THERE WE WERE, NOW HERE WE ARE : SUMMER – WINTER 2014

It was all change at Windsor Park during the summer of 2014 in more ways than one, as Linfield had a new manager for the first time since 1997, with Warren Feeney replacing David Jeffrey.

Feeney would have to wait until the middle of September to lead out Linfield at Windsor Park, as the redevelopment meant they had to play their UEFA Cup ties at Mourneview Park, and their first six league games away from home.

Warren Feeney wasn’t the only person with a new job at Windsor Park, as a Stadium Manager position was advertised in July 2014.

When Warrenpoint Town visited Windsor Park on 13th September 2014, it was Linfield’s first game of the 2014-2015 season at Windsor Park.

Linfield fans were relocated to the North Stand, and had seen the turnstiles at the Railway Stand removed, entering the ground via Donegall Avenue, purchasing a ticket from a temporary office and handing it (or your season ticket strip with the relevant number on it) to a steward.

Over September and October, they would have got to witness the final days of the South Stand, as it was finally demolished, as well as the foundations being laid for the new Railway Stand.

September 2014 – South Stand. Now not in use.

September 2014 – View as you approach Windsor Park

October 2014 – Progress on the Railway Stand.

October 2014 – Railway Stand, as seen from North Stand.

October 2014 – South Stand, now partially demolished.

October 2014 – What remains of the South Stand.

October 2014 – Roy Carroll heads to the dressing rooms, now situated between North Stand and The Kop, having previously been under the South Stand.

October 2014 – Linfield v Institute delayed due to a Floodlight Failure.

October 2014 – Foundations now being set for the Railway Stand.

2014 – South Stand, on it’s last legs.

October 2014 – Final foundations being laid for Railway Stand.

October 2014 – Significant progress made on the Railway Stand.

October 2014 – South Stand, now totally gone.

November 2014 – Railway Stand now coming together.

November 2014 – Concrete now added to the Railway Stand.

November 2014 – Glentoran’s first visit to Windsor Park during the renovation sees their fans in The Kop instead of the North Stand.

November 2014 – More progress being made on the Railway Stand.

December 2014 – Railway Stand rows now filled with concrete.

December 2014 – Railway Stand now towers over Linfield’s temporary club shop.

THERE WE WERE, NOW HERE WE ARE : END OF AN ERA

2014 began, and Windsor Park as we knew it was approaching the final whistle.

In the middle of January, O’Hare and McGovern won the contract to redevelop Windsor Park.

If, like me, you’ve watched too many documentaries about Brian Clough, they’re a construction firm from Newry, not the two guys who followed Brian Clough from Derby County to Nottingham Forest.

In March 2014, the redevelopment of Midgley Park was approved.

By April 2014, the redevelopment of Windsor Park was approved and ready to go. All we needed now was for the football season to end.

Linfield’s last home game of the 2013-2014 was against Glentoran on 22nd April 2014. Former players were invited as guests of the club.

The stand didn’t get the send off it deserved, as a 2-0 defeat for Linfield saw Cliftonville secure the title.

Some would say that giving the natives something to moan about was the most appropriate farewell.

Linfield fans would be doing their moaning from the North Stand for the foreseeable future. South Stand isn’t just a stand, it’s a way of life.

One last game for the stand, as Ballymena lost 2-1 to Glenavon in the Irish Cup Final. Ballymena fans were in the South Stand.

Once the footballers left the stadium, the electricians and builders were the new stars of Windsor Park.

The next time a football match would be played at Windsor Park, there would already be considerable changes to the stadium.

April 2014 – South Stand, as seen from the Viewing Lounge.

April 2014 – South Stand forecourt.

April 2014 – Seats in the South Stand.

April 2014 – Seats in the South Stand.

April 2014 – Row of seats in the South Stand.

April 2014 – Seats in the soon to be demolished South Stand.

April 2014 – Farewell South Stand.

May 2014 – South Stand, as seen from the North Stand at the 2014 Irish Cup Final.

May 2014 – South Stand and Viewing Lounge witness one last game.

THERE WE WERE, NOW HERE WE ARE : PRE REDEVELOPMENT (2012-2014)

It’s now 2012, and there’s a new Northern Ireland manager in the shape of Michael O’Neill.

Unfortunately, the only movement off the pitch at Windsor Park was a temporary Railway Stand going up, then down, then up, then down.

Off the pitch, though, an agreement was reached to release funds for the redevelopment.

Linfield confirmed this in a letter to fans.

In March 2013, Windsor Park had it’s first ever weather related postponed international, when Northern Ireland’s match against Russia was postponed after a freak snowstorm. Yes, a snowstorm in March.

Eventually, in late 2013, it was confirmed that a redevelopment plan was approved, and that work would begin in the summer of 2014.

Linfield commemorated this at their last home game of the 2013-2014 season, against Glentoran on 22nd April 2014 by inviting former players to the game.

