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Skipper Bailie deserves a trip to the Palace

Joel Taggart | 14:23 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010

On Saturday I was lucky enough to witness something that I will not see again. Any of those at Seaview for the Carling Premiership clash between Crusaders and Linfield saw a unique footballing moment.

When it comes to the ultimate all-time appearance record you only need look to Northern Ireland because one of the local game's most worthy recipients was taking the plaudits from players, managers, fans, seasoned journalists, all equally dumbfounded by the achievement being celebrated.

For the first time - as far as I am aware - in the history of senior football, a player had reached the milestone of 1000 appearances for the same club. That man was Noel Baillie, the captain of Irish League champions elect Linfield.


Linfield captain Noel Bailie makes his 1000th appearance for Linfield

Not even the great Paolo Maldini managed to clock up 1000 games for AC Milan, Ryan Giggs has not made it to 900 yet for Manchester United. Baillie is in a league of his own.

At 39 years of age 'the skipper' has won dozens of medals including eight Irish League championships, and another this year is a real possibility.

Yet it is his modesty, his unassuming nature that is his most endearing trait.

It is also refreshing that during an era when money turned heads in Irish League football and "is that net or gross?" was the first question players asked when deciding to sign a contract, Noel Baillie has remained a one-club man, his 1000 games spanning 22 seasons.

I have no doubt that Linfield will mark the achievement in a way that they deem to be appropriate. Noel started his career at Windsor Park as a left winger and when Trevor Anderson moved him into the middle of the back four, he took the number 11 jersey with him.

When Noel decides to retire, I think it is inevitable the number 11 jersey will be retired at Windsor Park along with him. Who else could possibly try to fill it?

However, Noel Baillie deserves greater recognition. For years I have watched as professional footballers in England and Scotland have been handed awards on the New Year and birthday honours lists.

I have often wondered why those playing in a part-time league in Northern Ireland, making more sacrifices for less financial rewards, have been overlooked for so long.

Most players here juggle the responsibility of their employment and their families with training two or three nights a week and two games a week for most of the season.

To sustain this as Noel Baillie has done since making his debut in 1989, is nothing short of remarkable.

So here is a question to those in authority and to those who have the power to make it happen. Is this achievement not worthy of an MBE or an OBE?

Noel Baillie is an ambassador for his club and for Irish League football. He has won every major honour in the local game more than once, has played in European competition more than any other Irish league player and is a role model to every young player in the game here.

If that is not worthy of an honour from Her Majesty, then I really don't know what is. Portadown boss Ronnie McFall deservedly received such an accolade recently. Noel Baillie should follow.


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