“Gerry Armstrong, what a worker he is” – John Motson.
In February 2020, when I hit country 186 on my personal list of recognised separate states, one of my priorities was to watch a football match there. That country was Lesotho and I arrived into the capital city Maseru ready for the big match. That particular day, Sunday 16th February 2020 I went to Setsotho Stadium and watched FC Bantu draw 1-1 with Matlama FC. Bantu were top of the league, with Matlama in second. I got lucky on that trip – it was a top of the table clash in the national stadium during my stay. However, my travel journeys coinciding with football haven’t always been so calculated and lucky though but I always try to incorporate football into my adventures and have at least one football moment in every country, as difficult as that sometimes proved.
Towards the end of 2019, I had drafted up a blog post as a text document on my mobile telephone. The article was about 100 football experiences in 100 different countries. It was all written and within days I was to copy and paste it into an email ready to be blog posted! But sadly it was lost into the dustbin of history when my phone inadvertently broke in the Austrian city of Braunau Am Inn.
Today, and with the Coronavirus Crisis in full swing, I decided to try and write a similar article to make up for that loss. Yes it is quite long, and I limited it to 100 moments, whereas I have tried to have a football moment in all 186 countries I have been to, even though this has been difficult in unrecognised countries and places with no recognised international football team. Austenasia, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Uzupis for example…
So without further ado, here are my top 100 football memories with one per country. Many of these don’t even include watching a live match or meeting footballers but just special personal moments. The rule for me is one football memory per country, which I will continue in every country I visit on this wacaday journey on this round ball we reside on.
1.Watching My Dad Play, NORTHERN IRELAND
I have had over a thousand football memories in my native Northern Ireland alone. From watching my team Glentoran FC to the national team Northern Ireland to many and various matches all over the country, as well as playing myself. But my best memory is watching my Dad play for the first time – it would have been in the late 1980s at a friendly match for either Bangor Amateurs, Dunmurry Rec veterans or British Telecom. Apart from that, playing (ONCE only) on the same 11 a-side team as my Dad in a competitive match in February 1999 would be my highlight. We played in a 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Playing Fields in Bangor for 10th Bangor Old Boys. I was right back that day, with my Dad as a centre half. He was 49 and I was 18.
My Dad got me into football and my Dad was paid to play football even back in the 1960s. Dad’s long career included playing for Dunmurry Recreation, Crusaders, Distillery, Post Office, Constrction, ICL, British Telecom, Bangor Amateurs and 10th Bangor Old Boys. My Dad played five a side football with me as recently as 2017, and was the best player on the pitch.
2.Birmingham City 0-8 AFC Bournemouth, ENGLAND
As an AFC Bournemouth fan, I have watched my team home and away in the FA Cup, the League Cup, the LDV Vans Cup, friendlies, testimonials (home only), Premier League, Championship, Third Tier, Fourth Tier. Those matches number over 130 and include 3 season tickets and visits to 32 stadiums in England and Wales. But my highlight except for the promotions, was the day we scored 8 goals (and it really could have been 15!!) away to Birmingham City in October 2014 in the Championship. It was my first Cherries match in 9 months, what a way to return! Incidentally, I have only ever been to two Cherries away matches in the Championship, and we won 3-0 and 8-0, so my record is incredible. It is not so good in League One, League Two, Cups or the Premier League!
3.Down To Nine Men in Cardiff, WALES
I have watched three live matches in Wales at three different stadiums, yet it was the first of these that is the most memorable. Back in September 2004, I headed with Northern Ireland’s Green and White Army to Wales. We were bottom of the group having lost our first match 3-0 to Poland. But on this night, we stormed into a 2-0 lead after just 20 minutes. There were 3 sending offs in the first half – Michael Hughes, Robbie Savage and David Healy and we hung on for dear life for a 2-2 draw. After the match I met Healy by accident on the street. He should never have been sent off.
4.SV Grodig Baby in AUSTRIA
My best Austrian memory doesn’t come from watching Northern Ireland lose there in 2005, but rather for one of my later trips to Austria. After winning a crazy bet in 2015, based on SV Grodig winning a match after a run of defeats, Lock In Lee Adams and I decided to repay the favour by actually watching SV Grodig live. Our luck ended though, on the day they lost 1-0 and got relegated. But the trip was memorable due to the people we met and the stadium atmosphere.
5.Playing football with kids in THE GAMBIA
On my multiple trips to Africa I always tried to get in a football stadium, a kickabout, a live match or just going down the pub and watching some football if my timing was bad. In The Gambia, I got inside the national stadium (near Banjul) and played with kids near Banana Lodge in Brufut. It was emotional leaving them behind…
6.The Day I Was The Only Supporter, BELARUS
In August 2007, I headed to Belarus on my own. I was there to watch the Northern Ireland ladies team playing Belarus away in a qualifier. I originally expected the match to be in Minsk. But when I found out it had been moved to remote Babruysk (Bobruisk), I thought it was even more crazy. I ended up getting to meet the entire team, watch them train and…when the match kicked off I was the ONLY Northern Ireland supporter. I sang my heart out for 90 minutes and we lost 5-0.
7.Attending the World Cup Final, BRAZIL
I think this was the pinnacle in terms of prestige of matches on my journey. However Messi’s Argentina and M,o,e,ller’s Germany bored us all to a 0-0 draw and into extra time before Mario Goetze finally broke the deadlock in the goal in front of our very eyes. I took my Mum, Dad and ex-girlfriend to the match at the Maracana Stadium in Brazil.
8.Doing the Arconada…Armstrong! in ESPANA / SPAIN
In the 1982 World Cup, Northern Ireland famously beat Spain 1-0 away in the group stage on a famous night in Valencia. Winger Billy Hamilton whipped the ball into the box. Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada dropped it, and Gerry Armstrong banged it in. We defended for our lives and hung on to win 1-0. In 5 matches at that World Cup, we only lost once, to France and we had a perfectly good goal disallowed at 0-0. So in 2003, my Dad and I drove to the stadium, The Luis Casanova Stadium / Mestalla in Valencia to see the end where Arconada spilled the ball and Gerry smashed it in. I wore the same colout of kit for the day.
