What do you get as a birthday present for someone who is almost 98? My father Benny Gordon will be 98 years old in July 2023. Instead of having a celebration, it will be a quiet affair. There will be no fuss, because Benny doesn’t do fuss. There won’t be a large gathering because he’d probably move out if he got wind of such a planned event. So his birthday will be done his way. Quietly, but with cake!
By Margaret Gordon
Born in 1925, there’s not much my father hasn’t seen or heard in all of those years. And he’s a man that has been happy with his life. He grew up in a two up two down house on Donegal Street, the youngest child in a family that lost their father and main breadwinner when Benny was just 11 years old. His mother was a force of nature, and easily kept him on the straight and narrow, at a time when children played street football, street cricket, robbed orchards and went mummering on Halloween. He recalls the mid-1930’s, as a time when every family on the street had a sledge. Groups of children piled on top of each other as they sleighed from the top of Donegal Street to Stranorlar Bridge. Winters were a lot colder then and snow often lay on the ground for weeks at a time. Streets were clear apart from the odd car, a regular bus, and the horses and carts that were used by most country people. Joe Bonner, the blacksmith on Donegal Street, shod the horses for a fee and the sleigh runners for free. A different time and a very different life to that experienced by children almost 100 years later.
One thing that is obvious though, my father’s generation were happy with less and in many ways that less, was more. Times were tough, money was tight but growing up during and after war, meant that people learned to be resourceful. Nothing was thrown out if it could be fixed or adapted to work. Because nothing came easily to families. And because of this, jobs and opportunities were shared with neighbours in need.
Football and boxing were activities that were favoured by many adolescent boys and young. Boxing tournaments were set up in different towns and many young men took part even if they knew they’d get a hiding. Because all boxers sat down for dinner when the tournament was concluded. Sitting down to as much as your could eat, was well worth the beating if you lost. Benny regularly took part in boxing matches and street football. Boxing, for the feed and street football, for the bragging rights. Both nourishment for a young man. Though, football was always the bigger interest for Benny. Playing for his street, playing for the Vocational School (which had opened in 1939), and playing for the town against local rivals. Being up against the Hannigan brothers of Stranorlar, was an education in itself.
When Finn Harps entered the League of Ireland, it wasn’t a surprise that Benny was smitten.
He was pictured with his brother-in-law Kieran Quinn, as Finn Harps endured a baptism of fire when they played Shamrock Rovers on 17th August 1969. Harps were hammered, and while such a beating might have put some supporters off attending games, on the contrary, Benny and a number of other locals started the Finn Harps Supporters Club.
From that day, Benny has been a staunch supporter of Finn Harps. It doesn’t matter how the team are faring, what division they are in, who is managing the club or where they are playing. Finn Harps FC have always been his team. His support for the club has never wavered. He doesn’t feel obliged to be entertained, to get his money’s worth in every game or that the team are challenging for honours. He will gratefully accept all of those things, but he knows that every team will have challenging times. Times when things don’t go your way and times, when you need to start again with a young team. Where patience is needed as a young team builds up experience and resilience before they can challenge the top teams in the League of Ireland.
And, this is where we are at with our current Finn Harps team. Like most supporters, we know that Harps are building a young team that will need time. There will be games where Harps will feel unlucky, when results don’t go our way. Games when we are well beaten and then, games when everything seems to be coming together. Through all these ups and downs, Benny will be supporting his club.
And so, for an early birthday present, it was arranged that Dave Rogers, Darren Murphy and players would visit Benny at his home. Benny had about one minute’s notice that he was to be visited. And he asked me why! Why would they be visiting him? Because he is probably Finn Harps longest serving supporter. He’s certainly reported to be the oldest person in the twin towns as of June, 2023. So, I have no doubt that he is the longest servinsg supporter of our local League of Ireland club, and the Honorary President of the Finn Harps Supporters Club.
Yesterday, Benny had his first visit by a Finn Harps Manager. And what a pleasure it was for him. I think it was also a pleasure for the visitors. He charmed Dave Rogers and Co, and I have no doubt that they will be back. Benny is, after all, looking forward to a 100th birthday, and an envelope from Michael D.
Join Benny at the game! Tickets on sale via finnharps.ie/tickets now