Northern Ireland v Everton: What’s the point?

July 14, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 8

Northern Ireland v Everton – What’s the point?

So, half an Everton team beat a Northern Ireland side featuring four regular squad players in a match where neither set of players were at full fitness levels. What did anyone learn from this? For David Moyes, it was a chance to assess how his young players cope playing with seasoned first teamers and to further his players’ progress towards match fitness; but those who turned out for the Northern Ireland ‘select’ could easily have done that with the clubs that employ them. For Nigel Worthington, cleverly disguised as Roy Millar, he will have picked up very little from watching this drab 90 minutes that he couldn’t have found out from you or me.

Irish League players can’t cut it at International level. Sure in days gone by there were exceptions, but can you really convince me that Peter Thompson or Gary Hamilton have set the International stage alight? The only one who can claim to have made and impact in Europe in recent years is Glenn Ferguson, but I’m not sure being banned from Prague is quite what we’re looking for. Oval hero Hamilton was back for this match to show that he is more suited to the ‘big fish-small pond’ scenario. Alongside him was Kevin Braniff, showing good upper body strength and aerial ability, but demonstrating the main indication of his Irish League status, that is the ‘first touch syndrome’. That six Irish league players took part, along with a string of players from the lower English and Scottish leagues who were all captained by the unemployed Stephen Lomas pretty much sums up the quality on show. This was dubbed a showpiece match and had the players featured in the match programme squad lists turned up it would have been. But they didn’t so it wasn’t.

Now far be it for me to be pessimistic and condemning against a Milk Cup committee who persuaded the Irish FA that this would be a good idea. That they also persuaded me to purchase a ticket at £18 so that I could watch my childhood heroes Sean Webb and Sammy Morrow deserves credit also. As a marketing ploy (and I see it as little else) this was a financial success. The committee played the 25th anniversary card spot on. If half the Everton squad turned up to my 25th Anniversary I’d be reasonably happy although I’d be keeping an eye on the thirst and antics of Shandy van der Meyde. However, as much of a success as it was for the Milk Cup and its ego, it was equally a waste of time for Nigel Worthington. How many of these players changed the manager’s mind about whether or not they deserve a full cap? Dean Holden said he would walk from Falkirk to Windsor for the chance – Thing is Dean, so would I. And I’m crap. Holden played well, along with several other players including Keith O’Hara, but did they really show enough to say I deserve to play against Denmark, Spain, Sweden? I doubt it.

Now perhaps I’m mellowing as I get older, but I thought Ciaran Toner actually looked the part. He not only looked energetic and committed, but showed glimpses of quality in his passing and movement, particularly when he moved from right flank into the centre. There you go – A positive. It’s the only one I can find from an otherwise pointless affair.


Soccer Sight – Another triumph for ‘Football for All’

July 11, 2007

Published: Coleraine Times, 11th July 2007

Are you planning on heading down to Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday to watch Northern Ireland XI against Everton?  Are you hoping to see attractive football and goals?  If you are, consider yourself fortunate.  In Northern Ireland there are 5000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted.  However, whilst there are many difficulties to be faced, sight problems do not seem to quench the passion for sport.  Football can overcome many obstacles and thanks to the RNIB, in conjunction with the Irish Football Association and the George Best Foundation, blind or visually impaired folks will still be able to take in the action and the atmosphere at this weeks showpiece match.  The project is called Soccer Sight and provides audio description via a personal receiver and transmitter.  It allows the blind or visually impaired person listening to sit in their normal seat with their mates rather than go to a special designated area to receive the commentary.  It was launched in March of this year and made its debut at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s 2-1 victory over Sweden

In order for the scheme to run smoothly and consistently, the IFA ran a competition via their website to find two commentators.  The winners of the competition, as judged by the BBC’s Joel Taggart were Brian Elliot of Newtownards and Robin Peake from Ballynahinch.  After a trial run at the Setanta Cup game between Linfield and Glentoran and some Visual Awareness training, the pair were put to the test for the European Championship qualifier.  Robin says “It’s fairly nervy, because you know that there are people listening who are forming opinions on the match from how accurately and objectively you describe what’s happening on the pitch.  I was surprised how tired you can get by concentrating on describing what’s going on, so it’s good to have Brian with me to break it up with his analysis.”  Funded by the George Best foundation, the system will allow older members of the crowd to still enjoy the atmosphere despite diminishing eyesight.  As Robin explains, it differs from Radio Commentary in a number of ways: “If you took a walkman and tuned into the game you might get interruptions as they cross over to other matches, but importantly a radio commentator is not as focused on describing what’s happening off the pitch, be it a manager fuming on the sideline, a substitute warming up or what is happening in the crowd.  These are things that make the football match experience whole, and for those who can hear the crowd react around them but not know what they are reacting to, that must be very frustrating.”

The Milk Cup team have decided to utilise the scheme for the 25th Anniversary Challenge match between Everton and a Northern Ireland select side.  As a result the equipment and commentators will be in place so that those with little or no eyesight, can still enjoy the full matchday experience.  If you know of anyone who may benefit from this scheme then contact Barry Macaulay at the RNIB on 90329373 or email