9.Visiting The World’s Biggest Stadium in Pyongyang, NORTH KOREA
I have been inside the world’s largest football stadium but oddly not to watch a match! The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium also hosts the Mass Games in Pyongyang in North Korea so we went to that. I did also visit the other football stadium, watch some North Koreans train and see the 1966 World Cup monument, where at 3-0 up they lost a Quarter Final 5-3 to Portugal an bowed out.
10.Football Museum at Seoul FC, SOUTH KOREA
Let’s skip to the other Korea and the superb museum in Seoul, housed inside the football stadium which was used for the 2002 World Cup. I did the tour.
11.The Roger Milla Bar in Sydney, AUSTRALIA
It was hard to pick a best moment from my football days in Sydney. From watching Sydney FC, to meeting Blackburn Rovers, Sydney FC and Norwich City players to the mad nights out watching the 2010 World Cup on big screens to meeting up with the Sydney Northern Ireland Supporters Club. But since Roger Milla was such a hero to me, it was amazing that by coincidence one day, I ended up in a bar in Sydney where Roger Milla once drank and he donated a Cameroon shirt to the bar. Since I haven’t yet been to Cameroon, this moment tops the lot in the land down under.
12.Doing the Maradona in the Estadio Azteca, MEXICO
Apart from Norman Whiteside and every Northern Ireland player from 1986, Diego Maradona was my hero back then in the 1986 World Cup. I even drew Maradona as a 6 year old…
Diego Maradona won the World Cup virtually on his own with a little bit of finishing power from Valdano and Burruchaga. When I backpacked through Argentina in 2010, I did the pilgrimage to La Boca and La Bombanera. However in 2014 in Mexico City, I finally visited Estadio Azteca, where Maradona is remembered forever due to the Hand of God goal. He also has a statue and a plaque up in the stadium. This is childhood dream ticking.
13.The National Stadium That Doesn’t Meet FIFA Standards, BELIZE
When I toured the unpopular capital city of Belize in 2014, I made sure I visited the national football stadium. This capital city, Belmopan was an interesting place and when we got to the stadium, our guide told us that the stadium doesn’t meet FIFA standards any more and Belize had to play abroad or forfeit their results.
14.The George Best Bar, Bled, SLOVENIA
George Best is a hero of mine. He played for three of my teams – Glentoran FC, AFC Bournemouth and Northern Ireland and hailed from the same estate in Belfast where my Dad and Grandparents once lived – the Cregagh. George Best set the world alight. When we turned up in Slovenia to watch yet another Northern Ireland away match, we simply had to spend a couple of nights at the George Best Bar and Backpackers in Bled! On the subject of George Best, we also visited his childhood home and attended his funeral.
15.Watching the Under 20s World Cup in CANADA
Toronto in Canada was the birthplace of this blog for three reasons –
1.It is where I saw the blog’s title (“Don’t Stop Living” was graffittied onto a High School Wall)
2.I wrote my first ever blog post on Toronto
3.Toronto was my first stop on my 2007 backpacking journey, the trip that truly grew my seeds as a long term backpacker.
It was nice to be able to watch two live under 20s World Cup matches here. One of them featured The Gambia, where I would end up later in life.
16.Northern Ireland 2-0 Ukraine in Lyon, FRANCE
Northern Ireland qualifed for Euro 2016 and I went to all four of our matches (and would have went to all seven had we reached the final). We lost the first match 1-0 to Poland, and the second match v. Ukraine was basically a must win. If we won, we had a good chance of going through. We went 1-0 up after a Gareth McAuley header and then in the last minute, Niall McGinn made it 2-0 and we progressed to the second round. It was an incredible party in Lyon for 3 days. It was pure madness and to be there with my Dad, two brothers and hundreds of GAWA who I knew from down the years, it was all such euphoria and bliss.
17.A Kickabout in a Country With No National Football Team, MARSHALL ISLANDS
I have been to a lot of countries without a football team, including the Marshall Islands. In fact there are no records of this country ever playing an 11 a side match! I needed a football experience there, and apart from watching a match on TV in a pub in Majuro, I got a kick about with some local kids.
18.Fantastic Plastic in Torshavn, FAROE ISLANDS
A recurring theme is of course watching Northern Ireland, my country. One such adventure was when we went to “potential banana skin” away match with Faroe Islands in 2015. We had already beaten them 2-0 at home in that group, but in all previous groups we had drawn once with them and won once. This time, we made no mistake, with a convincing 3-1 win on a plastic pitch in Torshavn.
19.Doing The Jose Luis Chilavert, PARAGUAY
Jose Luis Chilavert from Paraguay is another hero of mine. He is a goalkeeper yet he hit the post in the World Cup, almost scoring a few times in the World Cups of 1998, 2002 and (almost made it for) 2006. He scored 8 goals for his country and 54 times in his career. When I backpacked through Asuncion, I was unlucky not to catch any live matches but a groundsman kindly let me onto the hallowed turf in the national stadium to do a Chilavert.
20.Maradona Pilgrimage in La Bombonera, ARGENTINA
My second Maradona reference here and this was my visit to the famous Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. What a day out.
21.Two National Stadiums in A Day, ANDORRA
Andorra is a tiny country but still has its own football league and a good number of football stadiums. I slept in the city of Escaldes-Engordany and managed to visit two stadiums that had been used for full international matches, both in the quirky capital city, Andorra La Vella.
22.The World’s Worst National Stadium? NAURU
Without doubt, Nauru’s national stadium, in the city of Aiwo is the worst national stadium I have ever been to. The weird thing is, nobody cares. The National Sport here is Australian Rules Football, everyone is nuts about it. Nauru don’t even have a national football team but if they did, this is their national stadium. Waterlogged, rough ground, in need of repair, a bit rundown and no seats for spectators. Apart from the flooded pitch, there is litter and an ugly phosphate factory in the background!
