A new website, launched a few weeks ago, started jogging my memory bank of when I first started getting into football.
The site, called Linfield Photos, is, as it says, an online record of old Linfield photos.
I still have my Season Tickets from 1995-1996 to 1999-2001, and the memories just came flooding back.
My first Linfield match was in December 1991, a Boxing Day game at The Oval.
I don’t really remember much about the actual game, rather the excitement beforehand about going to a match. The match itself finished 3-3.
My next match was the return fixture on Easter Tuesday, which finished 0-0, before my third and final match that season being the Irish Cup Final against Glenavon, which ended up a 2-1 defeat.
Unfortunately, being 9 years old, I didn’t have much say in getting to matches, so I had to ask my dad nicely as I obviously wasn’t able to go on my own.
Over the next couple of years, the only matches I saw were big games and cup finals.
In November 1994, that was all to change. A friend invited me to accompany him and a group of friends to a match against Glenavon at Windsor Park.
Linfield had went into that game on the back of a few bad results and there was media speculation over Trevor Anderson’s future, just six months after securing the double.
Linfield won the match 4-0, with all the goals coming in the second-half. We walked home that day, singing “4-0 to the champions!!!”
For the rest of that season, we went to all the home games. We weren’t able to go to away games due to none of us being legally able to drive.
We ended up having a post match ritual of heading into the newsagent on the Lisburn Road to get sweets. The guy who ran the shop saw our scarves and spoke to us about the game, based on what he had heard on Radio Ulster on his radio behind the till.
That shop is no longer with us and is now a coffe shop called Jenz.
We made a decision in the Summer of 1995, that we were going to buy Season Tickets.
I managed to get the lend of a whopping £12 from my parents for a Season Ticket and I had my first Season Ticket.
It was a book and when you arrived at Windsor Park on matchday, there was a sign outside the ground indicating what number the match was, and you ripped out the accompanying number for the turnstile operator.
The Season Ticket came with a voucher for a 15% voucher for the club shop, which was then situated outside Windsor Park in them days.
Not having (or rather, not being allowed) much disposable income, this voucher rarely got used.
The tickets were valid for the North or South Stands.
The Railway stand wasn’t used, and neither was The Kop. The Kop was in the process of being converted from a terrace to a new all seater stand and thus, out of use.
It was strange for opposing fans to be housed facing each other at the side of the pitch.
Some games, Linfield supporters were housed in the top tier of the North Stand, segreagated from visiting supporters.
In this time, Linfield weren’t able to play at Solitude and all games between the clubs were played at Windsor Park. This would cause confusion amongst us when meeting up for matches as to wether it was a “Home” game where Season Tickets were valid.
For “Away” games, we were charged in as away fans, and there was Cliftonville programmes and lotteries sold. All that was different was the venue.
The 1995-1996 season was the first season of promotion and relegation. A 16 team league had now been reduced to two 8 team leagues.
Despite the trainwreck of the previous season (As defending champions, Linfield finished 8th out of 16) we were optimistic about the year ahead, mainly due to new signings such as Paul Millar, Alan Ewing and Stuart McLean.
The league season didn’t start until late September. It began at Mourneview Park with a 3-0 win at Glenavon. That day, I was doing a BB collection, and with another Linfield supporter (Who went to matches with a different crowd) I listened to the game in the church hall. Linfield were definately going to be champions in 1996.
The following week, we hit an obstacle. An obstacle called Crusaders. It might seem hard to believe, but there was once a time when Crusaders used to always beat Linfield. That season, Crusaders won all four league meetings against Linfield.
It’s one of those things that your earliest football memories often shaped your future football beliefs.
I view Coventry City and Southampton as “Premier League clubs” and Ajax, Marseille and Red Star Belgrade as “Major European superpowers” even though recent results suggest otherwise.
Up until about 2007, I was still nervous going into games against Crusaders as I viewed tham as a “Bogey side” due to their form against Linfield in the 90s, even though their run had long since ended.
We’d been to The Oval for matches against Glentoran (the most memorable that season saw a white ball be used on a snow covered pitch) but Crusaders away was our first away match against a side other than Glentoran.
It was an Irish Cup Quarter-Final, do or die, our season depended on it ……. we lost 2-0.
