Andy Waterworth’s Linfield career was something of a fairy-tale story from start to finish and is probably deserving of a book of its own. Andy had scored 66 goals in 214 goals for Glentoran, but he took his game to another level when he signed for Linfield upon the expiry of his Glens contract in 2013. That was a good return at Glentoran, particularly given that he often played on the wing. David Jeffrey identified the striker as someone who would lead the line and be a key player, joining in a busy summer transfer window along with the likes of Sean Ward and Mark Haughey following a disappointing season.
Waterworth had met David Jeffrey early in the New Year when he was allowed to speak to clubs. The then Linfield manager sold the dream to Waterworth, making him feel like he was born to play for Linfield and, like many before him, the striker couldn’t say no. Andy would describe himself as a deep thinker, but someone who would always trust his gut feeling when it came to decision making and it felt right for him to make the brave move across the city.
Of course, some Linfield supporters would have been a bit unsure of the signing at the time as he’d played for their rivals. In Andy Waterworth’s first interview he said he was joining Linfield to win trophies – more on that later. He went on to have a Linfield career that often defied belief. A prime example was his debut, a First Round Europa League Qualifier, with Linfield travelling away in the first leg to the Faroe Islands to take on IF Fuglafjordur. It was a goalscoring debut for Andy who started as he meant to go on, getting across his man to flick the ball beyond the goalkeeper. Andy was withdrawn soon after and, quite remarkably, it turned out that he’d scored on his debut whilst he had a broken bone in his leg!
Two months later Andy returned to make his league debut against Ballymena United at Windsor Park on September 14, 2013. It was a timely return after a disappointing start to the league campaign for David Jeffrey’s Linfield, who were getting cut adrift of the reigning champions Cliftonville. When Andy returned, Linfield started to hit form and he hit a hat-trick on his home debut. As we mentioned above about the Crossgar native taking his game and consistency to the next level at Linfield, this was the first hat-trick of his senior career. Eleven more would follow! He started his Linfield career like a house on fire and really, it was just an endless flow of goals from his debut right up until his last match last Saturday. He gave the Linfield supporters no choice but to warm to him right away – not just with his goals, but also in how he played the game. There was no such thing as a lost cause to Andy and he didn’t stop from first minute to last.
Andy had a fantastic first season at Linfield on a personal level, banging in 25 goals to finish top goal scorer and was named as the club’s Player of the Year. However, the two big trophies evaded him as Linfield were pipped to the title by Cliftonville, and knocked out of the Irish Cup by Ballymena United in the sixth round. Similarly to last week’s Europa League final between Manchester United and Villarreal, the Blues were knocked out of the League Cup that season by Crusaders in an extraordinary penalty shoot-out in which even the then Linfield ‘keeper Jonny Tuffey hit a penalty. However, Andy did collect a medal in his first season as Linfield beat Crusaders on penalties this time in the County Antrim Shield final.
Andy wrote a lot of history in his Linfield career. The first time was on July 17, 2014, in the Europa League. The Blues were playing at Mourneview Park in Lurgan whilst the Windsor Park pitch was being relaid as part of the stadium redevelopment and on this night they were taking on AIK Solna of Sweden in the 2nd Qualifying Round first leg, having overcome B36 Torshavn in the opening round. The Swedes were massive favourites on the night and they had a number of internationals in their team, including Celso Borges, who captained Costa Rica impressively to the Quarter Finals of the 2014 World Cup just two weeks prior. Linfield to a man fought like lions on the night and when their chance came along, Waterworth took advantage to score a historical goal. The striker bustled the ball off a defender following a long goal kick and when the ball sat up for a shot he produced a brilliant arrowed strike across the goalkeeper into the far corner. The away stand was jam packed with Linfield supporters that night and the stand holds atmosphere well, and coupled with fans behind the goal where Andy scored, Mourneview erupted! It was a night that will live long in the memory for those fortunate to be there and a first slice of Linfield history for Waterworth because it was the 100th European game in Linfield’s history and he marked it so fittingly
There had been a lot of change at the club after the end of the 2013/14 season, starting in the dugout with Warren Feeney taking over from David Jeffrey. Whilst Waterworth would have been sad to see DJ depart, he also formed a good relationship with Feeney. A number of players moved on, including strikers Mark McAllister and Matthew Tipton. Sammy Morrow came in to partner Waterworth, but Sammy was more of a hold-up man to compliment Andy, who had another stellar season with 22 goals. Unfortunately, Linfield were second best again that season and it was another disappointing season, with Crusaders winning it this time. The Blues were knocked out of the Irish Cup by Portadown in the quarter final, lost to Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield and were shocked in the League Cup by Ballyclare. The season had started so promisingly with the win over AIK but ultimately Linfield ended up looking further away from success than they had the previous season, albeit some would say they were in a transitional period with a new manager and much-changed squad.
