Thursday, July 16, 2009 – Allen Park, Antrim
A bit obscure this one, but an enjoyable way to end my Northern Irish mini tour.
Chimney Corner play in the third level of Irish football, a level which in terms of playing standard and facilities appears to be roughly equivalent to good Junior level in Scotland.
On this occasion the Antrim side gave a good account of themselves at home to Larne, a side from the division above.
Chimney Corner play at Allen Park, which lies on the outskirts of Antrim town – a site that isn’t the easiest of places to get to if, like me, you didn’t know the area and were relying on public transport.
As was the case for my scary trip to Lurgan, I took the train to Antrim with the NI Railways service getting there in plenty of time for the game.
The train station sits on the periphery of the town centre and as it turned out, the route to the ground was such that I didn’t get the chance to have a look around. Given some of the dubious sights I encountered elsewhere in Northern Ireland I wasn’t overly upset.
The walk along the road to Randelstown was lengthy, probably getting on for a couple of miles, but the weather was sunny and relatively warm so it wasn’t a chore.
The major landmark along the way was an army barracks, with much of the rest of the journey to the ground’s semi-rural location relatively unremarkable. Although it was broad daylight, it occured to me that it wasn’t the kind of walk you’d want to be making under cover of darkness.
Arrival at the ground was in plenty of time for kick off, and my initial impression from outside was that it was similar to a junior level set-up at home.
There was a main pavilion building – which I later found out contained a social club – with a set of basic turnstiles alongside. Admission came in at a fiver, pretty much as I would have expected.
The interior of Allen Park is relatively spartan with most of the pitch ringed with flat standing areas, most of which were grassed.
It’s far from featureless, though. There is a covered shed on the opposite side from the turnstiles and social club, a strange contraption fashioned out of scaffolding poles.
Further along from the pavilion building opposite, set back a few yards from the touchline, sits a small seated stand, not unlike the ‘temporary’ style I encountered on my visit to West Allotment Celtic last season.
It looked almost brand new with the red and black plastic seats and metalwork in pristine condition, and another clue to its recent installation was the fact that there was a fair amount of rubble from the demolished section of pitch perimeter wall still lying around.
I overheard a couple of club official types chatting and by all accounts the stand has 107 seats, a titbit of trivia was quite happy to accept on face value.
It seems more than adequate for a club of Chimney Corner’s stature, and while having no real concept of cost, it looked like the kind of thing the more forward thinking junior sides in Scotland would do well to think about installing.
As pleasant as the stand was, the most unusual feature of Allen Park, in my view, was undoubtedly the ‘tunnel’, a very unusual design consisting of two closely spaced chainlink fences which led from the dressing rooms right out to the pitch.
Without the benefit of any real knowledge of this level of Northern Irish football, it looked a bit out of place to me. A wee bit superfluous, perhaps?
Either way the two teams emerged into the fine summer evening showing all the enthusiasm you would expect in an early pre-season game.
Chimney Corner, wearing red, had the best of the opening exchanges while the black clad Larne side took a while to get their passing game going.
There wasn’t any discernable end product for Corner though, and after Larne had shaken off some of their cobwebs they got the opening goal, their no 11, Damon McLaughlin snatching the credit on the line despite the fact that the header from no 6 Marc Brown looked to be going in anyway.
By half time it was two, a fairly harsh scoreline given the way the half went overall. No 9 Dave Larmour got the second goal after good work from the young no 7 on the wing.
I ventured into the Social Club at half time, delighted to find burgers on sale from a servery at one end. £2 was a bit steep I felt, but it hit the spot.
Post burger the game continued with more of the same. I thought it was an even affair on possession but Larne seemed to have a little more edge and craft in forward areas.
Another feature of the game was the full bloodied way that both sides approached the game, something that was refreshing given the non-events you occasion see at this time of year.
The referee deserved his share of the credit for letting a few things go, although one of the Chimney Corner players had to be carried off the pitch after one particularly eager challenge – something you never like to see.
Although the game ticked along nicely, further goals didn’t look likely. Larne were guilty of wasting a few decent openings with some wild shooting.
Just when it seemed it would finish 2-0, the home side got an 87th minute consolation that I felt their efforts deserved. Their no 11 Gary Brown supplied the finish – a well controlled header after a team-mates shot had crashed off the crossbar.
After the game followed a return walk to the train station, this time uphill, and a return journey to Belfast.
All in it took well over two hours to get back to my hotel from the game, but having seen a decent game in good weather in a fairly unusual location, I felt it was a worthwhile evening out.
Scoring – 0-1 McLaughlin (32), 0-2 Larmour (45), 1-2 Brown (87)
Attendance – 100 est
Admission – £5
Programme – none
Food – Burgers £2
Match Rating: 6/10
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