The first weekend of March 2022 saw me visit Carrick to see Linfield win a rearranged game, then the following morning, head up Cavehill.
Then the rest of the month was Linfield matches, against Ballymena United, Crusaders, Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town.
With the match against Warrenpoint Town being a lunchtime kick-off and the weather being nice, I decided to head to Warrenpoint Beach for some photos. I also headed to Carlingford, but I didn’t get any photos there though.
The month ended with my first Northern Ireland match in over two years, the friendly at home to Hungary.
As Northern Ireland aim to build momentum to try and reach Euro 2024, their first three home games of 2022 will trigger memories of happier times, Euro 2016.
This match, Hungary and the next match, Greece, are self explanatory due to them being in the same qualifying group for Euro 2016.
Those respective matches especially. A 1-1 draw against Hungary in September 2015, their main rivals for automatic qualification and the way it was so dramatically achieved made Northern Ireland fans believe it could actually happen.
Greece’s visit the following month needs no introduction, the night it actually happened.
Even though they didn’t encounter Cyprus during that time, their visit to Belfast will be on Sunday 12th June.
The last time that 12th June fell on a Sunday was in 2016. A lot of us can remember where we were and what we were doing that day. In Nice watching Northern Ireland v Poland in Euro 2016, myself included.
At kick-off, there were two divisions between these two sides in the Nations League, in Hungary’s favour, they in League A and Northern Ireland in League C.
Hungary’s draw isn’t much better than their European Championship draw, with England, Germany and Italy to look forward to.
Despite Northern Ireland being unbeaten in the last two meetings, Hungary have an overall head to head record between the two sides, winning the first four meetings including three at Windsor Park.
For me, it would be my first Northern Ireland since the 0-0 draw against Holland in November 2019. Of course, my exile hasn’t been all self imposed.
Of course, we all know what happened after that, and three the next six home games were behind closed doors, and I was unsuccessful in my application for a ticket for the other three.
When stadiums were allowed to operate at full capacity again, I decided to sit out the World Cup Qualifiers.
This was my first game since moving to the Railway Stand. I wish I had done it a long time ago.
I’m bored of The Kop. It’s basically now The Holyland With Seats.
Uncomfortable truth, but the Pissed By Six crowd are embarrassing.
Not only did I have a great view, but I also enjoyed the novelty of actually going to an outdoor event and not having fag smoke blown into my face.
Long live the Railway Stand.
It looked I would be witnessing a Northern Ireland goal up close, as Gavin Whyte went on a run and created space for himself, only to slip as he was about to shoot. Oh dear.
Within a few minutes, there was even more frustration for Northern Ireland when a misplaced pass fell perfectly for Steven Davis whose curled effort hit the post. I was one of many behind the goal getting ready to celebrate.
Hungary weren’t offering much of an attacking threat in the first-half, the best they could offer was an effort that went just wide.
Northern Ireland’s next attacking moment of note was a shot from Niall McGinn which was turned around for a corner.
0-0 at half-time, but Northern Ireland were the better team despite having nothing to show for it.
I’m hoping that not scoring when attacking the end I sit at isn’t an omen ahead of the next eight matches.
Within minutes of the second-half starting, there was a major talking point when Dion Charles went down under a challenge when running through on goal. I’ve seen them given. I thought this was going to be one of them.
On looking at the replay, the only thing i’ll say is that they get given in midfield.
Northern Ireland were playing well. Almost too well. You knew what was going to happen.
A sloppy backpass from Niall McGinn fell perfectly for Roland Sallai to win a race for the ball and then put it into the empty net.
It was a combination of goals conceded at Windsor Park against Serbia in 2011 and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2018.
They were both bad and this was bad.
Despite that, we’d seen a lot from Northern Ireland so far in this game to suggest that they could make a comeback.
Shayne Lavery and Trai Hume came off the bench, a debut for Hume.
It took a while initially for Lavery to get into the game, but when he did, he started causing problems for Hungary.
George Savile looked like he was going to equalise but his header from close ranger was saved by Hungary’s keeper.
Trai Hume was next to be frustrated when his header from a Shayne Lavery cross (Oh to see such a combination in a blue shirt at Windsor Park) was saved by Hungary’s keeper.
Right at the end, it was Dion Charles turn to be frustrated, when his close range effort was saved from point blank by the keeper.
Hungary were able to hold out for a win that didn’t really matter, but it would have been nice for Northern Ireland to get the win that didn’t matter.
You couldn’t really say that Northern Ireland played bad. In fact, they played well. It was just that they couldn’t take the chances that came their way. An oh so familiar story.
We’ll win more than we lose with performances like that.
