Larry joined Cliftonville from Larne in the summer of 1998 and, though his time at Solitude was relatively fleeting, his enthusiasm for the Club continues to this day...
Tell us about your career pre-Cliftonville. It was the usual stuff - school teams, district teams, Milk Cup etc. Our primary school, All Saints, had a very strong football tradition. There were a fair few Irish League players who came out of that school - Davy Smyth (Ballymena and Larne), Tony McCall (Ballymena and Cliftonville), Shane McQuillan (Ballymena, Coleraine, Ards), Michael O'Neill. In fact, I remember Tony McCall getting tickets for my brother, me and my uncle for the Cliftonville-Celtic game at Solitude in 1984. I remember the raw excitement of seeing Celtic in the flesh and Danny McGrain leading them out and the fear in the ground once the bother with the RUC started. It was mental when you think about it. I have a framed copy of the photograph taken from the cage that night. I love that photograph. I was on Schoolboy forms briefly with Manchester City when I was 14. I went over on trial in the summer of 1986 with Michael O'Neill and Michael Hughes and a couple of other fellas. Hughes was the only one who was kept on and signed. I played youth team and Reserves at Ballymena United and was actually in the same youth team as Brendan Rodgers - good player and a good laugh. His younger brother, Conn, was a good player too and I think he used to go to the Reds games. He might still do. I then played college football in Stirling, Scotland, between 1990-1994 which was great. The matches were played on a Wednesday and I then used to watch Celtic on the Saturday.
When I came back from Scotland, Shay Hamill took me to Larne and I really enjoyed it there. Robert Robinson was there, Stephen Collier, Noel Murray, John Muldoon and Frankie Parks was Manager for a while. He was always complimentary about Cliftonville.
How did you come to join the Reds? When I was at Larne, I played in one of those summer competitions at Penarol in Ballymena in 1997. I scored direct from a free kick from about 30 yards - I haven't done it before or since! - and Marty Quinn was at the game and phoned me a couple of nights later to tell me he wanted me to come to Cliftonville. I was dying to go but had already re-signed for Larne at the end of the previous season.
I went back to Larne at the start of pre-season 1997-98 and played fairly well that year. Around Christmas, I think a Reds game was cancelled because of the weather and Marty and Rory O'Boyle came to watch Larne at Ballyclare. At the end of that season, I spoke to Alan Frazer at Ballymena and Kieran Harding at Portadown, who wanted me to sign. I had no real desire to go to either of them. I was hoping Cliftonville would phone me and, thank God, they did. I met Marty in the old Whitehouse at Solitude the week after the League win. He told me I reminded him of Trevor Brooking! I'm not sure that's a compliment. I wanted to sign but didn't that night because I had given Kenny Shiels at Coleraine my word that I wouldn't sign for anybody until I met him. Marty told me he respected that but also told me in no uncertain terms that if I turned up at Solitude in a Coleraine shirt, he’d be raging! There was no chance of that. I met Kenny Shiels as a matter of courtesy and then signed for Cliftonville as soon as I could. I felt at home straight away.
Who was the best player you ever played with? I played with Michael Hughes through school and he was head and shoulders above anybody I played with or against. His touch was immaculate, he was lightening quick, had a deadly left foot, great skill, he was game and had a real football brain. At Cliftonville, Michael Collins was the most talented player I played with - completely two footed, good short passer, good long passer, great in the air, skilful, strong and also had a wee bit of menace. I got on well with him. He could have played full time in England comfortably. The Scannell brothers, too, were and are really good footballers. The night Cliftonville played Celtic at Solitude in the Anniversary game in 2009, Chris and Ronan were the two best players on the park and that Celtic team included Barry Robson, Marc Crosas, Paul McGowan and Zeng Zhi. Ronan in particular always stood out to me - pace, balance, composure, timing and, again, two footed. There were a lot of other players I enjoyed playing with, the likes of Gerard Lyttle, Gerry Flynn, Peter Murray.
