Linfield FC

Roy McGivern looks ahead to IF Windsor game Back to Latest News Index

Submitted : 8th July 2013 at 9:34:30 PM


Linfield seek to enhance proud European history - by Roy McGivern

Linfield approach Wednesday evening's Europa League second leg tie against IF Fuglafjordur in confident mood after an impressive 2-0 win in the Faroes last week. Goals from Andrew Waterworth and Philip Lowry have put the Blues in a strong position but they will need to ensure that they finish the job on Wednesday night if they are to progress to a second round tie against Greek side Skoda Xanthi.

The Blues have made a remarkable 94 appearances in European competition since making their debut against Kamraterna of Sweden in the 1959/60 season. The first leg win in Torshavn last week was the club's 13th win at this level and the first since a 1-0 home triumph against FK Ventspils in 2006. It was also only the second occasion that the club has emerged victorious on foreign soil, the other having taken place during the memorable 1966/67 European Cup campaign when Valerengen of Norway were the opponents.

European competition may have lost some of its glamour for local clubs as the onset of co-efficients and numerous qualifying rounds have reduced the possibility of draws against the European big guns. It is still, however, the ultimate challenge for Irish League sides as they seek to test themselves at a higher level. Linfield have a proud and distinguished history on the European stage with memorable ties against the like of CSKA Sofia, Red Star Belgrade, Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven and Dinamo Zagreb. There have also been some moments of heartache and few Linfield fans will forget the sickening injury time goal in Copenhagen in 1994 which deprived the club of a dream tie against AC Milan in the next round.

The 1966/67 European Cup run remains the highlight for Linfield fans of a certain vintage. Wins over Aris of Luxembourg and Valerengen took Linfield to the quarter finals where they faced the mighty CSKA Sofia. The crack Bulgarian military outfit were held to a 2-2 draw in Belfast before Linfield lost by a single goal in Sofia. It was a magnificent effort by a part-time local side in the year in which Celtic became the first British side to win a European competition. Tommy Leishman was player manager of that side and he still has vivid memories of the great European run.

"I suppose in the first two rounds we came up against teams who were at a similar level to ourselves. I remember getting sent off in the game away to Aris although we still managed a 3-3 draw. CSKA Sofia were a very good side and almost knocked out Inter Milan in the semi-final. I remember Phil Scott and Sammy Pavis hitting the woodwork against them so I think we were unlucky to go out. Iam McFall was transferred to Newcastle before the quarter final tie and he was a big loss as he was an excellent goalkeeper. It was a tremendous experience though and I donít think we realised at the time what an achievement it was for a part-time club.Ē

Linfield's other big European occasion came in the Cup Winners' Cup against the mighty Manchester City back in 1971. After losing 1-0 in Manchester, Linfield put up a tremendous performance in the second leg in Belfast to win 2-1 but agonisingly went out of the competition on away goals. The Blues under the leadership of Billy Bingham had almost pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition and City manager Joe Mercer famously remarked afterwards that "If this is one of the so-called easier draws then give me a difficult one every time."

It is difficult to imagine a similar situation arising these days but the challenge now for Linfield and for other Irish League clubs is to make progress beyond the qualifying rounds where the European elite clubs await in the more lucrative ties. Shamrock Rovers showed the way by making the group stages of the Europa League but it is becoming increasingly difficult for local clubs to make a real impression at such an early stage of the season. Linfield of course defeated B36 Torshavn in the first qualifying round of the Champions League last season before losing comprehensively to Cypriot side AEL Limassol. If the Blues see off the challenge from IF on Wednesday evening, they will face another difficult encounter against Xanthi in the next round of this competition.

Many would doubt that we will ever see another European run similar to the one experienced in 1967. The players of 2013 should however be inspired by the gallant European efforts of Linfield teams from that era and seek to put themselves firmly in the history books.

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