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

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JUNE

The previous two seasons for me began in Bray. Not this time, it was the Stade De France to begin 2016-2017 with the opening match of Euro 2016 between France and Romania.

It was one of three Euro 2016 matches I attended, taking in Northern Ireland v Poland and Republic of Ireland v Sweden during my time in France.

Back home, it was the earliest start ever to a Linfield season, June 30th, and a UEFA Cup tie against Cork City, where I attended the home leg at Windsor Park.

France v Romania

France v Romania Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Poland

Northern Ireland v Poland Photo Album

Republic of Ireland v Sweden

Republic of Ireland v Sweden Photo Album

Linfield v Cork City

2016 IN PICTURES – JUNE

June 2016 was a month that was dominated by Euro 2016.

The early days of the month were spent chronicling a mural in East Belfast to commemorate Northern Ireland’s qualification, getting pictures of the final piece upon my return from France.

Oh yes, I was in France. Wasn’t that fussed about France as a country, but loved the three matches (France v Romania, Northern Ireland v Poland, Republic of Ireland v Sweden) I was at.

I also got some Street Art photos in Paris, and London, as I flew back from Gatwick due to there being no Paris-Belfast flights on a Tuesday.

Not a lot else happened in the rest of the month. That was, until, the final, when I attended two Belsonic concerts.

Belsonic? Yes, this year, it moved to June (though there were later concerts in August) and I went to see Elli Goulding and Stereophonics.

And it was at a new venue, Titanic Belfast.

There was even some domestic club football this month, as the last day of the month saw Linfield lose 1-0 at home to Cork City in the UEFA Cup.

Pride, Passion Belief

Pride, Passion, Belief Photo Album

Paris Street Art

Paris Street Art Photo Album

France v Romania

France v Romania Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Poland

Northern Ireland v Poland Photo Album

Republic of Ireland v Sweden

Republic of Ireland v Sweden Photo Album

London Street Art

London Street Art Photo Album

Ellie Goulding live at Titanic Belfast

Ellie Goulding live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Stereophonics live at Titanic Belfast

Stereophonics live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Linfield v Cork City

MANCHESTER UNITED 4-0 FEYENOORD 24.11.2016

Recently, I headed to Old Trafford for the first time this season, my first glimpse of Mourinho’s United in the flesh, for the UEFA Cup tie against Feyenoord.

This was a game that United needed to win just to stay in the competition. Although a draw still would have had United’s destiny in their own hands in the final game, defeat would have eliminated them from the competition, following Fenerbache’s win over Zorya at teatime. with a game to spare.

Their recent record against Dutch clubs wasn’t great, losing three and drawing one of their last four games against Dutch clubs. One of those defeats came in their open group game, away to Feyenoord in September.

It is the away form that left United in this situation, even a draw in either Rotterdam or Istanbul would have made life so much easier going into this game.

This Jeckyll and Hyde form in Europe isn’t a Mourinho problem, Moyes and Van Gaal also endured it.

United haven’t lost at home in Europe in 14 matches, dating back to 2013, but have only won 1 of their last 10 away matches, dating back to 2013.

This match meant I had seen United take on Holland’s “Big Three” at Old Trafford. I had seen Feyenoord before, at the end of the last century in 1999 taking on Liverpool in a Pre-Season Friendly.

My excuse is that I was there to watch Linfield v Glentoran which had taken place before, and then just decided to stay, like when you are a fan of the support act at a concert but just decide to stay for the headliner anyway.

United went straight on the attack, issuing a statement of intent, Paul Pogba heading over in United’s first attack.

It was very much attack v defence, most of United’s play coming through some Scottish lad making his debut called Henry McItarian.

You got the feeling that if United could get one early on, they could power through and win the game with something to spare. The problem was, just getting the one.

I had great view of it, in the front rows of the Stretford End. The downside was, I almost got hit by a wayward Paul Pogba shot.

Feyenoord looked like getting a goal on the counter against the run of play, but Sergio Romero was forced into a double save, the second with his legs.

The goal United fans craved wasn’t long in coming when Wayne Rooney burst down the left wing and played it to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who waited, and waited, before playing Rooney in, to dink it over the keeper.

It briefly looked offside (it all happened very quickly) from where I was, but TV replays showed that it wasn’t.

