LONDON

Was in London last week for a short break, just as I was in February last year.

The reason I went back to London for a second successive year was simple, I had a lot of “Unfinished business” in London. I did and saw a lot of stuff when I was in London last year, yet there was still so much I didn’t do and see.

For that reason, London was always going to be my choice for getaway in February 2014.

Amazingly, I experienced travel problems before even reaching London as the airline moved my flight from a sensible 11am to 6pm. To fly out at 6pm would be a waste of a day. With the 11am flight cancelled, I got mine changed again to 6.45am.

The early start might be inconvenient, but at least I would get a full day in London.

A rearranged flight was only the start of my travel problems. Due to a Tube strike, I was going to have to go to my hotel by bus.

Due to the lack of transport options, Thursday was always going to be a write-off, but it wasn’t a total write-off. There were some Tube stations open, so I made the most of the ones that were.

Brixton was one of those open, so I headed there in late morning. I had a specific reason for wanting to visit Brixton, as I wanted to head to O2 Academy to try and get a ticket for Tom Odell on the Saturday night.

I’d tried online with no success in the weeks leading up to this, so I thought i’d try turning up at the venue. Turns out the venue box office is only open on the night of events.

It wasn’t a wasted trip as I had a walk around Brixton, Brixton Market, accidentally stumbling onto Electric Avenue, immortalised in song by Eddy Grant. Managed to get some excellent Street Art pictures when I was in Brixton.

From there, I headed into the City Centre and had a walk around, before heading back to the hotel for a brief sleep before heading East that night.

The reason why I was heading to East London was that I had an audience ticket for Life’s A Pitch on BT Sport. The studios are in Stratford, near the Olympic Stadium. I didn’t get to see much of the stadium though.

Just a pity it took nearly two hours to get from Stratford to Paddington by bus, thanks to Boris and Bob’s Comedy Act.

After a brief sleep, I was up early on the Friday morning to go on the Shoreditch Street Art Tour. Unfortunately, like the day before, I was frustrated by public transport, as delays on The Tube meant I missed the tour.

I was already en route to Shoreditch when I discovered the delays, so it was too late to turn back. Luckily, I had travelled through Shoreditch going from Stratford to Paddington, so had a mental note of where the Street Art was.

I had a walk around getting photos. If I go to London again, i’ll definitely try to go on a proper, organised, Street Art Tour.

From Shoreditch, I went into Oxford Circus and Leicester Square for a walkaround, before heading to Greenwich to go on the Emirates Air Line, a cable car journey across London Docks.

Got some good views due to it being a clear day, but it wouldn’t be an essential thing to do in London to be honest. It would certainly be a unique way to spend a night out, if it wasn’t for the fact that no booze is allowed.

From there, I headed in the direction of one of London’s most famous landmarks, Wembley Stadium. But it wasn’t Wembley I was visiting, it was the nearby Fountain Studios (where X-Factor is filmed) for Alan Davies Apres Ski, for which I had an audience ticket.

It was a very stop-start recording which got never really got going, to be honest, which is a shame as I like Alan Davies.

Saturday morning was spent in Camden. I went to Camden for a morning last year and loved it. Had a walk around Camden Market, and got some Street Art photos.

Saturday afternoon was spent in East London, watching Leyton Orient v Peterborough.

When in London, i’d hoped to take in a concert. Each concert I wanted to go to, I seemed to be thwarted.

Phoenix are a band I love, but inconveniently, were doing a gig in London the day before I arrived. Foster the People and Bombay Bicycle Club were doing XFM Sessions, but I couldn’t get a ticket.

Del Amitri were doing a gig in Hammersmith on the Friday night. I like Del Amitri, but not enough to spend 30 quid seeing them.

I wanted to see Tom Odell on the Saturday. I turned up at the venue to try and get a ticket. The Box Office was sold out. There were plenty of touts outside flogging, but the prices were extortionate. Looking at the volume of people already queing up to get in, it wasn’t worth it for what would be a crap view.

Luckily, on the Saturday night, I had a Plan B, a comedy gig at Bloomsbury Theatre headined by Katherine Ryan and Tom Rosenthal.

On the Sunday, I had a lie-in before heading to White Hart Lane for Spurs v Everton. After that, I headed into Oxford Circus to watch the United game (the less said of which, the better) before spending some more time in the City Centre.

That night, I discovered Prince was doing an impromptu gig in London, but, like the other gigs this week, I missed out on a ticket, being elsewhere when the queue was forming.

Monday morning, my last day in London, was spent in the City Centre again, making the most of my final day in the city, before heading to Gatwick and flying home.

And that, was my trip to London, an enjoyable experience despite the transport mayhem and being unable to get concert tickets.

Where will I be headed in February next year? Who knows.

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ESPANA 82 – THE PLAYER’S SOUVENIR

A curious thing came into my possession this week, ironically, on 25th June (You should know why that date is important) of a booklet previewing the 1982 World Cup for Northern Ireland.

The front cover features match action from the 1-0 win over Israel in November 1981 that secured Northern Ireland’s qualification.

The brochure is edited by Billy Kennedy and Ivan Little, then Co-Editors of Linfield’s matchday programme, and also co-edited Northern Ireland’s programmes during that period. Billy Kennedy is still currently writing for the News Letter, while Ivan Little now has a weekly column for Sunday Life after a long career with UTV.

The editorial congratulates Northern Ireland on qualifying for the finals, pointing out that the groundwork to a successful campaign began in winning the 1980 Home Championship.

There is an editorial from Dr Michael Scott, Consultant Cardiologist at Belfast City Hospital, congratulating the team on it’s success, and pointing out the benefits of not smoking. There are various anti smoking adverts in the publication from NI Chest Heart Stroke Association.

