15 years on from Linfield’s memorable Setanta Cup success when they upset the odds to overcome a strong Shelbourne team at Tolka Park in Dublin, one of the goal-scorers has kindly shared his thoughts and memories of that magical night; prolific Peter Thompson, or ‘Pistol Pete’ as he’s known to many.
Thompson started by revealing how the ‘underdogs’ tag benefited Linfield, who were 3-1 outsiders to lift the Cup.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the Setanta Cup win, it doesn’t seem like it at all. I remember travelling down on the Friday afternoon on the bus and amongst ourselves we were thinking that if we kept the score down and put in a good performance we’d be happy with that. That’s really unusual for a Linfield team because you’re expected to win every game, especially cup finals – we’d be favourites in any other cup final from that moment on. It was strange being underdogs but it probably helped us by taking the pressure off and Shelbourne probably felt that.”
Having just missed out on the title to Glentoran a few weeks prior to the Setanta Cup final, the game in Dublin proved to be the perfect tonic for a Linfield revival. The Blues made a bright start but both teams had half-chances, before Glenn Ferguson, commonly known as ‘Spike’, put Linfield ahead on 26 minutes with a clinical finish into the corner from an Aidan O’Kane pinpoint delivery. Then, ten minutes later, David Jeffrey’s men were in dreamland as Thompson converted to make it 2-0 after a flick from Ferguson. It was Thompson’s 27th goal of the season.
“After losing the league at The Oval, it was a good opportunity for us to bounce back, and also set us up for the next number of years. As for the game, I can remember both teams having chances in an open game. Glenn Ferguson took our chance to score the opening goal and after that they had chances, as did we, and then we managed to grab a second goal which put us in a really good position just before half-time.”
Leading 2-0 at the break, Thompson believed Linfield had the defensive steel to see it out – and they did.
“I think we changed to a 4-5-1 at the break and dropped Glenn Ferguson back into central midfield to counteract them and clog up space so Shelbourne couldn’t play through us, because that’s the sort of side they were – they didn’t really go direct, and played more of a passing game. Our aim was to force them to go sidewards in possession.
“They didn’t really trouble us in the second half and didn’t create a lot of chances. Once they started taking shots from 25 and 30 yards we knew that unless we did something silly, we would be able to see the game out fairly comfortably.
For a man who won 17 winners medals during his 13 years at Windsor Park, describing the Setanta Cup success as the highlight of his career speaks volumes of the achievement that Linfield squad pulled off.
“It was a great achievement for an Irish League club at that stage to beat a full-time club, in Shelbourne who had been so close to qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stages the previous year. As a one-off achievement, I would say it was my favourite occasion and best achievement that I was involved in.
“I remember after the game, going back to the hotel and having great celebrations. What made it all the better was the fact we weren’t expected to win and after what we’d all came through the previous fortnight, which I think really brought everyone together. We had a great night and a great journey home on the bus with a sing-song and stuff. It was really good – probably the highlight of my career in terms of winning a game in a big cup final that we weren’t expected to win. It was completely different to the rest of the cup final victories as they were normally just a feeling of relief.”
Peter Thompson’s goal that night is just one of ten goals the deadly striker scored in Cup finals for Linfield! His partnership with Glenn Ferguson was the epitome of a great strike partnership and together they helped spearhead some of the most memorable days in Linfield history, and in doing so ensured he is very much still loved by the Linfield faithful.