They’re doing something right at the Coleraine Showgrounds these days...
Not only have they won six and drawn one of seven domestic home games this season, scoring 14 times and conceding just once, but ‘STAND FULL’ signs were recently deployed twenty minutes before kick-off for the Friday night clash with title-contenders Larne.
There’s something rumbling by the Bann and it’s catching fire along the Antrim Coast too. In several visits recently, I’ve bumped into not only townsfolk, but plenty from the surrounding areas; Ballymoney, Portrush, Portstewart and Limavady too.
1100 season ticket holders also tells a story and blows the previous record of around 700 way into the distance.
Traditionally part-time, along with Cliftonville, amongst a top six drawn towards full-time football appears not to faze the Bannsiders... or the Reds for that matter, the pair currently occupying the top two places in the title race.
We’ve heard David Jeffrey lament recently and perhaps understandably, about his part-time Ballymena struggling against full-time Larne and losing by a three goal margin at home, but there’s no such noises emanating from either the Showgrounds or Solitude. Both clubs have rolled up their sleeves and are getting on with it.
The fact they probably have the two best tacticians in the league at their respective helms helps of course, although whether either club can sustain a challenge remains to be seen.
The feeling of optimism at Coleraine however is tangible. There’s a buzz as you approach the ground, which increases as kick-off looms. The match-day experience at the neat, little ground is the best currently in the Irish Premiership.
The stadium is spruced-up, tidy, comfortable, and ok there’s an artificial pitch adding to, for many, a concerning trend in local football, but with home crowds flocking-in and a covered area for visiting fans, atmosphere is guaranteed certainly against the bigger sides.
Even when Glenavon brought a mere handful to a Friday night league game, a couple of thousand home fans livened up a scoreless evening.
Over 13,000 have been through the gates in Coleraine’s six league matches for an average crowd of 2,208 (the second-best in the country) and that’s without visits from either of Belfast’s so-called, ‘Big-Two’.
There’s happiness and harmony flowing through the veins of the club from the youngest fan to star player Jamie Glackin, who high-fived and chatted with members of the crowd after his late substitution and job-done against Larne.
Those in leadership at the club, not least an impressively aware manager, deserve most credit for cultivating a positive ‘can do’ environment. Coleraine FC are on the move and it’s a great time to be a fan of the club.
While Social Media Manager, Johnny McNabb doesn’t understate Oran Kearney’s influence, he also points to hard-working Chairman, Colin McKendry, who’s put his money where his mouth is. “The pair demand professionalism and that runs all through the club’s DNA these days. From management to players to media team, all the way across to the stewards and tea-ladies, we’re all pulling in the same direction for the good of the club.”
Signs of momentum are everywhere. Obviously winning helps, but winning doesn’t happen by accident either.
You wonder what’s next, those driving the club forward don’t show any signs of standing still, although the immediate future appears not to have ‘full-time’ written in. Perhaps though it’s a longer-term aspiration, or possibly the fruition of an All-Island League would force Coleraine’s hand.
I’m sure it’s been discussed in detail. It would be surprising should management as astute as that in place at the Showgrounds, not have a plan around such an eventuality.
The Bannsiders can call upon a significant catchment area and fans are coming in from various surrounding towns to which they are the closest senior club. “There’s a great sense of camaraderie amongst the players. Most of them come from the area and that generates fan interest locally too,” says, McNabb.
“The club has given tickets out to I think 11 schools in the surrounding area for selective matches and run a ‘Kid for a Quid’ scheme,” explains McNabb.
It’s not surprising then when the team delivers as they currently are, kids and parents previously not quite regulars, want to come back. The package is an attractive one, personally I don’t recall the Showgrounds with as much vibrancy as now, and I go back to the days of Dickson and Murray, Beckett and Jackson. Oh!... and winning helps too of course.
I’ll be heading north again tomorrow to watch them take on the Reds in the weekend’s top clash. But won’t be leaving it until five minutes before to kick-off to enter the ground. Sometimes these days you just have to learn by experience and I know there’ll be no seats left if I do!