Ground: Allen Park (built 1984)
Capacity: 1500 (0 seated)
Sponsors: Halifax Property Services
Antrim is a town full of historical remnants of its garrison history while Shane’s Castle is just a couple of miles away from the ground in nearby Randalstown. Just a quarter of a mile from the ground on Castle Road are the grounds of Antrim Castle. The Castle itself is long gone but the gardens remain intact.
Castle Road Side
The Castle Road side of the ground is the most developed area of the ground even though it does not contain any form of spectator development. Castle Road contains the only entrance to the ground with an ample car park for the volume of spectators that would attend an Irish League Second Division game, although drivers should be wary of some very large pot holes in the car park. The only turnstile into the ground is situated beside the car park with two other entrances not used unless a huge crowd is expected. The main building beside the car park is the social club and players facilities. The ground is not accessible from the social club until half time and there is no viewing points in the social club either, all windows looking out onto the pitch having been bricked up some ten years ago. The viewing from this side of the ground is quite basic, with only a gravelled area beside the perimeter wall of the pitch laid out for spectators. There is no terracing or stands, though the first thing that strikes you about Allen Park is the vast amount of space on three sides for stands to be erected if feasible in the future. All home fans watch from this side of the ground, largely due to the back door of the social club being behind them. This door is opened at half time for spectators to grab a quick pint and catch up with latest scores elsewhere. The door is then kept open for the second half and if the spectators are good natured the officials will turn a blind eye to a fan taking their pint pitchside for the second half.
Golf Club Stand
The golf club side of the ground is the only area that offers viewing facilities for spectators and as a result is popular with travelling support, no matter how small. To get to the Golf Club Stand the spectators have to trudge round behind one of the goals but once there they have the benefit of the only cover in the ground. The stand itself is quite small and basic with sand laid to stop the grass growing up. The stand is a corrugated metal affair, held up by scaffold poles and can hold around eight spectators. The gravel track continues down one side of the pitch for access while the remainder of this side of the ground is just a small grass path with a junior pitch behind. Curiously the junior pitch is floodlit while the main ground is not.
Neither end of the ground is either developed or popular with spectators, despite the fact that both ends offer good goalmouth viewing. The Antrim End is the end with the least development space, although there is room for a small terrace. At present it is merely a gravel track, which acts as access the the Golf Club Stand.
The Randalstown End is a huge expanse enclosed by large trees, which could offer room for a stand of any size required for local football. Again, like the rest of the ground, it is currently undeveloped with only a gravel track, which leads to the junior pitch. Like the Antrim End it is only ball boys who choose to watch from behind the goal here.
The club house is impossible to miss as it is the only major structure on the site. The bar itself is straight ahead when you enter the club house with the players and officials facilities to the left and a function room to the right. The bar is open all day on match days and operates as a fully functioning social club on non match days. A pint costs £2.20 and there is a big screen TV, which on match days is usually set on teletext to keep track of the other Irish league scores as many locals are keen to keep track of Ballymena United’s match. There is also a dance floor and space for live music in the evenings.
Food is served inside the club house with burgers and sandwiches available at half time and full time. There is access from the ground into the club house from half time and throughout the second half on match days.
There is no club shop but if you ask at the bar there may still be a few half centenary pennants available for a nominal fee.
There are gents and ladies toilets inside the clubhouse and they are clean and hygienic but make sure you use them before going into the ground as you may find yourself knocking on the clubhouse back door to get in if you need the facilities before half time.
With tiny attendances any disabled or wheelchair using spectator should have little trouble being catered for and could find themselves with the best seat in the house. The pitch is surrounded by a 4 and a half foot high white wall, which means that wheelchair users have to be allowed inside the playing perimeter in order to watch the action. The downside of this is that you are exposed to the elements.
Chimney Corner are the only team in Antrim Borough and have no rival clubs for 13 miles to contend with. There are 4,000 football fans in the Borough and had Chimney Corner managed to reach the highest level of local football back in their sixties heyday they may well have attracted such attendances. As a second division club who has since moved out of the town they attract just 1% of their potential fan base to Allen Park every Saturday.
The modern issue facing the club is one they never thought they would suffer, a lack of support. Corner were traditionally a very well supported junior club until they moved home in 1984 and left Antrim Town. These days their location out of the town means it is difficult for them to attract people to the social club, the lifeblood of second division teams.
