Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Crusaders FC – Donegal Celtic (17-03-2007)

I had to be in Belfast for work so I decided to stay a couple of days extra to see a couple of games and score a new country point. After having watched the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the center of the city, I met my friend (and fellow PSV-fan) MvW in the lobby of my hotel. M and I know each other from our days in Edinburgh and are both loyal PSV-supporters, despite living far away from the home base. However, M. is a kind of football professor, always discussing positions and formations on the bulletin board, and not too easy to please on the pitch. Hence, while he had moved to Belfast a couple of years earlier, he had never seen a game in the Irish Premier League, Northern Ireland’s highest division. Today would be his chance.

After a short taxi ride we were dropped off in front of the stadium, at a big road in a fairly grim part of North Belfast. Naively, I took a picture of three security officers in front of the away stand, but one of them followed me, asked me very politely to see what picture I had taken, and than equally friendly to delete it. While you can take pictures of security forces, you cannot have their faces on them, as they might be targeted. Although ‘The Troubles’ seem (almost) over, some things haven’t changed yet. Not too disappointed we walked around the stadium, taking in the gloomy surroundings.

After asking, to make sure, we made our way to what is known as the main entrance. You could be fooled easily, as we were. For 7 pounds we were allowed to pass through the turnstiles, but unfortunately we didn’t get a ticket.

After devouring a classic British burger, not giving in to the ‘temptation’ of brown sauce, we walked towards the other side of the stadium to pay another 2 pounds to get access to the only covered seated stand.

Before entering the concrete monster, we took a look at our surroundings… a pitch covered with sand patches (actually, most of the center of the pitch looked like a desert), two uncovered stands with a couple of (frozen) fans from both sides, a good look at the M2 motorway, and an instructive text painted on one of the walls.

At 15.30 the players made their way onto the pitch, politely applauded by the ca. 250 fans in the stadium. While virtually all teams in the Northern Irish League are (from) Protestant (areas), this game was a true interreligious battle between the Protestant Crusaders and the Catholic Donegal Celtic (hence the relatively serious security concerns). The main groups of (young) supporters were close to each other, so that they could spit their simplistic banter more effectively.

The game started dismally: balls flew all over the place and few players seemed to be able to do anything about it. Admittedly, the conditions were not favorable for good football, as wind was gushing over the ground, regularly joined by rain, which made it freezing for players and public, but also made the ball relatively unpredictable. This not withstanding, the game soon started to become better and, despite relatively poor quality of the players, highly entertaining.

With the game flowing from side to side, none of the teams clearly dominated the game. Overall the first fifteen minutes were dominated by fierce duels and nasty elbows flying around. But around the 30th minute the left-wing midfielder of Crusaders played in a good ball and the main striker headed it in: 1-0. After the goal the game became a bit more open, although the home team started to dominate more. A couple of minutes before half-time this led to a second goal, through the same combination of players: 2-0 would also be the half time score.

The second half started furiously: within minutes Donegal Celtic got a penalty. The ultimate opportunity for the away team to get back into the game. However, although the penalty was not too badly taken, the strong home goalie chose the right corner and stopped the ball (as captured perfectly by your humble servant).

After the missed penalty Donegal Celtic got a couple of other chances, including a header on the post, but it would be Crusaders that scored: 3-0. This led to a series of attacks of Donegal and a dry, but well placed shot for the deserved consolation goal: 3-1. In the dying minutes of the still entertaining game, the home team scored the 4-1.

Partly frozen MvW and I made our way to the bus stop adjacent to the stadium. As the game only hosted 250 people, of whom most either went by bus back to one of the Catholic areas, or lived close by, we easily got on the first bus out and were back at my hotel fifteen minutes later. Even M. had to admit that it was an entertaining game. If one has to describe it in comparative terms: I imagine it would be similar to an English third division game in the 1970s.

1 comment:

The Smid said...

Great pictures again,keep up the good work.
Could I possibly use one of the pictures for my website,the one with the boy running towards the toilet,let me know,cheers! reply here