One minute I’m feeling blue, the next minute everything’s all white - it can mean only one thing, I’ve got Irish Cup final fever.
On Saturday I’ll be jumping on the bandwagon to follow Gary Hamilton’s Blue and White Army to Windsor Park for the showdown with Ballymena. I’d like to think I’ve earned my right to hunt for glory due to my loyal support of the Lurgan Blues from 1986 through until 2000.
I can remember the first Glenavon match I ever went to like it was yesterday. I’d got hooked on football following the Mexico 1986 World Cup and had asked if there was anywhere I could go to see the beautiful game locally.
My Granda Bobby duly obliged by taking me to Ballyskeagh for the opening game of the 1986/87 season to watch Glenavon take on Distillery, in the days before they felt it necessary to prefix their name with Lisburn.
About five minutes before kick off I turned to my grandfather and asked, hesitantly, “When does the crowd get here?”
“I’m afraid this is it,” he replied, looking around at the smattering of flat-capped gents dotted about the terracing.
In that instant I learnt of the huge gulf between world soccer and grassroots football. I turned up at Ballyskeagh expecting to see Mexican waves and skills akin to Socrates and Maradona, instead I had to make do with Peter Love and Billy Drake in a ground that doubled up as a greyhound track.
What started as a tragic misunderstanding ended in a devoted love affair with Glenavon FC. I followed them through good times and bad, hardly missing a game home and away from then until the millennium when the Lurgan Blues took a backseat to my own football career, then rugby career, then my career as a father trying to convince his children that he genuinely used to be reasonably good at football and rugby.
As a member of Victoria Glenavon Supporters’ Club I fondly remember our annual trips to Ayr. Myself and my friend Craig were junior members of the club and we were always well looked after by our senior counterparts. Sometimes too well looked after, as it was a safe bet that one of us would end up ‘travel sick’ on any given bus, taxi or boat journey.
A taxi journey gave rise to one of my lasting memories of our trips to Ayr. Craig got in a taxi after a night out in one of Ayr’s premier nightspots and the driver asked him where he was going. Somewhat discombobulated, Craig asked the driver to take him to Lurgan.
“Lurgan?!” replied the taxi driver in a thick Scottish accent that would be impossible to recreate in print. “Where the hell is Lurgan?”
Calmly as you like Craig replied, “It’s just past Lisburn.”
In my 14 years as a member of the Blue and White Army, led by Terry Nicholson, Alan Fraser, Nigel Best, Billy Hamilton and that bloke from Catchphrase, I enjoyed a lot of highs and lows. I was singing my heart out when we won the Irish Cup in 1992 and also in 1997, but the memory that will always stay with me was of the last game of the season in 1994 when we threw away at two-goal lead to Portadown thus allowing Linfield (the Dick Dastardly of the Irish League) to win the title.
I’ll be joining my old pal Craig on Saturday for the Irish Cup final at Windsor Park. It’s that long since I’ve been to an Irish Cup final I had to ask him for directions.
“It’s just past Lisburn,” he said helpfully.