Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Down Memory Lane: North Down celebrate 150 glorious years

It was a night of nostalgia and one for celebration - North Down's 150th anniversary party at the La Mon House Hotel attended by more than 300 guests. Yes, a night of vintage champagne, of memories, reunions - a night to remember.

The dignity of this meticulously organised function, climaxed a season in which they achieved the League and Cup double, collecting trophy after trophy.

Even their under-13 side won the All-Ireland Cup and what a poignant moment when, all wearing their tracksuits, were brought into the banqueting hall to be honoured.

"That's the life blood of the game - its future," said Sir Everton Weekes the legendary West Indian cricketer, the last of the famous three W's which included the late Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott, all of them from that paradise island of Barbados.

Sir Everton, 82, has had close links with Northern Ireland having played in a number of exhibition matches. How appropriate that Clarence Hiles, a noted player with the club, ex-Northern Cricket Union chairman and joint-Irish Cricket Union treasurer, now a business man in Barbados and a near neighbour of Sir Everton, extended an invitation.

His presence as my colleague Robin Walsh put it, was the icing on the cake.

And it is to Hiles whose history of Ulster Senior cricket is a masterpiece, the definitive work that I'm indebted for providing the background of the Comber Club formed in 1857.

Initially, it was the Andrews family that gave its patronage and support; in fact at the turn of the century they could virtually turn out a cricket side themselves.

North Down and the name Andrews are synonymous - Thomas Andrews of Titanic fame, Oscar Andrews, James Andrews later Lord Chief Justice, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, JLO Jack Andrews, deputy Prime Minister and the renowned Willie Andrews arguably the greatest character in the local game. He was president of the ICU on two occasions, chairman of the NCU for 18 successive years and club captain for an astonishing 39.

And look too at the galaxy of stars - James Macdonald, his brother TJ, the Turner brothers Willie and Sam, Oscar Andrews, Andrew White, David Kennedy, the Haire family, Raman Lamba, Michael Reith and Peter Shields.

North Down has won more trophies than any other club, experienced lean spells particularly the era from 1946 to the mid 60s and has had its share of controversies.

The appointment of former Waringstown all-rounder Reith as a professional coach in 1980 sent shock waves through the game, hitting the fabric of the amateur code.

He was an outstanding success and rekindled the flame and fire which are part of North Down's tradition.

The flamboyant Indian Test player Raman Lamba joined them in 1984 and was arguably the finest batsman in the local game.

A controversial, ebullient and amiable figure, he was the forerunner of ideas which at times were disparaged, only to be adopted in later years in the local game.

Raman loved Comber, spent 10 years there, married and settled here before his untimely death on a cricket field in Bangladesh in 1998 when struck by a cricket ball.

North Down later put their faith in youth, got relegated, bounced back.

Then came the row when Peter Connell's registration was successfully challenged in 2006 and the club was stripped of the Senior League title and inaugural Twenty20 Cup before bouncing back this season, which is testimony to the resilience and drive which started 150 years ago and continues to this day.

A happy birthday to all at a proud club which epitomises all that is best about Ulster cricket.

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