Saturday March 2011 ko 15.00
NEWRY CITY 1 (McCann 73)
BALLYMENA UNITED 1 (Boyd 90)
For a border that has been subject of so much upheaval the act of crossing from the Irish Republic to the United Kingdom on the A1/N1 is something of an anticlimax. The first thing you notice is that the yellow dashed line on the left hand edge of the road suddenly becomes solid and white, then there’s a sign informing you that from now on all distances and speeds will use miles, not kilometres as their basis. Other than that the only other clue is adverts for business who’ve set up to take advantage of whatever tax differentials exist between the two countries. You can see an example in the one of the photos.
Of course the boundary is based around the traditional Irish counties, I was driving into County Down and as we left the main road the huge painted “Sinn Fein” sign visible from the slip road left me in no doubt what the city of Newry thought about it all. Again, I made a mental note to watch my “P’s” and “Q’s” and again I really shouldn’t have worried.
We did have to worry about exactly how we were going to get back to Dublin for an 8pm kick off at the Aviva Stadium. We needed a quick getaway even if the car park attendant did let us know that the FAI were now selling tickets from the back of vans parked up near the stadium. He was very kind and gave us a parking spot right by the exit which saved us a few minutes. In the end that extra time could have been handy, while we were watching the game there was a security alert at the turn-off we’d taken from the A1.
It was odd seeing the trappings of home such as “£” signs, I’m still not used to returning home to that sort of thing without a ferry or air port first, but the Showgrounds sits on an industrial estate with its larger brother the 20,000 capacity Gaelic sports stadium Páirc Esler in the background, and near to that we enjoyed the simple pleasures of a sit-down chippy.
We did enjoy our time at the Showgrounds, the club taking time to both give us a guided tour and print off teamsheets. The game seemed to be of a similar quality to what we’d seen at Bohemian the night before, with Newry conceding an unfortunate equaliser right at the death.
The tragedy of the piece is that 18 months later the club were defunct. In early 2012 former manager Gerry Flynn successfully took legal action against the club for breach of contract and unfair dismissal. He was awarded damages of just over £25,000 and when the club failed to offer him a settlement, he issued a winding-up petition. It looked the club would pay, assurances were given to the IFA allowing the club to start the 2012-13 season but ultimately the petition wasn’t contested and the club that had nurtured the likes of Pat Jennings ceased to exist on the 21st September 2012. The majority of the players ended up at second-tier Warrenpoint who that season won promotion to the Premiership.
Newry City AFC was formed in March 2013 and at first it looked as it they would play in the Republic’s system but the IFA soon blocked that idea. I do wonder whether if the matter had be pushed it might have been allowed. There is precedence with Derry City after all. The new club managed to secure the Showgrounds – the ground was owned by the season ticket holders of the old club, so hadn’t been included in the liquidation. They were forced to start their existence at the lowest tier in their part of Northern Ireland but won the 5th tier Mid Ulster League B Division and now play in the second tier IFA Championship.
But as those white lines at the roadside became yellow once again, as we dashed back to Dublin I reflected on a club that seemed to have squared the circle of being the classic border club, and a troubled border at that. I hope that’s still the case.