The last game that spectators would be in the stand was the 2014 Irish Cup Final between Glenavon and Ballymena United on 3rd May 2014, with Ballymena United fans being in that stand (as well as The Kop)

February 2012 – The Kop

February 2012 – The Kop, Lower Deck

March 2012 – North Stand turnstile at Donegall Avenue

In April 2012, Windsor Park got a LOO. Not a toilet, this LOO is Civil Service speak for Letter Of Offer, as the IFA received a Letter Of Offer for work to begin in 2013 with the redevelopment to be completed in the summer of 2015.

Within days, a Programme Director was appointed.

April 2012 – View from the South Stand.

April 2012 – Temporary seating in the Railway Stand now gone again.

May 2012 – Temporary seating removed from the South Stand.

May 2012 – Cameraman based in the South Stand.

May 2012 – The Kop

May 2012 – North Stand, as seen at Harry Gregg’s Testimonial.

May 2012 – South Stand, on the night of Harry Gregg’s Testimonial.

May 2012 – Temporary stand returns on the site of the Railway Stand for Harry Gregg’s Testimonial.

The summer of 2012 saw Planning Consultants be appointed.

…… and some architects.

July 2012 – Temporary Railway Stand gone again

July 2012 – B36 fans in the South Stand.

The tenders for the redevelopment came in. However, they were over budget.

August 2012 – Temporary Railway Stand returns.

August 2012 – View from the South Stand.

In late Summer 2012, a Community Consultation was launched.

……… and Supporters Clubs were given a chance to view the plans.

November 2012 – Floodlights at junction of Viewing Lounge and Railway Stand

November 2012 – Entering temporary Railway Stand.

November 2012 – Aisle at temporary Railway Stand.

November 2012 – Vehicle Entrance at South Stand turnsiltes.

As Christmas 2012 approaches, the IFA submits a planning application for work to begin in September 2013.

……. and there were even rumours it could be hosting the European Super Cup Final when completed.

December 2012 – Temporary Railway Stand once again gone.

January 2013 – View from the South Stand.

March 2013 – Junction of Railway Stand and North Stand

April 2013 – View from the South Stand

April 2013 – Entering the South Stand.

April 2013 – Best view in the ground, such was the quality of football on offer.

The temporary Railway Stand was used for a domestic game in May 2013, the Irish Cup Final between Glentoran and Cliftonville.

Meanwhile, Crusaders lived up to their name by going on a crusade, claiming that EU rules were broken.

July 2013 – Temporary seating at Railway Stand once again removed.

July 2013 – South Stand

July 2013 – Linfield supporters walk from the South Stand to The Kop.

July 2013 – A packed South Stand for a European tie.

July 2013 – View from the South Stand.

Remember that court case Crusaders were threatening? That soon disappeared.

August 2013 – View from the Railway Stand.

August 2013 – Cameraman based at forecourt, filming over Railway Stand.

A blog worth reading from August 2013, as one football ground enthusiast mourns the impending demise of another Archibald Leitch stadium.

Reassuringly, Caral Ni Chuilin, Sport Minister, declared she was committed to the redevelopment.

September 2013 – Temporary seating in Railway Stand gone again, never to be seen again.

An early Christmas present came in late in 2013, as the project was given the green (and white army) light.

January 2014 – A bit wet today.

THERE WE WERE, NOW HERE WE ARE : PRE REDEVELOPMENT (2000-2011)

A home match against San Marino isn’t usually something that gets football fans excited, but for Northern Ireland fans, the match on 8th October will see the renovation of Windsor Park finally completed, with four permanent stands at the ground for the first time in six years.

You’d think rebuilding a football stadium would be easy. However, this is Northern Ireland and we don’t do things easily.

Finally, Windsor Park is almost redeveloped and ready for action, and new memories will be made.

After endless discussions, delays and frivolous legal claims to the EU, it was finally confirmed in late 2013 that redevelopment of the stadium would begin in 2014.

Over the next few weeks building up to the San Marino game, we’ll be looking back at the journey that saw Windsor Park get redeveloped. To get an understanding of how we got there, we have to go back to the start, and remember what Windsor Park looked like before the renovations.

But how did we get here?

Our journey begins in 2000, just three years after an all seater Kop was built, when Ernie Walker of UEFA warned that Windsor Park (and other stadiums in Northern Ireland) might not be able to meet the standard to host matches.

By 2003, there were concerns about doping facilities for players.

By the end of the year, England and Wales were drawn to visit Belfast in the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers, and the then Sports Minister, Michael McGimpsey wanted to ensure the games took place in Belfast.

In 2004, the Strategic Investment Board were investigating the feasibility of a multi-sport stadium for Northern Ireland, based on Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.

Three locations were drawn up for a proposed new multi-sport stadium.

By early 2005, the government were told that a 30,000 capacity sport stadium was the best use for The Maze.

The government proposed a stadium at The Maze, but there were logistical issues.

Politicians wanted a stadium built at The Maze, but the most important people – the fans- didn’t. So, that was scrapped.

They blasted the secrecy that surrounded the government’s plans.

The Maze Stadium was conceived in early 2006, to be opened in 2010 and hosting events at the 2012 Olympics.

After consulting with Football, Rugby and GAA, the plans for the stadium at The Maze were redrawn.

2007 got off to a ominous start, when storm damage to the North Stand meant that Linfield’s match against Limavady United had to be postponed.

