Its time for a month of football

Its time for a month of football

Happy days, the FIFA World Cup 2018 is about to start. With the finals taking place in Russia, most games will be kicking off during my work day. Luckily I have a desk job, an iPad with Fox Sports app, and plenty of time during my day to have games on in the background. Before we go any further, lets get one thing clear, I am calling this is a feast of football, not soccer, but proper Association Football!

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But today also marked the day that FIFA decided the venue for the 2026 World Cup finals, and its coming to the USA with Atlanta being a host city. There have been world cups close to me back in Europe, but never one in the city I lived. So a bucket list item will be getting checked off, attending a World Cup finals game, and hopefully it will involve Ireland, if not I will possibly have to try got to a USA game instead.

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Anyway, back to this years tournament in Russia. I will be watching from the USA and with Ireland and the USA both missing out on qualification it will be my usual of supporting anyone playing England and hopefully seeing England fail to get out of their group. I will have a passing interest in how Iceland do, the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Cup but I will be kind of hoping that a new country can rise to the top and win the whole thing but its hard to look past the usual suspects, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and possibly Spain or France. I will go with  Germany v Brazil final with Germany winning again.

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So let the fun and games begin, well they already have with Spain firing their manager the day before the tournament starts, who will be the star player, the team that upsets the big team, will it be an open and exciting tournament or instantly forgettable, how will the VAR work out….lots of unknowns as the matches start tomorrow.

And in 2026, the USA, Mexico and Canada will get their chance to show the world how to put on a World Cup in the summer and I will hopefully get to a few games.

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Sporty Billy! 

Sporty Billy! 

Taking another trip down memory lane and today it’s all about Sport. OK so now I am nearing 50 but still enjoy playing football (soccer) especially since I made my return to playing a little over a year ago after 20 years away from playing regularly. So where did I get this love for playing football. 

Well it started in my backyard back in Ireland playing with a tennis ball or a football and just kicking it against the wall. As a kid I played football, rugby and hurling. I was kinda small for rugby but I was lucky enough to be fast, it helped stopped the big guys flattening me. Hurling I found a great leveler, the little guy with a. Stick can hit just as hard as the big guy but again it was a little bit of speed thst kept me out of getting hit to hard. See a trend in both of those sport? And so I got really good at football and I wouldnt get hit, at least not to often. 

My football playing days ended really when I suffered a broken femur just after I turned 20. I just couldn’t face a hard tackle again so I stepped away from the game for a good few years, just playing occasionally. But that did not stop me watching football as often as I could. My earliest memories of watching football was the 1976 FA Cup Final in England, followed by the 1977 FA and European Cup finals and the 1978 World Cup Finals in Argentina. I think it was the 1977 Euro Cup Final that really got me hooked. Liverpool had lost to Man Utd the previous weekend in the FA Cup Final but bounced back on the Wednesday to won the European Cup.  I then started to follow English football and became a Liverpool supporter. 

The World Cup in 1978 was memorable as it was the first time I remember seeing international football, Scotland beating Holland but still going out after 2 previous disastrous games, the ticker tape final which seen a Mario Kempes inspired Argentina hand Holland their second successive final defeat and Archie Gemmils goal in the aforementioned Holland Scotland game are just some memories I have of that world cup. 

As this is a trip down memory lane I won’t go into what I follow today, but I still watch for Liverpool results, watch football most weekends and play most Sundays. But some of my best memories have been watching St Patrick’s Athletic back home in Ireland. I have seen them win leagues, cups and play away in Europe. I have also suffered heartbreak as I have seen them lose more Cup finals than I care to mention. But in 2014 that ghost was laid to rest as St Patrick’s Athletic finally got their hands on the FAI Cup and I was the road to record the whole thing on camera. 

I will come back to memories with St Patrick’s Athletic as they are so numerous that a single post wouldnt do them justice. Being a fan of St Patrick’s Athletic is a privilege I am glad to have, I have met some wonderful people, made live long friends, lost some good people, had some great experiences at games and some heart breaking ones too. 

I suppose now as I live in the USA I have to adopt a few local teams in various sports. So now I have Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta Braves (MLB), Atlanta Hawks (MBA) and now Atlanta United in the MLS. Add them to St Pats and Liverpool as well as Michigan Spartans for college sports and I have a busy schedule just keeping up with results. 

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and I hope to add more over the coming week as the big 50 birthday looms. 

