours. He gained numerous Schoolboy, Youth and Junior caps, as well as four
appearances for the Irish League representative side between 1967 and 1969. He made six
appearances in Europe during his Castlereagh Park tenure.
While picking up his County Antrim Shield medal, Billy created a piece of history by scoring the winning
penalty in the very first penalty shoot-out in Irish League football. That was in 1972 when Ards and
Crusaders could not be separated over two legs (3-0 home win and a 0-3 defeat at Seaview). Nicky
remembers the penalty strike well:
“In any penalty shoot-out the better penalty takers always go first, but that leaves the tail-enders, so to
speak, to take the pressure ones at the end. Anyway, I made the long walk from the centre circle to the
penalty spot and the Crusaders supporters gave me dog’s abuse on the way down. Terry Nicholson, in
the Crusaders goals, was trying to psych me out as well saying, “Take it easy on me Nicky”, but I had
made my mind up where I was hitting the ball.”
Billy buried the spot kick past Nicholson to bring the Shield back to Newtownards for the second time.
Along with boss Billy Humphries, Nixon was the veteran of the star-studded, four trophy winning side of
1973/74. He recalled at a Players’ Reunion dinner in the 1990s:
“Old George (Eastham) had assembled a lot of good players and then when Billy (Humphries) took over
he added a few boys from Linfield, plus Denis Guy and Maxie Patton from Glenavon, then set us loose
on the opposition. Every Saturday you went out it wasn’t a matter of what you were going to do, but how
many you were going to win by. The strikers use to fight to see who was going to score”

His last senior appearance came in November 1976 when he was involved in the 1-1 drawn Gold Cup
game with Glenavon in Lurgan. Billy McAvoy scored for Ards, while Micky McDonald netted for
Glenavon.
Ards – R.Brown, T.Kennedy, R.Cromie, A.Larmour, J.Flanagan, B.Nixon, B.McQuillan, B.McAvoy,
B.Todd, Dee Graham, B.Kennedy. Sub – F.McArdle for McQuillan.
He moved down to the second team to help with the younger player’s progression and was involved with
the reserve team which unluckily lost the 1976 Steel and Sons Cup final to Brantwood.
Nixon would later become the manager with Ards II for many years as well as working for a time as the
clubs’ Youth Development Coach. With Alfie Wright as his assistant he had a spell as first team
manager from 1979 through to 1981.
I will never forgot the day that the RUC came to Newtownards for an Irish Cup game in February 1980.
The Police side destroyed Ards 4-0 and, in reality, it could have been much more. I distinctly remember
Billy trudging wearily across the pitch towards the dressing room at the games conclusion.
He had utter despair etched on his face and walked as though he were going to the gallows. Some
supporters were understatedly angry, I remember thinking at the time – there goes a man who’s hurting
as much as any fan, a man who cares passionately about his club.
The Nixon association with Ards has continued down the years. Billy’s nephews Alan and Darren have
both played for the club (Darren amassed 300 appearances), while another nephew, Colin, is the current
Academy director.
While interviewing Billy for the ‘Four Trophy Season’ book, I called to his house in Orangefield in East
Belfast and was delighted to see that he had a glass panel with Scrabo Tower on his front door. You can
take the man out of Newtownards, but you can never take Newtownards out of the man.

DESSIE HUNTER

By Adrian Monaghan

An accomplished full-back, Dessie Hunter was comfortable playing in either the right, or left-
back roles. After graduating through the Pitt Street Mission club, Dessie had a short spell
with the Glentoran second team before arriving at Castlereagh Park in the summer of 1951.
Dessie played in a public trial game at Castlereagh Park a week prior to the commencement
of the season. He appeared for the Possibles side that were defeated by a Probables team.
The Belfast native, now domiciled in Millisle, was given an early senior debut by Ike
McDowell when he played at left-back against Ballymena United on Tuesday 28 August,
1951. The first round Gold Cup tie, played at the Showgrounds, ended in an exciting 4-3 win
for the visitors.


