keresaspa: (Jimmy Edwards)
Yesterday was spent on a wild goose chase of sorts, trawling out to Twinbrook on the off-chance of catching a match. When I got there, sure enough Glaston were indeed playing Sandy Row in the Brooke Activity Centre as promised (albeit with kick off fifteen minutes earlier than promised), but there was no access for spectators and so I was forced to watch it through a fence. Five minutes of that did me until I thought "swive this" and buggered off, content in the knowledge that even I'm not desperate enough to endure 90 minutes of the second tier of the South Antrim League. As such I must face the crushing reality that for me the football season is most likely over.

Still, I can't really complain I suppose because it has been a thrill ride if you like that sort of thing (which I do). 54 matches in all was a slight drop on last season's probably unmatchable total of 58 but it still represented a good haul of live football, starting on 28th June 2014 with Crusaders playing Airbus UK Broughton in a friendly and ending last Saturday with Brantwood wrapping up the Ballymena and Provincial League campaign with a 4-3 win over Newtowne. During the course of the season I witnessed 187 goals (give or take one or two when I got distracted) and visited 28 grounds including first ever trips to Holm Park in Armagh, Inver Park in Larne, Celtic Park in Glasgow, Dennyfield in Bradford, Imperial Fields in London and New Victoria Park in Newtongrange as I endeavoured to spread my tentacles into Britain a bit more.

There were good times and bad times. For the bad times I will do well to forget: a Monday night hammering for Donegal Celtic up in the mountains of Knockbreda in the League Cup in August; an undeserved 1-0 defeat at Harland & Wolff Welders soon afterwards (the first of many matches where DC played well but still lost); the horrors of Islandmagee the following Saturday where the crowd have to be the biggest load of agrestic, ugly, bigoted, small-minded shitkickers I've ever had the misfortune to encounter; the futile attempt to get a bus from Celtic Park whilst having to wait with all the drunks in Glasgow; the near funeral atmosphere at Seaview whenever Newington were playing and their three supporters turned up; and hearing a home side committee member refer to their only black player as "the N*gger" at Shankill United a few weeks ago. But then there are always the highs: the aforementioned Crusaders-Airbus match when anything would have done to break the monotony of no football but where they contrived to serve up a 3-3 thrill-ride; the 3-1 win at Newforge Lane the day after my birthday when a DC promotion challenge seemed a possibility; being the last man standing at Dundela when the rest of the travelling support deserted a 3-1 defeat during which DC were forced to play in a late 90s Carrick Rangers away kit; the crazy atmosphere at Armagh City, again despite defeat; the traditional ball-freezing conditions at the annual post-Boxing Day beano that is the Border Regiment Cup final; my annual day out to Paisley Park to see Albert Foundry; getting fed like a fighting cock in the boardroom at Bangor; my annual day out to The Diamond to see Rathcoole; seeing Colin Valley destroy 18th Newtownabbey OB 8-1 at Valley Park having attended the reverse fixture earlier in the season and been unimpressed by the toxic atmosphere 18th had created at their ground; and of course, above all, the final day at Lakeview Park, Loughgall when, against the odds, DC stayed up.

So, barring a minor miracle (rumours abound of a match next week in Portadown, although I'm not sure I want to shell out the fare just for a Mid Ulster League match, whilst there may be play-offs) the football season is now over in terms of my live attendance. Until the final week in June (hopefully) or the first week in July (hope not) I am forced to find something else to fill in the gaping maw of ennui that is Saturday afternoon, something made all the worse by the year ending in an odd number. If I really start to lose the thread I may have to bite the bullet and take in a couple of Wednesday night Women's League matches at Seaview and/or Solitude but we'll cross that bridge when we can to it. Until then, so many memories and roll on next year.
keresaspa: (Cynthia of Witching Hour fame)
It was probably a little silly of me to attempt two matches in one day, what with Belfast being in the grip of roadblocks caused by bicycles and slack-jawed gawpers incorporating torrential rain, but I decided to make the effort nonetheless. Ordinarily I would have been satisfied, or at least satisficed, with attending Sport & Leisure Swifts' crunch relegation decider in the afternoon but other things forced my hand. Saturdays in Belfast allow unlimited bus travel for two quid so I was excused walking duty but I was aware that the chaos was due to ensue once afternoon descended and so I resolved to get my bones out west as early as possible.

