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 : JANUARY

January began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, a match which resulted in a disappointing 1-0 defeat for Linfield.

It was then the Irish Cup for me, heading to The Oval to see Linfield get an extra-time win over Glentoran.

The following Saturday, another away game for Linfield, this time to Glenavon, and another 2-1 win for Linfield.

It was back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My football watching for the month ended with a trip to Stangmore Park to see Linfield secure a 4-1 win against Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : NOVEMBER

November got off to a dramatic start, as I headed to Mourneview Park to see nine man Linfield come from 2-0 down to get a late draw against Glenavon.

I was back on the road a few days later to Ballymena to see Linfield record a 4-1 in win.

Up next was a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland record a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan, before continuing Linfield’s road trip with a 4-0 over Dungannon Swifts before a midweek date at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s last game of 2016, a 3-0 friendly defeat against Croatia.

I was back at Windsor Park for Linfield’s only home game of the month, a 2-1 defeat to Cliftonville.

The following weekend, I went to see my first and second games at Old Trafford with Jose Mourinho as United manager, doing a double header of games against Feyenoord and West Ham United, with a trip to Bury (via Broadhurst Park) sandwiched inbetween.

As a bonus, I even got pictures of stickers left around Manchester by Feyenoord fans.

Glenavon v Linfield

Ballymena United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Croatia

Northern Ireland v Croatia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Feyenoord

Manchester United v Feyenoord Photo Album

Feyenoord Stickers

Bury v Millwall

Bury v Millwall Photo Album

Broadhurst Park

Manchester United v West Ham United

Manchester United v West Ham United Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

On the first weekend of August, I headed to Ballinamallard for Linfield’s opening league match of the 2016-2017 season.

It was a flurry of Linfield matches in August, seeing them in action against Coleraine, Crusaders, Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts before the month was over.

Balinamallard United v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-1 LINFIELD 1.4.2017

Football is all about improvements, and doing better than you had previously. Last season, Linfield were Runners-Up in three competitions.

This season, they’ve already won one of those competitions, the County Antrim Shield, and kicked-off at Mourneview Park still in contention to win the other two trophies that eluded them last season. That was still the case when they left the pitch today.

For the record, we’ve just accepted that we’re never going to win the League Cup ever again and will be out of the competition by October each season.

Linfield got a lot of joy attacking down the left hand side in the first-half, with one cross agonisingly missing everyone in the box, while another resulted in an Andrew Waterworth cros that was deflected behind for a corner. It looked like being only a matter of time until Linfield scored.

Dungannon were able to ride out that storm and came more into the game, their bets opportunity coming when Dougie Wilson headed over for a corner.

Neither side had a shot on goal of note in a goalless first-half.

This wasn’t a new situation for Linfield, having faield to scored a first-half goal in any of the previous rounds in this season’s Irish Cup.

Linfield started the second-half better and had a glorious opportunity to take the lead when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew.

Having scored four penalties out of four in recent weeks, Stephen Lowry was due a miss, and so it proved when Andy Coleman saved his shot, and Lowry and Andrew Waterworth managed to miss the rebound between them.

Dungannon fans would have had some justification in believing this was the sort of thing that happens when it is your day.

Paul Smyth and Niall Quinn were next to be frustrated as Coleman saved left foot shots from both of them, while Aaron Burns had a goal disallowed for a foul.

It was the sort of game that could only finish 1-0. The longer it stayed 0-0, the more you got that feeling.

David Healy turned to his bench by bringing on Kirk Millar for Niall Quinn.

You also got the feeling that Dungannon were going to get a moment. That came when Peter McMahon burst through and had a deflected shot look set to go in, only for Roy Carroll to pull off a dramatic save.

As extra-time loomed, a cross found Stephen Lowry, who found just enough space to place the ball home from inside the six yard box. Linfield had the lead in a game that looked destined to finish 1-0.

