Our HistoryInformation on the history of the association
The beginnings of 1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Association are well documented in Thomas Street Methodist Church records. It was formed on 26th February 1939 in the Guild Room of Thomas Street Methodist Church Lecture Hall, in Portmore Street Portadown. The first President of the Association was Captain G.E. Lutton and its first Chairman was Mr. T. Gray. The Association did not have a ‘home of its own’ in those early days but met for a time in what became known as the Church Parlour as its activities were of a Bible Class nature and the church buildings served these purposes well. Incidentally, an Old Boys’ Silver Band, (later re-named Thomas Street Methodist Silver Band), preceded the formation of the Association. It had been in existence from the late 1930s, its first bandmaster being recorded as a Mr. T. Campbell.
The Church Parlour continued to be used for meetings of Old Boys’ but the founders of the Association obviously had something more outreaching than just a Bible Class in mind for the future and in the early 1940s, the Association moved to a loft above the potting sheds of John George McCann’s nursery in Clonavon Avenue. Here young men could meet socially and discuss the talking points of the day as well as continue the friendships they had built up together during their years in the Boys’ Brigade. The beginning of the Second World War and the Belfast Blitz must have provided a few nights of discussion as no doubt they plotted ways to defeat the Nazis. Some of our early members did ‘join up’ and played an active part in the War, some paying the supreme sacrifice. Sporting activities also played an important part in the early activities of the Association and it is recorded in early Minutes that the Association had a football team and that it was the backbone of the Old Boys’ in those early years.
The first recorded event held in the Association’s name was a Silver Jubilee Church Service held in Thomas Street on 31st May 1945, to mark the Silver Jubilee of the 1st Portadown Company B.B. At this service, a silver bugle was presented to the Company as a gift from the former members of the Company. Two plaques were also unveiled and dedicated to perpetuate the glorious memory of those members of the Association who served and paid the supreme sacrifice in the Second World War.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Silver Band, 1945
Back Row, Left to Right: N. Briggs, E. Montgomery, H. Gates, H. Bell, C. Lyttle, L. Briggs, W. Robinson, S. Lyttle.
Third Row, Left to Right: R. Uprichard, V. Fleming, J. Craig, J. Gillis, J. Palmer, E. Best, G. Reavie, J. Currie, R. M’Ilvenna.
Second Row, Left to Right: E. Jones, V. Yeman, J. G. McCann, Rev. C. Owens, B.A., Rev. E. Shaw, W.D. Irwin (President), J. Copeland, T. Gray, E. Yeman, C. Lyttle.
Front Row, Left to Right: E. Curran, W. Gibson, A. Turner, W. Forker, W. Patterson, G. Corbett (Conductor), T. Watson, B. Briggs, L. Best, V. Reavie, R. Wright.
At a Church meeting, dated 7th September 1945, attended by Rev. E. Shaw, Messrs W.A. Mullan, W.J. Green, W.D. Irwin, D.W. Thornton, Captain G.E. Lutton, R.D. Thornton and J.J. Bell, the possibility of raising the finance needed for the purchase of the building which became known as the Methodist Institute was discussed. It was unanimously agreed that an appeal for £7,000 be launched to purchase the Institute and build a new hall at the rear. It was further agreed that the money would be raised over a period of seven years.
Mr. J.J. Bell, representing the Old Boys’ Association at the meeting, informed the Old Boys of the decisions made at the meeting and stated that he hoped that the Association would join the appeal scheme and find in the Institute the accommodation they had so long desired, under Church auspices. In fact the Old Boys undertook to raise £1,000 towards the finances of the Institute and a letter to the Management Committee of the Trustees of the Methodist Institute confirms this decision. At a further meeting of this Committee, dated 31st May 1948, this letter was read, and recorded in the Minutes is a vote of thanks proposed by R.D. Thornton and supported by W.J. Green, congratulating the Old Boys’ Association on the spirit which prompted their proposal.
In the ensuing years, as the building was acquired, extended, and paid for, the Association played a prominent part, volunteering to carry out some of the actual work themselves, and pay from their own funds the cost of decorating and floor covering. So it was that our romance with this extraordinary building began.
