Monday, 31 August 2009

Snot funny!

As you might be able to tell I’ve been dealing with a bout of the common cold. For two days last week it was no laughing matter. Indeed, as it turned out, laughing caused me to agitate the delicate balance within my sinus that tipped the bucket of delightful smooth wallpaper paste. A paste containing some colourful stray contaminants that found its freedom into the world beyond. Ok, so most did make it into the white flag of truce which I was constantly waving in front of my nose. However, plenty did make a break for it and found its way onto my face in only the way rouge mucus can. I admit to maybe noming a little that dribbled as far as my top lip, oh don't cringe, we all do it and you know it! In a related incident though, it wasn’t the only thing to find its way out of that orifice last week.

Oddly enough it all started after another fluid found its way to the back of my throat and back up through my nose. No it wasn’t that, and not that either. It was some soapy bath water. I don’t know how many times I have to lean back and put my face under the water in a bath to realise holding my nose IS actually a good idea. Sure, the water doesn’t percolate my airways every time I’ve done this, but thinking back it’s happened more times in a bath than it probably has at a swimming pool. Maybe it’s just feeling relaxed and not expecting to be penetrated in the head by a fluid. When swimming it’s all about the breathing, but laid back in a warm bath with only the stresses of the day to work out and disregard its maybe something I tend to overlook when it comes to holding my breath. At the time I thought, ‘ah cack’, it’s not a very nice feeling. Unlike most times that this has happened, the uncomfortable feeling didn’t fade. The burning sensation from within stuck and this irritation to my inner linings seemed to create the crack in my immune system that was ready to be invaded by whatever lurked. Well, maybe it was a cold already about to strike and all down to chance but it did seem some co-incidence.

Whatever the reason, it quickly became a week I wanted to end as soon as possible. I hardly ever go to bed before midnight, a habit of a lifetime. However the week just gone had me in bed very early by my body clock. Work saw me doing a great Jesus impersonation. Since most people seem to take his supposed resurrection as gospel I’m afraid he’s the only ‘real life’ definition of a zombie I can culturally relate to. If you’re religious don’t worry it’s all about the dictionary definition. Just in case you’re wondering I’m just explaining myself on the off chance I end up in the Republic of Ireland sometime in the near future and end up being fined for Blasphemy... I can’t afford the 25,000 Euro fine it might end up in – in my opinion an outdated law to support an already religiously bias constitution. Anyway, back on track, I was a zombie, fully functioning except my head had a slower response time. Oddly work went smoother with the distraction of a leaking face then it did for many a week previously. I just hope I didn’t annoy too many of my colleagues with the constant attempts not to contaminate anything but my tissues. In retrospect I maybe should have taken a day off but I had reached crunch time on a few items of work that had been months building up to and with deadlines of this weekend I had to get them done. I was able to isolate myself enough not to be a health hazard and also made it through so it was a small victory that means I might actually be able to leave on time this week coming for once, woohoo! Gotta love the private sector... Maggie Thatcher and her Conservative ideology still have a lot to answer for!

I'm feeling better now, though I'm still suffering the after effects and needing tissues for my nose. Possibly a little bit of a sinus infection? Shall see how that goes. At least my head is no longer lost in Snotville, Coldland. I best get ready for work tomorrow with another bath now. No Bank Holiday for me! Will this bath end with the same result as one of last week’s? I sincerely hope snot.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Sometimes it's all a blur

It’s all a blur... it’s time to get up, time to go to work. Time to have to work late to get things done to the tight timeline of numerous deadlines. Time to pay the bills and time to do the housework. Time to worry about time getting away from me - to time dragging its heels at the worst moment. Whether it’s time to check the list of what it’s time to do, or time to forget about the list and worry about what I haven’t done.

On the other hand there are some great things that it’s recently time for again... Saturdays at 3pm and other random times like the first evening game of the football season (even though it didn’t go too well for the Crues on Tuesday).

