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
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
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)
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
By Adrian Monaghan
A late starter in Irish League football, Darren Erskine made his senior debut for Ards at the
age of twenty-five. He was signed from next door neighbours Ards Rangers where he had
been a prolific goalscorer for a number of seasons.
Ards had tried several times to lure the striker from the Drome Park club, but the centre-
forward had decided to remain with the juniors. This might have had something to do with
a stint he had ‘over the fence’ as a twenty-year-old in 1986, when he did not progress
beyond the second eleven.
Disillusioned, he returned to Amateur League football with the Rangers where he would
continue his goalscoring exploits. He did have a brief flirtation with the B Division in March
1991 when he signed for Dundela. Looking to bolster their squad for the title run-in, the
Wilgar Park outfit acquired the front man in what would prove to be a very shrewd move.
He helped them secure the B Division title and was also in the side which won the Smirnoff
Knock-Out Cup in May ‘91. During his fleeting tenure with the Duns he played against Ards
in a second round County Antrim Shield tie at Castlereagh Park on Easter Monday. The
visitors won the game 1-0 with Erskine scoring the only goal of the game.
His display that evening must have been impressive as Ards came calling again and Erskine
gave it another shot when he signed in the summer of 1991. There was no dabbling with
reserve football this time as Darren made an instant debut on the first day of the 1991/92
season. Ards were unlucky to lose to 3-4 to Portadown at Shamrock Park on the 17 August.
Erskine got his senior career of to a good start with a debut goal.
Ards – D.Crooks, J.Johnston, B.McLaughlin, D.Eddis, J.Kerr, N.Mitchell, R.Campbell,
A.Morrison, D.Erskine, T.McDonald, G.Houlihan. Subs – B.McCarroll for Houlihan & T.Kincaid
Erskine’s first season in senior football was a resounding success. He finished the campaign
as joint top scorer along with Rab Campbell on twenty-one goals.
His penchant for scoring goals continued and he finished the following 1992/93 season with
an impressive thirty-one goal haul, the first Ards player to do so in over a decade. The
scourge of Irish League defences, opposing fans soon nicknamed him ‘Freddie’ owing to his
similarity in appearance to Freddie Mercury, the Queen front man.
In the same season he received an Irish Cup runners-up medal and scored seventeen goals
during Ards’ record breaking fourteen game unbeaten run. The striker won his first medal
with the club on Tuesday 1 February, 1994 when Ards defeated Crusaders 4-2 to win the
County Antrim Shield.
Ards – P.Kee, P.Mooney, N.Mitchell, T.McDonald, D.Jeffrey, I.Bustard, B.Browne, M.McCann,
D.Erskine, K.Wilson, H.McCourt. Sub – D.Straney for McCourt.
Erskine soon had a second medal for the Red and Blues when he came on as a second half
substitute for Warren Patmore in the 1995 League Cup final. Played at Windsor Park on 25
April, Ards won 2-0 on penalty kicks after a turgid 120 minutes failed to separate the sides.
Ards – P.Kee, P.McBride, W.Murphy, K.Brady, P.Mooney, G.O’Sullivan, C.Cullen, M.McCann,
W.Patmore, P.Cullen, R.Morrison. Subs – D.Erskine for Patmore & G.Heaney for Morrison.
1993/94 and 1994/95 were pivotal campaigns for Irish League clubs as accumulated placings
would determine which teams would comprise the very first Premier Division in Northern
Irish football. Darren played a huge part in securing Ards an aggregated fifth place finish to
allow them to dine at the top table.
Sensationally though, Darren would play no part in Ards’ Premiership campaign. After
scoring a hat-trick against Dundalk in a friendly at Castlereagh Park on 22 July, 1995, Erskine
failed to report for the fixture with Norwich City two days later. Rumours were abound that
the big Donaghadee man was at Windsor Park undergoing a medical in advance of a transfer
Despite a recurring knee injury which curtailed his appearances in ‘94/’95, Darren passed his
medical examination and signed for the Belfast club for a fee of £35,000, a sum which would
be decided by a tribunal.
Erskine related at the time: "It's no secret I am a Linfield fan, I couldn't pass up the chance of
playing for them.”
His Linfield career would be blighted by injury and he would only manage forty-eight
appearances, scoring seventeen goals over two seasons before being sent on-loan to Bangor
for the 1997/98 term.
"I think they decided against a new contract because of doubts about my knee," said
Darren. “My last operation was two years ago, but it's hard convincing managers I'm okay."
Darren returned to Castlereagh Park for his third spell in 1998/99 but, hampered with his
recurring injury problems, he only managed a return of fourteen strikes in thirty starts. He
gave up the ghost after this and drifted away to play junior football.
His last game in an Ards jersey took place on the 20 March, 1999 in a First Division match at
Ballyclare Comrades. Ards lost 2-0 with the following team:
Ards – D.Henry, P.McBride, A.Beattie, J.Wright, C.Feeney, J.Coulter, R.Ginty, J.Prizeman,
D.Erskine, J.Kerr, P.Lynch. Subs – P.Dykes for Lynch and R.Morrison for Coulter.
Erskine will always be best remembered for his time at Ards, he certainly knew where the
back of the net was. He would record an impressive 118 goals in 206 appearances for
Castlereagh Park men as well as picking up the prestigious North End Supporters Club Player
of the Year award in the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons.
By Adrian Monaghan
George Edward Eastham, or Young George, as he became know to Ards fans was the son of manager
George Richard Eastham, Old George or George Senior.
The appointment of the elder Eastham as manager of Ards Football Club in the summer of 1953 was
regarded as a big coup for the club. The former Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool and England
international came with a great reputation as a skilful, intelligent inside-forward. He was registered
as both a player and a manager. Eastham and his wife Jean moved lock, stock and barrel to
Newtownards, the club fixed them up with accommodation in the town, but most significantly their
only son made the journey with them.
At sixteen years old, young Eastham was regarded as a promising talent and had actually played in a
practice match for Bolton Wanderers the same week as his dad cut the deal with Ards. He was
expected to sign for the Lancashire club, but his dad dissuaded him and advised him to cut his teeth
with his new club in Northern Ireland.
Big things were expected of young Eastham, one prominent manager of an English League club
prophesised that he would be playing for the full England international side within four years! The
unnamed manger called that one right, although he got the timescales wrong, he would have to wait
eight years before making his international debut in 1962.
Young George was expected to serve his apprenticeship with the reserve side but injuries to a few
first teamers forced the manager’s hand and he was handed his debut on the opening day of the
season – a home Ulster Cup tie against Portadown on 15 August, 1953. Eastham senior begrudgingly
related the news to his son: “I’m putting you in. Not that you’re ready!”
Eastham lined up alongside his father and put in a good performance as Ards turned a 3-1 deficit
into a 5-3 victory to retain his place in the starting XI. As the season progressed Eastham grew in
confidence and it soon became clear that the wispy, blonde-haired inside-forward was a star in the
1953/54 was a decent campaign for Ards and they finished it by winning the Gold Cup for the first
time when Distillery were defeated at Seaview in May 1954. Young Eastham put in a solid display,
but it was the performance of his father which grabbed the headlines.
Rolling back the years, the wily Player-Manager’s dominating presence was head and shoulders
above that of anyone else on the field. The trophy success earned father and son the rare
distinction of collecting winner’s medals in the same side. Eastham reflected years later:
“I have to honestly say that I cannot recall too much about the Gold Cup final but if there was ever
another father and son playing together in professional football and winning a final, I certainly don’t
know of it.”
Eastham Senior’s Ards team had acquired the reputation as local footballs entertainers, playing a
brand of football that was a joy to behold. Young George’s link up play at inside-forward was
pivotal to the team’s style and he soon came under the notice of a posse of English clubs.
His already growing reputation was sealed with a scintillating display for the Irish League select side
who hammered their star-studded English League counterparts to the tune of 5 goals to 2 at
Windsor Park in April 1956. Eastham was widely regarded as the best player on the park, quite an
accolade when you consider that he shared the arena with a host of full England internationals such
as Roger Byrne, Ronnie Clayton, Johnny Haynes, Tommy Taylor and Albert Quixall.
It was now only a matter of time before he would further his career with a move to his country of
birth. At the end of the 1955/56 season Ards travelled to the Oval to contest the County Antrim
Shield final against Linfield. Unknown to him at the time, representatives from a top English First
Division side sat in the stand as George and his teammates destroyed the Blues 4-1 to bring the
trophy to Newtownards.
A hush-hush meeting was arranged after the game between officials of both clubs, but it would be a
few days later before dad announced to son: “How would you like to go to Newcastle United?”
Ards received a fee of £9,000 for the twenty-year-old and after a period of adjusting to the demands
of the full-time game, Eastham made his senior debut on 6 October, 1956 against Luton Town.
George spent four seasons on Tynecastle winning Under-23 and Inter League honours.
His dribbling skills and willingness to get forward at every opportunity made him an instant hit with
the St. James’ Park faithful, however, his four seasons in the North East finished sourly when
Eastham took the club to court in an effort to gain his release after the club had refused his transfer
The club, operating the hugely unfair ‘Retain-and-Transfer’ system at the time, wouldn’t budge and
Eastham effectively went on strike refusing to play for them until he got his move. The court case
focussed hugely on the restraint of trade that the ‘Retain-and-Transfer’ system placed on players
(clubs up to this point could keep a players registration, thus preventing them from moving), plus he
was suing for loss of salary and bonuses. He later recounted:
“Our contract could bind us to a club for life. Most people called it the slavery contract, We had
virtually no rights at all. It was often the case that the guy on the terrace not only earned more than
us – though theres nothing wrong with that – he had more freedom of movement than us. People in
business or teaching were able to hand in their notice and move on we werent. That was wrong.”
The ruling went partly In Eastham’s favour, he did not gain personally from the verdict, but The
‘Retain’ element of ‘Retain-and-Transfer’ was greatly reduced, providing fairer terms for players
looking to re-sign for their clubs, and setting up a transfer tribunal for disputes.
Free to seek pastures new, Eastham headed for the metropolis and signed for Arsenal for a fee of
£47,500 in October 1960, making his debut the following month against his dad’s former side Bolton
Wanderers. It was at Highbury where Eastham’s international career took off. He made his full
debut against Brazil on 8 May, 1963.
He had gone to Chile in the summer of 1962 as part of the England World Cup squad, but did not
feature. He would also be part of the victorious panel in 1966, but once again he did not get any
game time. He did, however, receive a belated winner’s gong in 2009 when FIFA decided that squad
players were entitled to a medal.
