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Belfast Star's sparkling history is brought to book

By David Kelly

Belfast Star are celebrating 50 years in basketball and one man who knows the values and impact of the club over that time is Ronnie Whiteside, one of the Carrick Rangers heroes of 1976 when they shocked Linfield in the Irish Cup final.

Whiteside was one of many former Star players at last night's official launch of their excellent book which chronicles the highs, lows and journey from local club to All Ireland Superleague champions.

The 6ft 6in east Belfast man can look back on a fine sporting career and while many will remember the 60-year-old as one of the Carrick centre-backs on that glorious day at The Oval, he looks back with equal joy to his days with Star.

"At the time I was playing basketball more seriously than football when I suddenly got the call to play for Carrick. I was playing in the seconds for Carrick and then in the middle of the 1975-76 season, Jimmy Brown called me into the first team and we went on that great Cup run and I was in the final when we beat Linfield which was just amazing," said Whiteside.

"For a team from the B Division to do that was incredible, to beat the biggest team in the Irish League. I remember Malcolm Brodie writing in the Ireland's Saturday Night 'Real Madrid for Taylor's Avenue?' because at that time you went into the Cup Winners Cup.

"As it turned out we beat a team from Luxembourg and then faced Southampton and I was marking Peter Osgood - they also had Mick Channon and Bobby Stokes, who had scored the winner for Southampton against Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

"We lost 9-3 on aggregate but it was a great experience and I did give Osgood a kick...

"I went on to play for another three years at that level for Carrick but after that I played for Shorts in the amateur league and then I got a call from Danny Fulton to play for Star of the Sea.

"I would be playing football for Star in the afternoon and then Star at night. We played in the Milk Cup which became a big basketball event in the 1980s and I remember one night winning that Saturday and then the next day winning the final.

"Playing for Star was very special, it's a great club. There's a family ethos and spirit about the club. I started basketball when I was 16 when my teacher at Dundonald High, Ian Scott, asked me to play for Stranmillis Old Boys, who also had Mervyn Elder and Roy Millar.

"I was already 6ft 6in so I stood out and I loved playing all sports. Then Star invited me to play and when they went into the National League we were playing all over the country every weekend - I don't know how they did because it was so costly but I think Bill McCotter's business acumen helped with that, he was a great chairman.

"Bill and Danny Fulton, who was the Irish coach, are great people, they've played a massive part in making the club what it is and with more people like them the club will be here for another 50 years I'm sure.

"They have Danny's son Adrian and Bill's son Paul McCotter working with the young ones which is great."

As well as reflecting on the rise of the club's standards on the court, Whiteside (left) was quick to highlight the general spirit within Star.

"We were a group of young lads, wanting to learn and the atmosphere was great. Sport brings people together and Star had people from all over and that was great, religion never came into it. There was a discipline about the club and values that made it stand out. There were long lasting friendships made."

That last sentiment was one which was in abundance at this week's official launch of the book.

Long-time Chairman Bill McCotter, a past player as well, former Star and Ireland coach Danny Fulton and McCotter's right hand man Raymond O'Neill were all quick to hail the camaraderie that has permeated those 50 years that have been so well brought together by Brian O'Fril.

McCotter said: "It's been a great 50 years and the whole ethos of the club goes right back to the start when the club was started under the guidance of Dr Liam Conlon.

"The club has had some great players over the years and we've had some journey from a local Ulster club, to entering the National League and then becoming All Ireland Superleague champions. Winning back-to-back titles was really special.

"But apart from the senior level, we have had some great junior success as well and this year we won the BasketballNI titles in every age group which is quite a feat.

"I'm very proud of what we have done over the years and it's simply down to the fact that we have been very lucky with the people we have had on our committee and all those who have worked hard to make the club what it is."

The Star story continues as they look ahead to next season and with another All Ireland league campaign and a junior programme second to none.

Books available from Bill McCotter on 07748187917.

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