Contrary to what I'm typing, I’m not feeling down, but at the moment it does seem to me like the weeks are all merging into one. It’s odd because in a way it’s a good thing. The wedding, and more importantly in regards to my sanity - the honeymoon, will be here before we know it. The bad thing about that is that the time for setting times to do things is well and truly over. It’s now time to spend more time worrying about doing what needs to be done in order for the wedding to go well. Like the opening credits to the cartoon, The Racoons; Life would be simple in the forest except for... working full time and then some + trying to keep the house in order and having chance to live a little, planning a wedding and stag do, keeping up to speed with everything and trying to stay sane with life outside the forest where the Cyril Sneer’s of the world pull the strings never seeming to care about anything but exploiting every resource they can and to what end? I know billions of people are more stressed and in a more difficult position to live a happy life, but when time is something not one of us can yet create, seeming to lose some into a blob of existance (even if only in the mind) would appear to be a little disconcerting.

At least it’s still summer time in the urban Evergreen Belfast forest... hrmmm, oh well.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Land-lubbers out to see the Tall Ships in Belfast... arrr

The last few days have apparently seen crowds, comparative to 1/3 of the population of Northern Ireland, find their way into Belfast to take in the sight of the Tall Ships that took part in the last leg of the 2009 Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge. Well and truly keeping Belfast's numerous maritime links in the public imagination, and this year with the biggest Tall Ship event to meet these shores for decades, the city seems to have capitalised. Norn Girl and I were eager to make the time to head to what has to be the most publicised and plugged event I’ve ever seen in this part of the world. We wanted to go, not because of the adverts, but because of our past experiences at similar tall ship events in Belfast over the last few years. The last time so many tall ships were here for a previous event on this scale though was 1991. An event my fiancĂ©e went to see as a child. A long wait for the event to be repeated in full – so what went on and what did we find?

The build-up has been going for weeks if not months. The BBC have been plugging it, the local press all seemed to jump onboard and the council turned just about every lamppost in Belfast city centre into a ‘summer in the city – tall ships are coming’ beacon. With that level of promotion I don’t think there was anyone in Northern Ireland with access to a TV or Radio who could have not known that this event was happening. It was quickly upon us and the local press became flooded with the news of the arriving ships. The talk at work was constantly about when everyone was going down to see them and the anticipation of the events of the last 2 days of the week and the weekend were starting to seem a little feverish. The first ships of the Atlantic Challenge had arrived much earlier and here they are docked prior to the events on land that started on the Thursday. I nipped down to take a sneak peek at the first two boats to dock to see what they were like compared to ships that had been here in previous years and I have to say they didn’t seem much different, it was the quantity of ships that was going to be the spectacle this year ... or so it seemed.

On Thursday and Friday nights we could hear the fireworks going off down on the quaysides from our house and over the TV. We had seen what must have been similar displays including hot air balloons at a previous year’s event and really enjoyed them so were a little sorry we didn’t head down to these this time. Saturday morning was soon upon us and Norn Girl and I had to head into town to get our hair cut before heading down to see the vessels. The bus into town was packed, more than your average Saturday morning crowd. This was sadly a sign of things to come. Town had been quite busy the 2 days previous with the traffic also very heavy but Saturday was something else. The previous days had been wet and not ideal for those braving the early bird trips to see the ships. Saturday started that way, but before long the outlook turned and the sun was out with blue streaks and patches dotted between the white and grey clouds. We were a wee while in the hairdressers but it was much needed; I emerged with a much lighter head and a slightly itchy neckline. After a quick port of call at some shops for Norn Girl to buy some clothes, we wandered to the side of the Lagan.

Like the previous days in town, it was heaving! We first of all tried to make it down to Clarendon Dock. This took about 10 minutes shuffling and jigging to avoid people kicking our feet or running over them with buggies. We made it but were in touch with Norn Girl's family who were also in the area. We made it to the dock but were soon walking back the way we came as it was decided we were to head to the Queen's Island side to get something to eat together. We intended to make it back to that side of the event... we never did. Back to the Lagan Weir footbridge and it was one way traffic. A constant snake of people trying to cross. We got in line and joined what could have made an impressive conga line! Within minutes I was being tripped from behind by a lady with a child’s buggy – she took out the back of my left ankle and ran over my left foot. No apology, she just looked at me blankly and pushed on. I gave her evils! It wasn’t long before we were stuck behind 2 old ladies who were developing their own version of musical statues. A few paces were followed by sudden stops causing a headache for everyone behind, especially us who had to try and avoid sending them into the river below. In fairness to them they were being distracted by the sights of the stunt plane doing twirl, loops and tumbles through the air. That and the Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men!

