LINFIELD 0-0 CRUSADERS 29.10.2016

Linfield ended what has been a disappointing month with their biggest game of the month. Failure to win any of the last two league games made it so. This game would dictate if October would be a disappointing month or a disastrous month.

Kicking-off four points off the top of the league, it wasn’t quite must win for Linfield, but it was definitely not lose. Even though there is still a lot of football to be played, seven points would be a large gap to pull back, despite having to play Crusaders twice.

Linfield lined-up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Ross Gaynor and Kirk Millar supporting Andrew Waterworth. It was Linfield who had all of the early pressure, with Sammy Clingan firing just wide from a free-kick.

Most of their attacking invention came when Jamie Mulgrew had the ball. It was like a magnet to him in the opening minutes.

It looked like Andrew Waterworth was going to score when the ball fell to him in the penalty area, but Sean O’Neill was able to get down and block it.

It was the only time Crusaders were able to legally stop a Linfield attack, most of them were stopped by cynical fouling, which was dealt leniently by the referee who deemed it too early in the game to issue a yellow card. Naturally, it only encouraged Crusaders to commit moe fouls.

There were concerns that the referee had lost his yellow card. That panic was averted when he found it just in time for the first Linfield foul, by Mark Haughey on Paul Heatley.

No complaints about the yellow card, the only issue was that it was the first of the game.

Crusaders had their best attacking moment when Jordan Forsythe stretched to a cross and hit the bar. A speculative cross/shot had to be palmed out by Roy Carroll, but thankfully there was no Crusaders player to score when the ball was loose.

Linfield had a penalty appeal turned down for a cross being handled. It would have been soft. The irony was, seconds late, Kirk Millar got penalised when the ball hit him in the exact same place when the ball was in the middle of the pitch. Some decisions are easier to make than others.

Linfield didn’t enjoy the pressure they had in the first-half in the second-half, but Crusaders weren’t giving them any moments of worry, restricting them to speculative long range shots, all of which went over.

It was only a matter of time before Linfield turned to their attacking options on the bench, which included Paul Smyth and Ross Clarke, both recovering from (different lengths of though) injury.

It was Smyth who came on first, unsurprisingly for Kirk Millar, who didn’t have the best of games.

One Ross came on for another, Clarke for Gaynor.

The two substitutes combined for Linfield’s best moment of the second-half when Smyth crossed for Clarke, whose header was straight at O’Neill.

Andrew Waterworth ran down the right hand side to try and get a late winner before he was cynically taken out by Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley. It was cynical, no attempt to play the ball. Not only that, it was reckless and a straight red card. In line with the refereeing performance, only a yellow was awarded.

While the free-kick was awaiting to be taken, things got fiesty in the penalty area, which resulted in a few Crusaders players getting booked. 80 minutes too late some could say.

The incidents awoke those in the South Stand and fired Linfield up as they piled on the pressure in the final moments.

It was a pity this incident didn’t happen about 10-15 minutes earlier.

The final whistle blew, the second 0-0 between the sides this season. In both games, Linfield were comfortable and never in any danger. The title destiny is still in their own hands.

A draw wasn’t ideal, but it’s not a disaster. The situation is retrievable. Linfield have come through a difficult month relatively unscathed, even managing to get closer to the top of the table by a point.

We might have exited two cup competitions, but it was one we’ve never entered before, and one we haven’t win for ten years.

We did make progress in one competition, the County Antrim Shield, the Semi-Final draw taking place today, giving Linfield a home tie against Ards.

Another draw of interest to Linfield fans was the Steel and Sons Cup Semi-Final draw, pairing Linfield Swifts with Crumlin Star. The Final is on Christmas Eve this year, which makes it very tempting to go, regardless of the result.

In other cup competitions, Crusaders have been reinstated into the Scottish Challenge Cup due to Livingston playing an ineligible player, replaying their tie against Livingston on Tuesday.

Wouldn’t it be an awful shame if Crusaders won that and caused their leage match against Portadown on November 12th to be postponed.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Glenavon. Glenavon have struggled in the early months of this season. Let’s hope that continues, before games against Dungannon and Cliftonville.

