A football match. An actual football match. I forgot that this is what I used to do on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve been so starved of football recently, I’ve found myself getting excited about the 1st Round of the County Antrim Shield.
I’m not one of those football fans who spends pre-season moaning, I can live with it . A few weeks off to recharge before jumping back into the madness. Maybe not seven months of it.
It was a cycle along Boucher Road that made me suddenly realise how much I’ve missed going to football matches. I cycled past a Burger Van in an Industrial Park. That was it, the aroma of burgers is the smell of football. You know what I mean. When you smell a burger van, you know you’re in or approaching a football ground.
This was one of two 1st Round ties that didn’t involve a top flight club, and one of seven taking place, unusually for this competition, on a Saturday afternoon. The competition being treated as a final warm-up before the League starts.
I actually like this idea. It was something I thought should have happened when the competition operated with eight teams. Get it sorted and out of they way in pre-season.
It might be an idea to consider for future seasons if or when things return to normal and the League season starts in August.
Saturday afternoon games in August also give minnows an opportunity to host senior clubs, and add a bit of jeopardy for the big boys.
Although, an extended run in Europe for a participating club leads to the potential postponements and a fixture backlog already in August. It’s a long season though, and it can be easily overcome.
With Quarter-Finals taking place on the Tuesday night after this, a double draw was done, with a trip to Cliftonville or Knockbreda the prize for the winners of this match.
Queen’s University, that name sounds familiar. I think I’ve seen them play before.
Of course, it was a match earlier this year that I’ve been trying to block out of my memories ever since I attended it.
That match took place in January, when we were all dreaming of an Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park in May.
Nobody could have foreseen the shock result that day, or that this year’s Irish Cup Final wouldn’t take place until 31st July.
Thankfully, that was the only domestic cup upset for Linfield this year, as the PSNI were seen off by a score of 6-0 five days earlier, making them the first team through to the Quarter-Finals.
That match was moved due to access required for Northern Ireland v Austria. Personally, even though I wouldn’t have been able to attend, it would have been more convenient for fans if it was scheduled for Saturday 3rd October. Yes, I’m complaining about fixture scheduling already.
Ironically, it is rumoured that a dispute over stadium access, at Lansdowne Road, could see Dundalk playing their UEFA Cup Group Stage matches at Windsor Park.
It’s like that old cliche about buses. Dundalk wait 41 years for a European match at Windsor Park, and then three come along at once.
Due to Coronavirus, the matchday experience will now be a lot different for fans who are lucky enough to get into a football stadium.
Obviously, it will differ from club to club, for this match, I paid in through the turnstiles and had a gun put in front of my head.
Relax, it was only a Temperature Gun. You’ll be glad to know I passed the test and was allowed to stay in the ground.
I headed over to the new stand along the side of the pitch. That was part of the appeal of this game, to check out the new facilities, and knowing that a smallish crowd would make me less nervous, as I had ummed and ahhed right up until the day of the game regard wether to attend.
If you’ve ever been to Carlisle Grounds in Bray, the stand is similar to the one there.
Naturally, Social Distancing was in operation, but it was self regulatory. The stand only has three rows, with rows one and three able to be used and row two cordoned off.
Individual seats weren’t blocked off, but people were sensible enough to keep their distance from other groups.
Having witnessed peaceful anarchy in Belfast over the past seven months, it was nice to be in the company of sensible people actually adhering to regulations.
For the first-half, I was by the corner flag at the goal where Dundela Primary School is. When the ball went out of play, my remote location meant that I ended up acting as Ballboy. The invoice for my services is in the post.
Players weren’t exempt from Social Distancing, with Queen’s players having to warm-up in their kit and have their pre-match, half-time and post-match team talks on the pitch.
When the action started, it was Queen’s who had the first attacking moment of note, when Dundela’s keeper was left flapping at a cross, but only because one of his defenders got there first to head the ball away.
Dundela’s first attack of the game, five minutes in, saw them get a goal when some neat passing saw David McMaster get into space out wide. His first cross was blocked, the ball then came to him, and his second cross floated into the back of the net.