More United pressure followed and continued into the second-half, with Henryk Mkhitarian hitting the side netting, before Juan Mata eventually made it count by finishing from close range to make it 2-0, his last involvement in the game before being subbed for Marcus Rashford.

United then made it 3-0 with a Brad Jones own goal, even though Ibrahimovic will try to claim it.

At that point, United fans taunted their rivals with “You’re just a shit fucking Ajax”.

If you come to Old Trafford and sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, you’d better be good, Feyenoord were not good.

Jesse Lingard made it 4-0 in injury time, as United head to Zorya for their final game knowing that a draw will be enough to go through.

Hopefully, United can win that game and top the group (need Fenerbache to slip up in Rotterdam though) while Dundalk win their last game to finish second. You know what i;m thinking?

Thursday 6pm game, book a day off work and be in bed at a reasonable time.

First of all, just get the result in Ukraine.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 CORK CITY 30.6.2016

Just like Christmas advertising, it feels like the early rounds of European competition get earlier and earlier each year. It was June 30th for crying out loud. Unless there’s a dramatic run of postponements in the Winter months, it will mean that Linfield will have played in every month of 2016.

The opposition, were the closest team they could face – Cork City, only the 266 miles away.

Both teams were hoping to secure a trip to Sweden. That’s the more modest ambition of a 2nd Round tie against BK Hacken, rather than the Final in Stockholm.

Cork had the better of the early exchanges and got the first shot on goal when Steven Dooley fired into the side netting.

Linfield were able to see off the danger in those opening moments, but they were having to get bodies in the way.

Eventually, Linfield got more into it, causing problems for Cork from a series of set pieces.

In fact, Cork caused problems for themselves when Karl Sheppard almost headed into his own net, forcing goalkeeper Mark McNulty to tip it over the bar.

McNulty saw himself as a showman, even standing on the halfway line when Cork attack. Sadly, Linfield didn’t get the chance to make him pay for his exhuberence.

Paul Smyth had the best of Linfield’s chances, heading over from close range after a flick-on.

Picking up from last season, Smyth was the focal point of Linfield’s attacks, forcing Cork into cynical fouls as the only way to stop him.

The half-time whistle blew and Linfield were holding their own. Neither side were dominating.

Just after the hour, Cork got a penalty for a foul by Stephen Lowry. It was a stupid tackle to make on a wet pitch when the Cork player was going away from goal.

Roy Carroll, making his Linfield debut just five days after being on the bench for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016, had saved a penalty in two of his last three appearances at Windsor Park.

It wasn’t to be a hat-trick for Carroll as Sean Maguire made it 1-0 to Cork.

In the immediate aftermath of that goal, it looked like Cork were going to get a second goal.

Stephen Lowry atoned for conceding the penalty by heading off the line when a goal seemed certain.

Paul Smyth was surprisingly substituted as Linfield chased an equaliser. Ironically, just after he was fouled.

For what it’s worth, no pun intended, but I would have had Michael McLellan on as a sub to bring some fresh impetus to Linfield’s attacking play, especially as Andrew Waterworth was struggling on his own.

Linfield were able to stop Cork getting a second, but unfortunately, Cork were able to stop Linfield getting an equaliser.

It was an awful game were neither team really looked like scoring in open play, with the only goal coming via a penalty.

Not that Cork will care. I know I wouldn’t be caring if Linfield were on the right side of a 1-0 scoreline.

Sadly, a Linfield supporter died at the ground after taking ill when the teams were warming up, just two weeks after a Northern Ireland supporter died at the match against Ukraine, and just nine months after a Linfield supporter died at a match last season.

With regards to the second-leg, i’m still not sure wether to go. I’m looking at travel and accommodation at the moment, but still non committal.

Cork is a city I would love to visit, and have had it in the back of my mind to go. It’s hard to get a decent hotel price at short notice though. I have been to Cork before, in 1999.

There is an event in Cork I always keep an eye out for the line-up, Live at the Marquee. It’s a Cork version of Belsonic, set in a tent in Cork’s docks.

The line-up generally falls into two categories, popular Irish acts (Christy Moore, Damien Rice, The Coronas) and acts who can flog a Greatest Hits Set.

This year’s line-up is awful, to be honest.

