LOUGHGALL 50TH ANNIVERSARY: Premier League the pinnacle for Gardiner

Loughgall players, management and officials following the treble-winning season of 2003/04. Pic courtesy of Loughgall Football Club.
Loughgall players, management and officials following the treble-winning season of 2003/04. Pic courtesy of Loughgall Football Club.

A special celebration will take place tonight (Friday) at Lakeview Park looking back on 50 years of life at Loughgall Football Club:

Jimmy Gardiner’s career either side of the white line in Loughgall colours covered success as player and manager.

However, his highlight remains absent from any club roll of honour, the value of which cannot be measured by any trophy.

“Keeping the club in the Premier League for two seasons will always be something special and an amazing achievement given our limited resources,” said Gardiner, who served as boss from 2001 to 2006. “I think back and it was tough on everyone, physically and mentally, but the club togetherness helped us survive.

“We were battling with Portadown, Glenavon, Dungannon Swifts, Armagh City and Banbridge Town for players and supporters.

“We had a small budget but lots and lots of character and to have those two seasons of staying up in the Premier League stands out as something I am so very proud of and pleased for everyone involved at the time.

“We surprised a few clubs along the way and often other teams would not really show us that much respect but there was an amazing spirit built up that kept us going.

“I will always remember the day we beat Glenavon by 4-1 at Mourneview Park and even getting a late draw at Windsor Park against Linfield.

“Every point was a cause for celebration and every goal felt great.

“In the dressing room we had a group of players who we could trust 100 per cent to give everything and we wanted people who would fit into the changing room, that was more important in some ways that ability.”

The reality of restricted resources placed a ceiling on Loughgall’s ambitions in terms of Premier League progress. However, Gardiner can also reflect on a treble-winning record in 2004 of First Division, Mid-Ulster Cup and Bob Radcliffe Cup.

“That was a squad packed with quality players but such an honest group as well,” said Gardiner. “They deserve credit for winning three trophies in one season and it was a wonderful feeling for everyone as they had such a bond.

“It was a young squad overall plus some more experienced players and we had good people who worked so, so hard for each other.

“I could not have done anything without help from Gary McCullough as my assistant and it was more a partnership than anything, alongside people like Bobby Reid, Gary Hazley, Alan Robinson and David Johnstone.

“Raymond Nesbitt was a wonderful man and we had some great times with the committee members and supporters.”