The top official in Northern Ireland football has hailed Dromore Amateurs FC for reaching the remarkable milestone of 60 years.
David Martin, president of the Irish FA, was speaking as guest of honour at the club’s recent diamond anniversary dinner.
“Sixty years is a long time for a Junior or indeed an Intermediate club to keep going, especially in the modern day when there are so many other attractions,” said Mr Martin.
He revealed that the Irish FA was working on a strategy to reverse the nationwide decline in the adult game, and hoped that the Amateurs would themselves benefit from this plan in the near future.
Over 100 members, friends and former players of Dromore Amateurs enjoyed a fantastic evening at the Millbrook Lodge Hotel, Ballynahinch on April 27 as the club celebrated in fine style its 60th anniversary.
Formed at the beginning of the 1958/59 season, the Amateurs have maintained football in the Co Down town for six decades.
As well as the president of the Irish FA, special guests on the night included Terry Pateman, chairman of the Northern Amateur Football League, and Maurice Johnston, vice chairman of the Mid Ulster Football League.
Dromore played in the Northern Amateur Football League from 1958 to 1964 and again from 1972 to 2017, before moving to the Mid Ulster Football League where they currently play in the Intermediate B Division.
The compere and after-dinner speaker was BBC legend Jackie Fullerton, whose wit and charm throughout the evening brought much fun and laughter.
The Ballymena man’s tales about sporting icons George Best, Joey Dunlop and Alex Higgins went down a storm with the audience.
Mr Fullerton was the perfect gentleman with all he met, mingling with guests and accommodating every request for a photograph or a selfie with good grace.
The Amateurs’ hard-working committee was delighted to secure the attendance of such a prestigious guest as the president of Irish FA.
However, the pleasure was reciprocated because, of course, Mr Martin is an Amateurs old boy himself.
He spent 14 years with the club as a player and club treasurer.
“I receive many invitations over the course of a year but this is one which gives me so much pleasure in being able to attend,” Mr Martin told the audience.
“It was Mountview Park in 1971 when I joined the club.
“I was a second team player. Robert Gracey, Sam Vint, Aubrey Davidson, Wyn Crothers, Brendan Maginess, Philip Roy, Bernie Mackin, John Toucher and, of course, so many others, were my teammates.
“They were great times, great moments. We weren’t successful, however these guys were fine clubmen.
“I was treasurer from 1975 to 1985. We developed the clubhouse and upgraded the pitch and surroundings. We put the club on a sound financial footing before I left in 1985 – this was achieved from a less-than-zero position in 1975.
“Suffice to say, this is where I began as a football administrator and I have always been grateful to the club for that.”
Commenting on the Amateurs’ exciting plans for a new pitch and clubrooms, Mr Martin said the future was looking bright for his old club. He brought the best wishes of the Irish FA and on their behalf presented a crystal bowl to Dromore chairman Russell Ward to mark the occasion.
Indeed, Mr Ward was a busy man on the night.
In addition to making two fine speeches himself, the Amateurs chairman was presented with a further two pieces of crystal from Mr Pateman and Mr Johnston. Both league officials made excellent speeches during which they brought the best wishes of their respective organisations and paid generous compliments to Dromore on reaching their 60th anniversary.
A highlight of the evening was the auction of sporting memorabilia. Hospitality tickets for a Northern Ireland game, signed shirts from Ulster Rugby and Linfield FC, and signed footballs from Rangers FC and Manchester United, all sold for very respectable sums.
However, a titanic bidding war took place over a signed Liverpool FC football and the atmosphere in the room was electric as the figure kept getting higher and higher.
When the auctioneer, Mr Fullerton, eventually brought the hammer down and declared ‘sold’, it was Amateurs committee member and local businessman Darren McCauley who became the new owner of the prized football.
He might have paid an eye-watering amount, but being a lifelong Liverpool fan and a great Dromore clubman, Mr McCauley was delighted with his purchase – and with Liverpool having won the Champions League final at the weekend, it now looks like a clever investment.
With the formalities over, it was time for the band to take to the stage, and five-piece Klass proved a big hit, packing the dancefloor until the finish.
The final act of the 2018/19 season came on Saturday, May 18 with a charity match between current players and a team of Amateurs “legends”.
An entertaining game was played in a friendly but competitive spirit at the Community Centre.
The youthful legs of the current players proved too much for the wise old heads of the legends. However, a clever tactical decision to play the last 25 minutes with 17 players on the pitch helped the old boys finish the game with a respectable 5-2 defeat.
It was wonderful to see so many former players come along, pull the boots on and attempt to relive past glories. Special mention goes to Malcolm Hanna, who celebrated his 58th birthday with a sterling display in midfield.
A total of £200 was raised for Diabetes UK, with the costs of the day kindly sponsored by Trevor Tate and Son Transport Ltd.
Afterwards, the Amateurs held their end-of-season awards presentation in the clubrooms.
Chairman Russell Ward expressed his sincere thanks to the coaching staff, players and committee for all their efforts throughout the season.
First team player-manager Graeme Davis was praised for guiding the Amateurs to their highest place league finish in many years.
Dromore ended the season in fifth position (out of 12) in the Intermediate B Division of the Mid Ulster Football League.
Their record was as follows: P22 W10 D3 L9 Pts 33.
Graeme can be proud of this achievement in his debut season in charge. The young manager has built up a formidable squad with a lot of potential and next season they’re sure to be targeting some silverware.
Things were a lot tougher for reserve team manager Ned Walsh. The seconds finished eighth (out of 10) in Reserve Division Four.
Their record was as follows: P18 W2 D8 L8 Pts14
Difficult as the season proved, it was still a great learning experience for the younger players. Although there were many ups and downs over the year, the team stuck together and there was a great spirit in the changing room, right up until the last game.
The award winners for both teams was dominated by young players – an encouraging sign for the future.
The first teams gongs were a family affair, with the Reain brothers, Josh and Matthew, dividing up the trophies between them. These two fantastic athletes will be the backbone of the first team for many years to come.
Young player of the year was Matthew Briggs, who moved up from youth football and played the entire season in the first team - a tremendous achievement.
In the seconds, top goalscorer Jonathan Rodgers only joined midway through the season but he is a great attacking player and is such an exciting prospect.
And 16-year-old Nathan Thompson capped a wonderful season by taking home both the manager’s and players’ player of the year trophies. Nathan is a quiet young man – but on the pitch he makes his presence felt, and is a model defender who rarely makes a mistake.
Clubman of the year was the popular Christopher Tate – a committee member and first team coach, Christopher puts his heart and soul into the club.
Dromore Amateurs will hold their AGM in the clubrooms on Monday, June 17 at 8pm. Anyone with an interest in the club should come along and hear about the exciting plans for the future.
2018/19 award winners
Clubman of the year: Christopher Tate
Club young player of the year: Matthew Briggs
Top goalscorer: Matthew Reain
Players’ player of the year: Josh Reain
Player of the year: Matthew Reain
Top goalscorer: Jonathan Rodgers
Players’ player of the year: Nathan Thompson
Player of the year: Nathan Thompson