A dream start almost got better for Dundela, when Guillaume Keke intercepted a clearance from Queen’s keeper Declan Brown.
However, by the time he was able to get the ball under control, Brown was able to make himself big, forcing Keke into a shot from a wide angle which failed to hit the target.
There wasn’t long to wait for a second goal for Dundela, when a marginal offside call got them in behind Queen’s defence, only a foul stopped a shot, but that resulted in a penalty.
So much in the one incident and there’s no VAR in the County Antrim Shield, so, here we go ……
Just about onside, I think. Clear foul. I thought it was a red but only a yellow was given.
Owain Beggs made no mistake to put Dundela 2-0 up just fifteen minutes into the game.
For the rest of the first-half, it was all Dundela, a matter of how much they would lead at half-time. The answer would be 2-0.
It was looking set for an East(ish) Belfast Derby against Knockbreda, who had a surprise 1-0 lead against Cliftonville at half-time.
Queen’s came out for the second-half looking to make amends, hitting the bar in the opening minute, and then following it up with a bit of pressure.
That would be as good as it would get for them.
Soon after, a volley from Willie Faulkner made it 3-0, and that was the game for Dundela. Queen’s never threatened a comeback.
They would not be rewarded with an East(ish) Belfast Derby, but a trip to the North of the city, as Cliftonville turned around their game with Knockbreda to win 2-1. There would be no giantkilling as Cliftonville would go on to beat Dundela 7-2.
This game, as well as the game at Solitude, was part of a clean sweep of eight home wins. Not that surprising when the senior clubs were all at home.
So, what has happened in the seven months since I was last at a football match? Well, a lot, but also so little.
That day at Carrick, I walked past the injured Rohan Ferguson, who was telling a supporter that he’ll be fit to play the following weekend. Nobody saw it coming, things escalated so quickly.
Ferguson would never play for the club again, but he would leave with a title medal, albeit in strange circumstances, awarded on a Friday afternoon in a boardroom as a result of the Irish League season being unable to be completed.
Linfield fans celebrated by enjoying a cup of tea in the house, and didn’t wreck their city like Liverpool fans or blast their car horns and block access to a hospital like Celtic fans.
Many people likened it to the suspension of football during World War II but this time was different, there was money and European football on offer, and that’s when things became grubby.
Northern Ireland had three places on offer, Linfield and Coleraine, though not mathematically, had claimed the first two. The only question would be what tournament they would be playing in.
You didn’t seriously think that Cliftonville, Glentoran or Crusaders would leapfrog one or both of them over the last seven games?
Once people realised they could grab something they weren’t expecting to get, or that they might miss out on something they were relying on, everybody acting in their own interests, resulting in a suggestion where a team who were 4th in the table could be awarded the title.
In terms of the title, it was either going to be awarded to Linfield (top at the time of the suspension, with everybody having played the same amount of matches) or nobody.
Both Linfield and Coleraine were on winning runs, had a lot of momentum and a justifiable believe that would be enough for their club to persevere over the final seven games of the season. The truth is, we’ll never know.
As with every Summer, there have been ins and outs amongst the playing personnel. As previously mentioned, Rohan Ferguson has left to join Queen Of The South. Regardless of Ferguson’s future prospects, Goalkeeper was always going to be a key position that needed addressed, to have a clear Number 1.
I wouldn’t have been too unhappy if Ferguson stayed, but if that wasn’t going to happen, the signing of Chris Johns is more than decent. A ready made Number 1 who knows the league.
The signing of Johns meant that Gareth Deane has left the club. Not that surprising, as he is of the age where he has to be playing first team football.
Joel Cooper has got a much deserved move to English football with Oxford United, while Ryan Waide, Josh Robinson and Chris Casement.
Those gaps in the squad were filled on the first day of the Transfer Window opening, with Johns being joined by Navid Nassiri, Conor Pepper and Christy Manzinga.
