SPORT - STOCKI SURMISING

TRIBUTE TO BRIAN KIDD - A CITY & UNITED HERO

KIDDO

It is a sad day for Manchester City fans. It should however be a day of celebration and thanks yous.

Brian Kidd has stepped down from the coaching staff after 12 years at City. They have been, of course, the most glorious 12 years in City history. 

It is much bigger than that for me personally. As a kid (see what I did!) I was a Manchester United fan. The first match I remember watching all 120 minutes of was the 1968 European Cup Final. Manchester United beat Benfica 4-1. My hero George Best scored one… Bobby Charlton scored two… and on his 19th birthday, Brian Kidd scored the other.

That night he helped fulfil Sir Matt Busby dream for a European Cup.

53 years later he was on the coaching staff, this time for the sky blue side of his home city, this time on his 72nd birthday to help City fulfil the same dream. Sadly City let him down. What bookends those would have been.

In between Brian Kidd has led an amazing career criss crossing the city. He played for United 67-74, then, after two years at Arsenal, starred in a very good City team 77-79, scoring 44 goals in 98 games!

Later he went red again and was Sir Alex’s right hand man 91-98 before arriving back at the sky blue side in 2009.

Something makes him unique and I believe gives him a most special part in the history of Manchester City’s two football teams.

He was there beside Ferguson in 1993 when United won the league title for the first time in 26 years. Iconic pictures of both of them on the pitch. He was also there 19 years later beside Roberto Mancini when City won the title for the first time in 44 years. Iconic pictures of him and Mancini after the Aguero moment!

I’ll miss him. He was that link between my childhood and now, between my old heroes and now. He’s been the one permanent since I started watching football. Some memories. Some career. Some man. Brian Kidd, a Manchester hero.


SURMISING CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN'S COLLAPSE

Denmark fans

I have never been so glad that I fell asleep during a football match. I woke up to texts and social media messages. Was I watching? We cannot believe what we are seeing. I quickly found out that footballer Christian Eriksen had almost died on the pitch, having been taken seriously ill during the European Championship match while he was playing for Denmark against Finland. 

I missed the near tragedy and the trauma that millions had to go through live on their TV screens. I was delighted and relieved to know that he was awake. My heart also went out… to millions.

When people are struck with illness as Christian Eriksen it is usually private and quiet. Has it ever been so public? 

It did not surprise me that it was Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel who got his team to make a circle of protection and privacy around his team mate. 

For me, Schmeichel is a hero. It is not the first time he has raced to a tragedy. He was first on the scene when the Leicester City Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's helicopter crashed on take off  just a few years ago. He is then seen consoling Christian’s wife Sabrina during last night’s tragedy. What a human?

Yet, nothing could cover up the trauma going on in that football pitch.  I pray for those players. The team mates who stood surrounding their friend as the paramedics fought for his life. I cannot imagine what emotions they were suffering. 

Or Christian’s wife in the crowd. Or the Finish team. Or the match officials and managers and crowd in the stadium and watching on TV. I pray for everyone who went through the trauma.

For sure the match should not have restarted. There was no way that Eriksen’s team mates could have been in any state to give their best. They should have given a nil-nil and moved on. However, that is now gone.

I continue to pray for Christian himself and his family. Please God may he be back to health and strength very soon. I pray too for everyone still struggling with the events they were caught up in.

I also found it fascinating how when thrown into such events, people start talking about sending “best wishes” “positive thoughts” “all my best thoughts”. They seem to have reached out in their desperation for something beyond themselves.

It sounds like prayer to me. Atheists might suggest that this is why people created God in the first place. A crutch? Somewhere to go for help when they had nothing left in themselves. 

I surmise that it might be the other way around. Maybe there is a spiritual soul within us that is aware of something, someone, somewhere. Maybe it is our natural instinctive reaction to pray because it is part of our human DNA.

Whatever… as Sam Smith sang a year or two go:

 

Maybe I'll pray, pray
Maybe I'll pray
I have never believed in you, no
But I'm gonna pray

 

 Join me with whatever you define your good wishes. Get well soon Christian Eriksen.

