Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Colin Nixon's dismissal from Ards was a classless way to end the reign of an Irish League class act

Ard to take: Despite his best efforts Colin Nixon was shown the door by Ards
Ard to take: Despite his best efforts Colin Nixon was shown the door by Ards
New Ards boss Warren Feeney with chairman Brian Adams

By Billy Weir

Back in the dark midsts of bygone years, when I was a mere slip of a lad, myself and my good chum, Alan, set off on an adventure.

In fairness, it was more a mystery tour, not a hugely magical one I grant you, as our desired final destination was the fine town of Newtownards, and our chariot of choice was Alan's magnificent 950cc Ford Fiesta. In brown.

This was something of a red letter day, one of the first games we ventured to by our own steam, or smoke in the case of the motor, as we set off having only ever been deposited at the front of Castlereagh Park in the supporters' club bus.

As we did our 154th lap of the town and as time clicked ever onwards to 3.00pm our search became more and more panicked, and being men, obviously, we weren't about to stop and ask for directions. Perish the thought.

Then I had a brainwave. A plane overhead. Now, I know some of you are now envisaging me in a white suit going 'boss, boss' but the words 'fantasy' and 'Ards' rarely belong in the same sentence.

No, my reasoning was that whilst on a previous visit to Castlereagh Park I was struck by the charming distraction of wee planes zooming overhead as they came in to land at the neighbouring airstrip, so, naturally, thought that if we followed the plane then, hey presto, we'd get there.

And this was how I made my first ever visit to Comber.

It turns out that the plane had been leaving Ards and I know not where it ended up, but we are to be thankful that the Fiesta was not amphibious or I could be sitting in Boston wondering if Tom Sloan had broken his duck for Ballymena.

However, I am hardly the only directionless, senseless and foolhardy one around north Down these days, the sacking of Colin Nixon a particularly classless way to end the tenure of one of the Irish League's class acts of the past 25 years.

"I've no intention of resigning. I'm working every day to improve this club. I've worked my socks off under difficult circumstances and I will continue until told otherwise," said Nixon after Friday night's embarrassing 3-0 'home' defeat by Institute.

He also had to go through the ignominy of carrying out post-match press duties before being told he was being sacked.

Nixon knows that this season has been nothing short of disaster, not helped by some crippling injuries and under-performing players, with only three wins and 14 points accrued but, bizarrely, still only one win away from a potential relegation play-off spot and safety.

I have seen Ards four times this season, and on each one they have been progressively worse, the last being an abject display against Glenavon, where Nixon himself admitted that if they continued to play like that there was only one place they were headed - and it wasn't Comber.

Nixon had shown remarkable loyalty to his hometown club, who haven't played in that town since 2001, by turning down a move to Glentoran last year, but it counted for little in the end. He was given a deal up until 2021 by Chairman Brian Adams and his board, but the timing of Nixon's dismissal seems very odd.

A rummage down the back of the sofa managed to scrape a little cash together for Nixon to make some much-needed signings in the transfer window and then two games later he is shown the door, a week before arguably one of the club's most important matches ever at 'home' to Newry City.

"We appointed Colin in December 2016 and he enjoyed success in his first two seasons at the club," said Adams in an all-too-brief sacking statement.

Success? What Nixon achieved in finishing eighth and ninth was nothing short of miraculous.

"However, the board are disappointed by this season's results with just three wins in 29 league matches and by the decline in attendance from Ards supporters during Colin's tenure."

Hard to argue with the first statement but quite how the attendance drop can be laid at his feet is another matter.

Let's face facts, that Ards are still in existence at all is down to the likes of Adams and his small band of men and women who are red and blue to the core. They also have a thriving underage section, due in no small part to the efforts of Nixon.

This is a club with a proud history in the Irish League, but since Castlereagh Park was sold off to pay the debts, they have lurched from one disaster to another, with stop-offs in Ballyclare, Carrickfergus and now Bangor.

I take no joy in that, I would love to see Ards as a strong player, let's face it, they bring a lot more to the party than clubs with little or no support.

