My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

“Gerry Armstrong, what a worker he is” – John Motson.

Football – the greatest game in the world

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.

Heading to the top of the table clash in Maseru, LESOTHO

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.

Northern Ireland’s World Cup hat-trick 1958, 1982, 1986 and cheated out of 2018.

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

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…

The Holy Grail Of Football Stadiums: Taking A Guided Tour of The Oval, Glentoran Football Club, East Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Holy Grail Of Football Stadiums: Taking A Guided Tour of The Oval, Glentoran Football Club, East Belfast, Northern Ireland

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.

Hong Kong Northern Ireland Supporters Club, February 2012

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.

Dad and I at Dungannon Swifts FC

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.

Dunmurry Recreation FC 1960s.

My Dad playing for Dunmurry Recreation FC 1960s.

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!

Future Championship Champions Cherries fired 8 away goals past Birmingham City FC. Darch and I back like old times.

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.

Brendan and I at Wales away in 2004

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.

With long term fellow football nomad Lock in Lee watching the famous SV Grodig BABY!

Living the dream – SV Grodig Baby!!

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…

Playing football with kids near Banana Lodge, The Gambia

Playing football with kids near Banana Lodge, The Gambia

Independence Stadium, The Gambia

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.

Northern Ireland football team in Belarus

The ONLY Northern Ireland fan in Babruysk, Belarus

Northern Ireland ladies squad in 2007 in Bobruisk, Belarus (AND ME!)

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.

Watching the 2014 World Cup Final in the Maracana Stadium in Brazil

Watching the 2014 World Cup Final in 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.

arconada armstrong 1982

Gerry Armstrong BANGS the ball past Luis Arconada in 1982 and just over a decade later I sold fanzines in Belfast, named after this moment in football history…

Loving my experience visiting the Mestalla while backpacking in Valencia back in 2003.

At the Gerry Armstrong end while backpacking in Valencia back in 2003.

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.

jonny blair mass games

Outside the World’s biggest stadium (Pyongyang, North Korea) with my ticket for the Mass Games on National Day!

The Mass Games in Pyongyong, North Korea - the biggest stadium in the world

The Mass Games in Pyongyong, North Korea – the biggest stadium in the world

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.

Seoul Stadium and Museum tour, South Korea

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.

The Roger Milla shirt in Australia

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…

Drawing Maradona and the Norn Iron page of my Mexico 86 Panini album

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.

Maradona was here – Hand of God statue in the Estadio Azteca!

Doing the Maradona at the Hand of God end!

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.

At the below-standard national football stadium in Belmopan, Belize.

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.

george best bar bled slovenia

Fun times at the George Best Bar in Bled, Slovenia in 2008.

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.

2007 Under 20s World Cup in Toronto, Canada

2007 Under 20s World Cup in Toronto, Canada

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.

The Blair GAWA in Lyon the day that Northern Ireland beat Ukraine 2-0 (pre-match).

Post-Ukraine victory in Lyon, France

Post-Ukraine victory in Lyon, France

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.

Playing football in the Marhsall Islands

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.

Caught on camera at the football stadium during Northern Ireland's 3-1 win

Caught on camera at the football stadium in Torshavn, Faroe Islands during Northern Ireland’s 3-1 win

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.

football stadium asuncion paraguay

I sneaked onto the pitch at Estadio Defensores del Chaco to reminisce about Jose Luis 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.

Diego Maradona statue, La Bombonera

Diego Maradona statue, La Bombonera

Doing the Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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.

One of the national stadiums in Andorra

One of two Andorra stadiums

One of two Andorra stadiums

Behind the scenes at the other Andorra National Stadium

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!

Nauru National Football Stadium in Aiwo

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.

On the pitch in Erbil, Iraq

kurdistan world cup

The 5th VIVA World Cup was held in Kurdistan, with Erbil hosting the final.

The player who opened the door to let me out!

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.

Mohammed Reza and I watching football at Sina Stadium in Masar e Sharif, Afghanistan

Watching football in Masar e Sharif, Afghanistan

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.

