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

 

 

Manchopper in….Gillingham

Result: Gillingham 0-0 Oldham Athletic (EFL League 1)

Venue: Priestfield Stadium (Saturday 25th November 2017, 3pm)

Att: 4,364

Another Saturday rolled around and I had inherited something of a welcome dilemma. Having been kindly sorted some First Class tickets down to London by “Mr Nobody” (whose own groundhopping blog can be found here), I now had to find myself a game within the smoke. This proved something of a tricky task, with me primarily looking for a league game to continue my run so far this season and my early options looked to be between Fulham & QPR. Alas, Fulham ended up being pre-bought tickets only, with Rangers’ game being moved two full days later which meant another scan of the fixtures was required. It was then that the possibility to visit one of the grounds I’ve had in my sights for a long while reared its head.

Now, some of you may shake your head when I say that Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium had been one of my long-term targets due to the ‘allure’ of taking a seat in the “temporary” away stand at the ground, but having seen it multiple times on the respective highlight shows over the years, it became something of a weirdly iconic stand to me, along with the small two-tiered stand at Roots Hall, which, incidentally, was also on my list of games today. But, on account I was to save a hell of a lot more in doing Priestfield on this very day, I set off for Kent under grey, leaden Manchester skies.

Priestfield wasn’t the only new location for me today. Indeed, both Gillingham and Kent itself were all new ventures for me, though I’m not sure that countyhopping will catch on quite as much. Still, it was a welcome aside and having travelled down trouble-free within the Virgin Trains posh seats, I headed over to St. Pancras for my connection over to Gillingham. Having bought my ticket here, I just about made the train and arrived around 45 minutes later in the Kent town.

Gillingham

Gillingham

With my late arrival at just after two obviously meaning I had little time to explore the town, I made haste for the Past & Present pub at the far end of the market area, which was full of Christmas stuff, security clothing and a large John Cena poster, which was slightly off-putting as it grew closer. It must have affected me more than I realised at the time, with me somehow managing to completely walk past my intended stop-off (as I later found out) and so headed back towards the station, finding refuge in the Britannia.

A proper old-school pub, the Britannia was a decent enough place with cheap offerings of Strongbow being most welcome. Though, with the clock already approaching 2.30pm, I had little time to remain in here and quickly polished off my pint before following the small group of Oldham fans who’d left just before me down the road towards Priestfield, latterly walking straight up Priestfield Road and to the away turnstiles directly in front. Upon arrival, I confirmed with the steward (big props to the Gills stewards, whom I found to be some of the most approachable and non-confrontational I’ve come across) that the match was pay on the turnstile and after the necessity of the searches of both bag and body, I handed over my £22 entry fee and was into the outdoor concourse, where I soon secured a programme for the usual £3. A pretty decent effort too, with a fair amount of it celebrating the club’s victory over their former caterers!

The Britannia

Heading down Priestfield Road

I also reckoned that I’d be better off buying some food pre-match, just in case, and so headed for the kiosk just to the right of the turnstiles. Here, I plumped for the Steak and Ale pie for the sum of £3.80 (yes, really) and headed back up into the seats with my pie secured within a polystyrene box, more usually found with chips within rather than that of a pastry variety. Anyway, it was ok, if unspectacular.

Priestfield is a smart ground in my opinion, nicely blending old and new within its three “permanent” stands. Aside from the aforementioned temp stand, it has the Main, Medway Stand to the left, which is a two-tiered affair, with the top-level being somewhat smaller than the area below. This also plays host to the hospitality areas, with the tunnel protruding from between here and the temp stand. Opposite stands the Rainham End, which is where the majority of the home noise comes from, though this was, understandably, pretty sparing today. This is a one-tiered affair, though is around the same height as its neighbour to the right. Both tower over the Gordon Road Stand, which is hamstrung by the fact it has a height restriction placed upon it, due to the houses just in behind. It appears older than it is, dating from 1997. Priestfield has been infamous in having once been voted the worst ground in England, though I feel that is somewhat harsh, and perhaps is skewed somewhat by soakings that have been endured whilst watching 90 minutes within the Brian Moore Stand! Anyway, that said, here’s the story of Gillingham F.C….

History Lesson:

Gillingham Football Club was founded in 1893 as New Brompton F.C. after the successes of a local junior side by the name of Chatham Excelsior. Land was purchased on the current site shortly afterwards and the club’s first game came later the same year, a 5-1 home defeat to Woolwich Arsenal’s reserves. 1894 saw New Brompton become a founder member of the Southern League and were placed in Division 2, winning the divisional title at the end of the first campaign, after defeating Swindon Town in a title deciding “test match”.

The club would go on to struggle for the most part in Division 1, finishing bottom in 1908, but avoiding relegation due to the league’s expansion. However, they did fare better in the cup that year, defeating the Football League’s First Division side Sunderland, whilst also taking Manchester City to a replay. 1912 saw the club take on the name of Gillingham F.C. but this didn’t do much to help the club’s overall success, the Gills finishing bottom in 1920 but again avoiding relegation and instead being promoted to the newly created Football League Division 3, as all Southern League Division 1 sides were elevated.

Finishing bottom in 1921, there was little improvement in fortunes, with the club regularly in the bottom reaches of the table right through until just prior to the outbreak of WWII when, after finishing bottom of the table, the club had to re-apply for a place for the fifth time. This time, the Gills were unsuccessful and returned to the Southern League with Ipswich Town benefiting from the Kent side’s misfortune. However, this demotion proved to be something of a good thing as the club went on to cement their place as a strong outfit for that level, winning a Kent League & Senior Cup double in 1946. 1947 saw another double, this time in the form of the Southern League title and League Cup, before a second Kent Cup was lifted in 1948 and the Southern League title was won again in 1949.

Open nature of the Brian Moore Stand

After plans to expand the Football League Division 3 (South) by two teams came to fruition, Gillingham were elected to be one of these two and thus took a place here. They would remain in the Division through to 1959 when further reforms saw the club take a spot in the new Fourth Division. Again, a fairly lengthy stay would follow, with the Gills remaining here through until 1964 when they would be promoted as Fourth Division Champions on goal average, this being the tightest ever Football League title finish.

Remaining in the Division 3 through 1971, Gillingham were relegated back to Division 4, though a relatively brief three-year stay here was ended with promotion back once more as runners-up. Their stay here would regularly see Gillingham in the upper reaches of the table, with promotion challenges being a fairly regular occurrence, 1987 being the chief example of this, the club reaching the play-off final only to lose out to Swindon Town. However, this period did see the Gills produce players such as Steve Bruce and Tony Cascarino, the latter apparently bought from non-league outfit Crockenhill for the princely sum of a “set of tracksuits”. 1987 also saw the club receive headlines as they defeated Southend United and Chesterfield – 8-1 and 10-0 respectively – in consecutive weeks. However, this didn’t help the manager too much, as he was sacked soon after with the club dropping back into Division 4 in 1989.