 


CITY LOSING TO CHELSEA AND MY COINING THE PERFECT TEBLE

Stocki and City

“How is he? Is he alright?”

I think more people asked Janice how I was than actually asked me. I was thankful for the gentle sporting engagements people gave me. I believe that good sportsmanship is a value of following Jesus. I have no time for acerbic bipartisan football “banter”. 

Anyway, I am fine. Football is a funny thing. It is all about 90 minutes on one evening. The ecstasy of winning is intense and then quickly disperses. The heartache too. Also, it was a one off game. Anything can happen. We lost a recent Cup Final to Wigan. I had grieved all day, preparing for the worst. 

In those 90 minutes Chelsea were the better team for most of it. Their back 4 and defensive midfielders were superb. Kante, James, Chilwell and Rudiger - excellent! 

City were beaten by their starting line up. Everyone but Pep knows that. No defensive midfielders and players had no idea where they were playing (think De Bruyne!). Pep talked all week about City needing to play like themselves then put a team out that couldn’t be ourselves. The Champions League has Pep’s head and two years in a row his over thinking cost us. We might win more domestically with Pep but Champions League? I am not sure.

As many of you know I am more up for more Premierships than Champions League anyway. So many of you try to convince me about how wonderful it is and how much we need it but for me it is just another Cup. 

It is about 90 minutes. You don’t need to be the best team in your country to win it. Indeed Liverpool and Chelsea have won it in recent years without even making the English top 4! The Premiership is the best league in the world and you win it over 38 games. Give me that any day.

BUT… I will make you a concession. There is a way that I would love to win the The Champions League that might eclipse simply the money and prestige. I introduce you to The Perfect Treble. I have never ever heard it mentioned. It is, in my opinion, the Holy Grail of football.

It has only been done twice by English Clubs. Liverpool in 1984 and Manchester United in 2008. This Perfect Treble is qualifying for the Champions League as English Champions and being English Champions again in the season that you win it. That is the only way since UEFA allowed non Champions to play in the Champions League that makes it a real achievement for me. 

That even Liverpool and United have only done this once makes me suspicious in the modern era that you can have a tilt at both. City were close but winning and keeping the mental intensity to win another Premiership and get through all the rounds of the Champions League - it is a big ask. And Pep if you have to compromise, concentrate on the Premiership!

Until we do the Perfect Treble the Champions League remains like the other cups in a domestic double or treble. Oh of course I’d rather have a Champions League than a League Cup but…

Who knows, it might happen next season. However Tommy Tuchel is the real deal and Liverpool will be mentally strong again. That Perfect Treble is a long way off.

Twenty two years ago I watched in horror as City were 2 down going into extra time in a Division 2 Play-off Final. Thankfully we, for the first but not the last time, scored twice to turn it around. Today, we are Premier league Champions for the third year in four, fifth in a decade. We have also 2 FA Cups and 6 League Cups. In 2011 I would have taken one of each. 

Even without a Champions League, consider me spoiled beyond my dreams. Tell them I am fine Janice. Very, very fine!


PERSONAL SURMISE ON SERGIO AGUERO

Aguero QPR

In the summer of 2011 we were holidaying in Spain. One evening we found ourselves in the little town square of Los Montesinos for an evening meal. The waiter was a young Englishman who had lived in Spain for some years. We got talking football, that universal language. I had read something on the internet that day about Manchester City buying some guy called Aguero. 

I asked the waiter who would have seen Aguero playing for Atletico Madrid what he thought of him. He was not at all happy. He was a United fan and thought that Aguero was going to be a hit. He waxed lyrical about him and I have to say that I went back to our house that night quite encouraged about this guy Aguero.

A decade later and Sergio Aguero is an all time footballing hero of mine, up there with Colin Bell, Johan Cruyff, George Best and more recently Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva.

I remember Aguero’s first game. He came off the bench with 30 minutes left and scored twice and added an assist. It seems fitting that in his last game, this weekend against Everton, that he also came off the bench with around the same half hour remaining and scored twice. That sent City fans back at the Etihad for the first time in a while, there to cheer a 5th Premier League Trophy presentation in Aguero’s ten years. An Aguero double. What a bonus. It was perfectly scripted and deeply emotional.

