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Better Know A Europa League Opponent: Crusaders F.C.

Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird will both serve as a major attraction to neutral fans when Fulham travels to Belfast to face off against Crusaders F.C. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird will both serve as a major attraction to neutral fans when Fulham travels to Belfast to face off against Crusaders F.C. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Club: Crusaders F.C.

Founded: 1898

Competition: Irish Football Association Premier League (Northern Ireland)

Ground: Seaview 

Colors: Black and Red

Honors:  Irish Football League (1972-73, 1975-76, 1994-95, 1996-97), Irish Cup (1966-67, 1967-68, 2008-09), Irish League Cup (1996-97), and several regional honors.

2010 Season: 2nd Place in IFA Premier League, Runner-up in Irish Cup

Rather than put a couple of hours into research (because who really enjoys working), I figured I'd share some of the insights into Crusaders F.C.'s stadium improvements and hopes for the match that Lydia over at the prolific and profound Hammy End came upon while interviewing Stephen Bell, Chairman of Fulham's semi-professional opponents.

On how recent pitch upgrades have positively effected everything from finances to squad fitness:

"We are trying to improve the facilities for the fans. This ground about 2 or 3 years ago was nothing but terracing. We are trying to improve the team but also bring the stadium along with us. It’s important to have the best possible facilities for the fans which is something that the Irish League has been lacking over the past 20 or even 30 years! The pitch itself is a real money generator for us. It also means that the team itself now is more physically fit. We are training more on it; we are not relying on other places now to train.

"Before we were going down to Jordanstown (University of Ulster, Jordanstown) but when the weather was bad training had to be called off so we think now our general fitness has improved. We never have to miss training now."

And will the new stadium be ready before the game, or will the match be played at Windsor Park?

"We are quite confident that the game will take place here. We have spent a lot of money and have put in a lot of hard work to make sure we can play European football here and having Fulham here now is a big opportunity just to push everybody on and make sure that the work is finished on time."

On Northern Irish internationals Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird serving as attractions:

"Well it does as it will help us pick up a few neutrals as certainly Northern Ireland supporters will want to come and watch the match. The game has generated a lot of interest too within Belfast, with a lot of media attention at the minute because it’s a high profile game. It’s probably our biggest game since we played Liverpool in 1977 and that’s the way we are looking at it.

"Cup finals are big games for the club but having an English Premier League club coming is a fantastic opportunity for the club. I would just like to say as well that we have been trying to open the new stands by bringing a big club over with no success; so this tie will kill two birds with one stone. Fulham are coming over to play a competitive game and we will fill the place."

On the match:

"I think that our 4G pitch will give us an advantage and I think we will give Fulham a good game here. I’ll not give you a result or score line but I think Fulham will find it very tough here, very intimidating. Supporters are so close to the pitch and there will be a full house and the atmosphere will be electric. We are aiming to make it a party atmosphere and that will be good for us as the atmosphere will be right on the touchline.

"We like to get the ball down and pass it with fast mobile players and a big centre forward who knows where the net is! So we are confident that we can get some sort of result here although Craven Cottage might be a different cup of tea! But we are delighted the first game is here and this will give us a chance to start the game and really show what we can do."

You can read the rest of the interview here.