‘Only surviving Comrades’ story told in Ballyclare centenary book

This year is a momentous one for Ballyclare Comrades as the football club celebrates its centenary.

The club was formed by men who returned to the town after surviving the horrors of the trenches in the First World War.

Robson Davison (centre), author of 'The Comrades, presents Trevor McCann, chairman, with the first copy of the special centenary book. Looking on, from left to right, are Seamus Reid, Reid Black Solicitors; Robert Fleck, treasurer and Justyn Wallace, committee member. 'Picture by Freddie Parkinson.

Robson Davison (centre), author of 'The Comrades, presents Trevor McCann, chairman, with the first copy of the special centenary book. Looking on, from left to right, are Seamus Reid, Reid Black Solicitors; Robert Fleck, treasurer and Justyn Wallace, committee member. 'Picture by Freddie Parkinson.

To mark the milestone, former teacher and local historian Robson Davison has written ‘The Comrades’, which will be officially launched at a special event at Ballyclare Town Hall on Saturday, February 23 (7.00pm).

Former players and fans are invited along for what should prove to be a nostalgic night as it will feature a power-point presentation about the club’s history and a question and answer session with former managers and players, chaired by former player Harry Blair. Plans are also underway to stage an open air service at Dixon Park, the club’s ground in the centre of the town, on Saturday, May 12.

Club treasurer Robert Fleck said: “The club has always been in the community of Ballyclare so we thought it would be nice to do something significant for the centenary. So with the wonderful help of Robson Davison, we have put together this book which we feel people would like to read and enjoy the rich history of the club.”

Mr Davison, a former teacher at Ballyclare High School, said he found the history of the Comrades fascinating as he went about compiling the publication.

Front cover of 'The Comrades'.

Front cover of 'The Comrades'.

“Ballyclare was heavily affected by the First World War, particularly the fact that the men fought in the same company in the same battalion in the same regiment. They were involved in the first day of the Battle of the Somme and took heavy casualties near Thiepval,” he said.

“I didn’t realise how successful the club had been, right from almost the very start. In the early to mid-1920s they were very successful, having come from virtually nowhere into what was the Intermediate League. During their time in that league, particularly post-war, they had an incredibly successful record.”

Chairman Trevor McCann, who has had a connection with the club for almost 50 years, emphasised the ‘family’ ethos at Dixon Park. “Many of the players never seem to want to leave, even when they can. I think that’s because of this family thing that we have here. I think it’s a tremendous achievement that after 100 years, the club is still playing in the Irish League,” he said.

Coach Jamesy Kirk joked that sometimes he felt like he had been with the Comrades for 100 years.

Ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

Ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

“The centenary is massive. The club’s enriched in history and I’ve always been very proud to have been involved with it - as both a player and now currently as coach,” he said.

Club chaplain Rev. Robert Bell, minister of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church, said: “It’s such a wonderful story. I have discovered that at the end of the First World War lots of towns had teams called ‘Comrades’ - but this is thought to be the only surviving one anywhere.”

Seamus Reid, of Reid Black Solicitors - the club’s main sponsor - has had an affinity with the Comrades virtually all his life.

“I’ve been following them since I was a child. In a town that has seen so many changes, the Comrades is unchanging - and it’s a very proud moment for me to see them reach 100 years. The lads who returned from the First World War must have been devastated. The Comrades gave them a home - and it’s been home to many people ever since,” he said.

The Ballyclare Comrades Intermediate Cup winning team 1926.

The Ballyclare Comrades Intermediate Cup winning team 1926.

‘The Comrades - the Story of the First Hundred Years of Ballyclare Comrades Football Club’ can be purchased via the club’s official website - Ballyclare Comrades Football Club - from Saturday, February 23, 2019. Price £9.99.

A team photograph of Ballyclare Comrades taken in the 1920s

A team photograph of Ballyclare Comrades taken in the 1920s