Manchopper in….Exeter

Result: Exeter City 0-3 Lincoln City (EFL League 2)

Venue: St. James’ Park (Saturday 1st September 2018, 3pm)

Att: 4,067

The second of my trips to Devon in consecutive weekends saw me heading the slightly shorter distance this time around out of the county’s two League sides. Yes, I was off to Exeter this time around, having been further down the line at Plymouth the previous week, for their 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Posh. Plymouth was a decent day, question was :- could Exeter go one better?

Grabbing the 8am train down from Manchester, I arrived into St. David’s station at a little before a quarter to midday, after having to endure a tortuous 10 minutes of sitting stationary outside on the station approach. This duly meant my first drink of the day would need to be a swift one, and so the walk to my first stop would need to be too. After eventually gaining my bearings (I’m getting a little better by now!), I set off towards the side of the River Exe and the appropriately named “Mill on the Exe” which, you may be surprised to learn, used to be a mill. I know, I share your disbelief!! Anyway, a swift pint of Rattler cider (the locally brewed stuff) was enjoyed out on the balcony overlooking the river bridge crossing, prior to me continuing onwards into ‘town’.

View from the Mill

The Iron Bridge…called Iron Bridge

View to the city, Iron Bridge Inn on the right

After heading past what first appeared to be an old, grand garden (though a later deduced it was actually a seemingly abandoned cemetery), I approached a large iron bridge which, again, was fittingly named “Iron Bridge”. Hence, there had to be a pub named just as well, and, shock of shocks, there stood the Iron Bridge Inn, right there upon the bridge. Just kidding, I knew this was there! What I didn’t fully expect was the pint I ordered to cost a full £6.50, though I was of course informed prior to the matter. Not being one to shy away when it comes to a good beer, the Tropical Pale Ale was, as promised, bloody fantastic. The pub was a lovely old classic too, so well worth a visit.

Next on the list was something of a diversion, if I’m to be honest. Having planned to seek out the Beer Cellar first, I couldn’t spot it for one reason or another and so instead popped into the far easier to see City Gates, which I just so happened to be stood right outside of. This was another elder statesperson of the city, dating from the 19th century and age seemed to equal cost here, as a bottle of Sol came in at a full £4.40. Jesus. Anyhow, I took it out into the nice ‘Walled Garden’ outdoor area, which also allowed a quick exit out of the old coaching entrance.

City Gates

The price didn’t make me feel sunny….

The name Exeter derives from the Old English Escanceaster, from the anglicised from of the river now known as the Exe and the suffix -ceaster, used to mark important fortresses and towns. Exe is a separate Brittonic name meaning “water” or, more specifically, “full of fish”. The area began as a riverside settlement, likely dating from around the times of the Roman occupation, with coins from the Mediterranean – especially the Hellenic region, having been found dating back to 250 BC. It would later grow into a fort, with it becoming the southwest terminus of the Fosse Way and served as base for the legion presided over by Vespasian, who would later become Emperor. The fort grew into a larger settlement containing the families of those based here, alongside natives, becoming the tribal capital of the Dumnonii area. Upon the forts abandonment in 75 AD (CE can piss off), the grounds were converted for civilian use and is located close to the cathedral.

Exeter would latterly be conquered by the Saxons, though they did leave a quarter of the city to remain under native control, the road named Bartholomew Street (nee Britayne Street until 1637) was formerly named, apparently, in memory of these people. In 876, it was attacked and captured by Viking raiders, though they were driven out rather quickly by Alfred the Great. King Athelstan, who went on to further fortify the city, drove out the British to (perhaps) the St. David’s area just outside the city’s walls. After a further failed Danish attack, the Norman conquest took hold and, despite the city’s peoples rebelling a couple of years in, a siege put in place by King William put paid to that. In later years, the town would become a more market-based area, for the benefits of the locals.

Exeter

Old church

As time went on, into the Tudor period, the city withstood a siege from the local Cornish and Devonians, outraged by the religious instructions of the monarchy at the time. This was ended in battle, with many rebels meeting their end soon afterwards. The city would go on to play a major part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, whereupon it is said it gained its motto “Semper Fidelis” from Elizabeth I in recognition of its service, though schools teach that it was in fact bestowed by Charles II in 1660 after the Restoration due to its part in the English Civil War. Around this time, Exeter became a stronghold of the wool and cloth trades, trading with many areas of the world, with the industrial revolution of the 19th century bringing agricultural goods to the fore. Bridges, tramways and railways were also introduced to help expand transport links both locally and to the rest of the country.

The city was bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe during WWII, Exeter defended by a squadron of Polish night-fighters, named the Lwów Eagle Owls, based out of Exeter Airport. Incidentally, the Polish city Lwów shared the same city motto with Exeter. The city was the first to be gifted a Polish flag in friendship and one is duly raised on each 15 November. In recent years, a serious fire damaged the Royal Clarence Hotel (said to be the first venue to call itself a hotel in England), though restorations ended up uncovering medieval pictures. The hotel’s restoration is still ongoing.

White Hart

Inside too. Full of all sorts.

George’s Meeting House. I had no-one to meet.

Continuing on, I headed onwards towards the cathedral part of town and to a pair of drinking holes just across the way from each other. The first, the White Hart, was another oldie worldy place, dating from the 1500’s. However, this wasn’t so apparent when outside, though once you head on through the entry way, it quickly became timber-framed and narrow. Indoors, the bar off to the right was the one in use, and it was, fittingly, dimly lit and full of all sorts of various paraphernalia lining the walls. This time, the older place was a little more easy on the pocket, the pint of Thatcher’s coming in at £3.95. Crossing over the way, it was to another fittingly named pub (personally anyway), George’s Meeting House, which was also the first Spoons visit of the day. This is an old chapel or something of sorts and is one of the more interesting ones I’ve visited in a while. It was cool for a quick one, the now staple Hooch at £2.39 to round off the pre-match drinking session.

Cutting through the cathedral grounds, I continued on through down a little side road before again having to figure out where I was to be going. Eventually, I spotted a couple of guys who looked like match goers (you get to know them eventually) and followed them up to a large roundabout, from where I could actually recognise roads and the like. However, this didn’t help me in a pursuit of a programme, as I instead ended up with a fanzine but, for a quid, I wasn’t fussed at that and was actually looking forward to having a look through one of these for the first time since….maybe Huddersfield a couple of years back. It turned out to be a decent little read too.

Exeter Cathedral

Through the grounds

Eventually, I did locate the programmes via the help of “helpers” outside the ground and was soon in the queue for the Big Bank. Handing over £16 for entry (not too bad, really), I was into the already crowded terrace, though I did pop into the line for food first up, the Steak pie (I think it was) went down very well indeed. Anyway, St. James’ Park is a pretty smart-looking ground, though it does sadly now lack the traditional old stand I enjoy, though I dare say the Grecians fans may indeed like the new facilities better. The new grandstand is now pretty much complete bar the shouting, and is all-seater. The big bank is a large, covered terraced area, which stretches back a fair way above the playing area, affording decent views out to the city at the far, open, unused end. The current “Main” Stand is also all seater, though is a smaller affair than the grandstand in terms of overall size, it is longer, running the majority of the pitch. So that’s the ground and this is the story of Exeter City….

History Lesson:

Exeter City Football Club was founded in 1904, upon the merger of local clubs St. Sidwell’s United and Exeter United, the sides having backdated football in Exeter back to 1890. In 1904, Exeter lost 3-1 to St. Sidwell’s whereupon, after the game had finished, the two sides agreed that the two merging was best for the future. The new team took on the Exeter City name and continued on playing at Exeter United’s ground, St. James’ Park. The new club’s first competitive outing came in September, where they defeated the 110th battery of the Royal Artillery by 2-1 at St. James’ Park, in the East Devon League. City would duly go on to lift the title at the end of the season and transferred into the Plymouth & District League for the next few years.

1908 saw the club turn professional and successfully applied to join the Southern League, replacing Tottenham Hotspur in doing so. They got rid of their supposed “unlucky” green and yellow kit (derived from St. Sidwell’s colours) and switched to their now familiar red and white stripes. Upon the change, a 0-0 draw with West Ham United was followed by five consecutive victories, thus confirming the switch was indeed for the better, in those of a superstitious view. City would go on to tour South America in 1914, just prior to the outbreak of WWI, where they played eight matches against Argentine and Brazilian opposition, whilst also apparently providing the first ever opposition for the future Selecao, the Brazilian national team. This game ended in a 2-0 loss, or a 3-3 draw, depending on whom you believe!

Post-war, 1920 saw Exeter invited to join the Football League’s Third Division South, and invite they duly took up. They took on Brentford in their first league match, a game which ended in a 3-0 home success. 1931 saw the Grecians record their joint best FA Cup run, as they reached the sixth round prior to bowing out to Sunderland. They would repeat the trick again 50 years later, this time eventually going down at the hands of eventual winners, Spurs, by 2-0. 1964 saw City secure their first ever Football League promotion, as they finally exited the bottom tier and duly took a spot in the, by this point, nationalised Third Division. However, their stay would only be a short one, as they would be relegated just two seasons later. They would remain in the Fourth Division for a further long spell, though this would eventually end in a first ever Championship title in League football, with this being lifted in 1990, ahead with a return to the Third Division. This time, the Grecians doubled their previous tenure here, but were relegated in 1994, from the current Second Division (re-designated upon the birth of the Premier League).

Man takes picture of man taking picture of sign

Back in the bottom division, Exeter would go on to struggle for the most part, entering administration and almost folding in the latter part of 1994 and having to sell off their ground to property developers, though were eventually able to remain at St. James’ upon the council purchasing it latterly. They would eventually exit administration in 1996, though things didn’t improve too much and, seven years later, City would be relegated out of the Football League to the Conference National, the club becoming the first to suffer this fate having not finished bottom (they ended 23rd). Continuing financial issues and off-field shenanigans continued to threaten the club’s existence for the next few seasons, but hard work from supporters and a helpful replayed FA Cup tie against Manchester United (after a 0-0 draw had been secured at Old Trafford) in 2005 helped boost the coffers.

