Veteran Tyrone Times journalist Kevin Hughes pays tribute to Dungannon Swifts legend Joe McAree.
I often say I haven’t a clue who reads this old page and often am pleasantly surprised at some of those who are devoted followers; but I genuinely didn’t think it included The Queen - or at least somebody with influence in Buck House!
But a few people have been insisting that those in the know with regard to getting gongs at New Year or in the June Birthday lists acted upon something I penned in April of 2011.
The article on the Yer Man About Town page related the tale of how Joe McAree was shocked to find that the junior stadium in the town had been renamed in his honour!
I cited the fact that, prior to that wonderful and fully deserved act of generosity by his pals in the remarkable youth set-up founded by McAree, the greatest testament to Joe in his four decades of selfless devotion to football had been received a NIFWA manager of the year award presented to him by ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
I did say, however, that it came second only to the legacy that will forever bear his name, the magnificent indoor and outdoor facility, indeed the whole set-up that is Dungannon United Youth.
But the opening paragraphs of the article stated that Joe was one of two men whom I believed were in a race to be the next Dungannon recipient in the honours list for their contribution to their sport and the community.
I ended it with the prediction that Joe and his wife Carole - for many years the treasurer of Swifts and always a rock behind her husband - might get a letter from her majesty inviting them over to Buckingham Palace for a garden party treat.
And I signed off by warning Joe that he should not be too surprised this time!
Some of the text from that article 32 months ago is well worth reproducing by way of illustrating precisely why Joe McAree is absolutely worthy of the MBE honour. Here it is:
‘However, his pals in Dungannon United Youthhave beaten her majesty to it because last Saturday night they surprised the Moygashel man with a lasting testimony to his decades of devotion to the nurturing of youthful local talent by renaming the junior stadium in his honour.
McAree wasn’t aware that it was happening, the first he knew of it being when he arrived home from a trip to Manchester with one of the teams and was stunned to see the sign adorning the stadium.
“The bus driver was in on the surprise and, despite my protests that he should be going to the usual parking area, drove right up to the gates and shone the headlights right on the new sign” explained the club chairman.
There was no big redbook, a la Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel, but the plot was akin to that which caught countless subjects of This Is Your Life, as McAree returned from the trip with hisU13 team to be greeted by the sign, members of his family, friends and club colleagues, lying in wait for the renaming ceremony.
He admitted to being gobsmacked and a mite embarrassed, before a real and merited sense of pride took over his emotions.
Having enlisted the help of Davy Gallagher right at the beginning and, whilst theirgreatest accolades are measured not in trophies but in the numbers of youngsters and families who havebenefitted by their involvement, successwas quickly enjoyed - first as Dungannon Swifts winning the Milk Cup, and later the Foyle Cup under the Dungannon United Youth banner.
The club is a massive operation, eleven teams being guided by the voluntary work of no fewer than 24 coaches.
The Moygashel man maintained that,without the success of the youth, there would be no Swifts in Irish League.
“But I always felt any success we were going to have was going to come from the youth of our own community.
“And it started as a small group led by my son, Rodney, who came to the house one day; he rapped the door with a ball under his arm, saying they werelooking a game. I said ‘Right, I’ll get you a match!’ and we played Armagh Boys Club. That was the start of it and it just started to grow, because we saw the success of it.
“My proudest moment was getting the facility there for Dungannon United Youth; over £800,000 spent -and we owenothing.
“We’ve had alot of good children on the conveyor belt and gave upwards of 18 a chance across the water – the latest one, and the biggest one so far, being Niall McGinn.”
And that’s precisely why it’s now Mr Joe McAree, MBE!