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Alan Fraser: Helping Linfield beat Manchester City is still my favourite football memory but nightmare league loss with Glenavon still haunts me

 

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Alan Fraser at home with wife Olive

Alan Fraser at home with wife Olive

Alan Fraser at home with wife Olive

With Irish League football left playing the waiting game due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday Life has delved into the archives.

In the latest chapter of a new summer series, Alex Mills scrutinises former Glenavon, Ballymena United and Bangor manager Alan Fraser, whose playing career included a trophy-laden spell with Linfield after signing up with the Windsor Park side when just 14 years of age

Your most thrilling footballing memory?

It has to be facing a star-studded Manchester City in a European tie back in 1970.

They had boys like Francis Lee, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Neil Young - they were a class outfit. We lost narrowly at Maine Road, but we beat them 2-1 at Windsor Park.

I was only 17 years of age and that season under manager Billy Bingham was a highlight.

It was my first year as a first-team regular in a good Linfield side and winning four trophies was an unbelievable thing for me - the League Championship, the Blaxnit, the Gold Cup and the City Cup.

We captured the title at The Oval, beating Glentoran 3-0 on a sunny afternoon.

A few years down the line, the 1980 Irish Cup Final win against Crusaders at The Oval was also a big moment. My wife, Olive, went into labour before the game and my son, Mark, was born the following day. He still has my medal and shirt in his house.

Your worst moment?

As manager of Glenavon, losing the 1995 League title on the final day of the season was as bad as it gets.

We had to win the game to secure the title and were coasting at 2-0 up against Portadown at Mourneview Park, which was packed to the rafters. We should have been five goals up. Stephen McBride missed an open net to put us three up, but we conceded two goals in the second half.

Linfield defeated Glentoran to earn them the Gibson Cup.

The game was featured on the radio recently, which made me angry when I listened to it.

I don't think anyone did their homework before they went on air because they were puzzled why Paul Byrne, normally a defender, played in the middle of the park.

The answer was I had five regulars sitting in the stand due to injury and suspension, which wasn't mentioned. Tony Scappaticci, Ally Mauchlen, Keith Percy, Geoff Ferris and Nigel Quigley were all missing. It's certainly not an excuse, but it didn't help our cause.

It was a massive chance to win the title - one we missed. It wasn't to be.

Most difficult opponent?

I suppose it would be an easy way out to suggest George Best.

I was fortunate enough to play against him in a testimonial game. He was on the left wing and I was right-back. Although he was supposedly past it, he still had a lot to offer.

Locally, I always found Coleraine winger Frankie Moffett a difficult customer to deal with. He was a good lad and I always had some tough encounters with him.

I played against the great PSV Eindhoven team of the 1970s and came up against the Van De Kerkhof twins. They were regulars in the Dutch team.

PSV beat us 8-0 out there in Holland. We did quite well at Windsor in the opening game, but we were missing Peter Rafferty because he was involved in a car accident. I'm not saying he would have made a difference, but it would have helped.

There was another big lad who played for Derry City called John Rowland. He was an English sprint champion - a flying machine.

Person who was your biggest influence?

Former Linfield manager Ewan Fenton gave me my debut at 16 years of age and encouraged me quite a lot.

I signed for the Blues at 14 and he always had time for me.

He was a very distinctive figure of a man - he wore a long draping overcoat and he always had a cigarette on the go.

Jimmy McCune was also at the club as a trainer. He was one of the old school, an ex-full-back. He would always give me good advice, whether it be at training or in a game.

I remember he used to stand at the dressing room doorway before we walked out for a game with a bottle of whiskey for anyone who wanted a little swig. He was a real character.

He insisted it got the blood going. I was under-age of course!

Biggest regret?

I always have pangs of regret at not taking a chance in full-time football.

I remember playing in a Schoolboy international against Scotland at the Brandywell. I was up against John Robertson and I got man of the match.

We then went to play England and, after the match, Peter Taylor wanted me to go to Derby County.

I had to tell him I had already signed for Linfield.

I also recall sitting in the office with Ewan Fenton and my father as Newcastle United wanted me over and there was a scout from Wolverhampton Wanderers that came to our house every Sunday.

But my dad didn't want me to rush into things and he urged me to stay here to get a trade.

Fenton also advised me to stay to get a bit more experience. Playing for Linfield was also a big thing for me.

So, I probably have a regret at not taking a stab at it, but I can't complain about the career I had in the Irish League.

What would you change to make the Irish League more appealing?

I think it would be worthwhile experimenting with Friday night football.

The BBC showed some matches live and there were some cracking games, played in front of big crowds.

I think it is all about encouraging young people to attend games. Teams should be giving free tickets to schools or youth clubs because a percentage of them will come back.

When you take into account how many people play football at junior level on Saturday in the Amateur League, Churches League or the Mid-Ulster League, there are hundreds involved.

Potentially, Friday night gives those people the chance to sample the Irish League.

The Irish League was a set-in-stone 3pm kick-off on a Saturday, but Friday night football has proved to be a big success. It gives people an option.

We have a good standard of football over here. Yes, people are quick to criticise, but crowds have been on the increase, especially as some clubs are now adopting a more full-time approach.

Belfast Telegraph