The Day I...Lobbed the Goalkeeper From 30 Yards in Afghanistan

The Day I…Lobbed the Goalkeeper From 30 Yards in Afghanistan

The teams for the football match at Samangan, Afghanistan

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.

Drinking in Bangkok

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.

The football / cricket stadium in Chittagong

Local cricket match in Chittagong

A 7 up inside the stadium

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…

Playing football in Pripyat

The day I scored a hat-trick in Pripyat

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!

sark football team

On the football pitch (“national stadium”) on Sark. The world’s worst ever international team.

sark school

I visited the school in 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!

Jonny Blair lives a lifestyle of travel but he once won the Northern Ireland BB cup with 10th Bangor

10th Bangor Boy’s Brigade – Northern Ireland Champions 1997 – 1998!! I was proud to be part of the winning team!

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.

montevideo uruguay norn iron flag

Flying the Northern Ireland flag at one of the matches watching Penarol in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Flying the Northern Ireland flag inside Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay.

Wesley and I watching Penarol in the Colombes end.

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!

Attempting to Watch Czechia v. Northern Ireland in Xinying, TAIWAN

Attempting to Watch Czechia v. Northern Ireland in Xinying, TAIWAN

Attempting to Watch Czechia v. Northern Ireland in Xinying, TAIWAN

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!

On the bus to Belfast in New Zealand

Watching football with Sam in Robbie's Bar in Belfast

Watching football with Sam in Robbie’s Bar in Belfast

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.

Hong Kong Northern Ireland Supporters Club, 2012

Hong Kong Northern Ireland Supporters Club, 2012

Hong Kong Northern Ireland Supporters Club, 2012

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.

With Northern Ireland in Liechtenstein in 2007

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.

football pitch east timor

Inside the National Football Stadium in Dili, East Timor.

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…

Beers in Bulgaria

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.

On the pitch at Estadio Hernado Siles Highest National Football Stadium in the World La Paz Bolivia

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.

Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador, El Salvador.

partying san salvador

Nights out in San Salvador with Ivan and Jorge.

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.

Playing football in Soweto, South Africa

Playing football in Soweto, South Africa

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.

In Kaliningrad, Russia with my Dad for the 2018 World Cup

In Kaliningrad, Russia with my Dad for the 2018 World Cup

In Kaliningrad, Russia with my Dad for the 2018 World Cup

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.

The day I watched Jan Tomszewski play live in Starogard Gdański

The day I watched Jan Tomaszewski play live in Starogard Gdański

The day I watched Jan Tomszewski play live in Starogard Gdański

The day I watched Jan Tomaszewski play live in Starogard Gdański

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.

The World Cup birthday in Sousse, TUNISIA

The World Cup birthday in Sousse, TUNISIA

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.

Kiribati National Football Stadium in Bairiki

Watching a local match at Betio Sports Complex, 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.

Trying on the Matt Le Tissier Shirt, GUERNSEY

Trying on the Matt Le Tissier Shirt, GUERNSEY

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.

Holsten Pomegranate with pizza in Ruby Tuesdays

Holsten Pomegranate with pizza in Ruby Tuesdays

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).

Back in January 2011 on my first trip to Qatar I even noticed World Cup 2022 Banners and Flags 11 years before the event!!

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.

Botswana’s National Stadium was closed when I visited!

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.

The Seaside Stadium in Walvis Bay, NAMIBIA

The Seaside Stadium in Walvis Bay, NAMIBIA

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!

Stade Mohammed Laghdaf – “National Stadium” of Western Sahara

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.

Backpacking in Algeria (the smile is fake, Algiers 2015)

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.

Thirsty Thursdays: STEVEN DAVIS Pub Crawl in Lviv, Ukraine

Thirsty Thursdays: STEVEN DAVIS Pub Crawl in Lviv, Ukraine

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.

The National Stadium in Skopje, Northern Macedonia

The National Stadium in Skopje, Northern Macedonia

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.

National Stadium Before FIFA Recognised KOSOVO

National Stadium Before FIFA Recognised KOSOVO

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.

