STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2016

My football watching for 2016 is over, so it’s time for a statistical look back at the year.

Games : 57

Goals Seen : 178

Red Cards : 18

Missed/Saved Penalties : 3

Hat-Tricks : 0

Teams Seen : 39

Ards, Azerbaijan, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Belarus (1st time), Bohemians, Bristol Rovers (1st time), Bury (1st time), Cambridge United (1st time), Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Cork City (1st time), Croatia (1st time), Crusaders, Dundela, Dungannon Swifts, Feyenoord, France, Glenavon, Glentoran, Harland and Wolff Welders, Linfield, Manchester United, Millwall (1st time), Northern Ireland, Poland, Portadown, Queen of the South (1st time), Republic of Ireland (1st time), Romania, San Marino (1st time), Slovenia, Southampton (1st time), St Patrick’s Athletic, Sweden (1st time), Wales, Warrenpoint Town, West Ham United.

Stadiums Visited : 22

Allianz Riviera (1st time), Ballymena Showgrounds, Clandeboye Park, Cardiff City Stadium, Coleraine Showgrounds, Dalymlount Park, Ferney Park, Gigg Lane (1st time), Memorial Ground (1st time), Milltown, Mourneview Park, Old Trafford, Palmerston (1st time), Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stade De France (1st time), The Oval, Tillysburn Park, Wilgar Park, Windsor Park

Competitions : 12

County Antrim Shield, European Championship Finals, FA Premier League, Football League One, Football League Two, Irish Cup, Irish League, League Of Ireland, Scottish Challenge Cup, Steel and Sons Cup, UEFA Cup, World Cup Qualifying,

Curiousities : 3

1st January 2016 – Match delayed due to a corner flag breaking. It got punched during a goal celebration. Not going to say who by in case he gets a retrospective ban.

26th February 2016 and 5th November 2016 – Outfield player in nets. Mark Haughey, both against Glenavon. He saved a penalty in the first game.

15th May 2016 – Evacuated from a ground because of a bomb scare for the first time ever. Turned out not to be a real bomb.

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CRUSADERS 1-2 LINFIELD 31.12.2016

Linfield began 2016 the way they began the year, with a clash against Crusaders.

Unfortunately, they finished the year as they started, trying to make up a massive deficit, only the 7 points today compared with 9 (with a game more played) on New Year’s Day.

Despite dropping points on Boxing Day, Linfield knew that if they could get the win, the gap would be one point less than when they kicked-off on Boxing Day, even though the title race would be out of their hands. Defeat was not an option for Linfield, as the gap would increase to ten points, double figures, making the Irish Cup tie against Glentoran next weekend make or break for the season.

Linfield could take heart from the previous meetings this season, both 0-0 draws, but games where Linfield were the better team.

The other ten teams in the league might believe Crusaders are unbeatable, Linfield certainly did not.

It was Crusaders who had the first chance of the game when Michael Carvill (yes, really) headed against the bar after Linfield fell asleep at a set piece, allowing a short corner to go into the box unchallenged.

That was the only moment of worry in the first-half for Linfield, as they began to dominate the game, applying pressure on the Crusaders goal.

Jonny Frazer, rewarded with a first team appearance after helping the Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup, was linking up with a recalled Aaron Burns, providing support to the no longer isolated Andrew Waterworth. Crusaders were struggling to handle them.

Despite that, it was Mark Haughey who looked like giving Linfield the lead, but his goalward shot was blocked in the six yard box. From where I was, it looked like it was going wide. TV replays suggested it was going in. The Crusaders defender wasn’t taking any chances.

As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield weren’t going to get their reward. That was, until Aaron Burns flicked the ball over a defender and tried to get some space in the penalty area.

From where I was, it looked like he was going to miss. Shows what I know, he just set himself up and fired the ball past Sean O’Neill to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It got even better for Linfield a few minutes later when Andrew Waterworth chased a through ball which Michael Gault looked set to shepherd the ball back to the goalkeeper.

Thankfully for Linfield, Gault dithered even more than the time Warren Feeney offered him a contract, giving Waterworth enough of an opportunity to get the slight touch of the ball he needed to put the ball in the net to put Linfield 2-0 up.

The scoreline was exactly what Linfield deserved.

Naturally, there was the fear of a Crusaders backlash. It didn’t come. In fact, Linfield were the side most likely to score.