Despite the title, the publication was available to the public at a cost of £1.20.

Malcolm Brodie writes about how the World Cup has changed during his time covering the event, especially since Northern Ireland’s last appearance, 24 years previously, in 1958.

He notes that the tournament is now more commercialised, in his words, “It is big business, now on a global scale”, and about how there will be increased security surrounding all the teams in Spain.

Brodie signs off with “Reaching the Quarter-Finals would be an unbelievable boost, and in the opinion of many, a miracle. Knowing Billy Bingham’s luck, that may be achieved. You never know, stranger things have happened”

There were no Quarter-Finals in Spain 82, after the groups, there were 4 groups of 3. Northern Ireland were 1 win away from the Semi-Finals, so technically, it was a Quarter-Final of sorts.

There was also a fixture list for the competition, with dates/venues/kick-off times.

What struck me as odd was the volume of group games being played at the same time. For example, Hungary v El Salvador in Group 3 was played at the same time as Scotland v New Zealand in Group 5.

Ironically, the final group games weren’t played simultaneously in Spain 82, though that would change as a result of the Austria v West Germany game.

Honduras and Yugoslavia, two of Northern Ireland’s group opponents get a double page spread. Not knowing much about the Hondurans, Northern Ireland are being helped by Terry Moore, a Canadian international who grew up in Northern Ireland, played for Glentoran, but in 1982, was playing for Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Honduras had beaten Canada for a place in the finals, with Moore bemoaning the fact that Honduras winner wasn’t disallowed for offside. Moore would get the chance to play for Canada in the 1986 World Cup.

Moore would point out that it would feel like an away game due to the Honduran population in Spain, and that they would get support from locals for their games against Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland.

Apart from Nikki Jovanovic, formerly of Manchester United, not much was known of Yugoslavia, though there was an admiration for their manager Milijan Milijanic, in his second spell as manager, after winning two La Liga titles with Real Madrid inbetween.

Bill Clark of Sunday Mirror pays tribute to the role played by two members of Billy Bingham’s backroom team, Martin Harvey and Bertie Peacock.

Some players are lucky enough to get full page profiles with the usual Q and A with footballers.

Sammy McIlroy was chosen by the UK government to front a “Behave yourselves” campaign (England and Scotland also qualified for Spain 82) but stated that Northern Ireland fans will behave, but that such a campaign was worthwhile. He also spoke about his transfer from Manchester United to Stoke City.

A former pupil of Mersey Street Primary School, his favourite football team growing up wasn’t in BT4, but across the city, as he supported Linfield, and Rangers. His favourite singer is Al Green and his favourite comedian is Tommy Cooper.

Chris Nicholl’s favourite singer is Mick Jagger and his favourite comedian is Benny Hill. David McCreery is also a fan of Benny Hill, but his favourite singer is Rod Stewart.

Despite fronting an anti-smoking campaign, Sammy Nelson admitted to having the odd cigar to celebrate Arsenal winning a trophy. Interestingly, he was the first ever ex pupil of Inst, a school with a long Rugby association, to play international football. As of 1982, he was yet to be invited back to his old school. His favourite singer is Bob Seeger.

Mal Donaghy’s brother would be in Spain for the World Cup, but to cheer on Brazil, having formed the West Belfast Brazil Supporters Club.

There is also a mention of his 2 month old baby Ciaran “Mal’s hoping the latest member of the Donaghy clan, baby Ciaran will also be putting his best foot forward onto the soccer pitch”

Ciaran Donaghy has played in the Irish League, most notably with Cliftonville.

Billy Hamilton’s wedding anniversary fell during the 2nd Round of Spain 82, which he hoped he would still be in Spain for. Like Sammy Nelson, who he lists as his favourite comedian, he is a Rolling Stones fan. He states for his post football career, he hoped to own a business, which he did, setting up a Trophy and Engraving shop in Bangor, before selling it to Alan McDonald in 2009.

There is a double page poster of the qualifying campaign, while Billy Bingham gets a page to write about how his team shouldn’t be written off in Spain, despite a tough group, including this prophetic line, in relation to the 1958 team, and his 1982 team

“Who knows, maybe 24 years from now, in the year 2006, Northern Irish people will be talking about the feats of the 1982 team, with the same nostalgia and folklore attached to the 1958 team”

I think in 24 years on from 2006, they will still be talking about the achievements of 1982.

Ivan Little interviews sporting celebrities cheering on Northern Ireland such as Mike Gibson, Sean O’Neill, John Watson and Dermot Monteith. Alex Higgins is hoping that his Snooker schedule allows him to travel to Spain as a guest of ex Linfield player Sammy Pavis.

Martin O’Neill speaks of his pride at being captain, can speak a little French (unlike fellow Derry native Nadine Coyle) and his favourite bands are The Undertones (unsurprisingly), The Horselips and Jethro Tull.

There is a team poster in the middle, while some players have their baby photos featured.

Pat Jennings spoke of his regret that physiotherapist Bobby McGregor, who died the previous November, wouldn’t be in Spain.

There is a full page feature on players on the fringe of the squad, battling for a place such as Pat Rice, George Dunlop and Tom Sloan.

Interestingly, there is no mention in that article, or anywhere in the publication of Norman Whiteside, which would give an idea as to how late and unexpected his arrival in contention for a place in the squad was.

There is also a Smash Hits style lyric poster of the official team song, Yer Man, by Dana.

Sam Butler of News Letter writes a guide on what to do and not to do in Spain, warning fans that there will be a heavy police presence on the streets, and to beware of muggers.

On the back page, there is an advert simply saying “VIVA NORTHERN IRELAND ………… from the winning team at Downtown Radio”