This storm damage meant that here was urgent repair work which needed to be done to ensure the friendly against Wales went ahead, but it left the IFA in an awkward situation for future matches.

A senior figure in tourism voiced his concerns about The Maze as a stadium venue.

Fans were later assured that the ground was safe.

Meanwhile, smoking was also banned.

Crusaders voiced their disapproval of The Maze, stating that any new stadium should be in Belfast.

The Railway Stand, rarely used anyway, was put out of action in March 2007.

In April 2007, supporters of a stadium at The Maze got good news when the pro-Maze MLA Edwin Poots became Sports Minister for Northern Ireland.

In the summer of 2007, the IFA were hoping to terminate their contract to use Windsor Park for internationals.

They were publicly backed by the then Northern Ireland manager, Nigel Worthington.

The pro Maze propaganda continued, with the IFA threatening to take home friendlies outside of Northern Ireland.

Linfield fought back, issuing a statement of their own, before a legal expert told the BBC that the IFA were tied to the contract for use of matches at Windsor Park.

While Peter Robinson was open minded on The Maze stadium. Yes you read that right, the DUP were open minded on something.

Research conducted by Belfast City Council suggested that any stadium should be in the city.

Ormeau Road residents were hoping that it wouldn’t be at Ormeau Park. We do love a good ole fashioned Resident’s Group Protest in Northern Ireland.

They need not worry, as wherever Northern Ireland played their matches in the future, it wouldn’t be at Ormeau Park, as Ian Paisley did what he loved most, and said no to something.

In September 2007, any plans for a stadium at Ormeau Park were rejected by Belfast City Council.

Towards the end of 2007, there were concerns over the future of the South Stand.

May 2008 – Pat McShane signs autographs at the Player’s Entrance

May 2008 – Linfield fans outside the South Stand

That summer, Edwin Poots blasted Civil Servants for trying to stop The Maze from happening.

July 2008 – Linfield fans queue up for tickets at the Ticket Office between Railway Stand and South Stand turnstiles.

September 2008 – Setanta setting up a camera over the Railway Stand

July 2008 – North Stand, The Kop, South Stand Terracing

Delays over funding to stadium redevelopment saw the AONISC warn that home games might have to be moved outside Northern Ireland.

December 2008 – TV cameras on top of the South Stand

Early in 2009, it was confirmed that no stadium would be built at The Maze.

The Maze might have died, but Blanchflower Park, a 25,000 capacity stadium in East Belfast was now proposed.

March 2009 – Railway Stand being used for one of it’s final games.

Eventually, the IFA did an about turn, and backed Windsor Park as their venue for internationals.

January 2010 – Snow outside the Turnstiles.

January 2010 – Snow covered pitch, The Kop and South Stan Terracing in shot.

March 2010 – View from the Viewing Lounge

May 2010 – Railway Stand and Viewing Lounge

May 2010 – South Stand

Progress was made, with a deal being put to Linfield. Linfield called an AGM where the deal was approved.

The start of the 2010-2011 saw work being done to the North Stand that saw away fans moved to The Kop, while Linfield fans were based in the South Stand.

Towards the end of the summer of 2010, it was confirmed that the Railway Stand was to be demolished within weeks. It was gone by the end of August.

August 2010 – Railway Stand, just before demolition

August 2010 – Railway Stand, during demolition

September 2010 – Railway Stand, now gone.

October 2010 – Rubble at the junction of South Stand and Viewing Lounge

October 2010 – Temporary seating used for the first time, Northern Ireland v Italy.

October 2010 – Temporary seating in the South Stand

October 2010 – Disabled seating now put in place in the Lower End of the South Stand

October 2010 – Part of the South Stand now closed. Temporary seating in the South Stand terracing now being removed.

November 2010 – Temporary seating in the Railway Stand

In December 2010, freezing weather caused burst pipes to cause some damage to the ground.

Linfield’s match against Crusaders saw away fans being given half of The Kop due to damage to the North Stand.

January 2011 – Temporary Stand where the Railway Stand was, now gone.

February 2011 – Temporary Stand being erected where Railway Stand was.

March 2011 – View from temporary seating in the Railway Stand

April 2011 – Linfield fans entering The Kop.

April 2011 – View as you walk into the South Stand

April 2011 – View from the South Stand

May 2011 – The Kop

July 2011 – Railway Stand turnstile

July 2011 – South Stand as seen from the North Stand.

August 2011 – Floodlight at the junction of South Stand and Railway Stand

September 2011 – Temporary seating in the Railway Stand back up again, with a different colour scheme.

September 2011 – Disabled seating now moved to junction of South Stand and Railway Stand.

October 2011 – Temporary seating now removed from South Stand terracing.

NORTHERN IRELAND 0-1 POLAND 12.6.2016

According to Google, in order to get from Guadalajara in Mexico to Nice in France, it takes 15 hours and 55 minutes with a stop-off in Houston. The longest it will take, is 21 hours with stop-offs in Atlanta and Rome.

Someone should have told the Northern Ireland team, it took them 30 years, to the day.