Next up for Northern Ireland, four matches in June in the UEFA Nations League.
It’s a competition that I view as a waste of time, but you might as well get with the programme, especially when you see how beneficial it has worked out for Austria in terms of qualifying draws and getting a World Cup Play-Off. Austria, of course, were in Northern Ireland’s group in the previous two editions.
Northern Ireland are in League C, and the final team in their group was confirmed just under an hour before kick-off in this match when Cyprus beat Estonia.
Funnily enough, I was considering a break in Estonia in May but decided against it due to the situation in Eastern Europe (this was back in late February when I was looking) but I was reconsidering even though June might be a bit more expensive.
Looks like I won’t be going to Estonia in June either.
Can’t say I have any immediate plans to head to Cyprus either.
Elsewhere, the draw for the World Cup Finals took place. Northern Ireland, as ever since 1986, won’t be in it.
One good thing is that the three most exciting looking group games (Argentina v Mexico, Denmark v France, Germany v Spain) will all be taking place on a weekend.
There is an element of frustration as if they had beaten Bulgaria home and way (which they should have done), they would have went into the final group match against Italy just two points behind Italy and Switzerland.
It still would have taken two unlikely results to qualify automatically, and a big effort to get a Play-Off, but it would have been great to be in that situation.
A Play-Off defeat to Portugal would have been preferable to a friendly defeat to Hungary just as getting pumped 5-0 by Spain in the European Championship would have been preferable to sitting at home and watching Slovakia suffer that fate.
Anyway, onto the Nations League to get a bit of momentum ahead of the Euro 2024 Qualifiers.
My football watching for 2015 is now over, so, it’s time for a statistical look back at the football I watched.
Games : 54
Goals Seen : 143
Red Cards : 10 (Doesn’t include Caoimhin Bonner being sent-off in the tunnel after the game)
Missed/Saved Penalties : 6
Hat-Tricks : 2 (Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Dungannon Swifts. Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)
Teams Seen : 40
Arsenal, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Bray Wanderers, Carrick Rangers, CE Europa (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee (1st time), Dunfermline Athletic (1st time), Dungannon Swifts, Espanyol (1st time), Finland, Glenavon, Glentoran, Greece (1st time), Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hungary, Institute, Latvia (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Masnau, Northern Ireland, NSI Runavik (1st time), Partick Thistle (1st time), Portadown, PSNI, PSV Eindhoven (1st time), Qatar (1st time), Rangers, Romania (1st time) Scotland, Sligo Rovers, Spartak Trnava (1st time), Tobermore United, Valencia (1st time), Warrenpoint Town
Stadiums Visited : 23
Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Drumahoe, East End Park (1st time), Estadi Cornella y Prat (1st time), Ferney Park, Fortwilliam Park (1st time), Gresty Road (1st time), Hampden Park, Ibrox, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newforge (1st time), Nou Sardenya (1st time), Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue (1st time), The Oval, Tynecastle, Windsor Park
Competitions : 13
European Championship, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, La Liga, League of Ireland, Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup (1st time), Scottish Premier League, Tercera Division (1st time), UEFA Cup
No real curiousities, other than a match with kick-off delayed for an hour due to the weather
UEFA 102 Club : Espanyol, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia (now at 35 clubs)
September began for me on the road to Fermanagh, to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard, and get a 1-0 win on a lovely sunny day.
From the road to Fermanagh to the road to France. My next football match came two days later when I saw Northern Ireland take on Hungary in a Euro 2016 Qualifier, knowing that a win sound them to France.
They didn’t get the win they wanted, but a late draw kept them on course to qualify.
Inbetween those two football matches was some graffiti spotting around Belfast.
Two days after that, I was at The Odyssey, now renamed The SSE Arena, to see Florence and the Machine perform the first concert at the newly renovated venue.
Back to Irish League action the following Saturday, a trip to Seaview to see Linfield take on Crusaders, the less said about, the better.
The following Friday, was the highlight of the year in Belfast, Culture Night, and I was out with my camera snapping the action.
I recovered from Culture Night in time the following day to head to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint.
The following day, I undertook a post Culture Night tradition by checking out the newly painted Street Art on North Street and the surrounding areas.
The final weekend of the month saw me head to Windsor Park to see Linfield edge past Glenavon 4-3.
Like the previous weekend, I headed to North Street to get a look at the Street Art painted for Culture Night, as some pieces were still being worked on when I went down the previous week.
I also headed to City Quays Walk for the first time, to see some Street Art that had been painted there.
The new incarnation of Windsor Park hasn’t been fully built yet, but it’s already had it’s first memorable night. Not as memorable as we all would have hoped, but a late point that meant Northern Ireland were one win away from qualification for Euro 2016 instead of the three points that would have sent them to France.