What was your most memorable game? I loved beating Linfield in the Irish Cup Semi Final Replay in 1999. We had beaten Linfield, we had beaten Linfield in an Irish Cup Semi Final and we had beaten Linfield, having had to play them twice at Windsor Park. Nobody seemed to question that. In every other country I can think of, a Cup Semi Final is played at a neutral venue. There was no justifiable reason that those games couldn't have been played at The Oval or, after the first draw, the Replay at Solitude. We had a big support with us that night and it was lively. My brother was at the game and I remember us celebrating in front of our support after the match and everybody buzzing that we had just beaten them, but also excited as **** about the Final. I also have very fond memories of beating Linfield at Solitude under Laurence Stitt when Gerard Lyttle scored and Pat Wall got two. We outplayed and outfought them and the atmosphere was fairly raucous. My other recollection of that game is marking Stuart King. He had that annoying sort of accent (young boy goes to play in England and then comes back to Irish League with daft Billy Bingham/Gerry Armstrong voice) and kept saying to their players "Give me a one v one, give me a one v one" - obviously a phrase he picked up somewhere in professional football in England. It was winding me up. I recall telling him he was too ugly to be giving it the big 'un.
What was the best goal you ever scored? I didn't score too many for Cliftonville so I remember them all! I scored a header at the Cage end against Glentoran in either the first or second home game of the 1998/99 campaign. I enjoyed the one I scored away to Omagh that same season. Jody Tolan laid it off to me and I caught it on the run with my left foot from the edge of the box. I missed one from about five yards five minutes later in the same game, mind you! My favourite, though, was a header against Crusaders at Christmas 2001 at Solitude. We had played them earlier in the season in a midweek game at Seaview. I was playing right midfield, Paul Muir was playing left back for them. He hit me off the ball with his elbow a couple of times in the first-half of that game and was generally acting the p****. I then hit him off the ball in the second-half and he went mental. I'm not sure what his problem was, whether he had a personal issue with me (he was a couple of years below me at school) or if he had simply bought into that ‘Hatchetmen’ crap. When we then played them at Solitude, of course he was nice as pie to me. He was marking me at a corner kick. Shane Mulholland took it, I got a run on him and scored with a header. It was a case of "Get it right up ye".
Who was your toughest opponent? I played against Mark Walters (ex Rangers and Liverpool) at Solitude in a Pre-Season Friendly. I remember Peter Murray giving him stick. Chic Charnley (former Hibs and Partick Thistle) was a terrific player, albeit past his best when he was at Portadown. I never enjoyed playing against Vinny Arkins - he was strong, mobile, good in the air, good finisher, cute too with his movement.
Where did you prefer to play, midfield or defence? Up front! On reflection, I played right back, centre half, centre midfield, wide right, wide left and up front for Cliftonville at various times. Goalkeeper was never an option. My best runs were at centre half under Marty Quinn and right midfield under Laurence Stitt.
Who was the best Manager you ever played under? Anyone who has played for Marty Quinn has a fondness and respect for him. He was a brilliant motivator and man- manager. He made players feel good about themselves. He was honest, treated people with respect, he was a great laugh and is a fundamentally decent person. That might sound obvious but there is an awful lot of a**holes in the Irish League. Marty Quinn is not one of them. Marty had and has a bit of charisma. My granda died on a Saturday morning. We were playing Glenavon at home and, during our pre-match meal at the Lansdowne, my mother had phoned the hotel and spoke to Marty and told him not to tell me until after the match. I was on the bench. He brought me on for the last 20 minutes and, on reflection, he was doing that hoping I would score. That was his form. Coaching wise, all the players loved working with Mal Donaghy, who was at the club with Laurence Stitt. I know Mal wasn't there long but he was a breath of fresh air. The training was professional, sharp, well organised and enjoyable. Everything was done with the ball. You looked forward to training - not always the case in the Irish League, in my experience. I had real respect for Mal - this is a guy who played for Manchester United (signed by Alex Ferguson, no less) and Chelsea and played in two World Cups. It's ridiculous that the Irish League is not benefiting from his experience and professionalism. Although it says everything about the Irish League - there's too much football in Mal Donaghy for most of the tubes involved.