The Supporters Club in Parnu, ESTONIA

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.

National Football Stadium (Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena)

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.

Playing football with the kids in Yazd, Iran

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.

A kick in the Baltics: bad times in Riga, Latvia in 2007

58.The Two Bars (Pinta and Greenwich) 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.

A night out in Pinta Pub, Bishkek

Watching AFC Bournemouth in Greenwich Pub, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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.

Sitting in the stands at the Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona

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. As a final geek fact, Michael Platini won the Balon D’Or three years in a row and later played for Kuwait.

Nightfall in Kuwait – the country that had a goal cancelled by a political leader!

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.

Mwepu Ilunga’s moment of glory

Sporting a green Northern Ireland shirt on the balcony in our Hotel in Bukavu, DR Congo

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!

Down the pub watching the Athletic Club Bilbao 1-1 Valencia match

Meeting the Valencia team while backpacking through Bilbao!

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.

Too late for World Cup 2014 Euphoria in San Jose

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.

More stadiums than they need in Port Moresby, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

More stadiums than they need in Port Moresby, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

More stadiums than they need in Port Moresby, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Another two stadiums in Port Moresby! From our hotel 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!

Our apartment in Nairobi where I watched Bournemouth smash Brighton 5-0 away in the South Coast derby

Our apartment in Nairobi where I watched Bournemouth smash Brighton 5-0 away in the South Coast derby

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.

Backpacking in India: Staying at the Travellers Inn, Mumbai

Backpacking in India: Staying at the Travellers Inn, Mumbai

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.

At the George Best Shrine in the Underground Bar (once Bestie’s), Los Angeles

Hot bar girl Wendy strips off behind the flag

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.

On the rip with Jan Molby in Copenhagen, Denmark

On the rip with Jan Molby in Copenhagen, Denmark

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.

Sweden away in 2007 - a superb 1-1 draw

Sweden away in 2007 – a superb 1-1 draw

Sweden away in 2007 - a superb 1-1 draw

Sweden away in 2007 – a superb 1-1 draw

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?

Crossing into Nimis, Ladonia

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!

Finn McCool’s Bar in Quito for live football and a chance meeting

Finn McCool’s Bar in Quito for live football and a chance meeting

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.

suriname football stadium

On the pitch in Paramaribo – the Surinamese could have been World Champions you know…

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!

Inside the stadium at San Pedro Sula.

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.

Outside the football stadium in Kourou. Northern Ireland could beat this lot.

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.

nagorno karabakh artsakh football team

Looking down on the National Football Stadium in Stepanakert Nagorno Karabakh

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.

northern irishman yerevan armenia

Flying the Northern Ireland flag on the pitch at the Republic Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia.

Watching kids football in Yerevan, Armenia

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.

My trip to Azerbaijan to watch Norn Iron in October 2013.

Match day in Baku with the Norn Iron fans – the Green and White Army.

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.

Jonny Blair and Michael O Neill in Adana Turkey

With Northern Ireland manager Michael O Neill in Adana Turkey

turkey adana stadium

Northern Ireland and Turkey fans in the Adana 5 Ocak Stadium.

Northern Ireland fans with Jonny Steele after the match

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!

Two matches on one ticket in Malta

Two matches on one ticket in Malta

The Birkirkara party bus

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.

Chased out of Rivaldo’s Lair in Luanda, Angola

Chased out of Rivaldo’s Lair in Luanda, Angola

Finding a similar top to AFC Bournemouth in Luanda

Angola’s Mascot at the National Stadium

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!

Backpacking in Zambia: Manuel Loyal – Sleeping at Fawlty Towers in Livingstone

Backpacking in Zambia: Manuel Loyal – Sleeping at Fawlty Towers in Livingstone

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.

Watching football in Arena Bar, Bujumbura

Watching football in Arena Bar, Bujumbura

Watching football in Arena Bar, Bujumbura

Watching football in Arena Bar, Bujumbura

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…

The now deserted and decrepit and derelict stadium where once 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!