Andy hoped that it would be a case of third time lucky in the 2015/16 season. During this season he had the honour of being club captain of Linfield which was a great testament to his character. Not just that, but there are different types of leadership and, whilst others may be more vocal, Andy led by example in how he applied himself to every game with 100% effort, playing for the shirt.
The Blues brought in Guy Bates who formed a brilliant partnership with Waterworth. They hit it off right away with both players scoring in the opening game – a 2-0 win over NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands. Bates had a great football brain and his ability to hold the ball up was perfect for Waterworth. Linfield played some great football in the opening weeks of the season and Andy once again started like a house on fire. By the end of September he’d already scored 15 goals!
But with things going so well, it was all change again a few weeks later. Manager Warren Feeney left his post to go and coach Newport County in EFL League Two. At the time Waterworth was said to be devastated because he was relishing the system of play, but as the old saying goes, all is well that ends well. David Healy arrived a week later and made Andy a more complete striker. Although the 2015/16 would ultimately end in disappointment again, there were some positive signs for Andy and Linfield. Paul Smyth was breaking through which would add an extra dimension to the team and January arrival Ross Gaynor had hit the ground running and lifted everybody. He had a wand of a left foot which was also to Andy’s benefit. The Blues had lost four league games on the bounce soon after Healy arrived, but after that they went on a good run of a form. They just came up short in the league, and lost the County Antrim Shield final to Ballymena, as well as a bitterly disappointing Irish Cup final defeat to Glenavon. So, whilst there were positives, and although he’d had his most prolific season with 32 goals, another season had passed and Andy still hadn’t achieved what he set out to do when he joined Linfield. When you’ve scored 79 goals and assisted 32 in 132 appearances in your first three seasons at Linfield but only have a Shield winners medal to show for it, you can feel very unfortunate. Waterworth has said previously that if you come to Linfield and don’t win trophies you are a failure, so what must have been going through his head at this point? His post-match interview was typically measured and honest, saying that the only option was to try and learn from the disappointment and put it right the following season, and didn’t they just!
In 2016/17, for the first time, Andy didn’t have a blistering start to the season. It took him until October 15 to score his first league goal but not many would have known he wasn’t fully fit. He was Linfield’s talisman and they needed him to play through a lower back injury and, as ever, he put the team first. For whatever reason, if Andy ever went through a dry spell there would be suggestions that he was finished. This was the first time that happened. After one goal in his first ten league matches, Andy’s goal in an infamous 2-2 draw away to Glenavon in early November seemed to kick-start his season a bit as he scored seven in his next thirteen, but just like the team, it was after Boxing Day that he started to really hit top gear.
Early in January, Linfield were seven points behind leaders Crusaders. For whatever reason, the Blues took off on an incredible run of form from then, not losing from January 3 onwards. Andy got the ball rolling with an extra time winner away to Glentoran at The Oval in the fifth round of the Irish Cup. He continued to score and Linfield continued to win, with Linfield picking up 43 points from a possible 45. In fairness, Crusaders were also showing no signs of slipping up, so when that draw came along, against Portadown at Windsor Park, many of us felt it was the final nail in our title hopes. The Blues beat Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield final along the way, beating Crusaders 3-1 for Andy’s second winners medal. However, it was a statement victory, Linfield laid a marker down and were further boosted the following week when Crusaders drew with Portadown. The gap was back down to seven points.
In Linfield’s final post-split match they won 2-1 away to Ballinamallard United who were fighting for their lives. A late winner from Stephen Lowry gave Linfield a crucial win and on the same day Crusaders were beaten away by Coleraine, so the gap was down to four points. Lowry scored another later winner a week later, this time against Dungannon Swifts to send Linfield into the Irish Cup for a chance of redemption.
With Linfield playing Crusaders at Windsor Park in the first game in the split, the Blues needed to win at all costs to keep their hopes alive. They did just that as Aaron Burns’ goal secured a 1-0 win over the Crues, reducing the gap to a single point with four games to go. Goals from Jimmy Callacher and Andy Waterworth secured a 2-0 win away to Ballymena, but Crusaders won their game. A convincing 3-0 win over Glenavon followed, but Crusaders held their nerve again. There was an almighty twist in the tale on the penultimate week of the season, however. The Blues came from a goal down to beat Coleraine 5-1 courtesy of a second half blitz, with Andy scoring twice. It was a day to remember as news filtered through that Crusaders were being beaten down the road in Ballymena. The atmosphere went through the roof and Linfield had a date with destiny, having taken pole position.