2007 saw Exeter reach the play-offs, whereupon they reached the final with a semi-final win over Oxford United. However, they would go on to lose out at Wembley to Morecambe. They went one better the next season, though, as they defeated local rivals Torquay United after an away second-leg comeback, before defeating Cambridge United by a single strike in the Final, thus securing a return to the League. Their first season in League 2 was an immediate success, as Exeter went straight on through to League One, a final day one-nil win at Rotherham United securing their promotion as runners-up to Brentford.

They would remain in League one for the next four years, though scraped survival in 2010 by overcoming promotion chasing Huddersfield Town on the last day by 2-1 and so condemned Gillingham to the drop instead. The following campaign saw the club bounce back from the tragic loss of Adam Stansfield to just miss out on the play-offs (by a single point) and finish up a strong eighth. However, this season was a false dawn of sorts for the Grecians, as they were relegated at the end of the following campaign, back to League 2. Here they have remained, despite a strong showing initially in 2013 before a tail off in performances.  Meanwhile, 2015 saw the club become the victims of an FA Cup giant-killing, as they went out at the First Round stage on live TV at the hands of Northern Premier League side, Warrington Town. Their next cup campaign would be memorable for the right reasons though, the highlight being a 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

I think he saw me.

2017 saw the club recover from a poor start to just miss out on promotion through the play-offs, a fifth placed finish being the precursor to a dramatic last-minute success in the semi-finals over two-legs against Carlisle, before they were defeated by Blackpool in the final at Wembley. Last season saw the Grecians end up in 4th, whereupon they again entered the play-offs, but were unsuccessful in the final again, despite seeing off today’s visitors in the semis, Exeter again fell at the final hurdle, this time to Coventry City. Paul Tisdale departed the club afterwards, with former skipper Matt Taylor taking the reigns for the coming season, which has seen another strong start.

The game got underway soon after I took up a spot within the Grecian support up in the Bank, with very little happening in the first half hour or so, though Exeter were probably just about having the better of the play. After a few blocked shots had come and gone for both sides, it was the hosts’ Pierce Sweeney who eventually got in an attempt on goal, his shot flying over the bar and out of the ground, following a corner.

Lincoln responded well and forced a few consecutive corners which ended in Tom Pett firing narrowly wide, before it all went wrong for the hosts in the final few minutes of the half. First, Lincoln skipper Lee Frecklington finished off from a couple of yards following good work by the ever dangerous John Akinde, who was played in on the left side of the area and slid across the face for Frecklington to add the finishing touch.

Match Action

Far end action

Akinde would then grab a goal himself on the stroke of the break, netting in the second minute of stoppage time. He completed a solo effort by traipsing his way across the edge of the box, beating two defenders as he went, prior to sliding his effort beyond Exeter stopper Christy Pym, who was left rooted and wrong-footed. Half-time duly arrived with the game having taken on a very different look than it appeared to have been meandering towards.

After a half time lit up by many attempted chips into a large bin, which also saw the mascot end up in there for a short while too for some reason, we were back playing once more. Again, there wasn’t a whole lot of action early on but, on 56 minutes, the Imps secures the points when Harry Toffolo (who is definitely the most famous person with that surname, ok?) drove into the box and delivered a low cross which was diverted into his own net by Troy Brown, denying the waiting Akinde behind a second goal in the process.

Match Action

Match Action

ECFC

Jayden Stockley and Sweeney again saw shots drift off target as Exeter strove in vain to get back into the game in some respect, but it would be Lincoln who would go the closest to finding the net again when Akinde struck the upright with around ten to fifteen to play. But that would be that and the Imps held out comfortably to gain a measure of revenge for their play-off defeat at the hands of Exeter a few months back. Full-time, 0-3.

After the game, a hasty retreat back to the city was beat with a visit paid to the old Ship Inn, hidden away down a small, unassuming side street lined with scaffolding. A lucky spot, really, but it would prove to be a second week in succession where I’d drank in an apparent favourite of Sir Drake. A pint of Amstel in this lovely, old pub cost a very decent £3.85 before I resisted the urge to seek out the Beer Cellar once more and took the far more sensible option of heading to the Imperial ‘Spoons near to the station to await my carriage home. In something of a stately home, Exeter certainly has some of the more intriguing offerings! A Kopparberg (again £2.39) was had here to give something of a refresh before I hopped on back over to St. David’s and onto the train for the journey back north.

The Ship. Just about visible!

Exeter from the graveyard walkway

Imperial

After spending all but around twenty minutes without having to endure anyone sitting next to me, I arrived back into Manchester in time to meet up with blog regular Dan for a quick one in Piccadilly Gardens’ own ‘Spoons (which is certainly a fair bit less interesting) before grabbing the bus back on account of the bloody train strikes. But there ends my last long-range trip for a while. I really enjoyed visiting the city and the ground was decent too. The game wasn’t up to much, but the programme and food were both good and at least there were goals, so there’s that. Onto next week and a return to the FA Cup trail, with somewhere a little closer to home on the horizon….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Wycombe

 

Result: Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 Stevenage (EFL League 2)

Venue: Adams Park (Saturday 5th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 8,802

The EFL league season reached its climax over the early May Bank Holiday and this in turn allows for something of a football fest. Three games in three days was to come, beginning with a trip down to the Chilterns for a promotion party. Wycombe Wanderers had just secured their promotion in the previous round of fixtures and with the weather set to move into the bracket known as “warm”, the Chairboys were to be backed by a near capacity crowd in their final game of the campaign, as Gareth Ainsworth’s men looked to sign off in style.

So to Adams Park it was. Now, my journey had originally been intended to take in Bournemouth vs Swansea, and I bought a ticket early enough to make it a worthwhile risk. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this fell through in the days leading up to the game and so I required a club to step into the breach and, luckily, both Wycombe and Swindon gave easy enough options – just hop off at Oxford and head either eastward or westward. As it was, the easterly journey was always the more attractive option, with me having wanted to visit High Wycombe for some time and so, with a match ticket safely secured a couple of days before, an early start saw me catch the 8.25 service out of Manchester and down towards the famed university city.

As chance would have it, come the train’s arrival into Stoke-on-Trent, I would be joined at “my” table by a trio of (I assume related?) Wycombe fans of varying levels! They provided great company and entertainment for the trip down, prior to them leaving at Leamington (whether or not the sentiment is returned may be questionable!!), though yet again my terrible memory when it comes to names has struck again, so apologies for that! What I do know is that the guy is an FC fan with not too much fondness when it comes to Stockport and Chorley – the former making the encounter with the Stockport supporting conductor interesting! The PAOK shirt is something that isn’t come across often either and it’s something of a shame that camera shyness put off the slightly elder pair, though young Mickie (I remember this, I just hope I’ve got the spelling right now!) was happy to display her colours, as shown below!

Pride in the fact

After passing by the grounds of Leamington and the decent-looking Banbury United on the way down, I arrived into Oxford with good time to buy a ticket for the 40 minute trip over to High Wycombe, which came in at an extra £9 or so, so not too much more out-of-pocket, especially when taking into account the very decent ticket prices offered up by Wanderers too. Anyway, the journey passed comfortably enough, though the initial quest for a drink went horrendously….

I initially took the wrong exit from the station and so was left having to navigate through a dingy underpass and back towards the far more pleasant town centre. My eyes initially set upon the Three Tuns which looked a decent enough boozer…well, that was until I was left standing at the bar for well over five minutes while all and sundry around me were getting served first, despite me having money out in full show. As such, I decided that if my money wasn’t wanted in here, then I’d happily give it to somewhere else. Sadly, this also wouldn’t be the quaint-looking Antelope down by the side of the church there, with this one being shut up. This was made all the more painful when I noticed that they were advertising Hop House for just £2 a pint. Ah.

Arriving in Wycombe

Wycombe

Wycombe

After having a quick look in the finely named Mad Squirrel just across the church’s grounds, I instead reckoned I’d leave that one for now and head on over to the far end of town where I knew there were a few options too. These were namely the Snug and Heidrun and with the latter’s interesting grouping of ales within taking my fancy, I opted for them to end my ever-growing thirst. The prices weren’t exactly all that cheap, though this was fairly understandable given the options and strength, and given all the reasons there, along with the fact I wasn’t too sure how they’d go, I decided to just try out a half of the 6+% Nanban Kampai, a tropical fruity ale for £2.95. It was bloody good too, so no complaints here.

Having planned out something of an itinerary to follow from here, I set off for the aforementioned Mad Squirrel, another tap house bar. Having seen the wide variety on offer in here, I settled on a pint of the Hop Fest which appeared to be brewed by the bar and possibly on site. All good, as was the price tag of £3.95, with it again being a lovely tasting drink, though it was soon time to continue my travail of Wycombe, which would end at the bus stop which, as luck would have it, just happened to have a bar all but opposite it. You’d think I planned it or something, wouldn’t you?

Heidrun

Mad Squirrel

Heading over towards the bus

Before I got there, though, a quick visit into the old, wooden beamed Bell Hotel was paid, with a pint of Amstel in there coming in at somewhere in the mid £3 range. Having finished up in the Bell rather swiftly and popping just around the corner and under the A road that passes by there, I arrived at the Chiltern Taps which, as I mentioned, sits just a minute or so from the bus station, where a few buses can be caught to around five or ten minutes from Adams Park. Anyway, a second Amstel in here was around the mid £3 mark once more and having arrived at the station just as the bus pulled in, I was soon en route to the ground.

Dropped off not far from the Hourglass which is near enough at the foot of the road leading to the ground, I instead made my way over to the ground where I planned on meeting back up with the Wycombe fans from the train in the marquee bar they had informed me of. After collecting my ticket and taking a couple of exterior pics of the ground, I made my way over only to see the form of a steward standing guard right outside the doors. This didn’t look too good and, indeed, it wasn’t.

The Bell

Chiltern Taps

Arriving at Adams Park

No-one was getting in and, to be fair, this was probably a wise choice as, having joined the queue for the turnstile with a good 20-25 minutes to kick-off, I only got to my seat after a minute of the game, this also taking in a visit to the food bar, with it looking unlikely to be any easier come the break. A Chicken Balti pie was the choice of the day today, and with it being a Pukka, you know what to expect.