Many Church organisations used the Institute as their home. Over the years it was owned by the Church, from the Old Boys’ Band to the Bowling Club, the Badminton Club to the Youth Organisations, but the Association maintained their own Clubrooms throughout this time and established within it a snooker and billiards hall second to none in the local area. In addition to this hall, there was also an integral committee room, doubling as a TV and games room and all the usual amenities. It has always been the policy of the Old Boys’ Association to pay its way. Whilst we recognised that no amount of money would ever pay for the hospitality extended to us by Thomas Street Methodist Church over a period of years in the Institute, we endeavoured to contribute what we could on a regular basis towards the upkeep of the building and the maintenance of our Clubrooms within it.
The acquisition of the Institute by Thomas Street Methodist Church and the establishment of our headquarters within it led to the beginning of the ‘golden years’ of our history. In 1957, our Annual Service leaflet reported that the Methodist Institute had become ‘the centre of the Association’ and that there was ‘a most congenial atmosphere where the days of our youth are the keynote to the happiest and most successful men’s clubs in Methodist circles’.
Membership Card of John Baxter 1958/59.
By 1950, the Association had expanded to include some 97 members and during that year, the Old Boys had a football team playing in the local summer league. In 1951, the Association’s five-a-side team won the Festival of Britain competition, held in the Public Park. An Old Boys’ Bible Class had been started and the Institute became the gathering point for large numbers on a Sunday afternoon. Although it was the Old Boys’ Association of 1st Portadown Company B.B., the Association was non-denominational and everyone was made welcome. From the membership of the Bible Class, an Old Boys Choir was formed and made quite an impact and name for itself in the years which followed. It says much for the leaders of the Association, and in particular the dedication of Norman Lyttle, who were able to stimulate so much interest in the men to the message of the Gospel.
1st Portadown B.B. Old Boys’ Football Team, circa late 1940s/early 50s
Back Row, Left to Right: Wesley Patterson, Jim Best, Tommy Lyttle, David Jameson, Ronnie Baxter, Norman Best, Lynn Burrows. Front Row, Left to
Right: Tommy Wright, Tommy McCrory, Dennis McClatchey, Tom Palmer, Billy Twinem, Eric Jones.
However this latter activity seems to have died out before it really got established. On the social side, a unique event became very popular with the Old Boys. The so-called ‘Barney’ was a mixture of games, socialising and an excuse for downing copious amounts of Irish Stew. Flying 13’s and Lives, (billiard table games), darts and table bowls became the hot favourite games on these evenings and many a good night’s ‘craic’ was enjoyed by all who attended. The holding of ‘Barney’s’ seemed to die out by the early 1960s but from time to time over the years since, they have been revived to provide that unique blend of playing, talking and eating.
The Golden Years
In many ways the 1960s were the Golden Years of the Association. The decade opened with the Old Boys coming of age. Special celebrations were arranged for our 21st birthday. A dinner was held in the Savoy Cafe on Friday night 26th February 1960, 21 years to the night that the Association was formed. During the evening a Chairman’s Board was presented to the Association by its former Chairman. That Board still hangs to this day in the Clubrooms and contains the names of all our esteemed Chairmen. On the Sunday following the dinner, (28th February 1960), a parade of past members of 1st Portadown Company BB attended a service in Thomas Street Methodist Church. The guest speaker on that occasion was Rev. S. Deale, the son of the founder of the 1st Portadown Company.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Association
Winners of the Belfast & District Amateur Billiards
Junior Shield & League Runners-up 1961 – 1962
Left to right: Billy Mills, Ronnie Baxter, Ronnie Cole, Ernie Thornton,
Albert Forsythe, Dickie Pentland & Jimmy Turner.