Superbowl Sunday

Superbowl Sunday

This time last year I wrote about my first Superbowl Sunday here in America. It consisted of a group of friends getting together and enjoying the game and the adverts! Yes, the adverts during the Superbowl along with the half time show can be the highlight of the Superbowl. This year though I think will be slightly different as the Atlanta Falcons have made it to only their 2nd Superbowl and it is a well deserved appearance. 

They will come up against the New England Patriots, and they are the team I followed when I lived in Ireland but my allegiances have switched to my new home town, so I will be cheering on the Falcons. 

Superbowl 51 pitches the best defence (Patriots) going up against the best offense (Falcons) so it will be an interesting game. With possibly the 2 best QB’s playing, the legendary Tom Brady v the new league MVP Matt Ryan it could be a shootout between these two. Looking forward to a exciting game and hope Falcons manage to pull it off, but won’t be overly disappointed if the Patriots win. 
It would be fantastic for Atlanta to win and the excitement has been building for last few weeks through all the play offs and now to the final game of the season. It reminds me of home and when St Pat’s made it to the cup final and the build up would start a couple of weeks before and by game day I would be a nervous wreck. 

It was hard to know how to feel when we lost a cup final and we certainly did lose a few but the camaraderie of fellow fans who were feeling the same always helped, along with a few tasty pints of Guinness. But St Pat’s finally did win the FAI Cup and I have to say it is still and probably always will be one of the highlights of watching my local team in my life, and we have won leagues and other trophies but to finally win the cup after 53 years of waiting was just a fantastic moment.  

So now it is time to get ready, put on the shirt, go to friends house, and settle down and watch the game. And may the best team win which I hope is the Atlanta Falcons. RISE UP!!! 

A little bit of sport. 

A little bit of sport. 

I haven’t mentioned my sporting likes in a while and it’s those that helped frame the title of this blog. So a quick reminder how the name came about. Firstly the St Pats part is about my home town football club back in Ireland and the Spartans part is about Michigan State here in the USA. 

I have always supported St Patrick’s Athletic FC and even now I follow the games via Twitter, TV when available and fan commentary when I can listen in. The support for Michigan State came about as it is the team and college that my wife attended, hence the title of the blog; St Pats to Spartans. 

Anyway, this season hasn’t been a great season for St Patrick’s Athletic in the league. Struggling to string a few decent results together and languishing in the lower end of the table with just a few games left it’s lookin going a season to forget. Even though they managed to reach the FAI Cup Semi Final a heavy defeat in thst game just shows how much work the manager has to do th get Pats back up the table next season. But it wasn’t all bad, retaining the League Cup me at that St Patrick’s Athletic have managed to win one of the 3 major trophies on offer in each of the last 4 seasons, starting with the League Championship in 2013, FAI Cup in 2014, League Cup in 2015 and 2016. So once this season is offer in a few weeks it will be time to rebuild and be ready to go in March next year. 

And onto Michigan State, the football season started 7 weeks ago and just like St Patrick’s Athletic, it hasn’t really gone to plan. After a relatively good season last year this season has started with just 2 wins and 4 defeats. Nothing seems to be going right this season so it’s time to make sure lessons are learnt and that MS got back to winning ways quickly and the players step up to the mark early and make a run of victories to turn this season around, even though it is probably to late to make it as successful as last year already. But there is always next year and with college football being as it is the junior players will have gained valuable experience with this seasons early difficulties. 

Being a sports fan does come with its highs and lows, sometimes more low days that good days but that’s what makes the good days so special. Seeing St Patrick’s Athletic lose so many FAI Cup finals made the victory in 2014 all the sweeter and it wiped away all those defeats and 53 years of waiting in 90 minutes. One of my favorite moments was when that second goal to clinch the cup went into the back of the net in the dying minute of the match. 

With Michigan State football team not doing to good it will be up to the basketball team to lift spirits and with St Patrick’s Athletic moving into the off season at the end of October I will continue to watch the English Premier league until the Irish soccer season starts back in March when of course it is also March Madness here for the the basketball. 

Sporting events 

Sporting events 

So far I have attended an NBA (basketball) game involving the Atlanta Hawks, an NFL (football) pre season game involving the Atlanta Falcons, a MLB (baseball) game involving the Atlanta Braves and last night I went to my first college football game as Georgia Tech played Clemson in Atlanta. 

Each of these were different in their own way, the basketball was my first major sporting event to attend with Leanne here in the USA and I was still in awe of a lot of Atlanta and the Hawks managed to win and overall it was a great event. The Braves game was equally a good night, we had Robert with us and it was fun. The Braves PR team even made it better by giving us free hats and t-shirts as it was our very first baseball game to see. Kudos to them for that gesture. The NFL game was a pre season one for the Falcons so was quite a lack luster affair but again we had fun as myself and Robert went with our Irish neighbour. 

