Tributes paid to sporting legend who inspired many

The late Walter McFarland.
The late Walter McFarland.
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Tributes have been paid to local sporting great Walter McFarland, who sadly passed away last week.

Mr McFarland, a talented footballer, enjoyed an illustrious career with Crusaders FC in the 1960s and 70s.

Between 1962 and 1976 the team, captained by Walter on many occasions, won two Irish League titles and enjoyed two Irish Cup successes.

During his time with the Shore Road club he also played in European competitions against top sides such as Liverpool and Valencia.

Walter also coached at Crusaders, and went on to play for and manage Ballyclare Comrades FC. He later captained the Belfast Showbiz Charity Team.

When his footballing career came to an end, while many would be enjoying retirement, Walter concentrated on his second sport, judo.

He coached at the Abbey Judo Club for over 25 years, inspiring countless competitors and training numerous Irish and British champions.

Walter, who lived in Carnmoney, became the first competitor from Northern Ireland to win the All-Ireland Judo Championship, and in 1999 he won a silver medal in the World Veterans Championships. He went on to become the World Masters Champion in 2001.

He was inducted into the Newtownabbey Sporting Hall of Fame in 2004, and into the Crusaders Hall of Fame three years later.

Speaking on behalf of council officers and members, Mayor Thomas Hogg expressed his sadness at Mr McFarland’s sudden and untimely death.

“Our sincerest condolences go out to his family circle and friends at the Abbey Judo Club. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

“Walter had the ability to make anyone feel at home in his company and his infectious sense of humour will be missed by all who were privileged enough to have spent time in his company.”

Alderman Hogg went on to pay tribute to Mr McFarland for his personal sporting achievements, and for making Abbey Judo Club one of the best in the country.

“Walter was inducted into the Newtownabbey Hall of Fame in 2004 for his services to both football and judo and to this day he remains the only inductee who has reached the top in two sports with such credit. He has been a loyal supporter of the council, regularly attending the Sports Awards dinner and other functions over the years.”

Walter’s good friend, Cllr Fraser Agnew, described him as “a great character” who had many wonderful stories to tell.

“He was a marvellous individual and a great friend. He was always the life and soul of the party and he will be sadly missed.

“He was an individual who no-one would have a bad word to say about. It was a privilege to call him my friend,” Cllr Agnew said.

A statement issued on behalf of the members of Abbey Judo Club paid tribute to their former head coach for “touching and enriching” their lives.

“Walter was the heart and soul of our club and personally touched, inspired and enriched the lives of thousands of people through his coaching. We can, with heavy hearts, treasure the fond memories and teachings of Walter, the true fighter and champion of our club. He will always be remembered,” it read.

Abbey Judo Club head coach, William Cully, revealed that the club is planning to hold a special tribute to Walter at the Valley Leisure Centre this Friday (August 22) at 8.30pm.

People are being invited to come along to the open training session, before which tributes will be paid to Walter by Mr Cully, coach Sean Lewis and three times Commonwealth Games judo competitor Mark Montgomery.

Mr McFarland’s funeral took place at Roselawn Crematorium on Wednesday, August 20.