The local referee who oversaw two World Cup games the last time Northern Ireland were in a major tournament has shared his memories of Mexico 1986.
Lisburn man Alan Snoddy, who is considered arguably Northern Ireland’s best-ever soccer referee, took charge of the Portugal vs Morocco game in Mexico in 1986, aged just 31.
“A lot was resting on your shoulders,” he said. “It was the last match in the group stages. Morocco won with quite a shocking result of 3-1.
“I remember there was very heavy rain and a thunderstorm around 4-5pm. It was so hot, I was not too upset.
“Northern Ireland were playing Brazil the next day, who beat us 3-0. I remember the second goal Brazil scored against Pat Jennings. It was quite incredible.”
At the World Cup in Italy four years later Alan refereed in front of 72,000 people when West Germany played Columbia. That was his biggest game ever.
The scale of the event did not intimidate him. “You are so focussed on the what you are doing you don’t notice. It is only the next day that it hits you and you feel the weight lifted off.”
At 61 Alan is now head of refereeing in Cyprus and does development work for UEFA and FIFA.
He believes Northern Ireland can get through the group stage in France and qualify for the next stage.
“People have been writing Northern Ireland off for three years - but they have kept on winning and drawing. They will certainly not be an easy team to beat.
“The supporters are enthusiastic as ever. They have always been commended for bringing a great atmosphere and excellent behaviour. Occasionally I have been abroad for a game and everyone has been talking about the Northern Ireland fans, about how well they behave themselves.
“They are also well known for improving the local economy wherever they stay.”