Club focus: East Belfast
There was more than one team celebrating in the east of the city this week.
Legendary Amateur League club East Belfast started their ascent back to the pinnacle of the amateur game by winning the Division 1B title in style. The Belfast club had suffered two relegations in recent seasons but, under the guidance of Stephen Matthews, the East Park club have rediscovered their form.
Assistant Manager Paul Wilson said: "It's a massive turnaround from two years ago, when the club was on the verge of going out of existence. John Spence came in and steadied the ship before stepping aside for family reasons. Then Stephen came in and we've just pushed on from there.
"This club has a magnificent history. We've won the Amateur League 10 times, which is more than anyone else. We've also got two Steel & Sons Cups to our name. Both myself and Stephen are East men through and through, and we couldn't stand back and let all that history slip away, we had to step in and help turn it around."
And that's exactly what they've done. This season the East have only lost one league game.
Wilson explained: "We're over the moon. It's been a brilliant season for the club. East Belfast are a club with a tremendous history, so it's great to be among the trophies again.
"We haven't lost a league match since Stephen Matthews took over, which is an incredible record. If we can avoid defeat in our last match against 1st Bangor in Ards on Tuesday night, then we will finish this season with just one defeat.
"Newcastle were 15 points clear at one stage and they were saying they would rather have the points on the board. Well, we turned round and won 13 on the spin, which included beating them twice."
There are a few well-known faces on the books of East Park club. Former Crusaders winger Dee McAllister has turned out for the 1B outfit this season, along with former amateur international David Wright.
Wilson said: "I think the players deserve all the credit. In Luke Wilson and Dee Wright, we've got two strikers that can cause anybody problems. Then you've got Dee McMaster on the wing, who could easily play in the Irish Premiership. Stephen Garrett, who used to play for Knockbreda, is another quality player. We've also got the likes of Jacob Halliday in goals and Ryan Davidson in defence. We've quality all over the park. We are a Premier Division team."
Wilson is not only confident that East Belfast can compete in 1A next season, he also feels the whole club is moving in the right direction.
"We will be looking to add to our squad, I think every team has to improve as they go along. Stephen has a four-year plan. We've completed the first step in winning promotion to 1A, so the next step is to get back into the Premier Division.
"People are working hard off the field as well. Our reserves also won promotion and they've reached the Templeton Cup final. Our youth section and girls section are flourishing as well.
"Our only problem at the moment is we're struggling to hold onto our ground after 20 years of looking after the facilities. We're doing everything we can to sort it out with Belfast City Council. Everyone at the club is pulling in the same direction."
Club: East Belfast
Division: NAFL 1B
Ground: East Park
Colours: Red and Black
Manager: Stephen Matthews
Belfast Telegraph Digital