Who would have thought that the Northern Ireland Milk Cup would have become such a magnificent event, one which is eagerly anticipated by football people all over the British Isles and farther afield?

It was all very much an experiment in 1983 with eight Ulster teams and an equal number of visitors including the Algerians and a side from Coleraine’s twin town of la Roche-sur-Yon in France.

Scottish stars Motherwell were the name on everyone’s lips that year after Irish FA president Harry Cavan declared the tournament open. Stephen Connors was the young lad to emerge with all the plaudits, scoring 12 goals for the Scots, three in the 5-0 win over hosts Coleraine in the final.


The inaugural winners of the Milk Cup – Motherwell in 1983

A year later the legendary Peter Doherty was given the honour of kicking off the second tournament, such a fitting tribute to the man who many people believe was Ulster’s greatest player of all time. How Peter marveled at the competition which was attracting such talent to the town he loved so well.

That year Motherwell failed to win their second final, losing 1-0 to Rangers although the impressive Willie Clinton did pick up the Man of the Match award for Motherwell.


Harry Dunn (right) and his Rangers Milk Cup winners in 1984

A certain youngster by the name of Steve Staunton was thrilled to receive the Man of the Match award for Dundalk Schoolboys after their 3-2 Plate victory over Waterford United. Staunton, of course, progressed on to greater things with Liverpool and the Republic of Ireland, appearing in the World Cup finals in Italy in 1990 and ultimately becoming international coach in 2005.


David Edgar receives the Golden Boot from Willie Hunter

David Edgar from Coleraine, won the Golden Boot and together with another Coleraine lad, Brian O’Kane, had the honour of representing Northern Ireland in a fixture against the Rest of the World at the conclusion of the tournament. A highlight of that tournament for David was getting to shake hands with Peter Doherty before the game.


The legendary Peter Doherty meets the Rest of the World team

Kilrea-born Martin O’Neill, one of the heroes of Northern Ireland’s exploits at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, declared open the third Milk Cup in 1985, a year that marked the introduction of the Under-14 group which has proved so popular and successful.

Newcastle United were appearing for the first time, along with the Americans of East Pennsylvania, North Olmsted and San Francisco. Another first were the Italians of Turin who sadly struggled to keep their heads above water, losing 6-0 in their opening game and 16-1 against Hillsborough Boys in their second outing.

In the Under -16 final Coleraine, with defender Nigel Quigley in their ranks, lost 4-1 to Peter Kirkley’s Newcastle United from who David Hallum scored twice. Rangers beat Craigavon United 5-4 on penalties in Under-14 final after a 1-1 stalemate in normal time and extra time.

Tom Cleland (Hillsborough Boys), who went on to star with lrish League side Glentoran, collected the Golden Boot at U-16 level.

In 1986 Coleraine met Newcastle again met, this time in the opening game, holding the English giants to a 2-2 draw thanks to an equaliser ten minutes from time by Gary Taylor.

Newcastle went on to the final where they lost to a superb Dundee United team which was formidable with Patrick Connolly calling the shots and scoring the opening goal. There was Ulster joy in the U-14 showpiece where Craigavon United beat Crewe Alexandra 2-1.

The competition was getting bigger and better every year. Slick organisational skills and down to earth Ulster hospitality were two of the main ingredients in this success. By 1987, a total of 33 teams were involved.


Coleraine-born lam McFaul, then manager of Newcastle United, opened the contest. Goals were the order of summer festival which saw Liverpool and Swansea City involved.

Liverpool had Joey Murray in their ranks and they reached the U-16 final only to lose 2-0 to a highly polished Crewe outfit.

Dundee won the U-14, extra time winners over Crewe, Gary Bollam hit 14 goals for Dundee United to lift the U-14 Golden Boot and Eddie Meaney rattled in 10 for Home Farm in the senior grade. Colin Telford (Ballymena Boys League), who went on to Manchester United, won the Player of the Tournament in his section.

The sixth Milk Cup in 1988 saw more recognition from the top names and Bob Paisley accompanied Liverpool, together with senior director Sydney Moss. Another Irish soccer legend, Danny Blanchflower, did the honours at the opening ceremony with 34 teams parading into Coleraine Showgrounds from as far away as Malta, New York and Canada.