Eastham made all his 19 England appearances while on the Gunners books and would go on to
become club captain at Highbury between 1963 and 1966. The club’s declining form in the middle of
the decade though led to manager Billy Wright’s dismissal and George, now 30 years of age, was
shipped out as the North London club sought to dismantle Wright’s ageing side.
Tony Waddington’s Stoke City was his next port of call and he debuted for the Potteries club in
August 1966. He won a League Cup medal when he scored the winning goal against Chelsea in
March 1972 at Wembley. At 35 years and 161 days, he became the oldest player to receive a
Waddington took his team over to Northern Ireland for a pre-season tour in the summer of 1969 and
allowed his star player to guest for Ards against Stoke at Castlereagh Park in a July fixture that will be
long remembered by the Newton’ folk for ‘Young’ George’s mesmerising performance (Ards won 2-1
with Eastham running the show).
He played for 8 seasons at Stoke, taking a break from playing in February ’71 to concentrate on
coaching. He joined up with his father for a while in South Africa, playing and managing Cape Town
He returned to Stoke in October 1971 and would later become assistant manager to Waddington
before taking over the reins in March 1977. All his enthusiasm and knowhow were powerless
however, to prevent the club from relegation to the Second Division.
After leaving the Stoke job, he quit professional football completely, and emigrated to South Africa
in 1978. He set up his own sportswear business as well as being a football coach for local black
children (being a noted opponent of Apartheid).
Although he was born in England, Ards fans still cherish Eastham as one of their own, proudly
remembering that is was the Castlereagh Park club who set the boy on the path to future glory.
GEORGE EDWARD EASTHAM
RAY PICTURED WITH THE FAMOUS 4 TROPHY TEAM 0F 1974 (BACK ROW FAR LEFT)
By Adrian Monaghan
Local lad Ray Mowat holds the record at Ards for the most appearances for the club. He played 673
times while scoring 122 goals over three decades.
After serving his apprenticeship with nursery club Ards Boys he progressed to the Ards II side. He
was given his senior debut by Johnny Neilson on Boxing Day 1963, scoring one of the goals in a 6-0
League win at Cliftonville. Eric Sterritt, Bertie Campbell, Gordon Shellard, Hugh Cully and George
Brown scored the other five.
Ards – S.Kydd, D.Hunter, H.Cully, G.Shellard, J.Walker, E.Priestly, B.Campbell, J.McMillen, E.Sterritt,
Ray was still attending Regent House at the time and very often would play rugby for the school in
the morning before heading off to perform for one of the Ards teams in the afternoon.
Under the tutelage of Neilson and latterly George Eastham, Mowat was taught the necessity of
keeping hold of the ball if he was ever going to make it as a successful midfield player. As the boy
matured he became a shining exponent of ball retention. Ray’s repertoire also included a fantastic
range of passing.
The skilful footballer made great progress and became a mainstay in the team. He had a decent
goalscoring ratio and had the distinction of being top scorer three different times – 1964/65
(eighteen goals), 1965/66 (fifteen) and 1966/67 (twenty-two – joint with Cecil Newell).
Mowat picked up his first winner’s medal in 1969 when he played in the replayed Irish Cup final
against Distillery. Strangely, he was not selected for the first final, a tedious scoreless draw, on 19
April at Windsor Park.
Eastham shuffled his pack for the replay, four days later, bringing in Mowat in place of Johnny
Cochrane. The change had the desired effect as Ards went on to win 4-2 in extra time, in a game
that will always be recalled for Billy McAvoy’s record-equalling four goal salvo.
Ards – S.Kydd, D.Johnston. G.Crothers, A.Bell, B.Stewart, B.Nixon, T.Shields, B.McAvoy, B.Brown,
B.Humphries, R.Mowat. Sub D.Sands for Shields.
Manager Eastham was singing the praises of his team, none more so than Mowat, but behind the
scenes, he was looking to offload him, especially when it became common knowledge that the right-
half was getting married in 1969. Feeling unwanted, Mowat decamped to Distillery in the summer
of ’69 after scoring 88 goals from 236 appearances. Ray explains:
“Old George had this notion in his head that once you got married, you were no good for a year! He
tried to move me on to a few different clubs. Ballymena manager Alex Parker rang me at home and
said: “Your manager is looking for one of my players and suggested you as a swap!” It was the first I
knew about it. I ended up at Distillery because they were managed by Jimmy McAlinden, a man I had
great admiration for.”
After appearing in two pre-season fixtures, Mowat made his competitive debut for the Whites on 9
August, 1969 in a 3-3 draw against Glenavon at Grosvenor Park.
Distillery – C.McGuile, D.Meldrum, J.Pike, J.Thompson, J.Conlon, A.McCarroll, R.Mowat,
G.McCaffrey, G.O’Halloran, T.Brannigan, G.Lennox. Sub – P.Rafferty.
Ray was deprived of an early opportunity to lock horns with his old buddies when the Ulster Cup
fixture scheduled for the end of August was postponed due to civil unrest. When that game was
eventually played in February 1970, Ards won a thrilling contest 6-4 with Mowat getting on the
scoresheet for his new club. Raymond played in a total of 30 games for Distillery and scored 7 goals.
His final appearance was a home game against Cliftonville on 13 April, 1970
Mowat returned to his old stomping ground the following season, Eastham had departed by then,
being replaced by Billy Humphries. He was feeling the love again and Humphries had him back
playing at his prodigious best. Like his first term at the club, Ray scored on his return, in the game
away to Portadown on 10 September, 1970.
The move to the Whites deprived him of two European appearances as he missed the Cup Winners’
Cup clashes with AS Roma. He did, however, play three times in Europe. Interestingly, he acted as a
substitute goalkeeper in the return UEFA Cup tie with Standard Liège in Belgium. Injured prevented
him from starting, but he agreed to sit on the bench as a back-up goalie to Denis Matthews.
The Newtownards civil servant picked up his second medal at the club when he was part of the
successful side which won the County Antrim Shield in May 1972. Although beaten 3-0 on the night,
after a 3-0 first leg victory, Ards managed to hold on for penalty kicks and won 5-4.
Ards – T.Coburn, D.Johnston, S.Patteron, R.Mowat, D.McCoy, B.Nixon, B.McAughtry, B.McAvoy,
I.Munn, B.Humphries, D.Graham. Sub – G.Crothers for Munn.
The Shield success would pave the way for further glory for the club. All the magical ingredients
blended together to produce the wonderful side of 1973/74, a side which dominate Irish football for
a brief moment in time, capturing four trophies along the way.
Ray, playing his part, scoring four goals in fifty-one appearances, picking up winners medals for the
Irish, Ulster, Gold and Blaxnit All-Ireland Cups. His display in the Irish Cup final was particularly
impressive. Indeed, Ards scout Jimmy Todd, a respected player and manager with a host of different
clubs, singled Mowat out as the best player on the park.
A team player who never craved the limelight, Ray was still singled out as the club Player of the Year
in 1975/76 and 1978/79. His last senior game was against Larne in April 1982. Russell Welsh scored
the only goal in a 1-0 win at Castlereagh Park, a win that saved Ards the ignominy of having to apply
for re-election to the League.
Ards – P.Craig, F.Parks, J.Cowden, J.O’Connor, A.Addley, R.Walker, R.Welsh, R.Mowat, J.Campbell,
C.O’Neill, T.Cullen. Sub A.Dornan for Mowat.
Ray stayed on at Ards the following 1982/83 season to help out with the reserves and he was
instrumental in that side’s successful George Wilson Cup campaign. Incidentally, the last success
that an Ards reserve side has achieved.
As well as his six senior medal haul with Ards, he gained international recognition at Schoolboy,
Youth and Amateur level. Maintaining his amateur status throughout his career, he gained nine
representative honours for the Northern Ireland Amateur side.
His first appearance came in 1965, while his last outing was away to Wales in April, 1974.
Coincidentally Northern Ireland’s last ever match at Amateur level as the status was officially
abolished by the Home Nations at the end of the 1973/74 season.
He received a long overdue and well-deserved testimonial season in 1980/81. Testimonial games
had appeared to go out of fashion at Ards for some reason, but different functions were held for his
benefit. A fitting reward for a man who gave Ards Football Club unparalleled service.
By Adrian Monaghan
Andrew Wallace Bothwell was born in Tildarg Street, just off the Woodstock Road, in Belfast on the 7
October, 1900. The second youngest of five children, , he started his career as a full-back with local
junior teams Cregagh and then Mountpottinger before signing for Intermediate League team
Willowfield in September 1921.
It was at Willowfield, where he was converted to a winger, that he first came to prominence when
he was part of the side which contested the 1924 Irish Cup Final against Irish League Champions
Queen’s Island. A tight match ensued and Queens Island emerged 1-0 winners. Bothwell had scored
his first senior goal, keeping Willowfield in the Irish Cup, when they drew 2-2 with Newry Town in
the second round of the competition.
He stayed three seasons with the Belfast club before continuing his career in intermediate football
with Bangor for the 1924/25 season. He was in good form for the Ballyholme-based club and must
have caught the eye of Ards folk when he starred for the Seasiders during their 1-0 Charity Cup win
over the Newtownards club in April 1925.
The outside-right was a constant thorn in the Ards defence and George Shields, the home left-back,
struggling to curtail him, was well out of his depth. Andy struck the woodwork numerous times,
indeed, it was from one of these rebounded efforts that Bangor scored, Armstrong applying the
The Ards selection committee couldn’t help but be impressed and he joined the Castlereagh Park
club in August 1925. His senior career got off to a great start with a 5-3 League win at Pirrie Park
against Queen’s Island in August 1925. The Newtownards chronicle related that the outside-right
was: ‘The livewire of the front line.’
Ards – A.McDonald, Beattie, G.Shields, J.Gamble, B.McGee, L.Kinsler, A.Bothwell, E.McGuire,
Stewart, T.Leeman, Moore.
Bothwell would prove to be one of the shrewdest signings that the club would ever make. Making
ninety-five appearances and scoring thirty-seven goals over three seasons, he would also make five
Inter-League appearances. His greatest achievement, however, was gaining five international caps
for Ireland. He also created a piece of history by becoming the very first Ards player to gain this
Ards fans were delighted with the Belfast man’s form. Speedy with a great turn of pace, the winger
could ghost past players like they were not there then deliver a killer ball.
Andy picked up his first representative honour when he was chosen to represent the Irish League
against the Football League at Anfield in Liverpool on 7 October 1925, his twenty-fifth birthday. The
Irish lads predictably lost 5-1, but Bothwell had a decent game and must have impressed the
Liverpool and Everton scouts, as both clubs were said to be keen on him.
