PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2018-2019

2018-2019 is now over and consigned to history. I hope you’ve enjoyed my month by month look back. I thought i’ll end with a look through some of my favourites. Feel free to vote for yours.

NEWFORGE

Taken during a Pre-Season Friendly, I like arty farty shots in the style of Stuart Roy Clarke, so I unashamedly try to copy him.

MOURNEVIEW

I like this shot because of the way everybody is lined up, and how everybody has their eyes fixed on Kirk Millar, being the man in possession

COLERAINE

This shot came about by fluke, I was hoping to capture a Linfield goal, but again, it’s the fans who make the picture for me, all heads in the one direction.

DUNGANNON

Got some good photos this day due to generous Winter Sun. Dungannon is always good for photos. I like the framing, getting the terraces in alongside the pitch.

JORDAN

Jordan Stewart makes it 4-0 against Crusaders in December. I like being able to capture the celebrations on the pitch and in the stand. Even a Steward joined in.

CLANDEBOYE

That spot at Clandeboye Park is handy for getting photos, as long as something interesting happens at that end during the game. Thankfully, Linfield scored while I was at this end. Not just in terms of phototaking, but the match, as it was looking like a frustrating afternoon against opponents who had already proved tricky earlier in the season.

SNOW TRAFFORD

Having got snow photos of Windsor Park in 2010, I couldn’t believe my luck when Manchester was hit with snow the day after United’s match against Burnley. Staying close to the ground, I was straight out with my camera to get photos.

McCLEAN

An explosion of emotion. 2-0 down and looking to be pegged back in the title race, to 2-2 and being frustrated, then a last minute winner, I managed to capture the reactions, of fans and players both going wild in unison.

RAIN

A weather based photo that just works. Bleurgh, an awful night for weather and football.

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

I had to wait a while for March’s football watching, but it wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield slumped to a League defeat at Glenavon then lost the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month got a bit better when Linfield defeated Institute 2-0 at Windsor Park.

The month ended with a flurry of games, three in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening two Euro 2020 Qualifiers, both at home, against Estonia and Belarus.

Glenavon v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

CRUSADERS 4-3 LINFIELD 12.3.2019

Originally put back two weeks due to a Semi-Final postponement, then it got postponed itself, before changing venue, finally, the 2019 County Antrim Shield took place, as Linfield headed to Seaview looking to win their second trophy of the season.

The fact that it was Linfield and Crusaders going head to head in the Final shouldn’t have been that big a shock. This was the sixth Final in seven years that two out of Ballymena United, Crusaders and Linfield have met in the Final. If it’s one of those two teams going head to head in the 2020 Final, they might as well just make it a three team tournament.

This was the third meeting of Linfield and Crusaders during that run, with Linfield winning in 2014 and 2017.

Heading to the ground, it was so windy, there was a serious danger that if Crusaders played a long ball upfield, it might not come down for 27 minutes.

There were changes in the Linfield XI, not that surprising given previous Shield team selections this season.

With Gareth Deane playing in the 2017 Final as a rare opportunity for a second choice keeper to get a game, by 2019, he was now first choice, making way to give Conor Mitchell a debut.

Mark Stafford and Andrew Mitchell came in as players who haven’t played recently were given an opportunity, with Jamie Mulgrew missing through suspension.

Linfield had the better of the early stages and had a lot of pressure on Crusaders goal. They got their reward when Sean O’Neill dropped a corner, which fell perfectly for Mark Stafford to head home after 9 minutes, two minutes earlier than when he scored for Linfield in the 2017 Final.

Billy Joe Burns was lucky to get away with a yellow card for a late tackle, benefitting from the lack of minutes that were on the clock.

Crusaders soon got into the game and had some chances of their own, with Jordan Owens having a header that he should have scored, which David Cushley had a speculative shot saved. Not sure if you should count that, as he usually has about twenty speculative shots a game.

One of those shots soon found the back of the net from outside the penalty area, though questions have to be asked as to why Linfield failed to clear despite having two opportunities to do so in the build-up.

