THE MATTHEW TIPTON COLUMN: Take a minute to celebrate the game’s unsung heroes

The Matthew Tipton column.
The Matthew Tipton column.

Matthew Tipton has signed up to write a weekly column offering his views on football. Now in his first season of management at Warrenpoint Town, Tipton’s professional playing career started with Oldham Athletic as a 17-year-old striker and included caps for Wales under 21s alongside appearances for clubs in England, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Sealing the Championship title last weekend was amazing on a personal level and for everyone connected to Warrenpoint Town.

“With that in mind, rather than use this week’s column to focus on the specifics of our league triumph (I will look back on that more at the end of the season), I want to put the spotlight on the unsung heroes.

“Bringing success to a family club like Warrenpoint means so much to the people who give up time to keep everything ticking over day in, day out.

“In my experience as a player and manager, the kitman tends to be the lifeblood of any changing room, especially over here in the Irish League.

“At Portadown we had Geordie Richardson, who was so methodical and made sure every player’s boots and kit were ready.

“When I moved to Linfield I found Gary Eccles a great link to everything going on around the club and very professional.

“Bert Thompson with Ballymena United was also very keen to make sure everything was right.

“I’m superstitious so if I join a new club and play well I want whatever spot I sat at in the changing room to stay the same, irrespective of squad numbers or anything.

“Bert always made sure my kit was in the right place and, like the rest, understood the small details.

“Now we come to Pat Longridge at Warrenpoint Town - probably a combination of all three and just a great all-round character.

“You could see how much last weekend’s win to wrap up the title meant to Pat and so many others around the club during the celebrations.

“Pat, unfortunately, has been ill this week so hopefully this gives him a chuckle and we look forward to his return.

“He has certainly been missed around the club by the players and coaching team (even if initially we thought he was staying away in a sulk because of the mess everyone made in the changing room during the title celebrations on Saturday).

“My first real experience of Pat was on the pre-season trip to Bangor in Wales, which happens to be my home city.

“After the game we went to a pub owned by my mate called ‘Paddy’s Bar’.

“Everything was going grand then suddenly Pat asked for the microphone and proceeded to belt out ‘The Wild Rover’.

“For the next few hours he hogged the mic and everyone had a great laugh, even if the only song he seemed to know was ‘The Wild Rover’.

“The fun continued on the boat trip home when the players were banned from drinking but we heard a commotion in the lounge area and walked in to see Pat on the table with a bottle of beer in hand serenading the passengers to another rendition of ‘The Wild Rover’.

“One of my first games as manager at Warrenpoint was away to Dergview and we made the trip together on a coach.

“Once at the ground I asked Pat to unload the cones for the warm-up, at which point he realised he had left them (plus the bibs and footballs) in the van...sitting back at the ground in Warrenpoint.

“Richard Clarke, the Dergview boss and my old Ports team-mate, was able to help us out and, thankfully, the team kit was on board the coach so no real harm done.

“In fairness, it was the only time Pat has made any kind of mistake.

“Myself and the other guys in the coaching team always arrive on training nights a bit earlier, taking it in turns to bring the teabags and biscuits as required.

“It gives us a chance for a chat and Pat is always about too with some great yarns from his week between time spent at the club.

“One that had us laughing recently was his story of helping out his wife’s friend with a lift to Belfast and, when she asked about stopping for a meal, he suggested Applegreen as an option, thinking it was a fancy restaurant the way he had heard all the lads talking about this great place to get food.

“One of Pat’s finest moments came before our crucial game against Ballyclare Comrades at home earlier in the season.

“It was tight at the top, with only a few points between the two clubs and Pat, during one of our training night chats, gave this Churchillian speech to the coaching staff about how no-one would come to our place and leave with the points.

“It was so good we asked him to stand up before the players on matchday and his rousing teamtalk worked wonders, firing up the lads to the point we were 3-0 up after 15 minutes.

“Of course, word quickly spread (thanks no doubt to Pat) and his speech was the talk of the club after the game.

“As a player or manager you savour any kind of trophy but when you also meet people like Pat it really adds something special to the success.

“Pat and countless others in the game may be unsung heroes outside the club walls but it wouldn’t be the same without those characters.”