Manchopper in….Sunderland

 

Result: Sunderland 3-0 Southend United (EFL League One)

Venue: Stadium of Light (Saturday 27th October 2018, 3pm)

Att: 30,894

Finally getting back on the ’92’ trail, I decided to ‘tick off’ one of the longer-term trips I have left on the cards, though also one that was on the easier side, compared to some others. The Stadium of Light has been a ground I’ve long had as a target to visit and so I reckoned that there was no time like the present, especially having not been to a league game for almost two months, since being hamstrung by my aging past the limits of the 16-25 railcard. Of course, with the news of the new one being rolled out nationwide, my quest becomes all the easier on the pocket and so, having booked tickets a couple of weeks before, this would end up being something of a needlessly dear do. Ah well, to Sunderland it was!

Being dropped off in Manchester, I caught the service from Victoria at just after 8.30 and via a swift changeover at Northallerton onto a rubbish bag filled Grand Central service which was also full of both home and away fans en route to the game, I arrived into Wearside at just after 11.50am. After a short time getting my bearings outside the station, a cut through the nearby shopping centre had me heading towards what was my first planned stop of the day, the quite unfortunately named Ship Isis, or as the guy there conceded, he’d take it, quite understandably, as simply “The Ship”. In here, I opted to start off on something refreshing and opted for a pint of the Grapefruit ale they had on. It was bloody lovely stuff too, though at only 2.5%, it was somewhat premium at £4. Moving on, the nearby Museum Vaults was sadly shut it seemed and so I returned towards the Sunderland Minster and to the Dun Cow, where a pint of Moretti set me back an unexpectedly eye-watering £4.90. OUCH!! Entertainment here was supplied by a pint being knocked over the table and the resultant furniture re-organisation taking a fair bit of time. A guy did remind me to take my bag with me though, which helped relieve my shock which I was obviously still suffering from!

Sunderland

Ship Isis

Dun Cow (and neighbouring theatre)

Sunderland is a city in the Tyne and Wear area at the mouth of the River Wear. The earliest inhabitants of the area were from the Stone Age and nearby Hastings Hill was of particular significance to the early dwellers. It is also thought the Brigante people occupied the area spanning both sides of the Roman-era in Britain, while legend has it the Romans had constructed a fort where the former Vaux Brewery stands, though there’s no evidence of this to date. Historically located in County Durham, there was originally three settlements in the area that Sunderland now occupies, while Monkwearmouth to the north of the river was settled in 674 AD when King Ecgrifth of Northumbria gave land to the North of the Wear to Bishop (St.) Benedict Biscop (now the city’s patron saint) to found the monastery there.

The Bishop was later granted further land to the south of the river and this village became known as “soender-land” as it was separated from the monastic community and this would grow into a fishing community prior to being granted a charter in 1179. Meanwhile, Bishopwearmouth made up the trio in 930. On a side note, the “finest book in the world” – the Codex Aminatus and the ‘…History of the English People’  was created by the “father of English History, Bede, at the monastery. The Vikings raided the area in the 8th century and the monastery was abandoned soon after. After the Civil War had seen skirmishes in the local area, Sunderland would continue to grow as a port throughout the years, largely trading in coal and salt before ships began to be built on the river during the 14th century and the world’s second iron bridge was built there in 1796 which was, at the time, the largest single-spam bridge built.

Sunderland

Sunderland Minster, surrounded by scaffold….

By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had absorbed the nearby areas of Monk and Bishop-wearmouth due to the ever-growing importance of the shipbuilding industry there, though it was also the first place to be affected by the era’s cholera outbreak that later spread across the country, taking the lives of 32,000 people, including Sunderland Naval hero Jack Crawford. The Borough of Sunderland was later created in 1835 due to demands. However, the 20th century saw the decline of Sunderland’s traditional industries begin to decline after the wars (during which Sunderland experienced regular raids on its ports and factories) and this continued throughout the century, these being replaced by the expanding automotive industry, whilst also taking on science and technology companies too. It received city status in 1992.

Having seen a large group of people heading into the unspectacular looking The Rabbit a few doors back down (they seem to like animal-named pubs around here, by the way), I decided to go and have a look in case I was missing anything. To be honest, I wasn’t really although it did allow me to watch some of the game on TV with a Hop House (£4.60) before I crossed over the road to pay a visit to the interestingly named Vesta Tilley’s, whose cheap beer sign outside had peaked my interest on my earlier passing. It was duly packed inside and didn’t let me down either, a pint of Woodpecker coming in at just the £2.45, somewhat allaying my earlier shockers! The place was decked out in numerous Hallowe’en decorations too which gave it a different feel too, though I did want to give myself some time to head over the road to the old Fire Station bistro/bar place which looked quite cool. I didn’t expect too much in the way of cheapness in there, but that consideration went out the window almost as soon as I went in as I saw Blue Moon on draught and I didn’t care about prices any longer. £4.75 it ended up being, which wasn’t too bad overall, and I headed over to the rear of the building, it being standing room only once more. However, this did end up allowing me to meet with Dad and Son duo David and Joe, two St. Mirren fans who also follow the Black Cats. Joe has had a good start to his live footballing life, his previous St. Mirren game being the Championship presentation and this, his first Sunderland game, had all the hallmarks of a good clash too. David was even kind enough to offer a few Love Lane-themed extras if I ever visit St. Mirren’s ground, so thanks again for that!

The Rabbit

Spooky Vesta Tilley’s

Old Fire Station

It was soon time to move out and having managed to get Joe do partake in a real handshake via the medium of his Dad’s persuasion, I headed onwards directly towards the Stadium of Light, which is easily visible from a fair way out. Crossing over the dual foot/road bridge, I was soon coming up towards the Wheatsheaf, a pub just across the way from the ground which I’d been recommended by “Jimmy Sirrel’s Lovechild” on Twitter. I never thought I’d type that….Anyway, the Wheatsheaf proved a fine tip and also offered a former taste of home up in the North East in the form of Boddington’s. Of course, I would have to accept the fact this would be in plastic, though this didn’t affect things too much. In a bit of a rush by that point, I forgot to take a both a photo of the pub or a note of how much the Boddies cost (sorry, Kenny, please let me off on this one!).

With the time heading towards half-two, I reckoned I’d make my way round to the nearby cash turnstiles, as I wanted to be in the ground for the wreath laying and minute’s silence with regard to Remembrance Day, this fixture being Sunderland’s last home game before the 11th. Sorting out a programme en route (£3), I headed to the turnstiles for the usual bag check prior to handing over my £20 entry fee and heading up into one of the corners of the ground, taking what looked like the final Chicken Balti (£3) pie with me as I went. Nice too. Finishing up just in time for the aforementioned acts of remembrance, the minute’s silence was observed impeccably after the initial roar from some forgetful/unaware fans in the away end prior to the game being all set to go.

Over the bridge…

Forces guard

The Stadium of Light is quite an impressive ground in my opinion and offered fine views from my vantage point in between the North and East stands. The ground is obviously an all-seater stadium, being built in 1997 to replace the now departed Roker Park. Being named during construction as “Wearside Stadium” and “New Roker Park”, its “Stadium of Light” name was eventually revealed just before the ground-opening game against Ajax, its name deriving from the area’s coal mining heritage and Monkwearmouth Colliery site – more specifically the Davy Lamps the miners used, the name “…allows the image of this light to shine forever”. A lamp is duly located outside the ticket office. The name was initially taken with mixed reactions, with some fans unhappy with the name already being associated with the ground of S.L. Benfica, the Estadio da Luz. The ground itself sees its West Stand hosting a higher upper tier (known as the Premier Concourse) than the remainder of the ground, and also is home to executive boxes and the dressing rooms/tunnel. The North Stand also has an upper tier and hosts an executive bar area, whilst the East and South Stands are of similar size. On a side note, the pink seats around the ground are in the process of being replaced and this seems to be a very important and joyful happening! That’s the Stadium of Light in a nutshell and this is the story of the Black Cats of Sunderland….

History Lesson:

Sunderland Association Football Club was founded in 1879 as Sunderland and District Teachers AFC and would later join the Football League in 1890, replacing Stoke who’d failed to be re-elected. In doing so, they also became the first “new” club to join the league since its formation. They won the title in 1892, just the club’s second season in the League and successfully defended their title the next season, scoring 100 goals in the process, a feat which wasn’t matched until 1920. They continued to be successful in the lead up to the turn of the century, finishing runners-up in 1894, but did win back the championship in 1895. They would then go on to play Scottish champs Hearts in the “Championship of the World” match, with Sunderland winning 5-3 and being declared as the World Champions. They would again finish as league runners-up in 1898, which was their last season at their Newcastle Road ground, the club moving into their new home, Roker Park.

After finishing runners-up for a third time in 1901, their fourth title win came the next year and achieved their record win, 9-1, in the league in 1908, this coming over arch rivals Newcastle United. A fifth title arrived in 1913, though the club would miss out on FA Cup success in their first final, losing out to Aston Villa by 1-0. Post-war, things would become slowly more difficult after an initial strong start in finishing runners-up once again in 1923, Sunderland narrowly avoiding relegation just five years later. However, the 1930’s would see an upturn in form return and a fifth league title was won in 1936, with a first FA Cup success following the next campaign, after a 3-1 triumph over Preston North End. The remainder of the decade saw the club drift into mid-table, priory to the outbreak of WWII. Wartime football was maintained in the form of the Football League War Cup, with Sunderland having a best of beaten finalists in 1942. Post-war, the 1949-’50 season saw the club record their best finish since their last title win with a 3rd place, though 1958 would see financial troubles affect the club and eventually result on their first relegation in their 68-year league history, as Sunderland dropped to Division 2.

Arriving at the SoL

Their absence from the to flight would last six seasons, Sunderland returning to the First Division as runners-up, though would be relegated once more back to Division 2 come the end of the decade. However, 1973 would see the club lift their second FA Cup title as they bested Leeds United, though this would end up being their last major trophy to date. In winning the Cup, Sunderland qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup- their only European competition appearance to date, where they beat Vesta Budapest before bowing out to Sporting Lisbon over two legs, despite winning the first game at Roker Park.

After again spending six seasons in Division 2, Sunderland returned to the top flight as champions, but were immediately relegated back after one season. 1985 saw the Black Cats record their first League Cup final appearance, though this would end in disappointment, as they lost out to Norwich City and things got even worse three years later as Sunderland were relegated to Division 3. However, this drop would only be a brief blip, Sunderland returning back to Division 2 at the end of the season. The next season saw them achieve a second straight promotion in strange circumstances, as the club was promoted instead of Swindon, who’d defeated them in the play-offs, after the Robins had been penalised for financial irregularities. Their return to the top division would only be a short one, though, as they were relegated again two seasons later, just prior to the formation of the Premier League which ended up meaning Sunderland stayed in Division One, just at a lower level.

Sunderland would reach the FA Cup Final in 1992, losing 2-0 to Liverpool and after a flirtation with relegation during the earlier part of the decade, Peter Reid was brought in as manager and he achieved promotion from Division One to the Premiership in 1996. The club’s first Premiership foray would be brief, though, as they were relegated after a single season, though would return in 1999 as champions, their second season playing at the Stadium of Light, having left Roker Park in 1997 after an OCD wrecking 99 years. At the time, the new ground was the largest post-war ground built. The end of the seasons saw a highly credible 7th place achieved, with Kevin Phillips securing the European Golden Shoe in the process.

SAFC

After again being relegated in 2003 with a then record low 19 points, Mick Mccarthy was brought in and he guided the club to the Division One title in 2005 and they duly returned to the top-flight. However they went one better the next season, but not positively, as the Black Cats went down with just 15 points to their name and McCarthy duly left soon after. Under Roy Keane, the club went 17 games unbeaten to secure a return to the Premier League as champions. Keane would be out after an up and down start to the 2008-’09 campaign, and a change of ownership saw Steve Bruce installed as boss. Further managerial changes followed, with the likes of Martin O’Neill, Paulo Di Canio and Gus Poyet taking the reigns. Poyet did lead the club to the 2014 League Cup final, in which they lost out to Manchester City at Wembley, though he would also be out by early 2015 and replaced by veteran Dutch manager Dick Advocaat, who kept the club in the Premier League.

Unfortunately, his early success didn’t translate into the new season and he resigned just eight games in, with Sam Allardyce taking over. He also saved Sunderland from the drop, though after he left for his ill-fated one-game spell as England boss, David Moyes took the job and oversaw Sunderland’s worst start to a Premier season. They were duly relegated come the end of the 2016-’17 season and things only got worse last season as both Simon Grays on and Chris Coleman came a went prior to Sunderland’s relegation to League One for this campaign, which had started in promising fashion, under new ownership.

The game got underway with the hosts taking the initiative early on, Jerome Sinclair seeing an early header fairly comfortably saved by Southend stopper Mark Oxley. Lee Cattermole saw an effort on goal fly wide of the mark for Sunderland, whilst the visiting Shrimpers’ early efforts came through Dru Yearwood and Taylor Moore, though neither hit the target. Southend were forced into an early change after 20 minutes when Ben Coker seemed to land awkwardly and was resultantly stretchered off and ten minutes later they suffered a further setback when the Black Cats took the lead, George Honeyman guiding a header into the corner from a Lynden Gooch delivery.