The players who left were immediately replaced, and Ross Larkin got promoted to a more prominent role in the squad. Bastien Hery getting a rest after fourteen successive months of football as well. Two months before the domestic season started, Linfield were good to go.
They were good to go in the European Cup the following week, getting a 2-0 win over Tre Fiori before becoming the first team to win a European Cup tie by default due to Coronavirus.
There was optimism when entering the UEFA Cup after a narrow 1-0 defeat to Legia Warsaw.
Having got to the Play-Off Round, it was disappointing to lose 1-0 at home to Floriana. It’s not arrogant to suggest that Linfield should be beating Floriana, especially at home, even in an empty stadium.
Even more so when there was beatable opposition awaiting in the shape of Flora Tallin. I guess it was always destined to be Flora v Floriana.
Even though the campaign more than likely would have ended in the Play-Off Round against Dinamo Zagreb, there was still quite a lot of ranking points lost for Linfield. It is so important to keep qualifying for Europe and winning matches to use those points to get a seeding and make advantage of it. That’s why it is so important to win the League this season.
Well, it’s important to win it every season, but you know what I mean.
Talking of UEFA Cup Play-Offs, it looks like there won’t be any in the Irish League in 2021 going by the schedule of the 2020-2021 season. Good, a farcical sham which is nothing more than a reward for mediocrity. Let’s consign it to history and never speak of it again.
Eliminated from Europe, Linfeld then arranged some friendlies to prepare them for the domestic season, away to Dundela and Ballyclare Comrades.
Both games on Saturday afternoons, these are games i’d be putting on my wishlist in any other year. Unfortunately, my own personal circumstances at the time of the games were such that I couldn’t afford to even risk having to stay indoors for two weeks by going to them.
As a bonus, there were even two home games at Midgley Park, something i’d always wanted to see happen. Unsurprisingly, the games were kept quiet until they kicked-off in order to stop idiots like me turning up.
Understandable. Hopefully, if things have calmed down by 2021, we have a pre-season game at Midgley.
Pre-Season games in September might be strange to some of our younger supporters. Back in my day, we just called it the Ulster Cup.
This season will begin in October, a throwback to the 1980s. It will still be 38 games, meaning there will be a lot of midweek games and the season going on to late May.
I can still remember when the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 season finished on 2nd May and 1st May respectively, and thinking how groundbreaking it felt (yes, we’re very primitive in this country) as we don’t usually do football in May in this country other than the Irish Cup Final.
In 2021, the Irish Cup Final will take place on Saturday 29th May. The latest date for an Irish Cup Final since, um, 2020.
That is also the scheduled date for the Northern Ireland Programme Fair. Hopefully a busy day for me and a bit of a dash from Glengall Street to Windsor Park.
This late date, could have a knock-on effect in 2021-2022 season, if European Club Competitions return to their traditional start dates of early/mid July.
Irish League clubs will be up against it due to the quick turnaround in seasons. It is interesting to note the improvement in results for Scottish clubs in Europe this season without having a similar turnaround this year.
Linfield’s run in the UEFA Cup last season resulted in a backlog of fixtures, and they’ve already had a match postponed before they’ve even kicked a ball, as the match at home to Glentoran has been postponed due to a clash with Northern Ireland v Slovakia.
You would have thought it would have made sense for Linfield to be away on that matchday as the potential clash when the fixture list was being devised.
I could be cynical and suggest that I doubt many people are too unhappy as the game might have to be played at a later time when hopefully more fans are allowed into grounds.
You could also be cynical regarding Linfield having two home games (at a time when stadiums will either be closed or on reduced capacity) against Glentoran before they visit The Oval.
To be honest, i’m surprised that Linfield aren’t starting the season with sixteen home games, at the request of other clubs who want to get as much of a crowd as possible, and that isn’t going to happen this side of Christmas.
Of course, crowd restrictions are in place and look like they’ll be in place for a while, and unfortunately, i’m not one of the lucky few that will be allowed into Windsor Park for now.
I’ve no idea what to do on Saturday afternoons. I’ll take each week as it comes. I was tempted to maybe pick a Championship game in the Greater Belfast but now the Championship season has been suspended before it’s even started.
