DUNDELA 1-4 LINFIELD 7.7.2018

Hasn’t the World Cup been brilliant? In truth, World Cups are like dogs, they’re all brilliant. Some are just better than others.

So, Saturday had arrived, and the big game was here.

All that failure and disappointment since their last title, but their fans were believing this was their year.

While some of you were watching England v Sweden, I was on my way home Wilgar Park, as Linfield began their pre-season preparations.

All the focus is on the opening day of the League season and an away match against Glenavon. Unfortunately, there will be no focus on European football due to the fact that the Irish League decides that UEFA Cup places are to be decided by a lottery rather than merit. Just watch the co-efficient slide.

In order to avoid clashing with the England match, this match was moved to lunchtime. Off the top of my head, I think that was Linfield’s first Saturday lunchtime game since Warrenpoint in 2014.

Since Linfield visited Wilgar Park last summer, the ground has had a bit of work done, with the terracing at one side gone and replaced by a flat standing area.

Everyone has their own wishes when it comes to pre-season friendlies. Some hope to have high profile opposition. Personally, I prefer away trips to smaller grounds, and/or grounds never visited or haven’t been to for a while.

When this year’s pre-season schedule was announced, there were two games that stood out for me – Dundela and PSNI.

I’ll be in Dublin next weekend (more on that later) so won’t be at Bangor. Even if I wasn’t, we’ll be going there twice in the League in 2018/2019. We’ve recently been to Carrick, so i’ll be giving that a miss. If you’re superstitious, you may want me to go. I’ve been to Carrick three times and the matches have ended 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0. Logically, my next visit will be a 0-0 draw. Might as well have it come in a friendly.

Ballyclare would be pushing it fine on a working day.

Since that original list was announced, a new game was added, a home friendly against Waterford.

Not going to lie, if that was an away game, i’d be all over it, giving me a chance to take in Waterford Walls. Trust me, i’ll eventually get my arse into gear and arrange a trip.

There’s no reason why that game can’t be moved to Midgley Park, especially as there’s no women’s game that night. If you think that is a silly suggestion, we have recently played friendlies against Sligo Rovers at Clandeboye Park and The Dub.

Hopefully, they’ll return the favour and give us a visit to Sligo Showgrounds some year.

I was hoping we could sneak in a trip to Scotland, but it was not to be this year. Not going to lie, I was totally jealous that Glenavon got that trip.

I guess my hopes of away games against Knockbreda and Moyola Park will have to wait until the Summer of 2019.

This is a fixture that has become a bit of a tradition in recent years, with Linfield visiting Wilgar Park in 2016 and 2017. There was also a game in 2015, but that was billed as a Linfield XI.

A welcome sight for Linfield fans at the start of this game was the return of two players whose 2017-2018 ended prematurely, in the shape of Jordan Stewart (February) and Jamie Mulgrew (March)

There was also a Trialist from Scotland starting the match at right-back. He was very vocal and not afraid to get stuck in. Mulgrew was joined in midfield by Joe Crowe, who wasn’t as effective as when he usually plays at right-back.

If Linfield fans were hoping that 2017-2018 was behind them, there wasn’t much to suggest that it was, as Dundela were by far the better team.

Lining up in red/red/green, Dundela looked like Portugal. Thankfully, their finishing was more like Helder Postiga than Cristiano Ronaldo.

If their finishing was more like Cristiano Ronaldo, Dundela could have been a couple of goals up by the time they deservedly took the lead midway through the first-half.

The only Linfield player that looked at the game was Andrew Waterworth.

Eventually, Linfield got more into it, with Jordan Stewart getting a lot of the ball down the left, and Jamie Mulgrew getting more of the ball to make things happen.

It was Andrew Waterworth who got the equaliser for Linfield, blasting home after being played through.

A few minutes later, Dundela got a penalty. The award ranged from soft to dodgy. If it was a competitive game, there would have been protests.

It didn’t matter, as Roy Carroll saved the penalty.

In the second-half, Linfield were an entirely different team. Literally. On a day when England were playing in their first World Cup Quarter-Final since 2006, it was a nice tribute to friendlies during Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign as England manager by making eleven substitutions.