Match Action

Match Action

Southend came on strong after going behind and Simon Cox went close to levelling the scores soon afterwards, but saw his shot go narrowly wide before Harry Bunn saw his effort kept out by home ‘keeper Jon McLaughlin, but the game slowly turned into one of quite a number of fouls as the half wore on and after Cox had also forced McLaughlin into action, the sides headed in at the break with just the one goal still separating them. The half-time period came and went with little to speak of happening so let’s get on with the game, shall we?

The second half began with little of note occurring until the 53rd minute, when Yearwood saw an effort kept out before Sunderland duly countered and the ball ended up at the feet of Chris Maguire who unleashed a rocket of an effort that flew into the top corner, leaving Oxley with next to no chance of keeping it out. Aiden McGeady was introduced in the aftermath of the second goal and despite Southend continuing to create chances for Cox and Shawn McCoulsky seeing his goal-bound effort well kept out by McLaughlin, the points were made safe by McGeady himself when he latched onto Josh Maja’s pull back to slot home. 3-0 and the game was up.

Maguire celebrates netting the second

Match Action

Both sides would fashion one final chance each to add to the scoreline, Maguire seeing his shot blocked and Sam Mantom responding with an effort flying just over, the result would remain as it stood and Sunderland would secure their clean sheet and record a comfortable win over a strong-looking Southend side. As for me, a quick exit had me heading back through the gates and back over the bridge to the Peacock, where I was asked by a group of women what was housed in the tents in the square across the way. I said I thought there was a bar or something, but did stress I didn’t really know, though I was told not being local wasn’t an excuse and I was up for blame if I was wrong. I sincerely apologise if I was!! Anyway, after opting for a pint of Rekorderlig Passion Fruit in here (£4.95, God, what is happening?!), I headed back out to try and find an apparent “speakeasy” bar nearby.

This trek didn’t go well and I soon decided to give up on this fruitless task and instead pop into one of the Wetherspoon’s, the William Jameson, just along the road from the station. Finishing up my Sunderland visit on a cool day with a fitting bottle of the Russian beer Baltika, I headed back off to the station and its strange shadow display opposite the platform. It’s quite eerie in a strange way, especially if its quiet I’d presume. A small delay meant I would have a little extra time upon my arrival into York and so I took a visit to the York Tap on the station where a half-drunk guy made an effort to get me served as I’d spoke to him, despite there being no-one else waiting at that point. I appreciated the effort though! After a pint of Aspall’s in here to refresh, I grabbed the train back and pecked a lad by the name of Christian’s head until his eventual detraining at Huddersfield. I bet he was relieved!! I arrived back in Manchester to meet my parents, who’d been at a Rick Astley concert, in the Irish Bar near Victoria, where I would take advantage of their taxi back and I could definitely say I’d had the more enjoyable Saturday and concert the previous night, courtesy of Enrique. Sorry, Rick.

Back to the centre

Post-match visit to the Peacock

So ends my trip to the Stadium of Light and Sunderland itself. It had been a good, if pretty costly one, though was worth a visit. Despite the dear drinks around town, the £20 ticket was well worth the money, the game was decent and the pie was good. The programme was a fine read and transport went largely untroubled too, so not too perturbed. That’s that then and its a return for a proper “tick” next week as I head over to somewhere famously linked by ferry….

Manchopper in….Plymouth

Result: Plymouth Argyle 1-5 Peterborough United (EFL League 1)

Venue: Home Park (Saturday 25th August 2018, 3pm)

Att: 9,214

As my time with a railcard winds down and I approach my twilight years, I decided I’d take full advantage of the short time I have left with the third-off card and book a few long-range trips to begin the season, ticking off a few of the South coast clubs in the process. Thus, my season “proper” had begun with a visit to another ‘mouth’, Portsmouth, on the 4th of August – as they overcame Luton Town by a single goal – before following that up with a pair of more local trips prior to suffering the long-range journeys down to Devon. First off the rank was the Pilgrims of Argyle.

After an arse/leg/back/neck numbing five-and-a-half hour journey down from Manchester, I arrived into Britain’s ocean city at a little after 12.30. Having had an initial struggle locating the area around the dockside where I intended to head, I found myself instead upon the Hoe. No, not an insult towards a person (though I would be so lucky regardless), instead the Hoe is a large park-like opening on the coast-side which plays host to numerous statues, memorials and a lighthouse added in for good measure. There’s also a pitch and putt, for those who like that kind of thing, and who doesn’t?! There were now bowls being played as far as I could tell, so I’m sure Sir Francis Drake wouldn’t have been too impressed. Though, maybe this only can happen if an Armada is due…..?

Plymouth

The Hoe

Plymouth

Eventually, I found myself at the foot of a road, rather intimidatingly called Citadel Road, which led down past (would you believe) an Army base and to the docks. I was more interested in the group of pubs dotted around the area, and the historic nature of a number of them. Having scouted out a fair number of watering holes before my arrival, I first came across the Queen’s Arms, where I think I may have annoyed a pair of locals with my double-denim rocking appearance. That’s style for you, I guess(!). After a swift Thatcher’s Haze, I continued on just around the corner where I came upon the Admiral MacBride, a pub that, apparently, plays host to the original Mayflower steps that the pilgrim fathers used to board their vessel over to the New World. They now reside within the women’s toilets, so there’s that.

Plymouth is the largest city in England to have never hosted to-flight football and is the most largely populated city in Devon. It’s early history extends back to the Bronze Age, when the first settlement in the area emerged in the Mount Batten area. It continued as a trading post for the Romans until it was usurped by the village of Sutton, now Plymouth, named after the “mouth of the River Plym”. The Hundred Years’ War saw the area attacked by the French in 1340, though despite taking prisoners and causing damage, the French failed to gain entry into the town, though it would later be burned by the Bretons in 1403. A castle was constructed in the late 15th century in the Barbican area, its purpose to protect Sutton Pool, prior to the construction of Plymouth’s dockyard. Further fortifications were added through the Tudor period, with a fort (known as Drake’s Fort) created in 1596 on what is now the site of the domineering Citadel.

The Citadel

Mayflower Memorial Steps

The Pilgrim Fathers

Plymouth would go onto be a large producer of cotton through the 1500’s and became home to many traders as a result. It became famed for its part with Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada in the battle of 1588, and also for the launching of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower in 1620, as they established Plymouth Colony, the second English settlement in what would become the USA. The civil war saw Plymouth side with the Parliamentarian forces, and was duly besieged for some four years by Royalist forces, though they were eventually defeated by Roundhead forces. However, upon the latter restoration of the monarchy, many of the Parliament supporters were imprisoned on nearby Drake’s Island. The 17th and 18th centuries saw Plymouth begin to lose its importance as a trading hub, with a dockland and new town set up called Devonport.

More recently, during the Second World War, Plymouth played host to the RAAF’s Sunderland Flying Boats and many major Royal Navy units, whilst also being the HQ of Western Approaches Command. It was a high target during the Blitz era (Charles Church being a lasting monument to this), and would later be an important embarkation area for the US Troops assembling ahead of the D-Day landings. Post-war, the dockyard was kept busy by refitting aircraft carriers such as the Ark Royal and, despite the majority of the army having left the city by the early 1970’s, it remains home to 42 Commando of the Royal Marines.

Queen’s Arms

Admiral MacBride

The very blue Fisherman’s Arms

A board within the entrance foyer area of the Admiral MacBride lists the names of those travellers, with this giving credence to the story. With the recreated memorial steps just across the way, I settled in for a short while with a pint of Thatcher’s Gold this time, prior to circling round to just off the beaten track, where the interesting looking Fisherman’s Arms was located. Run by a Scouse couple, the Fisherman’s is definitely worth the slight detour it requires, with a flight of steps up through the adjoining flats providing a helpful short-cut. Having arrived whilst a wedding party and a few Posh fans were still in situ, I seemed to empty the place upon doing so, meaning I finished off the pint of Stowford in more quiet surroundings than I’d expected.

From there, it was onwards off towards the town centre a little more, with the time now past half-one. Next stop was to be the Minerva in, a little, traditional gem down a suburban street. It does seem a little out of place within its surroundings, but inside is a story onto itself. Again, the place emptied out as I entered, and with time against me, I opted to just take a bottle of Sol in the meantime. Whilst being the only punter in the place, I struck up conversation with the lady at the bar (who I deduced to be the owner/manager, though whose name escapes me, sorry) and was given an interesting guide through the history of the pub, complete with trap doors and tunnels to smuggle drunken punters onto ships to work, back in the day. It was also, apparently, the favoured haunt of Sir Francis Drake, who stayed just a few doors down at an acquaintance’s house on regular occasions. All interesting stuff, but sadly my time was brief in there and I was soon passing the large Minster and heading onwards down the main road towards the pub known as the Bank. Unbelievably, this was located in an old bank! I know, crazy!

Dolphin

The Minerva

The Bank

A bottle of JD Cider was had there before a check on Maps showed that a bus was due to leave up to Home Park imminently. Of course, the bottle was swiftly polished off and a quick half-jog to the bus stop was undertaken, with a single journey up to the roundabout near the Britannia Wetherspoons costing just £1.40. Well worth the saved walking time! Upon getting to the ground, a quick visit to the ‘box office’ was undertaken where I was soon in possession of a ticket for the stand opposite the old 1950’s grandstand, which isn’t long for this world, sadly. It was all shut up as is to be the case all year as the structure is taken down, but it was still the main reason for my visit. I’d missed out on the one at Exeter, so wasn’t making the same mistake again. I did make an arse of myself at the ticket window though, as I forced the change under the window as you tend to do in the vast majority of places, not realising the huge gaping opening right in front of my eyes, where my ticket was duly passed through. God knows what the girl there was thinking! To be honest, I’m surprised I was allowed in!

Anyway, I was and after acquiring a programme, I was pointed into a smaller queue to enter the ground in quick time. This also duly allowed me to get to a food bar in time for kick-off, a Steak pie being duly ordered, the (I assume) Ginster’s offering going down well and taking me through the first quarter-hour of the game. That fifteen minutes hadn’t gone all that well to be honest for Argyle! But before we get onto that, here’s a bit of history about the Pilgrims of Plymouth Argyle….

History Lesson:

Plymouth Argyle Football Club was founded in 1886 as plain Argyle F.C., the name deriving from either the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders division of the British Army, who had a strong footballing pedigree, or the nearby pub by the name of the Argyle Tavern, or perhaps a street by the name of Argyle Terrace. They disbanded in 1894 for a few years, before reforming in 1897 as part of the general Argyle Athletic Club. Having moved into Home Park in 1901, Argyle joined the Southern League in 1903, turning professional in the process. The club also entered a team in the Western Football League for a short while, alongside their Southern League outfit, with this side winning their title in 1905. Argyle would go on to win the league title in 1913, before the First World War ended the sport for the majority of its duration.

1921 saw Argyle join the Football League’s Third Division as a founder member (along with the majority of their Southern League competitors) where they finished their first League season in 11th place, before finishing in 2nd place in each South section season between 1921-’22 & 1926-’27 inclusive. Interestingly, an Argyle side travelled to South America in 1924, where they beat soon to be World Cup winners Uruguay by four-goals-to-nil, whilst also defeating Argentina by a-goal-to-nil.

They eventually won promotion to Division 2 in 1930 when winning the Third Division South title. They remained here through to 1950, when they were relegated back to Division 3, though would return after just two seasons, taking their second Third Division South championship. The following campaign would see Argyle come the closest they have to playing in the top-tier, when they finished 4th in Division 2. On a side-note, the Pilgrims would win the wartime South West Regional League in Season 1939-’40, though their original home would be largely destroyed by German air-raids on the city.

The old façade (lost sign not withstanding)

They yo-yoed between the divisions once again shortly afterwards, being relegated again in 1956, before winning the now nationalised Third Division in 1959. They would cement themselves somewhat this time round, remaining in the second-tier through to 1968, when the spectre of relegation returned once more, though Argyle did reach the semi-finals of the League Cup in 1965, losing out to Leicester City over two-legs and repeated the trick nine-years later, but again went down to a City, this time, Manchester. After a seven-year stay in Division Three from 1968-’69, they again were promoted in 1975 as Division 3 runners-up, only to drop back down after just a further two seasons, a record that has continued for the majority of Argyle’s existence. However, the Pilgrims did reach the FA Cup semi-finals as a Third Division club in 1984, when they eventually lost out to Watford by a single goal at Villa Park. This would provide something of a springboard for the club, though, as they were promoted in 1986 as runners-up once more.

They remained in Division Two through to 1992, whereupon they were, once again, relegated to the third-tier, which would become Division Two itself upon the formation of the Premier League for that coming campaign. A big swing in fortunes saw Argyle reach the play-offs in 1994, losing out in the semi-finals, but were then relegated the next season, now in the fourth tier. They would stay there for just a sole season though, as they went up through the play-offs after wins over Colchester United in the semis and Darlington in the final, via a 1-0 triumph at Wembley. They continued to cement their status as something of a yo-yo club, as the Pilgrims again suffered the drop in 1998, but things soon took a turn for the better after the turn of the millennium, as Plymouth won both the Division Three title in 2002, before lifting the Division Two championship just two years later, finding themselves back in the second-tier after a long time away.

