Tuesday, 04 January 2011 15:29
One hundred years ago, association football was put on a firm foothold in Westport with the formation of Westport United Football Club. Prior to the official establishment of the club in the town, the sport was played in Westport for some years but the formation of WUFC gave the sport in the town the impetus it required to continue its growth.
A lot has happened in the 100 years since the club was founded. Other clubs were set up in the town and some very healthy rivalries were established.
At one juncture, three clubs - United, Crusaders and Textiles - all competed in the Mayo League against one another.
There even was a time in the '70s when United stopped competing (player numbers had dipped and the running of the club was being left to too few) but the club retained its identity and thankfully, within a few years, the red and black was back on the playing fields of Mayo and beyond.
Red and black. Iconic colours for Westport people. The story is told of how Bohemians officials were so taken with the colours when the two clubs played a challenge game with each other that they changed their own colours in much the same way Juventus did after meeting Notts County.
If the decision to stop competing was the low point then there could be little argument but that June 19, 2005 was the greatest day in the history of the club when the FAI Junior Cup was captured on a gloriously sunny day in Buckley Park, Kilkenny. For many elderly fans, it was the ultimate achievement and one many never thought they'd see in their lives.
That day, indeed that entire journey from getting away with blue murder when sneaking past Inver in Bangor right through to the final win, was memorable.
The brouhaha over the appeal to the FAI after the Carew Park semi-final kept the town going for weeks and when it was all over and we had defeated them in the re-fixture, the victory was celebrated like we had won the competition outright. Looking back, it was probably as much about relief as anything else.An unbreakable bond had developed between players, management and supporters and it got to the point where it was a case of everyone in it together.
None of those who stood in Gort on match nights as we made our way back to Westport can ever forget the tingling emotion. Tears were shed. Tears of joy, and in some instances, tears of sadness for those that were not with us to celebrate. We oozed pride. In our club and in our town and in our families. There was love in the air.
Some of us involved with that success have moved on to other things but we can never leave Westport United behind. It's part of our DNA and I'm afraid we'll be stuck with it until we're all eventually laid to rest in Aughavale. Even then, all we'll be doing is taking a short leave of absence as we'll be joining up with all the United men and women who have gone before us.
Westport United isn't just a football club. It's a sporting institution that has touched so many Westport families. It's a club that has had its low points and its high points in the past 100 hundred years. It's a club that has made mistakes and has often been too slow to admit to them. It is a club that has hurt people.
But name a club that has survived a couple of world wars and a few recessions that hasn't.
Westport United is about people and people are frail and make mistakes. But no person I have ever met in the club has ever had anything but good intentions.
There are times when people get hurt along the way, but that's what happens when people are going about living their lives.
Now, 100 years on from the start of it all, the challenges facing Westport United FC are as great as they were at the outset.
We love our Sports Park (best sporting venue in this county, bar none) but it's not big enough to cater for our needs. When it was developed by that wonderful group of visionaries, it was to provide a home mainly for adult football but today we have hundreds of young boys and girls playing the game and we need a new home big enough with the type of facilities that are necessary to ensure we continue to attract young players to our club.
There are other challenges too (it would be nice to win the Connaught Junior Cup sooner than later) but the biggest one is to keep providing a sporting outlet for those who want to play the game. That's all that matters really and one that would surely satisfy those who formed this great club of ours all those years ago.
The year ahead should be an exciting one. Plans are in place for a book and a festival of football to mark the centenary. It would be nice to think that it could be tied into the Covey Week celebrations.
Because, that's what we are. Coveys one and all. Here's to the future.