23.The Day I Got Locked In A Stadium, IRAQ
This is a story I never told. It was quite weird as AFC Bournemouth had an Iraqi/Kurdish international goalkeeper for years – Shwan Jalal and he actually played for them when they won the “Fake World Cup” (VIVA World Cup), a tournament which was held in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2012. A year later, when I was backpacking in Erbil I decided to visit the national stadium here. I got inside easily as the doors were open and I walked onto the pitch, and into the stands on a hot day. I admired the views and then…suddenly I heard a door close. I had been locked inside!! Yes, locked inside a football stadium on my own in Iraq. I banged on the doors hard until finally someone came. Not only that, it was one of the local players asking what on earth I (a tourist) was doing in Iraq, never mind inside a stadium.
24.Watching A Match in the Stadium Where The Taliban Killed People, AFGHANISTAN
My 2016 trip to Afghanistan was not without sadness. As well as playing football by a Buddhist monastery in Samangan, I also watched a live local match in Masar e Sharif. As we watched this match, my friend Mohammed Reza told me that this very stadium was sadly used by the Taliban not long ago to kill people. There was a real sadness here.
I know the rule was supposed to be one football memory per country, but I’ll cheat here and add an extra Afghanistan memory in, but not another number. The day I played football with Afghan kids by the Buddhist Monastery in Samangan. The match finished 0-0 and featured former under 19 international Mohammed Reza, but I came closest to scoring with a 30 yard lob.
25.The Day I Missed The Match in Bangkok, THAILAND
There haven’t been many matches I have missed or skipped down the years but one regret was definitely in Bangkok in Thailand in Summer 2013. I was supposed to watch the green shirted Army United with my Northern irish mate Lewis Caple. Sadly I met some other guys in a bar earlier in the day, and we outrageously drank too much and they decided to skip the match. Since I had also drank a lot and didn’t want to go to the stadium alone to meet Lewis, I skipped it. A regret…there was another time where I did meet Lewis but also skipped the match as I had already booked my train to Laos. Looks like it wasn’t meant to be and I had to make do with The Pickled Liver, another George Best style bar as my football memory from Thailand.
26.Drinking 7-Up in A Football / Cricket Stadium, Chittagong, BANGLADESH
Bangladesh is a cricket nation and that was glaringly obvious as I saw loads of streetside cricket matches taking place here during my time in the country. I still perservered though and while I didn’t find any live matches to watch, I did catch a few games in a bar and in my hotel (on TV). But I did get inside a bar in the main football stadium in Chittagong. There were no matches on and the stadium doubles up as a cricket stadium! The (non alcoholic) bar was opened though and I grabbed a 7-up! I watched a local cricket match just outside the stadium instead.
27.The Day I Scored In Pripyat, CHERNOBYL EXCLUSION ZONE
The saddest part of my trip to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 2015 was seeing the city of Pripyat, which lies deserted, desolate, decrepit and is a ghost town. There was a lonely flat football on the indoor five a side pitch in the community centre. It looked like it hadn’t been kicked since 1986. I slid it over the line…
28.Scoring A Goal at The World’s Worst International Football Team, SARK
Enter Sark!! Officially the world’s worst ever international football team!! The Sark international football team lost all four of their 2003 Island Games matches by at least 15 goals each!! They lost 19-0 to Gibraltar, 20-0 to the Isle of Wight, 16-0 to Greenland and 15-0 to Frøya, having a record of 0 goals for and 70 goals against from just four matches. The team made Island Games history by becoming the first team to fail to score a goal in an Island Games tournament. When I backpacked in Sark in 2009, I just had to visit their equivalent of a “national stadium”. It is a joint rugby and football pitch in the School. If you watch the video below, I went one better than the national team because I managed to score a goal at Sark!
29.My Only Away Match Ever, Glasgow, SCOTLAND
In 1998, I played in what is the only ever away match I played for my Boys Brigade team, 10th Bangor. We were on a trip to Scotland with our group of 15 and I was the number 10 and main striker that day. I have little or no recollection of the match itself, other than knowing that I definitely didn’t score a goal and played the full 90 minutes, slightly hungover. The team below is our Northern Irish cup winning team from earlier that year. After that photo, I played only one more season of proper football in my life. By the age of 19, I had basically retired!
30.Visiting Estadio Centenario, Home of First World Cup, Montevideo, URUGUAY
Another highlight was going to the home of the first ever World Cup (1930). I studied Spanish in Montevideo in 2010 and went to a few local games as well as visiting the Museum (inside the stadium) in Estadio Centenario. A true Holy Grail visit for any football fan and possibly the second most significant entry on this list, after watching my Dad play the beautiful game.
31.Attempting to Watch Czechia v. Northern Ireland in Xinying, TAIWAN
Taiwan is not a footballing country yet it was an experience that I really enjoyed. I missed every Bournemouth match for three weeks due to non-existent internet most of the time. But the night of the Czechia v. Northern Ireland match I wanted to watch it in a bar somewhere as my mate Neil’s flat had incostent internet (and couple with my disastrous old laptop, this was a no-chance). It proved virtually impossible. I brought my laptop to a bar and searched for a Wi-Fi bar in Xinying. No live feeds were showing it and no bars had decent enough Wi-Fi. Finally I found a betting site that showed the match but would cost me $20 US so I paid it then realised that was 3 or 4 times dearer than a match ticket to be in the stadium! We grabbed some Taiwanese beers and finally headed back to Neil’s flat just before kick off…we watched Czechia v. Northern Ireland in Xinying, however the feed kept cutting out, it was slow and the match was a very boring 0-0 draw!
32. The Northern Ireland Fan in Belfast, NEW ZEALAND
I decided to head to Belfast in New Zealand just because it shared the same name as the capital city of Northern Ireland, so I boarded a bus from Christchurch to Belfast only to find a local lad, Sam came over to chat as he recognised the Northern Ireland football badge on my shirt. It turns out he was a Northern Ireland fan and was heading to work in a bar in Belfast, New Zealand. So naturally after touring the town, I popped into his bar for a beer and to watch football on the TV!
33.Chance UK! Chan Siu Kee! Hong Kong Smash Taiwan 5-1, HONG KONG
I have watched Hong Kong National Team about four times and even own one of their shirts, as well as one of local team Tai O. The most memorable of these came in Mong Kok in Kowloon on 29th February 2012. Myself and five other Northern Ireland fans met up to form a Hong Kong Northern Ireland Supporters Club. We formed the club in a bar called Rider’s at Prince Edward.
