Guest supporter article

Posted : 26th May 2020 at 22:48:37

The following guest supporter article recalling friendly games from the 1970s has been forwarded by Linfield member Ian Gordon.

Other contributions will be considered for publication but the editor reserves the right to amend or omit any material, where required.

“It is often said these days that football is completely different now compared to the 1970s, when I started following my beloved Linfield.

One of the biggest differences was that if you qualified for Europe your first round tie was in mid-September. If you were lucky enough to make it into the second round, you could have been playing in European competition until late October or early November.

Changed days in the 21st century when a good run in Europe sees you playing, like us this season, until the end of August. As a result, nowadays, pre-season friendlies tend to be very low key affairs, with the opposition invariably being local.

Such a situation was the case for most of the 1970s, albeit for different reasons when to be fair, Northern Ireland wouldn't have been the chosen destination for English sides seeking to build up their fitness levels before the start of a new campaign. That all changed, however, in 1978 when the Blues hosted Blackburn Rovers of the old 2nd Division (EFL Championship in new money) and Crewe Alexandra of the then 4th Division at Windsor Park in short succession over a few nights in August.

Both of the visiting sides had a Northern Irish connection. Rovers featured Noel Brotherston who would achieve local footballing immortality by scoring the goal that clinched Northern Ireland's first Home Championship victory in 66 years in Cardiff a couple of years later.

The Ewood Park side, who had been in contention for promotion to the 1st Division the previous season were far to slick for a rusty Blues team and ended up winning 4-0.

Lowly Crewe Alex were the next visitors. Whilst the Blackburn game was played midweek, somewhat bizarrely - looking back - the Alex. game took place on a Saturday evening at 7.30! The legendary Harry Gregg was in charge of Crewe, who lost the match 2 - 0. In fact Crewe played four matches on that tour of Northern Ireland and lost them all! Perhaps not surprising that they finished bottom of the 4th Division in the 1978-79 season.

During the season itself, Windsor Park's floodlighting was upgraded and Russian side Moscow Dynamo were the opponents when the lights were officially switched on by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt. Hon. Roy Mason, M.P. The visitors, although not featuring any household names, were on a different level and ran out resounding 4 - 0 winners.

The next opponents at Windsor that season were the altogether more well known Everton who visited these shores in February 1979. That winter had seen Britain enveloped by snow and as a consequence, football took a hit with massive numbers of postponements in January. The Goodison club who were chasing the title that season were desperate for a workout after many weeks of inaction. What seemed at the time, to this fan, a massive crowd in Windsor saw us shock the 'Toffees' with an early goal from Terry Koch. However the Merseysiders hit back and two goals from Andy King saw them win by two goals to one.

By comparison, 1979-80 was low key in terms of English clubs coming to Windsor with only Southampton visiting the famous old South Belfast venue. The Saints had returned to the 1st Division the previous season and survived comfortably going on to finish in 14th place and reaching Wembley, only to lose to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup Final. Gradually, they would establish themselves as a side who regularly finished in the top half of the table in the 1st Division. They were managed by Lawrie McMenemy, another man who would later develop a connection with football in Northern Ireland, as manager of the national side twenty or so years later. It wasn't an auspicious start for McMenemy to football on these shores, as the Blues recorded a memorable and deserved 1 - 0 win. Colin McCurdy was the goalscorer for Linfield that late July afternoon.

This would turn out to be the first of four match ups between the two sides in Belfast in the years ahead and next time I'll recall the return to the British Isles of one Kevin Keegan.”
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