Having reached my seat up in the towering Frank Adams Stand, the rest of the ground looks fairly miniscule in comparison, but this does allow for nice views up the hills behind the Main Stand opposite. The Frank Adams stand, as I alluded to, is by far the largest of the structures that make up Adams Park and is named in memory of the man who donated the club’s former Loakes Park to the Chairboys. It is two-tiered and houses the executive boxes, The Main Stand opposite plays host to the dugouts out front, as well as the dressing rooms and the tunnel is to the centre. It is pretty interesting though, as the seats are raised from ground level, meaning they are accessed by sets of stairs and an area to walk along the front runs along the touch-line, with people stopping to watch now and again, without being unnecessarily harassed.

Heading in….

Behind the goals, the two covered ends are slightly different, in that the home end is still terraced and the away end is all-seater. Between the latter and the Main Stand is a large video screen (though this was MIA today) and a smaller, more standard scoreboard. The terrace is where the main area of noise emanates from and this was my area of choice, prior to it selling out far in advance. Still, I was more than happy with my seat just about on half-way and with the action already ago, it’s probably best to delve into the history of the Wanderers right now….

History Lesson:

Wycombe Wanderers Football Club was founded in 1887, though a team known as North Town Wanderers did exist in the town from 1884, formed by furniture trade workers. As it was, Wycombe Wanderers came about during a meeting in a local pub and likely named after Wanderers FC, the 1872 FA Cup winners and who Wycombe played in the 1877-’78 competition, losing 9-0. The club derived their colours from the blues of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and originally played friendly games through to 1896 (their first against the interestingly named Wycombe Nose Club), also competing with two sides in the 1889-’90 High Wycombe Cup (the firsts in secrecy as Wild West FC who won it), though also entered the FA’s Amateur Cup in 1894 and the FA Cup the next year, 1895 also seeing the club move into their long-term home, Loakes Park from Spring Meadow. 1896 saw the club join the Southern League and they competed in the league’s Second Division through to 1908, whereupon they declined to retain their membership and instead decided to pursue a future in the professional game, moving to the Great Western Suburban League, remaining there until the outbreak of WWI.

Other minor honours for the club saw them win another High Wycombe Challenge Cup in 1894, ’95, as well as the 1894 Maidenhead Norfolkians Cup. The Berks & Bucks Senior Cup was first lifted in 1902 (their first season back at Loakes Park after a short spell away) after a number of final losses in previous years. They have since won a further 28 of these over differing age groups.

After the Great War, Wycombe joined the Spartan League and won their first league titles in both of their seasons there prior to joining the Isthmian League in 1921, remaining as an amateur outfit. Throughout their spell in the ranks, Wanderers embarked on a quest to be known as the best amateur side in the country. They would win the FA Amateur Cup in 1931 via victory over Hayes at Highbury and the following year saw the Chairboys reach the FA Cup’s First Round for the first time, eventually losing to Gillingham in a replay. The club would remain in the Isthmian League with little success through to WWII, though the club did continue to play-on through the war years and took part in the Great Western Combination which was won in 1945. 1947 saw former skipper Frank Adams (who’d won the two Spartan League titles as captain) donate Loakes Park to the club and proved the basis for the club to begin a period of success.

WWFC

Wanderers would win their first Isthmian League title in 1956 under the coaching of Sid Cann and this was defended successfully. The 1956-’57 season also saw Wycombe reach Wembley for the first time, though they would suffer disappointment, losing at the hands of Bishop Auckland in the Amateur Cup Final, the North-Eastern club having also defeated the Chairboys in the semi-finals in both 1950 & 1955. Cup runs continued to be embarked upon on a regular basis, the club reaching the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1959, when they visited Watford’s Vicarage Road, eventually going down five-one. Cann would leave the club in 1961, with on-field fortunes taking something of a turn for the worse.

1968 would see Brian Lee appointed as the club’s first “conventional manager” and he led Wycombe to their third Isthmian title in 1971, with the club again defending it successfully the following season, whilst again suffering Amateur Cup disappointment, bowing out in the semi-finals. The Isthmian League continued to be a happy hunting ground though and 1973-’74 yielded a fifth title before it, quite unbelievably, was defended successfully yet again, though by only a single goal. That season also saw the club reach the FA Cup Third Round for the first time, meeting First Division outfit Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park and going down to a respectable single goal in a replay.

Lee retired in 1976 and again this proved to be the catalyst for a downturn in form, allied with the abolition of “amateur football” by the FA. Wycombe rejected the chance to join the Alliance League on its formation in 1979 and again in 1981 due to concerns over travel costs. They remained in the Isthmian for the time being and reached the FA Trophy semis for the first time in 1982, losing out to Altrincham. A seventh title would eventually be won in 1983, though promotion would again be spurned in favour of remaining within the Isthmian ranks.

As a consequence of a stagnation, crowds began to drop and eventually the club decided to go for it and accept promotion in 1985, having finished third in the Isthmian Premier Division. However, they would immediately be relegated, though bounced back immediately, winning the 1987 Isthmian Premier Division title. They now consolidated their place in the re-named Conference, winning the 1987-’88 Football Conference Charity Shield and finished fourth in 1989, prior to leaving Loakes Park at the end of the 1989-’90 season.

The old and the new(ish)

Martin O’Neill would join the club during that year as manager and took the club on a run of success which saw the move into Adams Park undertaken in 1990 and an FA Trophy win in 1991, beating Kidderminster Harriers 2-1 under the twin towers. However, the next season would see them come agonisingly close to the title and promotion, finishing second to Colchester United in the Conference, but missing out on promotion to the Football League on goal difference alone. On a more positive note, Wycombe would only have to wait a further season for their League status to be achieved, Wanderers doing a double in taking the Conference title and the FA Trophy for a second time, overcoming Runcorn 4-1 in the final, again at Wembley, before O’Neill spurned the chance to join Nottingham Forest in favour of remaining Chairboys boss, a big boost to the club. The club also achieved a hat-trick of Conference Shields during this time, winning it in each of 1992, ’93 & ’94.

This boost was taken into the next year which saw the club’s inaugural season end with a fourth place finish in the Third Division and, thus, a play-off place. Victories over Carlisle United and Preston North End followed to ensure a second straight promotion was attained, with Wembley again proving a successful venue. League re-organisation put paid to Wycombe’s play-off hopes in their first season in Division Two despite finishing sixth and O’Neill was tempted to depart for pastures new this time around as he headed to Norwich City in 1995. He was replaced for a year-and-a-bit by Alan Smith before John Gregory guided the club to safety come the close of Season 1996-’97. Gregory left for Aston Villa early in 1998 and the managerial merry-go-round wouldn’t end there, as Wycombe would go through a further six managers over the next decade or so.

This spell encompassed Lawrie Sanchez replace Neil Smillie keeping Wanderers up in a miraculous escape, as a last day win secured safety. The next year saw this positivity continue and turn into a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, Wycombe beating Grimsby Town, Wolves and Wimbledon en route to a meeting with Leicester City in the quarter-finals, when Roy Essandoah (proper blast from the past there) netted and injury-time winner to set up a clash with Liverpool at Villa Park, a game Wycombe would go on to lose by a narrow 2-1 margin. A productive start to the nex campaign tailed off and Sanchez was replaced by Tony Adams, but he failed to arrest the slide and Wycombe would go on to suffer only their second ever relegation and the club voted to become a PLC, thus ending their spell as the final members’ club in English football.

Neymar looks different from last time we met

Adams was soon out the door too, with John Gorman taking charge, but his spell was marred with tragedy; midfielder Mark Philo passing in a road accident along with a personal loss for the manager. The club slipped from the top-spot, rescuing a play-off but losing in the semis, meaning Gorman was relieved of his duties in favour of Paul Lambert who led the club to the League Cup semi-finals in a fine run – beating Fulham away, and Premier League side Charlton Athletic. Beaten in the League 2 play-offs of 2008, Lambert resigned and Peter Taylor was installed. He also oversaw a strong start to a season, but again results soon fell away, though Wanderers did rescue matters to secure the final promotion place and return to the third tier, League One.

Just one season was spent there prior to relegation again being suffered, with Gary Waddock being unable to save them from the drop, though he did guide the club back at the first attempt. Again, their spell in League One would only last a sole season, with Wycombe again going down to League 2 after a battle against the drop was eventually lost. The Wycombe Supporter’s Trust would take over the club in 2012, which ended a transfer embargo. Waddock would be out early in the season, with Gareth Ainsworth taking the reins before ending his playing career. He struggled early on, battling relegation in his first two seasons (the latter seeing the club overcome three-point last day deficit to still stay up). A change in playing personnel saw things turn for the better and after reaching the play-offs in 2015, the Chairboys reached the final but would lose out on penalties to Southend United. They have remained in League Two until this season, which has seen Ainsworth guide Wycombe to League One after an impressive third placed finish, somewhat against the odds.

Now, let’s not beat about the bush; this game wasn’t great. Indeed, as it wore on, it became something more akin to a testimonial, with mid-half ‘keeper subs and the cult heroes getting appearances from the bench it seemed, with Adebayo Akinfenwa’s introduction being as popular as ever, my first viewing of the “Beast” in the flesh definitely being what I expected. The guy is huge! Anyway, let’s get back onto the game and it began at a fairly serene pace, what with little on the line for either side.

Match Action

Bloomfield celebrates his opener

Match Action

What chances there were went largely Wycombe’s way, with the visiting ‘Boro’ fans being given little to excite them. The first opportunity came when Nathan Tyson’s ball in was almost turned into his own net by Jack King, before Matt Bloomfield opened the scoring after around 20 minutes when the apparent “Mr Wycombe” as he’s termed on Wycombe’s site found himself in space and he fired under Joe Fryer between the Stevenage sticks to send Adams Park into party mode, if it wasn’t already!

Paris Cowan-Hall then saw a pair of efforts fly off target, before Bloomfield forced Fryer into a low stop as the half wore on. Stevenage looked to have very little to respond with and the first half slowly fizzled out. The whistle duly arrived and the sides headed in separated by the odd-goal, but it looked as though there was far more excitement happening in the terrace than there was on the pitch. Then wrestlers Triple H & The Rock’s entrance themes played out of the PA for no apparent reason during the break. I hoped it truly was “Time to play the Game”.