34. Biggest Northern Ireland away win, LIECHTENSTEIN
Not many photos remain of this trip but we made it to Liechtenstein in 2007, crossing the border from Zurich in Cheatzerland. We won 4-1 and were 4-0 up at one point, thanks to a David Healy hat-trick. At one point we wer top of the group ahead of Sweden, Denmark and Spain, all of whom we beat at home.
35.Loneliness in Dili, EAST TIMOR
East Timor was the world’s newest country in 2002 and just over ten years later I backpacked it. I walked alone, to the National Football Stadium in Dili, the capital city. Nobody else was here, it was rather spooky, I toured the place all alone.
36.The Hostile Chase in Sofia, BULGARIA
Oh Bulgaria, you leave me with absolutely zero reason to return and it’s murder on your love affair. As an ardent whackpacker, I headed with my scarf, flag and football shirt to the National Stadium in Sofia. I remember it took me a while to find it. I had two main intentions here – to see the national stadium and to get inside. Unfortunately the nasty Bulgarian officials chased me out of the ground, even though I was simply a football fan wanting to see the stadium and pitch. They were so hostile – the wordt welcome I have ever received at ANY football stadium in the world. Suck you Bulgaria. The sadness continued as I later LOST all my photos from Bulgaria unless they were previously uploaded onto this blog or my Social Media. Only drinks in the bar remained…
37.The World’s Highest National Stadium, La Paz, BOLIVIA
Another key sight during my trip to lofty La Paz in Bolivia was visiting the famous Estadio Hernando Siles. It was here that Bolivia smashed Argentina 6-1 and beat Brazil many many times. The reason? The high altitude. This is the world’s highest national stadium and I air-scored a pelanty on the pitch.
38.El Magico Gonzalez Nights in San Salvador, EL SALVADOR
I loved my nights out in San Salvador, El Salvador. The lads I was drinking with were local football fans and we had such good times in what is a very very under-rated and cool country. Apart from some kickabouts on the street, we reminisced about the 1982 World Cup. Both Northern Ireland and El Salvador qualified that time. El Salvador’s team featured the heroic “Magico” Gonzalez, who was also one of Maradona’s mates and used to play for Barcelona. I also visited the national stadium, and a smaller stadium in the capital city but there was no match on.
39.Playing Football in Soweto, SOUTH AFRICA
Soweto was a magical time on my journey and it was my first ever African experience. I stayed at the splendid Soweto Backpackers (Lebo’s) and played football on the park outside with the locals.
40.Dad and I Backpack in Kaliningrad, RUSSIA
My Dad and I went to our third major football tournament in 2018 when we boarded a bus in Elbląg in Poland and crossed into Kaliningrad. As well as checking out the sights of Kaliningrad and trying the bars, we watched Serbia v. Cheatzerland in the tournament.
41.Watching Jan Tomaszewski Live at The Deyna Arena, POLAND
I have been to over 100 live football matches in Poland now, including two the weekend before the Coronavirus shutdown in March 2020. There are so many highlights down the years from Polish matches including my first trip here in March 2005. However to watch Jan Tomaszewski play live was special. This was in the packed stadium in the city of Starogard Gdański for a special Kazik Deyna 70th birthday party. I also took my Travelling Northern Ireland flag to the match and made it into the local paper.
42.Holding a Fake World Cup in a Sports Bar, TUNISIA
When people see the photo of me holding a fake World Cup, it is unlikely they will know that it was taken on my 35th birthday in the city of Sousse in Tunisia. But there you have it! Our host Wicem found a sports bar for us to have an alcoholic drink to celebrate my birthday in. Not only was there football on TV and a fake World Cup, but a George Best poster on the wall.
43.The Waterlogged Stadium, KIRIBATI
I have been to quite a few countries who don’t actually have an international football team on a regular basis. Kiribati is one such team. We stayed in Bairiki which is basically the “capital city” although it is tiny. It does hoever have the national football stadium so I visited it, alone. It was waterlogged and nobody else was there. As a bonus, I watched a live local match in Betio in Kiribati.
44.Trying on the Matt Le Tissier Shirt, GUERNSEY
Even as an AFC Bournemouth supporter, there is one Scumdog (Southampton FC) player that I have always loved to watch – Matthew Le Tissier. His goals were just sublime and his legacy simply incredible. On the last kick of the last game at Southampton’s old stadium, The Dell, a 90th minute Le Tissier thunderbolt won the game 3-2 against Arsenal. When I toured Guernsey in 2009, I tried on the National Jersey, but didn’t actually buy it! It was also sponsored by Condor Ferries who I used to work for. Matt Le Tissier has played international football for both Guernsey and England, as has Trevor Wood except with Northern Ireland.
45.Pizza, Beer, Pub – welcome to SAUDI ARABIA
So I had a plan to watch some football down the pub in Saudi Arabia with beer and pizza and I got it! Sure the beer was a Pomegranate non alcoholic beer and it was a beef pepperoni pizza but it was great! I headed to Ruby Tuesdays in Jeddah and watched a Manchester City v. Liverpool Champions League match.
46.At The World Cup 11 Years Too Early, QATAR
Did you know that Qatar was given the 2022 World Cup way back in 2010?? Yes it is true – the decision was made in 2010 when I was backpacking in South America. At the time I had already booked a 2011 trip to Qatar and I could see the country’s enthusiasm for the tournament even on my first trip there. I have since returned twice more and it is great that the WORLD Cup is finally going to the Middle East. In the interests of fairness, the World Cup should be rotated more. I hate seeing Mexico, USA and Germany host multiple World Cups, with Mexico getting it three times now (1970, 1986, 2026).
47.The Zebras National Stadium, Gaborone, BOTSWANA
In Botswana, I met up with my old university friend Allan and we watched a Manchester United match together in a bar. I was surprised how crazy Botswana is for football. Even my hotel room had live matches (Arsenal v. Wigan) but the odd highlight football wise was visiting the excellent national stadium when it was under construction. Botswana’s nickname – the zebras.
