A group of diehard Linfield supporters who defied lockdown lock-outs to watch their team from outside grounds by scaling ladders, trees and even a portable toilet have vowed to return to their sometimes precarious vantage points if a ban on fans should be reimposed next season.
But ironically the self-styled Linfield Ladder Loyal (LLL) group has revealed that despite coming through their high-rise adventures unscathed, one of their members broke an ankle at their first match back INSIDE a ground after Covid-19 restrictions were temporarily lifted.
Michael Armstrong sustained his injury after he fell as he celebrated Shayne Lavery’s fifth minute goal in the Irish Cup final against Larne at Mourneview Park in Lurgan.
Details about the extraordinary lengths — or heights — that the LLL fans went to see the Blues during the pandemic have been disclosed in a new brochure designed to mark the club’s double of the Irish Cup and the Danske Bank Premiership last season.
Most of the articles are about the players but the brochure editors were keen to pay tribute to the dedication of the small but enthusiastic number of fans who were determined not to miss any of the action no matter what they had to do to see it.
The ladder leader was Dundonald Blueman Ivan Ogborn who has travelled all over Europe to support his team in more orthodox ways.
He made his lofty debut with a ladder in November at Warrenpoint where he was surprised to find five other travelling Bluemen all anxious to take in the game too.
After a few discussions with quizzical police, Ivan was able to watch the match from up a ladder at a tennis court which backs on to the Milltown pitch.
Another fan, Rab McKelvey, climbed on top of a Portaloo to view the game.
Finding a ladder for every eventuality was easy for Ivan who, handily enough, used to be a ladder salesman.
“I had different ladders for different events. Sometimes we went to grounds in advance of the matches to do a recce on where we could watch the game and which ladders would be best suited to the job.
“At Shamrock Park in Portadown I used a double extension ladder to get myself up a 40-foot tree,” said Ivan, whose colleagues even toyed with the idea of hiring a cherry-picker to watch games but in the end didn’t need to go to the ‘soaring’ expense.
On other occasions the fans who tried to avoid basing themselves on private land sat on the top of vans to see games and residents also invited them into their homes if they presented a good view of grounds beside their houses.
The Bluemen were able to use their ladders to see most away games during lockdown including clashes with Glentoran at the Oval. But Ivan said that at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, he stayed at home amid family concerns over the spread of the virus — though he was able to watch streaming of the games on television.
As well as Ivan, Rab and Michael the other regulars on the ladder look-outs were Paul Ballard, Glenn Morris and Scott McMonies.
The only ground where the Bluemen weren’t able to watch any games was at their own home patch Windsor Park.
“Obviously we couldn’t get in but there was no way we could have seen the pitch from outside,” said Ivan.
“However, the home matches were all on Linfield TV or the BBC so we contented ourselves with watching them from our own living rooms.”
As the weeks and months wore on the high-flying supporters adopted their Linfield Ladder Loyal nickname, which they got printed on a banner along with the slogan, ‘time to climb’, a battle-cry they cheekily borrowed from old rivals Glentoran.
They also designed their own Linfield Ladder face masks.
“The camaraderie was amazing,” said Ivan. “We had some great experiences on our travels. We were lucky enough with the weather. It was cold at times and at one match at Mourneview I had to use a big golfing umbrella to keep dry.”
At Inver Park in Larne after getting the okay to take up positions in church grounds, the fans made a donation to the funds of the local congregation.
A high-light, so to speak, was the fact that the LLL members were admitted into Solitude for the presentation of the Premiership trophy — the Gibson Cup — and they had their picture taken with Shayne Lavery who was the first winner of their player of the year award and who has since been transferred to English club Blackpool.
“We want to get him a trophy in the shape of a step ladder,” said Ivan, who has mixed feelings about returning to normal viewing practices after the end of the pandemic.
He added: “Obviously we are all hoping that we can get back inside the grounds next season but I am going to miss my new way of watching a game.”
Linfield’s brochure, Tribute to the Double Winners, will be available from the club’s usual outlets next week.