Which grounds did you enjoy playing at most and least? I always liked Seaview - it was usually a good surface, punters are close to the pitch, so any sort of a crowd and the atmosphere was good, we always had a good support and there's the added needle of a derby match. I liked playing at Ballymena Showgrounds as well. I was brought up in Ballymena but always supported Cliftonville. I remember going to an Irish Cup Semi Final at The Showgrounds between Cliftonville and Coleraine, probably in 81 or 82?. Bobby Carlisle, Peter McCusker and Brendan Tully were playing for the Reds. I remember the "Zico Zico" chants when Tully was hitting a free kick and a very big Cliftonville support. Anyway, I always felt proud going there as a Cliftonville player and loved beating them. I also have a soft spot for the FC Kosice Stadium! Strangely, I never really liked The Oval or Windsor Park - good pitches and all that, but grounds from a different age. Irish League clubs would be better off with smaller, compact grounds. A thousand people at Seaview or Solitude and you have a decent atmosphere. A thousand people at The Oval or Windsor Park and it's dead. The only time their grounds are full is when they play eachother at Christmas. Any other home game, their grounds are three quarters empty and the atmosphere is rubbish.
How did you feel about the Simon Gribben affair and the Reds being kicked out of the 1999 Irish Cup Final? I was sore about it then and I'm still sore about it now, to be honest. The whole thing was ridiculous. It was ridiculous that Simon Gribben himself either wasn't aware that he was ineligible or that he didn't tell the Club, it was ridiculous that the Club "slept in" and allowed him to play and the haste it was dealt with by Linfield and the IFA was ridiculous, but predictable. It could have been dealt with in a whole lot of different ways. We could have been heavily fined, barred from playing in the next year's Irish Cup or forced to replay again against Linfield. It was a shambles for us and for the competition - no Final, no TV, no sponsor's payday etc. and, to be honest, if I was a Portadown player I would have wanted the Final to have been played and, if I was a Linfield player, I would have had no complaints. The other thing that came out of all that was another example of the decency and compassion of Marty Quinn. The easiest thing for Marty to do would have been to ditch Simon Gribben and ostracise him. He had just done him out of a possible Irish Cup win twenty years after he had won it as a player and a year after he had won the League. He didn't and, in fact, Marty was very good to Simon and very understanding. Some of the players at the time weren't just as understanding. In fairness to Simon, he wasn't a bad fella and that couldn't have been the easiest thing to deal with. The '79 team are remembered, the 98 team are remembered. How many people remember the 1999 team, honestly? The one name people remember is Simon Gribben.
Why did you leave the Reds? There were musical differences between me and Marty Tabb! To be honest, I knew I my card was marked from the start of pre- season 2002/03. I had played with him under Marty Quinn and, as a player, I had respect for Marty Tabb - he was a terrific defender, he looked after himself really well, a dedicated trainer, his timing in the air was as good as you would see in a centre half and his Irish League career stands comparison with anybody in recent times. But I knew when he got the Manager's job my coat was on a shaky peg. For whatever reason, he didn't fancy me as a player. S**t happens and nobody got killed! I was disappointed when Laurence Stitt and Mal Donaghy resigned at the end of 2001/02. We were playing really well in the second half of that season and finished very strongly. We were playing decent football, there was a good team spirit, the training was great and there was the nucleus of a good side - Mickey Donnelly was still there, Keith Mulvenna, Gerard Lyttle, Paul Straney, Ciaran Donaghy, Fra Murphy. Personally, I was really enjoying my football and hit a good run of form at the end of that season. I think Mickey was suspended for the last game of the season against Portadown and Laurence gave me the armband. I was pleased and proud about that. One of the first things Marty Tabb said to me at pre-season training was that I was one of the players he was thinking about releasing. In contrast to Marty Quinn's comparison to Trevor Brooking, it was a change in man management style! He also said that he had watched some of the Cliftonville games