The Institute became a hive of activity during the 1960s. Our Clubrooms were always packed with budding snooker and billiards players and of course the ‘oul hands’ who kept them firmly in place by beating them off the tables Men honed their skills and the Old Boys came to prominence by playing against the best amateur players in Northern Ireland in the Belfast and District Billiards League.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys
Runners-up Belfast & District Billiards League 1963 – 1964
Standing Left to Right: Billy Mills, Albert Forsythe, Dickie Pentland, Ronnie Baxter, Billy Barnes, Jimmy Turner, & Billy Jones. Seated T.C. Mullen, (Vice President) & Ronnie Cole (Team Captain)
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Association Winners of the Belfast & District Junior Billiards League 1964 – 1965
Standing Left to Right: Jim Wills, John Taylor, Tommy Austin, Noel Gillis, Albert Forsythe, Ronnie Gordon, Jimmy Turner & Errol Whitten.
Seated Left to Right: Ernie Thornton & Ronnie Baxter.
Matches were played against teams like Willowfield, Queen’s University and Falls and it was a credit to our players that they managed to win the Belfast and District Knock-out Shield in 1961 and were runners-up in the League the same year. Our team also won the Belfast & District Billiards League in 1964 – 1965. It was somewhat unfortunate that by the end of the 1960’s political unrest in Northern Ireland led to many teams being unwilling to travel to Belfast and our involvement in the League gradually died out amid fears over player safety. This was a great pity because the Old Boys team had become one of the most feared and respected teams in the League.
Many Wednesday nights were spent playing to packed crowds in the Clubrooms, when making the slightest noise could find you thrown out for disturbing play. The rise of snooker as a popular game gradually took over from billiards but this merely encouraged a whole new generation of players. As billiards declined, snooker took over, providing a new outlet for the talent which abounded at this time in the Association. Among the creditable performances recorded in the field of snooker at this time were Tommy Austin and Jackie Rae reaching the semi-final of the Belfast and District League Snooker Pairs Competition in 1968. The unique blend of the skills of Jackie and the craft of ‘the Ta’ was a perfect combination. If they couldn’t outplay someone, Tommy was able to talk them out of it. A number of other snooker players enhanced the reputation of the Association. Ronnie & Noel Cole as well as Billy Barnes were able to adapt to snooker and they were joined by a number of up and coming snooker players who represented the Old Boys up and down the country with great success. Of course this made the Institute a very popular place. You could sit sometimes for nearly two hours to get a game and you were lucky to get two games a night in those days.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Football Team
Belfast Churches League Winners 1968
Back Row, Left to Right: Keith Jones, David Pepper, Leonard Gillis, Jim Stubbs, Mervyn Carrick & Kenny Hampton. Front Row, Left to Right: Ronnie Gordon, Garfield Logan, Aubrey McCrory, Kenneth Vennard & John Proctor.
In the mid-1960s, the Old Boys increased their fame considerably when they put together a football team which took Northern Ireland by storm. Building on the footballing success of our B.B. Company’s team which won the Lurgan & Portadown District League & Knock-out Cup in the 1959-1960 season and went on in 1961 to do the same at Northern Ireland level, Brian Crozier managed the Old Boys to success in the prestigious Belfast Churches League. The team clocked up some notable victories as they took on the might of many very good amateur teams from Belfast and around the Province. There is always great rivalry between teams from the ‘city’ and those who come from our provincial towns but on occasions, matches bordered on open warfare. Nevertheless our team battled through to win the Churches League in 1968.
The famous red and white stripes were a formidable team of well seasoned and experienced players battle scarred from playing in local junior leagues. Never good enough to grace the same field, I became a constant traveller to matches becoming orange slicer at half time and wallet holder in times where luxury changing rooms were the back of a container, if you were lucky, and the back of a hedge if you were not. On the odd occasion, I got to do linesman but I soon gave that job up because if I gave any decision in favour of the enemy, I got grief the whole way home. Having reached such dizzy heights, the all conquering football team fell apart with players scattering to teams everywhere or retiring from the game. They had outdone the achievements of their counterparts back in the 1950s but like everyone else, age caught up with the ‘dream team’ and there was very little coming along behind it to take over. It was great while it lasted but like all good things, they come to an end. The Old Boys never had another team like it, and indeed football as a team sport fell away as an Old Boys activity.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Choir 1966
Back Row, Left to Right: William Johnston, John Wright, Matt Lamb, William Watson, Edwin Best, Dennis Redpath, Maurice Campbell, Bobbie Wright,
Eric Walker, William McNally & Mervyn White.
