Manchopper in….Barnsley

Result: Barnsley 3-0 Sunderland (EFL Championship)

Venue: Oakwell (Saturday 26th August, 3pm)

Att: 15,697

My “doing the 92” quest continued with this game at the end of the first month of action in the Football League. The Tykes of Barnsley were to welcome the relegated Sunderland to Oakwell and I reckoned there was no better time to get the ground done. So, off to the South Yorkshire town I headed.

Arriving at just after midday, having been packed in like a sardine to Sheffield before some respite was had on the “special” service, I initially headed away from the direction of Oakwell and to the town centre, which was still somewhat fresh in the memory, following my trip to nearby Athersley Recreation at the beginning of the month. However, I was looking to visit different places other than the two then, so after a quick recon of the pubs, I settled on the popular looking White Bear.

Heading inside, it became clear that this certainly was a favourite of those heading to the game. A Strongbow (£3.30-ish) was polished off in quick time, before I headed just a few doors down to Annie Murray’s, Barnsley’s Irish pub. Again, there was a good atmosphere here and some fans were taking advantage of the outside seating afforded to them on this rarest of warm, sunny days. As for me, I reckoned I should coupe this with something from a similar climate, and so plumped for a bottle of the Mexican beer Modelo, which wasn’t far removed from a Sol in taste.

Barnsley

Annie Murray’s

You Reds ft. Toby Tyke!

Before long, it was time to head onwards and tick off the town’s second ‘Spoons. Having already visited the Joseph Bramah during the Athersley trip, a quick walk past the market saw me arriving at the Silkstone, a fairly unspectacular, run-of-the-mill offering by the chain. The few Tykes fans I spoke to in here were feeling confident in their side’s prospects today, clearly feeling the recently relegated, former Premier League side posed little threat.

After finishing the standard Punk IPA, the time was heading towards 2pm and so it was off towards the ground. Of course, it wouldn’t be one of my blogs if I’d have gone straight to the turnstiles now, would it? So a visit to the nearby Mount which seems to be the unofficial club bar for all intents and purpose, was the way to go I felt. My walk over there was somewhat eventful, as a Sunderland fan kept trying to get me to sell him my sunglasses, whilst he flashed notes out of his car window, building to an eventual top price of £30. I declined his offer.

‘Spoons

The Mount

Decked out in numerous football memorabilia, both Barnsley & England, and with the club’s cartoon dog “mascot” ‘Toby Tyke’ taking pride of place on the signage, The Mount seemed to perfect place to finish off my pre-match tour of the town. Indeed, it was packed to the rafters in here and a quick surveying of the scene at the bar led to swift service. Dark Fruits would do the job on this occasion, despite me not having as high an opinion on it as others.

After watching the closing stages of the Bournemouth-Man City game in here (bar the ending, somewhat fortunately) it was time to head over to Oakwell and grab myself a ticket for the game and I had already prepared myself for the £27 hit I was about to take. After grabbing a programme from the seller outside (£3 as standard), it was into the ground and its original 1904-vintage stand. What a beaut, though it’s a bit unfortunate the TV gantry obscures its little gable on top.

Arriving at Oakwell

Oakwell is a nicer ground in the flesh than I was expecting. The old stand’s seating is only half covered, with the top-level being protected from the elements, whilst those in the bottom tier are left to fend for themselves. Of course, there were no issues with this today. Alongside, is the tunnel and scoreboard, though this was out of use today. Opposite is the Main Stand, a larger two-tiered construction and houses the executive boxes which, apparently, were the first offered by a Yorkshire club. The South stand sits at the Pontefract Road end and is a large, one-tier structure, while the similar North stand opposite housed the visiting fans from the East coast. An interesting note is the small “stand” located within the gap between the South and Main stands that houses executive and disabled spectators. So, that’s Oakwell and this is Barnsley FC….

