Sunday, 27 December 2009


A fellow Irish League follower got in touch recently after my previous post on my reaction to the Linfield and Glentoran Boxing Day postponement.  We got together over a few pints (bitter) for a one-to-one. He posed some interesting questions....

- Why should Linfield play 2 matches in 48 hours if they don't have to?

They don't have to. They didn't. It was a decision totally up to them and I accept that.  The Glens have a big game at Portadown on Tuesday night too.

- And what exactly do Rangers and Celtic playing on a Sunday have to do with anything?

Ah come on, do you really need me to answer that one for you...

- Sunday football is not the great saviour it's billed as by those who lobby for it as they are competing with live English Prem.

Agreed. We will never be in a position to go pound-for-pound against the EPL. We come up against live football at most hours of the day though. Switching games to a Sunday will probably make no difference to attendances. But why be so set against it to the point where you inconvenience the biggest game of the season? Money is tight in the Irish League. Clubs are on the verge of collapse as we speak.

- And do please tell me what this "Uberprod" mentality at Windsor Park is?

My original remark was "The 'Super-Prod' mentallity from the hierarcy at the South Belfast club yet again pulls us back to the past."  Do Linfield answer to the Free-Presbyterian church now?    I've encountered Protestant Bluemen labelling Protestant Glenmen 'sell-outs' for breaking the out-dated tradition of no football on a Sunday.  It may only be a bit of banter but there tends to be a moral superiority undertone to it.  Staunchly refusing to kick a ball on Sunday in the name of 'Protestantism' does not mean you will get into Heaven any quicker.

- And what is this "Might have been" you speak of? The sides will meet later on in the season.

The 'what might have been' I speak of regards the five Irish Premiership games being cancelled.  It was disappointing as I wasn't able to attend a match while I'm back in Belfast for the weekend.  Top marks for analysing my post to the death by the way!

On the weather...

- I must admit, looking at the weather, I was surprised by the postponement, but, one night of improvement has been up against three/four days of continuous frost.

It was a surprise indeed, especially when I saw the Sun come out just after 11am! But if the pitch isn't playable then that's that I suppose.

- I seem to remember five out of six fixtures in August 2008 being postponed due to the weather, so summer is hardly immune to inclement weather, as has the LOI fixture lists during the summer months.

Agree entirely, but why close yourself off to the idea?  Personally, I'm not against it but I'm not totally convinced it would be a wonderful thing for the league either.

On the Glentoran invitation to Linfield to put the game back 24 hours to Sunday...

- There are many examples in English football of clubs declining Sunday games after Saturday postponements.

Correct. But you won't come close to a 10,000 bumper crowd in the rearranged fixture. Then again money wouldn't be an issue with Linfield. And you can take that as a snide dig if you want (you seem to have taken my post to heart which wasn't the intention) but the truth hurts.

- Exactly how is Linfield looking after their players schedule "Dragging us back to the dark ages"?

I don't blame any club for looking after their players schedule. My issue was with Linfield's inability to play Sunday football. Dark ages = unable to move away from the past. Sunday football. No! Never! is the reply time and time again from a minority at Linfield FC.

- Amongst who is NI the "Laughing stock" of the Western World over Sunday football? Has anyone ever publicly mocked NI over it? ?

I know scores of people outside of Northern Ireland looking in at us and exposing us as a backward looking country with regards to the Sunday football saga. What kind of mentality resides in the people who are so set against playing football on a Sunday, yet pass up God's day of rest for a protest outside a football stadium?

Only in Northern Ireland.  Progression has never been our strong point!

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Boxing Day.  Saturday 26th December, 2009.  It's supposed to be a 10,000 sell-out at The Oval for the 'Big Two' clash between Glentoran and Linfield. 

I post three hours before kick-off - It has since been cancelled.

Like an Henry handball, myself and many other Irish League fans will feel cheated out of 'what could have been'.  It reaffirms recent calls for a switch to summer football.  I for one am losing reasons for arguing this proposal.  It was reported that today's game (along with four others) was cancelled due to frozen pitches, which might be the case in the rest of Northern Ireland but in East Belfast?  Not a chance.  As I look out my window just 3 miles from the ground itself, I see the Sun shining and the only frost in sight is that of a toy 'Frosty the Snowman' across the road from me.

