PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

So, the 2016-2017 season is over for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic look back at the season just gone.

I’ve selected some of my favourites, so feel free to vote for the one you like the best.

POLSKA

Taken back in June 2016 at Northern Ireland v Poland, I like the composition, how everyone is fixated on the action at the other end of the pitch, and the colour co-ordination of both sets of fans.



WILGAR

Taken at a pre-season game between Linfield and Dundela, it captures the joys of going to football matches in pre-season, sunshine and relaxation ahead of the hard slog ahead.



SEAVIEW

I like the framing of this, as the crowd is in position, awaiting kick-off in a big match.



CELEBRATION

Linfield fans celebrating Jimmy Callacher’s winner against Glentoran in October. I just like this for some reason other than the obvious.

PALMERSTON

There’s just something about the architecture of old football grounds that does it for me. This is out of use turnstiles at Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South.

APPEAL

Linfield fans appeal in unison, all making the same hand gestures, for a goal to be allowed. The goal was disallowed for a foul.



ELF

Taken at the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Some people like getting dressed up for Christmas.

GAYNOR

I like the composition of this, from Ross Gaynor’s posture, to substitutes chatting to each other while the game goes on.

UNITED

I like the composition of this, all eyes fixated on the penalty area and the incoming corner.

SPOT THE BALL

I like the composition of this shot, it looks like a Spot The Ball image, except that the ball is in the shot, with two players getting ready for an aerial tussle.



COLERAINE

I love the framing and seeing players in the background running to join the celebrations.

WATERWORTH

Celebrations after Andrew Waterworth’s second goal against Cliftonville, capturing the joy of the event and the achievement just about to happen.

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April’s football watching began in Lurgan on the first day of the month, heading to Mourneview Park to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in a Irish Cup Semi-Final.

The following week, was another 1-0 win for Linfield, this time at Windsor Park in a key title decider against Crusaders.

Easter arrived in the middle of the month, and a double header of wins for Linfield, against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The following Saturday, I headed Coleraine to see Linfield win 5-1 and go top of the League for the first time all season, with just one game to go.

That game was at Solitude, which Linfield won, and I captured the post match celebrations, as well as the celebrations later that day at Windsor Park.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield play awful but still grind out a 2-1 win.

The following weekend, was a double header. First up, was Northern Ireland v San Marino, the first game a fully redeveloped Windsor Park. After a few hours sleep, I was on an early boat to travel to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

It was then back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United before a road trip to Coleraine.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield and Crusaders draw 0-0.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

COLERAINE 1-5 LINFIELD 22.4.2017

Good things come to those who wait. For Linfield fans, it was a first win against Coleraine this season. It could lead to something bigger that Linfield fans have been waiting a bit longer for. I can’t even say it for fear of jinxing it.

As with most of the season, Linfield simply had to win and hope. There was no margin for error. Defeat today could have seen Crusaders declared Champions.

Linfield began like a team determined to get three points, Paul Smyth getting free of his man in the opening minute but his cross evaded everyone.

Linfield piled pressure on Coleraine’s goal in the opening minutes, and looked to have been rewarded when Andrew Waterworth scored from close ranger after Coleraine keeper Chris Johns dropped a shot.

Celebrations were cut short when the goal was disallowed for a foul. The keeper only had one hand on the ball and Waterworth was entitled to go for it. It was a soft decision and an incorrect one.

Even though they didn’t get the goal they wanted, Linfield were able to shut out Coleraine, limiting them to speculative long range shots.

After a dry period as an attacking force, Linfield ended the half as they started it, by piling pressure on Coleraine’s goal.

Aaron Burns headed over from close range from a corner, before he tried to recreate Alessandro Del Piero’s goal against Germany in the 2006 World Cup, except that he fired well wide.

Some neat passing play saw Andrew Waterworth fire just wide, while Aaron Burns volley over from the edge of the box. It was not his day so far.

Linfield had endured a frustrating half. As they headed to the dressing room, news was filtering through that Ballymena and Crusaders were also drawing 0-0 at half-time.

Linfield were making the chances, they just needed to start taking them.

The first goal of the day came in the opening minutes of the second-half, but for Coleraine, when James McLaughlin headed home from a corner, the third time he had scored against Linfield this season.

As things stood, Crusaders were one goal away from the title. Questions were being asked of Linfield, they had no choice but to answer them.