48.The Seaside Stadium in Walvis Bay, NAMIBIA
I wasn’t keen on the country of Namibia and despite cumulatively spending 6 days here, my chances to visit the national stadium in Windhoek (not a great city in my eyes) was ruined by some selfish drivers and of course overcharging during my limited stay in the capital. I did manage to watch Sheffield United 2-1 AFC Bournemouth online in the Chameleon Backpackers Hostel however my football highlight was the day we were walking along the seafront at Walvis Bay and we encountered the local football stadium by chance, home of Atlantis FC.
49.The Fake National Stadium, WESTERN SAHARA
This one is a real red herring and a classic in my opinion. Firstly, Western Sahara is mostly an unrecognised country. They don’t have an official FIFA football team, nor do they have UN recognition. However, I personally recognise Western Sahara as separate from Morocco and indeed, I crossed the border intill it, to sleep in El Aaiun. I visited both the main stadiums in El Aaiun. However, the Western Sahara national team (which play in minor and unrecognised tournaments) are not even allowed to play in either of these stadiums in the city that they class as their capital!
50.Northern Ireland World Cup teams Completion in ALGERIA
Northern Ireland have competed in three World Cups (1958, 1982 and 1986) and are the smallest country ever (1.7 million) to qualify for more than one World Cup, as well as being the smallest ever quarter finalists (which we managed to do twice). I was on a quest to visit every country we played in those tournaments and I finally completed (though not without hassle, theft and corruption) in Algiers, Algeria in 2015. For the record the countries are – Czechia, Slovakia, Germany, Argentina, Honduras, Spain, Austria, France, Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Northern Macedonia, Brazil and Algeria. Of course, it was actually Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Yugoslavia that we played but I backpacked them all to make sure.
51.Steven Davis Pub Crawl in Lviv, UKRAINE
On my 2019 visit to Lviv in Ukraine, I met up with fellow Northern Irishman Kyle and we decided to do a pub crawl with a difference! We visited 11 bars in Lviv and had 11 different drinks. The twice being that the bars and the drinks all had to spell Steven Davis, the Northern Ireland captain! Welcome to the Steven Davis Pub Crawl.
52.Tracing the Glentoran v. FK Renova Tie in NORTHERN MACEDONIA
When I was backpacking in Northern Macedonia, it was the same trip as Bulgaria where I lost my photos, so again the only ones that remain were from my blog and social media. It was lucky I uploaded this football memory as it would be otherwise forgotten. I visited the national stadium in Skopje, where Northern Ireland have never played, but Glentoran once played FK Renova in the UEFA Cup.
53.National Stadium Before FIFA Recognised KOSOVO
Unrecognised and wacaday places were bound to feature on my list, but even in 2014, I wasn’t sure that Kosovo would make it into FIFA so quickly as they have done. They have a chance of making it to the 2021 Euros. I visited the national stadium in Pristina.
54.A Night Out With the 7th Parnu NISC in ESTONIA
A Northern Ireland Supporters Club in Estonia? Yes, and in Parnu! And the 7th one! Although rumour has it that the other 6 never existed. The club was formed by my friend Shaun Schofield.
55.The Kinkladze and Dinamo Tbilisi, GEORGIA
While watching British football in the 1990s, there were two Georgian curiosities that I had to put right when I eventually arrived in Tbilisi. One was the 1993-1994 season when Dinamo Tbilisi were kicked out of the Champions League for fielding an ilegible player (or something to that ilk) and Northern Irish club Linfield progressed, almost making it to play AC Milan. As a Glentoran fan I hated that, but later Manchester City had a player called Georgi Kinkladze who was superb to watch. I spent 3 weeks in Georgia and didn’t go to any matches (oddly) but I did visit the national stadium and home of Dinamo Tbilisi, who won the European Cup Winners Cup, the USSR league and cup twice each, and countless Georgia victories.
56.Losing 3-0 in Yazd, IRAN
As well as sharing stories of Iran in the World Cup and the Irish player in Iran, I played football with Iranian kids in the desert city of Yazd. They bate me 3-0.
57.A Kick in The Baltics: Down and Out in Riga, LATVIA
“This is a low” – Blur.
In September 2007, I headed to Latvia with the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club. Again it was a Northern Ireland football away trip. We had beaten Latvia away in our two previous trips to Riga (1993, 1995) and were top of the group, expecting to do the same again. We had beaten them a year earlier 1-0 at Windsor Park in Belfast. However, this was proof of the ups and downs of being a football fan. We lost 1-0 to a late own goal, I got food poisoning and some of the Northern Ireland fans were arrested. It was not a good trip but it still goes into the memory bank.
58.The Two Bars (Pinta and Greenwish) That Opened Late for me in Bishkek, KYRGYZSTAN
I spent a long time in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and wrote about how much I loved the bars there. A theme started on my very first night here in December 2015. I headed to Pinta Pub and they gladly stayed open for me to show the live Arsenal v. AFC Bournemouth match on TV. I watched lots of matches in here and became a regular customer. I also loved the Greenwich Pub in Bishkek, which also stayed open late just for me. One night, I drank here with the staff and watched a 3-1 defeat to West Ham United.
59.The Best Unrecognised International Team in the World, CATALONIA
Catalonia’s international team have played quite a few matches down the years and even some of those Catalan nationalists represented neighbouring Spain in the World Cups – Sergio Garcia and Iniesta being two World Cup winners who also played for Catalonia. I visited the stadiums of Espanyol and Barcelona. Catalonia is surely the best unrecognised international football team in the world.
60.Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, KUWAIT
If you haven’t heard of the cumbersome Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah then you might know him by the crazy leader from the France v. Kuwait match in the 1982 World Cup. The thing is, France were much much better than Kuwait and were smashing them. The final score could have been 6-1, 7-1, 8-1. However in the only time in World Cup history that a political leader got a goal reversed, the referee disallowed one of France’s goals!! So instead of losing 5-1, Kuwait only lost 4-1!! My only real laugh in Kuwait was discussing this funny story with every Kuwaiti I knew and all of them remembered it!! I visited the national stadium at night though, and it was shut but still a fun time in and around Kuwait City.
