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Glory days recalled as top local team is back in the league

Young players from the new Ashton Gate with the team that tore up the Dunmurry League for four glorious years in the 1980s Young players from the new Ashton Gate with the team that tore up the Dunmurry League for four glorious years in the 1980s
By Evan Short

A WILDLY successful junior team based in the New Lodge that was seemingly lost to history after a merger in the 1980s has been reformed after thirty years in a tribute to the players and management.

Ashton Gate started as a breakaway from Malachians in the early-80s but soon found its feet in the Dunmurry League. They lasted only four years – but what a four-year spell that was!

Kevin Crossan is the man behind the relaunch and he told us there were a number of reasons behind the team’s return – not least as a way of paying tribute to his late father.

“My dad Gerry was the manager of Malachians in the 1980s,” said Kevin, “but it was getting to the stage where the second team was better than the first. They broke away in 1981 and started the new team – Ashton Gate – which took its name from Ashton Street in the New Lodge. One of the coaches, Johnny Logan, always said ‘There’s nobody better than the Barrack Wall men’ and Ashton Gate proved that was true.”

On the pitch, it wasn’t long until they made their mark.

“Ashton Gate entered the Dunmurry League and absolutely tore it up. In four years we won everything.”

If their skill on the pitch was unrivalled, the situation away from the turf was somewhat less clear. With no ground and a lack of facilities, growth was going to be difficult. Then came a big offer.

“We never had our own pitch but Cromac Albion – one of the top amateur teams in the city – did, and they approached my dad and Eddie McCabe about a merger.”

The proposed merger would catapult the talented players into a much higher league, but the trade-off was that Ashton Gate would cease to exist.

“They didn’t give Cromac Albion an answer but said they would go to the players. They said they wouldn’t do it unless it was unanimous but everyone went for it. Ashton Gate folded and we took on the name of Cromac Albion.”

Proof of the standard at Ashton Gate came when Cromac Albion went on to win back-to back-league titles. The merger was such an on-field success that the name Ashton Gate faded into a memory.

“From a footballing point of view we didn’t really have a history so it was quickly forgotten amongst most people,” said Kevin. “If my dad was alive today when he looked back he would have referred more to Cromac Albion.”

Almost 30 years later, with children of his own, Kevin said he decided to resurrect the name.

“I was a 16-year-old during the merger and I loved the old team. So when my son said he was interested in playing I thought about bringing them back. I phoned round a couple of the original players and told them my plans and asked them how they’d feel. About half a dozen of them all agreed because it would be like a tribute to my dad. One fella, when I phoned to tell him of the plans, the line wasn’t great and he thought I was telling him someone else was using the name. He was raging until I explained. Even though it disappeared, the name is still sacrosanct.

“We had some great players back in the day. Paddy Barnes’ da played and we had a player called Francie Murphy whose grandson plays for us now. I like that continuity because it sums up what we are about.”

Ashton Gate was officially relaunched in Cliftonville Bowling Club at a dinner attended by original members and representatives of the South Belfast Youth League. Having got up and running, Kevin says he has some goals he wants to achieve.

“I would have my eye on bringing the team away for an end-of-season trip. The Foyle Cup is a possibility or maybe Donegal for a few friendlies. Bristol City play at Ashton Gate so that would be another possibility but I wouldn’t be the main decision maker. The team will be asked what they want.”

He said everything would be done on a democratic basis.

“There’s be none of this ‘You’ll do this because I say so’ – we will take the players’ opinions on board. It’s a learning curve for me but I’m excited.”



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