Outside the football stadium in Helsinki

The Olympic Stadium for the Summer Olympics in Helsinki

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.

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

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.

Dayo and I in Abidjan watching Athletics

Dayo and I in Abidjan watching Athletics

A different stadium in Abidjan

Watching some local football in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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.

The green and white national stadium in TURKMENISTAN

The green and white national stadium in TURKMENISTAN

Another stadium in TURKMENISTAN

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!

National Football Stadium, Dushanbe, Tajikistan

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.

Baseball stadium in Nicaragua

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.

Chisinau in MOLDOVA

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.

Inside Loki Stadium, Debrecen, Hungary

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.

Lee and I watching Sparta Prague v Slovan Liberec in the Czech Republic

Northern Ireland smashed Czechia away

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.

With my Northern Ireland flag in the main stadium in the remote city of Khorog, Gorno Badakhshan

Main stand in Khorog, capital of the Pamirs

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!!

Mr. Stewart with his Subbuteo pitch – it’s the national sport in Podjistan

Posing with the national fleg of Podjistan

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!

Backpacking in San Marino and almost snowed out

Backpacking in San Marino: My Stay at the Affitta Camere Franciosi Hostel, San Marino City

Backpacking in San Marino in 2009.

Backpacking in San Marino

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.

Watching Northern Ireland at Arena Nationala, Bucharest

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!

Watching a local match in Guatemala City. Yes baby, it’s my life.

Also in Guatemala, we watched a local derby in Panajachel by Lago Atitlan in a very local stadium, that was fun too.

Local derby in Panajachel, Guatemala

Local derby in Panajachel, Guatemala

Local derby in Panajachel, Guatemala

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.

Backpacking in Basel, Switzerland (Cheatzerland)

Backpacking in Cheatzerland

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.

Attending the Togo v. The Gambia match at the national stadium in Lome.

Attending the Togo v. The Gambia match at the national stadium i n Lome.

Attending the Togo v. The Gambia match at the national stadium in Lome.

Attending the Togo v. The Gambia match at the national stadium in Lome.

Attending the Togo v. The Gambia match at the national stadium in Lome.

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!

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

Top Of The Table Clash, Maseru, LESOTHO

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.

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

My 100 Top Football Moments From 100 Countries

Playing football in the Empire of Atlantium

Playing football for 10th Bangor Boy’s Brigade in the 1990s

The football ground at Lake Togo entrance

Playing football again with cousin Gary in 2017

Gozo FA and National Football Stadium

Śmieszne Historie o Piłce Nożnej w Polsce: Watching Football in a Speedway Stadium in Gdańsk

Garth Crooks and I in Paris – BBC football pundit

Selling football fanzines in Belfast, Northern Ireland (27th May 2016)

Selling football fanzines in Belfast, Northern Ireland (27th May 2016)

A cool bar of football scarves in Macau

Watching football with the Chinese

Oh no! A group of real football fans – they’re actually at the match!

Selling fanzines at Windsor Park for the Spain home match in 2003. We drew 0-0.

Inside the National Football Stadium in Gibraltar

At one of the football stadiums in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Game on in Xinaliq! Proper country football in the mountains of Azerbaijan.

football in the 1980s

Me wearing a Northern Ireland kit with an NI football in the 1980s.

A photo of me playing football aged 11 (I’m the guy chasing the player on the ball. I went un-noticed.

5 a sides in Bangor

Playing football with the lads last year. Rare for me – but I had a decent game thanks to my shoes!

Dress up as Cherrybear AFC Bournemouth free entry

You could always dress up as the Mascot at a football ground and get in for free!

Jonny Blair and Shaun Schofield on Estonian TV

Being interviewed at a football match at Wembley in 2007, with Shaun Schofield. It was for Estonian TV!

keeping up to date with football while you travel jonny blair

How to keep up to date with football on your travels – GO to a live match! December 2012 I watched North Korea v. Hong Kong!

I couldn’t possibly publish all 100 videos below either, so here are just a few videos from those 100 moments:

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