While many die-hard fans fought hard to keep the name Chimney Corner and retain their original title it continues to alienate the club from their home town and surely a name change to something like Antrim Corner FC would raise the club profile.
Ballymena United are the closest club geographically to Chimney Corner and it is to them that most of Chimney Corner’s potential fans are lost. The two have never met in league action though and can hardly be called rivals unless Ballymena are relegated from the Premier division and Corner get promoted from division two. The traditional rivals used to be Ballyclare and that rivalry will be restored in the League this season after a seventeen season break.
Antrim as a town is a bit of an enigma in truth. As the County town it should, in theory, be the most important but the County also contains the Northern Ireland capital, Belfast and to make matters worse, Antrim has also been overtaken by the rapidly growing Lisburn. Antrim is an old fashioned Ulster town on the banks of the Six Mile Water and Lough Neigh, which held a military significance for centuries, firstly for the various Irish clan chiefs who ruled the area and in later centuries the British garrison stationed there. This military importance was never greater than in the summer of 1798 when Henry Joy McCracken’s United Irish Rebels attacked the British garrison stationed in the town. Had McCracken’s greater numbers achieved victory it’s anybody’s guess what would have become of Ireland but the better organised, albeit heavily outnumbered British won the day and the rebellion was crushed. Antrim settled into a peaceful market town, which thrived on the linen industry for the next hundred and fifty years but when the mills started to close down, Antrim began to close down and was rapidly left behind by the upwardly mobile shopping towns around Belfast. Thankfully the end of the political violent troubles in the early nineties gave Antrim, and most other Ulster towns the chance to regenerate and Antrim is holding its own with new shopping developments in the town.
Antrim’s sporting heritage is all crammed into one area on the Randalstown Road in Allen Park, which is home to Antrim Rugby club, Antrim Hockey club, Antrim Golf club and Antrim Bowling Club. You can see the common theme in the obvious club names but the fifth sports team in the vicinity is not Antrim Football Club because there isn’t an Antrim Football Club. Instead the Borough is represented by Chimney Corner Football Club, perhaps the only team in the World to take its name from a poem. The poem concerned is ‘My lady of the Chimney Corner’ written by local poet Alexander Irvine in honour of his mother who lived in the Pogues Entry area of the town. The club came into being in 1953 in the Riverside area of the town, rapidly establishing a reputation as one of the County’s top amateur clubs, securing minor amateur honours before the decade was out.
It was the 1960s and 70s though when the club went through their halcyon days in terms of support as they became amateur champions of Northern Ireland five times and won the Northern Irish Intermediate cup in 1968 as well as three victories in the prestigious Steel & Sons cup final, the provinces traditional Boxing day cup final for junior clubs. Crowds of up to 1,000 regularly watched the Corner during the seventies in the amateur league at their Riverside Park home but election to the B Division, later to become the second division, lad the club to seek a new home.
The move to a new home in Allen Park came in 1984 on the back of two consecutive victories in the Intermediate cup, with the club having never experienced a higher level of popularity and although performances on the pitch continued to improve, the crowds began to slowly dwindle as the first elder generation of club fans began to die and the club’s new location out of the town hindered a new generation of fans to replace them.
The B division was won for the first time in 1985 as a strong rivalry developed with local rivals Ballyclare Comrades only for the rivalry to be just as quickly quashed when Ballyclare stepped up into the senior football ranks in 1990.
Chimney Corner now began to dream that if Ballyclare could step up maybe they could step up too and the idea of a change of name to include Antrim in a bid to affiliate more with the town. Several names were considered but the dropping of the name Chimney Corner was strongly opposed by the original supporters and the name has remained unchanged to be inscribed most recently on the old B Division in 1999.
The restructuring of the league in 2003 saw Chimney Corner admitted into the new second division when it replaced the B division but by then their days as a top team in the league were gone and the crowds had dropped to a few dozen for most games. For the moment at least, their bubble has burst as they are virtually ignored by the people of Antrim. There is no guarantee that a name change to include Antrim, while retaining their traditions, such as Antrim Chimney Corner might raise public awareness but at least the relegation of Ballyclare Comrades in 2006 will resurrect the local league derby, last played in 1990.
Chimney Corner have recently outlined a five year plan to increase the club’s support and profile, including plans for a soccer school and a number of ground and infrastructure improvements.