Inevitably bus travel was already a bit banjaxed with the hordes descending early and roads already getting blocked but by and by I made it to the salubrious environs of Poleglass, a huge sprawling housing estate (although some residents will tell you it's actually four or five small housing estates) sandwiched in between west Belfast and Dunmurry in a sort of no-man's land that is neither one thing nor t'other. An 11AM kick-off was the order of the day as advertised but when I arrived there was a half an hour wait on account of the visitors getting delayed in the roads melee. Nevertheless, despite the driving rain and the saturated nature of the pitch, Colin Valley reserves kicked off their match with their Bryansburn Rangers counterparts and before long it was raining goals as well as - well - rain. Valley took the lead in the first minute before Rangers took charge. They were 4-1 up at half time and it ended 5-2 in their favour, a shame as I have a bit of a soft spot for Colin Valley. But it's always good to see some goals for your trouble, I suppose. As a Division 3D Northern Amateur League match it is the lowest level of match I have attended and it also represented my third time watching a Bryansburn Rangers side this season. Total goals from the three matches - 23. Must try to catch them again next season.

After the appetiser (and a quick lunch that I just about had time to gobble down) it was time for the main course as I made my return to Glen Road Heights for the first time since November 2012. With my attentions firmly on DC, Sport & Leisure Swifts had fallen by the wayside but I still cocked the odd eye at their results and felt it was a shame how they were heading meekly out of the league. Then former DC manager Pat McAllister took over and, after a slow start, they dragged themselves up and going into the final match they needed a win to be guaranteed survival, having looked dead and buried about a month ago. A decent crowd by Swifts' standards had turned out to watch the crunch match against the mighty Chimney Corner (great name, pretty ropey club) and they were treated to a nervous, but wholly committed, display by the home team. Swifts' number 11 summed them up - a tiny man (5'4" if he was lucky) with little real skill but a bundle of energy who ran the feet of himself and was always after the ball. Their efforts were rewarded in the end as they took a narrow 2-1 to get the win they so needed. As it turned out it didn't really matter after all as their closest rivals, Killymoon Rangers, were roasted by Tobermore United and so will be relegated but the sense of relief in the home ground was palpable and I must admit I got caught up in it a bit myself, notwithstanding the presence of rather distracting nuisance children running wild. Not what you want when you're already a bath of nerves.

One more match awaits as I'll be up at Brantwood on Tuesday night cheering on yet another of the minor teams that I sympathise with as they attempt to beat Dollingstown and secure a long overdue return to the league in place of Killymoon. Still, barring a minor miracle, that's my lot for Saturday matches until the pre-season friendlies get going. Contemplating what I'm going to do with Saturday afternoons when my last blank weekend was in early July is giving me the cold sweats but for now I would prefer to look back on a grand year of 57 matches following DC and beyond. Ah, there's nothing like it. Roll on next season.
keresaspa: (Finlayson)
And so it ends just as it began, with an unexpectedly competent display in east Antrim. But where Donegal Celtic began the season with a creditable draw after a tumultuous summer, they finished up with an unlikely 4-3 win in the effulgent seaside sun over high-flying Billy big-times Carrick Rangers. That a team that was right in the battle for promotion until last week could be on the end of a 4-1 scoreline spoke of the ability and dedication of DC's young tyros, although that it ended up 4-3 spoke equally of the fragility of the side.