The omens weren’t good pre-match, with Hungary winning on all three of their visits to Windsor Park.
However, there were two good omens in Northern Ireland’s favour. It was ten years to the day since the win over England at Windsor Park, and exactly one year to the day since the win over Hungary in Budapest.
That win over England was good, and it acted as a springboard for the heroic failure of the Euro 2008 campaign. A win tonight, would have actually achieved something.
The maths was simple, win and Northern Ireland were through, draw and they would need to win one of their last two games. A defeat wouldn’t have been disastrous. It would have meant Northern Ireland had their destiny in their hands and would need to win their last two games to be certain of qualification.
It was Hungary who had the first shot of the game when a snap shot from Dzsudzsak went just wide.
Northern Ireland were fighting for every ball, the Hungarians were denied time and space to do anything with it.
Early on, Steven Davis chased for possession and won a corner. Attempts to recreate David Healy’s second goal against Spain in 2006 with Stuart Dallas being the goalscorer, but it didn’t happen for him.
It wasn’t the only innovate set piece from Northern Ireland. A free-kick just over halfway saw Hungary expecting it to be played high into the box. A long pass on the ground looked like it was going to set Stuart Dallas through on goal, but a Hungarian defender spotted the danger cleared the danger when his tackle went off Dallas for a goal kick.
Northern Ireland were putting the Hungarians under pressure but couldn’t get the goal they needed, mainly because there were no clear sights of goal.
Towards the end of the first-half, Hungary came into it more. Their best moment came when Nemeth got in behind the defence and saw his shot saved by McGovern, who has kept his place in the team since starting against Romania.
It was all irrelevent, as he was flagged offside, though neither player or the crowd knew it at the time.
Hungary were better in the second-half though Northern Ireland had their moments. Most notably, when Gareth McAuley was unable to make contact from a set piece. A flick on almost found Kyle Lafferty but he couldn’t get his foot on the ball.
Niall McGinn came on for Corry Evans as Northern Ireland tried to go more attacking. There was no clear chances, and defences were on top. It looked like being a 0-0 draw.
It was the sort of game, that if there was a goal, it would finish 1-0, it was that tense.
On 73 minutes, Hungary went in front when Michael McGovern dropped a free-kick right to the feet of a Hungarian right inside the six yard box. There was no time for a Northern Ireland defender to stop him scoring. There was just enough time for fans to gasp at what had happened just before he put it in the net. Windsor Park fell silent.
It was the first goal scored at the new Railway Stand. Richard Guzmics is the name to remember for future trivia questions.
Northern Ireland natuarally responded by trying to get an equaliser. More attacking subs came on, with Josh Magennis and Shane Ferguson entering the action.
Northern Ireland were getting into good positions but the final ball was poor. When they got the final ball right, there was usually a Hungarian in the road. One way or another, Hungary were repelling Northern Ireland away from their goal. They were doing enough to secure a vital win.
Hungary’s free-kicks, throws and goal kicks were now suddenly taking longer.
With ten minutes to go, Chris Baird got two yellow cards in the one phase of play for bringing down a Hungarian player on the halfway line. Baird’s high attempt at a tackle was lucky not to be punished with a straight red.
It was probably lucky for Northern Ireland that it was a second yellow, as he’ll only miss the Greece game and be available for Finland. Hopefully, that Finland game will be irrelevent in terms of qualification.
Five minutes of injury time were announced, as Northern Ireland aimed for one last push. They never looked like scoring but football fans will always believe.
The pattern of the previous ninety minutes aren’t really a factor when you’re chasing a goal in injury time. With each passing second, it looked like being an agonising defeat.
Northern Ireland had one last chance, a corner from the right hand side. It went passed everybody and came to Niall McGinn on the edge of the box. It wasn’t one of those innovative set pieces they did with Stuart Dallas in the first-half, the ball just fell that way.
His shot was parried by Gabor Kiraly, he of the grey jogging bottoms that look like pyjamas fame, straight to Kyle Lafferty who fired home the equaliser, and Windsor Park went wild.
It might have been a draw, but it felt like a win. Hungary were back in the race and Northern Ireland were under pressure. Now they have a four point gap with only six to play for. By winning the head to heads with Hungary, Northern Ireland have the margin for error that two draws will be enough.
It got worse for Hungary, when they discovered that Romania could only draw with Greece.
I said in June that by playing Romania, Northern Ireland and Hungary in their final three games of the group, Greece will be the Kingmakers. Results against them will decide who goes to France.
Hopefully, in just over four weeks time, it will be Northern Ireland who will be coronated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.