NORTHERN IRELAND 1-3 GERMANY 5.10.2017

Usually, when the top seed arrives in Belfast at this stage of a World Cup Qualifying campaign, it is an opportunity to see some famous names and a glamour game to look back on at the end of another miserable campaign. Except, this time, it was a bit different.

Germany arrived at Windsor Park with acht wins out of acht, and would have qualified if they made it neun out of neun. In fact, even eins point would have done.

Northern Ireland knew that a win would put them in contention for automatic qualification in the last game and at worst, secure a Play-Off spot.

Northern Ireland might have already secured 2nd in the group, but not quite a Play-Off spot reserved for one of the eight best runners-up.

I’m old enough to remember when Northern Ireland ere Germany’s bogey team, a five game unbeaten run against them in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, it’s been six successive wins for Germany.

It was a milestone match for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, his 50th in charge. All he wanted was for his 52nd and 53 to be World Cup Play-Off matches.

Germany started the game dominant in possession, and made the most of it when a poor clearance made it’s way to Sebastian Rudy to fire home from outside the box to put Germany 1-0 up after just siebenundsiebzig seconds to silen …….

Well, no, it didn’t quite silence Windsor Park. Anyone turning up two minutes late might have thought Northern Ireland were kicking off to start the match, although the scoreboard might have given them a clue.

Northern Ireland’s response was immediate, with Gareth McAuley agonisingly unable to get his head on a corner. If he did, it might have just been another legendary goal from him.

Germany responded to Northern Ireland’s response by going in search of a second goal, with Leon Goretzka having a header saved from close range by Michael McGovern while Sandro Wagner.

Wagner had better luck with his next attempt, firing home from the edge of the box to make it 2-0. You could see that the shot was coming once he got the space, the problem was, trying to get close to him.

It didn’t quite silence the Windsor Park crowd, but it was now a lot quieter.

Northern Ireland had a chance to pull a goal back before half-time when a cross found Corry Evans, but he couldn’t get a chance to set himself up for a shot, and when he did, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was able to make himself big.

From the resulting corner, Kyle Lafferty had a free header easily caught by Ter Stegen. If someone had been able to run and and get even the slightest touch, they would surely have scored.

Northern Ireland knew that if they could pull a goal back, they could have a go at a famous comeback win. The problem was, getting that goal. Opportunities to get it were rare.

Conor Washingon had a glorious one in the second-half when created space in the penalty area, and hit the bar with the whole goal to aim at.

You got the feeling that was Northern Ireland’s big moment. They already had two. They weren’t going to get any more.

On 86 minutes, Joshua Kimmich made sure of the drei points for Germany when he fired home from a tight angle to make it 3-0.

Northern Ireland had a late flurry and pulled a goal back to make it 3-1. It was the final act of the game, and only a consolation.

The initial observation, was that it wasn’t as important as his only other Windsor Park goal, but it could be, if Northern Ireland secure a Play-Off on goal difference.

Attention turned to other groups. Scotland beating Slovakia helped Northern Ireland but not so much in terms of second place ranking.

Some fans already dreaming of a Play-Off against Scotland. If it did happen, Annual Leave is tight for me in November, I would have to do an unbelievable amount of begging if the away leg was on any day but the Saturday.

Talking of Scotland, i’m not going there this weekend, as flights to get to Dundee for Linfield’s match against Dundee United are just too expensive.

I’ve done the maths, and a Congo win against Egypt will secure a Play-Off for Northern Ireland. Erm, I think I might have to redo my calculations on that one.

Friday teatime saw the unlikely sight of Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland fans coming together to cheer on the same team, Georgia, as they faced Wales.

Wales won 1-0. If they failed to win, Northern Ireland would have secured a Play-Off place.

I can’t see Republic Of Ireland winning in Cardiff and expect to see Wales in the Play-Offs. They would be the team to avoid as they would have so much form and momentum going into it.

That is why Northern Ireland must get a positive result in Norway, to sign off the group on a high and avoid going into two big games on the back of two defeats.

With regards to the Play-Offs and best runners-up, it’s an absolute farce that the final games aren’t all taking place on the same day rather than being staggered across three days.

Norway go into this game on the back of an 8-0 win over San Marino, but that was preceded by a 6-0 defeat against Germany. It’s hard to get a barometer of where they are at.

Getting ahead of schedule, i’ve had a look at the Euro 2020 Qualifiers, which will have Play-Offs in March 2020. Yes, you read that right. What a farce.

Logically, that means the draw will take place in March or April 2020, meaning fans will have less then three months to arrange travel for a tournament that will already be a logistical nightmare due to it taking place all over Europe.

