Colin bell 2

He was my favourite footballer. Oh George Best came second. Best was one of the greatest ever. He was from Belfast. George Best was a genius. As a 6 year old I supported Manchester United because of George Best BUT…

… As a 7 year old I changed my allegiance to Manchester City because of Colin Bell. I loved Colin Bell. My “uncle” Jimmy was a Colin Bell fan. He put doubt in my mind, trying to convince me that Bell not Best should have been Player of The Year in 1968. Between 1968 and 1975 Bell was certainly the more consistent. Oh not the flare but the engine, the vision and the eye for goal. 

Colin Bell was my hero. United had Best, Law and Charlton and City had Bell, Lee and Summerbee. In their glory days the City trio were more victorious over that United legendary three. Bell was more of a reason for that than Lee or Summerbee I believe!

I read something in late 1974 about how Colin Bell would be the best player in the world by 1976. I believed it. In October 1974 I watched him playing for England and beating Czechoslovakia 3-0 all by himself! 

Then a knee injury in 1975 took his career. Oh he worked for two years to recover but the damage was done. I was utterly distraught that he got injured. I was so excited when he made it back. I so wished but he never quite made it. Colin Bell was an amazing footballer but it might be that we didn’t even get to see his best years.

He was nicknamed Nijinsky, after the racehorse. He was described as “the most complete modern footballer”. He was also an old fashioned one in that he didn’t play the celebrity. He had great humility. As my poet friend Paul Cookson wrote in his tribute:

"Your feet just did the talking
True class, true great, less feted
Not rock star like the others
Humble. modest, understated
The king who never wore a crown
Never understood your fame
Club and country gentleman
Quiet man who ruled the game"

Think David Silva, Ya Ya Toure and Vincent Kompany all rolled into one. That was Colin Bell. He will always be my very favourite. I am so sorry to hear of his death. Thank you sir, for those glory years of my childhood. 


Peter Allis

Peter Allis entered my world in Christmas 1968. I was 7. I got a set of golf clubs and the putter was a Peter Allis putter. I used that putter for 20 years. 

Tony Jacklin was 7 months away from his British Open so for me Allis was the British star golfer of the time. Oh never really that close to a Major but a Ryder Cup certainty. He even played one Ryder Cup with his father.

Even with over 30 tournament wins to his name, it was not his playing that made him famous. It was his commentary.

In my early years watching golf, particularly the Majors and even more particularly The  Open, Henry Longhurst was voice of golf. He was just so poetic and his prose were so natural. His autograph was so perfectly neat too!

When Longhurst died at the age of 69 Allis stepped right into his shoes. He had had such a good apprenticeship under old Henry that he filled the gap seamlessly. Over the next forty years he grew more and more into the role and in my opinion at his death yesterday was the best sports commentator in the world.

Golf is different from other sports. By the time it gets to the last hour of a Major, the drama is unfolding just like a final set or a penalty shoot out BUT there are fewer and fewer players on the course. It is slower. This gives the golf commentator quite a challenge. They need to keep the drama pumped but fill the long walks between shots down fairways too.

Allis was an absolute master at this. I looked forward to the last hour of The Open every year like the Cup Final. It was Allis that made it. I knew that he would up his commentary game for that last hour. He broke into prose, almost poetry about venues, holes, players and people he knew that were watching in some club house somewhere up and down Britain. He filled that space with the same level of speaking skills as the players on the 18th hole.

His humour was the best of all. There was always a dry comment, a quick quip. I waited with bated breather what he would conjure. Year after year, he never let me down.  

My favourite? I cannot remember the year. It was a close finish to the Open. It was the 71st or 72nd hole and a leading contender missed a reasonably sinkable putt. "Well, stab my vitals," says Allis. I don't imagine he had rehearsed the phrase or had it in some notebook. It was uncontrived. Yet, the tension was perfectly captured juxtaposed with absolute hilarity. Genius! 