Dungannon never looked like equalising. In fact, Linfield almost got a second on the break when a Paul Smyth shot went just wide, as they saw out the game to set up a Final against Coleraine on May 6th. Hopefully, a repeat of 1982 and 2008 rather than a repeat of 1975 and 1977.

Elsehwere in football this week, Edinburgh City have announced that they will be playing at Ainslie Park, home of Spartans for the next three seasons while Meadowbank Stadium is redeveloped.

I’m curious to see what Meadowbank Stadium will look like. At the moment, it always seemed like a grim place to watch football, which is why never gave Edinburgh City any consideration when I visit Edinburgh every August.

Edinburgh in August can wait, it’s all about next week and Crusaders at home.

The games can’t come soon enough.

Photo Album

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 1-4 LINFIELD 28.1.2017

Four as very much the number that mattered today as Linfield began the first of four games on the road, hoping that results would go their way and the gap at the top of the table would be reduced to four points. The got four goals, but the gap remained at seven.

It was Dungannon who had the better of the play in the opening minutes, causing Linfield more problems with their attacks than Linfield were causing them, a couple of corners having to be cleared and Ryan Harper firing a shot just wide.

However, it was Linfield who took the lead with their first attack when Mark Haughey headed a Stephen Lowry freekick into the net. As soon as it left his head it was going in, Dungannon’s keeper didn’t stand a chance.

Haughey had put Linfield 1-0 up when the teams met in August, but Linfield put in a disjointed performance and only managed a 1-1 draw. Their performance today prior to the goal mirrored the performance that day. They were hoping this time they would kick on and put in a performance similar to their visit to Dungannon in November.

Unfortunately, we got a repeat of the performance in August, the biggest moment of worry coming when a misplaced Jimmy Callacher pass almost presented Dungannon with an opportunity.

Linfield were dealt a blow just after the half hour when Aaron Burns came off with a shoulder injury. Surprisingly, it was Cameron Stewart who got the nod to play upfront ahead of Kevin Amuneke.

A few minutes later, they were dealt and even bigger blow when Dungannon equalised after Ally Teggart scored from close range. It was too easy for Dungannon, from playing it out from the left-back position, to getting the ball crossed from a right wing position. It was deserved for Dungannon.

The only positive for Linfield was, that this situation came in the first-half when they could do something about it at half-time, instead of in the second-half when there was no chance to rectify the situation, as when the sides met in August.

Linfield had their chances to go in at half-time in front when Mark Haughey headed over from a corner, while Andrew Waterworth had a shot blocked behind by a Dungannon defender, but for some reason a goal kick was awarded.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s performance improved at the start of the second-half, with Andrew Waterworth volleying over in the penalty area, before getting on the end of a Stephen Fallon cross to fire home from close range to put Linfield back in front.

Within a minute, Cameron Stewart took advantage of a mix-up in Dungannon’s defence to head home from close range to make it 3-1.

That was the game almost won for Linfield. They had to make sure they did nothing stupid in defence to make the final moments more exciting than they should be.

With just over 20 minutes to go, Jimmy Callacher finished from close range to make it 4-1. That definitely was the game won for Linfield.

The game became a non event in the final minutes, as Linfield ran out 4-1 winners.

Wins for Crusaders and Cliftonville meant hat nothing changed at the top of the table, Linfield sit 7 points off top and are 6 points clear of 3rd.

Next week (for everyone barring Ards and Carrick) the league takes a break. Linfield face the bottom five in five of their next six games. That is an opportunity to go on a winning run and gather some momentum. If we don’t, we don’t deserve to win the league.

All we can do is keep winning and hoping. The title race is far from over.

Next Saturday, is Institute away in the Irish Cup.

For me, there is a midweek trip to England to see Manchester United take on Hull on Wednesday night. I’ll be there from Tuesday to Thursday. I’d planned on going to Wigan v Norwich on Tuesday night but that has been postponed, but now i’m toying with the idea of Burnley v Leicester. Still undecided.

I know what you’re thinking, BURNLEY CAN FUCK OFF.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August began for me with a trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United in the opening game of the Irish League season.

