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Faith, football and me: Former Glentoran star Michael Halliday on why playing on a Sunday didn't conflict with Christian beliefs

Footballers' Lives: 'Faith, family and football mean everything to me and scoring the winner for Glentoran against Linfield in an Irish Cup final is as good as it gets'

By Graham Luney

In the latest of our popular series, former Oval ace Michael Halliday discusses his glittering stay at his boyhood club, life as a Christian, and why he's still playing at the age of 39

Q: You were a boyhood Glentoran fan weren't you?

A: The 1987 Irish Cup final between Larne and Glentoran was the first game I went to as a fan. Gerry Mullan scored and I started to support the Glens home and away after that. I lived in Gilnahirk and was following in the footsteps of my dad and uncle who supported the Glens. I started to play some football then and went to America with Northern Ireland lads. While there we stayed with families and I started to play basketball. I loved it so much that I stopped playing football, but I'm a Christian and a guy from my church said to me, 'I've got a word from God saying you'll be playing for one of the Big Two teams in the next few years'. I was only playing schools' football and then from the Churches League I went to East Belfast. I scored a good goal against Dundela in a Steel and Sons Cup semi-final at The Oval where Roy Coyle was watching and I ended up signing for the Glens a few weeks later. The youth leader in my church was right!

Q: And you won several major trophies at the Glens over 11 years… so many great memories.

A: It was brilliant… instead of me paying in, the club paid me! (laughs)

Q: Your stats are impressive - 468 appearances, 141 goals, three Irish League titles, two Irish Cups...

A: Someone told me the other day I was 11th in the club's goalscoring list. When I signed, I was a second team player needing to be patient to get into the first team. I made my first appearance in a 10-minute spell against Omagh Town at The Oval. Later on that year we were playing Limavady United on a Tuesday night and Scott Young got sent off. We were playing the Blues on the Saturday and in those days I was a midfielder. The next thing I knew I was making my full debut against Linfield at Windsor. That time I was nervous before a game! We went on to play the Crues at Seaview and our frontline was Justin McBride and Darren Fitzgerald, not particularly tall, and Roy Coyle put me up front with half an hour to go. I managed to set up a goal and was then moved up front with Rory Hamill in the run-up to the 2001 Irish Cup final, where I scored against Linfield. There was far too much running in midfield, I wanted to play up front!

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Big day: Halliday scores the winner in the 2001 Irish Cup final

Q: The 2001 Irish Cup final must be your favourite moment as you scored the winner for Glentoran against Linfield. It can't get much better than that, can it?

A: It doesn't. It came early in my career and in that sense it's a bit sad to think of it as a highlight, but as a one-off moment it was special and Windsor Park was packed that day. I was still young and breaking into the team and if I hadn't have played I would have been there watching. I scored in other Cup finals, including the 1-0 Irish Cup win over Coleraine in 2004, and lost about four of them with the Glens and Crues. It's not so good when you lose them. In the four finals with Glentoran I scored in three of them. Glens fans remember me for that moment and it's why you play the game. Do you want to go somewhere and earn lots of money yet win nothing? I've got those fond memories and once it's over history cannot be rewritten. It was the perfect script, scoring the winner in a Big Two final. It's accurate to say I lived the dream as a boyhood Glens fan. When you lose them it's a different story, and it was tough when Linfield beat us 2-1 in the 2006 final to win the clean sweep. Some defeats stick with you too, such as losing to Donegal Celtic in the Irish Cup.

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Prize guy: Halliday hoists aloft the 2001 Irish Cup

Q: The three titles must have been special too, including the last championship the club won in 2009. How do those memories compare?

A: The Irish Cup is all about the emotion of one day while a league title is more drawn out, unless it's a thrilling climax. 'Morgan Day' in 2005 was special, and then in 2009 I scored a late equaliser against Linfield to keep us just ahead of them. We drew 3-3 with Lisburn Distillery thinking we had blown it, but Linfield were held as well and on the final day we had to beat Cliftonville who had a Cup final against Crusaders the week later.

Q: Like everyone, I'm sure you were stunned when Alan McDonald, the last Glens boss to win the title, passed away.

A: Big Mac was a great manager and delivered a league title. I was in Florida when I heard the news and it was very sad. He was a great guy, lovely man and great manager. He knew his stuff and represented his country with great pride. The way he managed players was great. It was a sad end to his time at Glentoran… when things aren't going well the fans let you know. When Coleraine beat us 6-0 at The Oval their patience was tested, but while the manager gets stick, the players let that happen.

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Then Glentoran manager Alan McDonald speaks to an injured Halliday

Q: And the Setanta Cup win with Crusaders in 2012 must be another great highlight.

A: It was a funny one because I had never won that trophy with the Glens, losing to Cork City in the final, and you start to believe it won't happen. It completed the medal collection and I really enjoyed my time at the Crues. I got an injury and Gary McCutcheon came into the team. I made the decision to move on perhaps earlier than I should have because I wanted to play.