Tommy Black (Grandfather of former player Kyle McDowell) scored twice while Tommy
Walker and Bobby Bogan netted the others. ‘Young Hunter made a very creditable debut
into senior circles.’ stated the Newtownards Chronicle.
Ards – J.Beare, J.Moore, D.Hunter, B.Imrie, J.Robinson, D.Corbett, B.Bogan, T.Black,
J.Gorman, I.McDowell, T.Walker.
Unable to break the established full-back axis of Moore and Hamill, Dessie’s first season at
the club was spent doing his apprenticeship for the reserve team. He did, however, manage
another five games for the first team that season, a season that saw the club win the Irish
Cup.


Progress for the young defender was painfully slow as he bade his time with the Seconds.
There were no senior appearances at all during the following 1952/53 campaign. Like the
determined individual that he was, he learned his craft well and was part of the reserve side
which reached the final of the George Wilson Cup in May 1953. An unfortunate error by
keeper Murphy was enough to give Crusaders Reserves a 2-1 win on their own patch.
Ards II – T.Murphy, J.Dugan, D.Hunter, J.Kennedy, R.Newberry, G.Crothers, D.Murray,
J.Hedley, R.McKirdy, E.S.O’Neill, A.Thompson.


In the summer of 1953, Ards were on the lookout for a new manager after Isaac McDowell
was lured back to Linfield. The club turned towards former England international George
Eastham and it was under the Englishman that Hunter’s career really took off.
The shipyard man was beginning to feature more often at right-back as the ageing Moore
was gradually phased out. He won his first medal at the club in May 1954, when Ards
defeated Distillery 2-1 at Seaview to win the Gold Cup for the first time.
Goals from Tommy Walker and Eastham senior were enough to cancel out Frank Johnston’s
eighteenth minute opener for the Whites in front of 6,000 spectators.

Ards – J.McCaffrey, D.Hunter, T.Hamill, J.Johnston, R.Newberry, J.Tucker, J.Hedley,
G.R.Eastham, T.Forde, G.E.Eastham, T.Walker.


Having played in the successful semi-final replay win over Distillery, Hunter was unfortunate
not to feature in the triumphant side that won the County Antrim Shield in May 1956.
However, he did make an appearance in the official team photograph of the winning side.
He replaced Tommy Walker who was shown the door after having the audacity to ask for a
few extra quid for the team.


Although the fourth-placed League finish in 1956/57 suggested that Eastham was on the
right road to land the elusive title, he shocked everyone by dismantling that side and
starting from scratch.
In came players like Tommy Moffatt, Ralph McGuicken, Ronnie Diffen, Hugh Lowry and
George Richardson. The ever-reliable Hunter escaped the purge and would go on to play a
significant role in the club securing the League Championship for the first time in 1957/58.
Dessie, in fact, played in all twenty-two games.
Nip and tuck with Glenavon all season, it looked like that season’s League Championship
would require a play-off to separate the two sides. Thankfully it did not come to that when
Ballymena United defeated the Lurgan Blues on Monday 28 April, 1958. Ards won the title
with the following record: Played 22, Won 16, Drawn 4, Lost 2, For 68, Against 32, and
Points 36.


The Championship success guaranteed European football and Ards became the second side
to represent Northern Ireland when they entered the European Champions Cup in
September 1958. Their opponents were the flamboyant Stade de Reims from France.
The Reims side had a wealth of talent at their disposal and contained a host of household
names – Robert Jonquet, Jean Vincent, Dominique Colonna, Roger Piantoni, and most
famously, Just Fontaine. The centre-forward was the hottest property around having come
back from the World Cup finals in Sweden with an impressive haul of thirteen goals, a
record which still stands to this day.


