LOUGHGALL 50TH ANNIVERSARY: Wylie a key architect behind Irish League progress

Celebration time in the Alfie Wylie era. Pic courtesy of Loughgall Football Club.
Celebration time in the Alfie Wylie era. 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:

Alfie Wylie holds a role as the longest-serving manager in Loughgall history and status as a key architect of the modern era’s progress at Irish League level.

However, the silverware and seasons stand only as statistics for Wylie, the black-and-white end product of a 13-year association with a club he considers the perfect balance between camaraderie and commitment.

“It was a really special time but the people made it that way, with Loughgall a family that included everyone from top to bottom working together,” said Wylie. “We all just did the most we could to be the best we could.

“There was a brilliant family atmosphere, with everyone made to feel welcome when they walked in but also a drive and hunger to improve.

“It was a really unique combination of a village approach to making you part of it all but a demanding professionalism on and off the pitch that led to us achieving so much success.

“We had wonderful facilities, plus kit sponsorship and other agreements that other clubs considered above us could not match.

“It was a seven-day-a-week job but not just for me, so many others put similar efforts into it all and that sense of unity was at the heart of everything.”

Wylie’s era from 1986 to 1999 bridged the gap between Mid-Ulster football and the Irish League for Loughgall and his influence extended from the manager’s dug-out to the boardroom.

“I was asked to be involved in different areas of the club and working with the committee so closely really led to some great memories and friendships,” said Wylie. “Raymond Nesbitt, Noel Willis, Robin McFadden, Hilbert Willis and Noel McClure were just some of the names so central to our progress.

“Ronnie Cromie was invaluable as my assistant manager and we all worked as hard as each other, driving the club forward.

“Everyone stepped up and we used to travel to away games with the committee members driving groups of players to keep the lads relaxed before fixtures.

“No-one was considered above anyone else and, in fact, we could have thrown down a pay packet without names and any player could have lifted it as everyone was on the same basically.

“Players even had to sell raffle tickets but everyone bought into the group mindset of us all working together as one club.”

Wylie’s roll of honour as manager included a remarkable run of four consecutive B Division championship titles - a feat of consistency that encapsulated the ethos of team before self.

“It was a tough standard of football, with some really strong clubs,” said Wylie. “But we had players who joined Loughgall for medals not money and wanted to win, even dropping down and putting individual reputations on the line by leaving clubs that had played in Irish Cup finals or top-flight football.

“That four-in-row run from 1995 to 1998 was achieved with not that high a turnover of players and they all shared the same sense of professionalism and commitment to the club.

“I used to scan the Ireland’s Saturday Night newspaper to spot players maybe left out of teams for a few weeks and then try to sign them up.

“Some had never even heard of Loughgall in the early days but winning obviously increased the club’s profile and made it easier to attract players, with word-of-mouth always positive in the game so it helped we had a reputation for being honest and looking after you.

“I used to invite a player down to training in the knowledge our sessions were enjoyable for the lads plus we got them looking around the facilities and meeting some of the people.

“All those things came together and allowed us to get some quality signings on board.

“We all worked as one, from the committee to the coaching team to the players to the supporters and sponsors.

“We had differences of opinion of course but everyone’s end goal was the same, to make Loughgall as successful as possible.”