Larne Tech Old Boys FC building for future by drawing on experience

A Larne-based football club has used the experience of former players as a foundation for future success.

Larne Tech Old Boys FC was formed in 1950 and in the seven decades since has tasted success in a number of cup and league campaigns as well as helping to launch careers of NI internationals Gareth McAuley (99-00) and Jeff Hughes (03-04).

Detailing the club’s key role within the community, secretary Tom Wilson said: “The club was established by former college pupils and soon entered the Second Division of the Northern Amateur Football League. The flow of young players from the college meant the club flourished and many of them went on to higher grade football and representative honours.

“In the late sixties, however, interest waned and the Old Boys struggled, yet somehow fielded a team each week. They were on the brink of closure, but thanks to the endeavours of some die-hard members the club re- established itself in 1971 at its current base in the Antiville area of the town.

Larne Tech Old Boys FC reached the quarter-final stage of the Irish Cup in 2019.

“At the same time, an influx of young players allowed the formation of a second team and the catalyst for future success arrived a year later in the form of Glentoran legend Sammy Hughes as manager.

“Both teams grew in stature as the seasons progressed and culminated in 1976 when both won their first trophies picking up the Border Regiment and Templeton Cups. Promotion to the top tier of the Amateur League followed in 1978 with the team losing on penalties in the Border Cup final in 1980 and finishing runners up in the league in 1982. There was to be no more silverware in the 1980s, but goalkeeper Byron Seymour did win Amateur League Player of the Year in 1986.”

Mr Wilson added: “The formation of the Premier Division in the NAFL in 1991 led to the club acquiring and enclosing their current pitch and more silverware arrived with the Seconds winning back to back titles.

“Relegation for the Firsts in 1996 ended a 28-year stay in the top flight, but this was followed the next season with promotion back to the Premier League and then another Border Regiment Cup triumph over Killyleagh.

“The new century brought one of the strongest periods in the club’s history with another Border Cup triumph followed in 2004 by reaching the final of the prestigious Intermediate Cup losing to a last minute goal against Linfield Swifts and finishing runners up in the league by two points. That same season Bertie Fulton scored 46 goals and won the Amateur League Player of the Year accolade.

“Relegation from the Premier Division followed a couple of years later. Promotion was almost attained at the first attempt, but it was 2009 before more success arrived in the form of the Templeton Cup.”

Although the club, which has just shy of 200 members, had been a mainstay in the NAFL setup, new rules brought in by the governing body in 2009 threatened the east Antrim club’s future.

Mr Wilson explained: “Stringent new grounds criteria was introduced, threatening the Intermediate status and long term future of the club. Failure to comply was not an option and a newly formed development committee oversaw a significant investment in facilities both on and off the pitch.

“With the generous help of club members and former players the finance was raised without any grants or public body assistance leaving the Old Boys with a pitch, changing facilities and clubrooms as good as any in amateur football.

“The new ground was named Dennis Harvey Park in memory of the driving force behind football at LTOB from the late 60s to the early 90s and an inspiration to many who followed in his footsteps.”

The club then looked to experienced heads to assist development both on and off the pitch.

Tom stated: “A more pro-active Football Committee led by Gary Morton and involving many older, former players such as Byron Seymour as secretary and Billy McCluggage as treasurer, set about raising the standards within the club and attracting quality at managerial and playing levels.”

After promotion back to the Premier Division in 2012, the club suffered relegation the following year and spent a period outside of the top flight before the green shoots of recovery started to show, culminating in promotion and an incredible run to the quarter-final stage of the Irish Cup in 2019.

Tom said: “In 2018-19 everything came together with the team clinching the Division 1A title for the first time in their history, losing only one league game and in Paul Maguire had the club record goal scorer with 51 goals. “If that was not enough, they also stormed into the quarter finals of the Irish Cup, eventually losing to Warrenpoint. Their good form carried into the following season, reaching the Steel and Sons semi-final, were comfortably positioned in the league and in the quarter finals of the Clarence Cup before Covid brought everything to a shuddering halt in March 2020.”

Commenting on the impact the pandemic had on the club’s activities, Tom explained: “The clubrooms were closed from March 2020 to the end of May 2021, apart from three weeks in October 2020. There was no football from March 2020 until July 2021. We lost players due to the shutdown. Some became fathers and put their family first, some were fearful of mixing in company due to the virus and some took the opportunity to retire gracefully.

“We have always supported charities and the community and during the height of the pandemic our players and management were out delivering food parcels to some of our older members.

“2020 marked the club’s 70th anniversary, but Covid put paid to all the events that had been planned. We now look forward to our 75th in 2025 with aspirations to reach the century but, above all, to provide all our members with safe and comfortable clubrooms and to provide sporting opportunities with good facilities.”

Training is Tuesday and Thursday 7pm–9pm and new players are always welcome.