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Saturday 11th February v. Portadown (home) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm


RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium) [1989/1990 - European Cup Winners' Cup; First Round]
Overview | First Leg | Second Leg | "I Was There"

IT may have been United's heaviest ever defeat in Europe but William Graham regails his fond memories of when the Sky Blues took on Anderlecht over 20 years ago.
Having just won the Irish Cup against Larne, how did you rate Ballymena United's team in 1989?
"To be brutally honest the team of 1989 would not live long in the memory if it had not been for the Irish Cup win; Individually we had some quality with the likes of John Garrett, Michael Smyth, Lindsay Curry, Dessie Loughery and Paul Hardy but as a team we were never going to win a League title. Our best hope of silverware (as with most things Sky Blue) was always going to be in a cup competition."
What were your reactions to drawing a team with such European pedigree as Anderlecht?
"From memory the European Cup Winners' Cup draw was made on July 12th 1989 and I learned we had drawn Anderlecht just before the start of the parade. This was back in the days of an open draw and the minnows could still have drawn a European giant. Having missed four other European trips - I wasnt about to miss this one so flights were booked, leave was sought and September 1989 was pencilled in for Brussels."
Tell us about your journey to Belgium?
"Our trip started at Belfast International Airport on Tuesday 12th September. About 24 of us flew out to Gatwick airport and after a stopover, most of which was spent sampling Gatwick's finest ales, we boarded the flight to Brussels. In Brussels we were booked into the Forum Hotel so we got a train from the airport to Brussels central train station and then a crazy taxi journey to the hotel. One memory of the taxi journey sticks out; obviously we had to hail several taxis which all left together and appeared to be in a race with each other. As one taxi passed us the sky blue occupants rolled down the window and gave us the two fingered salute! As I was rolling down the window in our taxi (to reply in kind) the driver of our taxi, a native of North Africa, roared something incoherent in my direction. The window was rapidly wound up and we all sat very sheepishly until journeys end!"
What were your experiences of Brussels?
"Brussels was a lovely city but we didnt enjoy particularly good weather, a thunder-storm on the first night and rain on the day of the match. Most of the group split up and we explored the centre of Brussels. This included the Grand Place and the most famous statue in Belgium the Manneken Pis which is a statue of a little naked boy urinating. Later the same statue was photographed still naked but adorned with a sky blue hat. Also that day we had an oppurtunity to explore the Heysel stadium. This was only a mere four years after the stadium disaster when 39 football fans mainly from Juventus lost their lives in a European Cup Final Today the stadium is completely re-developed. Back then we could stand at the exact spot on the exact same terracing where those terrible events took place."
Did you fancy Ballymena's chances of any result at the time?
"I never fancied us to get a result as we were playing one of Europe's elite. They were full time professionals, we were part time. They just looked so much fitter, faster and stronger and thats pretty much how it went. Anderlecht barely got out of first gear and in the process stuck six past a hapless Damian Gran, I can't recall one clear opportunity for Ballymena in that entire 90 mins. We improved for the return leg with Paul Hardy forcing the Anderlecht keeper into action from a free kick. However for all our efforts in the second leg we still lost four-nil and ten-nil on aggregate! But after all its not the winning its the taking part that counts. Anderlecht did go all the way to the cup winners cup final that year losing 2-0 against Sampdoria with a certain Gianluca Vialli getting both goals."
Favourite memory from the trip?
"There were many memories of the trip to Brussels but the one that sticks out for me involved six Ballymena fans, a jammed lift, a traditional 'folk' song and a magic screwdriver. On the day of our departure we all had breakfast and were going back to our rooms to pack. Six of us squeezed into a lift designed for about four people. Unsurprisingly the lift got stuck and despite our best efforts the door could not be opened from within. As time wore on nerves began to shred whereupon one Sky Blue genius had the idea that if we sang a song it would take our minds off our unfortunate predicament; his song choice was the Sash! Thankfully someone from the hotel staff arrived with a magic screwdriver and rescued the beleagured Ballymena fans.