Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Down Memory Lane: Eastham pair were sheer heaven at Castlereagh Park

Sadness grips me each time I drive along Portaferry Road and glance across at Castlereagh Park once the proud home of Ards FC but now a flattened derelict wilderness. It is all so depressing.

Five years ago Ards were forced to sell their ground, gifted to them by Lord Castlereagh, to meet pressing debts ending another chapter of adversity which has repeatedly hit the County Down club since its 1923 foundation.

Memories however still come flooding back of those days of yesteryear, the plethora of talented players, the colourful characters and the late Harry Cavan, senior vice-president of Fifa one of the most influential men in world football playing the records each Saturday over the public address system.

Red And Blue Heaven, a comprehensive history of Ards written by Ivor Edgar a former history teacher in Dungannon but a lifelong Ards supporter is a magnificent 368-page tome.

Researched in depth over many years it is a superbly written, a narrative that captures the spirit of a country club and holds your attention while for the statisticians, there is a complete record of the club's achievements.

The author emphasises the book does not claim to be anything other than partisan, a fans-eye-view of proceedings and as such revels in the moments of triumph. That doesn't take away from its quality.

The printing production is class too, the photographs, all accurately captioned, lavishly spread throughout, many with head shots of the club's stalwarts Bob McGee, Irish international Andy Bothwell, Billy Tosher Burns, goalkeeper Sam McMullan, father of Bishop Gordon McMullan, Hugh Rankin, George McKnight, Jimmy Todd.

The history is traced from the 20s through the hungry 30s the Second World War years, the Rock 'n Roll football of 1953-59 and the glory era of 1970-74.

The author has succeeded in recalling great matches, the outstanding players and there have been plenty.

Indeed the list is endless - Billy Humphries, Alex Boyd, Don Johnston, Ronnie McAteer, Mick O'Connell, Billy Nixon, Alan Dornan, Mick Lynch, Alan Fettis, Isaac McDowell and Peter Rafferty to name but a few.

Managers have included Jackie Coulter former Ireland and Everton outside-right, Harry Walker, Roy Coyle and Tommy Cassidy.

And pride of place is given to the 4-0 1969 Irish Cup Final replay win over Distillery when Billy McAvoy established a record by scoring all four goals. The team that day was: Kydd, Johnston, Crothers, Bell, Stewart, Nixon, Shields, McAvoy, Brown, Humphries, Mowat; sub Sands for Shields.

Perhaps the greatest period in Ards history was the reigns of George Eastham the England wartime international. How appropriate therefore his son George Junior, now resident in South Africa and whose historical legal case gave footballers freedom of wages to provide the forward.

He says: "It is hard to believe 50 years have past since I played my first game for Ards against Portadown.

"My memories are still very strong of the Gold Cup final. Surely, we are the only father and son to have winners medals from the same game.

"If ever there was an Ards man it was my father.

"Even when he lived in South Africa with us, the first result he wanted to know was that of Ards.

"He loved his football simple, played as a team and played fairly; he refused to bend from these principles and as such had unrivalled success much of it with Ards.

"Once an Ards man always an Ards man."

Red And Blue Heaven (by Ivor Edgar, Ballyhay Books, Laurel Cottage Ltd, Donaghadee £16.99).

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