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Peter Thompson: Setanta Cup win was my ultimate Linfield highlight and it came just days after the biggest low

 

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Peter Thompson with sons Jacob and Harry

Peter Thompson with sons Jacob and Harry

Thompson netted 230 goals in 417 games for the Blues.

Thompson netted 230 goals in 417 games for the Blues.

Thompson cradles the Setanta Cup after Linfield's 2005 victory.

Thompson cradles the Setanta Cup after Linfield's 2005 victory.

Peter Thompson with sons Jacob and Harry

With Irish League football left playing the waiting game due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday Life has delved into the archives and, in the first of a new summer series, Alex Mills scrutinises Linfield hero Peter Thompson, known as 'Pistol Pete' because of his predatory goal-scoring instincts.

Capped eight times by Northern Ireland, Thompson holds the distinction of never having lost an Irish Cup tie.

Here are his career memories:

Your most thrilling footballing memory?

It would have to be the Setanta Cup final win against Shelbourne at Tolka Park. It's hard to believe it was 15 years ago.

Although we achieved a clean sweep of trophies the following season, in terms of a one-off game, the Setanta victory was undoubtedly the best.

Shelbourne were playing in their own pitch and were massive favourites.

We travelled down believing in ourselves and hoping to turn in a good performance, but they were expected to beat us.

Strange things happen in football and that was one of those nights.

Glenn Ferguson and I scored our goals in the first half of a 2-0 win. It really took them by surprise.

It was always great to hit the net, but the goals I scored in cup finals were the sweetest.

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Thompson cradles the Setanta Cup after Linfield's 2005 victory.

Thompson cradles the Setanta Cup after Linfield's 2005 victory.

Thompson cradles the Setanta Cup after Linfield's 2005 victory.

 

Your worst moment?

That would be the defeat by Glentoran in the penultimate game of the season, just a week before the 2005 Setanta Cup win.

I've never felt as bad after any game. I played in many matches we lost, but that one was a sickener.

Both teams approached the game knowing that it was a winner-takes-all affair - it was basically a title decider.

We had to play Cliftonville in our final match and the Glens faced Crusaders, so we were looking for a favour but not really expecting it.

So it was ironic the Setanta Cup win came on the back of my worst moment in football.

Another thing that stuck with me was in my time at Stockport County when the club went into administration.

That was a petty low point. I had friends at the club that were not getting paid. The future of the club was also at stake - there was a lot of pressure on everyone.

Most difficult opponent?

For the sheer amount of matches I played against him, I would say it would be Paul Leeman of Glentoran.

He was a good player. He was fair and committed and I always knew I was in for a battle against him.

Paul wore his shirt with pride and I did the same, so it meant there was no prisoners taken - the Big Two rivalry always made it a bit spicy.

If I happened to get the better of him in one game, you could be sure he'd repay the favour the next time we met.

His teammate Colin Nixon was also a difficult opponent and, although he played with Paul in the centre of the defence for a time, he operated mostly as a right-back in our time.

Even before those two boys, Chris Walker was also a tough boy to play against.

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Thompson (right) and his most fearsome foe Paul Leeman (left).

Thompson (right) and his most fearsome foe Paul Leeman (left).

Thompson (right) and his most fearsome foe Paul Leeman (left).

 

Person who influenced you most?

Like a lot of young footballers, I came through St Andrew's Boys Club, where I got a really good education on the game.

When I moved to Linfield, Philip Mitchell was the manager of the Under-18 team. He had a big influence on me.

I may have been there for only four or five months, but Phillip helped me through that period.

He was also worked for Umbro at the time. He sorted me out with boots and stuff, which I appreciated.

Then, when I moved into the Swifts, Denis Shields was boss and he took me under his wing.

I was there for a few years with Denis and he had a massive impact on my career.

Both Philip and Denis encouraged me to play football in the right way.

Biggest regret?

Everyone wants to be a professional footballer and I'm disappointed things didn't work out better for me when I joined Stockport County from Linfield.

For a number of reasons, it just didn't happen.

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Thompson joined League One side Stockport in 2008.

Thompson joined League One side Stockport in 2008.

William Cherry/Presseye

Thompson joined League One side Stockport in 2008.

 

At least I got the opportunity. It would have been a bigger regret if I hadn't got the chance.

Another regret is having to stop playing so early in my career because of injury. I suppose you have to play the hand you are dealt in football.

I always thought I'd be able to play into my mid-thirties, but it wasn't to be. There have been other players that had to retire in their early twenties.

Even the last couple of years I played, I was constantly injured and my form wasn't there.

I was playing only 15 games, so I knew myself I wasn't right. I knew I couldn't play at the level I wanted.

The enjoyment also disappeared, that was hard to take.

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

We have a good product in the Irish League. I attend a lot of games.

The current league campaign was shaping up to be an interesting contest, with five teams battling it out at the top before the lockdown

There is a lot of quality in most teams in the Premiership.

Therefore, I would like to see more kids needs attracted to games. Clubs should be showing more initiative to get kids and families through the turnstiles.

Why not let them in for nothing if they are accompanied by an adult?

I know some clubs have reduced season tickets for juveniles - and rightly so as they will be the fans of the future. They will eventually be the lifeblood of football in this country, so everything should be done to get them to games.

Belfast Telegraph