Crusaders also blocked our path in another trophy. Can’t remember what trophy it was, it might have been the Gold Cup, but it gives an idea of what a different world it was back then.
If I wasn’t at a Linfield match, i’d keep up to date with the score through a series of ways : I’d check Twitter, internet messageboards, and keep flicking Ceefax 390.
Back in the 1995-1996 season, there was no Twitter, No BBC 390, and no internet messageboards.
As the match was considered a minor competition, it wasn’t even featured on the main BBC Ceefax fixture list.
A friend of ours was at the game, and we had to wait for him to return home and phone us with the score. No mobile phones in them days, so couldn’t even wait for a text message.
Eventually, the phone rang, and he said “Played shite, lost 1-0″
Ironically, that match report could fit into a tweet.
The highlight of that season was a 1-0 home win over Portadown in December in Garry Haylock’s first return to Windsor Park since his controversial transfer the previous summer. A depressing reality of how far the club had sank in such a short space of time.
But, Haylock and Portadown would have the last laugh, winning 1-0 at Windsor Park on Easter Tuesday en route to securing their 3rd title in 7 years.
A new season, and new optimism. And like the previous season, it was soon extinguished.
We did manage a win over Crusaders, so at least it was a sign of progress.
In fact, it was a sign of the downward spiral the club was on, that victories over Crusaders were being celebrated like cup final wins.
That season saw the only time during 17 years of regularly watching Linfield that there was a managerial change, as Trevor Anderson left for Newry Town (as they were then) and David Jeffrey was appointed manager.
I am a rare breed, a Linfield supporter in their 20s who can remember life before David Jeffrey.
At the end of that season, I got my first Linfield top, the red and grey Le Coq Sportif Cremonese tribute top. After a few washes, the red soon turned pink.
That season saw the only time I skived off school for a match.
My school and my mate’s schools always seemed to have different holidays. There was a cup tie (Gold Cup, I think) against Ballymena at The Oval on the Tuesday of half-term.
My mates were off, but I was still in school until the end of the Tuesday.
They were making a day of it to meet at a mate’s house before heading to The Oval, so I skived off to meet up with them.
I boast about this, safe in the knowledge that I won’t be retrospectively punished 15 years on.
In the summer of 1997, we all parted with £12 for Season Tickets, high on optimism that this would definately be Linfield’s year.
That Christmas, I got my second Linfield top, also an away top, a Red and Navy QPR style top.
The most memorable games of the 1997-1998 season, all came against Glentoran.
We won 3-0 at The Oval on a beautiful sunny day in August. Ten days later, we beat them 1-0 in the Wilkinson Sword League Cup Final in front of a crowd of 10,000.
It was the first time The Kop was used for a Linfield match, and the atmosphere was fantastic, especially when Jeff Spiers scored in front of that goal.
Amazingly, that was a one-off due to the size of the crowd. For the next couple of Linfield matches, The Kop was closed, before the club eventually opened it for domestic games.
Glentoran’s next visit to Windsor Park saw a 2-0 Linfield win, which sadly, saw the end of Tommy Cassidy’s reign at The Oval.
After a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day, the final league meeting of the season was memorable to say the least.
Lee Feeney destroyed Glentoran as Linfield beat their 8 men opponents 3-0 in a game which saw the play along the side of the South Stand as Glentoran fans were throwing seats from the North Stand.
At half-time, a supporter broke into the away dressing room to shout abuse at Roy Coyle, making his first visit to Windsor Park as Glentoran manager.
There must have been a full moon in Belfast that day, as Kirk Hunter was sent-off seconds after coming on as a sub for Crusaders against Cliftonville.
Lee Feeney was something special. I’d first seen him play for Ards against Auxerre in July 1997 and he held his own against the French side.
When it was announced he’d signed for Linfield, I was excited, and told my friends about how good he was. He was sent-off on his debut.
We went to that game, at Coleraine. Having been to North Belfast, we were now expanding our horizons. Later that season, we also went to Glenavon and Portadown.
Lee Feeney really arrived when he scored a wondergoal against reigning Champions Crusaders at Seaview in a game that saw (still to this day) Irish League record signing Glenn Ferguson make his debut for Linfield.
The fallout from that game against Glentoran at Windsor Park meant that when the sides were drawn together in the Irish Cup Semi-Final, it was a reduced capacity with an early (11am) kick-off.