It’s a tough run of games, but if you want to win the league, these are the games you have to win, especially as Crusaders have a game against draw specialists Coleraine coming up.

Linfield have survived a difficult month with only slight, but retrievable, damage to the league campaign.

November killed their title chances last season. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen this season.

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COLERAINE 1-1 LINFIELD 22.10.2016

After seeing their unbeaten start to the season bite the dust at Solitude on Tuesday night, Linfield found themselves in a reverse role of trying to end someone’s unbeaten start to the season – Coleraine’s unbeaten home record, but most importantly trying to return to winning ways and keep the pressure on Crusaders at the top of the league.

If it wasn’t for Guglielmo Marconi, I would have thought this was a 1-0 win for Coleraine, having missed the start of the game due to being stuck in roadworks. It gives an indication of how much I missed as Linfield were 1-0 up through and Andrew Waterworth goal by the time I entered the ground, having listened to the start of the game on the radio, due to being stuck in roadworks. I even managed to miss Paul Smyth’s involvement in the game, as he was stretchered off in the opening minutes and replaced by Aaron Burns.

It certainly didn’t help being stuck in queues as I stopped off for lunch in Applegreen, with people making a simple task like ordering a sandwich seem like trying to work out quantum physics.

It wasn’t the first time i’d missed action in Coleraine. In 2009, the roads were so bad that I missed the first-half and entered the ground with Linfield 2-0 down. They came back to draw 2-2.

In 2011, I missed Aaron Burns goal in the opening minutes as Linfield went on to win 3-1. I was naturally hoping today would be a repeat.

Of the first-half action I did see, it was very scrappy. Linfield were letting Coleraine have too much possession in their half and inviting pressure on.

One of those self inflicted problems was a softly conceded corner which saw Coleraine hit the bar.

Within minutes, it was Linfield who were hitting the bar from a Jamie Mulgrew shot from outside the box.

In first-half injury time, a needless tackle from Chris Casement which resulted in a foul saw a succession of set pieces which caused concern for Linfield. Aaron Burns had to head out for a corner, a corner that saw the ball headed just over Linfield’s goal.

A reminder for Linfield that this game was far from won.

After a slow start to the second-half, Linfield began to apply some pressure, the ball in Coleraine’s defensive third but not being able to get a strike on goal or play the killer pass. It was clear that Linfield needed a second goal.

Within minutes, Coleraine showed them how it was done when James McLaughlin scored just minutes after coming off the bench, just as he did in August.

There was no response from Linfield as the game began to meander.

Linfield’s best chance came when Aaron Burns put the ball wide from close range. If it did go in, it would have been a (right footed) repeat

Josh Carson was then introduced from the bench. He almost had an impact within minutes as he fired in a dangerous cross that nobody could get on the end of. It summer up Linfield’s attacking. There were even times when they were getting in each other’s way

Coleraine had their chances in the final moments, with Roy Carroll had to get his timing right to deny James McLaughlin. If he didn’t, it was either a penalty or a goal for Coleraine.

Linfield had one last chance in injury time when Mark Haughey couldn’t repeat his goal heroics from February’s visit, and heaaded over after a long throw-in.

Th compound the frustration for Linfield supporters, they were held behind in the ground for five minutes on the advice of the local Dibble, living in fear of the Liam Gallagher Cosplayers Association (AKA, Coleraine’s “Hooligan Firm”)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I go to one Ulster European match a year. Naturally, they would have a Saturday night game on the day of one of Linfield’s longest away trips.

Their other home game pre-Christmas is on a Saturday lunchtime on the day Linfield are away to Ards. Sorry, Ulster, but Linfield come first.

It would have been tight to go straight to Ravehill from Coleraine, especially with a combination of roadworks and being kept behind at the whistle.

To compensate for this, i’m going to the match against Connacht on December 23rd. I know what you’re thinking, an Ulster match on the last Friday before Christmas. It is going to be Pisshead Central.

Of more immediate concern, it’s the second-half of Linfield’s quadrology of teams beginning in C, Cliftonville (County Antrim Shield) and Crusaders (League)

I said last week that Linfield needed four A* performances, they’ve barely scraped C- so far this week.