As seasons went this was certainly an eventful one. After that early promise the club, robbed of all their experienced players and relying on a scratch team of unpaid youth players and cast-offs, struggled to make an impact, falling down the table until that glorious day in late September when Coagh United were dispatched 6-1. With the club finding some stability home form took an upturn, albeit with the away results mostly making grim reading, until a fine win at Harland & Wolff Welders hinted at a renewed resurgence on the road.

Then came the gap. A combination of not being in any of the cups and rain (and the state of the pitch is still an issue that needs to be obviated) meant that the club went into virtual hibernation for the winter months. Two matches in December, one each in January and February, were the sum total of winter action, a depressing quirk given that we had a snow-less winter. Beating Loughgall away at the end of February hinted that it mightn't matter but inaction took its toll and a full programme of sorts in March saw only one point gained. Successive home defeats (5-0 and 3-0) at the start of April made the spectre of a second successive relegation a very real one as the club were reduced to using outfield players in nets due to an injury crisis coupled with poor decision making (sending your back-up keeper out on loan is a daft idea at the best of times).

But then last Thursday the clouds broke as DC welcomed high rolling Dundela to Suffolk Road and promptly dispatched them 5-3 with a masterful display that arrived from nowhere and cheered the watching several after an extended period of malaise. Losing away at Coagh and a 6-1 shellacking from Ballyclare at home mattered not as survival had been secured and today's fun was simply the icing on the cake, a hard fought and well earned victory in the hostile environs of Taylor's Avenue as the boys cocked a truculent snook at the rest as if to announce in Lutheran tones "here we stand".

DC being DC means that there is bound to be further upheaval in the summer as uncertainty about the future ownership of the club means we are bound to start next season back on the rack. Nevertheless I'm strongly anticipating the restart as it has been a wonderful roller coaster ride this season in which I was an ever present at home and missed only five away matches (three in the middle of nowhere, one I couldn't get to and the Coagh game that I decided to sit out given safety had just been secured). The lower leagues have another fortnight to go and Brantwood have a play-off that I'll probably have a shufty at so the horror of close season isn't on me quite yet but my peregrinations with DC are over for this season. I'll be hoping for a better run next year but either way I expect I'll be there throughout and wouldn't want it any other way.

Wet

Jan. 31st, 2014 08:38 pm
keresaspa: (Cartman)
It's the wettest January on record we are told. I can well believe it as I can't remember a day this month where it hasn't pished it down. The map on the link provided suggests that in Northern Ireland we have got off relatively lightly but they could have fooled me. The lack of a discernible winter, combined with the continuing deluge, has made things right bloody miserable and, as previously mentioned, played havoc with the local football. I have a few possibilities lined up for tomorrow but the inability of this place to come to grips with the internet means another run for nothing may be my reward. The ones I'm looking at are all on plastic pitches and thus should, in theory, be immune to rain-based cancellations but even Bangor had to call of a game recently due to rain so clearly in this dundering-in plastic is no protection. A Clarence Cup tie between St Patrick's Young Men and Ards Rangers out on the Boucher Road looks most likely (likely to be a glamorous affair), although a return to Iveagh United's hovel out in Twinbrook is another possibility. Colin Valley, who vie with Albert Foundry and Brantwood for the title of my second favourite local team, are supposed to be in action at home and would have been worth a visit but alas they play on that increasingly obsolete substance, grass, and so are about as likely to kick off tomorrow as I am to win this year's marathon.
keresaspa: (Nana Mouskouri)
The pre-season tournament hosted by a non-league club is always fun as you get a few matches played back to back and a nice way to kill a few hours. Well I say always fun, in fact I was only guessing as I had never previously attended one before today. However today I made the trip to see just such an occasion as once again I went back to the Skegoneill Avenue home of Ballymena League members Brantwood to watch them host a tournament featuring Championship 2 side Sport & Leisure Swifts, Northern Amateur League Division 1A (confusingly, the second tier of that league) club Orangefield Old Boys and Crusaders Reserves. This was to be my second visit to a non-league ground in three days as Thursday evening saw me watch Donegal Celtic lose 2-1 to NAFL 1A's Immaculata in a match in which DC were so abject against a team three leagues below them that it has left me expecting another relegation battle rather than a promotion chase for this season. Frankly DC's performance was more suitable for a gong farmer than a paying crowd (yes, Immaculata expected money for entry to what is essentially a leisure centre all-weather pitch). All things considered I would have been much better off staying at home that night. But I digress.

