SLIDESHOW: Liverpool boss joins tributes on coach Arthur’s big night

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Arthur McClean probably thought he had seen and heard it all in more than four decades of involvement with football in Ballymena.

But even the well-known local coach had to do a double-take last week when he answered his mobile phone to find Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers on the other end of the line!

Coaches and officals of the Ballymena Mini Soccer league join Arthur McClean, Steven Penny and Michael O'Neill at last week's special function in the Adair Arms Hotel. INBT 44-815H

Coaches and officals of the Ballymena Mini Soccer league join Arthur McClean, Steven Penny and Michael O'Neill at last week's special function in the Adair Arms Hotel. INBT 44-815H

The Anfield manager took time out from his side’s preparations for their Champions League tie against Real Madrid to telephone Arthur - his first ever manager in his formative years in the Ballymena & District Youth League - and pass on his best wishes ahead of a special function in the town’s Adair Arms Hotel, marking his outstanding contribution to the sport in Ballymena.

“It came right out of the blue,” smiled Arthur, as he spoke to Times Sport following the function

“The last thing I would have expected would have been a call from the Liverpool manager a few hours before they played Real Madrid!

“We had a chat about old times and he passed on his apologies for not being able to make it to the dinner but I think when it came down to a choice between spending that evening with me or Cristiano Ronaldo, I can forgive him for that!

“I hadn’t spoken to him since he was over here with Chelsea for the Milk Cup a few years ago so it was a lovely surprise to hear from him.

“He invited me to go over to Anfield to meet up with him at some stage in the future to meet up with him so hopefully I’ll be able to take him up on that offer.”

It was the start of a memorable evening for Arthur as guests from all levels of football gathered to celebrate his exploits.

They ranged from Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill to colleagues from the Ballymena Invitational Mini Soccer League, of which Arthur is chairman, and which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.

Compere Davy King led a number of contributions from former players and colleagues who paid glowing tributes to Arthur’s efforts as a coach, manager and administrator.

“It was great to see all those people present and it was a really enjoyable evening.

“I didn’t judge success purely on the number of trophies a team won, it was about developing players to go on and achieve as much as they can in their own individual lives.

“I didn’t give Michael O’Neill, Steven Penney, Brendan Rodgers and all the other the ability they had - it was already there and my role was to help them use that in the best way possible in the teams they were in at that time.

“Seeing a player reach as high a level as they possibly could - whether that be Saturday Morning League, Irish League or international - was what gave me the greatest satisfaction.

“The players deserve all the praise for anything they achieved - my role was just to help point them in the right direction.

“I would like to thank the organisers of the dinner, all the guests who attended and all the messages from people who couldn’t make it - I’m very grateful to everyone involved,” added Arthur.

* A voluntary donation from guests on the night raised a total of £350 for Arthur’s chosen charity, Diabetes UK.