Brendan Crossan: Newington Football Club celebrating its 40th birthday and a rich history

Newington players celebrate their 2017 Steel & Sons Cup success, the club's greatest ever achievement. Next Friday night, the club will celebrate their 40th anniversary in a special night in the Crumlin Road Gaol. Limited tickets are still available.
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

IT was 7.30am and the morning dew was well settled on our pitch at Muckamore Park.

The herd of cows that resided on an adjacent field decided to spend a day grazing on our pitch before returning to their own field.

It was late October/early November 2004. Our pitch was soft at the best of times. So you can imagine the damage the cows caused before they ambled back to their own field.

Thousands of divots needed to be filled in if Newington’s eagerly-awaited Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final with Bangor the following Saturday would get the go-ahead.

In the days leading up to the game, I stood with a bucket of sand and a small garden spade, cursing the stupid cows on the other field who were staring through the wire fence chewing grass and wondering what was going on at this ungodly hour of the morning.

This wasn’t part of the assistant manager’s gig when I signed up.

Each morning I must have filled 100 divots with sand and levelled them out with the spade. Come Saturday morning, the pitch passed an inspection. The Steel Cup quarter-final was good to go.

Muckamore Park, owned by the nearby hospital for people with mental health problems, was packed.

Our Steel Cup journey ended that afternoon in glorious failure.

Our centre half Jo-Jo Brooks scored twice but Bangor, who played a few divisions above us, rallied to win 3-2.

It was one of those rare days when our team reached its absolute potential.

Danny Hale jr and Liam ‘Bogey’ Bradley were our go-to men in midfield.

As they often did on the rickety surface, the pair played the shirt off their backs. They had a first touch to die for and an awareness on the pitch that could never be coached.

You didn’t have to say anything to Danny or ‘Bogey’ before games; you just handed them their jersey because they understood the game better than our manager Eamonn McCarthy or I did.

In the previous round, Newington were drawn to face Kilmore Rec.

The Co Down club had some brilliant players, with a young Andy Waterworth leading their attack.

At half-time, it would be no exaggeration to say Kilmore Rec should have been ahead by six goals.

Thanks to the brilliance of our goalkeeper Sean ‘Air Mail’ Irvine and outrageous good fortune we somehow kept Kilmore scoreless in normal time and extra-time and sneaked a win in a sudden death penalty shoot-out.

About a year later, Eamonn and I were in the back of a taxi on a Saturday evening, being driven to another watering hole, reminiscing and laughing about how we won that game.

It turned out the taxi-driver was only the Kilmore Rec manager – Donal ‘Ducky’ Bell. By the end of the journey we were all roaring about Ducky’s misfortune.

The 2004/05 season was the first year we took charge of the first team.

We managed to gain promotion to the Amateur League’s Premier Division on goal difference - by scoring one goal more than our luckless rivals Rosario YC.

In order to gain entry to the top division we needed to erect a fence around our pitch at Muckamore Park to satisfy league criteria.

One sunny Saturday afternoon, with the aid of Paul ‘Hamo’ Hamilton’s trusty van club volunteers laid down the rubber blocks and put up a fence. How it passed an inspection, nobody really knows, while one good heave would have collapsed the portacabin that masqueraded as the changing-rooms.

I returned to hobble around with the reserve team the following season while Eamonn went on to build a team that dominated the Amateur League Premier Division for the next five seasons.

Of course, Newington had a rich history before either of us joined.

The north Belfast club was formed in 1979 when a group of boxers and youth club leaders challenged each other to a friendly match.

They called themselves Jubilee Olympic. They played in the Dunmurry League – known now as the Belfast & District Football League – and for the first few seasons they lost more games than they won with Ashton Gate, Clifton Rec and Blyfield the established powerhouses of junior football in the 1980s and ’90s.

The club soon began to draw more players from the Newington, Cliftonville Road and New Lodge Road districts and after changing their name to Newington YC, the club embarked on an incredible run of success.

John Burns, Frankie Campbell and flying Dutchman Vladimir Smit managed the team at different times and were all hugely successful.

Junior Cups, Junior Shields, Cochrane Corry Cups and a series of promotions through the Amateur League ranks followed - with Danny Hale jr, the Reid brothers, Colm ‘Sugar’ McGuigan, Colum Burns, Danny Walsh, Christy Brady, Seanie Burns, Eddie Connors, Brian Craig and Stevie Munroe forming a brilliant team.

In 2012, with Eamonn McCarthy still at the helm, Newington pulled off one of the greatest Irish Cup upsets by beating Glentoran 1-0.

The cup defeat proved the end of the line for Oval boss Scott Young.

Arguably the club’s greatest achievement was winning the Steel & Sons Cup on Christmas Day 2017.

Now managed by my younger brother, Conor, the Steel Cup was always the Holy Grail.

Padraig Scollay’s name will be forever etched into the fabric of Newington and indeed Steel Cup history after his late goal saw off Linfield Swifts in the final at Seaview.

Next Friday night, Newington Football Club will celebrate its 40th anniversary at Crumlin Road Gaol, a night that will remember members from different eras who laid a brick on the road that Newington Football Club continues to travel today.

A club with a proud history that still has more chapters to write...

For ticket information to attend Newington FC’s 40th anniversary celebrations on Friday May 24 at 7pm, contact: Colum Burns 07793811632 or call into Gilmore’s menswear on the Antrim Road, beside Tescos.

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