A few men met together after the end of WW11. They talked of many things and they talked about Bowls. They had a dream and wondered if it could become a reality. The rest is like fiction. The wise men (seven in total) who had come from the North, South, East and West struck it lucky and decided in creating the success story of your Veterans Bowling League.

WHO…..The seven men G. McMullan and R. Thornton (Willowfield), J. Billingsley (Forth River), A. Bingham and T. Priestly (Windsor), and D. Maginnis (Musgrave ) were the main players…the “Pioneers” who convened as the original Exploratory Committee.

WHAT….A simple Agenda to create from scratch a Veterans Bowling League (Retired), Belfast District.

WHEN….28th September was the date.

WHERE….Belfast’s 40 North Street office of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers was the venue for that momentous first meeting and go ahead decision.

They found they had much in common and agreed to press on. They decided to use the power of Major Baird’s Press to generate public interest. They specified 24th October 1945 at Forth River B.C. for an Inaugural Meeting of any clubs that were interested. The Meeting was well supported with 21 clubs present. There seemed to be abundant support and it was decided to start the League in the 1946 season. They elected as Officers men who blazed a path and set the standard for those who came after.

The original Office Bearers and the Executive Committee read like a page from Who’s Who of Irish Bowling at that time.

President             Major. W. Baird. DL, JP.

Chairman.             J. Billingsley (Forth River)

Hon. Secretary     R.C. Thornton (Willowfield)

Hon. Treasurer.     T. Priestly (Windsor).

Exec. Committee. Office Bearers plus P.H. Davies (Alexandra), T. Irvine (Belmont), J. McC. Graham and D.Maginnis (Musgrave), G. McMullan (Willowfield) and B. Croft (Knock).

The first season’s Office Bearers were men of huge prestige in bowling circles, not only in Veterans circles but on the bigger stage as well. The League was launched with 9 teams representing 7 clubs and was known as Division 1. A single rink made up a team for the first 20 years, so each match day 32 men bowled. They completed for the Montgomery Cup with Forth River as the first winner and Willowfield runners up. A start had been made and as the clubs were all from Belfast no Zones existed. It was also a world away from 2012 totals, when there were 68 clubs and 114 teams competing each week in 2 Zones and 9 different league sections.

In the early years from 1947 to 1955 there was negligible initial growth with the main problem being only 4 men bowling and matches taking place during the evening hours.

In 1955 it is apparent that there was some growth as 2 new clubs get a mention. Jack Lyttle (Cavehill) presented the Lyttle Cup and it was the only Challenge Cup until 1980. Ormeau Utd. 2 won it with Knock as runners up.

1956 – this year is significant as the season that George H Hatch became Hon. Secretary and graced this office with distinction for 26 years until 1982 when his health failed after a fluke accident.

In 1959 the VBL’S first Hon Secretary R.C.Thornton Willowfield died and the Thornton Memorial Trophy was donated for Pairs Competitions. Windsor was the first winner with Carrickfergus runners up.

In 1962 Len McMurtry Donaghadee donated a trophy, the Len McMurtry Rose Bowl, for a Singles Competition the first winner being Belfast and Knock as runners up.

In 1963 there are enough teams to start a Division 2.

W.J.Irwin President from 1959 to 1965 donated a trophy for competition between clubs from the Private Greens and those from the Parks. NIBA won the inaugural event.

In 1966 the original Division 1 had grown and it was split into 2 geographical sections.

In 1967 the top 2 sections were referred to as Zone A and Zone B. The AGM passed a Notice of Motion to increase the number of players from 4 to 8.

1968 – this year marked the start of the VBL as we know it today and it was recognised by the I.B.A. as a growing force. Teams in the top sections used 8 players for the first time and the VBL was requested by the IBA to provide markers for the Home Internationals at Belmont.

Harry Stevenson (Donaghadee) presented a Challenge Cup for Division 2 only.

The successful introduction of 8 man teams was quickly dealt a cruel blow  as VBL entered the 70’s as the ‘Troubles’ were to have a major impact. The result was that the expansion was curtailed and for a while it struggled to survive. Castleton dropped out in 1971, Forth River withdrew in 1973, Albert Foundry and Ards also had to withdraw, Mossley and Comber withdrew in 1974 while Forth River returned in 1975 after a 2 year break. Travelling to fulfil fixtures was often impractical and in 1978 a major review was carried out. The upshot was that each Zone expanded its own programme and hoped for better times ahead.

