Belfast Telegraph

'Morgan Day' 10 years on and how we came through it

By Steven Beacom

The phone just wouldn't stop ringing. Every time I picked up a call, a football fan, wrought with emotion, was on the line. They wanted to express their feelings of disgust, disappointment and despair.

The pain in mums and dads, who had taken their children to their first Irish League football match a couple of days previously, poured out.

They were frustrated, fuming and fearful. A few were in tears. The resounding message was 'Never again'.

It was the Monday morning in the office after the Saturday before.

On that Saturday at The Oval, Glentoran and Linfield had played out one of the most dramatic and thrilling Irish League matches ever witnessed.

Sadly, though, after a gripping game, all hell broke loose when scores of 'fans' from both clubs ended up on the pitch. Some kicked and punched each other, others threw missiles. It was as disheartening as it was disturbing.

The day that became known as 'Morgan Day' was TEN years ago today. As you reflect on where that time went, I think back now to the intense build-up to what amounted to a title decider, the incredible match itself and the shameful scenes that followed.

Glentoran were managed by ex-Linfield boss Roy Coyle and David Jeffrey was in charge of the Blues.

They were the Big Two in every sense and a fierce rivalry existed with both challenging for all the trophies the local game had to offer.

Leading up to the derby the newspapers, including this one, were full of it... interviewing the bosses, the players and anyone else involved.

This match was the penultimate one of a cracking league season. A Linfield win would give them the title. A draw would keep them on course. It was win or bust for the Glens.

UTV's The Football Show, a popular programme hosted by Adrian Logan, put on a special preview of the match.

Such was the interest in the game that sunny Saturday, when I arrived to report on the match at 2pm for the 3 o'clock start there were queues stretching all around Mersey Street and beyond.

It was great to see so many flocking to an Irish League encounter, especially kids wearing scarves, chattering away excitedly to their nearest and dearest.

Kick-off was delayed to allow everyone in. Once the Big Two clash got under way the pace was unrelenting, tackles ferocious and noise deafening.

The Glens scored first through Stephen Parkhouse with Paul McAreavey equalising before the break. Colin Nixon gave the home side the lead again but with time running out, David Larmour smashed in to make it 2-2. Cut Larmour open and that boy was blue. How he enjoyed scoring at The Oval in front of the massed ranks of thousands of jubilant Linfield supporters. The title was headed for Windsor Park.

There was another twist to come... and what a twist. With time almost up, Chris Morgan, who had controversially been allowed to leave Linfield and moved to Glentoran, netted from close range.

Suddenly all the celebrations were in the Glentoran end and there was no time for the Blues to recover. Chris had won it. He would go down in folklore. Hence 'Morgan Day'. What a dream moment for the striker, who had crossed the great divide.

After the final whistle came the nightmare with Linfield 'fans' spilling on to the pitch and throwing bottles and anything else they could get their hands on at the Glens supporters in the main stand.

Legendary Blues players Noel Bailie and Glenn Ferguson attempted to make them see sense but with blood boiling there was no talking to them.

Soon, Glentoran 'fans' from the other end of the ground made it on to the playing surface too and fighting broke out between opposition supporters.

It was scary stuff. Watching children cowered under the wing of ashen faced parents. Old timers shook their heads in dismay. This glorious day for local football had turned ugly.

Eventually the police arrived and cleared the pitch. Later, in a move still used to this day, video evidence helped to make numerous arrests.

In the dressing rooms, despite the result, there was little celebration in the Glentoran ranks. In Linfield's changing room, manager Jeffrey was frantically checking his phone to see if his sons, who were at the match, were safe.

The Glens went on to win the title with the Blues claiming the Setanta Cup that season, but a dark cloud hung over the campaign.

Football fans were lost to the Irish League that afternoon. Some never did go back.

Such was the criticism, with the Irish League taking a battering from all corners, there were genuine fears for the future of the local game.

In the decade since good people at clubs across the board, as well as supporters, have tried all they can to bring more through the turnstiles and they are succeeding.

The Irish League has much to offer, some at the IFA would do well to recognise that, and hopefully in the years to come there will be more memorable football drama like that produced on 'Morgan Day'.

But please never again what happened once the final whistle blew.

Belfast Telegraph


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