However, restructuring due to the creation of the Premiership saw the Gills in the newly designated Division 3 and they narrowly avoided dropping into the non-league ranks come the end of the ’92-’93 campaign. Financial issues followed with the threat of being expelled from the League prevalent through 1995 but upon current owner Paul Scally’s purchase of the club, fortunes took a turn for the better and with Tony Pulis in charge of on-field matters, the Gills were promoted as Division 3 runners-up in 1996. 1999 would see the club making the Division 2 play-offs, losing out in the final in dramatic fashion – on penalties after a late fight back – to Manchester City (another game as to why the Gills are a club I’ve wanted to visit) and Pulis was sacked not long after. 2000 would see this loss rectified under Peter Taylor, the Gills defeating Wigan Athletic, after extra time, at Wembley to be promoted to Division 1 (second tier) for the first time in the club’s history.

Looking out over the town from atop the BMS

After Taylor’s departure, Andy Hessenthaler took the reigns and led the club to its best ever finish, 11th, in 2002-’03. However, this was as good as it got and after the departure of Hessenthaler in late 2004, the club were relegated to the recently renamed League One at the close of the ’04-’05 season. Further relegation in 2008 saw Gillingham return to the bottom division of the Football League, League 2. This would only last for a sole season, though, the club returning back to League One after victory over Shrewsbury Town in the play-off final,, but the yo-yo effect took over and the club stayed for just one season in League One before suffering the drop in 2010.

Under Martin Allen’s stewardship, Gillingham would be promoted once more as League Two champions in 2013, before Allen was relieved of his duties after his sole season in charge. Last season saw Gillingham finished up in 20th place in League One, staving off the relegation zone threat and have just appointed Steve Lovell as permanent manager, following a stint as caretaker boss where Lovell has overseen an upturn in form.

Getting underway at shortly after 3pm, the game was stopped for a lengthy time early on following a head injury to Gills’ Lee Martin, the captain having been hit in the head by a powerful attempted clearance at close range. Martin was subsequently hospitalised as a precaution, but was apparently back at the ground come full-time. From here on in, the game was a watchable one, though it was getting rather chilly in our uncovered abode.

Both teams traded chances throughout the half, with chances coming and going at regular intervals, Tom Eaves looking particularly dangerous for the hosts and Eoin Doyle the focal point for a large number of Oldham’s forward forays. Tomas Holy was surely hoping he wasn’t to need divine intervention, though he was the busier of the two stoppers through the half, saving from Irishman Doyle on two occasions, including one that took a late swerve that the Czech instinctively stuck out a hand to claw away.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

At the other end, Oldham’s cult hero between the sticks, Johny Placide, was having his own fun, doing a now standard turn within the box to avoid two onrushing Gills players, though he was tested just before the break as he saved from Conor Wilkinson’s header. Following an eventual nine minutes of stoppage time, the ref called an end to proceedings and the teams headed in goalless. But it had been a good game so far regardless.

After an uneventful break that mostly featured looking out over the ever darkening Kent town and beyond, the teams headed back out onto the field and got the second forty-five going. Again it was Oldham that had the better of the game for the most part, Doyle again being denied by Holy when one-on-one, before an intuitive training ground free-kick saw the two men shielding the ball instead trade said ball between them with Craig Davies’ eventual low drive being watched closely by Holy.

Josh Parker responded for the hosts, firing a long-range effort into the Rainham End and this signalled a good fifteen minutes of Gillingham being in the ascendancy. Eaves fired wide of Placide’s right-hand upright before Parker spurned what was arguably the hosts’ best chance of the game, getting clear on the edge of the area but came closer to row Z then the net in truth when he ought to have done much better. His reaction proved as much.

Darkness begins to fall over Priestfield

Match Action

Oldham then began to come again and had their own clear opportunity when sub, Nantes loanee Queensy Menig, got a clear run into the box, rounded Holy and shot, only to be denied by the covering Byrne on the goal-line. The Dutchman’s pace was causing the tiring Gills back-line some issues at this point in the game, but slowly the Gills became the more dangerous side in the late stages and came oh so close to taking all three points.

As the clock ticked past the ninetieth minute and into added time, Gillingham won a free-kick around 20 yards out after a fairly cynical foul. Luke O’Neill took responsibility and struck his kick sweetly. The ball looked destined for the net, with one fan near me even having time to say “I told y….” in response to his previous prediction of the coming shot ending up in the top corner, but Haitian international Placide somehow managed to get his fingertips to the ball, diverting it against the underside of the crossbar, the ball bouncing down onto the line before being cleared away. A superb stop. Holy was applauding afterwards, though this may have been for his team-mate’s effort, rather than any ‘keeper’s union recognition. Full-Time followed with a point-a-piece a fair result on reflection after one of the better nil-nil’s I’ve seen. With a little added to both teams, they can be better.

In the Southern Belle

A swift exit and jog back to the station saw me arrive in time for a quick pint in the neighbouring Southern Belle pub, costing around £3.50. Having seen both these pubs pulled down somewhat in reviews, I feel that’s a bit harsh as I’ve definitely seen – and experienced – worse! Anyway, as a few other travelling Latics fans arrived through the doors, I exited and headed back across the road in time for the train back to St. Pancras. All on time here and I was back in the Capital for just after six, giving me a good half-hour to visit the Doric Arch, a favoured stopping off point for numerous fans and travellers aplenty. The Doric was again rammed with people, though unlike my previous attempt at visiting back in April, getting served was possible and a pint of Amstel was a nice end to another visit down South.

I was soon travelling home (via free food and hot drinks courtesy of my posh tickets) and all was going well with my plan being to rekindle my regular Piccadilly Tap visits. Alas, congestion around Piccadilly meant this was soon put on the back-burner, meaning a slight dampener at the end of the day, but at least that’s a good £4 for next week saved up! As for next week, it’s back on the Cup trail and a likely return visit to Shropshire for that competition. A bigger venue this time, though….

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 4

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Bradford (Bradford City AFC)

Result: Bradford City 2-0 Chesterfield (FA Cup First Round)

Venue: Valley Parade (Saturday 4th November 2017, 3pm)

Att: 4,747

The FA Cup continues to roll on through the rounds in what seems like double quick time and, allied with this, my road to the 92 is helped out a little by the cut-price games on offer. With savings of up to £15 occasionally on offer, it would seem silly not to take advantage of one of the ties in the oldest cup competition’s first “proper round” at such a venue.

As such, when the draw was made, a few options were offered up from longer range journeys to the likes of Northampton or Newport to the closer to home Shrewsbury and Bradford City. Of course, it should already be pretty obvious where I ended up after possible plans for a trip back to Salop fell through. Into the valley I was headed with sights set on (current) league ground #34 (I’m a late starter!).

Setting off at just before half-past 10, I arrived into the North Yorkshire city at just before midday. I’d already scouted out the numerous possible “cultural” options on offer in the city centre and towards the ground. I reckoned on starting out at the Old Bank pub, located on Bradford’s Market Street. This proved a costly decision with my pint of Erdinger setting me back the best part of a fiver. Ouch, great start.

