Belfast Telegraph

Three Linfield fans make 3,500 mile Baku trip for Europa League clash

Linfield’s Shayne Lavery after scoring his second goalin the Europa League play-off first leg at Windsor Park
Linfield’s Shayne Lavery after scoring his second goalin the Europa League play-off first leg at Windsor Park
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

It's the loneliness of the long distance football fans.

But Linfield, who are dreaming of glory in the Europa League tonight, are not bothered that they will only have three supporters in Azerbaijan, where they will be outnumbered by at least 2,000 to one by fanatical fans of their Azeri opponents.

In Belfast thousands of Linfield followers will be watching a live stream of the match against Qarabag on the BBC NI website as the Blues try to become the first Irish League club to qualify for the group stages of the competition.

Hundreds of fans are expected to gather in Linfield supporters' social clubs to see the coverage on big screens.

The Blues take a totally unexpected 3-2 lead into the match, which will be played in the same city - but not the same stadium - where Chelsea beat Arsenal to win the Europa League in May.

Linfield only know of three of their fans who have made the 3,500 mile journey to Baku, the farthest the Belfast club has ever travelled for a European game.

The Northern Ireland-based supporters are Ivan Ogborn and Gareth Holden, who have been joined by Philip Middleton, who lives in Derby and who has attended all of Linfield's away games this season in Norway, the Faroe Islands and Montenegro.

Philip was the only supporter in the Faroes.

Linfield's website praised the travelling trio but commended Philip's far flung fervour in particular. It said 'his accent may be English' but to get to Baku he had to travel from his home in Derby to Heathrow airport where he journeyed to Baku via Frankfurt in Germany.

Some members of the 1st Raven Linfield Supporters Club in east Belfast usually attend the Blues' matches abroad.

"But no-one can afford another trip," said club member Marc McGaughey. "Linfield normally only have one away game in Europe in a season and maybe two. But this is the fourth game in only a matter of weeks."

But that doesn't mean the east Belfast supporters won't see the crucial game - they are showing the live stream of the BBC's footage in their social club.

Marc, who is the son of one of Linfield's top goal-scorers of all-time, Martin McGaughey, said: "We're inviting all Bluemen to join us to cheer the Blues on, hopefully, to another triumph. It'll be a tough ask but we're allowed to dream."

The game will also be screened in several other supporters' clubs, including Lisburn and Monkstown.

Tonight's match will be played at the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku, which has a link to England's World Cup win in 1966. The 30,000 seater ground is named after the linesman who famously played a huge part in the awarding of Geoff Hurst's contentious third goal for England in their 4-2 World Cup final win against West Germany.

Bahramov was from Azerbaijan and after Azeri independence, and following the linesman's death in 1993, the Baku stadium was called after him.

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