Among those introduced were Mark Stafford, Niall Quinn, Andrew Mitchell, Chris Casement, Stephen Fallon, Robert Garrett, and a debut for Joel Cooper, while another former Glenavon player, Daniel Kearns, played as a Trialist.

Dundela were made to rue not taking their chances in the first-half, as Stephen Fallon put Linfield 2-1 up, before Daniel Kearns smashed home from the edge of the box to make it 3-1.

Joel Cooper had an impressive debut, always being available for a pass and making things happen when he got the ball.

As the game neared it’s end, he got a deserved goal when he headed home from a corner, hitting the bar before the ball bounced in. You could hear the thud as the ball hit the bar. It was the sort of goal that Alan Partridge would love.

A winning start to pre-season, but not a convincing one. It’s always hard to judge on the first pre-season friendly, but if that first-half performance is repeated, it’s going to be a long one.

For me, the 2018-2019 season is up and running.

Next for me, i’m off for a short break to Dublin. Naturally, i’ll be hoping to take in some football in amongst the touristy stuff.

I usually visit Dublin once a year, usually a day trip or an overnight stay. I’ll be heading over on Fridayy for an overnight stay. I have a choice of two matches, Bohs v Sligo or Shelbourne v Drogheda United.

As it stands, i’m going for Shelbourne v Drogheda United, just to try and squeeze in one last visit to Tolka Park.

Bad news for Shelbourne fans is that i’ve never seen Drogheda lose, seeing them win and draw (but win on penalties) against Linfield in 2006 and 2007, and then draw with St Patrick’s Athletic in 2013, and then beat Bray in 2014.

I could cross my fingers and hope that Shamrock Rovers v AIK on Thursday is postponed for some reason, and would have to be played on Friday lunchtime.

Talking of football visits to Dublin, the schedule for Euro 2020, which has Dublin as one of the host cities, has been announced.

As you will see, no kick-off times are announced, just dates and venues. 2pm or 5pm in Dublin would mean a day trip, while 8pm means overnight. It would be nice to know so I could make plans in advance, instead of having to participate in a scramble for hotel rooms.

The 2020 European Super Cup Final was awarded to Porto, meaning that Windsor Park misses out on that again.

And finally, the 2026 World Cup will be held in Canada, Mexico and the USA. Yep, what a disaster this is going to be. 32 teams was perfect, 48 will be bloated. Two host countries is tolerable but three makes it a shambles, especially when one is taking on most of the workload.

This means that people will be getting ideas about a UK co-host bid for a future World Cup, and when Northern Ireland is unable to be part of it due to not having a big enough stadium, we’ll have to put up with the Maze Brigade coming out of the woodwork and starting to pipe up again.

During the close season, we’ve seen Politicians embarrass themselves when it comes to football, with Sinn Fein demanding that Northern Ireland postponed their friendly against Israel in September.

I’m not quite sure why they waited until June to make these calls as the game was announced in February. I’m no expert on the Middle East, but I can’t think they were all holding hands and singing at the start of the year.

This was jumping on the bandwagon of Argentina’s decision not to play Israel prior to the World Cup.

Northern Ireland’s fixture schedule will not be dictated by Argentina, or by any MLA. They are free to play whoever they wish. In fact, they can play anybody who isn’t a member of FIFA if they wish. I’d love an away friendly against Yorkshire.

I haven’t got a clue about the Middle East. I don’t know who is right or who is wrong. It’s hard not to be disengaged when this particular matter is a cause celebre for one particular movement in Northern Ireland, one who is hostile to the existence to the Northern Ireland football team.

The irony of all this is, i’m not going to the Israel game. It’s an underwhelming choice of opponent and a team i’ve already seen before. I’ll be giving this game a miss.

Meanwhile, Jolene Bunting, an Independent Councillor in Belfast City Council is wanting to try and establish a Northern Ireland version of the Football Lads Alliance (whatever that is) to protest against bad shit and stuff. The last thing we need is to create our own version of a fuckwit movement.

If England win the World Cup, i’m really looking forward to the DUP absolutely embarrassing themselves by trying to jump on the bandwagon, demanding England flags at Stormont and inviting them to a Civic Reception.

I’m indifferent to the England team, so don’t really care if they win it or not, but them winning it will have some positives, such as culchies having meltdowns, DUP embarrassing themselves, and a possible Bank Holiday.