Despite a good start (going 1-0 up inside three minutes at The Oval), October has been a horrible month for Linfield, but it could all change this time next week, with Linfield being in a Cup Semi-Final and closer to the top of the league than at the start of the month.

It’s a funny old game, as one of Donald Trump’s mates once said.

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FEEDER – LIVE AT THE LIMELIGHT 17.10.2016

After a break. Feeder are back, and currently riding high in the Top Ten of the Album Chart and recently did a gig at Old Trafford, albeit as entertainment during Rugby League’s Super League Final.

From Old Trafford to The Limelight, not quite 76,000 were packed into the South Belfast venue, but it didn’t matter to those that were there.

Long time fan, i’ve never seen Feeder play live. The closest I ever came was in 2014 when Grant Nicholas played a instore gig at HMV in Cardiff ……… the day after I went home from Cardiff after a few days there.

And when I say long time fan, I mean long time fan, going back to the days when they were the darlings of the Melody Maker.

I know this because I recently picked up some late era Melody Makers on the cheap, which are going to be appearing on The Magazine Archive at some point in the future. Apologies for the plug. 1999-2000 era Melody Maker is a headmelter.

Grant Nicholas, now sporting long hair and a beard which makes him dangerously close to passing as a Barry Gibb lookalike, was reminiscing about his previous visits to Belfast, describing it as a city that loves Guitar Bands, preaching his love of The Limelight, while remembering that Feeder’s first gig in Belfast was attended by 20 people.

Nicholas did a lot of talking inbetween songs, which was convenient if you wanted to quickly check the Liverpool v Man United score. I don’t know why, even by the Twitter commentary it looked like a match destined to finish 0-0.

Something that Feeder managed to do during their heyday was to combine heavy riffs with slow building anthems, and they managed to mix them up enough to keep people happy, fitting Feeling A Moment, Pushing The Senses, Lost and Found, High, Tender, Come Back Around and Just The Way I’m Feeling onto the setlist, saving Just A Day for the encore.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest cheers were saved for Buck Rogers, starting off as a slow ballad before morphing into the song we all know and love.

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LINFIELD 4-0 BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 15.10.2016

David Healy celebrated his first anniversary as Linfield manager with a home game against the side who ruined his appointment, which was announced just before kick-off of a League Cup tie which Linfield lost 1-0.

One year on, and Linfield were again coming off the back of a League Cup defeat, 4-1 at Ballymena, having previously exited the Scottish Challenge Cup to Queen Of The South a few days earlier.

Like their hosts, Ballinamallard were coming off the back of two bad results, a 6-1 thumping at Dungannon Swifts, after only managing to get a draw at The Oval.

There were new faces brought into today’s line-up, a combination of rotation due to a busy month and axing players after the midweek shocker at Ballymena. I wasn’t there thankfully but can’t comment, but the media coverage and supporter reaction online were all consistent in their analysis.

Among those changes was the exciting prospect of Ross Clarke and Paul Smyth starting a competitive game for the first time, Clarke’s first start since April 2015 as he continues his recovery from injury.

There was no hangover from Linfield in the opening minutes, the pattern for the game being set out, with Linfield attacking and Ballinamallard defending.

What Linfield needed was an early goal, and they got it when Andrew Waterworth was played in by Niall Quinn to touch the ball and get him past Ballinamallard’s keeper, before composing himeself to fire into the net.

It was his first league goal of the season. A bit later in the calendar than many would have anticipated, but hopefully the first of many.

Despite being past the goalkeeperm there were still obstacles for him. Dropped recently, lacking in goals, a wet pitch, a defender running back, he ignored all of them to compose himself and finish.

It was a return to form for Waterworth today. Even when he couldn’t score or get on the end of a pass or cross, he was there and he was looking like he was seconds away from a goal.

In the previous meeting in August, Linfield got an early goal, but were pushed all the way by Ballinamallard, who were level at one point in the game.

It was the same pattern when Ballinamallard visited Windsor Park in March, Linfield edging the game 2-1 and Ballinamallard equalised. As well as that, Ballinamallard came from behind to get a draw in December.

In short, the game was far from won despite Linfield’s early lead.