History Lesson:

Barnsley Football Club was founded in 1887 as Barnsley St. Peter’s and played in the Sheffield & District League from 1892 (as founder members) before a switch to the Midland League five years later. During a three-year stint here, the club dropped the suffix to become simply Barnsley FC and joined the Football League in 1898 – after being Midland League runners-up – and its Second Division (since becoming the club to hold the record for most seasons in the second division in its different guises winning over 1,000 games at that level in the process). 1910 saw Barnsley reach the FA Cup final, where they lost to Newcastle United after a replay, but righted this two seasons later in beating West Brom after another replayed final. This would be their only Cup success to date.

After WWI, Barnsley would miss out on a place in the expanded First Division (apparently due to Arsenal) and the Tykes were consigned to the second level of English football for a total of eight decades, despite missing out on promotion in 1922 by just a solitary goal. From then on, the next thirty or so years would see the club flitting between the Second and Third Divisions. (Relegations in 1932 & 1938 to the Division 3 North were countered by promotions in 1934 and 1939, both as champions).

The old part of the ground

After introducing the likes of Danny Blanchflower – (first 20th century league and cup double winning captain) and Tommy Taylor (who’d go on to be a “Busby Babe” before perishing in the Munich Air Disaster) – to senior English football in the years after WWII, the club would be relegated at the end of 1953 back to the Division 3 North, before promotion as Champions for a third time followed in 1955. Finding themselves back in the familiar setting of Division 2 by the time restructuring saw the regionalised Third Divisions become Divisions Three and Four, the ’58-’59 season saw the drop back to Division 3 suffered before a further drop to the bottom rung and Division 4 came in 1965. However, they’d be promoted again after a three-year stay in the bottom division.

Relegated again in 1972, a longer stay of seven seasons would be experienced by the Reds ahead of an eventual Division 3 return in 1979. Two years later, another promotion saw the club back in Division 2 after a fair time away. Here they’d stay through until the creation of the Premiership in 1992, when they’d become a Division 1 side for the first time, despite still being in the second tier. Danny Wilson would take charge during Season ’94-’95, guiding Barnsley to sixth, but the club would miss out on a play-off spot due to further restructuring.

Oakwell from a distance

However, two seasons later, Barnsley reached the “promised land” of the top-flight. 1997 saw the club finish as runners-up in Division 1 and with it came promotion to the Premiership after 99 years of trying to reach the top table of English football. Their stay would last just the one season though, with Wilson leaving for near rivals Sheffield Wednesday.

2000 saw the club back in the play-offs, but this failed to result in promotion, though the club did take part in the final Division 1 play-off tie to be played at the “old” Wembley. This would be as good as things would get during the “noughties”, as the Tykes would be relegated in 2002 to Division 2. Struggles with finances would affect the club too during this time, though a change in ownership would begin to give the club something of an upturn in fortunes.

2006 saw the club promoted back to Division 1 (now the Championship) through the play-offs, winning on penalties against Swansea City at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, but struggled during their first season back, eventually avoiding relegation. The following year saw the club reach the FA Cup semi-finals (after wins over Liverpool and defending winners Chelsea) for the first time since 1912, only to lose out to Cardiff City. Narrowly avoiding relegation that same season, Barnsley would eventually suffer the drop from the Championship to League 1 in 2014.

BFC

2016 saw a successful season for Barnsley end with the Reds winning the Football League Trophy (before its farcical re-invention) by defeating Oxford United 3-2 at the “new” Wembley Stadium. A month later and Barnsley would defeat Millwall at the national stadium to achieve promotion back to the Championship, where they would end last season in a respectable 14th place.

After spurning my front row seat in favour of a much better view, the game got underway with Sunderland having slightly the better of the opening exchanges, without really creating anything that Barnsley would’ve considered too concerning. But after those first fifteen minutes, the Tykes began to seize the initiative from their visitors, with first-half dangerman Adam Hammill forcing a comfortable stop out of Robbin Ruiter.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

After continuing to remain on the front-foot, the hosts broke the deadlock on the half-hour, Hammill delivering from the left flank and Chelsea loanee Ike Ugbo bundled the ball past Ruiter for his first Barnsley goal. Minutes later and the lead was doubled, the Sunderland defence failed to clear their lines and the ball fell invitingly for Harvey Barnes who rocketed a rising volley beyond Ruiter and into the top of the net. It was looking as rosy for Barnsley as the shirts they were wearing. Half-Time, two-nil.