Talking of the Northern Ireland Championship, i’ve been tailoring my cycle routes to have a look at Harland and Wolff Welders new stadium as it progresses, due to be opened in the Summer of 2021.
At the moment, it looks like the tunnel will be behind one of the goals, and they have taken a delivery of floodlights that need to be installed.
Usually, with a local football stadium in the process of being built, I would comment something along the lines of “Hope to visit it soon”, but sadly, that phrase is now applicable to any football stadium.
A curious outcome of lockdown is that i’ve restarted collecting programmes, mainly because I know they might be worth a lot more than what I pay for them in years to come. Over the last decade, i’ve scaled back and only purchased big Linfield matches and matches I go to on my travels.
Regular readers will know that I like to take in a match when i’m on my travels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like i’ll be doing any travelling in the near future.
On the day the Premier League fixture list is announced, and the day of the group stages of European Competition are drawn, i’m usually straight online to book a trip to Old Trafford for a game, but there’s no point booking anything until there’s a guarantee that i’ll be able to get in.
In August every year, I spend a few days in Edinburgh and take in a game, but nope, that didn’t happen either. I’m monitoring Edinburgh to see if I can sneak away for a few days but the situation doesn’t seem to be improving.
I’m hoping to get away on weekend of Saturday 23rd January. I’ll have a choice of matches between Hearts v Raith Rovers and Edinburgh City v Stenhousmuir. If I do get away, it will feel like i’m having to choose between Craig Telfer and Shaughan McGuigan.
If I do go to Hearts v Raith, that will be a long overdue return to Tynecastle, having last been there in 2015.
That leads me nicely on to remind you that A View From The Terrace starts again this Friday night on BBC Scotland. It’s well worth a watch, even if you’re not into Scottish football, especially for the short films.
One of those, about the Programme Shop near Easter Road, was even featured on Football Focus this Summer. That is one shop that is unaffected by Social Distancing Regulations, as you could only fit one person in the shop at a time anyway.
But let’s be honest and realistic, Scotland in January 2021 isn’t going to happen.
In June this year, I should have been in Bray, using that as a base to take in (well, try to get a ticket for) a Last 16 game at Euro 2020 at Lansdowne Road.
Naturally, I was quick on the draw to book myself for Bray for the new dates of what is now Euro 2021 to try and blag my way into a Last 16 game at Lansdowne Road.
Between you and me, I don’t think Euro 2021 is going to happen either. A World Cup and a European Championship in the same year sounds fun.
Talking of Bray, they are in contention for promotion to the top flight, so that will be good if I can catch a game the next time I visit Bray. Although conquering Bray Head is ahead of seeing The Seagulls when it comes to any future trip to Bray.
I’ll be planning on doing day trips to the opening two group matches in Dublin, and trying to get a ticket. Even if Northern Ireland don’t qualify. The convenience of Monday 5pm and Friday 2pm games is too good to turn down the opportunity to go to a major tournament game and be home at a sensible time.
As I missed out on a ticket for Austria, i’ll be in the draw for Slovakia. To be honest, if you spent £35 to sit through the Austria game, you probably deserve a ticket for Slovakia.
I walked down to try and get a programme, and didn’t see a single person until I got to the gates. It was very eery.
And yes, since you asked, i’m not too unhappy with the appointment of Ian Baraclough. What we needed was continuity and someone who can come straight in and not change things. Nations League has been disappointing, but it’s all about Euro 2020. Euro 2021. Euro 2022. Euro whenever it happens.
And now, the reason why I haven’t been inside a football ground, or a lot of other places, since March. I have a lot of things to say about it.
If you want a synopsis to save you reading the rest of this blog post, this country is fucked. Utterly fucked. Worst of all, fucked by it’s own people.
This country is absolutely paralysed by it’s obsession with Pubs and World War II.
From the moment Lockdown happened, the only question people were asking was “When are the pubs reopening?” not “When is the infection rate going down?”
