The Birth Of Aquinas
August 1969, as those old enough to remember will recall, brought the outbreak of civil disturbances to Belfast and further afield, on a scale not seen for several generations. As a result of this, it was thought to be a good idea to have youth organisations established in all areas where youth or sports clubs did not then exist. In this area, Jim Fitzpatrick, who at that time was working on a voluntary basis for Immaculata Youth Club, was approached to try to get something along those lines set up. Jim responded enthusiastically and brought Frank O’Connor and John Cassidy on board. In addition, through his Immaculata connection, he brought Jim McKee, one of the “mac” managers, over to help get football training under way and a new club properly organised.
At this time also, a group of boys from around the Stranmillis area, organised by Tom McQuillan’s son, Terry, used to play kick-about matches in the Botanic Gardens. These boys, along with some others from the area, were recruited, as it were, to form the nucleus of an under 16 team for the still unnamed new football club. In parallel, with the encouragement of Jim and Frank O’Connor, another group of boys was got together to form an Under 14 team.
Similarly, about this time, a group of younger boys regularly played football in the tennis courts at the side of Aquinas Hall. At that time Aquinas Hall, a well-known building at 75 Malone Road, extended for virtually the entire block. No longer called by that name, the building is nowadays the home of the Arts Council. That part of the block, which now contains the McNeice apartments, consisted of a grass hockey pitch and the tennis courts. This group of boys was also recruited for the club, and would enter the, soon to be formed, South Belfast Boys League as the Under 13 side. It was the Aquinas Hall connection, of course, which led, similarly in august 1969, to the new club being called Aquinas Football Club.
Concurrently with these events, Jim had approached the Down and Connor league and had been successful in having both older teams, Under 14s and Under 16s, admitted.
The First Match
The first league match ever played by Aquinas Football Club took place in early September 1969 at Orangefield Park. Our opponents were Rosario. Despite the newness of the club, the team, managed by Jimmy Gallagher, who had been brought to the club by Frank O’Connor, put in a spirited show, scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat.
The original Aquinas team was: Charlie Mooney, David McClenaghan, Kim McIntyre, Des Brennan, Paul Sands, Jimmy Kelly, Terry McQuillan, Jimmy Nellins, Stevie Martin, Gerard McConkey and Peter Fitzpatrick.
Des Brennan from that first team served as Chairman of the club from 1992 to 2009.
The South Belfast Football League
Similarly, around this time, a decision was taken to form a new league for the younger boys, rather than enter them into the existing Down and Connor league. Consequently, John Cassidy, who had taken responsibility for training the younger team, and a couple of others decided to form a league of their own, with teams of roughly similar strengths. John persuaded his brother, Frank, to form a team around the Sunnyside Street area, the Sunnyside Swifts. Similarly, Jim McKee formed a second Immaculata side, and there was a team from Castlereagh also. Consequently, in October 1969 the South Belfast Boys League was formed. John became its first Secretary and Treasurer. Indeed, he remained Secretary of the league for forty years, retiring in 2009. The entrance fee was the pricely sum of £5 per team.
The first action of the new league, as you might expect, was to attempt to secure pitches on Saturday mornings. However, due to the lateness in the year, all the pitches were booked solidly for the season. However, Aquinas folk are not easily put off, and, what might be called friendly league matches were arranged for each week, alongside the other leagues. The word “alongside” is meant quite literally as the SBBL teams played their games on the large tracts of spare grassy ground beside the existing pitches at Ormeau Park. In the absence of goalposts, decades of tradition took over, with coats, jumpers or whatever else was available used as goals. The San Siro it was not!