In the first leg, played at Windsor Park, Ards put up a gallant performance against the full-
time outfit, but superior fitness, and that man Fontaine, all but finished the tie as the
visitors recorded a 4-1 win. Fontaine scored all the Reims goals.
Ards – T.Moffatt, D.Hunter, R.McGuicken, R.Giffen, T.Forde, D.Fletcher, B.Humphries,
J.Conkey, D.Lawther, H.Lowry, A.Boyd.
The defender travelled to Paris for the return game in which the hosts recorded a 6-2
victory. Reims would go on to reach the final, being defeated by the all-conquering Real
Madrid side.


Ards’ form slumped after the heady success of 1957/58, an Irish Cup final appearance in
1960 was the closest they came to more silverware. Dessie played at left-back, but the final
is best forgotten. Ards slumped to a heavy 5-1 loss to a Jackie Milburn-inspired Linfield side.

In the same season, Dessie made his one and only appearance for the Irish league select
side when he was chosen to play left-back against the Football League on 23 September,
1959. The Irish team lost heavily to the star-studded visitors.
Hunter, alongside colleague Tommy Forde, received a well-deserved benefit in the 1960/61
season which culminated in a game against top English side Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The game played at Windsor Park on 8 May, 1961 ended in a 1-4 defeat for the
Newtownards club, but will be long remembered for Vinny Maguire’s twenty-five yard
screamer early in the game.


The goal was so good that even Wolves keeper Finlayson stood and applauded the effort.
Awful weather conditions on the night reduced the overall attendance which was a crying
shame as the two beneficiaries deserved a better return at the gate.
At the age of thirty-one Dessie brought the curtain down on a fantastic career when he
played his final game in an Ards jersey on Monday 20 April, 1964 against Glentoran. The
fixture, a second round County Antrim Shield tie, was won 3-1 by the home side.
Ards – S.Kydd, B.Gazzard, J.Patterson, G.Shellard, D.Hunter, G.Brown, B.Campbell, R.Mowat,
E.Sterritt, E.Priestly, S.Weatherup.


Dessie was released at the end of the season, which was something of a shock, indeed, the
local press argued that: ‘Dessie Hunter is still too much a useful player to let go particularly
as Ards still do not have satisfactory players to fill his place.’
Manager Johnny Neilson had made his mind up and Dessie was let go. Bangor boss, Charlie
Tully, the former Glasgow Celtic legend and a shrewd judge of a player, tried to lure him to
Clandeboye Park, but Dessie was finished with senior football. The super-fit Millisle man
could have continued his career much longer, but content with his lot, he decided to call it a
day at that level.


He wasn’t totally finished with the game and continued playing Summer League football,
most notably with Carrowdore.
Dessie amassed a grand total of 384 games for the Castlereagh Park side. For a player who
was extremely confident going forward, goals for the defender were as rare as hens' teeth,
in fact, he only found the back of the net once in those thirteen campaigns. No big deal, his
job was to keep them out.


This was in a very memorable 9-0 win over Bangor in September, 1962 which owed as much
to the visiting keeper’s ineptitude as it did to any brilliance from Ards. Tommy Ewing,
having left Ards a short time before, was signed by Bangor and he persuaded them to give
his brother Alex a go at goalkeeping duties. The keeper looked extremely dodgy from the
off, indeed, Ards fans were debating whether he had ever played the game before.
Hunter scored the third goal on seventeen minutes when he fired home in style after good
approach play by Jimmy Lowe. The game soon descended into a farce as it became evident
that Ewing's sibling was probably good at many things, but goalkeeping wasn't one of them.

Dessie recalled years later: “I don’t remember scoring too many goals for Ards, but their
keeper, Tommy Ewing’s brother, certainly didn’t look like he had been in nets before.”


Aged 85, Dessie passed away in January 2019 and is buried in his adopted village of Millisle.
The large gathering of folk, from every walk of life, who attended the funeral showed the
esteem this unassuming and mild-mannered gentleman was held in.

 

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