The Government dangled pubs reopening to make people forget about the mess they made in responding to the virus.
And when people got bored of being promised pubs reopening, Captain Tom got wheeled out to go for a walk.
We allowed our obsession with World War II to make us forget about Social Distancing by doing congas on the Evening News. Yes, Coronavirus doesn’t take the day off for the anniversary of something that happened in World War II.
Even when the pubs were shut, the Government made a balls of it by giving a long lead in time, a siren call to idiots to gather for one last night.
Northern Ireland, is paralysed by the “Big Lawd Mentality” and the Social Currency associated with pub attendance. I do what I like and stuff other people.
Brigadier Banter, Sergeant Sesh and Captain Craic, here to save Ulster from boredom, because staying in is for losers.
If Belfast was a football team, it is a city with too many Phil Jones and not enough Bruno Fernandes.
We had the softest Lockdown in Europe, and still people felt oppressed.
Even when people were allowed out, they couldn’t behave themselves.
Instead of walking on the left, groups of people taking up the entire footpath or just standing about blocking access, not even making an effort to stay away from people going in the opposite direction.
We did eventually get signage, five months late. The fact that neither Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster mentioned this and rammed home the message during their Daily Briefings is negligence on their part.
Best thing is, a lot of this took place outside the Police Station on the Lisburn Road.
Fellas acting like their dick will fall off if they more over a bit to give someone a bit of space. The “Big Lawd Mentality” again. I’m aware that i’m sounding like one of those writers. Fully expecting to have a column in The Guardian or Stylist by the end of the month.
In the interest of balance, ladies, some of you have been equally thick as shit.
That was part of the problem, the rules weren’t enforced, meaning that people were emboldened and empowered to do what they like. Especially when you see political figures such as Dominic Cummings and Michelle O’Neill doing likewise.
My favourite Social Media outrage of the Summer was “People criticising E for not Social Distancing, but didn’t comment on A, B, C and D ….”, even though people did criticise A, B, C and D.
So, for clarity – If you don’t practice Social Distancing in a crowd to celebrate your football team winning something, you’re an idiot. If you’re not practicing Social Distancing at a political protest, no matter how valid it is, you’re an idiot. If you’re not practicing Social Distancing because Timmy Robertson, or whatever his name is, told you to, you’re an idiot. And then you’re an idiot again.
The list is not exhaustive. If you see a large crowd, protect yourself.
Too many people are walking about with the attitude that Coronavirus is something that happens to some other loser. Guess what? In other people’s eyes, you are that some other loser. Other people aren’t going to make and effort to protect you, you have to protect yourself.
Even Supermarkets, if you could get in, weren’t safe.
I say if you could get in, because of the queues.
Bit of etiquette. If one person can buy and carry the shopping, only one person needs to go in. Tesco isn’t a day trip for couples. If your other half needs supervised going to Tesco, you should probably re-evaluate your life choices.
Also, if you’re not in work, maybe do your shopping during the day so that Key Workers can get in during the evenings.
Ironically, people who were posting pictures of empty shelves on Facebook in March commenting that it’s disgraceful that Key Workers can’t get in to buy groceries.
Not so disgraceful now when you’re restocking on Blue WKD because you’re getting paid to get pissed in Botanic Gardens, is it Karen?
And I know that for a fact, because Ormeau Road Tesco doesn’t sell beer, and you can walk right in. What a strange coincidence.
And then there’s the Yellow Sticker Brigade. Taking up space and stopping people getting in to buy something, blocking aisles, climbing over each other and staff just to get a cheap sandwich. Is it really worth it?
Also, if the person in front is waiting for the person in front of them to move, maybe just wait instead of barging through?
The “Big Lawd Mentality” coming to the fore again.
I really can’t believe i’m having to point this out, but ramming up someone’s arse in the queue does not make the queue go quicker.
Talking of Supermarkets, maybe stock the shelves one by one and not have whole aisles blocked off by cages for long periods.
