Every human endeavour starts somewhere and it began in the case of Tandragee Rovers with two young men and the support of those who were willing to help them. Two such young men lived in Tandragee at the time, one Samuel (Tucker) Croft and the other Edward Kelly. They decided to put a football team in an organised league and approached the Duke of Manchester for a playing field. The Duke of Manchester at the time lived in Tandragee Castle and was a wealthy businessman. The Duke, along with various other businessmen from the town decided to back them and both Samuel and Edward were invited to the Castle to discuss the question of a playing field. As those who know Tandragee, level fields are few and far between and the right to use the old pitch on the Scarva Road was finally granted as long as it was required for a football team. Tandragee Rovers were established in August 1909 and the pitch secured from the Duke was duly named Manchester Park.
The newly formed team also decided to adopt the crest of the Duke of Manchester, on the left, as their club badge. The motto "Disponendo me, non mutando me" dates back to the time of Henry VIII, and is the most ancient of all the Montagu mottos. It is used in England by the Dukes of Manchester, and is said to have originated with Sir Edward Montagu, the executor of the will of Henry VIII. He was lord chief justice of England. He was removed from that position by Queen Mary, who also imprisoned him in the Tower of London. After his release, it is said that he added the motto to his Arms in Latin, a free translation of which is, "You may displace me but you cannot change me." The crest is still used as the Club's badge.
Samuel Croft and Edward Kelly attended the annual meeting of the Lurgan League held in August 1909 and entered their team, Tandragee Rovers. The following week the Rovers played Guillhall in their first ever league match and won 8-3. Below is the first known photograph of Tandragee Rovers taken in 1910/11. Samuel Croft is 3rd from left in the middle row and Edward Kelly is 3rd from right in the back row.
A NEW ERA
As time went on a two world wars passed the Rovers were still going from strength to strength. In the late 40’s the Rovers played in the Irish Alliance League under the guidance of Fred McKinney. Fred McKinney gave up his time and money to further the club and brought in Bothwell Vennard, ex Ballymena United to help build the side. Mrs Myrtle McKinney was always present to organise transport and meals after the match. In a first for the Rovers, Mrs McKinney was appointed chairman, the only lady in the chair of a soccer club in Northern Ireland. This was a richly deserved honour as, along with husband Fred, none worked harder and nothing was too much trouble. Mrs McKinney was not just a figure head. She had a sound knowledge of the game and was a most capable administrator.
Annual running costs at this time were in the region of £1200, which in today’s terms would be some £14000. It was at this time that an attempt was made later to sign Peter McParland from Newry for £200 but this deal fell through due to a mix up of arrangements and he later went on to sign for Aston Villa for a fee believed to be £2000. He later went on to play for Northern Ireland on 17th June 1958 when he played against Czechoslovakia. During some seasons in the early 50’s there were as many as six professionals in the Rovers line up, all players were paid £3 per week and all players got expenses.
On Saturday 10th May, 1952 the Rovers, with a few guest players, had the privilege of hosting Irish League Champions Glenavon at Manchester Park. Admission was 1/6 and it was by all means a cracker with Glenavon just edging it 4-3. Around this time Mick Hoy returned to Tandragee after a very successful professional career with Glenavon, Dundalk and Republic of Ireland. His knowledge of the game and expertise were readily imparted to the Rovers and not only did he put a lot of energy into the training of the first team but had a great interest in the youth side.
In August 1954 a new pavilion was formerly opened by Mr WA Mullan D.L Portadown. The pavilion was built by voluntary labour under the guidance of Fred McKinney. In that season Rovers had one professional Billy Twimen, former Portadown player.
SUCCESS THROUGH THE DECADES
Newry Town, Dundela, Ards Rangers, Linfield Rangers, Glentoran Olympic and Carrick Rangers were just some of the teams in the Irish Alliance League at the time, the league in which the Rovers were competing, to give you an indication of their opponents. The Rovers remained one of the strongest teams in the league and in 1962 defeated Glenavon Reserves at Shamrock Park to win the Mid Ulster Cup while the week before they had won the Mid Ulster league.
