The town of Holywood is synonymous with major sporting success… and their football team is eager to follow the upward trend.
Speaking to one of the club’s long-standing trustees, Roy Finlay, it becomes clear that Holywood FC have fallen some way behind when it comes to sharing the sporting limelight with its famous golfing son, recent USPGA winner Rory McIlroy.
The current world number 1 even has more than simply geographical connections to the club… with his hardworking father Gerry the social club’s first ever bar manager upon its establishment in the early 1980s.
The McIlroys aren’t the only high profile link between the sporting and this town. The late, great Jackie Milburn also used to live just up the street from the social club while he was playing for Linfield, and the Newcastle United legend even featured for Holywood Cricket Club.
Roy said: “I remember, as a child, going to see him turn out at the cricket club – the crowds were massive – you could barely move.”
These recollections are just the tip of the iceberg from a man who has given generously of his time and money over decades of support for Holywood FC.
Spend ten minutes in his company, and you’ll immediately get an appreciation for just how passionately he feels for his town, and in particular its football team.
A diehard follower of the Toon Army, Roy is set to present the club with a new football kit – which sees them change from their previous green red and black to the familiar black and white stripes not only worn by Milburn and co, but also by Holywood’s 1990 Junior Cup winning side. The handover will take place at a fundraising evening for the Alzheimers Society at the end of the month, and Roy is hoping that the new rig can in some small way inspire a change in the club’s fortunes.
“That would be fantastic,” stated the massive Holywood devotee. “It’s no secret that things haven’t been going for well for us lately, and there was a danger of us folding last year, but a small group of people deserve a lot of credit for keeping it all going.
“One of our members, Roy Nutt, deserves the award for bravery after he appeared in nets for us last season at the age of 54. We just about managed to get a team out.
“Our current manager Dean Nelson came in after Christmas and he has excelled. He has the players really playing for him.”
Unfortunately for Holywood, former Sirocco Works boss Nelson’s arrival with assistant Willie Walker probably came just too late for the club to save them from ultimate relegation to Division 1C – quite a decline for a team that had been playing in the Premier Division only a handful of years ago.
A 3-2 defeat by Groomsport, courtesy of an injury time winner, and a 3-1 loss at the hands of Bangor Amateurs haven’t opened Holywood’s 1C campaign well, but with Nelson’s return from holiday, all will be hoping things are looking up soon.
On the horizon, however, is a much more significant development which could prove to be the biggest factor in the eventual turnaround of the club. Holywood secretary Alan Doherty revealed: “The council have been working with the Irish FA to ensure we have a new 3G, intermediate-compliant pitch, behind the Queen’s Hall in Holywood. That will hopefully be done sometime after Christmas, at least, we hope.
“We just can’t understand why more local lads haven’t been coming to play for us. I think there may be a perception out there that aren’t a successful club, but the new surface will hopefully go a long way to helping us change that.
“We have been speaking to people behind the scenes, but we are looking at being even more pro-active to get young players in, knocking on the doors of nearby schools, and that type of thing.”
Youth may indeed be the way forward in what is likely to be a gradual process for this proud club. If that process brings reward with it, however, the patience will be worth it.
In the meantime, Holywood’s fundraising evening will take place at the Social Club, 74 High Street, next to the town’s library, on August 30. Entrance is priced at £3, with all money raised going to the Alzheimers Society.