This interminable hot weather has played havoc with my sleep patterns and Skeggy is a good hour and a half trek away from my drum so I was forced to forego the first two matches, played in the morning simultaneously, one in Skeggy and one in the playing fields next door. When I arrived the third place match had just started between the two losers i.e. Sport & Leisure and Orangefield. Swifts, a team I briefly followed at the start of last season, took an early lead and soon went 2-0 up to the delight of no-one whatsoever as they had brought no supporters, unlike the east Belfast minnows who had brought a surprisingly large crowd. Well, about fifteen people but still, you don't expect the likes of Orangefield OB to bring any travelling fans. Taking advantage of a lull in the second half I went over to a freshly erected tent to get a burger from the barbecue and, as is inevitable whenever I decide to purchase any refreshment at a football match, I promptly missed a goal as Orangefield pulled one back. With practically the last kick of the game Orangefield, resplendent in their in no way partisan orange shirts, equalised and then, for reasons I'm still not sure about, a penalty shootout was held to determine a winner. It was a truncated version in which each team took three rather than the standard five penalties but having said that each match was shorter than normal to give the amateurs a slight rest on yet another baking hot day. Orangefield won the penalties 3-2 in the end to take third place and raise some serious questions for Sport & Leisure's prospects for the coming season. So no changes there then, as Angus Deayton used to say.

About ten minutes later Brantwood and Crusaders reserves kicked off and within about seven minutes Brantwood were 2-1 up. I've actually forgotten the order the goals were scored in such was the speed with which it all happened but so it was. Crazy stuff. Inevitably the pace slackened a bit as the match wore on but Brantwood had the upper hand for much of the match and in the end were worthy winners, with the final score 3-2. Heat was really beginning to win the battle now and it told on the referee, whose combination of paunch, fine moustache and past the collar hair despite male pattern baldness gave him the air of the sort of man who might run a discreet shop in Soho or (more likely) Gresham Street, as this match ended up lasting not much more than an hour. A wooden plaque with little shields attached, listing the previous winners of what is an annual event, was wheeled out and presented to the winners at the end as the watching several expressed their appreciation.

This was my second visit to Brantwood this year and for the second time I have come away feeling "what a nice club and what a shame they had to jack in their Irish League membership". As I said the last time with Crusaders on their doorstep their decline was always inevitable but there's something about their gameness that is appealing and you can't moan when you get to watch two matches in a fading but still atmospheric old ground for the grand total of zero GBP. I'll keep an eye on their results for the coming season and hope that they can do the bizzo carrying the flag for Belfast in the Ballymena and Provincial League next season. Tomorrow sees a rare Sunday match as DC host Cliftonville in the Fenian derby but I'm still undecided due to the problems of navigating Belfast on a Sunday and the threat of storms but for today I'll just say a good time had by all. Well done, the Brants.
keresaspa: (Jimmy Edwards)
With my usual teams either not at home or not in action today I decided to take a walk on the wild side by checking out one of the Intermediate Cup third round matches being played. I did consider the possibility of following Cliftonville Olympic to their game at Dundela, one of the few grounds relatively close to where I live (three miles on the nose, according to Google Maps), but its East Belfast location ruled it out immediately, given that it has been virtually a warzone over there since the Christmas holidays ended. Lucky I did in the end as the UVF shot up the cops today just down the road from Wilgar Park. Nice. Sport & Leisure were at home in the same competition according to one source but their website knew nothing about it and I didn't fancy a trek out to the Glen Road for nothing so I ruled them out and was left with the choice of Brantwood-Banbridge Town, Grove United-Dollingstown, Immaculata-Carrick Rangers or Queen's University-Annagh United. My bad foot meant that distance precluded me from going to Grove United (who are just on the cusp on Newtownabbey despite being named after an area of inner city north Belfast) or Queen's (whose ground is nowhere near the actual uni) and so on a whim I decided to plump for Brantwood as Immaculata's Grosvenor Leisure Centre home is a bit too crap for me to count as a genuine ground visited. As such I took the stroll down to the Shore Road, my progress impeded only once when I reached York Street and had to permit passage to a mob of Union Jack-wielding morons on their way to the weekly nuisnace outside the City Hall. Mostly children - no indoctrination going on there.