In previous years I have attended the Oval for this fixture in the snow.  Today's postponment is just another dagger through the heart of the Irish League. 

Pre-postponment Glentoran were threatened with a £40,000 fine from the IFA.  Following the lack of football today it could be much more costly than that.  The already faltering interest levels in the local game will wither and die, unless of course.... we play the match tomorrow instead.

Wait, we can't do that.  It's a Sunday...

That's right, Linfield have turned down the offer from Glentoran to re-play the game within 24 hours of it's cancellation.  However, I'm not surprised.   The 'Super-Prod' mentallity from the hierarcy at the South Belfast club yet again pulls us back to the past.  At the risk of offending Jesus at Christmas time, it's time to wise up and stop becoming the laughing stock of the western world.  If Rangers can play Celtic on a Sunday, why can't Glentoran play Linfield??  It's a head-scratcher of the highest order - and I don't just mean the 'Orange' one.

I can appreciate players such as Glentoran's Michael Halliday's conflicting view on the matter.  No-one should be forced to play football on a Sunday.  If that be their wish, the clubs should give them their full support on what is a highly sensitive issue.  However, no-one should hold back the overwhelming majority in support of Sunday football. 

Northern Ireland is the only place in Europe (maybe even the world) where playing football on a Sunday is very much frowned upon.  Infact, it was such a taboo that only recently the IFA have decided to scrap this ancient-rule that hung over football in this country like a death sentence.

My message to those opposed to Irish League games taking place on a Sunday is simple.  Go to church in the morning time, pop into Centra for a few groceries, then join the rest of us in the 21st Century.


PS: The game between Crusaders and Cliftonville is the only survivor of the weather this Boxing Day.  Congratulations to the backroom staff at Seaview who had the foresight to bed-in their new 4G synthetic pitch last month.  It is essential for the league if it continues to operate during the winter months in Northern Ireland. That'll be 11 and a half out of the 12 then.

Thursday, 24 December 2009


It's that time of the year again; the only weekend of football where Irish League clubs can actually expect to make a profit from their upcoming matches.  Boxing Day (that's St Stephens Day for 'The Reds') is the biggest day in our local football calendar - even bigger than Irish Cup final day.  I know this because the 26th of December involves at least FOUR traditional derbys each year in the Carling Premiership.

North Belfast derby
Crusaders vs. Cliftonville

The Sheep Derby
Coleraine vs. Ballymena

The Merseyside derby of... Craigavon
Glenavon vs. Portadown

and of course... 'The Big Two' derby
Glentoran vs. Linfield

This special festive helping of local rivalries has been spiced up thanks to the level of competition this season.  Come the new year one team from Crusaders, Cliftonville, Linfield and Glentoran could be top of the pile.  It certainly makes this weekends fixture list all the more appealing to the loyal followers of the league.  Long may it continue!

However, the stand-out game is current champions Glentoran up against bitter blue rivals in Linfield.  That's no disrespect to the Crues and the Reds, but nothing compares to a Boxing Day clash between Northern Ireland's two most decorated clubs.  It is quite simply a special occasion.  Unfortunately though, in recent years this fixture has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Hopefully come Sunday, football will be the only headline maker as the Glens stand to be fined £40,000 should their fans rise to the inevitable Linfield 'bait'.

Last year at Windsor Park certainly left a bad taste in my mouth after a few headers from the 'Dee Street Massive' decided they were going to pelt Linfield fans with fireworks and various seats ripped out of the North Stand.  Not only was it totally and utterly pointless, but it shed Glentoran supporters in a terrible light considering we had been outclassed by a superior Linfield side on the day.

3-0 was how it ended last year at Windsor, but I anticipate a much closer affair this time round.  I have this one down as a 2-2 thriller.  I think we might even see a Gillespie special.  Here's hoping anyway!


