Going up: Larne celebrate this season’s title triumph and, with it, promotion to the top flight

Sky’s the limit as Larne success story goes global
All season he has been covering the highs and lows of Manchester City and Manchester United and interviewing Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.


All season he has been covering the highs and lows of Manchester City and Manchester United and interviewing Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Today, however, respected Sky Sports reporter James Cooper will take a break from the Ethiad and Old Trafford to come ‘home’ and join Larne’s title party at Inver Park.
After today’s game with Portadown, the league title winning trophy will be presented to the Championship’s runaway leaders who clinched the crown and promotion to the Irish Premiership a month ago.
For Cooper the trip will be work as well as pleasure. The Queen’s University graduate from Ipswich cheered on Larne when he was studying English and Classics in Northern Ireland back in the early 90s.
He appreciates he’ll find a transformed football club and vastly different stadium thanks to the staggering investment of Purple Bricks multi-millionaire Kenny Bruce and is relishing reporting this rags to riches tale to a global audience.
“I want to show where Larne have come from and where they are going. It’s a fantastic story and I’m looking forward to bringing it to our viewers,” says Cooper, who grew up supporting Ipswich and lived nearby their legendary manager and ex-England boss Sir Bobby Robson.
Explaining his connection to Larne FC, he said: “I went to Queen’s and a friend of mine, Andrew Ritchie, who is now a primary school headmaster in Larne, was a big fan. What I didn’t know coming over from England to study was that everyone in Northern Ireland went home at weekends so for the first six weeks I was left feeling a bit miserable.
“The first person to take me home was Andrew and from then on we went to matches at Inver Park.
“It was like a home from home for me. There was something about it I liked. You could see out to the water, there was a tower block and church nearby and while it was far from a perfect place for football it seemed like the heartbeat of the town.
“We are talking about almost 30 years ago. Things waned since then but now the club is on the up thanks to all the investment from the owner Kenny Bruce.
“I think Larne has been somewhat of a forgotten town and people have maybe been looking for direction or someone to bring the whole town together and that’s what Kenny is trying to do.
“What a turnaround there has been in the last 18 months, going from 50 fans to over 1000 and winning promotion to the top flight. There’s also the new 4G pitch, full-time players, the Academy, the girls and women’s teams and all the cross community work. It’s more than breathing life into a football club, it’s breathing life into the town.
“There are ambitions of being the biggest team in Ireland and qualifying for the Champions League which would be incredible. You could see it happening when you consider how far they have come already.”
Cooper also held a question and answer session with pupils of Linn Primary School, where his close friend Andrew is headmaster. No doubt dealing with Mourinho, Guardiola, Solskjaer and Sir Alex Ferguson cropped up.
“I’m not from Manchester but I do think it’s the epicentre of world football right now. When I started you had Sir Alex Ferguson and so many great players at United,” says the Sky Sports man of 16 years.
“Since then you have had David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Ole and the fairytale of all that.
“Against the heritage of United you have the fast moving pace of Manchester City with more money than probably any other club in the world and perhaps the best manager since Sir Alex in Pep Guardiola. He is a phenomenon.”

Belfast Telegraph

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