FOOTBALL IN 2015

Another year of football watching is over, and it’s all about looking forward to 2015. But what, realistically, are my hopes for 2015?

Well, these are my football watching hopes for 2015.

LINFIELD

Well, stating the obvious, I obviously want Linfield to win the Irish League and the Irish Cup.

This season’s Irish Cup draw has already given a treat in the form of an away game against Tobermore United – another new ground to visit.

In terms of pre-season, it’s the usual wishlist of Dundela, PSNI or Stranraer away. Seeing as we invited Cowdenbeath over for a friendly in the summer of 2014, would it be too much to ask for them to return the favour in the summer of 2015?

In terms of promotion, i’m hoping Carrick Rangers go up as i’ve never been there. So again, a new ground to visit. If there is to be another team promoted, hopefully it will be Ards or Bangor, with an away game early in the season on a sunny day.

Of course, there is also the ongoing redevelopment work at Windsor Park. It is expected for this to be completed by November.

Obviously, i’d be getting use of the South Stand, but hopefully, i’ll get an opportunity to sit in the Railway Stand just to see what it’s like. I’m guessing it might have to be used for a Linfield match before it is passed for a Northern Ireland match, in the same way Wembley had to stage an underage international with a restricted attendance before being allowed to host full events.

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL

Obviously, i’m hoping for Linfield to be in the European Cup, but i’m hoping that the other Irish League sides get fallen giants who are part of the 101 Club, that I can tick off my list.

The closest an Irish League side got in 2014 was when Crusaders got duffed by a Swedish team who went on to play Torino.

Seeing as Glenavon are best mates with PSV Eindhoven, if they want to invite them over for a friendly, that would be great.

MANCHESTER UNITED

I’m hoping to get to Old Trafford before the end of the season. I’ve nothing booked yet, but i’m eyeing either Tottenham in March or Arsenal in May.

Hopefully, there’s be European Cup football returning in September 2015. I might be tempted to a there and back group game. Just have to wait until the 2015-2016 fixture list comes out.

NORTHERN IRELAND

I’m planning to be at four Northern Ireland games in 2015 – the home games against Finland, Romania, Hungary and Greece. I bought a Block Booking for the first time ever for this campaign. The downside is, i’m going to go to hell for attending the Finland game, which is on a Sunday night.

Tempted by the Scotland friendly in March. Haven’t booked anything yet, but a quick there and back for an away friendly is very tempting.

EURO 2016

Whatever the fate of Northern Ireland’s qualification campaign, i’m planning to be in France in the summer of 2016. The reason i’m posting it with reference to 2015 is, the flights will probably go on sale in August/September 2015, and i’m planning to be straight in with my booking. The plan is to go out for the first four days of the tournament and be based in Paris, with two games there, one in Lille (one hour away) and Lens (one hour away)

BIRMINGHAM

Toying with the idea of heading to Birmingham in September for the Rugby World Cup, as Australia and South Africa play on successive days at Villa Park. If I was to do this, i’d be planning to try and take in a football match taking place in the city (if feasible) at either Birmingham City or Walsall. Nothing definite in this idea though.

BARCELONA

Going to Barcelona for a weekend in February. Espanyol are at home to Valencia that weekend, so i’m hoping to take in that match. I’m also looking at lower league sides in the area to try and catch more than one game. The most likely bet is CE Europa, who play in Spain’s 4th tier. Frustratingly, Barcelona B (in Spain’s second tier) are away that weekend, to Real Zaragoza, a 101 Club member.

LEAGUE OF IRELAND

I don’t plan to go to a League Of Ireland game every year, but there’s usually something that takes me to Dublin, so I end up taking in a game. If I do end up taking in a game in Dublin, hopefully, it will be UCD, as the Bellefield Bowl is the only football ground in Dublin I haven’t been to.

SCOTLAND

As well as the previously mentioned international i’m tempted by, i’m planning to head to Edinburgh in August for the festival. Obviously, there’ll be Hibs and Hearts, but i’m hoping they’ll be at home on a Sunday, leaving the Saturday free to see Spartans or Edinburgh City, hopefully by now promoted to League Two (4th tier)

Of the two, Edinburgh City look the most likely. The downside is, they play at an athletics stadium.