Though, Linfield were the team most likely to get the next goal in the lead, their best opportunity coming when a long range Sammy Clingan free-kick was saved by James McGrath.

Clingan has had a lot of long-range shots saved this season, but his luck was soon to change, making it 2-0 from a free-kick. It was his first goal for the club.

Despite that, Ballinamallard tried to venture forward, Johnny Lafferty having his shot deflected over after a Roy Carroll spill.

Ross Clarke almost replicated his goal against Ballinamallard in February 2014, but his shot was deflected wide.

For Linfield, the aim of the second-half was to get an early goal and put the game to bed. Andrew Waterworth was agonisingly close to getting on the end of Ross Clarke’s cross.

There wasn’t long to wait for a third goal, and it came when Mark Haughey headed home from a corner.

Now that the game was won, Linfield turned to their bench to give some players a rest ahead of Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly, the first player substituted was Ross Clarke, who made way for Kirk Millar.

It was a productive afternoon for him, showing flashes of his 2014-2015 form and getting more minutes as he continues his recovery from long-term injury.

With the game won, Linfield stepped it up a gear, having numerous attempts on goal.

Having scored four goals in their last four home games, the stats suggested there would be another goal for Linfield, especially as Aaron Burns had since been introduced from the bench.

The fourth goal came after Paul Smyth took advantage of a sloppy backpass from Niall Owens back pass, touch it past the keeper and then score into the empty net. It wouldn’t be the first time today that a player called Owens would help Linfield today.

The one positive from Wednesday night’s defeat for Linfield, is that it gave Ballymena United some confidence, if it was needed, ahead of today’s game against Crusaders.

A 2-1 win for Ballymena was greatly received at Windsor Park, as it meant that Linfield will go top of the league if they beat Cliftonville on Tuesday night.

Even though the result helped Linfield, a closer inspection of the league table sees Ballymena only five points off the top of the league. They were really only helping themselves, with Linfield a secondary beneficiary.

Of all the absurd things to happen in 2016, a Ballymena United title challenge led by David Jeffrey is not something anybody would have seen on January 1st. He could probably resurrect Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Solitude, a ground and opponent that should hold no fear after recent head to heads. It should never have done in the first place. Let’s put that period behind us.

After that, is a trip to Coleraine, only four points off the top of the table, suddenly eyeing up a prospect of a title challenge.

That is followed by a County Antrim Shield tie against Cliftonville. Even though it’s a minor competition, you don’t want to have three cup exits in a month. That is a very Arsenal thing to do. The Saturday after that, Crusaders come to Windsor Park.

Four wins has to be the aim, ending the month with a cup final and a four point gap at the top of the league. Despite the two cup exits, that sequence of results would have made October 2016 a very productive month, despite the two earlier cup exits.

So, up next for Linfield, four Cs. Let’s hope the performances are A*.

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QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 2-0 LINFIELD 9.10.2016

Having not gone to the Edinburgh Festival this year, I wasn’t anticpating that I would be going to a football match in Scotland, but football works in mysterious ways, and I ended up going to see Linfield playing in Scotland.

Just about. If i’d headed any further South, I would have been in England, with Dumfries being less than an hour away from England, something utilised by Queen Of The South, with three of their squad being born in Carlisle.

As soon as it was announced in June that Linfield would be playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup, I let my mind stray as to possible opponents, and more importantly, a trip.

I didn’t want to play an SPL Underage team. Ideally, a senior team based in the Central Belt.

I didn’t get the Central Belt, but the next best thing, as my numerous trips to Old Trafford have taught me that Dumfries is not too far from the boat. This trip was more than doable. Another big appeal for me was the opportunity to visit another ground for the first time.

It became even more doable when Stena Line announced they were running a trip, which I had to book by phone due to their website being utterly useless.

What the tie had in geographic convenience was countered in the footballing aspect, with Queen Of The South being the highest ranked team left in the competition, currently top (and unbeaten in the league) of The Championship above Hibernian and Dundee United.

The stars were out for this match, spotting Ivan Little in the away end, and Helen Skelton was there to cheer on Queen Of The South. Her brother Gavin is the manager, another Cumbrian to go alongside those on the playing staff. It’s unknown if Calvin Harris or Bill Drummond were there to cheer on Queen Of The South.