Brantwood's Skegoneill Avenue ground is something of a relic. For years it hosted B Division football but the club always struggled for support, in part because Crusaders are just a couple of hundred yards away and in part because loyalists across Northern Ireland, never mind Belfast, are attracted automatically to Linfield. As such Brantwood voluntarily dropped out of the Irish League a few years back and now play, inexplicably, in the Ballymena and Provincial League. Equally inexplicable is the fact that the headquarters of Duncairn Homing Pigeon Society are located on one corner of the ground, although given that we are in solid loyal territory here and pigeon clubs were frequently used as cover for paramilitary bases it doesn't take a genius to work that one out. Inside the ground was probably better than Sport & Leisure's but it was in terrible order, paint peeling from the stands, corrugated iron roofs rusting and the grass around them a boggy morass. A bit of elbow grease could probably drag it up to a decent standard (for NI) but being forced to leave the Irish League has damaged the psyche of Brantwood so whilst it could be done, what would be the point?

The game itself was of a pretty woeful standard, albeit end to end stuff. I actually saw Banbridge Town play at Glen Road Heights last November and whilst they weren't great there, they appear to have gotten worse as theoretically they should have put Brantwood to bed easily. Instead Brantwood took a very early lead and, after a sustained period of Banbridge pressure, somehow went 2-0 up against their more illustrious opponents. Anger and disappointment set in early with the crowd, which was totally dominated by Banbridge and their comparatively large travelling support (about forty or fifty people - a veritable throng at this level), although they were assuaged somewhat when one of their many and generally inconsequential attacks ended in a penalty award, although them to go in only 2-1 down at half time.

There are a bunch of pitches behind the ground where football at an even lover level is played and during half-time and lulls in the match before me I was able to turn round and watch a blood and guts park game between two very noisy and committed sides wearing the kits of Celtic and Atletico Madrid. A bit of digging around has since revealed that the teams were Ballysillan Elim and Shamrock II, although some of the language on display was less than Pentecostal. Enough to make a sailor blush, I tell you.

The second half got under way with the heavens opening and the culchies showing their class with half time substitute Stevie O'Neill scoring twice in fairly quick succession. Still the basketball style revelry was soon back on as Brantwood conjured up an equaliser from somewhere, only for the other mob to nab the winner ten minutes from time. By the end the Banbridge keeper had time to watch the pigeon loft as Brantwood failed to put on the pressure they needed due to a combination of poor positioning and ill discipline. With the raining now belting down the final whistle went and Banbridge had a 4-3 win and a passage to round four, although Brantwood can feel satisfied in matching a higher up team for much of the match and Banbridge will have their work cut out if they are to win their first Intermediate Cup since 1986.

So all things considered this was a good laugh in a grim way. Brantwood's ground is a complete throwback but, despite their diminishing fortunes, I'm glad it's still standing and that they're still plugging away, even if it is in the Ballymena League. I'm unlikely to return any time soon as I really only went to tick them off my bucket list but it was good fun while it lasted.

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