I’ve always hoped to have a line-up with two decent gigs on successive nights, and then fit a Cork City and/or Cobh Ramblers match in while i’m there.

Maybe in 2017.

If I don’t go to Cork next week, there is still one other avenue for an international away day for Linfield, as they’ll be joining the Scottish Challenge Cup at the 4th Round stage in November. I’ll be keeping an eye out on seeing if Linfield can get a decent (and easy to get to) away day.

In terms of Manchester United games, i’ve already booked to go to the home game against Hull City on Wednesday 1st February 2017, doing Tuesday to Thursday travel.

On the Tuesday, i’m hoping to go to a game in the North-West of England on the Tuesday night. There’s no League One or League Two games scheduled (postponements and rearrangements could see some be played that night)

There is a full Championship fixture list, including Wigan Athletic v Norwich, and get to see the famous and almost mythical Will Grigg (‘s On Fire, your defence is terrified) in the flesh.

……. and then Zlatan the next day. Oh yes!!

Hopefully, he does better than when I saw him in Euro 2016. Even though he had a rubbish game, he still set up a goal.

Once the UEFA Cup Group Stage draw is done, i’ll see if I can get a decent price to go Thursday-Monday and take in two home games, as well as a game in North-West England on the Saturday afternoon.

Ideally, not on Matchday 6, as it would mean i’ll have to miss Cast’s gig at The Limelight in December,

A 1-0 home defeat isn’t ideal, but it is retrievable.

June might have only just finished, but the 2016-2017 is already in full swing.

Hopefully, it will involve Linfield v BK Hacken in a few weeks.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – JUNE/JULY

There was only two weeks between the end of 2014-2015 and the start of 2015-2016. It was a horrible two weeks.

This season, like last season, began in Bray.

I was on a day trip to Dublin in late June, so I took advantage of the teatime kick-off and close location.

It was a bottom of the table clash, and it was unsurprisingly tense, as Bray managed to dig out a 1-0 win.

Towards the end of the following week, was my first Linfield match of the season, a UEFA Cup tie against NSI Runavik.

I’d have to wait three weeks for my next Linfield match, the 2nd leg of the 2nd Round tie against Spartak Trnava, which Linfield lost 3-1, and 5-2 on aggregate.

Bray Wanderers v Sligo Rovers

Bray Wanderers v Sligo Rovers Photo Album

Linfield v NSI Runavik

Linfield v Spartak Trnava

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2015

My football watching for 2015 is now over, so, it’s time for a statistical look back at the football I watched.

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 143

Red Cards : 10 (Doesn’t include Caoimhin Bonner being sent-off in the tunnel after the game)

Missed/Saved Penalties : 6

Hat-Tricks : 2 (Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Dungannon Swifts. Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 40

Arsenal, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Bray Wanderers, Carrick Rangers, CE Europa (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee (1st time), Dunfermline Athletic (1st time), Dungannon Swifts, Espanyol (1st time), Finland, Glenavon, Glentoran, Greece (1st time), Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hungary, Institute, Latvia (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Masnau, Northern Ireland, NSI Runavik (1st time), Partick Thistle (1st time), Portadown, PSNI, PSV Eindhoven (1st time), Qatar (1st time), Rangers, Romania (1st time) Scotland, Sligo Rovers, Spartak Trnava (1st time), Tobermore United, Valencia (1st time), Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 23

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Drumahoe, East End Park (1st time), Estadi Cornella y Prat (1st time), Ferney Park, Fortwilliam Park (1st time), Gresty Road (1st time), Hampden Park, Ibrox, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newforge (1st time), Nou Sardenya (1st time), Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue (1st time), The Oval, Tynecastle, Windsor Park

Competitions : 13

European Championship, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, La Liga, League of Ireland, Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup (1st time), Scottish Premier League, Tercera Division (1st time), UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

No real curiousities, other than a match with kick-off delayed for an hour due to the weather

UEFA 102 Club : Espanyol, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia (now at 35 clubs)

2015 IN PICTURES – JULY

Not a lot happened in July, two football matches – that was it.

The first of those matches was on the 2nd of the month as Linfield faced NSI Runavik in the UEFA Cup. The match allowed me the opportunity to get a look at the internal work going on at Windsor Park.

Linfield won the match 2-0, and the tie 5-4 on aggregate.