Unsurprisingly, players and fans were determined to make up for lost time. Northern Ireland fans had been in the city for days in advance, befriending their Polish rivals.

The Polish fans were even singing their own version of one of Northern Ireland’s songs. Instead of “the Ulster boys, making all the noise”, it was “Everywhere we go, Lewandowski goal”

With some justification, he was the top scorer in qualification (equaling David Healy’s record from Euro 2008 with two less games played) as well as banging them in for Bayern Munich.

Fans reached the stadium via a free Shuttle Bus from the City Centre, which left you off a 30 minute walk from the stadium.

The scenery around the stadium was fantastic, some stunning views. The problem was, that’s all there was around the stadium. There wasn’t really much else.

So, I headed into the ground as the weather in Nice was what meteorologists call Drinking In Botanic Weather. Unfortunately, vendors in the stadium ran out of stock of overpriced (€4 a bottle) bottled water. You’d think they might have foreseen this.

The match kicked-off and Northern Ireland were nervous. They hadn’t been this nervous for a while.

Poland had most of the possession and chances in the first-half. Michael McGovern was the Northern Ireland player who was getting the most touches of the ball.

When Northern Ireland’s outfield players got the ball, there didn’t seem to be options to get it forward.

It felt like a Polish goal was inevitible, but Northern Ireland managed to hold out to half-time with a 0-0 score. There was no way they would get away with another 45 minutes like this.

Just when you were looking at milestone minutes to get to to aim to keep out the Poles, Poland took the lead early in the second-half when Arek Milik got enough space in the box to set himself up for a shot and fire home. It was as deserved for Poland as it was disappointing for Northern Ireland.

Instead of trying to stay in the game, Northern Ireland were now aiming to get back into the game.

It looked more likely that Poland would make it 2-0.

As the game neared it’s end, Northern Ireland had a go. They had Poland worried, but not hanging on for life.

Conor Washington looked like he was running through, but Poland’s keeper was straight out to deny him.

Steven Davis got free from a low free-kick but lost his footing.

Poland were able to hold out and get a vital win.

Northern Ireland didn’t play awful, but they could have played so much better.

Supporters left the stadium to find the Shuttle Bus back to Nice City Centre. They eventually found it after a 30 minute walk.

Supporters queued up in a line which had no clear marking as to where the start was. Buses just stopped where they like. It was pot luck if it stopped near you. Buses were overcrowded. People were angry. Thankfully, it didn’t spill over.

To make matters worse, there were no amenities for supporters. Nowhere to get a bottle of water or even somewhere to eat. It was an utter farce.

The last time i’d seen scenes like this was trying to get back to Dublin from Slane after seeing Oasis in 2009.

I eventually got onto a bus at 9.30pm, just over 90 minutes after the final whistle. That is nowhere near acceptable.

Allianz Riviera is a brilliant stadium and Nice is a brilliant city, but you have to question the wisdom of making it a host city with such poor infrastructure.

It is interesting to note that Nice is one of two (the other being Lille) Euro 2016 host cities that didn’t host games in France 98, with Nantes and Montpellier missing out this them.

On the basis of this farce, they can feel hard done by at missing out.

Fast forward four days, and the weather had changed to more Northern Ireland Weather by the game Northern Ireland faced Ukraine in Lyon.

Feeling at home, they won 2-0.

It games them a great chance of making the Second Round. They’ll get there if they can beat Germany. They might even get there as a best 3rd Placed team. We’re all mathematicians now.

Poland was a false start, Ukraine was when Northern Ireland really got going.

It just dawned on me that this was the 9th Northern Ireland match outside Northern Ireland that i’d been to (6 away, 3 neutral) and they had yet to win any of them.

I’m considering surrendering my passport until 11th July. If you see me at an airport between now and 10th July, feel free to try and stop me boarding a plane.

Hopefully, by this time next week, the Euro 2016 campaign will be still ongoing.

Photo Album

PARIS/NICE/LONDRES

This was a trip i’d been waiting a long time for. In fact, probably since 2010, when it was announced that France would be hosting Euro 2016. I’d be going regardless even if Northern Ireland didn’t qualify.

I’d never been to France before. In fact, i’d barely been to Mainland Europe. Subconsciously perhaps, i’d been saving my first French trip for this.

To get to France from Northern Ireland, there were only really three options, with direct flights to Bordeaux, Nice and Paris, though a route to Lyon was added earlier this year.

When the schedule of the tournament was announced, Paris was a no-brainer. The first four days of the tournament would see two games in Paris, one in Lens and one in Lille. Lille and Lens are both one hour away from Paris.

Last summer, there was an open draw for neutral tickets. I applied for a game in Lens on 11th June, a game in Lille on 12th June and a game in Paris on 13th June.

I sat eating my lunch one day last summer, when an e-mail came through from UEFA. The Subject Box said my application was Partially Successful. I sat staring at it, trying to make sense of it. Partially Successful?, that means i’ve got a ticket for at least one match. I opened the e-mail to check that was the case.

Monday 13th June 2016, 1800 hours, Stade De France, E3 v E4. I had a ticket for this match. I didn’t know who I would be seeing, but I would be going to a match at Euro 2016.

