Irish League's nomads aim to make top division their home

Movilla
An early image of the proposed site at Movilla High Shool

Three years ago, Ards Football Club were hoping to turn a local landfill site into their new ground.

Having been without a home to call their own for over a decade, the nomads of the Irish League could see light at the end of the tunnel.

But it all fell through as the anticipated lease from the local borough council did not materialise.

Undeterred, club chairman Brian Adams and his team are not giving up.

They have just been promoted back to the Irish Premiership and play their first match against Cliftonville on 6 August.

The club have two big aims - getting a ground in their home town of Newtownards and staying in the Irish League's top flight.

Homeless and burden by debt

The County Down side have been homeless since playing their last game at Castlereagh Park in 2001, the ground being sold because of spiralling debts.

For 15 years, they have been hopping from ground to ground with no firm solution in sight.

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Ards chief Brian Adams on attempts to get new ground

Now, there are fresh plans for a ground in place, and the future of Ards is starting to look brighter.

"When I came on board we discovered debt of just under £250,000," said chairman Adams who joined the board a few years after the sale of Castlereagh Park.

"We had to get rid of all the players and as a result we got relegated. We couldn't afford to keep the wages and run the club the way it was."

Adams admitted there had been several false dawns on the issue of a new ground.

"We have asked the rugby club to talk. We had a greyhound idea with the council, a hotel idea with the council.

"In the end we said to the council, just give us the rubbish dump and let us build it. But even that fell through."

The club recently revealed plans for a new stadium on the site of Movilla High School. Pupils would be able to use the proposed facilities, making it a scheme for the community.

It would be a relatively modest ground, with about 2,000 seats, built on unused hockey pitches.

As an intermediate club, Ards reached the final of the League Cup, losing 3-0 to Premiership side Cliftonville
As an intermediate club, Ards reached the final of the League Cup, losing 3-0 to Premiership side Cliftonville

Back in the top flight

On the pitch, Ards go into the new season determined to learn from past mistakes. The last time they were promoted was in 2013 and they came straight back down again after just one season.

Manager Niall Currie is confident the squad is better equipped to stay in the top flight this time around.

"A lot of the guys we have signed have played in the Premiership. We're not signing anybody on a downward spiral," he said.

"The signings we have made have their best years ahead of them. Hopefully their experience will rub off on everybody."

On the ground issue Currie, team boss since 2011, said: "The club should be back in its home town.

"If we got back to Newtownards I think the support would treble or quadruple. Everything seems to be going in the right direction and we're in a good place."

Tipped for the drop

As is often the case, freshly-promoted Ards are one of the favourites to go down.

However, they have the advantage that rivals Portadown start the campaign with a 12-point deduction, imposed for playing a player who was registered as an amateur.

"We play Portadown in our third match, if we beat them, all of a sudden it becomes 15 points," added Currie.

George Eastham played for Ards in the 1930s
George Eastham played for Ards, when his father was the team's manager, and went on to play for Newcastle United, Arsenal and Stoke. He was a non-playing member of England's 1966 World Cup squad
Ards facts
Ards beat Standard Liege in a Uefa Cup tie at Castlereagh Park in September 1973They won four trophies including the Irish Cup in 1973/74 under manager Billy Humphries
George Eastham played for Ards, when his father was the team's manager, and went on to play for Newcastle United, Arsenal, Stoke and EnglandTheir former Castlereagh Park has not been redeveloped and has been lying derelict for the last 15 years

"Even if they have picked some up and we have dropped a few, there is still a gap there. It puts a lot of pressure on them having to chase it.

"It is up to us to hit the ground running. We know what this league is about and that every week is a massively difficult challenge.

"We want to make sure we are competitive in every game we play in and that is my focus.

Kyle Cherry, who recently signed from Carrick Rangers, firmly believes the club can move forward if they can get a fast start.

"We need to get the wins in early," said the midfielder.

"I think this squad is capable of more than hanging around the bottom of the league and we can push towards sixth place and maybe even higher. We're not thinking about other teams, we're just thinking about us."

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