East Belfast evoke spirit of Arsenal with 'all-or-nothing' league title success

Photo showing Michael Thomas scoring against Liverpool and (inset) the East Belfast team celebrates
-Credit: (Image: Getty/East Belfast FC)


Liverpool fan Scott Harvey believes East Belfast evoked the spirit of Arsenal's famous 1989 title triumph with their own Amateur League Premier Division success this season. The club clinched the trophy with an 'all-or-nothing' win over nearest rivals Crumlin Star last Thursday night.

Trailing 1-0, East Belfast defender Daryl Evans scored two goals to earn a crucial 2-1 victory, and three points which saw them crowned champions for the first time in 30 years.

Their last Premier Division title win was way back in 1994, five years after Arsenal's dramatic 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield when Michael Thomas scored in the dying seconds to earn the Gunners the old Division One trophy by virtue of goals scored.

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And while last week's Amateur League showdown didn't go down to such fine metrics, it still captured all the drama of that Anfield clash 35 years ago.

Harvey told Belfast Live: "I am a massive Liverpool fan, and so is my dad. I was talking to him a couple of days after our title win and he mentioned that Arsenal game. He said you couldn't make it up.

"Crumlin Star knew a draw would be enough for them, and we knew we had to win to lift the title. Sometimes playing for a draw is hard, you don't know whether to sit back or go for it.

"We just had to go for it, but we were 1-0 down at the break after Star won a penalty, a dubious one in my opinion. We didn't panic, I just had a feeling they would tire a bit and they did, which is no disrespect to them because they had a lot of fixtures.

"Our subs this year have been as important as the starting XI, and I was able to make some changes after 60 minutes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

"Our captain marvel, Daryl Evans, who is steeped in the club's history, scored the two goals. His dad played, and his brother plays. They are East Belfast lads.

"We moved Daryl up front and he got the two goals. You literally couldn't make it up.

"I am over the moon for a lot of people. The players, backroom staff, fans. There was an incredible crowd at the game, and it was a great atmosphere.

"I think there were near 2,000 people there which is bonkers. Both clubs behaved impeccably. Some people feared there would be some trouble, but there was nothing of the sort.

"It was a great advert for Amateur League football."

East Belfast and Crumlin Star went into their title decider level on points, with Star holding a superior goal difference. Harvey says the mathematics were simple as they looked to seal a first title in three decades.

Harvey said: "We already had all of our games played but Crumlin had about four left. They won all those games to leave both clubs level on points going into the final game. And with them having a better goal difference, we knew we had to win. It was all-or-nothing.

Photo shows East Belfast after winning the title
East Belfast after winning the title -Credit:East Belfast FC

"You couldn't have written the script. The final game of the season coming down to the top two teams, with the winner taking the title."

After claiming a thrilling title win, Harvey accepts it was a "long time coming".

He added: "It is our first in 30 years. It took a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

"We are just so relieved to get over the line because this means so much to so many people at the club. I knew it would boil down to the final game of the season and so it turned out to be."

Harvey says the club's title win was extra special after they had to do it the hard way on the final day of the season.

"Absolutely. Star are serial winners and they have been the benchmark for years. They have always been that team who will grind it out and they have that winning mentality," he added.

"We have always proved we can do it in one-off matches, but sometimes that consistency has been lacking and we have fallen short in the league campaigns. Winning the title over 26 games is tough, and thankfully we were able to do it this year.

"We learned from past experiences, and this season we withdrew from the Irish Cup to focus on the league which is the big one for a club like East Belfast. We respect the Irish Cup, but we are never going to win it, being realistic.

"The holy grail for us is the league, and we needed to win it. Touch wood we have done that, and now people can talk about the Class of 2024 instead of 1994!"

Harvey has been at East Belfast for the past eight years, and been manager since 2022. He was previously with Dundonald where he played and managed before joining the East in 2016.

"I actually left Dundonald the year East Belfast beat them in the Border Cup. I had taken Dundonald as far as I could take them, and I was going to take a break. Then I ended up down at the East," he adds.

"This is the highlight of my career, and I don't think I will top this. That night, the game, the win and the title success. It means the world to everyone at East Belfast.

"The people who I torture all year, to see them so happy is fantastic."

East Belfast enjoyed some celebrations after the Star game, but already Harvey is looking to the future.

Harvey added: "We had a few beers and craic afterwards, and we went out again on Saturday. Now I am getting phone calls about arranging pre-season friendlies!

"The hard work never stops, but that's why you're in it. We have a target on our backs, but we always did. Crumlin Star and East Belfast are the two big clubs and players raise their game against us.

"So we know what to expect next season. And we welcome the challenge."

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