THE BILL IRELAND PRESS BOX
On Friday 13th October 2023, prior to its Sports Direct Premiership match against Cliftonville, Glenavon held a reception to mark the naming of the refurbished football writers’ space in the main grandstand as “The Bill Ireland Press Box.” The reception was attended by Bill’s brother, Noel, his son Michael, daughter Karen, and several other friends.
Bill, a career journalist and lifelong Glenavon supporter, passed away in June 2002. He was much loved and deeply respected, not only in his native Dromore, but most particularly at his second home, Mourneview Park. Although he travelled widely reporting on his two favourite sports, football and cricket, his most enjoyable days were spent in Lurgan watching Glenavon.
Club Chairman, Adrian Teer, delivered a short address in which he reflected upon Bill’s contribution to sports journalism. “Bill and the late Malcolm Brodie were stalwarts of the Belfast Telegraph,” he said. “Those were the days when you could be confident that any football news which appeared in the Telegraph was accurate.”
Adrian made the point that, despite his affiliation with Glenavon, Bill’s football writing was always scrupulously impartial. He quoted the following paragraph from the tribute which Malcolm Brodie penned after the death of his colleague and friend:
“Alas no longer will we have those cries of ecstasy or agony in the Mourneview Park press box when his beloved Glenavon were in action. He was passionate about the club, so much so that he referred to them as ‘we’ and lived through every game with even more concern than managers. Yet he always retained impartiality when reporting and his loyalty to the Lurgan Blues never clouded his judgement.”
The decision to name the press box in Bill’s honour has had a long gestation. “This is something which the Board of Directors has intended to do for some time,” Adrian added. “We are delighted that those plans have come to fruition and that we are able to remember him in this way.”
Bill started his working life as a printers’ apprentice. However, he always wanted to be a reporter. In 1957 he took a significant step towards realising his ambition when he secured an appointment with the Northern Whig. He spent three years covering principally legal, parliamentary and municipal affairs. In 1960 he moved to the Belfast Telegraph and entered the world of football writing as, in effect, Malcolm Brodie’s deputy.
Working at the Telegraph meant early morning starts. Bill telephoned all twelve Irish League managers virtually every day. Then he helped Brodie to assess, collate and write up the football news in time for the mid-morning deadline. By 12 noon or soon afterwards the Telegraph’s first edition was on the streets of Belfast and football fans were digesting the local game’s latest developments.
Every weekend Bill covered a match for the Ireland’s Saturday Night. That meant formulating a report during the 90 minutes and dictating the text to a typist via landline telephone within minutes of the final whistle. Bill was so gifted that he could produce lucid, accurate material and still meet the rigorous 5-05 pm or 5-10 pm cut off time. By 7-30 pm his reports were being read in towns and villages across Ulster.
In 1980 Bill joined the Lisburn Star as deputy editor. His boss was another dyed-in-the-wool Glenavon supporter, Gordon Hanna. During the late 20th century Bill, Gordon and former Sunday Life sports editor Jim Gracey formed a famous (or infamous!) journalistic triumvirate. Malcolm Brodie referred to them, affectionately, as the “Mourneview mafia.” There has probably never been a time in the history of the local game when one club has held the affections of so many leading football writers.
Later Bill moved to the Lurgan Mail as its editor and subsequently chief sports writer. During the 1990s, when the two top Mid-Ulster clubs were continually battling for major honours, he satiated the huge public demand for information about events at Mourneview Park with a weekly diet of three news-filled pages. These were amongst the most enjoyable years of his working life.
Yet, ironically, Bill did not start off as a fan of the Lurgan Blues. “My dad took my brother and I to Belfast when I was 8 or 9 years old to watch Linfield play Belfast Celtic. That was at a time when Glenavon was out of football due to the War. For a period, I thought I was a Linfield supporter. However, when we started going regularly to Mourneview Park following the resumption of the Irish League, I realised where my loyalties really lay,” he revealed in an interview sixteen months before his untimely passing.
During the 1950s and early 1960s Bill was privileged to be a witness to the epoch-making achievements of Harry Walker, Jimmy McAlinden and their brilliant players. He regarded the Glenavon side of those years as the best local team and Wilbur Cush as the best footballer he ever saw.
“That was a simply magnificent Glenavon side,” he recalled. “It scored goals almost at will and had no weaknesses. As for Cush, he was not only the greatest Glenavon player, but also the best all-round footballer I ever watched live. He had every talent and could have played anywhere.”
Bill’s other great sporting love was Waringstown Cricket Club. As the Sunday Life’s chief cricket writer from its inception, he delighted in the Villagers’ seemingly endless sequence of trophy successes. During April and August, when the cricket season was in full swing, Bill habitually rushed from the press box at Mourneview Park, the Oval, or wherever his football writing duties took him, to the Lawn to watch Michael Reith, Ivan Anderson and the Harrison brothers et al clear another hurdle on the way, invariably, to the Section 1 title or Senior Cup or both.
Bill Ireland’s death left a void in the lives of the many Glenavon supporters and local football and cricket fans who counted him as a friend. It is appropriate that sports journalists who report on games at Mourneview Park will now do so in a facility bearing his name.