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Hitting the spot

Gerard Lawlor bowed out as Chairman of Cliftonville Football Club with a unique gift by way of thanks for his many years of distinguished service at Solitude.

Although the presentation at half-time of last night’s Danske Bank Premiership victory over Coleraine was somewhat overshadowed by an impeccably-timed floodlight failure, Gerard was pleased to take receipt of a memento synonymous with the unprecented success he oversaw from the Boardroom as the framed penalty spot from our old 3G surface was handed over by none other than George McMullan – the man whose ice-cool kick from 12 yards sealed the League title back in 2013.

Joined on the pitch by fellow Gibson Cup winners Marc Smyth, Chris and Ronan Scannell, Barry Holland, Barry Johnston, Ryan Catney, Tomas Cosgrove, Eamonn Seydak and the team’s Assistant Manager Peter Murray, Gerard received a standing ovation from supporters keen to sound their own appreciation for the job he has done over the years.

Writing in last night’s Matchday Magazine, Gerard expressed his own gratitude for those who have worked alongside him during his time at the helm in an excerpt repeated below.

Gerard Lawlor’s farewell message
It still seems quite strange knowing that the matchday routine I’ve become accustomed to over the years – taking my place in the car-park, saying hello to certain people, calling in to see the Manager and taking my seat in the Directors Box – is about to end.

I still don’t know where I’ll be sitting during the next game and I’ve certainly got no clue about the parking situation on the Cliftonville Road but I’m sure I’ll find out very soon.

As saddened as I am to be standing down, I’m excited for the future both on a personal level and for the Club in terms of the fresh ideas that will drive Cliftonville forward.

I presided over my last meeting of the Management Committee on Monday night, when Paul McKeown formally accepted the position of Interim Chair – a role he will hold until the Club’s Annual General Meeting.

I have spoken in the past about potentially stepping down as Chairman but the timing never quite seemed right. I always had concerns that the infrastructure wasn’t as strong as it needed to be and I was certainly never going to leave this Club in a precarious position.

Now, though, I can honestly say with hand on heart that I’m confident Cliftonville FC is in very, very good hands. I simply wouldn’t have been able to leave if I didn’t believe that to be the case.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Cliftonville Football Club is as important to me as my wife and kids – and that won’t come as a shock to them because I’ve told them that often enough!

If truth be told, I’ve probably spent more time with the Club than my family over the years but they have always been very understanding and I have said time and time again that, while I have a lot of people to thank for their support and assistance during my time as Chairman, steadfast above them all has been my wife, Roisin.

She has been an absolute rock for me through so many ups and downs and there have been some difficult times that I would have struggled to get through without her.

There simply would not be enough room for me to list all the people I’m indebted to for their help down through the years. The easiest way to put it is that if you played a part in anything, I owe you thanks.Every Manager, every player, every member of the backroom team and, of course, everyone who has served on the Board.

I know I have been a very hard taskmaster at times, but believe me when I say I’m extremely grateful for everything that everybody has done.

Volunteers have long been the heartbeat of this Football Club, so I’m also thankful to those who have given of their own time to help us out in a multitude of roles. Be it stewarding, manning turnstiles, selling programmes or draw tickets, sweeping up, cleaning seats, painting walls – you name it, our supporters have stepped forward to do it.

One other person it’s important for me to namecheck, though, is David Begley.

I don’t think people value his worth to the Club or the amount of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears he commits day in, day out. He is one of the key reasons that Cliftonville FC now has established, professional staff keeping things operational on a daily basis and I hope he knows how grateful I am for everything he has done.

As my time as Chairman draws to a close, a lot of people have naturally asked about the highlights of my time at the helm. Like everyone else, I have great memories of the title-winning celebrations, but there’s one story that always stands out.

When I first took up the role, I always had this dream of bringing Celtic to Solitude. I knew how much a match like that would mean not just to our own supporters, but to a lot of other people as well.

In 2009, we ended a 25-year wait for a friendly against them – and we won!

Over the years, pre-season games against Celtic XIs of various guises came and went until the miracle happened and we drew them in the Champions League.

From the moment John Rogan let out a ‘Yeeeoo’ in the auditorium at UEFA HQ until the night of the home leg, my life was bedlam, it was a blur. We were so busy making arrangements for the match that we couldn’t really enjoy it.

In the build-up to kick off in the second leg in Glasgow, Celtic Chairman Ian Bankier said he wanted to show me something and took me, Fr Gary Donegan and Peter Lawwell on a walk down the tunnel.

He stood me on the touchline and told me to soak up the atmosphere of a Champions League night at Celtic Park.

This was no friendly. This was Cliftonville Football Club playing at one of the most famous venues in the world in the greatest competition in the world and we were there on merit.

That was the pinnacle. And that’s the level of magic I hope the Club can reach again in the future.