Ground: Skegoneill Avenue (built 1952)
Capacity: 2,000 (80 seated)
Nickname: The Swifts
Sponsor: Peter Dornan & Co. Solicitors
Belfast (Irish: Béal Feirste) is a city in the United Kingdom and the capital of Northern Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, and after Dublin, is the second-largest city on the island of Ireland. In the 2001 census the population within the city limits (the Belfast Urban Area) was 276,459, while 579,276 people lived in the Greater Belfast area (the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area).
The city is situated near the mouth of the River Lagan at the south-western end of Belfast Lough, a long natural inlet ideal for the shipping trade that made the city famous. It is flanked by the Castlereagh Hills on the south and the Antrim Hills on the north. The city straddles the County Antrim and County Down boundary.
The name Belfast originates from the Irish Béal Feirste, or ‘mouth of the Farset’ (feirste is the genitive of the word fearsaid, “a spindle”), the river on which the city was built. The river Farset has been superseded by the River Lagan as the more important river; the Farset now languishes under the High Street in obscurity. Bridge Street indicates where there was originally a bridge across the Farset.
The site of Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Giant’s Ring, a 5000 year old henge, is located near the city, and the remains of Iron Age hill forts can still be seen in the surrounding hills. It became a substantial settlement in the 17th century after being settled by English and Scottish settlers during the Plantation of Ulster. Belfast blossomed as a commercial and industrial centre in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and thanks to its thriving linen, rope-making, tobacco and shipbuilding industries, became the most industrialised city in Ireland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Belfast had a larger population than Dublin.
Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921 by the Government of Ireland Act. Since it began to emerge as a major city, it has been the scene of much sectarian conflict between its Roman Catholic and Protestant populations. The opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed ‘nationalist’ and ‘unionist’ respectively. The most recent example of this is the Troubles – a civil conflict that raged from c.1969 to the late 1990s.
Belfast was heavily bombed in 1941 during World War II, killing 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands more homeless.
Belfast’s industry has suffered serious decline since the 1960s, creating much unemployment in the city. In recent years, large amounts of money have been invested in the city’s infrastructure in an effort to stimulate the economy. In February 2006 Belfast’s unemployment rate stood at 4.2%, lower than both the Northern Ireland and UK average.
Belfast saw the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement has encouraged large-scale redevelopment, such as Victoria Square, the Cathedral Quarter, the Titanic Quarter and Laganside including the new Odyssey complex and the landmark Waterfront Hall. Much of the city centre has now been pedestrianised. Queen’s University of Belfast is the main university in Belfast. The University of Ulster also maintains a campus in the city, which concentrates on fine art and design.
Despite bad publicity over the past few decades, Belfast is now a popular citybreak destination and a 2003 quality of life survey found Belfast residents to be the most contented city-dwellers in the UK. However as with other areas of Northern Ireland, significant problems remain.
With Brantwood and Crusaders being so close together they share the same tourist attractions. In truth Skegoneill is not a touristy place but Belfast Castle and the City Zoo are not far away.
Set in the shadow of the hills of Belfast is Brantwood’s Skegoneill Avenue ground, built in 1952 when the club purchased the land from the Belfast Corporation after vacating their Dunmore Stadium home. The club predate the stadium by 51 years and take their name from nearby Brantwood Street.
Brantwood have put together a neat compact ground good enough to get them into the Irish league first division for the first time in 2003 under the restructuring of the league. Floodlights will be needed to bring the ground up to top flight standard.
Brantwood have recently completed work on an excellent new club house providing superb players and referees facilities.
One aspect of a visit to Skegoneill Avenue that could be a throwback to the Victorian era is just how evident the old playing more than winning ethic is. The old adage of “Play up, Play up, and play the game” lives on here, although the language, as you would expect, is a little more colourful today, of course.
The Park Stand
The main side of the ground backs onto the Glen playing fields from where the ground was taken back in the 50’s. A small standing stand runs about 1/5 of the length of the pitch either side of the half way line with a small paved path running from it before stopping on the grass verge that surrounds the ground.
The Skegoneill Avenue Stand
This side of the ground is nothing more than a grass banking with railway sleeper steps leading up to a levelled out lawn. Massive potential for a stand of major proportions if needed. The talking point of this side of the ground is the old house situated inside the ground, the former home of the homing pigeon society.
The Social Club End
The social club is, of course, at this end of the ground, but so too are a couple of small covered stands where the only seating is available. The notable thing about the seating is that it is padded waiting room seats that have been placed here and it makes watching football a very comfortable experience. Truth be told though, many of the spectators watch the game through the windows of the social club.
