THE BATTLE OF CULLYBACKEY
Maine Wanderers v Drumrankin Strollers.
Sporting memories live long in rural Ulster, and the following racy lines by Mr. John MacNeill, Ballycarry’s railwayman poet, will carry Cullybackey folk back to days before the first world war, when rival soccer teams, such as Maine Wanderers, the works club of Messrs. Frazer & Haughton, found doughty challengers in Drumrankin Strollers from the local scutch mill, a side sponsored by the late Mrs. Mary Bamber, most genial of sportswomen, who took the keenest interest in the prowess of her team. The poet, who is indebted to his railway friends, Messrs. R. Taylor and J. Duff, for details of a notable supremacy test of 1910, salutes the memory of participants who have passed on, and hopes the narrative he has produced will be taken in the spirit of fun in which it is written.
A gentle, animated hum
Rolled o’er the meadow green,
Where like a deadly Mills’s bomb
A ball lay in between
Two lines of dour, determined men,
Who thrice had met before
The ref’s shrill whistle wakes again,
The Cullybackey roar.
Along the line a jovial crowd
Well armed with iron bars,
Were urging stridently and loud
Their own especial “stars.”
To “meet him Dan,” or “lift him Bill,”
Or, “slip him Wullie John,”
With these expressions of goodwill,
The stirring fight was on.
Within that crowd each sporting blade
Had come from near and far,
With battle colours well displayed,
Prepared for peace or war.
On swarming clouds of bicycles,
On vehicles weird and rare,
Velocipedes and tricycles:
But most on shank’s mare.
Drumrankin’s centre swept the ball
Far to the outside right,
Where crafty Wull, of stature small,
Moved like a streak of light,
To gather it with steady nerve
As you would wish to find,
A quick side step, a dazzling swerve,
The half was left behind.
Then Tiny Wull with deadly aim
A centre swung across
The Wanderers’ defence became
An almost total loss..
Jim Duff, their star custodian,
Was beaten fair and square,
And Mary Bamber’s apron
Was waving high in air.
The Wanderers undauntedly
Ignoring this set-back
With power and vigour in their play,
Returned to the attack,
Up, down, across, the leather flew,
Till young MacPherson met
A dandy centre, fast and true,
And slammed it in the net.
The Strollers pressed with faces set,
Resolved to force a win,
Young Duff was bundled in the net,
The leather followed in.
Despite dark hints of murder red,
From out the stormy crowd,
The ref. quite calmly shook his head,
The goal was disallowed.
On this the struggle fast became
A battle of the strong,
Full many a man of fighting fame
Went down amidst the throng.
Excitement now had fired the blood,
No quarter ruled the play;
And those who sank within the mud
Were finished for the day.
And so, the Bambers, Wilkinsons,
MacConnachies and Spence,
McClellands, Crawfords, Andersons,
Fought on through feeling tense.
The Duffs, MacPhersons, Staveleys,
Still gamely carried on,
Along with grim McKendry,
Till every hope was gone.
But though they battled till the light
Had faded in the west,
Locked in a stubborn, rugged fight,
Each giving of his best.
The most exciting match of fame,
Ee’r Cullybackey saw,
Was ended in an even game,
Of one goal each – a draw.
Ah! Most of those who met that day
On homely banks of Maine,
Now sleep in honour far away
On Flanders battled plain.
Where in that storied July fray,
They broke the German shock,
As breaks the ocean’s baffled spray
On Antrim’s Iron Rock.
Good luck to friends and foemen too,
Of Those old sporting days
Supporters of the red or blue,
In ready word or phrase,
Who like myself have settled down
To sober middle age,
I hope their smiles replace the frown,
As memory turns the page.
John McNeill 31st August 1945