Bradford (not too flattering, admittedly)

Old Bank

After taking my time over this one to get something of my money’s worth whilst sitting opposite an old building declaring the names “Brown and Muff” at the top, I was soon heading back out down Market Street and to my next destination, the Exchange Ale House, located down some steps in an almost cellar-like location. It’s not an obvious spot either with little truly pointing out its existence there, but it’s definitely well worth a visit. The lighting sets off a nice vibe and the whole place feels relaxed. A pint of Krusovice set me back a further £4, as the elder guy at the bar rolled off suggestions for a 60’s playlist, all of which were fine choices. You may have guessed I enjoyed it in here!

Alas, it was soon time to head around the corner and to my next planned stop, the City Vaults. Dodging a strange rain shower that appeared to be falling from sun-laden skies, a pint of Heineken’s export variety cost £3.50 here and it was ok, but nothing to really shout about. After sitting in the room atop of the spiral staircase here, the time was approaching to head onwards and slightly closer to the ground.

In the Exchange

Heading to the City Vaults

Heading past a street preacher loudly exclaiming whatever he was attempting to get across and numerous charity workers from one organisation all trying to stop me, I eventually found refuge in an old-school hostelry by the name of the Shoulder of Mutton. It was well populated in the small-ish pub, and its Taddy Lager definitely brought a cheaper option to the table, which was most welcome by this point! However, with space at something of a premium at tables and the clock approaching the stroke of two, I reckoned I’d best head for the ground via my final planned stoppage at the Bradford Arms.

A final bottle in here saw me finished up and so all that was left was to go across the road and to the stadium in the hope of beating a fair amount of the crowds. This worked well too, with me pretty much getting straight through the turnstiles in exchange for the £10 entry fee before making for one of the food bars within the concourse for some much-needed food. Chips bought, it was up to my seat to watch the clash between two teams I’ve (sort of) already seen this season: Bradford City in a friendly at city rivals Park Avenue and Chesterfield at Notts County.

Shoulder of Mutton

Bradford Arms

Both teams were going through their final pre-match warm-ups ahead of kick-off, with the large stadium looking likely to be fairly derived of people today. Indeed, the best part of two stands were completely untaken. The Chesterfield fans were located in the smaller of the two side-on stands, but towards the far end from where I was sat. To the near end was the other large, two tiered end which links up with its almost twin-looking neighbour. The opposite end features a smaller two-tiered effort, unused today, with the ground definitely varying its look around the four corners. As for Bradford City themselves….

History Lesson:

Bradford City A.F.C. was founded in 1903 following a series of meetings between the Bradford Observer’s sub-editor, James Whyte, and officials of the FA and Manningham F.C., a local rugby side. The League saw this as an opportunity to promote association football in the county of West Riding and, just four days later, the decision was made to switch Manningham to an association football side. As a result, Bradford City would be formed and would immediately replace Doncaster Rovers as a Football League club.

Adopting Manningham’s claret and amber colours and continuing on at Valley Parade, Bradford City competed in their first ever game, a two-nil Division 2 defeat at Grimsby Town and won the first of four straight West Riding County Cups in 1906. 1908 would see City win the Division 2 title and with it came promotion to the top-flight, just five years after the club’s founding. Narrowly avoiding relegation at the close of their first season in Division 1, City settled and finished up with a 5th place in 1911, which still remains the club’s highest league finish. That season also saw the club take their only FA Cup triumph, defeating Newcastle United one-nil in a replayed final. Their defence of the Cup the following season featured the first ever Bradford derby, with City overcoming rivals Bradford (Park Avenue) F.C.

Bradford City would remain in the First Division up until WWI and for a further three seasons after the resumption of football. Following their 1922 relegation to Division 2, the club struggled and dropped into the Division 3 (North) in 1927. However, they’d return to the second tier after a two season spell in the Third Division, winning the title under the guidance of an early, returning club legend, Peter O’Rourke, under whom the club had their 1911 successes. He’d gone on to leave after a further season in charge. 1937 would see City return to Division 3 (North) following relegation, but this would enable the club to lift silverware shortly afterwards in the form of the 1939 Third Division (North) Challenge Cup. The Bantams were never able to defend the trophy due to outbreak of WWII shortly after their triumph.

Arriving at Valley Parade

Post-war, City spent most of their time in the lower reaches of the Third Division (North), but a slight upturn in fortunes saw the club finish in the upper half of the table up until 1958 and this enabled the club to take a place in the “new” Division Three, upon the creation of Division Four, which City would end up in at the close of the 1960-’61 season, though the club did upset Manchester United that same season in the inaugural League Cup competition. Following a close call in 1964, City achieved promotion back to Division 3 in 1969.

After yo-yoing slightly between the two lower divisions between ’69 & 82 (which saw two relegations in ’72 & ’78 counteracted by a promotion in 1977 between those two promotion dates), 1985 saw the Bantams take the Division Three title and return to the second tier. Of course, this success was massively overshadowed by the Valley Parade disaster which claimed the lives of 56 people, with the ground catching fire during the final game of that very season.

After 19 months away from Valley Parade as a result of the tragedy, the club returned to the newly built ground and missed out on promotion to Division One on the last day of the ’87-’88 season and were then defeated in the play-offs. This missed opportunity proved costly, as the club would be relegated to Division 3 two years later. However, they’d go up through the play-offs of the newly designated Division 2 in 1996, beating Notts County at Wembley under Chris Kamara, who’d guide the club to safety the next season by winning their last two league games.

Upon Kamara’s dismissal in 1998, Paul Jewell took the reigns and led Bradford City to the Premiership after finishing second in Division 1 at the end of his first full season in charge (1998-’99). The following season saw the club survive their first season in the Prem by defeating Liverpool on the final day, but Jewell would leave shortly afterwards. City would be relegated in 2001 and after a season back in Division One, the club’s struggles with finances and administration would appear.

BCAFC

After two further relegations (2004 &’07), the Bantams found themselves in “League 2”, the first time City would be playing in the bottom tier for 26 seasons. 2013 saw the club become the first fourth-tier side to reach the League Cup final since 1962 and the first to make a major Wembley final. They had defeated three Premier League sides (Wigan Athletic, Arsenal & Aston Villa) en route to the final, but lost convincingly to Swansea City on the day. However, better memories were made a few months later when City returned to play under the arch and defeat Northampton Town in the League 2 play-off final to achieve promotion to League One.

They have remained in League One to this day, though 2014-’15 did see City embark on a famed Cup run, in which they knocked out then-Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and followed this by taking the scalp of another PL club, Sunderland, in reaching the quarter-finals where their journey was ended in a replay by Reading. Last season saw Bradford City finish up in 5th place in League One, the club being defeated in the play-offs.

We were soon underway and it certainly didn’t take long for the hosts to take the lead, just four minutes in fact. The goal came courtesy of Alex Jones’ through ball to Alex Gilliard who advanced into the area before finishing calmly beyond Spireites stopper Joe Anyon. It already looked to be an uphill struggle for the Football League’s basement club and they weren’t to offer much threat going forward over the ninety minutes.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The home crowd was pretty understated throughout the game for the most part but their opposite numbers from Derbyshire, to their credit, certainly tried to spur their team on. This did end up with Chesterfield’s Kristian Dennis forcing the ball into the net around the half-hour, but this was ruled out for a pretty clear-cut offside. However, this misfortune would almost immediately cost the visitors as the Bantams went down the other end and extended their advantage.