at the end of the previous season and that I wasn't the same player he had played with. I was always honest about my own performances and knew that wasn't the case. The Saturday before the first game of the season, we played a Friendly at Ballinamallard. I played up front and scored. We then played Newington at Solitude on the Tuesday night in a ‘friendly’ (My experience as an Irish League player playing friendlies against Amateur League teams was that they always end up as booting matches because the Amateur League players are always keen to get into the Irish League team, even more so if they are local) and, sure enough, it was a booting match - I got a size 10 boot, studs up in the ribs from Michael Collins' brother of all people. I was sore as ****. We played Newry on the Saturday at Solitude and I declared myself fit - it was the one and only time that I played taking one of those pain killing injections. Johnny Campbell did the honours. I knew that, if I declared myself unfit, I would have bother getting back in. As it turned out, it didn't make a pile of difference to that assessment! We won 1 - 0 and I scored the winner. I was delighted. We then played Ballyclare away - it was a rubbish game on a rock hard pitch and, after that, it was Ards at home and I was dropped to the bench and didn't get on. I knew that I was on a hiding to nothing. At that stage, I was 30, one of the more senior and experienced players at the Club and was reasonably well respected in the changing room. I felt that I had come off the back of a good season the previous year, started that season well but yet it was fairly obvious that Marty Tabb didn't fancy me as a player. The next training night, I told him that I was packing it in and the reasons why. We shook hands and that was that. Marty was probably happy enough because I was away, while I was content that I had left on my own terms. I'm not daft - it was no disaster for Cliftonville or the Irish League. It was a not-too-glorious end to an ordinary Irish League career, but I was very disappointed to be leaving Cliftonville. I felt that I left with my dignity intact and the respect of the players and supporters. I still follow and support Cliftonville, as does Marty Tabb and most of the players I played with. At the end of the day, we're all pulling in the same direction. That's why I'm very pleased to see Tommy Breslin, Peter Murray and Gerard Lyttle at the Club now.
Tell us about your career after Cliftonville. Paul Kirk wanted me to sign for Distillery and Glenavon asked me to go there, while I also got a call saying that Paddy Bonnar wanted me to go up to Donegal Celtic. I gave that a wee bit of thought but, to be honest, my heart wasn't in it. The proof of the pudding was that I didn't even ask the Reds for my release. On reflection, I'm glad I left it as it was and that I didn't go anywhere else. I liked being an Irish League player, but I loved being a Cliftonville player. I didn't feel that I had anything to prove to anybody, so to come back to Solitude, say as a Distillery or Glenavon player, just wouldn't have felt right.
Have you any involvement in football today? I've done and continue to do bits and pieces of legal work for the Club and also hold a Players' Agent Licence.
Do you still get mistaken for Ross out of ‘Friends’? I haven't heard that one for a while! I'm not sure I'm enjoying this - Trevor Brooking, Ross from Friends - my self confidence is taking a hammering here! I recall Gerry Flynn doing a decent Joey from Friends impersonation and trying the Joey and Ross routine to try and pull women with what I would call limited success.
Would you still look out for the Cliftonville results? Of course. I'm a Cliftonville supporter. I played with Ciaran Donaghy, Barry Johnston, George McMullan, Ronan Scannell, Chris Scannell, Peter Murray, Gerard Lyttle - they're all still at the Club. I go to a handful of games per season. I really enjoyed the County Antrim Shield Final - Johnston and Catney bossed the game. I liked the look of Eamonn Seydak and Joe Gormley is a brilliant finisher - he's the sort of player who probably scored goals in the playground, school team, five a sides, Amateur League, Irish League etc. My nephew, Patrick Stuart, plays for Cliftonville Under 17s - he's a better player than I was.
Have you any messages for the fans? Keep dancing, wherever you may be! I liked Solitude then, I still like it now - the feel of the place, the smell of the place, the spirit, the humour. If you are Cliftonville, you know what I mean. If you're not, it doesn't matter.