3rd in series of Ian Gordon articles

Posted : 5th June 2020 at 23:13:27

Linfield member Ian Gordon provides his third supporter article in which he recalls visits from English clubs in the early 1980s.

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

“1981 was a particularly turbulent time in the history of Northern Ireland. England and Wales had declined to fulfil their Home International fixtures in the Spring, a sad throwback to the particularly dark days of the 1970s. Thankfully, the club sides from England were not so reticent and in the season ahead Windsor Park welcomed Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers, Nottingham Forest and a return by Manchester United. There was also a return to Windsor Park by George Best in the Autumn, in the colours of San Jose Earthquakes on this occasion.

Wolves were first up and Linfield produced a rare moment of good form in what was to be a difficult opening to the 81-82 season, securing a very credible 1 – 1 draw. Trailing to an early goal, Trevor Anderson equalised just before half time to draw the sides level. We had chances to win the game in the second-half, but had to settle for a draw. The underwhelming display from the Molineux side served as a portent for what would prove to be a disastrous season for them, being relegated by the end of it.

Three days later we welcomed Tranmere Rovers, at the time a struggling 4th Division side who were player managed by our own Brian Hamilton. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Friday night visit of the Merseysiders didn’t draw a crowd any larger than the routine Ulster Cup game against Bangor, but anyone who attended witnessed a truly remarkable game. As a naïve teenager, having watched us be the better team against Wolves, I expected nothing more than a comfortable victory over the 4th Division strugglers. In a remarkable first-half the visitors had raced into a three goal lead in twenty-five minutes. Yet, by half-time we had rallied and the score was level at 3 - 3. Linfield carried the momentum into the second-half and just after the hour mark we had established a 5 - 3 lead and seemed on course for an easy victory. There then followed the usual raft of substitutions you expect from friendlies and this had a detrimental effect on us and just before the end the visitors had their fifth goal to ensure a deserved draw! It was the first of five seasons in charge at Prenton Park for Hamilton and his solid work there ensured he got more managerial opportunities up the Leagues in the following years.

Perhaps inevitably, having shipped five goals to Tranmere the writing was on the wall for the Blues when the next visitors rolled into town the following Tuesday. They were of course Nottingham Forest, winners of the European Cup on two occasions in the previous seasons and a powerhouse in English football at the time. They were managed by the inimitable Brian Clough, but unfortunately Clough - as was often his want - was on holiday at the time and Forest were led out on the night by his long serving No.2 Peter Taylor. This team whilst in a transitional stage still featured such icons as Peter Shilton, Ian Bowyer, John McGovern and John Robertson and gave us a lesson, running out 5 - 1 winners. Peter Ward was their star on the night, scoring a hat-trick with our consolation coming from Anderson. Upwards of 10,000 watched this one, a testament to the pulling power of Clough and Forest at the time.

So if ‘Ol Big Ed’ didn’t weigh in, one who certainly did in October of that year was one George Best in his first appearance at Windsor Park since retiring from international football in 1977. On this occasion, he was appearing for American side San Jose Earthquakes. Whilst it appeared that ‘Bestie’ may have been winding down his career in the then backwater of North American football, the timing of the visit was intriguing. For Northern Ireland were on the cusp of qualifying for Espana 1982 and there was a belief that a revitalised Best could make the World Cup 22. Indeed, at the time there was even newspaper talk of a return to Old Trafford or a move to Middlesborough as a base for making the World Cup squad. On the evening there was nothing particularly special to remember from the great man's appearance. Linfield coming into the match on the crest of a slump, having lost four on the bounce and suffered an embarrassing loss to Distillery for the first time in nearly nine years at the weekend, took the lead but a late equaliser saw the match end 1 -1. Sadly like many of George’s comebacks, it proved a false dawn and the fairy tale of Britain’s greatest ever footballer getting a chance to shine at a World Cup finals never materialised

As alluded to, Linfield had endured a shocking start to the season with a dreadful end to the Ulster Cup campaign. However, by the time our next English visitors came to town on 9 March 1982, the Gold Cup had been secured and we were tussling it out with Coleraine in a bid to regain the Gibson Cup. The visit from the Stretford Reds was, nonetheless, a nice distraction. Compared to the hype of the previous season, this was somewhat more low key in nature. That said, over 10,000 fans still turned up at Windsor on a wet Tuesday night. Like Tranmere and Forest in the early season, United now managed by Ron Atkinson, went nap against the Blues. Although fielding household names such as Bryan Robson, Frank Stapleton, Steve Coppell and Kevin Moran, it was the lesser known Scott McGarvey who stole the headlines, with the young striker bagging a hat-trick.

Windsor Park was much changed by the summer of 1982. The roof on the old Olympia Drive terracing had burnt down in a fire the previous April. That left the terracing uncovered and not a particularly hospitable vantage point in the season ahead, particularly if it rained. However in early August, it was a fine Summer’s evening, as we welcomed back our old friends from Southampton, still managed by Lawrie McMenemy. Kevin Keegan had gone, but the Saints were still a formidable force at that time and featured some well known players. Not least of whom was Alan Ball. A World Cup winner with England in 1966, Ball at 37 years of age still showed that he was a force to be reckoned with, scoring a hat-trick in a 3 – 0 win for the visitors.

The following week saw a much improved Linfield performance as we recorded a 2 - 0 win over 1st Division Stoke City. This was the Potteries club second visit to Windsor in three seasons and another example of good relations built up by Linfield Football Club at the time. Stoke included Manchester United old boy Sammy McIlroy in their line up and went on to finish a respectable 13th position in the English top flight in 1982-83.

The last friendly I propose to recall is not as much about the visit of 2nd Division Middlesborough, but will be remembered as the last appearance in a Linfield shirt for the one, the only Peter “Bald Eagle” Rafferty, 1st team opportunities for “The Raff” had diminshed in the previous season and I suppose the writing was on the wall for the 35 year-old centre-half when Roy Coyle signed George Gibson from Ards in 1981-82 and acquired a certain David Jeffrey in the summer of 1982. It was an emotional occasion that August evening. There was no fairytale ending in that ‘Boro won an entertaining game 2 – 0, with two second-half goals. But the welcome accorded to “The Raff” on his appearance and at the end of the game was tribute to a true Linfield legend. It was memorably described in a subsequent issue of “Look at Linfield” by Ivan Little, as being a departure to compare with Meg Richardson leaving Crossroads - although unlike the Soap Queen’s departure, this one was very real indeed. “The Raff” one of the true legends of the local game, went on to play for Ards and Crusaders. He is revered by all who watched him and still a welcome and popular visitor to Windsor to this day.

I hope you have enjoyed these reminisces and that this, along with my two previous articles have brought back some fond memories for Bluemen of a certain vintage.“
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