Middle Row, Left to Right: Ernie Montgomery, Jimmy Hewitt, Cyril Stevens, Denis McClatchey, Ivan Davison, Joe Cassidy,
Tommy Stewart, Hugh Gates, Graham Lyttle, Adrian Robinson, Wesley Johnston,
Wesley Gibson, Roy Millar & Sam Withers.
Front Row, Left to Right: Noel Carvell, Sammy Lyttle, Leslie Briggs, Sammy Hall, George Russell, Norman Lyttle (Conductor), Billy Gibson,
Dick Wright, Lincoln Pillar, Cecil Lyttle & John Baxter.
Towards the end of the 1960s, members of the 6th Portadown Company B.B. (Epworth) were admitted to the Association as full members for the first time. This boosted our ranks and when the 7th Portadown Company B.B. (Edenderry Memorial) was formed, they too contributed to our growing membership and provided many valuable Old Boys. Indeed as the years went on, the Edenderry Company in particular grew stronger to the point where it was providing more Old Boys than the 1st Portadown Company which was to decline rapidly in numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.
The winds of change were beginning to blow in local circles as population shifts and the beginnings of civil unrest in the country were starting to take its toll on recruitment and attendance at the clubrooms. This was an early sign of what was to come but it was not noticeable at the time and there would have been little the Association could have done to change the situation. Still, there were more good years to come.
By 1969, some of the founding fathers and stalwarts of the Old Boys had reached the veteran stage and one or two had been called ‘home’. One such stalwart was Norman Lyttle, who sadly passed away in 1969. Norman was the mainstay of the Old Boys for many years. He was Chairman on seven occasions, was Bible Class leader and was also leader and conductor of the Old Boys’ choir for many years. His finest achievement was to take a bunch of men and turn them into a musical unit which entertained people up and down the country. He had that gift of leadership which only rarely comes along and is so hard to replace. It is notable that after his passing, the choir went out of existence, although it is fair to say that many pictured with Norman went on to join Portadown Male Voice Choir in later years. The Bible Class which Norman lead for many years also declined after his death and it too ceased to exist for a number of years until it was revived in the 1990s. There are only a few people who come along worthy of the name of ‘great’ in any organisation but Norman was a true ‘great’ in our Association.
It was around this time that two other stalwarts of the Association also passed away. The untimely death of Ronnie Baxter, a notable past Secretary and Chairman of the Association, and one of the founding fathers, Sam Crozier left gaps in the ranks which were very hard to fill in the years which followed. In later life, Sam became caretaker of the Institute and the building became his life’s passion. He was an ever present in the Institute on a daily basis and though he could be a bit of a stickler at times regarding keeping things clean and tidy, he was well liked and was a faithful servant to the Old Boys’ Association.
The 1970s began well for the Association. Our billiards team won the Belfast & District Shield and once again ending up as runners-up in the League. Following these achievements, our team did not take part in the competition again. However, ‘friendly’ matches were held against a number of clubs and these proved very popular with supporters often travelling to away fixtures. The internal competitions and the Christmas competitions continued to attract big numbers and rivalry was fierce.
Picture of Tommy ‘Ta’ Austin, as captured by his son, Billy
Even though the football team had disappeared, Picture of Tommy ‘Ta’ Austin, as captured by table tennis became a widely played sport his son, Billy.
again in the Old Boys. The front room of the Institute, which was later turned into a Coffee Bar became the table tennis room and skills were honed to the highest levels in that venue. The Old Boys had a formidable team in that era. Names like Dennis Clarke and Philip Caddell come to mind. These two experienced players were the focal point of the game in the Institute with many trying to reach their level of play. It was a great pity that the political troubles in Northern Ireland at that time prevented many from developing their sporting prowess and the Old Boys, like many other clubs, suffered greatly from a lack of competitive play outside the local venues. Players began to drift away and for the first time the winds of change began to blow across the fortunes of the Association.
