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Kop Stand at Windsor Park inspired Northern Ireland to great victories, recalls hero David Healy

By Steven Beacom

David Healy is the ultimate Kop idol. He's Windsor Park royalty. King of the Kop.

Who better then to talk about the famous stand coming down?

When it was erected in the late 90s, with 4,000 seats replacing the terracing which had been packed when Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals, a new hero was needed and a young man from Killyleagh emerged.

He became the darling of the Kop in 2000 when he scored his first home international goal at that end against Yugoslavia and he didn't stop finding the net in that area of the ground until 12 years later when he smacked in a free-kick to salvage a draw against Azerbaijan.

In between, Healy struck some of the most celebrated goals in Northern Ireland football history... and all at the Kop end, like the header in 2004 against Norway to end a 1298-minute goal drought for the country and the famous finish to sink England in 2005 sparking street parties from Belfast to Ballinamallard.

Twelve months later, he brilliantly scored from long distance to complete his hat-trick and defeat Spain 3-2.

And let's not forget magical moments against Sweden and Denmark the following year. Healy and the Kop were made for each other.

While the former continues to serve Northern Ireland as an IFA coach at youth level, the latter will soon be no more, demolished in weeks after an expert report recommended that the stand had to come down due to structural damage.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, former Manchester United and Rangers forward Healy, who scored a record 36 goals for Northern Ireland, said: "I am sad to see it go and I'm sure it will be a wrench for our fans to see the current Kop Stand knocked down but this is a chance for an even better stand to be built in its place and the new stadium will look even better."

Reflecting on how inspirational the support from the Kop was, Healy, 35, recalled: "The atmosphere the Kop generated was incredible, especially around the 2005, 2006 and 2007 years.

"The fans would turn up an hour and a half before kick-off and the Kop was bouncing when we would come out for our warm-up and opposition teams were wondering what was going on.

"After the game I always thought the Kop was special too because the fans would be singing 'We're not going home'.

"Some of my most memorable moments as a footballer were when the England and Spain matches had finished and we were in the dressing room and then went back out on to the pitch to do laps of honour.

"As we made our way back towards the dressing room we would finish by walking past the Kop and the fans were in full flow. The noise was amazing and it was an incredible sight to behold as well.

"For the majority of our games we played towards the Kop end in the second half, like against England, Spain and Denmark.

"The stadium as a whole then was electric but there was always that special feeling attacking the Kop.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the fans behind that goal inspired us and helped us score in big games.

"Another Kop memory I have was when we were breaking records for not scoring in internationals and I remember the fans doing a countdown from 10 to one when we broke one particular record and they started singing 'Championeees, Championeees' to mark it. There was humour in there as well as noise."

The structural problems were discovered just two days after Northern Ireland fans had roared the team on to victory over Finland in a Euro 2016 qualifier. Healy said his first emotion when hearing about the damaged stand was relief that no-one had been "hurt or worse".

He added: "Without the Kop for the Romania qualifier in June, the atmosphere will be a bit different but I'm sure our fans will be able to generate great noise to lift the team."

Belfast Telegraph


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