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Uploaded Saturday, 3rd Mar, 2018 at 17:38

IT is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of former player Arthur Stewart earlier today. Not only would he be high on the "greatest player" list for many supporters of that era, but Arthur was also revered as an absolute gentleman from those who knew him both here in his home town and in wider football circles.
Arthur Stewart made his debut as a fresh faced 16-year-old in April 1958 against Bangor in the County Antrim Shield. Manager Alec McCrae had been resting some of his starting eleven for the famous Irish Cup final against Linfield ten days later, by drafting in the youngster at the now unfamiliar position of inside-forward.
Despite his obvious early promise, he remained a fringe player throughout the subsequent 1958/59 season, missing out on a place in the 1959 Irish Cup final side as the Sky Blues were defeated by Glenavon. It wasn't until the following season that 18-year-old Arthur began to become a first-team regular at the Showgrounds, playing the entire season at full-back, initially under McCrae until the manager's departure and then continued to flourish under new boss Geoff Twentyman.
The defender came to prominence during the 1960/61 season as he won his first senior medal with the Sky Blues as Ballymena United lifted the Ulster Cup for the first time in the history of the club. He also gained five caps for the Northern Ireland Amateur International side, drawing comparisons with the legendary Danny Blanchflower - he left his hometown club for Glentoran in the summer of 1961.
The maturing Stewart was revered at the Oval, winning three Irish League titles, one Irish Cup and the majority of the other domestic cup competitions during seven seasons at the East Belfast club. He became part of a revival of the Glentoran during the mid-sixties and starred in the legendary Detroit Cougars team that toured the United States during the summer of 1967.
His form and reputation as one of the best full-backs in local football was confirmed with a first full international cap whilst still a Glentoran player in April 1967. Later that same year, a move to Brian Clough's Derby County for £10,000 materialised with Stewart spending two and a half seasons at he Baseball Ground adding to his final total of seven Northern Ireland caps. A stunning return to his hometown club after ten seasons followed in the summer of 1970 alongside the mercurial Sammy Frickleton and following manager Alec McCrae's departure from his second spell as boss - it was the 28-year-old (reluctantly) who stepped in as player manager from August 1971 onwards.
Stewart guided a hugely talented Sky Blues team through the Texaco Cup competition (a competition which included teams from all of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland) during his debut managerial season, with impressive wins against Waterford, Shamrock Rovers cumulating in a semi-final defeat to Airdrie. United also picked up the City Cup that same season, winning 1-0 against Ards.
Stewart was leading the Braidmen in his prime, winning the Ulster Footballer of the Year award in 1974, he unfortunately couldn't deliver a first Irish Cup win since 1958 as his side lost to Ards - and then lost the final of the Blaxnit All-Ireland Cup a few weeks later to the same opponents. The following season, he restocked the Showgrounds trophy cabinet with the capture of the Gold Cup (another first for the club) in November 1974.
The axe fell on of Irish League football's nicest gentlemen following an Irish Cup defeat to Coleraine in March 1975 following a disappointing season for the Sky Blues. Following his departure from the Showgrounds, Stewart had short spells with Distillery, Bangor, Cliftonville and back to Glentoran as well as a period in the United States.
Across his two spells at the club, Arthur Stewart made 372 appearances (scoring 33 goals) making him the 8th in the record appearances holders for Ballymena United and one of only three United players to win the coveted Ulster Footballer of the Year award.
Quite simple Arthur was one of the greatest players to grace the famous Sky Blue shirt and an honour to call him one of our own.
He will be sadly missed by all.