It was reported in the Minutes of the 1973 Annual General Meeting that ‘the affairs of the Old Boys seemed to be suffering a temporary decline’. The Old Boys’ Bible Class was a casualty of the 1970s and whilst most other things improved by the end of the 70s, the Bible Class never recovered from those trying years.
By the beginning of the 1980s, the Association seemed to be back on an even keel. Membership was again on the increase and financially we were as well off as we had ever been. Nevertheless we were all saddened by the deaths of another two of our outstanding members. Mr. Joss Bell had been a founding member of the Old Boys and one of those who had assisted in acquiring the Institute building for our headquarters. His experience and knowledge of local and church affairs, as well as his dedication to the Association made Joss one of our most respected members. He had been Chairman twice but he mostly worked behind the scenes and most of his achievements were never publicly acknowledged. The death of Tommy Austin was most greatly missed in the Clubrooms. My personal memories of ‘the Ta’ will never fade. He had an amazing sense of humour with just the right amount of bravado to ‘wind up’ people – particularly Ernie Montgomery – in the nicest possible way, of course. He was always on call to do any job that had to be done. He looked after the billiard tables, cleaning and ironing them to perfection, he re-tipped cues, acted as caretaker and was generally an ever present in the Clubrooms. Tommy was a very humble man but he personified what a true member really was.
His loyalty to the Old Boys was unquestionable over a long number of years and like Joss Bell, we will never see their like again.
In 1982, the Committee decided to introduce a new competition to supplement the usual two internal competitions. The ‘Charity Cup’ was introduced to raise money for many worthy causes and did so over a period of years. It was the brainchild of Daryl Silcock and marked a change in direction for the Association in looking beyond ourselves to try and help others, perhaps less fortunate. Daryl, who passed away recently, was another Old Boy who did his best work behind the scenes and a number of charities benefitted from his idea.
Of course the usual internal competitions, which had taken place without a break for a long number of years, still attracted great interest among the members and friendly rivalry among the players remained as high as ever. Gentlemanly conduct and courtesy among members has always been a quality we have tried to maintain in the Clubrooms, but this did not stop the pre-match unwanted advice, the heckling from the sidelines and the after match banter. A few members, who shall remain nameless, almost built a reputation on this but it all added to the enjoyment and helped to breed the next generation of ‘characters’ and ‘wits’.
A major refurbishment of the Clubrooms was carried out in 1985. This was the first large scale overhaul since we acquired our headquarters. The hard working committee of the time and in particular Daryl Silcock put considerable effort into the project which eventually led to the carpeting of the main room. When the Clubrooms opened again, we had one of the most comfortable premises in the country.
Towards the end of 1986, the Association was informed of an appeal to assist the Portadown B.B. Battalion in sending their football team to Texas, USA in 1987. True to the nature of the Old Boys, we offered to help by holding a ‘Sponsored Play-in’
Members who took part in an all-night sponsored snooker event to assist the Portadown B.B. Battalion on their trip to Dallas, USA 1987
Left to Right – Robin McFadden, Billy Barnes, Philip Jeffers, Jack Corkin, Ronnie Herron, Leslie Wells, John Cummings, Neville Jeffers, Sam Montgomery, Paul Jeffers, Harry Skates, Maurice Whitla, Geoffrey McMullan,
Amos Jeffers, Steven Wright & Mark Clements.
Such was the success of the event that some £600 was raised to help send them on their way.
In 1987, the Association once more began taking part in competitive snooker outside our own Clubrooms. Two teams were entered in the newly formed Armagh & District League and it was not very long before the Old Boys were recognised as a force to be reckoned with. Our ‘A’ team won the League in its first year and our ‘B’ team finished top of all the ‘B’ teams, thus confirming that our members had lost none of their playing skills.
In 1989, the Old Boys celebrated its Golden Anniversary. The then Officers and Committee were determined that the 50th anniversary would not go unmarked. Preparations for the anniversary began in 1988 when it was decided that we would raise the sum of £3,000 to provide new front and side doors for Thomas Street Methodist Church. Being Secretary that year, it was a great privilege to be able to write to members past and present to ask for donations towards this cause. For six months or more, the cheques poured in, some coming from as far away as the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA as well as all over the British Isles and Ireland. Once again we were overcome by the generosity and support of our members and the fondness shown for our Association by them. The appeal was an overwhelming success and the doors were delivered and erected on time for the Annual Service in February 1989.
