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Click on the revelant link to read the detailed account of the history of Ballymena United during that era.

Page 1 (1928-1946) | Page 2 (1946-1969) | Page 3 (1970-1978) | Page 4 (1979-1989) | Page 5 (1989-2008)


THE EARLY YEARS (1928-1934)

BALLYMENA Football Club was formed on 7th April 1928, when four local businessmen and football enthusiasts decided that the town of Ballymena needed a senior football team in the Irish League.

Four men - Albert McClelland, DB Elliott, John Gordon and James McIlhagga - tapped into the popular mood of the period that the time had arrived for Ballymena to be represented in senior circles. The newly formed club took the place of Barn United in the Irish League for the 1928/1929 season. The new club gathered together a number of players from the area and further afield and played their first competitive game on 20th August, 1928 in front of a packed Ballymena Showgrounds, against reigning Irish League champions Belfast Celtic; the 'Light Blues' lost the game 3-0.

However, five days later Ballymena gained their first point in a 2-2 away to Larne and created another landmark when Jimmy McCambridge scored the club's first ever goal. The first win for the new club came in early September when the Braidmen defeated Ards 2-1 at Castlereagh Park; this sparked a remarkable 12-match unbeaten run which lasted until December, the Sky Blues finished a highly respectable 6th in the 14 team Irish League in their debut season, but it was the Irish Cup which saw the 'Ballymena Babes' shine. Ballymena defeated Glentoran, Broadway United and Coleraine en-route to a final showdown with League Champions Belfast Celtic at Solitude. A remarkable 2-1 victory over Celtic followed with goals from Jamie Shiels and 'Hoody' McCambridge as Ballymena FC lifted the showpiece trophy in their first season as a senior club. A replica of the trophy was produced and awarded to the club for winning the Irish Cup in their first season.

To round the season off, and in a tribute to the impact Ballymena caused on the local scene, Kilmarnock visited the Showgrounds in late April as Scottish Cup holders and carved out a narrow 1-0 win over Ballymena, the Irish Cup holders – the first ever club programme was produced for this game. A few days later in what was billed as an All-Ireland Cup final the Light Blues travelled to Dublin and defeated their Southern counterparts, Shamrock Rovers, 2-1 with goals from Joe Cassidy and Jamie Shiels.

The following year, the Braidmen defied all odds when they made it to the Irish Cup final for the second time, having defeated Derry City, Belfast Celtic and Newry Town to reach the final against Linfield, who had already been crowned Irish League champions. Ballymena were unlucky at Solitude as they lost 4-3 to the Windsor Park Blues, with goals from Davy Reid and Jamie Shiels (2). Despite the optimism that now followed Ballymena following their successes last season they finished fifth in the table and produced a number of scintillating high-scoring performances throughout the season. That season McCambridge became the first full international to play for the club when he was capped for Ireland in their 7-0 victory over Wales in February 1930, the free-scoring Larne man would move to Everton during the summer of 1930.

The 1930/1931 campaign was much the same as the previous season from the men from the Braid as they scored goals freely but could only manage another fifth place finish for their efforts and remarkably a third consecutive Irish Cup final appearance. However, this was arguably the most forgettable of the three cup finals as a poor effort saw Ballymena lose to Linfield again by three goals without reply. The following season brought wholesale changes at the Showgrounds; despite a poor start to the 1931/1932 season the team began to gel in September and went on a seven game winning streak. Now renowned as 'cup specialists' the Light Blues reached the final of the Gold Cup, eventually losing 3-0 to nearby rivals, Coleraine. Despite an early exit from the Irish Cup for the first time, Ballymena continued to threaten a very competitive league, finishing sixth. Ballymena stalwart Jock McNinch became the second player to be capped for Ireland in February 1931 – he won two further caps to become Ballymena's most capped player, a record which still stands to this day.

Despite a bright start the 1932/1933 campaign proved to be the leanest so far during the club’s very short history. Early exits in all the cup competitions and failure to challenge in the Irish League summarised a disappointing season for Ballymena. Little did anyone realise in August 1933 what the importance of the following nine months in the history of Ballymena FC. This was to be the last season in which the club took part in senior football, indeed less than a year later the club didn’t exist at all. Only three defeats in the opening twenty games pointed to the distinct possibility of silverware once again but after Christmas things turned sour with only five wins between then and the end of the season as another fifth place finish was their reward.


LIQUIDATION, UNITED AND THE WAR (1934-1946)

In 1934, club chairman Albert McClelland was overheard making a remark that something had to be done to curb the payments to amateurs. When word of his comments reached the Irish League they immediately suspended the club and demanded that they hand over their accounts for inspection. Ballymena’s directors refused claiming that they were being made scapegoats for a practice which was widespread among the other clubs in the Irish League. Failure to meet the deadline for the presentation of accounts stipulated by the League resulted in Ballymena’s dismissal from senior football. Immediately attempts were made to reinstate the club but when these were rejected it was suggested that the club be renamed Ballymena United and merge with a junior club, Ballymena Crusaders. Happily this was acceptable to the League authorities although in reality it was virtually the same club as before with the same ground, same players and same management.

Taking over the senior place vacated by Ballymena FC the previous season Ballymena United approached the new season with some confidence. The new club took an unprecedented step by appointing a manager which was a departure from the previous practice of team selection by committee. The man in charge was Joe Millar who arrived from Bournemouth & Boscombe and had previously been capped for Ireland, Millar used many of his contacts in Scotland to bring an influx of Scottish players to the Showgrounds. However, despite these new players and an Irish Cup semi-final appearance United suffered in their first season finishing a disappointing tenth in the League, their lowest finish to date. The 1934/1935 also seen the introduction of the Reserve side at the Showgrounds.

The 1935/1936 season was to be just as disheartening for United supporters as the club finished tenth again in the League table, and failed to progress in the majority of the cup competitions. If the previous season was one to forget, any hope that 1936/1937 would bring any cheer where dashed during the close season with the departure of Jock McNinch to Sligo Rovers. McNinch was leaving the club after 315 games and with him the last remaining link to the ‘old’ Ballymena side. During the summer his contribution to the club was recognised when the club granted him a testimonial, the first such gesture by United.

Ballymena United finished bottom of the Irish League for the first time, after managing only four league wins over the course of the season. An Irish Cup run to the semi-final stage, before elimination to the mighty Belfast Celtic was the only cheer for the Light Blues. They carried this disastrous form into the following season when they suffered a record defeat to Derry City (1-9) and losing the next six games before the board appointed Steve Mitchell as player-manager – he instantly turned things around as Ballymena won 14 of their next 17 games. Unfortunately despite their Championship form they rose from bottom to fifth in the table, only 8 points behind eventual winners Belfast Celtic. The club also made their first appearance in the final of the County Antrim Shield though lost 3-2 to Linfield.

This run of confidence ran all the way through to the following season, as Ballymena United nearly completed an historic double of the Irish League and Irish Cup – eventually finishing runners-up in both competitions. Finishing an agonising five points behind Belfast Celtic in the league race and a fourth Irish Cup final saw a third defeat to Linfield in the showpiece event, this time a 2-0 defeat at Solitude. However, one year on Ballymena United went one better by lifting the 1940 Irish Cup after a 2-0 win over Glenavon in which Sclater and Moore. This was the last ‘proper’ Irish Cup before province wide football was suspended due to World War Two.

United were not to kick a ball in anger again until the 1946/1947 season. The club withdrew from the Irish League shortly after the end of the season when the Showgrounds was taken over to assist the war effort. One can only wonder this squad of players could have achieved if given another couple of seasons together.


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