Friday, January 30, 2009 will mark the 10th anniversary of Ulster’s memorable European Cup final triumph over Colomiers at Lansdowne Road. Ulster’s heroes from 1999 are playing an exhibition match against a Wooden Spoon select team today (Thursday) as part of the anniversary celebrations.
In celebration of becoming the first Irish side to lift the European Cup, nearly ten years to the day, Ulster’s tournament winners from 1999 will be taking to the pitch once more.
Today’s exhibition match against a Wooden Spoon select team, which will be managed by Willie Anderson, will raise money for two charities – the IRFU Charitable Trust and the Wooden Spoon Charity.
The European Cup winners will be supported by their management team from 1999, including coach Harry Williams.
The Wooden Spoon Select XV will consist of former Ulster players, club players from across the province, as well as a number of local sports media.
The referee will be none other than Wales’ Clayton Thomas, the man who refereed that famous final at Lansdowne Road
The match is being played at Shaw’s Bridge this afternoon with a 3.30pm kick-off, so if you are in the area and available to attend, why not head along and relive those memories from ’99?
Tickets for the game can be purchased from the Ravenhill Ticket office or at Shaw’s Bridge for £5. Refreshments will be available for purchase on the day from the clubhouse.
Ulster 1999 European Cup Winners Squad: Justin Fitzpatrick, Gary Leslie, Allen Clarke, Stephen Ritchie, Rab Irwin, Mark Blair, Gary Longwell, Stephen McKinty, Paddy Johns, Andy Ward, Murtagh Rea, Tony McWhirter, Andy Matchett, David Humphreys, Derek McAleese, Andy Park, Jonny Bell, Jan Cunningham, Sheldon Coulter, Simon Mason, Stan McDowell, Bryn Cunningham, Stephen Bell, Derek Topping, Stuart Duncan.
Wooden Spoon Select Squad: Tim Morton, Gavin Mairs (Belfast Telegraph), Hugh McCaughey, Lewis Johnstone, Mark Neely, Roger Wilson, John Gunson, Brian Wilson, Kevin McKee, Keith Gallick, Neil Doak, David Spence, Ricky McNamoyle, Shane Glynn (BBC NI), Robin Morrow, Rhys Botha, Maurice Field, James Topping, Ian Orr, Brian Barrett, Ronnie Carey, Michael Jackson, David Irwin, Neil Brittain (UTV), Richard Mulligan (Newsletter).
Saturday, January 30, 1999 will be a day never forgotten by Ulster and Irish rugby supporters and the people of Ulster as a whole. It was the season Ulster Rugby defeated the cream of the crop in the tournament and the day they brought home the European Cup to Ulster.
For David Humphreys, who captained the Ulster side to European Cup glory, memories of the day will be fresh in his mind forever.
“It’s one of those things that you remember quite vividly, a day in your life you will never forget,” he recalled.
“So much has happened since then it’s hard to believe that 10 years has passed. When I meet players that were part of team, it’s still very much the highlight for us all.
“Everyone has their own individual memories of the day, but it’s more the overall journey that we all went on – from a team that nobody expected anything from, to playing in front of a sold-out Lansdowne Road and winning the European Cup.”
Humphreys said: “I think we were fortunate to get the home advantage in the quarter-final and semi-final, but we still had to beat Toulouse and Stade Francais, who at the time were the two best teams in Europe.
“If you’d put their teams down on paper against ours, they wouldn’t have compared in any position.
“The Toulouse quarter-final was a special night for any number of reasons, we never ran away with any of the games they were always tight, and I think that’s were Ravenhill built up its reputation.
“The crowd were magnificent in those tight games and that’s what carried us through.”
A 33-27 win over Stade Francais meant a final in Dublin against French side Colomiers. Humphreys, who is now Ulster’s Operations Director, spoke of the anticipation heading into the final game.
“I think there is absolutely no doubt when you’ve beaten Toulouse and Stade Francais that’s almost the hardest part done, but the danger with that and you see it time and time again in sport there are small margins.
“For us as a team we knew we had to perform every week at our very best to win and that was the same against Colomiers.
“They were still probably a better team than us on paper and we had to play hard to beat them.
“We were all mentally prepared for the final game, and knew that one mistake could un-do all the hard work we had put in to get here.
“At the final whistle there was a huge sense of relief that it was over and we had won.
“I still recall standing waiting to receive the cup and looking out across Lansdowne Road and seeing the red and white flags and hearing the cheering Ulster crowds – that’s what the whole year had been about – it’s an image I will never forget.
“Our supporters have always been so passionate and devoted to the team. The support really spurred us on at Lansdowne and I know that week after week they spurred the team on to this day at Ravenhill.
“I hope that in my time as Operations Director with Ulster, that we can achieve another great win for Ulster.”
Ulster Rugby are hosting a 1999 celebration dinner tonight (Thursday), where the players and management from the 1999 squad will be present.
“I am really looking forward to catching up with the whole squad on Thursday night, some of them live away from Ulster now, so it will be a great catch-up and see how we have all changed from 10 years ago.
“It will be a great night of memories,” Humphreys added.