Every year I feared it was the last final few holes with Peter. Golf has some good commentators but the line of Henry Longhurst and Peter Allis is over. It will never be matched. Thank you Peter Allis for being a soundtrack to my golf watching life. 





Galgorm GC

From as early as I remember every time we drove over the Sourhill Road in Ballymena my father would point down to one side of the road and say that the piece of land would make a great golf course.

Fifty years later and I am watching on Sky Sports as the Irish Open is being played in those fields my father pointed out -  now Galgorm Castle Golf Club.

As far as I am concerned the Stockmans are from Galgorm. When my dad was very young he moved from a house across the road from what he prophesied as a golf course, to a thatched cottage in the middle of Galgorm village. The cottage was renovated around 1710 probably for the staff of the nearby Castle where the golf course now is.

Glagorm was tiny then though houses and an industrial estate have since caused the village to be too narrow for all the traffic. My first home was in a housing estate just behind the cottage in Maine Park. I lived there until I was 7 and after that spent all school holidays in my Grandparents cottage in the village. The cottage is no longer ours but my uncle still lives in the house he built beside it. Another aunt and uncle live in Maine Park. 

The Castle grounds loomed large in my childhood. My aunt Jean worked in the big Castle and we used to stop at the gates regularly because they had a vending machine that dispensed eggs. Looking back, that was pretty ahead of its time for rural Northern Ireland in the early 60s.

My dad would have stories about the Castle and he certainly played in the trees that Padraig Harrington hit a few shots into today as well as the river. I was too young and have only one vague memory of me and my mates only climbing the fence.

I never imagined that a world class sporting event would come to our wee village. To hear the commentators wax lyrical about the River Maine and how beautiful a place it is. We never knew! We failed to appreciate it. Today it is on televisions across the world. 

My mum played a lot of golf at Galgorm Castle. We always said that she should take me for a round. We never managed it. She presented a Cup for a women’s match between Ballymena Golf Club where I grew up a member and Galgorm Castle. Oh how she would have loved this. My dad too, if he still had the mental capacity to grasp it.

My cousins are members at Galgorm. They too should be proud tonight. Not only did the course look amazing but no one tore it apart. Maybe of the weather improves over the weekend someone will but it looked a tough track today. 

Galgorm. That’s where I’m from. There aren’t many of us. I am proud.



It is a big and stressful day for millions of us. Teams need picked for the opening day of a new season of Fantasy League, tomorrow.

Today millions will be working out who they can buy for their £100 million budget. Many will be thrown this season by players like Arsenal’s Aubameyang and Manchester United’s Rashford becoming midfield players instead of strikers. 

How many big players can we afford., What are the cheap players that are going to come through? Should I skimp on my defence for big goal scorers? Will new signings fit in quickly? What about players from promoted teams? 

Of course it is a marathon not a sprint and for most Fantasy League managers their teams will bear little resemblance even in October to the team they choose tomorrow evening. However, there still be some panic. A good start is better than a bad one though it is amazing how quickly the team at the top of your particular league on Sunday night might drop away within a few weeks.

With one free substitution per week and then every additional transfer per week costing 4 valuable points it is best to have a good steady team at the outset.

Of course, there is some luck in this game. One of the biggest factors is choosing the right captain every week as their points double. It might be luck that my player scores a hat trick and yours doesn’t score at all. That might happen week after week!

BUT let me say that as I have followed this game for some 15 years and been involved in a Fitzroy league for 10 that this will have little to do with luck.

As I look at our league I know that reigning champion Jonny Fitch, Stephen Orr and John McMullen will be the big 3 to beat. Isaac Orr, who I baptised less than eleven years ago will be setting his sights on the top 3 too and Jude Holohan after an exceptional year two seasons ago will be trying to prove that he is not just a Leicester City. BUT like cream the same names always come to the top season after season.