PAFC

Playing in what was now known as the Championship, Argyle would remain in the second-tier through to 2010 when they were relegated down to League One. Things soon took a turn for the worse off the pitch, with financial issues resulting in administration and this in turn affected on-pitch matters, with Argyle receiving a ten-point deduction, leading them to be relegated to League Two after just the one-year back in tier three. After a few fruitless years away from the chance of promotion, both 2015 & 2016 saw play-off heartbreak for Plymouth, as they were knocked out in the semi-final by Wycombe Wanderers the first time round, before reaching the “new” Wembley for the 2016 final, were they lost out to AFC Wimbledon. Season 2016-’17 saw them go slightly better, missing out the play-offs completely and just missing out on the title by goal difference alone. However, they would still go up as League Two runners-up, returning to League One for this season, and the first time in seven years. They finished last season in a strong 7th place, just missing out on the play-offs.

The battle of the alphabetically ordered sides got underway with the Posh quickly asserting their dominance. However, their opener on eight minutes would come courtesy of an awful mistake by Argyle ‘keeper Matt Macey, whose clearance only went as far as Jason Cummings and his resultant cross was met by Matt Godden at the far post, with him firing home from around ten yards. If that was bad enough for the home support, one quickly became two when, just three minutes later, another loose ball at the back was seized upon by the quicksilver Cummings who advanced forwards before laying the ball into the path of Siriki Dembele, who lashed home to double the Posh’s lead, their small band of followers jubilant at their side’s start.

Looking across to the old Grandstand

Fan Action

Match Action

Plymouth did begin to find something of a footing after their horrendous start, with Graham Carey seeing his header comfortably saved by Aaron Chapman in the Peterborough goal, before the same player forced a better stop out of the ‘keeper, his shot palmed behind for a corner. The sides continued to trade chances, without really coming close to adding to the scoreline as the half wore on, though it was Argyle who had the majority of these, their most potent threat coming through Freddie Ladapo, who had a shot and header go close. Half-Time duly arrived with the visitors holding their lead fairly comfortably in truth. The break was largely uneventful, so let’s get on with the show….

The second half began just as the first had, the Posh claiming an early strike against their hosts and this time it was the creator-in-chief from the first half goals, Jason Cummings, who got his name on the score-sheet. The forward latched onto a pass by Godden – returning the favour from the first half – and he slotted beyond the former Arsenal youth stopper Macey to make it 3-0 and surely secure the points. Indeed, the icing was put on the cake well and truly just seven minutes later, when Graham Carey was harshly adjudged to have tripped Joe Ward just inside the left-hand side of the box, with Cummings duly converting from the spot, his kick coming down off the crossbar on its way into the net.

This prompted a double substitution for Argyle, with Ryan Edwards being one of the two players introduced into the fray, which was rather nice for myself, as I’d been in the Morecambe end at Luton shortly after his illness had been diagnosed earlier this year. Of course, happily, all seems to be well on that front and Edwards is once again making his way in the game. The game would become something of a non-event for the next fifteen to twenty minutes, with it again mirroring the first half in some respects, Argyle again fashioning the better of the half-chances, with Ladapo again going close on a few occasions, and Antoni Sarcevic – who I first saw at Woodley Sports in the Northern Premier League as a 16 or 17 year old – also just missing the target, before going in the book soon after.

Match Action

Cummings nets from the spot

Match Action

Edwards grabbed a goal back for Argyle as the game entered stoppage time, meeting a Conor Grant free-kick from the left and guiding his header into the bottom corner, so denying Chapman his clean sheet, much to his chagrin, which was quite obvious. However, his mood may have been lifted slightly just before the whistle as Peterborough added their fifth, a quick break forward ending with Godden also netting his second of the day, firing into the far corner to ensure an emphatic win for the league-leaders and consigning Plymouth to the foot of the table for the time being. Full-Time, five-one the Posh and a quick exit was made to the Britannia ‘Spoons a short walk from the ground, with a Hooch doing fine in the short ten minutes or so I had to tick one of the outlets off. Better than nothing!

Inside the Britannia ‘Spoons

After a fifteen minute power walk back to the station, I arrived in nice time to grab the packed train back up North, though definitely annoyed one guy by removing him from my booked seat, the girl he’d tried his best into fooling both her and me into moving finding it quite amusing. Unlucky, lad. Anyway, a nap took off an hour of the trip home, giving me a preview of next week’s trip just up the way to the home of the Grecians. The journey back was completed surprisingly trouble-free, with us actually arriving early back into Piccadilly upon our return to Manchester. I was then left with a dilemma – a twenty minute wait in the Gardens, or pop into the Tap for a pint. Ok, just kidding….

The trip was duly completed with little issue and I returned in time for a couple more in our bar back at home to close off the day, though it would definitely play into affecting me come the following evening (I zombie walked off on people I was with, leaving a pint in the process), though in my defence, I had added a good eight or nine pints to my tally and overcoming an awful Belgian GP earlier in the day. As for Plymouth, the day had been a decent one. I enjoyed exploring the area around the old, historic docks and visiting the pubs that played host to some of the more important people to hail from the area, for one reason or another. The ground was great, though you can see why the Grandstand has had its day in this era of shiny, smart new-build stadia. Alas, it was good to get there while it remains in situ. The pie was good, the programme just as so it just remains to ask – Exeter; can you beat it……?!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 8

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Portsmouth

Result: Portsmouth 1-0 Luton Town (EFL League One)

Venue: Fratton Park (Saturday 4th August 2018, 3pm)

Att: 19,018

My “proper” season began with this trip down to the South coast, as I completed one of the longer trips required on the jaunt to the ’92’. Having been helped out massively ticket-wise by the man known in parts as the “hemelhopper”, Andy, without whom I’d have an entirely wasted journey otherwise apparently, an early start had me on a train bound for the capital at a little before 7am. The two-hour-plus journey was completed without issue and the resulting underground hop over to Waterloo was more pleasant than it would have been a few hours later, that’s for certain!  Indeed, the tube train actually had room to spare upon its arrival into the appropriately named (for this trip) London terminus and I was able to catch an earlier, and far quicker, service down to the Royal Navy’s home port city which would, in turn, give me a little more time to explore Britain’s only (traditionally) island city in glorious sunshine.

Upon eventually arriving on Portsea Island at a little after 11am, I met Andy at our pre-arranged spot near Portsmouth Harbour station’s café, where I handed over the £25 ticket price I owed and was given a spot-on explanation of what view I’d have from my seat in a few hours time. After a quick chat, Andy went off to return to his wife and prepare for the game later and I set off towards the historic port area, which was on an all-ticket basis to enter, which I decided against partaking in, a few pictures of HMS Warrior sufficient. Before long, I was feeling a bit parched and so set my sights on the pubs around the towering perimeter wall surrounding the naval base. At this time, most were shut or fairly empty, but one, by the name of the Ship & Anson, was bustling with fans of both Pompey and their visitors for today from Luton. It seemed a no-brainer, so to the Ship & Anson it was!

Portsmouth

HMS Warrior

Ship & Anson

It was a decent boozer too, with it being pretty large inside and I luckily just beat the next rush to the bar, getting in a Hop House 13 to begin the day – costing £4.50, while watching a bit of the tantalisingly poised Test Match at Edgbaston, where the something of an anti-hero would prove to be Ben Stokes as England took out the England lower order. Sadly, I didn’t get to see too much of it, as the TV I was watching was switched to a National League preview or something, with the cricket TV’s elsewhere being out of view. I could have moved, but I couldn’t be arsed….Anyway, I’m waffling now. I soon finished up and headed off along the front and past the few tour ferries lining the docks whilst moving into the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower whilst trying to locate the next hostelry on my list, the Old Customs House, which was within the smart Gunwharf Quays area. This was another nice place with a large outdoor seating area, which afforded views across the pedestrianised area and the two small pedal boat areas before the ferry ports. There was also Frontier on in here which is always a massive bonus for me, the £5.25 price expected, but not wanted! Good things cost more, I guess!

After watching the small road train do a few laps of the area, I continued over towards the Spice Island area in what is known as “Old Portsmouth”, despite it apparently not actually being the old part of Portsmouth. I unsurprisingly got lost in a gated-off resident’s area, but a quick clamber over a fence and test of ankle strength soon remedied the issue! I was soon at the appropriately named Spice Island Inn (which looked more interesting than its neighbour the Bridge Tavern), where I opted for a pint of the Old Mout berry (I think) flavoured cider. This was decent too, and also allowed for a bit of much-needed charging for my phone which was on its last legs at this point, having lost 40% battery while turning itself off. Don’t you just love technology, eh? It makes everything easier, doesn’t it? Stress free? STRE……

Gunwharf Quays

The Old Customs House…and this guy!

More tower action

Whilst we’ve reached that tangent, let’s delve into Portsmouth’s history, shall we? The area can be traced back to the Romans, whilst the dry dock is the oldest in the world, with its name derived from the Old English ‘Portes’ (haven) and ‘muoa’ (mouth of a large river/estuary). Another explanation (from Winston Churchill) is that Portsmouth came from a pirate by the name of Port, who founded the city in 501, with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seemingly giving this credence by stating a warrior called Port, along with his two sons, murdered a man that same year. However, it wouldn’t be mentioned under its current name in the Domesday book, but instead a few areas of what now makes up Portsmouth were mentioned as separate areas.

In its formative years, the area was attacked numerous times by the Danes, and conquered on occasion, before the raiding forces were massacred by the surviving English. During the 17th century, Portsmouth was on the front-line of Britain’s defences from the French forces, with fortifications consistently being added through to the mid-1800’s, with Palmerston Forts being built in anticipation of future attempted invasions and by the latter part of the decade, the city was the most heavily fortified in the world, giving credence to its importance to the British Empire and its navy. This importance would come back to haunt the city though, with the Blitz bombings of Portsmouth killing 930 as the Luftwaffe looked to aid the German navy of the time to become the outstanding naval force in Europe. Incidentally, the city also played host to Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D Eisenhower, during the conflict.

However, it stood strong and remains the home of the Royall Navy to this day, and houses the likes of HMS Warrior, Victory (the oldest warship still in commission) and the ill-fated Tudor-era ship, the infamous Mary Rose. In more recent times, the Spinnaker Tower is one of the largest structures in the UK (at over 500 feet) and is also fairly rare in having both an Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedral and counts Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel amongst its more famed exports.

Spice Island Inn.

Portsmouth’s old chapel. Where’s Baldrick?

In the Dolphin

The Nelson cabinet

Okay, I’ve calmed down, so let’s continue on, shall we? From here, I reckoned I ought to start making my way towards the ground a little more, with there being one pub en route to Fratton Park that I didn’t want to miss out on visiting. This was the Dolphin and proudly proclaims itself to be the “oldest pub in Portsmouth” dating back to the mid-1700’s. It even has a cabinet where Lord Nelson himself is said to have engraved his name on the glass frontage with a ring and, indeed, “Horatio” is there for all to see. Is it true, or just local legend? Who really knows, but it is certainly possible. Beer-wise, I opted for a pint of Moretti here which went down extremely well. Exiting out in full view of the cathedral across the way, a short walk later saw me just around the corner from Southsea station, where I planned to hop on the train for the one-stop journey to Fratton itself. First, though, I wanted to stop-off in the Brewhouse, though came across the Duke of Buckingham first. I thought it looked ok for a quick one, so nipped in for a bottle of Sol (£3.10), before arriving at the Brewhouse around the corner a couple of minutes later. It proved a costly visit though, a pint from the “World’s Oldest Brewery” (the word old is popping up a lot, isn’t it?) Weihenstephan coming in at all of £5.65. Ouch.

That rounded off the pre-match venturing though and after catching the aforementioned train, was soon within sight of Fratton Park’s towering, traditional floodlights and its famed mock-Tudor façade. However, I did want to pop in to one of the pubs around the ground and eventually sought out the Pompey paraphernalia-covered Old Barn/Milton Arms (delete as appropriate!) I’d scouted earlier in the week, where a swift Dark Fruits was had for somewhere in the region of £3-£4. From there, it was to the ground in earnest and after getting the staple programme (£3) headed on through the turnstiles and up to the concourse, where I also invested in a Steak pie. Nice and hot it was and kept me going through the first twenty-odd minutes, whereupon the combination of not much sleep, early starts, sunshine and alcohol began to take over and I had to stave off the horrendous possibility of nodding off in my seat….which I just about managed.

Duke of Buckingham

Brewhouse

Milton Arms/Old Barn

Anyway, before we got onto the game, let’s talk a bit about the ground (for the benefit of those who haven’t been perhaps). Fratton Park is one of your more quintessential, traditional grounds. Both the North & South Stands at the sides of the pitch are two-tiered (the lower formerly terracing), old affairs – dating from 1935 & 1925 respectively, with the latter neighbouring the aforementioned façade and has a TV gantry on the roof. Both have supporting stanchions, though these didn’t impede my view of the action (cheers, Andy!). The Milton end was off to the left and nearer to the city and played host to the visiting Hatters fans today. It also has a large TV on its roof. Opposite is the more modern Fratton End, dating from 1997, which was where the majority of noise from the home fans emanated from, including the famed “Pompey chimes”. So that’s the ground in a nutshell, and here’s a bit of the story behind Portsmouth F.C….

History Lesson:

Portsmouth Football Club was founded in 1898, following on from Portsmouth A.F.C. (1883-’96), which was formed in part by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and Portsmouth Town (1891~) who almost became Portsmouth’s professional club, but failure led to the club’s disbanding. There was also the Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) side who played at the United Services ground (now US Portsmouth) who disbanded after a scandal of sorts in 1899, prior to a one-season return in 1900-’01. The current club first joined the Southern League in 1899, having moved into the newly built Fratton Park, after an ambitious application had been submitted, and accepted, to join the First Division there, before the club had gone through the usual probationary period in the lower divisions. Their first season was a successful one, Portsmouth winning their first game at Chatham Town before ending up as runners-up to Tottenham Hotspur come the season’s end.

