In my last blog spot I wrote:‘Addicks Guide to Structural Engineering in Norman Castles’ would see me through all those long passages of broken play and medicinal theatrics. Perhaps I might find some insight into how to build a fortress, though I recall someone telling me this was fortress Ravenhill. Certainly with the myriad number of FUGs around me it would have been an intellectual property!!!.
In the old world, which is how people in the new world describe us, there are any number of fortresses, they litter the landscape from Belfast to Budapest. All mostly dead and decaying they stand as a reminder of times past when man and machine fought on a very basic level. As history progressed so the state of the art of fortress building adjusted itself to cope with the new demands of technology and a higher level of fighting equipment and tactics. As fighting and tactics became ever more mobile so the fortress died out with the French Maginot line reminding you of the folly of remaining stuck in a technological time warp.
Ravenhill stands as an unfortunate metaphor for all those broken down beat up fortresses which you can still visit here in Northern Ireland. Carrickfergus Castle is a terrific example, great to visit but you wouldn’t want to stay the night there and it’s wholly unsuitable for the modern day way of life.
Methinks though it’s a good example of what constitutes a fortress even if the job of building Fortress Ravenhill is more a matter of mind over traditional construction techniques. A fortress of the sporting kind we are talking here, doesn’t gain it’s reputation simply by looking grand, standing tall, kitted out with the latest technological fighting gadgetry. It’s gradual process that steadily gains in momentum over a period of time.
It is based on strong foundations which give solidity at the bottom to take the entire weight from the top downwards.
Ravenhill developed a fortress reputation many years ago when the white knight Sir Alan Solomons of the Cape arrived on these shores with a ringing endorsement from King Micheal and a mission statement to build an army capable of fighting in all theatres of war including the European one. Sir Alan also had a mission to generate local fighting men capable of competing at the highest level, because in the provincial realm of Ulster prior to his arrival our home grown army had been not recruited widely to fight in the international arena.
Recruiting some of the best foreign fighting men as the core of his army Sir Alan’s fortress had an almighty foundation in men like Squires Robbie Kempson and Matt Sexton. This is the broad base if you like upon which the whole fortress mentality is situated and is welded into a tactical strategy that fighting men understand.
So with the army based on a solid physical presence it was then a case of having a defensive and attacking strategy. This Sir Alan built over a period of a season and gradually the word fortress started to appear in the lexicon of raiding parties to Ravenhill from the Celtic countries and mainland Europe. As well as the right tactics there were other vital elements, none more so than the inhabitants of the fortress who supported their fighting men. A cohesive and single minded army of people, they stood and cheered on the white knights with a clarity of purpose and a unity that few other armies could match, not to mention greater numbers.
At the end of his 3 year reign in charge the knight Sir Alan had developed a close bond with the inhabitants of the fortress he’d developed and had delivered on his mission statement, at least on the home front. The provincial King decided his services were no longer required and that trust could be put in the charge of his young assistant the Knight sir Mark McCall and his assistant Sir Allan Clarke. Some of the foundations of the fortress departed with Sir Alan and a new strategy was developed under the new Knights.
During the first fighting season under the combined guidance of the local knights and former Solomon’s protégés McCall and Clarke, the cloak of invincibility that had been generated round Sir Alan’s stewardship evaporated.
The provincial King Mike declared a cutback in spending whilst most crucially the bond twixt fighting man and fortress inhabitant was breached.
Elements among the inhabitants questioned the ability of the new men in charge and there was a response in kind through the local scribes who in turn questioned the loyalty of the inhabitants.
Trust was restored the following year when a new fighting man was recruited from Australia who brought some technological input and intellectual property to that years campaign with the winning of the round robin tournament amongst the Celtic Nations. The campaign in Europe stuttered though with the fortress breached again.
The following seasons campaign was disastrous, with once again the complete breakdown twixt fortress inhabitant and fighting man with even the Provincial King Mike having his ability questioned. The fortress was time and again breached, the nadir being the inhabitant’s slow handclapping their own fighting men.
This season has continued on much as the previous with the young Knight Sir Mark resigning after coming under pressure from within his own fighting force and again the inhabitants of the fortress clearly unhappy at the ability and morale of its fighting force. Sir Matt, a knight from down under has been recruited to lead the troops and has devised a strategy for the rest of the season which has seen our fighting men once again sally forth into Europe to fight Europe’s elite troops in next years Heineken campaign. A must for the sake of the fortress finances.
Ravenhill the fortress is to be given a makeover and adaptation to bring it into line with the modern fighting theatre. A small step along the way to regaining the fortress mentality that once pervaded many years ago.
There has been much talk from the new knight and his troops of regaining Ravenhill’s fortress like reputation whilst the court of King Mike has courted the inhabitants of the now oft breached fortress with exhortation to get behind the troops.
To sum up:
The inhabitants, (Ulster supporters) have suffered a breach in trust with the King and his troops. This trust must be rebuilt based on strong foundations i.e. results on the ground in the theatre of war. It will not happen overnight. But if the troops continue to perform as they have done, by and large in the latter part of this season’s campaign, then the gradual volume of support will continue to rise, as it once did when the inhabitants and the fighting men of the fortress fought with a unity of purpose off and on the field of battle.
Re-establish the rapport twixt fighting man, the king and the inhabitants and the fortress mentality will once again rear its formidable head. Only time and some trials surmounted ahead will tell if we can regain the lost soul of the fortress.
Tomorrow night we say goodbye to one of the fortress’s most faithful and skilful fighting men, who fought not with broadsword, but rapier. He was a salient force in establishing the Ravenhill fortress reputation. Others must step into the breach and give the inhabitants hope and faith. Are there fighting men of this calibre ready to step into the hole left by the knight Sir David Humphreys??
In a castle dark,
or a fortress strong,
with chains upon my feet.
You know that ghost is me,
and I will never be set free,
as long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.
Let’s hope we can shake the ghosts of the past few seasons off and be liberated next season and that the Ulster team can do the same.