Mark Stafford programme article
Posted : 23rd April 2019
Popular no-nonsense defender Mark Stafford recently signed a one-year contract extension to stay at Windsor Park and ‘Look at Linfield’ have been catching up with the former Ballinamallard defender who spoke of his pride at extending his stay with the Champions.
“I am very proud to be staying at Linfield for one more year. When I joined Linfield, I never thought I would be lucky enough to play for the club for this long. I want to take this opportunity to thank the board and the manager for showing their faith in me. I had a few other options on the table but when the manager offered me a year long extension, it was hard to turn it down. I really feel that I have a bit of unfinished business with Linfield. I want to write one more chapter in my career at the club, before I leave and I am determined to make it a good one.”
Coming from Irvinestown in Fermanagh, Stafford shows incredible commitment to play for Linfield and admits it’s been tough when he’s found his game time limited, but he remains as committed to the cause as ever.
“It takes a huge amount of commitment to play for the club, especially because of where I come from. We train 3 nights at Linfield and with a match on a Saturday, so let’s just say I’m well used to the M1. I never use travelling as an excuse for bad performances at training or matches. I also wouldn’t dream of complaining about the travelling because at the end of the day, it’s my decision to play for the club and for me, it’s a small price to pay to be part of it. I bring my training gear with me to work and travel straight to training when I’m finished in work. It’s a very long day and those journeys were even tougher this year with not much game time but it’s up to me now to try to get into the team again.
“This season has been difficult for me personally, with minutes very hard come by. My discipline on the pitch really came back to bite me, having started the season suspended from bookings from the previous season. Josh and Jimmy really have stepped up this year and have been outstanding. I however will always be ready when my chance comes again. I train as if I was playing the next game. I have to train with that attitude to keep pushing Jimmy [Callacher] and Josh [Robinson] so they don’t drop off. I think it makes them better players too. Obviously, I have even more competition now with Ryan McGivern and Mark Haughey. But that’s Linfield and that’s the way it has to be at this club. Competition for places is frightening.”
The 31-year-old, who joined the club from Ballinamallard in May 2015, became a league winner with Linfield for the second time this season and he believes it’s just the start of things to come from a talented group of players.
“It’s a great feeling being a champion again. The hard work that we all put in over the summer has really paid off. After Christmas this year, we found another gear and pushed on. Last year was the opposite. We ran badly out of gas. I genuinely feel this is only the start for this group. The manager and his back-room team must take a lot of credit. The players the gaffer brought to the club not only this summer but the previous one too are really starting to bear fruit. In my opinion, there is much more to come from these players too.”
“There have been so many key moments this season. Kyle McClean’s late goal against Coleraine, the 1 nil win away to Crusaders and Casement’s last-minute winner in Newry stick out for me. That’s only a few but there are many others. The group is in unbelievably high spirits, now the league title is back home. As I said before, all the hard work has paid off. I’d say the overriding feeling is relief. We are just glad that the Gibson cup is back at Windsor.”
Stafford acknowledges that he is fortunate to have a great bond with the Linfield supporters and it means a lot to him and he has promised to continue wearing the blue shirt with immense pride and passion, as he has done in his four years at Windsor Park.
“The support we received all year has been second to none. The numbers in which they travel, especially to away games really does make the difference for us to push us over the line in difficult fixtures. The support that I have personally received since the first minute I walked into the club has been incredible and I feel so privileged and humbled by it. It’s hard to explain but I really feel a connection with the Blue men and women. I promise them all that I will try to repay that faith and support, by giving everything every time I pull on the blue number 2 shirt.”
‘Staff’ finished by vowing to make his final year at Windsor Park another great chapter in his career and is relishing the experience of representing Linfield in the UEFA Champions League once again, when it comes around this July.
“With the success of this campaign, we can now look forward to the Champions League. It’s such a special experience to represent your club and league in the biggest competition of all. You just never know where you could end up. Look where we ended up 2 years ago! So exciting times are ahead and I am proud to be a part of things moving forward for Linfield. ONE MORE YEAR!”
Everyone associated with Linfield will be delighted that the passionate defender has agreed to stick around for another year and congratulate him on winning the league for a second time.