I was over in Northern Ireland this weekend so as usual I checked the football fixtures and decided to take in a match. The pick of the day's games was Cliftonville v Glentoran at Solitude, this was a thumbs up for two reasons, Cliftonville are one of the more sizeable Belfast clubs which I’d still yet to visit and it gave me the chance to look up an old colleague of my Dad’s, Mr Jim Boyce.
Jim is well known character within Irish footballing circles having worked his way up from a Cliftonville ball boy to the current British Vice President of Fifa (via lengthy spells as Cliftonville Chairman and president of the Irish FA) who had arranged to meet Graham and I at The Europa Hotel pre-match to take us up the the game. Despite us not expecting anything for free Jim ushered us straight into the ground and the directors lounge allowing to have a look around behind the scenes, watch the game from the director’s box and pinch a few half time sandwiches as well as speak to some very interesting folk throughout the afternoon.
The game itself was a decent encounter which ended 1-1, Graham and I both commented that it was probably the best Irish league game we've seen so far in terms of quality and competetiveness. Cliftonville had a man sent of before managing to take the lead through a Joe Gormley lob, only for Glentoran to equalise late on with Stephen Carson finally giving their sizeable away support something to cheer.
After the final whistle Jim (who shuns the director’s box in favour of his position on the touchline which he’s occupied for the last 60 years or so since his ball boy days) drove us back into the city centre giving us the chance to sink a few beers before I got the train back down to Ballymena. The evening quickly descended into Guinness fuelled football viewing with locals, ladies with inflatable knobs and Hells Angels. Fairly standard.
Many thanks to all at Cliftonville for letting us in and being so hospitable.
Here's a selection of pictures.
The obligatory Hearts tie for Jim.
So immature, couldn't resist.