Singin’ the Blues at local football match

Declan loves football like Winnie the Pooh loves honey. Now when I talk about football, whether in the U.S., the U.K. or in my favorite made-up former Russian republic of Bumfukistan, I’m talking about world football—the kickie kind, the kind the entire planet plays except the US. No helmets required—unless you are Petr Cech.

Folks in the U.S. play a game called American football. I’m not going to say this again, so you need to keep up—football = headers and fancy footwork and not touchdowns. And I guarantee you that we will be talking about football a lot over the next seven months.

Perhaps the only thing that got Declan through a week of Boy Scout camp right before we left (other than not having to pack!) was the fact we were going to see a local professional team play the first full day we were in Belfast. Marilynn had left by then, and the Northern Ireland national football stadium, Windsor Park, not only shares a name with the street we’re living on, it’s also only a 10-minute walk away.

Windsor Park is home to the Linfield Blues of the Northern Irish Premier League, which were four points adrift of the league’s top team, Crusaders FC, a team they had defeated just days earlier. At full capacity, Windsor Park seats 14,000, compared to, say, Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal of the English Premier League, which seats slightly more than 60,000. Home average attendance for the Blues is 2,500, so getting tickets for a Tuesday night match was definitely not a problem.

The night’s opponent was Coleraine, a team in the top half of the table but one that Linfield was supposed to defeat handily. Expectations were understandably high.

The assistant referee on the home side (see picture) apparently had made a bad call against the home team during an earlier match, because the taunting began almost immediately. But when the Linfield captain got a second yellow card in the 34th minute, the howls became much louder and aimed this time at the head referee, who called the apparent infraction that earned the yellow card.

While I was more interested in the match than in the participants, I did feel the Linfield supporters had a legitimate gripe at the sending off because I can’t see how any referee was in a proper position to call a foul, much less a yellow card offense.

Even though the home team, down to 10 men, played admirably for 30 plus minutes, Coleraine scored the only (and winning) goal in the 75th minute. One can sense when a goal is forthcoming, and this one was well due. From the shouts of impassioned fans (mostly men, of course) you’d have thought the Linfield team name was the “Fook Sakes” or the “For Fook Sakes” instead of the Blues. Linfield scored an equalizing goal a few minutes later, only to have a player called offsides and the goal disallowed.

The Crusaders won their match on Tuesday to extend their lead over Linfield to seven points, with a lot more football still to play this season.

I’m sure we’ll attend more Linfield matches this year, as well as those of several other teams. It’s a great way to watch the locals and learn a few new curse words and the proper way to pronounce them.

First day … not a bad view

It was a long, hard slog, but we finally made it. Preparing for a trip of this magnitude requires a substantial amount of effort — that always seems to come up short.

No matter how hard one prepares, there are always things you forget … or wish you hadn’t brought along. Who knew we’d need a number of door stops because all of the doors in university housing swing shut? Who knew there’d be no clothes hangers in the closets, and who wants to really buy those considering we left literally hundreds at home?

I know it’s bad to complain about the queue line at immigration or at bag drop at Heathrow, when in third world countries dozens of people ride atop buses once the seats inside are full and some 30,000 Indians die in transportation-related crashes each year.

But after many starts and stops over 17 hours, we finally arrived at our new flat about 4 p.m. local time yesterday. The short flight between London and Belfast was uneventful. I’d forgotten (or didn’t know in the first place) at how desolate parts of England are as the BA jet flies.

At the very end, however, endless miles of sea quickly gave way to a patchwork of verdant fields bordered by rock fences, very quickly changing to low warehouses that mark the landing area at almost any airport. Right before landing, I caught a glimpse of  Samson and Goliath, the Harland & Wolff gantries that have only been in place for roughly 50 years but recall the city’s shipbuilding history — most famously that of Titanic.

If you’ve never been to Ireland, it’s difficult to describe how green the fields actually are. It’s  a rich yellow-green that American fields just can’t emulate. It’s a sight one never gets fully accustomed to nor ever takes for granted.

The day was beginning to darken as Marilynn finally arrived with the keys (Declan and I came over in the taxi while she stopped by university housing), but we had to lay in supplies at the local Tesco, a 10-minute walk. Prices were surprisingly good, compared to the US, but selection apparently wanes as the day moves on. Note to self: shop earlier in the day!

But we did manage to lay in enough supplies to make dinner (pasta with mushroom cream sauce), breakfast (corn flakes for the boy, fruit & nut museli for the adults), and plenty of tea. Marilynn and Declan returned there for things we didn’t know we’d need (a sponge, paper towels and the like), so it was a full first day, indeed.


The picture is the view from our living room window, which will be my office for the next seven months. Our backyard neighbors in Decatur have been known to go shirtless if the weather is nice, so I don’t believe that will happen too often in Belfast — especially in winter.

10 days before liftoff

Setting up a blog site may not be the best use of one’s time, 10 days before embarking on a seven-month journey to Belfast and beyond. But here it is nonetheless.

My wife is a Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University Belfast for the spring semester, where she will teach two classes and do research for her next book on literary responses to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Oh yeah, and she’s got another book that she edited coming out this spring with an Irish publisher. It will be much easier to go on a book tour when you’re on the east side of the pond.

Although we are not Irish, we named our son Declan to honor my wife’s research interests and our favorite place to travel. Little did we know he’d have auburn hair like many Irish kids to go along with his Irish name. Although we still don’t have a school nailed down for him yet, we know he’ll fit right in. It was in Derry during summer 2013 when he pledged allegiance to the EPL team Arsenal  and asked for his first jersey. Four Arsenal jerseys and those from nearly a dozen other teams later, he’s still into football (the world kind).

And I’m merely a humble writer, with a newspaper background and my own marketing communications company that specializes in technology and healthcare writing. It means that I’m infinitely portable in terms of work, which helps make this odyssey possible.

The photo is of Giant’s Causeway, taken in 2013. It’s a World Heritage Site and did not disappoint. Most people opt for the package bus tour, which includes a tour of the Bushmill’s Distillery. We hired a car for the day from Belfast, so no distillery for us.