50th Anniversary Service of the Old Boys’ Association
Picture features Pastor David Burrows, who travelled from his home in the USA to be guest speaker on the night. Also included are Rev. Cecil Newell, President of the Association, Rev. Winston Good and Chairman during the 50th Anniversary year, Mr. Leslie Wells.
1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Association Committee 1989 50th Anniversary Year
Back Row, Left to Right: Victor Pickering, Bobby Arlow, Amos Jeffers, Ernie Thornton, Harry Skates,
Ronnie Cole, Daryl Silcock, Sam Montgomery, Malcolm Bell & Tommy Hewitt.
Front Row, Left to Right: Billy Coulter, Ernie Montgomery, Leslie Wells (Chairman), Paul Teggart (Secretary)
& Robin McFadden (Treasurer).
On 26th February 1989, fifty years to the day that the Association was formed, a special Golden Anniversary Church Service was held in Thomas Street Methodist Church. The guest speaker was Pastor David Burrows who had travelled from the USA to be with us on the night. The church was filled to capacity and past members of the Old Boys’ Choir came together to provide a very special musical highlight to the evening. Our anniversary gift to the church was officially handed over to, and dedicated by the President of the Association, the Rev. Cecil Newell. Over 100 past and present members of the Association paraded to and from Thomas Street Methodist Church behind Thomas Street Methodist Silver Band. It was a truly memorable night and was a fitting tribute to all those who called themselves Old Boys of the 1st, 6th & 7th Companies of the Boys’ Brigade.
The Service was followed up with a Golden Anniversary Dinner & Reunion which took place on 13th March 1989 in the Craigavon Civic Centre. Over 130 guests attended and they were royally dined and entertained. Good wishes on reaching our 50th year were received from all corners of the world, thus proving that the Old Boys Association encompasses the globe and is truly an international group of friends.
The Dark Days
As we approached the 1990s, it was sad to note that a few more of our long standing members passed away. Walter Caddell, a legend in local B.B. circles, had passed away in 1988 and in 1990, we lost Bobby Bell and Billy Barnes. These were loyal members who we could not afford to lose as the Old Boys, just like the B.B. Company itself, was beginning to decline in numbers and interest in the Association was waning. Despite a very successful 50th Anniversary Year in 1989, the Committee struggled with the dilemma of what to do for the best as circumstances were not working in their favour. Snooker, our main social activity, was beginning to decline worldwide and not as popular as it used to be. Also the whole area around Thomas Street Methodist Church and the many streets off Thomas Street – Carleton Street, Hanover Street, Mourneview Street, George Street, Queen Street and the like – once the old stomping grounds of our membership, were being lost to the world of business and the advance of the private landlord. As the population scattered to the outskirts of the town and beyond, readymade members became thin on the ground.
Perhaps this state of affairs was masked for a time by the success of competitive snooker in local circles. Interest in snooker which had reached its peak in the early 1980s, with extensive coverage on TV and the success of local heroes like Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor. The local Snooker League saw our teams being somewhat successful under the management of Harry Leeman and others but the real truth was that we were attracting snooker players, not Old Boys, into our ranks. Even that didn’t last as it became increasingly difficult to find players to represent the Association. Attendances at our main functions were also dying away gradually and our Old Boys’ Bible Class proved impossible to get going again through lack of interest.
Cover of ‘Grounded Firm and Deep’, written by Paul Teggart to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Association in 1989.
With interest in the B.B. also in decline, and company numbers falling, a general sense of fear for the future began to set in as the steady flow of new recruits dried up.
