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 : 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

2017 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER 2017

November began with a long trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard. It was raining goals and raining rain as Linfield won 6-0.

From going West, it was going East that was next on my agenda, as Northern Ireland took on Switzerland with the aim of going to Russia. They lost 1-0.

The following day, it was a trip to Ballymena, to see Linfield lose 2-1.

The following Friday, the entertainment was of a musical variety, as The Killers came to The Odyssey.

The photos continued on a musical theme, getting photos of a Run DMC mural in Belfast, as well as some Street Art beside Apache.

It was back to football, seeing Linfield beat Coleraine and Glenavon.

The last day of the month saw me cycle to Lisburn to get some Street art photos, including a mural of Top Cat.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Switzerland

Northern Ireland v Switzerland Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

The Killers live at The Odyssey

The Killers live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Run DMC/Apache Mural

Run DMC Mural Photo Album

Apache Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Glenavon v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

NORTHERN IRELAND 0-1 SWITZERLAND 9.11.2017

It was the night Belfast had been waiting for since the 1980s. It was the hottest ticket in town. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a ticket to see Bananarama at The Odyssey, so I had to make do with Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off First Leg against Switzerland, as Michael O’Neill’s side aimed to avoid 2018 being a Cruel Summer.

When the draw was being done, everyone wanted to avoid Italy. Those that believe in omens will have wanted Italy, due to the fact that the only time they failed to qualify for the World Cup, it was Northern Ireland who eliminated them. Realistically, when the draw was done back in the summer of 2015, the Runner-Up of the group containing Spain and Italy was the one to avoid.

That didn’t mean that any of the three other teams would be easy. Switzerland can call on players from Juventus, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Benfica. They are clearly a decent team.

There were nine groups in Europe, Switzerland’s tally of 27 points out of 30 would have been good enough to win five of them.

Their group was realistically a shoot-out between them and Portugal, with 2-0 wins for the home team, Portugal beating Switzerland in the final group game, and Portugal going through on goal difference.

Switzerland had fallen into the Play-Offs, while Northern Ireland had been aiming and preparing for them as soon as the draw was done in the Summer of 2015, even though they could have been in the race for automatic qualification if they had beaten Germany.

Northern Ireland were hoping this would give them an advantage.

The teams walked out, with Northern Ireland fans showing Love In The First Degree for their side. They were led out by Steven Davis, winning his 100th cap.

Davis won his 1st cap in a Friendly at home to Canada in 2005. Northern Ireland lost 1-0. Canada played 70 minutes with ten men. That was where we were at. It wasn’t even Northern Ireland’s worst result this century, and that’s Really Saying Something.

When he left the pitch that night, I doubt he would have imagined he would win 99 more caps, and lead his side out in a World Cup Play-Off.

Both sides have a bit of previous in World Cup Qualifying, being in the same group for the 1966 tournament. Both games were home wins, 1-0 for Northern Ireland and 2-1 for Switzerland. That combination of results would be enough for Northern Ireland to qualify for Russia.

I was there the last time Switzerland visited Windsor Park, a 1-0 win for Northern Ireland in a Friendly in 1998 with a goal from Darren Patterson.

That night, it was two wins out of two under new manager Lawrie McMenemy. We all thought we were on our way to better things. It was Aaron Hughes first two games for Northern Ireland. The teenager from Newcastle United must have thought international football was easy.

Hughes has seen a lot in almost 20 years as an international footballer, but he would be seeing this from the sidelines, as he was ruled out through injury.

The last time Northern Ireland faced Switzerland was in a friendly in 2004 which finished 0-0. It was a forgettable game, except for Chris Brunt, who made his international debut that night. When he left the pitch that night ……

It was another player on the left hand side for Northern Ireland, Stuart Dallas, who was involved in the first main talking point of the game, when he was fouled by Fabian Schar. It was dangerous, reckless and nowhere near the ball. The referee only awarded a yellow card. It should have been a red card.

On 24 minutes, it’s a red card. On 34 minutes, it’s a red card. 4 minutes in, the referee bottled it, afraid of putting himself under pressure and in the spotlight, so he went for the easy decision, and the wrong one. He bottled it.