We finally made it across but were soon queuing all the way into the mass of people bunched together around the Odyssey. It was impossible to move at times. There just wasn’t enough floor space for people to walk. We made our way into the Odyssey itself and had to laugh at the epic queues for both the ladies' and men’s toilets. I’ll be amazed if everyone who tried to make it to those toilets made it in without letting loose prematurely. This great queuing trend continued. Everything except the cinema had a huge queue. Nothing was going to be done soon. We headed out again and into the melee. The entertainment for this side of the event seemed just the same as previous years except there were more stalls and a bigger beer tent. One thing that did seem new was the quagmire. It seemed like wooden chips had tried to be laid down for the festivities but it hadn’t worked. It was a mud bath between the stalls and women with sandals were getting a free beauty treatment to their feet.

After another queue we finally had our hands on some food and we took our burgers down towards the boats to have a look at them. In previous years where there had been only around half a dozen ships we’ve been lucky enough to look around them. On this occasion it was hard enough to even get through the 10-deep crowds to the railings to look at the ships. Queues everywhere! Queues longer than your average land-lover would have been willing to stand in - all to simply look around a stationary ship.

We had a look at the boats but in all honesty we must have spent more time looking at the back of peoples legs whilst trying not to clip their heels. That was a shame because they looked great too!
Here are a couple of the tall ships:

Our trip had taken a couple of hours but all we had managed to do was queue several times and see the tall ships moored up. We had to leave eventually to head to pick up our wedding invitations and I at least left a little disappointed that because of the volume of people we’d not had chance to really do anything. Over the few days the Ships had been in town, I’d heard a few accounts from different people at work and at a fun ‘computer game party’ that turned into a card game party on Saturday night. It was a mixed bunch of reviews but the general gist was the same as my experience. Too many people, too many queues.

Today (Sunday) was the day the ships set sail. We planned to head to see them on their way and to see the spectacle that was really missing from the previous days queuing. It didn’t really go too well again though. Setting off in what we thought would be plenty enough time to get to the park and ride and from there to get to the beach to see the ships blown along Belfast Lough. We instead found ourselves stuck in a 3 mile traffic jam on the motorway. We were trying to get to Loughshore where a small event was going on with a few classic cars, a wee market and some entertainment. The plan was to watch the ships gracefully make their way into the Irish Sea then to enjoy the sun and look around the market and take in the atmosphere.

What we ended up doing for the first couple of hours was queuing. All but one ship was on the horizon by the time we were able to get there.

It was a real shame. We were not alone in having that problem though by all accounts. The upside was that we did see the ships out on the horizon and we did have a nice time by the beach in the sun. There was more space at this little event and plenty of chairs laid out for people to sit down. Lots of food stalls and although a fair few queues, nothing as crazy as the day before. It was just the traffic issue that was the sinking blow to being able to enjoy watching the boats sailing.

So overall, my weekend can be summed up as being dominated by queuing on land. Through bad luck or bad planning it was a little bit of a disappointment. Sadly the real spectacle for me turned out not to be the ships but the people. So many people! On the plus side it’s a great indication that people from all over Northern Ireland are willing to come out and enjoy something together when the effort is made to reach people... even maybe a little too much! Hehe.
Already, I can’t wait for the tall ships to return. I just hope that next time the events on the ground run as smoothly as the ships did on the water.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Captain's Orders

Our faithful captain from the good ship the USS Enterprise-D gives the order. The crew respond. We lift our tiny little Vodka Jellies to our lips and struggle to get it to dislodge by shaking, tapping and sucking at them until the time it comes to give up and stick a finger in. The gelatinous ruby red treats slip, slide and slop their way to our mouths and we await further instructions.

