Having had a chat with (Belfast based) Graham we looked at the ties being played in and around Belfast, leaning more towards going to see Glentoran v Loughall or the minnows Dunmurry Rec entertaining the blue behemoth that is Linfield. It was only when Graham put in a call to his colleague Rab that we were awoken to the prospect of Crusaders v Nortel. Rab (around 50 years old) is an ex semi pro player who had worked for Nortel and played for their side (Nortel are an amateur works side) as well as enjoy a spell with Crues. He informed us that if we were going along he’d also attend as he was already thinking of joining some Nortel football mates for the day out. With the fixture decided, we reconvened on the Saturday and made our way to Crusaders small ground, Seaview, in the Shore Road area of North Belfast. We’d arranged to meet Rab and some of his associates from Nortel in the Crusaders’ social club, so Graham and I enjoyed a pint whilst awaiting the Nortel contingent (busy patronising their own social club before travelling to Seaview). Once we eventually met the Nortel guys after enjoying the Manchester derby in the social club, we were introduced to everyone and traded a bit of banter about the recent Northern Ireland v Scotland Carling Cup match. One of the guys, Ken, proceeded to tell us that his son was playing up front for Nortel today, he was understandably proud of this fact, but admitted he didn’t expect his son to get much change out of the Crusaders defence given the disparity between the two sides (Crusaders are currently flying high in the Irish Premiership). No sooner had Ken made this assertion, than someone in the club piped up and announced that the game had, for some unknown reason, kicked of five minutes early. The best was yet to come however as it was then announced that Nortel had taken a shock lead! Most people present thought this was a wind up particularly so when someone then stated that it was Ken’s son Mark who had fired Nortel into an early lead. As the faces remained straight and more and more sources we able to back the claim up, Ken’s own face became a picture, not only had we missed the first goal of the match but Ken had missed what would probably go down as the finest moment of his son’s amateur career (BBC highlights showed it was certainly a goal to remember) all for the sake of finishing his pint of Harp!
As we made our way out to the terracing we joined what was (to my mind anyway) a typical Nothern Irish atmosphere, a tight traditional little ground, unsegregated supporters and white-hot banter! Throughout the course of the game Rab went on to explain that games at Seaview are rarely full, save for matches against Glentoran and Linfield who bring significant away followings. The games are never segregated either apart from fixtures with Cliftonville or Donegal Celtic who, traditionally speaking, reside on the other side of the social/political divide. Crues despite their current lofty position in the Premiership, were really just a small local team intended for the Shore Road area, they do, however, have a small, loyal support without being on the same scale as the other Belfast clubs (at least, certainly not the big two).
As the game progressed it became a typical cup tie. Crusaders battered the Nortel goal almost relentlessly but just couldn’t seem to find a breakthrough. Nortel despite their limited ability held on to their lead until half-time and seemed to grow in confidence with every passing minute. Nortel had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the game as he pulled off three unbelievably skilful saves, in fact, in his grey, Carling sponsored shirt he could have easily been mistaken for Ranger’s Alan McGregor on several occasions!
After an enjoyable half time break spent back in the social club (the turnstile policy was all pretty relaxed), we reconvened on the terrace opposite the main stand as the second half kicked off. Crusaders dominance soon came to the fore again and they levelled matters before too long. They added a second mid way through the half to put themselves in full control and put all thoughts of a cup upset behind them. Nortel tired as the game drew to a close and the fear was that the score line could end up distorting what had been a wonderful performance from the amateur side. Nortel managed to see out the game without shipping any further goals and could be proud of running such Crusaders so close.
It was a fantastic afternoon out and Graham and I really enjoyed meeting the people we met at Seaview. The day will probably be best remembered for Ken missing Mark Wilkinson opening goal for Nortel and the relentless piss taking that followed. Ken’s earlier statement that he expected his son to struggle seemed to be unfounded but technically speaking, we missed the goal and whilst he certainly gave plenty of effort, we barely saw the big guy get a another kick all game!
The famous Seavie mural.
Russ next to the mural.
The main stand.
The covered terracing where we stood.
Behind the goal.
And at the opposite end.
View of the ground.
Goal mouth action!