As difficult as it was, it shouldn’t have been daunting for Linfield, with six of the starting line-up having played senior professional football, and four of them (Andrew Waterworth, Chris Casement, Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan) having played professionally in Scotland.

The hosts had the first chance of the game when Stephen Dobbie cut inside and hit a shot just wide of the post. Lyndon Dykes had a shot saved while Steveb Rigg hit a shot over the bar.

Roy Carroll had to be alert to race out of his box to clear the danger, avoiding the fate that happened to Gigi Buffon a few days earlier when he conceded a goal against Spain.

Linfield were having to do a lot of defending, but they were managing to keep out Queen Of The South.

It was clear that Linfield were missing Paul Smyth when they got the ball forward.

Jimmy Callacher had Linfield’s first attempt on goal but his header was easily saved.

If they weren’t getting much luck in open play, Roy Carroll’s catching made sure Queen Of the South were getting no joy from crosses.

Carroll was then forced into a double save from Dobbie and Rigg, the second of which was Jim Montgomery-esque.

Linfield got more into the game as the half neared it’s end, and had their best chance when Andrew Waterworth scuffed wide when he would have scored if he got the shot on target.

With chances so sparse for Linfield, they had to be taken.

Andy Dowie headed wide in the second-half while Roy Carroll was forced into a couple of saves when Queens players were through on goal.

The thing that was standing out was that Queen Of The South players were far more physically stronger than their Linfield counterparts, using their strength to begin or stop attacks.

Kirk Millar had a chance to win it for Linfield, but he couldn’t compose a shot and fired over.

0-0 after 90 minutes, the match went to extra-time, with no replays in this competition.

It was Queen Of The South who took the lead when Lyndon Dykes was played through, got enough space to go around Carroll and slot the ball into the empty net.

A stunning free-kick from Stephen Dobbie in the second-half of extra-time killed the game.

Queen Of The South threatened a third on the counter attack, a 3-0 scoreline would have been harsh.

It was a deserved win for Queen Of The South, but Linfield held their own. The first goal was always going to be crucial. Queens got it, and went on to win the game.

Having had a taste of it, hopefully Linfield can reach this competition again and have another trip to Scotland. Ayrshire, Stranraer, Galloway. All very convenient. Central Belt even.

I’ve checked, and Scotland aren’t at home on the weekend it would be played on next season, denying the idea of a double or even triple header weekend.

Back to domestic action now, a busy month awaits. Four league wins will see Linfield finish it on top of the league.

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NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 SAN MARINO 8.10.2016

Exactly a year to the day since a victory over Greece secured Northern Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016, Northern Ireland were back in competitive action at Windsor Park, to face San Marino in a World Cup Qualifier.

This match was the first game to be held at Windsor Park since the redevelopment was completed.

The delay caused by the subsidence of The Kop meant that Northern Ireland’s opening home qualifier would be the first game at the redeveloped venue. The fact that Romania opened the Railway Stand last year having opened the North Stand in 1984 suggested that Germany would be this evening’s opponents having opened the original seated Kop, but FIFA’s fixture algorithm decided otherwise.

What this fixture lacked in glamour, it more than made up for in winnability. Though, we’re Northern Ireland, this is the sort of game we usually drop points in. Or so the cliche goes.

Something changed during Euro 2016 Qualifying, as Northern Ireland stepped up when expected to win against Finland (home), Greece (home) and Faroe Islands (home and away).

Despite that, the memories of two points from four games against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in 2014 World Cup Qualifying still lingers.

Once you get the taste of something, you want more of it. Having seen their team reach a major finals for the first time in thirty years, Northern Ireland fans got a taste of tournament football, and want to recreate the memories of France in Russia.

The campaign got off to a reasonable start, a 0-0 draw away to Czech Republic being a solid foundation, no pun intended considering most of the pre-match build up focused on construction.

Unsurprisingly, Northern Ireland went straight on the attack. And finished it on the attack. And were on the attack in the moments inbetween.

For all of Northern Ireland’s attacking play, it mostly ended in frustration, the most frustrating when Stuart Dallas couldn’t finish from a Niall McGinn cross.