I have to do better than the last two seasons, particularly my starts. I have come back in the second half of seasons BUT always too late to compete. So, I am going with a solid spine. Big names who have proven themselves at the core and then hoping to wheel and deal with the cheap players who will be the stars to sign quickly   over the next few weeks. 

If you can spot those cheap big scorers by tomorrow night then you’ll give yourself a great start! Stuart Dallas anyone?!?!


Jack 1990

I think I was reading the Presbyterian Herald when I noticed my good friends David 'Monty' Montgomery and David Baldock asking for a back up driver for their sponsored Cycle Ride for the Lucan Youth Centre, a Presbyterian  Reconciliation Centre in Dublin. The cycle was from John O' Groats to Land's End. I was the assistant minister in First Antrim at the time with no holiday plans for that summer. I gave Monty a call and so began the trip of a lifetime.

Monty and David were hoping to take around 17 days to complete the trip and had scheduled the trip to have days off for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup games! Jack Charlton had transformed the Republic's football fortunes. When I was a boy they were bottom of every World Cup qualifying group. There were political, probably sectarian reasons. Young Irish boys were discouraged from playing soccer which was seen as English and encouraged to stick with Gaelic football and hurling.

Jack loosened that grip with success and probably completed the transformation with a 1-0 win over England in the 1988 European Championships! Jack went one further and charmed almost the entire island into supporting the Republic. Almost, because of course there are many in Northern Ireland who hate the republic with a passion but it should n't be lost in this blog that Monty and I are northern Irish Protestants. I noticed many northern Protestants like us posting fond Jack Charlton posts today. 

Back to our Cycle Ride. The David's had some work to do peddling that bike and were joined through Scotland with the good company of Kristie Franck. My job was to go on ahead find a suitable spot for lunch and catch buy the papers to keep up with World Cup news. 

On our way north to John O'Groats we stopped in to watch the game against England. This was a strong English team who in the end should have made the final but lost on penalties to West Germany. Linekar scored early but the Republic hung in. Literally at the moment Monty suggested that Sheedy should be substituted Sheedy swung his leg and 1-1! Great opening result.

The next game was during a stop over in Stirling where Monty went to University. The problem was finding somewhere to watch it. We found a TV in someone's house just in time and watched a boring scoreless draw. The third game was worst of all. Coming over from Dublin we hadn't allowed for the fact that we had to watch England against Egypt. We were by then in St. Thomas's in Lancaster. So that was a long game, watching updates on the screen. Monty just questioned Nial Quinn's inclusion when... according to script it came up that he had equalised Gullitt's opener for Holland. Three draws and we were in the last 16!

For that game we had to find time on a bike day. Monty and Dave hadn't reckoned on needing another day off. I drove ahead. I was struggling. It was an afternoon game. Finally a pub in Cullompton. Where? I'll never forget it. Monty again was crucial to the drama. When Jack Charlton brought on David O'Leary in extra time Monty quipped "he's hardly on for the penalty shoot-out!" O'Leary of course scored the winning penalty that had us creaming and dancing all around a pub that had only us in it. I wonder if on hearing of Jack Charlton's death if that barman said to his children, "You know he managed the Republic Of Ireland and one day in 1990 this very wee Irishman man and this very tall Irishman man..."

It all ended in the Quarter Finals against the hosts Italy but what a bike ride that was. The Republic did it again in 1994 by which time I was living in Dublin and they beat Italy to again reach the last 16. It wasn't just as good as the bike ride but those were glory days.

Jack Charlton made it all happen. He had the whole of Ireland taking days off work and dancing in the streets. He took a bulldozer to the old nonsense that soccer was an English game. He raised expectations, He lifted a country's sense of itself. It is too much to say that along with a rock band called U2 he put a wee country on the world map... but just maybe he contributed to the Celtic Tiger about to descend.

Whatever, when Janice told me the sad news of Jack's death this morning, I was back in Cullompton, revelling in it. Thank you Jack for the utter joy.  



Well done Liverpool. It hasn’t been any doubt for some time BUT I know that Liverpool fans will be thrilled that it is official.

