Thursday, May 3, 2012
Sport in Ulster
Truly wonderful news all round about the forthcoming rugby union European Cup Final between the Irish provinces of Ulster and Leinster. And likewise for the goodwill of certain national airlines in offering weekend return tickets from Belfast to London for £477.97 to marry the mood of this truly historic and empowering moment of national reconciliation. Viva Las Vegas yet again.
Talking of which I caught three interesting BBC Northern Ireland features last week on the glory years of sports success in the Seventies and Eighties. As mentioned in an earlier post, the sportsmen and women of Ulster brought unqualified pride to the country during very dark days indeed. This particular set of programmes included reference to yet more figures from the past such as boxers Dave Boy McCauley and Charlie Nash, golfer Ronan Rafferty, snooker player Dennis Taylor, athlete Mike Bull, Formula One's John Watson and the late road racer Tommy Herron.
It also included three very interesting pieces of football footage. There were very rare clips from the training session which preceded George Best's swansong for the national team - the extraordinary 2-2 draw against Holland in Rotterdam on 13th October 1976. This would prove to be his penultimate game for Northern Ireland while the match is oft-referenced to this day for his success in carrying out a pre-match threat to nutmeg Johann Cruyff during the game.
There were also earlier clips of the Northern Ireland team applauding the Yugoslavian side onto the Windsor Park pitch in 1975 for a European Championship qualifier - the first international match in the country since October 1971 and with home games having been played on the British mainland in the interim because of the scale of civil unrest and terrorist threat. The narration certainly suggested that the Yugoslavian football authorities were under no obligation to travel to Belfast at this time in light of the decision of other national and international teams to not play there. A bold, brave and truly worthy gesture in hindsight from another physically beautiful country that would tragically face its own sectarian nemesis over a decade and a half later.
Lastly the programme included brief footage of an even earlier Seventies Irish League championship decider at The Oval ground in East Belfast between Linfield and Glentoran. It showed the winning goal from Linfield's Eric Magee and then the pitch invasion at the final whistle. The upbeat and stock retro narration accompanying this clip tending to sit in some considerable contrast to the Linfield fan hitting a departing Glentoran player around the head with a Union Jack-adorned flagpole and thus leaving the assaulted invidual to leave the pitch with his hands upon his bruised cranium.
Shame that the BBC intern who cut or complied this edit didn't take notice at the time as it would have sat perfectly well in last Monday's Dominic Sandbrook Seventies documentary and the sub-section on the Droog-like scary football hooligan ultras of yore.