Now, this is where Andy Waterworth writes more Linfield history and secures legendary status.
Linfield had two games remaining which would define their season. Waterworth was on 24 goals for the season and he joked that he would score two hat-tricks to reach 30. If anyone can, Andy can. The Blues went to Solitude on the final day of the season needing a point to win the league. It had been five years since last winning the league and this was our chance to reclaim it. However, the unthinkable was on when Daniel Hughes put Cliftonville ahead early on. At half time with Linfield trailing, David Healy told his players which stuck in Waterworth’s mind. “If we don’t win the league today, some of you will never recover.” If Andy’s case, how would you deal with going four years without a title, and to lose it in those circumstances? It is unthinkable. And he wasn’t going to let that happen. He’d worked so hard for success and when his chance came he grabbed the bull by the horns.
He changed his boots at half time and then changed the game. Two minutes into the second half, Mark Stafford got a strong header on Chris Casement’s corner and when it was saved by the goalkeeper, Andy was typically in the right place at the right time to fire it home. Right in front of the Linfield support, too, and they went delirious. Six minutes later he went one better with his greatest moment in a Linfield shirt. He scored many goals, and many great goals at that, but this is the one which will be remembered above the rest. Never was a goal so fitting. As said above, Andy was desperate for success and the lack of it to date had been eating away at him. This goal epitomised the man’s hunger to succeed, because it was goal formed by sheer determination. He turned just inside the Cliftonville half before a classy chip inside the defender and a great composed finish low into the far corner. That goal gave Linfield insurance and again the reaction of Andy showed how much it meant to him. A remarkable day’s work was complete when he turned a defender to win a penalty, which he stylishly panenka’d down the middle. Hat-trick hero. The struggle was over for Andy and Linfield. Crossgar’s favourite son had brought the Gibson Cup back to Windsor for the first time in five years. Legendary stuff.
Given that the game was at Solitude which couldn’t host anywhere near the demand for tickets, Linfield arranged for a celebration back at Windsor Park where the fans were waiting in the Railway stand for the squad to bring the trophy back. A very warm reception was received and the microphone was set up for players to say some words. When passed the microphone, Andy kept it short and sweet. “I just want to say that I came here to win trophies.” Clearly, as it had been eating at Andy, he was delighted to finally get the monkey off his back as he reiterated the words from his very first interview after signing for Linfield. In terms of major success, this was just the beginning.
After a few days of celebrations it was time to refocus for one last push, taking on Coleraine in the 2017 Irish Cup final. It was a chance for redemption having lost the Irish Cup final 2-0 to Glenavon the previous year, which was a real low feeling for Andy and many others. After his Solitude hat-trick he was coming into the game on 27 goals for the season. Twenty nine minutes in he gave Linfield the lead, racing in to convert Paul Smyth’s cross from close range before racing over to receive great acclaim from a packed North Stand of blue men and women. He did the same just four minutes later, tapping in a rebound from close range and then on 88 minutes he cliched his hat-trick and 30th goal of the season with another close range finish after making himself in the right place at the right time. Again, another slice of Linfield history for Andy and he became the first player for 48 years to score a hat-trick in the Irish Cup final. What a week! It is also worth another reminder that Andy had never scored a senior hat-trick before joining Linfield, and now he had done it on his debut, and then back-to-back to win the League and Irish Cup in the space of a week. The pressure of leading the line for a demanding club like Linfield brought the best out of him
2017/18 was a disappointing season for the club and particularly frustrating for Waterworth. The striker was hoping to add to his League and Cup from the previous season, but after overcoming La Fiorita in the Champions League in a First Round Qualifier, the Blues faced Celtic in the Second Qualifying Round. In the first leg at Windsor Park, Andy was unfortunate not to score another iconic goal and in the second leg he took a bad fall at Celtic Park which caused an injury which would force him out of the first twelve matches of the domestic season. Despite that, he still netted 15 goals that season. The season was summed up in March 2018 for both Andy and Linfield. With the Blues pretty much out of the title race, it was all eggs in one basket – the Irish Cup. The Blues were to play Cliftonville in the Quarter Final at Windsor Park but it was postponed initially after some snowfall left concerns about the safety of supporters who would be attending. So, when it did come around to playing the game, Andy was ruled out late on through injury. Linfield did everything but score and then the Reds won it late on through Joe Gormley. A moment to remember came when he returned the following week to score his 100th goal for the club, against Ards. Overall, a season to forget, and in terms of fitness and success, Andy hoped things would turn again.