In 1992, the Old Boys reluctantly had to move from the Institute as the building was sold by the Church to the RUC. The move into temporary premises just beyond the railway bridge down the Annagh I think had a further detrimental effect on the Association and its membership as we came to terms with the loss of our spiritual home. So many memories of choirs, Bible Classes, billiards and snooker matches and the everyday ‘craic’ that went on between the members was lost forever. The loss was difficult to come to terms with and indeed a number of Old Boys left, never to return. Many hoped and longed for our new premises in the new church (buildings now), being erected in Portmore Street to be finished so that we could establish ourselves again, but that was two years away and in that time, our Association declined still further.
Last night in the Institute – 11th April 1992
Back Row, Left to Right: Robin McFadden, Billy England, Maurice Whitla, Malcolm Bell, Billy Coulter & Leslie Wells. Front Row, Left to Right: Daryl Silcock, Bobby Arlow, Steven Wright, Amos Jeffers, Paul Teggart, Harry Leeman & Ernie Thornton.
‘Competing interests and modern lifestyles create difficulties in maintaining satisfactory membership, not least lack of members within the ranks of our Boys’ Brigade Companies and on whom we have relied for long term membership. For two years now, we have not had a single application for membership’.
In 2001, our then President, Rev. Jim Rea, suggested that we should perhaps examine our Constitution to see if changes could be made to remove restrictions which may be no longer relevant to see if that would attract a larger membership. After much deliberation at Committee meetings during 2001, changes were voted in at the 2002 AGM which made entry into the Association more flexible.
Last night in the Institute – 11th April 1992
Wilson ‘Joker’ Joyce, Wesley Gibson, Lincoln Pillar & Kenneth Vennard enjoy the last night’s play in the Institute.
members turned up to pass the Notice of Motion presented that night and indeed few realised the risk the Committee had taken in that overall control of the Old Boys’ Association might well pass, for the first time, into the hands of non-B.B. members. Indeed, the Minutes record a certain measure of desperation in that the Association was willing to change the membership status of an Associate member to that of a full member because he had shown an interest in the Secretary’s job – there hadn’t been a Secretary officially for a number of years. The changes made little difference to overall numbers. Only 26 members attended the Annual Service and 39 turned up at the Annual Reunion & Dinner.
The following year, the Secretary’s Report at the AGM stated that –
Active members are declining in numbers and there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm, something which has been experienced for a number of years. Interest in our Clubroom activity, billiards and snooker, waxes and wanes with the general sporting fashion and has an effect on attendance at the Clubrooms. We are thankful that the Bible class continues in operation but I do believe that better support could be given there too’.
The Old Boys’ Bible Class had been revived on moving into our new premises in Portmore Street in 1994 and it is a credit to Derek Laverty, as leader, that since then it has continued without a break. Paid up membership in 2005 dropped to only 30. There were not enough members at the AGM of that year to form a full committee and the Treasurer in his Report stated that –
‘Financially the Association will only last two further years. The whole future of the Old Boys’ Association is now in doubt’.
Return of Bible Class
Back Row Left to Right: Billy Lamb, Cyril Stevens, Leslie Wells, Jim McClung, Bobbie Wright, Roy Woolsey,
Tommy Hewitt, Ronnie Gordon, Eddie Vennard, Steven Wright, Victor Mullen, Jim Silcock, Billy Gibson, Wesley Gibson, Lincoln Pillar & Dick Wright. Front Row, Left to Right: Wesley Gould, Rev. Derek Russell, Billy Coulter,
Rev. Wesley Gray, Rev. David Mullan, Victor Pickering, Ernie Montgomery & Paul Teggart.
Desperate times indeed! An Extraordinary General Meeting was held on 27th September 2005. At this meeting, attended by 23 past and present members, the dire situation the Association found itself in was outlined by former Chairman, Robin McFadden. Robin reported that income from snooker and billiards and subscriptions had fallen to the point where we could not even make our annual contributions to Thomas Street Methodist Church and the B.B. Companies beyond the current year. Regarding the Annual Service, it was reported that numbers in attendance had declined to the point that the band leading the parade was bigger than the Old Boys behind it.
The Committee were also considering abandoning the Annual Dinner due to general apathy. The meeting also discussed the lack of support for the Old Boys’ Bible Class and even the AGM. It was even proposed at the meeting that our premises be handed back to the Church.