Aaron Burns lobbed the keeper but the effort was headed off hte line, while Andrew Waterworth touched the ball goalwards past an onrushing goalkeeper, not quite as successfully as he did in the first-half.

On the hour, a melee by the touchline resulted in a red card for Jamie Mulgrew. I was at the other side so didn’t get a great view.

From what I could see, Mulgrew had hands raised. No complaints about his red card, but real complaint was why he was the only player leaving the pitch, as there were several Crusaders players around him with hands raised.

It didn’t quite gee up the Crusaders fans. It was the Linfield fans who were noisiest as a result of this, urging their team to get the points. They knew the players needed them to help them see out the final half hour.

Unfortunately, what the incident also meant, was there would be five to six minutes of injury time.

There wasn’t an immediate reshuffle needed by Linfield, as Aaron Burns slotted back into midfield to fill in the gap left by Mulgrew.

Within a few minutes, Chris Casement was brought on for Jonny Frazer to play in right midfield, to give some defensive cover in that position.

Despite the one man advantage, Crusaders were restricted to speculative shots and crosses into the box. They only needed to get lucky with one to get back into the game. That came when Jordan Owens headed home to make it 2-1.

The speculative shots and crosses continued but Linfield held firm. Despite the one goal lead, Linfield knew they just had to keep their heads and they would get the three points, as there was never a moment when you felt a Crusaders equaliser was imminent.

David Healy, sent to his stands in the same incident Jamie Mulgrew was sent-off, turned to the bench, bringing on Cameron Stewart, belatedly in my opinion, for Andrew Waterworth, who was feeling the effects of leading the forward line as a solo effort since the red card.

Despite the disappointment of last Monday, this result means that Linfield are a point closer to the top of the table than they were this time last week. It really should be a two point gap. There’s no point crying about Boxing Day, it’s gone, the next game is the one that matters.

Not only is the gap at the top reduced, the lead over third place Cliftonville is now four points. While we should be looking ahead of us, it’s nice not to have to immediately look behind us.

That next game comes around very quickly, a Tuesday night game at home to Coleraine, on a night with a full fixture list.

That, like every game between now and April, is a must-win game, as this result cannot be allowed to be undone if Linfield are to have any serious ambitions of winning the title.

Crusaders, are away to Ards. That’s a game I would expect them to win. Though, I would have said the same about Ballymena today. Ards are unbeaten in three games under new manager Colin Nixon. Hopefully, he can continue with his unbeaten start as a amanager.

After that, is the Irish Cup trip to The Oval before concentrating on the league again with a trip to Mourneview Park.

The big games keep coming for Linfield, but the standard has been set. If we can repeat today’s performance, especially the first-half performance, 2017 could be a very successful year for Linfield.

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LINFIELD 1-1 GLENTORAN 26.12.2016

Five was very much the number on people’s minds at Windsor Park today. Linfield were looking to get two wins this week to reduce Crusaders five point lead at the top of the Irish League, and get a win over Glentoran in the traditional Boxing Day fixture for five years in a row.

The festive period had already got off to a good start for Linfield. The first team had a dramatic late win last weekend, while a very young Linfield Swifts team won the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas Eve, against a team from East Belfast.

One of the goalscoring heroes from Christmas Eve, was rewarded with a place on the bench for this game.

It was a slow start from Linfield, all of the play was in their half, as Glentoran dominated possession.

Eventually, Linfield began to take control of the ball, almost scoring when an attempted Glentoran clearance hit the top of the crossbar.

Aaron Burns and Marj Haughey then went close from a corner.

Soon after, Kirk Millar broke away. A tee up to Stephen Lowry seemed the obvious opportunity but he flashed it across goal, Elliott Morris parrying the ball to Aaron Burns, who fired over via a Glentoran defender. He really should have scored.

It didn’t matter, as Mark Haughey headed home from the resulting corner to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Aaron Burns then created space for himself but fired wide via a deflection. It looked like being a matter of time before Linfield made it 2-0.

It looked like happening when Andrew Waterworth created space for himself, but he shot wide, or when Aaron Burns fired a shot goalwards, which was saved.

Glentoran had moments in Linfield’s half, but nothing to worry Roy Carroll.

Linfield had a deserved half-time lead, but couldn’t get a two goal lead that surely would have secured the points.

