Manchopper in….Wembley (England vs Nigeria)

Result: England 2-1 Nigeria (International Friendly)

Venue: Wembley Stadium (Saturday 2nd June 2018, 5.15pm)

Att: 70,025

Finally, after eleven whole months, the end of the season is within touching distance but first there comes a duo of International clashes to sign off with. The first of which (this very one, of course) has been in the planning for a fair while now, pretty much from when it was announced, in fact. I’d been keeping a visit to Wembley back for an England home game I could actually get to and, after what seemed like forever, they finally had a game scheduled for a Saturday afternoon which met all the things necessary for a nice, easy trip. Well in theory, anyway.

Blog regular Dan had sorted out the match tickets months in advance, whilst I’d been left in charge of sorting out the travel side of things. All looked good to go upon our arrival in Manchester during the mid-morning of a warm, sunny Summer’s day, though we were given a brief scare when a train to Euston was announced as cancelled, but were relieved to find it was the one before ours that had broken down on its way back up North. Consequently, this also meant the train before ours back was also off the table now too, so a lucky escape for once. Usually, these things go against you, don’t they?!

After removing a couple of people taking advantage of the sockets at our booked seats and being offered some croissants by the lady next to us (politely declined), we were soon rocking and rolling back down to the Capital for one final time this season. After passing the usual suspects’ grounds at Stockport, Macclesfield, along with a number of non-league sides’ homes on route, we continued on past the towering arch of the National Stadium prior to arriving into Euston at a little before 1pm. Securing our travelcards for the journey back over to Wembley, a quick peruse of the line-up of timetables in the concourse revealed an earlier than planned service which would take us into Wembley Station via the means of West Midlands Trains to the highly exotic-sounding location of Tring.

First stop of the day, the Liquor Station

Then it was off to the ‘Spoons next door!

Caught in the nick of time (with it sat at the far end of the platform, just to keep it interesting), a short ten-minute hop later saw us setting foot in the North London suburb which is home to the stadium which carries its name, after having had the outdated “Empire” name removed while still in its previous iteration. Soon enough, we were outside the adjoining pubs known as the Liquor Station and the Wetherspoon’s outlet next door – the JJ Moon. Dan suggested the Liquor Station looked a good starting point, and I agreed, though expected it to be on the dearer side. Following a quick bag search (though I did get away without a full-body one which the guy in front of us ‘enjoyed’), we headed inside to find the pints remarkably cheap – £3.60 for an Amstel for me. No complaints with that to start things off with!

With the clock only just approaching 1.30pm by this point, we had the rare novelty of actually having time on our side and not having to rush at all. As such, it was past two by the time we entered the ‘Spoons – after another bag check – and I decided to try out one of the seemingly local delicacies in the form of the Portobello brewery’s London Pilsner. Again this was fairly easy on the pocket, coming in at £3.50, though things were about to go downhill pretty quickly in this regard after a promising start! Our next stop, Thirsty Eddie’s, was a lovely bar, though I could have done without a £5 pint of Carlsberg, that’s for sure! It seemed to become almost a standard price across the bars from here on too, though it was certainly better value than our last one….

Thirsty Eddie’s

The Green Man

The guy up the tree!

Feeling somewhat lazy and with Dan wanting to get the most out of his £12-plus ticket, we decided to hop on a bus for the few stops up to Wembley Hill Road where we’d find the Green Man, a pub which seemed to be highly popular with fans from what I gathered from a couple of guides I’d looked at. Our need for something strong was added to by the very random sight of a guy, decked out in a couple of England flags, Union flags and other paraphernalia, dancing away on the road whilst wearing an Arsenal shirt, before casually walking off. As you do, I guess.

Anyway, the Green Man was certainly the one to go to for the action! The beer garden and bar itself was packed out with fans, largely England, and complete with numerous flags along its temporary fence at the back, which blocked off a wooded area behind, though this was navigated numerous times by the group of kids having a kick-about whilst, somewhat skilfully, avoiding knocking any pints flying, so full marks for that! A couple of the young ‘uns where also taking on roles as the referee, which caused confusion and I don’t think the multi-ref system will catch on anytime soon…

After finishing our pints in here (a round of £9.50) and watching a guy scale a tree in the middle of the garden whilst brandishing a flag of St. George, before being greeted with cheers upon his safe descent, we grabbed another bus and headed off towards the far end of town and the foot of the famed “Wembley Way”. Popping into the Double 6 sports bar for a quick one, we opted for a bottle of Budweiser which was, yet again, £5 (that’s the poor value one) before an attempt to get into the neighbouring Wembley Tavern was denied by the door staff on account that the bars all stopped selling alcohol at 1pm, apparently, Clearly, that wasn’t true, though I didn’t care too much, if at all. In fact, it proved a blessing in disguise as it turned out as, after a charge up Wembley Way to the ground and a stop for a programme (£5), Dan and I got separated and this five-minute delay almost proved fatal to our hopes of getting in for the start. The queues were awful, though didn’t seem like they should have taken a good ten minutes to get through and into the ground, so I don’t know what was going on, other than a few people not understanding how the tickets worked.

The Arch

Double 6

Arriving at Wembley in the shadow of Bobby

Once ours were finally scanned and we were inside, Dan headed for his seats immediately, whilst I made a quick pit stop before joining him just as the minute’s applause for the two legendary Ray’s – Wilkins and Wilson – was starting, and it was nice to be in time to be able to pay some sort of respects to them. Following this, the sides were all set to go and I’m not going to waste much time talking about what Wembley’s like, as I’m almost certain everyone has a decent idea! All I will say is that it is like a vast, bowl-like structure that is a lot better than I was expecting before my visit and I definitely look forward to heading back, now I can go to any game there, finally. Non-League Finals day is calling me….

A history lesson for England, you say? Oh, go on then, it might be the last in its current form….

History Lesson:

The England national team began competing back in 1872, when they met Scotland in the first ever international football match, thus making them, obviously, one of the two oldest national sides in existence. The two nations had previously contested a representative match two years earlier too, though this isn’t regularly viewed as an official “international” fixture, as the latter game was the only one of the two that featured independently picked, and operated, squads representing both countries’ FA’s. The following 40 years saw England compete against the other Home Nations (Scotland, Wales and Ireland) in the British Home Championship, with the Three Lions winning the competition on no less than 54 occasions (including 20 shared titles) in all.

Meanwhile, England would play their first matches against sides from outside of the Home Nations in 1908 (having joined FIFA in 1906), on a tour of Central Europe. At this time, England was still a team that played all over the country, and this remained the case through to 1923, when the opening of the Empire (Wembley) Stadium saw them given a more permanent home ground. However, the first of several strained relations with FIFA soon reared its head, resulting in England leaving the organisation in 1928, and thus foregoing the opportunity to compete in the first few World Cups, only competing in their first World Cup tournament in 1950, when they suffered an infamous first-round exit after a 1-0 defeat to the minnows of the United States having re-joined FIFA in 1946.

However, their first defeat against a foreign side had come the previous year, this coming at the hands of the Republic of Ireland – a 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park seeing the Irish take that honour. A couple of tonkings at the hands of the great 1950’s Hungarian side (6-3 at home, 7-1 away) included the side’s record defeat that remains unbeaten to this day. Better days were to come, though, as England reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1954, where they bowed out to defending champions, Uruguay. 1963 saw Alf Ramsey take over from Walter Winterbottom and his appointment saw him become the first manager to pick the side, this having been done by a committee previously. Of course, Ramsey (later Sir) would go on to guide the Three Lions to World Cup glory in 1966, as they overcame West Germany at Wembley to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy on home soil under the captaincy of Bobby Moore, who still stands guard outside the new stadium, immortalised. Geoff Hurst netted a famed hat-trick to seal an extra-time win over the great foes.