If Linfield fans were worried about how their team would respond to this setback, they had no need to be, as they responded to conceding one goal by scoring two themselves.

Andrew Waterworth nipped in front of a Crusaders defender to get to the ball first, running clean through on goal, only to see his shot saved, but Kirk Millar followed up to finish into the open net from a few yards out.

Surprisingly, it was only Millar’s fourth goal against teams in the current Top Six, having scored against Glenavon in 2015 and twice against Coleraine in 2016. It was very timely, though it should be pointed out that he compensates for his lack of goals with assists.

A minute later, it was 3-1 to Linfield when Millar resorted to assisting duties when his cross was header by a Crusaders defender off Colin Coates and in, though the PA Announcer gave it to Jordan Stewart because he was loitering in the penalty area, it was clearly an own goal.

Coates was then going in the referee’s notebook after grabbing Andrew Waterworth’s neck after a challenge. Of course, it was only going to be a yellow at worst.

Chris Casement had a free-kick tipped over while Declan Caddell had a shot saved as both teams searched for a goal before half-time, which saw Linfield have a 3-1 lead.

The second-half would have the wind in Crusaders favour, but Linfield weren’t 3-1 up because of the weather. They were 3-1 up because they’re a better team.

Linfield had the first chance of the second-half when Andrew Waterworth broke down the left to set up Jordan Stewart, who was denied.

Crusaders then started to see more of the ball and Linfield struggled to get the ball clear, literally, as the wind kept blowing it back towards their goal.

Not that it bothered Josh Robinson, who nonchalantly headed the ball back to Conor Mitchell from long range, without fear that it would end up in his own net.

Conor Mitchell was especially struggling with his kickouts, trying various techniques to find one that would see the ball not return to Linfield’s defensive work, with minimal success.

The pressure on Linfield’s goal was usually seen off, but only just, getting a body in the way more often than not.

Linfield needed to get the ball away from their own goal, as there would be no way of riding out such pressure for an entire half.

That proved to be the case when Colin Coates headed home to make it 3-2.

The goal didn’t inspire an immediate fightback, as Linfield not only held out, but had their own sustained period of pressure, with a Mark Stafford overhead kick being denied by a save from Sean O’Neill.

As the final minutes approached, Crusaders began the run out of ideas. Their main idea of kicking it up in the air and hoping to get a lucky bounce wasn’t working. However, they had one final corner.

You began to get bad vibes as soon as Crusaders set up for a corner, as the body language of the Linfield players didn’t look right, they didn’t look like they were ready to defend it.

And so it proved, as Jordan Forsythe finished from close range to make it 3-3.

Just when it looked like it was heading for extra-time, David Cushley headed home to make it 4-3 and put Crusaders in front.

Linfield responded with an attacking urgency that should have been there 45 minutes earlier.

To be brutally honest, this was a trophy that was thrown away.

We weren’t 3-1 up at half-time because of the weather, we were 3-1 up because we’re a better team. We allowed ourselves to be spooked by the weather and believed that it made Crusaders a better team than they really are.

We also didn’t help ourselves by not making a substitution at any point during the game.

Even though there are only substitutes allowed in the County Antrim Shield, there were still options for Linfield. Daniel Kearns, Marek Cervenka and Kyle McClean all could easily have made a positive impact if any of them were introduced from the bench.

The attitude in the second-half shouldn’t have been can we hold on to the lead, but can we extend it? We surrendered the initiative to Crusaders and lost a game we never looked like losing.

Twice in a row now, we’ve lost to Crusaders because we weren’t concentrating in the final minutes of a game.

So, the trophy chase is now – one in the bag, two gone and the big one to play for.

The day after this game, Linfield’s post-split fixtures were confirmed, even though teams can change position before the end of Matchday 33.

So, here it is:

05 Apr 19 Ballymena United (away)
13 Apr 19 Crusaders (home)
20 Apr 19 Glenavon (home)
23 Apr 19 Cliftonville (home)
27 Apr 19 Coleraine (away)

But before then, Institute and Dungannon.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2017 began for me in Manchester, heading over to see United take on Hull City, while also getting some Street Art photos.

Back in Northern Ireland, I was on the road to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute in the Irish Cup.

The next day, I was out on my bike for my biannual (usually February and August) visit to Belfast Peace Wall to get some photos of the Wall Art on the walls.

The following Saturday, another road trip, to Carrickfergus to see Linfield at Taylor’s Avenue

The following weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield, and a disappointing draw against Portadown.

The morning after, I was out on my bike to get photos of a Jamie Dornan mural in Belfast City Centre.

Later that day, it was another cup final, the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena and Carrick.

The following weekend, I was Oval bound to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Be My Valentine

Be My Valentine Photo Album

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

CRUSADERS 1-3 LINFIELD 7.2.2017

It was the same competition, same venue and the same opponents as the last time Linfield won a trophy in 2014, David Jeffrey’s last as Linfield manager. If you believe in things going full circle, you could say that the Post Jeffrey Era ended, and the David Healy Era truly began. That will be for future historians to decide.

It could be Linfield’s only trophy this season, it could be the first of two. It could even be the first of three. That outcome will decided over the next three months.

The final of the County Antrim Shield isn’t a new experience for Linfield fans, it was the seventh time in nine years they had reached the final of the competition. Mostly, they hadn’t been positive experiences though, only celebrating a win in 2013-2014, their first since 2005-2006, and having to watch opponents lift the trophy in 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2015-2016.

There were two names that stood out in the pre-match teamsheets. Colin Coates back for Crusaders after injury and Gareth Deane in goals for Linfield, taking some pundits in the media by surprise (though, there were people sitting behind me in the first-half who were shocked to see Roy Carroll not playing).

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to see Deane on the pitch, as he had played in every round of the competition so far.

The occasion wouldn’t have overawed him, having played in last season’s Irish Cup Final, and been thrown in against Cliftonville at The Oval, and played at The Oval during the run-in at the end of last season. Despite his lack of games of Linfield, he doesn’t lack big match experience.

Crusaders had the first attack of the game, snuffed out by Matthew Clarke in the full-back position.

Linfield then took control of the game, as Crusaders couldn’t defend a free-kick and had to concede a corner. They couldn’t defend that corner and had to concede another corner.

It was third time lucky for Linfield as Cameron Stewart headed home from the corner. Three was very much the magic number, as the player wearing 3 scored for the third successive match.

Before anyone complains about a Forward wearing 3, we had a Defender wearing 11 for years. Linfield don’t do numerical convention.

It was a unique achievement for Stewart, having scored in the Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Eve, meaning he had scored in both of the County Antrim FA’s showpiece finals in the same season.

I have a lot of useless football stats in my head, but I don’t know if he is the first player to achieve this in the same season or even in a career. Feel free to leave a comment if you know.

Stewart almost had a second soon after but he couldn’t get his head onto a cross. Paul Heatly hit a shot wide at the near post but it was a rare Crusaders attack in the opening minutes.

Kirk Millar had a goalward shot blocked after a corner was cleared before Mark Stafford soon afterwards bundled the ball into the net from close range after a corner to make it 2-0.

It was a pefect start for Linfield. Jamie Mulgrew was running the show. Crusaders players couldn’t even get close to him to cyncially foul him and get a final final final final warning from the referee.

Andrew Waterworth was played through but couldn’t get a clear strike at goal, eventually firing over.

2-0 down, Crusaders responded in the way they know best, with thuggery. Paul “not that kind of player” Heatley got sent-off for elbowing Mark Stafford.

It was his second red card against Linfield, having been sent-off when the sides met at Seaview in April 2014. It would have been his third red card against Linfield if the referee had done his job properly in the final minutes of the League match at Windsor Park in October after his excuse of a tackle on Andrew Waterworth. I’m sure there’s more lucky escapes that i’ve missed.

Things were going perfectly for Linfield. Almost too perfectly.

It looked like Crusaders would be going down to nine men when Howard Beverland grabbed Cameron Stewart after an aerial tussle. The referee booked both players under the “I haven’t a clue so i’ll just book both of them rule”.

Beverland chanced his arm by dragging down Cameron Stewart as he looked to head goalwards. No free-kick was awarded, and within seconds, a long hoof upfield saw Jordan Owens head home.

As good a header as it was, it was unstoppable – going in from the moment it left his left, Jimmy Callacher shouldn’t have been beaten to the ball so easily.

Instead of having a free-kick in an attacking position and facing nine men, Linfield were now pulled back to 2-1.

Linfield had a few wobbly moments after that goal, but there was never a moment when Crusaders looked like equalising.

Defenders didn’t help themselves by passing it back to Gareth Deane’s weaker left foot (after passing it back to Ross Glendenning’s weaker right foot when he was playing for the club – they’ll get it right some day) which resulted in cheap throw-ins being conceded. It was especially dangerous on a pitch as bumpy as the Ballymena Showgrounds was.

Michael Carvill almost made history by being sent-off in two County Antrim Shield Finals, but the referee bottled it after his late challenge on Matthew Clarke when he was already on a yellow card.

Jordan Owens hitting the side-netting was the best moment Crusaders had in the final moments of the first-half. Linfield were more than happy to go in at half-time 2-1 up and have a chance to clear their heads. If they kept their heads in the second-half, they secure the win.

Naturally, Crusaders went out at the start of the second-half in search of an equaliser. They had a lot of the ball, but the best they could offer was a speculative long range shot from David Cushley. This was one of the ninety-nine out of a hundred that fly over the bar.

Jamie Mulgrew also fired over as he ran goalwards, continuing where he left off in the first-half. Andrew Waterworth and Cameron Stewart both had chances to kill off the game as Linfield searched for that third goal that would clinch the game.

They had a glorious chance when Sean O’Neill misjudged the ball as he tried to shepherd it out for a goal kick, pulling back Andrew Waterworth as he tried to put the ball in the net, before Howard Beverland lunged in an fouled him. Take your pick as to which foul the penalty was awarded for.

And yet, there was still no second yellow card for Beverland. If you’re partial to a bet, stick some money on Michael Carvill or Howard Beverland to score the winner for Crusaders on Saturday. Free money.

With Ross Gaynor and Aaron Burns not on the pitch, all eyes were on who would take the penalty for Linfield. It was Stephen Lowry, who made no mistake, to make it 3-1.

That was it, game won for Linfield. Crusaders barely looked like scoring at 2-1, they were never going to come back at 3-1.

Things got even better for Linfield, with Paul Smyth now being introduced from the bench after missing two months through injury, and he picked up where he left off, running at Crusaders defence, causing them panic. Just like Jamie Mulgrew, they couldn’t get close enough to kick him.

Before the final whistle, there was still time for one more act of thuggery, as Jordan Owens barged Jimmy Callacher from the touchline onto the tarmac at the side of the pitch. There’s nothing Crusaders players specialise in more than a barge on the touchline designed to cause injury.

During the final minutes, Linfield continued to attack as they sought a 4-1 lead that would not have flattered them.

Linfield sent out a message to the rest of the league. Not about their own capabilities, but that Crusaders can be beaten if you stand up to them. Crusaders seven point lead has been partly due to too many teams not believing that they can beat them.

That attempt to overtake them will continue at Carrick on Saturday. Hopefully, another road trip as productive as the ones to Dungannon, Drumahoe and Ballymena over the past ten days.

Photo Album

 

2016 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2016 began the same way as 2015, by watching Linfield take on Crusaders. Like the previous year, it was a home win, but thankfully the game was at Windsor Park this year.

Over the next ten days, there were two more visits to Windsor Park, with Ballymena United the visitors both times, once in the Irish Cup and once in the County Antrim Shield.