PS: Crues to beat Cliftonville at Seaview.  Coleraine to win the sheep derby, and a share of the spoils in the battle of mid-Ulster in a game that will spilt the whole of Craigavon in two... probably from laughing.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Evans Above: Jonny scores in NI's 3-2 win over Poland earlier this year

A quick jump aboard the rumour-mill this week throws up a 'Real' corker.  Our Jonny is being touted as the next Manchester United player to hot-tail it out to Spain and join the Madrid giants. 

"Go Jonny Go Go" may be the cries from the Spanish capital, but in reality, the young lad from Rathcoole is going nowhere.  He is United through and through.  Would you believe... he even bleeds red.

BBC Northern Ireland recently screened a documentary following Jonny and his promising career on the pitch.  See it here if you missed it.  Like myself, a United fan growing up in Belfast, he is living out the dreams of thousands throughout Ireland.  What's better is that he takes it all in his stride and never forgets his roots.  It's easy to see why the glitz and glamour of Real Madrid wouldn't get this Manchester United fan all hot under the collar.  The same depth of loyalty shown couldn't be said for some of his previous team-mates at United.  Señor Ronaldo, Señor van Nistelrooy, and Señor Heinze all left the "Red Devils" for "Los Galácticos", however it was to be a relative step-down for both the Holland and Argentina internationals.  It remains to be seen how that Portuguese fella embraces his recent arrival at the Bernabau.

Jonny - come lately - has excelled for both club and country.  However, injury has temporarily cut short his fantastic start to this season.  It is no coincidence that United have not faired well in his absence.  A future Northern Ireland captain of that there is no doubt.  He advocates that himself, "It's always been my ambition to captain my country one day".  But I'm not getting carried away because at the tender age of just 21, he still has alot to learn.  Old Trafford is the right place to do just that.

There's a certain paramilitary mural in Jonny's native North Belfast that sends out the message "Prepared for Peace, Ready for War".  It's a message Evans has taken and adapted to his career on the football pitch.

Prepared for partnership.  Ready for war.  Rio and Nemanja take note.

Evans Above, Jonny - you took something perfect... and painted it red.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


No, this isn't just another episode of a well known BBC cartoon where a superstar footballer special guests alongside Super-ted and company;  this is Ryan Giggs and the Beeb's "Sports Personality of the Year".

That's right Giggsy scooped 'the biggie' of the BBC sporting world.  A sporting world that includes...

- no live Premiership coverage
- no live (or highlighted) Champions League coverage
- the odd 'Championship' match involving the might Toon
- a poor man's version of Soccer Saturday (sorry Gabby, there's just no substitute for Jeff Stelling)
- and Mark Lawrenson

A stunned Ryan Giggs said he was "in total shock" after winning the 2009 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. 


I had it down to a final lap slog-fest between David Hayes and Jenson Button.

But, it was the public that voted.  Yes those heartless swines even had the cheek to vote out Jedward last month. Scandless.

I didn't vote myself, but given the choice my allegiences obviously would have forced me to vote David Healy Ryan Giggs.  Why? Because he is my idol.  He was quite simply the George Best of my era (1986-present).  Giggs is 'THE' model footballer.  This is a player who's most compromising situation off the pitch arose when the gaffer (Sir Alex) made an unexpected appearance at a quite innocent house party where Lee Sharpe attempted to lead a young impressionable Ryan astray.  David Beckham and Tiger Woods he is not.

He is however Manchester United's shining light in a relatively average season by their standards.  The 36 year-old Welsh wonder has been instrumental in what could be considered United's 'transition year'.  But unlike such years gone-by where Djemba-Djemba, Bellion, Kleberson and co. have been misguided by a tired, weary, begruding and often difficult to be around Roy Keane;  Ryan has inspired rather than transpire.

The sports personality of the year for 2009 isn't a just award for Ryan though.  The 1991-2009 sports personality of the year would be make a more worthy title for the lad.    I'd even be confident enough to label him United's greatest ever player, and confident enough to do some football betting to win some cash. That's right, ahead of even the Holy Trinity of Law, Charlton and Best

Am I mad?  Very much so!  But 11 Premier League's and two European Cups, not to mention the numerous other trophies pocketed by the Salford-raised Giggs tells its own story really.

I'm delighted the 'beautiful British public' agree with me.