The worst day of the whole Pandemic was when Supermarkets abandoned one way systems. We let the idiots win. You never let idiots do what they want. When you let idiots do what they want, they will do what they want.
It was so bad, I had a stand-off at the door in Spar with someone standing right in front of the door and not giving me a safe exit. Once he realised he wasn’t getting in until I got out, he soon moved.
The fight against Coronavirus might be helped with a donation of grey tracksuit bottoms to Medical Science as wearers are immune to it. Or at least you’d think so judging by the way they walk about. I can’t say i’ve ever seen someone in a pair of grey tracksuit bottoms and thought that there is someone taking preventative measures against Coronavirus.
At least they have the decency to make themselves visible so that you have plenty of notice to stay as far away as possible from them.
The problem is that advice to the public has been too wishy washy, and it’s allowed the public to interpret them how they feel. As referred to earlier, you never tell idiots that they can do what they want.
“Be alert”, whilst very confusing and vague, is also a bit self explanatory. It means to be aware of your surroundings and people around you. I think it basically means not to piss about staring at your phone while walking in the middle of the footpath. Yes folks, are you really receiving a message that is that important? It’s a bit hard to social distance if the other person doesn’t know where they are walking.
I really can’t believe i’m having to explain that.
“But the Government told us to go to the pub and to go out for cheap meals?” and you went and did it. When you’re growing up, there’s always one boy who befriends stupid people to get them to do their dirty work and then take the blame when it all goes wrong.
Guess what people? You are that stupid friend.
“But they said it was my patriotic duty”
For clarity, here is a list of things that is your patriotic duty: Looking out for others and taking preventative measures to avoid the spread of Coronavirus.
For clarity, the following is not your patriotic duty: Going to the pub, going out for a cheap meal, going to the cinema, picking fruit for minimum wage because there are no foreigners to do it.
Coronavirus has meant that long-term historical issues have become amplified. The biggest one in Belfast is that smoking is at epidemic levels.
Empowered and emboldened by a lack of interest and effort by public bodies to tackle it, we are now being hindered in our battle against Coronavirus by it.
The most at risk group of getting and spreading it, and we have done nothing to tackle it. A total ban on sale and consumption should have been the first item on the agenda as soon as Coronavirus hit.
For some reason, smokers seem to enjoy a protected status in our society, thou shalt not call them out.
The most at risk group or getting it and spreading it, and we allow them to huddle around each other outside office buildings.
Let’s make tackling this epidemic the first item on the agenda when Society 2.0 gets underway.
Don’t give me the excuse that they can’t help it. They can get help. If only there was some sort of National publicly funded Health Service. If there was, I might clap for them on a Thursday night.
And on that, as referred to earlier, if you’re in a crowd and not Social Distancing when clapping for the NHS, guess what? You’re an idiot. Just because Sky News have a camera on your street doesn’t mean you have to climb over each other to get in shot.
A lot of businesses seem to think that a bit of crying on the TV will people want to give them their money. I’ve witnessed businesses whose practices made me make a note to avoid. Pubs with smoking areas at the front door and shops that don’t enforce Social Distancing at queues, one Deli had a member of staff tell me to budge up one lunchtime. You really need to help yourselves before others help you.
Taxi Drivers, maybe spend all that spare time learning not to park in the middle of the road and blocking traffic? Just a thought.
When this is all over, there will probably be some pissy little symbolic honour given to “The People Of Belfast” or “The People Of Northern Ireland” for their role in defeating Coronavirus. I will refuse to take any such honour if it involves sharing it with people who don’t deserve it.
So, my first match of 2020-2021, three months later than when I usually go to my first football match of a season.
It’s looking unlikely that i’ll be at Linfield v Carrick Rangers on Saturday, but I live in hope.
Before I sign off, I only ask you to do one thing.
Never let us allow Historians to promote a myth that we all came together and made sacrifices to avoid Coronavirus.
Pingback: LINFIELD 5-1 CARRICK RANGERS 17.10.2020 | Analogue Boy In A Digital World
Pingback: 2020 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER | Analogue Boy In A Digital World