The break was spent doing little bar perusing scores from around the country, as my food trip had already been completed pre-match, a £2-ish sausage roll doing a fine job, which it damn well should for that price! Anyway, it was soon time for the players t re-emerge from the tunnel by the side of the away support, the Black Cats’ backers giving their side a good reception, despite an underwhelming first half. The Barnsley fans were after more of the same from their side.

The happier set of fans were to be those of a Barnsley persuasion, as Sunderland’s performance only diminished. James Vaughan went down far too easily as he looked for a spot-kick to give his side a lifeline, before George Moncur would put the result beyond doubt, advancing into the area prior to unleashing a fierce, rising drive that flashed beyond the Black Cats’ Dutch custodian for three-nil. This may come across as a home club-biased report due to a lack of Sunderland action, but in truth, they rarely managed to do anything of note.

Match Action

Match Action

Late on…

Some of the travelling contingent had seen enough at this point and began to make an early exit for either the journey back North or to drown their sorrows that little bit more. Either way, they weren’t missing much from their side who looked second-best in all aspects and showed little in the way of fight, bar a late Lewis Grabban chance. This was (allegedly) not a viewpoint that looked to be off, as apparently shown by a post match incident involving Khazri and the midfielder smiling at the rightfully disappointed travelling fans on his way off. I didn’t see it myself, but I know it’s been suggested within their ranks. Anyway, full-time arrived and it remained three-nil to the Tykes.

Post-match, a quick exit uphill saw me arrive at my post-match drinking point, the Dove Inn. I did just that (if you change the pronunciation a bit) and finished off with another Strongbow, before the short walk back to Barnsley Station was undertaken, though a bit of a wrong turn saw me make my train with seconds to spare. A quick change saw me back at Manchester within the hour to sign off another trip and another of the 92. Next up, it’s the Cup!Again….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

 

Manchopper in….Preston

Result: Preston North End 1-1 Newcastle United (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Deepdale (Saturday 22nd July 2017, 3pm)

Att: 7,380.

With the pre-season games rapidly drawing to a close, my penultimate Saturday game would see me head back up into Lancashire, following last week’s visit to Mill Hill and West Lancashire League side Mill Hill St. Peter’s. This weekend, however, would feature a far larger ground than that one and also a returning Premier League outfit.

The prettier front of Preston Station

After setting off earlier than usual, due to the fact I’d be having to go to the ground, sort a ticket and head back to the City pre-match, I arrived in Preston for just after 11.30am. After said walk up to Deepdale and back (with ticket and much cut-back programme (£1)) now in tow, I decided it was fair time I visited my first port of call. Question was, where was I to head?

After deciding to have a little explore off the main Fishergate stretch of shops/bars/pubs and the like, I found the old-looking Old Black Bull pub situated opposite the Wetherspoons that sat on the other end of the spectrum to the Bull, in that it was so shiny and modern it was almost obscene. The Old Black Bull was definitely more my scene and so I headed over and plumped for a Citra ale from a local brewery (the name escapes me) after kindly being afforded a taster first. For £3.15, it was hardly bank-breaking and was well worth it too, a really nice pint.

Fishergate

Preston

Old Black Bull

The pub began to be overcome by a bunch of rowdy Geordies, all of whom were in fine spirits, and I headed over to the aforementioned Fishergate to see what was on offer here. The first place that took my fancy was the large, imposing building that currently houses the appropriately named Fishers. After a bit of thinking of whether to go in, I reckoned it’d be a shame not to and was definitely rewarded. Inside is a vast expanse of a place with the high ceilings, large windows and old fireplace giving much in the way of character to it. The East Coast IPA was more on the costly side, at over £4, but it was ok, though I wasn’t sticking around for another.