And so last night it was time to experience College football. The fact that the stadium probably holds about 80000 and was about 3/4 full on a Thursday night absolutely astounded me. With Leanne being a Michigan State fan, and me as well by default, I knew the stadiums were big but to actually walk into one was amazing. It is a full blown production, big band, cheer leaders, fireworks etc. Unfortunately Georgia Tech lost last night bringing an end to my unbeaten event attending, the Falcons, Hawks and Braves all won when I attended.

At the Georgia Tech game

Now compare these sporting events to back in Ireland. Probably nothing can compare to the production, pre game and during game entertainment to off the pitch. But on the pitch games at home are much more exciting, less stopping and starting, play is more involved. But is one better than the other, No, not at all. I do love all sports and I do miss attending St Patrick’s Athletic matches at home with our little crowd of 1000 but I have also enjoyed all the sporting events I have gone to so far in Atlanta. 

There are a few more on my list to attend, an ice hockey game in Detroit, a Michigan State football game, an Atlanta United soccer match when they are up and running and a USA international soccer match as well. Which one gets my vote as the most enjoyable so far? Well that’s a tough choice, the Braves looked after us and Robert was able to attend, the Hawks as it was my first game to go to with Leanne, Falcons as it was first NFL game or the College football? I will have to go with the college football and its more to do with the off the pitch stuff. The band played practically non stop for the full night, the student fans made lots of noise and they had a white out night, where everyone wore white, and it all added up to a great occasion. So Georgia Tech lost, but the night, the event, as a whole was superb. Oh and I have to mention traffic management, at home traffic basically comes to a standstill after events, here the traffic management is excellent and everyone gets away and home quickly and efficiently. 

So I look forward to lots more sporting events, enjoying this particular aspect of my new home, and maybe becoming emotionally attached to a club so I can cheer them on just like I did at home for St Patrick’s Athletic. 

Out but proud with added Postscript

Out but proud with added Postscript

So Ireland’s journey in the Euros came to an end today in the last 16 against the hosts, France. It was always going to be tough but for a little under an hour we were dreaming of what may be as Robbie Brady gave Ireland an early lead. Brady, the hero in the last round against Italy, brilliantly stroked an early penalty to the French net to give Ireland something to hang on to.

Last weekend Ireland was well beaten by Belgium but they regrouped and during the week a late Robbie Brady header gave Ireland the win they needed to progress into the last 16. After the defeat by Belgium, the victory over Italy lifted the team and country.

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Robbie Brady scores v Italy

This morning I was up early and with a new US friend I headed around to my neighbors house, a fellow Irishman from Kildare, to settle down and watch the match. We hadn’t even got comfortable when the referee pointed to the spot and Ireland had a penalty after barely 90 seconds. Up stepped Robbie Brady, and he scored to give Ireland the lead. Que celebrations but also knowing this French side aren’t bad so it was going to be tough.

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Robbie Brady scores penalty v France

Ireland played great in the first half and could have had a second goal but it didn’t come. The half time break came, time for another mug of tea and take stock. Could we hang on, were we going to emulate Stuttgart in 1988, or would the French step up their game and hit back. Unfortunately, it was the latter as the French hit 2 second half goals to win 2-1 and our dream was over.

This Irish team was written of a year ago, but they regrouped and fought to qualify, defeating Germany in the process. During the Euros we seen the best if this team in the draw against Sweden and the win against Italy. This was tempered by the defeat to Belgium, but we have a platform now to build on. Today we were beaten, we are out of the Euros, we are proud of the team and the future for this squad of players is bright. Thank you Ireland for a wonderful 2 weeks of football.

As an added Postscript I woukd like to add that the Irish fans in France were immense, as always. Singing, supporting and partying away with no hint of trouble. They have endeared themselves to the French and the watching public. Just one thing, if just 10% of those that attended the games in France headed to a local League of Ireland match, the future of the international team would be secure. Coleman, Hoolahan, McClean, Ward and Quinn all played in the League of Ireland and it’s only with investment and fans will the next stars make the breakthrough.

June is Football month

June is Football month

Just a little post about football and how I love watching and playing. Mainly images going back to 1978, the first major World Cup I remember well. I was around for the 1974 World Cup but I only vaguely remember it as I was only 7.