61.Mwepu Ilunga, ZAIRE / DR CONGO
So when I backpacked across the border into Zaire (now the Democratic Republic Republic of Congo) from Rwanda, I kept thinking of the crazy man Mwepu Ilunga. Sadly I never got the chance to meet Mwepu Ilunga as he died in 2015 but his legacy lives on and some Congolese were happy to share the story including our driver on the way to the Gorilla hike. Basically Mwepu Ilunga kicked the ball away and got booked in a 3-0 defeat to Brazil. In the same tournament, Zaire also lost 9-0 to Yugoslavia and 2-0 to Scotland, making their 0-14 and zero points the worst record in World Cup History. However some locals swear that it was done deliberately because the Zaire FA refused to pay for the players expenses to the World Cup – food, hotels, flights etc. A shocking story if true of course. It was all a bit crazy in DR Congo as we were stopped from doing the gorilla hike, my friend’s multiple entry visas for Rwanda became void and the hotel in Bukavu (DR Congo) refused to let us sleep three people in one room! Another link I had was that former AFC Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe also plays for DR Congo. Predictably I wore my green Northern Ireland shirt, same colour as Zaire.
62.Athletic Club Bilbao or Atletico Bilbao, BASQUE COUNTRY
As a separatist and nationalist, I totally recognise the Basque Country and love the fact they have two huge stadiums and a national football team, Euskal selekzioa. I visited both the stadium of Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Soceidad, two Basque teams. I get really confused as to why Atletico Bilbao (surely the local phrase) are called in English Athletic Club Bilbao. I did try and speak to some locals in the bars after the match about this. What was great was that they are all very passionate about both Basque and Athletic Bilbao. By chance I also met the away team, Valencia as they were getting off the bus by the hotel!
63.4 Months Too Late, 4 Years Too Early, COSTA RICA
As I mentioned, my timing for football has not always been good on my travels. In Costa Rica, I turned up 4 months too late to witness the euphoria of knocking out England and Italy from the group, as well as beating Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup. What an achievement. At the same time I was also 4 years too early to watch Costa Rica v. Northern Ireland, here in San Jose in a friendly.
64.More stadiums than they need in Port Moresby, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Papua New Guinea have never qualified for the World Cup, however they finished runner up in the 2016 Oceania Cup, to New Zealand and third in the 2015 Pacific Games. In 2016, they were at home and the final was played at the John Guise Stadium. What shocked me in Port Moresby was that I saw FOUR stadiums, all bigger than Northern Ireland’s one national stadium, yet we have been to 3 World Cups and 1 Euros. I later learnt that two of these stadiums are mostly for rugby league. But there must be some amount of empty seats when the team plays Tahiti (for example) at home. Still, I missed live football when I was here but certainly made it to the stadiums. Two of them were right by our hotel and with an awesome view from the window.
65.Kenya believe it? Cherries Smash Brighton As I Backpack KENYA
My backpacking buddy Russell is a lucky charm for me when it comes to AFC Bournemouth matches, as when we travel at the same time there is a Cherries match, we usually win, if not draw! This trend continued on our first day in Nairobi in Kenya. We checked into our apartment on a higher floor of a compex, I headed to buy some beers locally and then we watched Brighton v. Bournemouth live on my laptop/the TV. The night before I dreamt we won 4-0. However on the day it was 5-0!!! What a win for the Cherries!
66.Five Weeks Unfootballed in INDIA
The home of 1.2 billion people, a country mad about cricket, welcome to India. I finally got my Indian visa and was ready for 5 weeks of no football. Apart from watching matches in some bars (few and far between) this was largely the truth. To be honest, I didn’t once even see kids playing football in the street, so crazy. My highlight? Having a beer on my own at the Travellers Inn in Mumbai at 3 a.m. to celebrate Bournemouth smashing the Scummers (Southampton) 2-0 in our first ever Premier League season. The irony? A few months after I left India, Aaron Hughes from Northern Ireland signed for Kerala Blasters. I would have loved to have seen a live match in India with a Northern Irishman on the pitch.
67.Bestie’s Bar, Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, USA
I have written about this one a lot and have a full post on it here. I ended up in a bar once owned by George Best. A special day! It all happened in Los Angeles in the USA back in July 2007.
68.On The Rip With Jan Molby, DENMARK
Euro 1992 winner Jan Molby randomly turned up in a bar we were drinking in in Copenhagen just a few hours after we watched the Northern Ireland v. Denmark match. We drew that match 0-0. We chatted to him over a beer in the Dubliner Pub.
69.Lafferty Busts The Swedish Net, Stockholm, SWEDEN
Sweden away in 2007 was a brilliant trip. My long lasting memory was karaoke in Kicki’s Bar (which doesn’t exist anymore) in Stockholm. The match was in Solna and we played superbly, getting a 1-1 draw having also beaten Sweden 2-1 at home. We were so unlucky not to qualify from that group.
70.The Country You Cannot Play Football In, LADONIA
As a separatist and nationalist for all countries I recognise, I support Ladonia‘s claim to independence and recognition. However, as it is a country built on rocks by the coast of bordering Sweden, playing football here is not possible. The alternative? I headed with my Derby County supporting mate Daniel Evans, wore my AFC Bournemouth shirt and had a beer. Nothing else for it, eh?
71.An Encounter in Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Quito, ECUADOR
This was a pretty cool day out. It was in December 2010 when I was backpacking in Quito that I received a free flier for a free shot of tequila in the Irish Pub. So after touring the city, I headed to Finn McCool’s Irish Pub. This was a total chance encounter with Anthony, a Blackburn Rovers supporter. We realised we had both been to the same match (Blackburn v. Bournemouth in 2004) and we were watching and chatting football. We later met up in three other countries (Brazil, Spain, France) and became mates from it!
72.The Home of Ruud Gullit and Edgar Davids, SURINAME
I have been to Suriname three times, and now have no need to return. However it was on my very first visit in 2011, that I headed to the national football stadium – the Andre Kamperveen Stadium in Paramaribo, the capital city.