As I continued on towards Deepdale, next up on the plan was the Bull & Royal that sits to the rear of what was (I’m not sure it is anymore) the old hotel of the same name. The whole building front is still as it was, though now plays host to a few shops at its front too, though if you head through the archway and into the back, you come across the bar area. Here, I settled in with a pint of Amstel and watched a bit of both of the money-spinning PL pre-season games from the Far-East that I just can’t stand. That’s the politest way I can show my disdain for these tournaments, especially when it appears that most supposed “elite” clubs can’t even put on one cut-price “First Team” game back at home now. Sad times.

Fishers

Bull & Royal

With time beginning to go against me and my traverse of Fishergate, it was time to head off to the end of the street and the Blue Bell Inn, which looks completely out-of-place in its setting. However, on my way down, I was distracted by the pub opposite, namely the Bear’s Paw. No particular reason why, though I now reckon something somewhere was telling me about them selling bottles for under £2 and two for £3. Value. A single Sol would do for me and it was quickly downed before the Blue Bell was up.

A Taddy Lager was my tipple of choice to finish up in Preston pre-match and what a place to have it. I really, really liked the Blue Bell and would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting. The beer is cheap too (well, it is Sam Smith’s after all) and this was a fine way to close proceedings. Deepdale was up next. It was to be my second visit to North End’s home, after I last called a couple of years back now for a FA Cup replay against Nottingham Forest, which the visitors won 2-0 in the midweek clash.

Bear’s Paw

Blue Bell

Arriving at Deepdale with around 10 minutes to kick-off, I got the usual few outside pictures before heading into the terraces. After buying a Steak and Kidney pie pre-match for around £3, I then couldn’t find my ticket which I’d put in my bag and I’m sure the steward who came over to ask if all was ok must have been convinced I was drunk and this point. However, my memory was correct and I did find my allocated seat without the use of the ticket (which, it turned out, had somehow fell within the programme).

I got to my seat just after the game had got underway and the visiting fans to my left were in good voice for a friendly contest. Before we get into it all in truth, here’s a bit about Deepdale. It’s your usual all-seater stadium, with the floodlights and clock being the only two real distinguishing factors of the ground. Despite this, Deepdale is a nice ground to watch a game in (imo).

Today’s Game

Arriving at Deepdale

The ground dates from 1878 (though isn’t at all reflective of its age) and is one of many grounds to claim to be the “oldest continually used ground in the world”. Built on a farm for North End sports club, the ground was originally used for cricket and rugby with the ground being built up through the 1920’s for the football crowds. The ground was the last (to date) to feature a “plastic pitch” in English league football and Deepdale’s renovation was somewhat based upon Genoa’s Luigi Ferraris ground, which is shown mostly around the floodlights and roofs. The “Invincibles Pavilion” serves as the Main Stand, featuring all the boxes and a restaurant within. Opposite stands the Sir Tom Finney Stand, which is the largest, hosting just under 8,000 at capacity and is also the oldest stand in the rebuilt venue. The two ends are populated by the “Alan Kelly” Town End and Bill Shankly Kop respectively, the latter housing the Toon Army today.

Now here’s everyone’s favourite section, a history bit. Calm down all. For this edition it’s, unsurprisingly, the story of Preston North End….

History Lesson:

Preston North End FC was founded in 1880, though the club itself dates back from 1863 from its inception as a cricket club. 1875 saw them move to their current site at Deepdale, played as a rugby union side from 1877 before taking on association football rules in 1878 and the rules were fully adopted in 1880 to truly form PNE FC. They were very successful in the early years of professional football, North End famously defeating Hyde 26-0 in the FA Cup, which still stands as an English “first-class” winning margin record.

1889 saw the club become the first “Double” winners, the “Invincibles” becoming the only side to go a whole season unbeaten and didn’t even concede a goal in their FA Cup success. They retained their League championship the following season but are yet to win it again, even having to retain their League status in a “Test Match” against Notts County, which ended in a 4-0 win. They have ended as runners-up on six occasions, but not since 1958, and Preston’s last major honour came way back in 1938, a second FA Cup triumph.

