THE onset of the pandemic knocked many people’s lives out of shape, particularly affecting the world of sport, when competing and even training became impossible during the series of lockdowns. Many clubs didn’t survive Covid due to these restrictions, amongst other reasons too.
One such team was Suffolk Swifts, a West Belfast team which played in the Northern Amateur League.
Formed in 1989, the club was a mainstay for many local players until the pandemic, however due to the pandemic and some other difficulties the decision was made to fold the club during the lockdowns.
The players involved still remained close and lifelong friends, and what started off as a conversion at a friend’s wedding eventually saw the guys put the team back together and get up and running with their first game, a 2-0 victory against Belfast Celtic this Saturday at Celtic’s home ground with both goals scored by player Jason Nolan.
Centre half Conor Dunlop, who has been helping behind the scenes to get the team up and running again, described how they came back together.
“After we folded we all went to different teams and just went through the motions of playing football,” he said.
“We’re all best friends and still hang out together, we all live local and near each other, so we eventually got back to talking about getting Suffolk Swifts back up and running. A lot of our players have come back again after restarting the team.”
The Swifts have now entered the Belfast & District League, and are currently running themselves solely through the players who have come back, with a few helping out in their spare time to sort out their finances, logistics and new kits which are currently being made.
Conor spoke of how both old sponsors and new have signed up again, and they are currently running a fundraiser on Facebook to find a couple more: “Coming back now, we’re in the Belfast & District League, we were in the Amateur League before we folded, and the hope is we can work our way back up into the Amateur Leagues again.
“We’ve got many of our old sponsors back again, such as Wolf and Whistle who are going to help with our new kits, Michael Tohill, the General Manager has been an absolute pleasure to deal with and we’ve pretty much restarted the relationship we had with them before we folded.”
“We’re currently running a sponsorship on Facebook to get a sponsor for our match day tracksuits. Naan Doughs on Finaghy Road North are also going to be our Man of the Match sponsor for this year.”
Needing a manager as a priority, the team asked former Swifts player Jonny Donnelly, who had also previously managed their second and third teams to take up the role.
Conor said: “We asked Jonny Donnelly to manage the team. He had previously managed the second and third teams and is a good friend with all of us. He was happy to take on the role, so we’re really happy to have Jonny on board.”
Speaking after their win against Belfast Celtic at Glen Road Heights on Saturday, Donnelly said the team was now going into a full training regime, and spoke on his appointment to the role.
“When we folded, it wasn’t an immediate decision, it just kind of happened, and Covid put a real stop on things too,” he reflected.
“The season came to an end, and we stopped training, before we made the decision to fold the club, and planned to take a year out due to Covid. The boys all went to other clubs, and I stopped managing completely.
“We were at a friend’s wedding a while later and all got talking. We organised a few nights out, talked some more and decided to start the club back up again. We decided to have the club run by the players. We have four guys helping with things operationally in their spare time, and taking control of what we need done like sorting out finances, new kits and logistics.
“In the space of a few weeks we’ve already got a new sponsor, two new kits coming in, tracksuits and training gear coming in. We’ve managed to get ourselves financially stable quickly, and we’ve about 25 boys who are up for playing. The guys all decided they wanted me to manage the team, and we’re just waiting on finding out what Division we’ll be going into in the Belfast & District League but we have been told we’ve been accepted.”
Before their first match back on Saturday, the players also held a minute’s silence for a friend who passed away, Gavin Fox, who was friends with many of the team and was from Twinbrook and a former player with St Luke’s and Kilwee Celts, a team which have had a comeback story similar to that which Suffolk Swifts are now embarking upon.
“Today we got a good win against a good Belfast Celtic side,” said Jonny Donnelly on their future.
“It shows our commitment and attitude that the players have. If things stay well in a while we’ll hopefully push to get back into the NAFL again, form a second team, and bring in more players and coaches.
“Most of our upcoming games will be away games in this league. We don’t have our own pitch like we did back in St James'.
“Today went very well. I thought fitness would be a big problem, but it was good considering we only had two training sessions prior to playing, and we won 2-0. Starting off again, we are going to be focusing on the one team; mostly who was playing here today and a few others until we get everything back up and running again.”
“We haven’t tried any signings yet, everyone who is here at the moment is everyone who has wanted to come back and play under the Suffolk Swifts name. We’re like a band of brothers, we’ve all played together for years and I’ve managed everyone here before.
“We’ve actually got a surplus of people at the moment who want to help us out, which is brilliant. A lot of people from the club before it folded want to help out again as well, and we’re more than happy to have them along too.”