A nice ball through to the aforementioned Jones by his fellow forward Charlie Wyke saw him clear in the area. With only Anyon to beat, he clipped the ball beyond the ‘keeper and across the goalmouth, the ball nestling in the far corner to give the hosts what looked to be a likely unassailable lead. It was almost cut-and-dry on the stroke of half-time when Wyke found the net, but his header from a corner was ruled out for a push by Wyke in the build-up. So, half-time arrived with the scoreboard reading two-nil.

The second half saw Bradford seemingly sit-back on their advantage and look to see the game out without affording their visitors any hopes of getting back into the contest. However, this did almost come back to bite them when former Manchester United loanee (in somewhat strange circumstances), Andy Kellett’s low ball into the area was blazed over the bar by the well-placed Joe Rowley.

Match Action

Match Action

This did seem to alert Bradford to the danger and Wyke forced a save from Anyon after an audacious 25 yard volley which the gloveman palmed away to safety. Missed chances for both Jones and Paul Taylor went begging for the Bantams but this mattered little in the end as the hosts progressed the Second Round with a comfortable win, where they will now welcome Plymouth.

Following a visit to the memorial for the victims of the Valley Parade fire, I was left with a fair wait for a train back into Manchester and so a pint in the City Gent was called for. Quickly polishing off my Strongbow in the expansive and pretty grand-looking decorated pub, I was attracted by the Sparrow next door which looked to be very popular indeed. This proved the case upon entering, with it being standing room only. As such, I plumped for just a half in here though a table was soon afforded to me. After wasting away the remaining minutes over this, it was soon time to head the fifteen minutes or so to Bradford Interchange where I made the train in the nick of time, having lost five minutes on route somewhere! This quick exert of energy would prove unwise, as I proceeded to continually nod off! Luckily, the train’s terminus was at Manchester anyway, so there was no issue in heading onwards to far-flung shores.

City Gent

So there ends another round of the cup. It was good to get another long-term target of mine in Valley Parade “ticked” and so now attention turns to the next round and the possibilities there. There’s a few too! As for the day, I enjoyed my tour de Bradford and the ground was pretty cool too. The game was as I expected, really so wasn’t too disappointed and you can’t be for a tenner anyway really can you? Next up is a return to the FA Trophy and, in keeping with today’s blog’s featured tournament, a team with a history in the Cup of giant-killings….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Programme: 5 (cut price issue)

Food: 5

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Bristol (Bristol Rovers FC)

Result: Bristol Rovers vs Milton Keynes Dons (EFL League 1)

Venue: Memorial Stadium (Saturday 28th October 2017, 3pm)

Att: 8,701

After a few weeks of lapsing on my quest to tick as many of the “92” as possible prior to my railcard expiry (though with the mooted 26-30 card, hopefully, this may prove not be too important), it was time to climb back on that horse and head off somewhere further afield. The initial plan had been to visit those clubs further away/harder to do and work back on myself, but this has proved rather unrealistic in practice. But today would see that plan resurrected somewhat, with a trip down to Gloucestershire and the city of Bristol.

Having headed into Manchester during the early morning, I caught my train at just before ten and was soon heading South through Cheshire and Staffordshire before arriving into Birmingham, a number of early arriving Manchester City fans disembarking here ahead of their game at West Brom. From there it was through to Bristol without little issue, though I did decide a slight change of transport plans would be needed in order to have a little time to explore the Gloucester Road.

Alighting at Bristol Parkway, I then caught a bus down past the Memorial Stadium and onto Gloucester Road, since I’d been reliably informed this was the only real way to get there. Having lost a little more time in traffic en route, I decided to not push my luck and jumped off a couple of stops earlier than I originally planned. As such, the Golden Lion would become my first taste of Bristolian pubs and it was a decent way to start off with. Nice service twinned with a most welcome, swift pint of Thatchers set me up for the next hour.

Golden Lion

The Sportsman

Onwards I headed to the Sportsman, a pub which I’d had recommended to me by Rovers fan Tom on twitter and which is located in a large Victorian-era building just off Gloucester Road. Indeed, it isn’t quite clear that the building is a pub until you are right upon it and can visually see the sign. It also has the neighbouring “Annexe” bar to the rear, which I neglected to realise was even there until afterwards! In here, a quick pint of Blackthorn cider was enjoyed whilst watching parts of both the games at Old Trafford and Murrayfield, the latter of which I’d been at the previous week. Nice link there, no?

Pint polished off in here, I reckoned that, with the time now at 2pm, I’d better head towards the ground. Initially I planned to head to the Draper’s Arms – Bristol’s first Micropub by all accounts – but instead was side tracked by the Lazy Dog. Indeed it was the nearby Forester’s which seemed to be the more popular of the two drinking holes with numerous fans drinking outside. Due to the fact that getting served in decent time may have been an issue there and also because the Dog looked more interesting to me, I plumped for there. I was happy I had too, with a number of ales being available, alongside a few German beers. It was one of the latter that I settled on, though it certainly burnt a hole in my budget for the day, coming in at a smidgeon under a fiver! It was a fine beer though, and the fiver may have also covered some loss in earnings my impending sneezing fit may have cost them!

The Sportsman, with Gloucs CCC’s lights behind

The nice German stuff in the Lazy Dog

Soon enough it was time to head for the Mem. Following the crowds back onto Gloucester Road, I soon arrived at the gates bearing inscriptions to the memory of those lost in the war. Heading through these, I handed over my £20 fee at the turnstile and walked around the back of the pavilion-like stand and around to the terracing area to the front of it. Squeezing into a place around the half-way line, I apologized to the guy next to me if I’d forced my way in between a group. It turned out I hadn’t and after being asked if I was an MK fan(!), I confirmed I indeed wasn’t (by quite some way) and was just here on the hop. He was bemused by this and asked why I’d travelled, to which I said it’d been one of my long-term ground targets. It was truth, though I’m not sure he really believed it!

Joining the queue

Anyway, with around ten minutes or so to kick-off, the ground was filling up nicely, with the terracing around the ground already filling up very nicely and most people in their seats by this point. Opposite us in front of the “pavilion” was the large Main Stand which looms high over the rest of the ground. This stand also has terracing in front and to both sides, with the MK fans located to the right of it as I looked. To the left stands a permanent covered terrace which was packed full today, with a couple of temporary-looking tent-like stands populating the opposite end and to the right of the “pavilion”. This fairly comfortably held the 8,701 fans in attendance today. Now, here’s the story of the Pirates of Bristol Rovers…

History Lesson:

Bristol Rovers F.C. was founded in 1883 under the name of Black Arabs F.C. after the Arabs rugby team whose predominant kit colour was black. However this name lasted for just the club’s inaugural season before a change to Eastville Rovers in an attempt to attract more fans from the local area. The club played solely in friendly games through to the 1887-’88 season when they joined the Gloucestershire Cup tournament for the first time and 1892 saw them join their first league, in the form of the Bristol & District League, which was renamed the Western League in 1895.