This is Captain's Orders. The very much unofficial Star Trek drinking game for sensible, stay-at-home, Saturday night, sci-fi obsessed individuals who have become slightly bored with the Saturday evening TV schedule, overcrowded cinemas and over priced everything else. Credit be to Norn Girl for her version of a drinking game that seems to be in existence already but that might see people with alcohol poisoning within minutes!

Every once in a while letting your hair down and having a little indulgence in the merrier things at our disposal is almost a necessity. Sure it’s not everyone’s favourite thing to do and some even avoid the stuff all together, on occasion when I was younger and had less common sense I might have even told myself never again. However I lived, I learnt and I no longer overdo it except on special occasion and when with family who should know better! The 2009 me doesn’t mind taking a small hit on the body to maintain some mental health. A couple of pints of Guinness, a Bottle of the red stuff or some Vodka over the 2 days away from the stresses, strains and deadlines of the workplace and life in today’s world isn’t such a crazy thing. The government ads might err on the side of caution, and rightly so, but for the grown adult with at least a little control, the extra units of alcohol taken onboard responsibly with food and water, can in my opinion make life that bit more enjoyable. Not that Star Trek isn’t enjoyable, but if you’ve ever the situation whereby you have Vodka Jelly shots sitting in your fridge and a copy of Star Trek; The Next Generation on DVD waiting to be watched, it makes perfect sense!

So the rules. A Jelly Shot (pre determined strengths can be determined, for those with health problems or a life choice - non-alcoholic, regularly prepared Jelly could be used too) is to be consumed once an order from Captain Picard has been made. This has to be a direct order, group orders count as one, multiple orders without Picard drawing breath also only count as one.

Further to this, deciphering whether something is an order can be trickier than it seems. As Norn Girls family had come around to join us for a wee while, we were in high spirits. Not long after with only Norn Girl, her sister and yours truly remaining, we found ourselves in the other form of higher spirits. Not drunken, just tipsy, but still finding many of Jean Luc’s orders that were not direct orders but implied orders. We ruled that the likes of nods did not count.

It was a fun episode we had landed with. ‘Relics’ of Season 6. It wasn’t long before the TV started to talk to us and it wasn’t the ongoing alcoholic consumption. One order in this episode had lol-ing at the screen and on the front page of the ‘fail-blog’ of our minds. Picard, after going through the motions of an order, ends his long sentence with the words ‘but that’s not an order’ – sadly we had already ingested the Jelly, he just can’t make his mind up sometimes... I think he was on to us!

The irony of our little drinking game came about again when the good old Scotty of the original series fame and featuring in the episode, got his hands on a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey. A green liquid of strong alcohol that it turns out had been given to Guinan by non-other than Jean Luc Picard himself! So whilst Jean Luc and Scotty were downing their beverage, we too had been digging into the pile of jellies. We can blame Data for his fair share of them, orders are to Data what flames are to moths. He just can't keep away!

As we were drinking to one of the only episodes of TNG with an explanation of synthahol – Star Fleet’s alcoholic substitute, we might have thought this may have been just a slight coincidence but the TV was soon talking to us again. Scotty was up and about in a scene portrayed to be the day after he had drunk the Green stuff whilst coming to terms with his situation... and at this point came the line, “never get drunk unless you’re willing to pay for it the next day!”. Wise words indeed, though thankfully no hangover was had and we were up bright and early Sunday morning to head to a Carboot sale. The only downside, unless like me you’ve very little shame of being high on life and would do it without the influence of alcohol anyway - was being measured for a Bra wearing my other half’s undergarment over my clothing. Apparently I’m a moobalicious B cup but I think much credit could be given to the baggy T-shirt – still, more trips to the Gym required me thinks.

To finish off a fine night of Captain's orders we created shadow puppets, watched 2 and a half men and played some Wii games – I never said we were normal!

Captain's Orders - if you’re stressed and fancy living long and prospering, maybe you could give it a try and let us know how you get on?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Was that always there?

Have you ever looked at a picture you’ve taken and come across something in it that you never remember seeing before, even if you've seen the same scene many times over?

