CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Christmas, for football fans has traditionally been an eagerly anticipated period of the season when there are extra games watched by bumper attendances. Over the decades Glenavon supporters have had their fair share of positive memories.

During the landmark 1951-52 Irish League Championship winning campaign, Glenavon played four matches in eight days including the famous 8-3 Boxing Day victory against fellow title challenger Glentoran. Jimmy Jones scored four times in front of what is believed to be the largest ever attendance at Mourneview Park. Some sources suggest 12,000; others put the figure as high as 15,000. Despite Jones’ goalscoring heroics the two men of the match were Wilbur Cush and Maurice McVeigh. Playing on the left side of the field, the “wee man” and “twinkle toes” dismantled a Glentoran defence reckoned, at the time, to be amongst the best in the league.

A year later, in 1952, Glenavon played on 25th, 26th and 27th December beating Portadown and Ballymena United at home and drawing against Glentoran at the Oval.

Three years later, in 1955, the Lurgan Blues defeated Coleraine 9-6 at Mourneview Park on Christmas Eve, Portadown 7-1 at Shamrock Park on Boxing Day and drew 4-4 with Glentoran on 27th December. The 20 goals scored inside a 74-hour period were shared between Jackie Denver (6), Jimmy Jones (5), Sammy Chapman (4), Stewart Campbell (3), Paddy Corr and Wilbur Cush.

On 27th December 1949 Glenavon, on the cusp of greatness, won 9-0 against Crusaders at Mourneview Park. Graham (4), Maurice McVeigh (2), Jackie Denver, Albie Parks and Wilbur Cush scored the goals. The Belfast Telegraph reported that over 70,000 spectators had attended the 12 Irish League matches played on the two days after Christmas.

Jimmy Jones, a prolific goalscorer for Glenavon in big Christmas games.

On Christmas Eve 1966 Glenavon defeated Bangor 10-0 at Mourneview Park. Dennis Guy scored a double hat-trick. Wilbur Cush and Reggie McNally both found the net twice. The Lurgan Blues had beaten Linfield 3-2 at Windsor Park the week before but lost 4-0 to Portadown at Shamrock Park on 27th December.

The Christmas Day fixture remained a mainstay of the holiday programme from the resumption of football after the Second World War until the mid-1960s. Thereafter it was only played when the 25th fell on a Saturday. Glenavon’s opponent was most often, though not always, Portadown. During the 1950s it was the blue scarves which were swirling as Jimmy McAlinden’s team stacked up win after win against the “old enemy.” Nevertheless, the decade started on a less auspicious note when Welshman Dai Hopkins’s Portadown side had the audacity to defeat Glenavon 7-2 at Mourneview Park!

On Christmas Day 1962 McAlinden’s men defeated Linfield 3-2 at Windsor Park with goals by Eddie Johnston, Stewart Campbell and John Dugan. Two years later Glenavon won 3-0 at the South Belfast venue. Youngsters Dennis Guy (2) and Peter Watson scored the goals.

Dennis Guy, six goals against Bangor in 1966.

In December 1974 Glenavon played its penultimate Christmas Day fixture against Portadown at Shamrock Park. It proved to be a memorable encounter for the wrong reasons. The Ports won 4-2 with two goals by Tony Bell. However, in the closing minutes, with the score 3-2 and the winter gloom descending, referee Jack McKeown awarded the home side a penalty-kick. Following a melee involving players from both sides, he sent off Glenavon’s Trevor Harris. The referee alleged that he had been punched by the young defender. Harris vehemently denied any malfeasance. When the IFA’s Disciplinary Committee met in January 1975 it fixed Harris with a 12-match ban. It subsequently emerged that the punch which felled Mr. McKeown had been thrown not by the wronged Harris but by one of his team-mates!

Christmas 1982 proved to be surprising successful for a struggling Glenavon team. On 28th December Alex Denver, son of the great Jackie Denver, scored the winner in a shock 1-0 success at Seaview. Four days later Alex scored three goals in a 5-0 home success against Distillery. On 8th January 1983, following a highly creditable 1-1 draw away to Coleraine, Alex scored his second hat-trick in eight days in a 3-1 home defeat of Bangor.

During the 1990s the Boxing Day derby with Portadown returned and eventually became a regular feature of the festive programme. Huge crowds thronged Mourneview Park and Shamrock Park in the days when there were virtually no restrictions on numbers. The two Craigavon clubs were invariably well placed in the League Championship table.

On Boxing Day 1994 Glenn Ferguson scored a last-minute winner with a header at the Crescent Stand end of Mourneview Park in front of what was reckoned to have been the largest Christmas “gate” since the 1950s. Two years later Glenavon again won 1-0 courtesy of a goal by John Gregg but did so after Scottish midfielder Sammy Johnston had been sent off by referee Alan Snoddy for “diving.” The Lurgan Mail reported the attendance as in excess of 4,000 and claimed that 65% of the fans present had been Glenavon supporters.

Glenn Ferguson, last minute winner against Portadown in 1994.

The most dramatic Boxing Day derby of recent years was the 2016 meeting at Shamrock Park. Mark Carson and Aaron Haire gave Portadown a 2-0 lead. However, Glenavon scored twice in the final fifteen minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw. First, midfielder Ciaran Martyn headed an Andy McGrory cross past goalkeeper Chris McGaughey. Then Mark Sykes’ free kick from an angle sailed over everyone in the penalty area including the bemused keeper. During that frenetic finish Kevin Braniff also put the ball in the net but his “equaliser” was ruled out for offside.

Although Portadown’s two relegations in the last ten years have made the annual Boxing Day fixture less attractive for Glenavon fans, hopefully there will be a large attendance at Newry Showgrounds on 26th December 2023 when Stephen McDonnell’s team continues its bid to achieve a strong finishing position in the current Sports Direct Premiership campaign.