Wembley

1968 saw England reach the UEFA European Championship semi-finals where a loss to Yugoslavia saw them bow out before defending their World title in Mexico at the 1970 tournament, where West Germany gained some measure of revenge by knocking out their rivals at the quarter-final stage after extra-time, having previously come back from two-down to level. Failure to qualify for the 1974 tournament saw Ramsey ousted, but things didn’t improve quickly, as England then missed out on the 1978 competition too, only returning come 1982, when Ron Greenwood made sure of their first appearance in 12 long years, and their first competitive qualification for 16 years. However, despite not losing a game, they only lasted until the second group round. The 1986 World Cup saw Bobby Robson (another to later be knighted) in charge and under he, England fared far better, making it to the quarter-finals once more, but they again were ousted by a big rival, Argentina, in the infamous game which featured Diego Maradona’s contrasting brace.

After losing every match at Euro 1988, they finished 4th in the World Cup of 1990, losing out on penalties to the kings of the spot-kicks, West Germany, in the semi-finals (Gazza’s tears upon being carded being the memorable pic from this) before losing to Italy in the 3rd/4th place play-off. They were still awarded bronze medals and were welcomed home as heroes regardless. Things again turned sour come the Euro’s, 1992 seeing England again fail to win a match, drawing with eventual fairytale winners Denmark, and France, before going out to hosts Sweden. The 1990’s saw a turnover of managers, with Robson’s successor Graham Taylor failing to qualify for the ’94 World Cup in the States, before Terry Venables oversaw a run to the semis of Euro ’96, where eventual winners Germany were again the scourge of the English, penalties breaking their hearts once again.

After resigning due to off-field happenings, Glenn Hoddle was installed and guided England to the 1998 World Cup in France, England going out in the second round to Argentina, again on penalties, despite a magical goal by a young Michael Owen. Hoddle departed soon afterwards and was replaced by Kevin Keegan for the run towards Euro 2000, but again England underperformed and his reign ended soon after the tournament ended for the Three Lions. His departure saw the first foreign boss of England arrive, in the form of Sven-Goran Eriksson and the colourful Swede took his new side to the quarters in each of the 2002 World Cup (Ronaldinho’s cross-shot), Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which saw Cristiano Ronaldo become a pariah for a time upon his return to Manchester United for his part in club team-mate Wayne Rooney’s sending off. Despite only losing five games under Eriksson, he was gone at the end of the tournament, with assistant Steve McClaren given the job.

Down Wembley Way

However, McClaren flopped and England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 (the “Wally with a brolly”) with Fabio Capello brought in to replace him. The Italian guided England to a strong qualifying showing for the 2010 World Cup (losing just one game) but again flopped at the main tournament, scraping through the group stage before going out to Germany in the second round by 4-1, their heaviest World Cup loss. It could have been different had Frank Lampard’s goal stood but, let’s be honest, probably not. Capello resigned in 2012 after differences with the FA over the captaincy role at the time (amid allegations of racism) and his replacement eventually turned out to be Roy Hodgson, to the shock of the majority who expected Harry Redknapp to get the job. Hodgson, with a wide range of experience in the International game, as well as at club level, took England to the 2012 Euros, where they finished top of their group but again found a penalty shoot-out difficult to navigate and bowed out to Italy at the quarter-final stage.

After flopping at both the 2014 World Cup (England went out at the group stage for the first time since 1958) and 2016 Euro Championships (struggling through to the last 16 and a defeat to debutants Iceland) despite winning all 10 qualification matches for the latter, Hodgson resigned almost immediately afterwards and was replaced by Sam Allardyce, who left after just one game (a 1-0 win over Slovakia), a ‘breach of rules’ seeing him resign and thus become the shortest serving permanent England manager with a tenure of just 67 days. However, his 100% win rate means he is, statistically, the best England manager ever! Gareth Southgate, the under-21 boss, was installed as temporary boss in 2015, though this became a permanent appointment the following year, and the former England centre-half has guided England through another unbeaten qualification campaign and will take the side to Russia in a few days time, where they will face off against Tunisia, Panama and group heavyweights, Belgium.

The Three Lions have seen a fair amount of success in minor competitions too, these honours include three Rous Cups (1986, ’88 & ’89) – a competition competed for between England, Scotland and, later, a guest side from South America, the 2004 FA Summer Tournament – a preparatory competition before Euro 2004 featuring England, Japan and Iceland, played at the City of Manchester Stadium, the 1997 Tournament of France (Le Tournoi de France) – a mini precursor to the World Cup the following year, this tournament featured England, Brasil, France and Italy, and the 1991 England Challenge Cup which was a week-long tournament played at Wembley and Old Trafford and featured England, Argentina and the USSR. They’ve also won an unofficial 21 Football World Championships, playing out 88 matches as “champions”.

Queues….

View from our vantage point

England got us underway and the hosts wasted little time in going forward. Just six minutes in, Kieran Trippier saw his stinging drive well saved by Nigerian ‘keeper Francis Uzoho and from the resulting corner, Gary Cahill climbed highest to meet a Trippier cross and direct his header into the top-corner, despite the Super Eagles having a defender, whom the ball flew over, on the line. A good start!

The hosts had the best of the play for the majority of the first twenty minutes, seeing a number of forays forward end with shots being blocked by the Nigerian defence, Ashley Young coming closest to doubling the advantage when reaching the angle of the six-yard box only to see another player wearing the glorious Nigerian World Cup kit get himself in the way of the effort. At the other end of the pitch, Odion Ighalo and Brian Idowu looked the most dangerous for the visitors and the former was particularly quick off the mark on numerous occasions, though often a little too quick and was caught offside a number of times during the game. When he wasn’t, though, he received a ball from Idowu and fired in an effort that caused Three Lions’ ‘keeper Jordan Pickford into a decent low stop.

Match Action

Match Action

‘Just like a waving flag…’

England responded to this with Raheem Sterling’s effort flying over the bar, before skipper Harry Kane would double their lead around five minutes before the break, when his drive from outside the area went under the body of Uzoho and nestled in the bottom corner. A poor mistake by the ‘keeper. Nigeria did try to get right back into the game just before the break, with both Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses going close, the latter forcing a save out of Pickford, but they couldn’t find the net and the sides headed in with the hosts looking pretty comfortable, all things considered.

After trying to find some chips in one of the speciality food bars dotted around the sprawling concourse, I gave up and, with time running out, decided to get a Chicken Burger for a whole £6.50. It was a good job I was prepared for the shock, as others may not have been and began hyperventilating! Anyway, after navigating through the crowds – made up of fans of both sides – and back to a dozing Dan in the stands, we were soon all set to go for the second half….and it started with a bang!

Straight from the kick-off, Nigeria went on the attack and after Iwobi and Ighalo both went close, with the Watford striker seeing his shot come back off the upright, Arsenal midfielder Iwobi capitalised on the loose ball and drilled it beyond Pickford and into the bottom corner to send the Nigerian fans (especially those grouped together behind that goal) into something of a frenzy. Great scenes from their fans who created a good atmosphere throughout, though wasn’t as loud for us down the opposite end. We did have the band, though.

Match Action

A pretty full Wembley….bar that bit there.