Clfitonville’s home league games against Linfield (at Windsor Park) and Glentoran in April were moved to 2pm with ticket restrictions.
We turned up at Windsor Park full of excitement. We’d beaten them 4 times out of 5 this season, surely we could make it 5.
We didn’t. We lost 2-1.
Younger readers who are used to an Irish Cup Final being an annual event for Linfield fans should remember this : When I celebrated my 18th birthday, Linfield had only won the Irish Cup twice in my lifetime ……. and i’m not yet 30.
From that disappointment, it was all about trying to overcome a 5 point defecit from Cliftonville.
We headed down to Windsor Park on the Thursday morning before to get our tickets. We walked down, bought our tickets and headed back to a mate’s house, when George Michael’s arrest was leading the lunchtime news.
Whenever I think of a 3-0 win over Cliftonville, i’ll always associate it with George Michael being arrested for wanking in a toilet.
It’s strange how I can associate world events with Linfield games
Likewise, whenever Stephen Gately trends on the anniversary of his death, I always think to myself “Is it really that long since Paul Munster scored a hat-trick against Crusaders?”
The most amazing thing about that game against Cliftonville game, played in April, was that there was a hailstorm during the second-half.
The gap was now two points with three to play, we started to believe. Unfortunately, the following Tuesday, we hit a brick wall called Davy O’Hare. Fucking Crusaders …….. again.
Cliftonville had a four point with two to play, and we were having to *whisper it* hope for a Glentoran win.
The match, a 2pm kick-off, finished 1-1, which meant that Linfield had to win at Coleraine to keep the title race alive.
We sat in a friend’s back garden listening to Radio Ulster as Linfield piled pressure on the Coleraine. Chance after chance, but not a goal. Cliftonville were champions.
1998-1999 was definately, definately going to be Linfield’s year. It had to be, it was the end of an era. My mates who I went to matches with were in Upper 6th and ready to move to Uni.
By now, our Season Tickets cost £35.
Some in our friend group had driving licences now and were able to make our own way to matches.
Despite all our optimism, it was a season that was just like the previous one, Runners-Up in the league and Irish Cup Semi-Finalists.
Even though everybody else had cleared off to uni, I still got a Season Ticket (at a cost of £40) and went with my brother and his mates.
Problem was, they would usually head for a drink 30 minutes in and leave me.
With uni not starting until mid September, my mates hung around for matches until then.
Our first match of the season (on the second fixture list. Our opening match was postponed due to European commitments) began with us being 1-0 down after 20 seconds against Coleraine. We came back to win 3-1 in a display which convinced me that this was definately going to be Linfield’s year.
One of our final games, was a trip to The Oval on 31st August 1999. We lost 1-0 to a Stuart Elliott goal, who was later sent-off for two bookings alongside Winky Murphy. Such a letdown.
Leaving the ground, I witnessed a supporter wearing the brand new yellow away top, rip it off and throw it on to the railings beside The Oval in disgust.
I enrolled in a GNVQ Media Studies at North Down and Ards Institute, and every day I passed The Oval on a train.
Every day up until the turn of the year, I saw that shirt lying on the railings, and wondered what that supporter thought, as Linfield soon picked up form and began to run away with the league.
April 1st was that magic day. We needed to go to Coleraine and avoid defeat to secure a first title in six years.
A mate had flown home from uni that morning, dropped his stuff in the house and immediately headed for Coleraine.
We arrived in Coleraine, it felt like there was millions of Linfield supporters there.
The crowd congestion caused the kick-off to be delayed by 15 minutes.
The match didn’t go to plan as Linfield went 2-0 down, before pulling a goal back. It didn’t matter.
Glentoran had lost 1-0 to Distillery, meaning Linfield were champions no matter what. The final 15 minutes wound down as Linfield fans sang “Championes”
And them the final whistle came, followed by a celebratory pitch invasion. We had finally witnessed a title win (I had already witnessed title wins in 1993 and 1994)
Somehow, I don’t think you can get such memories from a swipecard.
NB : Dates stamped on the Season Ticket scans are the dates of games I used my ticket to buy tickets for (Season Ticket holders got first priority) to stop people from making repeat purchase on behalf of non Season Ticket holders.