Friday, May 24, 2024

Cliftonville Football Club – 2024 Irish Cup Winners…

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“WINNING ISN’T EVERYTHING BUT WANTING TO WIN IS” is a quote attributed to the great American football coach Vince Lombardi. It could have been written for my fellow Cliftonville fans and me who have waited 45 years to see our team win the Irish Cup again. When Ronan Hale ran over half the length of the pitch in the 125th minute at Windsor Park to seal a 3 -1 win over Linfield a roar that might have been heard in a parallel universe boomed out and grown men, women and children cried, this was how much it meant. It’s been a long time coming.

Legend has it that a curse has haunted the Mayo Senior Gaelic Football team since 1951 when their All Ireland winning side that year was alleged to have disrespected a funeral on the way home from Dublin. The priest is supposed to have said “As long as you all shall live County Mayo will never win another All Ireland”…..and they haven’t.

Cliftonville Football Club » Fame game

The Red Army was starting to think along the same lines when it came to the Irish Cup. In 1979 under Jackie Hutton, we beat a very good Portadown team 3 -2 in the Final with the winning goal scored by Tony Bell in the last minute. Johnston, Largey, Quinn, Platt, McCurry, Adair and the rest of the team wrote their own history that day. Since then however we have reached 5 finals losing in 1997, 2009, 2013 & 2018 with the Cup awarded to Portadown in 1999 when Cliftonville were barred from the Final over some dubious ‘breach’ of player registration rules…..mmmm! It’s still a moot point, would the Blues or Glens have been kicked out? Were we destined never to win it again? We have had great success in other competitions along the way, winning the League in 1998, doing back-to-back titles in 2013 & 2014, four League Cups in a row 2013 – 2016 and several Co. Antrim Shields. However, Irish Cup Finals in May are special, and this still alluded us until now

It’s been a long journey with many bumps and bruises along the way. Reds fans of my generation and older have seen and experienced it all. My first game was a Co. Antrim Shield tie v Glentoran at Solitude about 1976/77. We always felt we were the whipping boys of Irish League football with all the Unionist sporting, media, policing & military Establishments firmly encamped against us. If there was trouble in and outside grounds, if stones and missiles were thrown or if sectarian songs had been belted out….we were undoubtedly to blame even before the facts came out. Going to and from games the RUC and British Army always faced us with heavy batons and plastic bullet guns at the ready; they never needed any encouragement to use them as opposing fans stood against us in unity alongside ‘their’ security forces. The scenario had been pre-set. It was going to be our fault if things kicked off irrespective. The irony was, of course, that Cliftonville Football Club was always mixed in our playing staff, managers and fan base. Over the years, we have been attacked at virtually every Irish League ground from Coleraine, Larne, Bangor & Ards to Seaview, Portadown, Glenavon, Windsor & the Oval, but we still turned up. I’m not saying that we were always innocent. Yes, we had a few balloons & hallions who attached themselves to us but time and time again we shouldered all the blame. It was always thus and suited the political narrative of the day. On 05 November 1991, I was in Windsor Park at a League game Cliftonville v Linfield, when the UDA threw a hand grenade at the Reds support on the Kop. It was a miracle no one was killed.

Times have, however, changed, and that was no more evident than on Saturday, 04 May 2024, at Windsor Park. Some Reds and Blues fans were seen walking down the Boucher Road bantering with each other and not a cross word was said. Yes, inside the ground, there were a few of the old scenarios with sectarian singing and flags, but it was very much in the minority as most fans were there to support their team. It doesn’t make it right but across these islands, in Europe and on a global scale other football fans also attack, abuse, vilify and castigate each other on local, political, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic and religious grounds. The handwringers and shouty broadcasters who thrive on all this will, as usual, jump on the small issues at Windsor for a short-term, self-serving PR fix, but the truth is that we are not singular on this. The policing presence at Windsor was minimal, the place was absolutely buzzing and the atmosphere electric. The Reds were under the cosh for the first half hour when Linfield battered us but eventually we settled down, played football and the rest is history. At the end, the pressure cooker of 45 years blew, the relief and sheer joy poured out, and the celebrations haven’t stopped since. David Healy, his staff, players and quite a few Blues fans stayed on and applauded us, and for that, we thank them.

I know a lot of people have no interest in Irish League football and ridicule and laugh at it. They prefer to sit on the sofa and watch the English Premiership with Man City about to win another title in a league which has become predictable and boring. Most Irish League clubs do a lot of great cross-community and social work in and around their own areas and beyond. 1000s of kids each year are involved in youth matches and tournaments while the women and girls’ game here are growing massively. Irish League clubs are now hubs playing such an important role in keeping many of our young people off the streets while families are going to games in ever-increasing numbers. It’s no surprise or shock now to see wee lads and girls in Cliftonville, Larne, Glentoran & Crusaders training gear on places like the Antrim Road which is brilliant. However, the facilities at many grounds, particularly Solitude and the Oval, are dire. These clubs and others need the Stormont funding which they were promised over a decade ago and it should be forthcoming as soon as possible. Give the Irish League a break and encouragement, give it help and funding which it currently isn’t getting and DON’T LINK IT TO THE CASEMENT PARK REDEVELOPMENT. The Irish League money should be a stand-alone issue.

Congratulations to my team Cliftonville Football Club 2024 IRISH CUP WINNERS YOU REDS YOU REDS YOU REDS. Take a bow, you brought a lot of joy, laughter and tears to many of us on Saturday.  Thanks to Jim Magilton and Gerard Lyttle who faced a lot of pre-season criticism and social media negativity. A shout out too to the other backroom staff and all club volunteers but especially a massive thank you to the players. You are now all legends at Solitude for evermore.

Finally, if there is one person who we would all loved to have seen there at Windsor it was our legendary midfield maestro and greatest ever manager TOMMY BRESLIN.

Cliftonville shocked by sudden death of Tommy Breslin | UTV | ITV NewsCliftonville shocked by sudden death of Tommy Breslin | UTV | ITV News

REST IN PEACE T.B. SADLY MISSED BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.


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