Deepdale

After relegation from the top-flight in 1901, Preston were competing in the Second Division which they won in 1904, before returning again in 1912. Their stay was only a single season, though, as they again lifted the trophy to achieve the rise up the league again. 1914 saw their pre-war yo-yo-ing continue as they returned to the Second Division once more, only for the club to be promoted again in 1915. A decade later, Preston would return to the second tier and would remain there for the next nine years, until promotion back to the top step in 1934.

Throughout the majority of (latterly Sir) Tom Finney’s career, spanning the late 40’s to 1960 –  in which he became the club’s top goalscorer with 187 goals – Preston remained in the top-flight (bar 1949-51, when they were in Division 2 before taking the title once more) but Finney’s retirement did see North End relegated in 1961. They have never returned to the English top-flight though did reach the 1964 FA Cup Final, where they lost out to West Ham.

Sir Tom’s famed moment

Preston were relegated to the Third Division in 1970, but returned to Division 2 as champions after a solitary season. After a relegation in 1974 and later promotion in 1978, a steady decline would follow and Preston found themselves in the Fourth Division by 1985 (after an earlier drop to Division 2 in 1981), finishing second-bottom the following year and only avoiding Conference football due to the existence of re-election in those days. However, they soon had an upturn in fortunes, with promotion to the Third Division being achieved in 1987 following that low-ebb and they would remain there through to 1992 during which the restructuring saw it become Division 2.

However, the next season would see them relegated to the “new” Division 3 and play-off disappointment followed at the end of the following campaign. 1995 had Preston promoted to Division 2 as champions of the Third Division, before David Moyes arrived at the club to see Preston to the play-offs in 1999 and promotion as Division 2 winners the next season.

2001 saw the club narrowly miss out on promotion to the Premiership for the first time, but the Lilywhites were defeated in the play-off final by Bolton Wanderers and Moyes would leave soon afterwards. Despite his departure, two further play-off appearances followed (’05 & ’06) with David Nugent becoming the first Preston player to earn an England cap since Sir Tom and netting an absolute screamer on his sole appearance(!).

After another play-off disappointment in 2009, the club was relegated to the League 1 in 2011 but reached the play-offs in 2015 which ended in promotion to the Championship via an emphatic 4-0 victory over Swindon Town in the final, ending an unwanted record (at the time) of nine consecutive unsuccessful play-off campaigns over all divisions, after missing out again in the 2014 season. They have remained in the Championship since finishing up in a respectable 11th place last season.

On the concourse

With the game already underway, it didn’t take at all long for the deadlock to be broken and it was the visitors who had the honour of doing so. I was fairly lucky to see it though as, between digging into my pie, one glance up saw the ball end up at the back-post where Aleksandar Mitrovic was lurking to fire in with ease, with North End ‘keeper Chris Maxwell still recovering from the original stop. This seems to be a running theme now out of the last two games I’ve seen the gloveman in. Sorry Chris.

“Mitro” almost doubled his and Newcastle’s tally mid-way through the half, only for Preston’s ex-Manchester United man Marnick Vermijl to clear off the line and it was to prove an important clearance as this served to allow his side to grab a leveller just before the break, Dan Johnson’s fine ball into the box was converted – on the volley – by Tom Barkhuizen who had arrived at the back-post to fire across Magpies’ first-half custodian, Rob Elliot.

Match Action

Match Action

Travelling Toon Army

After almost taking the lead on the stroke of half-time through another back-post chance that was smashed into the side-netting, the hosts headed in at the break all square. To be honest, that was pretty much that in terms of action for the game, as the second half became the usual glut of substitutions and therefore, regular stoppages interrupting any sort of flow the game could get into.

For what action there was, though, the better of it seemed to edge to the side of the hosts. Jordan Hugill forced a decent stop out of sub ‘keeper Karl Darlow (who was then himself subbed off after a very brief appearance), whilst Hugill himself was withdrawn soon after his chance, being serenaded with chants of his name a he headed off down the tunnel.