Linfield fans got behind their team, urging their team on.

As players waited in the penalty area after some build-up play, Linfield fans were screaming for a cross into the box. Aaron Burns played the cross in, and it went straight in. It will look good on TV, but it was a fluke, not that Linfield fans cared. You do have to appreciate the irony of him scoring when he didn’t mean to, after enduring a frustrating first-half when he was trying to give Linfield the lead.

The game was back to square one, and Linfield were in to mood to charge to victory.

Paul Smyth was leading that charge, and was denied a penalty when his heels were clipped from behind. A few minutes later, Smyth got on the end of a cross from the left that was just asking to be scored to put Linfield 2-1 up.

With the score at Ballymena still 0-0, Linfield were top of the league as it stood, and their fans begand chanting “WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!”

Not me. We’d been through this the last two games. I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Smyth did eventually get his penalty, which was converted by Aaron Burns. From 1-0 down to 3-1 up in the space of ten minutes. The pressure was now all on Crusaders.

At 3-1 up, it was time to do nothing silly, just see the game out and don’t even give Coleraine the encouragement of a comeback.

Coleraine were shut out, as all of Linfield’s fans attention turned to Ballymena.

The news came through that Ballymena had went 1-0 up. The celebrations in the Linfield end got louder.

There was even more celebrations when a cross from the left went to Andrew Waterworth with an open net. He didn’t make perfect contact with it. There was a look of horror on his face as he readied himself for the ball coming off the post. That then turned to relief and celebration as it was now 4-1. It was most definitely Linfield’s day.

With the game won, David Healy looked to his subs bench. Mark Stafford came on for Mark Haughey and Kirk Millar came on for Aaron Burns. They were the obvious and most sensible substitutions as Burns and Haughey were a yellow card away from missing the Irish Cup Final.

Jamie Mulgrew then made way for Sean Ward. Just a precaution, with Mulgrew going off injured on Tuesday night.

It would have been nice to see teenage striker Ryan Strain get some game time, but protecting those most at risk from suspension or injury was the bigger priority.

A handball gave Linfield a second penalty. With Aaron Burns now off the pitch, it fell on Paul Smyth to take it.

His shot was saved but Coleraine couldn’t clear it, and Andrew Waterworth headed home from a resulting cross to make it 5-1.

The news from Ballymena just got better, with the hosts going 2-0 up. Linfield fans could now relax and party, which they did in the final minutes of the game, by chanting the name of former manger David Jeffrey in gratitude, before doing the same of David Healy.

The final whistle blew and some people were on the pitch, they think it’s all over. The way this season has gone, the title race definitely isn’t.

Next weekend for Linfield, is a trip to Solitude. It’ll be my first this season having not gone to the midweek game in October.

Cliftonville might have lost four games in a row and have been generally rotten since Christmas, next Saturday’s game is anything but a guaranteed three points.

Having seen Crusaders win the League at Solitude in the past two seasons, and then be guests at Glentoran (2009) and Linfield (2010) title parties in recent years, Cliftonville fans will be sick of the sight of teams winning the League against them.

They also know that 4th will secure home advantage if they make the UEFA Cup Play-Off Final.

To use a Boxing analogy, Cliftonville will (metaphorically) throw a lot of punches early on. Linfield have the capabilities of withstanding them and throwing a few KOs of their own.

There is a slight margin for error in that a draw will do the job for us. We simply have to go for the win and not leave it to chance.

Elsewhere, in England, Leyton Orient got relegated from the Football League. It was only just over three years ago I went to see them when I was in London for a weekend. They were chasing promotion to The Championship. Before you say anything, I didn’t jinx them.

For Linfield, it comes down to the final game at Solitude with Linfield fans getting behind their team, those in the away end more vocal than those Linfield fans who will be paying into the home end.

I almsot envy them, as they’ll miss out on the pre-match ritual of Linfield fans waiting for buses.

Hopefully, at 4.45pm, it will be buses waiting for Linfield fans. We’re hoping to stay behind after the game to have a party.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield take on Glentoran, play awful but grind out a 2-1 win.

The following Saturday, I went to see Northern Ireland take on San Marino, the first game at a fully redeveloped Windsor Park.

I then went home, and got a bit of sleep, before an early morning boat to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United.

Two days later, I was Limelight bound to see Feeder in concert.