Later in the same month, and after only ten appearances for his club, Bothwell gained his first full
international cap when he was chosen as the only Irish League representative for the Ireland team
against England at Windsor Park. The blue-shirted Irish put on a good performance to gain a
creditable scoreless draw on 24 October in front of 35,000 spectators.
Ireland – E.Scott (Liverpool), D.Rollo (Blackburn Rovers), W.McConnell (Reading), J.Gowdy (Falkirk),
H.Charlton (Partick Thistle), T.Sloan (Cardiff City), A.Bothwell (Ards), R.Irvine (Everton), H.Davey
(Reading), J.Hopkins (Brighton & Hove Albion), D.McMullan (Liverpool).
Bothwell’s rise was meteoric. In the spring of 1925 he was plying his trade in the Intermediate
League, by the autumn he was a regular for Ards in the Senior League, gained Inter-League honours,
then the ultimate glory – full international honours. Unassuming and level-headed, Andy took it all
in his stride.
The problem Ards had at this time was fending off interest from other clubs. The obvious cross-
channel interest was a matter out of their hands, but keeping him away from clubs closer to home
was proving to be more worrying. The big city clubs were said to be sniffing around and interest was
also coming from south of the border. Ards, in fact, felt obliged to notify the IFA that Shamrock
Rovers had made an illegal approach for the player.
Thankfully the Belfast bus conductor was happy at the club and finished the season at Castlereagh
Park. His form in his international debut was good enough to nail down the right wing berth for the
remaining two fixtures that season. His next game against Wales in February, 1926, at Windsor Park,
would see him give a scintillating display as he provided the crosses for all of the home team’s goals
in an excellent 3-0 win.
The Welsh game was arguably his finest performance for his country, but the most famous
international game he took part in was on 20 October, 1926 when Ireland visited Liverpool to play
their part in a thrilling 3-3 with England.
English football critics openly boasted that this season would see the England side once again on the
pedestal of fame and that the Irish would be mere cannon fodder. The gallant visitors nearly
knocked them off their perch in what was regarded as the most exciting fixture ever between the
A prolific goal scorer from the wing, he finished as Ards' top scorer in 1926/27 with a total of 20
goals. The ‘26/’27 campaign would prove to be one of glory for Ards Football Club. Away wins
against Newry Town and Glenavon brought the team face-to-face with the strongly-fancied Belfast
Celtic for the right to contest the Irish Cup final.
Having been defeated 6-1 by the Belfast giants a few weeks previously, nobody gave Ards a heavenly
hope, but the men from the Newton’ defied the odds and recorded a fantastic 3-1 victory at
Solitude. Andy put the icing on the cake by scoring the third goal to set up a final encounter with
Hampered by the poor weather, a crowd of around 10,000 converged on the Oval on 26 March,
1927 to witness what the Belfast-based press had predicted would be a one-sided affair in favour of
the city side. It looked like they got this one right as Cliftonville raced into a 2-0 half-time lead.
Spurred on by the promptings of Bob McGee, the energy of Sandy McIlreavy and the tricky wing play
of Bothwell, Ards came roaring back in the second half and reduced the deficit through McGee. The
equaliser wasn’t long in coming, Bothwell placed the perfect corner kick, where keeper Gardiner
found it difficult to clear: ‘Bothwell dropped it at a point difficult to evacuate’ as the News Letter
quaintly put it. McIlreavy smashed in the keeper’s botched clearance.
Scotsman Bob McGee turned the game on its head when he rattled in his second and the team’s
third to bring Cup glory to Newtownards for the first time. Andy was not to be denied his Irish Cup
medal and was now able to put the disappointment of 1924 behind him.
Ards – S.McMullan, S.McKeown, T.Wilson, A.Smyth, H.Risk, J.Gamble, A.Bothwell, S.Patton,
B.McGee, L.Croft, S.McIlreavy.
Andy was to miss quite a number of games in 1927/28 season due to an ankle injury he had picked
up in the early part of the season. His injury-blighted loss of form meant that he was to lose his
place in the Ireland side, Chambers of Hull City, taking his place.
He did make a comeback after a few weeks, but he was clearly ‘out of sorts’ and it was evident that
he was far from fully recovered. He would be absent from twelve of the first thirty-two games of the
campaign, something unheard of as he had only missed four games in two full seasons before this.
On Saturday 21 January, 1928, Ards were on the end of a 1-4 reversal at home to Belfast Celtic.
Disappointed by his below-par performance, Andy trudged dejectedly to the pavilion to immerse
himself in a hot bath at the game’s conclusion. Little did the home crowd know that this would be
last time Bothwell would be seen in the red and blue hoops. Although selected to play in the
following week’s game away to Portadown, Andy opted out as his ankle was once more giving him
On Tuesday 31 January he went in to the Royal Victoria Hospital for an X-ray on his troublesome
ankle. It also transpired that he had been suffering from abdominal pains, he was kept in and went
into surgery on the Thursday night, but the surgeons soon made it known that there was no hope for
him. An unfounded rumour reached Newtownards that he had died in hospital on the Friday
The same story did the rounds the next morning, alas, this time it was all too true. Andy Bothwell
passed away peacefully on the morning of Saturday 4 February, 1928. His brief candle was
extinguished at the tender age of 27; the cause of death was given as peritonitis, brought on by a
A sombre mood prevailed that afternoon at Windsor Park where Ireland had a game against Wales.
The flags flew at half-mast and the players wore black armbands, a subdued game ended in a 1-2
defeat for the hosts.
His remains were conveyed to their last resting place at Middle Churchyard in Ballinderry on the
afternoon of 7 February and were followed by a large crowd of mourners. Tributes came pouring in.
The Ireland’s Saturday Night captured the mood well:
‘Inscrutable are the ways of providence, and the football world is left to ponder the dispensation that
has robbed the sport of not only one of its most popular figures in the flower of his young manhood,
but of one who was sincerely respected for the exemplary character that he bore. Bothwell was quiet
and modest, almost to a fault.
Honours sat lightly upon him. In him there was not a vestige of pride or affectation. When he won
his international caps – an honour which comes the way of few home players in these days when all
the rage is for Anglos – he accepted the notification in the same equable spirit as he received a card
from his club secretary to turn out in an ordinary engagement.’
Andy Bothwell rates as one of Ards’ greatest players. What he achieved in such a brief period of
time was immense. What he could have went on to achieve, we will never know. Taken from the
world at so young an age reminds us of James Joyce’s words:
‘Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither
dismally with age.’
Photo – Ireland team v Wales 1926 - Andy Bothwell front row second from left.
By Adrian Monaghan
Younger brother of Alex, the former Belfast Celtic player, Robert ‘Rab’ Newberry was a cultured defender
who made a big impact at Ards during his five seasons at the club.
He signed for the1952/53 campaign, appearing regularly for the Ards reserve side, in fact, he played at
centre-half in the losing George Wilson Cup final against Crusaders Reserves at Seaview on 10 May,
1953. A tragic blunder from keeper Tony Murphy gave the Hatchetmen their victory. In trying to keep a
John Tully indirect free kick out, he only succeeded in pushing the ball into his own goals. If he had let
the ball go in without touching it, a goal kick would have been awarded to the IIs.
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.
He made his senior debut for Ards the following 1953/54 season on Wednesday 7 April, 1954 at
Grosvenor Park against Distillery in the second round of the County Antrim Shield. The hosts won 1-0
with a goal from Wilson.
Ards – J McCaffrey, D Hunter, T Hamill, J Johnston, R Newberry, J Tucker, J Thomson, G Eastham
(snr), T Forde, G Eastham (jnr),T Walker.
The Chronicle were raving about the centre-half’s performance in the game away to Ballymena United
on the following Saturday: ‘Shining light in the defence was Newberry, who really surprised his most
ardent admirers. He was safe and played a really good game, easily the best player in the Ards
Ards were to get their revenge over the Whites a month later when they travelled to Seaview and
recorded a 2-1 win on 15 May, 1954 to bring the Gold Cup to Newtownards for the first time. The only
change from the two games was local lad Joe Hedley on in place of Scotsman Johnny Thomson.
A crowd of 6,000 watched a contest in which Player-Manager George Eastham rolled back the years to
put on a masterly display in what was one of his best performances in the Red and Blue hoops.
Newberry was keeping close tabs on Distillery’s own Player-Manager Jimmy McIntosh. The Ards pivot
never gave the former Everton, Preston North End and Blackpool centre-forward a kick.
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.
While at Ards he made two appearance for the Northern Ireland Amateur International side when he
played against Wales and Scotland in the winter of 1956. He also gained one Irish League
representative honour when he was selected against the League of Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day 1956.
He was on standby as the reserve player when the Irish League famously trounced the Football League
5-2 at Windsor Park in April 1956.
More honour came Rab’s way when he captained the Ards side who won the County Antrim Shield so
convincingly with an emphatic 4-1 defeat of Linfield at the Oval on Friday 12 May, 1956. Newberry had
his work cut out late in the first half as the Blues looked like they would swamp the Down side.
The waves of Linfield attacks continued after the interval and Newberry had to put in a commanding
performance to quell the Linfield onslaught. Rab was in inspirational form and probably playing the best
football of his career at this time. Playing with an assured calmness, his cool play had a great influence
on his colleagues and Ards soon regained their composure and ripped the Belfast men apart.
Ards – B.Smyth, J.Moore, W.Fulton, T.Forde, R.Newberry, J.Wilson, L.Munroe, A.McQuilken, T.Gildea,
It was during the same 1955/56 season that Ards famously locked horns with Glenavon over three
games in a first round Irish Cup tie that attracted 25,000 spectators. Ards eventually won through with a
thrilling 4-2 second replay win at Grosvenor Park in February 1956. Newberry’s gladiatorial tussles with
Glenavon centre-forward Jimmy Jones are still recalled by many Ards fans over six decades later.
Rab played his 107
th match for the club against Cliftonville on Saturday 6 April 1957. A disappointing
home display resulted in a 5-3 reverse. He was never to play for the Ards senior side again and was
demoted down to the reserve team. The papers were stinging in their criticism of the team’s display
against the amateurs Reds, none more so than the Chronicle:
‘Defence were at sixes and sevens...Newberry was particularly shaky in the first half, but what was in it
he was the best of the half-back line without even being ordinary.’
Ards – B.Smyth, D.Hunter, J.Feeney, T.Forde, R.Newberry, B.Langton, B.Humphries, L.Munroe,
J.Smith, A.McQuilken, J.McDonnell.
