The golden shots that brought the Mid Ulster Cup to Shamrock

The 'golden' team of 50 years ago, pictured at Shamrock Park on Saturday. Back, left to right ' Fr Tom McAteer, Brendan Loughran, Ken Craig, Barry McCullough, Victor Fleming, John Proctor. Front ' Ronnie Morrison, Philip Anderson, Roy Alexander, Brian Morrison, Syd Cully.
The 'golden' team of 50 years ago, pictured at Shamrock Park on Saturday. Back, left to right ' Fr Tom McAteer, Brendan Loughran, Ken Craig, Barry McCullough, Victor Fleming, John Proctor. Front ' Ronnie Morrison, Philip Anderson, Roy Alexander, Brian Morrison, Syd Cully.

The directors, led by chairman Roy McMahon and club secretary Bill Emerson, rolled out the red carpet for the lads of yesteryear, a team consisting mainly of talented local footballers, with ex-Boys Brigade players prominent among the line-up.

The event was organised from the players’ side by John Proctor, one of the aforementioned BB starlets, and he was delighted that so many of the ‘oldies’ were at Shamrock for the occasion. The legendary Tommy Sloan was team manager. Tommy had won three medals in football – an FA ‘gong’ with Welsh club Cardiff City (they beat Arsenal 1-0 in 1927) and that was the only time the famed trophy went out of England. He also won a Welsh FA medal with Cardiff and an Irish Cup one with Linfield.

But back to that day to remember. And it had proved the much-repeated maxim from former Ports boss Gibby Mackenzie who always contended that “2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football”. Gibby had recently left Shamrock when that golden day dawned, and the young Ports had trailed 2-0 against an older, more experienced Town team which obviously tired towards the end.

The match was at Mourneview Park, and cue Brian Morrison, who pulled it back to 2-1 in the 62nd minutes with what was described in the Portadown Times as “a well-taken goal”. And with eight minutes to go, Newry man Brendan Loughran “got on the end of a floated Dennis Freeburn cross to grab the equaliser”.

And so to extra time, and quick-silver Sydney Cully (a light-weight outside-left who was fleet of foot and swift of brain) clinched it in the heat of a hectic goalmouth scramble to take the trophy to Shamrock for the third time in five seasons.

Most of the dream team was there on Saturday – sadly, one member (Eddie McKinney) is deceased, Dennis Freeburn was unavailable, and Ports manager Ronnie McFall, was busily marshalling his troops for Saturday’s league game against Dungannon Swifts. Coincidentally, the Swifts are the current holders of the MU Cup and they brought it with them on Saturday for photographic purposes

It was a happy, much enjoyed occasion, with caterer John McNally laying on a tasty buffet, chairman Roy McMahon welcoming the veterans, and veteran members of the Press leading the speeches. Brian Courtney, football reporter for about 60 years, recalled that his late colleague Douglas Sloan had reported the life and times of the Reserves – “not missing a match from 1947 until the late 1990s.”

Brian added that many of the team were indeed his personal friends with most living and working in Portadown and that the Reserves attracted crowds up to 400, against teams like Dundela, Larne and Linfield Swifts.

Former Portadown Times editor David Armstrong said that the new stand – where the function took place - was on the site of the old wooden stand which was burned down in a fire in 1949. David used to manage the BB Old Boys team and recommended a few players to Gibby.

Among the players there on Saturday were the Morrison brothers Brian and Ronnie who worked in finance, Ronnie in charge at Lurgan Hospital and Brian in the finance department of Craigavon Borough Council.

John Proctor was a finance and company director with companies in Dungannon and Banbridge, and he thanked Bill Emerson and chairman McMahon for their help and their warm welcome of the Old Boys.

Some of the players were transferred “across the water” as they used to say – Victor Fleming to Newcastle United; Ronnie McFall to Dundee and Philip Anderson to Bury. Syd Cully, scorer of the winner, emigrated to New Zealand at one stage with wife Pamela (nee Baird, many of whose original family live in Christchurch).

There was a strong Newry presence in the team, with trainer John Fearon coming from the frontier town. So, too, did Tom McAteer, now a Parish Priest in Warrenpoint and delighted to have made it on Saturday. And Brendan Loughran also came from Newry. He was a director of Guinness, the firm who actually sponsored the Mid Ulster Cup.

Goalie Kenny Craig was an expert heating and plumbing engineer and is synonymous with Tandragee Golf Club, while Barry McCullough is still a real Ports stalwart at Shamrock Park and who was a joiner.

And perhaps the proudest man of all was Roy Alexander who captained the young team, and was one of around seven who made the ranks of the senior side in those days when Gibby Mackenzie was succeeded as manager by the great Wilbur Cush.

Said John Proctor, “It was a day to remember and we thank the club for making us so welcome.”

Then, just before the kick-off, the men – all retired – made their way onto the pitch to receive the plaudits of the crowd, while announcer Stevie Wright welcomed them to the hearty cheers of the fans.