As a result, they went through to the next round to face Spartak Trnava. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Linfield fans turned up at Windsor Park hopeful of seeing their side reach the 3rd Round of the UEFA Cup.

Things were great at half-time, with Linfield 1-0 up and leading on away goals.

Unfortunately, Spartak Trnava scored 3 goals in the second-haalf to win 5-2 on aggregate.

Linfield v NSI Runavik

Linfield v Spartak Trnava

LINFIELD 1-3 SPARTAK TRNAVA 23.7.2015

Linfield hosted Spartak Trnava at Windsor Park aiming to overcome a 2-1 first leg defecit, and in doing so, reach the 3rd Round of the UEFA Cup, something they had narrowly failed to do in the previous two seasons.

Supporters arriving in the North Stand will have noted new seats, both in design and colour, as the North Stand is now synced to look like the Railway Stand and South Stand, as the redevelopment of Windsor Park gathers pace.

There was a slow start to the game, with not a lot happening in the early moments. As the half went on, Spartak Trnava were nervous in defence. So nervouse, that their defenders were Linfield’s best attacking outlet at times.

Aaron Burns intercepted a loose pass, running down the wing, but Trnava were able to clear the cross. It was a sign of encouragement for Linfield.

Frequently during the half, Trnava gave the ball away and lost soft tackles. They were giving Linfield a lot of the ball, but not a lot of clear scoring opportunities.

Guy Bates was causing problems for an already nervous Trnava defence, forcing them into mistakes and conceding cheap throws and possession.

There was a penalty shout when Bates went down in a tussle with a defender. I didn’t get a clear view of it. The referee said no.

Stephen Lowry had a shot at goal, created by Bates, which hit the post, a Trnava player, and landed straight in the goalkeeper’s arms.

Lowry had better luck later on when he fired home in the penalty area after a scramble. Linfield now had the lead on away goals.

Linfield were the better team in the first-half without dominating. All they had to do now was hold out for 45 minutes.

Trnava didn’t offer much in the first-half. Most of their attacks came down their right, which Linfield managed to deal with. Their best chance came when a header was well saved by Ross Glendinning.

Trnava were on the attack immediately in the second-half, it was a sign of intent, that this would be a different team Linfield would be facing.

Linfield needed to keep it 1-0 for as long as possible and frustrate Trnava. They weren’t able to, as a strike from outside the box made it 1-1 on 53 minutes.

It didn’t change a lot in the tie, if Linfield made it 2-1 the tie would have gone to extra-time, but it swung the momentum in Trnava’s favour.

Linfield were shellshocked, but managed to recover to have some attacks, one of which brought a goal. Unfortunately, it came for Trnava.

A defensive header denied a certain Linfield goal, Trnava counter-attacked and scored within seconds.

It’s easy to say that Stephen Lowry should have fouled his opponent with hindsight. If he did, people would have complained about him picking up a soft foul on the by-line of the halfway-line.

In truth, it wasn’t Lowry not fouling that was the cause of Trnava’s second goal, it was the pace and power of the run. When he was one on one with only Glendinning to beat.

From being hopeless in defence to ruthless in attack in the space of 15 minutes. Trnava dealt Linfield a harsh lesson.

Trnava hit the post a couple of times soon afterwards and showed their class in attack. The tie was over, Linfield were now crying to hang in there and avoid a thrashing.

Linfield had a chance to equalise when a Trnava offside trap from a free-kick failed, allowing Chris Hegarty to be through on goal. He didn’t realise it, and his cross was behind the two strikers running in.

Soon after, there was a Trnava red card for a second yellow. Nobody in Windsor Park believed that Linfield could use the one man advantage to get the 3 goals that would send them through.

Trnava made sure of the tie with 10 minutes remaining, when they passed Linfeld to death, breaking through Linfield’s defence, before an attacking player rolled the ball into an empty net.

For all their good attacking play, Trnava were suspect in defence. Their goalkeeper flapped a high ball to present Aaron Burns with a half-chance, but they managed to get bodies in the way.

Ross Clarke got in behind their defence but fired over when clean through.

After that, the game fizzled out and reached it’s inevitible conclusion.

Linfield didn’t push Trnava as far as they pushed Xanthi and AIK, but it’s still frustrating having been 45 minutes away from glory.