The following season saw Pompey also field a side in the Western League and yielded a 3rd place Southern League finish, whilst the Western League side took the Division One title. The Southern League was won in 1902, along with the Western League being successfully defended, but no promotion was taken. A third straight Western League followed, before things began to slightly drop away. 1909 saw all Western League Division One sides resign from the league, with Portsmouth’s duly joining the annuls of history and 1909-’10 saw the club drop their salmon pink and maroon kit in favour of white shirts and blue shorts, a mirror image of what was to become the norm.

It didn’t bring any good luck though as Pompey were relegated in 1911 to the Southern League Division 2. They were promoted back as runners-up the next year, but the original company was in dire straits financially and was wound up, with Portsmouth Football Club Ltd coming into being instead. They adopted the now familiar blue shirts, white shorts kit and the star and moon badge followed in 1913. Upon resumption of football after WWI, Portsmouth won their second Southern League title in 1920, with the club then being elected to the Football League’s Third Division as founder members. Here, they finished their first season as a league club in 12th place and, unsurprisingly, took a spot in the South Division upon the league’s regional split for 1921-’22.

The famed facade

Winning the Third Division South in 1924, Pompey were promoted to the Second Division where they ended their first campaign in a more than solid 4th. 1927 would go even better, ending with a runners-up spot and promotion to Division One, the top-level of English football. The season also featured a 9-1 win over Notts County at Fratton Park, a result that remains Portsmouth’s record home win. In achieving this promotion, Portsmouth became the first club South of London to reach the top division, and the first to also have gone through two leagues to get there. They just avoided relegation by a point come the end of their first top-flight season and they again scraped safety in 1929, but also reached the FA Cup Final where they would lose out to Bolton Wanderers. They again reached the final in 1934, but lost out again – this time to Manchester City.

Things improved and Portsmouth began to be regular mid-table finishes through to WWII. They also reached the FA Cup Final for the third time in 1939, and it was third time lucky as they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 in the press-dubbed “gland final”, a reference to monkey-gland injections used by both sides. During the war, Portsmouth competed in the “League South” with little success before the cessation of hostilities saw football return in earnest. The FA Cup apparently remained in Portsmouth during the war, being ferried around the city (and outskirts) to avoid Luftwaffe bombing raids.

1949 saw Portsmouth become First Division champions for the first time before defending it successfully, but only just, winning it on goal difference from Wolves. Fratton Park hosted the first ever Football League floodlit game in 1956 as Portsmouth hosted Newcastle United, but began to find themselves down the wrong end of the table more often than not as the decade came to its end. 1959 saw them finish bottom and were duly relegated, ending a 32-year stay in the top-flight. 1961 saw Pompey drop back to the Third Division, though this only lasted one season, Portsmouth taking the Third Division title. They would remain there through to 1976 when they dropped back down to Division Three once again. 1978 saw even worse come along, Pompey finishing bottom and finding themselves in the Fourth Division.

Fratton Park

1980 saw a 4th placed finish be enough for promotion, with further promotions in 1983 as Third Division champions, and 1987 as Second Division runners-up (under Alan Ball) seeing the club back in the top-tier. However, this lasted only a season, as financial problems dogged them and relegation was immediately suffered. After a few poor league campaigns, the club reached the 1992 FA Cup semi-finals (losing on penalties in a replay to eventual winners Liverpool) but would reach the 1993 play-offs in the newly designated First Division, losing to Leicester City in the semis. Further poor campaigns saw relegation avoided closely on a few occasions through to the turn of the millennium and the club also went into administration at the end of 1998. Further brushes with the drop followed, but 2003 saw a big upturn in fortunes, with Svetoslav Todorov’s 26 league goals helping them to the First Division title and promotion to the Premier League. Their first Premier League campaign ended in a solid 13th place.

A number of managerial changes would follow over the next few years, with Portsmouth just staving off relegation in 2005-’06, finishing 17th. Things again went better the next season though, but the club slightly disappointingly, missed out on Europe by just one point, finishing 9th. However, 2008 would see them make it to continental competition, when they won the FA Cup at Wembley, with a 1-0 win over Cardiff City seeing the cup return to Fratton Park for the first time in 69 years. Their first European game came against Vitoria Guimaraes of Portugal, a tie which ended in a 2-0 triumph and a 4-2 win over two legs. They made the group stages and drew with A.C. Milan as a highlight. Sadly, things soon went awry for Pompey as results would fall away over the next few years, with financial issues also returning. They survived a winding up order, administration and suffered a nine-point deduction which saw them unable to survive a third strike, relegation back to the now-named Championship in 2010. However, they did make the FA Cup Final that year, but lost out to Chelsea and, in a further hit, were denied a license to play in Europe.

After coming close to closure, Portsmouth survived but the struggles on-field (as well as off) continued. Further administration and winding-up issues came along in 2012, as did relegation to League One. After the whole professional squad left at the end of the season, things didn’t improve and the drop to League Two subsequently followed. A brush with the possible drop to non-league football was experienced in 2014, before things finally became a bit brighter and 2016 saw the club reach the play-offs, but again lost out in the semi-finals, this time to Plymouth Argyle. 2017 saw them go better and promotion to League One came as League Two champions. Manager Paul Cook resigned to take on the Wigan Athletic job, with Kenny Jackett taking the reigns for last season, where, with a new club crest adorning the kits, he guided the club to an eighth-placed finish.

The game got underway and it was a fairly quiet affair in the opening quarter-hour with little in the way of chances coming the way of either side. However, this all changed on 16 minutes when Jamal Lowe gave the hosts the lead when Ronan Curtis forced his way down the right flank, broke into the box before pulling the ball back for Lowe who coolly slotted the ball beyond the ‘keeper and two defenders. One-nil to Pompey and the Fratton End’s bells rang out.

Match Action

Match Action

The contest continued to be fairly tight overall, broken up by a number of fouls from either side, however the Hatters could definitely claim to have had the better of the remaining half-hour of the first period. James Collins and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu both fired narrowly wide as the visitors strove to get themselves back on level terms, the latter’s even bringing many in the Luton ranks to their feet and getting a few cheers out of them before the realisation dawned that the midfielder’s shot had actually gone wide. They were duly given the usual sarcastic mirror response from the home support.

Luton would go even closer seven minutes or so prior to the break, Alan Sheehan’s well struck free-kick smacking against the far upright as it travelled across the box from out on the right-hand side but Pompey would hold their nerve to head back into the dressing rooms with their slender lead still intact. It had been a bit of a slow burner, but the game had definitely been a decent one. Well, when I was awake enough to take it in! An uneventful half-time passed by surprisingly quickly and we were soon ready to go once again.

Ronan Curtis tested Luton stopper Marek Stech early on as Portsmouth again began the half the slightly brighter of the teams but, as happened in the first, Luton grabbed the initiative once again and never really relinquished it. Collins became the second Town man to be denied by the Fratton Park woodwork when his own free-kick from the opposite side of Sheehan’s came back off the crossbar, and Harry Cornick latterly saw an effort kept out by Pompey ‘keeper Craig MacGillivray, who I first saw as a teenager when on loan up at Harrogate Railway Athletic.

Match Action

El-e-vation!

Matthew Clarke then had his header routinely saved in a rare Portsmouth chance and Nathan Thompson fired comfortably wide soon after as the hosts looked to take advantage of the ever more attacking Luton side, and despite dangerman Collins again being denied by MacGillivray, Luton couldn’t manage to find the net despite their overall dominance over the 90 minutes. Indeed, Portsmouth almost added a second in time added on, when Ollie Hawkins’ header flew narrowly over and into the Fratton End, but the fans here and in three-quarters of the ground soon rose to their feet in jubilation, as they celebrated their side beginning the season in the best possible way. Three points in the bag:- Portsmouth 1-0 Luton Town. I made a swift exit from the ground on the shrill whistle and went about seeking out the nearby Staggeringly Good Brewery (their words, not mine, though it was very decent tbf), located in the industrial estate just in behind the North Stand I’d called home for the last couple of hours.

A fine pint of their Trapped Amber went down nicely, before I’d get lost once again in a nearby housing estate, which caused me to miss my train back and, duly, the one home from Euston too. Good job I had an open ticket for once! Eventually, all sorted out, though a further delay getting back into Manchester meant a taxi would be required. The day ended in (maybe) a strange kind of way, as I told the driver I’d been down in Portsmouth for the day for the football and I think he’d decided I had been playing, so I just went along with it. You can pass me my wages whenever you’re ready, lads!

This way….

Decent. Vintage arcade upstairs too.

So that ends the first of three long-term trips around the start of the season. Portsmouth seems a fun city, though is pretty costly around the tourist-y bits, but that’s to be expected, of course. Fratton Park is a brilliant old ground and definitely has an aura around it with regard to its age and history. Food was good as mentioned earlier and the game was ok, but not brilliant,, but it’s not really about that. Hell, at least there was a goal! That’s that for this one, it’s the FA Cup up next and a famous, yet newer name….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Southend

Result: Southend United 2-0 Rotherham United (EFL League One)

Venue: Roots Hall (Saturday 24th March 2018, 3pm)

Att: 7,719

A trip a fair while in the making, the penultimate weekend of the month saw me heading down to the seaside. I’d always wanted to visit Roots Hall – having been intrigued for ages by the small two-tiered stand at Southend’s home – and with league grounds taking more of a precedent this season, the question of “Well, why not?” came around and train tickets were duly purchased and, on a surprisingly decent morning, I was heading down to the capital once again prior to catching the connection over to Southend. Well, I thought it was going to be that simple, anyway….

Upon my arrival into Euston, I headed over towards Euston Square for the underground which would take me over to Fenchurch Street where I would catch said connection. However, here’s where things took a turn. The station was shut and it soon became apparent that this wasn’t a localised problem. No, both lines I could’ve used to get me over to Fenchurch Street were both off and so I had a real dilemma, which was only exacerbated when I wasn’t allowed to grab a train from St. Pancras as it “wasn’t valid”. No common sense sometimes.

After a moment of thinking my plans may have to change, I reckoned this could still be doable, I just had to play it smartly. So, having grabbed the underground to Bank, I jumped on the Docklands Railway service to Limehouse where I’d be able to intercept a slightly later train than I was planning on originally. The guard here took pity on my plight and allowed me to do so (the common sense was strong with this one) and so I was soon en route, well and truly, to Southend. Unfortunately, I still managed to bottle it, by panicking on my arrival at the station and jumping on the first train that pulled in showing Southend as its destination. It turned out this was the far slower stopping service and not the quicker Shoeburyness-bound one I planned on grabbing. Ah.

Think I’ve made it!

Southend

Eventually arriving a good half-hour later than I should’ve done, I quickly made my way to the front and embarked on a whistle-stop tour of two nearby pubs, both of which handily neighboured each other. My time constraints weren’t helped by the fact the first of the pair, The Borough Hotel, was a popular haunt for many on this early afternoon and so a wait of around five minutes or so was endured prior to me quickly downing my Dark Fruits (had to keep it on the easy side) and heading next door to the interesting-looking Papillon, complete with sailor/pirate figure out front. It was just as interesting inside too, with someone on the other end of a phone call being in trouble for not being entirely faithful. I wasn’t earwigging, I honestly couldn’t have not heard! Anyway, I politely decided I should leave before I heard too much and polished off my pint of Amstel before climbing up the steep incline of Pier Hill which, would you believe, is near the pier and jogging the short distance to the bus stop where, with time rapidly running out, I’d catch the 29 service up to Roots Hall for the princely sum of £1, which myself and a couple of others were allowed on for (the full single fare was only £1.60 anyway, as I discovered on the way back).

The bus driver was surprised at the amount of traffic outside the ground and quizzed me on how the fortunes of Rotherham were this season and if that was the cause. I answered they were doing ok, but I couldn’t imagine that the visitors, with all due respect, were the reason for drawing in the crowds. Anyway, we soon beat the lights and I was headed for the ground which I eventually reached with around ten minutes to kick-off. Having had no luck in finding a home-end cash sales point which looked as though you wouldn’t have to register, I instead plumped for the away end, as I’d basically entered that way as it was and so was the easiest option. After purchasing the programme from the hutch just outside the turnstile (£3) and paying the £24 entrance fee at the cash window, I was into Roots Hall. And what a ground it is!

Borough Hotel & Papillon

Arriving at Roots Hall

A real classic (in my eyes anyway), Roots Hall is an (unsurprisingly) all-seater affair and consists of four stands, including the legendary (I may be biased) two-tiered stand. The Main Stand, to the left of the away end, is a one-tiered construction and houses executive boxes to the rear of it and the dugouts and tunnel too. Opposite stands the West Stand which dates from the 1950’s and has a pretty unique barrel-shaped roof, as does the North Stand that the decent number of travelling away fans were located in today. Both stands are linked by the corner of the ground between them having been filled in with more seating. The West Stand also plays host to the TV gantry, which doesn’t exactly give the feel of somewhere you’d want to be on a particularly windy day! At the far end from us, the two-tiered South Stand is the most modern part of the ground (dating from 1994) It also plays host to a clock on the roof which is named after the Shrimpers’ former player, director and chairman Frank Walton. The floodlights are a traditional quartet too, which are always a delight to see. That’s Roots Hall in a nutshell and this is Southend United in a little more detail…..!

