ONE WEEKEND IN 1994

At the end of last year, there wasn’t very much to do in Belfast, mainly due to “The Water Crisis”, and being unable to get washed enough to leave the house.

So, I sat in front of the TV, channelhopping. Something that caught my was ESPN Classic’s series “30 For 30”, of 30 original sports movies.

One of the movies I most enjoyed was one titled “17th June 1994

It was a simple concept, an edited looked at the chronological happenings of that date, a rather dramatic day in US sporting history, as OJ Simpson was chased by police looking to question him in relation to his wife’s murder, the opening match of the 1994 World Cup, as well as other dramatic happenings in the major US sports.

But it is another sporting weekend that year, which sticks in my mind, the 17th anniversary of it happens this weekend, even down to the days being the same.

On Saturday 30th April 1994, I was an 11 year old, looking forward to my last two months at primary school, going to a football match at Windsor Park, between Linfield and Glentoran.

Of course, being so young, going to a football match was a bit of a luxury not being able to drive, so I had to rely on older relatives to take me.

It all really dependent on what was happening and more often than not, there was always something else on, meaning I was unable to be taken.

But when Linfield play Glentoran, it is such a special fixture, that I would always get taken to it, no matter what else was on.

As well as bragging rights, the Gibson Cup was up for grabs in this game as Linfield started the day 3rd, level on points but behind on goal difference behind Portadown (1st) and Glenavon (2nd), who just happened to be playing each other that day.

In Lurgan, there was a winner takes all clash, but with a twist. A lot of games at the end of the season often get billed as “winner takes all”, but realistically, a draw will suit one of the two teams.

Not on this occasion, as a draw could allow Linfield to sneak in and claim the title.

I remember Richard Keys speaking on Sky’s “Football Years” series bemoaning the fact that Sky Sports have never had a last day title showdown like Anfield 1989 to broadcast. In truth, he wishes Sky had a last day title showdown like Mourneview/Windsor 1994.

My and my older brother arrived at Windsor Park, with not a cloud in the sky, a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a game of football.

Bizarrely, one of the things I can remember vividly, is that there was an ice mint company having a promotional push outside Windsor Park prior to kick-off, giving out free samples.

For whatever reason, the product they were handing out never went into public distribution.

There was a danger, we might not get in due to overcrowding, as the RUC told us when we were queuing up to get in. The female colleague of the officer relaying the information to us did helpfully point out that there was plenty of room in the North Stand.

She have have been incredibly stupid, but at least she was polite, which is what neighbourhood policing is all about.

Eventually, we got in, and headed for the terracing in The Kop.

The first-half, was non eventful, and the score from Lurgan didn’t help the atmosphere as Glenavon raced into an almost surely uncatchable 2-0 lead.

Eventually, Linfield went into a 2-0 lead, but it didn’t matter, as Glenavon still led 2-0. Suddenly, Portadown pulled it back to 2-2.

This was the magic score, the result that would give Linfield the title. A goal for Portadown or Glenavon would give them the title. What we needed was for nothing to happen for the rest of the game.

1994 was primitive in terms of communication technology. If this scenario happened today, supporters could keep up to date with the other game on their mobile internet, possibly on Twitter, following Glenavon or Portadown’s accounts, and hitting refresh every 5 seconds, in the hope that there would be a tweet saying “Full-Time, Glenavon 2-2 Portadown”

Against an awful Glentoran team, 2-0 was going to be enough, the game was over. The only match that mattered now was the one in Lurgan.

Anyone who had a radio, was now surrounded by people, eager for news of no news from Lurgan.

People who had a portable radio with speakers were the most popular, but even people listening through their headphones had people around them shouting “What’s happening” at various inter4vals.

The thing with words is, they can only tell part of a story, but you need to see the story to believe it.

As anyone who has listened to a football match can testify, when the commentator says a player crosses the half-way line, you start to fear the worst that a goal is seconds away. That’s just the way football fans are.

Eventually, the final whistle blew at Mourneview Park, it finished 2-2, and Linfield were Champions.

A week later, they beat Bangor 2-0 to win the Irish Cup.

In their infinite wisdom, the IFA decided to take the Gibson Cup to Mourneview Park. It was the only trophy they had, so Linfield fans had to wait for the trophy to arrive at Windsor Park.

The wait was too long for my brother, as I had to back home before my mum and dad started to worry. No mobile phones in them days that my brother could have just called them to say we were being late.

To give an impression of what it was like in The Kop that day, this picture, by Stuart Roy Clarke should give you just an inkling.

The following day, me and a friend went to a local park to play football, with his dad standing on the touchline, keeping us to date with the happenings at Portman Road, as Ipswich Town faced Manchester United in a Premier League game.

But suddenly, he came towards us, not with football news, but news that Ayrton Senna was dead. He’d been killed in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix.

We’d refused to believe it at first, for two reasons. The first, was that Senna felt immortal to us.

The second, was that on the Friday, i’d come home from school and saw on Teletext news that Roland Ratzenberger had been killed in practice. Surely two drivers couldn’t be killed in the same race weekend.

But it was true. The game was abandoned there and then, and we headed back to his house to wait for the BBC News (Neither of us had Sky News)

For the record, United won 2-1 at Portman Road, meaning Blackburn had to beat Coventry in the Monday night game to keep the title race alive.

On the Bank Holiday Monday, i’d went to Newcastle with my parents, and I remember listening to the car radio, urging Coventry to win.

They did, 2-1, and United were champions for a second successive season.

Two title wins, one of them the most dramatic in British football history, and the death of a World Champion.

The Bank Holiday Weekend of April/May 1994 turned out to be one of the most dramatic series of sporting events from my youth.

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