Match Action

The Super Eagles continued to pile on the pressure and went close from a pair of corners, before England broke away and Sterling looked to be in the clear and one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but inexplicably dived and was duly carded. Why would you do it in a friendly? Practicing technique, perhaps? Who knows, but it was seemingly pretty pointless to us up in the higher reaches of Wembley. Moses responded by shooting wide for Nigeria too, before the steady stream of subs began to disrupt the flow of the game as it so often does.

John Mikel Obi and Marcus Rashford both went close for their respective sides, Obi’s shot on-target and Rashford’s going narrowly wide of the far post, whilst the Manchester United forward again went close with five minutes remaining, his looping header ending up on the roof of the net. That was pretty much that and a pretty entertaining game (by usual standards!) came to a close with England securing a comfortable enough victory, though Nigeria looked like a game side too, who can create regular problems for teams in below the “elite” sides.

A quick exit back past Bobby Moore was made whilst being swept along by the crowds back along Wembley Way and to the Park underground station. I made it just in time before the station was briefly put into crowd control, catching Dan at the foot of the stairs. This made little impact on our journey, though a non-planned change at Baker Street made things a little more hectic than they ought to have been. Regardless, a change was made with little issue and we were back in the Doric Arch in time for a swift one before the train back.

The journey back was an easy one as per, despite both of us and the lad who joined us at Milton Keynes being confused as to why we were stopping at Nuneaton (which I’ve never done before on this route) whilst also getting onto conversing about the local cricketing scenes and the ‘Father Ted’ episodes. Many catchphrases and scenes were re-enacted up until Stockport when we bid goodbye to our companion whilst Dan and I continued on through to Piccadilly, where he rushed off to get some late-evening shopping. I was off “shopping” too, ending in a usual place. Ah, the Tap, a perfect way to sign off any trip!

So, Wembley is finally in the books and “ticked”. It was great to get there after so long and at least the game was decent and goals were seen (48 and counting since a nil-nil, which is shocking to me considering the amount of higher-level games I’ve been to this year). Pubs were all good (not too overly pricey) whilst the chicken burger was good, if steeply priced. Programme was a good read, as expected and the travel all went well enough too. No complaints once again, it was a better experience than I expected and now just the one game remains. A carnival featuring ties….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Edinburgh (Murrayfield)

Result: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 St. Johnstone (Scottish Premiership)

Venue: Murrayfield (Saturday 21st October 2017, 3pm)

Att: 18,534

Having only fairly recently delved into the delights of the Scottish leagues, it’s all still a bit new to me in terms of grounds and games I’ve seen North of the border. One ground I hadn’t considered being a “tick” any time soon was Murrayfield, known for being the home of the egg-shaped ball game in Scotland. But, when it became apparent that the new main stand at Tynecastle wasn’t going to meet its scheduled opening date, the announcement of a few Hearts fixtures being played across the way certainly peaked my interest. Indeed, it was an opportunity not to miss and so I was off to the Caledonian capital for the second time this year, though Tynecastle still evades me, following the diversion to Edinburgh City’s Meadowbank in April and now this change of venue. Will it ever happen?!

Onto the day at hand and an early-ish start was undertaken, with me catching the quarter-to-nine train from Manchester through to Edinburgh’s Waverley station. Once here, I would be meeting up with Sheridan (of Stadium Trotter fame), his mate “Skinner” (perhaps of some fame I’m ignorant to) and Rob (of Warrington Town fame). Having changed through Lancaster and onto the Virgin Train carriage that would take me up to Edinburgh, the final two-and-a-quarter hour trip was undertaken without much issue, bar a slight delay outside Haymarket whilst in the shadow of Tynecastle Park’s shiny new construction and the towering stands of Murrayfield. Tease.

Eventually, we were on the move and I headed out onto the streets to find the group of lads who gave me the standard meeting point of a ‘Spoons. Despite having been given point-to-point directions by Sheridan on how to find them, I still managed to turn the wrong way and get lost, though this mishap did at least allow me to experience the famed Scotsman’s Steps. This may seem a fabricated case of getting lost, but I can definitely confirm it wasn’t! Eventually, I found my way to the ‘Spoons, spotted the lads and joined them as they headed off on a sight-seeing tour of the city’s attractions.

Scotsman Steps & equally famed Scotsman Bins.

Portuguese Cannon

Looking out over Edinburgh

After a spot of this at the combined Nelson’s Monument & National Monument site with the fine views out over the Firth of Forth (which prompted some artsy photo opportunities, especially in Skinner’s case) and the City, which Rob likened to both Colne and Runcorn, I had to leave the guys to their devices and head back down into the city where I would be meeting Dan off the train. Of course, I couldn’t just wait around in the station and I was feeling a little dry in the throat, so a few visits to the local watering holes were in order too. First up was the Inn on the Mile which proved a costly stop-off with the pint of Hop House in here setting me back the princely sum of £4.95. I guess that’s somewhat fitting, considering it is on the Royal Mile after all!

After polishing off the pint in there, it was time to brave the drizzle and head up towards the castle which was still bringing me closer to the ground. After another case of trying to avoid all the strange sights and sounds around the area (today included a guy cosplaying as the mythical half-man, half-horse creature I can’t remember the name of, a person “floating” while holding only a stick and a “Braveheart”-inspired warrior), I eventually found my way down a level and to the Last Drop pub, notable for being the apparent site where the condemned would stay prior to their hanging. However, today’s welcome was far more warm and I came away with a Tennent’s (£4.50), whilst waiting for Dan to arrive (though I’d later learn he’d taken a page out of my book and taken a wrong turn, requiring a taxi to save him).

Inn on the Mile

Heading to the Castle

Last Drop

Eventually, Dan did come into view and we decided to have our one and only pint in the “Smallest bar in Scotland”, Biddy Mulligan’s. Though this may have been true and some stage in the hostelry’s history, it certainly isn’t the case now, the small doorways hiding a large, sprawling interior.  Unless I’ve gone wrong and ended up in the wrong pub, which is a distinct possibility with me, of course! It was, however, a very popular drinking spot on this day and so another pint of Tennent’s was had before the trip over to the ground was upon us. An aborted walk and a short cab ride later, we arrived at the turnstiles of Murrayfield. Tickets scanned and programme bought (£3.50), we headed through the outdoor concourse and past the clock tower, before climbing the stairs up to stadium level. Here, the ground opened up in front of us and it was quite the sight.

Murrayfield dates from 1925 (1995 in current form) and is two-tiered all the way around, though only one stand was in full use today (the East Stand we were in, with the opposite West and South side hosting the remainder of the home support. Indeed, the latter’s upper tier also played host to a large flag, declaring in a foreboding manner “Blood doesn’t show on a Maroon jersey”. The travelling St. Johnstone fans were located opposite, behind the right-hand goal.

Arriving at Murrayfield

Going up…

As well as Hearts, Murrayfield was played host to both Hibernian and Celtic with both Edinburgh clubs having welcomed Barcelona to the ground in pre-season games. Celtic, meanwhile, played at Murrayfield whilst their Celtic Park home was busy hosting events in the Commonwealth Games of 2014. So before we get into the second of the planned trio of Hearts matches at the venue this season, here’s a brief history of the Jam Tarts, the full one will be saved for the (hopefully eventual) trip to Tynecastle Park. Sorry to disappoint…

History Lesson:

Heart of Midlothian F.C. was formed in 1874 by a group of friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club. In short, a dancing club. After brief stints at the Meadows, Powburn and Powderhall, the club has played at Tynecastle (the name deriving from the Tynecastle Tollhouse at the entrance to the grounds of Merchiston) in the Gorgie area of Edinburgh since 1886 and have won the Scottish Championship on four occasions (1895, 1897, 1958 & 1960). Hearts have also finished as league runners-up on a further fourteen occasions and lifted eight Scottish Cups (1891, ’96, 1901, ’06, ’56, ’98, 2006 & 2012) along with four Scottish League Cups (1954, ’58, ’59 & ’62).