A slow start to the second-half by Linfield allowed Glentoran back into the game. They might not have had a chance, but if Linfield weren’t going to kill them off, all it needed was for one chance to come their way.

Just before the hour, a headed clearance fell perfectly for Aaron Harmon to head into the net.

Linfield couldn’t say they weren’t warned. The only positive was that they still have half an hour to do something about it.

There was a brief flurry from Linfield after the goal, but not enough to suggest a 2nd goal was inevitable. David Healy turned to his subs bench, bringing on Josh Carson for Kirk Millar, who suffered an injury in a challenge.

Even if he wasn’t injured, Millar would have been a prime candidate to be substituted, having endured a frustrating afternoon.

Cameron Stewart came on from the bench, hoping to get a second vital goal in just over 48 hours.

Chris Casement fired a free-kick wide as Linfield searched for a winner. They weren’t getting the bounced. They weren’t making their own luck like against Ballymena United the previous week.

On 86 minutes, Stephen McAlorum was sent-off for a late tackle. It was the second Boxing Day game in which he had been sent-off in. At least he lasted 80 minutes longer today than he did in 2012.

Linfield couldn’t make the most of the one man advantage. For all of the ball being in Glentoran’s defensive third, they never looked like putting it in the back of the net. There would be no repeat of last Saturday’s dramatic late heroics.

It was two points dropped. Failing to kill the game off when on top and then giving away a soft goal.

With Crusaders winning 4-0 at Solitude, it means Linfield trail the leaders by seven points.

Not all hope is lost. Linfield travel to Seaview knowing that a win will reduce the lead to four points, meaning they will be one point better off than at kick-off today. Small progress, but it is to be welcomed.

There is no reason why Linfield can’t beat Crusaders. Both meetings this season have finished 0-0, with Linfield being the better team on both occasions. There is nothing to fear. A vast improvement in performance is needed though.

It’s bad enough the other ten clubs in the league having defeatist attitudes against Crusaders, that should never be the Linfield way.

Meanwhile, i’m still digesting the League Of Ireland fixture announcement. I’m looking at Friday 14th July 2017 as a game to go to.

Being off work on Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th, it seems a bit pointless to come in that day.

I might book it off and try and find a reasonably priced hotel and spend Friday and Saturday in Dublin. The fixtures scheduled that day are Bray v Cork, St Pat’s v Derry and Shelbourne v Wexford Youths.

The first two games could be postponed due to European commitments, meaning I go to Shelbourne v Wexford Youths by defeault. Still, it would mean one last trip to Tolka Park before it gets consigned to history.

July can wait, it’s all about Saturday now. Time for Linfield to step up.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December began for me with a trip to The Limelight, a venue I would be spending a bit of time at this month, to see Primal Scream in concert.

Two Days later, I was headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a routine win over Carrick Rangers.

I then headed out into Belfast to get some photos of a mural of Jack Nicholson

That night, I headed back to The Limelight to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following weekend, I was Bangor bound to see Linfield take on Ards, and then back to The Limelight (I know, becoming a regular) to see Cast in concert.

The morning after that, I was out on my bike to get some Street Art photos, in Great Victoria Street and a mural of Prince in Botanic.

On the middle Saturday in December, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield record a late win over Ballymena United.

The weekend before Christmas saw me being busy, taking in Ulster v Connacht for my annual Rugby match, and then the following morning heading to Seaview to see Linfield Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup.

There’s still a bit of the month left. Two big Linfield matches, against Glentoran and Crusaders. I’m also hoping to get a chance to head to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos.

And then, that will be me for 2016. Don’t worry, there’ll be Camera Adverntures in 2017.

Primal Scream live at The Limelight

Primal Scream live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Jack

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ards v Linfield

Cast live at The Limelight

Cast live at The Limelight Photo Album

Great Victoria Street Art

Great Victoria Street Art Photo Album

Prince Mural

Prince Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Ulster v Connacht

Ulster v Connacht Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

DUNDELA 1-3 LINFIELD SWIFTS 24.12.2016

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, it meant that the Steel and Sons Cup Final would be played on Christmas Eve this year. Very convenient for me. I’d always been planning to go this year, the fact that Linfield Swifts would be competing this year was a nice bonus.

The opponents would be Dundela, who they beat the last time they won the trophy. Most of Linfield’s team today weren’t born then. It wasn’t that long ago, 1997, it’s just that most of Linfield’s team today were so young.