Trnava gave Linfield a lesson on why you need to be ruthless in front of goal.

Now Linfield’s attention turns to domestic matters, and the visit of Ballymena United to Windsor Park on 8th August.

The day before the match, I received some good news in the form of an e-mail informing my that my application for Euro 2016 tickets was partially successful, getting a ticket for a Group E match in Stade De France on 13th June from the 3 matches I applied for.

To say i’m delighted is an understatement.

This weekend sees the draw for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. Of the top seeds, i’m hoping for an away match against England on a Sunday night in March 2017. A weekend in London, see a League One or League Two match before going to Wembley.

If not England, then Wales. Same again, away match on a Sunday night in March 2017. Assuming it’s in Cardiff, go to see Newport County, Bristol Rovers or Bristol City (if they get relegated) on the Saturday.

So Linfield’s European bid ends with yet another heroic defeat. Here’s hoping that next season’s heroic exit is in the European Cup rather than the UEFA Cup.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 NSI RUNAVIK 2.7.2015

Warren Feeney’s second season as Linfield manager began the same way as his first one, with a UEFA Cup tie against opposition from the Faroe Islands.

In fact, David Jeffrey’s last two seasons as Linfield manager also began with European ties against Faroese opposition.

The previous three seasons had seen Linfield progress to the next round, and began as favourites to do so again against Runavik.

The game also was a welcome return to Windsor Park for Linfield after a four month absence due to the problems in the redevelopment of Windsor Park.

Linfield began the game rustily, with Runavik’s number 11 Arni Frederiksberg getting a lot of joy and space to set up chances and get crosses in. Sean Ward was isolated and struggling.

Eventually, Linfield got more into the game, with the trio of Waterworth, Bates and Sproule bubbling under, threatening to get in behind Runavik’s defence.

Despite this, Linfield were having some shaky moments defensively, having to get bodies in the way to get some blocks in.

Finally, Linfield got a grip on the game, putting Runavik under pressure and making gains in their attacking third. The best moment came when Andrew Waterworth got in behind the defence but dragged his shot wide.

Runavik were now worried that Linfield had a key to unlock their defence. They quite literally did, well a Kee, who had a tidy game and had some impressive corners.

Sean Ward had a shot at goal well saved. His wait for a first Linfield goal goes on.

As the half neared it end, a well worked moved saw Andrew Waterworth head home. Porblem was, Ivan Sproule was offside in the build-up.

The half-time whistle blew with the score at 0-0. You had the feeling, that if Linfield could get an early goal in the second-half, they could comfortable see the game out.

A succession of corners saw an almighty scramble but no goal. Eventually, the goal did come, when Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range.

At 1-0, Linfield were comfortable, but just needed a 2nd goal to give them breathing space.

Guy Bates, on his debut, glided past two defenders and fired home. It was a lovely goal.

It wasn’t quite game over, as Ross Glendinning made a brilliant save from a deflected free-kick to deny Runavik an away goal.

As the clock ticked down, it was Linfield were looked most likely to score, with Kee having a shot blocked, and Aaron Burns firing over after a well worked move.

Bates was substituted as injury time approached, getting a standing ovation from Linfield fans. David Kee also played well. Daniel Wallace was an unused sub, while Mark Stafford was injured.

A 3rd goal at the end would have been brilliant, but there’s not a lot to complain about – a healthy lead and a clean sheet. Famous last words, but Linfield should have enough about them next week to complete the job and set up a tie against Spartak Trnava or FK Olimpic, who drew 1-1.

Hopefully, Linfield can see this tie through and return to Windsor Park with the tie alive. It could be a special night at Windsor Park on July 23rd, as Linfield aim to get past the 2nd Round hurdle they have fallen at in the last two seasons, before an away friendly at Knockbreda on July 25th, a ground to visit for the first time, just like the Belfast Loughshore Arena (Don’t laugh) on August 12th.

Meanwhile, this week, Cardiff was announced as host city of the 2017 European Cup Final.

I was in Cardiff for last season’s European Super Cup Final and it was a fantastic trip. I fully intend on being in Cardiff that weekend.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The next European match I want to watch is Linfield taking on Spartak Trnava or FK Olimpic on July 23rd with the tie very much up for grabs.

Photo Album