Newberry soon found himself out of favour and demoted to the second eleven. The following week he
appeared at the centre of the IIs defence when they defeated Queen’s University 6-2. He quite rightly
felt harshly done by being made a scapegoat for the embarrassing loss to Cliftonville, and he soon lost
heart and refused to attend training. The club suspended him, and along with Jimmy Feeney, he was
released at the end of the season.
Rab had spells at Distillery and ‘B’Division side Larne after leaving Castlereagh Park, but he was never
to recapture the form that made him such a fans’ favourite at Ards, and at one time, arguably the best
centre-half in the League.
Photo – Rab, back row, extreme left, poses with his teammates after winning the Gold Cup in 1954.
By Adrian Monaghan
Born just off the Castlereagh Road in Belfast on the 25 March, 1923 Thomas Walker attended school
at Euston Street P.E. where his prominence in the football team brought him to the attention of the
schoolboy selectors. Schoolboy International appearances followed against England, Scotland and
Wales in the 1935/36 season.
Tommy progressed to Boys Brigade football before signing amateur forms for Glentoran Seconds.
After an unfruitful spell at the Oval Tommy joined Ballyclare Comrades and it was during his tenure
at Dixon Park that he came to the attention of Distillery.
Tommy signed for the Grosvenor Park club in 1941 making his debut against Glentoran on the 11
October in a Regional League match that finished 2-2; Tommy scored the first goal of the contest
after just six minutes.
He went on to become a mainstay in the side and won a County Antrim Shield medal in the 1945/46
season. He also gained four Regional League representative honours (all against the League of
Ireland) between 1942/43 and 1944/45 as well as being selected for an Irish XI against the Combined
Services on the 10 th March 1943.
Tommy was recognised as one of the best wingers in Irish football at this time but during the latter
months of the 1947/48 season he starting having some breathing problems and was finding it
increasingly difficult to finish a full game. It later transpired that Tommy had a heavy bout of
Tommy went into Whiteabbey Hospital for six months of treatment and because the hospital was
renowned for the treatment of TB at the time - the rumour mill had Tommy afflicted with the more
serious illness as well.
As a result of this, Distillery terminated his contract although they did honour a previously agreed
benefit game against a star-studded Blackpool team on the 11 May, 1949 at Grosvenor Park.
Tommy, who had been out of football for almost a year, had six guest players in his team and was
especially grateful to the legendary Charlie Tully of Glasgow Celtic who added more than a few extra
pounds to the gate that evening.
Tommy scored 73 goals in 221 appearances during his eight seasons on the Grosvenor Road.
His good friend, Distillery scout Albert Mitchell, fixed him up with Crusaders after his release from
the Whites, but once again, the old rumours of his phantom illness resurfaced and Tommy’s time at
Seaview became a brief one.
Tommy admitted that his spirits were at a very low ebb at this time and he very nearly packed the
game in, but out of the darkness shone a radiant light in the shape of Isaac McDowell and Ards
McDowell, an astute Scot with an eye for a player, had come up against the talented Walker on a
few occasions playing for Coleraine and Linfield just after the war. He offered him a contract at
Castlereagh Park for the 1951/52 season. Walker and McDowell had come to an agreement over
Tommy’s own fitness regime in an effort to aid his recuperation.
Tommy worked tirelessly on his fitness levels during the summer of 1951 and went straight in to the
side for the opening game of the season, a successful 4-2 victory at Coleraine on the 18 August,
1951. Tommy made an instant impression as he scored twice in the City Cup game.
Ards- J.Beare, J.Moore, T,Hamill, A.Murphy, J.Robinson, D.Corbett, B.Bogan, T.Black, J.Gorman,
As the season progressed Tommy’s match fitness levels and stamina had improved to such an extent
that Tommy became a staple on the left wing and finished the campaign as the leading scorer with a
tally of 20.
The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the Irish Cup victory over Glentoran at Windsor Park on
the 26 April, 1952 when a Johnny Thomson goal on 63 minutes brought the trophy home to
Newtownards for the second time.
Tommy admitted that this was the highlight of his career. 23,000 people attended the showpiece
decider and the atmosphere in the town after the final, when what seemed like the entire
population came out to greet them, was something that lived long in his memory.
That comeback season also saw Tommy gain a representative honour for the Irish League when he
lined up against the Western Command on the 14 April, 1952 at Windsor Park.
Tommy became a firm favourite of the Ards fans as his scintillating displays down the left flank were
a joy to behold. His work rate up and down the wing was phenomenal and made a mockery of the
decisions of both Distillery and Crusaders to prematurely discard him.
When McDowell left the club to take up the manager’s job at Linfield, Ards replaced him with former
Bolton, Blackpool, Brentford and Lincoln City inside-forward George Eastham for the 1953/54
season. The appointment of the Lancashire man, who had made a solitary England appearance,
would herald Ards’ ‘Golden Generation’. A period when the best football in Ireland could be seen on
the Portaferry Road in Newtownards.
Eastham brought his talented son George junior to Newtownards and he and Tommy would forge a
great relationship, with the brilliantly talented youngster who played inside-left to Tommy’s outside-
Eastham’s first season in charge culminated in the winning of the Gold Cup at Seaview on 15 May,
1954. Tommy scored Ards’ first goal on 50 minutes in a 2-1 win over former club Distillery in front of
Tommy gained another inter-league honour in the 1954/55 season when he was picked alongside
young Eastham to face the League of Ireland at Dalymount Park on Saint Patrick’s Day 1955. Tommy
scored the goal in a 2-1 defeat, the match attracting 30,000 people.
Tommy openly admitted that his happiest days in football were spent in Newtownards and he
especially liked playing on the immaculate Castlereagh Park pitch which was often compared to
being as flat as a billiard table.
The Newton’ folk, never shy when it comes to embellishing a good yarn, used to relate that he had
broken the crossbar one time, such was the power of his shooting. The shot didn’t break the bar at
all, but ricocheted off it and snapped the decorative wooden upright on the old pavilion into
Tommy’s final appearance for Ards was in the triumphant County Antrim Shield final against Linfield
on Saturday 12 May, 1956 at the Oval. Tommy scored a penalty after four minutes as Ards went on
to trounce the Blues 4-1.
The County Antrim Shield final of 1956 would be a defining moment for two Ards greats. Young
George Eastham, whose star was in the ascendancy, would play his final match for the club before
embarking on a career that would take him to Newcastle United, Arsenal and Stoke City as well as
full international honours for England (he would collect a World Cup winners medal as part of the
Tommy, on the other hand, was also to play his final Ards game, but for entirely different reasons.
Nominated by the team to act as spokesman to try and squeeze a few extra pounds out of the club,
which the player’s claimed they were promised, he was made a scapegoat by the notoriously
parsimonious Harry Cavan who saw to it that his contract was not renewed.
Although hurt at the time, Tommy never let this incident distort his great admiration for the County
Down club and he retained a great affection for Ards throughout this life. In five seasons he made a
total of 194 appearances while scoring 71 goals.
Tommy moved on to Ballymena United for the 1956/57 season, but the Antrim club never got the
best out of him and after just one season he signed for Larne before eventually hanging up his boots
at the age of 35.
He was never to become involved in football again at any great level and instead acquired a passion
for golf. Renewing his acquaintance with Newtownards he joined Scrabo Golf Club and made many
good friends as he brushed up on his handicap.
When I was doing research work for my ’30 Memorable Matches’ book I spoke with Tommy and
mentioned that I had made contact with George Eastham in South Africa, saying that I would pass on
Tommy’s regards. Tommy meekly remarked: “Eastham wouldn’t remember me!”
My next letter from ‘young’ George contained the following remarks: “Who could forget Tommy’s
big smile or his lethal left foot!”
Having just celebrated his ninetieth birthday, Tommy passed away peacefully on 1 April, 2013.
Eastham’s words summed up this wonderful man and fantastic player. A footballer of supreme
talent and one who played the game in the right spirit and with an ever present smile on his face.
By Adrian Monaghan
Dubliner Michael Anthony Lynch was a big, strong, bustling centre-forward who was the scourge of
Irish league defences during the early 1960s. Renowned for his blistering shooting prowess, he was
signed by Tommy Ewing in the summer of 1960 from Ballymena United. He had previously been on
the books of Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers in his native city.
The garrulous striker became an overnight sensation with his all-action style and penchant for
finding the back of the night. By the end of his first season Lynch had bagged an amazing 43 goals in
46 appearances giving Ards a third-placed League finish, only one point behind Champions Linfield
and second-placed Portadown.
Lynch continued his scoring exploits the following season with another phenomenal total, this time
41 in 49 games. His apt surname gave the press plenty of fodder for their headlines – ‘Glens Take a
Lynching from Ards’, ‘Mick Lynches’ Sad Derry’ etc., etc.
Controversy often followed him. His aggressive style often resulted in broken noses, bruised ribs
and missing teeth for his opponents. He was often labelled as a dirty player, or to use an Ulsterism –
a ‘hallion’. He related at the time:
“People can think what they like, but I’ve never deliberately hurt anyone. I can’t recall any of my
victims being carried off. Certainly I’m rough at times, but when I foul a player everybody in the
ground sees it. There’s none of this sly ankle tapping.”
Lynch attributed his style of play to his first sporting love – Gaelic Football. He had been a County
player and won a Leinster Junior Championship medal while playing for Dublin.
In fact, Lynch was a man of myriad sporting talents and as well as the Gaelic football could list
hurling, rugby, golf, basketball and boxing on his C.V. The affable striker had also seen duty as a
goalkeeper while at Bohemians. Interestingly when Ards sold Ken Savage to Glentoran in February
’62, Lynch was considered to be the backup goalie to Tommy Moffatt.
Renowned for his great wit and repartee he often recounted tales from his sporting past. He always
liked to regale listeners about the time he was representing Leinster against Connaught at
middleweight in the National Stadium. At the end of the first round Mick had taken a bit of a
hammering, a discreet trainer, not wanting to unduly concern him, nonchalantly said:
“You’re doing fine, he hasn’t laid a glove on you.” Quick as a flash Lynch replied: “Well you’d better
keep an eye on the referee, someone’s beating the daylights out of me.”
The people of Newtownards still fondly recall the big man’s exploits, they took a shine to his
laidback, laugh-a-minute manner. He became good friends with many of the townsfolk, especially
Harold Black who was his host for much of the time he spent in the town. It is still joked that Black
offered him an overnight stay at his home to save him the long journey back to Dublin and he ended
up staying for a year!
