Le jeu avant tout.

Down the end of the road is the promised land

I apologise for my non posting recently. I think that this year, for the first time, I have suffered from a protracted winter depression that spread into my enjoyment of football and created a slight writer’s block. It hardly helped that my beloved Torquay had one of those niggly seasons culminating in most of us sanguine measured types trying desperately to keep a stiff upper lip whilst the usual modern day wanktards bleat on via the social media about things (ie the running of a football club) that they know nothing about. Matt Johnson (he of Llandudno Jet Set blog fame) recently theorised that most of these new social media football types can’t embrace the idea of defeat. I would take it a step further and conclude that if you can’t embrace defeat as a Torquay United fan you can’t really argue against the mounting evidence that you may be a twat of the highest order.

Amongst the bitterly cold winter evenings and the League Two struggles at Aldershot, Dagenham, Gillington and Accrington I had tried to write an article or two but the coldness of my living room and my keyboard stripped me of all motivation to write anything. I had my local team, Wealdstone, to thank for a few feisty midweek matches. Especially the one against Concord Rangers with a magnificent 2-1 comeback against a streetwise team and a whole month’s worth of swearing on my part. If it wasn’t for them I think I would’ve closed the book on this season and hibernated until it was safe to come out again.

Crane and ground porn

Still I have some catching up to do regarding some of the visits I made during the last few months. Let’s start with the trip to see the Belfast derby between Glentoran and Linfield.

I like to call my football visits spontaneous. Some might say disorganised, although I think the actual truth may be embedded somewhere in the middle of extreme Procrastination and sado-masochism with a bit of spontaneity and disorganisation thrown in for good measure. Having both a car and a natural tendency to wake up early always gives me a lot of flexibility in deciding where to go. So a few months ago now I decided, very late on a Friday afternoon, to take the plunge and pay a visit to Belfast. Cue the Simple Minds soundtrack in my head.

When my love said to me

Meet me down by the gallow tree

For it’s sad news I bring

About this old town and all that it’s offering

Some say troubles abound

Some day soon they’re gonna pull the old town down

Searching for the next Norman Whiteside
Belfast conjures up more intrigue than any other city in the UK in my mind. A city steeped in troubles and violence, but through it all people have found a way to shrug it off and go about their everyday lives. If you make the effort to go to Belfast for football you might as well go for the Belclassico between staunch rivals Glentoran and Linfield. I made sure I could buy a ticket online before I committed paying just over £100 for a BA flight to George Best International, which is more or less next door to one of the best grounds in football. This being The Oval, the home of Glentoran. A ground that I’ve wanted to visit for a few years after seeing Manchester United play there in a friendly. Anderson and Nani’s debut games I think. I thought Anderson looked like a world beater back then, which just goes to show what I know about football.
I woke up hugely excited on that Saturday morning. A quick 20 minute tube ride to Heathrow. A brisk 2 mile walk from check in to Gate 86 and a 1 hour and a bit before a very bumpy landing in Belfast and a bit of piped chamber music to soothe the nerves.

Kick off
I got a quick taxi ride to The Oval which is sandwiched between the A2 dual carriageway and a red brick housing estate with more union jacks than Bermondsey. There was a bit of confusion over my printed internet ticket. My heart began to sink. “Christ” I thought, “they’re not going to let me in”. Another gruff look from the bloke opening the VIP/Guest entrance “Wait around the corner big lad” I was told. Time ticking by. An abundance of people. Happy people with tickets. Going through the turnstile. But finally I found my internet ticket bloke and a few minutes later I was inside too. I matched the 8 quid I paid for a ticket on a very handsome black, green and red scarf from a rather demure young lady who’d lost the fight with a bottle of Soltan self tan. Not knowing my bearings I wandered towards the Linfield end, only to be met by a fence and an excitable Police Dog who was playing fetch with a brick. The guy running the burger van for the away fans nervously carried trays of bread and burgers through a small access gate. “I hope you’ve fucking fed him” he asked the dog handler and was answered only with a wink and a wry grin as the burger man quickened the pace and ran the gauntlet.

Flag not affixed properly
So with bearings corrected I bought a nice greasy cheeseburger, despatched it with the grace of a hungry Alsatian in a butchers and had a wander around. It was everything I expected it to be. Two fantastic stands. Two massive terraces. Harland and Wolff cranes, the Belfast skyline, a bit of barbed wire and a load of terraced houses. Money can build you a fancy new stadium but it can’t buy an atmosphere, history and a setting like that. I had a chat with a steward who asked what I was doing in Belfast. When I told him about my team being Torquay United he smiled and “Torquay United eh?” My heart sank “Don’t say Helen twatting Chamberlain please, I can no longer force a polite smile”….”Wayne Carlisle used to play for them” he said “I’m best mates with his older brother”. A proper football man, not the usual twat brought up on Soccer AM. A nice bloke as well.

The youth of today not paying much attention to the game.
Around 4,000 or so had turned up for the match. It’s a shame that it wasn’t more but by kick off it was busy enough to add to the atmosphere. I took my place on the terrace and was joined by a good looking blonde and her father who made match moaning into a new sport. “Show some pace McAloram”…”Come on now Andy you’re better than that”. The word “Pace” with a Northern Irish accent lingers on for about 4 times longer than a standard British one. After 20 minutes, cute blonde daughter or not, he was never going to be father-in-law material and I climbed onto the grass bank behind the main terrace.

The main stand. Youth of today more interested.
For a man who likes taking a photo at a football match there is no better place in the world to stand, watch a game of football and take a few photos. I think I basically stood there with a daft grin on my face for the rest of the game muttering “fucking hell, this is great” now and again. The game itself wasn’t that great. Niggly, scrappy, fast paced, poor quality. The way 99% of derby games in the world are played out. Linfield scored on the stroke of half time when Philip Lowry bundled the ball home from close range. Their large away support when crackers.

The home support went crackers as well as the referee decided to the amazement of most people, both blue and green inside the ground, sent off Glentoran’s Mark Clarke for a fairly innocuous looking stamp. Sometimes of course the team who are reduced to ten men battle back and this was one of those occasions. In the 85th minute grey haired centre half William “Winkie” Murphy brought down Martin Murray and the referee awarded a penalty which Jay Magee despatched past Glendenning in the Linfield goal. 1-1 seemed about right. In the last twenty minutes news began to reach The Oval about the Crusaders V Cliftonville match being postponed due to the continuing desire in certain parts of Belfast to try and out-do the All England Club in the Union Jack stakes. As another steward commented “Well, there you go, a true picture of Belfast. The Harland and Wolff cranes, the Belfast Skyline and a Police Helicopter hovering over North Belfast.

Need a cold shower
I had to nip back to the airport as soon as the game finished past the Northern Ireland Police Force’s finest armoured Land Rovers. A slight delay on the flight. A quick look around the Titantic gifts section in WH Smiths. I left Belfast tarmac at 6:20pm and by 8:20pm I was waiting for Singapore Fried Rice and Duck Spring Rolls in my local Ealing Chinese Takeaway. A fine end to a very fine day. The Oval is a stunning place to watch football even if the football is a bit shite. I’d have Andy Waterworth at Torquay mind you.

Really need a cold shower

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