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Meet Sir Alex Ferguson’s other favourite club . . . in Carryduff


United they stand: The members of the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club

United they stand: The members of the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club

United they stand: The members of the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club

So, you're having a 20th birthday party and you love Manchester United. Ideal guests? Well, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville would figure highly I would think.

Put Sir Alex Ferguson in charge of the invites and with more speed than a Wayne Rooney overhead kick rifling into the net, the wish is granted.

The three Old Trafford legends are being despatched by the boss himself, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club, which will take place at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on March 20.

Shows you what Fergie thinks of the boys at Carryduff.

He would probably have come along too but for a pre-arranged trip with his wife.

The special relationship with Ferguson began after Sir Alex wrote the foreword for The Official Manchester United quiz book, which was the brainchild of John White co-founder and branch secretary of the Carryduff club.

John had used questions in the book that he had written for quizzes on the Carryduff Supporters Club bus to matches in Manchester to alleviate boredom on the road from Stranraer.

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John explains: “We found out after that that the boss had set up a charity in memory of his late mother Elizabeth Hardie Ferguson.

“We said that we would be delighted to organise things in the island of Ireland for him and that we would do it voluntarily and he agreed to that. We were called over to Old Trafford for a meeting where we outlined ideas on how we could make money for the charity.

“We had him over in 1997 for a Sportsmans dinner at the Europa Hotel in which we raised big money with an auction. It was the day after Eric Cantona hung up his boots and the TV cameras were everywhere

“Since then he has come over quite a bit and if you write to him and ask him for anything

he's magnificent. He has done forewords for other United books that I've written and he even gave me a quote about a book I'm doing on the Titanic because he used to work in a shipyard.

“We haven't had the Boss, or the wizard as I nickname him, over for a while so we asked him with the 20th anniversary of the club coming up if there was any chance that he could send a couple of players, in particular Giggs and Scholes, and obviously come over himself.

“The boss sent over a letter saying we could have Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. Obviously we wanted the boss too, but it is an international week and he is away on a break with his wife Lady Kathy.

“Giggs, Scholes and Neville are the modern day equivalent of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, so we’re delighted,” added John.

Other United greats Harry Gregg and Pat Crerand will also be in attendance to savour the 20th anniversary while Fergie, the chief executive David Gill and the Carryduff club’s President Eamonn Holmes will send video messages for what promises to be a fantastic night.

It all seems a far cry from when John had the idea to start a supporters club in Carryduff.

White, a mine of information about United with a photographic memory, recalls with pride how it all started, after he

got married and set up home in Carryduff. Struck by the number of kids he saw wearing United tops in the area, he went about forming a club.

“It was a mixed area and at that stage United had strict rules — you had to have a minimum of 40 people to form a club and you had to be six miles from another supporters club,” said John, whose ultimate United hero is George Best.

“Obviously Carryduff's not six miles from Belfast where there were lots of clubs, but I thought it would be nice to have a cross community club where it didn't matter what you were or who you were as long as you supported United, so I put an ad in the South Belfast Post, a wee free paper back then, and called a meeting at Maysfield Leisure Centre.

The meeting was well attended, about 60 were there, and I put my ideas across and said that if people were interested to come along the next week. I was delighted because we got the requisite 40 which meant we could start up.

“I sent the forms across to United and explained the situation about Carryduff being a cross community supporters club. United were aware of the problems in Northern Ireland at the time with the religious divide and we received official accreditation as a Supporters club in August 1991, so that was it — we were official.

“Then we formed a committee. I was a founder member of the club and became branch secretary which I've remained until this day and we set about organising our first match — it was September 1991 and it was against Norwich City.

“There was only 23 of us and I remember setting the price for it — two nights bed and breakfast, all travel and match ticket all for just £69!”

Almost 300 trips later the club is still going strong.

They have 60 season tickets — 42 for adults and 18 for juniors — and a staggering 350 members, the biggest in Ireland.

Membership fees are £40 for a year for an adult, £5 per year for a child aged 11-15 and free for pensioners or kids from 0-10, so the price is one reason for the popularity.

Another by common consent is how well trips are organised and how professionally the club is run. There’s also a terrific atmosphere when the members get together, as they will for their big dinner date. Not surprisingly the event is sold out.

The branch secretary says: “The 20th anniversary is going to be a celebration. We want to have photographs up of our first trip and boys bringing in programmes and people talking about their memories.”

One sure to crop up comes from 1992.

John reveals: “The chairman John Dempsey, our treasurer then Ken Lowry and myself went to a supporters club bi-annual meeting to sort out season tickets (five of them) or match ticket books as they were known back then.

“We arrived in a friend's Rolls Royce and when they stopped us at Old Trafford the stewards asked what's your business today and we said ‘We're over from Ireland and we're here to buy this club today’. I'll never forget the look on the guy's face.”

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