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Supporters Club sets £7,000 goal to restore penalty kick inventor’s grave

This picture shows the shocking current state of the grave of penalty kick inventor William McCrum.

Tucked away in a corner of St Mark’s Parish Churchyard in Armagh City, it has been allowed to go to rack and ruin.

But all that should be about to change, as a major fundraising drive has been kick-started in a bid to restore it and pay homage to the man responsible for the internationally-recognised rule.

As Armagh I exclusively revealed in December, the campaign hit a major setback when the Heritage Lottery Fund amazingly rejected a plea for funding to see the job done.

Down but not out, Northern Ireland football fans in the County Armagh village of Milford have now decided to see it through themselves – and the determination is unprecedented.

Milford Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club have enlisted the help of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs (AONISC), who in turn will be calling on a list of football legends to help them raise the £7,000 they need to have the grave fully restored.

Philip Johnston, from Milford NISC, told Armagh I: “We hope to have the work done as soon as possible, as the grave is in such a state now that, if it is left any longer, we will not be a to restore it.

“It’s sad to see the grave was allowed to get into the state it has. In any other part of the UK the village would be a huge tourist attraction and McCrums grave – in St Mark’s Church of Ireland graveyard – would never have been allowed to get into the state it has.

“Thankfully over the months of work we have put in we have got the backing from local councillors across the board and, at the launch on Saturday night, Ulster Unionist Councillor Sam Nicholson was there and has again offered to help in any way he can, which we are truly grateful for.”

The NISC would like to thank all involved with the work that is going on and especially to the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, who have put in so much effort and ‘started the ball rolling’ with a generous donation of £1,890 – the year the penalty kick was invented.penalty sign

“Without them we could not have got this far,” added Philip.

“William McCrum invented the penalty kick in 1890 and we’re very proud of the fact that he came from the village of Milford, but it’s a pity that so few people know about the local link to something which changed the face of world football forever.

“Our Club is a member of the AONISC and we hope that, by working with them, we can count on support from other football fans from across the country and indeed further afield.

“We hope that this will also help to raise awareness of this historical link with Milford.”

Gary McAllister, Chairman of the AONISC, added: “We’re very pleased to be able to try and help our members in Milford to restore the grave of William McCrum.

“We have been working together on ideas to help raise the money needed to do this and have been able to call on support from the McCrum family, the church, a number of elected representatives, as well as our network of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs.

“The AoNISC has kicked off the fundraising effort by donating £1890 from our own funds and we’re asking other football supporters to contribute. Whatever amount they are able to donate will go entirely to the restoration of the grave.”

As part of the fundraising efforts, a Northern Ireland home jersey – with ‘McCrum 1890’ specially printed on the back – has been donated by the Irish Football Association, and the Milford NISC are aiming to have the shirt signed by a number of internationals who have scored penalties for Northern Ireland.

First to sign the shirt at last weekend’s City of Armagh NISC 20th anniversary dinner in the Armagh City Hotel were Jim Magilton and Warren Feeney, and it’s expected that a host of others – including David Healy and Gerry Armstrong – will add their names to the shirt, which will then be used to raise funds for the restoration fund.”

Among the other fundraising initiative being planned in the weeks ahead is a seven-a-side football tournament at Armagh City FC’s Holm Park ground. It will take place on Saturday, April 4, and the cost of participation is just £5 per person.

Anyone wishing to register a team should contact Philip on 077 1125 2753.

And anyone requiring details on how to donate to the fund should email the AoNISC via aonisc@yahoo.co.uk

The village of Milford was founded by Robert Garmany McCrum and has a long and proud history associated with the linen industry.

But it was Robert McCrum’s son, William, who put the Co Armagh village on the world map, as he is the man who is credited with having invented the penalty kick rule.

It was first invented in 1890 and then introduced into the ‘laws of the game’ in June 1891, and was designed to stop the all too common practice of defenders professionally fouling an attacking player to stop a goal.

William McCrum studied at the Royal School Armagh and at Trinity College in Dublin and he also ran the family linen business in Milford.

William – whose family home was at the Manor House in Milford – died on December 21, 1932.

He is buried within the grounds of St Mark’s Parish Church in Armagh and, 82 years after his passing, his grave is much in need of restoration.

An application had been submitted by the Milford Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club to the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable this to be done.

It had the backing and support also of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, which has almost 60 affiliated members.

But the William McCrum Grave Restoration Project – as it was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for consideration – was turned down.

It had been proposed to “raise awareness of the legacy of the linen entrepreneur William McCrum, of Milford, who is credited with the establishment of the penalty kick in football, through the restoration of his grave and compiling details of the history of the village and linen story for sharing through a leaflet, website and talks”.

Philip Johnston, of the Milford NI Supporters’ Club, commenting via our Facebook page, confirmed then: “We had applied for funding and it was rejected. We will be holding a fundraiser in the start of 2015.

“The IFA are unable to support the funding financially but will support us in other ways if at all possible and have promised to have a museum in the new national stadium at Windsor Park with a section dedicated to William McCrum.

“With the support from the footballing family we will get it restored and hope to do so in the New Year.

“Thanks for your support Armagh I and the public.”

The plan to restore William McCrum’s grave also had the backing of the famous Milford man’s descendants.

His great grandson, Robert, had sent an email to the Milford NISC during the summer offering his “full support” and adding: “As all of the family are spread all over the world and none live in Northern Ireland we are not able to undertake this project ourselves.”

But he adds: “We heartedly support its restoration.”

William McCrum’s legacy to the world of sport was recently recognised locally when one of the Armagh District’s gateway features for Milford hailed it as the ‘Home of the Penalty Kick’.

Soccer pundit Gary Lineker has also visited the Co Armagh village previously – and the grave at St Mark’s – during the course of filming for a football documentary and to recognise McCrum’s contribution to the beautiful game.

It had been as a member of the IFA that William McCrum first proposed the penalty kick rule in 1980, which read as follows: “If any player shall intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball within twelve yards from his own goal line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, to be taken from any point 12 yards from the goal line, under the following conditions: All players, with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the goalkeeper, shall stand behind the ball and at least six yards from it; the ball shall be in play when the kick is taken. A goal may be scored from a penalty kick.”

With a concerted effort and the determination of football fans far and wide, it will, hopefully, not be too long until the grave is restored – and quite rightly so!

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