International forward Johnny Dalrymple was an experienced Irish League campaigner by the time he joined Ballymena in 1929, and eventually held multiple roles at the Showgrounds.
Born and raised in Harryville, Dalrymple began his football career locally with Galgorm in his late teenage years before being recruited by Distillery in 1920. Having started out initially in the second team at Grosvenor Park – he made his senior Irish League debut on 23 October 1920 in a defeat to Linfield, aged just 19 years old.
His debut was the club’s last game at Grosvenor Park, as they played the remainder of the season away from home and finished bottom of the table. Nonetheless, it was a successful first season for Johnny as he ended the season by scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over Glentoran in the Belfast Charities Cup Final, he also was a beaten finalist in the County Antrim Shield decider, having lost the final to the Glens in a tie that took four attempts to find decide. He also scored a dubious winning goal for Distillery Seconds in the final of the McElroy Cup against Bangor.
The 1921/1922 was another troublesome year for the homeless Whites, as they won only eight games all but still managed to finish third in the ten Irish League. A couple of those wins were on route to a second successive County Antrim Shield Final. Johnny and his Distillery team mates almost caused one of the shocks of the season against Linfield, drawing the first final but losing the replay 4-1, with Dalrymple scoring the consolation goal – as the Blues went onto win the first of their famous seven trophies that season.
It was to be a real breakthrough season for the Johnny, as Distillery, he finished as top goalscorer with 20 goals and was rewarded with a place in the Ireland international team for a two-game tour of Norway in May 1922. Selected by his Distillery trainer Hugh Tanner, he led the line in both games, a 2-1 defeat in what is now regarded as an official international in Bergen, and then scored twice in a 3-1 representative match win in Oslo three days later.
In the summer of 1922, Distillery pitched up at their new temporary home of the York Road in North Belfast as the club sought to stabilise as Johnny was now an established key player in the team that finished fourth in the Irish League and runners-up in the City Cup competition during the 1922/1923 season. The Ballymena man would also retain his place in the Irish League representative side for two games this season against the English and Scottish Leagues.
Spurred on by the goals of Patsy McIlvenny (who later moved to Cardiff City) alongside Johnny in the forward line, the Whites finished runners-up in the newly expanded Irish League the following season in 1923/1924. It was a season of near misses on the pitch as the club finished in second place in three competitions; the Irish League, the Gold Cup and County Antrim Shield.
The illusive major silverware finally arrived for 23-year-old Johnny in 1925, as the Whites put their poor league form to one side and won the Irish Cup for the first time in 15 years, defeating Glentoran 2-1 at Solitude in front of over 20,000 fans. The following month, the club made it a memorable cup double winning season, as they lifted the Gold Cup in April 1925 after winning a replay against Queen’s Island with Dalrymple scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 victory at Celtic Park.
Darlymple was a consistent double-digit goalscorer during his time at Distillery, and hit 20 goals again as the Whites’ top scorer during the 1925/1926 season, as the club failed to capitalise on their rampant start to the league campaign, by eventually finishing in fifth position. The club’s support had diminished at York Road and the call to move back to Grosvenor Park heightened as Distllery’s instability off the pitch lead to a number of seasons with no trophies or finals for the fans to shout about.
Johnny continued to be a regular figure for selectors of the Irish League representative team, as he returned to the panel in October 1926, scoring his only league representative goal in a 5-2 defeat to the Scottish League at Tynecastle. He switched position to centre half in September 1927 for the remainder of his time at Distillery, and even regained League Representative selection off the back of his midfield performances, winning the last of his seven caps in March 1929 against the League of Ireland.
After 290 appearances and 102 goals for the Whites – he still to this day remains sixth in the club’s all time goalscoring records – but it was time to come home in December 1929.
28-year-old Dalrymple signed for his hometown club Ballymena, now midway through their second season in senior football and made his debut on Christmas Day 1929 in a home defeat to Ards. He was a constant figure amongst multiple positions in the Ballymena forward line, as the Braidmen eventually finished fifth in the Irish League table. He missed out on a place in the team for the 1930 Irish Cup Final showpiece, as his team-mates fell to a 4-3 defeat to Linfield at Celtic Park.
The following season marked a return of six goals for the forward, who was injured for large parts after the turn of the year in 1931, but he finally did get to appear for his local club in an Irish Cup Final, returning after weeks out to face Linfield as the opponents again in March 1931. The Blues ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at The Oval as the Sky Blues once again finished fifth in the Irish League standings.
Now into his thirties, Dalrymple was not retained by Ballymena for the 1931/1932, as an influx of Scottish talent descended on the Showgrounds in search of glory. It marked the end of Johnny’s eleven year senior career, as he took the decision to move back to Intermediate football with local side Summerfield. The experienced forward would spend four successful seasons at Flixton Park between 1931/1932 and 1934/1935, missing only a handful of games in that time and winning the McElroy Cup for the second time in his career in 1933/1934.
In the July 1935, he answered the call to return to the Showgrounds to join the new look Ballymena United club as trainer and groundsman. The club also registered Dalrymple as a player in case of emergencies and the 34-year-old was called upon five times during the 1935/1936 season – even once to play in goal against Newry Town in a City Cup tie in April 1936!
Dalrymple never needed be called upon to play after that but remained as a central figure at the Showgrounds as trainer and groundsman throughout the remainder of the 1930’s as United’s fortunes took a huge upturn in fortunes before the outbreak of the Second World War, which lead the suspension of club activities in 1940.
A keen summer league cricketer in the town, Johnny Dalrymple passed away in March 1970 in Ballymena, aged 68.
Galgorm, (1920) Distillery; (Dec 1929) Ballymena; (Aug 1931) Summerfield; (Jul 1935) Ballymena
Irish Cup: (winner) 1924/1925
Gold Cup: (winner) 1924/1925
Belfast Charities Cup: (winner) 1920/1921
McElroy Cup: (winner) 1920/1921
Irish League: (runner-up) 1923/1924
Gold Cup: (runner-up) 1923/1924
County Antrim Shield: (finalist) 1920/1921, 1921/1922, 1923/1924
Irish Cup: (finalist) 1930/1931
McElroy Cup: (winner) 1933/1934
Ireland (1 cap – 1922)
IFA Representative (1 cap – 1922)
Irish League Representative (7 caps, 1 goal – 1922-1929)
Last updated: 22 July 2023