For football fans, the Christmas period serves up a real festive feast, with fixtures stuffed into the calendar like sage and onion into a turkey.
Christmas Day serves up a yuletide football fix when the Steel and Sons Cup Final is played and for most Intermediate clubs the 120 year old competition is the pinnacle of their season.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ballymoney United’s appearance in the final against Brantwood.
Prior to the 1985 cup final appearance the last time Ballymoney had contested the glamour Christmas morning final was 195o when they lost 2-1 to Brantwood.
It was a long time for the Ballymoney club to wait for revenge and they were hoping to reverse the outcome from 35 years ago, however, at the end of the 90 minutes it was 1-1. Although many said Ballymoney were the better team, they were made to rue their missed chances on Christmas morning when they went on to lose the replay 5-2 several weeks later at the Oval with Peter Love and Peter Tweed scoring for the out of form Ballymoney team.
Ballymoney United Committee member Gerry McAleese remembers the occasion well.
“It was a massive day for the club and town and there was a great deal of excitement about it. I was only starting out as a committee member at that time and I remember the semi final against Dundel which was played at Ballymena Showgrounds. Ballymoney didn’t have a strip beacuse Dundela had decided to play in light blue and we only had the one strip at that stage. I was able to lend them a kit because I played and managed another team and so they played in red and white, the same as Ajax.
“The day of the final there were so many buses travelled up from Ballymoney and I can tell you there were a few unhappy cooks at home on Christmas morning!
“The replay didn’t go well, there were a few things that didn’t go so well and we just didn’t perform at all.”
Player/Manager at the time was former Coleraine midfielder Mickey Quinn and he recalls the day well.
“We went into the final as underdogs and there is no doubt we wre the better team on the day. We had a great season in the run up to the final but there were a few issues with the preparation in the run up to it and I think it played its part in us not winning.
“The support we had was unbelievable. Ballymoney United were one of the best supported clubs in the league both home and away and that Christmas morning the ground was packed to the rafters with our supporters. We had Peter Love and Peter Tweed up front with Love scoring our goal. Unfortunately things didn’t go well in the replay and we lost 5-2. I resigned just after the replay but I have very good memories and had some very good times there.”
Defender John McMullan was in his sixth season with Ballymoney United having come from UUC. “I was just a young player at the time and there were only twelve players taken to the final as you were only one sub at the time. I was the twelth man and I remember that we arrived about 20 minutes before the game started because the bus was late.
“It wasn’t exactly the best preparation for the game and it didn’t give you much chance to soak up the atmosphere. We had beaten Dundela in the semi final and that was a big scalp to take and in the final we played Brantwood. We played well and I think we came from behind with Peter Love scoring. Unfortunately the replay didn’t happen for a few weeks because of the weather and things seemed to just fizzle out and when we finally played again at the Oval we lost 5-2.
“I stayed at the club for a while and then went on to a couple of other clubs. However, I came back and got involved with the Youth academy in 1989.
I coached and took one of the Youth teams into the IFA Youth league. I am also the Academy treasurer and I now work with the seven and eight year olds which I enjoy.
“I think the Academy is important to the club and we are very strong numerically.
“Unfortunately for Ballymoney United we are caught between Coleraine and Ballymena and when we get better players then they tend to get sucked up by the senior clubs which is understanable I guess as everyone wants to play at as high a level as they possibly can.
There’s no doubt it has been very sad to see Ballymoney United drop out of Championship football , its very tough for clubs at the moment but hopefully the club will fight its way back over the next few seasons.
“Ballymoney was always a good football team and when I was playing we had some great games in the Intermediate B Division, hopeully that will return to the town again.”