Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Morocco game a great chance for Northern Ireland to unearth diamond

Like many other Northern Ireland fans, the Neil Diamond classic ‘Sweet Caroline’ will always revive memories of those magical victories over England, Spain, Sweden et al.

However, the lesser-known Jim Diamond would probably have been more appropriate for those of us who travelled to the Faroe Islands last month.

‘I Should Have Known Better’, albeit the sentiment rather than the song, were among my thoughts as I made my way back onto one of the supporters’ buses in Toftir.

The draw with the Faroes, I feel, moves us from being in a fantastic position into one where we have it all to do again. However, hope springs eternal and the next qualifying double-header offers the opportunity for our team to stay in the hunt, just as the wins against Poland and Slovenia did in the last campaign.

Friendly games don’t always capture my imagination; however my interest in the Morocco match has actually been lifted by the number of new faces that we are likely to see in action.

I recall the defeat against Hungary a couple of years ago, when Niall McGinn was given his first taste of international footballer while still a Derry City player. Niall has gone onto become a fixture in the Northern Ireland squad and so too can players like Josh McQuoid and Lee Hodson.

Aside from the match itself, the Amalgamation has a busy week as we welcome fans from a number of countries to Belfast for the first ‘Football for All’ Fans’ seminar, which takes place over Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the Ramada Hotel.

The seminar will allow fans from a number of countries to talk about the work that they do both at club and international level.

Before that, we are listed to give evidence to the Committee for Justice at Stormont on Thursday, as we continue to fight local football’s corner on the proposed sports spectator sections of the new Justice Bill.

Whilst the Amalgamation generally supports the introduction of laws which will help to deal with the small instances of bad behaviour in local sport, we feel that football is being unfairly portrayed as the ‘black sheep’ of sport in Northern Ireland.

We were extremely disappointed that our concerns weren’t addressed by the Minister and his officials when the legislation was being drafted, my own view is that those responsible for its implementation have little connection with, or grasp of , football in this country.

We can only hope that a little common sense prevails in the end and that football fans are treated equally and with the same level of respect being offered to fans of other sports under the current proposals.

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