On the day the flights went on sale, I jumped in and got a bargain. I’d be going out on Thursday 8th and returning back on Tuesday 14th. With no flights from Paris to Belfast on a Tuesday, I booked to return back by London. An evening flight, spend the day in London. Might as well make the most of it.

The day of the draw came, and I had written down what every game would be, and where. I knew where C1 would be playing, I knew where F4 would be playing. My eyes were on E3 and E4.

There were two games I didn’t want. A Saturday night game in Marseille or a Sunday teatime game in Nice.

I had taken a gamble. If Northern Ireland were in Group F, i’d be flying back on the day they play their first game.

Northern Ireland came out in Group C. If it was C2, it was a Sunday night in Lille, and a 50,000 capacity stadium. C3 or C4, and it was the game in Nice, a 6 hour train journey away from Paris.

I couldn’t believe, the one game I didn’t want, and Northern Ireland got it.

My group came out, Group E, and it was Republic Of Ireland, and they were E3, the game I would be going to.

This was like an episode of Give My Head Peace.

It would turn out that Republic Of Ireland would be playing Sweden. I consoled myself with the fact i’d be getting to see Zlatan in the flesh.

I had resigned myself that i’d have to settle for watching Northern Ireland v Poland in a pub in Paris. Only briefly, I decided that I was going to Nice. This was too big to miss. I booked the last hotel room, and began to look at trains.

Nine months after booking the trip, the big day arrived. It felt like it would never come. I was even tempted to do that Facebook cliche of tagging myself as being in The Lagan Bar.

During that nine month period, a Francophile friend had been giving my advice and some key phrases. The one word i’d be hearing and saying most over the weekend would be billet, which means ticket.

My first billet, would be from Charles De Gaulle Airport to Gare Du Nord. Even though it was peak commuter time, we were squashed in on the train, with barely any room to put my luggage. It just seemed logical to me that a train serving the airport should have luggage storage facilities. The French must travel light.

As I got off at Gare Du Nord, I began to follow the directions to my accommodation, to find the Rue it was on. That’s French for street by the way. I had taxi drivers shouting at me to give them my custom, giving me sob stories about how they need work in these tough times, before quoting me €45 for a journey that is no more than ten minutes. They didn’t really grasp the correlation. I decided to walk it.

I found my accommodation, after navigating streets filled with binbags piling up and having to dodge smokers at a rate which is worse than Belfast, an impressive feat considering that Belfast City Centre is a smoke riddled shithole.

I have to say, this wasn’t the best first impression of Paris.

I then decided to have a walk around Paris and my impression got better. I checked out some Street Art on shutters. It was late enough for shops to be closed, but still daylight, a perfect combination.

I had planned to do a Street Art Tour but I wasn’t able to commit to the time (it only left on a Saturday morning, and I wasn’t sure if my Saturday morning would be in Paris or Lens), preferring to stumble upon pieces.

Friday was spent wandering around Paris. I bought myself an all day Metro ticket. I had a brief visit to Parc Des Princes to see what it was like, but it was heavily cordoned off. From there, I headed to the Saint Germain region, having a look around the shops.

A lot of the shops were very high end clothes stores that would attract the likes of France’s suavest men such as Francois Mitchele and Jacques Fullerton.

Friday night was the opening game of Euro 2016, France v Romania. The cheapest ticket for this was three figures. I decided to head to Stade De France to take in the atmosphere and try to pick up a cheap ticket.

The fact that tickets were still on general sale on the day of the game suggested this could be a Buyer’s Market the closer you got to kick-off.

I was planning to wait until 8.45pm (kick-off was at 9pm) before trying and would go no higher than €60. This wasn’t the game I headed out for, it would be no loss to me. I could find a pub and watch it there.

At around 8.30pm, I got approached by a tout (the fact I was milling about was probably a giveaway) who offered me a €195 ticket for €150. I said €60 and we settled on €80. For the extra €20, I was getting in the ground earlier and ensuring I would see all of the game.

Not only did I get to see all of the game, I was even in the ground in time for the opening ceremony. I’m not sure if that was a good or a bad thing, getting to witness David Guetta telling people to make some noise and wave their hands. What a showman.

France won the match 2-1, and everyone went home happy. Especially me, who discovered a shortcut to my accommodation from Gare Du Nord, and some Street Art within the station.

Saturday’s original plan was to go to Lens to try and get a ticket for Albania v Switzerland. Upon seeing that it would cost €70 for a one hour journey, I decided against it. Especially disappointing as SNCF had promised special discount prices for fans travelling to and from Paris.

I then walked around Paris some more, finding myself in an area called Le Republique, as well as stumbling upon some Street Art around the back of Gare Du Nord.

I had planned to watch Slovakia v Wales in the Fanzone at the Eiffel Tower, but I took a wrong turn on the RER and missed it totally. Saturday night was spent watching the first-half of England v Russia and having a bite to eat before heading for an early night.

The reason why I was having a early night, is because I needed to be up early to get a 0720 train to Nice. I thought i’d be the only one on the train, but it was packed, mostly Northern Ireland fans.