David Bowie died during the month, and he got a tribute mural in Belfast, which I went down to see get painted, and then snap the final results.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to Manchester, to see United take on Southampton. While there, I took advantage of some Street Art, plus I also went to see The Kooks in concert.

The month ended by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Carrick Rangers.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

David Bowie Mural

David Bowie Mural Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – JANUARY

Like in the previous season, January began with a game between Linfield and Crusaders. Again, it was a home win, though this time, it was at Windsor Park instead of Seaview.

The following Saturday, it was the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, with Linfield edging out Ballymena United after extra-time.

Three days later, same venue, same two teams, but a different competition, the County Antrim Shield Final, with Ballymena winning 3-2.

A frozen pitch saw Linfield’s home match (YES! another match at Windsor Park) against Dungannon Swifts postponed, so my next football was the trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Southampton.

The football watching month ended with Linfield’s routine win over Carrick Rangers at, you’ve guessed it, Windsor Park.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

LINFIELD 2-3 BALLYMENA UNITED 12.1.2016

Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight, the tannoy at Windsor Park blasted out a tribute to David Bowie pre-match, with Linfield manager David Healy hoping his side could be heroes, and claim his first trophy in the job, and hopefully act as a springboard to some golden years.

It would have continued an impressive run of results for Healy, having been described as under pressure by some media outlets after four successive defeats in November.

Linfield, going through a lot of changes on and off the pitch, their stars look very different today to those that were lining up in years gone by under David Jeffrey.

As ever, all the young dudes of Blue Unity, complete with a little drummer boy, created the sound and vision.

Both side trade early blows. Linfield’s best effort was a Guy Bates shot was blocked, before Jamie Mulgrew burst through and hit the bar.

Despite that, Linfield were flat and never really got going. Ballymena took the lead when a set piece into the six yard box was headed home by Paddy McNally.

It was clear that Linfield were missing their starman of late, Paul Smyth, as they huffed and puffed but never looked like getting an equaliser before half-time.

Like in their previous two Shield Finals against Ballymena, Linfield found themselves 1-0 down at half-time. Those in the North Stand were hoping it would be a repeat of 2005/2006 rather than 2012/2013.

Linfield started better in the second-half, Andrew Waterworth getting space but firing his shot wide from an angle. Soon after, Guy Bates fired into the empty net from close range after a scramble.

Ballymena players lost their discipline and had a flurry of yellow cards. The game had now swung in Linfield’s favour.

Linfield now had their tails up and went in search of a second, but were shocked when a speculative David Cushley strike went in via a deflection. It was back to square one.

Linfield responded with a Niall Quinn header hitting the top of the bar, and Jimmy Callacher’s not getting the contact with a close range header he wanted. Sean Ward fired a shot just wide.

If Linfield were to get back into the game, they weren’t going to have a lot of match time in order to do so, with the usual charad of Ballymena players taking an ages with set pieces and kicking the ball as far away as possible Everytime the whistle blew for a stoppage.

The referee seemed content to be made a mug of.

Calamitous defending allowed Eóin Kane in to fire in off the bar to make it 3-1, and that seemed to be that.

With five minutes to go, Linfield got a lifeline when Mark Stafford headed home. Attack after attack followed, with both Kirk Millar both hit the woodwork. Linfield could claim they were unlucky, they really shouldn’t have been in that situation, giving away three bad goals.

As the final minute of injury time approached, a throw went to Andrew Waterworth who miscontrolled it straight out for a throw to Ballymena. That summed up the night.

The final whistle blew, and Ballymena fans were dancing in the street, and Linfield fans left with feelings of sorrow.

It’s a minor trophy, but it still would have been nice to win. It’s not the benchmark of Linfield’s season and should never be.

There was one positive for Linfield. It wasn’t at Windsor Park though, that came across the city at Solitude as Cliftonville could only manage a draw at home to Carrick Rangers, meaning they failed to take advantage of their game in hand and missed the opportunity to go above Linfield.

Time to get back on the wagon and try and get as many points on the board and see where that takes us. After all, it’s where we finish in Northern Ireland rather than County Antrim that matters.

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)