It is way overdue. A club like Liverpool should never have to wait so long. I personally was in a strange way disappointed that they didn’t win it it in 2014 under Brendan Rogers. He is from Carnlough for goodness sake. Somehow they lost a big lead to Crystal Palace and Stevie slipped against Chelsea and City stole it.

We had won it in 2012 after 44 years and so I would have been happy to share the joy. The first one after such a long time is utter joy. It is the best joy. That Aguero moment in 2012, stealing it from United deep into injury time on the last game. Well it will be pretty impossible to beat that.

That is my only regret for my Liverpool supporting mates. Not only will they get the trophy without the Kop being full to the gils but winning it when another team loses is not as good as it might have been if they had beaten City at the Etihad.

I do not think however that my Liverpool mates will worry about how it is done. I know the joy deep in their chests tonight. Enjoy. If any team deserves it then it is this Klopp team. Yes, City have let you down with by not competing as well as you guys did last season but to win the Premiership is not easy to win and to win it so early by so many points, maybe beating records that City set recently and that never seemed likely to ever be beaten.

Respect. Liverpool are Champions. Jurgen Klopp is the man. That front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino are scintillating. Van Dijk, Trent-Alexander and Robertson, what a defence. Champions! Party!


Stocki and the Treble

So, tonight, the football is back. City verses Arsenal at the Etihad. It should be like Christmas Day. Three months without football is almost like the end of one season into another. Except that it has been worse. No international tournaments or pre season. 

Yet, I am not at all excited. I couldn’t seem to care less. It has been the biggest mystery of the lockdown. Where did my love for football go?

I haven’t watched one kick since City lost the Derby 2-0 to United on March 8th. There have been all kinds of repeated matches on television from Cup Finals to Internationals to Match of the Day that apparently one week declared City’s 3-2 win against QPR to steal the 2012 title out of Sir Alex’s hands as the best Premiership game ever. I didn’t even watch that.

Why? It might be that as a Manchester City fan I wasn’t caring because Liverpool had already the Premiership wrapped up. Indeed, I feel for their fans who have waited for so long to win the Premiership and will now not be in the stadium to celebrate it when it happens in the next week or two. 

Yet, just before lock down, the Manchester derby aside, City had just won the League Cup and took a 2-1 first leg lead in the Champions League over Real Madrid at the Bernabéu! We moved into the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup too. Lots to play for.

And yet I still cannot muster any great anticipation. I thought that maybe I was a freak and then yesterday my good friend, poet and songwriter Paul Cookson posted a poem. 

Now when it comes to football and poetry Paul is the main man. He is not only the official Poet In Residence for the National Football Museum but as an Everton fan has written poems about many of their legendary players, having them read at Memorial Services and printed in Everton programmes… even Duncan McKenzie’s biography!

So, Paul is as up to his emotional neck in football as I am and so his poem really resonated. Had he become the spokesman for a football fan generation:


I’m not looking forward to football again
Not missing the beautiful game
My team are unbeaten since I don’t know when
I’m glad to be free of the strain


The strain. That might be it. If this lockdown was a breather from that life we lived up until March 2020 then maybe I was just glad to be rid of the strain. It doesn’t seem to be a strain. It is only football after all. Yet, somehow in these three months I had been freed from something:


My nerves are un-shredded, my pulse rate is even

Moods – they don’t dip or change


Sadly, in what is only a game, this so true. 

So, the question is… is this a new normal. Football has been a huge part of my life and given me a door into relationships across the world. It is a part of who I am. Is it gone? Will it return? Do I want it to? Can I manage it now? 

So many questions. Yet one thing is for sure… as Paul concludes:


Now football is starting again

I've not missed the depression

But here’s my confession

I’ll probably watch every game.