There were then two frustrating weekends as I was then Coleraine bound the following Saturday to see Linfield held to a frustrating draw, just as they were at home to Crusaders the following Saturday.

The month ended by going to see KT Tunstall in concert at Mandela Hall.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February began for me seeing Linfield beating Dungannon Swifts 6-0, a good start to the month.

The following weekend, I was on the road to Shamrock Park, to see Linfield lose 2-1.

Back on the road the following weekend, this time to Coleraine, with a better result, with Linfield coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The next day, I made the most of a free ticket to see Ulster take on Scarlets. Unfortunately, the game ended up in an agonising one point defeat for Ulster.

Two days after that I headed to The Limelight to see Foxes in concert.

The month ended with me heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Glenavon, a match that saw an outfield player go in goal and save a penalty.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Portadown v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield

Ulster v Scarlets

Ulster v Scarlets Photo Album

Foxes live at The Limelight

Foxes live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

COLERAINE 1-1 LINFIELD 22.10.2016

After seeing their unbeaten start to the season bite the dust at Solitude on Tuesday night, Linfield found themselves in a reverse role of trying to end someone’s unbeaten start to the season – Coleraine’s unbeaten home record, but most importantly trying to return to winning ways and keep the pressure on Crusaders at the top of the league.

If it wasn’t for Guglielmo Marconi, I would have thought this was a 1-0 win for Coleraine, having missed the start of the game due to being stuck in roadworks. It gives an indication of how much I missed as Linfield were 1-0 up through and Andrew Waterworth goal by the time I entered the ground, having listened to the start of the game on the radio, due to being stuck in roadworks. I even managed to miss Paul Smyth’s involvement in the game, as he was stretchered off in the opening minutes and replaced by Aaron Burns.

It certainly didn’t help being stuck in queues as I stopped off for lunch in Applegreen, with people making a simple task like ordering a sandwich seem like trying to work out quantum physics.

It wasn’t the first time i’d missed action in Coleraine. In 2009, the roads were so bad that I missed the first-half and entered the ground with Linfield 2-0 down. They came back to draw 2-2.

In 2011, I missed Aaron Burns goal in the opening minutes as Linfield went on to win 3-1. I was naturally hoping today would be a repeat.

Of the first-half action I did see, it was very scrappy. Linfield were letting Coleraine have too much possession in their half and inviting pressure on.

One of those self inflicted problems was a softly conceded corner which saw Coleraine hit the bar.

Within minutes, it was Linfield who were hitting the bar from a Jamie Mulgrew shot from outside the box.

In first-half injury time, a needless tackle from Chris Casement which resulted in a foul saw a succession of set pieces which caused concern for Linfield. Aaron Burns had to head out for a corner, a corner that saw the ball headed just over Linfield’s goal.

A reminder for Linfield that this game was far from won.

After a slow start to the second-half, Linfield began to apply some pressure, the ball in Coleraine’s defensive third but not being able to get a strike on goal or play the killer pass. It was clear that Linfield needed a second goal.

Within minutes, Coleraine showed them how it was done when James McLaughlin scored just minutes after coming off the bench, just as he did in August.

There was no response from Linfield as the game began to meander.

Linfield’s best chance came when Aaron Burns put the ball wide from close range. If it did go in, it would have been a (right footed) repeat

Josh Carson was then introduced from the bench. He almost had an impact within minutes as he fired in a dangerous cross that nobody could get on the end of. It summer up Linfield’s attacking. There were even times when they were getting in each other’s way

Coleraine had their chances in the final moments, with Roy Carroll had to get his timing right to deny James McLaughlin. If he didn’t, it was either a penalty or a goal for Coleraine.

Linfield had one last chance in injury time when Mark Haughey couldn’t repeat his goal heroics from February’s visit, and heaaded over after a long throw-in.

Th compound the frustration for Linfield supporters, they were held behind in the ground for five minutes on the advice of the local Dibble, living in fear of the Liam Gallagher Cosplayers Association (AKA, Coleraine’s “Hooligan Firm”)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I go to one Ulster European match a year. Naturally, they would have a Saturday night game on the day of one of Linfield’s longest away trips.

Their other home game pre-Christmas is on a Saturday lunchtime on the day Linfield are away to Ards. Sorry, Ulster, but Linfield come first.

It would have been tight to go straight to Ravehill from Coleraine, especially with a combination of roadworks and being kept behind at the whistle.

