Mark Stafford will play the biggest game of his football career on Friday night, when he lines up for Linfield at Windsor Park in their Champions League clash against Celtic.

The Blues will meet their cross channel rivals for the first time in their history, and former Ballinamallard defender Stafford admits he cannot wait to pit himself against the Scottish Champions.

“I’m very excited about it and looking forward to it,” he said.

“It is going to be a special night because there isn’t too many games like that come along in your career so I’m trying to enjoy the build up to it. It’s definitely the biggest game of my career.”

And the Blues centre half expects the National Stadium at Windsor Park to be packed to the rafters when the sides take to the pitch on Friday evening.

“I’m sure three will not be too many empty seats at Windsor Park. There is going to be a lot of blue men there but I assume there will be a lot of neutral supporters there as well to see Celtic,” he stated.

Few pundits are giving Linfield much hope against a side that went through the duration of the league season without tasting defeat, but Mark is focused on producing his best and is hoping they can spring a surprise.

“They are a special side and they went through the entire league season in Scotland without getting beaten which was some achievement.

“All we can do is focus on our game and try to keep it tight at the back and all over the pitch and try to be competitive.

“We have worked on a few things this week and hopefully they will all make a difference. It’s a mammoth task but all we can do is focus on ourselves and do the small things right and see where that takes us.”

Since making the move from Ballinamallard to Linfield in the summer of 2015 Mark has been travelling three evenings a week to train in Belfast. With a league winner’s medal in his trophy cabinet and a Champions League clash against Celtic on the horizon, he reckons it has all been worth the effort.

“It’s a small price to pay,” he said.

“There is no doubt that it is tough going at times but this is the start of my third season and I’m in a routine and used to it now. The travelling is the worst bit of it but once you are up there the quality of the training and the quality of players is brilliant.

“Everything about the place is so professional when you walk in the door.”

That quality was evident in the closing stages of the league season when they embarked on a late surge to beat Crusaders in the race for the title, and with further additions to the squad over the summer Mark is hoping to make it back-to-back winner’s medals by the end of the new campaign.

“Hopefully we can go on and have another good season,” he said.

“I think we are a better side than we were last season and hopefully we can push on and I can bring a few more trophies down home.”