MOROCCO

One place i’m definitely not visiting in 2015 is Morocco. I was tempted as they were the host of the 2015 African Cup Of Nations. It turned out I made the right decision by not making plans, as they were stripped of hosting rights, which were given to Equatorial Guinea, which is a bit harder to get to.

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2010 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February saw me head to Manchester for a weekend at the start of the month.

I was going to see United take on Portsmouth. but I took the opportunity to go to St Andrew’s the following day to see Birmingham take on Wolves, and see Kelly Clarkson in concert, at the Manchester Apollo that night.

I’d been to Old Trafford many times before, but i’d started to find the trips tedious, always going by coach, and never getting to see the city itself.

So that sowed the seeds of that weekend, wanting to go to a United match a different way, and make a weekend of it.

I also managed to take advantage of other things happening in nearby cities to make a proper weekend of it.

The United match was pretty routine, with United winning 5-0. Portsmouth were so bad, United could have won 10-0 if they really went for it.

The following day’s game was a lot more fiesty, and I was surprised that I was able to turn up on the day and get a general sale (at a reasonable £20) for the West Midlands derby between Birmingham and Wolves.

It was enjoyable to watch a football match without having a vested interested (I was in the Birmingham end, so I suppose I did have to cheer them on) and the atmosphere was brilliant and I learnt some funny tunes at the expense of Wolves from the Birmingham fans.

On my way home from the watch, I stumbled across some heartwarming graffiti, paying tribute to a cup of tea.

After legging it to New Street Station, I managed to get to Manchester for the Kelly Clarkson concert, which was excellent.

Later on in the month, I managed to get some photos of a new mural in Sandy Row paying tribute to the Northern Ireland football team, featuring Warren Feeney and local lad Grant McCann

Sandy Row Football Mural

Kelly Clarkson Photos

Birmingham v Wolves Photos

EVERYONE LOVES A CUPPA

It’s written on a wall in Brimingham, so therefore, it must be true.

I’ll get to how I ended up in Birmingham later. Anyone who has been following me on Twitter will have known how excitable I was about going to Manchester for the weekend.

Why Manchester?, I hear you ask, especially in February, it’s hardly a winter sunshine break.

I don’t know myself really. It had got to early October and I was getting down about the summer being over and the nights getting darker, and earlier, I just wanted something to look forward to, to see me through the winter months.

It had only been a couple of weeks since I was at the Manchester derby, and i’d grown tired of the long bus trips to watch United, and wanted to fly over to a game, and have enough time to actually explore Manchester, rather than getting a few hours on the day of the game.

So, that was it, mind made up. Off to a United game, early in the new year. Pick a game that is easy to get tickets for, on a weekend when Linfield have an away match which is more than missable.

With United at home to Portsmouth, and Linfield away to Distillery, at a ground with no parking, and no good views wherever you are, ticked all the boxes.

Booking this trip, as something for me to look forward to during the long winter nights, soon morphed into my “Something to Look Forward to Every Month” mantra i’m having for this year (and hopefully beyond), being the February event.

So, after all the waiting, I arrived bleary-eyed at Belfast City Airport and thinking to myself that it was not what I had in mind when I was planning this glorious weekend.

It was my first time flying from Belfast City Airport, and the flight was the best flight I have ever experienced, mainly because I slept the whole way through.

Arriving in Manchester, the first thing you notice is how much better the train stations are on the mainland. Self-service ticket booths and shopping to kill the time, compared with the depressing hole that is Central Station.

After arriving at my accommodation, it was straight into the City Centre, and most importantly, Empire Exchange, which was at the top of the street where I was staying.

For anybody who has never been to Empire Exchange, it’s basically like Video/DVD/Book/Magazine shopping in a Tardis. So much stuff you just want to buy, you really have to control yourself from going on a spending spree.

Managed to purchase a couple of old Shoot and Q magazines for £1 a pop. It’s really funny reading these magazines with the benefit of 15-20 years of hindsight.

If I get access to a scanner, i’ll post up a couple of the best parts of the magazines. Any magazine which has an advert for shinguards where Bryan Robson, Ian Rush and Gary Lineker parody Goodfellas deserves to have the piss ripped out of it.

From there, I headed to Urbis, an exhibition centre which will become the National Football Museum in 2011. One of it’s main purposes, is as a studio for the flagship news programme of Channel M (Think of it as NVTV, but with a budget), presented by Andy Crane.