In a career bookended by those two substitute appearances Sergio Aguero scored more Premier League goals than any other player has ever done for one club. He was a goal machine.

For me his brilliance was his ability to score half chances and goals out of nothing. You felt that if the midfielders, wingers or overlapping full backs could get the ball anywhere near him in the penalty area that he could do magic things.

He had this awesome balance, could swivel and swing. He could conjure volleys from ridiculous angles, his pièce de résistance. In seven of his ten seasons he scored 28 goals or more. When you have a player who can create something from nothing or finish what is not even a half chance you can go far. City did.

Add to the ability the humility and sense of the collective and you have an even better player. Sergio never seemed selfish, always seemed loved by his team mates and even in a final season when he could have been complaining about not getting games he simply got on with and was ready when he was needed. Phil Foden speaks about how much he has learned from Aguero. Mentor too!

His last season hasn't been his best. In his early 30s Sergio seemed more prone to injuries but worse for him he seems to take longer to get back to fitness after an injury. This must have caused some doubt in Pep's mind about how much he could depend on Aguero at this stage.

The English game is the most demanding. He might have a couple of good years left in Spain. Barcelona! When Messi didn't join him at City last season I thought it might go the other way round. Let us hope we don't meet in the Champions League next spring!

Of course the reason he will always have legendary status at City is that moment that is perhaps the most iconic memory in the English game. City needing a goal with less than two minutes of injury time left in the last game of the season to over haul Manchester United already winners at Sunderland. Somehow Mario Balotelli lying on the ground touches the ball to Aguero on the edge of the box. Aguero takes it past a QPR defender, stays on his feet and smashes it into the back of the net. City have won their first title in 44 years.

The commentator’s AGUEROOOOOOOOOO is minted. As memorable as “They think it’s all over, it is now” in the 1966 World Cup Final. When you hear the word you see Aguero running away, shirt off, swinging it like a windmill, before the entire team fall on top of him.

I’ll never forget where I was. I had left disconsolate, disbelieving depressed as City trailed 2-1 with a minute left of normal time. That most iconic moment in my team’s history and I was in my back garden sulking.

BUT… I have watched that goal more times than any other and every time I do I burst into tears. Every single time.

Yet that was only one goal. There have been 260 other goals in all competitions - volleys, thunderbolts, headers, tap ins. Everyone a moment of joy for supporters bereft of joy for almost 40 years before he arrived. 

I am sure as he has been a blessing to us, he has been a curse to the red side of Manchester. I wonder about my waiter in Spain. He knew his football. He knew the quality of this this 23 year old Argentinian who was heading to City. The rest is history. 

Thank you so much Sergio Aguero for writing that history with your genius. We love you. We will miss you. May you keep on scoring as long as it is not against us!


WE NEED MORE GARY NEVILLES

Neville

Gary Neville was a red. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated too. One of the many players that Sir Alex Ferguson made look  a lot better than he was! I know. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

As a pundit I have liked him more. I love the way that Sky have made their pundits a little partisan as well as having a general sense of fairness in their post match comments. Neville and maybe Jamie Carragher led that delicate balance.

Tonight though I declare Gary Neville a hero. A mere 48 hours into the setting up of a European Super League Manchester City and Chelsea are already opting out and Neville’s contribution in that cannot be underestimated.

Make no mistake that this is a sensational turn around. Even the commentators tonight are disbelieving at the early unravelling, thinking that these Super Rich teams would have seen out the storm. 

For me this has been about wealth and big business and I have seen very little that has ever suggested that protesting ever works when the the rich get greedy enough. I wasn’t sure that the owners of these clubs had anything on their mind but a rise in the share price. Not much a poor customer has been able to do in the face of that over the last 100 years.

Yet, it seems that fans and players and managers have done just that. They have threatened the owners of their clubs with becoming socially reprehensible, like drunk drivers. They have made them think again. It is an extraordinary victory that should be cheered by every fan in every stadium much more than their team’s next goal, win or trophy.

Gary Neville’s contribution has beens seismic. On Sunday afternoon, a very short time after news of this Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was up there with any political speech we have heard in recent years. He was articulate, argued well, nailed everything that needed said. It was emotional. It was angry. It was clear.

