Following an impressive performance against Qarabag, Johnny Ward spoke about Linfield and gave his thoughts on the stigma around going to matches in Northern Ireland.
“You kind of feel like you’re at a Northern Ireland game. It could be vaguely intimidating… you don’t really want to be going to a ground where 200/300 yards from the ground are UVF flags.”
While Ward said that it could be intimidating, he clarified that he knows it has nothing to do with the club.
“Ideally, I wouldn't like to see flags of any paramilitary organisation, nothing to do with Linfield but it’s in the area. There are obviously union flags around the ground, union flags in the ground, I have no issue with that. That’s Linfield’s prerogative, that’s the prerogative of the fans.”
Despite the tensions, Ward has had positive experiences in Belfast and says he can’t see any reason why he should be afraid to go there.
“I’ve been to Belfast many times and I don’t see any reason why I should be afraid to go anywhere. My welcome’s always been great, particularly in the Oval in East Belfast. Linfield has a slightly different feel to it. It does seem more of the loyalist style to it.”
Ward doesn’t think that he’s still likely to be beaten up for having a southern accent as he thinks those days have passed.
“I think that day is gone, there’s a lot of tension in the north. The north’s in a very dangerous place at the moment because of Brexit and the failure of Stormont or whatever but I’m a football fan. My bet went Pete Tong (wrong) but I was cheering on Linfield towards the end of that game.”
Ward discourages people from being scared to go north for games because of perceptions they may have.
“I just love going up there I don’t think you should ever be afraid just because you have these perceptions in your head.”
“Imagine Dundalk or Derry City playing up here. There would be a bit of tension but it would be great for football.”