Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ireland’

England v Northern Ireland, Friday July 15th 2022, 8pm

July 22, 2022

I’m not sure if I’ve arrived at a game by way of a boat before. I probably have, although not after spending a week sailing across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. I like the relaxing nature of a sea crossing and I managed to get more steps in by lapping the deck than I’d been able to do in the summer heat of the southern US. I still had plenty of opportunities for idling on a deck lounger watching the small birds that follow the boat and the porpoises that flit along the Gulf Stream. One morning there was a pod of whales and whilst most were content to briefly surface and exhale air, one very kindly put on a show of backflips as he passed us by.

On the way into Southampton Docks, we sailed past Marchwood Power Station. I’d worked there for around eighteen months back in 2008/9. It all looked very peaceful at five in the morning and it was interesting to see it all from a different viewpoint, despite me not being able to spot anything that I remembered.

One night after work at Marchwood a couple of mates and I fished at the inlet, despite signs telling us that we shouldn’t. We caught some fish, but they were too small to keep. Even if they had been bigger, I doubt we’d have taken them as there looked to be a fair amount of industrial discharge into the water. I’d like to think that those fish were still swimming around as we passed by this time.

Whilst working at Marchwood I lived a short drive away in the New Forest and enjoyed the sight of wild ponies lolloping around. As we had some spare time, Jen and I spent a few hours in Lyndhurst. There were as many horses around as I remembered, and I pointed out the places in the village that I knew from my stay.

I recalled taking in a game at Totton in the Wessex Premier Division and also an early FA Cup Qualifying fixture at Brockenhurst. For some reason though, I didn’t ever make it along to St Mary’s Stadium and it remained one of the Premier League stadiums that I’d still to tick off.

When I saw the schedule for the Women’s Euros and realized that we’d be arriving in town on a day with a fixture I booked a hotel and waited for the ticket sales. My ticket cost forty quid, which seemed expensive for a tournament that is hoping for full stadiums, but on the basis that the match sold out almost immediately, it looks as if whoever set the prices got it right.

Our hotel was a half hour walk away from the stadium and the route took me across a bridge where I got my first view of the ground. Even with an hour to go to kick-off there were lots of people making their way to the game.

There were sizeable queues at St Mary’s, with a lot of groups of kids, presumably school or sports club trips. There were also a lot more family groups than you generally see at men’s fixtures and far more women and girls. There were also a lot of same-sex couples attending, something that is still not really noticeable in the men’s game. All in all, a diverse attendance and without any undercurrent of violence. There wasn’t much drinking going on and if any of the schoolkids were doing coke they weren’t yet at the stage where they were fighting each other.

 

I had a seat in the east stand, perfect for a view of the sun going down. I got a good view of the play as well and an England performance that, whilst it didn’t quite reach the heights of the eight-nil Norway game, was far too good for Northern Ireland.

There’s a gulf between the full-time and the part-time players but Northern Ireland did their best to keep it tight, holding out until almost half-time before conceding but then quickly shipping a second before the break.

Two early goals in the second half suggested a rout might be on the cards but England didn’t take their chances and, in the end, ran out five-nil winners. Both teams took the applause at the end, with England topping the group and Northern Ireland heading home.

Northern Ireland v Ukraine, Thursday 16th June 2016, 6pm

October 31, 2016

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The third game of our Euro trip took us to Lyon for Northern Ireland’s fixture with Ukraine. Our train wasn’t until mid-morning and so I took the opportunity to have a wander around Paris before breakfast. It’s amazing what you can stumble across when you least expect it.

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Paul and I had upstairs seats on the train for the two-hour journey to Lyon. The train was busier than the one we’d taken the previous day, with plenty of Northern Ireland fans enjoying their first tournament since the days when Pat Jennings was between the sticks.

Our hotel in Lyon was only five minutes from the station, but our plan to head into the town centre was scuppered by an alcohol ban. It all seemed a bit over the top, particularly as neither of the teams involved have any reputation for mischief.

We headed away from the station in search of a quiet area of town that might have bars that were either unaffected by the ban or had chosen to ignore it. We eventually found one showing the England game and we were the only customers. If Carlsberg did bars…

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We hung about long enough to see England sneak a spawny injury time win over Wales and then managed to flag down a taxi to take us to the Stade de Lyon. We arrived with a few minutes to spare and by entering via a side entrance we were quickly inside.

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We made our way to our seats just as the National Anthem struck up. I know how the Queen feels now. We had seats on the edge of the Irish section and fortunately we were high enough up to be under cover. It started to rain early on and it wasn’t long before it was heavy enough to have people in the lower tiers scurrying upwards in search of somewhere drier.

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The Irish fans were fantastic, singing throughout the game and pausing only when offering up a minutes applause for a fan who had died earlier in the week. Sadly, another of their number passed away during the second half.

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Both teams had lost their first games in the group and so a defeat for either side in this game would make qualifying difficult, even in a competition where only eight of the twenty-four teams taking part go home after the first-phase.

With the heavy rain making good football difficult, Northern Ireland took the lead just after half time when Gareth McAuley ghosted into the Ukranian box for an unmarked header. As you can imagine, the Irish fans were quite pleased.

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The rain got heavier over the next ten minutes or so and when the hailstones starting arriving the ref called a temporary halt. From what I saw later on the telly, some of them were the size of chocolate brazils and so it was probably the right decision.

The weather didn’t seem to affect the Ukrainian fans behind the far goal, who just removed most of their clothes. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best approach in hailstorms.

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The Irish didn’t sit back on their lead and there always looked to be another goal in the game. We had to wait until the ninety-sixth minute for it to come, with Niall McGinn knocking in a rebound to secure a two goal victory.

The rain had stopped by the final whistle and we were able to join the queue for the tram into town. It was all very well organised and we were soon whisked away and deposited near to the station that we’d arrived at that morning.

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The alcohol ban in the centre posed the same problems as earlier in the day and so we decided to head back to the bar where we’d watched the England game. For some reason it was closed. Perhaps having two customers at a time that afternoon had worn them out.

We walked around for a while, mainly through a Muslim area that was unaffected by the temporary alcohol ban due to  none of the establishments selling the stuff in the first place. We eventually found a pizza place that not only had food and drink, but also had that evening’s other Group C game between Germany and Poland on the telly.

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Three games down, one to go.