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Tuesday 3rd October v. Lisburn Distillery (home) - BetMcLean League Cup rd1 - k.o: 7:45pm

Lisburn Distillery Match Preview

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

POST WAR UNITED (1946-1957)
Even though WW2 ended in time for the commencement of the 1945/1946 season it was not until the following term that Ballymena United made their comeback into the Irish League. Home friendlies early in 1946 were arranged against Belfast Celtic and Linfield but both were cancelled because the Showgrounds complex was not ready following the removal of the troops who were stationed there.
A new manager, Billy Reid, was appointed on the 1ST May but only lasted until late October, resigning after citing he couldn’t devote enough time to the job and control of team affairs went back to committee. United made their comeback on 17th August 1946 with a 2-1 home victory in the Gold Cup against Distillery. The Braidmen joined the Irish Regional League in its final season before the return of the Irish League the following season and finished a respectable sixth in what was a topsy-turvy season which included a semi-final appearance in the Irish Cup. The Sky Blues did suffer their heaviest ever defeat during the Regional League campaign, losing 10-1 to Belfast Celtic.
Ballymena United began the 1947/1948 season with a new manager, Bob McKay, who was promoted from his role last season as chief scout and had previously had been in charge of Dundee United. McKay guided Ballymena United to an impressive third place in the Irish League. Despite an first round exit to Linfield in the Irish Cup, the game attracted a record crowd of 9,067 and was a real end-to-end affair which afterwards saw the transfer of Frankie Houghton to Newcastle United for £6,000 – which was quite a considerable sum back then.
April 1948 saw United play their first competitive game outside of Northern Ireland when they travelled to Dublin to play Shelbourne in the Inter-City Cup, a game which Ballymena lost 1-0 but progressed to the quarter-finals after winning the first leg 4-1 – this set up a clash with Shamrock Rovers who won the tie 8-3 on aggregate. The season didn’t end trophyless as a 2-1 victory over Linfield in May 1948 brought the County Antrim Shield to the Ballymena Showgrounds for the first time in the club’s history – that game saw the competitive debut of Eric Trevorrow, a 20-year-old signing from Glasgow junior club, Parkhead Juniors.
The following season began with much optimism after the success of the previous campaign, this optimism didn’t last long as Ballymena finished a disappointing tenth in the Irish League and failed to make any headway in any of the cup competitions. This ultimately cost Bob McKay his job in May 1949 during a stormy AGM, as McKay berated the board for interference with his team selections. Norman Kernaghan took over as player-manager and after a moderate first season he finished his second campaign as Irish Cup finalists and County Antrim Shield winners in 1950/1951 – beating Cliftonville in the final.
For the second successive season Ballymena lifted a piece of silverware – one of only two occasions this has occurred – as Ballymena United lifted the Festival of Britain Cup after beating Crusaders 3-0 in the final in May 1952. The competition took the place of the Ulster Cup for one year as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations to mark the end of the war and the revival of Britain. The Sky Blues finished sixth in the race for the Gibson Cup and defender Eric Trevorrow was given the prestigious honour of being named Ulster Footballer of the Year by the Castlereagh Glentoran Supporters Club.
A third place finish that season had many believing that United would pick up where they left off, becoming the biggest provincial side in the country; Having been the first team outside of Belfast to win the County Antrim Shield. However, a series of poor seasons was stopped in 1951 with the club’s second County Antrim Shield – beating Cliftonville 2-0.
Despite the fact that the Irish League had not left Celtic Park between 1936 and 1948; Belfast Celtic were forced to leave the Irish League and Ballymena benefited by grabbing some of their talented players, including a new player-manager Billy McMillan. McMillan was replaced by the experienced Walter Rickett after two seasons. United reached the Irish Cup Final in 1951, only to be beaten by Glentoran 3-1 at Windsor Park, with their only goal coming from Currie.
The following season, Ballymena United won the Festival of Britain Cup, beating Crusaders 3-0 at Solitude. The one-off competition was played in 1952 to coincide with the Festival celebrations throughout Great Britain, and the trophy still resides at the Showgrounds.
However, after this victory United went through another bleak period in the mid 1950’s as United finished bottom of the league twice. In 1955 the club was forced to launch an appeal to clear its mounting debts - the Ballymena people responded - debts were paid and a small amount was left over to go into the club's coffers.

NEW BEGINNING (1957-1969)
Ballymena United 1958 Irish Cup Winners
In 1957, Scottish born Alex McCrae took over as player-manager of Ballymena United – he had been a successful inside-forward for Charlton Athletic and Middlesbrough in his playing days. He brought instant success to the Braid, as Ballymena finished third and won the Irish Cup in 1957/1958.
The 1958 Irish Cup winning team was deemed one of the best Ballymena United teams ever to grace the Showgrounds, as they deservedly beat Jackie Milburn’s Linfield in the showpiece final – with McGhee and Russell scoring the goals in a 2-0 win at the Oval in front of 24,000 spectators.
The next year, with another impressive team marched onto another Irish Cup final (their eighth final); the Sky Blues were expected to beat Glenavon in a Windsor Park final. However United's bad luck struck again as they failed to beat Glenavon, only drawing 1-1 and were defeated 2-0 in the replay.
Former Liverpool legend, Geoff Twentyman, then came along as manager and brought the Ulster Cup to the Showgrounds in 1960 with a 3-1 win over Glenavon. Barr grabbed two final goals while McKinstry picked up the other. The following season, the Sky Blues were only two points away from winning the Irish League for the first time – finishing third in 1961/1962.
Twentyman's success did not continue and he was replaced in time by George Smyth, Dave Hickson, Alex Parker, and Dave Hickson again. Despite this hunt for success manager after manager failed, as the Braidmen constantly finished mid-table in the Irish League, with only one trophy in the 1960’s. McCrae was then brought back to end another period of failure at the Warden Street Showgrounds.
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