Friday, 2 April 2010


The 'Treble'-winning U10 team of 1998 & Champions of Northern Ireland    (me: 6th back-row)

It was with great sadness recently to learn that my first junior football club Holywood Boys were taken over by the ex-Formula One driver Eddie Irvine and exported to Bangor.  The new name...

... "Eddie Irvine Sports Football Club".

Founded in 1991 Holywood Boys was a junior football club based predominately in the North Down area of Ulster.  As the name suggests, it was originally an all boys youth football club. It's training pitches were based at Redburn before relocating to Spafield further in the town.  They were also a club with whom I was proud to have represented for six years.  It was at the tender age of ten that I was 'scouted' whilst on international duty (otherwise known as school football) by the club's founder, and current County Down IFA coach, Raymond Alexander.  A knock on the door of the house one memorable day in June by the man himself persuaded me to give up my Saturday morning lie-in's for the more-often-than-not muddy slogfests on the slightly over-sized King George's Playing Fields, just next to the famous Oval stadium.  Following a slightly deluded swap with a friend I parted ways with my recently aquired Nintendo Gameboy and traded it for none-ther than a pair of (wait for it...) 'Patrick' football boots.  I was ready for action.

Holywood Boys FC was where I would showcase my Cruyff turns, Baggio flicks (not mullets), and Gazza celebrations for a total of six years.  At 16 (and a couple of dodgy stints with George Best's old club Boyland FC of Sydenham) I'm quite happy to admit as a player, I had peaked.  A season-long spell on my boyhood club Glentoran FC's books had ended and with a tinge of regret.  I parted ways with East Belfast's finest and it was back to North Down I went, joining hometown club Holywood FC (no connection whatsoever to Holywood Boys FC) then finally into the welcoming arms of Bangor Swifts FC

However, it was with those youthful years at Holywood Boys with whom I enjoyed the most success.  In 1998 at U10 level we quite simply were 'the Cream of Northern Ireland' at our age group.  A Dundonald Junior League 'Double' success was followed up by victory in what was known then as 'The Champions of Champions' (the Champions' League - except better).

I started off as a centre forward, dropped into centre midfield, won player of the year two seasons on the trot as a centre-back (hated it), and laterly found myself occupying the left-wing (politically too on occasion).  Mr Versatile.  What can I say, John O'Shea learnt from the best!

On the whole our club had a massive appeal country-wide.  Our chief scout (Walter Windrum) only needed to murmer the words 'Holywood Boys' and manys a young lad's ear would perk up immediately.  Off the top of my head current stars of the Irish and English leagues such as Chris Brunt (West Brom) and Jamie Mulgrew (Linfield) both plyed their trade early on at Holywood Boys.  Jamie himself would testify that Holywood Boys played a crucial part in his development and had undoubtably nurtured his obvious talent at such a young age.

Players within my age-bracket in-particular tended to flock from all over the UK and Ireland to join us.  The most notable was the signing of four players from the now defunct Antrim Eagles who travelled at least 20 miles just to come to training in Holywood every Wednesday night.  Fair play to those lads inparticular because if truth be told, I wasn't even willing to spend my Wednesday nights enduring the 3 mile bus journey to Glentoran Colts for training (lack of car in the family ruined my GFC career, there I said it!).

In an era in Northern Ireland which can only be classified as 'transition', Holywood Boys excelled.  Whether you be of Catholic or Protestant; it simply did not matter.  Our club was quintessentially the ultimate cross-community junior football club.  I can recall a tournament in Blackpool where our club was ridiculously accused of being 'bigoted' by someone from a rival club who took offence to seeing a one of our players who had the indignity of sporting a Rangers FC shirt post-match.  This grievance was countered by the sight of a Rangers shirt displayed on our teams window - alongside a Glasgow Celtic top. The aggreived party's head must have been doing Obafemi Martins somersaults at the absurtity of it all!

However on the playing side of things it was to be, and rather inevitably, the huge Bangor influx of players which would be to the detriment of Holywood Boys Football Club.  In recent years the club even re-located to Bangor which all but resigned the 'Holywood' name into obscurity.  Indeed, along came Eddie Irvine in 2008 with his very own sports' complex to promote in Bangor.  The final nail in our club's coffin was finally within range.  Eddie's target... my once great junior club Holywood Boys.

Rest In Peace HBFC (1991-2008).