Here is Paul's complete poem... printed with his permission



I’m not looking forward to football again
Not missing the beautiful game
My team are unbeaten since I don’t know when
I’m glad to be free of the strain

I’m not looking forward to football again
It’s starting but won’t be the same
No doubt about it, since I’ve been without it
I’ve not had the heartache and pain

My nerves are un-shredded, my pulse rate is even
Moods – they don’t dip or change
No agitation, no aggravation
My passion, it seems on the wane

I’m not really bothered but no hesitation
Now football is starting again
I've not missed the depression
But here’s my confession
I’ll probably watch every game.


more about Paul Cookson here -




A few texts tipped me off. People were concerned about me. I wasn’t up to speed but I picked up enough to figure out that Manchester City had been banned from Europe!

I was delighted. I hate Europe. Liverpool have won the Champions League a time or two in the last 15 years and yet they haven’t been Champions of England for thirty. They even won it one year when they finished outside the qualifying places for the following year’s Champion’s League!

A few years ago Leicester City won the Premiership and, though I loved the fact, it had to be said that one of their biggest advantages that season was that they were not playing all those European games.

The Premier League on the other hand is the best league in the world and no one argues who the best team in England is this season - Liverpool. Who wins the Champions League, luck of the draw and a couple or three good games. Spurs were runners up last season after almost not qualifying for the knock out stages. Oh I love City winning Cups but it is the Premier League that I want.

So, I was delighted with the ban. Jurgen might not be so pleased.

Of course that was the initial joy. The fear came next. What if Pep now leaves? Will the players take a two year gap from European football? Will two Premiership titles, that it would be unforgivable if City didn’t win without the European distraction, be enough to keep KDB, Sergio and Laporte? 

Aguero’s contract will be up during that two year ban. So is Leroy Sane’s but he is likely to leave whatever. The other two John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are not top of Pep’s favourites. Still, there is that fear… What might City look like by 2022?

However, City fans can take whatever. It is only 21 years since we were playing league games away to Macclesfield Town, in the third tier. We have enjoyed winning 8 of the last 9 domestic trophies but we are used to harder times. 

Is there shame? Probably. I have blogged before that I hate that football has ended up to be all about money. I grew up in more innocent times with City and Liverpool being challenged by QPR and Burnley in title races. I don’t like that everything has changed but it has. I have often attempted to free myself from my love of Manchester City but 41 years of honing is hard to throw off. Maybe if we are relegated as punishment for our business failings I won’t have to!

Yes, I wish this wasn’t happening. I hope we are proved innocent or the sentence is at least seen as too severe. There are other arguments. Other journalists point the finger back at UEFA. However we are in a messy business world surrounded by all the messiness of business and if you live by the bottom line you can often die by the bottom line. Don’t get me started on unaccountable capitalism!

There are eras in football. I remember Leeds United’s, Everton had a mini one, Liverpool and Manchester United have had long ones, Arsenal, Chelsea and recently City. If ours is up. That is fine by me. I only needed that one Aguero moment even though I have enjoyed the eight years since. 

So, Pep might go. Sergo and KDB. We might have a year or two a little less amazing than we have been in the last two seasons. I don’t think it is over though. This morning’s headlines are a little over hyped. 

The worst news for me is that if I want to continue to enjoy the brilliant football on the pitch, I am going to have to compromise my soul on the business side… and two years out of Europe. It is very tempting!


Bringing 4 Football Teams Together

We are aware at the 4 Corners Festival (4CF) that we have an Irish Premier League football club in each corner of our city.

Sport in general sadly contributes to some of the tensions in our divided society. On the other side of the story there are many within sport working away at using sport to bring our communities together. The 4 Corners Festival event Game Of Three Halves attempts to do just that - bringing young people from across the divide, together to play each other’s sports!

At 4CF2020 we are also bringing together the 4 Chairmen of Belfast’s 4 Irish Premier League teams - Cliftonville, Crusaders, Glentoran and Linfield. 

BBC Sports Presenter Joel Taggart will host the evening and the Chairmen will be, among other things speaking about two things.

