Northern Ireland vs England 10 Years on (Extended Version)

For the best part of the last 15 years or so I have followed the Northern Ireland football team. This has been a Journey of disappointment mostly that has taught me lessons about following a team through thick and thin. In the early 00s Northern Ireland went over a 1,000 minutes without scoring a goal but we always turned up on the chance that they could cause a shock.
My brother describes Northern Ireland as like supporting an alcoholic who says he will never drink again. The players were never world beaters but with the right mix of circumstances a miracle goal might just go in and a shock could happen. If Northern Ireland beat anyone it’s a shock…
Then in 2003 at the end of another disappointing qualifying campaign in which we hadn’t scored something epic happened. The draw for the 2006 world cup qualifying was made. And Northern Ireland were drawn in the same group as England. England were always the team you wanted to beat, more than Brazil, more than Germany, more than any country in the British Isles.
If you could wipe the smugness of England’s face for one night you would be high as a kite for a good couple of weeks. The Daily Mail would have to talk about Northern Ireland for more than the half a column which they usually get. We dreamed of getting England in our group.The match was over a year away at this point but now I could start believing that it was going to happen. All the Media hyped, Millionaire English footballers were going to have to get a flight to Belfast and drive along the M3 until they got to the Boucher Road and then they were going to have to play on our patch, Windsor Park, in front of 14,000 people.A lot happened between hearing the match was going to happen and the actual event. I finished my A-Levels, Passed my driving test and been through several Jobs in those 2 years. I was a different person by the time the match came around. I had also witnessed the anti-climax of the 4-0 away defeat by England at Old Trafford. From nil-nil at half time to getting trashed was a lot to take, especially with the patronising pats on the backs from the England players and the sympathetic analysis at the end of the match. We had lost but I knew there was hope; they still had to play in Belfast.
The week leading up to the match was one I would be quite happy to live over and over again. I went to a weekend for all the new Queens students which took place at Castlewellan. Here I meet people with whom I remain good friends with today.At this stage I didn’t have a ticket; I had accepted that I was going watch it on television. Then about 5 o’clock on the Tuesday before the match the phone rang. It was my mum telling me that my Uncle had 2 spare tickets for me and my brother. Was this real? Was I actually going to be there? Before I could get my head around it I was on my way to Windsor Park with my brother.

There was a real connection between the team and the fans that night. I will always remember seeing David Beckham walk onto the pitch at the height of his fame and being freaked out. Here was the man who is never off the television or out of the newspaper right in front of us. Beckham was followed by a squad worth millions that included a 19 year-old Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, The world’s best defender at the time, Steven Gerrard, who had just captained Liverpool to the Champions league, Michael Owen and Frank Lampard.

The losing England team: Michael Owen, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher, Frank Lampard, Paul Robinson, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Luke Young, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

The game started with James Quinn flying into Ashley Cole. The NI game plan was to get in the English players faces. ‘We don’t care who you are or what’s happened in other matches, this is about right now and we are going to give you a game!!!’

It worked and we knew as a crowd we had got inside the English team’s head. None of them wanted to be there. They wanted to be in their 12 bedroom mansions in Cheshire negotiating with Hello magazine the price of their Wedding Renewal Vows photo-shoot to someone off Hollyoaks!

The score was 0-0 at half time, we had been here before. But this time there was belief was around the ground that we were about to witness something special.

Then, in the 73rd minute Steve Davis controlled the ball and sent a great chipped pass to David Healy who fired the ball past Paul Robinson. The five minutes after the goal was euphoric. I have never taken drugs but they couldn’t recreate what I felt when the ball went in the net that night. It was a great memory to share with my brother. None of us could believe what happened.

It was a nervy wait for the final whistle. I just wanted it to end as soon as possible. Don’t take this away from me. I have had enough disappointment with football (I support Liverpool). Please give me this.

The final whistle finally arrived. Little Northern Ireland had done it. We had beaten the mighty England. The English couldn’t get off the pitch fast enough. We didn’t want to go home. The DJ played Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond and Crazy Nights by KISS.

The NI team came out again and we all screamed as loud as we could for our new heroes. They weren’t going to qualify, but this was our World Cup Final and we won.

After the match we went to the England team bus. The only person who came out to sign autographs was David Beckham. Looking back now, that was a classy thing to do. After the buses drove off, my brother and I headed to the Lisburn Road where the party was still going.

I was in the middle of the road giving high fives to the cars driving past. We went into the Bot where they played the whole match again. I remember cheering just as loud the second time I saw the goal.

Waking up the next few days after was great. When your brain gradually switched on and the memories of what just happened kicked in again. I collected as many newspaper clips as I could from the next day. Even now if I’m feeling a bit low I will stick on one of my 2 copies(English coverage and NI coverage) of the DVD to cheer myself up. And it works!!!

Healy mural

Other Articles You may like… Feel free to Share… But don’t copy. Be dead on.

Guide to Belfast Cinemas

The Northern Ireland Team that nearly was

Famous people randomly linked to Northern Ireland

Some Politics

Some Inventions which owe a lot to Northern Ireland lads

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3 thoughts on “Northern Ireland vs England 10 Years on (Extended Version)

  1. Pingback: The Northern Ireland Team that Nearly Was | @impetegerard

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