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Biting Back: Here European competition means more than money

By Conor McLaughlin

There are still four days until the new Irish League fixture lists are revealed but, for a select band of fans, it's today when the fun really starts.

The draws for the first two qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League will ensure that production rates at certain offices and workplaces across the country grind to a halt as Crusaders, Glenavon, Linfield and Glentoran supporters attempt to plot their respective courses across the continent - subject to the completion of Uefa's traditional dragging of heels when it comes to confirming fixtures, of course.

While the majority of stakeholders at English Premier League clubs scoff at the very idea of Europa League participation, nobody on this side of the Irish Sea has allowed the lustre of European football to be weighted in simply financial terms.

It's true that the cash sums on offer to our sides are a pittance as far as English top brass are concerned, but nobody who's following developments at Uefa headquarters today will care a single jot about that.

Ours is a league which prides itself on delivering 'real' football - and real football fans don't see pound signs when their team qualifies for Europe. They see honour, they see prestige and they savour the swell of pride that comes with flying the flag on such a prominent platform.

It's a little ironic, then, that an English team find themselves in today's draw but with new West Ham boss Slaven Bilic well versed in the values of European football, perhaps the Upton Park outfit will embrace the opportunity they have been presented with - one that could well see them strutting out at one of our 'real' football grounds towards the end of next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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