1897 saw Rovers join the Birmingham & District League where they played for two seasons alongside the Western League side. During their time here, the club won one title (1900), added the “Bristol” prefix to their name and turned professional prior to the “Eastville” part of the name being dropped in 1899 and thus Bristol Rovers F.C. came into being. Despite this, the club remained at the Eastville Stadium (where they’d moved to in 1897, after short spells at numerous grounds prior) through to 1986. They joined the newly formed Southern League that year where they’d remain through to 1920, winning one title (in 1905) along the way.

Mem gates

For the 1920-’21 season, the Southern League sides were moved into the new Division Three of the Football League, which was regionalised the following season with Rovers going into the Southern section. They’d go on to remain here for the following thirty years before winning the Division 3 South title in 1953. They went on to contest the next nine seasons in Division 2 prior to relegation in 1962, though the club did achieve their highest finish to date, 6th(1956 & 59), during their time there.

After promotion back to Division 2 in 1974 as runners-up, the club spent seven seasons back in the second tier before dropping back to Division 3 in 1981. After narrowly staving off liquidation and now playing at Bath’s Twerton Park, the club lost in the 1989 play-off final (over two legs), but 1990 saw the club win the Division 3 title and return back to Division 2, but ’92-’93 saw their short stay in the Division 2/Division 1 hybrid end, Division 1 at that point becoming the second tier, following the creation of the Premiership.  Despite play-off final disappointment in 1995, Rovers would remain in the “new” Division 2 through until 2001, whereupon they were relegated to Division 3 and narrowly staved off dropping into the Conference come the close of the following season. All of this encompassed their 1996 move into their current Memorial Stadium home.

BRFC

After successfully navigating the League 2 play-offs in 2007, Rovers returned to the third tier and competed in League 1 for the next four seasons before dropping back to League 2 in 2011. 2014 saw the club reach a low ebb in its history as Rovers dropped out of the league for the first time since their 1920 admission. However, this was quickly rectified with the club immediately taking promotion via the Conference play-offs (after a runners-up finish) and returning to the League 2 in 2015. The following season saw further success as the club were promoted back to League 1 after finishing in third, the final automatic promotion spot. Last season saw Rovers achieve a respectable 10th place in their first season back at tier 3.

*The club have also lifted 32 Gloucestershire Cups (spanning 1889-1995), the Football League Third Division South Cup (1935) & a Watney Cup (1972), the latter being the only “major” cup title to arrive in the trophy cabinet.

Following a fitting tribute to the late Geoff Dunford, credited as a (if not the) major player in the saving of the club from extinction, the game got underway with little of note occurring within the first ten minutes, until the first real action saw Nicholls save from Nichols! Or, slightly less confusingly,  Lee Nicholls denying Tom Nichols. Rovers continued to have the better of the opening quarter of the contest, but never really created much more to worry Nicholls in the Dons goal.

Match Action

Match Action

Just after a minutes applause on the half-hour again in memory of Dunford, Nicholls was forced back into action to palm an effort from Lee Brown around the post. MK responded with half-chances for Aaron Tshibola and Gboly Ariyibi going awry. This would be the signal for me to head for the food van for a Cornish pasty which was well worth missing a few minutes of the uninspiring first half. That is until the final minute of the first period when a scramble in the MK box saw the ball directed towards goal by Rory Gaffney, only for the covering Joe Walsh to clear off the line to ensure his side would head into the dressing rooms all square at the break.

The second half began with MK looking slightly more expansive as they forced a couple of early set-pieces against the Rovers defence. However, these came to nothing and a goal looked a long way off in this game and my thoughts turned to the horrific prospect of two nil-nil’s in four days, following the City-Wolves League Cup game in midweek. Still, I always console myself with the fact this doesn’t come close to the Easter nightmare I suffered a couple of years ago, when I witnessed two goalless draws in one day. Horrendous scenes.

On the line

Match Action

The dangerous Gaffney almost did break the deadlock just before the hour, but his header was pushed onto the bar by Nicholls, with the ball being cleared away before it could cross the line. But this only delayed the opener by ten minutes and it was all down to a terrible mistake by Ed Upson. Upson received the ball only to inexplicably try and head it back to his ‘keeper, somehow not spotting the lurking Tom Nichols. Nichols gleefully accepted the invitation to run untroubled towards his near-namesake in the Dons goal before firing unerringly beyond him and into the back of the net. 1-0 to Rovers and Nichols’ first for the club, with Upson’s 300th career appearance being one the Dons defender won’t remember too fondly.

Seven minutes later and Rovers had the points sewn up as Gaffney got the goal his performance had deserved. After receiving the ball on the left side of the area, Gaffney turned, advanced slightly and fired low into the far corner, picking the gap out perfectly. 2-0 and that definitely seemed game over, with the Dons offering very little in terms of attack by this point and it didn’t look like changing any time soon.

Match Action

Match Action

Chuks Aneke – who, along with Aaron Tshibola, could be said to have probably been MK’s best player on the day – blazed over with the last meaningful kick of the game as the whistle followed soon after the signal the three points were remaining at the Mem. As for me, my post match plans consisted of a quick exit, a quicker pint in the Draper’s, before grabbing the bus back up to Parkway station for my train home. I didn’t have all that long in which to accomplish this, but I figured it could be done without having to rush too much.

The Draper’s certainly is a fine little bar (in the most literal sense of the word). The bar is located in the corner of the room and there certainly doesn’t seem to be too  much in the way of room to manoeuvre behind there! Luckily, there was enough for a cider to be paid for and arrive in quick time and I dispatched that to allow good time in which to catch the fine Bristolian carriage. As it was, the traffic proved bad enough that I could have easily spent another five minutes in there, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Post-match exodus…

…with some ending up here!

Back at Parkway with a good ten minutes to spare, I was soon on the train back to Manchester. Upon arriving back in Birmingham, the train was joined by a large number of the returning Cityzens fans who were in good spirits after yet another win at the Hawthorns. My trip back was soon made all the better as I got talking to one fan, who I’ve since termed “City Mike” for no real discernible reason other than the obvious, and we were soon pulling into Piccadilly in what seemed double-quick time. A bonus was there was also time to visit the Piccadilly Tap for the first time in almost a year, where I was mugged off by the non-shutting door, much to the amusement of one of the guys sat at the table behind me. A final cider to finish off the day was had before the final connection onwards home.

So there ends my first trip to Bristol. Having wanted to visit the Memorial Stadium for a long while, it was good to get it done and to see a couple of goals eventually! The only downside was the fact I hadn’t got around to seeing any of the City Centre which was a bit of a shame but there’s always another time for that. The game was ok enough in the end and the travel there and back proved unproblematic. So no real complaints overall and next week sees a return to the FA Cup trail and another chance to tick off a ground in the “92”….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Rotherham

Result: Rotherham United 3-2 Bury (EFL League 1)

Venue: New York Stadium (Saturday 9th September 2017, 3pm)

Att: 7,848

My “92” trail continues at something of a snail’s pace. Having said that, my initial season’s target is still on, though it’s not quite going as I’d planned. You see, my initial plans had me buying a fair way in advance and working my way, within reason, from the South and back up North, leaving both the stupidly dear and easy to reach remaining to do. But these best laid plans were to fall into ruin when I remembered that the first few trips wouldn’t be able to fit the bill, with my railcard running out just prior to this weekend and thus me being left out to dry. But, with this now renewed, these glamour destinations await on the horizon…..in some form.