73.The World’s Most Dangerous City, San Pedro Sula, HONDURAS
We ended up spending two nights in San Pedro Sula, billed as the world’s most dangerous city. I visited the stadium here and was surprised to learn that in 2012, Honduras smashed Canada 8-1 here!
74.The Disputed National Team, FRENCH GUYANA
What confuses me is how Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana are all in South America yet they never play in the Copa America, nor partake in the South American World Cup qualifiers. They end up going and playing Caribbean teams. To add to this surprise, French Guyana aren’t even fully recognised by FIFA, even though less recognised countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Gibraltar are. I still had to visit the national stadium in Kourou, French Guyana, as well as watch a France match in the bar in St. Laurent du Maroni. All players born in French Guyana can also play for the France national team. Bernard Lama and Florent Malouda are two examples of French Guyanese players who have played for the French national team, the former winning the 1998 World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000 and the latter playing as a runner-up during the 2006 World Cup.
75.Countries That Don’t Exist, NAGORNO KARABAKH
From a country that exists in South America but not to FIFA, to a country that is housed on Azerbaijan land but features Armenian people in a land called Artsakh or Nagorno Karabakh. The country is monster raving mad and an off the wall gem to visit – hit up Vank and you’ll see! And check out the national football stadium in Stepanakert, the capital city. They once beat Abkhazia 3-0 here.
76.Doing Both Stadiums Where Northern Ireland Played ARMENIA
Northern Ireland have played Armenia away twice (1997 and 2003) and unfortunately I was at neither match. So to make up for it, in 2013 when I finally visited Armenia, I headed to check out both the stadiums we played in Yerevan. One of them was cut into a huge hill, and just beside it we watched a kids match.
77.My Return To Norn Iron Matches, AZERBAIJAN
My visit to Baku in 2013 was rather emotional as it marked my long awaited return to Northern Ireland matches having spent two years in Australia, two years in Hong Kong and a brave time backpacking. The GAWA was in fine voice and it was good to be back. There were only about 44 of us on this trip and we lost 2-0. But it was a fond memory as it was good to be back in the saddle.
78.The Turkey Thirteen!! Adana, TURKEY
This low number of Northern Ireland fans may never see the like again. There were only 13 of us in Adana for Turkey away in 2013. It was all worth it though as we got free tickets, free programmes, a free escort and we were in the home end with top Turkish fans. Plus I had a good chat with captain Steven Davis and manager Michael O’Neill.
79.Two Matches on One Ticket in MALTA
Malta’s National Stadium is in the middle of nowhere. I headed to watch a top flight match in September 2017, only to find that the ticket included two matches. What a bonus. I was on my own having beer and crisps and the Birkirkara supporters club invited me to come into their bus and get a lift back to Valetta. The singing and atmosphere was nuts!
80.Banned From Seeing Rivaldo’s Lair in Luanda, ANGOLA
World Cup winner (2002) Rivaldo once played in Luanda, Angola for Kabuscorp, who play in red and white at the city’s Estádio dos Coqueiros stadium. So while touring the sights of Luanda, I had this stadium on my list. I made it there, but only from the outside. Inside the security guards basically chased me out, similarly to in Sofia, Bulgaria. I got to watch some beach football though, live English Premier League on TV and visit the national stadium (huge). Angola were at the 2006 World Cup.
81.The Jeff Whitley Trail and Watching Jonny Evans, ZAMBIA
When I was backpacking in Zambia, I knew I only had two days and two nights here so watching a live match was not possible. However, there was a Japanese college football team staying at our hostel, Fawlty Towers. Then on the second night, I noted that Northern Irish player Jonny Evans was on live in a bar that showed Leicester City v. Wolves. So I went with my travel mates to watch the match. Two other Northern Irish coincidences were thrown in – Jeff Whitley and Jim Whitley were born here in Zambia, and the band just before the Leicester match played Sweet Caroline which we sing as Sweet Northern Ireland!
82.Too Many Beers in Bujumbura, BURUNDI
The following day at Lake Tanganyika in Burundi I thought I had caught Malaria. The night before I had watched Champions League football with the locals in The Arena Bar in Bujumbura. But it wasn’t Malaria – it was too many beers while on anti-Malaria tablets.
83.The end where Iain Dowie Dowied, LITHUANIA
Backin 1993, I remember so vividly checking Teletext and Ceefax for the Northern Ireland away match in Lithuania. We had drawn 2-2 with them at home having been 2-0 up and they were a new country to me following the break-up of the Soviet Union. I didn’t visit it until 2015. And when I did, I thought back to that away match, where we won 1-0 with a classic Iain Dowie strike. By all accounts it was a great goal. So I had to visit that stadium, in Vilnius. Now, the stadium lies in ruins. Long grass, closed off, rusty fences, broken concrete. A mess but I still got my photos and videos of the end where Iain Dowie, Dowied…
84.Summer Olympics in a Winter City, FINLAND
From one Baltic to another. Next up was Finland and again, I chose the wrong season. I was here in January 2015 and the football season wasn’t on in winter. What is more is that later in 2015, Northern Ireland actually played here, drawing 1-1 and winning the group on route to Euro 2016. Odd then for me that when I visited the Olympic stadium, Helsinki I found out they had the Summer Olympics here instead of the Winter ones!
85.Inside Senegals’s National Stadium, SENEGAL
Senegal shocked the world in 2002 by beating World Cup holders France in the opening match, before reaching the Quarter Finals. While backpacking in Dakar, I went to see the stadium where such dreams all began. The national stadium is huge and I met some other football fans in there. I also watched Manchester United v. Bournemouth in a bar in the city.
86.Watching Athletics and Park Football in Abidjan, IVORY COAST
A lot of my African adventures involved watching street and beach football and just visiting stadiums and I love that! In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, I watched some great park football with live music pumping in the background. I also watched Athletics in a stadium.
87.The green and white national stadium in TURKMENISTAN
Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgabat is totally wild. It is like a marble, pristine Lego set. It really is the city of the future, everything is so state of the art and the streets are very clean. I loved it. Near our hotel, an elaborate wedding palace there was a local stadium which we visited but also the excellent national stadium, with green and white seats and perfect stands. It was so modern, I wished this was Northern Ireland’s national stadium. Turkmenistan have never qualified for a major football tournament but they are currently top of their Qatar 2022 World Cup group.
