When Northern Ireland welcomed England to Windsor Park on September 7, 2005, I was fortunate enough to have a ticket for the match. Very fortunate indeed because my brother and I only got it a day before kick off.
There was a real connection between the team and the fans that night. I will always remember seeing David Beckham walk onto the pitch at the height of his fame and being freaked out. Here was the man who is never off the television or out of the newspaper right in front of us. Beckham was followed by a squad worth millions that included a 19 year-old Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, The world’s best defender at the time, Steven Gerrard, who had just captained Liverpool to the Champions league, Michael Owen and Frank Lampard.
The NI game plan was to get in the English players faces. It worked and we knew as a crowd we had got inside the English team’s head. None of them wanted to be there. They wanted to be in their 12 bedroom mansions in Cheshire negotiating with Hello magazine the price of their Wedding Renewal Vows photo-shoot to someone off Hollyoaks!
The score was 0-0 at half time, we had been here before. At the reverse fixture we ended up losing 4-0 from this position. But this time there was belief was around the ground that we were about to witness something special.
Then, in the 73rd minute Steve Davis controlled the ball and sent a great chipped pass to David Healy who fired the ball past Paul Robinson. The five minutes after the goal was euphoric. I have never taken drugs but they couldn’t recreate what I felt when the ball went in the net that night. It was a great memory to share with my brother. None of us could believe what happened.
It was a nervy wait for the final whistle. I just wanted it to end as soon as possible. Don’t take this away from me. I have had enough disappointment with football (I support Liverpool). Please give me this.
The final whistle finally arrived. Little Northern Ireland had done it. We had beaten the mighty England. The English couldn’t get off the pitch fast enough. We didn’t want to go home. The DJ played Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond and Crazy Nights by KISS.
The NI team came out again and we all screamed as loud as we could for our new heroes. They weren’t going to qualify, but this was our World Cup Final and we won.
After the match we went to the England team bus. The only person who came out to sign autographs was David Beckham. Looking back now, that was a classy thing to do. After the buses drove off, my brother and I headed to the Lisburn Road where the party was still going.
I was in the middle of the road giving high fives to the cars driving past. We went into the Bot where they played the whole match again. I remember cheering just as loud the second time I saw the goal.
Even now if I’m feeling a bit low I will stick on one of my two copies (English coverage and NI coverage) of the DVD to cheer myself up. And it works!
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