History Lesson:

Southend United Football Club was founded in 1906 and immediately joined the Southern League’s 2nd Division which the Shrimpers won on both of their first two campaigns, with only the latter giving the club promotion to the top division. Their first stint lasted for three seasons prior to relegation, before a Second Division runners-up placing in 1913 saw a second attempt at Division 1 embarked upon. They would continue to be a feature towards the lower-end of the table (as they were first time around) prior to the outbreak of World War One and the suspension of football.

1919 saw the club back in the Southern League and an eleventh placed finished in their first post-war season preceded a move up into the Football League ranks, becoming a founding member of the Third Division. Their first league campaign ended with a 17th placed finish after the division was regionalised into a North/South split before United’s debut season, with Southend, unsurprisingly, allocated a place in the Southern section. They would go on to remain here through to 1958, becoming a more regular feature in the top-half, recording a best finish of third on two occasions (1932 & 1950), whilst also winning a total of five Essex Professional Cups during this period (1950, ’53-’55 & 1957).

Upon the reorganisation of the Football League in 1958, the Division 3 was again nationalised and a Division 4 was created, with Southend taking a place in the former. However, despite recording a further three Essex Professional Cups during their stay (1962, ’65 & ’67), they rarely featured in the top-half of the league table and were relegated to Division 4 in 1966. It would take a whole six seasons for the club to return, achieving their first ever promotion in 1972 via a runners-up placing, whilst also lifting their ninth Essex Professional Cup and adding their tenth the following year in a successful defence of the trophy.

SUFC

After a four-year stint back in Division 3, the Shrimpers were again relegated in 1976, but this time their return to the bottom-tier was only a brief one, the club taking two seasons to again return to Division 3 which again came with a second-placed finish. From here the club began something of a yo-yo existence, dropping down again in 1980 before immediately winning the Division 4 title the following year and spending the next three seasons in the third-tier, along with winning their first Essex Senior Cup in 1983, prior to again returning to the foot of the Football League’s system in 1984, after a season which, at one point, saw Southend’s squad numbering a total of ten players and Bobby Moore installed as the club’s chief executive and later manager. Another three-season spell would follow, with their first season seeing Southend just avoid the need to seek re-election with a 20th placed finish, before the club again found themselves back in the familiar surroundings of the Third Division, after finishing third in Division 4, but again they couldn’t cement their position here and were relegated once more to round off the 1988-’89 season, but only on goal-difference.

However things soon took a turn for the better and United secured promotion again in 1990, along with the Essex Thameside Trophy, prior to a first promotion to the Division 2 the next season as runners-up, which was again paired with silverware, this time in the form of the club’s second Essex Senior Cup. 1992 duly saw Southend record their highest league finish to date, with 12th in Division 2 – after a season which had seen the club top the table at New Year, only to fall away in the second half of the campaign and miss out on the chance to become a founding Premiership member.

Upon the creation of the Premiership, Division 2 became Division 1 and Southend would remain here for the next five seasons before dropping into the “new” Division 2 after finishing bottom of the table, though the season was again given some positivity, with a third Essex Senior Cup arriving at Roots Hall. The club certainly didn’t hold on to any kind of good vibrations this may have given as their stay in the Division 2 would last just a sole season before United were relegated again the following year, returning to Division 3 once more.

Roots Hall

After a long period of instability in the manager’s post, Steve Tilson, brought a more stable feeling to the hot-seat and guided the club to their first national cup final in 2004, but the Football League Trophy would elude them as they were defeated 2-0 by Blackpool at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This would prove a precursor to better times and 2005 duly saw United win promotion to the now-named ‘League One’ after a fourth placed finish and subsequent successful play-off campaign which saw the club overcome Lincoln City in the final back in Cardiff, despite having missed out on the Football League Trophy for a second time at the same stadium a short time earlier in the season. The following year then saw the club return to the second tier, Southend winning the League One title to achieve promotion to the Championship with the final appearance of Shaun Goater’s professional career being marked in style.

Unfortunately for the club, they’d only last the next year in the Championship before returning back to League One. Their returning seasons did see them reach the League One play-offs again, but this time they bowed out at the semi-final stage to Doncaster Rovers. 2008 would see the club’s penultimate silverware to date be attained in the form of their fourth Essex Senior Cup, before 2010 saw a downturn in form end with relegation to League 2 suffered and the departure of Tilson soon followed, the club having suffered from a 2009 transfer embargo and a brush with administration.

Arriving….

Paul Sturrock arrived as his replacement and, with Southend under another transfer embargo and a second brush with administration having just been had, managed to assemble a squad of just seventeen players initially, eventually finishing 13th. The next year saw the club return to the upper reaches of the table, leading the way for a time prior to eventually finishing up fourth and earning a spot in the play-offs. Again, the club fell at the semi-final hurdle, this time to Crewe Alexandra. A further transfer embargo was enforced upon the club before the 2012-’13 season which again meant a depleted squad was assembled, but Southend performed well despite this and looked on course for a play-off place once again for a while, before form fell away and Sturrock was dismissed just two weeks before the club’s third Football League Trophy appearance. Despite this, he was asked to manage the side in the coming final – an offer Sturrock refused – and again it was Crewe who handed out disappointment to those of a Shrimpers persuasion, running out 2-0 winners.

Phil Brown was next to take the reins and he also led Southend to a play-off place in 2015, with this one ending in success via a penalty shoot-out win over Wycombe Wanderers to achieve promotion back to League One. After finishing their first season back at the third-tier in 14th, last season saw the club finish up seventh, missing out on a place in the play-offs by a solitary point. They currently sit in a comfortable mid-table place in League One and look to be remaining there into next season too, with Chris Powell currently overseeing things on the field.

Not long after I’d joined the ranks of the travelling Millers faithful, the players were heading out of the tunnel and onto the Roots Hall pitch. Underway soon after, the first true chance of the game also brought the first goal. Seven minutes in, Simon Cox forced his way into the area and played the ball across goal for Stephen McLaughlin and the Irishman fired beyond Rotherham ‘keeper Lewis Price to give the hosts the dream start.

The remainder of the half saw a fairly turgid affair begin to take place, with Southend having the better of what chances there were. Dru Yearwood’s stinging drive from range was well tipped over by Price, before Marc-Antoine Fortuné had his appeals for a penalty rightly turned away, with the Millers stopper having just beaten the forward to the ball. This was then followed by Fortuné almost adding to the score-line around half-way through the half, his header having to be cleared off the line by David Ball.

McLaughlin celebrates his early opener

Match Action

Match Action

However, having not really forced Mark Oxley in the home goal into any action of note, the visitors almost grabbed a leveller just before the break. The aforementioned Ball received the ball at the side of the box and flashed a cross-cum-shot across the goalmouth, but no-one of a pink-shirted persuasion was on hand to turn the ball over the line. So, shortly after I’d visited the food bar in what appeared to be a part-time classroom at some points for a rather sizable sausage roll (£3~), the whistle blew to signal half-time and I hoped the second half would be an improvement.

It began well enough with Rotherham again going close when Richie Towell’s low shot was parried by Oxley into the path of the onrushing Jerry Yates. However, Yates couldn’t quite sort his feet out to unleash an effort, falling over instead and the chance was gone.

From then on, the game worsened from a neutral viewpoint as Rotherham had the majority of the play but did almost nothing with it and, thusly, this allowed Southend the chance to net the crucial second goal and secure the three points. And they did just that with ten minutes left on the clock when a long punt up-field by Oxley was latched onto by Simon Cox, the striker beating Semi Ajayi – which summed up his below-par performance on the day – and smartly firing past Price and into the near corner before celebrating with some relief! Two-nil to the hosts and that looked to be game, set and match.

Match Action

‘Keeper Action

Indeed it was, though it didn’t come without a late scare or two. Indeed, this second seemed to awaken the play-off chasing visitors and only in the last five minutes did they ever look like they’d manage to breach the Southend defences. An initial chance was cleared off the line, Towell’s deep cross bounced back off the top of the crossbar and Ajayi also saw a well-struck shot cleared on the post by Michael Timlin as Chris Powell’s side ensured a clean sheet would go along with a fine performance. Full-Time arrived shortly afterwards and a quick exit to the bus stop outside ensured I could catch the nicely timed five-to-five service back to the town centre where I headed for a very, very swift Hooch in the Last Post Wetherspoons directly opposite the station prior to heading for the faster service back into London.

‘Spoons

The Doric. Dependable.

The journey was complete without a hitch and, after being re-directed around a film set and getting slightly lost in the poorly-signposted Bank station while trying to locate the Northern Line (the arrow had been painted out for some reason), I eventually got back into Euston with time in hand for a final drink in the bastion that is the Doric Arch before heading for the train back to Manchester. Again, no problems were encountered on the return leg and so ends another lengthy trip.

All in all the day had been a bit of a pain, but at least I’d got around to visiting Roots Hall. As I alluded to earlier, the ground is a brilliant, more traditional place with a real throwback feeling. Southend itself seemed ok from the little I saw of it in my fleeting visit and all else went well enough, so no real complaints though the game wasn’t the greatest I’ve seen. But so is this game. Onto the Easter weekend then, starting with a trip to South Wales….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Wigan

Result: Wigan Athletic 0-2 Southampton (FA Cup Quarter-Final)

Venue: DW Stadium (Sunday 18th March 2018, 1.30pm)

Att: 17,110

Having previously planned to visit Derby County’s Pride Park on this day (a lucky escape there), it just so happened that Wigan managed that huge upset at home to runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City and so took a place in the FA Cup’s quarter-finals. After a lengthy spell of finger crossing, the game was confirmed for the Sunday afternoon and so, after roping in Dan once again, it was off to West Lancashire.

Arriving at just after 11am, we headed straight into the first pub of the day, Harry’s Bar, which is located in the fairly grand-looking building which previously housed the Clarence Hotel. Cheap pints in at £2.20 it’s here that I skip forwards to the game, having no reason to want to remember the next 40 minutes or so. Fortunately, having a game scheduled for this day made there be something a little more positive thing to look back on. The doorman in here also remembered us in saying goodnight about five hours later, so best behaviour here!

Having walked over to the ground, we headed into our designated East Stand location and headed straight for the food bar whereupon I got a Steak Pie in, whilst Dan opted for Chicken Balti. These were very good for around £3 too, not that it wasn’t to be expected considering where we were! From there, and with the time standing at five minutes to kick-off, we swiftly headed up to our seats just about on half-way, with the large, vocal following from the South coast located to our right. This was my second visit, my previous one being a few years back when Wigan welcomed Russian outfit Rubin Kazan to Lancashire in the Europa League which was, of course, being played in on account of their success in this very competition following that famed last-gasp Ben Watson winner at Wembley which, again of course, was at the expense of Man City. It was also the second straight round I’d watched the Saints in too, having seen them triumph at the Hawthorns over West Brom the previous month.

Harry’s

Heading over the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Getting ever closer…

The DW (or JJB still to some) is a pleasant enough ground, especially when there’s a more substantial crowd in as there was today. Having said that, all the stands are fairly similar, so there isn’t much to get excited about in that respect, but you do get a good view from side-on at least though I can’t offer an insight from behind the goals. Anyway, the home of Athletic since their 1999 departure from their traditional Springfield Park home, the DW’s four stands are all single tiered affairs with the Main (West) Stand housing the dressing rooms, tunnel etc. Behind us, up on the back wall of the East Stand, is a sizable score-board but, other than that, there isn’t much else of note to speak of, other than the fact it stands right alongside the former home of North West Counties outfit Wigan Robin Park….Robin Park. The ground also occasionally hosts Latics’ reserve games, though these are few and far between and looks likely to become more of a rugby league ground in the future (from rumours anyway).

The players were out on the field and we were soon all set to go but, before we get there, here’s the story of the Latics of Wigan Athletic F.C….

History Lesson:

Wigan Athletic Football Club was founded in 1932 upon the winding up of Wigan Borough the year before. The club was the fifth attempt to create a town side, following the failures of Borough, County, United and Town. They immediately bought and moved into Borough’s former home, Springfield Park, and despite having their initial application turned down, were accepted into the Cheshire County League for 1932-’33 upon the resignation of Manchester Central. The club also made an attempt to be elected to the Football League but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they failed to gain any support.

They won their first honour in 1934 by becoming Cheshire County League champions and defended it the following season while also entering the FA Cup for the first time and defeated Carlisle United 6-1 in the first round, recording the biggest win by a non-league side over a league outfit. A third consecutive title followed in 1936 whilst they also lifted that year’s Lancashire Junior Cup.

After WWII, Wigan changed from red-and-white shirts with black shorts to their now more familiar blue-and-white strip. However, the change of colours proved an unlucky one and after struggling for a side, the club finished bottom of the Cheshire County League in 1947 and subsequently failed to gain re-election, being replaced by Winsford United. The club duly joined the Lancashire Combination and won the league in their first season there. 1950 saw Wigan narrowly miss out on becoming a Football League side, losing out to Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town and so continued on in the Combination, winning it on a further three occasions (1951, ’53, ’54). 1953-’54 saw Wigan play an FA Cup tie against Hereford United in front of 27,526 fans which became a record for both the club at the time and for a match between two non-league sides at a non-league ground.  They duly progressed and drew Newcastle United of the First Division in the next round where they held their top-flight hosts to a 2-2 draw at St. James’ Park but would go on to lose out in the replay by 3-2.