There wouldn’t have been many that casual observers wouldn’t have recognised, apart from Reece Glendinning, who had the most first-team experience of the Linfield side, a relative veteran at the age of 21, with Stephen Fallon the second most experienced player.

Eamon Scanell and Ryan Strain have both played first-team games for Linfield, as had substitute Jake Moore. You could count them combined on one hand though.

Cameron Stewart was recently an unused substitute for the first-team against Ards.

The main focus would have been on Jonny Frazer, who has also made first-team appearances, and was the hat-trick hero in the Semi-Final win over Crumlin Star.

The reason for Linfield’s team being so young was due to the restrictions on Steel and Sons Cup participation, as players with International caps (Carson, Carroll, Clingan) and League/Cup winners medals (Mulgrew, Callacher, Ward, Waterworth) being unable to play.

And then there’s the fact that the first-time have a slightly big game on Monday.

Linfield’s first-team beat Dundela 3-1 in a friendly in July, not that that game would have a bearing on today’s game.

Dundela had a few familiar faces, with Youtube Star Matty Burrows taking time out from hanging out with Chris Crocker and Zoella, and Matthew Ferguson, son of Linfield’s Academy Director Glenn Ferguson, making it a mixed Christmas for the Ferguson family, regardless of the result.

There wasn’t a lot of opportunities in the early minutes of the game. Cameron Stewart was the focus of Linfield’s attacks, making his presence known to Dundela’s defence.

Dundela’s tackling seemed to be a tribute to the game being held at Seaview but Linfield’s youngsters held firm.

Stewart had Linfield’s best chance when he got in behind Dundela’s defence but fired straight at the keeper.

Eamon Scannell had a long-range shot saved as Linfield began to build pressure on Dundela. They got the goal they deserved when a free-kick fell to Reece Glendinning to fire home from close range. His dad walked past me before the game. He’ll have another Cup Final for his other footballing son in a few months time as well.

Within a minute, Cameron Stewart got the goal he deserved when he scored from close range after his initial shot was saved to put Linfield 2-0 up.

A couple of minutes later, Scannell hit the bar from a free-kick which had resulted from some nervous Dundela defending. It looked like Linfield were going to run away with this.

If anybody knows that a 2-0 lead at half-time isn’t enough, it’s Linfield Swifts, having had to overcome a 2-0 deficit against Crumlin Star in their Semi-Final.

Making two substitutions at half-time, Dundela came out strong at the start of the second-half, hitting the bar, before one of those subs, Jamie Jackson reduced the deficit.

Dundela had possession but didn’t do much with it, Linfield Swifts didn’t look like conceding, before gradually getting back on top again.

Cameron Stewart thought he had made it 3-1, but his goalbound effort was blocked by a defender who got in the way.

There wasn’t long to wait for the clincher, as Adam McCallum made it 3-1 on 71 minutes, heading home from a corner.

Linfield looked more likely to get the next goal as the game neared it’s end, Stewart and Frazer going close.

Dundela knew they were beaten, as Linfield saw out the game to win 3-1 and collect the trophy.

If you believe in omens, the last time Linfield won the Steel and Sons Cup (against Dundela), they beat Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield Final.

In 2017, Christmas will be on a Monday. The last time that happened, in 2006, the Steel and Sons Cup Final was on Saturday 23rd December due to there being no top flight games that day.

A repeat in 2017 would be very convenient.

A few days ago, I blogged about my football watching wishes for 2017. I had a sudden flash of inspiration about something I forgot to include. Hear me out and don’t laugh, i’m being serious with this.

Both France and Italy take their version of the Charity Shield outside their respective countries. France’s version, Trophée des Champions, was held in Austria in front of a crowd of just over 10,000, while Italy’s version, Supercoppa Italiana was played in 12,000 capacity stadium in Qatar.

Must be worth somebody raising an enquiry about Windsor Park hosting one of these some year.

The first of two visits to Seaview this festive period has brought a Linfield win. Hopefully, there’ll be another to end the year next Saturday.

As it’s my last football blog before Christmas, may I take the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas. Except if you support Glentoran, have an awful one, and an even more awfuler (if that is a word) Boxing Day, a Christmas so awful, it lasts until 7th January.

Linfield’s youth have ended the year with a trophy, time for the seniors to step up and bring a few home in 2017.

