David Healy scored twice as Northern Ireland came from behind to beat group leaders Sweden 2-1 at Windsor Park and establish himself as the peoples hero, despite being a dud in the Leeds United attack. He has scored 29 goals in 55 international matches including two hat-tricks, to give his country a chance of qualifying for EURO 2008 in Austria/Switzerland next year, and is the top scorer in all of Europe in the preliminaries.
Three years ago the Irish lost 4-1 at home to Norway and the fans were estatic, as the team had gone 13 straight matches without scoring a goal, and were in the doldrums. In the last couple of years they have beaten England, Spain and now Sweden at home. They started the EURO 2008 campaign by losing 3-0 to Iceland but now top the group after 6 matches, half the number they will play.
Outside Windsor Park is a wall decorated with murals of past and present Irish soccer heroes, including George Best, Billy Bingham, Pat Jennings, Peter McParland and Danny Blanchflower-with a recent portrayal of 'King David' Healy. The old stadium, the home of Linfield FC in the Irish League was rocking last night. Only 14.5000 could pack the place-a full house, with the (West) Railway End stand condemned, but they were literaly bouncing up and down on The Kop, the East stand, and were still singing in the stadium 30 minutes after the final whistle was blown by the Dutch referee. I was with the 1,000 travelling Swedish fans, who had decorated the place with Swedish flags with the name of their home town or club: Goteborg, Kungalv, Rayivik, Vasteras, Elfsborg IF... and HEJA SVERIGE and lots of yellow and blue balloons,. The Police Force of Northern Ireland, the replacement for the RUC-Royal Ulster Constabulary, had its black uniformed terror task force in that section, but singing in Swedish didn't rate any interference.
In 1958 Northern Ireland were at their first ever World Cup, with only 16 players, and stayed in a hotel in the resort of Tylosand near Halmstad. In those quiet days without security, the fans pitched tents on the hotel's lawn. Coached by Peter Docherty and captained by Danny Blanchflower, they beat Czechoslovakia 1-0, tied West Germany 2-2 and lost 3-1 to Argentina at the Orjans Vall Stadium, Halmstad. In a play-off they beat the Czechs again 2-1 to qualify for the quarter finals. There they ran out of steam and lost to France 4-0 at the Idrottspark in Norkopping.
The 6' 5" Swedish threat of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic never materialised. He is as smooth as silk but as slow as pouring cold syrup, and the Irish defence was magnificant. Manager Lawrie Sanchez, a clever and articulate coach with an Irish mother, an Ecuadorian father and a cockney (London) accent was over the moon, but cautious with lots af matches still remaining. At the moment he is also involved with the Irish F.A. in an attempt to "Kick Out Wife Beaters." Evidently, during the World Cup in Germany, even though neither Irish national team was there, domestic violence increased by 9 % in the North. "It was mostly alcohol related," he commented. In Linavade, Co. Derry, domestic violence was up 80% and in East Belfast 75%. The IFA's 'Football for All", campaign , of which the domestic voilence campaign is only part, have encouraged the fans to stop the minority from singing secretarian songs and using racist language. A SEA OF GREEN was the order of the day instead of red,white and blue protestant banners. Glory, Glory Northern Ireland, soon became Glory, Glory David Healy, and the fans bounced up and down standing up in the all seated stadium throughout.
"We are Northern Ireland, not Brazil" is their theme song, and they also chanted "Are you watching, Dennis Wise". The current Leeds United boss was in the Directors box, along with Rangers and former Scotland boss Walter Smith, who would be interested in signing Healy at the end of the season. The boy from Killyleagh has scored 9 of his teams 10 goals in the qualification matches so far and delayed the team bus outside the dressing rooms back to the hotel to celebrate and sign autographs with his fans.
Northern Ireland is also known as The Six Counties, after partition in 1922, with Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, but often referred wrongly as ULSTER, one of the 4 provinces of Ireland-the others being Leinster, Munster and Connaught, but actually 3 Ulster counties, Co, Cavan, Co, Donegal, and Co. Monaghan, are actually in the Republic of Ireland.