88.Open gates in Dushanbe, TAJIKISTAN
When I was in Dushanbe, formerly Stalinabad, I headed to the national stadium and it was open so I just dandered on in. Nobody was in sight!
89.Football in a Baseball Country? In Granada, NICARAGUA
Nicaragua are fairly shit at football. They didn’t even try to qualify for a World Cup until 1994!! And they didn’t even win a qualifying match until the 2014 World Cup qualifying. And that was the year that I visited the country. SO what did I do instead? I headed to the Baseball stadium! And not even in the capital city, Managua, I headed to the stadium in Granada. And it was shut. So I headed back to a bar and watched football on TV.
90.Do You Believe In One Up Front? Kishinev, MOLDOVA
On a wet day in Chisinau, Kishinev in Moldova, I walked to also the scene of a Northern Ireland disastrous away match – a drab 1999 0-0 draw in Moldova. I loved Chisinau as a city – a really cool place but there was no live match on when I was there.
91.Hajra Loki, Oh Noemi, Debrecen, HUNGARY
The journey to have football experiences in 186 countries didn’t come without heartache. I dated Hungarian dancer Noemi Linzenbold in 2009 and wanted to see her home city play. We headed to the Loki stadium in Debrecen. That season, Debrecen made it into the Champions League, losing to Liverpool.
92.Home and Away in the Same Stadium, Prague, CZECHIA
Sparta Prague’s stadium holds the distinction of being a ground that I have been in BOTH the home and away end of and that I had the longest gap between my first and second match in this stadium. In 2007, I watched Sparta Prague beat Slovan Liberec 1-0 here in the home end. Then in November 2019 I returned and was in the away end for Northern Ireland’s 3-2 win over Czechia.
93.A Stadium In A Region You Need A Permit For, GORNO BADAKHSHAN
Gorno Badakhshan is a region between China and Tajikistan which requires its own permit to visit – all organised as an extra while sorting your Tajikistan visa. It is an autonomous region, and I personally class it as a separate country. Many people refer to it as the Pamirs, and I stayed in the capital city – Khorog.
94.Subbuteo, The Indoor Option, PODJISTAN
Have you ever heard of the People’s Republic of Podjistan? Well since I was the only tourist to visit this now defunct country, then it is unlikely. Pojistan operated from 2010 – 2019. I visited in the middle of all that, in 2015. I crossed the border from Northern Ireland into Podjistan and was met by the Great Leader, Simon Stewart. The national sport of Podjistan? It is not football but Subbuteo!! Yes it is the only country in the world where Subbuteo is the national sport! And the Podjistan leader has played in Subbuteo world championships!!
95.Almost Snowed Out in SAN MARINO
San Marino away in 2009 meant almost getting snowed out, or in. Our bus broke down in the deep snow climbing the hill on matchday from Rimini to San Marino City. Myself and the SOENISC boys stayed in San Marino City itself. When the replacement bus arrived, we thought the match would have to be postponed. Luckily it cleared up and went ahead, Northern Ireland winning 3-0!
96.Late Defeat and Where Depression Began, in Bucharest, ROMANIA
I was there for Northern Ireland’s only defeat in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and even that was unlucky. We lost 2-0 to two late goals and I was reunited with a lot of friends I hadn’t seen a match with for years. The match was held in Bucharest but it was the sad events of the day after which plunged me into a depression (15th November 2014), from which I haven’t recovered.
The day after the 2-0 defeat, I was forced to buy a new laptop and extend my stay in Bucharest. That evening when I returned for a quiet evening at the Little Bucharest Hostel, where I experienced one of the worst moments of my life. I had the misfortne to meet, encounter, chat to and befriend a person who would later ruin my life. She slept in the bunk above me, she wormed herself into my life and ultimately caused my long term depression. A tinge of sadness from my journey. If I could change anything, it would be to NEVER have met her.
97.Sneaking Into the National Stadium in GC, GUATEMALA
Another crazy stadium adventure. I sneaked inside the stadium at Guatemala City and there was actually a live mini youth tournament on. Apart from some runners, I am pretty sure I was the only “fan” who wasn’t friends of family of the teams!
98.Cheatzerlandzki, Cheatzerlandzki Way Oh Way
One of my most hated countries is Cheatzerland. A country that houses the corrupt FIFA headquarters. In 2017, when my country Northern Ireland was on the verge of our first World Cup since 1986, the cheats intervened and paid a referee. In the days before VAR, the onyl way the cheats could oust Northern Ireland was to get a pelanty (penalty) that never was. The referee Hategan, was advised by FIFA to “give a pelanty to Cheatzerland anytime the ball goes near the box and near a hand”. Sadly, this meant when the ball hit our player’s back, outside the box, this constituted as a pelanty. Despite drawing 0-0 twice with the cheatz, they were awarded a dubious pelanty and scored it, to eliminate us.
99.The Adebayor Cry Off in Lome, TOGO
In Togo in 2018, I went to the Togo v. The Gambia African Nations Cup qualifier. All the Togo fans were expecting a big win and for Emmanuel Adebayor to play. But he wasn’t even on the bench. Cried off or injured? Who knows. I took my friend Malina to this match and we went with local lad Malgoire. Pre match coffee and post-match beer plus torrential rain which threatened to call the game off. The Gambia took the lead but Togo scraped a 1-1 draw. The match was in Lomé.
100.Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO
Finally on the 100 list I write the most recent one. February 2020 I watched FC Bantu v. Matlama in the Lesotho top of the table clash!
Woah! That was a long and heavy blog post to write – 12,000 words – easily one of the longest blog posts on this website’s history as I home in on my 40th birthday, a month in isolation due to the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown. There are a lot of countries I have been to that I left off this list including some World Cup and Euros winners – Portugal, Italy, Germany, Greece. I also skipped a lot of Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan. Here are some more photos from my football journeys.
I couldn’t possibly publish all 100 videos below either, so here are just a few videos from those 100 moments: