NORTHERN IRELAND 0-0 HOLLAND 16.11.2019

We were 15 minutes away from a 30 foot statue of Josh Magennis being erected in Bangor Marina. It could still happen, but it won’t be in 2019.

Northern Ireland had hoped this Dutch Double Header would become a virtual play-off for 2nd place, though Holland’s win in Germany in early September put a spanner in the works.

As Northern Ireland led 1-0, things were looking interesting, but three late Dutch goals deflated our bubble.

Those two goals in injury time for Holland meant that they not only had three points, but that if Northern Ireland won the return match at Windsor Park, they would have to do so by a score of 2-0, or a three goal margin in order to win the head to heads should the sides finish level on points.

Since then, Michael O’Neill has left his job as Northern Ireland Manager. Well, sort of. He’s going, but not yet.

I was surprised that he chose Stoke, considering their League position and the general downward spiral since relegation from the Premier League in 2018.

However, he would have seen the impact that The Cowleys had at Huddersfield Town, a club in a similar situation, and felt he could do likewise.

There’s no ideal time for a Manager to leave, if they are lucky to leave a job on their own terms.

It is a credit to O’Neill and the IFA that a deal has been done to minimise disruption, as he will continue as Northern Ireland Manager until their Euro 2020 campaign is over.

This could have been his last game as Manager at Windsor Park, it might not be.

We know that Michael O’Neill will be leaving as Northern Ireland Manager, but we don’t know when his last game will be.

Between you and me, I think it might be at Wembley on Sunday 12th July 2020.

To give you a barometer of Northern Ireland’s progress under O’Neill, it was Holland who they faced in his second match in charge, a friendly in Amsterdam as Northern Ireland were cannon fodder in Holland’s farewell party ahead of Euro 2012.

Now they faced them as genuine rivals, having outperformed them in the previous two campaigns.

Holland fans marched to Windsor Park behind an orange party bus playing bad techno music. As I walked to the ground, I saw the bus parked in a street just off Tate’s Avenue. It had the logo of the tournaments it had travelled to, though it hadn’t been updated since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A point at Windsor Park would see them able to add Euro 2020 to the list, and they’d be playing their group matches in Amsterdam.

I’m not sure how it was calculated, but results elsewhere meant that Northern Ireland had already secured a Play-Off spot, though a 3rd place finish should have been enough if the UEFA Nonsense League didn’t exist.

We almost got a dramatic start when Corry Evans charged down a clearance from Holland’s keeper, but was unable to put the ball into the net when he got on the end of it.

Josh Magennis then headed just wide as Northern Ireland chased an early goal.

Holland also had their moments, and Northern Ireland were lucky not the go 1-0 down when a period of pinball in the penalty area saw Holland hit the bar just as the ball looked set to loop in.

Midway through the first-half, Northern Ireland got a penalty for handball. On TV replay, it did look a bit harsh.

Thankfully, Joel Cooper wasn’t taking it, but Steven Davis, Mr Reliable.

Davis stepped up and secured three points. Well, three points at Mount Merrion Avenue rather than Donegall Avenue, as his shot was between the posts but well over the bar.

Yet again in this campaign, Northern Ireland were left to rue a glorious chance gone missing. Ironically, when they needed a goal in Estonia, they got one deflected in when the ball hit Josh Magennis in his Willie John McBride.

The rest of the game drifted towards a 0-0 draw, which suited Holland, as a point would be enough for them to qualify.

The game did finish 0-0, my first 0-0 draw attended this season, and it was enough for Holland, alongside Germany who qualified as a result of this draw.

For stat fans, it also meant that Holland joined England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland and Germany in securing qualification for a tournament at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland were made to wait on other results to see who their Play-Off opponents are. At the time of writing, it looks like Bosnia away. They finished 4th in a poor group, so we shouldn’t be fearing them.

Plus, we more than matched them in the two UEFA Nations League games.

I’m beginning to think it was a tactical masterstroke to lose twice to them, as we’ll be due a win against them.

Whilst this is taking place, the search for a new Manager will be ongoing. I’m obviously not privy to who has applied for it, but unless a major name (might as well joke about it being Pochettino) applies for it, I would expect it to be Stephen Robinson or Ian Baraclough.

Hopefully, whoever it is, will be taking over a team who have just qualified for the European Championship.

Photo Album

Holland v Northern Ireland 2012

INSTITUTE 0-3 LINFIELD 16.11.2019

It didn’t quit banish the memory of Dundalk on Monday night, but it was a welcome three points for Linfield as they looked to secure a place in next season’s Unite The Union Cup.

On paper, a trip to face Institute at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium looked like an easy three points to recover from that 6-0 defeat. The reality was far from that, with Institute enjoying a resurgence under new Manager Sean Connor, getting draws against Crusaders and Glentoran, as well as reaching the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals.

As it was last year, this matched kicked off at 1pm. That worked out convenient for fans and players, even though it wasn’t decided for those reasons.