This is a random picture I took on Wednesday 6th August. I usually find myself walking about this part of Belfast, heading around the shops and to the post office. I’ve even been known to head into the Northern Wig for a drink or two in the past. On this occasion though, I was on my way back to work via a quick visit to the shops, for this was the only hour I'd managed to free up to do so all week. Ever ready with my camera these days, I caught eye of what I thought would make a good picture. One of the tour buses was turning the corner to head down North Street and, thinking it might make a decent picture with the depth of buildings and other assorted busy bits going on, I fumbled in my pocket, but was only quick enough to miss the intended target completely. Not thinking anything of it except that it was a shame I didn’t make it in time, I carried on about my day.

It’s only now that I have finally uploaded the picture and cared to take a look at what I actually took a picture of, that I've discovered I’m so very much less observant than I might have given myself any credit for in the past... not that Norn Girl would have agreed that I was observant. I ‘boy’ look for things – aka never look under the leaves for the nuts when it comes to a missing item around the house. In my defence there is method to my madness – for although to the untrained eye, the house might be able to be described as messy and things could be seen as ‘out of place’- I usually remember where in the mess things are that I later come to look for. I think it was in the Rob Grant book, Incompetence, where the main character, a detective for a secret undercover agency keeps his place in an organised mess. The reason being, if someone comes to search the place or look through your belongings they aren’t as likely to pay close attention to putting things back as they were – revealing the fact they’d been there. Now I’m not saying I keep things untidy on purpose, in reality its usually just a matter of time and effort, but what the hey, it’s my blog so I’ll claim it as being a stroke of genius that I once read in a book, why not!

So back to the picture and after zooming in to see the mural a little closer I happened to notice something a little out of place. I took several tries at trying to reconcile with my memory, trying to remember if what I am now seeing was something that I'd maybe just walked by in the past and not noticed or if it wasn't in my minds eye of the street.

These days, the internet has at least a good go at providing an answer to anyone willing to do a little digging. A new use of Google street view is about to be revealed; using it as a historical record to make sure you’re not going mad! And here it is, the same scene on Google Street View:

View Larger Map

(please note, if you’re reading this well into the future and also given the link to the street view 360 degree view is working - the pictures displayed might be more recent than at the time I posted this and it won’t make as much sense. If this is the case, here is a quick description: there is no Obel tower in this picture and there are still roadwork’s on the left hand side of Waring Street where the Premier Inn is still surrounded by its scaffolding. Everything else is pretty much the same.)

So what’s the difference apart from the angle of the pictures and the big things like a new building mentioned above? For me at least, I was glad that I wasn’t losing my marbles and there is something that wasn't there several months ago! Unless, maybe these things are seasonal and get taken down/put up a lot?

I’ll give you a clue... they’re watching over us... eek! (as Norn Girl pointed out, in a Dr Who - Blink, ‘Angel Statue’ style, they could probably sneak up on you if they wanted!

Did you spot them? Here they are:

I’m really confused as to which building they’re on top of, I think perspective might be playing a few tricks in the picture, so next time I’m down that way, I’m taking a detour for a closer look.

- Update 07/08/09 -

Curiosity got the better of me. I made that slight detour on my way home today and discovered that I was indeed going mad, d’oh! Google helped me think I wasn’t, but I am. Most hypochondriacs will use Google to discover what they’ve got or are going to get next. It appears I’m using Google to wrongly feel better about the state of my memory and what life sized statue I might have forgotten existed today.

Au Lapin Blanc, you were so right! It’s the Merchant hotel building, as seen from the side on and at what must be the only angle to make them look like they’ve hopped across the rooftops. The Google pictures are just a different size and perspective and hide the trio on their perch. Maybe they have more in common with those fictional weeping angel statues after all. Ah well, another mystery solved!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Beautiful Birds in Belfast

Birds everywhere! Big ones, little ones, noisy ones, stalking ones, more stalking ones - just swarms of them circling Belfast and noming up the mess they find. Anything edible looking which has found itself on the floor and that is anywhere near a beak-sized snack is set upon. Whether it’s a putrid gloop of chunky sick only hours free of its stomach confines, or whether it’s a fresh sandwich making its first and last appearance on the streets as white trash, it’s all fair game. Others Birds it seems have found it more their liking to hang in a metal bird’s flight path - in the haven of Victoria Park. Sensible birds those ones. Its hard-paved loving bird brains that I’ve been keeping my eye on though, which is a shame because those I found at Victoria Park a couple of weeks back seemed to be having fun. One likely looking character was playing hide and seek with his Geesey looking friends but I don’t think he’d thought it through too well...

