Westport Utd FC, History 1911 - 1980 in Co. Mayo
The Westport United Football Club did not come into existence until 1911, though some vague records suggest that the club was founded in 1907. It is claimed that the club colours were adopted from Bohemians in Dublin, while it is also claimed that Bohemians took their colours from Westport. Draw your own conclusions, but the earliest club flag came from Dublin. The flag is red and black with 1911 written in the centre. This flag was waved at one of the earliest Westport Utd matches. The flag is now displayed in the Heritage Centre, Westport Quay.
The club entered the Irish Junior Cup, and made a very strong impact by reaching the semi-final. However, due to lack of funds, Westport had to withdraw from the competition. Due to the absence of an area competition, the club relied on local leagues for finance and regular football. Admission was a tanner (6p) and crowds of 1,000 people were a regular occurrence. Teams such as All Blacks, C.B.S., St. Mary's, Quay Hearts and Bohemians would challenge for town supremacy, and the rivalry was intense. The games were played in Westport Demesne, while the club matches would be played in Munster's Field or Coyne's Field (now Fr. Angelus Park).
The foundation of Castlebar Celtic in 1924 and the inception of the Connacht Cup in 1922 increased the number of games for the club. Great players at the time included "Bellum" and "Block" McNally, Ned Sammon, Stephen "Stuff" Walsh and Frank Gill. The club got to a Connacht Cup Semi-Final against Sligo Rovers in 1930, only to controversially lose 2-1. The local belief at the time was that Westport would have joined the League of Ireland, had they won the competition. The thirties also saw a game that would have a future bearing on the club. Westport Utd travelled to Athlone Town, then the finest non-city team in Ireland in an F.A.I. Junior Cup game in 1935. The hosts won 2-1 with a certain Tommie Brennan getting the winner. The same player would later become the secretary for the club. The club began to see the emergence of players of the calibre of John Sheridan, Tony Downer, Matt Russell, Clem Collins, Broddie Gartland, Josie O'Toole and Pierce Gill.
The 1940's were to become a significant point for the club. The club won the Connacht Cup in 1942, 1945 and 1949, with the victory in 1949 being the greatest. Westport Utd travelled to Galway to play Galway Rovers on their home patch. Westport upset the odds by winning 4-1, in front of a large, delirious travelling contingent. Off the pitch, in 1947, in the face of economic depression and little funds, a committee headed by John Staunton voted to develop a bit of waste ground into a football pitch with a ballroom. The site was bought off Lord Sligo, and many locals funded and volunteered to help out on the project. Initially, it was described as the height of insanity, but the perseverance of everybody involved paid off when it was opened on June 27th, 1953. The first game to take place on the pitch was Everton V Jackie Carey XI. The match was played in torrential rain, and there was a fire at the Shoe Factory that afternoon. It also marked the last ever game for Jackie Carey.
The 1950's saw the launch of the Mayo League (1954), and the controversial Peter Duke Affair (1956). Also, in 1956, a young teenager called Sean McLoughlin received a cap with the Irish U.16 team against England. New talent included Joe Foy, Peter Ryan, Vincent Hopkins, Stephen Walsh, Tony O'Grady and Liam Walsh. The team entered their most successful era at that time, starting with quarter-final appearances in the F.A.I. Junior Cup in 1957 and 1959.
The Connacht Cup came back to Westport in 1961, and the famous seven in a row Mayo League Titles followed. Younger players began to be blooded in as the trophies rolled in. The 1968-69 season saw United embark on their best national cup run in over half a century. Following a lucky escape away to Castlerea Celtic, the home team missing a penalty in injury time with the score at 2-2, United exacted retribution with an 11-0 win. After some good wins, United were home to Hoganville in the quarter- final. Westport took the lead through Tony Browne, only for the Dubliners to equalise. The issue was settled in extra-time through Johnny McNally, whose goal undoubtedly created the most thunderous roar in the Sports Park that day. The semi-final draw pitted them at home to another Dublin team, Talbot Utd. Despite their best efforts, it was not to be, as they lost 2-0. The game noted the inclusion of a number of Derry players, notably Stevie Wilkinson and Ivan Parkes. The early seventies posed problems for the club, when the eligibility of the Derry players came into question. Sporting Club was formed, partially in protest over local players being frozen out at the expense of the Northerners. Crusaders and Textiles were formed out of local league sides. The Derry Connection suffered a setback when an objection by Galway Bohemians was upheld. It was finally dismantled in 1972-73, when the Mayo League ordered Westport to field an all-local team for that season. On a brighter note, the side got to the quarter- final, losing to Malahide Utd.
The following season saw Westport in scintillating form, winning all before them, except for a 2-1 loss to Ballina Town in the F.A.I. Junior Cup. They won the Connacht Cup in the Sports Park with a 1-0 win over O.L.B.C., Galway, with Martin Halpin getting the winner in extra- time. Goalkeeper, Michael Higgins arrived just in time, from a Connacht Championship match in Tuam, where he lined out for Mayo that day. The club would have another great run the following season, but were beaten in the final. In 1976, the U.18s, better known as Stella Maris, won the Quigley Cup, which was a momentous occasion for the club. Sadly, following United's extra- time exit to Dingle Utd in Dublin, the team broke up with little replacements. Within one year, the Junior Club folded, much to the despair of the die-hards. Without haste, Padraig Kelly, Michael Joe Lavelle, Christy Moran and Martin Keane set up Westport Utd Youths. Their activities were ran from where St. Anne's Boxing Club stands today. The Sports Park was shut down for re- development, and the Pavilion Ballroom sold off. The decline brought some light when Westport Crusaders won the Mayo League in 1980. That summer, a meeting was held between the different clubs in town, and Westport Utd was back in action for the 1980-81 season. The following season, the Mayo League Title came to Westport for the last time.
Visit the Westport United FC website for more information.