Those going to the Northern Ireland match later in the evening could get back to Belfast in plenty of time for kick-off at Windsor Park, while the players knew that if they could get three points, they could put pressure on Coleraine and Cliftonville, who kicked off at 3pm.

As it was on the weekend the last time Linfield played a League match, on November 2nd, all the games were Top 6 v Bottom 6. You might get one shock result, but you won’t get three or four. Linfield didn’t want to be that team, especially as Crusaders had already secured three points on the Friday night, just about though.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw a return to League action for Chris Casement as Linfield returned to four defenders. Thank goodness for that.

There was a welcome return to the starting eleven for Joel Cooper, who recently had minor surgery after being roughed up by Carrick Rangers.

In the early moments, Linfield were trying to get him on the ball to make things happen. Not a lot was happening for Linfield in the early moments as Institute looked comfortable when defending, it didn’t look like a Linfield goal was inevitable.

Institute weren’t afraid to attack either, but Linfield were able to shut them out. Thankfully, as the last thing you want to do in a game like this is to give the opposition something to defend.

Linfield wee presented with an opportunity to make a breakthrough when they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Joel Cooper. A soft foul, but still a foul.

Cooper immediately grabbed the ball and stated that he was taking the kick. He had already scored from a penalty this season. Well, sort of, having scored the rebound from a saved penalty only for a goal not to be given despite the ball being clearly over the line. Yep, i’m still going on about it even though we won that match.

It was a bit surprising that Cooper was putting himself forward to take the kick, especially with Andrew Mitchell, on as a substitute for the injured Niall Quinn, and Andrew Waterworth being on the pitch.

Cooper’s finish didn’t match his confidence, with his poor kick being easily saved and held by Institute’s keeper. In a game where Linfield weren’t playing well, they needed to make the most of the rare opportunity that came their way.

Within a few minutes, Linfield were given another opportunity when they got a second penalty.

It was for an off the ball incident, so I don’t know what actually happened. However, the referee seemed certain in his decision when he flashed a red card at Institute defender Ryan Morrow.

It took a while for fans to compute that another penalty had been given. This time, Andrew Waterworth.

He Panenkaed it, it really wasn’t the time or place for it, and for a moment, it looked like he was going to miss it. Thankfully, he didn’t, and Linfield had the lead.

In the aftermath of the red card, Institute players lost their discipline, arguing with the referee and squaring up to Linfield players.

Sean Connor was hoping for half-time just to get them to calm down and work on a plan on getting back into the game. It was essential that Linfield made the most of this.’

As the half neared it’s end, Bastien Hery worked himself into space on the edge of the penalty area and fired home to make it 2-0.

Curiously, the move began when Institute’s keeper caught a low cross from Kirk Millar, and then kicked it away, Institute were never able to get the ball back from there.

I’m not sure why he kicked it out, I can only think that he lost his bearings and thought he was going to slip the ball into his own net.

Without playing too well, Linfield were 2-0 up and a man up.

However, it was Rohan Ferguson who was the busier keeper in the second-half, making four big saves to stop Institute pulling the game back to 2-1 and getting ideas of an unlikely comeback.

Linfield weren’t without their chances to kill the game off at 3-0, with Andrew Waterworth getting on the end of a Kirk Millar cross but his effort was saved.

It was crosses from Joel Cooper down the left that were causing Institute the most problems, going right into the six yard box, with a desperate block usually denying Linfield.

Deep into injury time, Linfield did make it 3-0, and it came from another penalty.

I think this was the first time I’ve ever been to a football match where three penalties have been awarded to the one team. It was a foul on guess who? Joel Cooper.

Andrew Waterworth stepped up and repeated his feat from last season, 364 days previously, by scoring twice at The Brandywell.

He must have been fuming inside at not getting to hit the first penalty, and missing out on the chance to get a hat-trick.

Three points in the bag, Linfield headed back down the motorway with their feet up hoping that Cliftonville or Coleraine slip up.

It was Coleraine who slipped up, losing 3-1 at Warrenpoint. That was not a result I saw coming, but it was welcomely accepted by Linfield fans.

That meant Cliftonville went top of the League, as a result of their seventh successive win.

Dare I be that guy and point out they had a run of games they should be winning?

I’ll be surprised if they’re top after 22 games when everybody plays each other twice. However, Linfield just have to look after themselves.

Up next, is a match against Glenavon live on BBC Two, which hopefully goes better than our previous televised games against Glenavon, both 2-0 defeats.

That is followed by a trip to Ballymena, which has been scheduled in after being postponed due to Linfield’s run in Europe. Both teams current runs of form mean they are games we should be winning.

If we do, we get to put pressure on the teams playing on Saturday afternoon. If we follow that up at Ballymena, we’ll be breathing down the necks of Coleraine, Cliftonville and Crusaders.