I found my hotel in Nice and checked in, relaxing for a bit before heading to the stadium.

The only way to get to the stadium was via a free shuttle bus from the City Centre, which dropped fans off a thirty minute walk from the ground.

The match I was in Nice for, was Northern Ireland v Poland. The stadium was fantastic, as was the scenery around it. The problem was, there was nothing else around the ground.

The match itself was a disappointing 1-0 defeat for Northern Ireland. Afterwards, I headed to get my bus back to the City Centre. What I saw, was utter chaos.

There was a line of people, but no queue. Basically, the bus parked wherever it liked, meaning it was pure luck if you were able to get onto a bus, a bus which was usually filled over capacity.

The match finished just before 8pm, and I didn’t get onto a City Centre bound bus until 9.30pm. There were still a lot of people waiting for a bus when I got mine.

It really ruined my plans for the evening. I’d planned on being in the City Centre by 9pm and watching a bit of the Germany v Ukraine match.

When I booked a hotel room in Nice, the plan was to head back to Paris the next morning. Due to the extortionate prices, I got on an earlier train just after midnight.

Even though I wouldn’t be sleeping in Nice, I still got value out of the room as it allowed me to drop my stuff off, relax, and get showered ahead of my train journey.

From what I saw of Nice, it looks like a city I would love to visit in full one day. There is the potential of some decent sport watching, with OGC Nice in France’s top flight, with Monaco nearby, as well as Toulon in Top 14 Rugby.

I had a look out of curiousity, and unfortunately the flights are seasonal (April to October. I’d prefer to go in February)

Back in Paris, and a wee lie-in on the Monday, it was to the Stade De France to see Republic Of Ireland v Sweden, before getting something to eat, and then beginning to pack up, ahead of an early morning Eurostar to London.

To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with France. I found Paris to be filthy, the public transport to be incompetent (The time of my train out of Nice was put back by twenty minutes without being told), police and stewards to be power crazed, and taxis to be a rip-off.

I won’t be rushing back, but don’t rule it out maybe one day.

It’s a pity, as there is the potential for a decent Football Weekend in Paris to be had, with PSG and Red Star, as well as Lille, Lens, Amiens, Reims nearby.

So Tuesday, was spent in London, as I flew back from there.

I’ve been to London before, so I knew where I wanted to go to, especially with only a day on my hands.

I headed to Camden, taking in Camden Market and getting some Street Art photos, before heading to Soho, to visit a shop called Vintage Magazine Shop, which is as it says.

I had a look around but found it too expensive for my liking, for someone who considers themselves a hobbyist rather than a collector.

On that note, I can exclusively reveal that there will be a new series of The Magazine Archive in January 2017. Keep an eye out for that.

It’s still a shop worth visiting, but I wouldn’t consider buying anything there. I’ll stick to rummaging for bargains in Empire Exchange whenever i’m in Manchester.

I’d planned to go to Shoreditch, but a monsoon stopped that plan.

With my flight at 8.10pm, I decided to go the the airport early to check-in so I could watch Austria v Hungary (kick-off at 5pm) while getting something to eat.

A strike in France meant that Easyjet wouldn’t allow me to check-in until 6.10pm.

Even though I was no longer in France, they were still managing to ruin my plans. I’ve never seen a more incompetent country.

To add to that, the hotel in Nice that cancelled my booking last December as they had no rooms, meaning I had to book another hotel, charged me for staying there. I’m currently getting that sorted by Booking.com.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer says “If you don’t like you’re job, you don’t go on strike, you just do it half-assed. That’s the American way”

The French way, seems to be going on strike and doing things half-assed.

I loved going to the matches, but didn’t really enjoy being in France.

I would have loved to have stayed a few extra days though, if only to see Northern Ireland v Ukraine, and James in concert in Paris.

The only concerts on in Paris when I was there were Iron Maiden and Adele, neither who i’m fussy about.

Despite that, i’m looking forward to going to Euro 2020. Hopefully. That tournament will be played all over Europe.

The games that interest me are the ones at Hampden Park and Lansdowne Road.

Hopefully, the Scots and/or Irish will be slightly more organised than the French.

PRIDE, PASSION, BELIEF

You’ve got to feel for David Healy. He’s has not one, but two murals of him in East Belfast painted over. I guess he’ll have to make do with three points every time he visits the East of the city.

There was a mural of his goal against England in 2005 on Montrose Street South.

Following the death of David Ervine, Healy’s mural was painted over, and replaced by one of David Ervine.

To compensate for Healy’s mural being painted over, a new one of his goal against England was painted across the road in Carnforth Street, albeit from a different angle.

To use a football analogy, the mural had seen better days and was heading towards retirement. It had fallen into disrepair. It needed replacing.

If only there was some sort of football event this summer that Northern Ireland were competing in.

In late May, the mural had gone and was replaced by a blank wallspace, with it being teased that it was going to be replaced by something to represent Northern Ireland’s qualification for the European Championship.

By early June, a new mural was progressing, painted by local artist John Stewart.

