For atmosphere and excitement, nothing better than a Northern Ireland evening game in a crowded Windsor park.
suppose the only thing that comes close to my point of view is an international road race – perhaps at the iconic Isle of Man TT – where the Dunlop name leads the line.
However, if the Irish Football Association doesn’t get a few decent major decisions over the next few weeks, chances are we won’t see the word ‘packed’ associated with future international games at Windsor.
The sky-high ticket prices for home games need to be addressed urgently, but perhaps manager Ian Baraclough’s future needs to be high on the IFA’s priority list now.
There is no doubt that the surrender of Northern Ireland in the second half of our World Cup qualifier in Sofia against a very ordinary Bulgarian side was a major wake-up call to many members of the green and white army – and has only succeeded in accelerating the number of now feeling that a change of boss is needed.
Our hopes of reaching the World Cup next year in Qatar are now well and truly over and although the results have been disappointing lately, I have to admit that I have sometimes been impressed with our performances. Nonetheless, huge question marks now surround Baraclough and his ability to find the ways and means necessary to endow this country with a team and a system that is hard to beat.
Getting to anything isn’t in our DNA and while Michael O’Neill’s first record as Northern Ireland manager wasn’t particularly well read either, there was a difference.
Michael was a local, born and raised in this country. He was also a former Northern Ireland international and fans will always identify with each other and show more tolerance and patience in a situation like this.
Without any disrespect, Ian is English and has no practical playing identity for or with Northern Ireland and like it or not, this is probably one of the reasons why the drums of the discontent is growing stronger day by day.
Our supporters will normally recognize and, indeed, have accepted inane performances over the years, but they certainly won’t accept a team that surrenders for whatever reason. It is simply a no-no – and with good reason.
Make no mistake, Ian will end up carrying the box for most things. It sounds harsh but that’s the nature of the beast.
I thought we played really well in last week’s game against a decent Swiss team – that was until the petulant Jamal Lewis got foolishly kicked out and bang had every chance we had to pick up the points we needed so badly.
I have absolutely no sympathy for Lewis.
His first booking in this match was fully justified. Having to maim your opponent in an attempt to stop him was a poor defense and just reinforced my belief that while this young man is superbly talented when he advances into the opposing half of the pitch, I still view him as vulnerable and suspect to the back.
Then came what many considered a bad refereeing decision to show him a second yellow card for an alleged waste of time. Taking 17 seconds on a key was, again, stupid in my opinion.
Already on thin ice, he should have known he had to keep his nose clean and not give the whistle referee any opportunity, but, despite many opportunities to throw the ball to a teammate, he refused and chose with arrogance to hang on. it instead.
I sincerely hope a few of his teammates let him know how stupid and thoughtless he was when they returned to the locker room full time. I know I would have.
He did us no favors that night and maybe even contributed in a backhanded way to his manager’s loss of his job.
No one likes to see someone lose their job and although Ian looks like an honest, hardworking and decent man, there is no doubt that his role with Northern Ireland is now in jeopardy.
He also has to accept that some of his replacements when we continued the game in Bulgaria were odd to say the least.
Playing the very talented and offensive Paddy McNair at right-back made me scratch my head, but only time will tell what the powers that be about it all.
Not so long ago, I stressed that referees are much more than the middle man and that whether good, bad or indifferent, they remain human beings with feelings and families like all of us.
Being involved in youth and grassroots football with the Harry Gregg Foundation, I am well aware of the scarcity of young referees and, to be honest, this is something that each of us can play our part in fixing. .
It appears that verbal abuse of officials has reached a new high and seems to come from virtually every angle imaginable – players, managers, coaches, fans and parents – to the extent that it has become utterly intolerable and unacceptable.
As a result, the number of young people aspiring to become referees has dropped alarmingly.
Indeed, it has reached such a critical stage that young people these days are realizing that the level of abuse they are susceptible to has naturally persuaded them that it is simply not worth the pain or the heartache. .
The harsh reality is that if we don’t fix this issue properly – and soon – we just might find ourselves in the situation where some matches, especially at the lower levels, will have to be called off just because there isn’t enough. of referees to go around, which would be catastrophic for our sport.
This problem is much more serious than many people seem to realize and unfortunately many seem to think that by burying their heads in the sand the problem will simply go away.
But believe me, unless we – and I include myself sometimes – wisely soon, this could have serious consequences for our game.
So why not start now? Let’s all take stock of our behavior towards referees, eliminate all unnecessary and vile abuse directed at officials – especially the personal stuff – and recognize the fact that without them football matches simply cannot and will not. not take place.
Is this really what any of us want?
I recently spent a few hours in good company with Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins and I feel confident enough to assure all Candystripes fans that their club is definitely in good hands.
A full-fledged high-level player, Ruaidhri has taken various training courses so that he can acquire what I consider to be the ideal qualifications as he has this very important practical experience of playing at a high level with his badges. coach. .
Ruaidhri also has the advantage of being a coach on the senior international stage, having previously been a vital member of the back office staff of Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland.
Although still young, he came to Derry with a good mix of experience on all fronts.
Ruaidhri is also a local boy from Limavady and the fact that he also played for Derry gives everyone involved a very good identity so for me he is a natural fit for the Brandywell club.
Then, for good measure, add to all those other qualities his hard work ethic and his never-dying spirit and it already looks like a winning formula.
I am moreover reliably informed that the club are already benefiting not only on the pitch but also behind the scenes from Ruaidhri’s technical expertise and enthusiasm – so there could be some good times ahead for the Candystripes. and I wish them every success.