Fixture lists for the new season have been published. In the Premier League, i’m planning to visit Old Trafford to see United take on Burnley (January) and Cardiff (March), as well as a European Cup group match, hopefully.

In the Irish League, the fixtures were published in late June, far later than they should have been in comparison with England and Scotland. So, i’m going to have a quick analysis.

Glenavon away first will be tough, but they usually make slow starts, so we have to exploit this.

That game will be put back to the Monday night if Glenavon get past Molde in the UEFA Cup. I can’t see that happening. There is no reason why it couldn’t be moved to the Sunday instead.

The first home game is Institute, inconveniently moved to the Friday night as i’ll be at George Ezra. Hopefully, Linfield will be riding shotgun, underneath the hot sun. Whatever that means.

You may remember I wanted us to be away to Institute that day, so I could make a weekend of it by going to Stendahl to see Embrace.

The away game against Institute will be on an international weekend (Northern Ireland are at home the following day) but hopefully it won’t be postponed. The release of Linfield’s new away kit means that they will be playing at The Brandywell wearing red and white. This will be a new ground for me to visit.

The following week will see Linfield travel to Seaview on the same day I go to see The League Of Gentlemen at The Odyssey. I’ll let you insert your own punchline.

How many times do the players have to be told? DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CRUSADERS. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CRUSADERS. I thought we had put that nonsense behind us in 2016-2017.

If you get a nice book for Christmas, that will be handy, as you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting around Ballysillan Leisure Centre on the Saturday afterwards.

If you’re planning a late night on New Year’s Eve, you won’t have far to travel on the opening day of 2019, as Linfield travel to Ards.

It’ll be a tough opening 33 games, and the 5 games post-split will be tough as well.

Even though it’s a relatively new tradition (2014) it is disappointing that there will be no Charity Shield this season due to being unable to find a date.

Why not have it on weekend of 4th August, and slot in a midweek fixture list somewhere?

It is interesting to note that there are no midweek League games scheduled in 2018-2019, barring Bank Holidays, albeit there are two Friday night games, one for an International on the Saturday afternoon, and the other for the League Cup Final.

On that note, I hope that NIFL already have contingency plans in place for the fixtures scheduled for Saturday 23rd March should Northern Ireland have a home Euro 2020 Qualifier, the draw taking place in late 2018. You can never be too prepared.

Mixing friendly wishes and former player news, Grant McCann is the new manager of Doncaster Rovers. Go on, Summer 2019, a friendly at The Keepmoat, ideally on the weekend of Tramlines in Sheffield.

2018-2019 hasn’t even started and i’m already talking about 2019-2020 pre-season games. On that note, decent headliner at Buncrana Music Festival and Finn Harps at home on the same weekend could give me an idea.

And finally, i’ll be heading to Edinburgh next month to take in the Edinburgh Festival.

The only confirmed match on when i’m there is Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers in the Irn Bru Cup, while there is the possibility of Hibs being at home in Europe on the Thursday night, or a short trip to Glasgow if Rangers have a decent home tie.

2018-2019 is finally here. Hopefully, it’s a lot better than 2017-2018.

Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield 2016

Dundela v Linfield 2017

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PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2017-2018

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look back at the 2017-2018. The less said about what happened on the pitch, the better.

I took a lot of photos, so i’ve rounded up my favourites.

Feel free to vote for your favourite.

PLATT LANE

This was taken in June last year when The Oval was being used for filming a movie about Bert Trautmann, and was decorated to look like Maine Road. I went to get some photos.

I specifically wanted one with 1950s Maine Road and 2017 Oval both in the same shot, and this was my favourite from that day.

CLANDEBOYE

You have roadworks to thank for this photo.

I was held up heading to Ards v Linfield and missed the first couple of minutes.

This was the scene that greeted me as I entered, a crowd with their eyes fixated on the pitch on a warm summer evening.

GARRETT

I like the composition of this photo.

You may be surprised that Robert Garrett is attacking and not defending, he had just kept the ball in play and was now being surrounded by two Dungannon defenders.

PHOTOGRAPHER

I just like the composition of this shot. Taken during Spartans v Linfield in Scottish Challenge Cup.

RAINBOW

Me being arty farty. I love trying to get pictures of rainbows over football grounds. Taken at half-time during Ballinamallard v Linfield in November. A rare time that afternoon when it wasn’t raining.