The Lough End
There is nothing at this end of the ground except the continuation of the grass verge that runs around the whitewashed wall of the surround.
Like most Irish league clubs there is a thriving social club. The money paid over the bar while watching English Premier league football on a Saturday lunchtime is vital for the club, but for every fan watching the cup tie (being played during the reviewers visit) there were five in the warmth of the club watching Newcastle vs Liverpool on Sky. The club has a big screen and stage as well as a small t.v. in the corner showing the Saturday racing. The walls of the club include a great painting of Glasgow Ranger’s Ibrox Park in the 1950’s and the club trophy cabinet is on show here, although it is pointed out that they stopped winning things when it went in. The local Liverpool and Rangers supporters clubs meet here. Etiquette is strict regarding the pool table here so check the rules before picking up a cue.
There is also a bar in the next door players lounge but it is good manners to be invited in rather than just barging in. Once in, there is tea and sandwiches available while the bar does not open until about 5.30 in the evening. Two televisions show satellite.
No burger bars or fast food facilities inside the ground but nobody minds if you get chips from a local chippy around the corner and bring them into the ground. The only food available inside the ground are the previously mentioned sarnies.
None. Merchandise is advertised on the website. Scarves are few and far between and the few that do exist are like gold dust.
Toilets are available in the social club and they are very clean. There is also a brand new disabled toilet in the players entrance available to the public.
No visible disabled facilities other than the toilets, and a wheelchair user would have a little difficulty getting around the ground on their own due to the uneven gravel and grass nature of the entrances. There would be no shortage of willing volunteers to help any wheelchair user get around though. The beauty of the social club is that you can sit in the warmth and comfort with a pint and watch the game through the windows if you wish.
Not only do Brantwood have to share the population of Belfast with nine other clubs but their area of Skegoneill is shared with Premier division Crusaders. Their seaview ground is visible from Skegoneill Avenue. The club does not provide season tickets.
The ground does not have floodlights, so fixtures against top flight opponents are not allowed at Skegoneill Avenue at the moment. The club have no need to relocate though and are confident that they can build stands on the present site to house 5,000. The main reason for not putting the lights up at the moment is a fear of upsetting the residents of the houses across the road.
The talking point of the ground is the derelict gate house of the old Grove estate on which the ground is built. the house still stands within the stadium and still bears the name of the local homing pigeon society who once used it.
The nearest club is CRUSADERS, less than half a mile away and visible from the bottom of Skegoneill Avenue. The sides have not met in a league derby since 1948 when the Crues joined the Irish league. Now the clubs are just one division apart, but it seems likely a resumption of local rivalry may be a few years off yet.
Established in 1901 Brantwood is one of the most famous and respected names in Irish League circles. The club first played at the Glen, Alexandra Park Avenue and took their name from the nearby Brantwood Street.
One of the first notable trophy successes recorded was in the 1913/14 season when they won the Irish Junior Cup; the first of many trophies for the club. The next few years between 1920 and 1930 were spent at nearby Dunmore Park during which time the Intermediate League was won on two occasions in 1920/21 and again in 1924/25 when they went through the whole league programme without losing a game.
During the 1920/21 season Brantwood also had their first Steel and Sons Cup Success beating Bangor 3-0 in the Final. At that time Brantwood were unfortunately unable to secure an extension to the lease at Dunmore Park and shortly after the greyhound track was established there, they found themselves without a ground and homeless!
For the next twenty years or so Brantwood really led a nomadic existence, finding themselves at Ligoniel, Whiteabbey, Donaldson Crescent, Oldpark Avenue, Greencastle and York Park in addition to a further four year spell back at Dunmore Park at the end of the Second World War. However despite their nomadic lifestyle, Brantwood still found the time to win the Steel and Sons Cup once again in 1931/32 and in the 1947/48 season both the Intermediate League and the Lyttle Cup.
At this stage in their history Brantwood then decided to buy their own ground, moving to their new home Skegoneill Avenue in 1952 and at that time provided accommodation for over 18,000 spectators – no health and safety restrictions in those good old days!
Their first match on home turf resulted in a 7-0 thrashing beating Astra in the first round of the Intermediate Cup.That same season saw the Brants lifting the Steel and Sons Cup once again having won the famous trophy for the previous two years.