Although the signing of striker Michael O’Connor took a bit of pressure off Andy to be fit and available in the 2018-19 season, Waterworth was still instrumental as ever in regaining the league title. There were a number of changes in a bid to bounce back again, including a switch by David Healy from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1. Andy would be first to admit that as he was getting older he was losing a yard of pace and David Healy helped tweak his game accordingly to ensure he remained the league’s top marksman. From being a man who would run the channels all day long and be here, there and everywhere, Andy’s job was to ensure he was in the six yard box waiting on service, as well as a noticeable improvement in his link-up play. Waterworth has a real passion for the game – he lives and breathes it, and loves to learn – so he took it all in his stride.
Andy went on to have another excellent season, firing Linfield to the club’s 53rd Irish League title success with 29 goals in 44 appearances. A couple of big moments will stand out from that season for Andy, who was reinforcing his growing reputation as a man for the big occasion. Linfield had not won the League Cup for eleven years and they had a chance to stop that run after Waterworth netted a semi-final extra-time winner away to Dungannon Swifts. The Blues were taking on Ballymena United in the final at Windsor Park on a Saturday evening in front of the Sky cameras. Truthfully, Ballymena were the better team on the night but up top Linfield had a player who would take full advantage when a chance came his way. After 15 minutes Andy Waterworth netted the decisive Cup-winning goal, sliding the ball into the far corner in front of a packed Kop Stand.
Ballymena were Linfield’s challengers in the title race under David Jeffrey that season and six weeks after the League Cup final the teams met again. Waterworth had scored four in a 5-0 win away to Dungannon Swifts the previous week, with his four-goal haul including his 150th goal for the club. When the Blues travelled to take on Ballymena it was a big game – the first after the split. If Ballymena had won they’d have closed the gap to six points with four to go. However, a Linfield win would have effectively sealed the title due to a far superior goal difference. Lo and behold, the man for the big occasion produced the goods yet again as he fired a clinical left-footed strike into the far corner for what proved to be a league-clinching winner. A second title for Andy who was fulfilling his ambitions after years of persistence.
The European run of 2019 will live long in the memory of everyone associated with Linfield, as the Blues defied expectation to reach the Europa League play-off round, to only lose on away goals. Amidst all the euphoria and excitement around the team during that run came a moment of immense pride for the man from Crossgar. He put himself into Linfield history once more, this time on the European stage. After being knocked out of the Champions League Qualifiers by Rosenborg, Linfield travelled to the Faroe Islands to take on HB Torshavn. 23 July, 2019 was the night history was made as Andy scored just 51 seconds into the game, converting from a Chris Casement cross as the striker drew level with Phil Scott, Arthur Thomas and Glenn Ferguson as joint leading goalscorer for Linfield in Europe. Then, on 87 minutes, he stepped up to convert a penalty after Shayne Lavery was fouled in the box, making Waterworth Linfield’s outright leading goalscorer in Europe with six goals. After the game he humbly said, “to put myself up there with the greats of Linfield who are much more prestigious than I am is a great feeling”. Linfield drew 2-2 that night but had been under the cosh. Debutant goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson made several top saves and then, typically, Andy pulled us out of diffs. In the return leg he scored the only goal – his seventh in Europe - to send us through to the Third Qualifying Round.
