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Groundhopping: Loughgall (v Cliftonville, Lakeview Park)

Competition: Northern Irish Premier League

Date: 16 March 2024

Result: Loughgall 2 – 3 Cliftonville

Tickets:  £13 for adults

Attendance: circa 500

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: Conditions didn’t help with this, a scrappy contest played out on something of a bog, and made somewhat closer by a very average performance by the Cliftonville goalkeeper, who played a fairly major role in both the Loughgall goals. Both sides had several more decent chances in what could have been a goalfest, and ultimately the final minute or so – which saw a brief barrage on the Cliftonville goal after Loughgall got back within a goal – were the best part of the game.

There was something quite mellow about the whole thing, though – I didn’t ever feel that Loughgall really believed they could win the game, despite being well in it at times, and the Cliftonville fans on the way out sounded less than happy with their performance despite the three points. It was very watchable, but certainly not a great advert for the quality of the Northern Irish Premier.

The ground:  Lakeview Park doesn’t, at least from within the confine of the stands (and yes, I checked), have a view of Lough Gall, or any other lake, but what can you do. An unlikely spot for a top-tier football club, I went early enough to feel like the attendance might be in the two figures, but the ground – which will hold the population of Loughgall more than four times over – soon filled out, not least with two thirds of one side and one end’s worth of away fans, outnumbering the home support.

It’s a tiny but tidy little ground, with a small amount of seating and a handful of very windy terraces. A youth side welcoming the teams on is a nice touch. For this particular rainy March day, I did briefly think my trip up north might have been in vein, with the pitch a bog in some areas and probably not a million miles from seeing the game called off. Proper, old-school football; remarkable to think it’s at the level it is, really – I understand the club represents the smallest town in Europe to have a top tier club.

Extras: I didn’t find a programme, and while there are two food outlets – a coffee and snack stall and a cooked foot spot – I didn’t visit either as they were both cash only and I didn’t have any sterling with me. They did seem more than adequate for the number of people there.

Assorted asides: As someone commented on Twitter, what a superb Football Manager challenge this spot would be. I had a great walk around Loughgall Country Park for about an hour before kick off, and learnt that the town is where the Orange Order formed more than 200 years ago, which made me feel slightly nervous of my Irish reg plates. A friendly and enjoyable experience, though.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 2. Home wins: 1 Draws: 0 Away wins: 1

Goals: 11. Home goals: 6. Away goals: 5. Goals per game: 5.5

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