The period between the 50’s and ’60’s was the most successful in the club’s history, with the Jambos lifting seven trophies during this period. 1958 also saw Hearts become the third Scottish (and fifth British) side to compete in European competition. The highest point of their Euro campaigns came in 1989, when they lost out in the UEFA Cup’s quarter-finals to German giants Bayern Munich by 2-1 on aggregate.

Mascot geeing up the crowd

Alongside the above “major” honours, Hearts have also won numerous other competitions throughout their history, including two second-tier league titles in 1980 & 2015. They have also won, in the past, two Edinburgh Football League titles in 1895 & ’96, seven East of Scotland League titles (1897, ’98, ’99, 1900, ’04, ’05 & 1906), the Inter City Football League in 1902 & 1903 and a couple of further cup honours in the form of two Festival Cup triumphs in 2003 & 2004. Last season saw Hearts finish up in 5th place in the Scottish Premiership.

The game got underway and, if I’m honest, this will be a short “match report” due to the fact that VERY little happened during this contest, despite a bright opening to the game from both sides. Despite this, St. Johnstone soon appeared to be content to settle in for a draw and Hearts began to seize what initiative there was, with Kyle Lafferty & Christophe Berra both going close with headed efforts.

However that really was where the action ended during the first half, with both sides seemingly unable to find their targets with the more expansive pass attempts and, on occasion, the more simple of tasks. Dan and I both began to resign ourselves to a goalless game, with one looking highly unlikely between two evenly matched sides. One interesting sidenote, though, was Prince Buaben – an ex-Trafford FC Reserves player who was (apparently) scouted by Dundee United. Dan remembered seeing him play at the Manchester club, though I missed his initial time South of the border.

Match Action

Match Action

Tangent over and onto the second half which didn’t have much to do to improve on the first. Be that as it may, it only just managed it. Jamie Walker was instrumental in what chances were created by the Jambos, though that cutting edge seemed to still be lacking. The contest continued on towards its final fifteen minutes, with little to get the excitement going. Until Lafferty popped up.

The experienced frontman picked up a weak, wayward shot from distance, controlled and turned before firing in a low effort that was deflected beyond the rooted Alan Mannus and into the bottom corner. Nil-nil averted (though only for a further three days as it turned out) and we celebrated just as much as those around us who had a far more partisan viewpoint!

Close

Celebrations

Match Action

The next action came with the last kick of the game and it was the home side who had the chance to add gloss to the scoreline, that would have definitely made the game seem far better than it was. Walker again was the creator, triggering a counter attack against the outnumbered St. Johnstone attack and sub Harry Cochrane ran onto it, advanced into the area and hit a rasping drive that beat Mannus, but crashed against the upright and clear. This was the signal for the ref to end the game and give Hearts the points they deserved over the ninety, as I hardly remember a chance the visitors mustered.

Heading back out the ground, we met back up with the group, which now included the late addition, Gibbo, and we were headed for the Tynecastle Arms for a final pre-train pint (for Dan and myself, anyway). Dan was entrusted with getting us there, having lived in this area of Edinburgh briefly a number of years ago, but it soon became apparent we were not on the right track and we eventually ended up in the interestingly name Foxy Fiddler, just around the corner from Haymarket station. A big bonus was the fine Blue Moon being available on draught, and a drink costing less than £4 was highly welcomed.

Heading back out of Murrayfield

Our feelings on the game summed up….Beer!

Soon enough, it was time for us to depart and having bid goodbye to the entourage who were mostly staying on for the Hampden semi-final the next day, Dan and I headed for Haymarket where we’d board our train through to Manchester, just the three hours away….

Eventually arriving at just before half-nine, it was a short wait for my connection before getting home nicely in time for the F1 quali in Austin. On that note, how to sum up the day. Well, it was good to spend it with a group this time and to meet the Southern contingent! The game was, sadly, very poor and I’d have probably been more disappointed had it been played at the Jambos’ regular home. The fact it was at Murrayfield, though, did lessen this feeling of angst. So that’s Scottish ground #4 done (though one was Berwick, does it count Scots?) and having done Edinburgh twice now, I feel like I’ve neglected another stronghold. Glasgow next, anyone?

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 7

Food: N/A (all outsourced food trailers)

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Newton Heath (Ten Acres Lane)

Result: AVRO 7-1 Elton Vale (Manchester League Premier Division)

Venue: Ten Acres Lane (Saturday 4th March 2017, 2.30pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

Here we go again. Yet another wet week meant I once more found myself looking at fixture lists and trying to pick out any random 3G venues that may be thrown up. Sadly, the vast majority were ruled out quickly as per them not meeting my strict minimum criteria (see Royton Town for that)! But then, from the darkness, a shining beacon of hope came forth to light the way. This was in the form of AVRO FC of the Manchester League and their alternative home venue at Ten Acres Lane. Saviours!

As such, the Newton Heath located complex would be my visited venue for the weekend with a lower-end-of-the-table Premier Division clash between AVRO and Elton Vale the feature. Now to be honest, after the terrible weather of the prior week which blighted the aforementioned trip up to Royton, I was somewhat apprehensive of actually going to the game, with a slight cold not aiding the part of me pushing to go. But with bright sunlight greeting me on the morning of the fixture, I figured I might as well go as it wasn’t exactly breaking the bank.

After catching the bus through to Manchester and the, ahem, glorious Piccadilly Gardens, I was soon en route up towards the Ten Acres Sports Complex. But, of course, there had to be a stop on the way and, luckily, the bus to the ground stopped right outside the nearest pub to the ground: the Bradford Inn in Miles Platting, around a five minutes bus ride away. It looked easy. I couldn’t miss it. Oh, hang on. It’s me, isn’t it? Of course I could miss it and I did. Shocker.

Bradford Inn

The strangely priced pint.

After a quick backtrack I was soon back at the pub and headed in. The Bradford is your quintessential estate establishment with the usual locals you’d expect within. Nothing bad there, though, as it all makes for an experience. I couldn’t complain about the price either, a pint of Joseph Holt’s Crystal Gold costing the strange amount of £2.41, which was swiftly handed over to the friendly woman behind the bar, after a double check on the price!

To be honest, there was little to report on in here, as the Manchester Utd-Bournemouth game had just gone through the break and the big talking points had already dissipated within by the point I arrived and, with the clock nearing the reported kick-off time of 2pm, I decided I ought to go grab the bus onwards.

After disembarking at the foot of Ten Acres Lane itself, it’s only a short walk to the gates of the complex, where I was surprised to find a large crowd awaiting the fixture from my viewpoint on the road. All looked set for a good atmosphere, though I reckoned it looked too good to be true. Sadly, it was as the vast majority were there to watch a kids tournament finish up. It also quickly became apparent that the two-o’clock kick-off wasn’t going to happen. Argh.

Arriving at Ten Acres Lane.

The late, great Johan Cruyff’s wise words.