Photo Album

2014 Steel and Sons Cup Final

ULSTER 23-7 CONNACHT 23.12.2016

Last night, I headed to Ravenhill for my annual Rugby match, as Ulster took on Connacht.

I usually make it a European game, but the scheduling has conspired against me. The home match against Exeter was on a Saturday night, but it was also the same day as one of Linfield’s longer away games. It was doable, but there was too much that could have went wrong, and it would have meant a Burger Van Dinner.

The home match against Clermont a few weeks ago was on a Saturday lunchtime. Sorry lads, but Linfield take priority, especially when there is an away trip to Bangor that day.

The game against Bordaux next month looks set to be a dead rubber. That too has been moved to a Saturday lunchtime. I’ll be at Linfield v Ballymena.

It’s almost as if they want to keep me away from Ravenhill. Is it because Ulster have lost the last two times i’ve been to Ravenhill?

My last visit, was an agonising one point defeat to Scarlets in February. For that match, I got a free ticket as part of promotion for Random Acts Of Kindness Day. That falls on February 17th, the day before Ulster are at home to Glasgow, a Saturday when Linfield don’t play. Just dropping a hint there. I love getting free stuff.

So, I decided to pick a league match, and a Friday night game against the defending champions when I am on my Christmas Holidays looked like a good option.

For this match, I was in the Family Terrace, my first time in there. It wasn’t too crowded and I wasn’t having to constantly let people in and out, which was a nice bonus.

The game was publicised as being sold out, but I could see a lot of empty seats from where I was.

Not a lot happened in the early stages of the game. That was, until Paddy Jackson converted a penalty on 19 minutes to put Ulster 3-0 up.

On 27 minutes, Ulster’s first real moment of quality in attack saw Stuart McCloskey have a clear run to get a try at the corner. During the whole move, it was just a matter of who was going to score. The resulting conversion from Paddy Jackson gave Ulster a 10-0 lead.

Connacht were offering nothing going forward, and when they did, there was an Ulster wall blocking their way. Another penalty from Paddy Jackson gave Ulster a 13-0 lead. It was anything but unlucky for Connacht.

On 53 minutes, a Clive Ross try converted by Jackson made it 20-0 to Ulster. As Connacht hadn’t looked like scoring all game, a dramatic comeback looked unlikely, it was almost game won for Ulster.

There would be no clean sheet as a Jack Carty converted try made it 20-7. 13 points was still a lot to climb back, but Ulster still had to keep their senses and stop Connacht from getting back into the game.

Any hopes of a comeback were soon dashed when another Jackson penalty made it 23-7.

Ulster were comfortable winners. So comfortable, a lot of people left early knowing the points were secured, leading to a slightly subdued atmosphere at full time.

Ulster are now in 5th, as they aim to get into the Play-Offs, the final in 2017 will be at Lansdowne Road.

Undecided wether to go to this. The game is on the last Saturday in May. That is Football Programme Fair day, and the FA Cup Final.

I went in 2015 and got my tickets once United’s fate that season was confirmed in March. With a likely teatime kick-off, it’s possible to do both the fair and the match. I’ll wait and see.

Meanwhile, Newcastle has been shortlisted as a host city for the 2018 European Champions Cup Final. This would be very tempting for a number of reasons. I haven’t been to Newcastle since 1994 so a return visit is overdue, I could get to visit The Back Page, and then make it a double header on the Sunday by seeing Sunderland or Middlesbrough if they are both still in the Premier League and one of them is at home.

Photo Album

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 23.12.2016 (AND SOME MUSICAL THOUGHTS FOR 2017)

1. Robert Goulet – Jingle Bells, Batman Smells
2. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
3. Greg Lake – I Believe In Father Christmas
4. Fountains of Wayne – Alien For Christmas
5. John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

You didn’t think I wouldn’t have any Christmas songs this week? I’m not that much of a Scrooge.

Somebody started a rumour that i’ve cleared my diary to watch Christmas With Daniel O’Donnell on RTE 1 at 9.30pm tomorrow. It might be true, or it might not be true.

This week, saw the first headliners for Belsonic 2017 announced, a lot earlier than usual (recent years have been announced between February and April)

Just the two announced, and they were, well, underwhelming.

If you don’t know, it’s Jess Glynne and Axwell Ingrosso (who sounds like a Swiss footballer)

I know i’m guilty of complaining about bands I don’t like/have never heard of being on the bill when Belsonic headliners are announced, because I should know by now that not every Belsonic concert will appeal to me due to the line-up being so vast and varied.