For this week, though, my Northern stop-gap would be the New York Stadium, current home of Rotherham United. Having already visited their former home, Millmoor, at the beginning of the year in what was something of an eerie experience, I felt the New York Stadium would definitely be more of a standard trip, without overgrown and leaking stands. The weather leading up to the game was definitely testing the latter out though! Anyway, having renewed my card and bought my tickets, it was off the South Yorkshire once more.

Dodging the heavy showers to the west of the Pennines, the East side of the mountain range was experiencing fairer weather, with broken sunshine an improvement on thundery showers as I arrived into Rotherham town centre at just after midday. I was now left with a dilemma. What would I do for the next two-and-a….oh okay, it’s the pubs again, via a bit of a look around near the church.

From the train

Rotherham

After a backtrack, I began  my “crawl” with a visit to the Plough, located near the Tesco and a rather stand-out blue clock commemorating a Coronation (I think, I can’ remember now). The Plough was mad cheap too, a pint of Grolsch in here costing a smidgeon over £2 which, I mused, must be the reason it’s so popular with the punters during an early afternoon. However, I was soon to discover these town-centre prices were common place!

Following dual-watching the Test Match and the Man City-Liverpool game via the well-placed screens, it was time to head onwards and a little closer to the ground, which incidentally must be one of the only new-build’s to be as close )if not closer) to the town centre than the old one. Obviously this negates the need to leave a chunk of time to walk on up to the ground (a la Coventry) and leaves more time for the more important matters of putting money into the local economy. This is how I reason my drinking anyway…

The Plough & lovely “Coronation” Clock

Corn Low

Inside the Mailcoach

Next up was the Corn Low, complete with cash machine for those who need more cash on the fly. Not that this should be a regular occurrence, with my pint of Carlsberg costing about £1.80. Yes a whole one-pound-and-eighty pence. Unfortunately, the ‘Spoons-but-not style of pub isn’t really my thing and so it was quickly polished off before a slight detour off and down the neighbouring road to the Mailcoach which would turn out to be a good choice as this was my favourite pub of the trip.

Despite being open somewhat, the Mailcoach still maintains an air of the traditional to it, helped along by the dim lighting and lamps along the top of the bar. The pint of Somersby at, again, just over £2 also helped matters, but I had little time to enjoy it in here before having to move onwards to tick off the second of the Rotherham ‘Spoons offerings, the Bluecoat, which meant it was back uphill. I was looking forward to this one, with it being housed in an old schoolhouse, so I was intrigued to how this would turn out. Sadly, you’d never have guessed the above, with little in the way of character remaining. A quick Punk IPA sufficed before I swiftly exited. Shame.

The Bluecoat

Cutler’s Arms

New York Tavern

With kick-off getting ever nearer, I felt it was time I’d head down into the valley (you can see the ground from around the ‘Spoons) and towards the New York Tavern, which I felt had to be visited given the name of the ground after all. However, as I approached the end of the lane leading down the hill, I came face-to-face with the Cutler’s Arms, a large traditional pub which is a definite favourite for the home support. After a bit of a wait and with time beginning to beat me, a very, very quick Corona (my dearest drink of the day at £3.20) was downed before a brief visit to the New York to end up the trip, though I did somewhat regret my choice of half an Estrella. Not my greatest choice, as it’s not one I’d usually go for but hey, when in Rotherham.

With twenty minutes until kick-off, I reckoned it was just about time to head for the ground. After being thanked on my way out of the tavern by a guy outside (I assume he runs it and wasn’t just saying it), I got lost near a dual-carriageway before back-tracking on myself by following the crowds which made me wonder why I hadn’t just done that in the first place. Anyway, upon getting to the road leading to the ground, I purchased a programme from the seller here for £3 and headed off towards the away end I’d be populating today, having bought my ticket from Bury (Gigg Lane blog here) the prior week. I was happy I had too when I saw the queue for the away ticket booth!

Scanning in without any issues, I bypassed the food bar for the moment with it being pretty busy and headed up into the seats. Taking up a spot at the back, this provides good views of the immediate area back up the hill and towards the town centre, with the three church spires towering above. Soon after I’d got in, the two sides made their way out from the tunnel on half-way and onto the New York Stadium pitch.

Heading in….

The ground itself is a smart ground and one that feels big enough without being overly so as to leave it devoid of atmosphere. Dating from 2012 when the Millers moved back to the town after a spell at the Don Valley in Sheffield following their departure from Millmoor after 101 years, it houses four all-seated stands. The Main, West Stand houses the boxes and tunnel and all that comes with it, and is the largest stand in the ground. Opposite is the smallest stand, the East Stand, which enables the view mentioned above. Both ends are fairly identical, with a scoreboard housed in a corner at each. The floodlights protrude over the field from the rooves of both sides, with Perspex glass used around the ground to allow for more light to enter. With that out-of-the-way, here’s the story of Rotherham United F.C.

History Lesson:

Rotherham United F.C. was founded in 1925 following a merger between Rotherham Town and Rotherham County, the latter dating from 1870 since its formation as Thornhill F.C. in that year. Rotherham Town, meanwhile, were the leading side in the area, having competed in the Football League while Thornhill (latterly United) were competing in the Sheffield & Hallamshire League. By the turn of the century, however, Town had resigned from the League and folded, with a new club under the same name later forming in the Midland League. Thornhill would go on to greater things, taking on the mantle of the town’s premier club and becoming Rotherham County F.C. The club’s finished first and second in the 1911-’12 Midland League but it became apparent the town couldn’t support two pro sides and the merger duly followed, soon re-elected to the Football League as Rotherham United F.C.

After pre-war struggles (including having to re-apply for the League in 1931), 1946 saw United win the Third Division North Cup before finishing runners-up three times in succession (’47-’49). 1951 saw them take the Division Three North title and 1955 saw them achieve their highest ever league position, third in the Second Division, with only goal average denying the Millers a place in the top-flight after finishing equal on points with Birmingham and Luton. 1961 saw the club lose out in the inaugural League Cup Final (over two legs), despite winning the opening leg versus Aston Villa at Millmoor. They’d go on to lose 3-2 on aggregate.

New York Stadium

Remaining in the Second Division until 1968, the club entered a decline that saw them in Division Four by 1973. In 1975, they were promoted back to Division Three (now nationalised) which saw them able to take the Division 3 title in 1981. After relegations in ’83 &’88, United were back in Division 4. 1989 saw the club take the Division 4 title, but their stay in the third division would last just two seasons. After finishing runners-up in Division 4 in 1992, the club were able to take a spot in Division 2 upon the creation of the Premiership. They’d remain here for five seasons before relegation in 1997, though they did win the 1996 Football League Trophy at Wembley.