Q: After Crusaders you moved on to Lisburn Distillery, Dundela, Knockbreda and now Bangor, so you haven't lost the appetite for the game at the age of 39.

A: Some people might tell you I retired five years ago but I'm still playing! Big Gary Smyth told me to play as long as I can. If I feel I can run around and contribute, I'll do that. I've been fortunate with injuries and I would miss the game. You get used to the changing room environment over 20 years with the boys and having that break from real life! I've been living in Bangor for 13 years so I'm with my local team. It fits in well with the kids' lifts and trips to the Boys' and Girls' Brigade and a church youth group. Bangor have been through a rough time but they have ambitions to get back to the top flight and everyone is determined to see that happen.

Q: Who has been the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?

A: Michael O'Neill was very good when he was at the Glens, even the way he organised things. He was fantastic on the ball but good at communicating as well. Stuart Dallas was a top player at Crusaders, while at Glentoran, Paul Leeman and Gary Smyth were fantastic servants, putting their heart and soul into the club. I played against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic but at local level you knew Linfield's William Murphy would always give you a battle.

Q: Do you have a regret in your career?

A: I wish I had stayed at the Crues in the last year of my contract. Timmy Adamson had come in along with Gary McCutcheon, and with Jordan Owens and David Rainey I thought, 'Am I a fifth-choice striker?' But it's not a huge regret and the older you get it's a natural progression to drop down the leagues. I can't see me being a manager, that would require a lot of commitment. I've had a good 20 years playing and can have no complaints.

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Michael and Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill celebrate lifting the Setanta Cup in 2012.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

A: My mum Averill and dad Billy - people just call him Doc Halliday - particularly when I was thinking of giving up football as a teenager, they encouraged me to stick at it. My uncle Terry played for the Blues under Roy Coyle. Four of my mum's brothers are Linfield fans while the three girls married Glentoran supporters. Every Boxing Day evening we had a family get together and the first thing mentioned was the Big Two game and we had to listen to Linfield banter. But there was one Boxing Day game at The Oval when I scored in a 1-0 victory and the good thing was I didn't have to listen to the Linfield fans in the family chirping about it! My parents live in Crawfordsburn, I've a brother Steven and sister Paula. My son Donovan is five-years old and he can kick a ball okay. Hopefully he can play for the Glens but I'll not be pushing him into anything. Between work, family and football I'm kept busy. I've a daughter, Madison, who is 12 and at Regent House. She plays a bit of netball but is into her iPad like kids are. I've been married to Arlene for 15 years and had to make sure we got married at the end of May because of the football season! Arlene looks after the kids on a Saturday which allows me to play, and I'm very fortunate in that sense. I help out when I can but it's nice to have that time to play football as well. Arlene was happy for me to keep playing and is very supportive. As for my job, I work for HMRC as a tax inspector… a real conversation stopper!

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Family time: Michael Halliday at home with (from left) dad Billy, wife Arlene, son Donovan, daughter Madison and mum Averill

Q: Were you very young when you became a Christian?

A: Yes, I was about 11 and was fortunate as my parents took me to church and I got involved in youth groups. Stuart Elliott, another Christian, was at Glentoran before me and the guys knew what was expected of me. There was good banter in the changing room but the players were very open and not afraid to ask questions about my faith. Darren Lockhart, who is now a Christian, was interested in talking about it and I still see quite a bit of Leeper and Locky as our wives are friends.

Q: Did you find your faith being challenged in the football environment?

A: People were looking at how you conducted yourself and you were always conscious that you couldn't just go over and hit someone. The first Sunday game when the Glens played Bangor created a lot of interest and, in fairness, the club wanted to know my thoughts. Alan McDonald asked me if I was okay to play and it didn't affect me going to church in the morning or that night, so I joined the squad. I was at Beersbridge Elim Church and also conscious that I had a contract to honour with the club. There were protests, but that gave me an opportunity to share my views as well and I came on as a sub. A lot of people work on a Sunday but I also accept people have their own views on it. At the 1982 World Cup Johnny Jameson, a born-again Christian, refused to play against France. I don't have a problem with people making the decision they feel is right for them, but for me, being a Christian isn't simply going to church on a Sunday.

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Michael at the Oval's famous 'Jesus' sign.

Q: You've done some missionary work in Malawi. Is that a real passion of yours?

A: I've been there three times through Athletes in Action. It was great to see Africa and meet the lovely people who don't have much but have such a positive outlook on life. We played football there and it was humbling to see how little they have compared to us. It was a great experience and I'd consider returning. To some people football is everything but there are more important things and faith lets you put things in perspective.

Snapshot

Date of birth: May 28, 1979

Place of birth: Belfast

Previous clubs: Glentoran, Crusaders, Lisburn Distillery, Knockbreda, Dundela.

Glentoran record: 141 goals in 468 appearances

Current club: Bangor

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