Community-based footballers pay tribute to sponsors and fan base

A Ballyclare-based football club is hopeful the ‘stop-start’ nature of the current campaign can be consigned to the history books as Covid restrictions ease.

Ballyclare North End FC, formed in the town’s now demolished Ballyboe Inn by Darren Black and Ally Lawrie in 2004, currently fields one team in the Ballymena and Provincial League Junior Division 2.

The side has called Parkview Hockey Club in Doagh home since 2015. Prior to that, games were played out of the top pitch at Ballyclare Leisure Centre.

The club, currently placed mid-table in the league, is yet to taste success in league or cup competition, but there is a ‘what might have been’ attitude at the south Antrim side, as they had been enjoying a good run in the 2019/2020 league campaign before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Assistant manager Jonny Gracey, Manager William Black and goalkeeper coach Simon Hamilton.

Speaking to the Times, club Secretary, Bryan Hutchinson, said: “Although we remain without a trophy in our short history to date, we have enjoyed many successful seasons in the BPIL.

“As recently as the 2019/20 season we were top of the second division with three games to play before Covid-19 took hold. The league was then decided on a points per game basis, which meant we dropped to third in the final standings.

“Two of our last three games were against the sides who leapfrogged us though, so we would have been in with a shout if the campaign had been completed.”

The close-knit club, which has around 30 members, aged between 18 and 40+, has had some ‘characters’ over the years, as well as a current professional footballer in its ranks.

Ballyclare North End.

Bryan explained: “There are quite a few long-serving members of the playing staff still pulling the boots on, including Gareth Millar, William Shannon and Aaron Gilmore.

“Outside of that, former player William Black has taken the managerial reins for the last two and a half seasons, all massively interrupted by Covid.

“He is ably assisted by two boys with long playing careers in the local area in Jonny Gracey and Simon Hamilton.

Joel Cooper, who is currently on loan at Port Vale from Oxford United, turned out for the club on one or two occasions in his younger days.”

Throughout the club’s 18 years in existence, players and coaching staff have participated in kindhearted efforts for worthy causes.

Mr Hutchinson stated: “Our most recent charitable event was a ‘Legends Day’, where the current side took on a squad made up of former players. All of the money raised was donated to the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity at the Royal Victoria Hospital.”

Community plays an important role in the ethos at BNE, with the club keen to thank everyone who has supported and continues to back the side.

Bryan added: “As with most local junior clubs, we would be lost without the support of our local and long-term sponsors.

“Along with our hosts at Parkview Hockey Club, we have enjoyed great support over the years from the likes of The Mortgage Shop, Greys Restaurant, Harry Bonnes Accountants and Ian Fleck Signs and have recently added FamilyCars NI to our list of sponsors.”

Looking ahead to 2022, the club’s players and backroom panel are eager for the full league campaign to be played in its entirety.

Commenting recently Bryan said: “Our main aspiration for the year ahead is to play some games!

“The first half of the season has been incredibly stop start, and we have only played in six of the 15 available Saturdays with various issues, mainly the lack of referees in junior football and Covid. Training takes place at Lower Burnside 3G on Thursday nights at 7pm and all new faces are made more than welcome.”

For more information, check out the Ballyclare North End Football Club Twitter account or Facebook page.

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