2000 saw Rotherham return to Division Two as Division Three runners-up and then went on to be promoted as Division Two runners-up the following season. They’d remain in Division One for four seasons, through to its renaming as the Championship, but were relegated to League One in 2005. After staving off relegation again the next season, a ten-point deduction left the club with a large issue ahead of the following season. 2007 saw the club drop to League 2 and despite spending a large part of ’07-’08 in the promotion race, another ten-point deduction proved fatal to their hopes. A 17-point deduction and departure from Millmoor followed in 2008-’09, 2010 saw Rotherham reach the play-off final at the “new” Wembley, but they’d lose out on that occasion to Dagenham & Redbridge.

The old from the new

2013 saw the club return to Rotherham after their spell at the Don Valley and they immediately achieved success, finishing League 2 as runners-up and getting promoted as a result. 2014 ended with the Millers in the League One play-offs, where they’d defeat Leyton Orient on penalties to return to the Championship. Last season would see Rotherham relegated from the Championship after finishing bottom of the table, returning to League 1 for this season.

The game got underway with it quickly became apparent this would be an open contest. Both sides had early sightings of goal, with the Millers slowly growing in ascendancy, Will Vaulks and Richard Wood both forcing saves out of Bury’s ‘keeper, Joe Murphy, before Ryan Williams forced the visiting stopper to save well from his fizzing drive. It looked only a matter of time, however, until the opener would arrive for the Millers.

Indeed this did arrive after twenty minutes, a long ball forward found Kiefer Moore who looked to have all the time in the world to bring the ball down, control it and set himself before sliding the ball beyond Murphy. One-nil to the Millers and it looked as though it may be a long day for the visiting Shakers fans, a couple of whom got talking about Millmoor and who currently/recently plays/played there. I couldn’t resist a quick plug!

Match Action

Moore celebrates his first

Taylor then fired into the side-netting after being forced wide in rounding Murphy as Rotherham looked to double their advantage, but then, against the run of play, the visitors grabbed a leveller. Ryan Lowe provided the cross from the left-flank and journeyman striker Jermaine Beckford arrived to stoop his header beyond home debutant Marek Rodak, the on-loan Fulham ‘keeper having little chance.

Half-Time was spent in fruitless (or should that be pie-less?) pursuit of food back down in the concourse and, left empty-handed, I headed back up for the second-half, though I did see a couple arrive back at their seats with a couple of said pastries, though I’ve no idea where these were found! Anyway before long the second half was about to start, but not before I got excited by a rainbow and the fact I could only see it whilst in sunglasses. I quickly got a poll going with the guys near me to who could see it with glasses and those without. The results were….all could see it, as could I without the aid of shades. Ah.

Around ten minutes into the second period, the Millers regained their lead, a ball to the back-post finding the head of Moore and he planted his header across Murphy and into the net. Two-one to the hosts and Moore had both of the home side’s goals. After a number of other chances to kill the game off, Rotherham would again find themselves punished for their inability to provide that killer touch.

Match Action

Cameron about to score…

Scramble

Following on from a set-piece, the ball was delivered back into the box and after a flick on, Bury’s centre-half Nathan Cameron found himself in the right place to nod beyond the ‘keeper to once again level up the scores. Two-two and all to play for once again. This time, Bury looked to have gained more of a foothold and the game looked to be petering out into a draw and a point-a-piece for both teams.

Rotherham did go close with around ten minutes to go, when Anthony Forde’s effort looked to be cleared from almost on the line but then, with stoppage time looming, Rotherham grabbed the final, decisive goal. The ball began with Rodak and his ball forward found its way through to Richie Towell. The man on-loan from Brighton then struck a perfectly directed effort that skimmed across the surface of the New York Stadium and into the bottom corner to send the home fans mad. This time there was no time for Bury to respond and it was time to cue New York, New York. Full-Time: Millers 3-2 Shakers.

After finding my way in now blocked off by stewards allied with metal fences, I eventually figured out how to get away from the stadium and headed back for the town. This time, it was straight back to the station….well, almost. With a good twenty minutes until my train back, a visit to the Bridge, just across from the station itself and neighbour to the “Chapel on the Bridge” was called for. A bottle of alcoholic Dandelion and Burdock was refreshing and enjoyed before it was finally time to depart South Yorkshire and head home.

“No Dickheads”

An easy, problem-free journey back was undertaken to end off the day. All in all, it had been a decent day. Rotherham is a decent place, which is easy on the pocket (outside of match tickets) and the ground is a nice one to visit. The game too was entertaining and you can’t beat a late winner as a neutral (sorry Bury fans)! As for next week, it’s back on the FA Cup trail with a rare trip up to the North East, featuring a possible giant-killing against famed giant-killers….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: N/A (not about when I got there)

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Oldham

oldham_athletic_new_badgeport_vale_logo-svg

Result: Oldham Athletic 0-0 Port Vale (EFL League 1)

Venue: Boundary Park (Monday 2nd January 2017, 3pm)

Att: 3,451

After the bangs and noise that welcomed the New Year, I was certainly hoping my footballing year would begin in much the same vein. Following another chilly evening, my original plan of heading to Kidsgrove Athletic was put on the backburner, as a pitch inspection was to be required. An early inspection was passed, but with a further one penned in for 1pm, I decided I wasn’t going to risk it and instead remain closer to home. With little option on the whole, I was left with a revisit to Boundary Park as my number one pick. So, Oldham vs Port Vale it was.

Had I looked at the two teams respective goal stats (Oldham at home, Vale away), then I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone! Alas, due to the rushed nature of the trip I hadn’t and, as such, headed over to Oldham via the medium of rail replacement bus to Manchester before the train from Victoria station to Mills Hill, a 35-minute walk from Boundary Park.

Arriving into Mills Hill at around 12.30, I undertook the walk down towards the ground, dodging the icy surfaces as I went. After getting slightly lost down near Chadderton FC’s Andrew Street, having taken the wrong road initially, I eventually arrived outside the Latics’ home, with its lovely, vintage italic signage, at just after half-past-one. After purchasing a programme from the seller outside the main building, I quizzed him on where the cheapest area on the side was. “Probably the paddock, but there isn’t any sun there, so it will be cold” was his answer. With the temperatures not much above five degrees anyway and with sunlight at a premium after 3pm too, I wasn’t too fussed by this!

Vale Arrive

Vale arrive

Luckily, there were no Royton fans out!

There were no Royton fans out for trouble!

With programme bagged, I headed off to the main road linking Oldham & Royton, foregoing the Flaming Grill pub on the corner, as they are all pretty much standard offerings wherever they are. As such, my first stop was to be the Old Grey Mare which, of the pubs along the road to the ground, is the closest. This pub seemed to be a popular one for fans of both teams, with Latics and Valiants fans mixing nicely. It’s pretty cheap too, a pint of Strongbow costing £2.75. I did bore fairly quickly, though and with the hour quickly ending, I decided to squeeze in the next pub along, the White Hart, before backtracking for the game.