As you probably read a few posts ago, I was having run ins with Pigeons and losing my numerous games of dare with them... yes they do know they’re playing because they let on with a victory dance where they nod their heads back and forth, crick their neck until they’re slightly leaning into the light and blink at you with a glint in their eye! So as you can probably tell, our street occupying feathery friends aren’t really my cup of tea when it comes to creatures of the animal kingdom... they manage to plop in those well before I get to drink them and in all honesty that’s not the cup of tea I would like to drink!

The sight that I never really noticed until today was that like buses going up and down Royal Avenue, the Seagulls do exactly the same! They follow the road at about a height ¾ of the buildings either side of their flight path and make circuits around the streets scouring their corridors for the glimpse of a meal below. There doesn’t appear to be a pecking order as each Seagull seems to be on its own route but with little flapping it seems the streets of central Belfast are almost perfectly set up for Seagull scavenging. The tall sides drive the wind one way and they ride any thermal they can hitch onto saving their energy as they are guided by the layout of the road below. Equidistant between the pavements, keeping an eye out for any spare carbohydrates crusting the floor. Some of those seagulls really are a bit more selective than their smaller Pigeon rivals but they all swoop for the best easy pickings and should that get in the way of a human that’s only a secondary concern for many.

Today I had a close encounter on the way home with one of the largest Seagulls I’ve come across or at least it seemed quite huge close up. With its wings spread and feet geared for landing, it was aiming for its evening snack when it happened to catch on that I was in its way and it was about to to crash land on my head rather than its intended target that was some way behind me. The gull, beautiful, sleek and imperious in its motion and presence at such unexpected close quarters almost won me over into thinking joining Bill Oddie in a hut to twitch wouldn’t be so bad. It was quite an odd moment, I’ve had owls, bats, birds of prey swoop over my head in the past at shows, on the moors of Yorkshire and the likes but just a plain old seagull doing an impression of a terradactyl about to hit a wall but pulling out and hovering for a few seconds in front of my eyes was a fine sight. I did manage to say hello to it as it was on its way back up to the sky so it wasn’t entirely a one way encounter. It was just a shame that it so unexpected and over so quickly I didn’t have time to pull out my camera. I did capture a snap of one of its friends perched high waiting its turn at the lights though.

Alas, it was just after food and so no doubt with a chip held high in the air it’s an experience we can all have many times over if its not making it a little bit forced just to meet a seagull . It does seem these birds are addicted to fast food though and like gangs being encouraged by the lure of drugs money, the means to an ends of 'class A' bird food is along the lines of; once you and your buddies get your beak on it, you do what you have to, to ensure it’s your species that keeps it. That was the scene that played out before our eyes near the Dublin Road movie house the other week, before we went to see Bruno.

A small flock of Piegons were head to head with a colony of Seagulls. The prize – Pizza.