1988 winners Liverpool – can you spot Steve McManaman?

Steve McManaman turned out for Liverpool who beat Motherwell 4-0 in the U-16 final and McMenaman shot a hat-trick. Home Farm beat Dundee United 3-0 to end the Scottish side’s two-year unbeaten run in the competition Lee Clarke and Lee Makel were stars for Newcastle United who again sent a team of exciting players.

By 1989 accommodation was now a major problem for the organisers. Finding room for the numbers of teams, officials and supporters was a new difficulty which had to be overcome. Once again the MilkCup Committee managed to surmount the problem.

Scottish FA secretary Ernie Walker was the guest of honour as Steve Heighway brought Liverpool back but it was Newcastle United and a Brian Kidd-inspired Manchester United who contested the U-16 final with Geordies winning the trophy and numerous other awards too.

Ulster side Dungannon Swifts defeated Dublin Schools Select 4-3 with Stephen Robinson scoring twice and later receiving the Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament awards.

A side from Tenerife also competed and were delighted to win the U-14 five­-a-side competition.


Guest of honour John K. Lynn presents the Milk Cup

In 1990 John Lynn, a great supporter of the event and former Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland, now the Dairy Council, was the man to open the tournament.

It was a nice gesture by the organisers for the association with Milk has been another remarkable success of the competition and the Dairy Council are to be congratulated for their continued support.


There were teams from Gran Canaria and Iceland and it was another sparkling competition.

Tottenham Hotspur blazed a trail with 15 goals in their first two matches while a Manchester United team, which included Ryan Giggs, beat Maghera Colts 7-1. Nicky Barmby hit both goals to give Spurs the U­-16 trophy in a 2-1 win over Crewe while Crewe beat Hibs 4-1 in the U-14 final.

Former Manchester United star Martin Buchan brought his old team good fortune when he opened the ninth Milk Cup. The junior Red Devils went on to defeat Hearts 2-0 before a 10,000 growd at the Showgrounds which was an impressive venue with its new grandstand.

The association with the local football club has been another important part of the Milk Cup story down the years.


Manchester United’s 1991 Premier winning team with David Beckham (kneeling, front, right)

Coleraine-born Declan McSheffrey brought a side from Eastern New York and Nottingham Forest and Dynamo Kiev from the former Soviet Union added extra interest in the competition. Nobby Stiles and Brian Kidd flew into the Province to help steer United to their cup win with goals from Ben Thornley and Robbie Savage.

Bangor lad Keith Gillespie also starred for United as did a kid by the name of David Beckham (what ever happened to him?). First timers Norwich City beat Dundee United with two goals by Paul Lewis.

Norwich retained their Junior title the following year, 1992, defeating Hearts 3-0 in the showpiece and a lad called Charlie Miller scored Rangers’ goals in their 2-1 triumph over Nottingham Forest in the Premier decider.

But the Milk Cup is much more than just a competition. It brings together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. The area that hosts the event is spectacular, another import plus and the volunteers – hundreds of them – who run the whole show deserve the highest praise.

The emergence of talent draws scouts from numerous clubs across the channel and when you look at some of those who have moved on to stardom you can see why, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Steve Staunton are just a few.

“There have been highs and lows along the way but we have kept on going and now here we stand at the 10th Northern Ireland Milk Cup tournament. So many people have helped us in so many ways.


We have friends everywhere and we wish to thank them all for their help,” says Victor Leonard, chairman of the organising committee and one of the men who had the dream of starting the ball rolling all those years ago.




From Peacock to Paisley… Eusebio to Beckham – It`s been Memorable All the Way!

BBC Sport NI`s Grant Cameron has covered 29 Milk Cup tournaments over 30 years and here shares some of his favourite memories…

The startled receptionist at a Portrush hotel received the call from the softly spoken gentleman in room 32:

“There’s something wrong with my bath. I wonder could someone have a look?”

The call was from Liverpool legend Bob Paisley. The problem was a partial collapse of the ceiling into his bathroom!

“Is this meant to be here?” He asked the embarrassed porter who was dispatched to investigate!

