Sports

Loughgall to mark Golden Jubilee

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

LOUGHGALL Football Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a Gala Ball this Friday, 19 May.

A Strictly Come Dancing event will also take place on Saturday, 20 May, to mark half a century since the club entered the Greystone League.

The club began back in 1967 under manager Noel Willis, when a group of local lads - who up until then had been playing friendlies at Lakeview Park - opted to enter the Greystone League. Loughgall won the league at the first attempt and again the following year.

In the years that followed, the club dominated the Dungannon and Armagh Summer Leagues and this success continued under the management of Jimmy Walker in the Lonsdale League.

Over the years, Loughgall FC has clinched many cups, including the NIFL Championship in 2003/2004, 2007/08 and 2009/10.

The club - which has witnessed 19 managers over the past five decades - also secured 12 Bob Radcliffe Cups, as well as the Mid-Ulster Cup on two occasions and the Irish League 'B' Division four times, to name but a few.

Current club president Noel Willis recalled how in 1973, the team decided to apply for admission to the Mid-Ulster League, which in those days consisted of three divisions.

“Loughgall were accepted into the second division; George Willis was appointed manager and led his team to promotion at the first attempt," he said.

“The following year we won the first division undefeated - an amazing achievement.

"In the process, Loughgall went on to extend their unbeaten league run to over 50 games.

"Sammy Robinson, who had captained the team, was appointed manager in 1977 and led his team to four successive First Division championships.

“It has been a remarkable journey through half a century and I would like to thank all of the managers, backroom staff and the hundreds of players who have represented Loughgall Football Club with such distinction over this period.

“May I also take this opportunity to thank the various chairmen, senior officers and committee members for their faithful service.

“My one big regret is that we have lost so many great friends who began the journey back in 1967 or joined in the early days - may they rest in peace in the knowledge that we continue to do our utmost to carry on their good work."

While the Loughgall FC of today started in 1967, the sport has been played in the village for over a century.

The earliest known Loughgall football team dates back to 1885 when the workers from the Cope estate and the Cranagill Mills of Joseph Orr and Sons formed a football club.

Mr Samuel Orr, who ran the village's post office, was the first ever team captain and club secretary. The club played its games in the Manor Estate, with membership for the 30 players costing two shillings a year.

In 1886, Loughgall played their first match in the Irish Cup against Milford FC and the match ended in a 1-1 draw, with Milford winning the replay 1-0.

This started a rivalry between the two villages which continued for over 100 years until 1989 when Milford Everton changed their name to Armagh City and moved out of Milford village.

In 1906, Loughgall played a friendly against Ireland's oldest club Cliftonville FC from Belfast.

It was around this time that players began using Hogg's Pub for changing, players regularly met at Hogg's and cycled into the village to play their matches.

Football in the village was suspended due to the outbreak of the First World War when virtually all of the men in the village joined the 36th Ulster Division.

The first mention of any Loughgall team reaching a cup final comes in 1932 when Loughgall played Rock Stars at Umgola, Armagh, with play having to be abandoned in the second half with Rock Stars winning 2-0 as the ball was punctured and neither club had a replacement.

The game was ordered to be replayed, however the result of the replay is not known.

In 1935, Loughgall won the Charity Cup, which is the first record of any Loughgall team winning a trophy, however, with football at this time being poorly documented it is likely that the club won many trophies before this one.

It is not until the 1950s that a clearer picture of football in the village becomes apparent with the club regularly competing in the Armagh District Summer League.

Loughgall was always famous for wearing gold rather than the current blue and it was said that people came from miles around to see the famous gold shirts of Loughgall.

Players like Tommy Elliot, Jimmy Edgar, Jim Spratt and Tommy Johnston formed the spine of the team, as well as Jimmy Walker, who played for the club in the 1950s and is still a faithful supporter of the club today.

After finishing playing, Jimmy became a coach at the club and never failed to rush to the aid of an injured player with his famous magic sponge.

In 1952, the club lifted the McArdle Moore Cup; the opposition and result of the final are not known but it is believed over 800 fans attended the semi final in which Loughgall beat Richhill 2-0 at the Mill Field, Armagh.

The first league title to be won by a Loughgall side came in 1954 when the club won all seven matches in the Armagh and District Summer League. They also reached the Rotary Cup final that season, being beaten 2-1 by Scotch Street.

The club then went on to win the McArdle Moore Cup, again in 1958. After entering the Dungannon and District League in 1969, the club won both the Sportsman's Cup and McQueen Cup, as well as the prestigious Armstrong Cup.

The club played on a field owned by the Department of Agriculture and had to change in a garage owned by Mr T Rountree.

Off the field, Armagh Council bought the club's pitch in 1977 and sold it to the club in 1979. A clubhouse was opened in 1981, with Loughgall playing a glamour friendly against Ballymena United, who had won the Irish Cup and Ulster Cup the previous season.

A number of people from the original squad are still involved in the club today.

Centre half Freddie Wright served on the committee as both Chairman and vice- Chairman until recently, while coach Jimmy Walker and groundsman Hilbert Willis are still faithful supporters and have both been awarded honorary life membership of the club.

Looking ahead, the club hopes to get back to challenging for trophies and being competitive in every game.

With the NIFL Championship becoming a senior division in 2016, Loughgall FC is again competing at senior level and it is something the players, coaches and committee members want not only to maintain, but to use as a stepping stone to bring further success to the club.

The addition of an under 20s development team at the beginning of 2016 and the club's close links with Loughgall Youth FC mean there will be plenty of talented new players wearing the famous blue shirt of Loughgall for many years to come.

The committee also has ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the club facilities.

A new state-of-the-art 3G synthetic playing surface is to be installed on the site of the all weather pitch in the near future.

This will allow the first team, under 20s and youth sides to train and play matches within Loughgall village and bring together all strands of the Loughgall family.

It will also be of enormous benefit to the local community.

In addition to this, the club also has plans to redevelop Lakeview Park adding a new stand, turnstiles and a control tower, as well as re-profiling the existing Raymond Nesbitt stand to include more seats, which in turn will make Lakeview Park one of the best small stadiums in Northern Ireland.

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