Banbridge Hockey Club, which is one of the most distinguished in these islands, began in 1897 when a group of local young men met on a Saturday afternoon to knock a ball about at Millmount Green beside the River Bann, just off the Lurgan Road. Little did they know then that they were in the process of creating a club which would become an outstanding contributor to the game of hockey in Ulster; throughout Ireland and beyond.
In 1900 Edgar McCall became the first Banbridge player to be awarded an International cap when he represented Ireland against Wales. He was the first of thirty to be honoured by the Irish Hockey Union. Outstanding among these great players were Jack Harvey and Rodney Malcolmson, each of whom gained fourteen caps, and also George McElroy and Aubrey Allister with thirty-nine and twenty-four respectively. These were remarkable achievements as Ireland normally played only three games each Season – against England, Scotland and Wales.
When the format of Internat~nal hockey changed and the Irish side qualified to play overseas more often, Mark Sinnamon, Norman McGladdery, Cohn Allister and David McAnulty brought further honour to the Club when they passed the fifty-cap milestone in their hockey careers.
Throughout their history Banbridge teams have won all the Irish Hockey Union and Ulster Branch trophies on numerous occasions and in recent times have qualified to represent Ireland in European competitions. The Club has won the Senior League 18 times, the Irish Senior Cup 9 times, the Kirk Cup 17 times and the Anderson Cup 13 times, and also had noted success in the European B Division.
In 1906 Banbridge won the Kirk Cup for the first time and, in the next Season, the Irish Senior cup. Simply stated on the base of the Cup is the fact, ‘Banbridge H C 1907′. This is but a small unemotional picture of that event. When the all-Ireland hockey champions came back home, the first time the Cup came North of the border, a band was waiting at the station, a lorry stood ready to tour the streets of the town and show Cup and team off, and the population stood on the streets to cheer!
The years 1909-11 were impressive, for (on these three successive years) the Club won the Senior League and the Kirk Cup. As a recognition of the players’ consistent form, it is recorded that the Ulster team of 1911 which defeated Connaught 9-nil had six Banbridge players! They contributed seven of the goals, Smyth scoring five and Simms two – a fitting climax to those great pre-war years of local hockey.
A sad event was commemorated by the presentation for annual competition of the Anderson Cup. The Cup was presented by TN Anderson in memory of his brother; Capt George Anderson, an International player who was killed on active service in France during the First World War.
Strangely, George himself represented Scotland in 1910 – gaining recognition during his studies at Edinburgh University. The Cup was first played for in 1920, and won by Banbridge.
During the Great War; twenty-seven members served with the Forces and eight were killed in action, four of whom were Internationals. The Club’s remarkable success continued throughout the decades, and the first team squad travelled to Yugoslavia in 1983, and to Wales in 1987, securing the runner-up spot each time. In 1990 they finished third in Germany, but in 1985 they had their greatest success when they hosted the European Cup B at the Castlewellan Road Grounds. After a super-human effort, they emerged as Champions, defeating the Italian representatives Anniscora Alisarda after trailing by three goals to one with just twelve minutes remaining in the Final. It was truly a ‘Boys’ Own’ ending, and there were great scenes of emotion at the finish. No Club exists through the efforts of players alone, and Banbridge has always been blessed with a team of non-playing enthusiasts who have given unstintingly of their time and talents to assist the furtherance of the game in the area. Space only permits reference to a few but this in no way detracts from all those who have served over the past ninety nine years.
Jack Hagan has been an outstanding cornerstone of the Club, having served as President for twenty-five years, and at the same time officiating as an umpire at games throughout Ireland. His generosity to Banbridge Hockey Club will always be remembered with gratitude.
The late Billy Cupples will for ever be held in the highest esteem for his encouragement of young players. It was he who formed the successful Colts’ Section of the Club which endeavoured to introduce young schoolboys to the game, especially those from schools where hockey was not on the curriculum, and this is continuing – thus providing a nursery of young players – many of whom have graduated to the top teams.
Over the past half century, the name of Eric Walker has been synonymous with hockey and with Banbridge in particular. In his earlier years he had the distinction of playing for Ulster and Leinster; and today he is as well-known throughout Ireland and further afield as he was then. An outstanding organiser of social functions and a source of encouragement to all, his greatest contribution to the successes of Banbridge in recent years has been his planning and support of trips throughout Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. No-one will ever know how much time and effort this demanded but the successes of the teams were fitting rewards for his contributions to this aspect of Club life.
In 1949 the members of the Club had the foresight to purchase the present grounds situated in a wonderful setting within easy reach of the centre of Banbridge. Over the years these have been developed to provide a pavilion and social centre, two grass pitches and an outstanding shale surface which, until recently, was the envy of many visiting Clubs.
However the progress of the game and the demands of the Federation of International Hockey and the Irish Hockey Union have placed an urgent priority on the need for a synthetic grass surface, if senior hockey is to continue in the Banbridge area. To this end Banbridge District Council has agreed to provide such a pitch and other necessary facilities at Havelock Park, which incidentally is close to Millmount Green. These should be in place in time to ensure that the Club’s Centenary will mark not just the end of an era, but a new beginning when hopefully many will enjoy the game of hockey and, equally important, create life-long friendships, as generations have done since those humble beginnings in 1897.
In a sense the story of Banbridge has come full circle – beginning with a group of local men playing at Mulmount Green, and a century later the brand new facilities will be established in the same area. In the past 100 years or so the Banbridge Club has given a great deal to the game – on and off the field. It remains one of the most-respected Clubs in these islands.