Lynch was certainly a larger than life character. At one time he studied psychoanalysis, believing
that a study of his opponents would help his game and reveal all sorts of useful information. Quite
often the works of Freud would be nestled beside the boots and Winter Green in the Castlereagh
Park changing rooms:
“Some people get ruffled by physical contact. These are the boys for bumping. Others lose
concentration if you start a conversation. One leading pivot hates to be laughed at. A couple of
cackles puts this boyo right off!”
Ards fans often relate their own favourite anecdote about him. A book could be written if they were
all chronicled. People still talk about the time he stood behind Glenavon goalkeeper Joe Kinkead as
a harmless looking cross came sailing towards his arms. Lynch started stomping his feet on the hard
surface, shouting and making an almighty racket resulting in Kinkead losing his concentration and
dropping the ball to allow Lynch to tap home.
In August 1961, Lynch famously discarded his boots while playing against Bangor at Clandeboye
Park. Just before half-time one of his boots came off, rather than taking time out to re-shoe himself,
he kicked the other one off and played in his sock soles for five minutes.
Club statistician Billy Graham recalls the time he launched one of his rockets at Portadown keeper
Sam Kydd. Kydd managed to get his hands to the ball, but the sheer force of the shot carried the
goalie and ball into the back of the net for a goal.
He also had an uncanny knack of winding-up opposing supporters, especially those of Linfield, he
bravely, if rather foolishly, would often bless himself knowing that the Bluemen would be outraged.
This, at a time when there was no perimeter fencing around the pitches.
He was lucky to get out of Ballymena alive in December, 1961. He incensed the locals to such an
extent that a mob tried to storm the dressing-rooms to get at him at the game’s conclusion. While
police tried their best to hold them off, big Mick slipped onto the bus, laid himself down flat on the
floor, and then told the driver not to spare the horses!
A born entertainer, Mick had formed a double act with Cecil Sheridan, ‘The Rogue with the Brogue’,
and toured in pantomime with Johnny McEvoy. At a concert organised by the players in March 1961
at the Queen’s Hall, he brought the house down with his own act.
He often wore gloves on cold days, a novelty back in the 60s, and his penalty technique was
something else. He would take a stuttering run up and feint to shoot, invariably sending the keeper
the wrong way, before belting the ball into the vacant space.
He was renowned for his long-range shooting, but strangely for a centre-forward he didn’t score a
massive amount of goals with his head. This could have been attributed to a nasty head injury he
received playing rugby for Palmerston in Dublin.
Lynch really enjoyed his football at Ards and recalled that the Ards team of the early 60s was one of
the best he ever played in:
“We had a terrific side at Ards. There was Tommy Forde, Sam Hatton and Willy Humphries, Irish
internationals, and Ralph McGuicken, Des Hunter, Tommy Moffatt, all Inter-League players, and, of
course, Jimmy Lowe and Vinny Maguire. Tommy Ewing on his day was easily the best inside-forward
in the country – between us we scored 90 goals in one season.” (It was actually 84).
The big fellow also enjoyed the company of the townsfolk of Newtownards who took so warmly to
him. In 1961 he related the following:
“I am with Ards and very happy too. The players and officials are the best I have ever been with,
particularly Tommy Ewing our manager and Mr. Black our chairman. When I was at Ballymena
things didn’t work out too well – I always felt like a stranger. It was hard to make friends. I find the
Newtownards folk more free and easy.”
In the spring of 1962 the press were speculating about a move across the water. Leyton Orient,
Coventry City and Greenock Morton were all said to be keen on him, the big Dubliner didn’t quash
any of the talk as he told the press at the time:
“I’ve no quarrel with Ards. It’s the best and happiest club I’ve ever known. But I’m 26, a full-time
footballer on part-time wages and I must look to the future. I can’t get a work permit in Northern
Ireland, so I must move elsewhere.”
At this time Mick was seen in the company of Coventry’s Jimmy Hill on more than one occasion, but
the Dubliner’s move to Highfield Road was all ‘smoke and mirrors’. Lynch and Hill were both keen
activists in the Professional Footballers Association movement, Mick would become the chairman of
the Irish Professional Footballers union.
Lynch, in fact, had been briefing the Sky Blues boss about teammate Billy Humphries, paving a move
to the Midlands club for the skilful outside-right in April ’62.
His intention to leave wasn’t a decoy though and he was lured south of the border again to team up
with Waterford in the League of Ireland at the conclusion of the 1961/62 season. His departure led
to an alarming slump in the team’s fortunes. They went from a team challenging for League titles to
one of mid-table mediocrity almost overnight.
He made a fleeting return to Ards when Johnny Nielson signed him from Drumcondra for the
1964/65 campaign, but it was a different club than the one he had left. The harmony which was
prevalent during his first stay had disappeared and an unhappy Lynch only managed 6 goals in a
handful of appearances. Once again he headed south and would become Player-Manager at
In typical Lynch fashion he announced to a thronged, and soon to be astonished, audience of
supporters in a Drogheda hotel that his assistant would be a certain Mr. Gerry Martina. This was all
well and good until the congregation realised that his deputy was a former Irish wrestling champion!
Mick Lynch won the hearts of the Ards people, who looked upon him as one of their own. He was
back in town in 2007 for the launch of Ivor Edgar’s ‘Red and Blue Heaven’ book in the Town Hall.
The Conway Square venue was packed to the rafters that evening, especially when it emerged that
Mick would be a guest speaker at the event.
Lynch spoke affectionately about his time at Ards, recalling that it was probably the happiest period
of his long and distinguished sporting past. On a more melancholy tone, he expressed his dismay at
the loss of Castlereagh Park, but promised to be back for the opening of the club’s new stadium.
Let’s hope that he returns for that ceremony sooner rather than later.
By Adrian Monaghan
Born in Belfast on the 27 January 1922, Robert James Corbett was a great player who went on to
give Ards Football Club sterling service over an eleven year period.
He went to the Strand School in the east of the city where he was soon earning a name for himself
on the football field as a centre-forward. He went on to represent Ireland at schoolboy level then
signed for Crusaders, making his debut at the age of sixteen.
After a couple of years with the north Belfast outfit he signed for Glentoran for the 1939/40
campaign. His time with the Glens was spent mostly with the reserve side although he did manage
three first team outings in 1941/42.
In one of those appearances he scored in a 7-0 Regional League victory over Derry City in November
1941. The game was played at the Glens temporary home at Grosvenor Park as the Oval had been
reduced to a pile of rubble when bombed by German planes the previous May. The legendary Dave
‘Boy’ Martin scored a hat trick in the same game.
Not making the progress he would have liked with Glentoran, Dickie decided on pastures new. He
didn’t move too far as he plumped for Grosvenor Parks’ permanent residents Distillery. His time on
the Grosvenor Road would also prove to be frustrating as he failed to break into the senior side.
In the summer of 1943 he met up with officials of Ards Football Club and agreed terms for the
1943/44 season. Ards, excluded from the Regional League by the Belfast clubs, were plying their
trade in the Intermediate League at this time and Dickie made his debut on the opening day of the
season against Ballyclare Comrades at Castlereagh Park.
Ards won the League fixture 5-0 on Saturday 21 August with goals from Jimmy Todd (2), Walter
Hollinger, George McKnight and Paddy Carroll. The Newtownards Chronicle stated that the team
selectors were justified in giving Corbett a start as he played some good football, but felt he was let
down by his partner on the wing, Jimmy Todd.
Ards – F.McCurry, H.Ledwidge, B.McDowell, J.Graham, G.Roden, G.McKnight, J.Todd, D.Corbett,
P.Carroll, W.Hollinger, J.A.Graham.
At this time Dickie was playing at inside-right, and playing well into the bargain. He became a
mainstay in the team, taking part in all of the club’s opening fixtures.
Switched to right-half, Dickie played well in the hard-fought draw with Cliftonville in the Irish Cup
first round game at Solitude on 12 February 1944. He did an exceptionally good job curtailing the
talents of the slippery ‘Darkie’ Best, a constant threat down the left flank for the home team. He
also appeared in this position for the following week’s second leg game, but true to form, Ards didn’t
show up and lost 3-0.
Fans were bewildered by his non-appearance in the tie with Linfield Swifts on the 26 February, a
game that was abandoned after half an hour due to inclement weather conditions. After performing
so well in his new position, puzzled supporters were wondering what the selection committee were
playing at. Little did they know he was fighting for his life in hospital after a horrendous accident.
While at work he had fallen off a ladder and landed on a spiked steel fence, the spikes tearing his
stomach through his belt line. His injuries were so bad that the military would not take him and he
would carry the scars for the rest of his life.
For whatever reason, the club put their own spin on the issue, and announced, via the Chronicle,
that Dickie had been hospitalised with appendicitis. Corbett wouldn’t kick another ball that season,
Jack Graham filling his position.
With plenty of recuperation time, Dickie was back at it again the following season and soon back
playing as if he had never been away. He was tried successfully at left-half, making that position his
Ards continued to operate at Intermediate level, but it was always their intention to step up a grade
once the senior league was reconvened. With some semblance of normality returning after the
cessation of World War Two, the Regional League was scrapped and a twelve-team Senior League
was formed for the 1947-48 campaign.
Ards kicked off their season with a home fixture against Belfast Celtic, but were a bit ring-rusty and
fell to a heavy 5-0 defeat against the Belfast giants. Despite the loss, Dickie acquitted himself very
well earning rave reviews in the press:
‘Corbett was up to his usual form, and did much excellent work both in attack and defence.’
Ards – M.O’Connell, T.Hamill, Sheedy, Gillespie, B.Dunn, D.Corbett, Bennie, A.Currie, L.Maher,
The readjustment from Intermediate to senior football was not as smooth as Ards folk would have
liked and Ards took a while to find their feet at the top level. They did, however, hit the headlines in
1951/52 when they won the Irish Cup for the second time in their history.
Canny Scot Isaac McDowell was at the helm and steered them to the final with victories over Larne,
Brantwood and Ballymena United to set up a showpiece decider against Glentoran. The pundits
were predicting an easy victory for the Belfast club, many observers commented that Ards had been
very fortunate drawing two non-senior sides in earlier rounds. Omar in the Northern Whig didn’t
give Ards much of a chance:
‘The Ovalites have met Ards four times this season and won all four games – Ulster Cup, 2-1, City
Cup, 4-3, Irish League 8-1 and 3-1 – an aggregate of 17 goals for and five against.’
Newtownards resembled a ghost town as a crowd of over 23,000 descended on Windsor Park on 26
April, 1952. Ards, playing in borrowed blue jerseys from Linfield, put on a brilliant performance and
the 1-0 victory hardly did justice to the team’s superiority, especially in the second half.
Johnny Thomson scored the only goal to send the large contingent of Ards supporters into ecstasy.
Newtownards went ‘Cup Crazy’ that night as the players were feted around the town atop a flatbed
lorry as thousands lined the streets. Dickie’s own performance in the final was outstanding. The
Newtownards Spectator went as far as to suggest that he was the ‘Man of the Match’:
‘Dickie Corbett completed the strongest department of the Ards side and in many respects was the
man of the match. The evergreen left-half had a lot to cope with in the early stages when Glentoran
were on the attack and his sure tackling and his ability to cover up paid dividends. When the Ards
‘blitz’ opened after the interval he cut and probed at the Glentoran defence, found the weaknesses
and kept his forwards moving.’
“No ‘butterflies in the stomach’ for me” was Dickie’s after-the-match comment. “I knew we would do
it and was certain after we turned round. It was a wonderful feeling going up to get my medal.”
Ards – M.O’Connell, J.Moore, T.Hamill, J.Tucker, J.Robinson, D.Corbett, D.Lawther, J.Thomson,
B.Drake, I.McDowell, T.Walker.
Corbett’s nine year service to the club was rewarded shortly after the Irish Cup win when he
received a benefit match which took place in May 1952 at the Oval. The game was between an Irish
League Select who were pitted against an Irish League Veterans side. Only Coleraine and Derry City
(distance) and Glentoran (other commitments) were not represented, but such was the esteem in
which Dickie was held, all three clubs sent donations towards his benefit.
At the start of the 1953/54 season Dickie was injured in the first game against Portadown under new
Player-Manager George Eastham. After missing five matches he returned to the side and played in
another 21 games before injury struck again. At this time Dickie had made it known that he would
be leaving the province for a new life in America. His last competitive match for the club was on 10
April, 1954 away to Ballymena United. Ards lost 2-0.
Ards – J.McCaffrey, D.Hunter, T.Hamill, J.Tucker, R.Newberry, D.Corbett, D.Higgins, J.Thomson,
W.McIntosh, T.Forde, T.Walker.
Dickie did play in a hastily-arranged Tate Cup match with Bangor on 23 April, 1954, but that would
be the last time that he would be seen in the Red and Blue hoops. Shortly after the Tate Cup game
Dickie was presented with a silver cigarette lighter as a memento from his fellow players. Manager
Eastham wished him a fond farewell and Dickie expressed appreciation of his many happy years at
Castlereagh Park and would in future watch with interest the progress of the Ards team.
During his eleven seasons at the club he amassed a total of 400 appearances while scoring twenty-
five goals. Only five other players - Ray Mowat, Billy Humphries, Davy McCoy, Billy Nixon and Billy
McAvoy have thus far played more games for the club.
Dickie departed for Chicago in May 1954. He did play for a couple of years in the States, with a
German Club called Schwaben F.C. and a Polish club, Falcons F.C., for a while, but got frustrated
because of the language barriers and lack of support from the American fans.
Robert James Corbett passed away peacefully on 21 June, 2012 in Phoenix Arizona.
As a footnote. When researching this article I was puzzled how someone christened Robert could
attain the nickname Dickie. I was fortunate to be put in touch with Dickie’s son Walter via Eric and
Crystal Corbett when they were at the Ards game earlier in the season. Walter takes up the story:
“When he first started playing he always signed and used the initials R.J. Corbett so when he was
young the older players thought the R stood for Richard and nicknamed him Dickie. He was so
intimidated by the veteran players he never corrected them and the name stuck. It is interesting that
in normal life, away from football, he went by the name Jim, so in growing up my mother and family
called him Jim and all his friends and the football community called him Dickie (a much better
football name anyway).”
By Adrian Monaghan
When Ards Football Club installed George Eastham as manager in the summer of 1953, it was
regarded as a major coup for the provincial club. The former Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool and
England international came with a great reputation as an intelligent and skilful inside-forward.
Born in Blackpool, Eastham was a baker in his early years before commencing his playing career at
Bolton Wanderers in 1933. He then had spells at Brentford and Blackpool before guesting for a host
of clubs during the war years (he served with the Royal Tank Regiment). When he returned to ‘Civvy
Street’ he signed for Swansea Town, then had spells at Rochdale and Lincoln before dropping down
to non-league football.
He made one senior appearance for England in 1935 – an away friendly against Holland, scant
reward for a player with such talent. Many believe that his reluctance to part with the ball at the
crucial moment was his one big weakness. He never shook that off – retaining the ball would be his
George Richard Eastham’s unexpected arrival in Newtownards came about as a result of club
secretary Harry Cavan’s involvement with the Irish Football Association. Cavan was in England on
IFA business (he was watching goalkeeper Harry Gregg play for Doncaster Rovers reserves for
international purposes) when he wandered into a local park where a schoolboy game was in
A waifish lad playing at inside-left caught his eye. That afternoon he met with Doncaster manager
Peter Doherty’s wife at their home and remarked that he couldn’t help but notice the talented
schoolkid he had seen earlier. Mrs Doherty’s son, Paul, who was playing on the carpet, spoke up:
‘His name is George Eastham’. As it turned out, the Dohertys lived a couple of streets away from the
Eastham family in Blackpool and were well-acquainted with one another.
Cavan discovered that the young lad was the son of George Eastham, who, at that time, was playing
non-league football. Cavan made contact with Eastham senior and offered him the role of player-
manager to replace Isaac McDowell who had left his managerial job at Ards to coach Linfield Swifts.
Residing in Blackpool, Eastham and his wife Jean decided to up sticks and move to Newtownards,
the club fixed them up with accommodation in the town, and significantly, their only son, George
Edward, having finished school, made the journey with them.
Partnering his son on the left flank (senior played at inside-left, while junior started at outside-left)
the two Easthams made their Ards debuts on the opening day of the 1953/54 season – a fine 5-3
home win over Portadown. Ards fans were put through the mincer though as their team were 3-1
down with only 16 minutes left on the clock. Playing in their familiar hoops, Ards’ build-up play was
patient involving a string of sweeping passes across the pitch, a feature that would prevail under
Eastham’s tenure. Frustrated fans cried out for a more direct approach, but the manager’s style won
the day with a hat-trick of goals for Baker and a brace from Thomson.
The 53/54 campaign was a mediocre one. Ards continued to play intelligent and constructive
football, but their inability to transform possession into goals would haunt them, but this was soon
forgotten when, on the last day of the season, Ards defeated Distillery 2-1 to lift the Gold Cup for the
The manager had a great game and scored the winning goal. Midway through the second half Ards
keeper McCafferty came off his line to deal with a through ball, taking no chances, he booted the
ball up the field. The perceptive Eastham, anticipating that the ball would bounce over the square
Distillery rear-guard, was on to it like a flash. He killed the ball dead with one touch and in the next
lofted it over Calow’s head and into the net before the keeper realised what had happened.
Harry Cavan’s decision to appoint Eastham as player-manager had been vindicated. As Eastham
began to assemble the players around him who could play the game to his plan, Ards made steady
progress over the next few seasons. A joint third-place finish in the League in 1954/55 was their
highest since entering senior football.
1955/56 saw further progression and another trophy win. The County Antrim Shield came to
Newtownards for the very first time when Ards blitzed Linfield 4-1 at the Oval in May 1956. By now
George Eastham was directing affairs from the sidelines having hung up his boots. The game would
be a significant one for his son, who unbeknown to him, was being watched by representatives of an
English First Division club.
A hush-hush meeting was arranged after the game between officials of both clubs, but it would be a
few days later before dad announced to son: “How would you like to go to Newcastle United?” Ards
received a fee of £9,000 for the twenty-year-old who would go on to have a glittering career with
Newcastle United, Arsenal and Stoke City as well as 19 appearances and a World Cup winner’s medal
Aided by his old friend and former England international, Bobby Langton, Ards achieved a top four
finish in 1956/57. They were now considered to be the most entertaining team in local football.
They would score 128 goals this season with flamboyant, skilful players like Billy Humphries, Liam
Munroe, Tommy Forde and Rab Newberry all at the top of their game. Indeed, Langton, well into his
twilight years, still managed 12 goals from 41 starts.
Tommy Forde, who had returned home from Wolverhampton Wanderers to sign for the club in
1953, chiefly operated on the right wing or at centre-forward. Forde was a cool, calculating ball
player with a great footballing brain, Eastham recognised these attributes and shrewdly moved him
to the right-half position. Forde was considered to be the most talented right-half in Irish League
football throughout the latter part of the 1950s and early 60s.
The manager had been considered a success since his appointment, but he would not be happy until
he attained the ‘holy grail’ and bring the League Championship to Castlereagh Park. He did a major
team rebuild in the summer of 1957 releasing some of the older players while bringing in fresh faces
such as keeper Tommy Moffatt, centre-half Ronnie Diffen, Jackie Cummings (left-half) and Ralph
McGuicken (left-back) and adding Hugh Lowry and George Richardson to the forward line.
Ards would go on to win the Irish League Championship in 1957/58. The newly-built team did it in
style scoring 123 goals throughout all competitions, but crucially, the team never wavered from the
aesthetic of pure football instilled into them by their manager.
Eastham’s stock was on the rise and rumours soon filtered through the town that he was being
sought after by a number of clubs in his native England. The League success brought with it
European football and the Newtownards men were drawn against the French giants Stade de Reims.
It was in Paris that George learned that his application for the manager’s job at Third Division side
Accrington Stanley had been successful, Belfast Telegraph reporter Malcolm Brodie, a man that
Eastham trusted implicitly, broke the news.
George’s stay at Accrington was short. The Lancashire club was in turmoil and were struggling
financially - they eventually dropped out of top flight football in 1962. George Eastham wasn’t out
of football long though and he returned to Northern Ireland to manage Distillery in June 1959.
Eastham’s magic touch was soon working for the Whites and the City Cup was won in his first season
in charge. He won another City Cup in 1962/63, and significantly, the League Championship in the
same season. He took Distillery into Europe and a high profile game against Portuguese giants
Eastham coaxed his old pal, England legend Tom Finney, out of retirement to play in the first leg and
the Belfast club gained a very creditable 3-3 draw at Windsor Park. This was Finney’s one and only
competitive European appearance.
The Distillery board sensationally sacked Eastham at the tail end of the 1963/64 campaign and Ards
Chairman Harold Black soon had him talked into returning to Castlereagh Park and the Englishman
took over as manager again in September 1964.
The mid 60s was a period of transition for Ards. Eastham, while readily accepting the challenge of
rebuilding the team, added a cautionary note that it would take a few years before his plan would
come to fruition.