San Marino even ventured into Northern Ireland’s half, winning a corner and an attacking free-kick, the executions were too poor to trouble Michael McGovern.

The breakthrough came when Josh Magennis was hauled down in the penalty area, the penalty finished, rather appropriately, by Steven Davis, on the anniversary of his double strike against Greece.

There was a sense of frustration amongst the fans that Northern Ireland fans that it was only 1-0 at half-time. Perhaps they were saving all the goals for The Kop?

The task got a lot easier when Mirko Palazzi got sent-off for a foul on Michael McGovern. What was also helping Northern Ireland was the fact that San Marino’s keeper was punching every shot he faced, not always effectively.

Stuart Dallas fired wide from close range while Steven Davis fired over when played through. Conor Washington fired over from a goalkeeping parry.

Despite being dominant, Northern Ireland needed a second goal, just to sure of the points. They found out the hard way against Luxembourg in 2012 when a speculative shot and a lucky deflection turned a deserved win into a frustrating draw.

Josh Magennis thought he had scored the first goal in front of The Kop but it was disallowed for offside. Niall McGinn also had a goal disallowed after a fumble by the San Marino keeper, a decision pundits describe as “the sort of decision goalkeepers get”.

It was left to Kyle Lafferty to be the History Man, who started the game on the bench after not seeing any game time for Norwich this season.

Quite apt, as he scored Northern Ireland’s last goal in front of the old Kop, and flicked home a cross to make it 2-0.

Jamie Ward, for some reason wearing socks that were a different shade of green than the rest of the team, finished home from close range after a Kyle Lafferty flick on to make it 3-0.

In injury time, Steven Davis found enough time and space in the penalty area to flick the ball to Kyle Lafferty to put it into an empty net to make it 4-0. It was the last kick of the game.

It left Northern Ireland 3rd in the group with four points, two behind joint leaders Germany and Azerbaijan, the two sides Northern Ireland face next.

Up next is Germany, before Azerbaijan (November 2016) and Norway (March 2017) visit Windsor Park.

Even if we lose in Germany, those two home games are more than winnable. If we did, ten points from five games would be an excellent return at the halfway stage of the group.

Still a long way to go, so I wouldn’t be checking those Roubles.

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THERE WE WERE, NOW HERE WE ARE : JOB DONE

So, here we are. It’s been a long journey, but the redevelopment of Windsor Park is finally complete.

On Saturday, Northern Ireland played San Marino in a World Cup Qualifier, since the completion of the redevelopment of the stadium, winning 4-0.

October 2016 - Barrier seperating entrances to South Stand and Kop.

October 2016 – Barrier seperating entrances to South Stand and Kop.

October 2016 - Entrance to The Kop.

October 2016 – Entrance to The Kop.

October 2016 - The Kop concourse

October 2016 – The Kop concourse

October 2016 - Seats in The Kop.

October 2016 – Seats in The Kop.

October 2016 - The Kop.

October 2016 – The Kop.

October 2016 - Seats in The Kop.

October 2016 – Seats in The Kop.

October 2016 - Back row of The Kop.

October 2016 – Back row of The Kop.

October 2016 - View from the back row of The Kop.

October 2016 – View from the back row of The Kop.

October 2016 - The Kop and South Stand.

October 2016 – The Kop and South Stand.

October 2016 - Windsor Park.

October 2016 – Windsor Park.

October 2016 - View from front row of The Kop.

October 2016 – View from front row of The Kop.

October 2016 - North Stand

October 2016 – North Stand

October 2016 - South Stand

October 2016 – South Stand

October 2016 - The Kop.

October 2016 – The Kop.

October 2016 - The Kop/North Stand junction.

October 2016 – The Kop/North Stand junction.

It’s important to note, that the whole project isn’t complete, just the Windsor Park part of it. There is still Midgely Park and Olympia Leisure Centre to be completed. Before you ask, no, i’m not doing a blog about a leisure centre being built.

Whisper it, but I might even do a similar blog about proposed redevelopments at Solitude and The Oval.

I can’t help but wonder what Archilbald Leitch would make of the current incarnation of his masterpiece.