Belfast Telegraph

Linfield v Glentoran: What's it like to play in red-hot atmosphere of a Big Two clash?

Graham Luney and Chris Holt find out from two men who know all about it

Noel Bailie, Linfield: When I hang up my boots at the end of the season, the Big Two games are the ones that I will most the most — it’s why we play the game and the rivalry between the clubs is so intense.

I think the one main difference between this game and all the others is the crowd and the noise they generate. Linfield fans would not always sing at matches but you can certainly hear them in Big Two matches and of course when the fans are behind you it’s a massive lift to all the players.

For most of the matches you might get a crowd of up to 2,000 people but when up to 8,000 fans are roaring the teams on you know it’s a very different occasion and winning is all that counts. A defeat to Glentoran is going to hurt more than a defeat to another club. When you think back to some of the key Big Two games they are still fresh in the mind for many people though I tend to remember the bad times better such as ‘Morgan Day’ which was terrible for all sorts of reasons. Linfield effectively lost the title that day and the crowd trouble afterwards made the day even worse.

Linfield were also on the receiving end when Sean Armstrong netted a late winner in an Irish Cup semi-final. And how could I ever forget the famous Boxing Day game in the snow at the Oval when the white ball was used and the second half was crazy. But generally the Big Two games are very exciting and the fans will get their value for money.

I’ve been on the sidelines for much of this season and it’s not been easy because I still want to play in every game but this derby fixture is extra special.

In fact, I can’t remember my first Big Two game but my earliest memory is actually being dropped for the Boxing Day fixture at the Oval by then Linfield manager, Roy Coyle. It was a 3-2 game in 1989 and I was hurting so much because I was left out of the squad and had to sit in the stand. Then I remember looking around and there was Martin McGaughey beside me and I thought we must have some squad.

But I was upset at the time because it was the first time I had been dropped from the squad. I had been playing left-back for a weeks and I was taken off at half-time against Newry, then dropped for the Glentoran game and it was a real shocker.

But I’m privileged to have played in these games and alongside some great players such as Glenn Ferguson. He was a true superstar, made for an occasion such as this one.

The European games are also special but there’s nothing to match the Big Two battles.

Paul Leeman, Glentoran: No matter what the occasion and what is at stake, you always look forward to a Big Two game and you always have the same feeling of nerves and anticipation.

You could have played in three or 33 of them and it doesn’t matter.

The difference is, you learn to react to them differently. You still have the seem feelings and emotions, but the more experienced you get, you understand how to cope with the occasion.

I think my first was in my first full season in the team, I think on Boxing Day in 1997 and we drew 1-1.

I remember being really pumped up and put in a few rash challenges because the at

mosphere and the rivalry was getting to me a bit.

After a while you do calm down, but there are still some games that get you.

I remember just before the 2001 Irish Cup final, (Glens goalkeeper) Alan Gough had to take me to the side and tell me to calm down.

I had been in the team for about four years by that stage and so was quite experienced but the nerves really got to me.

Obviously the fact that it was an Irish Cup final, we were playing our biggest rivals and there hadn’t been one for a long time, that is going to bring a few nerves but it took a senior player to come over and tell me to get a grip. I had a migraine I was so nervous.

Now I suppose I have become, like Alan Gough was for me, one of the more experienced players who are there to try and make sure that the young lads stay focused and don’t get too carried away.

I have to say, though, that I have noticed that the kids these days don’t seem to have any fear but I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not.

I would tell anyone though to make sure you enjoy them. That is what football is all about.

These are the games that everyone should want to play in and everyone says that if you can’t get motivated for a Big Two game then you shouldn't be playing and I suppose that is true.

You are up against your biggest rivals, there is always something at stake, the crowd is bigger, the attention is on, the atmosphere is greater — they are just brilliant to play in.

Obviously afterwards, the way you feel will depend on what way the game went and from my experience there have been many highs and lows.

That Irish Cup final was one of the highlights, possibly the biggest for me, because the Irish Cup is a big day out, a one-off occasion and as well as ending the season with a major trophy we stopped Linfield from winning the double.

There are low points too but that’s football.

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