Back in 1989 it was ‘last one out of Ballymena turn off the lights’ but for the 2020 lockdown-restricted Irish Cup Final it is now ‘First one in turn on the TV’

James Knowles (centre) and his fellow Ballymena United players in celebration mode as Ballymena United defeated Coleraine in the semi-final.

FIRST one in turn on the TV!

That is in stark contrast to the terminology used the last time Ballymena United won the Irish Cup away back in 1989 when one journalist wrote that it was a case of ‘last one out turn off the lights’ as the town’s footballing public decamped to Belfast for the day.

Thousands of Sky Blue fans had flocked to The Oval on a sunny Saturday May 6 – hard to believe it was 31 years ago – and they jumped for joy on the terraces and the grassy slopes of the Sydenham end of the famous old ground after watching their heroes defeat Larne 1-0.

Things are certainly different this time round.

With coronavirus lockdown restrictions still in place only 500 fans from both Ballymena United and Glentoran are allowed to attend tonight’s match at Windsor Park.

So for most fans it is TV and the match (8pm kick-off) is being televised on BBC2 with the show starting at 7.25pm.

A Ballymena United victory in Friday night’s Irish Cup Final showdown would provide a huge boost to football right across Mid and East Antrim, a lifelong Sky Blues supporting councillor has said.

The Warden Street club’s showpiece clash with Glentoran has created a real buzz throughout the town as the team bids to lift the trophy for the first time since 1989.

United sealed their place in the final thanks to victory over rivals Coleraine earlier this week.

The Irish Cup Final is set to be the first football match played in front of spectators in the UK since March.

Restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a suspension of action and when games resumed they were behind closed doors.

Ballymena and Glentoran have both been allocated 250 tickets for the match at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.

Facilitated by Mid & East Antrim Council, the club has also arranged a drive-in screening of the game at Ballymena Showgrounds, with the match also broadcast live on the BBC.

Matthew Armstrong

 

Mid and East Antrim councillor Matthew Armstrong, who is an ardent Ballymena fan and member of the club’s committee, said United’s cup success was brilliant news for the town and borough.

He said: “In the current times we all need a bit of a lift and something to look forward to, and for Ballymena fans you couldn’t ask for much more than an Irish Cup Final.

“Football in Ballymena, and indeed Larne and Carrickfergus, is well and truly on the up and I think it is fair to say we are gaining a proud reputation as a hotbed for local talent.

“This week we saw two local teams in Harryville Homers and Ahoghill Thistle contest the County Antrim Junior Shield Final, which was a brilliant advert for the sport in Mid and East Antrim.

“Now all the focus will be on Ballymena United and it’s been wonderful to see the huge level of support building within the community throughout the week.

“All three of our major clubs are to be commended for the progress they have made in recent years, both on and off the pitch.

“Our teams are much more than sports clubs. They have become integral to our local communities and real hubs of activity for a wide range of age groups and abilities.

“Unfortunately, due to the health crisis we are currently in, the number of supporters who will be in attendance at the final has been restricted, but the players and staff know they have the full backing of the fans as they step onto the pitch on Friday evening.

“Credit to Ballymena United for laying on a drive-in screening of the game and I thank the Council for agreeing to facilitate this.”

Meanwhile, the pitch at Ballymena Showgrounds will be ready for football straight away once home matches recommence for Ballymena United.

Extensive works carried out on the Showgrounds previously resulted in the venue achieving a UEFA licence.

 

 

 

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