There’s going to be a shitstorm over it. You read it here first.

That can wait, it’s all about Northern Ireland getting a positive result in Norway to secure a Play-Off spot.

They might not even need it if Bosnia fail to beat Belgium. Just imagine a statue of Marouane Fellaini outside Belfast City Hall.

Photo Album

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NORTHERN IRELAND 2-0 CZECH REPUBLIC 4.9.2017

Exactly one year previously, Northern Ireland faced Czech Republic in Prague in their opening World Cup Qualifier. It was a 0-0 draw, a solid foundation to build on.

That night, I was at Ulster Hall to see Squeeze in concert, checking the score on my phone inbetween songs.

Usually at this stage of a World Cup Qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland’s hopes are Up The Junction, but this time was different, fans were already Tempted to make plans for Russia.

Solid foundations are not something Northern Ireland take advantage of. A win in Slovenia and a draw against Italy at the start of Euro 2012 Qualifying were solid foundations, but that campaign turned out to be a disaster.

Those who believe in destiny will have been glad to see Germany and Czech Republic in Northern Ireland’s group. In their former guises of Czechoslovakia and West Germany, they were both in Northern Ireland’s group in the 1958 World Cup Finals.

Those who even tempted fate by thinking of the Play-Offs would have been hoping to avoid a possible meeting with France, who eliminated them in 1958.

Recent meetings didn’t suggest a lot of goals, with the last three meetings between the sides finishing 0-0.

Such a scoreline might not have pleased those who like goals, but it would have been enough for Northern Ireland to secure 2nd place, but not yet a Play-Off place.

The numbers game was simple. Six games since that night in Prague, five more clean sheets, four successive wins, three games to go, two at home and one point was needed.

If they got that point, 2nd place would be secured, but not yet a Play-Off spot.

There are nine groups in Europe and only eight Play-Off places. Someone has to miss out. All nine teams will be ranked on their record against the teams that finish 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th in their group. The team with the worst record would miss out. That would be so typical Northern Ireland to be that 9th team. Every point was vital.

Northern Ireland made a good start to the game, having the first chance when Josh Magennis headed over from a corner. It wasn’t a clear chance, but he was still annoyed with himself, having scored twice on the previous Friday against San Marino.

Czech Republic then had a lot of possession but didn’t do a lot with it.

Stuart Dallas then broke down the left win but his cross went straight to the Czech keeper.

Northern Ireland took the lead on 28 minutes when Oliver Norwood returned a headed clearance back into the penalty area straight into the path of Jonny Evans, who got a slight enough touch to put the ball in. It was his 2nd goal for Northern Ireland, his 1st coming against Poland in 2009.

With goals like that, he could end up getting a move to Man City, or even a big club.

He would have enjoyed ending an 8 year wait, Windsor Park dreamt of ending a 32 year wait.

As half-time approached, his brother Corry wanted to get in on the act, running towards the Czech goal before being brought down.

The free-kick was centrally placed. Right foot, left foot. Hit the target and you’ve got a chance. It was left foot, Chris Brunt, round the wall and beating the keeper at his near post.

Nobody had scored three goals in a competitive game against Northern Ireland since 2013. Nothing from the Czechs so far suggested that was going to change.

The second-half saw Czech Republic have a lot of possession but not do a lot with it. All that Michael McGovern was doing was catching practice.

It wasn’t as if Northern Ireland were sticking men behind the ball. Jonny Evans even found himself in the right wing position during a counter attack.

The final whistle blew and Windsor Park celebrated but not rapturously. It wasn’t job done. It wasn’t close to job done. It was just another smell step on the journey.

The night was made even more enjoyable for me by the lack of smelly tramps around me puffing on fegs and vapes. See, it can be done. Let’s make nights like this more of a regular thing on the pitch and in the stands.

2nd place was secured, as Northern Ireland now sit 2nd out of 9 Runners-Up. They are 5 points clear of 9th place Wales. Barring a Welsh goal spree in their final games, a draw from the last two games will be enough.

It might not even be needed depending on results in other groups.

Never mind 2nd place, we’re still in contention to win the group. Just about. Germany only need one point from their last two games. It’s an absolute credit to Northern Ireland that Germany still haven’t secured qualification despite winning eight games out of eight, considering that Belgium have qualified with seven wins out of eight.

Projected FIFA Rankings suggest that Northern Ireland would be seeded if they reach the Play-Offs. That would mean avoiding Italy and the Runner-Up of the Switzerland/Portugal group.