Tonight I have no doubt that that outrage and how it was shared set in motion an impetus that was picked up and run with by everyone who loves the English game. It set a tone. It shone a bright light. It was a depth charge hurled and ripples became  waves that crashed against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

We need more of the Gary Neville model in soccer. This war is not done if the victory in the battle can be heralded. More reform is needed. The game and the fans need to be more important than big business. 

We need more of the Gary Neville model across the wider society. Where the greedy ride roughshod over the common man and woman we must vent our anger with articulate words and a joined up outrage. 

We need more Gary Nevilles. We are seeing before our eyes that they can make a difference.


STOCKI SURMISES THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE

European Super League

The European Super League. What a reaction that created. How articulate was Gary Neville on Sky Sports yesterday in the midst of his anger? 

It seems that the world of football and outside of football are against this daring elitism… until a Manchester United fan on the BBC Northern Ireland news showed the sad and inevitable chink, “I am sorry but I will support them wherever they are playing.” That might be the most honest response. We’ll come back to it.

 

MONEY RUNNING THE GAME IS NOT NEW

Sadly, this didn’t happen overnight. Money has been ruining the game for decades. I remember my father pointing a finger at United trying to buy the League back in 1972 when they spent a fortune on Ian Storey-Moore. Comedian Mike Yarwood put it better - “We didn’t need Ian Moore, we needed nine more.”

Chelsea and more recently City have been accused of buying success. Who can doubt that it has helped. Not me. Money has pretty much limited the potential winners of the Premier League to three teams. It is why we were so excited when Leicester City won it without all the money in 2016. Having said that there was an injection of money into Leicester after 2009 when they were two divisions down.

Let us make no mistake that the big money in football argument was lost decades ago. Leicester City was a blip. I long for the 70s when a QPR or Burnley or Derby could have given it a good go but in 2021 for most teams to compete for Premiership titles they need big money investment. 

 

FOOTBALL IS ONLY A MICROCOSM OF CAPITALISM THAT NEEDS TO BE MORE ACCOUNTABLE

This is no different than what is happening in our wider society. Super Markets have been putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers out of business for 50 years. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.” The Mafia don’t use guns any more they use the Stock Exchange. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a long time. 

The Bible has warned against such greed for millennia. I am simply amazed that a Super League and not Super Markets caused the most reaction!

 

IT IS NO LONGER AN ENGLISH GAME

Most of the talk in the past 24 hours has been very England-centric. It has all been about the damage done to the long history of the game and the tier system and finances dripping down to the grass roots.

I agree with all that and the damage that will be done BUT the owners of our big soccer clubs do not come from or live in England. It is not only the system that they do not get; it is the tradition.

The European Super League seems to me to be very much a model taken from all American Sport. American Football, Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball, even Soccer are based on Super Leagues. It is a different tradition and very much a different economic model. That is what the owners are used to and honed by.

They also see that the TV viewing numbers are bigger than the numbers at stadiums. If they lost the local Manchester fan base who all went off to support Stockport County they could get millions more in China or wherever. It is a world game, not an English game.

Finally, on this one. The Premier League is the only interesting league in the world. Ask Rangers and Celtic fans about a European Super League and how they would love it. Italy, Spain and France too. They didn’t have the same fascination and competition as the English Premiership. Then if English teams don’t enter how will they entice the top players to England. That is a dilemma!

 

THE FANS NEED TO PUT THEIR ACTIONS WHERE THEIR MOUTHS ARE

The fans have spouted enough opposition. The action will be much more difficult. Will these angry disgusted fans, myself included, follow through or end up like our Northern Irish United supporter and cave in to whatever?

It is very difficult to change allegiances after 50 years of grief and joy, reading and memory collecting. When that club is in your own city, even harder.

Yet, fans need to act. Is that boycotting? Maybe not watching on TV and stop buying shirts. Or literally changing clubs. It will very difficult. 

 

THE PLAYERS AND MANAGERS HAVE DECISIONS TO MAKE TOO

We haven’t yet heard from players and managers. Certainly they have been thrown into it and it is not their fault. There are all kinds of wild suggestions about them being banned from World Cups etc. 

