“Something changed” – Pulp.
This post rings some bells, doesn’t it? Well a few years ago, I backpacked all the way to Krakow, then Tarnow, then Zabno, then Zalipie then the tiny village of Nieciecza in Poland! Nieciecza was once the village that has hosted Europe’s smallest ever top flight football club. That post was here and covers Bruk Bet Termalika Nieciecza: Śmieszne Historie o Piłce Nożnej w Polsce: Introducing Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza, Europe’s Smallest Ever Top Flight Football Club . I went there to write that quirky story and enjoy a top flight match there in the Polish Ekstraklasa.
At the time, it was written that the village of Nieciecza with its 750 population was the smallest village to boast a top-flight European football club when in 2015 Bruk Bet Termalika Nieciecza remarkably made it to the top division. It did seem quite high for me at 750, and I even thought of Loughgall FC and Institute FC in Northern Ireland back then, though I never checked their populations. When I posted the article on Facebook, my friend Ivan from the Faroe Islands commented saying that there are smaller villages in the Faroe Islands that have been in the top division. Ivan was right. Nieciecza has 750 people, Loughgall has a population of just 282 residents, 38 fewer than Streymnes (320) — the home of Faroe Islands Premier League club EB/Streymur. So back then, it was fake news that Nieciecza was the smallest village to host top division football. However, it for sure was the smallest village in Europe to boast a top flight stadium hosting around 5,000 supporters. Then, something changed. It was made official by UEFA that Loughgall FC in Northern Ireland now holds the title – https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/football/irish-league/loughgall-on-verge-of-uefa-record-as-smallest-settlement-to-have-a-top-flight-football-club/1145298155.html
As the debate rolls on, this year in May 2023, Loughgall FC gained promotion to the top flight of the Northern Irish league! However, it’s not even their first time up there and although the club boast a German goalkeeper, Brazilian midfielder and a Dominican Republic full international (Alberto Baldé), it’s still a huge surprise. On a personal level, it’s so nice to see Loughgall back in the top division as I have an important history with the village.
Move over, Nieciecza – enter Loughall FC!
In 2023, Loughgall FC were promoted back to the Northern Irish top flight. They have already been there twice though – 2004 to 2007 they had three seasons in the top flight. In fact, I watched Glentoran play Loughgall and sneak a 1-0 win during that period. In 2009-2010 they gained promotion to the top flight again, but this time they declined to go up due to the costs and the stadium issues. For such a small club and village, it’s quite incredible that they have been promoted 3 times to the top division and twice Irish Cup semi finalists.
On 3 March 2018, Loughgall defeated Glenavon 2-1 to reach the semi-final of the Irish Cup for the first time since 1997. In April 2023, the club would return to the NIFL Premiership for the first time since 2007, following a 3-1 win away to Dundela. In being promoted, the village of Loughgall would officially now become the smallest settlement, with a population of 283, to have a top flight team in Europe, beating EB/Streymur and Bruk Bet Termalika Nieciecza’s previous record.
Lakeview Park, Loughall, Northern Ireland
Lakeview Park is a football stadium in Loughgall, Northern Ireland. It is the home ground of Loughgall F.C. The stadium holds approximately 1,300 spectators. As the name suggests, Lakeview Park is adjacent to a lake and is also not too far from previous title and cup winners Portadown FC and Glenavon FC.
We were the Champions, My Friends
On a personal level, I really want to go back to Lakeview Park!! I have been there before you see, and only once and what a once it was! On Monday 4th May 1998, aged 18 I headed with my football team 10th Bangor BB Seniors to play in the Northern Ireland Cup Final. So I was a national champion in Northern Ireland and later just shelved a football career completely. Here’s our team that day on the pitch at Lakeview Park, Loughgall where we played against 4th Portadown in the national final. Club captain Alan Thompson (Tompo) lifted the trophy and we all got our medals.
“Your life is sneaking up behind, it just won’t let you go” – Noel Gallagher.
In the above photo, here is our squad with nicknames in brackets –
Back row (left to right) – Stanley Auld (manager), Jonny Blair, Peter McIvor (Magoo), Neil Millar (Baboon), Andrew Davey (Davies), Gary Rainey, Keith Freel (Freaky), Stuart McCartan, Chris McCaffrey (Spunker), Colin Nixon (of Glentoran).
Front row (left to right) – Michael McClelland, Colin Walker, Paul Ormsby (Ormo), Alan Thompson (Tompo), Ricky Barr, Brian Hutchinson (Bru).
I’ll also admit that some of the lads in the photo from that day – I haven’t seen them since! I keep touch with Michael McClelland and recently have seen Tompo, Ricky Barr, Neil Millar and Gary Rainey at Northern Ireland matches. A few of the lads had trials for bigger clubs, Andrew Davey became a referee and our third choice goalkeeper (not pictured, in a different squad) was James Taylor who later played for Glentoran and won a Steel And Sons Cup at Bangor FC.
I dug out some old photos from 1997-1998 winning team – in those days we are lucky we have any material in the pre-digital age. I didn’t even have an email address until 2002, nor a mobile phone until 1999.
So well done to Loughgall FC on promotion! I hope to see you next season playing in your home stadium of Lakeview Park. It will be an emotional return!