Groundsharers

1961 saw Wigan return to the Cheshire County League and won their first title since returning in 1965, the club’s record scorer Harry Lyon netting 66 times on the way. 1966-’67 saw a highly successful year, with Athletic lifting four trophies: the Lancashire Floodlit Cup, Liverpool Non-League Senior Cup, Northern Floodlit League Cup and the Northern Floodlit League whilst also ending as runners-up in the Cheshire County League.  The end of the following season saw Wigan depart the league and become a founder member of the Northern Premier League which they would go on to win in 1971 & again in 1975. During their NPL tenure, the club also won three NPL Shields (1973, ’74 & ’76) and a NPL League Challenge Cup in 1972.

That latter year had seen Wigan make a controversial attempt to join the Scottish Second Division but this was turned down along with a total of 34 failed election attempts to join the Football League but finally, in 1978, Wigan were elected to the League after finishing as NPL runners-up behind Boston United but as the Pilgrims’ ground didn’t make the grade, Wigan were put forward instead and took the place of bottom-finishing Southport on a re-vote.

Their first season as a league club ended with a 6th placed finish in Division 4 and were promoted to Division 3 in 1982 under Larry Lloyd. Their first season there was a struggle and Lloyd was soon ousted with Bobby Charlton – a club director at the time – taking the reigns for a short while. 1985 saw the Latics lift their first silverware as a League club, winning the Football League Trophy. 1986 saw the club achieve a fourth placed finish and this would stand as their highest league finish right through until 2003, with the club finishing a single point outside the promotion places in the final pre-play-off season, with manager Bryan Hamilton departing for Leicester City.

His assistant Ray Matthias stepped up and equalled his predecessor’s fourth-placed finish and thus Wigan took a spot in the play-offs. They would lose in the semi-final to eventual winners, Swindon Town. After a flirt with relegation in 1988-’89, Matthias was out and Hamilton returned to the club. However, the club continued to struggle and suffered their first relegation in 1993 to the current Division 3. Further struggles would follow with managers coming and going at regular intervals. With the “Three Amigos” of Roberto Martínez, Isidro Díaz and Jesús Seba attracted to the club after Dave Whelan’s purchase, things began to look brighter and 1996 saw the club finish just two points off a play-off place. 1997 saw Wigan promoted in strange circumstances as they finished below Fulham but, due to a temporary rule which saw goals scored take precedence over goal difference, they therefore finished above the Cottagers and took the title, thus returning to Division 2.

The DW

1999 saw Latics lift the Football League Trophy for a second time, beating Millwall at Wembley and reached the play-off final that same year but lost out to Manchester City at the semi-final stage. They repeated the trick the following campaign, but this time reached the final. However, they again experienced disappointment, losing out to Gillingham after extra time in the final Division 2 play-off game at the old Wembley.

The continued managerial upheavals continued until Steve Bruce joined the club as manager in a surprise announcement in 2001 for the final few games of the season. He guided Wigan to the play-offs once more but again they fell at that stage, with Bruce departing for Crystal Palace and being replaced by former forward Paul Jewell. His first campaign was questionable, a mid-table finish being combined with an FA Cup upset exit to Canvey Island. His second, however, was far better – Wigan reaching the quarter-finals of the League Cup (beating Premiership sides West Brom, Man City and Fulham en route) and won the Division 2 title with over 100 points and were then to play in the second tier for the first time in their history. After losing their first Division One game, the Latics went on a 17-game unbeaten run to sit top in November of 2003. A weak end to the season saw them fall away to 7th but 2005 saw them finish as runners-up and take a place in the Premiership for the 2005-’06 season.

Their first Premiership game ended in an injury-time defeat to Chelsea, with Hernan Crespo netting late on but another good run saw the Latics confound all expectations to sit 2nd. The club also reached their first major cup final, the League Cup Final, after defeating Arsenal in the semi-finals, but lost out to Manchester United and eventually finished 10th in the league, with Pascal Chimbonda making France’s World Cup squad. However, many of the side would depart in the summer and only a final day win kept their Premiership status intact in 2007 with Jewell resigning and assistant Chris Hutchings taking his place. 2008 saw Emile Heskey become Wigan’s first ever England representative, but Hutchings didn’t last long, being replaced by the returning Steve Bruce in November.

WAFC

2009 saw Roberto Martinez take over from Sunderland-bound Bruce and return to the club he’d served as a player. A couple of late-in-the-day survivals followed before 2013 saw both heartbreak and triumph. Wigan reached the FA Cup Final and beat Manchester City via a late Ben Watson winner which also gave the club a spot in the Europa League for the next season. However, they went on to be relegated by the end of the season which saw Martinez leave for Everton and Owen Coyle come in. They lost in the Community Shield to start of the season with Coyle being quickly replaced by Uwe Rösler. By December, Wigan were out of the Europa League though did reach the FA Cup semi-final, losing to QPR.

2014-’15 saw a poor start with Rösler relieved of his duties and Malky Mackay installed, whilst Dave Whelan resigned as chairman, handing over to his grandson. Things didn’t improve, Mackay was sacked in April with Wigan in danger of the drop, with Gary Caldwell now taking the reigns. The club weren’t able to recover and suffered the drop, only to bounce back immediately the following season. However, their return to the Championship last season was unsuccessful, with Caldwell, replacement Warren Joyce and interim boss Graham Barrow all leaving en route to eventual relegation back to League One. The club appointed Paul Cook for this season and he’s guided them to the promotion spots in the league and the quarter-finals of the Cup today.

The game got underway and it was the hosts who largely dominated the opening stages. Gavin Massey fired over early on, before Southampton responded with Guido Carrillo testing the skills of home stopper Christian Walton. That was largely as good as it got for the visitors and their fans weren’t too impressed with their display. They were almost in even less of a good mood when Nathan Byrne’s effort deflected across goal and bobbled inches wide of the far upright.

This was followed by, in my opinion second-best named current footballer after Nortei Nortey, Max Power (who I’d previously seen captaining a young Tranmere side a few years ago), forcing Saints keeper Alex McCarthy into action before Will Grigg spurned two decent positions which showed his legendary “fire” may not have been in rage mode today. The half came to a close with the game being a very watchable one without chances being regularly turned into attempts. Wigan’s final decision was lacking, whilst Southampton looked a team devoid of confidence, which is understandable to a point.

Match Action

Match Action

The most questionable thing was the “ooh ah” chant from the home fans when a corner was about to be taken. It didn’t appear to achieve much and both Dan and I were none the wiser. Anyway, that was half-time and the sides headed out of a chilly early afternoon still locked together at nil-nil. Our half-time was spent doing very little, as is the norm up in the stands of the higher-tiered sides, before the teams thankfully returned to the field to hopefully serve up something to keep us warm.

They certainly gave it their best. The game continued where it had left off, being a free-flowing game (full credit to Michael Oliver for helping that along) and a pretty end-to-end one too. Both sides were going for it, with Massey again going close early in a half for Wigan, but it was a defensive error that almost brought the opener when the otherwise impressive Byrne almost blotted his copybook by playing an awful attempted back-pass straight to Southampton forward Manolo Gabbiadini but, after encroaching towards goal, he could only tamely hit Walton’s outstretched leg when one-on-one with the Latics goalkeeper. A very poor miss by a striker of his pedigree, but full credit to Walton for staying as big as possible.

Match Action

Match Action

However this reprieve would only be a short one. From a Dusan Tadic corner, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg saw his powerful header well tipped over by Walton only for the resultant second Tadic kick to find the same man and the unmarked Dane calmly slotted the ball home from six yards or so for his first goal for Southampton. One-nil the Saints and their fans were in jubilant mood now.

This seemed to give Southampton more impetus and the Premier League side began to put their stamp on the game. On 73 minutes they should have had it all wrapped up when sub Nathan Redmond snaked his way into the area and was upended by the tall frame of Dan Burn. Michael Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the spot (though Dan and a guy behind us disagreed with mine and the ref’s opinion) but, regardless, up stepped Gabbiadini once again. But the Italian was again to be denied by Walton – diving away to his right to palm the spot-kick behind and to safety. Top stuff from him!

Walton denies Gabbiadini

Not great reading for the hosts

As we entered stoppage time, Wigan began to truly chase the game as was their obvious want to do. Nick Powell and Noel Hunt were brought onto the pitch as the Latics looked to grab an equaliser and send the tie to extra-time (not that we’d have known and probably would have left thinking that was that) but it was to be Southampton who’d cement their place in the semi-finals as the unlikely figure of Cédric Soares – or just Cédric to his friends – received the ball from a failed Wigan set-piece, strode forward down the left and placed his shot across Walton and into the far bottom corner before wheeling away to also celebrate his first goal for the Saints and sending the away fans wild again as they knew they were off to Wembley. It was the end of Wigan’s fine cup-run, but there was no disgrace in that, having seen off AFC Bournemouth, West Ham and Man City en route to this point. Full-Time arrived shortly afterwards.

Dan headed off for a bus back into Wigan whilst I opted to walk back to the first pub in the attempts to drown my sorrows from earlier. It was a good job I did as, not only did I beat him back, he ended up needing a taxi and finally arrived some 40 minutes after I had. Crazy. By this point we were in the George (of course we were, there’s a Great George Street too, as Wigan clearly knows) where a Carlsberg was milked over for £2.30 prior to Dan eventually arriving to his now approaching tepid Fosters. Shortly after his arrival, it all began kicking off in the road outside, much to the amusement of the punters within the George.

The George

The Berkeley

Wigan

From there it was onwards to the pub over the road, The Berkeley, (everything had long quietened down) where a pint of Amstel was had at around the £3 mark, probably a touch less. A Southampton fan was getting regular heads-up about possible trouble due to him wearing colours, but there seemed little to no threat since the spot of trouble had cleared earlier. We watched the end of the Chelsea-Leicester clash in here (well, we thought we did as we didn’t know about extra-time remember) before continuing a few doors away to Wigan’s Spoon’s offering and the second Moon Under Water of the weekend. A pint of Punk IPA was enjoyed whilst Dan had Carling (I know) prior to him having to leave for something called “work on a Monday”. I don’t have that issue currently….aren’t three day weekends great?!

Spoons

Alley to the Tap and Barrel

Anvil

After here, I headed off towards the bus station and an interesting looking place by the name of the Tap & Barrel which is located down a traditional-like pathway. It was a nice place in here too, with a pint of Blue Moon in here setting me back around £3 which is damn cheap for that stuff. By now I wasn’t feeling at my best and so decided to restrict myself to a couple of weaker ones which I could take my time over, due to the time I had to my train back. After leaving here, I had a stop-off in the nearby Anvil for a Coors prior to returning back to Wallgate and the Raven for a final Carlsberg before returning to the station having become swiftly the worse for wear after the emotion of the day. It hadn’t been easy and I haven’t really wanted to write about this one.

The journey back was fine and easy and so ends the day in Wigan. With a couple of places I’d planned to stop in left unvisited, I’m looking forward to a trip back for another club some time soon. The DW is a tidy, decent ground and the game was decent enough too. The programme (£3) was a decent read and the drinks in the town were on the cheap side too which is always welcome. So there we have it, I’m not hanging around on this one and Southend is next up….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Fleetwood

Result: Fleetwood Town 2-3 Peterborough United (EFL League One)

Venue: Highbury Stadium (Sunday 17th December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 2,273

Following on from my first game of the weekend the previous afternoon, at Lancaster City’s Giant Axe, a rare Sunday outing saw me heading over to the North West corner of the Fylde coast to Fleetwood and, more specifically, to Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium, where the Cod Army would be playing host to the ‘Posh’: Peterborough United.

Prior to the growth of the fishing trade in the town and the subsequent expansion as a port, the West Lancashire coastal town was initially intended as a railway transfer point for those travellers heading over the border and up to Scotland from London Euston, but despite this trip being undertaken on at least one occasion by Queen Victoria, the line would soon be usurped by the mainline route, leaving Fleetwood’s intended rail purpose in tatters. In something of a link to this, I would be arriving in Fleetwood, not by rail, which was removed in 1970 (though plans do apparently exist to re-open the line from Poulton), but by the tram system that runs from the bright lights of Blackpool, which itself dates from the latter part of the 19th century. Interestingly, the trams share the main street through the town with cars, regularly causing small queues at stops.

That is not to say that was the case today, mind you. Having headed up to Preston through a dank and drizzly Sunday morning, I then had to endure the dreaded rail replacement service over to Blackpool North, due to the long-term rail improvement works that are being undertaken on the lines through to the coast. Having said that, the bus journey up was a fairly comfortable one, with little in the way of issues encountered on the tidy service and we arrived in the shadow of the tower at around half twelve. Not that there was much in the way of shadows being produced today, the tower itself shrouded in the low-lying cloud cover.

My carriage for the day

First stop!

Having undertaken the short five-minute or so walk from the station to the front, I then had a small wait at the North Pier tram stop for the service through to Fleetwood Ferry. For the princely sum of £5, I was in possession of a 24-hour ticket which enabled travel for a day’s period on all tram and bus services within the Blackpool Transport service area. Not bad. This also usefully meant I could now navigate my way through the town that little bit easier, so I first jumped off at the Stanley Road stop and followed one of the Town players towards the Cod Army’s home. One ticket was soon secured (£22), along with the £1 programme, and I set my sights on heading to the Northern extremities of the town.

