Merger can help Bann reach the top

The merger between Banbridge Town and Banbridge AFC, it is hoped, can help drive Town’s first team up the football pyramid and make progression easier for the area’s young players.

Banbridge Town Chairman Stephen Radcliffe and Banbridge AFC Chairman Simon Canning at the amalgamation of the two clubs, included is Colin Flynn (AFC 3rds Manager), Ryan Watson (Town FC Manager), Andrew Cully (Banbridge Town President), Mark Kerr (AFC 1st Team Coach), Anthony Blackburn (AFC Assistant Manager), Stewart McClimmonds (AFC Treasurer) and Chris Beattie (Reserves Manager) © Edward Byrne Photography INBL1427-206EB

Last week, new chairman Stephen Radcliffe told the ‘LEADER’ that he is also negotiating to bring Banbridge Town Juniors and Banbridge Town Ladies officially under the banner of the Crystal Park club.

If that were to happen, there would, for the first time, be a smooth and co-ordinated progression from youth football to the top level in the town for both men and women.

And another goal of that is to raise Town’s first team back into the top two divisions of NI football.

“Banbridge town as a region is logistically well placed,” said Town President Andrew Cully. “We need to go higher and see how far it goes. If we can match the progress that Ryan Watson has made on the pitch, off it, then there will be a strong future for Banbridge and Banbrdige Town.”

AFC chairman Simon Canning hoped the merger would signal an easier route to the top for the town’s young players.

“Banbridge Amalgamated FC are coming together with Banbridge Town to forge a new future for football in Banbridge,” he said.

“The main thing is to offer the youth of the town a progression through to the highest level of football in the town.

“What we’re faced with is a permanently diluted future if teams continue to go their separate ways. When you look at the hierarchy with football in the town, Banbridge Town are at the pinnacle.

“Banbridge AFC have been around since the 1930s and, known locally as the Boys Club, that’s something positive to bring to Banbridge Town.

“We’re pulling togther our resources to allow the linkage right up from youth levels, Intermediate and on to the Championship.”

AFC infamously went through last season without so much as picking up a point but Canning is optimistic they have key qualities they can bring to the Town table.

“With AFC coming into the middle of that set-up, we’re offering the opportunity for youth development and for the fringe players. We hope to see a more positive future for Banbridge Town.

“We have top quality managers in Christian Beattie and Colm Flynn. They are of the highest standards in local football. We have a number of good players and development opportunities for all.

“It’s a win win for everyone.”

Banbridge Town’s former chairman and new President Andrew Cully is in full agreement that, in terms of numbers of clubs, less is more for Banbridge.

He said: “I’ve thought for many years that there are too many teams in the district, as in most areas. There have been links between Banbridge Town and the Boys Club over the years and I look forward to our coming together.

“It’ll come with huge support and it’s a great opportunity for Banbridge Town as the pinnacle to bring it all together under one umbrella. It’s a football family as such and it will bring football in Banbridge one step closer to what it should be.

“The structure’s fairly simple. Banbridge Town’s first team will remain as it is.

“The reserve team, who were playing in Reserve Division One in Mid-Ulster football, will continue to do so. However, they will be rebranded as Banbridge Town AFC.

“We will then have a third team, which is an additional team to the club. That opens many opportunities. They will compete in Reserve Division Three and will operate under the name Banbridge Town AFC Reserves.”

And as regards to the ladies and juniors also joining up with Town, Cully was hopeful.

“There is certainly progress,” he said. “There is still work to be done but as President it’s something I’d be very keen on.

“It’s something that I have always aspired to. There have been some issues but last season Banbridge Ladies changed their name to Banbridge Town Ladies. That was the first step.

“I would like to think that within the near future, we could see that coming together. That puts us under a true umbrella and that has always been our ambition.”