The curtain came down on a hugely enjoyable week of UEFA Champions League football with the end of tournament gala banquet at the Hilton Templepatrick on Monday night.
150 people were in attendance including the 4 competing squads - Ajax, Thor / KA, Wexford Youths and Linfield. The UEFA delegate, 2 referee observers, 8 referees and 3 UEFA liaison officers were all present for what was a superb night celebrating what had been a hugely successful tournament.
Linfield was represented by the club president Peter Lunn MBE and directors Stephen Dickson, Jonathan Lamont, Drew McCoubrey and Stephen Shaw, as well as the director responsible for Linfield Ladies Andy Conn who hosted the gala event.
Various presentations were made by Linfield to all the special guests who in turn made their own reciprocal presentations after a week of friendship and sportsmanship. Photos will follow at the end of this text.
The evening began with a piper and drummer escorting the various team squads to their places in the large banqueting ball in the Hilton hotel.
After an excellent dinner, there were three entertainment acts - Belfast singer Emma Watson, the Belfast eukalaylee jam and the Seven Towers school of dance. All three acts were well received by the audience on what was an excellent cultural evening.
After the various speeches and presentations, the evening concluded with a disco provided by local DJ - Big G.
Overall, a great and relaxing event to end what had been a hugely successful week of competitive football.
The success of the week was due to the contributions of so many people who are acknowledged below.
The tournament director - Ray Alexander who did a phenomenal amount of work to look after all the teams and the arrangements for the teams.
The UEFA delegate Raili Ellermaa from Estonia, the referee observers from Finland and Slovakia, the referees from Poland, Austria and Italy, as well as Northern Ireland and the local UEFA liaison officers and former Irish League referees Norman Cowie and Frankie Hiles.
The Hilton hotel in Templepatrick who hosted the 3 visiting teams and the Dunadry Hotel who hosted the Linfield team from August 6 to 14.
Former Ulster rugby star Andy Ward whose fitness suite and pool at the Dunadry were well used by the Linfield team recovering from the rigours of each game and preparing for each following game. Andy was always on hand to offer nutrition advice and pass on his vast experience of tournament sport.
The United bus company who transported the 4 teams to and from training and each match.
The volunteer team liaison officers who looked after our various visiting teams.
Volunteer stewards, programme sellers and ball boys / girls.
AVK catering for half time refreshments
Dr Aisling Diamond who was in attendance at each game in accordance with UEFA regulations.
The match and training venues at Solitude and Seaview.
Sueann Harrison at the IFA for so much background support.
Photographers Colin McMaster and Daniel Dan as well as video cameraman Paul Heaney.
Player of the Match sponsor Ronnie Morrison for the beautiful trophies.
Linfield Supporters Trust and QMS insight for programme sponsorship.
Belfast crystal for all the various trophies.
Signature works for embroidery
Discount Blinds - loyal, long serving sponsor of Linfield Ladies
Scott Nesbitt and Steven Torrens for graphics
Supporters who attended each game.
All in all, it was a huge undertaking and the pulling together of everyone involved ensured the event passed off so smoothly and successfully.
And last but not least, I want to thank the Linfield players and staff for their hard work and sacrifices.
They all gave up 9 days and nights to work and prepare in the hotel and on the training / match pitch.
Linfield were the lowest seeded team in the group playing full time opponents in Ajax and Thor / KA , as well as runaway leaders in the Republic - Wexford.
In a week when across the other tournaments in Europe low ranked teams were being beaten by 6 and 7, as well as 10 and 11 goal margins, Linfield were only beaten 2-0 by both full time teams in Ajax and Thor / KA and it took a 95th minute Wexford goal to deny Linfield a first point in the UEFA Champions League.
Our performances across all three games were outstanding and the players can take enormous credit from their exceptional displays.
While Ashley Hutton was absolutely immense throughout, this tournament was also an incredible learning experience for very young players such as Naomi Donnan, Casey Howe, Caitlin Rae and Caitlin McGuinness who can go on to become the next set of young players to graduate from academy to first team squad.
The coaching staff of Phil Lewis, Neil Morrow, Syd Thompson, Mark Dickson, Michelle Crawford, Alan Perry, Andrew Wallace and Jordan Milne all deserve enormous credit for the tactics and game plans which the players stuck to and which earned this club so much respect from our visiting guests. The warm reception our team received when piped into the banqueting hall on Monday night showed the respect our players were held in by our opponents in what was a very tough group.
The strength of the group was demonstrated by the fact that the top 2 - Ajax and Thor / KA both qualified for the knock out stages, the draw for which will take place today. Ajax topped the group on goal difference and Thor / KA qualified as one of two places in the 10 groups for the best runners up. Ajax and Thor / KA could be paired with Chelsea or Manchester City or Glasgow City in today’s draw and we wish them well in the Knock out stages.
I had the privilege of being at the Group stages draw in Geneva on June 22 and before the draw I told the Ajax representatives of my dream to bring their world famous club with their six Dutch international European champions to Belfast. The dream came true and we were paired together and now the mighty Ajax Amsterdam, the biggest club name to play Linfield in European action in years, have been and gone.
A lot of hard work went into securing the status of one of the 10 host venues across Europe (mostly Eastern Europe) and since UEFA awarded Linfield the honour of host status in May and since the Geneva draw on June 22, an even greater amount of work went into preparing professionally and thoroughly for what has now passed off as an enjoyable and successful tournament.
As the director responsible for Linfield Ladies I am immensely proud of what our players and staff achieved over the course of the week. They were great ambassadors for our great club on the pitch, in the hotel and in every other way.
Our players and staff deserve all the credit, praise and recognition for their efforts in what is a fabulous and prestigious tournament and one in which the UEFA standards and demands are as high as one would expect for each of their competitons.
As the director responsible for Linfield Ladies I can take immense pride in the fact that thanks to the huge efforts of our board and all the people I’ve highlighted above, the teams from Ajax, Thor / KA and Wexford, as well as the referee teams and the UEFA teams all went home happy after an enjoyable week, with happy memories and with a positive experience of our unique Belfast hospitality.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat
The first three pictures below show injured Linfield star Alison Smyth presenting the club’s Belfast crystal souvenir gift to representatives of Ajax, Thor / KA and Wexford.
Below Linfield president Peter Lunn MBE makes the club’s Belfast crystal presentation to the UEFA tournament delegate Raili Ellermaa from Estonia and the referee observers from Slovakia and Finland.
Below proud sponsor of Linfield Ladies Stephen Dickson presents the club’s Belfast crystal souvenir gifts to UEFA Match liaison officers and former Irish League referees Norman Cowie and Frankie Hiles.
An independent panel named the Croatian international goalkeeper Stephanie Bukovec of Thor / KA as the player of the tournament and she receives the award from Jonathan Lamont, Linfield director below.
Linfield director Drew McCoubrey makes the club’s Belfast crystal presentation to the 8 referees - 2 from Poland, 2 from Austria, 2 from Italy and 2 from Northern Ireland.
Linfield director Stephen Shaw makes the club’s Belfast crystal presentation to Ray Alexander, the hard working and well organised tournament director.
Below - Linfield’s Lauren Robson receives the club’s presentation gift from Ajax.
Below - Thor / KA make their presentations, including one to Sarah Venney, Linfield Captain.
Below - Wexford make their presentations, including the last one to Louise McFrederick of Linfield.