In this week's installment of our popular series, former Irish League ace Andy Crawford reflects on highs with Ballinamallard United and sadness over Omagh loss.
Q. What is your earliest football memory?
A. Winning the under-20 Fermanagh and Western League with Killen Rangers and also being top goalscorer. I scored a winning goal against Roy Carroll who was the same size at the age of 12 that he is now! (laughs).
Q. How did your career develop to making your breakthrough in the Irish League?
A. The legend Dan McCaffrey came and watched me a few times for Killen and suggested I should try playing at a higher level. He had belief in me and I went to Portadown with my friend, Richard Clarke. But I was competing with Vinny Arkins and Gary McCutcheon so the game time wasn't extensive and I just wanted to play football so I went back to Killen until Roy McCreadie came in and sweet talked me into joining Omagh Town. I really flourished under Roy and had some of the happiest playing days with Ivan Sproule and Colm McCullagh.
Q. You've a lot of respect for former Omagh Town boss Roy McCreadie. What did you like about him and can you share a funny story?
A. Big Woy as we called him was a really likeable rogue. His man management was excellent and his team talks were always interesting. He made you believe you were a better player than you were. One funny story was we were playing Linfield at Windsor Park and Ivan and I always travelled together. We arrived at the café early so decided to get an Ulster fry before the rest of the team arrived. Roy, however, came in early and caught Ivan and I with our mouths full of bacon and sausages. Roy went off on one and he was going to drop us but Ivan talked him round and convinced him to give us a chance. We both brought our A game and I scored the winner in a 1-0 victory. We always have a good laugh when we think about that day.
Q. Omagh disappeared from the Irish League landscape. How did that make you feel?
A. Omagh going off the radar was very sad. I had left to join Linfield the year before and always viewed the club as a David v Goliath story. It was a great wee club and Jackie Ballard had the pitch like a carpet. The people at the club were so nice and would have done anything for you. They were real football people and there were some great characters. But unlike Ballinamallard United, the foundations were not right and it was too top heavy with people willing to take and not give to the cause.
Q. You said you had no regrets about joining Linfield. How do you reflect on your time there and was it difficult for you because your father suffered a stroke around that time?
A. How could you have any regrets about joining the biggest club in the country and playing for the best manager in David Jeffrey? I played with great players like Noel Bailie, William Murphy and Glenn Ferguson though he picked up an injury around that time. Peter Thompson was just starting out in his career and I also played in Europe. It was very unfortunate what happened to my dad around that time but these things can happen in life's journey and I've no regrets.
Q. What was the best and worst moment of your football career?
A. My best moment was winning the league with Ballinamallard and going on that remarkable journey. We played at Armagh City for a year while Ferney Park wasn't ready. But making the top flight under Whitey Anderson was an incredible experience and I was fortunate to play with some very under-rated players like Leon Carters who was, in my opinion, as good as Mark Stafford. He was unlucky with injuries. Chris Curran was there too and Jay McCartney and big Steve Feeney was coming up. Whitey was football mad and I couldn't speak highly enough of him. I wasn't surprised Staff moved on to Linfield, he was a real handful at both ends of the pitch. I think he undervalued himself but I always knew he was a special player. I scored the first goal for them in the Premiership, it was the first Fermanagh team to make it there and I made friends for life. The worst moment was being part of the Ballinamallard coaching team when we were relegated on the final day of the season on goal difference when we were at The Oval.
Q. Who was the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?
A. I've been lucky to play with some of the best players in the league, real superstars in my eyes. Even just from Castlederg, I had the pleasure of gracing a pitch with the two Richard Clarkes, Ivan Sproule, Ryan Campbell, David Kee and the £60,000 man Adam Lecky were great players but Glenn Ferguson always stood head and shoulders above anyone - he had everything. Toughest opponent would be William Murphy or Glenn Dunlop, what players they were.
Q. When you look back at your entire career, is there anything you would have done differently?
A. No I don't think so. We always want things to go smoothly but I have learned from any mistakes I made. I have made many great friends in football and carry special memories with me.
Q. How supportive has your close family been in your life/career?
A. My family have been very supportive. Dad Sammy didn't know if a ball was blown up or stuffed. He came and watched only one of my games at the Milk Cup. He worked in a shop and lived for that. Mum Eveline had to pay one of my first employers to let me go and play football on a Saturday. My wife Diane hates football but she always wanted the best for me and to see me have success.
Q. What's been the toughest time of your life and why?
A. Dad passed away on Christmas Day four years ago. He had a brain aneurysm when I was at Linfield and he was disabled after that. We cared for him at home and he lived for another eight years. It was tough going for everyone especially as he was so active. I got the phone call at 8.30am when the kids were opening their presents and it's hard because you don't want to spoil their happiness. Christmas Day is just not the same anymore. Dad was 83. Football wise, I've had no tough times from starting at Killen at the age of 15 to still playing now at 42, only back in defence where there is less running about.
Q. How has the coronavirus impacted on your life and are you still involved in football?
A. My life and football has been affected but more so my son Dylan, a striker, who signed for Finn Harps under-13 National League team. They were in the middle of their pre-season training with their league about to start in March but now their plans have hit the wall unfortunately. I've a daughter, Leah (9). She likes hockey.
Q. Do you have a favourite book and film?
A. My two favourite books were Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson's autobiography and 'Forever Young', the book about Adrian Doherty from Strabane who could have been better than Ryan Giggs - football's lost genius. Favourite film would be either Gladiator or Shawshank Redemption.
Q. Your top three dinner guests, dead or alive?
A. Sir Alex Ferguson for his wealth of knowledge and cooking him a meal is the least I can do for giving us 25 years of beautiful football. I'd also invite Eric Cantona, my idol and an enigma. Also, Paul Gascoigne to liven things up a bit. It's a pity he signed for Spurs instead of Fergie's United but I'm sure he would have a few good stories to tell.
Date of birth: August 6, 1977
Place of birth: Londonderry.
Previous clubs: Killen Rangers, Portadown, Omagh Town, Linfield, Newry City, Institute, Ballinamallard United.