Denmark on the horizon as Larne create European history at sun-kissed Inver Park
Larne Football Club fans left Inver Park in celebratory on Thursday night after witnessing their team win their first ever home game in European competition.
The east Antrim side secured safe passage into the second qualifying round of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League following a 2-0 aggregate win over Welsh team, Bala Town - 1-0 a week ago (July 8) and the same scoreline in front of their passionate home support.
For a full report from last night’s historic tie, click here
Red and white scarves and replica shirts were being proudly worn as those lucky enough to secure tickets for the clash made their way up the Inver Road to watch Tiernan Lynch’s men make their bid for glory in continental-like conditions at the sun-kissed venue.
Like many local football supporters, it has been over a year and a half since this reporter attended a live game. On the way into the ground, spectators had their temperatures checked and hand sanitizer was provided, all in line with current Covid-19 regulations.
There was a buzz around the park as the 7.30pm kick-off approached with supporters soaking up the unique atmosphere a European encounter provides.
As dance classics pumped out of the Inver PA system, supporters, both young and old, began to back their team vocally.
Due to current coronavirus restrictions, the game, which would have been a sell-out in normal times, was being played in front of a reduced attendance. A number of young Larne fans gathered on the grass verge at the edge of the A8 to catch a glimpse of some of the match action.
Dignitaries included the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr William McCaughey, who was joined by DUP colleagues, Cllr Gregg McKeen and Stormont Economy Minister, Gordon Lyons MLA.
In what was a beautiful summer’s evening for football, both sets of players took to the immaculate pitch with aspirations of making it through to the next round of qualifying fixtures against Denmark’s AGF Aarhus.
The home side had the better of the exchanges in the first half, but could not find an opening. As the minutes ticked by, the tension mounted for the hosts, who knew a Bala goal would level the tie and also blow it wide open.
The home supporters were attempting to give their team any possible advantage, including jeering when Bala ‘keeper Alex Ramsay was taking goal kicks - a move which appeared to have paid off a couple of times when his clearances went wayward.
Lorry drivers, who recognised the significance of the fixture, also weighed in, tooting their horns on their way to the Port of Larne in support of skipper Jeff Hughes and his crew.
However, in the second half, well-timed substitutions from Lynch made the difference as McHendry, Donnelly, Watson, and goal scorer Hale, played their part in Larne footballing history and helped start raucous celebrations amongst the Inver faithful.
With the chants being led by the fanatical supporters in the Church End of the ground, including their take on the Northern Irish Green and White Army’s ‘We’re on our way to the Euros’ song, smiles were painted on the faces of those cheering on Larne, including owner Kenny Bruce who was there along with close family and friends to savour the memorable occasion.
And as the joyous Larne fans made their way out of the ground to the chorus of The Music Yard’s latest track in honour of the town’s footballing heroes, ‘We’re all going on a European tour’, they started to dream of where this latest chapter in the club’s 132-year history might take them.
Speaking to the Larne Times, secretary of the Inver Red and Whites Supporters’ Club, Ian Semple said: “It was a brilliant night and almost dream like to finally have a European match at Inver Park and then to top it all off with a win, courtesy of a great strike and into the next round.
“It is just unbelievable how far we have come in three years from the lower reaches of the Championship and I’m delighted for all the supporters who have stuck with the club all this time. For the likes of my father who watched them in the B Division he is in dreamland.
“The next round is going to be tough but hey, why not. We just have to keep the faith.”
Taking to social media in the wake of the victory, Larne director and player welfare officer, Lyn Kernohan said: “So my team of over 45 years just made me even prouder than you would ever have thought possible. Inver Park was amazing tonight. I’ve lived my football life for tonight.” A sentiment which must surely have been echoed by others who witnessed the history makers remain unbeaten in European football!
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.