Rathfriland FC plays a civic role in a rural community and uses the power of sport to bring people together.
This certainly was the case on Saturday afternoon (21 July) when upwards of 500 people descended on Iveagh Park for the official opening of the RB Gordon Bell Grandstand and associated match day between Rathfriland Rangers and Crusaders, current Irish League Champions.
The historic day in the club’s history commenced with the guests and seat sponsors enjoying a champagne and buffet reception.
In attendance was the Bell family (Glenn, Alison, David and Jenny), Julie Flaherty, Mayor of the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, Councillor Glenn Barr, Alderman Elizabeth Ingram, Councillor Seamus Doyle, Councillor Mark Baxter, Mid Ulster League Chairman Sean O’Neill and our main club sponsor, Tom McAvoy of the The Milestone.
A call for all seat sponsors to take their seats in the grandstand was followed by a welcoming speech from club Youth Development Officer Lindsay Bronte, who highlighted the community aspect of the club with the club’s recent development underpinned by the initiation of the RB Gordon Bell Grandstand courtesy of the generosity of club president of 46 years the late RB Gordon Bell, ABC Council and the Rathfriland community.
Alison Bell from the Bell family then performed the official opening of the grandstand by cutting the ribbon to rapturous applause from the large crowd both inside and outside the stand.
This was followed by a speech from David Bell who reminisced on his father’s involvement in the club and how family life growing up for him and his brother Glenn and sister Alison meant many interactions and experiences centred around the football club.
David finished off by remarking that his late father would have been so proud of the grandstand that would mean that the supporters of his beloved Rathfriland FC could watch the games in comfort - a distant cry from those bygone but memorable days.
The match itself sponsored by David Murray, kicked off at 3pm and despite a gallant effort against the current Irish league champions and recent Champions, League participants Crusaders, the filled-to-capacity RB Gordon Bell Grandstand enjoyed the game with the Belfast outfit finally winning 3-0 – a very respectable scoreline against a virtually full strength Crusaders team.
The evening was rounded off with everyone enjoying the delights of the music of local trio John Dougan, John Shannon and Raymond Kinley in the evening sunshine.
Many got a chance to meet old friends and connections associated with the club to rekindle memories from years gone by.
A big thank you to Jim and Jamie Wright for the use of their field for car parking and indeed to any other person or club that helped out in any practical way for the official opening.
Overall this was a historic and memorable day for Rathfriland Football Club - a massive thank you to all those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in preparation for the day and to all those club and non-club members who delivered on the day itself and in particular to the main organiser of the event Youth Development Officer, Lindsay Bronte.
The list of names on the name board on the back of the RB Gordon Bell Grandstand is testimony to the support shown from all sections of the Rathfriland community and is a lasting legacy to the Bell family and the footballing family of Rathfriland Football Club.