The First Ten Years
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An old Milk Cup Promo Video - Featuring some of the Superstars who have either played in the tournament or participated in NI Milk Cup Events
"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.