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. 

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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.

Feast of Football

Feast of Football

Before I start this post I just want everyone to know I am talking about Association Football, soccer, not American Football when I say football. The USA can try rename the most popular sport in the world, Heineken may even have an advert where they tell you it’s OK to call it soccer, but to me it’s FOOTBALL.

Anyway, June has started with a bit of a football feast. Normally the seasons around Europe are winding down but I still have the Airtricity League in Ireland and St Patrick’s Athletic to follow, but this summer not only do I have my normal football, but I have the European Championships in France and the Copa America in the USA. I have been enjoying the Copa America live on US tv but like at home I have to turn the commentators to mute. What is it with TV commentators talking absolute rubbish during games or not having a clue about teams or matches?

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Football

I went to watch the USA play on the big screen outdoors, which is an advantage living in Atlanta, last week but unfortunately for the championship hosts the first game ended in defeat to Columbia but the USA still have a great chance to progress but first up they need to defeat Costa Rica in their next match later tonight. The game of the competition so far has definitely been Argentina v Chile but it is very early days with only 8 matches played so far. It was end to end stuff throughout the full 90 mins, which was great to see.

This Friday sees the start of the Euro 2016 Championships in France and Ireland have qualified so there is an added interest. Ireland are joined by Northern Ireland, Wales and England so there will be a lot of interest among the British Isles nations. I will be cheering on 3 of those 4 nations and it doesn’t take me to spell it out who I won’t be cheering on 🙂

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Ireland will be hoping Robbie Keane can get fit and score at the Euros

Ireland are in a tough group and I will be delighted if they progress and it will really depend on how well they do in their very first game. A defeat in that match will make it extremely tough for Ireland to qualify for the next phase so a win or draw is vital. With the Airtricity League taking a break for a week I will be following the Euros and the Copa as much as I can, especially with kick offs in the Euros in the mornings and the Copa in the evenings, some days I will see some matches, others I won’t see any at all.

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Club and Country

St Patrick’s Athletic aren’t having a great season so far so maybe the small break will allow them to regroup and start the second part of the season in better form. Either way I look forward to following them online and via radio commentary. As a football fan, this summer is a dream summer with so much football on, and nearly all of it live on tv here in the USA. Of course nothing beats being at a live game so I look forward to Atlanta United starting next season in the MLS and I hope to get to a Atlanta Silverbacks game soon as well. Maybe I will even get back into photographing matches over here like I did back in Ireland.

These last 8 weeks or so have seen me make a bit of a come back to playing some football, purely for fun and a little bit of exercise. I joined a 7 a side team which playing in a supporters club league run by Sons of Pitches and even though we were a new team who only met the day of our first match we done well. We finished the league part of the season in 6th place put of 8 but 4 teams had near identical records of wins and loses.  So into the playoffs we went and in our quarter final we defeated the 3rd place team to qualify for the semi finals and to meet up with a team who had given us our biggest defeat and were the 2nd ranked team. This time though we had our full squad, knew each other a lot better and after a 2-2 draw we won on penalties and so qualified for the final. Alas, the final was one game to many and we lost 3-1 to the number 1 ranked team. We have already signed up to play again in the Summer league and will be hoping to go one better or at least have fun trying.

Expatriate St Patrick’s Athletic Fan

Expatriate St Patrick’s Athletic Fan

And here is why. Below is an article I wrote about myself and being an expat fan following St Patrick’s Athletic from over here in the USA. It was used in the match programme a few weeks ago.

St Pats fan abroad.

Quick About Me: Billy Galligan, 48. Born and bred in Inchicore, St Pats fan all my life and will remain so from America.

Favorite St Pats moment has to be Christy Fagan scoring the second goal to clinch the FAI Cup in November 2014.

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Christy Fagan roles the ball into the net to clinch the 2014 cup for St Pats after a 53 year wait

Just as the 2015 Airtricity League season ended I emigrated to the USA, more specifically a city called Decatur just on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia, the home of CNN, Coca Cola and Atlanta United. My choice to leave Ireland and move to the USA was an easy one, I moved here to marry my sweetheart and start a whole new life together.

For most of my life I had lived in Inchicore and within sight of Richmond Park. Over the last number of seasons, I was nearly always on the camac side touchline taking photos for ExtraTime.ie and supporting the team through a camera lens, now though I will be cheering them on via Twitter and other online media.

Following matches online, waiting on a score update or news is possibly more nerve wrecking than anything, constantly hitting refresh to see if is there is an update, dreading the beep from the football score app in case it’s a goal against Pats, cheering at the phone when it’s a goal for Pats. I am sure somewhere along the way I will be out somewhere and I will randomly cheer at the phone and my new American friends will wonder what is going on!

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Leanne happily posed in a St Pats jersey before attending a match in Ireland last season

Being overseas during a match is nothing new to most fans but to be away and not knowing when I will be home again to see a match is strange. I intend to return to Ireland next December but of course then the season will be over. When I go walking here I nearly always have my St Pats hat on and I am always getting asked ‘What team do I support?’  When I answer St Patricks Athletic from Inchicore in Dublin it raises a few eyebrows as they expect to hear Liverpool, Man Utd or some other English team.

I look forward to the 2016, and will be following the team from the USA and would like to wish Liam and all the staff, players, volunteers and fans an enjoyable, successful and safe season.

As I say in the above article, I will always be a St Patrick’s Athletic fan, even if I start going to Atlanta United games here. Once a football fan, always a football fan.