At Linfield there’s always something to strive for and in the 2019/20 season it was on Andy’s wish-list to retain the title for the first time. Linfield’s European journey was a momentous effort both physically and mentally but they had to refocus and go at it again to defend the title. It left the Blues with a number of games in hand and they soon caught up points-wise. Things were looking reasonably good but around the festive period there was a ‘crisis’ at Windsor. The Blues picked up two points from three games against Crusaders, Glentoran and Coleraine, against whom Andy made his 300th appearance. Then came one of Andy’s biggest lows when Linfield were shocked by Queens in the fifth round of the Irish Cup. At this stage questions were being asked whether Andy Waterworth was finished, but again, he’d been playing with an injury. As ever, he did his talking on the pitch with a resounding response. After Queens he missed the rest of January through that injury, and then came back like a man repossessed, eager to make a point and prove people wrong as he had done before. He returned to score twice in a 2-1 win over Dungannon Swifts. Then he scored twice in a 2-1 win away to Warrenpoint Town. Next he scored in a convincing 4-1 win away to Ballymena, before scoring in another blitz – a 4-0 win over Crusaders at Windsor, and he was deservedly awarded the NIFWA Player of the Match award for February. Linfield had been struggling for consistency until Waterworth returned and he and the team produced when it mattered. The Blues won the next game 2-0 away to Carrick Rangers before the pandemic struck and halted the season. With Linfield four points ahead they won the title and Waterworth played a big part in the success for his third title, scoring 19 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions. And the moral of the story is to never write Andy Waterworth off. Form is temporary, class is permanent and he is a natural goal scorer
Andy made a flying start to his final season at Windsor Park, scoring a hat-trick on the opening day of the league campaign at home to Carrick Rangers. He scored six goals in his first five league appearances and Linfield won their first six matches of the season. He took the match ball for the twelfth and final time in a Linfield shirt shortly after the new year when he banged in four goals against Warrenpoint Town. Although Shayne Lavery made the shirt his own once he got a run in the team, Andy played a big part in another title success and scored a vital goal in the run-in. On the eve of his 35th Birthday he came off the bench away to Larne to head in a late leveller when he was typically in the right place at the right time after a shot was deflected in the box. You can’t teach that – it is instinct, and he is brilliant at it.
Waterworth’s BEST Week
When Waterworth scored those two iconic back-to-back hat-tricks to win the league and Irish Cup in 2017 in the space of a week, he got married a few weeks later and had both the Gibson Cup and Irish Cup on display at his wedding. At the time he described it as the best few weeks of his life. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine life getting any better than that. Yet remarkably, it has been trumped with another fairy-tale story.
Knowing he was coming to the end of his eight-year stay at Linfield, Andy was desperate to leave the club on high and had a shot at the double. That would mean a lot to him. A few weeks ago he was checking out the Mourneview Park pitch ahead of the Irish Cup final against Larne, and then he got a phonecall. His wife Lisa had gone into labour and he had to leave. He told David Healy that he might be back... but he didn’t come back – something better was in store for him. He was in the hospital refreshing his Twitter feed to find out that his teammates had won the Irish Cup – and then the greatest gift of all, his baby daughter Mia Faith Waterworth arrived. It simply doesn’t get any better than that!
The Blues then needed to get over the line in the title race. A point was required from the final two games, with a trip to Coleraine the following Tuesday night up next. An early goal from Mark Haughey proved to be enough for a 1-1 draw which sealed a 55th title. To win the double and become a father in the space of five days is the stuff of dreams, and it doesn’t stop there…
The cherry on the icing on the cake came last week in his final Linfield match. In many ways, the match epitomised Andy’s Linfield career. By that we mean, he was denied at first when he went through on goal and had a one-on-one saved, but then things worked out perfectly in the end. Just like he got the success he wanted, he also got the goal he wanted to sign off on a high. Ten minutes before time he swept a left footed shot into the far corner from a Matthew Clarke cross. It was his last action in a Linfield shirt before going off to a standing ovation. What tops it all off is that at eight days old, his daughter Mia was in the crowd with Andy’s wife Lisa.
Andy said he came to Linfield to win trophies and, in his words, it’s mission accomplished. But he did so much more than that. He has enshrined himself in the hearts of the Linfield supporters for his actions not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. Those back-to-back hat-tricks ensured legendary status – truly ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff.
It is hard to imagine what the past eight years would have been like without Andy banging the goals in, particularly on the big occasion. Everyone associated with the club is very sad to see him go, not just because of his ability, but because he is a great man as well.
He is everything the Linfield supporters want from their striker. Never-say-die, comes off the pitch with sweat dripping off his back, and a winner. His mentality was crucial to his success. He thrived off the pressure and any doubters to fire Linfield to further success.
He was another fantastic ambassador for Linfield who always spoke very honestly and was very generous with his time to everyone associated with Linfield and that meant a lot to the Blues supporters. Despite all he achieved with Linfield, he is still as humble now as he was when he first walked through the door of the old South Stand.
Andy moves on to a new chapter with Glenavon but more importantly in parenthood and we wish the best to Andy, his wife Lisa, and their baby daughter Mia.
Just like Mark Haughey and Mark Stafford, he is always very welcome at Windsor Park.
Andy, thank you for your immense contribution to Linfield FC, from Waterworth week, to the winner against AIK, the League Cup final winner, and much, much more. You have written yourself into the history books of this proud and illustrious club.