The pigeons held no sense of caution and would follow the food where ever it was being dragged to, even if it was in the way of oncoming traffic that wasn’t going to stop for them. As usual the pigeons won their game of dare and got a few pecks in, banging their little faces into the cheese over and over and over again. However, when confronted with even numbers of opposing birds, the Seagulls pushed them out of the way and the smaller pigeons avoided confrontation. The Gulls were not going to let this slice of luck pass by and ended up squabbling between their selves and not making much headway with getting anything down. A display of cunning to nab it, leave all your friends hungry shortly before being chased out of town and being made to drop anything you had, then come crawling back to the pack, seemed their preferred tactics. This though was just panning out to be a never ending futile endeavour , a repetative game of ‘pass the pizza’. Not far out of sight this was being played out under the gaze of the pigeons who had in the meantime gathered their backup. This was fine untouched pizza and if the gulls were going to get it they were going to have to earn the right to it. The pigeons made their move, 2 to one they now had the mass in their favour and there was a free for all that ensued... as suddenly as they’d all jumped the stuffed crust they were scurrying and leaping from the scene... a giant ape, one not looking where he was going, lifted his foot up for the next stretch forward and came down in the middle of the cheesy treasure. I could have sworn some of those birds took a double take at him with a “whaaaa, mr... nooooo!”, the disappointment was compounded even further by a clever little gull dived down with shock and awe on his side. Swooping the remainder of the pizza, that wasn’t embedded into the pavement, up into the air and far away from all but his birdy friends with the same idea. No doubt for the unsavoury incident to be repeated elsewhere.

It's a mad urban kingdom out there, so I offer this one word of advice for those heading into Belfast...


Sunday, 2 August 2009

Football is back!

The summer drought is almost over and the 2009/10 domestic football season here in Northern Ireland is almost upon us. The anticipation this year, even amongst those not seemingly so interested in past seasons, seems much higher. So what awaits those of us who have the sense to brave the year long wet Northern Irish weather to cheer on our local teams to victory in the newly named league? A newly named league with a familiar ring to it... the Carling Premiership.

Crusaders wait for Kick offTechnically for 4 teams the season has already started. The IFA Carling Premiership begins on the 8th August but for Glentoran, Crusaders, Linfield and Lisburn Distillery, competitive football began in July with the Qualifying rounds of the Champions league and the inaugural Europa league. Unfortunately all teams were knocked out of their respective competitions with Crusaders showing the most determination, losing 5-3 on aggregate to FK Rabotnicki.

The tie was even after the first leg game, 1-1 with the Crues outplaying their opposition but with a twist of fate, the hatchetmen ended up having to recover in the dying seconds with a Davy Rainy header. Earlier in the 2nd half, before the dramatic late equaliser, the Crues had Colin Coates dismissed for some amateur dramatics from the opposition. That in turn was followed late in the half by a red card for the Rabotnicki keeper and the resulting penalty being missed before the late goal. In the 40 degree heat of the Macedonian capital, Skopje, the Northern Irish contingent were undone but not without putting up a fight. It’s a good time to remember the Crusaders team have jobs to do back home as well as play football and the Irish League is semi pro. FK Rabotnicki in comparison are full time and only two years ago drew against Bolton Wanderers. The game was 2-0 with the Crues bringing it back to 2-1, but the heat told and a bad pass led to 3-1 and then nothing could stop 4-1 before a late consolation brought the score to 4-2.

Since these games, preseason has been continuing in full force and one such game for an Irish League club, in the form of Glentoran, was a glamour friendly against none other than Leeds United.

Fabian Delph at the OvalHaving held season tickets at two clubs in my lifetime, one being Crusaders and the other being Leeds, Glentoran an Irish league club playing Leeds was a game I had to see. My dad and cousin were over on what was also a wedding planning related trip so we took a wee party along to the game. It was admittedly a low key atmosphere compared to games at Elland Road but that’s understandable given it was a friendly. Players gracing the Oval were the likes of Fabian Delph and Jermaine Beckford but it was Robert Snodgrass who broke the deadlock early on after a goal that seemed to happen in slow motion from a lucky deflection that fell to him from the edge of the box in front of the Leeds support. Beckford made the second breakthrough in a game that saw a strong first team being fielded by both clubs. He ran on to a through ball and rounded the keeper to score. The Glens were doing ok but it wasn’t until they took most of their supposedly best team off that they started to pose any problems for Leeds. Lots of changes and the dynamic of the game changed, culminating in a goal for Glentoran. Certainly the best goal of the game. It was a strong run towards the box from Andrew Hall, who then sent in a cross that was met by Grant Gardiner who finished brilliantly. Leeds finished it off late on with another goal with a final score of 1-3.