The following day, I ventured to Cupar Way to check out the Peace Wall in Belfast, something I do every six months to have a look at the Street Art.

After that, came a triple whammy if Irish League matches, taking in Linfield’s games against Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon.

That was then followed by a triple whammy of concerts – Madness and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Belsonic, then Red Hot Chili Peppers at Vital.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall

Belfast Peace Wall Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Madness live at Titanic Belfast

Madness live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Catfish and the Bottlemen Photo Album

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

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

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-4 LINFIELD 12.11.2016

Linfield concluded a busy week on the road with a trip to Dungannon hoping to build on the performances at Glenavon and Ballymena, totally contrasting yet both satisfying.

The game had an even start. Dungannon weren’t afraid to attack Linfield, having a header go wide of the post with their best opportunity and forcing Roy Carroll to be alert at set pieces. Linfield were doing just as much attacking.

Even in the early moments, it looked like being a game where the first goal would be vital. It would have been a bigger blow for Dungannong to concede it than Linfield, as even if Dungannon went 1-0 up, you would have felt Linfield could come back. If Linfield went 1-0 up, they always looked like they would take control and get the three points.

Stephen Lowry fired just wide from the edge of the box as Linfield went in search of it, while Mark Haughey headed over from close range.

Just before the half hour, Linfield got the breakthrough when a Ross Gaynor free-kick was bundled into the net. It looked like a Chris Hegarty own goal but Jimmy Callacher was claiming it. TV replays seem to back up that it was an own goal. However, there is no Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, and if the attacking player shouts loud enough, they generally get awarded it.

As Callacher ran away as if he scored it, he’ll probably get credited with it.

It was the second goal this week to come from an inswinging cross into the six yard box from Ross Gaynor.

Linfield instantly doubled their lead when a misplaced pass went to Paul Smyth who found space to play it to Jamie Mulgrew who fired home via a slight deflection.

Linfield were in the mood to wrap the game up, Paul Smyth firing over first time after a ball was played in behind the defence.

Another misplaced pass from Dungannon saw Niall Quinn get some space in a shooting position, replicating Chris Brunt’s goal against Azerbaijan less than 24 hours earlier, firing low into the net.

It should have been 4-0 when Jimmy Callacher blasted over after his original shot was cleared off the line.

Linfield continued on the attack in the second-half, and a Save Of The Season contender from Andy Coleman denied Stephen Lowry a Goal Of The Season contender when his first time shot from outside the box after a header clear was tipped onto the bar. It would have been a goal so good, it deserved commentary from Alan Partridge.

There wasn’t long to wait for a 4th goal, a cross wasn’t cut out and went straight to Ross Gaynor, who fired home.

You could argue that three goals were gifted to Linfield, but they weren’t in the mood to turn down gifts. Why should they? There’s already Christmas adverts on the TV, it’s the time of year for it.

Despite a 4-0 lead, Linfield weren’t in a reciprocal gift giving mood in defence. Long may this scroogeness continue.

After that, the game unsurprisingly meandered, giving Linfield an opportunity to give players a rest. Surprisingly, Aaron Burns was again made to wait on the bench.

Stephen Lowry seemed to be having a personal battle with Andy Coleman and Dungannon’s defence, unable to get a fifth goal. It didn’t matter, four was enough.

Crusaders won, so the deficit is four points still.

Linfield’s poor run of form in October means they’ll have their feet up in midweek while other clubs are in action in the League Cup. One of those is next Saturday’s opponents Cliftonville. Wouldn’t it be awful if their match on Wednesday against Glenavon went to extra-time? I suppose the same could be said for Coleraine v Crusaders but Crusaders play Ards next Saturday, and they would probably beat Ards even if they played a match on Saturday morning.

After Cliftonville, comes Portadown, Carrick and Ards. That is a generous run of games after next week, and a great chance to build some momentum ahead of a busy and potentially season defining run of games over Christmas/New Year.

