Ballyclare Comrades Centenary commemorated in new book

Ballyclare Town Hall was packed on Saturday night for a momentous milestone in the history of Ballyclare Comrades.

The event on February 23 saw the launch of a new book to mark the football club’s centenary.

Ballyclare Comrades chairman Trevor McCann (left) with David Martin, president of the Irish Football Association. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Ballyclare Comrades chairman Trevor McCann (left) with David Martin, president of the Irish Football Association. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

The club was formed by local men who returned to the town after surviving the horrors of the trenches in the First World War.

Former players and fans attended a nostalgic night which featured a presentation charting the club’s history and a question and answer session with former managers and players, chaired by former player Harry Blair.

Local historian and former history teacher at Ballyclare High School, Robson Davison - author of ‘The Comrades’ - said he had received amazing support from a wide variety of people connected with the club as he set about his task of re-telling their history.

He said: “I have to admit that, even though I’ve lived in Ballyclare for many years, I didn’t realise how fascinating the history of the club was and the amount of success they achieved.”

A large audience gathered to see the new book being launched. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

A large audience gathered to see the new book being launched. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Club chairman Trevor McCann thanked Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council for allowing them to use the Town Hall for the launch.

Mr McCann said: “It’s been very exciting all day. There’s been a bit of a buzz around the town. As you can see here tonight people have turned out and that is just fantastic.”

Two of the oldest surviving former Comrades players - Bertie Nixon and Jim Aston - got a warm round of applause when they were invited to stand up from their seats in the packed crowd.

The pair were members of most successful Comrades team - winners of all four major trophies available to be won during the 1960-61 season.

Bertie Nixon (left) and Jim Aston, players from the classic Ballyclare Comrades team of 1960-61. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Bertie Nixon (left) and Jim Aston, players from the classic Ballyclare Comrades team of 1960-61. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Bertie joked that he had been “the baby of the team” as he was just 19 when he signed for the club.

“They were the best years of my life. I met a lot of good friends. There were no stars. I think that was one of the main reasons for our success.

“We just gelled together. They were tremendous days,” he said.

Jim added: “We were all friends. All the players were men who had played Irish League football. It was a pleasant time and we did win a lot of matches!”

Former Irish and British Lions rugby legend Willie John McBride pictured among the crowd. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Former Irish and British Lions rugby legend Willie John McBride pictured among the crowd. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Also in attendance was former Irish and British Lions rugby legend Willie John McBride.

“I’ve lived in Ballyclare for, it must be 48 years now, and I like to think I am very much interested in the things that are going on in the town.

“It is nice to be here and congratulations to the Comrades. Over the last 100 years they have had a football club together and that’s a terrific achievement. I hope they continue to get a lot of support,” he said.

David Martin, president of the Irish Football Association, congratulated the club on it’s “significant achievement.”

“I’ve been around the Ballyclare area many times, especially with the NI Amateur Football League over the years.

“Ballyclare were always very good at affording the opportunity for other leagues to play their cup semi- finals and finals at their ground - which was tremendous,” he said.

The special anniversary book was launched in Ballyclare Town Hall. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

The special anniversary book was launched in Ballyclare Town Hall. Pic by Freddie Parkinson.

Plans are also underway to stage an open air service at Dixon Park, the club’s ground in the centre of the town, on Saturday, May 12 - and to organise special centenary matches with other clubs across the UK founded around the same time.

‘The Comrades - the Story of the First Hundred Years of Ballyclare Comrades Football Club’ can now be purchased via the club’s official website - Ballyclare Comrades Football Club - price £9.99.