It was inspired by the iconic images of Gareth McAuley waving a French flag around Windsor Park after Northern Ireland secured qualification with a win over Greece in October 2005, as well as featuring the Eiffel Tower, the IFA crest and the European Championship trophy, and the slogan “Pride. Passion. Belief”

The image took around four days to do, but unfortunately it wasn’t completed in time before I headed to France.

Upon my return from Fance, naturally, I headed out to get some photos of the finished piece.

Hopefully, there’ll be wallspace in Belfast and across Northern Ireland being filled with images of carrying the European Championship trophy around the Stade De France on July 10th.

Need to get a win against Ukraine first.

Photo Album

1986 WORLD CUP : NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICIAL SOUVENIR

In just under 24 hours time, Northern Ireland will be playing their opening match of Euro 2016, against Poland in Nice, exactly 30 years to the day (and it’s Pat Jennings birthday) since their last match in a major finals, against Brazil in the 1986 World Cup in Guadalajara.

When you’ve waited 30 years, what’s another day?

But what were Northern Ireland fans reading as they made their way to Mexico in 1986? It’s possible they were reading the official souvenir, which would have cost them £2.50, just over twice as much as the similar guide for Spain 82.

The cover star is Alan McDonald, towering over the skyline of Mexico City. Despite only playing twice in the qualifiers, McDonald became one of the icons of the campaign, after his post-match interview at Wembley where he politely suggested that anyone who thought the 0-0 draw was a fix was ever so slightly wrong.

As you open the publication, there is an advert for Belfast Telegraph, with Malcolm Brodie promising comprehensive coverage, as well as a preview supplement in the 6th May edition, and a Northern Ireland squad poster in the 10th May edition of Ireland’s Saturday Night.

IFA President Harry Cavan writes the foreward, where he states he is confident that Northern Ireland can reach the Quarter-Finals.

Ivan Little, co-editor alongside Billy Kennedy, just like in 1982, writes a double page spread on the logistics of Northern Ireland’s campaign, with one of the first tasks being for IFA Secretary David Bowen to inform FIFA that Northern Ireland wish to participate in the finals in Mexico.

Bowen also visited an Adidas factory to look at specially adapted kits to cope with the heat in Mexico, as well as ensuring the team had 10,000 bottles of water, and ensuring passports and visas were up to date.

There are full page player profiles throughout, the first being Sammy McIlroy followed by Pat Jennings. Jennings will be playing in Mexico on his 41st birthday, and comments that he spent his 21st birthday playing in Mexico, for Tottenham Hotspur in an end of season tour.

Jennings is back at White Hart Lane keeping himself in shape for Northern Ireland’s matches.

Danny Blanchflower gets a double page spread looking back at his World Cup memories, though he admits not remembering much of the 1930 tournament as he was only 4 years old. Blanchflower comments that Winter Winterbottom as England’s first manager instead of a committee inspired the IFA to do likewise with Peter Doherty, as well as suggesting that the increase of cars parked in streets as had a negative effect on the number of skillful footballers in the UK in recent decades.

There is a full page titled “The Road To Mexico”, listing the results and team line-ups of Northern Ireland’s eight qualifiers.

Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail gets a full page feature where he states that Northern Ireland are still being written off by many despite their success in recent years.

George Dunlop writes about his World Cup experience in Spain, and the daily routine of the squad, which included sports competitions on their day off with Milky Ways and Mars Bars as prizes.

Malcolm Brodie writes about Northern Ireland being happy to be based in Guadalajara, and getting a hotel 10 minutes from the airport and 15 minutes from the City Centre.

Despite not having played an international since 1977, George Best gets a profile. His involvement in this World Cup will be as a pundit for the BBC, having been one for ITV in 1982. There is also a mention of his son Calum, who has just developed an interest in football, but states that if he was to become a footballer, he could be eligible to play for England or USA instead of Northern Ireland.

There is a feature on the fans travelling to Mexico, most without tickets, such as First Shankill Supporters Club, though USA and Canada based supporters clubs are excited by the Mexican adventure, viewing them as virtually home games.

We return to player profiles, with one of Jimmy Nicholl, now Assistant to Michael O’Neill, and Norman Whiteside, who reveals that relatives send him Potato Bread and Soda Bread, which he can’t get in England, in order to make an Ulster Fry.

Whiteside also avoids talking about his love life, amid rumours he is soon to be married.

The summer of 1986 was going to be memorable for Nigel Worthington, as his wife is due to give birth to their first child at the start of July, meaning it could be touch and go for thim to make it home in time if Northern Ireland got to the final.

Worthington recalls how he discovered about his move from Ballymena United to Notts County lying in bed after a nightshift at a local factory, while revealing that he became interested in football after watching his older brother Ernie play for Coleraine.

Billy Bingham gets a double page feature by Billy Kennedy, stating he believes friendlies against France, Denmark and Morocco are perfect preparation for the World Cup.

Ian Stewart’s profile reveals that he wanted to be a popstar, forming a band in his youth, whose name was too rude to be published in this book, and performed a concert at Belvoir Community Centre.

He also reveals that he’s not to fond of playing for former Linfield player Iam McFaul, as he supports Glentoran, and writes jokes for a football magazine, using jokes about Linfield and Glentoran but changing them to Arsenal and Chelsea for an English audience.