But until they get a base in Newtownards again then they are really just going to be chasing their tails, and even the appointment of new boss Warren Feeney was bizarre.

The news broke over the weekend that the former Northern Ireland striker, last seen in this parish during his short tenure as Linfield manager, was interested but then had cooled off, and then suddenly he was announced to the world.

"We are delighted that Warren has agreed to take over until the end of the season," said Adams.

"Warren is a man of great experience who will bring a positive attitude to our club."

He can bring all the positivity he wants and he has family links to the club, but let's face facts, my dad and granny both worked in Gallahers, it doesn't mean I can knock you out 20 Embassy Regal at the drop of a hat.

I am sure he also knows the history, but it is a far cry from the all-conquering season of 1973-74 when they won the Irish League and three other trophies and then defeated Standard Liege at a packed Castlereagh Park.

There was also the Irish Cup trilogy against Bangor in 1993. I was among the 20,000 fans who attended over the course of the three games, although being a neutral at a final is akin to kissing your sister or getting a Valentine's card from your auntie.

They eventually lost, but bar League Cup and Co Antrim Shield triumphs and a couple of promotions, there has been little to cheer of late.

The efforts to get a new base are as much up in the air as that plane I chased all those years ago and defeat on Saturday could be momentous. After all, Feeney is hardly likely to up sticks and move back home with the prospect of trips to Dergview and Limavady to look forward to next season.

Landlord Bangor's demise has been even greater, now plying their trade in the Ballymena Provincial Intermediate League and must serve as a warning that once the decline kicks in, it's very hard to break it.

As for Feeney, he is saying all the right things so far.

"Obviously the last time I was in this league was with Linfield and we were top. It's going to be tough, we're not just going to go out and win all nine games, I know that," he said.

"But if I can restore confidence, stop the rot of conceding goals and the players start enjoying their football again, then positive results are possible."

And tellingly he also noted that Ards have some 'good players'. They do, but ultimately they let Nixon down and he paid the price.

I wish Warren and Ards well, and hope Nicky gets back into the game soon, and look forward to the time when I can travel to the town and watch football there again, although this time I will ask for directions.

Final whistle didn't bring the curtain down on a day of high emotion

Ballymena 129 (2).png
Andy Waterworth

Saturday's BetMcLean League Cup Final certainly lived up to the billing, although a 1-0 win for Linfield over Ballymena United doesn't even begin to tell the story.

I don't think I have witnessed such a bizarre collection of emotions that have been unleashed since the final whistle (and before it, if we're being honest).

Relief for match-winner Andy Waterworth that the Blues held on, anger from Jamie Mulgrew for his treatment by the Sky Blues players and referee Andrew Davey, pride and delight in his side's performance by David Jeffrey and contentment for David Healy that he now joins the select band of managers to have all the local game can offer.

I went to the game, and it would be remiss of me not to single out Jimmy Callacher who was a colossus for the Blues, as is my wont when my hometown gets to a final, as a fan.

Of course, emotions are very different when you are sitting in the crowd, but what moved me was the warmth between the dejected players and the large number of fans who stayed well beyond the final whistle to show their appreciation.

Yes, Ballymena lost, but there was almost a coming of age for the team, perhaps a realisation that they can compete with the best and well, wouldn't you know it, they do it all again this Saturday in the Danske Bank Premiership.

For Linfield it is a chance to all but put the title on the shelf, a nine-point lead at this time of the season would surely be too much, but a win for the Sky Blues would close the gap to three points, with a game in hand. It is a huge game, and will be a tricky one to handle for whoever is in the middle, with every tackle on Mulgrew scrutinised, and let's hope that we are only talking about football next week.

Incidentally, Waterworth has scored 28 times against the Braidmen in his career, that is just ridiculous and few would bet against him doing so again on Saturday.

Final word

It's fair to say that Warrenpoint Town manager Stephen McDonnell was less than chuffed at twice throwing away a two-goal lead at Dungannon, saying ‘it’s absolutely dire straits’. Some of the players certainly got their money for nothing...

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