It’s one of the enduring stories I’ve come across in the years reporting the Milk Cup and its a tale still told with gusto by chairman Victor Leonard.

My good friend Jim Gracey at the Belfast Telegraph takes delight in reminding me that in my report in his paper of the 1991 Premier final when Manchester United defeated Hearts, I made no reference whatsoever to Beckham!

“The skipper had a quiet game,” is my standard reply!

But I have been so many wonderful memories from this remarkable competition which started off as a mad-cap dream developed into reality in Bertie Peacock’s Long Commons bar all those years ago.

I’ve made so many good friends and burned the midnight oil recording the progress of an event which is now such a key player in Northern Ireland’s event tourism calendar.

For many people the welcome parade of teams though Coleraine is the highlight of Milk Cup week. Thousands line the streets from the Town Hall to the Showgrounds. It is more than just the football. This is a special occasion – one for all ages. There is always such enthusiasm and anticipation. It makes you feel proud to have such a world-renown event in your home town.

It is also enriching for the young footballers who receive a taste of what a successful career in the game could deliver. The warmth of the welcome is fabulous. It’s something the boys never forget.

Strangely enough, some of my fondest Milk Cup moments have been on foreign soil when the organisers have taken representative teams to play abroad.

Recently retired Committee man John Hart was a Pied Piper in Gran Canaria. Scores of wide-eyed local kids appeared out of nowhere every time he emerged from the team hotel with an armful of badges, pens and other trinkets.

Then we played football on the beach in temperatures over 20 degrees – in January. It’s the one and only time I ever got to play alongside Bertie Peacock, a man I had revered from my earliest visits to the Showgrounds as a schoolboy when he managed Coleraine Football Club after his return home from Celtic. He still had some magical little touches – barefoot and brilliant!

The magic of the parade hit home when I joined the Milk Cup contingent  on the boulevards of Blois in north west France. The well-wishers were generous in their applause but the numbers failed to come anywhere near those we are used to in Coleraine each and every July although the temperatures are usually vastly different!

The sight of journalistic colleagues line dancing in California and the late Malcolm Brodie’s facial contortions as he “endured” the boardwalks of Venice Beach in LA, are often a source of merriment to me as I reflect on another adventure. Sammy Clingan played in the Milk Cup team in San Bernardino’s Blast tournament but it wasn’t a patch on what they do back home in Coleraine although the weather is a lot better!

There was the special moment when Portugal’s great Eusebio was being driven past the Oval after flying in to conduct the draw some years ago and he looked across to the grandstand and through his interpreter told Victor Leonard he had played there.

“I thought he was just being polite and making conversation,” recounts Victor. “Then I was told that he not only played against Glentoran in a European Cup tie but also scored in a 1-all draw back in 1967.”

The social element of the Milk Cup is remarkable. Global friendships have been forged down the years. The stories I could tell of long summer nights talking football until sunrise finally made us see more  sense.

Music perhaps hasn’t been a success story at the Milk Cup as you might expect. Once upon a time a Milk Cup Hymn was penned and performed but despite the passion with which it was delivered, it didn’t become a hit and sadly neither did an attempt to produce a fanfare to mirror the successful Champions League anthem. Suffice to say that Handel’s magnificent “Zadok The Priest” masterpiece for the coronation of King George II in 1727 and brilliantly reworked by Tony Britten in 1992 has remained unsurpassed.

And then, perhaps surprisingly, I have to mention the golf! The big names who have opened the tournament love our magnificent North Coast courses. One of the event’s biggest supporters, legendary Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings, used to enjoy 18 holes with the late Bertie Peacock and facilitator Washington Altini who helps bring teams from Europe. The self-same Washington has also regaled us with his magnificent singing voice on occasions!

Still on a musical theme, it is said that England 1966 World Cup hero Nobby Stiles used to play the piano in Harry Gregg’s Windsor Hotel opposite the harbour at picturesque Portstewart which back in the day hosted Manchester United teams. He assisted Brian Kidd when Sir Alex Ferguson rubber-stamped their participation thanks to the influence of Bertie Peacock whose untimely death in 2004 touched the Scot deeply.