Jumping back on the regular (ever 15 minutes or so), purple-liveried tram, I soon arrived at the Fleetwood Ferry stop and, after a quick peruse around the area – including the lifeboat house, nearby lighthouse (one of three in the town) and the sobering memorials to those lost from the port, and the later helicopter tragedy – it was to the grand-looking hotel by the name of the North Euston. As you may have figured from the name, the hotel is a grand remnant of the town’s brief existence as the rail stop-over, with the 1840’s vintage building being used to house those staying over in between their connections. The hotel’s bar, the Victoria, was my first port of call, a pint of Dark Fruits setting me back a decent £3.50. Sadly, I only had about fifteen minutes or so until the next tram back into the town centre (around a three-minute trip away), so this was quickly finished up and onwards I headed.

The North Euston Hotel

The front at Fleetwood, including lighthouse

Main Street

De-tramming(?) at London Street, I decided to ignore the ‘Spoons offering for now and instead plumped for the unassuming-looking Bug. With a name like that, how can you not go in?! Inside was pleasant enough and I decided to stick with the Dark Fruits for now. I watched the beginnings of the West Brom-Manchester Utd game in here too, before deciding it was a little too quiet and continuing on up the main street to the nearby King’s Arms.

This old-school pub was far busier, with the majority of locals seemingly choosing this as their port of call, but I had little time to spend in here now, what with the clock quickly heading round towards half-two. However, this also had the game on and so a little longer than usual was squeezed out in here. A third swift Dark Fruits was finished off before I headed off on the ten-to-fifteen minute walk to Highbury.

King’s Arms

Fleetwood

Memorial Park, with ground in the distance

After cutting through the neighbouring Memorial Park, I arrived at the turnstiles with around ten minutes remaining to kick-off. With little in the way of searches required, a quick entry was had and I was soon taking up a spot at the rear of the covered Memorial terrace which, unsurprisingly, backs on to the park. Highbury itself is a tidy ground, housing two terraces and two all-seating stands. The Main Stand, to the left of the ground from my viewpoint, is the largest of the four and is also the most modern of the structures here, dating from 2011. It also houses the boxes, tunnel etc. The curved style of the stand also gives it a different look to other new-builds. Opposite is the Highbury Stand, a far smaller affair consisting of around six rows of seating. It runs about three-quarters of the length of the pitch, until it meets the pre-existing (I assume anyway) Highbury Social Club. Still standing to the rear of the Highbury Stand is the old “Scratching Shed” stand, a hark back to the club’s time in non-league. The gap allowing the new stand to be built between the Shed and the pitch was created by a former Speedway track having existed at the ground pre-2008, which hosted the town’s teams: the Fleetwood Flyers, and latterly the Knights.

To the left of the Highbury Club and behind the far end goal is the Percy Ronson terrace – named after a former Fleetwood F.C. player – which today housed those Posh fans that wished to stand, with those that were to be seated located at the side of the Main Stand closest to said terrace. The terrace’s off centre positioning is a little strange. Then comes the Memorial Stand which, unlike the Percy Ronson stand, runs the length of the pitch and also houses Jim’s Bar (and player’s guests area) to the rear. As for Fleetwood Town themselves….

History Lesson:

Fleetwood Town Football Club, in its current form, was founded in 1997, however the town’s initial club dates from 1908. Fleetwood F.C., as this club was known, initially played at a ground near the aforementioned North Euston Hotel prior to moving to Highbury in 1939. Fleetwood played in, and were a one time champion of, the Lancashire Combination, winning the title in 1924. They would also finish runners-up on two separate occasions, these occurring in 1934 & 1935. The club, who are considered a part of the current club’s history (at least by Wikipedia anyway) also registered a hat-trick of Lancashire Combination Cup wins during their existence, these encompassing 1932-1934.

Remaining as a member of the Combination for almost 60 years, the club became a founder member of the Northern Premier League in 1968, where the club placed 10th at the close of their first season. Their first silverware at this level came in the form of the 1971 NPL Premier League Cup but things soon turned awry and, after finishing bottom in both 1975 & 1976, Fleetwood F.C. folded, but the town weren’t without a team for long as 1977 saw the forming of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Town.

Heading to Highbury

Town were initially placed in the Cheshire League’s Division 1, but, after five years, the club would take a spot in the newly formed North West Counties League. Competing in Division 2, it took the club two seasons to achieve promotion to Division 1 and the following year saw Town reach the FA Vase final at Wembley, where Fleetwood would go on to lose out to Halesowen Town.

After a further two seasons in the Counties, Fleetwood were soon taking a place in the newly created Northern Premier League Division 1 where they became inaugural Champions in 1988. Three seasons later, the club had moved on to be finishing as high as fourth in the NPL’s Premier Division. But, by 1996, Fleetwood Town would also fold. However, just as following the first club’s demise, the town was left without a club for just a year or so, with Fleetwood Wanderers now coming into being.

The new club was placed back in the North West Counties Division One and a sponsorship deal with the near by shopping centre saw the club re-named as Fleetwood Freeport. For once, a sponsorship name-change that works for the better name wise! 1999 saw the club promoted to the NWCFL’s top-tier once more, prior to their renaming as Fleetwood Town F.C. in 2002. A year later, Andy Pilley would take over as chairman and this put into motion Fleetwood’s impressive rise. Incidentally, my Trafford supporting pal Cappy likes to regularly tell the tale of the time he and his Dad shared a cab with Pilley to the ground from the town centre around this time. Not sure that’s commonplace quite as much now?!

Cod support

Successive promotions (in 2005 as Champions of the NWCFL Division One and 2006 as runners-up from the NPL Division One) saw the club back in the NPL top division. But just two seasons were spent here, both of which saw silverware arrive at Highbury. First, 2007 saw the NPL League Challenge Cup won, before 2008 saw the club attain promotion to the Conference North after winning the Premier Division title. However, a sticky spell saw Town bottom of the Conference North table early in 2008-’09, but a managerial change saw things change on-field and the club’s appointment of Micky Mellon also signalled the club’s first full-time manager. The season also saw Fleetwood reach the F.A. Cup First Round for the first time, though they were defeated by Hartlepool United.

2010 saw promotion almost get away from the club when they had points taken from them after the demise of Farsley Celtic. An appeal against this failed and Fleetwood eventually ended the campaign a point behind close rivals Southport, having lost three more than them as a result of the respective points deductions. Despite this disappointment, the club would go on to achieve what they would have seen as justice, winning promotion through the play-offs after defeating Droylsden (on penalties) in the semis and Alfreton Town in the final.

2011 saw the Fleetwood players join their manager in turning professional, though this also signalled the departure of a few, including the then club captain, who didn’t wish to make that commitment. The first season was fairly successful, Fleetwood reaching the Conference Premier play-offs, but losing out to AFC Wimbledon in the semi-finals. The following year would see the club reach the F.A. Cup Third Round for the first time, losing out to rivals Blackpool, with (the soon to be returning with Leicester City) Jamie Vardy netting the club’s only goal in a 5-1 defeat. The league campaign, meanwhile, saw Town go on a 29-game unbeaten run which led to the club winning the Conference title with two games remaining and, as a result, promotion to the Football League for the first time.

Far flung Cod

After Vardy joined Leicester for an initial £1 million (a big story at the time), a good start to the season saw Fleetwood challenging for the promotion spots in League 2. However, Mellon soon left after a disagreement and things fell away, the club eventually finishing mid-table under Graham Alexander. 2013-’14 saw another successful year for the Highbury club, Town reaching the Football League Trophy area final and just missing out on automatic promotion, finishing up 4th. However, another successful play-off campaign saw the club beat York City in the semi-final prior to defeating Burton Albion 1-0 at Wembley to send Fleetwood to League One. Here they’ve remained to this day, despite 2015-’16 seeing the club flirt with the drop prior to Steven Pressley (appointed after the departure of Alexander mid-season) guiding them to safety. Last season saw Uwe Rösler take the reins after Pressley’s resignation at the 2015-’16 season’s end, and the German led Town to 4th place and the play-offs at the end of his first season where they were ousted in the semis by Bradford City.

We were soon underway with the game quickly turning into a slow burner. It was watchable, with both sides regularly getting at the opposition’s defences, though clear chances were at a premium. After an early injury to Gwion Edwards, that forced the winger from the field, his replacement, Danny Lloyd, quickly became a focal point. For both good and bad reasons. The good being that he was a constant threat to the home defence. The bad? Well he, along with team-mate (more infamous for these reasons) Marcus Maddison, spent a lot of time falling to the floor under ‘minimal contact’, shall we say. One where the latter rolled away in “pain” before recovering in double-quick time was particularly embarrassing.

Match Action

Match Action

Highbury at closer quarters

Anyway, Lloyd was definitely the lesser of the two at fault and he created the first true chance of the game, firing a low shot narrowly wide of Alex Cairns’ upright. However, this was to be punished soon after, when Fleetwood full-back Amari’i Bell was give the ball just inside the area by Devante Cole and the home #3 evaded Posh’s ex-Newcastle United man Steven Taylor to fire across Jonathan Bond and into the Posh ‘keeper’s far corner. 1-0 and I saw my chance to beat the queues at the food bar then and there. A box of chips and gravy was purchased (£2) and were pretty decent too. They certainly helped me through the remainder of the half, which somewhat fizzled out into a bit of stalemate. Half-Time, one-nil to the Cod Army.

After a short, swift rain shower had blown across the Highbury pitch, we were back underway for the second half. And it didn’t take too long for the visitors to get themselves level with their hosts. Maddison, this time, showed his better side to deliver a sweet cross onto which Michael Doughty ran and the midfielder placed his header beyond Cairns. One-a-piece.

After Fleetwood went close to restoring their lead shortly afterwards, a low shot avoiding the post as I was distracted by something else, the contest, again, somewhat levelled out for a fair period from then on in. But Maddison almost netted a spectacular goal to liven things up in the midst of the half, sending a dipping effort from all of 40 yards onto the crossbar with Cairns seemingly beaten. He’s a really fine player at this level, if only he’d iron out the overzealous play-acting (and, yes, I’m aware of how old I sound!).

Match Action

Match Action

Despite the efforts of the young band of home support within the middle of the Memorial Stand to drive their side onwards, it looked as though the game was going to meander through to a draw as we entered the final ten minutes. But, with seven minutes remaining, it seemed their efforts had paid off when the home side forced a corner. The resulting ball in wasn’t cleared and the rebound from the skipper Nathan Pond’s header found its way to Cian Bolger and Pond’s fellow defender lashed the ball home to send the youths, and the rest of the crowd of a Cod persuasion, into raptures. They almost went 3-1 up seconds later, when Jack Sowerby’s curled free-kick from close range struck the bar. All things pointed to Town finishing the stronger.

But then it all went wrong. On 88 minutes, that man Maddison again sent the ball sailing over the defenders who looked all at sea (sea-related puns aplenty!) and seizing upon the ball was Jack Marriott, who kept his cool to dink over the onrushing Cairns and into the net to jubilant scenes in the away end. If that wasn’t good enough for the Posh fans, then a couple of minutes later it got all the better. A free-kick was won around 23 yards out. Maddison’s initial effort was fired straight at Cairns but, to his dread, the ball escaped his grasp and fell kindly for Lloyd to slot home and wheel away in front of wild scenes within the small band of travelling Posh supporters in the opposite terrace.

Just prior to Bolger’s goal

Despite a late chance for the much-maligned Devante Cole (at least it seemed this was the case on the terraces, with one guy shouting something along the lines of “P*ss off to Sheffield United”), who struck the woodwork in the final minute with a point-blank header, the Posh would take the points back to Cambridgeshire with them, even going close themselves with the last meaningful touch of the game seeing Lewis Coyle hit the bar himself. After the final whistle, a traipse back through the park and to the tram stop was undertaken, with a quick couple back in Fleetwood being the plan.

Back on the tram less than 10 minutes after the whistle, I decided to remain on the main street and firstly headed to the second of the larger pubs on the road, namely the Royal Oak. The blue-and-white-clad pub was a decent little boozer too and another bonus was the appearance of Hop House 13 on draught. A further plus was the price, it coming in at around £3.50. After finishing off this and a swift stop off in the Spoons opposite the tram stop, it was time to head back to Blackpool for the lovely bus replacement service onwards. After navigating a couple of people asking for cash, I was soon on the coach and heading for Preston. Again, all went well (including passing a fracking area with, thankfully, no protests to hold us up) and the train back through to Manchester and home was completed with no problems, unlike the previous evening.

Royal Oak

‘Spoons

So there ends the double-header weekend. It’s now onwards to the Christmas period, where four games in seven days is the plan, starting at Bootle and ending in Salford, whilst encompassing Wigan and Billinge. Be jealous. Anyway, as for the day as a whole. The game was decent enough without its supercharged last fifteen or so which meant it got oh so much better. Highbury’s a nice enough ground to watch the game from, so no problems there and I quite liked Fleetwood’s unique charm too. Bootle up next and, if I don’t get that one done prior to the day itself, a very Merry Christmas to all (but a few)!

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Programme: 5 (extra point for cheapness)

Food: 9 (extra for the gravy!)