For the first time in a long time, Northern Ireland looked nervous.

Switzerland, by contrast, were comfortable on the ball. Xherdan Shaqiri was the focal point of Switzerland’s attacks, getting the ball Wherever Whenever he wanted.

Granit Xhaka had Switzerland’s first attempt on goal, firing just over from the edge of the box.

There were similarities with the Linfield v Celtic match in July, with the away team having all of the possession.

Unlike Linfield, Northern Ireland were able to hold out for the first 20 minutes. If they didn’t, it looked like being a longer evening than it already was.

Switzerland’s first chance came when Haris Seferovic got a foot on a cross from Shaqiri.

I was behind the goal and thought it was going in. It was going in, but Michael McGovern got a hand on it. He always gets a hand on it. We were all thankful that he did.

Despite all their possession, it took a lump upfield and a stretched leg to have an attempt on goal. A case of It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It, and it almost brought results.

Northern Ireland finished the half strongly, having pressure on Switzerland’s goal. If they were going to make the most of a set piece, they would have to be clever about it, due to the referee being fussy about any physical contact in aerial tussles.

Having survived the first-half, Northern Ireland couldn’t relax in the second, with Shaqiri narrowly curling a shot wide less than 30 seconds into the half.

A dangerous cross saw Seferovic unable to get a leg on it as he did in the first-half. If he did, he would have scored.

The pressure continued, it looked like it was only a matter of time before Switzerland scored.

It came just before the hour, in controversial fashion, when a shot hit Corry Evans on the shoulder with his back to goal. A penalty was awarded.

I didn’t get a clear view at the game. Firstly, because I was at the other end, and secondly, because some manchild in front of me were waving flags that were left on seats prior to kick-off. Seriously, why do we give these people toys to play with? It’s not Eurovision for crying out loud.

And don’t even start me on people who spend the match passing beach balls around.

Just like fans of Martina Hingis, we were all desperate to see a Swiss Miss. We were to be disappointed as Ricardo Rodriguez put Switzerland 1-0 up.

Switzerland had been given a massive Help.

Northern Ireland had a late flurry when Josh Magennis headed wide from a free-kick. He should have been hitting the target from there. If he did, he would have scored.

Chris Brunt had a free-kick from outside the box just go wide.

There was then a penalty box scramble where a Northern Ireland player couldn’t get a clear shooting position. They couldn’t even get enough space to even speculatively toepoke it towards goal.

Switzerland held out for the 1-0 win. Disappointing. Northern Ireland are up against it but not out of it.

99.99999% of winning scorelines will be good enough in Basle. The only one that won’t sent them through is 1-0, but it won’t put them out.

We’ll have to get a performance like those done by Billy Bingham’s sides in the 1980s.

There was an advert around that time for IDB, the forerunner for Invest NI.

The words of that advert are apt, over 30 years on.

So come on Northern Ireland, come on. There’s a whole lot of work to be done. You can make it in the end, with a little help from your friends. So come on Northern Ireland, come on.

Photo Album

FOOTBALL IN 2016

Another year of football watching is over and it’s time to look forward to the year ahead. I’m jumping straight in, going to my first match just fifteen hours into the year.

In truth, I don’t really know how the year will pan out. This time last year, I didn’t imagine I would end up watching Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park, but I did.

So, here are my plans and hopes for football watching in 2016, even though they might fall apart.

EURO 2016

First thing up, i’m definitely going to a match in Euro 2016 in France in the summer. The thing is, I don’t know which one. I applied for tickets for group matches last summer, and was successful. The match I was successful for, turned out to be Republic of Ireland v Sweden.

I’m planning on going to Northern Ireland v Poland in Nice and have applied for a ticket. I’m hoping to be successful despite the small allocation for Northern Ireland fans. If i’m not successful, i’ll apply to swap my Republic of Ireland ticket in the Official UEFA Swap Portal when it opens in March.

The ideal scenario is that i’m successful for Northern Ireland v Poland, and then can swap my Republic of Ireland v Sweden ticket for Albania v Switzerland in Lens.

LINFIELD

Well, not losing a manager and/or a stand would be a good start. The title might be beyond us, but, you never know if we get a winning run behind us.

