If anyone knows the lasting impression you can make by tasting success at Inver Park it is Ian Bustard. The former midfielder was part of the 1987 Ulster Cup-winning team which is still so revered at the club.
Indeed, it remains the last senior trophy to reside at the club, some 32 years on. That trophy success came in what is regarded as a golden period for the club, certainly as a senior club.
Names from that era roll off the tongue easily, even for those of us too young to fully remember or appreciate it. Vinny Magee, Paul Carland, Eddie Spiers, Tommy Houston, Trevor McMullan, Harry Kernohan, Bryan McLaughlin, Davy Smyth, Paul Hardy and the rest. To that roll call, the name of Ian Bustard merits a place.
Bustard admits, as he looks back, it was impossible to tell what sort of impact the 2-1 win over Coleraine at the Oval to land the Ulster Cup, would leave on the club.
“It was such a brilliant occasion to be part of,” he recalled.
“Even though I was only on the bench it was a great night, although I came on in the second half thankfully.
“I remember build-up to the game and there being a lot of talk that some of the Coleraine players were going on strike because of win bonuses. In the match, itself Raymond Henry broke his leg in a real nothing challenge, which was a disappointment.
“The crowd there that night was something else, and big Paul Carland going up to lift the trophy was the icing on the cake. To be honest, it didn’t really sink in on the night what we had achieved, or even for a long time afterwards.”
If Bustard had one regret from his playing days at Inver Park, it would be that the Ulster Cup triumph was the only piece of silverware Larne senior ‘golden generation’ managed to win.
Two Irish Cup final appearances followed for Paul Malone’s men, but they lost out by a single goal in both; Glentoran, firstly in 1987 and then by the same scoreline to Ballymena United two years later.
“You never really think that it would be the last senior trophy Larne will lift for such a long time. Everyone still talks about that ’87 team to this day, and to counted as part of that side is a real honour. It’s just a shame we didn’t manage to bring more trophies back to Inver during that spell.
“The Ballymena Irish Cup final is probably the biggest regret. We had beaten them two or three times that season. We went into the game as favourites that day, but just didn’t happen for us.
“We had changed formation, like we did in semi-final, but it didn’t really work for us. In saying that, the last 20 minutes was all us, we just couldn’t get a goal.”
Bustard’s association with Larne began in 1986, moving from then ‘B’ Division side H&W Welders, although only after knocking back Paul Malone’s advances the first time around.
“I had three years at the Welders,” he said.
“The first in the Amateur League and then next two as a ‘B’ Division team. Paul Malone came in for me the year before I signed.
“I didn’t sign the first time because I didn’t think I was ready for the step-up. The next time I was working with Bryan McLaughlin in STC and he helped to convince me. It was the best move I ever made to be honest.
“In saying that, I think my first two matches were against Portadown and Glentoran – so that was a real eye opener!
“At that stage, Paul Malone was still playing and had dropped back into middle of the park. Once he finished playing, I got more of an opportunity and settled in well.”
Bustard’s first stint at the club lasted for for five years, having remained until 1991.
Two further brief spells followed, towards the mid and late 1990’s, when Paul Malone also returned to the club.
In between times, Bustard turned out for Ballymena United, and tonight’s visitors Glenavon, with distinction.
Asked when he returned to Larne to finish off his senior playing days, his answer was instant.
Bustard remained at the club for five years, until 1991. Two further brief spells followed in between times with Ballymena United, and tonight’s visitors Glenavon.
“I just loved the club,” he said.
“It was the best club I ever played for, and Inver Park just feels like home to be honest. Even when I come to watch them now it feels like that.
“You’re made to feel special and people really appreciate what you did when you played for the club. That’s why I had three spells at the club altogether, it was hard to say no each time.”
Fast forward to the modern day and Bustard is familiar face in the stands at both home and away matches. Having had such an affinity with the club during his playing days, he admits that bond remains unbroken, as he comes to cheer on the modern day team from the stands.
“Up until last season I was still involved as Rathfern Rangers,” he said.
“I had a spell there as a player, manager, and on the committee, which lasted about 15 years altogether. They folded recently, so it gave me the opportunity to go out and watch football again. Myself and a few friends decided we’ve come to watch Larne, and they can’t believe the reception we get.
“When I come back to Inver Park I see people who were following the club 25 and 30 years ago. They’ve stuck with the club through thick and thin. It’s fantastic to see the amount of younger kids about the place too. It’s amazing to see what’s going on.”
Having taken a keen interest from the terraces, what does Bustard feel would be a good first season back in the top flight?
“I’ve said it from end of last season, if the team can secure a top six finish, it would be unbelievable, because it’s such a step up. I know some people get carried away with talking of winning it, but you have to be realistic and build one step at a time, so the top half would be a very good season.”
Should Larne be able to put some more senior silverware on the table at Inver Park in the near future though, don’t be surprised if those players are still being talked about for years to come.