After the young’uns had completed their games and headed off along with pretty much everyone else there at that point, it finally allowed the two teams onto the pitch. I said a quick “hello” to AVRO’s Matt Landregan who I know, somewhat, from his time at Trafford before he went to get on with the pre-match routines. With nowhere really to go, I was left to watch the warm-ups in full which I never find the most thrilling of tasks. Even the sun had disappeared behind some rather grey clouds by this point and all looked to be on a bit of a downer.

Eventually, the two finished their preparations, with one AVRO defender revealing he was wearing the number 3 shirt to some amusement from a couple of guys watching, before he then anointed himself “Maldini” for the next 90 minutes! The referees soon joined the teams before going through a boot check, making sure the goals were taped up securely and a minutes silence for (I presume) the Elton Vale secretary who sadly passed away in the week leading up to the game. Then, at 2.38pm, we were eventually underway!

I won’t go through AVRO’s history again, as this can be found in my blog about my visit to their usual Broadway home here. (NB: The club will be moving from here shortly, with Oldham Boro’s old Whitebank Stadium becoming their new ground.)

Ten Acres Lane is your normal, bland, artificial venue. There is one paved, railed area for spectators running the length of the Sports Centre side of the pitch, though you can head all the way around the cage (pretty much) if the gates are open, as the small path is fairly firm underfoot. But, as for any real distinguishable features? You won’t find any here. It is the home of the National Taekwondo Centre, though, so there is that, I guess.

Match Action

Match Action

Anyway, I digress. Back onto on-field matters and the early part of the contest seemed to suggest this would be a close contest between the third-bottom and second-bottom sides respectively. It was AVRO who struck first, though, with the tall centre-mid Michael Stockdale getting clear of the defence before slotting beyond the Vale ‘keeper.

Elton Vale, though, struck back quickly with a great strike by Jack Barlow who, after inheriting the ball off the back of some questionable defending, advanced towards the edge of the area before unleashing a tremendous effort which flew across the helpless home custodian and into the top corner. A great goal to level up the scores but this high point was never to come close to being matched, sadly, for the visitors.

After a period of stalemate in the game, the hosts missed a good chance to retake the lead when some very abject defending gifted the ball to Stockdale who was only denied a second by a decent goal-line block, which made some amends for the earlier error that led to the opener.

However, AVRO then had one of those match deciding spells wherein they managed to find the net three times within the space of around five minutes. Firstly, the impressive #7, Mason Dunkerley (?)  drove a low shot under the ‘keeper for 2-1, before netting a second shortly after from around the edge of the area (I’m guessing as I only saw the ball in the net!). The #9, James Hampson, then got in on the act, being released through the defence to fire under the advancing, under-fire, ‘keeper.

At Close Quarters!

Match Action

Elton Vale, understandably, looked deflated by now and letting a fifth in before the break would have done little to help matters, as Hampson grabbed his second of the game benefitting from another error in the defence which allowed Landregan to lay it on a plate for his strike partner. Half-Time: 5-1. The previous time I had this score-line at the interval was at Brentford-Eastleigh in early January and on that occasion, no further goals were added. I hoped this wasn’t to be the case again!

After spending half-time having a quick peruse of the corridor in a vain search for “facilities”, I remained in the warmth of the entrance atrium taking a welcome relief from the surprisingly bracing wind before the second half got underway, refraining from purchasing refreshments from the vending machines on account they were twice the price of the tea bar at Royton the previous week. There it was 50p for a tea. I’m tight like that, you see!

With the second half underway, I headed back up the steps to the pitch to watch what amounted to little more than two teams looking to see out the rest of the game. AVRO did add a sixth around fifteen minutes in, when Stockdale again found himself clear in the box and he confidently clipped the ball over the diving ‘keeper and into the far side-netting. Clinical.

The paved spectators’ area

Match Action

In the far distance, Stockdale nets his second!

With very little to speak of in the way of chances, the game did get a bit boring with only some showboating and skillage (yes, it is a word ok?) keeping the watching crowds (Elton Vale-inclined spectators probably not included) entertained, especially a group of youths near me who took great delight in either celebrating them when they worked, or mocking them when they didn’t. Savage. Anyway, a late strike was added by Landregan as he chipped the ball over the oncoming GK with class, much to the delight of the youths before the ref brought the contest to a close at a stonking 7-1.

After congratulating Matt on his goal and the win, I departed in haste to head down the road once more to grab the bus back, just about avoiding the oncoming rain. Soon back in Manchester, another kind bus change saw me soon heading home, again dodging the occasional heavy showers on the way. Not too bad a day, really, for a game on a bland pitch in the midst of a sports complex. However, back onto the “real” ground trail next week with a trip to another ground that will soon be lost….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 2

Food: N/A (bar vending machines)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Salford (AJ Bell Stadium)

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Result: Manchester City EDS 1-3 Derby County u23 (Premier League Cup)

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium (Wednesday 25th January 2017, 7pm)

Att: 200 (approx.)

After experiencing the bonus of a free League 1 game at Oldham the previous evening, Wednesday night threw up the opportunity to double up. Yes that’s right, two free games in two nights! Crazy scenes all over the shop. Following the late move of the game to the AJ Bell, home of the Salford Red Devils & Sale Sharks, Man City announced it would be free admission and I’m not one to miss out on such an offer!

I decided to walk the three-plus miles to the ground and was soon to discover this was a great choice. The reason? The traffic. The traffic was awful, so much so that blog regular Dan, who’d set off an hour earlier than me, didn’t even make the game due to the backlog of public transport. No such issues for me luckily and I arrived at the ground with around 20 minutes to kick-off. As such, I took advantage of the Barley Farm pub on the lane leading to the stadium itself for a quick pint of Strongbow (£3.50).

The Barley Mow

The Barley Farm

Arriving at the AJ Bell

Arriving at the AJ Bell

The Barley farm is a nice, carvery-style pub and has a more than comfortable feel to it. Alas, I had to move on swiftly and after a further few minutes walk finally arrived at the turnstiles where I was granted entry along with a complimentary team-sheet. Nice.

This was to be the second time I was to witness a football match at the ground, following a u21 game a few years back between United and Fulham’s up and comers. I have also been there for my one and only (so far) club rugby game as I visited for a Sale Sharks game around a year ago. The ground itself is a new-build, but one I feel has a bit of character to it. It’s large main stand (the only one in use this evening) is all seater, with a smaller seated stand facing it. This also houses the scoreboard. Both ends are covered terracing.

I exited the other side of the gate to find the players out on the pitch and set to get underway. I quickly headed up into the sparsely populated stand and soon saw misfortune, with City’s left-back Erik Sarmiento going down on the far side without contact from another player. You could immediately see he was in strife and the Spaniard was sadly stretchered from the field.

City were the dominant force in the first-half, with sub Joe Hardy going close after entering the fray, forcing a save from Henrich Ravas in the County net before he soon made amends by slotting an effort into the far corner. It did, however, take around 20 minutes for the scoreboard to record this moment!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Red seats. Awkward.

Red seats. Awkward.

To be honest, though, chances were at a premium for both sides, despite City looking comfortable and the game being a decent watch. However, towards the end of the half, Derby should have been level when Alex Babos got his head on a fine Jayden Bogle cross but only found the woodwork. Bogle looked a really good player by the way, always posing a threat down the right and defending well when called upon too. Half-Time, 1-0.

The break meant a chance to finally test the food on offer here in Salford. A Chicken Balti pukka-pie was the taken option (£3.30) and it was the standard issue as you might expect. One thing to point out is, if you want to keep a bottled drink for later, don’t buy one here. Your lid will be removed as one woman found out, much to her chagrin. Anyway, no such worries for me and the second half was soon underway as the air around Barton got steadily chillier.