And it seems we haven't seen the last of the left-wing wizard after Giggsy's new contract extension this week.  The most respected Manchester United player of all time.  Giggs' award may have been a token gesture, but is undoubtedly an inspiration to all sports men and women.  The most gifted, loyal, and genuine personality in sports today. 

Ryan Giggs OBE would top most sports followers lists.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Date: Friday 4th December
Location: South William Street, Dublin
Restaurant: Alfie's
Rating: *

It's been a while since I've had a gorgeous meal in a fancy restaurant. Unfortunately, my recent experience at ALFIE'S restaurant on South William Street will keep me waiting that little bit longer. For a restaurant based in such a central position in Dublin, I expected a higher level of customer assurance.

As part of a workforce out on the town to celebrate the arrival of Christmas, it was clear the festive cheer was still to greet ALFIE'S. Given our group pre-ordered our food weeks before via extensive discussions with the restaurant with regards to what was on offer, I would have expected to have the opportunity to eat what I had in-fact ordered. Upon arrival I was informed the scampi was not available. Others, who had pre-ordered burgers and stir-fry were also told in no uncertain circumstaces these were no longer available. Why wasn't our group informed of these last minute alterations in the menu? Dear, oh dear.

In the end I settled for the Scallops - all FOUR of them. The less than appetizing 'ice-cream scoop' of mash-potato dumped rather tragically in the middle of my plate won't win any masterchef awards much to my disappointment.

"Friendly, informative service, modern decor and a vibrant atmosphere will make your dining experience one to remember" is what ALFIE'S offers via its website. I can assure anyone who may have the displeasure of dining there that this was certainly not the case on my visit.

What's it all about, ALFIE??

Sunday, 6 December 2009


And now for something completely different... I am going to surprise alot of people and back the boys from Brazil (excludes Deco) to win the World Cup in South Africa next year.

The draw itself didn't send too many shockwaves around the world, but the stand-out matches will be in Group G where Brazil need to stamp their authority on the tournament early on.  That's because Robinho and co. will come up against the big names that Sepp Blatter so desperately wanted to get into the tournament.  Portugal is their name - messrs Ronaldo, Deco, Simao and Nani are the 'star-power'.  Brazil will also come up against Drogba, Kalou, and the Toure brothers of the Ivory Coast and, of course, Hong Yong-Jo of North Korea.

I may be early but here is how I think the groups will end up...

France  (the support from Ireland will inspire them)
Mexico  (not as strong a Mexico team as we're used to)
South Africa  (utter pish)
  (unlucky not to deny Maradona's men from qualification)

Argentina  (should be too strong for everyone else)
Greece  (Greece's peak was 2004, on the slippery soap)
Nigeria  (missing a Kanu or Jay-Jay these days)
South Korea  (always well organised, could spring a surprise)

Algeria  (I'll be honest, I know sweet FA about them)
England  (will cruise the group)
Slovenia  (could run USA close for 2nd)
USA (too much PL experience to fail to qualify, surely?)

Australia  (aging squad, Cahill's the only threat)
Germany  (will have no problems early on)
Ghana  (thank you, come again)
Serbia  (my outsider tip to lift the trophy, great side in the making)

Cameroon  (expect them to prop up the group)
Denmark  (between them and Japan for 2nd)
Netherlands  (will be a walk in the park)
Japan  (see Denmark)

Italy  (defensively they will be tough to breach as usual)
New Zealand  (the whipping boys of WC 2010)
Paraguay  (straight fight for 2nd with the Slovaks)
Slovakia  (see Paraguay)

Brazil  (always turn on the style in the big games)
Ivory Coast  (will huff and puff, but won't blow any houses down)
Korea DPR  (unknown quantity, may take a zero tolerance approach)
Portugal  (extremely fortunate to qualify, they should take advantage)

Chile  (2nd should be a foregone conclusion)
Honduras  (rock bottom)
Spain  (expect Villa and Torres to improve their goal tally throughout)
Switzerland  (excelled in qualifying - that'll be their only claim to fame)

PS:  Reason for the video above?  Well, being born in 1986, that was probably the closest I will ever come to seeing Northern Ireland play at the World Cup.  I blame Blatter. And Henry. Everyone else is.