John O’Neill states he won’t be leaving Leicester unless Liverpool or Manchester United make a bid for him, but he is hoping to be Brandywell bound to take in a Derry City match, in their first season in the League Of Ireland.

Jimmy Quinn reveals that the winning goal he scored in Romania came when he was wearing a pair of Jim Platt’s boots, having picked up the wrong pair at the Blackburn Rovers training ground before meeting up with the Northern Ireland squad.

Cover star Alan McDonald is profiled, where he declares he meant every word of his post-match interview at Wembley. He comes from a sporting family, with an older and younger brother playing for Crusaders, and another brother Jim (not that one) being a Basketball international.

McDonald took the place of John McClelland during the campaign, and it was revealed that McClelland, from Whitehead, was in the same school as the previously mentioned Jim McDonald.

Like his fellow Ballymena native Nigel Worthington, Steven Penney has a domestic arrangement scheduled this summer, with his wedding taking place two days before the final, which will be an awkward clash if Northern Ireland.

His wife is also from Ballymena, but they didn’t meet until mutual friends suggested they get together to combat loneliness in Brighton with her being a student at the local univeristy, and him playing for Albion.

There is a profile of Paul Doherty, Granada Head Of Sport, who is co-ordinating ITV’s Northern Ireland coverage, just as he did in Spain in 1982. He hitch hiked from West Germany to Sweden to watch Northern Ireland in 1958. He had good reason to, his dad was the manager, Peter Doherty.

His dad, now 72, is still active in football, working as a a Scout for Aston Villa.

Doherty is profiled as part of a feature on the media coverage. ITV will be showing the games against Algeria and Spain live, with Jackie Fullerton doing a live report on UTV’s teatime news.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because he created Paul Doherty International, who produce commercial sporting DVDs, most notably for Manchester United.

Sadly, Paul Doherty died earlier this year.

BBC will show the final group game against Brazil, with Mike Nesbitt (Yes, the leader of the UUP) commentating on the network. That game will have BBC NI doing build-up from a studio in Belfast instead of the network coverage from London that viewers in England, Scotland and Wales will get.

Nesbitt will also be working as a reporter for BBCNI’s teatime news. Mark Robson will be doing Radio Ulster commentary on the games.

DISCLAIMER – The article says ITV broadcast the opening game of the tournament between Italy and Bulgaria. This advert suggests it was on the BBC. So it was either simulcast, changed after the publication went to press, or the article is wrong.

There is a full page feature on those hoping to make a late claim for a place in the squad, Darrin Coyle, Paul Agnew, Robbie Dennison and Bernard McNally.

Alan Snoddy gets a profile, as he aims to follow in the footsteps of Irish League referee Malcolm Moffett, who refereed Belgium v El Salvador in 1982, while Canada also get a profile, due to Terry Moore of Glentoran playing for them.

It would have been rude not to have a song, and Northern Ireland had two, with the players singing vocals on them, and comes complete with a lyrics sheet. The article suggests the songs were so good, that Duran Duran should step aside.

Northern Ireland’s three group opponents – Algeria, Spain and Brazil get a profile, as do Denmark, who they would face in a warm-up friendly, before ending on adverts for IDB (What Invest NI was known as in the 1980s) and Bushmills.

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2015-2016

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look at the 2015-2016 season just past. The 2016-2017 is only a matter of days away. Scary, I know.

Before I wrap up the 2015-2016, it’s time for my favourite photos. Hopefully, you’ll agree. Feel free to vote for your favourite.

BRAY

Taken at my very first game, back on 27th June 2015, I like the composition and framing of this.

TAYLOR’S

Taken on my first visit to Taylor’s Avenue, I love how everyone is focused on the player with the ball (I think it’s Guy Bates)



FANS

Taken at Ballinamallard in September. I don’t know why I love this photo, I just do.

ENCOURAGEMENT

I was taking a photo of the corner, but this guy just got up and started to encourage Linfield players, which made the photo for me.

A photo of just the corner kick would actually have been boring.



GREECE

Taken on that famous night against Greece just after Davis first goal, and trying to capture what it meant.

RED SKY

No filtering or magic tricks, that’s what the sky was like when Linfield travelled to Ballymena in December. Just had to get a snap.

CELEBRATIONS

Taken after the Irish Cup tie at Solitude in March, what it means to win at a ground you haven’t won for four years, and to do so in a convincing manner.

TERRACES

Taken at Dalymount Park, terracing that isn’t used anymore, other than to hang flags on. I like the composition of this.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – MAY

And so to May, the final month of the season.

My football watching for the month began with the Irish Cup Final, as Linfield disappointingly lost 2-0 to Glenavon.

The following weekend, I was inside Old Trafford, getting ready to watch Manchester United v Bournemouth, until a forgetful security guard put paid to that.

That meant that it was three weeks until my next game, Northern Ireland v Belarus.

Two days after that, I took advantage of there being a full League Of Ireland fixture list on a Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend, by heading on a day trip to Dublin, and taking in Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic, my final game of the 2015-2016 season.

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glenavon Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic

Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic Photo Album