HAUGHEY

Same match, everyone huddled in the stand to avoid the rain. I like the composition of this shot.

FLEGS

Taken during the Northern Ireland v Switzerland match in November, green and white flags were left out before the game for fans to wave. I decided to take a shot as they were being waved and got lucky.

CELEBRATION

Everything fell into place for this shot, the sky, a well worked goal, and the whole team coming together to celebrate.

GOAL

I like this shot because it captures the emotion of a last minute equaliser as part of a late comeback that never looked like coming.

TIPTON

I was heading to the exit for a quick getaway (in my defence, it was an away game on a weeknight) and stumbled upon this framing as Matthew Tipton looked on as Warrenpoint took on Linfield.

CAMPION

Taken during Cliftonville v Linfield in February, the guy in the red coat makes it makes it with his celebration as Linfield players celebrate in front of their fans.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April’s football watching began with a trip to Mourneview Park on Easter Tuesday to see Linfield grind out a 3-2 win away to Glenavon.

That was followed on the Saturday afterwards by going to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

Good start to the month, but that was as good as it got, as Linfield could only managed one point from their next three games against Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville, which would cause them to eventually miss out on European football.

There was only one match for me in May, a trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Watford.

And that, was the 2017-2018 over for me.

Here’s to more football and photos in 2018-2019.

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Watford

Manchester United v Watford Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

Football watching in March got off to a delayed start, due to Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville being postponed due to snow.

I had to wait a week to get to a match, Linfield’s home game against Carrick Rangers.

The following midweek, was that postponed Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville, resulting in a defeat for Linfield.

It didn’t get better the rest of the month as Linfield had to come from behind to get draws against Glentoran and Ballinamallard United.

At least the month ended on a high note, beaming with parental pride (sort of) as Paul Smyth came off he bench to score the winner for Northern Ireland against South Korea on his debut.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Glentoran

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v South Korea

Northern Ireland v South Korea Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me with a midweek trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

That was followed four days later by Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

Two away games followed for Linfield on the following weekends, against Cliftonville and Ards, before finishing the month with a midweek home match against Glenavon.

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January 2018’s football watching was supposed to start at Coleraine on the first day of the month, but the weather saw to that, so I had to wait a week to visit Taylor’s Avenue for my first game of the month, to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win over Carrick Rangers.

There was another postponement in the middle of the month, at Warrenpoint, which meant I had to wait a whole week for my next match. It wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield lost 3-2 to Glenavon.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to London for a short weekend away. Naturally, I hoped to take in a game while I was there, and the game I chose was Millwall v Rochdale.

My final game of the month was a trip to Coleraine, which should have kicked off the month, to see Linfield score two late goals to secure a dramatic draw.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park, a place where I would spend four of the five Saturdays during the month, to see Linfield scrape a 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

Postponements would then frustrate my football watching, as Linfield’s trip to Carrick was postponed, as was the FA Cup Replay between Crewe Alexandra and Blackburn Rovers, which I had planned on attending.

The reason for this was that I was in North-West England to see Manchester United take on AFC Bournemouth, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

I then headed to Windsor Park on successive Saturdays to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville.

That was then followed by a Boxing Day trip to The Oval, the less said about that, the better.

After that, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Crusaders. The less said about that, the better.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Manchester Untied v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : NOVEMBER

November’s football watching began with a long trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield beat Ballinamallard 6-0 in the pouring rain.

Up next, was Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off against Switzerland. The following day, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield take on Ballymena, giving me two disappointing results on successive days.

Results took an upturn in the final weeks of the month, as I headed to see Linfield beat the top two in the League, Coleraine and Glenavon, in successive weeks.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Switzerland

Northern Ireland v Switzerland Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Glenavon v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October’s football watching began with Northern Ireland taking on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier.

That was then followed by taking in Linfield’s defeats against Coleraine and Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month ended a bit better, as I went to see Linfield beat Ards

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ards

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

September’s football watching began for me in Edinburgh, seeing Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup. That was followed two days later with World Cup action, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

After that, it was all about Irish League action, taking in Linfield’s matches against Glentoran, Crusaders, Ballinamallard and Cliftonville.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Cliftonville v Linfield