First Chambers Park match played in September 1963

Portadown Times sports editor Patrick Van Dort (front row, right) was a guest at Chambers Park during the 50th anniversary dinner. Included from Portadown Rugby Club are, back row from left, Louis Pearson, Alan Vennard, Colin Robb. Front row, from left, Diarmaid O'Kane and Johnny Holden.
Portadown Times sports editor Patrick Van Dort (front row, right) was a guest at Chambers Park during the 50th anniversary dinner. Included from Portadown Rugby Club are, back row from left, Louis Pearson, Alan Vennard, Colin Robb. Front row, from left, Diarmaid O'Kane and Johnny Holden.

After Chambers Park was completed some 50 years ago and the first game was played on Saturday September 4, 1963, the provision of changing rooms became a priority.

The first match on the new park was between a Portadown Selected XV and an Ulster XV, chosen by Irish International and British Lions star Syd Millar who lived in Portadown’s Birch Hill Park at Lurgan Road.

The Portadown team, with the star guests’ clubs in brackets, was – D. McKeen (Dungannon), R. Saunders (Dungannon), R. Agnew, A. Jardine, K. Armstrong (Dungannon), E. McCann (Ballymena), G. Graham, W. Morrow, G. Douglas, A. Sloan (Lurgan), B. Gordon, R. Stewart, F. Richardson, D. Logan, D. Myles.

Ulster XV (which was awash with internationals) – B. Marshall, W.R. Hunter, S.D. Johnston, W. McKee, K.N. Quinn, C.M.H. Gibson, J. Buckley, S. Millar, K.W. Kennedy, J. Birch. W.J. McBride, K. Wilson, J. Kane, J.A Donaldson, C.J. Dick. Referee – V. Elliott.

In order to progress the building and financing of the pavilion, the appeals and grounds committee was re-formed with the additions of G. Douglas and J. Magowan., with T.C. Rocke appointed treasurer.

Sponsorship was broadened by the inclusion of international sporting representation – Jack Bowden, Thelma Hopkins, Charlie Harte, Jack Kyle, Maeve Kyle, Syd Millar, Jimmy Nelson, Mary Peters, Mrs H.W. Templeton.

The appeals committee had expanded its energies and ideas, with fund-raising events – a donkey derby with 30 entries, a fashion show, funfair amusements and jumble sales. A ladies committee was formed and they made good use of the then changing rooms and facilities at Levaghery. They included Mrs Ruby Chambers (Jimmy’s very supportive wife), Mrs P. Irwin, Mrs P. May, Mrs M. Nesbitt and Mrs M. North. They were mainly wives of the PRFC vice-presidents.

At that stage Sam McGredy (club stalwart and rose ‘king’) suggested the employment of Richard Maurice, fund-raising consultant, with Major Francis M. Jowers (otherwise known as ‘Jaggers’) becoming the campaign director.

His ethos was that fund raising followed a pattern and that the success of an appeal was determined by the size of the first published subscription. He was so successful that, at the opening of the pavilion, there was just £5,000 outstanding, with the committee having met 46 times in all. The pavilion was designed by Munce and Kennedy and built by R. Uprichard and Sons, the Portadown contractors.

The naming of the pavilion was again obvious and unanimous – the W.A. Mullen Memorial Pavilion, with Billy Mullen (1877-1963) having been one of the town’s greatest sports administrators and patrons. He was managing-director of Robb’s Linen Factory in Edenderry, chairman of Portadown Football Club, with his 73-year sports career having started when he joined Laurelvale Cricket Club in 1890. The pavilion was opened on April 1965 by Mr Justice C.L. Shiel QC, a native of Portadown.

Plaques were placed inside the pavilion as memorials to, or recognition of, major contributors – main hall in honour of W.J. Warren, first Headmaster of Portadown College; changing rooms, Robert Chapman (in memory of); Clow family; Henry Denny and Sons (Ulster) Ltd; Dr Winifred Hadden (in memory of); Samuel McGredy and Son Ltd; H.R. O’Lone (in memory of wife); Hamilton Robb Ltd; T.E. Spence (in memory of Thomas Henry and Jenna Spence); Clements Wilson.

A Mid Ulster XV played Syd Millar’s XV at the opening. Mid Ulster – W. Wright (Portadown), J. Kingston (Armagh), W. McKee (Dungannon), T. Barnes (Armagh), A. Sloan (Lurgan), G. Bryans (Armagh), M. McSwiggan (Dungannon), F. Shane (Dungannon), M. Graham (Portadown), D. McCann (Portadown), H. Matchett (Portadown), D. McKeen (Dungannon), G. Kennedy (Armagh), D. Logan (Portadown, captain), A. Crawford (Dungannon).

Millar XV – B. Marshall (Ireland), A.J.F. O’Reilly (Ireland), C. Lawson (Leinster), K. Flynn (Ireland), A.C. Pedlow (Ireland), G. Gilpin (Ireland), R.G. Jeeps (England), A. Moroney (Ireland), A.R. Dawson (Ireland), S. Millar (Ireland), W.A Mulcahy (Ireland), J. McMaster (Ulster), M. Doyle (Ireland), M. Crabbe (Ulster), R. Wilson (Ulster). Touch judges – W. Smith, M. Matchett; referee – V. Elliott.

At the time of his sudden death in 1973, Jimmy Chambers was a busy as ever, supervising the construction of the new First XV pitch. He was interred at Scarva, and it is fitting that he rests beside the grave of Sammy Jones, who did so much for Portadown Ladies Hockey Club, bringing international credit to Chambers Park through his dedication and expertise to that particular game.

Chambers Park is Portadown Rugby Club’s memorial to one of its greatest servants – a man of infinite and concentrated energy, who left a host of happy memories in the hearts of all who knew him.

D.W.J. Woodman, the second Headmaster in the history of Portadown College (and Jimmy’s ‘boss’ at the school) paid the following tribute in verse – ‘Always working, never done; Minister of Sport and Fun; Best of friends of great and small; Ever at our beck and call; Reaching life’s triumphant span; Safe home, God’s own Gentleman’.