To compensate for this, i’m going to the match against Connacht on December 23rd. I know what you’re thinking, an Ulster match on the last Friday before Christmas. It is going to be Pisshead Central.

Of more immediate concern, it’s the second-half of Linfield’s quadrology of teams beginning in C, Cliftonville (County Antrim Shield) and Crusaders (League)

I said last week that Linfield needed four A* performances, they’ve barely scraped C- so far this week.

Despite a good start (going 1-0 up inside three minutes at The Oval), October has been a horrible month for Linfield, but it could all change this time next week, with Linfield being in a Cup Semi-Final and closer to the top of the league than at the start of the month.

It’s a funny old game, as one of Donald Trump’s mates once said.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began with Dungannon’s trip to Windsor Park for a match that was postponed in January, a 6-0 win for Linfield being a good start to the month.

At the end of the following weekend, I was off to Shamrock Park to see Linfield’s run of form come to a crashing end with a 2-1 defeat.

Eight days later, I was back on the road, to see Linfield get a come from behind win at Coleraine.

I ended the month at Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Glenavon, a match that saw an outfield player go into nets and save a penalty.

Just another dull month.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Portadown v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

COLERAINE 2-3 LINFIELD 20.2.2016

Meetings between Coleraine and Linfield in recent seasons usually had a recurring theme. In five of the previous seven seasons since the current 38 game format was introduced, Linfield won the first two meetings, but stumbled in the third meeting, losing in 2008-2009, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, while drawing in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

Linfield were hoping to make it three out of three, not to achieve some sort of milestone, but to put pressure on Crusaders and/or move further away from Cliftonville, with both sides facing each other this afternoon in The Big Two derby according to Crusaders Twitter account this morning, managing the impressive feat of “attempting a banter” and then ended up the punchline.

The match got off to an eventful start, with Ruaidhri Higgins heading wide from a free-kick. From where I was sat (on the halfway line) I thought it was going in. It probably should have went in.

Linfield then went up the pitch and hit the bar from an Aaron Burns shot. Coleraine then went up the pitch when Ian Parkhill headed home from a corner. All this with only four minutes on the clock.

Coleraine had made the better start and were looking to make the most of it, Ruairi Higgins tested Ross Glendinning from long range, before Brad Lyons was able to get space, too much space as players backed off to fire home from long range and put Coleraine 2-0 up after 13 minutes.

The game was only taking place after passing a pitch inspection at 11am. Linfield fans were wishing it hadn’t, with their side staring at a second successive defeat.

Linfield had no rhythm at all, playing against the wind, goal kicks were even hitting the halfway line, and passes going astray. Linfield players were struggling to find each other, which was surprising considering the brightness of their away kit.

It was all too easy for Coleraine, and it was with ease that they got through Linfield, having an attack which saw a two on one situation, the pass coming from the left wing position to James McLaughlin, through on goal.

Linfield supporters were resigned to going 3-0 down, but to everyone’s surprise, he blasted it over.

It should have been 3-0, it could end up being a turning point. It would only have been a turning point if Linfield get back into the game.

That miss brought back memories of a game in December 2013 when Coleraine missed a glorious opportunity (a penalty) at 0-0, and then Linfield scored a few minutes later. Little did I know, history would soon be repeating itself.

Within minutes, Linfield were back in the game, with a header from Aaron Burns, who also scored in the aforementioned game in 2013. Suddenly, Linfield’s tails were up, though it didn’t stop them going in at half-time trailing 2-1.

Despite being behind, it seemed like the game had swung in Linfield’s favour. The weather was in their favour, but they also had another force of nature going their way – they were attacking their fans behind the goal.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Coleraine’s goalkeeper had two kick outs that went out for a throw-in in their defensive third. At that moment, I just knew Linfield wouldn’t be losing the game. Coleraine had the look of a team who knew their best chance of winning was to keep Linfield out rather than score a third.

Jamie Mulgrew burst forward and had two strikes on goal. Linfield were getting closer and it felt like a goal was inevitable. There wasn’t long to wait, as a deep cross was headed back by Andrew Waterworth to Mark Haughey, who headed home to make it 2-2.

Soon afterwards, Paul Smyth fired wide from a wide angle, before he moved wide as Guy Bates came off the bench for Kirk Millar.