On the concourse

On the concourse

The Derby ultras arrive

The Derby ultras arrive

Derby came out for the second half and looked a completely different side to the team who’d contested the first period. Taking the attack to City and showing bags of confidence, it was little surprise when the Rams levelled. Following a swift attack a left-wing ball in found the head of the impressive Emil Jakobsen, whose effort was well kept out by Daniel Grimshaw, only for the loose ball to fall at the grateful feet of Kellan Gordon and he slotted home.

Derby were now well and truly in the ascendancy and soon went ahead through Jakobsen. The striker got on the end of a chipped through-ball and flicked it beyond Grimshaw, the ball slowly rolling into the bottom corner. Surprisingly, on the evening’s evidence, that was his first of the season!

Match Action

Match Action

Bennett nets from the spot!

Bennett nets from the spot!

Main Stand at the close of the game.

Main Stand at the close of the game.

City just couldn’t get a foothold back in the game and their chances of a result were killed off with ten minutes remaining when Babos was hauled down in the area and Mason Bennett stepped up to confidently smash his spot-kick beyond the City stopper and complete a fine showing from the Rams. Full-time 1-3 to the visitors, which surely sent their one fan with the flag home happy.

As for me, it was another hour’s walk home and the end of something that hadn’t truly been seen yet this season. Multiple mid-week games! Needless to say, it won’t be a common theme. As it is, I always enjoy a visit to the AJ Bell, especially with Barton Bridge towering above in the background giving it something a bit different. Just the Reds to go to complete the set…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: Teamsheet.

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Manchester (Manchester Central FC)

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Result: Manchester Central 1-2 Beechfield United (Manchester League Division 1)

Venue: Manchester Regional Arena (Saturday 31st December 2016, 1pm)

Att: 28 (hc)

The last game of the year comes on the last day of the year. Who says football has to stop at all? Not me, that’s for sure! In fact there shouldn’t be multiple leagues, there should just be one huge division where every club plays each other at their own behest, whenever and wherever they want. No, I’m just kidding. But could you imagine the utter carnage? Oh, er, where was I again…? Ah, yes! The Regional Athletics Arena was the NYE party venue of choice. The event? The reborn Manchester Central versus Beechfield United in the Manchester League Division 1.

With an early afternoon kick-off (1pm) scheduled, thus an early-ish start was needed. After beginning the journey on the much-loved replacement bus service into Manchester Piccadilly, my first task was to secure tickets down to London for next week. I’ll leave you in suspense regarding the destination for now, just for the drama. Anyway, with tickets eventually sorted, I headed out onto the mean streets of Manchester City Centre before taking refuge in the, previously infamous, B Lounge.

To the City

To the City

'B Lounge'

‘B Lounge’

The Bank

The Bank

After being nice and changing my order as to not rush a barrel change, I soon downed a Coors ahead of moving down towards Market Street where I was to meet Dan. Before leaving though, I was wished a “Happy New Year” by one of the bar staff which, incidentally, was the only time this happened during the day. So, cheers for that!

Next stop was The Bank which, you may have guessed, is housed within an old bank. The big plus point in here though, wasn’t the décor. Nor was it the carpets as, you know, it’s not a Wetherspoons. It is, however, a free house and there was Punk IPA on draught. Oh, the joys! The £4.80 price tag was actually not that bad, considering what I was expecting but there was little going on here and Dan had informed me he’d arrived in town. However, I’d be slightly delayed in meeting him due to the spotting of a ‘Spoons right next door to the uni buildings. The Waterhouse actually had Asahi, the Japanese beer, on and so it was third time lucky in getting a pint of it, following two previous failed attempts. It wasn’t bad either but, sadly, there wasn’t much time to enjoy it.

Manchester

Manchester

He's still there!

He’s still there!

The Waterhouse

The Waterhouse

After meeting Dan over in Market Street, I decided I’d be nice and give him the option of where we should visit next. The choice was the historic Mr. Thomas’ Chop House or the underground bar Corbières, which had last been visited almost a year to the day previously as part of a Lost Boyos-inspired tour of the city ahead of Manchester United vs Swansea City. Anyway, Dan plumped for the latter only for us to soon discover it was still shut for another 20 minutes. As it happened, the Chop House was just round the corner and…well, you can probably guess what happened.

Of course, after a quick pint of Amstel in the Chop House, I still reckoned it’d be polite to honour Dan’s decision and head to Corbières. After assuring Dan there was nothing dodgy on his horizon, we headed down into the underworld for a couple of halves. With time against us, though, we had to be swift and headed back to Piccadilly for our respective transports; me on the tram, Dan on the bus. A mini Top Gear-esque challenge was on! Not the shitty new version ones though.

Chop House

Chop House

Corbieres

Corbieres

As it happened, I was defeated due to the walk up from the stop and arrived at the Etihad Campus with around 10 minutes to kick-off. The Regional Athletics Arena sits right alongside its more famed big sister and currently plays home to Manchester’s ‘third’ club. It had been the home of Northwich Manchester Villa over the last season prior to their demise. Some fun was had with Gibbo exploring unknown indoor arenas during a visit there earlier this year!

The Manchester Regional Arena must be the largest amateur ground in (at least) the area, as I think the likes of Millmoor and the Withdean are still used on occasion. It is an all-seater, multi-purpose ground that was previously home to the Manchester City Women’s team and some youth teams before the construction of the Academy. It does have an athletics track surrounding the pitch, but this doesn’t really matter as you can pretty much walk around as you please. Three stands, the two sides and left hand end, are of similar size, with the right-hand stand being the large and offering good views over the pitch. As for Manchester Central FC…

History Lesson:

The name of Manchester Central was originally used by a club playing at Alexandra Park during the late 1800’s. According to Central it is, therefore, unlikely that Newton Heath did, in fact, consider the name for their name change prior to becoming Manchester United and there is no real factual evidence to say they ever did, only written hearsay from later historical pieces. The original club folded around the turn of the century.

The more famed Manchester Central were originally formed in 1928 by a Manchester City director and the owner of Belle Vue Leisure Park, with the pair feeling East Manchester needed a League club following MCFC’s departure from the area. The club played at the Belle Vue Athletics/Speedway Stadium and originally joined the Lancashire Combination. After a 7th placed finish they applied for the Football League, but failed to achieve a place.

History

History

After finishing as ’29-’30 Combination runners-up another failed Football League application followed, this despite the fact the club were getting crowds around the 8,000 mark at times. The following year saw a third application be unsuccessful and the club pulled out of the Combination to focus on the Cheshire County League, where their reserve side was competing.

But drama followed. After later being accepted for a Third Division North place later that close season following Wigan Borough’s resignation, they were subsequently denied once more by a complaint by United and City, who said a third Manchester club would be detrimental to the overall support. Following this, the original Central resigned from the Cheshire County League after a single season and folded soon after.

They're back!

They’re back!

Central then went missing from the history books through until 2015 when the club “reformed” as a youth-based outfit, fielding u21’s as the top age group. Their first fixture for 84 years was against Irlam in the Cheshire u21 League. After largely playing at Platt Lane during their first season, the club decided to move into the Regional Athletics Arena, alongside the City of Manchester Stadium, and enter an open-age outfit into the Manchester League Division 1. They currently sit in 4th.

New club, familiar venue

New club, familiar venue

After heading through the gate, I was immediately greeted with the non-league dogs duo (minus dogs this time, shockingly) which is always a good bonus, especially when it comes to being awarded a sticker! The game got underway and it isn’t much of an understatement to say the first half was the better of the two. All the action came during it, beginning with Central taking the lead fairly early on, Cory Knight coolly slotting beyond the visiting GK. 1-0.

Around five minutes later and we were all square once more. Beechfield had begun to really get going after a sluggish start and earned a free-kick. The resulting ball in was headed into the net from the centre of goal by Kurtis Lee and it was all to play for again. Despite the equaliser, though, it was Central that looked to be the more likely of the two sides to retake the lead.

Early Stages

Watching intently…

Match Action

Match Action

Pen save

Pen save

However, with around 35 minutes played, it was Beechfield who would turn it around, Lee’s second of the game securing them the lead at the break. This was despite the fact Central missed a great chance to level the scores right at the end of the half, a penalty being fairly comfortably kept out by the Beechfield #1. Half-Time: 1-2.

To be honest, it was mostly a case of Beechfield being really solid and taking their chances, with Central guilty of being wasteful in good positions. However, the second half saw little of anything in the way of chances. The only two of note I can think of was an effort flying over for the hosts and a fine save by the Central ‘keeper with around 15 to play to keep his side in the contest.

From a distance

From a distance

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As it was, there was to be no addition to the score-line and it was the Salford-based club who ran out the deserved victors in this clash. After bidding goodbye to NLD, Dan and I headed back into Manchester, once again in competition with myself coming out on top on this occasion due to our journeys taking us back to Piccadilly for more ticket purchases. This one is for a Scottish team who have, in their old guise, played in England before folding. Any guesses?

Anyway, that was that. A good day out and about around Manchester and a half-decent game to boot. It was then swiftly home ahead of getting ready for the celebrations later in the evening. Next up on Monday is a trip to wherever the weather allows…!!

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RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Programme: N/A

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 4

Manchopper in….Blackpool (Stanley Park Oval)

160px-Squires_Gate_FC_logoWanderers_Football_Club_badge

Result: Squires Gate 4-0 Wanderers (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Stanley Park Oval (Saturday 9th July 2016, 12.30pm)

Att: 60

A Saturday that was to be a run-of-the-mill visit to a local club became something far and away from that intention. This was down to this very friendly, whose existence became apparent just a couple of weeks earlier and considering both the venue, the Athletics stadium within Blackpool’s Stanley Park and the visitors, the Wanderers. The Wanderers are 5-time FA Cup winners (as well as the inaugural victors) and on a visit up from London, so what was there to oppose heading to the seaside?

Nothing was the answer though but during the earlier than usual journey into Manchester, I was slightly concerned by the high volume of water being dumped upon this part of the North West and hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t the same on the coast. As it turned out, it was slightly better up there and along with blog regular Dan, I boarded our lovely Northern Rail carriage and off we set for the lights and sights of Blackpool.

After the peace of the journey had been shattered by a large family group, we were rather relieved to be able to escape into the seaside air and heading out onto the streets, our initial stop being one of the town’s Northern Wetherspoon’s. We first came upon the Layton Rakes, a short walk from Blackpool North station and so we escaped the rain for a while and headed inside for a much needed beverage.

Landmarks

Landmarks

The Layton Rakes

The Layton Rakes (beige building)

A quick Punk IPA/Carlsberg combo later and we were heading towards our match venue, the Stanley Park Oval Stadium. The Park is about a half-hour’s walk from the front, though it’s a rather pleasant trip, for the most part, though we were rather put off by one unfortunately named hairdressers (it bore the name of a questionable group beginning with an I).

Eventually, and with the rain becoming more intermittent, we arrived at the park gates and after a short walk over a slightly overgrown pitch and putt range, we arrived at our ground to the welcome sight of both teams going through their pre-match motions. Gaining entry through a gate (all above board, it was free entry), we made sure to purchase a, commendably up to date, programme for £1.50.

The Oval itself houses just one stand, but it is a mighty impressive structure, towering over the running track and providing much needed cover from the fine British summer weather. Other than that, there isn’t anything else to speak of, with the rest of the venue being flanked by grass and the odd, slightly raised grass mound. As for history, this is where I’d usually go into the home club’s history, but having already done Squires Gate, I’ll just say they finished up in a lowly P19 last season. A deeper look into the history of the club can be found within the blog here.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park

Our "turnstile" for the day

Our “turnstile” for the day

Handshakes

Handshakes

So, onto the game. With the rain teeming down once more during the pre-match team photos, it seemed quite fitting that both match mascots were, according to the programme, called Noah. If the rain got worse, we might just have had to make use of their namesake’s skills. Happily though, the rain died off for the game but not before the first goal had gone in. Just 20 seconds after the first whistle, Jamie Gibson broke clear and finished easily. 1-0.

Four minutes later and it was two. This time, the scoring honour would go to Alex McKendrick, who ran onto a through ball and rounded the beleaguered Wanderers ‘keeper before knocking the ball home. It looked like it could be a big scoreline, but Wanderers did get themselves going and began to offer some resistance and the odd threat going forward, but it always looked likely Gate would net again.

The rest of the half slowed down somewhat after the rocket start, with only a couple of good chances presenting themselves. But, on the stroke of the break, Gate did net their third with Ryan Riley chipping over the on rushing GK. Unfortunately, I missed this one, as I was intently following the F1 qualifying for the British GP that I was heading to the next day.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Getting a block in

Ready to fire

As it was, the game fell victim to what a lot of pre-season games suffer from and that is the stop-start nature of the second halves. With a never ending stream of substitutes making their way to and from the field at regular intervals, it prevents any sort of flow from truly developing. Despite this, though, Squires Gate did find the back of the net twice more, only for both to be ruled out (much to my chagrin, as I caught both on camera). With five to play, they eventually found a fair way past the inspired Wanderers second half custodian, Riley netting his second with a fizzing drive to round off the 4-0 win.

Offside....

Offside….

After saying a quick greeting to the home of non-league canines and Richard, it was time to depart, after making my own canine acquaintance (I can’t remember the boy’s name though, but I do remember it was slightly feminine too). Before we did completely leave, though, we made our way over to neighbouring Blackpool CC for about 10 overs of their delayed game vs Darwen CC (which BCC won by 90 runs). We were royally entertained with a few wickets and some big hitting and have already pledged to visit properly at some point in the near future.

Blackpool CC

Blackpool CC

Pavilion

Pavilion

As we made our way back down to the town centre, we came upon the strange sight of a dance troupe and Darth Vader flanked by a pair of Stormtroopers. As Darth was attacked by a sex doll, we made our way to relative safety in the shape of the, reputably haunted, Frenchman’s Cove pub complete with Pirate outside. A pricey bottle of Miller’s later and we were back on our way to Blackpool’s main rail terminus with plenty of time in hand. But, Dan and I agreed it isn’t a trip to the town without a foray on the prom.

Dan was apprehensive of this, due to the well documented sights and sounds of the hen and stag do’s that frequent the bars and clubs here, with occasional blogger Paul texting his own warning of this to me while the game was still ongoing. Needless to say, one giant inflatable penis later and we were happy to take refuge in the station building, before setting off on our way back.

Frenchman's Cove

Frenchman’s Cove

Gone to the Dark Side

Gone to the Dark Side

Along the front

Along the front

There’s a lot to Blackpool that I’ve yet to personally uncover (some of which I don’t wish to), and with trips to Wren Rovers and Blackpool FC still to happen, I await with bated breath what’s still to come. Hopefully no more dodgy inflatables….

