Footballer Mark Stafford picks his three most memorable games to date

October 6, 2012

Danske Bank Premiership

Linfield 1 Ballinamallard United 3

Mark Stafford had a number of great days with Ballinamallard from gaining promotion to the Premiership to leading the club in a wonderful first season in the top flight.

In that inaugural season in the Danske Bank Premiership, Ballinamallard made the trip to Windsor Park for their first competitive game against Linfield and they returned home with all three points following a superb 1-3 victory.

"For me, this was the game that told us that we belonged in the Premiership. We had won the Championship to get up and we had actually started the season well but to go there and beat Linfield, it was a massive confidence boost going forward for the rest of the campaign. 

"We had players in the team and a coaching staff that were more than good enough to compete at that level and this just firmed that up. It was a brilliant day," said Stafford.

Ryan Campbell put the Mallards ahead only for Brian McCaul to equalise for the home side six minutes before the break. However, Chrissie Curran put the Ducks back in front ten minutes from time before Liam Martin wrapped up the win in injury time. 

"It was the club's first competitive game against Linfield at Windsor Park so it was a really big occasion for everybody and we were all pretty nervous going into the game because Linfield were the champions, they had big players and David Jeffrey as manager so it was a daunting task," explained Stafford.

"Linfield were stronger than us that day and had a lot more possession but we defended well as a team and hit them on the counter which was something that we were particularly good at that season with the likes of Chrissy Curran and Jay McCartney in the wide areas and Andy Crawford up front. 

"Defensively, we were also solid although we were actually missing big Leon Carters for this game and he was somebody that I learned a lot from in my early days. I wore the armband but Leon was as much a captain of that team as I was and he spoke well in the changing room," he added.

And the Mallards built on this win as they went on to finish as the highest club outside the Belfast sides in the league that season.

"When you come up your first thoughts are on staying up and we did that and then pushed on. To finish in the top half of the table was unbelievable in that first season," said Stafford.

Saturday April 29, 2017

Danske Bank Premiership

Cliftonville 1 Linfield 3

Impressive performances for Ballinamallard led to Stafford signing for Linfield ahead of the 2015/16 season and he went on to secure a first league title the following season.

Indeed, it was won in dramatic style as the destination of the Gibson Cup was only decided on the final day of the season with the Blues needing a point away to Cliftonville to see off Crusaders.

"This is a special one for me as it was my first league title," said Stafford. "In fact, for a lot of the group it was our first league title and it was a first league title in five years for the club so it was massive."

Linfield went into the game in fine form having only dropped two points from their previous 14 games but Stafford knew that they faced a massive test against the Reds.

"The run we were on was unbelievable but it was no easy ask to go to Cliftonville and get a result, Solitude was a hard place for us to go, especially at that time," he said.

And it all looked to be going wrong in the first half. Crusaders drew first blood when Michael Carvill put them in front against Glenavon before Daniel Hughes nudged Cliftonville ahead against the Blues.

"I would say that was the most nervous I have been in any game and it was not going our way in the first half as we were 1-0 down at half time and Crusaders were winning so with 45 minutes to go in the season, Crusaders were winning the title," explained Mark.

Linfield though turned things around in the second half.

"We got it sorted out at half time and we were excellent in the second half.

"We scored just after half time, a corner came in and I made a run to the back post and headed it and the keeper saved it but Andy Waterworth tapped in the rebound. We never looked back after that. We were shooting into our supporters in the second half and they basically sucked the ball into the net for us for the next two goals as Andy got a hat-trick. 

"It was a really big moment for me in my career as it was my first league title and one that I had played a big part in during the season," he added.

And he capped off a great week by clinching a double seven days later as Linfield saw off Glenavon in the Irish Cup final.

"It was another huge game as it was the first Irish Cup final that I had started in and I got my first Irish Cup medal. It was an unforgettable week."

Thursday August 22, 2019

Europa League Qualifying Play Offs

Linfield 3 Qarabeg (Azerbaijan) 2

Linfield enjoyed a terrific run in Europe last summer with the first leg win over Azerbaijan outfit Qarabeg at Windsor Park the highlight for Blues defender Mark Stafford.

A 2-1 defeat in the away leg saw Linfield exit the competition on the away goals rule but that didn't take away from a great display at home.

"Going into the game we thought that they would be at a different level to what we had played against previously and they were a really good side," said Mark.

It was the visitors who made the brighter start to the game but back came Linfield with Stafford among the goals as the home side went in at the break leading 2-1.

"We rode our luck at times as they went 1-0 up and they then hit the post shortly after that.

"However, I managed to get an equaliser five minutes before half time and Shayne Lavery they put us ahead at half time. Shayne then got a second and we ended up winning the game 3-2," said Stafford.

Linfield had been on a training camp prior to the competition and Stafford felt that had them in a good place.

"We had gone to Marbella for a training camp before competition and it really set us up in good stead and I was probably in the best shape of my life going into those games. I have been very lucky that when the big games have come along in my career that I have been fit and well and have normally done alright in them" he stated.

And he says that the atmosphere at Windsor Park was particularly special that night.

"This was one of the biggest night's in Europe that the club had ever had and to be a part of it was very, very special. The atmosphere was amazing and it is one that the supporters will never forget. European night's are different, there is a different buzz around the ground than there is for a league or cup game. There is always a bigger crowd and the pitch is always immaculate and you know the rewards that are there if you can win the game," he said.