In 1978 Zone A was smaller and had only 1 section. Zone B was much larger and had 3 sections. Runners Up awards were given for the first time.

IN 1979 Divis and Ulster Transport joined. The single section was becoming too big but not enough to have a viable Section 2. The search was on for new clubs and in 1980 Zone A had 2 sections in operation with the arrival of Ballymena and Glengormley while Lurgan joined Zone B as did Balmoral in 1981.

In 1982 the 5 sections settled into a steady pattern. However the Hon Treasurer for 6 years Harry Chasty resigned to relocate to England and George H Hatch resigned in 1982 due to ill health. The VBL was quick to realise the immense contribution of George H Hatch and he was elected as Patron, being the only person in VBL history to be so honoured.

In the late 1980’s new clubs began to join, Whitehead, Curran, and Lagan Valley and they were followed by Crawfordsburn and Royal Victoria Hospital in 1990. In 1991 Antrim Lawn and Dunbarton followed.

In 1993 the AGM received a request from Rathfriland to explore the possibilities of a Zone for clubs in the border region. Dungannon and Portadown joined in 1992 as did Larne for Zone A. Newcastle and Dromore joined Zone B in 1994, while Nortel joined Zone A. Expansion was again required.

In 1995 with the influx of 4 clubs in Zone A league fixture scheduling became difficult and a section 3 was created to accommodate new teams and 3rd and 4th teams of already established clubs. Sections 1 and 2 were basically number 1 and 2 teams.

Zone B Section 4 was created with clubs as far apart as Dungannon and Rathfriland and Newcastle. In 1995, 8 clubs applied to join, Banbridge, Langford, Rathfriland and Warrenpoint joined Section 4, Downpatrick, Owenbeg , Ballywalter and Londonderry Park joined while in 1996 Old Bleach joined Zone A.

1997 and 1998 Zone B Sections 1 and 2 had 30 teams and a reorganisation was necessary so that in 1999 teams could now play everybody else in the Section with the creation of Sections 1A and 2A, formalised 2 up and down Promotion and Relegation in the process and linking the 2 nd team with 1st team. The new Sections in Zone B were operating smoothly, well at least for a couple of seasons anyway until a team was relegated from Section 1 and as the 2nd team finished 3rd in Section 2 but it was relegated also. The Executive could see no way to avoid the problem in relation to the scheduling of fixtures.

In 2003 Arthur Cairns resigned after 10 years as Hon. Secretary with Art McCullough of Donagahdee taking over. During Arthur’s term as Hon. Secretary he was ably supported by Hugh Simpson of Shorts. Arthur Cairns remained on the VBL Executive as a Section Secretary and along with Billy Murdie Hon. Treasurer since 1993 are the longest serving members of the VBL Executive.

2006 was the VBL’s Diamond Jubilee year and brought new faces to the Executive and in particular Sam Boyd (Carrickfergus) who created and set up the initial VBL website. Unfortunately, Sam Boyd passed away suddenly and the website was lost but Don White assisted by George Morrow of Belmont came to the rescue and set up another website for the VBL. Don White died in 2012. The VBL commissioned a new website in memory of Sam Boyd and Don White which was launched and up and running for the 2013 season.

Two new Competitions were introduced in 2007. George Richardson of Portadown presented the Richardson Shield for a Triples Competition while Art McCullough Donaghadee presented the McCullough Cup for a Fours Competition. We are thankful to both.

Runners- up Trophies were discontinued after the 2009 season, being replaced with lapel badges.

Leagues have been reorganised in the past few years with the emphasis on reducing travelling to fixtures. In 2010 a Section (Zone B 5 and 5A) covering the Ards Penisula was set up with teams playing each other on a home and away basis and in 2011 another Section (Zone A3) was set up for clubs in North Belfast. These have proved very successful and further reorganisation of the remaining Sections in both Zone A and Zone B took place in 2013 with smaller sections and clubs playing each other on a home and away basis in the same year.