As the song goes, if we don’t win the league, the Irish Cup will do.

Also, the County Antrim Shield would be nice. It’s a pointless competition, but we’re in the final so we might as well win it.

So, I want European football, the Irish Cup and a strong start to 2016-2017. Not much.

Pre-season, i’d love some away friendlies at grounds i’ve never been to or haven’t been to for a while such as : Larne, Ards/Bangor, Knockbreda, Moyola Park, Dundela, PSNI.

Seeing as Ayr United appear to having one home pre-season friendly against an Irish League team, would it be too much to ask?

In October this year, the redevelopment of Windsor Park will hopefully be completed and i’m looking forward to watching football in the completed stadium.

I’ll be launching a photo blog from late September to commemorate this to coincide with the opening of The Kop.

OTHER IRISH LEAGUE

In terms of other Irish League, whisper it, but i’ll be keeping an eye out for redevelopment work at Solitude, The Oval and Seaview to do a similar photo blog to my Windsor Park one.

Regarding promotion from The Championship, it looks like being one of Ards, Larne or HW Welders for the automatic spot. I’ve no particular favourite as i’d look forward to travelling to any of those grounds for a league game.

Hopefully, other Irish League clubs in Europe during the summer will be drawn against clubs that are members of the UEFA 102 Club, so I can tick them off my list.

MANCHESTER UNITED

I’m going to Old Trafford in late January for the Southampton game and for the Bournemouth game in May. I’ll keep an eye out for flight prices to possibly go to a game if they reach the later stages of the UEFA Cup.

I’ll have to wait for the fixture list to come out for trips to Old Trafford in the first half of 2016-2017.

With rooms available at £27 per night, I might do more midweek matches. If they get into the European Cup group stages and have a Wednesday home game, I might fly out on Tuesday and take in a game in the Greater Manchester that night.

If there is a home game on the weekend of the FA Cup 1st or 2nd Round, I might go over for a weekend and try to take in an FA Cup tie in the Greater Manchester area as well as the Untied game

NORTHERN IRELAND

I’m hoping to get a ticket for the game against Poland, as already mentioned.

Apart from that, i’m excited about the San Marino game in October as The Kop will be opened. All I need to do now is get my Block Booking changed from the seats I have.

LEAGUE OF IRELAND

I’m planning to go to at least one League Of Ireland game during 2016. Which one, I don’t know.

There has been an influx of TV programmes focusing on the Wild Atlantic Way, and it’s really tempting me to do a cycling holiday in Donegal, and going on a week when Finn Harps (Friday) and Sligo Rovers (Saturday) are at home to do a double header.

I always keep an eye out for the line-up for Live at the Marquee in Cork to head down, but there’s nothing in this year’s line-up which is making me want to travel down.

More likely, i’ll go for the Dublin option. There’s a full fixture list with two Dublin games on Sunday 29th May (there’s an international on the Friday, hence games being on a Sunday) which is a Bank Holiday weekend which is tempting.

If not that, i’ll do a day trip to Dublin on a Saturday during Irish League pre-season and take in a Bray Wanderers home match that evening.

SCOTLAND

In August, i’m hoping to go on my annual trip to Edinburgh for the Comedy Festival. While there, I try to take in at least one game.

Having taken advantage of Edinburgh’s location in the Central Belt to visit Dunfermline, i’m hoping whichever of Hearts or Hibs are at home that weekend have their match moved to the Sunday so I can go to a nearby town on the Saturday to visit a new (to me) ground.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 28th APRIL 1990

This edition of the Magazine Archive sees us look at Shoot from 28th April 1990.

This week, was focusing on the Rumbelows Cup (That’s Carling Cup in modern currency) Final between Nottingham Forest and Oldham.

Then, Forest were a top flight club while Oldham were riding high (Getting promoted in 1991, and being Premier League founding members in 1992) in the Second Division (That’s The Championship in modern currency)

With the two clubs not meeting in the league that season, the cover image is of an Oldham player in a challenge with Manchester United’s Bryan Robson during the recent FA Cup Semi-Final between the two sides.

Personally, I would have went with a split image of a player from each team.

Each team gets a double page spread preview

A further double page spread is given to “Shoot Star Writer” Tony Cottee’s pre-match preview.