So the World Cup in 1978 took place in Argentina and my abiding memory was Scotland losing to Iran then scoring a brilliant goal against Holland and being so close to getting the victory they needed to qualify for the next round but ultimately failing. Ticker tape and Mario Kempes were the backdrop to the final as hosts Argentina handed Holland their second final defeat in a row.

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Argentina won the 1978 World Cup

The next World Cup took place in Spain in 1982 and now I had a country to support as Northern Ireland qualified and would produce one of their best ever results when they defeated the hosts 1-0 with only 10 men. But they couldn’t reproduce that magic and were knocked out in the second round group stages.

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Espana 82 World Cup Mascot

Mexico 86 doesn’t register with me at all except for Maradona scoring his now infamous Hand of God goal to help defeat England, but his second goal that game was pure world class and he single handly took Argentina to a second World Cup. Up to now I didn’t really take much notice of the European Championships but all that was about to change because of a Scottish goal in Bulgaria late in 1987. The goal meant that Ireland qualified their first major championships and Germany in the summer of 1988 will live in Irish sporting history forever. When Ray Houghton scored that famous goal to beat England a nation stood up and took notice. Ireland would eventually be knocked out by a wierd bounce and Holland but the breakthrough had been made.

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Germany Euro 88
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Ray Houghton scores against England in 1988 Euros

Ireland followed the 1988 Euros with qualification for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. And if 1988 made sporting history, the summer of 1990 made a whole country celebrate and enjoy what the soccer team were achieving in Italy. The euphoria over a battling draw with England was tempered by a lack lustre draw with Egypt and then that goal by Niall Quinn which earned us a late draw with Holland which seen us through to the second round. The drawing of lots meant we drew Romania and another defining sporting moment beckoned. Packie Bonner saved a Daniel Timofte penalty in the shoot out and up stepped Dave O Leary to send Ireland into the World Cup Quarter Finals. A meeting with the Pope in Rome followed but Ireland’s amazing journey came to an end at the hands of the hosts in Rome, going down 1-0 but with pride fully intact.

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Italia 90 Logo
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Penalty Saved

Ireland failed to qualify for the next Euros but USA 1994 beckoned and Ireland qualified and a meeting with their 1990 conquerors was to be their first match in Giants Stadium in New York. This time Ireland prevailed, beating the Italians 1-0 thanks to a Ray Houghton goal and a defensive masterclass from Paul McGrath, an ex St Patrick’s Athletic player. Unfortunately that was as good as it got for Ireland and even though they did get to the second round they couldn’t reproduce the heroics of 1990 and went out of the tournament.

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Irish fans take over Giants Stadium
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USA 1994 Logo

1996 gave Ireland a chance to play in a major championships right next door in England but the team of 1988 and 1990 was getting old and breaking up so Ireland failed to qualify and they repeated the failure to qualify again in 1998 for the World Cup in France. The rebuilding was taking place so for the 3rd major championships in a row Ireland failed to qualify for the Euros in 2000. The World Cup in 2002 seen Ireland return to the world stage and once again gave us a moment to remember when in the final minute of the game Robbie Keane scored a fantastic equaliser against Germany to earn Ireland a hard fought but deserved draw. Ireland would eventually go out in the second round to Spain in a game they should and could have won. Of course this Spanish side was only a few years away from dominanting football.

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Japan Korea World Cup logo

This was to be Ireland last World Cup but that didn’t happen without controversy when in a Play Off against France a handball goal was allowed to stand and France took the final spot in the World Cup in 2010 and Ireland had to stay at home. The 2004 Euros as well as the 2008 were also failures to qualify and it wasn’t till the 2012 Euros that Ireland would get a chance to compete against the best in Europe. Unfortunately the best in Europe handed Ireland 3 defeats in a row and the team were knocked out with a whimper. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil took place without Ireland as well so the extended 2016 Euros gave Ireland a chance to qualify for the finals for the second time in a row for the first time.

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Poland and Ukraine Euro 2012 logo

A fantastic home win against Germany followed by a play off victory over Bosnia Herzigova sees Ireland make the trip to France for the finals. Drawn again Sweden, Belgium and Italy in there group it will be tough for Ireland but hopefully on Monday they can get off to a good start and progress to the knock out stages and put the ghosts of 2012 to bed. I will be watching the matches from here in the USA and will be cheering on the lads in green.

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France 2016
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Come on Ireland

I hope you enjoyed my little walk down my footballing memory lane. There is lots more, both international and domestic as I have traveled in Europe to watch Ireland and St Patrick’s Athletic but that is for another day.