Match Action

Match Action

Preston then introduced new signing (another ex-MUFC youngster) Josh Harrop, who I always rated when seeing him at varying age levels whilst at the Red Devils. Newcastle responded by introducing their own new signing, the Spanish former Liverpool full-back Javier Manquillo, who’d only just joined the club the previous day. However, neither could really help to create a further opportunity for their respective sides and so the contest came to its conclusion with honours even.

The 25-minute walk back to Fishergate was undertaken before a quick stop-off in the other (and better for me) Wetherspoons, the Twelve Tellers, was called for. The staple Punk IPA was had but my plans for one final stop were called off as I just didn’t feel like it by that point and so I gave best and decided to save the last few for another day and another trip. Instead it was back to the Station and to the train back where, of course, it was standing room only. Nice.

Punk & Programme

The return journey was completed with no issues outside of that, however, and so completes the trip North. Overall it was a pretty good day, cheaper than it would have been (of course, just £10 in instead of £30) and the City of Preston was hardly over-priced itself. The game wasn’t the best, though this was to be expected, and at least it wasn’t a nil-nil! So, it’s on to the last weekend of pre-season before the season gets underway with the FA Cup at the start of August. Here we go again….!

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 3 (cut-back massively on usual issue)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Bolton

Result: Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Chesterfield (EFL League 1)

Venue: Macron Stadium (Saturday 1st April 2017, 3pm)

Att: 23,376

April Fools Day arrived with a trip over to Bolton’s Reebok (it will be referred to this name throughout, go away Macron) for their community day fixture against Chesterfield. With it being only £5 to watch the game, it would have been a little rude not to take advantage. The only thought in my mind as I set off was I hoped I wouldn’t be one of the fools of the day and pick a poor, boring match.

Upon getting the train to Manchester, I met with Eagle Sports’ Stuart (who I hold somewhat responsible for the Glan Conwy antics) and a couple of his mates who were heading into town for some event. One of the trio had the Wanderers on his accumulator, though I did warn him that this game had all the hallmarks of a “Bolton bottlejob”, with a full stadium usually, in my experience anyway, a bad change for most teams in their position. He hoped I was wrong; hell I hoped I was wrong!

Soon enough, it was time to switch to the train to Bolton, arriving around 20 minutes later into the town. After heading over the signature bridge and through the town centre (where I was pulled up for something, before being told I looked “too young” for it which makes a change!), I eventually arrived at my first stop of the day, the Old Three Crowns.

Bolton

Bolton Town Hall

High Street

The Crowns was a old-style pub, but having been slightly modernised through the medium of food becoming a more important factor, but for me it was just the bar that had my attention, a bottle of Heineken being my choice to begin with. I soon bored, however, and decided to head over to the 11th-century Ye Olde Man and Scythe, whereupon I continued my Dutch beer adventure with a pint of the same beer. To be honest, I felt a bit uncomfortable in here. Whether that was brought on by the ghosts or not, who knows?! Wooooooooo!!

It was at the point I was about to leave that I thought ‘I don’t really want any more’. Yes, that’s right, I’d had enough of the taste. See, I’d had a fairly heavy week leading into the game (the issue of frequently working in a bar) and so I had had my fill, somewhat, of alcohol. But with a good 45 minutes until my train, what else was there to do than visit just one more place? That place was to be the Dragonfly and it proved a little different from most.

Upon entering I was immediately struck with two TV’s right in front of the door. Both were showing different matches, the mounted one the Merseyside derby, with the other apparently having Dortmund vs Man City on. Now, this seemed a little strange and it turned out that the pub offers free X-Box to punters! This game was very one-sided, though, and ended with a rage-quit, with Dortmund four-up.

Old Three Crowns

Old Man & Scythe

The Dragonfly: both real & virtual football!