He rates each player in the starting 11 and 2 subs out of 10, with Nottingham Forest scoring 103 and Oldham scoring 104 with Cottee declaring that Oldham would win.

Nottingham Forest won the final 1-0 with a goal from Nigel Jemson, who 14 years later would be playing for Ballymena United.

Meanwhile, there is a competition to win flights and tickets to see England’s World Cup games against Republic Of Ireland or Holland.

Keir Radnedge’s column (He was the editor of World Soccer, owned by IPC who also owned Shoot)focusing on the rest of the world, sees FIFA President Joao Havelange stating that he wants to see China host the 2002 World Cup finals, while Japan have stated they wish to bid to host this event.

Japan did eventually host the 2002 World Cup, but in a co-hosting arrangement with South Korea.

That week, it was also announced that Portugal are wishing to bid to host the 1998 World Cup, in a candidate list which also includes Switzerland, Morocco, France and Brazil.

France were awarded hosting rights to the competition, which they won, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final.

Portugal (Euro 2004) and Switzerland (co-hosting of Euro 2008) have since gone on to host further tournaments, while Brazil (2014 World Cup) and Morocco (2015 African Nations Cup) are scheduled to host tournaments withing the next five years.

Morocco would also have a failed bid to host the 2010 World Cup, losing out to South Africa.

The build-up to that summer’s World Cup continues with team previews of Italy, Romania, Holland, England and Scotland.

There is also a double page spread of Stuart Pearce proving how hard he is by driving a tank.

He admitted that he almost joined the army after leaving school, and blames not getting in on telling them that he had an application pending with his local police force.

In rumours, Chris Woods is going to sign for QPR and Pat Nevin is going to sign for Celtic. Neither transfer happened.

Jimmy Greaves letters page is an eye-opener as Richard Barlow from Heaton suggests that England should bring Ray Wilkins to the World Cup in Italy.

Julie Glover from Kent dishes it out to Greavsie over his prediction that Crystal Palace wouldn’t stand a chance against Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Villa Park.

Paul Knauer from Avon writes in to complain about the Third and Fourth Division (That’s League One and League Two in modern currency) Play-Off Finals at Wembley as it devalues the prestige of the venue.

Jimmy Jones from Wallasey in Merseyside writes in to congratulate Kenny Dalglish on unearthing a world beater in Ronny Rosenthal.

Oh hindsight, what a wonderful thing.

In the latest league standings, Liverpool lead Aston Villa by two points with a game in hand, while Leeds, Sheffield United and Newcastle United are locked in a tight battle for promotion to Division One (That’s Premier League in modern currency)

In Scotland, Rangers are facing competition from Hearts and Aberdeen for the title, with Celtic 15 points behind in 4th.

The ad for the following week’s edition has the headline “STEWART HITS OUT”, referring to Tottenham Hotspur’s Paul Stewart.

Meanwhile, a double page spread is dedicated to an explosive interview with Charlie Nicholas, then of Aberdeen, declaring that he is leaving Pittodrie and that he is “Finished” with Scottish football.

He signed for the very much Scottish Celtic that summer.

The back page has an advert for a collection of figurines called “Sportstars”

Think of it as Corinthan figurines, but a bit bigger.

I had Bryan Robson, Neville Southall, Diego Maradona, Marco Van Basten, Peter Beardsley, Thomas Von Heeson, Mo Johnston, Ruud Gullit and Paul McStay.

THE SUMMER THAT ‘FOOTBALL CAME HOME’

In football, there are some teams who, when they are due to play each other, will generate excitement and anticipation amongst football fans.

England v Germany on Sunday is one such match. When you think of England and Germany, you inevitably think of 1990, of 1996, and even, of 1966.

The added spice to Sunday’s game, is how early in the competition it is. There’s nothing better in cup football, than a heavyweight clash in the early stages of the competition, between two sides who believe they can win the competition, but know they face an opponent capable of giving them an early exit.

For me, the clash between the two sides that I remember most is the European Championship Semi-Final in 1996, the 14th anniversary of which will come the day before the sides meet in Bloemfontein.