Ten goals, three great performances and no lost ground. It’s fair to say Linfield have had a productive week on the road, though it will be great to be back at Windsor Park next week.

Photo Album

NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 AZERBAIJAN 11.11.2016

Northern Ireland faced familiar foes on Friday night, with Azerbaijan visiting Windsor Park for the third time in four World Cup Qualifying campaigns.

The two previous meetings, saw both sides battling it out to avoid finishing bottom of the group. This time around, they were battling it out for second place and a play-off spot. Victory for Northern Ireland would see them go into the Winter break in that position, which was currently occupied by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s opening three games had seen two wins and a draw, keeping clean sheets in all of them. A win over Norway and a draw against Czech Republic suggests they’re better than people think. Only managing to beat San Marino 1-0 suggests they’re not as good as their second place position suggests.

Azerbaijan is an ambitious country, determined to showcase themselves to the world, hosting Eurovision, European Games, European Grand Prix and Euro 2020.

One of their leading clubs, Qarabag, are regulars in the UEFA Cup Group Stages. What they really want, is for their national team to reach a major finals.

Northern Ireland’s past meetings with Azerbaijan have been associated with false dawns. Northern Ireland’s only win against them in September 2015 was a few days before the famous win against England which kickstarted the heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful Euro 2008 Qualifying campaign.

The draw at Windsor Park in 2012 had followed a draw in Portugal, bringing everyone back down to earth.

It was Azerbaijan who had the first attack of the game, with Chris Brunt being forced to head the ball out for a corner in the opening minutes as an Azeri attacker eyed up a cross.

There was a nervous moment (from where I was) when Shane Ferguson had a coming together during a challenge in his own penalty area, but the lack of Azerbaijan protest suggested they didn’t believe it was a penalty, which was fine by me.

After that, Northern Ireland took control of the game, which wasn’t disrupted when the game was stopped due to a clash of heads between Chris Brunt and an Azerbaijan player.

Both players were fit to return, embracing each other was they re-entered the pitch.

Shane Ferguson had Northern Ireland’s first real chance when he hit the side netting from close range.

Despite being on top, Northern Ireland had to be wary of Azeri counter-attacks.

Eventually, the goal came when a long throw was flicked to Kyle Laffety, who fired home, similar to his goal against Finland in 2015.

The pressure continued, and a second goal came via a header from Gareth MacAuley, who was in 4th Year at secondary school when Azerbaijan played their first competitive international in 1994.

Azerbaijan made a good start to the second-half as they tried to get back into the game, with Michael McGivern being forced out to make a save, while another shot went just over the bar.

The most flammible man in world football, Will Grigg, was introduced from the bench. Ironically, he probably should have been playing for Azerbaijan, which is known as “The Land Of Fire”

It wasn’t Grigg who got the third, but Conor McLaughlin, heading home from a corner. That was the three points wrapped up. There was no doubt any more.

That wasn’t the end of the scoring, as Chris Brunt made it 4-0, a second successive home win by that score.

Just a pity supporters in The Kop had to endure smelly tramps smoking throughout the game while stewards sat about doing nothing. It’s bad enough that the designers of Windsor Park pander to these arseholes by giving them their own area, but it’s still not good enough for them, that they don’t even have the basic consideration for other supporters to go 45 minutes without.

Elsewhere in the group, Czech Republic beat Norway 2-1. A draw would have been great.

Next up, is Norway. Northern Ireland can effectively put Norway out of the race by beating them at Windsor Park in March next year.

The only problem is, our record against Norway is awful, but those were friendly games. Maybe we are due a win in a competitive game? Norway’s last competitive visit to Belfast was a 3-0 win for Northern Ireland in 1975.

The fixture list is tantalising. After Norway is Azerbaijan away, then San Marino. Imagine the momentum if we won those games ahead of Czech Republic visiting Windsor Park in September 2017.

Anyway, it’s time to put thoughts of Russia to one side for a few months, but not before a friendly at home to Croatia to finish the year off.

Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012 Photo Album