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RATINGS:

Game: 6-  Four goals, decent enough & interesting opposition.

Ground: 4- Nice stand, not much else.

Programme: 8- Well put together, good content and, as I said, right up to date.

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 6- Different venue (though a Blackpool Euro-something team play there), interesting game, few goals, sexy time for Vader.

 

Manchopper in….Timperley (Altrincham FC Reserves)

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Result: Altrincham Reserves 1-4 Irlam Reserves (Cheshire League 2)

Venue: Clay Lane (Wednesday 14th May 2015, 7pm)

Att: 35 (hc)

I wasn’t really planning on attending a game during the week if I’m honest, despite having toyed with the idea of going to this very match when it was to be played at the hosts usual home at Banky Lane, Mersey Valley Sports Club. But, on the Tuesday evening, I saw the game had been moved to Clay Lane and, upon further inspection, I noted the ground met my requirement of a barred off pitch, thus constituting a “ground” in my book. So, I was away and to the beaches.

Well, the beaches may not have actually existed, but I was determined, nonetheless, to do this ground. This determination was tested when I lost my bus ticket and had to buy another one just for the travel tonight. But, as all hardened groundhoppers will attest to, this is nothing but a minor issue and not enough to stop a venture in its tracks, dear friends, oh no.

After Dan had also confirmed his attendance, I boarded a bus and changed onto an Altrincham bound one upon arrival at Stretford Arndale and treated myself to a tour of Stretford’s subway system. Lovely. On exiting, I boarded a rather packed bus for the majority of my journey. Half way to the destination, I decided to check up on Dan’s progress, the last time I’d done so, he’d informed me he was stuck in traffic en route. This time, he informed me he’d arrived in Sale. Then it dawned on me that I too was in Sale and upon turning my head 90 degrees, it turned out we were on the same bus without either of us realising. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip…

Arriving at the ground

Arriving at the ground

As it was, after a further connection from Alty to around the corner from the ground, we took a Google Maps identified short cut. Of course, as usually happens with my shortcuts, a fence put paid to it and consigned us to he full 15 minute walk round the ground, which we arrived upon by a see-through fence. To our pleasure, the game hadn’t got underway at 6.30 (as previously advertised on Full-Time) and it was obvious that a 7pm start time was taking place. With the late evening sunshine beating down on both sides and a lone female jogger doing laps of the pitch, Dan and I took our place to the rear of the near end goalmouth, nearest the car park. This will be known as the “hedge end” due to a hedge being there. Imaginative, I know.

Soon enough, the sides were ready to go, as was the official. Note, official, as linesman  are definitely lesser spotted this low down in the system. Indeed, this season was the first of the reformed Altrincham Reserve side, with none gracing hallowed turf since 2007. But it has been a successful one, with the side finishing as runners-up in the league to the all-conquering Wythenshawe Town and taking the second promotion spot in doing so. There is a dedicated page to the Robins’ Ressies on their site, with all the appearance stats for the side listed here: http://www.altrinchamfc.co.uk/reserves.htm. A big congratulations to the management team of Craig Malbon and Chris Rowley and all the players on this achievement.

Football or Centre Parcs

Football or Centre Parcs?

Adhere to the rules

Adhere to the rules

The ground at Clay Lane is basic, bar the changing facilities, it would seem, with just the barred off pitch being flanked by a pair of dugouts, one on each side, and grassy areas to stand on. The whole ground is open, so best to leave this one to a nice, dry day. Of course, as stated earlier, this isn’t the usual home of Alty’s Reserves, nor any club as far as I’m aware, so look out for it with a hawk-eye. Bar this, the pitch is towered over by the Hale Country Club, in whose grounds it stands, and is located opposite Bowden RUFC, for those interested in the egg chucking game. As you may have guessed from that, I’m not one.

For now then, the actual football game got underway, with Irlam storming out of the blocks, with the sun providing an assist to their efforts, glaring into the face of the Robins’ keeper. But, you can’t solely blame the sun for Alty’s apparent lackadaisical start to the game. Irlam Reserves swarmed them and were quickly two up, their #9, John Main and #11, Kyle Davies, both scoring from close range. First, Main got a shot away, neatly tucking one just inside the far post. Almost immediately, Davies doubled the advantage, breaking clear and rounding the ‘keeper before having the easiest of tasks presented to him as he slotted into the unguarded net.

If this was bad for Alty, it got even worse a couple of minutes later. Main again was the main man(oh dear), as he took full advantage of a defensive mix up to nip in ahead of the ‘keeper to claim the ball, before again having the pleasure of a gaping onion bag presented to him 3-0, game over you felt.

Blinded by the light

Blinded by the light

Keeper's kicking off

Keeper’s kicking off

After this mad start to the match, it settled down somewhat, as Alty got to grips and Irlam were happy to sit back on their 3-goal advantage, and this was how it remained at the break.

The second period got underway, and Dan and I set off on a lap of the ground. Well, almost, as it turns out the far side near the road isn’t the easiest to gaian access to, although we did find a member of Curzon Ashton’s memorable campaign just gone, Matt Warburton, making his way out. I remember Matt from his days as a 16-year-old in Trafford’s reserve side and I always thought he was a talent. Never really given a chance at the club, he plied his trade in local football, before gaining his break and pushing on with Curzon. A top player and lad, it’s just a bit of a downer that he’s been out for most of the season after suffering a bad injury during a Curzon home game. Anyway, after a chat with Matt, the ball going behind the net gave him a perfect excuse to escape my grasp(!) and we went on our way round.

Feeling Tyred

Feeling Tyred

Across the pitch

Across the pitch

Passing a few truck tyres dotted here and there, we made our way to the far end and, by now, Alty had grabbed one back, the #10 finishing off a move, slotting into the net. They almost had another too, when the Irlam GK’s kick failed to reach safety and a shot from midfield drifted over him and appeared to be going in. This was definitely the thought going through the mind of one player who exclaimed “YESSS!”, just as the ball bounced up off the bare goalmouth and over the bar. No-one was quite sure how, but 3-1 it remained!

Match Action

Match Action

(Lack of) Match Action

(Lack of) Match Action

As the match was coming to a close and Alty’s dominance of the second period waned, #14, substitute Gaz Meredith picked the ball up just past halfway. He had a look up and pinged one from 35-yards that looped over the ‘keeper and just under the bar. WHAT A SUPERB GOAL! One that his namesake Billy would’ve been proud of! It was a strike worthy of winning any match, even if this one was just adding gloss to an already secured three points.

The referee ended the game soon after and both sides just looked happy to have gotten a bit of a dead rubber out of the way, especially Alty. Irlam, though, will feel they have proved a lot going into next season and I’m sure they will be right up there for the title. On the basis of this performance, they deserve to be. So, we set off on the mile and a half walk back towards this season’s title winners Wythenshawe Town’s ground, where I bid a good evening to Dan who headed off for town, whereas I faced a 25 minute wait for my bus back and a further connection after that, finally getting in at 10.30pm, such is the life eh?

My Altrincham Reserves M.o.M.- I give it the #10 for scoring!
My Irlam Reserves M.o.M.- John Main

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- Entertaining game, good quality too.
Ground: 5- Very basic, open.
Fans: 3- Just because there aren’t any “fans” really.
Food: N/A
Programme: N/A
Value For Money: 8- If I hadn’t have paid for 2 tickets, it’d have been 10, but you know….