The second half didn’t do much to improve on that feeling. Indeed the first real action of note was a substitute as Bloomfield departed the field to a big ovation, which was almost matched as Marcus Bean took his place, and I was reliably informed that Bean’s one and only goal for the club to date rescued what turned out to be a vital point earlier in the season, his parents having left beforehand and thus missing his barnstormer, leaving Bean to run to a pair of empty seats. But at least Bean bagged. Aah? Aah….? Moving on…

Bean in action

Match Action

Finally, Stevenage created something of a chance on 65 minutes, Danny Newton heading wide from a corner, before the ‘keeper swap was undertaken with Yves Ma-Kalambay making a debut appearance in place of Scott Brown (whose departure was announced as I write this) who would hardly have broken sweat had it not been hovering around the 23 degree mark. Bean then fired well wide having been encouraged to shoot by many in the stands, desperate to see him double his Wycombe tally, before the “Beast” entered the fray and immediately put himself about in and around the Stevenage defence.

But it was to be Stevenage who finished the stronger, with the last couple of minutes seeing the Boro create a final chance when Ma-Kalambay marked his Wanderers bow with what proved to be a match-winning save, Matt Godden’s effort forcing the stopper into a stop with his feet before the whistle blew and prompted the easy to predict pitch invasion. Stevenage needn’t have felt too uncomfortable, with them having played a large hand in securing Wycombe’s promotion the previous weekend, former Chairboy Alex Revell’s hat-trick seeing off Exeter and ensuring his former side’s third place.

Pitch invasion in full flow!

I was quickly out of the ground though and back at the bus stop in good time for the bus back to the centre. A quick transfer saw me back at the church swiftly ahead of a brief visit into the Falcon, Wycombe’s Wetherspoon’s, for a pint of Punk IPA prior to returning towards the station and the neighbouring Bootlegger’s, where I plumped for the safe option of a Greene King IPA which proved a stroke of luck, with it being one of the cheapest things on offer. A decent place though and a nice bar to end off my visit to Wycombe. The journey back was a comfortable one, arriving back into Oxford with a good 20 minutes in hand ahead of the train back to Manchester. Unfortunately, a slight delay cost me the connection, meaning a bus job was required to get home. A bus job…that doesn’t sound pleasant….Anyway…!

Falcon

Bootleggers & cool chairs to round off the day

So, what of Wycombe then. Well I found the town to be a really nice place, even more so with the market in full flow and with the weather fine for once. Adams Park was a smart ground too, encompassing its own character and the near capacity crowd certainly added to the occasion. Beer places were on the better side as well, despite a couple being a little on the costly side and the food & programme were all good too (the pie was piping hot, the programme a good read to help pass the journey time back). So there ends another trip. Just a few hours until the next….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Crawley

Result: Crawley Town 1-1 Swindon Town (EFL League 2)

Venue: Broadfield Stadium (Monday 2nd April 2018, 3pm)

Att: 5,008

Rounding off the trio of Easter games, the Broadfield Stadium would be where I would be spending my Easter Monday afternoon. Yes, I was off down to the Sussex town of Crawley for the Red Devils’ game against the Robins of Swindon Town and, what a surprise, it was raining again. In fact, it had rained so much overnight up North, that the whole of the North West Counties Premier was off and so I hoped that things were a fair bit better down beyond the Capital. They were….but only just!

As it was, I set off during the early part of the morning and caught the train from Manchester at 9.30am, arriving into London for just after eleven, my journey being mostly spent humouring a young lad opposite me who had roped me into rolling his toy car back and forth – his parents apologetic for this! My good deed for the day done, I disembarked and headed on over to St. Pancras and the Thameslink service which would take me through to Three Bridges, a short hop away from Crawley itself. But, my word, is the Thameslink one of the most infuriating, slow, crawling trains I’ve ever been on. If it got above 20mph for a good 40 minutes, I’d be surprised. The journey could take a good ten to fifteen minutes less, had it only been able to actually go, you know, fast.

A rather soggy Crawley

A nice water feature, though….

First up: The Punch Bowl

Anyway, after getting rather too excited as we passed Gatwick Airport’s threshold, I still managed to make the train connection from Three Bridges as this was delayed too (shock!), making any doubts regarding this soon dissipate. Arriving into Crawley after a further five-minute journey, I quickly headed through the town centre and sought out the first of a few pubs that I had scouted for my pre-match tour of the town. The Punch Bowl was up first, and what a gem of a place it is – a thatched roof and wooden-framed inside, the place gives off a really warm feel, added to be the fire crackling away in one of the rooms. A pint of Hop House (£4.60) was enjoyed in here before Crawley (and obscure Slovakian-Hungarian club) fan Craig, who’d sorted me with a wallet bursting £1 ticket earlier in the week, would let me know that the pub just a couple of doors down wasn’t one to be missed out on either.

Indeed, it turned out that his local knowledge was on-point, with the Brewery Shades being a very decent real ale offering, though I did instead plump for one of their cider range: the Hazy Hog. At £4.60, it didn’t come too cheap, though it’s to be expected really, I guess. After a fair wait for the stuff to settle out of the pump, I settled in for a short while to watch a bit of the Preston-Derby game. A quick shout to the staff here too, who were very friendly and humorous, which isn’t always the case, as I’ve found on numerous occasions. It goes some way!

Brewery Shades

White Horse

Crawley, with Spoons on the right!

I was next roped into the White Horse next door, which wasn’t a planned stop, but I figured it’d be wrong to miss one out in favour of a Wetherspoons. It was ok in here for a quick one and a pint of Strongbow (£4) fit the bill for that just nicely, with me deciding to stick with the cider with time beginning to run tight ahead of the bus which would deliver me to the gates of the ground. Finishing up there, it was over the road to the Spoons for a swift Kopparberg, before charging over to the bus stop via a car-park side-road, making it in the nick of time. The #10 service took around ten minutes to make it to the Broadfield and, upon debussing at the ground, quickly secured a programme – a fairly thin issue for the £3 – and almost immediately spotted Craig awaiting my arrival, after I’d selfishly delayed him of his usual entry time by a good half-hour and he would inform me that his usual spot had already been taken, on account of the higher than usual crowd, attracted in by the club’s “Pay What You Can” offer. Apologies, Craig!

After a stop-off for some ok chips (£2.50 I think) at the food bar just within the turnstiles, I was directed over to the terracing behind the goal, with us originally ending up near a small band of more vocal home support, before Craig located his mates and we moved off over there instead for a slightly more serene afternoon. The Broadfield is a tidy ground, with the trees surrounding it providing a feeling of quaintness. Both ends feature similar-looking covered terracing areas that run the width of the pitch and continue round the corners to all but connect with the Main Stand, to our right, which has some of the more interesting floodlights I’ve seen in a while situated on its roof, protruding on some scaffold-like structures. The Main Stand, which straddles the half-way line, also hosts the tunnel, the dugouts out front and hospitality areas. Opposite is a temporary all-seater stand which, similar to Bristol Rovers, has a tent-like tarpaulin roof running along it, keeping those within dry from the elements today. It runs the length of the pitch over the far side, with ownership of the land behind apparently creating issues building anything more permanent.  So that’s the Broadfield in brief and this is the history of the Red Devils of Crawley Town….

History Lesson:

Crawley Town Football Club was founded in 1896 and became a founding member of the West Sussex Football League later that year, joining the ‘Junior Division’. They remained here for the next five years before moving to the Mid-Sussex League, winning the league title in their second year there. However, come 1935, the club would disband but would reform in 1938 and join the Division 2 of the Brighton, Hove & District League prior to WWII ending their short spell.

Around the end of the war, Crawley FC (as they were known at the time) joined the Sussex County Emergency League for a time in 1945 before the end of hostilities saw them return to the Brighton, Hove & District League once again, joining the Division One for Season 1946-’47. Here they remained through to 1951, when the club switched to the Metropolitan League – a competition for both professional and amateur sides. After changing name to Crawley Town in 1958, the club remained as an amateur outfit and won the league’s Challenge Cup in 1959, prior to turning semi-pro in 1962 and going on to join the Southern League the following year, going into the Division One.

They would remain there until 1969 when the club achieved promotion to the Premier Division, but would spend just a sole season in the top division prior to being relegated back, though did temper this disappointment by winning the 1970 Sussex Professional Cup. Again, the club would spend a lengthy spell in one division, staying in the Division One (and the regionalised Division One South) through to 1984 when they were eventually promoted back to the Premier Division of the Southern League for a second time. This spell did encompass further cup silverware, coming in the form of two Gilbert Rice Floodlight Cups (1980 & ’84).

CTFC

Their spell in the Premier Division saw little in the way of league success, though cup titles continued to arrive at the club, as they would lift the Southern Counties Combination Floodlight Cup of 1986, the Sussex Senior Cup in both 1990 & ’91, as well as winning three straight Sussex Floodlit Cups between 1991 and ’93, the latter being the last to have arrived at the club’s then ground, the Goldstone, before it then became the first to feature in the club’s new ground, the Broadfield Stadium (they moved in 1997), as Crawley won it for a fourth time in 1999. 2003 saw the club win the Southern League Cup and Championship Match trophy, and 2004 saw this successfully defended, along with Crawley eventually seeing their Southern League stay come to an end after two decades, the Red Devils finishing top of the Premier Division table by 12 points, whilst also adding the league’s Championship Match trophy once again, as well as the Sussex Senior Cup in a ‘quadruple’ winning campaign.

Promoted to the Conference National upon the title win, Crawley ended their first season in 12th, thus becoming the highest-placed part-time side in the country. They also retained the Sussex Senior Cup and after a later buy-out, turned professional for the first time, which saw a number of players leave the club, either unwilling or unable to give up their jobs. Things started badly, the club languishing towards the bottom of the table and having to slash the wage budget by half. Things would improve later in the season, a five-match winning streak seeing the club rise clear of the drop by season’s end (despite a later 3-point deduction), though Crawley would later enter administration, and come ever so close to folding in 2006, only being saved by an eleventh-hour rescue package.

Starting the next season with a 10-point deduction was rather unhelpful and although Crawley overcame this swiftly, form again dipped and they dropped towards the danger zone once again. A change of manager saw them eventually finish up safe once more, scoring the required one point on the final day of the season. 2008 saw a new chairman and manager installed, Steve Evans becoming the dugout’s new incumbent, but a further pre-season six-point deduction was imposed on the club due to their financial standing at the time. However, a further buyout of the club saw these issues become a thing of the past and allowed the Red Devils to begin looking forwards.

The start of the new decade saw the club benefit from further investment and new ownership and this helped matters on the field too, with Evans’ side seeing the likes of Matt Tubbs, Richard Brodie and Sergio Torres – the latter for a club-record £100,000 – arrive at the club, though Brodie’s fee was undisclosed and rumoured at over a quarter of a million, a Conference record at the time. This investment would pay dividends, with Crawley going on a famed FA Cup run which saw them dump out Derby County in the third round, Torquay United in the next prior to bowing out at Old Trafford by the slenderest of margins, a one-nil defeat to Manchester United. However, the season would be overshadowed by the death of the then owner, though the club would fittingly go on to take the Conference title soon after, reaching the Football League for the first time.

Broadfield Stadium

Another lengthy FA Cup run would follow, with Crawley again reaching the fifth round via wins over Bristol City and Hull City before bowing out to another City, Stoke, in their first match against top-tier opposition at their new home, the Broadfield Stadium. Finishing 2011 top of League 2, things looked promising, but things fell away and the club won just two of 14 during that time, whilst selling some of the club’s “better” players and seeing others banned for their respective parts in a post-match brawl.

2011-’12 saw Evans leave the club for Rotherham late in the season, with coach Craig Brewster taking the reins and going on to guide the club to promotion to League One by the end of the season, the club defeating Accrington Stanley on the last day to achieve the feat. However, Sean O’Driscoll was installed but left for Nottingham Forest before even managing a game. Richie Barker was instead brought in and he took Crawley to 10th place, though would be sacked himself early in the following campaign after talking to Portsmouth over their manager’s job without consent. John Gregory was his replacement and kept the club in mid-table before departing in mid 2014-’15 due to health reasons. However, their poor start saw them unable to recover under Dean Saunders and Town were relegated at the end of the season, Saunders becoming the latest boss to be ousted, his place on the bench being taken by Mark Yates who himself lasted less than a season, a poor campaign seeing them finish up 20th.

Dermot Drummy was the next cab off the rank and a strong start to last season looked to be a good omen. But again the form went out of the window and he was out after a year in charge, with the club having again spent the season looking over their shoulder at relegation. They would recover, finishing up 19th, with former Champions’ League winner Harry Kewell taking charge ahead of this season where, after a sticky start, the club find themselves in a solid mid-table position.

Early on….

Before long, the teams entered the field and we were underway with the early action in the game seeing both sides exchange chances. First, Swindon’s Matty Taylor saw his deflected cross head towards goal, only for a defender to get back and clear the danger, before Mark Randall replied for the hosts, firing a fizzing drive wide of the Robins’ net. The game had started off at a good pace, but we would soon have our first stoppage.

Challenging for the ball in the middle of the field, the visitors’ Luke Norris fell awkwardly and was latterly forced from the field on a stretcher after a quarter of an hour, with what looked to be an arm/shoulder injury. It didn’t look too great and hopefully he’s ok. This obviously disrupted Swindon’s plans fairly early on and, just around ten minutes later, they found themselves behind.

Match Action

Match Action

In the 25th minute, the ball found its way to Jimmy Smith on the extreme right of the Swindon box. From here, there looked to be little to no immediate danger, but Smith was having none of that and he unleashed a superb, volleyed effort which flew across Stuart Moore between the sticks and into the far side of the net to give the hosts the lead and bring the majority of those in the bigger than usual crowd to their feet. One-nil, Crawley.

This goal would signal a spell for the home side where they would begin to exert pressure for a time, with Karlan Ahearne-Grant forcing Moore into action twice, first forcing him into a sharp stop down low and, just before the break, firing in a fine, curling shot that looked destined to nestle in the top corner, only for Moore to pull off a fine stop, diving across goal to palm the ball behind for a corner, which was then cleared by the Robins’ back-line. The game had been a watchable one, if a little on the quiet side in terms of chances, but it was Crawley who went in ahead in the battle of the Town’s.

Half-Time was spent listening to Craig reading out a number of strange score-lines from around the country (none-more-so than Yeovil’s first-half thrashing of Coventry) and watching the Crawley mascot overcome his opposite number in a race to the posts and back to halfway. He was pretty pleased with himself too and it was hoped within the ranks of the home support that this would be something of an omen of what was to come once the final whistle was blown. We didn’t have long to wait to find out….

The triumphant Crawley mascot!

The second half got going with Swindon on the front-foot and striving to get themselves level. Firstly, a pair of early chances from Woolery & the veteran skipper Taylor forced Crawley stopper Glenn Morris into a couple of saves, but it was Crawley who went closest to netting again during the early part of the half, when Panutche Camara robbed a defender of the ball and pulled it back for Randall and his shot beat Moore this time, only for the upright to come to the rescue and keep the Crawley lead a slender one.

The dangerous Ahearne-Grant then forced Moore into another stop – the keeper knocking the ball clear with his legs despite looking to have been wrong-footed, with Swindon responding via Ollie Banks’ drive which forced Morris into action and Paul Mullin, who fired wide from the resultant corner. The game was picking up the pace as it entered its final throes.

Match Action

Match Action

Swindon celebrate their late equaliser

Then, with five-minutes left, disaster struck for the hosts and those in the home ends, as sub Marc Richards met a ball from the right and guided his header nicely beyond Morris and into the net to level up the scores and send the sizable Swindon contingent behind the goal into raptures. On came the smoke-bombs and we were set for a grandstand finish!

Unfortunately, this never materialised and the sides cancelled each other out in the final few minutes, meaning that both had to settle for a hard-earned point on what was a difficult surface in places, especially one bit down the side of the box near us, which was nearing waterlogging proportions. As for me, I bid goodbye to Craig just prior to the whistle, as I had to beat a hasty retreat to the bus stop, as my booked train back from Euston had been originally planned around a visit to QPR, only for it to work out better to head to Loftus Road in a couple of weeks instead, with my other planned game at Fulham having been moved by the EFL. Ah, you scamps!

Terrace as I headed round

Temp stand from a different angle

Despite his kind offer of a lift up to the station, the bus was definitely the safer option and I arrived back at Crawley station with five minutes in hand before my train to Three Bridges. Safely over, I soon realised I’d have a good twenty-minute wait there, which I didn’t think would be too exciting nor memorable and, wouldn’t you know it, there just happened to be a pub right opposite the station there! What were the odds?! (I hadn’t already noted that, of course….!).

The finely named Snooty Fox was a nice, modern establishment and a pint of Amstel (£4.80) was enjoyed in there before I had to return to the station for the train back into London. After being allowed out & back in by the understanding guard (I mustn’t be the only one who has done this plan before!), I was back arriving into St. Pancras with little issues, after a quick bit of sight-seeing through the window whilst crossing the river en-route. A short walk later and I was back on the train in the nick of time. Sorted.

Snooty Fox

Upon my arrival back in Manchester, I had a good 45 minutes or so for my connection home and thus I decided to head back into the Piccadilly Tap for the second time this weekend. It proved a good choice as, having been told my first choice of the still Hogan’s cider wasn’t on at that moment, I instead had a fizzy one, only for them to bring over a free pint of the still stuff, on account that no-one behind the bar drank cider. The good deed from earlier had paid off and it meant a positive end to the trip, which also later saw a guy get on the train with a boom-box and manage to even get the guard involved in a phone recording. Scenes.

So there we have it. Easter 2018 is in the books, as is my visit to the Broadfield. Crawley is a far better place than people make out too, especially so if you have an idea of where you are going (the ancient-looking hotel looked cool too, though I couldn’t tell if they had a bar and decided not to risk wasting time). The ground itself is decent and the game was ok too, though you can’t complain much for a quid (cheers, Craig!). So, it’s onwards to next week and a trip into Yorkshire for something a little more rural….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 5

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Carlisle

Result: Carlisle United 2-0 Grimsby Town (EFL League 2)

Venue: Brunton Park (Saturday 3rd March 2018, 3pm)

Att: 4,151

The “Beast from the East” struck with a vengeance during the week and, in doing so, decimated fixture lists up and down the country. Indeed, even my planned game at Aston Villa was called off during the morning as the British transportation and road systems came to a grinding halt once again, upon the arrival of a few inches of the white stuff. Maybe we should ask tips off the likes of Finland who must have nowhere near the budget/manpower of the UK, yet get by just fine? Anyway, moan over. For now.

As it was, I was left to study the fixture lists once again and had even come to the conclusion that a local amateur reserve game may have to have proven sufficient, if anywhere at all. That is until I had a silly thought enter my head, that being a trip up to the border city of Carlisle, with Carlisle United having pretty much confirmed they were all set to go once the covers on the pitch had been fully cleared. This had all come early enough to enable me to still get into Carlisle with plenty of time in hand too, but I wasn’t fully committing just yet!

As such, I decided to head into Preston first up for a short while and wait for definitive confirmation of “Game ON!” before continuing on up North. But, having reached my connection at Warrington (I was having to work around the striking Northern staff), I found myself arriving just in time for a delayed direct train through to Carlisle and so reckoned I might as well take the plunge and head straight there. It proved a good decision too as the message soon came through from Brunton Park that the ground staff and volunteers had completed a sterling job and cleared the pitch and, with the Grimsby side pictured walking down a street in nearby Penrith, there looked to be little to stop the game going ahead. Carlisle know how to cope with the snow!

Arriving in Carlisle

Carlisle

Carlisle Castle

After passing through the snow-capped hills of the Lakes, I arrived into the city at just after midday and headed off for a quick look at the castle at the far end of the city centre. With that complete, I reckoned I might as well nip in somewhere out of the cold and, just by chance(!), a pub by the name of the Boardroom happened to be right on hand. Talking of hands, I soon had a pint of Moretti (£4.20) in mine and settled in to plan out the remainder of the trip over towards the ground. However, my next stop had already been decided upon, with the Sportman’s advertising board working well in attracting me to visit the “17th century inn”.

Finishing off in the quiet Boardroom – which I think I may have been the first customer of the day in – I headed back into the surprisingly busy centre and, after being confused by the arrows pointing the wrong way on the board, eventually found my way to the Sportsman which sits alongside the city’s cathedral. A lovely, quaint, building, the Sportsman definitely keeps hold of its traditional feel, being only quite a small building and it has a really welcoming feel to it. I also heard good things from those eating in there, though I didn’t partake. Instead, I stuck with lager in the form of San Miguel (£4). Again my stay was brief and I continued onwards through and past the citadel-style walls and station before arriving onto Botchergate and having a wide choice of pubs to choose from along both sides of the road. I decided that the Border Rambler looked decent enough and it was alright too, a pint of Amstel setting me back a tick over £3.

Boardroom

Cathedral

The Sportsman

From the Rambler it was off to Brunton Park itself, whilst dodging the icy, untreated pathways en route to the ground. Having done so successfully, I clocked the Beehive pub opposite and earmarked it as my final pre-match stop. But first it was to the ticket-office where I secured my discounted £10 “Mad March” ticket and was placed up the steps alongside the office, just about on half-way and nicely out of any weather that may have been approaching us. With ticket and a programme (£3) safely stowed away, I back-tracked to the aforementioned Beehive which today was housing fans of both sides, which included some hardy souls who’d made the arduous journey from the East coast of Lincolnshire. Good effort from the 150~ Mariners.

The Beehive was duly packed with standing room only at first, before the place began to empty out on the full-time whistle at the Burnley-Everton TV game. Soon enough it was time to join the earlier leavers and head back to Brunton Park once more, which was just a couple of slippery minutes away. Upon arriving and heading up those stairs I mentioned earlier, I only had my ticket scanned at the top of the stairs (a somewhat strange layout) and headed up towards the rear of the stand, with my seat being just a few rows from the top. As such, I was allowed a good view over the play which was due to start in a few minutes time.

Border Rambler

Beehive

Arriving at Brunton Park

Brunton Park is a traditional ground for the most part with both the fantastic Main Stand and equally great large, covered Warwick Road End terrace being throwbacks to another era. The Main Stand also features terracing along the front of it, known as the Paddock, whilst the Warwick Road End is a deep running construction that usually houses the louder part of United’s support, though they were, understandably, a little more subdued today. Meanwhile the far smaller, uncovered Waterworks/Petteril End (occasional away) terrace with a peculiar few rows of uncovered seating upon it sits behind the opposite goal with the opposite side to the old Main Stand playing host to a newer construction, a smart-looking all-seater East Stand, which played host to both home and the away fans with the latter group situated at the far end, nearest the uncovered terrace. Interestingly, this stand runs beyond the Petteril terrace, a clue to plans the club once had to relocate the pitch slightly and also has gaps to the rear for hospitality boxes to eventually be built into it. That’s Brunton Park and this is Carlisle United….

History Lesson:

Carlisle United Football Club was founded in 1904 at Shaddongate United’s AGM where club members voted to change the club’s name to Carlisle United. As Shaddongate Utd, they initially played at the Millhome Bank and Devonshire Park grounds before changing their name and spending a further four years at Devonshire Park prior to settling on their long-term home at Brunton Park in 1909, though lost the original wooden grandstand that stood at the ground to fire in 1953 and has suffered from regular flooding issues.

1905 saw Carlisle join the Lancashire Combination where they were admitted on the condition they paid all visiting team’s travel expenses for two years as Carlisle weren’t a Lancastrian side. They remained here for four years, winning the Combination’s Division 2 and finishing Division 1 runners-up in 1908, before the league’s re-organisation saw Carlisle make the decision that the league was no longer suitable for them and so they switched into the North Eastern League, taking the place of their reserve side, who’d been a founder member. Carlisle would win the league on one occasion, in 1922, before the club left to join the Football League in 1928 after being elected to join following a runners-up placing in the 1927-’28 North Eastern League season.

Carlisle would defeat Accrington Stanley in their first league game in the Third Division North, with their second game seeing the club record what remains their record win, an 8-0 triumph over Hartlepool United. Upon the outbreak of WWII, Carlisle withdrew from national and regional football and continued to play only locally before returning to the Football League upon the end of the war and after appointing the youngest ever League club manager in history, Ivor Broadis, gave Bill Shankly, a former United player, his first managerial job in 1949 upon Broadis’ departure to Sunderland, becoming the first manager to transfer himself!

Brunton Park

The Cumbrians continued in the Third Division North through until 1958 when the division combined with the Southern section to form the Fourth Division. Carlisle were placed in the bottom division and remained there until 1962 when they won their first ever promotion, though this joy was short-lived as they were relegated the following season. However they rekindled their promotion season the year after that, returning to the Third Division in 1964 after finishing runners-up and missing out on the title on goal average only. They followed this up by going on to win the 1965 Division 3 title and went on to embark on a “golden era” which saw the club cement themselves as a Second Division mainstay, finishing third twice (’67 & ’74), the latter occasion seeing Carlisle reach the First Division for the first time. Meanwhile, 1970 saw Carlisle defeated in the League Cup semi-finals and 1972 saw the club partake in their only European competition in their history, as they took part in the Anglo-Italian Cup which was highlighted by a 3-2 win over Roma in the Stadio Olimpico.

After winning their first three fixtures of the 1974-’75 season, Carlisle sat atop of the English footballing landscape. However they ended the season at the opposite end of the table, finishing bottom and being relegated as a result. Another relegation in 1977 saw the club back in Division 3, though this stay was only fairly brief, as a return to Division 2 was secured in 1982 after a runners-up placing. Unfortunately for United, this was to be as good as it got for a while, as they began to fall away and 1986 & ’87 saw them suffer successive relegations to find themselves back in the Fourth Division once again. They even ended their first season back there second-bottom, though did reach the FA Cup Third Round where they were knocked out by eventual winners, Liverpool.

After coming close to the play-offs in 1990, Carlisle continued their swing in fortunes and finished bottom the following year, only retaining their Football League status as a result of Aldershot being expelled. From there, a new owner saw fortunes take a turn for the better and after missing out in the 1994 play-offs at the semi-final stage, 1995 saw promotion to the Second Division (now the third tier after the founding of the Premiership)as Division Three champions, before relegation the next year saw them back, once more, in Division 3. However, they continued to yo-yo around between the divisions, being promoted once more the next season, 1996-’97, with this campaign also seeing the club lift the Football League Trophy for the first time.

Unfortunately, things soon turned for the worse once again and relegation in 1998 saw the club back in Division 3 again. The next season saw Carlisle needing to win their final game to avoid dropping to non-league. With time almost out, it looked as though they were down until the famed last-kick goal from goalkeeper Jimmy Glass arrived to save Carlisle’s league status and send Scarborough down. Along with disappointment in the Football League Trophy final of 2003, the spectre of relegation continued to hang around Brunton Park for the next few seasons, though, the club finishing above 22nd only once between ’98 and 2004. However the latter year did see Carlisle eventually fall into the Conference, losing their Football League status for the first time since 1928.

Hugh McIlmoyle stands guard

As it was, the club would only spend a sole season in the Conference, being immediately promoted back to “League 2” in 2005 after defeating Stevenage Borough in the play-off final. Their return was successful as they went on to lift the 2006 League 2 title, were again on the wrong side of a Football League Trophy final the same season and reached the League One play-offs in 2008. 2010 saw the Cumbrians lose out in the Football League Trophy final, but they righted this disappointment the following year by lifting the silverware under Gregg Abbott, though just missed out on a spot in the play-offs at the end of that season. 2013 saw Abbott replaced by player-coach Graham Kavanagh after a poor run of form, though this change didn’t help matters as Carlisle were relegated back to League 2 in 2014 ending an eight-year stay in the third tier. Kavanagh was replaced early the next season, with Keith Curle taking charge hoping to bring some stability to the hot-seat after a number of pretty quick changes.

Some decent results followed with points being secured against promotion contenders Plymouth Argyle and champions Burton Albion seeing Carlisle eventually finish clear of relegation, whilst they also recorded a creditable 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup, though would bow out on the resulting penalties. 2016-’17 started out with the club losing just once in their opening 23 games and sitting pretty in second place. However, they then lost form horribly and won just four of the following 21. But late wins over Newport County and Exeter City saw them take a spot in the play-offs, where they’d bow out to the latter over the two-legged semi-final and find themselves in something of a similar position this season, again chasing a play-off placing. The club have also won a total of nine Cumberland Cups, the latest arriving in 2015.

The game got underway and it took just three minutes for the hosts to break the deadlock, as ‘keeper James McKeown could only parry Richie Bennett’s initial effort and the ball fell to Hallam Hope who picked up the pieces to fire home. From there, the game continued to be a very watchable one, despite the lack of clear-cut chances for either side, the next true opportunity arriving half and hour later and it was almost a fantastic second for the hosts.

Match Action

Main Stand views

Match Action

Bennett and Hope combined again to force their way forward before the ball was played into the midfield where Jamie Devitt was waiting. From around 30 yards, Devitt unleashed a rocked of a shot that beat McKeown but unluckily thundered into the underside of the crossbar and failed to bounce the right side of the line from the home side’s point of view. Bennett than had a great chance to net the elusive second goal but, after receiving a header down from Clint Hill following a corner, only guided the ball weakly into the grateful hands of Grimsby’s custodian.

Half-Time arrived shortly afterwards and I headed down just underneath where I was sat and to the bar area within the stand. A lovely area, the bar has a good offering of draught beers etc. on and also serves a pie selection, of which I tried out the Steak and Ale variety whilst watching the scores of the games that had survived the cold snap arrive into the Soccer Saturday studio. A fine offering it was too.

Soon enough it was time to head back up into the seats and await the imminent second half. As it was, Grimsby fashioned the first chance of the half and their first real sight of goal, as Jamille Matt’s knockdown fell nicely for Harry Cardwell who met the ball well on the volley. Unfortunately for the Mariners, home ‘keeper Jack Bonham pulled off a superb, near point-blank stop to keep his side ahead. Charles Vernham and Luke Summerfield both went close too, but the away side couldn’t force themselves level.

Match Action

Match Action

This proved to be the end of Grimsby’s spell of dominance in the game as Carlisle wrestled back control from the visitors and, with around twenty minutes left on the clock, Devitt forced a corner. He went on to take the resultant set-piece which found the head of Mark Ellis, who towered above all in the box to power his header home from close range to put clear daylight between the two outfits. McKeown felt he’d been fouled in the immediate lead-up to the goal, but the referee wasn’t interested in his protests. The goal stood and United had a two-goal advantage which looked as though it would be decisive.

Carlisle then had the chance to add gloss to the scoreline with a few minutes remaining when sub John O’Sullivan was brought down in the area with the ref having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There was little complaints from anyone this time and up stepped Hallam Hope with the task of putting the three points under lock and key. However, Hope’s spot-kick wasn’t the best you’ll ever see and McKeown dived away to his left to palm the kick clear of danger.

McKeown keeps out Hope’s pen

The miss mattered little in the long run as nothing much of note occurred through until the final whistle, with Keith Curle’s side continuing their chase of a play-off spot with a vital three points. Grimsby looked solid enough and you wouldn’t expect them to drift into relegation issues. As the committed group of Grimsby fans left to head off on their long journey back, I followed a group of home fans down an entry way which ran past the neighbouring rugby club. This proved to not be the smartest of choices as this too was rather icy, though not much worse than the conditions around the side roads and certainly not dangerous. I survived and arrived back onto Botchergate after a 15 minute walk and headed into one of Carlisle’s two Wetherspoon’s, which are separated by only a few feet. With me ideally wanting to squeeze one more in before the train back, I opted for a Hooch in the Woodrow Wilson (named after the 28th President of the United States whose mother was born in the city) which was swiftly polished off before I opted to visit the interesting-looking Cumberland Arms. However, what looked like a traditional pub from the outside was certainly different inside, with disco running wild within. Though it was pretty quiet at this hour, the amount of staff on makes it appear this is a popular spot later in the evening. For now, I got in a Dark Fruits to finish off my first true visit to the city.

‘Spoons

Cumberland Arms

Returning back to the station, I had a short wait until the train which would take me back to Warrington. No problems were encountered thankfully as I arrived in fine time to walk across town for my train back towards Manchester. Whilst having some quiet time in the waiting room, I was soon joined by a group of ladies and matters soon livened up. A rat appeared to send mass panic through the girls’ ranks and I seemed to pull off an unbelievable task by getting close to the small rodent, whilst a couple of them took to standing on the seats. The poor thing ended up retreating within another block of seating and the train arrived shortly afterwards to enable a safe exit! Drama at its highest, let me tell you!

Upon heading home, I enjoyed a couple more back in my parents’ bar to end off the first of a likely double for the weekend. Having wanted somewhere more memorable for ground 250, Brunton Park was a fine replacement for Villa Park and definitely fits the bill. The traditional look of the ground is always one I prefer to the bland new builds and so I was more than pleased for Carlisle’s home to bring up the milestone. The ground is cool, the game was decent (I was happy to just see one) and the city seems decent too. I’ll have to return again soon for Carlisle City or even Northbank Carlisle, perhaps! Anyway, round one was complete with a Sunday trip over the Welsh border to come….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Luton

Result: Luton Town 1-0 Morecambe (EFL League 2)

Venue: Kenilworth Road (Saturday 20th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 8,476

Carrying on my quest to put a dent in the remaining ’92’ this season (of which there are many!), this dull Saturday in January saw my sights set on Bedfordshire and the town of Luton. Having had the Hatters’ Kenilworth Road home pencilled in for a long while, I’d already decided I was going in the away end whenever I ended up finally visiting, due to the famous entry ways to the stand which involve climbing up stairs situated in the back yards of the terraced houses which sandwich the Oak Road turnstiles. But of course, I’m sure I didn’t need to tell you about them!

Anyway, the third week of the “New Year” saw me setting off through the early morning murk and into Manchester where I’d catch the train down to Luton before backtracking slightly and heading back up to the Eastern Chilterns. The journey down was more eventful than it usually would be as, having been situated in the designated “quiet coach”, this of course meant that phone calls weren’t well received (though a woman near me didn’t particularly follow this instruction) and so my first ever booking of a match ticket whilst in a train toilet came into being. I’m not sure it’ll ever be repeated and thanks to the twitter-using enigma known as Breezeblock for coming up with ‘Michael’ for my new middle name. Football – it’s what I need!!

Following the problematic call to Luton’s ticket office, I eventually got my ticket sorted and now had a little extra time to spend in Luton upon my arrival, though I’m not sure many would have seen that a positive necessarily? Not for me, however, as I would find it a pretty decent place, the people especially being more friendly than many places I’ve visited of late. Anyway, without getting sidetracked to early, I arrived into London at just after eleven and undertook the short walk over to St. Pancras for my connection up to the home of the Hatters.

St. Mary’s Church, Luton

My respite from the rain, the Horseshoes

I at just after midday but just as I did so, the rain began to fall once more. ‘No worries’ I thought to myself, ‘there’s a couple of pubs around the station I can dive in and get myself out of it’. Alas, no. All the pubs were “home fans only” and I reckoned that, with the difference in accent being more obvious down here, it wasn’t worth the bother that may come about as I’d certainly be more likely to be considered an “away fan” than I was in Sheffield for example. Either way, after getting a bit lost around the 10th-century St. Mary’s church and student accommodation areas, I eventually came across a pub I could get in. This was The Horseshoes and it proved a pocket-friendly find as a pint of Amstel set me back just £2.70. Bliss!

Being on the far side of town, which I hadn’t intended, meant this first pint had to be fairly swift as to move on and see a bit of the town centre. It didn’t take me long to get there, though, as it turned out I was a bit closer than I’d imagined and I arrived at the Brewery Tap, just up the road, a few minutes later. Any ideas I’d had of Luton being a mad cheap town soon went out of the proverbial window though, as my pint of Estrella in here set me back a full £4.50. I did at least get my change, which almost ended up in the hands of another punter as the girl serving lost where I was at the bar! Very friendly in here and my table was cleaned upon me sitting down too. Good stuff.

Luton

Brewery Tap

The Castle

With the time quickly passing, I went just around the corner and into the centre itself where there was a choice of four drinking holes pretty much all neighbouring each other. Bypassing the Yates’ and Crown, I found myself more enamoured by the Castle and the Red Lion Hotel. Both had something more to them just by appearance alone and that goes a long way to enticing me in. As it was I had only time for one more pre-match, with a good 25 minute walk apparently ahead of me and so I plumped for the Castle, named after the town’s former castle which is now… a Matalan! I was soon patting myself on the back as they had the brilliant Frontier on draught and at only £4.20, which is a good price for it I find. After saying hello to the recently arrived and friendly dog, I quickly found myself a seat and got about drinking it, though I was slightly concerned about the passive aggressive guy muttering behind me….

I survived and headed on down towards Kenilworth Road with a good half-hour to kick-off. Despite finding myself at the far side of the ground from where I needed, I soon spotted a stream of people exiting a narrow alleyway down the side of one of the stands. After purchasing a programme (at the usual £3), I took the pathway and found myself alongside the turnstiles. Finding out which steward had my ticket was the next job, though this was fairly easy as I think I may have been the last one they were waiting for. I was definitely one of the last anyway and they were quite surprised by the fact I’d travelled down from Manchester for the game, why I was in the Morecambe end and perplexed that I’d taken the four-hour trip. I’m sure the Morecambe boys had taken longer though!

Heading over the bridges

Arriving at “Kenny”!

A unique entrance

Upon entering I soon found myself in that strange position of being in the position to look into people’s homes if I had the intention of doing so. I’m not of that mind, however, though I did think how weird it’d be in any other situation to take a picture in a strangers back-yard. It’s the norm for these residents I guess! Either way, I headed into the stand and found famed Morecambe fan Paul, once again complete with Mohican – the way it should be! After a quick chat the players were soon entering the field for the usual pleasantries and a minutes applause for numerous people, which included both those connected with the Hatters who have recently been lost and, of course, the legendary Cyrille Regis.

Kenilworth Road is a strange ground in some ways, but it’s age and the individual style of it really appeals to me. The Oak Road Stand is the smallest stand in the ground (if you don’t count the hospitality boxes) and is, of course, the usual away end, though it was being shared with home fans today. Opposite is a pretty sizeable covered stand, which still shows signs of its former existence as a terrace. The Main Stand runs the length of the pitch and has both corners filled in on both sides. It is a tow-tiered affair and dates in some parts from 1922. The other side of the pitch plays host to the aforementioned boxes and atop these is some netting, to avoid balls being hoofed out of the ground and into the neighbouring gardens of the houses visible behind it. These replaced the former Bobbers Stand (so named as, apparently, entranced used to be a “bob”). The ground definitely has its own identity and is why I wanted to get it in while I still can, as plans are still afoot to move out at some point in the future to a new stadium. Before we go into the future though, let’s delve into the past of Luton Town….

History Lesson:

Luton Town Football Club was founded in 1885, a product of the merger of local sides Luton Town Wanderers and Exclesior and was the first Southern football club to turn fully professional, this happening in 1891. They initially played at Excelsior’s Dallow Lane ground and began to pay players for the first time in 1890. They latterly became a founder member of the Southern League in 1894 and ended as runners-up in each of the first two seasons of the league’s existence. It then left to become a founder of the United League, again finishing second at the end of the club’s first season (they entered a team in the league the next two seasons too, winning it in 1898) before joining the Football League for 1897-’98 and moving to a new ground on Dunstable Road, Luton having crossed the rail line and sold their Dallow Lane ground in an attempt to allay their financial issues.

The club’s original stay in the League was a bad one and the club’s finances took a turn for the worse. As such, the club returned to the Southern League in 1900 and moved into Kenilworth Road five years later after the club were forced to sell their Dunstable Road ground at short notice for housing. After entering a second side in the Western League’s Division 1 ‘B’ and ‘A’ for a season each between 1907 & 1909, 1912 saw Luton relegated to the Southern League’s Second Division in 1912, though the Hatters would be promoted back to Division 1 just two seasons later as Division 2 runners-up, prior to the outbreak of WWI. The wartime years saw Luton take part in the London Combination in 1915-’16 before playing in just friendly matches for the remaining years of hostilities.

