The search for Northern Ireland’s sporting heritage – BBC Sport

Crusaders FC have obtained a Northern Ireland cap won by former player Jimmy Shields against Scotland

During the Covid-19 stay-at-home period, many hands have turned to tasks in long need of attention.

In my own situation, I acted quickly to retrieve two pairs of football socks worn by Northern Ireland legend Pat Jennings at the 1982 World Cup finals as well as an old Sheffield Wednesday jersey.

These had found their way into a bin bag parked at the front door. Our sporting heritage, in its many forms, is something to be cherished and appreciated.

While we are fortunate to enjoy the digital, interactive experiences on offer from visiting the Croke Park Museum, the Irish FA’s Education and Heritage Centre at the International Stadium or Ulster Rugby’s Nevin Spence Centre, those venues are not equipped to collect and record all the smaller stories of victories and defeats from across the village fields and parks, parishes and counties where we have participated in sport for centuries.

That task falls to various volunteer groups who are dedicated to preserving their own histories as best they can. Unfortunately, there are tales of memorabilia being unwittingly sent off to the recycling centres without its historic worth being recognised.

Throughout his 19 years as manager at the Ballymoney Museum, east Belfast man Keith Beattie was able to chart the sporting stories of motorcycling, Gaelic games, cycling and football in County Antrim.

Value for money

“When I started there in 1997, I was always looking for exhibitions with popular appeal because as a museum we were run by the council and ratepayers had to see that it was a worthwhile investment,” says Beattie. “I began contacting sports people and they were all co-operative and helpful in putting the exhibitions together. It has built from there and when we got a new fit-out in 2009, motorbikes became an integral part of the whole permanent display.”

Spurred on by what they have seen at the Belfast Celtic Society’s football museum at the Park Centre, where the theme of History Is Coming has brought a treasure trove of artefacts to the West Belfast location, Crusaders football club has adopted a similar approach in getting its supporters to hunt out items for exhibit.

“When we were formed in 1896 by a group of workers in an industrial laundry, Belfast was one of the great industrial cities of the world,” said Crusaders vice chairman Mark Langhammer. “It’s important that people understand where they come from and how the culture of a club was formed”

Triumphs remembered – newspaper coverage of Crusaders’ first Gibson Cup success

Thanks to the determination of the supporters, including the now deceased sports journalist Colin McAlpin and Trevor Goodall, the history of the ‘Hatchet Men’ has been gathered with a view to a permanent exhibition area at a redeveloped Seaview. Crusaders won the Gibson Cup for the first time in 1973 and during that decade, it replaced one of its Shore Road stands.

The old structure made its way to a new home at Carrick Rangers’ ground Taylor’s Avenue. The club’s unique history has been collated by Adrian Hack in the book ‘The Kings of the Castle’, where painstaking research among local people helped tell the story of the club’s formation in 1939 following the amalgamation of two summer league teams, Barn Mills and Bubbles.

“There are some wonderful stories,” says Hack. “The Bubbles goalkeeper Archie Hamilton and the Barn Mills secretary Jim Milliken, who was described at the time as a ‘rubbish’ player, were having a drink at the end of a summer league match between the two clubs. One of them suggested combining to form a winter league side and the rest is history.”

When the redevelopment of Croke Park got underway in the 1990s, the Nally Stand was taken down and transported to Pairc Colmcille, the home of the Tyrone Senior League side Carrickmore GAC. It took on a new lease of life as the Nally Heritage Centre in 2009. In 1969, when the Carrickmore won the Tyrone senior championship, former club chairman Michael Harte, who has since died, recorded the events on a cine camera.

Archive: Carrickmore win 1969 Tyrone Club final

“No-one ever saw that footage until after Mickey’s death,” said club official Gavan McElroy. “His son Kieran, a chemist based in Cork, was home clearing out his father’s attic and he came upon the cine camera. We had an anniversary reunion last year and were able to show it for the first time. Kieran was playing in that game. It shows the value of not throwing things out.

Such stories meet with Keith Beattie’s approval and he says that families should be careful when they are disposing of items that may have been stored away for a long time. “Not every sporting artefact can be put on display at local museums or heritage centres. The best guidance I can give is that if there is an item of memorabilia that is not going to be cared for by a family member, speak with a local history group or sports club and get advice from them. If items disappear, what they have to tell us, may also be lost for ever.”

And Beattie speaks from direct experience. “I have a football medal that my great grandfather, David Thompson, won for the Junior Irish FA but I don’t know any more than that. He was later associated with Dundela, but he didn’t win this playing for them. I’ll find out some day.”

Beattie’s quest continues.

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