Bible Class – Sunday 8th May 2005
A special Old Boys’ Bible Class held to remember Wilson ‘Joker’ Joyce. His wife Hilary presented a Desk Top Lectern to the Association in memory of her late husband Wilson, a former Treasurer, Secretary and long-standing member of the Old Boys’ Association
Included in the picture are – Front Row, Left to Right: Victor Pickering (Secretary), Kenneth Martin (guest speaker and close relative of Wilson), Mrs. Myrtle Wright (Circuit Pastoral Assistant), Mrs Hilary Joyce, Wilson’s daughter Helen, Derek Laverty (Leader of the Bible Class), & Billy England (Chairman). Back Row, Left to Right: Billy Gibson, Robin McFadden, Albert Adamson, Steven Wright, Jim McClung, Kenny McClatchey, Bobbie Wright, Ernie Montgomery, Lynn Burrows, Ernie Thornton, Eddie Vennard, Harry Leeman and Wesley Gould.
Paid up membership at 17th October 2005 was at an all time low of 28 people. The response to all this was really very negative. At the AGM in 2006, only 18 members turned out and it was decided at that meeting to abandon the ‘Parade’ element of the Annual Service for the first time. Forty members turned up at the Service and to make matters worse, the Annual Reunion & Dinner was abandoned through lack of support. In 2007, only 24 Old Boys attended the Annual Service and by 2008, further relaxation of restrictions which basically offered membership to any person regardless of B.B. background or not. The use of our facilities was granted to a number of organised groups, e.g. the Church Youth Club.
What will the Future Hold?
The year 2011 saw a gradual turning point in the fortunes of the Association. Thirteen new members joined during the year and use of the Clubrooms also increased, thus making the Association financially sound again. It was reported at the AGM of 2010 that attendance at the Annual Service was 43, even though the overall congregation was poor in numbers, and 36 members turned up at the Annual Reunion & Dinner.
1st Portadown B.B. Old Boys’ Association
County Armagh Snooker League 2nd Division Champions. Winners – Adams Cup. Runners – Up – Texaco Trophy/ Green Baize Trophy/ Turkington Cup 2000 – 2001>/h2>
Back Row, Left to Right: Bobby Arlow, Jeff McCann, Harry Leeman & Ronnie Herron. Front Row, Left to Right: Stephen Clarke, Robin McFadden & Leslie Wells.
Moving into 2011, paid up membership had increased to 49 and a further 27 new members joined during 2012. As I write this booklet, paid up membership to date stands at over 100. It is hard to understand why numbers have increased dramatically in the last few years as numbers attending our two main functions in the calendar year remain low and average attendance at Bible Class remains at around 12 or 13. One explanation could be the considerable efforts put into recruiting by our present Chairman Steven Wright and his hard working Committee, but we also believe that the work of the Old Boys in carrying out the aims of the Boys’ Brigade in adult life and the discipline and fond memories of our leaders in the past has not only kept us going but also convinces us that the work of the Old Boys’ Association is far from done.
I cannot foresee another ‘Golden Age’ for our Association, certainly in my lifetime, as we now live in different times and society lives by different values. What held us together in the past as an Association has all but disappeared. B.B. leaders, dedicated and enthusiastic though they are, will be fortunate to see a rapid rise in their company membership in the years to come and this will inevitably have a major effect on our membership.
We may be able to draw support from other sources in the future to ensure our survival but we are equally determined to keep the name of 1st Portadown Company B.B. Old Boys’ Association alive for a long time to come. With the help and support of Thomas Street Methodist Church, and the dedication of our leaders we can maintain our special ethos and continue to work towards ‘the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among boys and promote the habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, and Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness, well into adult life. For now we should be happy, but not complacent, in what we have achieved. There is still work to do and God willing we will receive the inspiration to carry on towards our centenary in 25 years time. What a joy that would be.
Pride of Britain Winner
Kenneth Vennard (centre, front row) was the Northern Ireland winner of the Daily Mirror’s ‘Pride of Britain’ award in 2012. He is pictured above displaying his trophy with members of the Old Boys’ Association, at the monthly Bible Class.