Looking back, Euro 96 was a competition and time I remember fondly. In 1996, i’d just turned 13, and had just had my first full season watching Linfield every week with my mates, and having a laugh, which I suppose you had to do, as Trevor Anderson’s bunch of expensively assembled misfits limped into mid-table obscurity.

Euro 96 was the first European Championship which had 16 teams competing in 4 groups of 4, meaning that you wouldn’t have major nations missing out like you did in the 8 team format.

There were two matches each day, with the first one kicking-off not long after four (can’t remember if it was quarter-past or half-past), meaning a quick run home from school to watch the first game, dinner, homework (I went to a school where the teachers gave you homework in June) and then watch the evening match with friends.

A combination of growing up but still being young, what felt like endless sunny days and what felt like the charts being dominated by acts like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Space and Suede (Despite the fact that, in reality, the two biggest selling acts of 1996 were Spice Girls and Robson & Jerome) will forever have the summer of 1996, and it’s major football tournament fondly remembered in my mind.

Perhaps it is my mind playing tricks on me by remembering this event fondly? Maybe if I was 10 years older, i’d be fondly reminiscing about the 1986 World Cup? 10 years younger, and perhaps i’d be fondly remembering the 2006 World Cup?

There’s no denying that Euro 96 is an event which benefits generously from a rewriting of history. Outside of Wembley, and group games at Old Trafford and Villa Park, a lot of the games were played in half-empty stadiums.

I suppose this rewriting of history is a good example of how the English media cover international tournaments, where it’s all about England and nobody else matters, so consumed were they with what was happening in London, they didn’t even notice the empty seats in the North of the country.

With the tournament taking place during the school year, there was never any hope of me going over to this, and I really wanted to go.

Northern Ireland’s campaign was a spectacularly heroic failure, managing to finish unbeaten away from home, but out of the qualifying positions due to home defeats to Latvia, and most devastatingly, Republic of Ireland.

Despite that, me and a friend sat in front of the TV one Sunday afternoon in December 1995 for the draw, and gasped in disbelief as England and Scotland were paired together. Switzerland and Holland didn’t even get a mention as all the hype of the tournament centred around this game.

As with every international tournament, the morning of the opening game always makes me feel like an excitable child on christmas eve, counting down the hours and minutes until kick-off.

I watched the opening game of Euro 96, England v Switzerland, in the company of a half-Swiss friend, as England stuttered to a 1-1 draw against the Swiss.

Finally, the tournament was up and running and football had truly come home.

The following Saturday, was the big one, England v Scotland. Both teams were level on one point, and knew that a win would virtually guarantee qualifivation for the Quarter-Finals.

I watched it as a neutral, not really caring who won, just enjoying the fact that two British teams were going at each other, to put one over the other and retain local pride, for their fans, unaware that they were taking part in a major international competition, as ‘putting one over the other lot’ was all that mattered.

With England leading 1-0 with 15 minutes to go, Scotland win a penalty. Gary McAllister saw his shot saved by David Seaman, the resulting corner was cleared upfield, and the England counter-attack saw Paul Gascoigne make it 2-0 for England.

From having a chance to draw level, to going two goals down (or, from almost being pegged back level to going tow goals up, in the space of a minute) in the space of a minute, that’s how football can just mess with your emotions. That’s why people love it and hate it in equal measure.

Thankfully, being neither English or Scottish, I just sat and watched non-plussed.

Come Tuesday night, England were actually out-Dutching the Dutch and allowing a way back in for Scotland, as England’s 4-0 lead, combined with Scotland’s 1-0 lead over Switzerland saw Scotland in a position where they could qualify from a group stage for the first time in their history.

It was too good to be true, and it was, as a Patrick Kluivert goal for Holland swung the race for second place in their favour.

COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!!! COME ON SCOTLAND!!!!!! I screamed at the TV, wishing one of the two would score a goal that would send Scotland through. It didn’t come.

England advanced to a Quarter-Final against Spain, where they triumphed, whisper it, on a penalty shoot-out. It’s strange, that when the media bring up England’s record in a penalty shoot-out, they never mention this game.

Germany had been very German in their progress, ruthlessly disposing of Czech Republic and Russia before grinding out a draw against Italy, a result which saw the Italians eliminated at the group stage.