Whatever, they have decisions to make. When it is your financial future and career that is tricky but maybe showing the intention of not re-signing after contracts end would make a point. Would they then be willing to take a pay cut and play for Everton, West Ham or Leeds? Players and managers are being unfairly tested too.

 

It will be interesting to see what happens. I suggest that this needs more thought than just whether this Super League goes ahead or not. Soccer needs to look at itself and into its soul and ask some questions that have been ignored for too long but have now rumbled up and exploded in the sport’s face. 

Me too. The League Cup on Sunday has lost its shine, the Premier league too and as for that European thing… Can I really at 59 after… 52 years… fall deeply in love with another club. I have also, for over 50 years, followed Plymouth Argyle though!


PEP'S NEMESIS... HIS OWN OVER THINKING!

Pep over thinking

I love Pep Guardiola. I think he is the best manager there is. I am so thankful for the trophies he has helped me celebrate. I want him to stay forever. What is to come is a decadent moan about a minor weakness BUT... 

Pep has a few managers who could be regarded as his nemesis. Jurgen took him on last season and won the Premiership by a huge distance. Ole seems to be able to beat him in almost every derby match. Tommy Tuchel has hit the ground running and though apparently he hadn’t beaten Pep until yesterday’s FA Cup Semi Final, he is a new threat.

I am part of a wee Whatsapp City Supporting Match Day Support Group and we would agree that Pep’s biggest nemesis might be his own over thinking. An example of such would have been his rush of blood that cost City last season’s Champions League. A mad cap change of tactics against Lyon, a team City should have beaten with our usual style. It might have been the best Champions League chance Pep will ever have with City.

We have been waiting for a tactical over think all season BUT I think that it came in a different and equally costly way against Chelsea.

Now, before I get to it, a couple of things. 

Firstly, those commentators and pundits who slip possible Quadruples off their tongues. It has never been done for a reason. A English team would need to be so significantly better than any other team on the planet to not have a day when at 80% they wouldn’t lose to another great team playing at even 85%. The latter stages of three Cups are just darn hard. 

Secondly, Chelsea are the team in form. Tommy Tuchel, as I have said, looks like the real deal. Give that man a transfer window and… Well actually, they might just win the FA Cup and Champions League before that. So, even without Pep’s over think they might well have beaten us in that Semi Final.

BUT… when City had some of their best and most in-form players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes, it was a different game. It leaves me wondering what might have been. As I say, maybe Chelsea who played brilliantly would have still have won but I’d like to have tested it.

Pep has been over thinking his rotation for a few weeks. It cost us against Leeds and again against Chelsea. What does he do on Wednesday night against Aston Villa before next Sunday’s League Cup Final? It quite frightens me. If he thinks we can beat Villa with Sterling, Jesus and Torres then he is risking another league defeat. Sterling's loss of form is unprecedented. H looked like a wee lost boy yesterday. Suddenly United could be just five points behind us and… 

I think that only City at this moment can have a go at the Quadruple. I think that rotation early in the season is the only way we can make our way through League Cup and Champions League early rounds as well as gathering league points. 

However, with a Final, two semi finals and a few league games left to win, City were risking all to trust players who were out of form and resting players who were in the zone. Ilkay Gundagon and Phil Foden have been electric all season and particularly in recent weeks. You can’t hope that they will save you in the last 15 minutes as substitutes. 

Cups are won on whims. The whim of a refereeing decision or the whim of the other team playing out of their skin or the whim of a lucky goal or goal line clearance. Not so, Premier Leagues. The whims balance out or can be out pointed by other games. 

So, Spurs and PSG might take two more slashes in our possible trophy count. To throw away the Premiership is not going to be on a whim. It can be even now be lost… but only by Pep’s over thinking. Please no. That might be a bigger laughing stock than those 35 years without any trophies!

Worried? Who, me?


COLIN BELL 1946-2021 - A TRIBUTE TO MY FAVOURITE FOOTBALLER

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 - MY TRIBUTE

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 - MY VILLAGE, ALL OVER THE TV

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.