The White Hart wasn’t quite so economical, with a pint of San Miguel making me lighter of £3.75, but no real qualms with that. With the uninspiring ‘Boro-Leicester game coming to its end on TV, I thought to myself “My game can’t be any worse than this!”. Oh, how wrong I could be…

Old Grey Mare

Old Grey Mare

White Hart

White Hart

Heading to the Park

Heading to the Park

Pint finished, I headed off and back down the hill to Oldham’s stadium. After looking for the paddock turnstile in vain, I gave up and handed over £20, preferring a spot in the Main Stand over the rest of the ground, having already sat near the away end on my previous visit a couple of years back. Boundary Park is a fairly modern looking ground to me, bar the Main Stand, with the new stand opposite accentuating this opinion somewhat and all stands are, unsurprisingly, all seater. As for Oldham Athletic’s story…

History Lesson:

Oldham Athletic Football Club was formed in 1895 under the Pine Villa FC name, but changed to its current identity just four years later. The club immediately became professional at this time and competed, initially, in the Lancashire Combination (won in 1907) and later the Lancashire League. They gained a place in the Football League for 1907-’08 and after three seasons in Division 2, the Latics gained promotion to Division 1 as runners-up.

1915 saw Oldham come the closest they have ever done to winning the league, missing out by just one point. Following the First World War, Oldham found it harder to rekindle their pre-war success and returned to Division 2 in 1923. It would be 68 years until they were to return to the top-flight. In fact, it was to get worse as 1935 saw the club drop into the Third Division North and here they remained through to the outbreak of WWII. Throughout wartime, the club competed in the Northern League until August of 1946.

Boundary Park. Nice lettering.

Boundary Park. Nice lettering.

1950 saw the Latics appoint former England skipper George Hardwick as boss and 1953 saw the club earn promotion back to Division 2, though their stay here was only brief, a disappointing season seeing the club finish bottom and immediately return to Division 3 North. After a few seasons of struggle – the club regularly finishing in the bottom half- they went on to become founder members of the new Fourth Division in 1959.

After having to reapply for re-election to the League in 1960, the club survived at the expense of Gateshead. 1963 saw Oldham back in Division 3, but after a period of inconsistency here, they dropped back to the bottom rung in 1969. Jimmy Frizzell, a man who has a bar named after him in the ground, took over during season 1969-’70 and guided the club to promotion the following year. 1974 saw the club finish as Division 3 champions and return to Division 2 for the first time in 21 years.

Frizzell left in 1982 and was replaced by Joe Royle. 1987 saw the Latics miss out on promotion through the play-offs, after a 4th-placed finish. They had more misfortune in 1990 as they lost out to Nottingham Forest in the 1990 League Cup Final at Wembley. However, they had success the following year as they won the Second Division title and earned promotion to Division 1. After a 17th placed finish back in the top-tier, the club went on to become a founder member of the new Premiership. After two seasons, Oldham suffered the drop and Royle left for Everton.

OAFC

OAFC

1997 saw further decline as Oldham dropped into Division 2. A large managerial turnover wasn’t helping matters and the club continued to disappoint on the pitch. Iain Dowie joined in 2002 as manager and led the club to the play-offs, where they lost out once more. After the short-term owner pulled out of the club at the end of the season and despite the club managing to stave off folding, the debts and threat of liquidation took its toll for the next few years.

2007 saw better things for Oldham as they narrowly missed out on promotion, losing in the play-off semis, though this is as good as it’s got league-wise in recent years. Lee Johnson took over in 2013, becoming the youngest league manager at the time, though his reign didn’t last too long. Last season saw another struggle, with the club looking doomed to relegation to League 2 for a long while. But, following the (brief) return of John Sheridan, the club managed to remain in League 1 with a 17th placed finish. (I watched them at Scunthorpe during the latter part of that season). They currently sit in the drop zone once more, under the stewardship of Steve Robinson.

Before kick-off, I decided I may as well go for a pie now and headed for the food bar within the concourse. Once here, I didn’t take much notice of the menu, as many are often wrong, and instead asked the girl serving what they had on. As she reeled off said list in full, I replied “So, what’s up there then?!” to which she replied “Yep, but I don’t like saying look on the wall”. Good stuff that! I plumped for the Steak & Ale option (£3) and headed up to the seats.

The teams came out not too long after and we were underway.  The first half of the game wasn’t all that bad, in between Anthony Grant being on the floor and it was the home side who looked the slightly more likely to open the scoring throughout, despite their lowly league position. Vale, under the guidance of caretaker boss Michael Brown, following the departure of Bruno Ribeiro shortly before the game, looked a little devoid of ideas.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

After Ryan Taylor spurned a great chance for the visitors, Oldham’s on-loan Crystal Palace forward Freddie Ladapo, dangerous throughout his time on the pitch, came closest in the first half, his effort striking the foot of the near post when one-on-one with Vale stopper Ben Alnwick. Vale’s best chance came when Sam Kelly’s stoppage-time free-kick forced Alnwick’s opposite number Connor Ripley into a fine stop, the gloveman tipping the set-piece over the bar. Half-time, 0-0.

The second half got underway and despite the Latics dominating the game, they never truly looked like they had that cutting edge to force an opener, more to do with a lack of confidence to take on a shot more than anything it seemed. But, when sub Carl Winchester timed his jump to perfection to meet a ball in, Boundary Park was on the brink of erupting into cheers, only to see Alnwick somehow claw the ball away, despite falling in the opposite direction somewhat. It was a great save and even drew acclaim from a few voices around me.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

As the game drew to a close, Taylor forced Ripley into a sharp low save down at his left-hand post from a dangerous looking free-kick, before the big chance of the game came in the 91st minute. Another Latics sub, Billy McKay, worked hard to steal the ball away from a defender in the area and wriggle into space before scuffing a shot towards goal. Despite it looking for all the world a goal, Alnwick got his fingertips to it and diverted it onto the woodwork and out for a corner. 0-0, game over. When I came to write this blog, I thought the game was truly shit. In hindsight, it was decent (rose-tinted glasses?), but my run of no 0-0 was over.

After the game, I headed out down the tunnel-esque steps from the stand and onto the street, before cutting through the park, past the small ground which sits alongside Boundary Park and out onto the correct road this time. After just a thirty-minute walk through the chilly Oldham night, I could see Mills Hill station coming into view. But, with 25 minutes until my train, what was I supposed to do? Sit on the station and freeze? OH NO! To the Rose of Lancaster it was!

The Rose of Lancaster

The Rose of Lancaster

A swift bottle of Corona was downed here before I was forced back out into the chill but, thankfully, the train pulled in as I set foot on the platform. I was back in Manchester within fifteen minutes, but now had an hour to my replacement bus back, just when it couldn’t get any worse. I decided to waste this away by pointlessly hopping on and off trams around the city centre, as per my rail ticket allowed, until I wimped out and got to the station with 20 minutes left, eventually finding the bus hidden within a long queue. Ah, the rail network.

So, a bit of a “meh” day overall. There wasn’t too much excitement to be had nor seen around the town or indeed at the game, but I guess it could have been worse. No it could, ok? Anyway, Saturday sees a move onto the FA Cup and a trip down to the “smoke” You could say my destination will be ‘buzzing’…

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RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 6

Programme: 6

Food: 6

Value For Money: 3