CARRICK RANGERS F.C. - A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1939, a group of young men met to discuss
forming a new football club for the town of Carrickfergus. After agreeing that
there was enough interest for the club to be constituted, there was further
debate about the name of this new team. In the background of the room they met
in, hung proudly on a wall was a picture of Glasgow Rangers. When this was
noticed and suggestion made that the new club be called Carrick Rangers there
was immediate consensus.
Entry to the Minor League was approved, and
although the slight distraction of a World War interrupted things a bit, a first
title was won in 1941/42 season. The step up to the Amateur League was a natural
progression for this progressive club, and soon further honours arrived – two
Amateur League titles and a McKelvie Cup.
It wasn’t too long before the ‘B’ Division
beckoned, and in the 1960’s Carrick became something of a cup specialist with
two Steel & Sons victories to go along with two Louis Moore triumphs. A League
title win was also secured in 1961/62.
Carrick’s halcyon period, however, was between 1972
and 1977: three ‘B’ Division titles, two Intermediate Cup victories, an Irish
Cup win and four matches with Europe’s finest in the European Cup Winners Cup.
Of course, one year in that glorious spell stands out – 1976, when that Irish
Cup triumph over Linfield, secured by two Gary Prenter goals, and the subsequent
run in the ECWC was supplemented with a League title and the Intermediate Cup.
Surely the Irish League would see the potential of
this wee club and elect it to its Senior ranks? (in those days there was no
promotion & relegation). This elevation, however, was to be delayed, for reasons
better known to the authorities at the time, until the start of the 1983/84 by
which time another ‘B’ Division title had been secured at a canter.
The initial season was a mixed bag. An unbeaten
start to the season which lasted for four games, with a famous 1-0 home win
against Crusaders in the inaugural Senior Fixture, courtesy of a Paul Rogers
goal direct from a corner, and a 3-0 win at Windsor Park, when a Marty Bell
hat-trick killed off the Blues, among the highlights.
This, however, was a false dawn and although
Carrick reached another Irish Cup Final at the end of that season, losing 4-1 to
Ballymena, the League campaign left the club anchored to the foot of the table,
a position they were to become familiar with over the next ten years, bar a
couple of notable exceptions.
After several seasons of ignominy, and a flurry of
managers, Carrick turned to former player, ex-Northern Ireland International and
local sports shop proprietor, Jimmy Hill to lead the team. In his first full
season in charge, Carrick finished mid-table, playing some terrific football in
the process. The momentum, however, could not be sustained and it wasn’t until
the appointment of a largely inexperienced Kenny Shiels that the fans finally
had something to cheer about.
King Kenny developed a style of play that wowed the
fans and the pundits. Attacking, free-flowing, entertaining. The Co. Antrim
Shield winged its way to Taylors Avenue in 1993 and mid-table League position
was achieved with some aplomb. When Kenny eventually left to take over the reins
at Coleraine in 1995, the squad was sufficiently strong to reach another Irish
Cup Final, again against Linfield but this time the fairytale ending was not
there as Carrick lost 3-1.
To compound matters, this was the season that the
Irish League split into two Divisions and another abysmal League campaign saw
the club drop into the lower tier. During that close season, the squad was
decimated through a combination of players moving on to clubs in the top flight
and others retiring on a high.
The club took some considerable time to recover
from this setback, going through managers at a rate of one per season, with only
a Daily Mirror trophy in 2003/2004 added to the Roll of Honours. It was only
with the appointment of another untried manager Stevie Small, likened in
enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to Kenny Shiels, that there appeared to be
light at the end of the tunnel. Steady progress under Small has seen Carrick
challenging for promotion and reaching the final of the Steel & Sons Cup in
2010/2011 season will join the heydays of the mid
1970s as a highlight in the club’s history. A terrific campaign from start to
finish resulted in promotion secured to the Premier League, courtesy of winning
the Championship1 Title, and the icing on the cake was to secure the
Intermediate Cup as well.
More uniquely, both were secured within 60
seconds of each other.
On May 2, Carrick took on Harland & Wolff Welders
at Dixon Park in the final of the Intermediate Cup. With the game scoreless and
heading into injury time, news filtered through that Limavady, the only
remaining League challengers, had faltered at Ballymoney handing the
Championship1 title to Carrick Rangers. Simultaneously, mercurial winger Paul
Heatley collected a Paul Penter through ball to stroke home the winning goal to
clinch the double to the jubilation of the Amber Army.
On the 3 August 2011, Carrick Rangers returned to
top flight football after a sixteen year absence, at the home of Cliftonville,
but the day did not end as intended as a dubious disallowance of a goal for
offside left Carrick at the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline.