Manchopper in….Nottingham (Notts County FC)

Result: Notts County 2-0 Chesterfield (EFL League 2)

Venue: Meadow Lane (Saturday 12th August 2017, 3pm)

Att: 7,021

My quest of ticking off as many of the 92 as possible before my railcard expires at some point next year began with a trip down to the home of Robin Hood (allegedly), Nottingham. This would be my first true visit to the city, but I would be visiting the side that carries the whole County’s flag. My destination was, of course, Notts County FC and their Meadow Lane ground for their first home game of the season. What better way to start the quest than with the, as their ground proudly proclaims, “Oldest Football League Club in the World”.

A comfortable trip into Nottingham (via the Piccadilly ticket office and, even more exciting, Ilkeston station) was undertaken with little issue, meaning I found myself on the mean streets of the East Midlands city at just past midday. With a fair while to kick-off and with plans to head to the furthest away of the more interesting-looking bars in place, I set off towards the castle only to….get lost (sort of). Again. What a shocker.

Nottingham

Castle

Inside the Crafty Crow

After eventually setting off in the general direction of the castle (it later turned out I wasn’t lost at all and in fact ended up further away), I eventually ended up within the narrow streets around the main entrance to the fortification. By now I was rather parched as well and, luckily, the Crafty Crow was on hand to serve me well via a nice pint of cider which I was afforded a taste of prior to purchase, due to the fact “…most people choose it as it has a cat on”. I stated I was looking forward to experiencing its essence of cat hair, which drew some unexpected, though maybe somewhat generous, chortles from some at the bar. My comedy career is on the march.

With time creeping on past 1pm, I quickly polished the cat cider off and headed onwards towards the aforementioned far away pub. But, again, I was side-tracked after coming across the tubular Roundhouse, in which you access the bar by climbing the stairs to the first floor. Unfortunately, the place was deserted at this time in the day, despite it being a nicely set out venue and so my Aspall didn’t last too long either, as I spied Meadow Lane in the far distance, through the fire escape.

The Round House

Sky Mirror & Playhouse

The Hand and Heart

From then on in, though, there was no further distractions and it was straight on past the Sky Mirror, the Playhouse, which brought back memories of seeing a small-time concert there with my secondary school longer ago than I care to remember, and the Cathedral to the door of the Hand and Heart. This pub is something a little different, with the rear of the building being built into a cave. I then found myself intrigued by the Chiffre on the bar and soon found myself handing over £4.50 for a half. £4.50. Granted it was 8% and really good stuff, it still seemed a little on the dear side to me.

After spending some time talking to a group of Notts fans in here about foreign grounds and trips (notably Serbia I remember) and their pessimism towards today’s game, it was time for me to head back through the city and to Meadow Lane, and I left them to squeeze in that final pre-match pint. 35 minutes later, I found myself at the foot of County Road and at the Kop’s cash ticket booth.

Arriving at Meadow Lane

After purchasing my ticket (£22) and a programme for a further £3 nearby, I was into the concourse of the ground whereupon I joined the queue for at the bar for a much-needed Balti pie. Not bad, though I did almost take out the eye of the girl sitting just to the right of me in the stand after I’d finished, my plastic fork pinging out of the tray as I crushed it up. Apologies were needed!

Meadow Lane is a nice ground in my opinion. It is, of course, an all-seater stadium with the Kop end housing the second largest of the four stands, covering two tiers and giving views of both the City ground and Trent Bridge over the smallest “Family Stand” at the opposite end. The Main Stand is on the right-hand side and is the largest stand in the ground, with the Jimmy Sirrell Stand straddling the opposite touchline, serving as the away stand only for today. As a result, it was only just over half-full. Meadow Lane has played host to County since 1910, the ‘Pies having previously played at Park Hollow – within the grounds of the Castle, and briefly at Trent Bridge as tenants of Notts CCC and Forest’s City (Town) Ground.

Now, let’s get into the history of Notts County FC. This may take a while…

History Lesson:

Notts County FC was formed in 1862, thus predating the FA and association football. As a result, County began playing a game with rules of its own devising. After taking association football rules on board, the club would later go on to become a founder member of the Football League in 1888. Their best finish has been third place, this being achieved on two occasions (1891 & 1901).

County reached the FA Cup Final for the first time in 1891, losing out to Blackburn Rovers at the Kennington Oval, despite having beaten Rovers 7-1 the week before. However three years later, they rectified this by lifting the Cup with victory over Bolton Wanderers and becoming the first club outside the top division to lift the silverware, having finished that year third in Division 2 after relegation from the top division in 1893.

NCFC

The club’s first promotion would come in 1897 via the Second Division title. After moving into Meadow Lane in 1910, Notts would be relegated back to Division 2 in 1913, thus starting a yo-yo-ing period between the top two divisions. The ended in 1926 when County were relegated from the top-flight and would remain out of it for the next half a century.

The 1941-’42 season saw the Lane suffer serious damage from wartime bombing raids, and this saw the club suspend all its fixtures during that campaign. Bad fortune would go on to hit neighbours Forest post-war, with County’s city rivals being afforded use of Meadow Lane after their ground had been flooded by the neighbouring River Trent, Meadow Lane getting away the better of the grounds. Forest would go on to use County’s home for a second time during 1968, following the destruction of the City Ground’s Main Stand through fire.

1950 would see the Magpies lift the Third Division (South) title, beating Forest to the honour. However, the following season would be the last (to date) that County would play in a higher division than their rivals from across the way. The 1960’s would be a hard decade for the club, with financial difficulties setting in and the club having to apply for re-election to the league. But things would soon turn and the start of the ’70’s would see County take the 1971 Fourth Division title and, two seasons later, County would return to Division 2.

1981 would see the club return to the English top-flight after an absence of 55 years and would go on to defeat champions Aston Villa on the opening day. They’d end the season clear of relegation but would eventually succumb two years later. A second relegation would follow the next season with County finding themselves back in Division 3 once more. 1988 did see Notts miss out in the play-offs, losing out to Walsall.

Historical

1990 saw the club return to Division 2, beating Tranmere Rovers in County’s first game at Wembley. The following season would see a second successive promotion, but just a sole season back in the top division would follow, but the club would remain in Division One, what with the introduction of the Premiership, with the D1 now becoming the second-tier. 1994 saw the club lose out in the legendary (to me anyway) Anglo-Italian Cup Final, though they’d go on to win the cup the next season. This was only a consolation however, with the club relegated to Division 2. After missing out in the 1996 play-offs, the club would finish the following season bottom and return to Division 3, meaning a span of six years between top-flight promotion and bottom-tier relegation. The following year saw this rectified, though, with the Third Division being won at a canter.

2003 would see the club narrowly survive further financial difficulties, but relegation back to Division 3 duly followed in 2004. Again, they’d go on to start life in a newly named division, this time the League 2. A couple of season flirting with relegation to the Conference, a consortium take-over would see the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson join the club in the much-maligned role of “Director of Football” and 2010 saw County take the League 2 title. Further swapping and changing of the managerial role would follow – with little success to show for it – and 2015 saw the ‘Pies return to League 2, with the club finishing up last season in 16th place under the tutelage of current manager Kevin Nolan.

The game got underway with little to choose between the two local rivals (which I only realised as I pulled into Chesterfield en-route) in the opening stages. In fact, the opening half-hour saw little in terms of chances for either side, both looking devoid of a huge amount of confidence and only and off the ball incident involving the Spireites’ Gozie Ugwu giving any sort of interest. Yellow.

Match Action

Match Action

It was inevitably Ugwu who’d have the first chance of the half, forcing County stopper Adam Collin into a decent stop, much to the delight of the home support who were giving it to the visiting striker after the prior incident. However, this was pretty much as good as it got for Chesterfield, as County soon gained control of the game and Joe Anyon was forced into a pair of stops, the latter to deny veteran striker Jon Stead. Considering Stead had Shola Ameobi partnering him up front, this must surely be one of the oldest front pairings currently out there?

Then came the major talking point of the first half. Quicksilver winger Terry Hawkridge had been posing a threat down the right for County, and it looked like he’d got through the defence only to be hauled down by Scott Wiseman. It looked from the far end as though cover for the defender was on hand, but the ref and linesman disagreed (they were in a much better place to see than me to be fair) and Wiseman was given his marching orders. Two reds from two games for me this season. (NB: would become three from three on Monday!).

Little occurred in the minutes remaining following the dismissal and the whistle soon went to end a disappointing half. The kids’ penalties came and went with varying amounts of success before the sides re-emerged with Ugwu unsurprisingly withdrawn, with him looking a walking dismissal, to almost coin a phrase heard more often at the Bridge.

Then came the crucial moment in the game and it wasn’t even an on-pitch action. It was a sub. Bolton legend “Super” Kevin Nolan decided Jorge Grant – on loan from Forest – was the man for the job and the #10 strode onto the Meadow Lane pitch for the last 35 minutes or so. Grant would prove to have an almost immediate impact, looping a header over the despairing, back-peddling Anyon and into the net to send the home crowd and players into delight, though not so Stead, who was lying prone in the area.

From the top of the Kop

Crowd action, as County celebrate

Chesterfield weren’t done yet, though, and Delial Brewster (whom I last saw as a loanee at Stockport County a couple of seasons back) fizzed a daisy-cutting effort narrowly wide of the target to give the Magpies something to think about.

The dangerous, impressive Hawkridge then forced Anyon into another low stop, but he was helpless with regard to the last meaningful kick of the game. A cynical foul on Jonathan Forte led to a free-kick around twenty yards from goal and just right of centre. Up stepped Grant and he just looked like he was scoring. Lo and behold, the resulting kick was curled beyond the dive of Anyon and into the top corner to confirm the points were remaining at Meadow Lane. Full-time, 2-0.

Grant’s sealer

Meadow Lane from the neighbouring Canal

Hooters

A swift exit saw me heading back over the canal and to the famed Hooters. Not that this was a decision of mine of course. A fine surprise in here was the discovery of Hop House 13 on draught, despite it coming in a plastic glass, but I couldn’t complain too much so thanks for the idea Ian! Alas, I was soon called upon to leave and go on a trip to another trip. To Jerusalem, that is.

Yes, the famed Trip to Jerusalem would be my final stop for the day and again Hop House was on draught in here, so the day was ending in fine style. A nice bonus was the chat with the Chesterfield fan here who was so down on his side, he reckons they’re going down again. I do find the Spireite fans a friendly bunch (especially after the Bolton game last season) and so I hope this doesn’t come to fruition.

Robin Hood

Olde Trip

Soon enough, it was time to head out of the cave interior of the Olde Trip and head back to the station, via a visit to Robin Hood. The trip back was a little more stressful, due to the delay of my train making the connection tighter than it ought to have been, but no dramas occurred in the end and so endeth my first true experience of Nottingham and I’m very much looking forward to returning. The game was ok, the ground good, the city really good and no complaints for me (bar the £4.50 half!). Next week, it’s back on the FA Cup trail…

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 5

 

Manchopper in….Burslem (Port Vale FC)

port_vale_logo-svg125px-hartlepool_united_fc

Result: Port Vale 4-0 Hartlepool United (FA Cup 2nd Round)

Venue: Vale Park (Sunday 5th December 2016, 3pm)

Att: 3,514

First of all, a slight disclaimer. With all this happening a week ago, the events may be somewhat hazy and. therefore, make little sense in places. But, then again, that just sounds about normal thinking about it, so on with the show!

With ground 200 fast approaching, I was stuck on 198 after Saturday’s round of fixtures. Luckily, with the Fa Cup being played out during this very weekend, it meant I had the opportunity to squeeze in #199 on Sunday afternoon. Obviously, with cut back transport links in places, I decided it’d be best to remain somewhat local and thus meant a chance to tick off another of the ’92’ and also my first Football League ground of the season.

To be honest, there wasn’t a glut of fixtures to choose from and so I plumped for the one with the quickest journey time back home. This all meant that Vale Park would round off the one-hundred-and-something grounds and become the 26th tick for me. The cut price tickets may have also been a factor in my choice, with Vale knocking a full tenner off their usual entry fees, so I only was to shell out £12 for some Cup action.

After heading into Manchester, I had a small wait ahead of the train onwards down to Stoke-on-Trent. Once aboard, it quickly became apparent that there had been issues with the reservations as, firstly, they didn’t show up on any seats and I was forced to move once, before those who had taken up their rightful places were then questioned to why they were in another groups seats. It turned out that Virgin had thought it a good idea to double book them. Not ideal.

Anyway, this didn’t particularly trouble me and I was soon arriving into the Staffordshire city. Now, I was faced with a slight dilemma: get the bus to Burslem or embark on the three-mile walk over to Vale Park. Being a bit on the tight side and reconciling this with the fact it was a pretty nice day, I decided on the latter and so headed off through Hanley and onwards to the North of the city.

Finally arrived!

Finally arrived!

Burslem Park

Burslem Park

After passing through a random car-boot sale and getting lost around the back of timber yards and car washes, I eventually arrived at Burslem Park, with the sight of the stadium and its floodlights being even more of a welcoming one than it would have been usually! After a quick but pleasant walk around the park, I headed for the ticket office and purchased a ticket for the aforementioned price. It turned out I’d be located in the Railway Paddock, though I’m not sure if the guy at the counter did give me this as his recommendation, as I’d said, or if he just wanted me gone. Either way, it was a decent view as it turned out!

With the time only at about 1.30pm, I thought I may as well head into Burslem and see what the place is like. To be honest, I hadn’t heard much to raise my expectations as those enamoured with the town seem to be in the few. But and this certainly wasn’t a popular view as I found out on twitter afterwards, I quite like it! Whether it’s because the pubs/bars I went in were all decent in their own way or whatever, I don’t really know, but it seemed decent enough and nowhere near as bad as people like to make out. Easily enough bars to spend a couple of hours in.

Burslem

Burslem & Dominique’s

Bull's Head

Bull’s Head

On that subject, my intended first stop-off, the Post Office Vaults, was too full to get in upon my initial arrival and so I headed off a little more into the centre, trying to find somewhere showing the Curzon-Wimbledon tie. With no luck on this front, I settled on the Titanic Brewery-owned Bull’s Head, which was proclaiming that it had a beer festival on. This all looked good to me and so a pint of the brewery’s “Map” was purchased for just over £3. An Atlantic Pale Ale, it wasn’t too bad at all. But, with the pub getting fuller by the second as fans from both sides began to turn up in the town, I reckoned a change of scenery would be a good option, settling on Dominique’s Wine Bar over the way.

Dominique’s was another pretty full bar, but the big pulling point in here, for me, was the fact they had Blue Moon on draught. Blue Moon is the one and the £3.50 price tag was more than acceptable. After a fairly quick stop-off here, I reckoned I could squeeze in a couple of halves in the Leopard, an older establishment from the 18th century and the Vaults. The Leopard was an ok place, not much to report here, but the Vaults was even more populated than earlier in the afternoon and so to Vale Park I went.

The Leopard

The Leopard

Arriving at Vale Park

Arriving at Vale Park

After heading through the car park, I entered through the turnstiles (no, really, I know that’s a shocking revelation) and I was into my 199th ground. Vale Park is a ground with a fair amount of character to it, though its partial redevelopment is beginning to make it slightly more modernised. This is, mostly, down to its Main Stand, which is still not quite fully fitted out with seats. Both ends have similar stands behind them, though the one without the scoreboard, the Bycars Road End, appears slightly larger than its counterpart, the Hamil Road End. The Railway Paddock seems to be the older of the four stands in the ground, with the corner towards the left-hand end from this viewpoint being filled in by a cottage-like structure. This is the oldest part of the ground and also has some parts dating from the club’s previous stadium. As for Port Vale FC…

History Lesson:

Port Vale Football Club was formed in 1876 and is named, it’s assumed, after the valley of ports on the Trent & Mersey canal. However, the official story states that the club was formed in the Port Vale House and this is where the name derives from. Either way, Port Vale FC was founded and began life playing at Limekiln Lane in Longport, moving to Westport in 1880 before moving to Burslem in 1884, whereupon they changed their name to Burslem Port Vale, using both the Moorland Road and Athletic Grounds during their time in the town.

After a number of years in the Midland League, the club became founder members of the Football League’s Division 2 in 1892, but they struggled at this level and, just four years later, they dropped back into the Midland League after failing to secure re-election. But, after just two seasons back in the Midland League, they were elected back into the League, re-joining Division 2, where they remained until their resignation in 1907.

In 1911, the club dropped the ‘Burslem’ part of the name to become Port Vale FC once more and moved into their next ground, the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley from 1912. After a few years in the Centeal League, Vale again re-joined the Football League’s Division 2 from 1919, taking over the record of Leeds City. After being relegated to Division 3 North in 1929, they immediately won the title to bounce back. A further relegation back to Division 3 North/South followed in 1936 and the club remained here through to the outbreak of WWII.

Club Shop/ticket office

Club Shop/ticket office

Following the resumption of football in 1946, the club re-took their place in the Division 3 South, where they spent a further six seasons, including their move to Vale Park in 1950, until a switch to the Northern section. The club was far more successful here, recording a runners-up placing in their first season, before winning it again the following campaign (1954). 1957 saw Vale finish bottom and thus return to Division 3 for one year, where a 15th place finish meant they had to take a place in the new Division 4.

Their initial stay here lasted a season, with Vale promoted as 1959 champions, but they were back after six seasons. 1968 saw Vale expelled from the league due to financial issues, though the club did get this reduced to a re-election vote, which they went on to win. A 4th placed finish in 1970 saw them back in Division 3, where a stay of eight years was achieved until their relegation back to the Fourth Division.

Burslem Park, with Vale Park just visible

Burslem Park, with Vale Park just visible

After spending the 1983-’84 season in Division 3, another Division 4 4th place in 1986 meant the club were back in Division 3, but this time they went a step up instead of down, being promoted to Division 2 as 1989’s play-off winners. Relegation followed in 1992, but they bounced back almost immediately and after just missing out on promotion in 1993 (though they did lift the Football League Trophy) to the top-level of the Football League, the club managed it as runners-up the following year. 1996 saw Vale reach the final of the Anglo-Italian Cup (bring it back), where they lost to Genoa.

The club mostly struggled during their stay in Division One and were eventually relegated in 2000, but a second FL Trophy win was achieved in 2001. They remained in League 1, as the league was known by then, before dropping to League 2 in 2008, where they stayed until 2013 when Vale finished third and won promotion back to League 1. Last season, the club achieved a 12th placed finish. Their best FA Cup run was to the 1954 semi-final.

Following a minute’s silence for the victims of the Colombian air crash involving the Chapecoense side, the game got underway and Vale were quickly into their stride. With just twelve minutes on the clock, a low ball in found Rigino Cicilia at the near post and he controlled the ball before knocking it past Trevor Carson in the Pools net, before being lauded with chants of “Reggie” from the home support as “Glad All Over” rang out around Vale Park.

Just two minutes later, the Valiants doubled their advantage, a ball over to the back post by Kiko was turned into his own net by Michael Woods. This led to Vale then dominating the vast, vast majority of the tie with Pools offering next to nothing going forward and rarely threatening an after half an hour it was three, as the impressive Paulo Tavares played a lovely ball to release Alex Jones and he confidently slotted beyond Carson and into the far corner. 3-0 and, you felt, that was that.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With half-time approaching, I headed off for some food, but found little luck in my search as the food bar had run out. This strangeness was accentuated as a group of us were then told to vacate a hatched area, despite the top step being, clearly, not hatched and then, to wrap up a terrible trinity, was warned off from filming the game, (in a nice way, I should add) despite the fact I wasn’t, which was accepted immediately. Stupid EFL ruling either way and the quicker they stop going all dictator, the better. Apparently Craig Hignett was sent off during this period too, so we both had a bad time there.

Anyway, with the break out of the way and no more bad happenings occurring, we were back underway. The second half, to be honest, was a bit of a non-event with Vale happy to secure their third-round berth and Hartlepool not making much and generally accepting their fate it seemed. Before the hour mark, the tie was well and truly settled as Ryan Taylor converted a spot-kick following a foul on Nathan Smith with the travelling support mustering a “What a load of rubbish!” chant from their end.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Things only got worse for the visitors, who saw defender Rob Jones stretchered from the field, though their fans did have two things to cheer by the end, namely a pair of shots which were greeted with “We’ve had a shot!” songs. They were almost even further behind just before the end too, but Carson just got enough behind Gezim Shalaj’s effort to send it wide of the target. The 213 fans in the travelling band had been left well and truly….disappointed, shall we say, with their team’s performance and let it be known as the minutes ticked away as Vale deservedly took their place in the hat.

So, after the long walk back to Stoke station was undertaken in the darkened, chilly streets the one bonus was that, upon arrival back, the train pretty much arrived as I got to the platform and a quick exit was enabled, so I was back into Manchester just a couple of hours after the final whistle had blown, which wasn’t bad timing at all. Overall, it had been good to get Vale Park done and out of the way, though the little spell of five minutes around half-time did leave a bit of a sour taste. Regardless, I did enjoy the visit overall and now look onwards to ground 200 and the Champions…

Match Action

Match Action

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (sold out prior to half-time)

Programme: 4 (cut back issue, £2)

Value For Money: 6

 

Manchopper in….Accrington

accrington stanleyStevenage FC

Result: Accrington Stanley 0-0 Stevenage (SkyBet League 2)

Venue: The Crown Ground (Saturday 7th May 2016, 3pm)

Att: 4,386

A visit to Accrington Stanley hadn’t really appeared on my radar until I had actually realised that the small outfit from Lancashire were in pole position for promotion to the third tier of English football and had a home tie against Stevenage in which to secure the points they needed to do so. It had to happen now! As such, I was quickly contacting Stanley’s ticket office and within a few hours I was in possession of a £15 ticket for, arguably, the biggest game in the club’s history. Not bad value!

I set off at around 9am on a fine, warm(er) Saturday morning to, in theory, arrive into Accrington nice and early as to have a look around the town and visit a couple of its hostelries. But, having got through Manchester and Salford without any issue, the train I was on arrived in an outpost by the name of Bromley Cross where we sat idle for the best part of 10 minutes, therefore meaning I missed the connection from Blackburn by about a minute and now had a 45-minute wait in the town. Brilliant. This was in addition to the fact that the club had phoned me to say the ticket transaction hadn’t gone through and I had to go and pay in cash at the ground. This boded well for the day, didn’t it.

Anyways, eventually the train bound for Colne pulled in and it was onwards to Accrington once more, finally setting foot in the town at about midday. After a quick directional check, it was off to the ‘Spoons for a well-earned (in my opinion) Punk IPA, though this wasn’t obtained too easily, as the barmaid seemingly had trouble understanding my far-flung accent.

Arrived in Accy

Arrived in Accy

Town Centre

Town Centre

After a slightly rushed drink brought upon by having been joined at my table by a strange guy, I set off uphill towards the Crown Ground and its ticket office once more, giving those in the Reception a bit of a shock when my peasant-like appearance turned up at their gates. They were more than helpful, though, in pointing me in the right direction to a small booth next door and I was soon in possession of my ticket. What else to do now than visit the pub that lends its very name to the ground, The Crown itself.

The Commercial

The Commercial

Picking up the ticket then...

Picking up the ticket, then…

...off to the Crown

…off to the Crown

The Crown was still just filling up as I arrived and I quickly got my order for a Coors in before the place got rammed. This was clearly the Stanley fans’ pre-match home and the atmosphere was building up nicely, with “Super” Billy Kee’s name being sung on repeat. I expected big things from Kee now. After a while, I decided to head around and get a bit of a gauge on how some of the Stanley fans were feeling before kick-off, with those ranging from a cautious optimism to an 18-0 lead at half-time. But the majority verdict was Accy would be going up in style.

After speaking to a Middlesbrough-supporting couple who were also lending their support to Stanley as well due to family connections (not a bad double to have this season), it was time to head over to the ground, as I was getting a bit bored and fancied the fresh air with my head not being the best on the day. As such, I arrived at the Coppice End turnstiles to find them still shut-up and joined the small collection of fans outside awaiting their eventual opening.

I had decided before the game I’d be lending support to Accrington today for one main reason and that is the fact that Stevenage sacked my footballing hero, Teddy Sheringham, earlier in the season. No, I don’t care if the sacking was probably the right choice. Anyway, this meant that I was to be slightly more biased than normal and they didn’t have Steven Schumacher, who I’m only bothered in due to my love of F1. Not good Boro’!

ASFC

ASFC

No George Michael sadly

No George Michael sadly

This arrived not too long after and we filtered inside but not before a visit to the, still very non-league, “facilities”. Afterwards, it was on up to the Coppice terrace to soak up both the pre-match atmosphere and the sunshine too as I figured I needed to as you never know when it will appear again. The time now as just past 1.30pm and never fear, I won’t bore you with the details of my wait. Instead I’ll bore you with a ground description.

The Crown Ground is a ground still stuck between its current-League status and its former non-league position. Three sides of the ground look pretty much at home in the league, with the two stands on the left, the “John Smith’s” and the “Main” Jack Barrett Memorial Stand being the all-seater stands, with the Clayton End being a mix of both, standing at the rear and seating at the front. This stand plays host to the vocal “Stanley Ultras”. The opposite touchline to the “Main Stand” features a small few-rows deep seating stand that looks more in place at a North-West Counties ground and has a small amount of open terracing at each end, with the Coppice End, the usual away end, being an open, raised terrace.  Now, for a little about Stanley themselves…

History Lesson:

The current incarnation of Accrington Stanley FC was formed in 1968, two years after the folding of the original club dating from 1891. This club had competed in the Football League from 1921-’62 and after spending its final four seasons in the Lancashire Combination, it folded. Their name derives from the original town club & Football League founders, Accrington, and Stanley WMC. Upon the former’s folding Stanley took on the town name and thus Accrington Stanley came into being.

The current club began life at the Crown Ground and competed in the Lancashire Combination, winning it on two occasions (1974 & ’78), along with 4 Lancs Combination Cups (’72,’73,’74 & ’77) and a Lancs Combination League Cup (1972). Their next league move in 1978 saw the club now playing in the Cheshire League of which the Division Two was won in 1981 before the league was part of the formation of the North West Counties, of which Accrington became founder members, before they featured in THAT advertisement.

History

History

After finishing runners-up in 1987, Stanley joined the Northern Premier League as part of its new Division 1 and 1991 saw them promoted to the Premier Division. Here they stayed until 1999 when the club suffered relegation back to Division 1, but their stay in the Division lasted just one year as Stanley were promoted as D1 Champions. The club continued on the trail back to the League by winning the NPL Premier Division in 2003, aside two further pieces of silverware: the NPL Challenge Cup (2002) & Shield (2003).

Accy were to now play in the Conference for one season before the creation of the regionalised Divisions. The club, however, were unaffected by this as they achieved a high enough placing to ensure a place in the National Division and 2006 saw them reach the Football League as Conference Champions. As such, Stanley were now to compete in League 2, where they remain. Last season, they recorded a respectable 17th place finish, with this current season’s positioning something of an unexpected achievement.

Here come the teams...

Here come the teams…

...Stanley get us underway

…Stanley get us underway

The sides made their way onto the pitch and were greeted by a mass of flags and a fair amount of noise emanating from the opposite end to us. Unfortunately, the 1st half wasn’t to live up to the greeting with the highlights being Stevenage ‘keeper Jamie Jones telling centre-back Ryan Johnson to “sort your fucking self out!” and, according to a couple of  guys behind me, the dog that appeared on the roof of a house along with a few “unofficial spectators” who, aside those on top of the landfill/in raised gardens, weren’t greeted with kind regards by the ultras. A chanceless, pretty boring first half.

The break came and went with me choosing not to seek out any food/drink due to the packed nature of the terrace and the fact that I’d probably miss some of the game, though it turned out this would have been a good decision as the second half really wasn’t any improvement on the first overall. After Johnson was, unsurprisingly replaced, it looked as though the occasion had gotten to the Stanley players as, for a side who’d scored in every home game this season, they looked very sloppy. Stevenage, well, just looked quite poor.

Roof dwellers

Roof dwellers

Match Action

Match Action

But, it was Accrington who’d come agonisingly close to netting the opener, sub Shay McCartan’s header bouncing clear of the bar. Kee was largely disappointing from the viewpoint I’d been given from his song, with Josh Windass being the most dangerous player on the pitch, but it was the corners that were providing Stanley with the best opportunity to net and when McCartan again met a good delivery with his head from only a few yards, it looked like Accy had done it, only for the cross bar to thwart him once again.

The latter stages saw Stanley still occupying the final promotion place behind champions Northampton and Oxford United, who were comfortably leading their game, but in the 92nd minute the word spread that Bristol Rovers had netted a late, late winner and had taken the third and final automatic promotion place. Up went ‘keeper Ross Etheridge for the last free-kick, but it wasn’t to be for the reds as they had to settle for the play-offs with the phrase “too little, too late” seemingly ringing true. Obviously, though, it’s been a fine year for Accrington and the play-offs could provide them with a great chance to claim the final place in League 1 they, for me, deserve.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Suffering a fair bit by now, I headed back to the station via the steep, uphill climb back up to platform level. From here, it was back to Blackburn where I had a much welcomed 40-minute wait once more for the train back to Salford and the rain of Manchester City Centre, which was a rather welcome feeling. So, on a personal note, I found the game to be very anti-climatic with neither side really showing form and Stevenage seemingly set out to frustrate and make it as difficult as possible for Stanley to claim promotion. That they did, but God was it ugly….

DSC02384

RATINGS:

Game: 4- Poor overall game, one side trying to win it.

Ground: 6- Nice enough, nothing too special for me though.

Fans: 8- Found them a welcoming, fun lot.

Programme: 7- Decent issue, only had a quick flick through, though.

Food: N/A

Value For Money: £6 travel, £15 ticket and a further £10 “extras”. Not bad for a high-profile league game.

 

Manchopper in….Coventry

200px-Coventry_City_FC_logo.svg 150px-Northampton_Town_FC_logo

Result: Coventry City 1-2 Northampton Town (FA Cup 1st Round)

Venue: Ricoh Arena (Saturday 7th November 2015, 3pm)

Att: 9,124

I set off for the city of Coventry with little optimism, after hearing it wasn’t up to much. However, approaching the day with as open a mind as possible, I set off into Manchester to catch my transport for the journey down to the former capital of England. Luckily for its current inhabitants, I was arriving fully clad in clothing in contrast to one of its more famous legendary characters.

So, after setting off into the grey, drizzly and overall pretty shit weather, I was soon rattling through the Staffordshire countryside, accompanied by Issue 3 of the superb NonLeague Magazine and was heading past the sights of Stoke and Wolverhampton before ending up under the Bullring in Birmingham. 20 minutes or so later, I’d pulled into Coventry station, disembarked and set off for a whistle stop sightseeing tour of the city centre which, I’d been told was pretty enough and worth a look.

Greetings

Greetings

Coventry Centre & Lady Godiva statue

Coventry Centre & Lady Godiva statue

Cathedral Spire

Cathedral Spire

First stop was the cathedral which is, arguably, Coventry’s most famous landmark. When I say cathedral, I don’t mean the current generic building that serves the area currently, but the bombed out shell of the former, medieval one which sits as a monument to the “Coventry Blitz” and those who were lost in it. The Luftwaffe bombing raids on the city were among the most vicious of their campaigns, indeed the German air wing termed other cities as being “coventried” after causing terrible damage, in relation to the destruction imposed on the Coventrians.

So, after leaving the old cathedral, which was sadly shut today, it was off to the Lady Godiva statue. Lady Godiva, for those of you who don’t know, was the owner of Coventry who, supposedly, rode naked through the streets in a protest against her husband’s taxation of the peasants. It’s unlikely this ever occurred, of course, although from it derived the term “peeping Tom” after Tom who created a hole in a wall to watch Godiva pass and was thus struck blind. Naughty Tom.

DSC00910

Cathedral itself

The Flying Standard

The Flying Standard

Different architectures

Different architectures

Anyway, with wartime history and naked ladies dealt with, it was onwards to the “Flying Standard” pub, which sits over the way from both landmarks. The Standard is housed within an old tudor-style building, though its interior hardly mirrors its exterior features. I’m going to stop explaining it here as I’m worried its beginning to sound a bit too “Escape To The Country”-ish and move on. After a quick pint of Carlsberg in here I decided, against all prior advice and tips, to undertake the four mile walk up to the Ricoh. Here’s my own tip for anyone thinking of doing the same: DON’T!!!

After you leave the centre itself, everything quickly degrades in quality and you begin to hit the suburbs which aren’t too much to shout about. I eventually reached the top of the long road leading up towards the Ricoh and, trusting Google Maps, headed for the Phoenix Way which was given as the quickest walking route to the ground. Well, it may very well be, but it neglects to tell you there is no pathways or that it’s a dual carriageway with a large likelihood you will be mowed down and killed. So, if you want to follow Google Maps and it gives you this option and you consider taking it: DON’T!!!

Ricoh in the distance

Ricoh in the distance

And at closer quarters

And at closer quarters

Eventually, after setting off for the Ricoh with an hour and a half to kick-off, I eventually rocked up at the ground itself 15 minutes prior to the start. I quickly purchased a programme for £2.50, before making my way past the stewards shouting “West Stand Access Only” repeatedly, before I went to the turnstile and handed over my due £15 for entry to the Arena. Of course, not before I was questioned with “You know it’s West Stand only, right?”. Somehow, I think I may have guessed! I do need to get used to waiting for a ticket at league games and stop bumping into the turnstiles in front of me, though, so maybe it’s some sort of karma for my sarcy thoughts!

Anyway, with ticket in hand, I was through the turnstile and into the concourse area of the stadium. What first struck me was just how empty it was in here. It wasn’t a ghost town by any means, though I expected there to be more about with a quarter hour to kick-off. As I entered block 35, I took my seat to the strains of the wonderful Sky Blue Anthem, but soon realised that this game wasn’t exactly going to have attracted a capacity crowd. This assertion was confirmed by the fact the North Stand was completely shut and half the South Stand was off limits, due to segregation. The other two stands were in full use, though neither were full by any means, though the travelling support was here in good numbers, having made the short trip over from Northampton.

The Ricoh is a smart new-build ground, with all four stands pretty similar, though the West Stand is a two-tiered structure. There are Perspex panels allowing natural light to enter the ground within the walls of each side and within it sits a casino and a number of other attractions. Now, before I go onto tell the tale of this FA Cup First Round game, here is the history of the Sky Blues of Coventry….

History Lesson:

Coventry City FC was founded in 1883 under the name of Singers FC, the name deriving from the fact they were a works side for the cycle firm of the same name and they played as Singers up until 1898 when the club adopted their current title. Under their original moniker, the club were fairly successful especially in 1891-’92 when the Birmingham, Wednesbury & Walsall Cups were all won, leading a local businessman to produce some celebratory tobacco. After moving into Highfield Road in 1899, the club adopted its original nickname of the “Bantams” nine years later after a local paper had pointed out the club was without one and remained the nickname of City until the “Sky Blues” title took over in the 1960’s.

After WWI, City joined the Football League Division 2, but immediately drew controversy as the club, alongside Bury, faced each other in the final two games of the season and contrived results to keep up Coventry. Upon being found guilty, the chairman and ten others received life bans. The same season saw Coventry go 997 minutes without a goal, which is still considered a League record, but they also achieved their record win, a 9-0, over Bristol City, before winning the 1936 Division 3 South.

Coventry City FC

Coventry City FC

Match Traffic

Match Traffic

After finding themselves in Division 4, City achieved promotion in 1959 and became the first English League side to play in a full matching kit in 1962 with the introduction of the Sky Blue outfit. The club then ended up going through Division 3 and 2 by 1967 and were playing in Division 1. 1971 saw Coventry’s only European adventure to date, an outing in the Fairs Cup , where they beat Trakia Plovdiv over two legs before beating the mighty Bayern Munich at home, although they eventually bowed to the German giants over the two games.

After Highfield Road became, briefly, an all seater stadium (the first of its kind, until seats became missiles), City reached the 1981 League Cup semi final, where they lost out to West Ham and the club were then banned from wearing their home shirts on televised games due to the rules of the time that sponsorships on shirts were banned. Although efforts were made to incorporate the logo into the design, this didn’t work either.

In 1987, City lifted the FA Cup after beating Tottenham Hotspur for the cup, the club famously were knocked out by Sutton United when defending their title. After losing out in the 1990 League Cup semis, City staved off relegation at the end of 1991-’92 to ensure its place in the inaugural Premiership season. They remained in the Premiership for a total of nine years when, in 2001, they eventually were relegated after some close shaves prior. after staving off a further relegation to League 1 in 2005, the club bid farewell to Highfield Road, and hello to the Ricoh Arena.

After a few seasons of struggle and administration, City were relegated to League 1 in 2012 for the first time in almost half a century, before a falling out with the owners of the Ricoh led to the club departing and taking up residence in, ironically for today, Northampton Town’s Sixfields. This lasted for just a year, though, as City returned to Coventry for the following season and finished up in that, last season in a lowly 17th place.

Block 35. Not a prison block, mind you.

Block 35. Not a prison block, mind you.

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

Handshakes

Handshakes

Following an impeccable minutes silence on Remembrance Weekend, the game got underway with both sides on the attack from the off. Coventry had started slightly better, but it was the visiting Cobblers who struck first. Zander Diamond was awarded the goal, turning the ball in from a free-kick after just five minutes, justifying the Town fans chants of “We’re gonna score in a minute” in the lead up to the strike. Either there’s a large psychic contingent within the streets of Northampton, or it was just a coincidence. Either way, it was brilliant that it happened and cue the pyro!

I sought of wanted Coventry to get the win when I chose this game, as I have an affinity for them from my youth (no idea why, really) but after Town’s struggles became public, I thought it would be nice if they could get the result too, meaning that I arrived with next to no bias towards either team. What was apparent though was, despite Jacob Murphy’s fizzing equalising strike for City, was that they are very poor without the fire power of their on-loan Newcastle star Adam Armstrong. That, and they are a debacle at the back.

So, it was little surprise that Town went back up the other end and re-took the lead, with Coventry’s defence again failing to deal with a cross and Marc Richards arrived to plant a firm header past Lee Burge in the City net to restore the luminous pink-clad side’s lead in the tie and reignited the pyrotechnics from the visiting contingent.

Celebrations on and off the pitch

Celebrations on and off the pitch

Pyro!!

Pyro!!

It was from here on in that Coventry fell by the wayside and were, basically, awful for the remainder of the game. Take nothing away from Town, who executed their plans to almost perfection, the Blues were dreadful. Many times easy passes went astray, poor decision making, by Murphy in particular, repeatedly broke down dangerous looking moves and Town easily saw out the game to the break at 2-1. After a quick trip down to the far end of the stand for a £3.50 standard pie, it was time for act 2 of this drama.

Sadly, Emmerdale is usually more dramatic than the second period here. nothing of note really happened, until  Burge did well to save a close range one-on-one & Town ‘keeper Adam Smith turned a shot around the post in the last minute, before I went to leave, got blocked off in the tunnel and was berated by a woman for being in the way. I’m surprised she still wanted to watch, to be honest!  Shortly after the final whistle blew & the 2,500 Cobblers fans were sent into raptures and were well deserving of their place in Round Two.

No blue skies

No blue skies

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Farewell to the Ricoh

Farewell to the Ricoh

After exiting the ground, it was a walk back down Hen Lane to the main road through Holbrooks, where I caught the 55 bus back to the City Centre. My intention was to visit to “mediaeval” Spon Street, which I eventually found, but not before I found myself in the midst of a shopping precinct and then its car park! There I was, just walking through the pedestrian area and then I was in a shopping mall. No idea how!

Eventually, Spon Street was found thanks to the giant neighbouring Ikea and I quickly popped into the Old Windmill pub. The Windmill is in a very old building and is one of those where the roof is really low and everything is cramped into a small area. It really is great. I couldn’t resist having a bit of “Fawkes Off”. It was pretty decent, and I was given a heads up on it by a guy at the bar who told me it was, somewhat, chocolaty. To be fair, I could see where he was coming from too as it did have a slight taste of it which was a bit strange, but it wasn’t too bad. As I was leaving, I noticed a small plaque behind the bar stating something like “Haunted Award”. So, for those of you who are into this sort of thing, this may be the place for you. I recommend it.

Coventry in the evening

Coventry in the evening

Spon Street

Spon Street

The Old Windmill

The Old Windmill

Alas, my time in Coventry was drawing to a close and I made my way back over to Coventry station, where I boarded my CrossCountry service back to Manchester, accompanied by the sounds of the likes of Elbow and Hurts, two local-ish bands from different ends of the musical spectrum but both equally as brilliant. As for Coventry, after being put on guard for a disappointment, I loved it. A great city that I truthfully cannot wait to return to soon, when I hopefully visit Coventry Sphinx. I’ll be searching the fixture lists….

DSC00920

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Pretty poor after a good start.

Ground: 6- Nice new build, but nothing too special.

Fans: 6- They were ok, but it’s a bit of a shame that attendances seem so low so often.

Programme: 6- A decent enough read, especially for the price.

Food: 6- As I said, a pretty standard offering.

Value For Money: 6- £30 travel, £15 in, £10 extras. Poor game, but apart from that (and the walk) it was great.

Manchopper in….Crewe

crewe-alex-logo Crawley_Town_FC_logo

Result: Crewe Alexandra 0-0 Crawley Town (SkyBet League 1)

Venue: Gresty Road, The Alexandra Stadium (Friday 3rd April 2015, 3.00pm)

Att: 5,353

I have previous with Crewe. I am not particularly fond of Crewe. Every time I seem to go in the near vicinity of Crewe, bad things happen. Delayed trains meaning missed connections, spending money for no reason which relates to the last problem I have with Crewe. If you are on Twitter, you will know all about my experience at Crewe last season. This involved the infamous Crewe ID. Let me tell you all about it….

It was a sunny day late on last season, probably on the Saturday over Easter weekend. Myself and Dan Watkinson had travelled down into Cheshire to watch the Alex entertain Preston (I think) in a League 1 contest. After arriving in good time and getting some chips we headed for the ground. After a 10-15 minute queue we got to the ticket office where we were me by a guard. The conversation  went something like this:

“Buying or collecting lads?”.

“Er, buying mate”.

“Do you have any Crewe ID?”

“What’s that?”

“Crewe ID, to say you live in Crewe.”

“No”.

Sorry then, you can’t get a ticket”.

Yes, apparently we couldn’t get in due to not living in Crewe. That is borderline racism, I’m convinced of it! Anyway, it was outlined that this was the case on the website, but it wasn’t publicised particularly well and was only apparent when you checked back a fair few articles on the news part. Not great, but today was different. Today, there was no Crewe ID, I was off to The Alexandra Stadium and I was getting in. Surely, Crewe was going to be kind for once….

The bar on arrival. A nice sight!

The bar on arrival. A nice sight!

I arrived in Crewe from Manchester Piccadilly at around 1pm, to ensure that I could negotiate a ticket if any problems should arise. This time, the ticket office was empty, straight in and £25 lighter (£22 ticket, £3 programme), I was back out into the heavy, fine rain which was ruining this not-so-Good Friday. As I exited, I spotted the Crawley team coach pulling into the car park, the players obviously relishing the chance to play in the lovely Northern weather.

Welcome to Crewe, Crawley coach in background

Welcome to Crewe, Crawley coach in background.

All set for the game

All set for the game

I took cover in the Royal Hotel’s corner bar which is, unsurprisingly, on the corner of Gresty Road about 100 yards from the station. Gresty Road is one of those groundhopper friendly grounds that is easily accessible from the station, indeed it is visible from the railway itself. It is easily reached within a 10 minute stroll so is an easy one to accomplish for those doing the 92 mission.

As for me, I was in the Corner Bar with a Kopparberg and “Uptown Funk” blaring out. The pub was rather empty at this point, with only a few fans from each side populating it. It was filling up slowly throughout the 90 minutes I spent in there, before with half an hour to kick off, I decided this was the time to head down to the ground.

Main Stand on approach

Main Stand on approach

Queuing up.. Crewe ID anyone?

Queuing up.. Crewe ID anyone?

In the concourse

In the concourse

My ticket was for the Main Stand, somewhere on or around half way. I made my way past the queue at the ticket office, which brought back flashbacks of Crewe ID. I headed round to the turnstiles and was soon through into the concourse which was quite busy at this point, with many already indulging in food and beverages. Probably, most were alcoholic, to help the forthcoming match seem something approaching acceptable. They clearly had the experience factor over me. This was the way to go. I headed to my seat, after it was pointed out by the very friendly steward (all Crewe’s staff were very approachable and helpful) and was all set. The Alexandra Stadium is a funny looking ground. It has two similar stands behind each goal, the right hand stand houses the hospitality boxes and the far side stand was housing today’s travelling Crawley contingent, who were in good number and good voice for this important relegation six-pointer. Then, there is the main stand which towers over the rest of the ground, providing views into the distance. The capacity is 10,153, with the ground less than half full today, mostly due to the away stand being sparsely populated. What’s that? You’re interested to find out about Crewe’s history without having to open a separate tab or pull out a programme? Well, you’re in luck, here you go….

Gresty Road end.

Gresty Road end.

Railway end.

Railway end.

Away Fans Unite

Away Fans Unite

History Lesson:

Crewe Alexandra were formed in 1877 as plain old Crewe Football Club, their later suffix being derived from Princess Alexandra and the Alexandra Recreation Ground, the club’s first home. Nicknamed the Railwaymen, after the town’s links to the industry, the club played their first match against North Staffs later that year, a 1-1 draw. Their first FA Cup match was against Scottish side Queen’s Park. Crewe lost 10-0. Better Cup runs were to follow as they reached the semis in 1888. 1892 saw Alex be founding members of the Second Division, having previously been competing in the Football Alliance, but lost their league status after only four seasons. In 1895, Crewe left the Alexandra Recreation Ground, before undertaking a short nomadic existence until settling at Gresty Road in 1897. The current ground is not the original, however, with the current stadium being built to the west of the current site in 1906.

Crewe re-joined the Football League in 1921, attracting a record crowd of over 15,000 to their game against Stoke City. Crewe won their first honours by winning two successive Welsh Cups (1936 & ’37) before being barred from the competition, due to not being Welsh. 1961 saw, arguably, Alex’s most famous win, a 2-1 triumph over a Chelsea side featuring the likes of Peter Bonetti, Jimmy Greaves and, El Tel, Terry Venables. Two years later, Crewe earned their first ever promotion via a 1-0 win over Exeter City in front of just under 10,000 fans. Bruce Grobbelaar signed for the club in 1979 and scored a penalty against York City but, more importantly, wobbly legs kept eight clean sheets in 24 appearances.

The club was once mentioned by Michael Palin in his BBC documentary “Great Railway Journeys of the World”, when being named, along with Swindon and Doncaster, as one of those clubs in a railway town who perpetually prop up the Fourth Division. This was somewhat correct, as Crewe finished bottom of the Football League a record eight times.

In 1983, Dario Gradi was first appointed and he seemed to be there forever. In 1989, Alex were promoted to Division 3, but were relegated two years later. In 1994, the club were back in Division 3, and Neil Lennon was the first Alex player for 60 years to earn an international cap, when selected for Northern Ireland vs Mexico. Gradi then led Crewe to Division 1 in 1997 via a play-off win over Brentford and celebrated his 1,000th game in charge of the Alex in 2001. They remained here until 2002, but returned after just one season back in Division 2. In 2006, the club were relegated to League 1 after narrowly avoiding relegation the previous year, largely thanks to the goals of Dean Ashton during the early part of the season.

In 2007, Gradi stepped back from on pitch matters to become Technical Director, though he returned as caretaker in 2008 upon the sacking of his replacement, Steve Holland. Gudjon Thordarson followed, but he oversaw relegation to League 2 in 2009. He was replaced by Gradi (again!) in 2009 and he remained in place for a further two years before finally hanging up his tactic board to focus on being director of youth. Steve Davis was the next to be installed and won promotion to League 1 in 2012 via a play-off win over Cheltenham Town, where they remain to now, but are in serious trouble of losing their status. The club also lifted the Football League Trophy in 2013,with a 2-0 victory over Southend United. Last season, the club staved off relegation, finishing up in 19th place. Lesser honours feature six Cheshire Senior Cups (1910,’12,’13,’23, 2002 & 2003) and two Cheshire Premier Cups in 2009 and 2010.

Handshakes and pleasantries

Handshakes and pleasantries

For today, the rain continued to come down as the sides entered the pitch. The game was underway at a good pace, with both sides making some good play, but both were just as guilty of spurning chance after chance of getting a shot away, either by falling over, a poor pass, poor control or just generally anything else you can think of. Both veteran goalkeepers, Crawley’s Brian Jensen and Crewe’s Paul Rachubka will rarely have had more comfortable clean sheets in their long careers. The best chances were Crewe’s with Lauri Dalle Valle causing a few problems and Uche Ikpeazu posing a threat with his power. Jamie Ness stung Jensen’s hands towards the end of the half, but 0-0 was, unsurprisingly, the score at the break.

Match Action

Match Action

Away on time

Away on time

At half time, it was down into the concourse and a Holland’s Chicken Balti pie was purchased for £2.70. £2.70!!!!! AMF!!!!!!! Just kidding….

Back in my seat with expensive pie in hand, we were back underway with more of the same. Good build up play, with no end product. The crowd, who tried to rally their respective sides were soon quietened by a lack of action as the game struggled to get going in earnest. After a few half chances, Crawley grew in confidence, with Lanre Oyebanjo whistling a drive wide before, in stoppage time, a goalmouth scramble ended with the ball being cleared off the line amidst half hearted appeals for a goal. But in all honesty neither side could claim to have deserved the win, and as one man said to his son on the way out, “Well, it’s the first time we’ve not seen us win or lose, so that’s a good thing”. Always a positive to find in a poor game.

Watching the game.

Watching the game.

This game extended my Good Friday Manchopper record to 3 games, three 0-0’s, following last season’s double 0-0 tragedy (Blackburn and Stockport). I shouldn’t have expected anything less from that damn town in Cheshire. Crewe. It will haunt me forever.

The station did reconcile with me though, with the train back to Piccadilly arriving early and empty, meaning that a comfortable and spacious journey was had before the quick hop over to Oxford Road and the final leg of the journey home. When I got back, the Manchopper Easter Draw Leg 2 was done, with Squires Gate proving the winner. So, I was off to Blackpool. Time to get some rest, and hope for a better day, and a better game too…

My Crewe Alexandra M.o.M.- Uche Ikpeazu.

My Crawley Town M.o.M.- Izale McLeod.

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Poor game, no highlights to speak of.

Ground: 7- Really enjoyed the ground, something about it that I liked. Old ground too.

Programme: 8- Enjoyed the read, lots of articles & information.

Food: 6- Bog standard Holland’s pie. £2.70 a bit steep too, but not unexpected.

Fans: 7- Some of the more supportive fans, not much in terms of getting on backs.

Value For Money: 4- Poor game, quite expensive day in all for a 0-0. Bad weather.

Manchopper in…Morecambe

 

Result: Morecambe 0-2 Exeter City (SkyBet League 2)

Venue: The Globe Arena (Sunday 26th October, 2.00pm)

Att: 1,787

A chance to tick off one of the 92 is never one to turn down lightly. So, when Morecambe announced their “Super Sunday” fixture with Exeter City, there was only one place I was spending the latter day of the weekend.

After boarding a train to Manchester and then changing onwards towards Lancaster, I arrived in the latter City’s railway station at just after 12.20pm. A small hop over platforms was undertaken and after boarding the Northern train heading along the short route to the coastal town, I spotted the famed ‘lost boyo’ Matt Harrison lounging in the carriage (if it’s possible) with a beverage in hand.

As we passed Lancaster City’s Giant Axe home, I was promised to be introduced to his Shrimps friends who have adopted him as one of their own as soon as we arrived at the Globe, which we eventually did but not without getting slightly lost near the now defunct “Polo Tower” and old fairground around the rear of the Morrison’s store.

After scrambling up a muddy slope and through a gate, we were soon back on familiar surfaces (tarmac) and heading towards the now visible floodlights. After being windswept for about 25 minutes by the somewhat blustery conditions hitting the North West coast, it wasn’t too long until we were entering the approach road to the Globe.

Approaching The Globe Arena

Approaching The Globe Arena

Once arrived, I was introduced to Dom Lancaster, who today was employed as a programme seller, so after pleasantries were exchanged, I quickly snapped one up and made my way inside the clubhouse. Once inside, Matt again introduced some more of the Morecambe fans he knew, including Paul Carter, with his now forever purple hair, who would later give me a small tour of the upper echelons at the ground!

More on that later, and after picking up my ticket and the cheap beer I’d been supplied, we departed for the Omega Stand, but not before encountering the Morecambe fan who is somewhat famous in these parts for having a nickname of “two scarves” despite the fact he has many more than two scarves….

The Omega Stand (The Home End)

The Omega Stand (The Home End)

Anyway, after going inside the ground in earnest via the entrance behind the stand, we made our way to directly behind the goal, give or take, where returning local hero Scott Davies would guard on his second debut since returning to the club on loan. But, for now, Matt took the opportunity to have his picture taken with Christie the Cat, who is his friend on Facebook apparently, before the sides took to the field of play.But, before we get to that point, I’d best Opposite the raised, covered terrace of the Omega Stand, is the Bay Radio Stand, (usually the away section, but not today)which is more or less a twin of the Omega. On the left hand touchline is an open terrace, of smaller size, that runs the length of it and is joined by a scoreboard, and on the right side is the Main “Peter McGuigan Stand which runs the length of that respective touchline.

The Main "Peter McGuigan" Stand

The Main “Peter McGuigan” Stand

The Bay Radio Stand, usually the away end

The Bay Radio Stand, usually the away end

The open terrace.

The open terrace. With Scoreboard (obscured by post).

In all, the Globe Arena holds a capacity of 6,476, with 2,173 able to be seated, all in the Main Stand. The ground is, supposedly, based on the club’s former home, Christie Park, with the Globe replacing that ground as the Shrimps home in 2010. Here is a further delve into the history of Morecambe F.C.

History Lesson:

Morecambe F.C. was formed in 1920, taking a place in the Lancashire Combination for its inaugural season. After initially playing at the cricket club and attracting crowds of 3,000+ for derby fixtures the club moved to Roseberry Park, later Christie Park once the club President had purchased the area.
After initially struggling, the club began to progress winning the league title in 1924-’25 and lifting the Lancashire Junior Cup. Further struggles continued up until the war, with the club struggling to remain soluble.
After the war, the club began to challenge for honours on a more regular basis, especially from 1960, with a Lancashire Senior Cup (1968) being added to by an FA Trophy win at Wembley over Dartford in 1974 as well as reaching the FA Cup Third Round in 1961.
After a further slump in fortunes throughout the eighties, the club again came on strong at the latter end of the decade, with further cup and league progress being achieved. In 1996, the club attained a place in the Conference where the club remained until their promotion to League 2 in 2007, via a play-off final win against today’s visitors, Exeter City. This period wasn’t without upturns, though, as Jim Harvey suffered a touchline heart-attack and had to be replaced in the interim by Sammy McIlroy. On his return, Harvey was immediately sacked and McIlroy appointed permanently. Needless to say, the pair haven’t seen eye-to-eye since.
The club then announced plans to move from their Christie Park home to a new build stadium. Their first football league game was against Barnet and ended in a 0-0 draw to secure a first point. After an 11th place finish and a third round League Cup appearance, the club reached the play-offs the following season, but lost out to Dagenham & Redbridge in the semi-finals, but did win the 2nd leg at Christie Park, 2-1, in the last game at the ground. In 2010, the club moved into their new Globe Arena, and entertained Coventry City in the first game there in the League Cup and managed a 2-0 success. In 2011, McIlroy left the club, with Jim Bentley, his assistant, taking the reigns.
Bentley began with a 15th place finish and last season finished in a lowly 18th place as Morecambe continued to maintain their League status.
Honours:
Conference Play-Off Winners: (2006-’07), Runners-Up: (2002-’03)
Lancashire Combination Champions: (1924-’25, 1961-’62, ’62-’63, ’66-’67, ’67-’68)
Northern Premier League Runners Up: 1994-’95)
FA Trophy Winners: (1973-’74)
Conference League Cup:(1997-’98)
NPL President’s Cup: (1991-’92)
Lancashire Senior Cup: (1967-’68)
11x Lancashire FA Trophy Winners: (between 1925-’26 & 2003-’04)
Lancashire Combination Cup Winners: (1926-’27, ’45-’46, ’64-’65, ’66-’67, ’67-’68)

So, back to today and with Davies back in goal, the fans were optimistic. However, this optimism didn’t last too long, as Shaun Beeley chested past his own ‘keeper from six yards. Davies then pulled off a wonderful double save to somehow keep his side just one goal adrift, then palmed away an Exeter header that looked destined for the top corner. Davies was on top form on his return to the Shrimps.

The sides shake hands.

The sides shake hands.

Scott Davies. A hero returns.

Scott Davies. A hero returns.

At the break, I was hoping to secure a famous Morecambe pie. But when queuing I received the bombshell that they had ran out. The horror! So, a Mars Bar had to suffice. Needless to say, I guess it wasn’t the same…
The second half was soon underway with Christy Pym, the young Grecians ‘keeper becoming the target of good natured shouts from the Shrimps faithful, including Dom’s “shithouse avocado” heckle, which must be one no goalkeeper has never experienced before. The avocado reference was down to Pym’s luminous green jersey.
The second half was a tight affair, with very little to choose between the sides, but Morecambe arguably had the better of the game. But, they were hit with a hammer blow when, in stoppage time, Tom Nicholls beat the offside trap and hammered home to ensure his side headed back to the South West with all three points and their fans were rewarded for a long journey with the points and the win.
After the game, we all returned to the clubhouse and as I mentioned I was given a tour of the upper floors of the Globe, including the press areas, hospitality and a box by Paul, who also gave me a Morecambe Fans Badge, which I managed to lose on the way back in my slightly intoxicated state….

A look across the ground from a hospitality box.

A look across the ground from a hospitality box.

The Omega Stand from the Press Area.

The Omega Stand from near the Press Area.

After watching the United-Chelsea game on TV in the clubhouse Matt and I headed into Morecambe and to a couple of small hostelries and “The Ranch” which is a Western-style pub. No, I don’t know why either.
Anyway, at about 7.30, we made our way back to the station for the train back along to Lancaster before changing onwards to Manchester, where we met a small dog on the train which preceded to become something of a local celebrity in the carriage!
Soon the train had pulled into Oxford Road, and with Matt heading onwards to Piccadilly, I bid farewell and headed towards my train home which was already sat waiting. It had been a great day at a great club, and I can see what keeps the “Jack Shrimp” going back for more. I will certainly be doing the same!

My Morecambe M.o.M.- Scott Davies
My Exeter City M.o.M.- Matt Oakley

RATINGS:
Game: 5- Not the greatest game in all fairness.
Ground: 8- A smart ground, that retains character of its predecessor.
Fans: 9- The ones I met were great, but the ones who booed at the end let the rating slip. It doesn’t help.
Programme: 8- A very smart, informative programme, especially the bit about Blackpool which featured a guy who was local to me!
Food: N/A, unfortunately!
Value For Money: 8- It was all good value on the whole, especially the cut-price ticket when pre-booked! (See my Nuneaton Town blog)
Referee: 7- Had a pretty good game, with no major errors or decisions to have to make.

Manchopper in…Barnet

180px-Barnet_FC.svg Altrincham_CrestNew

Result: Barnet 5-0 Altrincham (Vanarama Conference)
Venue: The Hive (Saturday 20th September 2014, 3.00pm)
Att: 1,516

Barnet had been a target of mine ever since the fixtures had first been announced back in the summer, and with my most local premier non-league side, Altrincham, now plying their trade, once again, in the Conference National, what better excuse than to make the trip down I figured.
After “Non-League Review” had stated their intention to also travel down to see the Robins in what was looking increasingly likely to be their toughest challenge all season, I made up my mind & committed myself to the trip down to London. After a quick exchange of info with NLR, I had purchased my tickets on the way to FC United’s FA Cup tie versus Prescot Cables, and had a week to wait until the journey down south.
The day did eventually arrive, and after making the short trip into Manchester Piccadilly, I hopped onto the 10.35 Virgin Pendolino service to London Euston for the 2hr 40m ride. After passing through such exotic locations as Stoke-on-Trent, Watford & Milton Keynes & Wembley Stadium, the train was soon pulling into Euston Station right on time.
I had been informed by NLR that they were awaiting my arrival in the nearby pub by the name of The Doric Arch, which was decked out in old railway memorabilia and the like. After a £5 Kopparberg in there, and a quick phone charge, the news was re-laid to me that the Underground line which takes you to just around the corner from the ground was closed, so a detour to Edgware had to be undertaken.
After a 20 minute or so trip on the tube up to Edgware, we exited the station on a supposed 1.1 mile walk to the ground. However, and I’m sure NLR will agree, there was no way it was 1.1 mile. It just went on & on & on, with the floodlights disappearing for a fair while, until a flash of tangerine as we exited upon a road junction gave away the ground’s hidden location.
Barnet’s new ground was a hive of activity…sorry. The Hive, the ground which replaced their old, sadly now defunct (as I understand), Underhill home is mighty impressive as is the rather large football complex which surrounds it.
As NLR made a rushed exit to join the “Radio Robins” crew situated in the stand, I purchased a glossy programme for £3, before doing a 180 degree tour of the ground to get round to the away end, where I joined an eventual 90-strong travelling contingent. After parting with a further £17 for entry, I took my place in the covered terracing behind the goal to the right of the ground. Behind the opposite goal is an identical covered terrace with both sides featuring seating stands. To the left of my position was the press & distinguished guests stand which featured a fair amount of seating, and is accompanied by the dugouts and changing rooms etc. the latter of which are tucked away inside it near the corner flag, but it is nothing like the one facing it size-wise, which is rather impressive. The Hive has a current capacity of 5,100 of which 3,500 of those can be seated.

History Lesson:
Barnet F.C. were founded in 1882 as Woodville FC before changing to New Barnet FC in 1885 & finally to Barnet FC in 1888. Originally, the club played in New Barnet, before moving to Ravenscroft Park in Queens Road in 1889. They began playing friendlies only, before becoming inaugural members of the North London League in 1892. They went on to join the North Middlesex League, being promoted as runners-up in Divisions 2 and 1 in consecutive seasons before winning the Premier Division at the first attempt in 1896-’97. They then won the London League Division 2 at the first attempt after being promoted the next season, but ceased to play in 1901.
But, the current club traces its roots back to Barnet Avenue & Alston Works, the two clubs who amalgamated to form the current Barnet FC. Initially after joining together, they competed as Barnet & Alston FC in the Athenian League, before taking the current name in 1919.
During their time in the Athenian League (1919-’65) Barnet lifted seven championships, and in the immediate period after WWII, the club won the FA Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup twice. They also featured in the first televised football match on the BBC at Underhill. There was 20 minutes of the first & 35 of the second halves filmed, before it became too dark! The next year, the club played host to Sing Tao Sports Club, from Hong Kong, who were the first Chinese Club to play in England (though with HK being a British dependency at the time, does this count?). Anyway, Barnet triumphed over the HK Champions 5-3.
In 1965, the club reached the third round of the FA Cup for the first time, entertaining the previous year’s runners-up Preston North End, only going down to a last minute own goal. 1965 saw the club turn semi-pro after being amateur throughout their previous history and the club went on to win the Southern League Division 1.
They achieved promotion to the Southern League Premieras a result, and the following year, Barnet reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy, losing out to Macclesfield Town. The club also equalled the FA Cup record for a non-league club win over a league club by beating Newport County 6-1 the following season.
In 1971-’72, the club were defeated at Wembley in the FA Trophy final,3-0 by Stafford Rangers and won the Southern League Cup, after a replay versus Hereford United was won on penalties. 1975 saw the club relegated back to the Southern League Division 1 South, but bounced back two seasons later as winners. During this period, Jimmy Greaves played for the club.
By virtue of their finishing positions in the 1977-’78 & ’78-’79 seasons, the club were awarded a place in the newly formed Alliance Premier League. In 1986, after years of mostly struggling, the club finished runners-up in the League, now renamed the Football Conference. After again finishing runners-up for the next two seasons, the club then faded into mid-table the next season but did lift the League Cup by beating Hyde United on penalties, before in ’89-’90, the club again suffered disappointment as Darlington pipped them to promotion. But in 1990-’91, The Bees beat Fisher Athletic on the last day to finally secure promotion to the Football League’s Fourth Division.
I their first season, the club reached the play-offs, losing to Blackpool, and finished third the following season in the new Division 3, thus being promoted to Division 2, but they were immediately relegated. But, after two more play-off places, the club were relegated in 2001 after finishing bottom, returning to the Conference after a decade.
After missing out in the play-offs to Shrewsbury Town in 2003-’04, the club lifted the title the following year.
After a period of mid-table finishes and relegation survival, the club survived on the last day of the 2010-’11 season by beating Port Vale 1-0, thus relegating Lincoln City. The following season, the club beat Burton Albion on the last day, thus achieving a hat-trick of final day survivals, but in 2012-’13, and under ex-Netherlands international Edgar Davids, the club were finally bumped back down to the Conference from League 2.
Halfway through last season, Davids, or “sir”, tendered his resignation after being told there was the possibility of more northern game probably, but the club still attained a highly respectable 8th place finish.
Honours:
1x North Middlesex League Division 2 Title (1894-’95)
1x North Middlesex League Premier Division Title (1903-’04) as Barnet Avenue.
1x London League Division Two Title (1897-’98)
1x London League Division One Title (1906-’07) as Barnet Alston Works.
1x Chiswick League Title (1907-’08) as Barnet Avenue
1x Middlesex County Amateur League Title (1910-’11) as Barnet Avenue
7x Athenian League Titles (1930-’31, ’31-’32, ’46-’47, ’47-’48, ’58-’59, ’63-’64, ’64-’65.
3x London Senior Cups (1937-’38, ’40-’41, ’46-’47)
3x London Charity Cups (1946-’47, ’59-’60, ’62-’63 shared)
24x Hertfordshire Senior Cups (between 1908 & 1965)
19x Hertfordshire Senior Challenge Cups (between 1940 & 2011)
2x Hertfordshire Charity Shields (1930 & ’31)
2x Middlesex Senior Cup (1932 & ’33)
2x Middlesex Charity Cups (1925 & ’27)
1x Hertfordshire & Middlesex League Cup (1945)
2x Channel Islands Victory Cups (1939 & 1947)
1x John Guin Cup (Luxembourg) (1962)
1x Will Mather Cup (1947)
1x Alloway Brothers Memorial Trophy (1960)
1x Westminster Hopsital Cup (1964)
Professional:
2x Football Conference Titles (1990-’91 & 2004-’05)
1x Conference League Cup (1989)
1x Southern League Division One Title (1965-’66), SOUTH: (1976-’77)
1x Southern League Cup (1971-’72)
7x Hertfordshire Senior Cups (between 1985-’86 & 2010-’11)
6x Micky Mays Memorial Trophies (between 1978 & 1985)
1x FA Trophy Runners-Up (1971-’72)

The game began in cloudy, overcast conditions with the sides relatively evenly matched in the opening stages, but once Spaniard Luisma Villa had opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a half-volley the ‘keeper will feel he should’ve done better with, the Bees never looked back.
After Villa had come close to doubling his tally, the John Akinde show took centre stage. The big forward firstly won himself a penalty after colliding with Altrincham goalkeeper Dave Parton inside the box. Clear penalty. After Parton had received treatment for the blow to the head, Akinde stepped up to rifle the ball low into the corner. 2-0.
Parton’s day was over immediately afterwards, as he was subbed with apparent concussion. Veteran gloveman Stuart Coburn replaced him between the sticks but was helpless just before the break when Adam Mekki was tripped in the area, rather rashly, by Scott Leather and Akinde cooly sent him the wrong way. If this was bad, then it was to get worse in the first minute of stoppage time as Akinde completed a deadly first half hat-trick. The Barnet number 9 picked the ball up with his back to goal around the penalty spot, before turning on a dime and rifling into the roof of the net. A superb finish. 4-0. Game well & truly over.
At half-time, I headed round to the away supporters bar, situated in the back of the larger stand, and then to the neighbouring food bar where I purchased a rather large (and very tasty) Cheeseburger for £3.50. Upon returning to the terrace, the game was about to resume, with Alty just hoping at this point to avoid a cricket score, after offering little going forward in the first period.
Big Bondz N’Gala, who’s physical appearance is some sight, was brought off at the break, probably down to him being booked and was soon followed by Akinde, who was given a rapturous ovation from the home support. The away fans weren’t quite as fond, accusing him of catching Parton deliberately to win the penalty. For me, that was a bit harsh.
Sam Hoskins, who’d been signed just prior to the game from Yeovil Town, came on & proceeded to pick up where Akinde left off by netting with his first touch for hi new club, turning and firing low past Coburn. 5-0 and still 40 minutes to be played.
After Villa had struck a free-kick onto the post, the game settled down, with Barnet taking no risks in keeping their clean sheet. But it almost went when Damien Reeves had a great chance to pull a consolation back for the Robins but was kept out by a superb save from veteran ‘keeper Graham Stack. He had a further chance a little later, but again failed to find the finish as Barnet saw out the game comfortable enough to register another victory and retain their table-topping position.
After the game, I briefly headed into the Hive Bar in the press stand, where I saw a Football Manager legend of mine, Mauro Vilhete, who I always end up signing on it. Soon after, NLR informed me he’d secured a lift back with Barnet’s Hospital Radio crew for most of the trip back to Edgware.
After a conversation about all things Barnet on the way back (yes, including Edgar Davids), we bid farewell to our Bees acquaintances before heading back for the Tube, but for the inaugural “Non League Review Whistle-Stop Tour”, which took in the sights of London: Leicester Square, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square & more, which was quite something for me, considering I’d never been to the capital before! (I’d been through it, but never actually to it).
After some “Chinese In A Box”, we headed back to the tube from Trafalgar to Euston, just in time for an earlier train back home, which was good considering the travel sickness, as I found the pendolino feels as though you are on an aircraft over a train as it bends around as it goes. Crazy!
After bidding goodbye to NLR at Stockport, I continued onto terminus at Manchester Piccadilly before connecting back home. It had been a great day out, with some sightseeing (however brief) involved too, all adding to the novelty. Hopefully, another trip to the capital will be in the offing soon.

My Barnet M.o.M.- John Akinde
My Altrincham M.o.M.- Adam Griffin

RATINGS:
Ground: 9- Smart, tidy ground with good atmosphere and viewing points.
Game: 7- One sided, but high quality and the novelty of a first-half hat-trick.
Programme: 8- A good read, with the titles really telling you what you are going to get!
Food: 8- As I said earlier, tasty, a little pricey, but to be expected.
Fans: 8- Were quite vocal in support of their side & a “Just Because You’re Losing” thrown in.
Value For Money: 7- A good quality game, travel pricey but had budgeted it. Programme good value as was food, so not bad all in all.
Referee: 6- Just above average, not the greatest ref at that level I’ve seen but not the worst either.