I’ll be missing that Ballymena match as i’ll be on a short break in Lithuania, meaning it’ll be a 9.45pm kick-off for me local time. Unfortunately, I’ve got an early morning flight home on Wednesday morning, so I may be sleeping the whole way through the match.

Unfortunately, I can’t go without mentioning the game against Dundalk.

I was hoping to go as i’d never been to Oriel Park before, but the ticketing arrangements were a pain in the arse. I had a lucky escape.

It was frankly, an embarrassing result. There’s no shame in losing to Dundalk, but that scoreline was embarrassing. We’re better than that.

We just looked off the pace from the start and were punished by a team who were ruthless. We weren’t as ruthless in the few opportunities we had.

David Healy didn’t really help himself by declaring it not a priority. He was probably saying what a lot of people were thinking, myself included, it probably wasn’t best to say it out loud in public.

If we won the Unite The Union Cup but finished 4th, it wouldn’t be considered a successful season.

If we win the League, that night in Dundalk will be forgotten about.

The best way to remedy that result? Qualify for next year’s Unite The Union Cup.

Photo Album

DRUMAHOE

Welcome to the first in what will probably be a one part series, looking at abandoned football stadiums.

Linfield’s trip to Institute presented me with an opportunity to check out one such venue, Institute’s former home of Drumahoe.

Though the match would be played at The Brandywell, the pre-match arrangements were for Linfield fans to meet at Drumahoe Park and Ride, beside Drumahoe, in order to be bussed in to The Brandywell.

When the sides met last season, I intended to have a nosey around the abandoned ground, but time constraints meant that I couldn’t. So, I made sure that I had enough time in my stay in the village to look around.

The reason why the ground is abandoned is that it became flooded during heavy rain in 2017.

This caused an infestation of Japanese Knotweed on the pitch, making it unplayable.

That was then compounded by an arson attack on the changing rooms in the Summer of 2018.

Institute then moved to Wilton Park for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, but after winning promotion, needed a suitable stadium for top flight football, hence their groundshare with Derry City at The Brandywell.

There are plans in place for a new stadium at Clooney Park West.

The closest you can get to an Irish League version of Chernobyl, you can’t actually get into the stadium, but there are railings where you can take photos through, which is what I did, capturing the pitch where the grass has grown. A lot.

It’s the first time I have visited an abandoned stadium. When I was last in Glasgow, I attempted to visit Cathkin Park, a former football stadium which now forms part of a public park, though the terracing is still intact.

Next time i’m in Glasgow, i’ll make an effort to make that Part 2 of this series.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 13.10.2001

Having scored the goal that took England to the World Cup Finals, David Beckham is the cover star of Match, which reviews England’s successful qualifying campaign.

The man who made Beckham captain, Peter Taylor, is the main story on the contents page, having just been sacked by Leicester City, a year after being Caretaker Manager of England.

There is a full page interview with the Co-Creator of Championship Manager, Paul Collyer, following the release of Championship Manager 01/02.

There are four pages dedicated to England’s World Cup qualifying campaign, a match by match guide, as well as looking at the dramatic departure of Kevin Keegan as manager, and the appointment of Sven Goran-Eriksson.

There is a “Where Are They Now?” of Leeds United’s 1992 title winning team. The Leeds team of 2001-2002 were hoping to emulate them, sitting top of the Premier League. This magazine had a four page interview with goalkeeper Nigel Martyn.

Players described as “Hot” get a feature, such as Andy Oakes of Derby, Peter Crouch of Portsmouth and Darius Henderson of Reading.

George Burley, manager of Ipswich Town gets an interview, where he says the vacant Scotland job doesn’t appeal to him.

In ads, you could buy Michael Owen’s own brand breakfast cereal.

MANCHESTER UNITED 3-0 PARTIZAN BELGRADE 7.11.2019

Ole’s still at the wheel, but this journey has been a bit bumpy.

It’s one of those journeys with piss breaks every five minutes. And then, somebody nips out for a quick smoke, meaning you’ve been parked for twenty minutes. Then you stop off to a Service Station for a quick toilet break, and half the bus rushes to Burger King and you spend half an hour there.

This is why I usually make my own way to football matches.

A case of two steps forward, and one back, perfectly summed up by recent events, with three wins in a row followed up by a defeat to Bournemouth, just as the Top 6 was within reach.

This was my first trip of the season to Old Trafford, my third with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United Manager. United had yet to win in the previous two games I had been to.

Things were going so well for Solskjaer, winning his first eight games in charge, and then I turned up against Burnley.

United went into this game knowing that a win would send them through with two games to spare. The last time they were in the Group Stage of the UEFA Cup, they didn’t secure qualification until the last game, and didn’t even win the group.

Going to this game meant that I would be able to tick Partizan Belgrade off my 102 Club list, although, I rather they weren’t on it.

They are on the list as they reached the 1966 European Cup Final, beating United 2-1 on aggregate in the Semi-Final.

Having already won 1-0 in Belgrade, a win tonight wouldn’t represent revenge for a defeat 53 years earlier, United were looking to secure European football for February 2020.

One good thing about being in the UEFA Cup is that Thursday night games are a lot more convenient to travel to. In 2016, I made a long weekend of it by seeing a match against Feyenood on the Thursday and the match against West Ham on the Sunday.

United had home games scheduled for the Sunday after Matchday 4 and 5, so there was the potential for a repeat.

Unfortunately, I had to wait until the draw was made. When I looked at booking a double header, unfortunately, the prices were too much to do Partizan and Brighton, I had to make do with Partizan.

Hypothetically speaking, if I was making a long weekend of it, I would have went to a game on the Saturday.

Possible options included Burnley v West Ham or Wigan v Brentford.

There was also cup games at Accrington Stanley (took in a game there in 2014. Turned out their FA Cup game was delayed by an hour due to officials getting injured), or Salford City, Stockport County at home in the National League or FC United at home in the FA Trophy (I planned to do this in my long weekend in 2016, but a frozen pitch denied me)

Of course, when I went to the Burnley match in January, I took in a day trip to Sheffield. I could have done that and taken in Sheffield Wednesday v Swansea City. However, that would be dependent on Northern Rail running a Boat Replacement Service.

Barnsley is just over an hour away from Manchester, though I couldn’t think of a reason why their match against Stoke City would be appealing.

It would only be Partizan I would be seeing, a match where Ashley Young would be starting due to his suspension against Brighton, necessitating that Brandon Williams not be risked.

Based on his appearances so far, I see no reason why Williams shouldn’t be United’s first choice left back, regardless of wether Ashley Young is suspended or not.

As kick-off approached, the rain continued to lash down.

This game saw two early goals, though both of them were disallowed.

Partizan’s goal that was disallowed was one of those horrible efforts that looped up and in after their striker was tackled by a United player. If it did count, it would have just summed up United’s season.

United missed a few opportunities early on, a couple of Marcus Rashford volleys going well wide, while Anthony Martial had a shot smothered by Partizan’s keeper, who was wearing a headband that made him look like Rab C Nesbitt.

Eventually, United got the breakthrough when Mason Greenwood fired home low after being found in space.

Despite not having many attempts on goal, Partizan still offered enough of an attacking threat to keep United worried. They needed a second goal to relax.

That came when a Partizan clearance was charged down and fell perfectly to Martial, who danced past a couple of defenders and poked the ball home.

It was a key goal as it gave United breathing space and deflated Partizan.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Marcus Rashford finished after a tee-up from Ashley Young, and that was the three points and qualification secured.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the match was a non event, as United got the three points and qualified. Now all they need is four points from their last two games to win the group, which will be hand when the Last 32 draw comes around.

Elsewhere, the football news has been dominated by two Michael, with Michael O’Connor being on trial at Hibs and Michael O’Neill joining Stoke City.

But not quite leaving Northern Ireland, he’ll leave when the Euro 2020 campaign ends. So that’ll be 12th July 2020 then.

Stoke doesn’t look that appealing, but he’s obviously seen the impact that The Cowleys have had at Huddersfield and believes he can do likewise.

My next United match will be Burnley in mid January, a match that won’t be rearranged now that the League Cup Quarter-Final dates have been confirmed.

Hopefully, by then, United will be progressing in the two domestic cup competitions and climbing up the table.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : 90 MINUTES – 29.6.1996

We’re slap bang in the middle of Euro 96, and Stuart Pearce’s celebration after his penalty against Spain being the cover image.

There is an error on this cover, as it is dated 8th June 1996, when it should be 29th June 1996, as it is inside.

In their cartoon, Gazza and Teddy Sheringham go out for a cup of tea, downing it like they were on the infamous Dentist’s Chair in Hong Kong.

In transfer rumours, Anders Limpar is leaving Everton to join Marseille.

In news, a survey by Cellnet has revealed that 27% of football fans phone friends and family from matches to keep them up to date with scores.

Despite being in the middle of a tournament, Terry Venables gives an interview to 90 minutes where he revelas he considers himself a passionate Celt rather than a sedate Englishman, due to his Welsh and French family background.

There are full page match reports of the final group games of Euro 96, that saw England go through and Scotland go out.

Later on in the magazine, there are reports of the Euro 96 Quarter-Finals.

90 Minutes Live interviews fans outside Germany v Czech Republic at Old Trafford, asking which Euro 96 player they would like to see bitten by a rabid bat.

One Port Vale supporter says Darren Anderton, as he’s sick of his female friends commenting on how good looking he is.

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 2.11.2019

On a Matchday where the Top 6 faced the Bottom 6, this was a game that Linfield were expected to win. It was a game they had to win, as they would fall further behind the Top 3 as you might get one shock result, you were never going to get three or four.

If Linfield players needed any more motivation to win this game, the sight of Carrick in their white away kit, looking like Derby County, should have done the trick.

I’ll have you know they have been reported to the Kit Police, a full statement has been made and a Reference Number has been provided.

The topic of ends attacking has been an interesting point in recent home matches.

Over recent years, Linfield have attacked The Kop in the first-half, but not in their last two home League matches against Ballymena United and Warrenpoint Town, meaning a quick change of ends for those who like to sit where Linfield attack.

On Tuesday night against Cliftonville, it was a return to attacking The Kop first, so that’s where I set up camp, only to have to walk the length of the South Stand as they changed ends.

When Larne come to Windsor Park at the end of the month, i’ll set up camp at the Railway Stand pre kick-off, meaning it’s an absolute cert they’ll attack The Kop in the first-half that day.

However, it was both ends that were getting an equal share of the attacking in the first quarter of the game, with Carrick giving as good as they were getting, not being afraid to attack, though not having chances of the scale that they had when the sides met in September.

As with most of Linfield’s recent games, good things happened when Joel Cooper got on the ball, wanting to add to his tally of eight goals in his last seven games, though it should have been nine in seven after the Linesman failed to spot a Cliftonville player clearing his shot halfway on the Boucher Road.

When Cooper wasn’t on the ball, Mark Stafford could usually be seen lurking at set pieces,a player with a ridiculously good goalscoring record against Carrick, especially at Windsor Park. Stafford was looking to score against Carrick for the third successive game, having scored at Taylor’s Avenue earlier this season, and when the sides last met at Windsor Park in March 2018.

Unsurprisingly, it was Cooper who was involved when Linfield took the lead, his defence splitting pass finding Matthew Clarke clear on the left. I thought Clarke was going to shoot but he crossed instead for Andrew Waterworth, in for the injured Shayne Lavery, to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Just as when the sides met in September, it took Linfield until the final minutes of the half to take the lead, albeit just a few minutes earlier than in September.

Curiously, this goal was almost a cover version of Andrew Waterworth’s goal against Cliftonville last season that completed his hat-trick.

Having scored a few minutes left of the first-half, it looked like Waterworth was going to score a few minutes into the second-half when he finished from close range but he was adjudged to be offside. It didn’t look it from where I was sat.

A quick corner saw Kirk Millar run into the box but his shot hit the bar.

A few minutes later, Millar was assisting rather than scoring a second when his cross was headed in off the post by Mark Stafford. It did look like an own goal by Carrick’s keeper, but I think Stafford will claim it. He always scores against Carrick.

Just as it looked that would be the game won for Linfield, Carrick had a glorious opportunity to reduce the deficit when a stray pass from Rohan Ferguson fell perfectly for Guaillaume Keke, who went round Ferguson, but his goalbound effort was cleared off the line by Bastien Hery.

I was surprised that Keke didn’t shoot first time. By taking a slight delay, he gave Hery an opportunity to get back.

Having got into a commanding lead, the last thing Linfield needed was for the game to be competitive again.

Carrick didn’t have any attacking moments of note after that, as Linfield saw out the game comfortably.

A curious thing was that there were no substitutions made by Linfield. I know that 2-0 isn’t totally secure, but even for five or ten minutes, it would have been a perfect opportunity to bring on Josh Robinson as he continues his recovery from injury.

In other results, it turned out that Crusaders were the team who slipped up while Coleraine, Cliftonville and Glentoran also won.

That’s four League games without a win for Crusaders and one win in six in all competitions. If it was Linfield on this run of form, it would be talked about at length.

Apologies for going on about it, but it makes Linfield’s defeat at Seaview even more frustrating.

There is even more frustration for Linfield as they are inactive in League terms due to their involvement in the Unite The Union Challenge Cup.

It comes in a weekend where Cliftonville, Glentoran and Coleraine all face Bottom 6 opposition they would be expected to beat.

It is worth pointing out that Linfield were also due to face Bottom 6 opposition at home. IT depends how you look at it.

Dungannon have lost their last six games, including two defeats to Linfield (conceding four on each occasion) so they are prime for another three points for Linfield.

There is an alternative viewpoint that they are due something, and they are most certainly due one against Linfield. So it’s maybe for the best that this game is set aside for a bit.

It’s just frustration that having got one outstanding game played (and won), we will now be back up to three games in hand.

The reason for the postponement is the Unite The Union Challenge Cup match against Dundalk.

Due to Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland running on different calendars (football wise), arranging a full Setanta Cup style competition is going to be hard, so this is the best you can get, though the scheduling of this is far from perfect.

There are only four windows to play the match, the start or end of each country’s season.

July/August, at the start of the Irish League season is out as both clubs would be focusing on Europe. Even if it was scheduled on two Saturdays around their European Cup tie, both teams will have their minds on the European game instead and won’t be full application.

May, end of Irish League season. Makes sense in marketing terms to have the game on brighter evenings, but if the Irish League season goes to the last game, there will be not a lot of time to arrange the game.

November, end of League of Ireland season. Same problem as if League Of Ireland season goes to last game, there won’t be much time to arrange the game. However, Dundalk won the 2019 title with a few games to spare, so arrangements should have started then.

If Dundalk weren’t in the FAI Cup Final, I have a suspicion it would have been played this weekend.

I can’t imagine Dundalk being enthused about this game at the end of a long season.

It’s a good idea but the arrangements looked rushed. The games were only confirmed two weeks ago, meaning that ticketing is being arranged late. For me, I wouldn’t be able to purchase a ticket until the first leg.

That’s not ideal as my job is appointment based, so i’d need to know if I have a ticket before booking time off, and i’m sure there are others who do appointment based jobs or shift work.

And then there are the arrangements, having to make your own way to Banbridge first. If I did have a ticket, i’d be tempted to book a hotel (i’d imagine a hotel in Dundalk on a Monday night in November wouldn’t be fully booked) and make a two day trip of it and explore Louth.

Considering some people are trying to promote the idea of an All Ireland League, this isn’t selling it to people.

What about February/March? The start of the League Of Ireland season. This might be the best option, part of LOI side’s preparation, not too late in the IL season to be a distraction.

Looking at this season’s schedule, Dundalk played in the President’s Cup on 9th February and their first League game on 15th February.

That would present difficulties in terms that 2nd February was and Irish Cup date and 16th February was ringfenced for the NIFL Cup Final.

Nothing that couldn’t be overcome. Hypothetically speaking, if it was introduced last year, could have been played on 8th and 11th February, with the League Of Ireland season being pushed back a week and the President’s Cup on 16th.

Or, 2nd February could be a League date with the Champions game postponed to accommodate this and 9th February an Irish Cup date.

That would be the best idea for this competition to have it played in February or March on a mutually agreed date that doesn’t interfere with either country’s cup competitions.

This competition is a good idea, but the arrangements are rushed. A game in February means we know who will be playing for three months, and arrangements can be made.

After all my complaining about tickets and travel, i’ll actually miss the Windsor Park game as i’ll be flying back from Manchester after seeing United take on Partizan on the Thursday night.

If you believe in omens, the last time Linfield played when I was in mid air was the away leg against Sutjeska in August.

High hotel prices over the weekend meant I wasn’t able to make it a double header with the game against Brighton on the Sunday, I consoled myself that i’d be back for the Linfield match on the Saturday. Flip sake.

That’s the second time that high costs (flights frustrating my London/Brighton break plans for July 2020) have frustrated my attempts to see Brighton, the city and football team.

I’ve got an idea in my head to do a London/Brighton long weekend in January 2021, but there’s still a while to go before I worry about that.

The most frustrating thing about the scheduling about these matches against Dundalk is that it rules out two midweeks for slotting in outstanding games, especially with a Friday night TV game against Glenavon also ruling out another midweek later in the month.

Talking of ticketing, still no news about the game against Institute in two weeks time. There should be a rule in the Irish League that if a game is ticketed, tickets should be on sale (at least) four weeks in advance.

Talking of fixture scheduling, there’s a midweek in early December that Linfield won’t be able to play a League match, but in a good way, as they play Coleraine at home in the NIFL Cup Semi-Final.

I guess we’re due one against them.

No pressure, but if Linfield lose, i’m spending my birthday in Ballymena. What a grim thought.

It seems that fixture scheduling is also an issue in England with this business over Liverpool in the League Cup.

I’m slightly worried that the United match against Burnley i’m going to in mid January could be postponed to accommodate League Cup Semi-Finals.

Talking of Semi-Finals, Linfield are in the Semis of the Steel and Sons Cup, meaning I could be facing a decision wether to go or not. If they do, that would be three finals in four years, which will be impressive, especially as the team is all youngsters, due to so many senior players being ineligible for the competition.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 7-0 WARRENPOINT TOWN 22.10.2019

This was a match that Linfield had to wait two months to play, and it turned out to be worth the wait.

The postponement would have been a source of frustration for those who turn up at the match in their Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt before heading to the Aul Boys Punk Bank Holiday Weekender.

Originally scheduled for August, this match was postponed due to Linfield’s involvement in European competition. As a result of their inactivity, Linfield have been playing catch-up since August.

With each win, they’ve gradually got closer to the top. If they could win this, the first of three games in hand, they would get within two points of the top of the table, and still have two games in hand.

Mark Stafford and Kirk Millar made Birthday Goals quite trendy in August, so the postponement was frustrating for Daniel Kearns, whose birthday was two days after the original date.

He continued to miss out through injury, but this match represented a first League start for Ross Larkin.

He looked comfortable when he had the ball. It was hard to analyse his defending because he didn’t have any to do, apart from blocking a cross out for a corner.

Just like on Saturday, Linfield attacked The Kop in the first-half, meaning a quick change of seat. I missed the opening seconds of the game, but got in just in time to see Shayne Lavery causing trouble for Warrenpoint’s defence

The pressure continued, Warrenpoint couldn’t get out of their own half.

Even though Linfield have an excellent record against Warrenpoint (Fourteen wins and two draws from sixteen meetings), some of the previous meetings had been dicey.

It was easy to forget that Warrenpoint had drawn two of their previous three visits to Windsor Park. Linfield’s 4-0 win on Warrenpoint’s last visit had some nervy moments at 0-0 and 1-0.

The key was for Linfield to get an early goal, so that Warrenpoint wouldn’t anything to hold on to or defend. There wasn’t long to wait, just 6 minutes in when Stephen Fallon curled home from the edge of the box.

It looked like there were only two players on the pitch as Shayne Lavery had a personal battle with Beerat Turker, with Warrenpoint’s keeper denying Lavery three times.

Lavery was only going to have a frustrating evening for so long, and he eventually got his goal when he finished from a Joel Cooper cross.

A 2-0 lead was key for Linfield. At 1-0, Warrenpoint would have been determined to stay in the game and maybe nick something late on. There was no way they going to score two. Two touched in Linfield’s half was looking ambitious.

Kirk Millar, Ryan McGivern and Matthew Clarke all had efforts denied before Shayne Lavery made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time after getting in behind Warrenpoint’s defence, beating the keeper to the ball, and then backheeling the ball into the empty net. As you do.

Even I, naturally cautious, knew that the points were in the bag.

The only question, was what would the winning margin be?

This was the third of four midweek games in October, a month that would see them play eight games. It would be understandable if they were to take things easy in the second-half, just as they did against Dungannon Swifts earlier in the month.

Nope, was the answer. Within a few minutes, Shayne Lavery cut in from the left and fired home to complete his hat-trick, a bit longer than it took to complete against Glenavon earlier in the season.

You knew it was going in as soon as he set himself up to shoot.

His frustration from earlier in the evening was now gone, although he was probably rueing the double hat-trick that got away.

Job done for the night, Lavery and Jamie Mulgrew were able to put their feet up, with Matthew Shevlin and Jordan Stewart coming on for some much needed minutes.

It was then 5-0 when Joel Cooper headed home, and then 6-0 from Cooper again. Now he wanted a hat-trick.

There was still time for some more saves from Beerat Turket, with Matthew Shevlin being the man frustrated.

By this stage, Trai Hume was now brought on as a substitute for Ross Larkin, who had a slight injury.

It was definitely ok to bring Hume on, there would be no objections from the County Antrim FA.

Just before the end, Cooper made it 7-0 to complete his hat-trick. It was the first time i’d ever been to a match where two players scored a hat-trick, and both of them stayed on the pitch after the final whistle for the obligatory photo holding a matchball in one hand holding three fingers with the other.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : WORLD SOCCER – JULY 1986

This week, we look back at World Soccer reviewing the 1986 World Cup, which bizarrely has the group game between Brazil and Spain as it’s cover image.

After a double page spread of the final, FIFA President Joao Havelange gets a page to write his review of Mexico 86, and looks forward to Italia 90.

World Soccer continues it’s World Cup review by giving double page spreads to each group, before moving on to the knockout stages.

There was also a full list of all the squads.

Brian Glanville uses his column to comment that Glenn Hoddle is just the latest skillful English footballer in history to be denied the chance to show of his skills for the national team because of tactics.

Meanwhile, in Romania, European Champions Steaua Bucharest are running away with the league title.

LINFIELD 2-1 BALLYMENA UNITED 19.10.2019

When Linfield fell ten points behind Crusaders at the top of the table at the start of the month, the idea that they could be two points behind them two and a half weeks later seemed far fetched, but that is how Linfield could be kicking off next Saturday.

This season has swung from one extreme to the other for Linfield, and today was no different. What looked like being a routine afternoon’s work suddenly became nervous as 5pm approached.

The team news was a mixed bag for Linfield. Niall Quinn was missing, but Bastien Hery was back from injury and Shayne Lavery back after international duty, and there was a place on the bench for Jordan Stewart after injury.

Quinn’s injury meant that Ryan McGivern came in, with Linfield going three at the back just as they did in the League meeting in February.

Though Linfield won that day, the formation didn’t really work.

There was a dramatic shock early on, but it was Linfield’s fans who got caught out, rather than their players.

In the last few years, Linfield usually attack The Kop in the first-half, but today, they were attacking the Railway Stand.

Those of us who like to sit where the team is attacking had to make a quick dash to the other end of the South Stand.

I was one of those, and missed the opening minute, and arrived just in time to see Shayne Lavery hassling a defender and dispossessing him in order to create an opportunity. It was as if he’d never been away.

Linfield had a lot of early pressure, but the closest they came to scoring was a Kirk Millar effort that went wide.

Ballymena rode out that pressure but the best that they could offer was a Leroy Millar shot that hit the top of the crossbar. I was at the other end and it looked closer than it actually was.

After a lull, Linfield got back on top, and took the lead when Joel Cooper created space for himself on the right and fired home with his left foot. That meant he had scored both times he had faced Ballymena at Windsor Park, having scored the winner at Windsor Park last September.

