Meet the Mighty Mallards... the little ducks who ruffled Linfield's feathers
During the week they’re students, gardeners and bankers.
But at the weekend they’re the giant killers of the Irish League.
Meet the men of Ballinamallard United Football Club — the team which is sending shockwaves through local footballing circles with an incredible run of success.
This time 10 years ago unheralded Second Division clashes with the likes of Moyola and Dergview were the norm.
Now the team from a small Co Fermanagh village is not just playing in the Irish Premiership, but claiming its biggest scalps.
Ballinamallard United hit the headlines at the weekend after thrashing Linfield — current champions and the most successful team in its history — away.
In the same week team boss Whitey Anderson was named the Irish Football Writers' Manager of the Month, his team hammered Linfield 3-1 at Windsor Park, cementing a stunning start to their debut campaign in the Premiership.
The background of this true underdog story began with Whitey leading the team to promotion from the Championship last season.
Rather than being intimidated by the tougher competition, the Mallards have catapulted themselves to third in the table, behind Cliftonville and Coleraine.
Whitey, an Omagh man who has managed the team for seven seasons, said he doesn't quite know the secret to his success. But if he could bottle it, he would sell it, he says.
“We seem to have something unique at the minute that is working for us and our aim is to get even better,” he said.
“The team has a great deal of talent, dedication and spirit. We may be from a small country village but we have the second best defensive record in the league. We were least favourites at the start of the season but we have shown we can hold our own.
“We are still hungry for success — we need to be because we have more games ahead of us and anything could happen.”
Whitey said the astounding run of victories has left “a lot of people in Fermanagh and beyond on cloud nine”.
“I never envisaged we could win against Linfield, the most successful club in Irish League history,” he added.
“We went out there on Saturday with nothing to lose and nothing to fear. At the same time we had just won four games in a row, so we decided to just really go for it as opposed to sitting back. The team scored three magnificent goals.”
Ballinamallard United players are aged 18 to 35 and hail from the village and surrounding areas including Enniskillen, Castlederg and even Sligo. Whitey describes the blend as a “good mix of youth and experience”.
The team trains two to three times per week at Ferney Park in the village. Most team members also have day jobs such as running the local hardware store, manual labour or working in the bank.
They are the first team from Fermanagh to play in the top division.
Previous notable Intermediate honours include winning the Irish League Second Division in 2002/2003.
Then, in March this year, the club had its finest moment when promoted to the Premiership.
Whitey said the team has a fantastic support network from the Ballinamallard community — with 250 fans travelling to Belfast to watch them play on Saturday.
“It is the first time Fermanagh has reached the Premiership, it's a big thing for us. We were also very impressed that some of the Linfield supporters stayed on and applauded us as we walked off the pitch — it was very gracious of them,” he said.
Profile: Whitey Anderson
Most good nicknames often have a story behind them but Wycliffe ‘Whitey’ Anderson said he has no idea how he came to be known as Whitey. The Ballinamallard United FC manager, who says he’s “on the wrong side of 50”, reckons he was called it by someone once and it “just stuck”. Speaking about the origins of his real name, which he admits is unusual in Northern Ireland, the Omagh man said: “I don't know where the name originated. I don't think I have any ancestors with that name. It's pronounced ‘Wyclef’ like the musician Wyclef Jean —I can't sing though — except maybe after a few beers,” he joked.
How they measure up
Ballinamallard is a small village in Co Fermanagh and has a population of just over 1,000. Ballinamallard United FC was founded in 1975 and the team plays home matches at the 2,000-capacity Ferney Park. It has just one school and has won several ‘Best Kept Village’ titles. River Erne tributaries flow through and around the village and it is a popular spot for trout fishing.
There are three pubs/restaurants in the village.
Belfast was granted city status in 1888. It is the capital of Northern Ireland and the 14th largest city in the UK. The larger urban area has a population of over 640,000.
Historically, the city has been a powerhouse and world leader of industry, particularly in linen and shipbuilding. It has several large stadiums and venues including Casement Park and Windsor Park.