GRAEME COUSINS talks to the wife of the man who inspired the unlikely match-up between Dromara Village FC and Man Utd
Some of the best players ever to wear a Manchester United shirt are coming to Northern Ireland next month to take on an amateur village side.
The match is in memory of one of Dromara Village FC’s most popular players – Walter McVeigh – who died suddenly 20 years ago leaving behind his wife and triplets who had not yet turned five.
His wife Margaret said: “People still remember what happened back 20 years ago, it struck a chord with a lot of people.
“I was left with the triplets. They were only four and half. He didn’t even see them go into P1.
“His team was Man Utd, he had been over to see them at Old Trafford many times. He just couldn’t wait to get the kids to Old Trafford. He didn’t get his dream.”
Margaret continued: “I always wanted to do a big fundraiser some day in honour of Walter. He’s so well known in the community, he’s on the roll of honour at the football club, he did so much for the club.
“I remember one of his friends said that if we’re going to do anything for Walter it’s not going to be something small, it has to be something big. This is how the Man Utd match came about.”
It’s one thing having a dream but it’s another making it a reality.
Margaret explained how the fixture at Dromara’s Bell’s Bridge ground came to be: “There’s some of Walter’s friends who work at organising charity matches and testimonials involving former players. They try to get you at least one big star. We’ve ended up with so many of them.
“Bryan Robson is probably the biggest name, but we’ve also got Keith Gillespie, Brian McClair, Sammy McIlroy, Frank Stapleton and loads more.
“It’s going to be a fairytale match. That night there will be a gala ball and all the legends will be coming.
“Some days I’m thinking to myself, ‘is this actually going to happen?’.”
She added: “My two boys are 24 now, Ryan still plays for Dromara and Blake used to but doesn’t anymore because he lives in Southampton now.
“The two of them are going to manage Dromara. Some of their friends are going to play along with some of the players who were in the last team that Walter played with.”
When Walter died on April 12, 1999 he had been coaching Dromara Village and was also a member of Dromara Cycle Club.
Margaret said: “Dromara isn’t a big place, if you blink you’d have driven through it. Everybody in the village knew Walter. It’s unbelievable that people will still remember what they were doing when they heard he’d died.
“He gets talked about all the time. He played for Glenavon in the 70s before I met him, but his heart was with Dromara.
“He loved coaching at the club, he loved to bring the youth on, he’d been a scout for Linfield at one stage.”
Margaret said that the main aim of the match and the gala dinner was for people to “have fun and raise as much as possible for two amazing charities”.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI has been funding research into blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma for over 50 years with the aim of finding better methods of detection and treatment that will improve the quality of life and overall outcome for their patients.
The charity is based at Queen’s University Belfast where they fund laboratory research, clinical support and education.
Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI is the only charity in the Province dedicated to fighting these diseases and all funds raised remain here to support local projects.
The second charity – Anthony Nolan – saves the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders. The charity uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer and blood disorders patients in need of stem cell transplants.
It also carries out pioneering research to increase stem cell transplant success and supports patients through their transplant journeys. Everyday Anthony Nolan gives three people a second chance at life.
Margaret said: “These are charities that are very close to our family’s hearts and we hope we can do them justice.”
She described the devastating few days between Walter’s diagnosis with blood cancer and his passing on April 12, 1999.
“Walter had been fit as a fiddle – he trained for football, he cycled, then he took a cold and he lost all his energy.
“He said there’s something wrong with my blood. He was diagnosed (with acute myeloid leukaemia) on the Saturday morning in the City Hospital at 11 o’clock and he passed away in the early hours of Monday morning.
“He didn’t even get the chemo. They had told us he had a big survival rate because he was young and fit and healthy.
“You just don’t compensate for that happening.”
Walter and Margaret had met aged 25. Her husband had been 44 when he passed away.
Margaret said: “I’ll not lie, it’s been very hard since we lost Walter.
“The community has helped and supported me and the kids. Walter’s friends at the football club have been great. The pre-school I work in has been so supportive.
“My family has been amazing. My backbone has been my mum – she’s 82 and is still my right hand woman.”
The triplets, now 24, are pursuing three very different careers – Blake is doing accountancy in Southampton, Ryan is joining the PSNI, and Megan is a dental nurse.
Margaret said: “Megan can’t remember much about her dad, Blake doesn’t say much about it, but Ryan has lots of stuff locked away that he can remember.
“The triplets are three to be proud of. They are three very caring adults.
“I’m so proud of them and their dad would be too.
“If Walter was here today looking down seeing that they were bringing Man Utd legends to Dromara he’d be lost for words.
“He’s very much living on in our three wonderful children.”