NOEL BAILIE

In a week which saw the semi-finals of two European competitions and two relegations from the Premier League, the 1000th appearance for Linfield by Noel Bailie might not have made that much of a ripple outside of Belfast.

But for me, this milestone appearance is as much of a joy to see as Arjen Robben’s strike against Lyon or any piece of skill by Lionel Messi.

It’s why we love football. Supporters turn up every week to watch their team and grow attached to those who have achieved everything we ever dreamed of doing.

No matter what the level, the joy of winning is the same, as is the despair of losing.

Attend a Linfield-Glentoran match with me, and try and tell me the passion is any different to derbies in Milan, Buenos Aires, or any other footballing hotbed.

And no matter what the level, the pride supporters have at the individual achievements of their heroes is the same.

Whilst Noel Bailie won’t be playing in the World Cup this summer, nor will he be in contention for the Balon D’or, try telling any Linfield fan at Seaview that Noel’s achievement isn’t one of the great football stories.

He lived the dream, then did so another 999 times.

I had planned writing a 1,000 games tribute for a while, but I decided to start writing it when it happened, rather than prepared it in advance.

If it did, it would have looked like a celebrity obituary that is written and saved on a hard drive five years in advance of the celebrity’s death.

For an achievement like this, it is always better to write how I feel at the time.

Talking of time, it is always the enemy of the footballer, and one day it will catch up on Noel Bailie, which is why we have to appreciate the likes of him while he’s still playing.

For Glenn Ferguson, that final whistle might come this weekend, as he has still to confirm wether he is going to delay his planned retirement.

At some point during the middle of the season, I had hoped Distillery would pick up a bit of form and sneak into the top six.

They would come to Windsor Park on the final day, with Linfield already champions, 3 or 4-0 up in the final minute, when Spike scores a consolation goal.

At that moment, the board comes up, and he is substituted to a standing ovation deserving of someone who gave their all to the beautiful game

Unfortunately, the season won’t be ending that way for him. Thankfully, for Noel Bailie, his career didn’t end last May at Seaview in such underwhelming circumstances.

The mark of a great player is sometimes not how they play at their peak, is how they can continue to remain at the top of his profession whilst their peers have faded away.

Noel Bailie has done that this season, been picked on merit, and only really being noticed when he isn’t playing.

Much has been made of the 1,000 appearance milestone over the last couple of months as each appearance has been followed by a countdown of how long there is to go.

There has almost been a danger that it could overshadow the team and that there could be a sense of disappointment if it didn’t happen.

If he didn’t make 1,000 appearances, it wouldn’t make him any less of a legend. Legend status was confirmed a long time ago.

A personal tribute really shouldn’t be the place for pointscoring, but the lack of coverage of the event before the match on Friday and afterwards on Monday by BBC Newsline was an absolute disgrace.

Likewise, was UTV’s decision to ignore this achievement, instead to show a two minute feature on Rangers winning the SPL really does show how little interest our local broadcasters in local football.

If Noel Bailie played for a club on the mainland, the local news would have given the story the coverage it deserved.

But it’s not the media coverage that Noel Bailie does it for, it’s the love of the game, and his club.

Game 1000 might have been a scrappy goal-less draw, let’s hope game 1001 is more memorable, with Noel doing what he does best – lifting the Gibson Cup.

Noel Bailie is everything that is good about football, and i’m glad he plays for my club.

Noel Bailie : Captain-Leader-Legend

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