Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: Towering display from Northern Ireland boys

By Billy Weir

Solid but unspectacular. It is an epitaph I have considered for my gravestone when my toes finally curl up, but it was the unusual way Graham Little kicked things off for Northern Ireland's World Cup clash with the might of San Marino.

The 'might' in that sentence normally goes along with 'get stuffed' as with one win in their history, hopes were high of a goals bonanza at the new National Stadium at Windsor Park or whatever daft name it now goes by.

It's Windsor Park, let that be an end to it, but what can't be argued is that the new ground is solid and spectacular, well certainly more solid now that big hole has been filled in behind the Kop, but Little had been referring to our last larger game against the Czech Republic.

"It's redeveloped, it's state of the art, it's 18,000 fans, can it still be a fortress?" he wondered, before adding 'it's party time in Belfast, it's a full house in the new house' and asking a former impressive Northern Ireland edifice, Gerry Taggart, for his opinion.

"It's impressive, but can I say not before time, let's face it," he hinted, as the IFA's pride and foundations took a wee bit of a battering.

Commentator Daniel Mann agreed that we were now in 'very salubrious surroundings' for the visit of the Sammarinese, who are a proud bunch, not great at football I grant you, but always invaluable in allowing reporters to trot out facts such that it has the fourth lowest population in the world, behind Nauru, Tuvalu and Palao.

It is a lesser known fact that in San Marino's capital city, catchily also called San Marino, the main tourist attraction is known as The Three Towers.

Ballymena is known as the City of the Seven Towers, so, if you do the mathematics, it was only natural that when Northern Ireland and San Marino met, there would be four goals between the teams, but why bring Ballymena into it, I hear you ask?

To quash any rumours of bias, can I just point out the man to blame is Mann, who, in his Big Boy's Book of San Marino Facts plucked out that 'in population terms it is slightly bigger than Ballymena but in football terms has never won a competitive international.' In fairness, neither has Ballymena, but it does have the Fairhill Centre.

Nor does San Marino have a living legend who scored a goal against Spain in 1982, but Northern Ireland does and as always Gerry Arconada-Armstrong was in the passenger seat for the game, although may have had one eye on the X Factor on ITV as he struggled to remember that it was Jamie Ward and not Shane in action.

He may not be welcome in the Most Serene Republic of San Marino either after having a bit of a pop when Matteo Vitaioli took a tumble.

"That's a very soft free-kick, they go down very easily, don't they," mused Gerry.

"Italian sounding name, need I say more?" Probably not, don't want them marching through the streets of Serravalle threatening to hurl our legend into the Adriatic.

Soon after Joshi Magennisi went down very easily to allow Ballymena-born Steven Davis to open the scoring, but then our chum Matteo was at it again.

"He plays for Tropical Coriano in the sixth tier in Italy where he is known as 'Il fenomeno', Mann told us, before hitting us with the classic that it was a club 'where drinks are free.'

He chortled while Gerry, clearly not a Wham fan, said 'well, I think they're starting to get tired now' and didn't clarify whether he meant the Sammarinese or I'm your Mann as he will now be known, but while he may not be a fan of Eighties pop sensations, he clearly loves a bit of classic comedy.

With San Marino under the cosh Gerry shouted out 'don't panic, Captain Mainwaring' and in no way did Kyle Lafferty's arrival onto the pitch mean that a stupid boy had been summoned.

San Marino don't like it up 'em and the Green and White Army's talismanic tower grabbed a brace and Jamie 'That's My Goal' Ward was also on target as Northern Ireland ensured several sleepless nights for Germany ahead of Tuesday night's game in Hannover.

I checked up in my Big Boy's Book of Lower Saxony and could only find one tower of note but they were busy with other things like being world champions. "I think we're going to have to park more than one bus, we're going to park two or three," warned Gerry, keeping a watchful eye for any angry Sammarinese, but my eye had been taken with the adverts around the ground for Engelbert Strauss.

This is nothing to do with Herr Humperdinck or former England cricket captain, Andrew, but my research shows that it provides work clothing, available in the Fairhill Einkaufszentrum in Hannover.

There was to be no fairytale finish, although after the horrors of conceding two goals in the first few minutes it looked like we as Gerry would say 'we're doomed' so it was good to escape relatively unscathed and now for Azerbaijan next month.

I've had a quick look, and I don't want to panic anyone, but they're building the biggest tower in the world, I would switch the game to Ballymena or we're doomed.

Belfast Telegraph


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