There would be no easy games but nobody to fear. Nobody who would stand out as being desperate to get. We’ll just have to take what we get and get on with it, much as we have done over the past three years.

You could say the the newly redeveloped Windsor Park has had it’s first night of celebration as an international venue. Let’s hope for another one in November.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 9.11.1985

MEXICO HERE WE COME!! screams the headline on the cover of Match, as Northern Ireland head to Wembley looking for the result that will take them to the 1986 World Cup Finals.

The match gets a double page spread as soon as you open the magazine, featuring interviews with David McCreery and Glenn Hoddle. McCreery is in bullish mood, saying Northern Ireland will win on merit and not need any favours from England.

Gary Lineker uses his column to reveal that Frank Worthington was his footballing hero.

Match follows the progress of a young player they’ve adopted, Lee Martin of Huddersfield Town, as he gets ready to face Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup.

This player in question was a goalkeeper, and not to be confused with the Lee Martin who scored the winner in the 1990 FA Cup Final Replay.

There are posters of Northern Ireland and Aberdeen. Aberdeen had just beaten Hibs 3-0 in the Scottish League Cup Final.

Staying in Scotland, there could be a TV blackout of Scottish football due to a lack of agreement with broadcasters STV and BBC Scotland.

Match does a feature called Stars In The Shade, profiling players watching England’s top flight from the sidelines such as Alan Brazil, Michael Robinson and Gary Mabbutt.

David Speedie gets asked about his favourite things, his favourite music being Spandau Ballet, Sade and Barbara Dickson.

Match uses the ratings in their results service to do a feature on the best goalkeepers in England’s top flight, with Ray Clemence coming out on top with an average rating of 7.53 from 13 games.

Ray Wilkins, based in Italy with AC Milan, uses his column to declare that Michael Laudrup will be one of the stars of the 1986 World Cup.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NI FOOTBALL – AUTUMN 2008

It’s a new era for Irish League football, as the top flight is reduced from 16 clubs to 12, with Michael Gault and David Rainey being the cover stars.

Northern Ireland have just started their campaign to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and there is a full page review of their opening games against Slovakia and Czech Republic, where they only got one point from those two games.

Prior to that, Northern Ireland travelled to Scotland, and this game also got reviewed, as well as supporters experience of the trip.

Aaron Hughes gets interviewed, telling NI Football that he enjoys living in London now that he plays for Fulham, having been an Aston Villa player the last time he spoke to them.

From one Northern Ireland player who used to wear claret and blue to one who does, there is an interview with Burnley striker Martin Paterson.

Iain Dowie also reviews those opening two World Cup Qualifiers, stating that Northern Ireland really missed Kyle Lafferty in those two games.

Irish League sides in Europe during the summer of 2008 also gets reviewed and analysed.

There was a story which was a load of balls. The IFA agreed a deal with Umbro to supply matchballs. In competitions, you could win a pair of Umbro boots endorsed by Peter Thompson.

Roy Walker gets a double page interview, having just been appointed as Ballymena United manager, a year after a two day stint as Glentoran manager.

Relegated on a technicality, there is a full page feature on Portadown, as they aim to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

There is also a double page feature on Northern Ireland’s underage sides, as they prepare for a busy run of fixtures.

Tim Mouncey is interviewed, spilling the beans on his team-mates, revealing that Andy Hunter is the grumpiest player at Portadown.

Warren Feeney gets interviewed having signed for Dundee United, and his ambitious to win trophies at Tannadice.

There is also a full page feature on newly promoted Bangor, who have just made Irish League history by playing in the first game to be played on a Sunday, against Glentoran at The Oval.

There are also interviews with Peter Thompson (Stockport County) and Steven Davis (Rangers, loan move made permanent) as they begin the season at new clubs.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : TOTAL FOOTBALL – SUMMER 2004

Three models in the kits of England, Northern Ireland and Wales is the cover image of Total Football, with all three home nations in the same World Cup Qualifying Group starting in a few months.

In news, the Northern Ireland team have announced a kit supplier deal with Umbro, and a sponsorship deal with Nationwide.

There is a profile of new Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez and the impact he has already had in his first three games in charge.

There is a profile of Irish League referee Andi Regan, as she gets ready to head to Greece to officiate at the Olympic Games football tournament.

Having just made his debut for Southampton, Alan Blayney gets profiled where he reveals he had spent a period of time training with Glentoran the previous year after suffering from homesickness.

Another player leaving Glentoran for full-time football in England was Andy Smith, who had just signed for Preston North End, and he gets a full page profile.

The models in the cover make a reappearance as they review the new kits of both local and national sides.