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Shrewsbury

Result: Shrewsbury Town 2-0 Morecambe (FA Cup 2nd Round)

Venue: New Meadow (Saturday 2nd December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 3,184

Continuing on the quest of ticking the “92”, my next stop was decided by whom was drawn out of the famed FA Cup hat. The second round draw threw up little in the way of really interesting ties, but the one that did catch my eye more than any was Morecambe’s trip to Shrewsbury’s New Meadow (no sponsorships here!). Having visited the town during the competition’s formative rounds, seeing Haughmond overcome Matlock Town at the Shrewsbury Sports Village, it was back into Shropshire I was thusly headed, as the town team took on the Shrimps in the Second Round.

Setting off at a little before 10am, a quick transit through Manchester saw me headed southwards through a damp Cheshire countryside, eventually arriving in a slightly sunnier Shrewsbury at a little before midday, having been slightly delayed en route. I know, shock, horror. Exiting the station, I made haste towards the town centre and, more specifically, towards my first planned drinking hole of the day, Loggerheads. Loggerheads, which stands opposite the famed Prince Rupert hotel and is named after the town’s coat of arms (as seen on the club’s crest), was one I’d bypassed during my previous visit to the town, but it was one that I’d also kept in the memory banks for my eventual return back for a game at Salop. As such, I had no hesitation in deciding that this was where I’d begin my tour. A quick pint of Thatcher’s cider in the old gent’s area within was had whilst creating an itinerary on the fly, before I headed off around the corner to the, slightly obscured, Three Fishes. And what a place!

Loggerheads

Three Fishes

The wooden beam-clad Fishes, the self-proclaimed first “smoke-free public house” was definitely the popular point during the early morning/late afternoon period, with the place being probably more full of eaters than those partaking in the game of drink. Regardless of standing room only, I remained in for a further Thatcher’s cider (cider would prove to be my ever-present drink of choice for the day) before heading back out onwards down a back street and onto the ‘Town Walls’. And when I say “back street”, it certainly isn’t in the same grain as I’m used to! Anyway, having navigated my way along the walls, past the “cathedral” and over the River Severn, I arrived at stop number three, the Hop & Friar.

The Hop & Friar did still have the scent of the newly bleached toilets wafting through as I entered, though this soon subsided (or I got used to it). A further apple-based tipple – Stowford this time – was had whilst watching the early part of the Chelsea-Newcastle game on TV, before it was time to continue to crawl ever closer to the New Meadow, or the Oteley Road Stadium, as the club seem more inclined to call it on their site. Up next was the Crown, a seemingly recently renovated pub where the original plan was to have a drink outside near the moored up boats alongside it. Sadly, the weather had begun to take something of a turn and so this was put on the back-burner, with me instead settling for the consolation prize of the remainder of the Blues-Magpies first-half.

Hop & Friar

Shrewsbury Cathedral & town walls on right

Heading over the Severn

Soon enough, it was time to walk up towards the ground. Heading around the school opposite, I continued on past a few further watering holes en route (making a mental note of each for a possible post-game drink, of course), before eventually arriving some fifteen minutes later at a large roundabout/mass of junctions, at which stood the newly renamed Wild Pig. The former Brooklands Hotel still holds clues as to its former identity, with a few posters on the interior walls alluding to the former racing circuit in Kent. A final Strongbow in here amongst the mostly Shrews following fans was finished up, with only a short walk over the road to the ground to complete.

The ground is easily visible, set back alongside the railway tracks leading into Shrewsbury from Hereford and further afield, so no chances of getting lost today….I hoped. After purchasing a seemingly full issue programme for £3, I headed onwards to the away ticket office to purchase the piece of paper that would allow me entry. Soon £15 lighter, I contacted Shrimps fan Paul, who had previously informed me he was around the “Fan Zone” to ask as to where that actually was, before I reckoned I might be better served heading into the ground then and there and grabbing something to eat instead. A good call, even though I say so myself…

Crown

Wild Pig

Approaching the New Meadow

A Steak & Ale pie was had for £3, which was your standard Wright’s affair, prior to the kick-off. Arriving ever so slightly earlier also gave a little extra time to take in the Meadow with little in the way of distraction. The ~10k seater stadium is comprised of four all-seated stands currently though, as many will be aware, this may change in the future, with the “safe standing” discussion focussing on an area of the railed seats being fitted at the ground. Still, this is in the “in theory” phase. As it stands now, the New Meadow’s stands are all covered, single-tier affairs with all standing at a similar height and being almost indistinguishable from each other, bar the fact the stands at both ends are shorter in length, than their neighbours. The Roland Wychery Stand (named after the chairman) serves as the Main Stand and houses the boxes etc. and runs down one side, with both it and the West Stand opposite featuring short floodlights protruding from the roof. A scoreboard is located to the rear of the away end, with the stand opposite being almost a replica, minus said electronic feature. As for Shrewsbury Town F.C….

History Lesson:

Shrewsbury Town F.C. was formed in 1886 following the demise of the first Shropshire Wanderers club and, albeit more indirectly, the Castle Blues, who were apparently a side on the rougher end of the spectrum and had several games marred by violence. The current club was said to have, by some accounts, formed in the town’s Lion Hotel and others say it was in the Turf Hotel. Who knows, but what is certain is that the Shrews did come into being and began playing friendly contests and regional cup competitions during their formative years, before becoming founder members of the Shropshire & District League in 1890, though they would join the Birmingham & District League after five seasons. Their first major honour came in 1891, in the form of the first of their eventual 6 Welsh Cups (1891, 1938, ’77, ’79, ’84, ’85).

1910 saw the club begin to search for a new home, having played at a few venues since their inception but spending most of their time at Copthorne Barracks. They eventually settled on Gay Meadow and would call the ground their home for the next 97 years, prior to moving to their current site. The club were largely a mid-table side during their stint in the Birmingham League, though did win the 1923 title before moving into the Midland League in 1937. This preceded one of the club’s more successful years, with the coming season seeing the Shrews win a league and cup treble, with the League title being joined by the Midland League Cup and Welsh Cup, before the outbreak of WWII put a stop to most footballing activity.

Today’s game

Returning to the league post-war, Salop would later be admitted to the Football League’s Third Division (North) in 1950, following a good run of seasonal results that saw the club lift both the 1946 & ’48 Midland League titles, following the league’s expansion from 88 clubs to 92. Their first promotion followed in 1959, when the club were promoted to the now nationalised Third Division from Division Four.

1961 saw Salop reach the semi-finals of the League Cup. After defeating Everton in the quarters, the club eventually lost out 4-3 on aggregate to Rotherham United. This era saw Arthur Rowley (the club’s legendary player-manager) arrive at the club and he’d go on to break Dixie Dean’s goal-scoring record, netting his 380th career league goal in 1961 in a game against Bradford City at Valley Parade. He’d remain as manager through to 1968, with the club remaining in Division 3 through to 1974 when they were relegated back to the bottom division, ending a fifteen year stint in the third tier. However their stay back in Division 4 would last just a sole season, the Shrews finishing as 1975 runners-up.

1979 then saw the Shrews take the Division 3 title, a 4-1 win over Exeter City sealing their promotion in front of over 14,000 fans at the Gay Meadow. The club also reached that season’s FA Cup quarter finals. The club would remain in the Second Division for the next decade, highlights of their stint here being a second FA Cup quarter-final appearance – the run included victory over UEFA Cup holders Ipswich Town – and wins over future Premiership winners Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea. Following the relegation back to Division 3 in 1989, a second drop followed in 1992 which saw the club remain in Division 3, but now playing in the fourth tier, following the creation of the new top division, the Premiership.

New Meadow

Two seasons later, Shrewsbury would win the Third Division title but would remain for just the three seasons before slipping back into the bottom division in 1997. However, 1996 did see the club make their Wembley bow, competing for the Football League Trophy in the final against Rotherham. However, this ended in a 2-1 defeat, with future Shrews striker Nigel Jemson netting both the Millers’ goals. The turn of the millennium almost saw things enter a new low for the club, when they just about staved off relegation to the Conference by beating Exeter on the last day of the season.

Things soon began to look up for Salop, the club narrowly missing out on the 2002 Third Division play-offs before going on a famed Cup run the next season, which featured the defeat of Premiership outfit Everton at the Gay Meadow. But fortunes dipped as quickly as they rose and the close of the 2002-’03 season saw Shrewsbury enter the non-league ranks for the first time in 53 years. A sole season in the Conference followed, with the Shrews finishing up third, defeating Barnet in the play-off semis prior to achieving promotion back to the League with a shoot-out win over Aldershot Town.

Main Stand

After reaching the League 2 play-offs, 2007 would see the club leave Gay Meadow and move into their current home. 2009 would see the club again in the play-offs, but would again lose out at Wembley, this time via a 90th minute winner to Gillingham. 2011 would see a third Shrews appearance in the League 2 play-offs but it was third time unlucky, so the club would have been happy to bypass them completely the next year in finishing as League 2 runners-up and thus taking a spot in League One for the following campaign. A two-year stint was all that followed prior to the dreaded drop again being suffered, but only a further season in League Two was competed in prior to the club being promoted once more to League One. A late season upturn in form saw Shrewsbury clear danger last season, eventually finishing up 18th.

In addition, the club have also won numerous “minor” honours, including a record 66 Shropshire Senior Cups, three Herefordshire Senior Cups and three Walsall Senior Cups, along with seven Shropshire Mayor’s Charity Cups and two Keys Cups.

The game got underway with Shrewsbury quickly gaining the initiative in the contest and asserting their authority over their lower-ranked opponents. The League One promotion chasers saw Alex Rodman’s shot strike the upright only a couple of minutes into the match. However, despite their overall comfort in the game, the Shrews never looked like they were going to run riot against a spirited Morecambe outfit.

Stefan Payne then went close for the hosts, firing an effort wide of Barry Roche’s upright, before the home side finally took the lead just after the half-hour, when Shaun Whalley fizzed a low ball in across the front of goal and Rodman arrived at the back-post to slot beyond the helpless Roche. One-nil to Shrewsbury and you felt that any chance of an upset, however slight they were to start with, had subsided fully now.

Match Action

Match Action

Whalley nets his penalty!

Indeed, this feeling became cemented just a couple of minutes later when, from the concourse of the stadium, I heard a roar go up and something of a cheer. Now intrigued as to just what was going on, I swiftly returned pitch-side to find Whalley placing the ball on the spot. Penalty. As Morecambe fan Dom would later tell me during the second half, this was for a trip by Roche on a Shrews forward (latterly found to be Jon Nolan). Up stepped Whalley and he calmly sent the Shrimps glove-man the wrong way to surely give the orange-and-blue-clad hosts their passage to the third round. Half-Time, 2-0.

A couple of half-time substitutes were sent on at the break as Morecambe sought to test the former Harrogate Railway loan stopper Craig McGillivray. However, McGillivray would have little to do for the majority of the half, though his opposite number would also see threats to his goal recede too. However, he did have to pull off a spectacular save to deny a Louis Dodds effort. From there, I proceeded to rekindle my apparent role as “Laurence Wilson doppelgänger”, at least in Dom’s eyes anyway!

Match Action

Match Action

From then on, Shrewsbury looked to accept their comfort a little too much and they almost allowed Morecambe to get back into the game. First, McGillivray saved from Morecambe’s Garry Thompson, before they had a golden chance to get back into the contest with around ten minutes left on the clock, when Callum Lang intercepted a loose ball and found himself advancing towards an unguarded McGillivray. Alas for him and the travelling support around me, his finish was a disappointing one, allowing the ‘keeper – standing in for on-loan Manchester Utd stopper Dean Henderson – to get down well to save with a strong hand. That was that for the second round, as the Shrews advanced into the hat and an eventual tie with former Shrews player David Moyes’ West Ham, whilst Morecambe were left to focus on their league campaign.

After finishing up my chat with the now Mohican-less Paul, it was onwards through the darkness and back towards the town, along with Dom and his fellow Shrimp follower Jake , who were also on the train back to Crewe. But, I was soon sidetracked. I mentioned the Belle Vue Tavern in passing and Dom remarked how it looked a decent boozer. This was all I needed to hear and, after a moment’s hesitation, I was no longer heading to the station and was instead enjoying a pint of Strongbow in the company of some fine birds….of the avian variety.

Belle Vue Tavern

Upon overhearing the great news of United having gone two up at Ashburton Grove, it was time to head onwards. After bidding farewell to my newly found feathered friends (whether they wanted to be or not, I don’t know), I continued on my walk back towards Shrewsbury station and the castle standing proudly over it. However, it was on my return here that I made a grave mistake. I decided to head into the Station Hotel over the way. Now, that wasn’t a mistake in itself as the place was pretty lively and a decent place overall, but deciding on a pint of Rekorderlig was, setting me back around £4.60, whereas everywhere else had been around the £3.50 mark. Ouch. But, to be fair, it was a decent pint and if that’s as bad as a day gets, I don’t think there can be too many complaints!

After milling about in the station for a while for my delayed – again, shock, horror – train back to Manchester (I couldn’t get a signal in the bar), it eventually rocked up and a problem-free trip back followed, with all connections going well, though I did contrive to almost miss my train home somehow. Disaster was averted, however, and so there ends my (second) visit to Shrewsbury and first to the New Meadow. All in all, it had been a decent day. Shrewsbury is a fine town and the ground was decent enough too. The game was ok for a slightly cut-price cost and there was no overall big travel problems. Next week sees a return way back down into the amateur ranks, with a visit to the shadow of Old Trafford. Hopefully anyway, though the snow could yet play its first role of the winter….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 7