Linfield had a lot of pressure on Coleraine’s goal, but were largely frustrated, as goalward shots usually saw a Coleraine defender in the road.

The game calmed down, with the game in the balance, there for the taking. Both teams sensed victory could be theirs.

In recent years, Linfield have come from 2-0 down at Coleraine, but couldn’t leave with the three points, getting a 2-2 draw in 2009, and seeing their good work undone in a 3-2 defeat in 2012. They were hoping this would be third time lucky.

Smyth left the action to be replaced by Niall Quinn. Surprisingly, in my opinion, as I would have went with Stephen Fallon to come on in a straight swap.

Michael McLellan came on for Sean Ward with not long left, with Linfield getting ready to take an attacking free-kick.

From that free-kick, Linfield scored. It wasn’t for McLellan, it was hard to see who, with all the players celebrating in the goal. It turned out to be Mark Haughey.

Thankfully, Linfield were able to see the game out, and get a vital three points ahead of a vital run of upcoming games against Glenavon (4th), Cliftonville (Irish Cup), Glentoran (shower) and Cliftonville (3rd)

Coming from 2-0 down away from home on a horrible pitch in horrible weather is the sort of game that pundits say wins titles. The league table suggests that it won’t.

We were always going to get some result going in our favour at Seaview today, the ideal result would have been a draw. Crusaders won 1-0 meaning they are seven points clear of Linfield (with a game in hand) while Cliftonville are now five points behind Linfield, also with a game in hand.

Curiously, Cliftonville’s game in hand, away to Glentoran, has been scheduled for Tuesday 1st March, the midweek before Linfield’s visit to Solitude in the Irish Cup. Wouldn’t it be awful if the pitch was particularly energy sapping that night, and they dropped points?

Next Saturday, sees Linfield take on Glenavon, knowing that a win will send them nine points clear of their visitors. This game will be the last one that Linfield fans will be using the North Stand, as they prepare to use the South Stand from March onwards. Three points would be a nice send-off.

Other games next Saturday are interesting, with Cliftonville taking on Coleraine and Crusaders travelling to Warrenpoint.

Not long ago, you would have considered that game at Milltown to be a routine away win, but now Warrenpoint are on such a good run of form, they’re thinking about making a late title charge.

There is potential points droppage to be had by the North Belfast clubs. The important thing is, Linfield help themselves, everything else will be a bonus.

Photo Album

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2014

So, my football watching is over for 2014. Time to look back at the year just gone. And what better way to do it than with a load of stats.

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 164

Red Cards : 17 (includes Rhys Marshall getting sent-off after the final whistle, but not Gary Hamilton being sent-off as a substitute before he entered the field)

Missed/Saved Penalties : 4

Hat-Tricks : 1 (Robin Van Persie, Manchester United v Olympiacos)

Teams Seen : 37

Accrington Stanley (1st time), AIK Solna (1st time), Ards, B36 Torshavn, Ballinamallard United, Ballyclare Comrades (1st time), Ballymena United, Bangor, Bray Wanderers (1st time), Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Cowdenbeath (1st time), Crusaders, Drogheda United, Dungannon Swifts, Everton (1st time), Exeter City (1st time), Faroe Islands, Glenavon, Glentoran, Harland and Wolff Welders, Heart Of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hull City (1st time), Institute, Leyton Orient (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Northern Ireland, Olympiacos (1st time), Peterborough United (1st time), Portadown, Real Madrid, Sevilla (1st time), Tottenham Hotspur, Warrenpoint Town,

Stadiums Visited : 19

Ballymena Showgrounds, Brisbane Road (1st time), Cardiff City Stadium (1st time), Carlisle Grounds (1st time), Coleraine Showgrounds, Crown Ground (1st time), Drumahoe (1st time), Ferney Park, Milltown (1st time), Mourneview Park, Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, The Oval, Tynecastle, White Hart Lane (1st time), Windsor Park

Competitions : 15

County Antrim Shield, European Championship, European Cup, European Super Cup (1st time), FA Premier League, Football League One (1st time), Football League Two (1st time), Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, League Of Ireland, Northern Ireland League Cup, Scottish Championship (1st time), Steel and Sons Cup, UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

No real curiosities this year. There were two twins on opposing sides, but i’d already seen it. Other than that, a player setting up a goal with no boots. It was a poor year for curiousities.

UEFA 100 Club : Everton, Sevilla (now at 32 clubs)