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Then & Now

by Rev. John Noble BD, BA – Chaplain Institute F.C.

One of the roles that parents have in life is to pass on things of value to their children. For fathers with sons, in particular, there is always the inclination to encourage their male heirs to be interested in activities that they themselves enjoy. I am very thankful that my late father shared with and encouraged in me a support for Institute Football Club. From an early age he would have taken me to Wilton Park in the Waterside area of Londonderry to watch local junior football on a Saturday afternoon. As an uninspiring footballer in my own right – and that’s being kind to myself – my earliest enjoyment of the beautiful game was all Institute.

How far the ‘Stute have come since those days of forty years ago! My memories of the period are many but still very clear. They include sheltering from the fierce winter elements along a hedge or a corrugated tin fence. Acting as an unofficial ball boy and having to climb through the hedge or over the fence to retrieve a wayward shot or header from Charlie Ferguson. Calling the goalkeeper, Hugh Lindsay, ‘Sir’ because he had taught me in primary school. Being ‘sent off’ by the recently deceased referee Matt Morrison for refusing to move away from the opposition goal post because my support for ‘Stute was distracting the goalkeeper! Waiting in anticipation for the team to emerge for a big game from a Second World War corrugated iron hut dressing room which had no electricity or water. The excitement of near misses, crucial goals and famous victories. The tension of tight games against clubs like Limavady United (the same), Derry Guilds, Roe Valley, Churchill United, Coleraine Crusaders and Benvarden. Away trips also to places like Strabane, Lisnarick in County Fermanagh and Rathfriland in County Down, an Irish Junior Cup quarter final on a hillside pitch in Ligoniel, North Belfast. My ‘heroes’ were players like those I have mentioned already plus others like Stanley Hamilton, Bertie Long, Roy Stewart, David Creighton, the Billy boys – Begley, Boyd, Jackson and Johnston – and the George Best of North West football, Howard Kirk. Two other players who are no longer with us but who made a valuable contribution to the Institute success of those days were Billy Kee and Clarke Nicholl. The late Gilbert McLaughlin was the ‘Stute manager then, he always watched the game by himself, moving around the pitch to observe his team’s play from different areas.

My fondest memory of that era must be the winning Irish Junior Cup campaign of 1969. Ligoniel were brought back to Wilton Park for a tension filled replay. The semi-final and final were both played at Coleraine Showground, the latter an 8-2 victory over Queens Park Swifts from Lurgan with a late afternoon kick-off on the same day that Manchester City beat Leicester City in the F.A. Cup final. The blue riband trophy of junior football returned amidst great excitement to the North West for the fourth time in ten seasons following the victories of Derry Guilds in 1967, Limavady United in 1964 and Churchill United in 1960. How much Institute have progressed since then.

The lost years of senior football in Londonderry, forced many football fans – myself included – to follow the fortunes of distant Irish League clubs. That, and ten years away from the city of my birth due to employment, meant that I watched the meteoric rise of Institute from a distance. I spent almost twenty years following the fortunes of Linfield to every ground in the league but now I am back close to home and have returned to actively and enthusiastically supporting my first love in football. We are now a fully fledged senior club with a developing ground, a dedicated management committee consisting mainly of ‘Stute stalwarts with long club connections, a support with a wide age profile and, of course, a team of which we can be proud.

The memories of the modern era continue for me, and what better or more exciting than the 5-0 North West Cup final success against Omagh Town in September 2002 and our treble against the mighty Linfield during the 2002/03 season? Gary Woods late goal at Drumahoe in August 2002 was the result of dreams, our 2-0 victory at a cold Riverside in January 2003 was well-deserved against a poorly performing Linfield side. But 9 November 2002 at Windsor Park will live long in the memory with Paul ‘Snowy’ McLaughlin’s double elevating him to folk hero status in the hearts of Institute supporters. A superb 3-1 victory in November 2003 against league champions Glentoran at The Riverside was also particularly sweet for someone with a soft spot for the Blues. Notable victories in the first half of the 2004/05 season included 2-1 and 3-1 successes against Portadown and Coleraine respectively. The ‘junior’ club, Institute, playing and winning against such teams – what a transformation, what a journey!

I am so grateful for the memories that Institute F. C. has provided for me, stretching back over almost forty years. We have a new, younger breed of fan following the team these days, perhaps some of them have been introduced to the club by their dad. I just hope that when, in the future, they look back over a lifetime of following the ‘Stute that they too will have many wonderful memories. I have much to thank my father for but my keen interest in – and support for – Institute Football Club sits high on the list.