This is only a taste of things to come and although a losing start for Irish League clubs there will be winners by the end of the season, the main winners being the fans and anyone who takes in a game. The football in Northern Ireland may not have the funds backing it to bring overpaid world beating brilliance to the petite grounds of Northern Irish Clubs or indeed currently and more critically; retain the talent they do develop. However, as I’ve stated before, the gap in entertainment isn’t as big as most people seem to think between the English leagues that here in N.I. Or to put it another way, there isn’t much difference between what people perceive as football worth paying through the nose to watch from the comfort of their own homes compared to that being offered to them to witness first hand for a fraction of the cost and much more besides - namely all the experiences that make football the game so marketable today for BSKYB and that keep it the one of the main sports spanning all walks of life and entertaining people around the world.

Through a more professional attitude within the sport and in my opinion, the IFA slowly changing for the better (still with much room for improvement though), the league here is improving - this can be seen both on the pitch and (when funding has been able to be accessed) off the pitch too. The focus has to be on brining more fans and families back to game and it’s the image built up by the media that seems the biggest hurdle. Put it this way, pricing is amazing value for money. With Crusaders a full season of home fixtures for a junior (15-17yr olds) is £35, and Kids/OAP’s just £30! A full adult ticket is still also a bargain in comparison to other forms of entertainment at £120 (see the Crusaders FC site for more details) – most other clubs are also around the same in terms of their pricing. Our football clubs are also helping to bring constructive solutions to problems that face our communities. Give a kid a chance to emulate their football hero’s and it might keep them from getting into trouble on the streets. Kids from all 3 sides of the community; Nationalist, Loyalist and the growing number who don’t care - all taking part together. Recently Cliftonville FC and Crusaders FC, North Belfast rivals both looking to the future, have even joined forces to develop the Academy North, a football academy which will bring an amazing opportunity for talented youngsters in the area.

So with this in mind the big question is just the season ahead. This season looks to be the most exciting for many a season. With Linfield’s dominance broken by a determined Glentoran side last season. Those two will be challenging again for title honours this season, however thrown into the mix will likely be a couple of other sides, Crusaders who now have greater strength and depth with some great summer signings made by Stephen Baxter and Portadown who with Ronnie McFall at the helm have always played well and could have the potential to make an impact. Portadown are back in the top flight after their omission due to the timing of some paper work last season and like with their CIS Cup victory last season, they’ll be out to impress and will have a point to prove.

Along with these sides there could be a few who turn past form upside down teams like Cliftonville who underperformed last season after a great season the year before and could make the rise up the league again. Who knows who else might spring a suprise, many players in the Irish League only keep 1 year contracts and there have been many changes at several clubs. Even at the foot of the table it’s not looking like anyone could be classed as a favourite to go down and with anyone more than capable of taking points from anyone else, it’s the sort of football that might suck for the gamblers but will keep those keeping up with the action enthralled from beginning to end. The split 5 games from the end as with last season adds a little more spice to the mix, if things are tight it could be a nail biter for some teams well before the end of the season.

I just hope to go with the increased interest in this coming season the press will get on board. With Carling the new sponsors, they’ll hopefully pitch in with some marketing know-how and the games and clubs might be helped to finally gain some of the good publicity and coverage they deserve. Saying that, as any long time fan of the Irish League would tell you - don’t hold your breath. A lot of the media seemingly have no interest in football here and when it is covered it’s half baked, seemingly second hand and with more errors than the 2007-08 Derby County defence. Anyway, enough of the problems to be overcome. The gist is the only decent way to follow the league is to go to games and see it unfold in person.

This weekend, I laid hands on my season ticket and can’t wait for the league to start. Personally I’ll be over the moon with a season like last and for those in Red and Black to bring home more silverware back to Seaview. Win, lose or draw though, there are thousands of folks in N.I who will be watching, cheering and singing to every kick of the games live from the stands on a Saturday afternoon, enjoying the highs and lows in each other’s company.

Where ever you might be, if you live within distance of a club, or get a chance to visit N.I during the season, why not take the plunge and give the Irish League and your local side a try. Here’s hoping for a great season of entertainment and more progress on and off the field for the sport of Football in Northern Ireland.


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