Luton’s current hosts. And the bar!

Post-war, Luton took on their more traditional black-and-white colours in season 1920-’21 which also saw the club re-join the Football League, having previously worn numerous colours but largely blue-and-white kits. They remained in the Third Division South through until 1937 when the club were promoted as champions, having finished runners-up the year before. The championship season saw striker Joe Payne net 55 times in just 39 games and scored ten in one match (vs Bristol Rovers) which remains a Football League record.

The early 1950’s saw a golden period for Luton as they fielded English and Irish internationals on a regular basis. These aided the club in reaching the top-flight in 1955 as the Hatters finished as Division 2 runners-up and so were promoted to Division 1. They would enjoy a five season stint in English football’s top division, including reaching the FA Cup Final in 1959, losing to Nottingham Forest, before being relegated at the end of the following 1959-’60 season before a drop-off in form saw the club relegated back to the third tier in 1963. Further disappointment on the pitch was to follow not too long after, with Luton dropping into the Fourth Division in 1965.

Despite this drop, Luton would soon surge back through the leagues. They won the Fourth Division title in 1968 and this period also saw locally born comedian Eric Morecambe become a club director, in a nice link to today’s game, with Morecambe taking his stage name from the town. 1970 saw Luton return to Division 2 as Third Division runners-up and 1974 saw the return through the leagues completed as the club got back to the top table, again as runners-up. Unfortunately, the Hatters’ stay back in the big-time was a short one, lasting only one season prior to the drop, the club being relegated by a single point. Later that decade, David Pleat was put in charge of the team and 1982 saw the club back in Division 1 once more, having won the 1981-’82 Division 2 title.

The club’s first season back in the top-flight saw them escape the drop by defeating relegation rivals Manchester City on the final day to ensure survival via a late Raddy Antic goal. 1987 saw Luton end up 7th in Division One, their highest ever league finish and won the League Cup a year later by defeating Arsenal, a late comeback sealing a 3-2 triumph. They reached the final again in 1989 but lost out to Nottingham Forest in a final once again. The club continued on in the top-flight through to the end of the ’91-’92 season when they were relegated but remained in Division 1 which became the new second-tier for the following season, with the newly created Premiership usurping it as the top division in England. This again signalled a rather swift drop through the leagues and relegations in 1996 & 2001 saw them back in Division 3, having struggled for the most part, year-on-year since their drop from the top-tier. The exception to this rule was in 1997 when they finished 3rd in Division 2 and reached the play-offs but lost at the semi-final stage.

The Oak Road End

Their stay back in Division 3 lasted just a sole season, however, as Luton returned to Division 2 at the first attempt as runners-up. They then competed in Division 2 for the next three seasons, winning it in 2005 at the end of its first season under the moniker of ‘League One’. Remaining in the Championship for the next two seasons, the club was relegated in 2007 and spent the latter part of 2007-’08 in administration which led to a ten-point deduction and relegation from League One. Worse was to follow. The following year saw Luton deducted 30 points for financial irregularities in previous years and it was this that led to their eventual relegation at the end of 2008-’09 which saw Luton playing in the non-league system for the first time since their Southern Premier League stint pre-WWI. That season did see some sort of silver-lining though, as Luton did lift the 2009 Football League Trophy for the first time.

Playing in the Conference National, Luton reached the play-offs in each of their first three seasons in the league but lost out each time. Despite finishing runners-up in 2010, they were knocked out in the semi-finals and would reach the final in 2012 but lost to York City on both occasions. They also reached the 2011 final where they were on the wrong side of a penalty shoot-out against AFC Wimbledon. After two further seasons in the Conference, the club would win the title in 2014, breaking the 100-point barrier in the process. Since then the club has remained in League 2, and have been competitive each time. Indeed, they spent only a week outside the top seven last season in reaching the play-offs, but they ultimately experienced heartbreak once more in these, losing out in the semi-finals to eventual winners, Blackpool.

The game was soon underway with Luton’s leading scorer Danny Hylton’s full-fledged part in proceedings lasting just five minutes before he appeared to tweak a hamstring and was replaced shortly afterwards. A fan across from us also seemingly had his match cut short too, disappearing out the back of the stand while flanked by a number of high-vis clad staff. No idea why this happened, or if he got back in later. Anyway, the injury to Hylton didn’t put off the League 2 leaders though and Morecambe ‘keeper Barry Roche had to be alert after a quarter-hour to beat away a stinging drive from range by Andrew Shinnie. A show of support for Morecambe’s (Plymouth’s current) centre-back Ryan Edwards also emanated from the small band of away supporters, showing their backing for Edwards in his battle with illness. Hopefully all is well with him soon.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Despite having the majority of the play in the first-half, the hosts never looked an overly threatening presence for the Lancastrian visitors and despite chances for the likes of Luke Berry, who fired over and into the fans just the other side of the segregation and Glen Rea, who’s drive flew wide of Roche’s upright, they were almost caught napping as Aaron McGowan forced Luton’s Czech stopper Marek Stech into his first meaningful stop of the game.

Brother-Lee action (see what I did there?) then followed with both Elliott and Olly Lee fashioning late chances, but the half would end all-square, with the stewards near us not being quite as confident as they probably ought to still be, on account of the recent couple of slip-ups that the Hatters have endured. With the game still goal-less, action at a bit of a premium and decently sized sausage roll (£3, not the advertised £2) polished off, I decided I needed a half-time drink. To the bar!

LTFC (and a few friends)

Arriving at the bar along with one other guy, I was soon told off for not joining the queue by the girl serving there. I’m far too rebellious for my own good sometimes! Regardless, I was soon in possession of a Kopparberg complete with plastic glass for a further £4 and took up a spot on one of the vacant shelves mounted on the wall to watch the half-time scores from around the country come in via Jeff Stelling & Co before the big news soon spread around the away bar that the toilet seat had become detached from the toilet which, despite having “Ladies” scribbled on it, was a unisex one today. The drama subsided and, after getting in on the fans’ photo, it was back up into the stands for the second half. Could Morecambe hang on for a fine point (or more?) or would the Hatters rekindle the form that saw them net eight a couple of weeks back?

The second half began with Morecambe almost going ahead on two occasions via the slowest of ways which made the action seem as though it had been put into slow-motion. First, Adam McGurk’s shot took a big deflection off of a defender and looked destined to sneak into the corner. But Stech had other ideas and got down well to deflect the ball just past the post before, just a few minutes later, a carbon copy of this chance would occur with both protagonists again playing the same parts, just this time minus the deflection. The Morecambe fans, plus myself, couldn’t believe they weren’t one up. At least.

The Shrimps’ McGowan then forced the ever more troubled Stech into another stop prior to another Aaron, Wildig this time, seeing his header fly narrowly wide. But as all good teams seem to do Luton, despite not being at their best, would grab the initiative just a couple of minutes later. Olly Lee’s fine ball in caused issues within the box and Town skipper Johnny Mullins was in the right place to power his header past Roche and sent the ‘Kenny End’ into raptures. Morecambe meanwhile were left to rue their missed chances.

Match Action

Match Action

Roche then kept his side in the contest, denying sub Harry Cornick on a couple of occasions, the first being via a fine save, and it looked like those stops might have proven vital with around fifteen to play when Morecambe’s veteran striker Kevin Ellison found himself advancing on goal, with only Stech between him and the net but a fine recovery by Rea saw the chance snuffed out.

Ellison then fired wide as Morecambe still fancied their chances of taking something back up North with them, and Steven Old almost grabbed a late, late equaliser when, from a corner, he headed wide when unmarked. It was one of those days for the visitors who, on another day could’ve and probably should’ve taken at least a point from Luton and I don’t think many home fans would disagree. The Hatters held on comfortably afterwards though and took all three points to extend their lead at the top of the League 2 table. As for me, a swift exit out and back to the town centre was undertaken and with my train back not being until six, this meant a couple more drinks could be squeezed in. I mean it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Exiting the ground. Still a strange sight.

Red Lion

‘Spoons

I returned to the town centre and to the Red Lion which, after being bustling earlier in the day when I visited the Castle, was now fairly empty. I opted for a Dark Fruits for this one, on account of me still having to walk over to the Wetherspoon’s and latterly the station, so didn’t fancy rushing anything too potent. This again set me back around the £4 mark and so I was in need of the friendly Wetherspoon’s pricing strategies! My, now usual, bottle of Hooch was purchased with the guy behind the bar being one of the more interactive of bar staff I’ve come across in a branch of J.D.’s – and he was fairly pleased I decided to spare him a glass. I headed upstairs to the bookcase lined upper floor and wasted away the remaining time before exiting back to the station.

Arriving with a few minutes to spare, I was soon on a packed service heading the short twenty minutes down the line to St. Pancras. Arriving back at just after six, I reckoned I’d get back to the Doric with a good 25 minutes in hand for a final Amstel. This went fairly well, though I ended up having around five minutes less and made myself look far drunker than I was by attempting to squeeze down the side of a table before trying to move it and spilling the head of my pint. Ah. Luckily the guy who, by this time, must have been regretting allowing me to share the table with him must have thought I was ok by deciding I could guard his stuff as he returned to the bar.

Soon enough it was time to return to the train and the journey back passed with little incident, the match programme proving a fine read for the last hour or so of the trip. Upon arriving back in Manchester, I had a good half-hour until my connection so, having neglected it somewhat of late, I thought a trip to the Piccadilly Tap was on the cards. A half of the guest cider was had (can’t remember what it was) to end off the day and it had certainly been a good one.

Kenilworth Road is a great ground in my opinion. I like its own unique vibe and the traditional feel it exudes, not to mention the novelty factor of its Oak Road entrance. Luton as a town (pub-wise anyway) definitely surpassed my expectations and everywhere I visited was welcoming and just decent overall. £18 entry was very fair too, so can’t complain with that. The game was decent if unspectacular too, so a successful trip on the whole I’d say. Next up is a trip to Walsall for what should have been the Bescot and Walsall vs Rochdale. Unfortunately, Dale’s selfish cup-run has left me without a game, but I have a feeling non-league could help me out. Wood it….?

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 5 (lose a point for misleading info!)

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6

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