Eastham soon realised that he had his very own ‘football factory’ in the form of Ards Boys who were
managed by Earle Hawkins and acted as the club’s third string team. Nascent talent like Ray Mowat,
Billy McAvoy and Davy McCoy would emerge in the first team during this period.
Eastham’s cautionary caveat was well founded as it did indeed take a few years before fans would
see signs of progress in the team. He still insisted that his side play football on the deck and
progression up the pitch was often slow as the players were taught to go sideways and keep
possession rather than going with a more direct approach.
Impatient supporters would scream at the team to hit the ball long, but Eastham’s footballing ethos
was ingrained in them and they always kept to their plan. The Castlereagh Park playing surface was
like a billiard table and manager Eastham often oversaw the cutting of the grass before matches – to
ensure it was in the right condition for his tactics.
It would be 1967/68 before his team would begin to show their worth. A creditable fourth place
League finish and a narrow Gold Cup final defeat to Linfield gave rise to optimism. Things fell into
place the following season.
For large parts of the campaign they were well in the running for the League Championship, but poor
form over the Christmas period put paid to their title aspirations. It would be in the Irish Cup that
the team would bring the smiles back onto everyone’s faces.
Portadown, Crusaders and Coleraine were defeated as Ards reached the decider against Distillery.
An uneventful game on a bone hard surface saw the teams slug out a scoreless draw. The replay
was a different matter. On 90 minutes the game, an end-to-end encounter, stood at 2-2, but Ards
finished stronger and added two more (Billy McAvoy scored them all) to run out deserved winners.
The cup win landed Ards a plum tie with Italian side AS Roma (0-0 draw at home and 3-1 defeat in
Rome). They also had a decent go at the League, they would finish third after leading the pack for
some time, but inexplicably, the board dispensed of Eastham’s services in early 1970.
Understandably, Eastham was in shock and proclaimed that he was finished with football after the
unjust treatment by a club he had served so well. Football was in his blood though and he went on
to spend some time scouting for Stoke City (where his son was playing). He then had a spell in South
Africa with Cape Town club Hellenic FC in late 1971, replacing his son as manager.
He came back to the Irish League in October 1972 to manage Glentoran and the golden touch
returned as three trophies were won – Irish Cup, City Cup and the Blaxnit All-Ireland Cup. His
experience in European football stood him in good stead as he led the Glens to the quarter-finals of
the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1973/74. This outstanding feat did not save him though as his contract was
terminated at the end of the season.
George was now finished with football, and being close to retirement age, he decided to bring out
the pipe and slippers. He eventually moved to South Africa to live where his son was making a name
for himself as a coach and a player.
George senior had always retained a fondness for Newtownards and its people. In a letter to the
Newtownards Chronicle in 1996 he reminisced about his days in the town: ‘I am thinking of our
wonderful 10 years with Ards FC, and the thrill of the club’s dominance in Irish Football during those
years, culminating in a never to be forgotten league title. Jean and I wish to thank Newtownards for
inviting us into their company throughout those years.’
Aged 86, George passed away in South Africa in 2000. A man who understood his craft and had the
power of conviction to see it through. George Richard Eastham was the man who put Newtownards
on the footballing map.
GEORGE RICHARD EASTHAM (SENIOR)
By Adrian Monaghan
Born on the 8 November 1969, Dundonald man Paul Kee was a product of East Belfast junior
football, he was one of the brightest young goalkeepers around, picking up Northern Ireland caps at
Under-15, Under-16 and Under-18 level.
He joined Ards in the mid -1980s, having gained experience at Amateur League club Fisher Body. He
was part of the very successful Ards Colts side at that time. The side won many honours including
the IFA Youth Cup and the Dunmurry Youth League. The IFA Youth Cup success came on the 30
December, 1985 with a 3-1 win over Lisburn United, Distillery’s third team at the time.
That talented bunch of youngsters also included the likes of Rab Campbell, Johnny Rea and Philip
Mitchell. He made his senior Ards debut as a seventeen-year-old in a League Cup game at Newry
Town in April 1987. A fine debut it was too as the Newsletter related:
‘Feature of the match was the excellent goalkeeping performance of Paul Kee. Young Kee must have
made the save of the year at the Showgrounds when he stopped an Olly Ralph drive after 55
The big man established himself as first-choice goalkeeper for the start of the 1987/88 campaign
when he replaced Trevor McDowell who had decamped to Bangor. Kee was in outstanding form
throughout the season and would go on to capture the coveted North End Supporters Club Player of
the Year trophy.
His form had attracted interest from clubs on the mainland and after unsuccessful trials with
Manchester City, Manchester United and Dundee United he was signed by Oxford United in the
Spring of 1988. The deal was completed quickly and Paul was full of praise for his mentor – Jimmy
Todd who had given him his break.
“I can’t thank Ards and Jimmy Todd enough for what they have done for me. It’s up to me know to
show what I can do.”
Under the watchful eye of goalkeeping coach, and England legend, Ray Clemence (who passed away
recently), Kee would make rapid progress at the Division Two club and made his full-time debut in an
away tie at Middlesbrough on 25 November, 1989. At 20 he made his full international debut in a
friendly against Norway in March 1990 at Windsor Park.
He made a total of nine appearances for his country, two of them as an Ards player. Always a
colourful character, the big man is reputed to have gone to his gloves bag, pulled out a white
handkerchief, and waved it while Northern Ireland were losing heavily at home to Yugoslavia in
March 1991. During the 1990/91 season Kee played in every one of Northern Irelands games.
The following season Kee had dropped down the pecking order at Oxford, and also lost his place in
the Northern Ireland squad to Tommy Wright and Alan Fettis. He returned to the Oxford side late in
the 1991/92 season and put in a superb display of goalkeeping as a win over Tranmere ensured that
relegation was avoided.
Over the next few seasons he made intermittent appearances for Oxford and spent several spells
out on loan, including a spell back at Ards as well at stints at Wimbledon and Reading. He made his
final League appearance for Oxford at home to Portsmouth on 14th September 1993.
His return to Ards during that loan spell saw him win a County Antrim Shield medal when Ards
defeated Crusaders 4-2 at the Oval in February 1994. Paul gave a brilliant performance on the
evening and was hugely instrumental in securing the club their first senior trophy in two decades.
He returned to Ards in a permanent deal in the summer of 1994. Early in the 1994/95 season
Northern Ireland were suffering a goalkeeping crisis, and with both Fettis and Wright injured Kee
was recalled to the squad. Paul became the fourth Ards player to be capped by his country at senior
level when he lined out against Austria in Vienna in October 1994
The Irish lads won 2-1 and Kee’s performance was so good in the game that he was hailed as the
‘Lion of Vienna’, a sobriquet that was used to describe Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse’s iconic performance
in the city in May 1952.
Unfortunately a month later he was responsible for at least two of the goals in a 4-0 home defeat by
the Republic of Ireland. Ironically, it was the return to fitness of another former Ards keeper, Alan
Fettis in 1995 that finally ended any hopes Kee had of winning further caps.
In the same 1994/95 season he won his second senior medal as Ards collected the League Cup for
the first time in their history by defeating Cliftonville on penalty kicks at Windsor Park on 25 April,
1995. Paul kept his cool and dived full-length to keep out Ron Manley’s effort to help ensure Ards
were the ones partying that evening. In fact, that was the only save in the shootout as shots were
fired high, wide and against woodwork. Only two kicks were converted on the night, both thankfully
Ards were one of the elite eight teams who made up the newly titled Irish Premiership for the
beginning of the 1995/96 season. In reality, Ards struggled to compete in the ‘big league’ as their
form nosedived, Kee was eventually replaced by Dubliner Stephen Henderson in the 1996/97
Kee spent the next decade playing football for a number of clubs all over Ireland, both north and
south. During a season at Cobh Ramblers, he took over the goalkeeping position from one Nicky
Byrne, who would later go on to find worldwide fame as a member of the pop group, Westlife. Kee
had previously coached with Bohemians during 2001.
Paul also had spells with Linfield, Carrick Rangers and Bangor. He announced his retirement from
playing at the end of the 2002/03 season when he was at Crusaders, though agreed to act as back-
up 'keeper for Glentoran through the following campaign. The form and fitness of Elliott Morris
meant he was never called upon for first team action.
Kee went on to join the Glentoran staff as goalkeeping coach. He fulfilled the same role with Bangor.
In August 2010 he returned to Ards as goalkeeping coach during the last days of Tommy Kincaid’s
reign as boss, but left when Niall Currie was appointed as manager. He became involved in coaching
at junior league level around the Ards area.
For all his wanderings, big Paul will be forever cherished as one of Ards Football Club’s greatest
players and it was fitting that the big man was installed as goalkeeping coach by John Bailie last
week. Welcome back legend.
By Adrian Monaghan
Just before his departure to Glasgow to take in the 1925 Old Firm derby on New Year’s Day, Ards
official George Tate was tipped off about a young Glaswegian centre-half called Robert McGee, a
player that had been released by Glasgow Celtic at the end of the previous season.
Ards’ form as 1924 came to an end was extremely poor, in fact, they had lost seven games on the
bounce from the beginning of November through to Christmas. It was generally agreed that Ards’
dismal displays were due, in most part, to their frailties in defence.
Accompanied by Secretary Frank Apperson, the Ards pair decided to mix pleasure with business and
after taking in the derby game went in pursuit of the Mearns-born defender.
McGee had begun his footballing odyssey as a centre-forward at junior clubs Cocker Hill and
Eaglesham before signing for the Parkhead club in February, 1923 as a centre-back. He played his
first game for Celtic as a last minute call-up for regular striker Joe Cassidy as Celtic lost 1-0 at Rangers
in a Glasgow Charity Cup tie on 15 September, 1923 at Ibrox.
Played out of position, he didn’t impress on that occasion. The Scottish press were scathing about
McGee’s performance, many suggesting that had Cassidy been at centre-forward the Celts would
have won the game.
Football can be very unforgiving and McGee had to wait until 2 February, 1924 before his next senior
outing when he played in his favoured centre-half role in a 1-0 home defeat to Greenock Morton.
Playing in his accustomed role he put in a much more accomplished performance, the fickle
newspapermen even suggesting that he had wiped out the horror of the ‘Ibrox Affair’.
The performance wasn’t enough to save his career at Celtic and after loan spells at Stenhousemuir
and Dumbarton he was shown the exit door in the summer of 1924.
Bob had been idling since his Celtic exit, but at only twenty-years of age he was keen to get fixed up
with another club. After thrashing out terms, he shook hands with the Ards party on a deal that
would see McGee cross the North Channel for the remainder of the season. Sailing overnight to
Belfast on Friday 9 January he arrived in Newtownards a matter of hours before Ards were due to
play Distillery in a League game at Castlereagh Park.