These concerts will be at Ormeau Park, the third venue in the last three years. It’s slightly concerning that it’s starting to have a nomadic existence like what Tennent’s Vital used to have.

I thought Titanic worked as a venue in my own observations. Spatious, easy to get to and out of. I didn’t experience any real problems, even though Ormeau Park will be very convenient for me.

I really hope they don’t go down the Tennent’s Vital route of having pits. I find the idea that someone could just turn up ten minutes before showtime and get a better view than me, simply because they’re mates of a mate of a mate of a mate of someone who works for a sponsor.

I love Belsonic because it’s not Tennent’s Vital. I really hope it doesn’t go down a road of trying to be Tennent’s Vital.

I would imagine there will be more concerts announced in the new year.

One of the fun things I like to do when announcements are announced is to try and predict who will be performing.

As you can see from the link, my predictions were well off.

Belsonic isn’t the only festival in Belfast/Greater Belfast. There’s also Catherdal Quarter Arts Festival, Feile and Open House Festival (Bangor) which will be staging concerts.

So, i’m going to post my musical hopes for people coming to Belfast. The only 2017 concert I have in my diary is Blossoms. They’re brilliant. You may remember them winning The Sound Of 2015 on this blog. If you want to see how good they are, they’ll be on Top Of The Pops on New Year’s Eve.

You may remember me getting excited about Simple Minds coming to Waterfront Hall in June next year. Well, it’s an all seated gig and I can’t be arsed with that.

So, i’m going to post my hopes for those who I would love to come to Belfast in 2017.

Cast and Embrace will have albums out in 2017, so hopefully they’ll fit in a Belfast gig.

Kaiser Chiefs, Paul Weller, The Kooks, Amy MacDonald, KT Tunstall and Two Door Cinema Club all have 2017 tours announced but no Belfast gig. Hopefully some of them well be adding Belfast to their schedule.

Rose Elinor Dougall is a singer I absolutely adore, a former member of The Pipettes (Remember them? They were brilliant too) who is releasing her first album in six years, so i’m hoping she stops off in Belfast.

This week, Red Hot Chili Peppers were supposed to be doing two concerts in Dublin, but due to Anthony Kiedis being unwell, they have been postponed until September 2017.

Wouldn’t it be great if they snuck in a couple of Odyssey gigs around that.

If you were to sum up 2017 in four words, it would be ………… LIAM. GALLAGHER. SOLO. ALBUM. Which i’m hoping is as entertaining as his Twitter.

It may be brilliant, it may be bad, it won’t be boring. Cannot wait for it. Potato.

Meanwhile, the race for Christmas Number 1 (Usually dominated by X-Factor in the same way Celtic have dominated the SPL over the last few years) is between Rangers and Little Mix, which gives me an excuse to post my favourite Youtube videos, from the time Celtic and Rangers players formed a band with a man in a tiger costume to record a charity single to promote Glasgow as a tourist destination.

Think of it as my seasonal gift to you.

Merry Christmas.

FOOTBALL IN 2017

At this time of year, I usually write about my hopes for football watching over the following year.

In truth, I never really know what is going to happen. As 2015 turned into 2016, I would not have predicted that I would be travelling to Dumfries to see Linfield playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup, or that I would be evacuated from Old Trafford because somebody forgot to remove a dummy bomb.

I’m going to try though, with my football watching hopes for the year ahead.

LINFIELD

Win the League, win the Irish Cup and win the County Antrim Shield. That’s what I want. That would bring European football, with hopefully a run, and some games against clubs in the 102 Club.

As well as playing in Europe, domestic success would also qualify us for the Scottish Challenge Cup. I absolutely loved the trip to Dumfries, so hopefully a trip to somewhere in Dumfries/Galloway or Ayrshire would be great.

Or even the Central Belt, if flights were a decent rate.

Then there is pre-season. The same criteria applies, a ground I haven’t been to, or haven’t been to for a while, and is close to Belfast. So, that criteria would be any of Loughgall, Moyola Park, Knockbreda or Annagh United.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Going to the League match against Hull at the end of January. I’m going Tuesday to Thursday, with the Hull game provisionally scheduled for the Wednesday. On the Tuesday, i’m free. Wigan play Norwich that night, so it could be a chance to see the almost mythical Will Grigg. There are no scheduled games in League One and League Two, that date might be used for rearranged games. I’ll wait until quite late before deciding wether to go to a game that night.

