Belfast Telegraph

Ards homing in on prosperous new future

By Graham Luney

What a magical weekend it was for Ards Football Club. A fourth Danske Bank Premiership win and they are off the foot of the table.

I know it's difficult to comprehend, but I'm old enough to remember when Ards were not only in the top flight but challenging for the big trophies.

In those heady days, they were playing at Castlereagh Park in front of a loyal, passionate following and it's great to see the north Down side back at the top table.

Of course we keep referring to them as a north-Down outfit but Ards have earned some pretty impressive mileage expenses over the years.

The Irish League nomads have done the scenic tour of Northern Ireland, stopping off at venues such as Solitude, Taylor's Avenue, Dixon Park and now Clandeboye Road.

This travelling adventure became necessary after Ards were forced to sell their Castlereagh Park home in 1998 to try to reduce crippling debts.

It's a sad tale of a proud football club being battered by the financial realities of modern life.

In 2002, Castlereagh Park was demolished but I can testify that the memories live on.

And so does the will of the supporters to see their club return home.

Hopes have been raised and dashed.

The club had hoped to play at a new community-owned site, a stone's throw from Castlereagh Park that was due to be developed in 2010 by the local council.

But yes, you guessed it – that plan was kicked into touch.

In 2009, supporters launched a campaign, 'Bring Ards FC Home'. They are still waiting.

Is there a silver lining on this big black cloud? Ards now hope to sign an agreement with Ards Borough Council to lease a 14-acre plot of land on the Portaferry Road with a view to developing a new stadium. Everyone involved in the Irish League must feel Ards' pain – hasn't the club and its supporters suffered enough?

I'm thrilled to see them back in the top flight. Not only because of the loyal fanbase they bring to matches but because they evoke memories of a much more golden period in the history of the Irish League when attendances were healthier.

Anyone who witnessed the famous trilogy of Irish Cup finals involving north Down rivals Ards and Bangor in 1993 will never forget them.

Linfield boss David Jeffrey was the Ards captain back then, marshalling the defence but the Seasiders broke his heart, winning 1-0 at the third attempt at Windsor Park.

Jeffrey responded to that disappointment by winning the trophy seven times as Blues manager.

The Linfield supremo began his coaching career at Ards and the list of managers the club has boasted contains legendary characters such as George Eastham Snr and former Northern Ireland internationals Billy Humphries and Roy Coyle.

Now former Ards goalkeeper Niall Currie is in the hotseat after succeeding Justin McBride in October 2011.

The man who guided Loughgall to two league titles signed a two-year extension to his contract in May this year, keeping him in the manager's job until 2016. I hope that future lies in the Premiership. I'm a big fan of Currie – he's a proper football man and I like the passion he has for the club and his players. I can even overlook the fact that he is a Liverpool supporter – we all have our imperfections.

The club's chairman Brian Adams is also a loyal and well-respected servant to the club as it bids to find a new home and leave a sea of debt behind.

Now back in the big time, hopefully they are here to stay.

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