A lot of Linfield’s attacking play was coming from the right hand side, with Cooper and Hery having a lot of joy specifically. Every time they got the ball, there would usually be a Ballymena defender (or defenders, in a lot of cases) bamboozled as to how he got away from them.

As half-time approached, Kirk Millar found himself free on the right hand side. He only had one person to find, Joel Cooper, but he found him, a chest touch from Cooper giving him enough space to fire home and make it 2-0.

Not much happened in the second-half. The only moment of note in the early stages was a Joel Cooper shot that was blocked as he chased his hat-trick.

Cooper didn’t get the full 90 minutes to get a hat-trick as he limped off after a series of robust challenges. At 2-0 up, there was no need to take risks, especially with midweek games over the next two weeks.

The good news, was a return to action from the bench after two months out for Jordan Stewart. He looked like he was going to put Linfield 3-0 up when a clearance landed perfectly for him, only for a Ballymena defender to get in the road and block the shot.

Before that, Andrew Burns hit the side netting after a free-kick was punched away. However, a crowd of Linfield players blocking his sight at goal, it was the only place he could put it.

Linfield responded with Matthew Clarke bursting through Ballymena’s defence, only to shoot over. Clarke was having an enjoyable afternoon playing a lot more forward than he usually does.

Linfield needed a third goal just to be sure, despite Ballymena not offering much of an attacking threat.

For the final minutes, Andrew Waterworth and Charlie Allen came on from the bench.

As injury time approached, the game took a sudden swing when Jimmy Callacher diverted a cross goalwards, his momentum forcing the ball through Rohan Ferguson.

It was a goal that came out of nowhere. Looking at the footage, if Callacher doesn’t go for it, a Ballymena player scores anyway.

Even though Ballymena had a lot of the ball in injury time, they never looked like getting an undeserved equaliser, as Linfield held out for the win.

There would be an injury time goal in Belfast that affected the top of the table, thankfully not at Windsor Park.

Coleraine’s 2-0 win over Crusaders put them top of the table on goal difference.

On Radio Ulster, Liam Beckett said a Coleraine win would have been a perfect result for Linfield.

To be honest, a draw would have been perfect, but a win for either side could have had a spin put on it by Linfield fans, as long as their side did the business, which they did.

The table is now starting to take shape, as the second round of fixtures have kicked off.

The bottom three are who you expect them to be, while Glenavon are stuck in a no man’s land due to their games in hand. If they lose them, they’ll officially be in a relegation fight.

Ballymena United, Larne and Dungannon Swifts are battling it out for 6th. I know I wrote Ballymena United out of the title race after defeat at Windsor Park in September last year and looked very stupid a few months later, I think it is safe to do so this time around.

Despite only getting one point from four games against teams above them, somehow, Glentoran are only six points off the top. I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Despite only one point from three games against the Top 4, Cliftonville are only one point off the top. Like with Glentoran, I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Crusaders are there for the taking and have hit a brick wall. That makes the defeat to them even worse. Out of them and Coleraine, Linfield should be more than concerned about Coleraine,

On Tuesday night, Linfield are at home to Warrenpoint in the first of their three rearranged games from late Summer.

If Linfield can win that (they should, even though Warrenpoint have drawn two of their last three visits), they will be only two points off the top with two games in hand.

It will be a huge psychological blow to strike, as for the first time since the opening weeks, Linfield will be in touching distance of the top, and Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville will start having to worry about us.

That would set things up nicely for next Saturday’s trip to Coleraine. Six points over the next week would send out a message to the rest of the League, especially with the next two League matches coming against two of the bottom three.

With one game in hand set to be played, another will have to be rearranged due to the Unite The Union Cup.

That means the home match against Dungannon will have to be postponed.

To be honest, the matches against Dundalk feel like an unnecessary distraction.

I’ve not sure if there is a TV deal for it, but I thought such a fixture would have been played in May, at the end of the Irish League season, which would be more attractive for broadcasters.

Unfortunately for me, i’ll miss the game at Windsor Park on the Friday night as i’ll be flying back from Manchester. Hope it finishes 0-0, with Linfield winning at Oriel Park obviously.

I’ve never been to Oriel Park, but i’ll wait on the arrangements before I decide if I go.

Talking of United matches, the game against Burnley i’m going to has been confirmed for Wednesday night at 8.15pm. It means I won’t have a day trip with a free Wednesday as I did earlier this year.

Thankfully, it wasn’t moved to Thursday night like Wolves v Liverpool, as I would have missed out altogether. I’ll keep an eye out for a game in Greater Manchester on the Tuesday.

The next Football Trip for me is Coleraine away next Saturday, i’ll be getting the train. How very exciting.

Linfield will be hoping to reach their destination at the top of the table. They’ll need other results to go their way to get their on Saturday, but hopefully, they’ll be on track.

Photo Album