The third member of the team to go was Samuel Boyde, a Protestant who had become a Roman Catholic. On Sept. 7, 1972 some children playing around a house at the edge of The Falls found his body lying in the garden, shot through the head and chest, covered with a bloodstained cloth. "Children played around troops sealing off the entry to the garden," said The News Letter. "The death brings the total of people to die in Northern Ireland since August, 1969 to 548."
When Boyde was described as a soccer player with Bankmore Star, an unnamed member hastily protested that Boyde had never played on the team. It was beginning to be difficult to find out who had played on it. Most of the players had believed the deaths to have been coincidental; now some went into hiding. Since members no longer went to meetings, the club did not pay its dues and was dropped from the Willowfield League.
Any question about the deaths being coincidental became academic last spring. Robert James Millen, a 23-year-old Protestant who had unquestionably played with Bankmore Star, received an anonymous letter. "At last I have got my finger on you," it read. "Every man or car that comes up to you, look at it. I want to see your face as you die."
The letter contained a list of the names of nine men, including Millen, who were marked for death. Ten days later, on the night of April 13, 1973, Millen was walking along McClure Street, a rather narrow side street that opens onto Ormeau Road, one of the main thoroughfares leading into the city. There is a large Methodist church at the corner of McClure Street and Ormeau Road, blocking the view. The traffic there is fast, and exact timing would be required to come upon anyone without being seen. But as Millen approached Ormeau Road a car drove by—two cars, by some accounts—and he was killed by gunfire, facing his assassins. Since his death, at least two other members of Bankmore Star have been shot at and are alive only because the killer missed.
When the Belfast coroner finally got around to releasing the results of an inquest held into the death of Patrick McCrory, the first team member to be killed, he said the killer "seemed to be insane." This appears to be the case. In discussions of the murders, most of the comment has centered on the fact that Bankmore Star was a mixed Protestant and Catholic team. "They've got it all wrong," said Joseph Murdoch. "Many of the teams in the league were combined teams, with men from both religions. Nobody paid much attention to such things before The Trouble. It didn't make any difference. Several big teams—Holy-wood, County Down—were combined teams."
In any case the mystery of the soccer club killings is going to remain a mystery. There is no agency in Belfast capable of bringing the facts to light, and the soccer assassinations have been obscured by later crimes. Last week the number of deaths in Northern Ireland since The Trouble began reached 897, most of them in Belfast and many of them cold-blooded and selective killings like those of the members of Bankmore Star. In the city itself one is not so much conscious of any religious antagonism as of the ease with which long-standing antagonisms of any kind can be exploited. And of the ease with which they serve to provide ready-made answers that block inquiry into matters that would otherwise be questioned.
But in Belfast one is even more conscious of the extraordinary resiliency of the people who have to live with the mysteries and the danger. These days conditions are reported to be better than they have been in a long time. You are still searched going into a store or the post office. Soldiers at gates on side streets check everyone entering or leaving the area. From time to time a street is blocked with armored cars during a bomb scare. In the evening the midtown crowd vanishes as if darkness had become a plague. Everywhere one is conscious of one-armed people—survivors of bombs—riding on buses, waiting on customers in stores.
And even relatively good times contain ominous developments. Recently a fishing party from Ulster was ambushed in a remote western part of Ireland, one of the rare attacks on vacationers. And in a matter of a month there have been 10 kneecap shootings in Belfast, a form of punishment "for suspected informers," said an authority, "or for people who don't toe the line"—a crippling punishment often visited on Catholic girls who go out with Protestant boys, or on Protestant boys who court Catholic girls, or on both.
As ghastly as the terror remains in Belfast there now seems to be something contrived, almost literary, about it. It is as if the people engaged in carrying it out had read books about what ought to be done or had analyzed social structures and calculated points of stress. Meanwhile, the population at large continues to go its way, just as the members of Bankmore Star played out their schedule during the worst of the violence. Has the example of that team discouraged soccer playing? "No," said Frank Starr, the administrator of the department of parks. "There has been no decline in the use of our football facilities. On the contrary there has been an upward trend in the demand."