Getting ready for a second season of top flight football, Ballymena United manager Kenny Shiels gets interviewed.

Over the page is an interview with Loughgall manager Jim Gardiner, as the club gets ready for their first season of top flight football.

In news, Linfield have announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Umbro to run alongside their kit supplier deal.

Linfield are one of three clubs, the others being Glentoran and Portadown, whose upcoming European ties get previewed in a double page feature.

There is a double page feature with new Cliftonville manager Liam Beckett as he gets to grips with the job at Solitude.

The magazine ends with a preview of the Milk Cup.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SCORE – MAY 1999

This week, we go back to the turn of the century, and the short lived Irish League magazine Score, with Kevin Horlock being the cover star, in action for Northern Ireland against Germany in a recent European Championship Qualifier.

As you open the magazine, there is a full page profile of Dundela.

David Larmour of Linfield gets a profile, across the page of a profile of Davy O’Hare. It is expected that O’Hare will spend the summer of 1999 choosing between signing for Linfield (Neil Inglis getting binned after an error in the Irish Cup Semi-Final) or Glentoran (Wayne Russell possibly signing for Bohemians).

Paul Leeman takes a quiz on Irish League football, only managing a score of 8 out of 10, getting a question wrong on when Glentoran last won the league.

Lee Feeney writes a diary on his time in Glasgow, having just signed for Rangers. One of team-mates is Scott Young’s brother, with whom he has Irish League banter.

Another ex Linfield player profiled is Billy Murray, who had come out of retirement in his 40s to play in John Easton’s Testimonial, and looks back on his career, mostly spent with Linfield.

The magazine is Belfast centric, and all the clubs in the city have a news update, from the four top flight clubs to those in the lower leagues.

Joining the four Belfast clubs in the top flight for 1999-2000 will be Distillery, soon to be renamed Lisburn Distillery, and Jim McCloskey gives the lowdown on his team-mates.

Glentoran won the league title in 1999, and the celebrations get a full page profile.

The back page focuses on the national side with fans being urged to get behind manager Lawrie McMenemy, at the halfway point of Euro 2000 Qualifiers.

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

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

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

POLSKA

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



WILGAR

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



SEAVIEW

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



CELEBRATION

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

PALMERSTON

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

APPEAL

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



ELF

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

GAYNOR

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

UNITED

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

SPOT THE BALL

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



COLERAINE

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

WATERWORTH

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

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

March’s football watching began for me at Seaview, watching Linfield put Crusaders out of the Irish Cup.

There was a bit of a wait until my next match of the month as Linfield’s home match against Cliftonville was put back to the Monday night for live TV coverage.

I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday, as Ards were the visitors.

The month ended with two games in the one weekend – Linfield’s long trip to Ballinamallard, and Norway’s even longer trip to Northern Ireland for a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

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

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NORTHERN IRELAND FOOTBALL – SPRING 2007

Dean Shiels is the cover star of Northern Ireland Football, as he has made a comeback after having an eye removed in early 2006.

In news, Mark Clyde of Wolves and Northern Ireland has had to announce his retirement at the age of 24 due to a succession of injuries.

At Burnley, Michael Duff and Kyle Lafferty have signed new deals that will keep them at the club until 2010.

Dean Shiels gets a full page interview, having made a comeback for both club and country, looking forward to a Scottish League Cup Final for Hibs against Kilmarnock.

Alan Shearer was recently in Belfast to present awards to Glenn Ferguson, Peter Thompson and Darren Kelly on behalf of Umbro.

Darren Murphy spills the beans on his Ballymena United team-mates, revealing that Mark Picking has the worst taste in music.

David Jeffrey gets a two page profile as he celebrates ten years as manager of Linfield.

The 2007 edition of the Setanta Cup has just kicked off, and a full page feature looks at the success of the competition so far.

Grant McCann gets profiled, as he hopes to get game time in Northern Ireland’s upcoming European Championship Qualifiers against Leichtenstein and Sweden.

The recent friendly against Wales, a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park, gets a full page picture special.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cup has announced a new sponsor, JJB Sports.

Northern Ireland’s Women are also in European Qualifying action, kicking off with an away game against England in May 2007.

Cliftonville get a double page profile, having just won the County Antrim Shield.

Across Belfast, there is a feature of Peter Thompson, Michael Gault and Paul McAreavey, who are settling into life as full-time professionals based in the Irish League, as they adjust to no longer having to combine playing with a full-time job.

McAreavey was selected for an Irish League Select XI who defeated the English Conference 3-1 at Mourneview Park.

Colin Murray and Neil Lennon were recently in Belfast to present the Football For All Awards.