Having decided against stalking Andy Crane, I headed in to view the exhibition looking at 50 years of television history in Manchester. It’s well worth a look, if you happen to be passing.

With the early start, I was knackered, and retired to the room for a powernap before dinner, but I overslept, and basically had to write-off Friday night.

But anyway, Friday night wasn’t the main highlight of the trip, Saturday afternoon was.

With my sleep pattern, gradually getting back to normal, I was up ridiculously early on Saturday morning, so headed into the city centre.

I was meeting a friend for lunch before heading to the game, so I had a bit of time to kill, and headed to the Arndale Centre.

I’d been there the previous day, but managed to find some of Manchester’s hidden pleasures, such as the Arndale Market, which is hidden at the back of the Arndale Centre, amidst all the major chain stores.

I managed to browse into a independent bookstore, which had perhaps the best thing i’ve ever seen.

It was a collection of Tom Baker Doctor Who greetings/message cards (Happy Birthday, Get Well Soon, etc)

It would be the best card ever if you sent it to a friend, but you would hate yourself for actually using them.

From there, I headed to Picadilly to meet the only Man United fan on Merseyside, and we got a train to Old Trafford.

The first thing we had to do was check our GPS that we were at the right stadium, as the amount of Yellow and Green scarves seemed to suggest that we had accidentally ended up at Carrow Road.

You may have seen the scarves at the recent League cup tie with Manchester City. At the Portsmouth, there was far easily more scarves sold and worn. Those wearing Red and White, were in the minority.

We decided to head to the famous Trafford Bar to catch the end of the Merseyside derby. After we queued up, we were surprised to see that the match wasn’t being shown.

It really shows the hardcore anti-Scouse attitude of the regulars that their matches aren’t even shown on TV, to give regulars the opportunity to cheer on the other team

We headed on into the ground for the match, which was an expected routine win for United against a very poor Portsmouth team. If you think they looked bad on the edited highlights on Match of the Day, you had to see it in person for 90 minutes to really see how bad they are.

Heading out, I checked my mobile, and the day got even better with the results from home.

From there, we headed to a bar in the Oxford Road region, which was converted from a public toilet.

Come Sunday morning, I decided to head to Birmingham on a cheap return ticket, to see the city for a day and go to City’s match against Wolves.

I decided to chance it and wait until the day of the game to get my ticket, and I managed to get one with no trouble, which was a bit surprising, bearing in mind it’s a local derby.

St Andrew’s is a strange ground. From the outside, half of it looks no better than an Irish League ground, while the other half looks like the identikit new modern stadiums that have poppoed up in England over the last 20 years.

Inside, the stadium was fine, and I had an excellent view. It’s always good to experience a matchday experience from a different point of view.

The ticket was £20, which is twice the admission of a Linfield home match, so the game had a lot to live up to. It was a good game, but not twice as good as a Linfield match though.

It was a brilliant atmosphere and I especially loved the songs the Birmingham fans were singing to taunt their opponents. So childish and immature, but straight to the point.

There were some strange goings one which had me baffled. At St Andrew’s, all of Birmingham’s substitutions are sponsores, for example “Substitution for Birmingham, brought to you in association with ……..”

I dread to think if this was to catch on at Windsor Park, all of David Jeffrey’s substitutions could be sponsored by Specsavers.

As well ast he substitutions, all of Birmingham’s goals are sponsored as well. Very bizarre.

Back to Manchester, and headed over to the Apollo to see Kelly Clarkson in concert.

It’s a wonderfully strange venue that you really have to go to. A former disused cinema (and an old style one at that), someone just decided to turn it into a concert venue, whilst doing mininal rebuilding work to the interior.

If only someone had decided to do that to The Curzeon, what a venue that would have been.

It was an absolutely brilliant concert, with Clarkson managing to mix a collection of covers and acoustic version of her hits together, even though at times, she was relying a lot on her backing vocalists, which was a shame for such a fantastic vocalist.

Despite spending three days in Manchester, I can’t help but feel that there is still so much more to see. Thankfully, I will be heading back in April (along with trips to Sheffield, Liverpool and hopefully Blackburn) as part of my STLFTEM for April.

The only real disappointment was the lack of celeb spotting. When spotting Brian Laws at the airport is the most high-profile person you see, you know it was a poor show in terms of celeb spotting.

Oh well, at least there’s Ocean Colour Scene next month to look forward to.

Pictures

See Also