Club chairman honoured for cross-community work in aftermath of IRA bombing

Tom McKenna, Chairman of Crewe United FC, has been awarded the BEM in the Queen's New Year Honours.
Tom McKenna, Chairman of Crewe United FC, has been awarded the BEM in the Queen's New Year Honours.

The long-serving chairman of Crewe United Football Club has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s New Year Honours.

Tom McKenna, who has been involved with the Glenavy club for the past 40 years - as a player, manager and 26 years as chairman - is to receive the BEM for services to football and cross-community reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Under the leadership of Mr McKenna, Crewe United was the first group from Northern Ireland to organise a visit to Warrington in the aftermath of the IRA bombing in 1993, which claimed the lives of 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball.

The club travelled to the town in north west England to pay their respects to those killed and injured in the attack and later established the now annual Peace Cup challenge match against Warrington Town.

Over the years the relationship between the two football teams has grown beyond the clubs to include Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and Warrington Borough Council.

Inspired by Mr McKenna, Crewe United FC officials, players and supporters have raised thousands of pounds for the Peace Centre in Warrington, as well as considerable sums for many local charities.

The year after the tragedy, Crewe United, alongside Lisburn Council, launched the Torch of Hope project to promote a more positive image of Northern Ireland through sports and the arts.

Fronted by a group of local teenagers from different religious backgrounds, the project visited various parts of Ireland, the UK, France, Holland, the USA and Canada.

Mr McKenna, who is a member of a new committee looking at developing further links with Warrington in the run up to 2018 and the 25th anniversary of the atrocity, said he “hasn’t a clue” who nominated him for the honour, but said it was “a nice surprise”.

“This award is more a reflection of the work the club has done over the years rather than just me,” he told the Ulster Star.

“I would like to thank the council for their support through the Warrington project as without them a lot of the things we have done probably wouldn’t have been possible.”

Alderman Paul Porter, who has known Mr McKenna for many years, said: “I am absolutely delighted for Tom that he has been recognised with such an honour. But knowing him I know he won’t see it as an award for himself, but for everyone at the club who has worked behind the scenes on so many initiatives that Crewe United have been involved in over the years.”

The DUP man said Mr McKenna has shown “incredible commitment” to Crewe United and his local community over many years, helping to promote sporting opportunities and raise thousands of pounds for many local charities.

“This is a great honour for Tom and for Crewe United and it’s very much deserved,” Alderman Porter added.