Firstly, the negative sectarian headlines of the papers and social media. There are those stories where a few isolated fans have shouted bigoted vitriol in the face of a player or Board member of the opposing team. There are those uncalled for chants or some other form of disrespect. Such things give a cheap cliche to the tabloids. No one reports the many layers of the story that have been conveniently left out of the newspaper piece.

Secondly, there is the stuff that never makes the headlines. There is a lot of hard work that these clubs are doing to eradicate sectarian behaviour. The carefully forged relationships between club directors and staff go unnoticed and seem to live a long distance from the media. There are a lot of good news stories in football that need to get a voice.

So, in this 4CF2020 event we bring the 4 Chairmen together in the National Stadium to listen to the issues that frustrate them and the strategic work they do unseen for the building up of our city. 

This should be an evening for journalists to come and listen with more sympathy to the issues that club chairman face. A listening that might bring some balance to lazy headlines and news stories.

This should be an evening for fans of each club, to hear listen to what their Chairmen go through in order to make the matches take place on a Saturday afternoon. A listening might give some backing to the strategies that go wider than just the game on the pitch.

This should be an evening for our society to listen. The issues that face our football club Directors are the issues of our broken society. We cannot be putting the blame on the Boards of football clubs when we are all complicit in our divisions. What Fr Martin and I often say about Stormont could be said at this event - “Peace will not drip down from Board Rooms, it should flow up from our streets (or stands and terraces) to the Board rooms”.

All this will take place in the Pat Jennings Lounge at Windsor Park. There will be tours of the stadium available beforehand. I have been on a tour and they are well worth giving more time. We are excited!




For the last ten minutes of the Rugby Union World Cup Final I had two people in my mind and heart. In the first decade of the millennium I spent, cumulatively, over six months in South Africa. As a university Chaplain I took loads of students to build houses on the townships around Cape Town with Habitat For Humanity.

Two men I came to love on those trips were Lucas and Thulani. They were builders from the Masiphumelele township and worked with us year after year. We took their families to Spur for meals and Lucas and Thulani came with us to watch Manchester United play Kaiser Chiefs and Western Province play in the Currie Cup.

When it came to Rugby, Lucas and Thulani were no fans of the Springboks. They supported New Zealand. The reason, even after Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar’ moment in the 1995 World Cup, was that Rugby was still a white sport. Blacks were still not welcome. 

They were not alone. I stood with some black South Africans while the Springboks beat Ireland at Newlands in 2004. They told me that Newlands was one of the few Rugby stadiums in their country that they felt welcome in. 

The words that sent me back across those years and wondering where Lucas and Thulani might be watching today was when Springbok winger Mapimpi ran in South Africa’s first ever try in their three World Cup successes and the commentator said, “the man from the townships runs in…” 

Half an hour later and another black man from the townships, Siya Kolisi, lifted the Webb Ellis trophy. Oh my!

These were not just sporting moments. These were the iconic moments in the development of a nation. South Africa have been through many difficulties since Mandela handed Pienaar that same trophy 24 years ago. Mandela started something through that 1995 campaign, as highlighted in the Invictus movie, but today another huge step was taken in the transformative of a rainbow nation.

I was not all that gripped by this year’s World Cup. Maybe it was the early starts. I find the groups stages dull. Ireland were knocked out early. I wanted to watch the final fearing what Eddie Jones might sound like when England lifted the Cup. I had no other expectations.

Yet, I suddenly found myself back in a country my family grew to love so much in that decade of travelling there. I suddenly glimpsed the hope of that great nation. I was suddenly captivated by Siya Kolisi, knowing exactly what kind of background he was from. My heart found Lucas and Thulani. I hope they are well and that their families are doing well. 

With a minute or two go in the match, I sent a text to my good friend Brent Van Der Linde, a South African who lives here in Belfast. I texted, “Brother… beautiful” He answered, “Absolutely beautiful”. Indeed it is!