After three months in the role as Chairman of this great Football Club, I can safely say that it was and still is a steep learning curve.
However, it’s also been an enjoyable period of time on the pitch with the team having performed so well in the first half of the season. We have a Cup Final to look forward to but, more importantly, the team are fighting at the top end of the table against the full-time clubs.
Our supporters have come out in great numbers and I think we are all appreciative of the brand of football that Paddy has the team playing. Looking back, the 2019-20 season was curtailed due to Covid when we were very handily placed in the League; 2020-21 ended in European Play-Off Final defeat at Larne where we were not permitted to have any of our fans present, so can we go even further this season? Time will tell but the team will certainly give it a go.
The calendar year is ending with us in third place in the League, two points behind Linfield and Glentoran with a game in hand against Crusaders. That’s a position we are delighted to be in but the players and management are eager for more. All the talk in recent weeks has been about the ‘Big Two’ but we are happy to move along quietly in the background.
The situation is not helped by Covid, which caused our North Belfast Derby to be postponed very late on December 27 which was a huge disappointment to everyone, myself included. Unfortunately, that is the current state of affairs and we just have to work around it as best we can like all the other Clubs. The health of everyone is the priority in such situations.
It is only right that I thank the rest of the Management Committee for the huge amount of time and effort that they put in on a daily basis, much of which goes on behind the scenes unknown to others. 2021 saw our Chairman Gerard Lawlor take up the position of CEO at the NI Football League and I congratulate Gerard not only on his new role but for the achievements here in his 14 years as Chairman, during which time we won two Preniership titles and numerous other trophies. As everyone tells me, I have a hard act to follow. To our volunteers, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has assisted on matchdays and beyond, we cannot do this without you. We always welcome more volunteers to come and play a part in our Club!
This year saw our Ladies put in a great effort in the League, only to be pipped by Glentoran in the second-last match of the season. I know the players and their management team are very keen to go one place further next season. A special congratulations must go to the Cliftonville Ladies players who helped Northern Ireland qualify for next year’s European Championships and I hope they are extremely proud of what they have achieved.
Marc Smyth and his team of coaches in the Academy are also doing a great job in developing the young people at this Club and the aim, of course, is that they continue to produce players who will eventually make it into the first teams of both our Men’s and Ladies’ sides.
As 2021 draws to a close, I would like to thank the management, players, staff and sponsors whilst remembering those members and supporters who are no longer with us.
I also want to thank the supporters who have provided such encouragement, particularly at Solitude, since fans were allowed to return to games. Playing behind closed doors with no fans was hateful but, with the Red Army in full voice, the encouragement the team have got from that this season has been immense.
I firmly believe that is why our record at Solitude has been so good and I would urge you to continue to be vociferous and back the team. Together we can achieve so much.
Wishing everyone associated with Cliftonville Football Club a very Happy and Healthy New Year.