Still fatigued by the wearisome travel, McGee togged out in Red and Blue for the first time and
helped his new teammates to a 3-2 win over the Whites. Although his own performance was more
solid than spectacular, the Scotsman did enough to suggest that Ards’ problems in defence were at
Ards – Diffen, Beattie, B.Gault, B.Duffy, B.McGee, Wright, Morton, B.Brown, Robinson, T.Leeman,
The Scotsman didn’t take long to settle at his new club, and as the season progressed it was plain to
see that McGee was something special. He was strong in the tackle, but not in a robust way,
composed on the ball and rarely got flustered. A born leader, his commanding demeanour
eventually landed him the captain’s armband.
A short while after his debut, McGee was in the Ards team which had its most famous victory over
the mighty Belfast Celtic when the team from Paradise were destroyed 7-0 on 19 February, 1925 at
In his second season he continued to thrive in the pivotal central defensive role and was seen as the
best player in that position in the League. Many observers suggested that he would have been
capped for Ireland were it not for his place of birth.
He did make one appearance for the Irish League side in March 1926, in fact, he captained the side
on that occasion, but the team as a whole were fairly unimpressive and went down 1-3 to their
League of Ireland counterparts.
The highlight of McGee’s time at Ards came in the 1926/27 season as he played a huge part in the
club securing their first ever senior trophy – the Irish Cup. Used chiefly as a centre-forward during
the season, McGee struck a rich vein of form during the Cup run scoring half of the team’s ten goals.
It was in the final against Cliftonville at the Oval when he wrote his name into Newtownards folklore,
scoring a brace, his second to win the trophy, this after Ards had been 0-2 behind at the interval.
Ards – S.McMullan, S.McKeown, T.Wilson, A.Smyth, H.Risk, J.Gamble, A.Bothwell, S.Patton,
B.McGee, L.Croft, S.McIlreavy.
His final outing for the Newtownards club came on the 17 February, 1932, a County Antrim Shield tie
at Solitude that ended two-goals apiece. McGee picked up a nasty knee injury after only ten
minutes which resulted in him leaving the field for treatment.
Limping badly, he resumed the game at outside-right, but was clearly in some distress. Saying that,
he was instrumental in bringing Ards level in the first half. McGuire, the Reds left-back, sensing that
McGee was only making up the numbers, wandered upfield leaving him totally unmarked.
A long ball found the Scotsman in acres of space and he floated over a centre that was headed home
by Davy Jordan. The full-back was a bit more attentive after this.
The injury was worse than first thought and he did not play again that season, his position being
filled by Jack Garrett. As it transpired he would never play for the club again as he was released at
the end of the season and joined Bangor for 1932/33, but didn’t make the same impact at the
Seasiders that he did at Ards.
In all he played 279 times over seven seasons. His preferred position was centre-half, but his ability
to play at centre-forward would prove invaluable throughout his time at the club. He would go on to
score 71 goals for the club. Strangely, one of his finest goalscoring achievements was when he hit a
hat trick against Linfield during a 6-1 win in February 1926 while playing at centre-half.
(Thanks to Billy Graham for the statistical information)
Ards FC Hall of Fame – Billy McAvoy
By Adrian Monaghan
Born on 23 October, 1948 and reared in the sleepy Ards Peninsula village of Greyabbey, William
McAvoy’s name is synonymous with the art of goalscoring. Inside the penalty area he had few
peers. His scoring ratio says it all - 301 goals in 411 appearances.
He began his success-strewn career with the Ards Tech team before moving on to Earle Hawkins
great footballing academy known as Ards Boys.
Essentially the Ards third team, Ards Boys had a great reputation for producing a host of talented
players. Graduating through the ranks and into the second eleven, he made his first team debut at
Seaview on 9 January, 1965. The game ended 1-1 and the seventeen-year-old gave a good account
Showing scant regard for his tender years, the rugged home defence booted him up and down the
field (something that he would have to get used to throughout his career), unfazed, the diminutive
McAvoy acquitted himself well, but still had to bide his time. Manager George Eastham knew that
the youngster was a star in the making and used him sparingly to protect him.
The Chronicle match report related: ‘There was some hard tackling in this game with a promising
debut from McAvoy who was not by any means overawed by the occasion.’
His first goals for the club arrived later that same season when he bagged a brace against Cliftonville
in a County Antrim Shield tie at Castlereagh Park on 13 April, Ards won 4-2.
Billy continued his apprenticeship with the reserve side and was in the team which lost the 1967
Steel and Sons final to Glentoran II at Seaview. It was in the 1967/68 campaign that he started to
become a regular with the first team.
In October 1968, Billy turned twenty and it was during the 1968/69 season that he was at the peak
of his game. He etched his name into the record books by scoring all four goals in Ards’ 4-2 1969
Irish Cup final replay win over Distillery, equalling the record set by Linfield’s Joe Bambrick in 1930.
He later revealed that the greatest single disappointment in his career was missing what he
considered to be a ‘sitter’ to score a fifth! The striker believes that Ards’ name was on the cup that
“We played Portadown away in the first round. All the other games were called off due to the snow
and frost. We squeezed through, I got the winner. Then we had Crusaders at home. We won 4-1
and I scored two. We met Coleraine in the semi-final and I was injured, but Eastham insisted that I
play. I was bandaged up, no warm-up, no preparation. I hobbled about for seventy-six minutes then
Eddie Crossan came out for the ball, but I got there in front of him, knocked the ball over his head
and scored he only goal of the game.”
The 1969 Irish Cup final was the game that propelled McAvoy’s name into the limelight – it was also
the game that set his career back. Distillery had calculated that if they ‘took’ McAvoy out of the
equation it would enhance their chances of glory. They kicked lumps out of him, yet he still
managed to find the net four times.
Injured going into the final, McAvoy should never have played, but once again, the persuasive
tongue of Eastham talked him out of it. With the game balanced on a knife-edge at 2-2, McAvoy
wanted off as he was badly injured and playing entirely on adrenalin:
“I shouted over to the dug-out that I wanted to come off, I could hardly move, such was the agony in
my left knee. The message from the bench was an emphatic NO! I was told afterwards that Eastham
bolted from his seat in the stand to inform the bench there was no way I was coming off!”
McAvoy’s limbs may have been aching but his brain was still razor sharp and his well-honed
predatory instincts saw him prevail after a mistimed tackle by McCarroll let him in and he made no
mistake to put Ards in front for the first time in the contest.
He then danced his way through the Distillery defence to give Ards a two goal advantage and a bit of
breathing space. He collected a fine pass from Barry Brown, showed great poise in slipping past
McCarroll’s rugby-like lunge, and in one fell swoop swivelled and cracked the ball into the corner of
He would finish the ‘68/’69 season with forty-one goals and picked up the Ulster Footballer of the
Year award, the youngest recipient of the trophy up to that time, as well as his own club’s award.
Renowned journalist, Malcolm Brodie, was always an admirer:
‘McAvoy, a striker with a prolific goal-getting flair, is a high-quality opportunist possessing positional
instinct and uncanny powers of anticipation. He prowls waiting and watching for any mistake made
by a defence.’
As well as receiving the accolades of Ulster’s footballing fraternity, McAvoy was being acknowledged
as his native village’s most famous son. He was given the ‘Freedom’ of Greyabbey in an open-air
ceremony later that summer.
A full-time professional career in England looked likely, but it took longer than expected to get over
his cup final battering. He performed well in the two showcase games against Roma in the Cup
Winners Cup, but not yet 100%, he didn’t do enough to convince any of the watching scouts. Billy
was to appear on the European stage six times.
‘Supermac’ was back to something like his old self in the 1971/72 and 1972/73 seasons and was on
the goal trail again with over eighty strikes, thirty-nine and forty-three respectively. Saying that the
team were gaining the reputation of being ‘the bridesmaid and never the bride’, with only one
solitary success (Antrim Shield in 1972) against numerous defeats in semi-finals and finals.
Ards’ insistence on playing football on the carpet under Eastham, then Billy Humphries, was, in many
peoples opinion, part of the reason for their failure to capture silverware. Billy reminisced recently in
a Sunday Life feature:
We had a manager who was ahead of his time in George Eastham. We were a pure footballing
team. Joe Mercer, the former Manchester City boss, once stated: “If the goals were at either side of
the halfway line, Ards would beat any team in Europe.” He was talking about the structure of
That was all to change in 1973/74, Billy playing a huge part with a return of thirty-two goals in forty-
three appearances and helping himself to three medals for the Ulster, Irish and Blaxnit Cups. He
missed out on a fourth when damage to ankle ligaments ruled him out of the Gold Cup decider
against Bangor in November.
In September 1973, Castlereagh Park hosted its first ever European game, with Belgian giants
Standard Liege the visitors in the UEFA Cup. Ards claimed a memorable 3-2 win in front of a crowd of
8,000, McAvoy scoring from the penalty spot. That was the first time an Ulster club had claimed a
win in that competition. The game remains the most memorable in Billy’s distinguished career.
His loyal service resulted in a benefit season in 1975/76 and, true to form; he bagged a hat-trick in
his testimonial match against Drogheda United in August 1975. His final game in red and blue was in
August 1977 in an Ulster Cup match at home to Distillery. Billy was transferred to Ballymena United
a short time later in a big-money transfer deal.
He netted both goals in a 2-1 win over Glentoran on his debut, but found goals hard to come by in
his two seasons at the Showgrounds, in fact he only managed eight in thirty appearances, before
calling it a day.
“I lacked that little bit of zip in the box. Defenders were catching me, something they never did
before. Ballymena wanted to sell me on, but I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to go around the clubs, I
basically turned out the lights and closed the door with football.”
Billy did re-emerge as the Ballymena reserve team manager in the early 1990s. He did come back to
Ards in the summer of 1995 to act as the Youth Development Coach. He stayed involved in football
by coaching at junior level and now resides back in Northern Ireland after working and living in
Scotland for a number of years.
In an Ards career which lasted fourteen seasons, Billy won medals for the Irish Cup (twice), County
Antrim Shield, Ulster Cup and Blaxnit All-Ireland Cup. He also picked up an Intermediate Cup medal
when Ards II defeated Chimney Corner in 1970.
He gained honours with Northern Ireland at Schoolboy, Youth, Amateur and Under 23 level, Inter-
League as well as receiving a call up along with Davy McCoy for an IFA XI against the Canadian FA in
October 1973 (he scored two goals in a 6-4 win).
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.