A little piece of history was created by beating Larne 2-1 in the final in the 1952/53 season for this third successive Steel and Sons Cup victory which had never been achieved up to then. More history was made by the fact that three of the Brantwood team, namely Bobby McDowell, Johnny Irvine and Con O’Neill had in fact won four Steel & Sons medals in a row, three with Brantwood and one with Albert Foundry!
Not content with all this success Brantwood went on to also win the Intermediate Cup in January 1953, winning 3-1 against Glentoran Seconds at Grosvenor Park, retaining the trophy they had won the previous season for the very first time. To crown a wonderful season for what was arguably one of the best ever
Intermediate teams, the Brants then went on to lift the Maxwell Cup, the Clements Lyttle Cup and also finished up joint winners of the Intermediate League along with Larne.
The next trophy came along in 1956 when the Brants again won the Steel & Sons Cup and in the 1961/62 season won the Louis Moore Cup for the very first time. The next cup winning side was not until 1972/73 season when both the Intermediate Cup and George Wilson Cup were captured under player/manager Billy Craig, the former Linfield star.
In the 1974/75 season Brantwood again reached the semi-final of the Irish Cup claiming such notable scalps as Glenavon, Ballyclare Comrades and Glentoran along the way before eventually losing to Coleraine. The next cup success was in 1976 when the Brants defeated Ards Seconds in The Steel & Sons Cup Final winning 2-0. Following that success the club then went through quite a transitional period under managers Jim O’Rourke and Harry Blair when a major team building job was required.
Former Dundela star Trevor Best succeeded Harry Blair in the early part of the 1982/83 season bringing Ivor McGucken with him to the club as his assistant – Ivor had been the caretaker Manager at Bangor before joining Trevor at Skegoneill Avenue. Together they Assembled a blend of experience along with some very
talented younger players including a young goalkeeper by the name of Tommy Wright!
Although it was not too long Before Tommy moved on to Linfield and then over to England, Brantwood gained more success by winning the Steel & Sons Cup in 1985/86, beating Ballymoney 5-1 in a replay, having drawn 1-1 on Christmas morning at Seaview. Raymond Bonnar who was not even in the original team squad on Christmas morning, was drafted into the team for the replay and proved to be the match winner, scoring not only a hat trick but also being awarded the “Sunday News” man of the match trophy. The other scorers that day were Wallace Rollins and Jim Alexander who tragically died in April 2001. That same year, the Brants went on to reach the semi-final of the Irish Cup eventually losing to Glentoran who went on to win the Cup.
Trevor Best decided to move on in November 1987 and his assistant Ivor McGucken was appointed to take over as Manager, bringing in club stalwart Billy Beggs as his player/coach. Unfortunately the Steel & Sons Cup winning side had started to split up and once again another team building exercise was required.
A few years later saw Ivor McGucken now with goalkeeper Kieran Harding as his player/coach bring the Intermediate Cup back to Skegoneill Avenue for the first time in over eighteen years, beating the RUC 2-1 in the Final on New Years Day in 1991.
The following season Brantwood reached the final of the Steel & Sons Cup once again with the nucleus
of the side which had won the Intermediate Cup the previous year. Having disposed of “B” Division kingpins Dundela in the semi-final, the Brants were clear favourites to beat Amateur League side Comber Rec. However when a number of serious injuries were sustained in the run up to the final robbing Brantwood of key players, they did not perform to their potential on Christmas morning and on the day Comber ran out deserved winners by a 4-1 margin.
The 1992/93 season saw the team lose in the semi-final of the Intermediate Cup to Donegal Celtic in a penalty shoot out and more disappointment was to follow later that season when losing to Glentoran in the Irish Cup 1-0, the winner coming in injury time.
As it happened this turned out to be the last Irish Cup game against senior opposition played at Skegoneill Avenue due to the criteria being changed for the suitability of grounds – another daft decision from the corridors of power at Windsor Avenue and one which took away some of the romance of a junior club hosting the likes of Linfield or Glentoran.
However, shortly after losing to Bangor Reserves in the semi-final of the Steel & Sons Cup in the 1994/95 season, it was time for another change; Manager Ivor McGucken heading back to Bangor, to be replaced by Billy Beggs. Ronnie Clarke took over a couple of years later and in his third year in charge led the team to a very credible third place in the league before leaving to once again join his home town club Banbridge Town.
Following the end of the 2004/2005 season, manager Ivor McGucken decided to tender his resignation. In his two spells with the club which spanned over eighteen years, Ivor completed 686 games in charge.
New men in charge are Rab Irwin and his assistant David Keery, previously in charge of Crusaders Reserves.