It was largely down to the drive of Victor Leonard that the statue of Bertie was in place at the Diamond in time for the tournament’s 25th anniversary and fitting that every year since, teams competing in the Milk Cup file past the “wee man” who played such a mammoth role in starting and sustaining this truly fabulous feat of football.

He was genuinely pleased when a Scottish team won the inaugural tournament, although the fact that Motherwell, playing spectacular, attacking football, defeated his beloved Coleraine was also a cause of some hurt. Motherwell scored 35 goals and conceded only one in six matches. Their bubbly blond-haired striker Stephen Connors scored 12 goals, three in the 5-0 win in the final against a host side coached by the irrepressible Victor Hunter.

The Milk Cup owes much to the Scots who helped establish it. Motherwell’s manager was big Harry Dunn and their coach John Chalmers who later moved to Rangers.

In 1984, the tournament’s second year, Steve Staunton received the Man of the Match award for Dundalk Schoolboys after their 3-2 Plate victory over Waterford United. Staunton was outstanding but we never thought at the time that he would scale great heights with Liverpool and the Republic of Ireland, appearing in the World Cup finals of 1990 in Italy and ultimately become international coach in 2005.

Another Steve – McManaman – turned out for Liverpool in 1988 when they beat Motherwell 4-0 in the U-16 final and Steve helped himself to a hat-trick.  He went on to became the first British player to win the UEFA Champions League title twice and was also the first English footballer to win the Champions League with a non-English club.

The goalscoring ability of Nicky Barmby also springs to mind when he led the line for Spurs in 1990 as they swept all before them and won the Premier final 2-1 against Crewe Alexandra. Barmby scored both goals. My, how quickly the years have passed. I watched Nicky’s son Jack play for Manchester United last year, a lad with a marvellous left foot, another sparkling talent.

In Beckham’s year the United team was bursting with future stars including Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Robbie Savage and Ben Thornley as well as our own Colin Murdock and Keith Gillespie. Indeed United keeper Johnny Pollock is from South Derry and is seldom mentioned in recollections of that final. So take a bow Johnny!

What many people forget is that United beat Liverpool 4-1 in the quarter-final. Keith Gillespie scored three and Beckham a penalty. Included in the Anfield club’s line up that day in Portstewart was a certain Robbie Fowler.

Rangers used to grace the competition. Charlie Millar was a stand out performer in 1992. His goalscoring exploits in the Premier decider brought victory over Nottingham Forest led to the decider being forever labelled “The Charlie Millar Final.” He netted a couple of goals to reach double figures for the 10th anniversary Premier tournament.

For me, one of the greatest delights was Dean Shiels’ stunning goal against Brazil to help Northern Ireland record a fabulous 2-1 victory over the Samba boys. The Maghera man, son of Kilmarnock manager Kenny, had left Arsenal on the promise of first team football at Hibs. The goal was exceptional from a guy who went on to lift the Golden Boot award and win senior recognition.

That was one of two victories the boys in green recorded against the Brazilians at the Milk Cup where the South Americans have never lifted the title, losing back-to-back finals to Paraguay in 2003 and Turkey in 2004. That 2003 final – with a lunchtime start at Coleraine Showgrounds – was the most entertaining game I have ever witnessed at the competition; simply scintillating skills, excitement and entertainment par excellence!

You never fail to be disappointed in the golden goal department any year.

Northern Ireland’s Adam Chapman scored a sensational long range goal from just inside halfway to open their account on the way to winning the Elite final against Chile 2-1 in 2008.

Hallum Hope has twice been a winner with Everton’s Juniors. He was such a natural in front of goal and Rangers striker Kris Boyd with Kilmarnock in 2000 was another prolific Golden Boot winner.

Eight of the England squad at World Cup finals in South Africa played at Milk Cup –Wayne Rooney (with Everton) Joe Cole (West Ham), Michael Carrick  (West Ham), James Milner (Leeds Utd), Aaron Lennon (Leeds), Jermain Defoe (Spurs), Peter Crouch (Spurs), Ledley King (Spurs).

Where do I stop? Cole was a stand out performer and player of the tournament in 1995 and 96. His dad George has returned several times because, he says, “there’s nothing quite like it.”

I can’t really improve on that sentiment.