During the 1964/65 season, Rovers maintained their position at the top of Mid Ulster football. This was a particularly bad winter with matches cancelled and training disrupted. However Rovers got round this by training in the Temperance Hall every Thursday night. Finally in April Rovers run of 20 matches without defeat came to an end when Ulster Carpet Mills defeated them 4-2. During the 60’s some great battles were fought between old rivals Tandragee and Gilford with both teams having a great following. There was the famous cup final played at Manchester Park in 1964 with hundreds of supporters watching Rovers defeating Gilford 6-0. Again in March 1969 the two rivals met this time in Gilford. Rovers had a great following many of whom marched the road to Gilford having paraded Tandragee with flags and banners supporting their team. Rovers were one point ahead of Gilford in the Mid Ulster League race but the opposition had two games in hand. However the intervening matches were played first with results that put Gilford one point ahead leaving Rovers needing both points. The headline in the Portadown News, 21 march 1969 - 5 GOAL TRIUMPH FOR TANDRAGEE ROVERS ARE CHAMPIONS!
In the 70’s and Rovers were the only team dominating the first division. Local derby games were now very often with Richhill Rangers results being very evenly balanced. During the late 70’s and early 80’s some new names appeared on the team sheets but at the same time other names continued into the next generation. One of the highlights of this period was in 1982 when Rovers won the Beckett Cup defeating Bournview 4-3 at Mournview Park after a penalty shootout.
In 1985/86 season Rovers won the Mid Ulster Division 3 title and promotion to Division 2. The Rovers beat Banbridge YC in a playoff after both teams finished on 50 points. Gordon Gough went into Tandragee record books as the highest scorer in a season with a total of 45 goals. Sammy Lunn, who had made a great name for himself in the 70’s with Portadown contributed in no small way to the success of the season. By 31 May 1985 Rovers completed the double by adding the Beckett Cup to their League title. During the 1986/87 season just missed out on promotion to Division 1 after losing 2-1 to Lurgan Celtic. However they finished the season on a high by defeating Red Lion 2-1 of the Foster Cup at Shamrock Park. Rovers joined the Hyde Travel Mid Ulster Premier League for the 1987-88 season and finished off the season in the best possible way by becoming the first winners of the Bass Intermediate Rose Bowl.
But near the end of this decade came an unfortunate division within the team but, as in the early days of the club it was not the senior members or committee who settled the dispute but to quote the report in the Portadown Times, ‘without Colin Hobson, David Black and David Gillis Tandragee Rovers could well have folded’. Somewhat reminiscent of the action 80 years ago by two young men Croft and Kelly who got the team started. John Sinton took over as manager and with the help of one regular player Nigel McBurney and ‘old hands’ Lenny Proctor and Dessie Whiteside got a team out to face AFC Craigavon on the Saturday and although beaten 4-1 they were at least once again back in local football. In no time all the players rallied round and the Rovers returned to full strength, all prepared to face a new decade, the 90’s with both strong First and Second teams.
MID ULSTER TREBLE
Tony Bell became manager of the Rovers during the 1997/98 season. With him he brought a number of young and exciting yet inexperienced players to the club from. As some of the older players that he had inherited left he was not afraid to blood some of these young players into his team. Now although for the first 3 years he achieved nothing except a Premier Cup Final appearance against Bessbrook United in the 1999/2000 season he had the Rovers playing some wonderful attacking football and those young inexperienced players he introduced had 3 years of senior Mid Ulster football under their belts and they were now a major part of his team. Tandragee Rovers brought one of their most successful years ever to a spectacular and momentous finale on Saturday 19th May 2001 when a landslide victory against Coagh Swifts completed a cup treble. The unbeatable Rovers had now the Premier Cup to place alongside the Bob Radcliffe and the Bass Bowl, in their silverware cabinet.
This extraordinary year began with the Rovers making soccer history on Boxing Day 2000 when they won the Bob Radcliffe Cup for the very first time in their history. Tony Bell’s side were long-odds underdogs in the final but they pulled out all the stops to win a thrilling game by the narrow margin of 2-1 against much fancied Lurgan Celtic Bhoys to become only the third Mid Ulster League team to lift the coveted piece of silverware during the competitions 22 year history. The Rovers then went on to beat Ballymacash Rangers 1-0 in the Bass Bowl Final. The photograph below shows the Rovers after clinching the superb treble at Lakeview Park, Loughgall when they lifted the Premier Cup.