I’m hoping to go to the Crystal Palace game at the end of the season.

Hopefully, United will be back in the European Cup in 2017/2018, and this would allow me to go to a midweek group game. Ideally, in November/December, so I can take Manchester Christmas Market.

IRISH LEAGUE

I’ll be keeping an eye on the Championship table and the promotion race. The way the table is at the moment, it looks like Warrenpoint will be promoted, with Institute, Ballyclare and Larne battling it out for the play-off. If there is a team to be promoted via the play-offs, I wouldn’t mind it being Larne as I haven’t been there since 2005.

February 18th will see the League Cup Final between Ballymena United and Carrick Rangers at a as yet undecided venue. I might see about getting a ticket for this as a neutral. Carrick are at home to Linfield the previous weekend, so there would be a good opportunity for me to get a ticket.

In 2017, Christmas Day will fall on a Monday for the first time since 2006. That year, the Steel and Sons Cup Final was held on Saturday 23rd December as there were no top flight games on that day. I’d be tempted in going in 2017 if there was a similar arrangement.

LEAGUE OF IRELAND

Usually, I take in a day trip to Dublin and take in a League Of Ireland game while i’m there. The fixture list was announced today, and i’m still digesting it.

Bray Wanderers (close to Dublin) used to play on Saturdays (far more convenient) but they’ve now decided to play on Fridays.

There is a full fixture list on Saturday 25th March 2017 due to an international the day before. However, Linfield are away to Ballinamallard that day, so Linfield take priority. If Linfield’s match is postponed due to international call-ups, this would be tempting. The options would be Bray v Limerick, Cabinteely v Cobh, UCD v Longford or St Patrick’s Athletic v Shamrock Rovers.

There may be games moved to Saturday or Sunday due to European games in June/July. I’ll keep an eye out, though there’s no real obvious other date for me to go down.

NORTHERN IRELAND

I can’t say i’d be planning on going to Russia if we reached the World Cup, but it would be great if I could be in a situation where i’m toying with the idea.

SCOTLAND

I didn’t go to the Edinburgh Festival in 2016 but i’m planning to return in 2017. Naturally, that would take in whichever of Hearts is at home, and if I could get a bonus of another game in the Central Belt.

So, that’s my football watching hopes for 2017. I’ll be amazed if any of this goes to plan.

THE SOUND OF 2016 : 1-25

And here we are, what you’ve been waiting for, to find out the best song of 2016. Not long to go until it is revealed. Are you ready? Are you ready?

Oh ok, I’ll shut up, here’s the Top 25.

1. The Strumbellas – Spirits
2. James – Nothing But Love
3. Iggy Pop – Gardenia
4. The Courteeners – No One Will Ever Replace Us
5. Christine and the Queens – Tilted
6. The Temper Trap – Fall Together
7. Chvrches ft Hayley Williams – Bury It
8. Clean Cut Kid – We Used To Be In Love
9. Sia – The Greatest
10. Oasis – D’You Know What I Mean? (NG’s 2016 Rethink)
11. Travis – Animals
12. Stone Roses – All For One
13. Bastille – Good Grief
14. Travis – Magnificent Time
15. Aurora – Conquerer
16. Biffy Clyro – Howl
17. Bastille – Send Them Off
18. The Lumineers – Ophelia
19. Grimes – California
20. Travis – 3 Miles High
21. Two Door Cinema Club – Are We Ready? (Wreck)
22. Blossoms – Getaway
23. KT Tunstall – Maybe It’s A Good Thing
24. Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
25. Clean Cut Kid – Make Believe

Thank you for your support over the past year and I’ll hope to bring you more Friday Fives and pointless themed charts throughout 2017.

Congratulations to The Strumbellas, who join Kasabian, Feist, Sons and Daughters, Little Boots, Marina and the Diamonds, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Taylor Swift, Haim, Jamie T and Blossoms in the Hall Of Fame.

Hopefully, over the past four weeks, i’ve helped you discover some songs you’ve never heard before.

If you haven’t heard the winning song, here it is ……

Want to get excited for music in 2017? Here’s four words for you – Liam. Gallagher. Solo. Album.