In that match against Russia, the Russian manager came up with a brilliant excuse for his teams underperforming, that the home crowd at each ground they played at was against them.

Against Germany at Old Trafford, he claimed that United fans came out to cheer for Germany in protest against Andrei Kanchelskis sour transfer to Everton the previous year.

For their remaining matches at Anfield, he claimed Liverpool fans were cheering for the opposition partly because Kanchelskis was an Everton player, but mainly, because he was an ex United player.

France, also faced a hostile crowd in their matches at Newcastle, by Geordies angry at local favourite David Ginola being left out of the French squad.

After beating Croatia at Old Trafford, Germany had set up a Semi-Final meeting with England at Wembley.

You can tell how big a football match is, by how many people are talking about it, especially people who don’t usually follow or talk about football. In class that day, even the teachers were talking about the game.

The tournament organisers had arranged for both Semi-Finals to take place on the same day, one in the afternoon, another in the evening.

The first Semi-Final was a non-event as far as the English media were concerned, a mere warm-up to the main event.

To be fair, the game between France and Czech Republic hardly inspired the BBC pundits, sat in Wembley three hours before kick-off.

To the BBC’s annoyance, the game at Old Trafford went to extra-time, then penalties, then sudden death penalties, which the Czechs eventually won.

From there, it was a case of well done Czech Republic, almost dismissively, as their prize was to be runners-up to England in the Euro 96 Final.

The Germans couldn’t win, could they?

In truth, it would be very ungerman if they didn’t win. They always seem to have a knack of beating host nations and media darling teams.

It’s why I have a sneaky admiration for the German football team. Supporting Man United and Linfield, you get used to supporting “The bad guys”, the team everybody loves to see lose, which would perhaps explain my admiration for Germany.

The match kicked-off with clear skies over London. As the teams walked out in daylight, they knew that by the time the match would finish and that the sun would set, and the sky turn dark. For one of them, the sun would set on Euro 96.

I watched the game with friends, with excitement, not really caring who won, but just wanting it to be a memorable occasion.

England started on the front foot, and scored within three minutes. Alan Shearer, who else.

With 80,000 roaring them on at Wembley, and millions more in front of their TV, most teams would have crumbled under the wave of England pressure. Not Germany.

It was quite ironic that the scorer of the German equaliser be Steffan Kuntz (pronounced Koontz) whose name had made him the butt of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s jokes, should score the equaliser against the team riding on a crest of a wave soundtracked by Baddiel and Skinner.

At 90 minutes, it was 1-1, cue anything between 1 and 30 minutes of extra-time. Euro 96 was the first tournament to have the ‘Golden Goal’ rule in extra-time. It was basically goal the winner. A rule, from the school playground, was now being used to decide a European Championship Semi-final.

The two Quarter-Finals that used this were dour encounters, with both teams settling for a penalty shoot-out when the final whistle blew at 90 minutes, and shut up shop for half an hour, to make sure they got to penalties, and to conserve their energy for the shoot-out.

This one was different, as both teams went for it, to try and end it there and then. Both teams tried, but were just unable to.

As Gascoigne was unable to reach out enough to divert a cross-shot into the net, it was hard not to think about how all those England fans who’d mocked Carlton Palmer were thinking, as if it was his long legs reaching out for that cross, history would have been rewritten.

As the game went to penalties, there was an inevitability about the outcome.

Despite England scoring all of their penalties, the Germans did likewise. To expect the Germans to even miss just one penalty appeared to be asking too much. When England missed, the Germans were never going to let them out of jail.

We sat in front of the TV, just drained by the 120 minutes of football we had just witnessed. It was games like that which was he we had kickabouts in the street (and sometimes climbing into a local school), dreaming that we migth play in (and win) a match of that magnitude. None of us ever did.

In school the next day, was the same as the previous day, as the football dominated the conversation. The day before it was excitement of the match ahead, today, it was analysis and reaction of the match just passed.

At the end of that week, another school year was done and dusted, and a long summer awaited.

Was 1996 the summer that football came home?

Maybe not, it was just a line in a song which caught the mood of a period in time. But, my word, what a period in time.