Magic circle

Davy Millar's favourite football landmark is not one that you will have heard of, as he explains

Moira is a small village with very few claims to fame. It is the site of an historic battle but, this being Northern Ireland, the locals decided that their village needed something else to distinguish it from everywhere else in Ulster. So, they planted award-winning floral displays, a novelty in a country normally disinterested in flower beds unless that’s where the Semtex is currently hidden, but these have been surpassed by another local attraction – the roundabout.

This monstrosity sits just outside Moira, straddling the local M1. Its main function seems to be to screw up traffic in all directions, but it has risen above its bad reputation to provide Moira with a taste of real fame. The final day of the 1993-94 Irish League season began with the three leading teams locked together on 67 points. Portadown’s goal-difference put them ahead of bitter Mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon, with Linfield third. To add to the excitement, it was derby day; Portadown had to travel to Glenavon’s Mourneview Park, while the delights of Windsor Park awaited Glentoran. As kick-off time approached, two League officials got into a car and headed off to spend the next few hours at Moira roundabout.

As Moira lies mid-way between Lurgan and Belfast, they argued that it was the ideal place to wait with the championship trophy, in preparation for a late dash to either ground while its temporary guardians tuned into Radio Ulster’s coverage of the football. It seemed the ideal way to monitor developments, even though that station’s commentaries are not always the clearest. At least you can rely on them to get the score right.

The main commentary came from Mourneview, partly because that game was more likely to produce the champions but also because only Linfield fans wished otherwise. With barely 20 minutes left it seemed the right choice. Glentoran were gleefully holding up the Linfield challenge in a goalless match while Glenavon were 2-0 up and cruising to their first title in 34 years. At Moira, the trophy was getting a final polish before, with blue and white ribbons attached, it moved out into traffic to start the short journey to Lurgan.

It was a mistake. Before they had even left the roundabout, the officials heard Portadown pull a goal back to throw the title race wide open. They hastily cancelled the indicator, throwing surrounding cars into confusion, and returned to their parking spot at the other side of the junction. No sooner had they reached it than a score-flash announced that Linfield had taken the lead.

While Portadown threw everything at Glenavon, Linfield sealed their win to preclude any danger of watching their rivals celebrate. Back at Moira, the trophy lay forlornly on the car floor as two grown men stared at the radio. Suddenly Glenavon cracked again and Portadown had drawn level with a goal which produced huge cheers at Windsor. With traffic building up around them, and their destination uncertain, the officials decided to move off and give themselves the chance of a flying start when the games finished.

The Windsor match ended first to an almost perfunctory cheer as the fans were engrossed by the commentary on Mourneview’s injury time. With that game seemingly deadlocked at 2-2 and the final whistle expected at any second, the League Secretary gambled on a return to Belfast.

Entering the motorway slip-road, the two men were horrified to hear Portadown score. Recklessly they swerved back onto the roundabout, only just escaping the attentions of an enraged lorry driver, and headed back to the Lurgan road, horns blaring all around them,

Back at Windsor, the Linfield support was plunged into despair as the few remaining Glentoran fans danced and gave two-fingered salutes to their hated enemy. But it was all a mistake. Portadown had missed by a whisker and Radio Ulster’s over-excited commentator had got it wrong. Even as he was correcting his error, the match finished and an eerie silence fell over Mourneview as both sets of fans realized they had missed out.

In contrast, Windsor Park had erupted in celebration, made all the more special for the Linfield fans by the sight of those few Glenmen retreating in humiliation. Meanwhile, two rather agitated gentlemen were seen leaving the Moira roundabout at high speed, the driver hunched over the wheel as his passenger, wielding a silver trophy in an aggressive manner, screamed abuse at other road-users.

Subsequent title races have failed to provide such a climax as the various winners have clinched victory well before the final day. This not only makes the last matches irrelevant but also deprives the trophy itself of any kind of dramatic role. Sitting in a dusty boardroom, waiting for some desultory match to finish, is no way to maintain the glamour and prestige of any piece of silverware; far better if it is poised at some distant point, ready to be rushed to the deserving recipients.

Sadly, the Irish League are unlikely to acknowledge this by repeating the events of May 1994, not least because the traffic police will be ready for them next time. Neither will they officially commemorate that day in case a certain lorry driver is still looking for compensation for a pair of spoiled trousers. Still, some recognition is due for a day when the Championship trophy itself was mauled by sweaty hands and threatened by articulated lorries on the Moira roundabout.

From WSC 131 January 1998. What was happening this month