Finishing off my fairly cheap pint of Hop House Lager (just over £3), it was time to head back to the station for the short hop over to Horwich Parkway, the gateway to the Macr…er, Reebok. Phew, that was close. Anyway, the train was, shockingly, delayed by ten minute and when it eventually arrived, the rush was on. Packed up to the doors like sardines we set off, leaving a number of stranded fans on the platform, awaiting the next train in and, probably, missing kick-off in the process. Northern’s term report: could do better.

Luckily, it only takes five minutes or so to reach Horwich, in the shadow of the stadium, and after a short walk up and over the footbridge and up the road, you arrive at the statue of Nat Lofthouse, which stands proudly outside the main entrance. Unfortunately, this meant a traipse round to the far side of the stadium, where I was sat having bought my ticket in the week leading into the game. So, after navigating the crowds and buying a programme from one of the small stalls outside the gate (£3), I was into the concourse and heading straight for the food bar, where a Holland’s peppered steak pie (£2.60) was quickly purchased. Your average pie, really.

Heading to the ground…

Before long it was up into the seats and, once again, I’d been afforded a good view of the game, being not far off half-way. The Reebok is one of the better breed of the “new-builds” in my opinion. All stands are largely similar, though it’s just been built in a more interesting to the eye way, with the curved stands still affording enough gaps to not feel like a soulless bowl. Maybe those who were brought up with Burnden may feel different, but I quite like it. As I say not much to report on the ground, all stands are, of course, all-seater and a scoreboard sits in the corner of the East and South Stands. Bolton’s history? Well, since you asked so nicely…

History Lesson:

Bolton Wanderers Football Club was formed in 1874, under the name of Christ Church F.C. and first played on ground where the University of Bolton’s Innovation factory now stands. They left here after a disagreement with the vicar, taking on the name of Bolton Wanderers in 1877, due to their inability to find a permanent home, having used three different venues in their first four years of existence.

Becoming one of the twelve founder members of the Football League in 1888, Bolton have remained within the league system ever since, spending more time in the top-flight than out of it. However, they had to wait through until 1923 for their first silverware, which arrived in the shape of the FA Cup, beating West Ham United at Wembley in the famed ‘White Horse Final’, with David jack scoring the first ever goal at Wembley Stadium, in front of 127,000 fans. This first success was followed in 1926 and again in 1929 (vs Man City and Portsmouth respectively), before financial issues forced the club to sell Jack to Arsenal for a then world-record sum of £10,890, more than double the prior record and the club were relegated to Division 2 in 1933, returning to the top-flight two seasons later.

Following this promotion, the club continued to do well and they remained in the top-flight through 1935-’64, the team’s figurehead being Nat Lofthouse. Of course, WWII would be fought within this timeframe too, with 15 of the Bolton side seeing active service. Sadly, skipper Lt. Harry Goslin became the only pre-war pro-footballer to lose his life in the conflict, of the 32 (of 35) that served. Further tragedy followed immediately after conflict ceased, with the Burnden Park disaster claiming the lives of thirty-three Wanderers fans.

1953 saw Wanderers continue their historic FA Cup final appearances, as they were vanquished in the “Stanley Matthews Final” which, of course, saw the achievements of another Stan: Mortensen, largely forgotten. They put this right in 1958, when two Lofthouse goals saw the Whites overcome Manchester United in front of 100,000 fans, though this is still the last major trophy the club have lifted.

Nat Lofthouse statue

Unfortunately, a dip in form followed and, after relegation to Division 2 in 1964, they dropped to Division 3 for the first time in 1971. However, they remained here for just two seasons, before returning to the second-tier as champions. 1978 saw the Division 2 title secured, but they were back in the division just after a two-season stay in the top-flight. Following this, Wanderers signed up Brian Kidd for £150,000 to spearhead their attempt to return to Division 1.

This wasn’t successful, though, and they were, instead, relegated by the time the ’82-’83 season came to a close. 1987 saw fortunes get even worse, the club finding itself in the Fourth Division, though this only lasted a year before promotion. The Football League Trophy was won in 1989 before the club reached the 1991 play-offs, losing to Tranmere in the final. However, the Cup held good memories, including a win over holders Liverpool in 1993 and 1994 saw them repeat the trick against Arsenal.

1994 saw the club return to Division 1 and the following year saw Bolton reach the top-flight after defeating Reading in the play-offs. The club was also beaten finalists in the League Cup the same year. Their initial stay lasted just a year, though they soon bounced back after a further year in Division 1, securing the title. This success tied-in with the club departing Burnden Park for their new ground: the Reebok Stadium.

’98 saw the club drop back to Division 1 and they missed out on an immediate return in the play-offs, though 2001 saw them achieve the rise back up. They remained through to 2012, when they suffered relegation back to the Championship, with highlights of their stay being finalists in the League Cup and featuring in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2008. They also had to go through the mill along with Fabrice Muamba, following his near-fatal incident.

Back in the Championship, the club narrowly missed out on a spot in the play-offs at the end of their first season back, but fortunes turned against them and ended with 2016 seeing Wanderers finish bottom of the Championship, thus meaning the drop to League 1 for this season, where they currently stand in good stead for a swift return, sitting in the second automatic promotion spot.

Onto the game now and, oh boy, what a whole load of nothing. Honestly, bar a couple of half-chances, absolutely nothing of note occurred and it was, by far, the worst game I’ve seen this season. Yes, it started off brightly enough, with both sides sharing half-chances: both respective ‘keepers being forced into comfortable saves, but from there it was all downhill. A nice moment came on 17 minutes with applause in support of Ivan Klasnic soon morphing into a chant for the former #17 shirt-clad Bolton striker, who is still battling illness. Hopefully he turns the corner soon.

Match Action

Match Action

The only chance that followed in the remainder of the half came right at the end and was courtesy of a ‘keeping error by Mark Howard in the Bolton goal. Howard spilled an initial low drive that was followed up by Spireites striker Kristian Dennis, but he, somehow, could only force wide from around ten yards. So, the half came to a close with the score-line reading nil-nil and me being resigned to it staying that way.

After being treated to a drum-based march around the pitch at half-time in support of housing for all (I think), the game was back underway and….it was, indeed, even worse than the first half. Chesterfield ‘keeper Thorsten Stückmann performed a “one for the cameras” save to deny a weak header by Wanderers skipper Darren Pratley. This wasn’t one to get the season-high crowd going.

Match Action

Match Action

After Jon Nolan saw a late red for the visitors, the final action of the game saw, arguably, the best chance as a goalmouth scramble Adam Le Fondre, David Wheater and the impressive Filipe Morais all denied by flying Spireite bodies within the area, before the ball was cleared to deny promotion-seeking Wanderers the points and give the battling visitors a well deserved one to go towards their, very unlikely to succeed, survival bid. As the whistle went, one Bolton fan near me commented “Well, that’s a point gained, in a match like that!”. Sums it up really, doesn’t it?! Full-Time, 0-0.

After the game, the station was, as expected, rammed and so it was to the nearby Harvester for a quick pint to allow the crowds to disperse. As I waited, I got talking to a Chesterfield fan and his first question was to ask if “…(we) would catch the Blades”. I quickly said I was neutral but probably not, though we both agreed on how bad the game was, but that Chesterfield’s left-back Dion Donohue looks a really good player. As he moved on to get his pint from his wife, I was then joined by a Bolton fan who, also not enamoured by his side’s performance, got talking before inviting me onto his round, before escalating this further and just buying me a pint anyway. After making sure he was fine with this and thanking him for it, I realised I had wasted most of my time in hand queuing, so swiftly drank up and made haste for the platform.

A quick journey back into Manchester was made all the better by the fact my possible connection had been delayed, meaning an earlier arrival home than expected. Cheers Northern, your term report will be amended as such. All in all then, a decent day was had. Can’t complain with a fiver for the game (I’d have been less happy had I paid £30 for that), and the tour of Bolton was a decent, if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could. Anyhow, next up is a trip to a capital. But which one? Well, it might do your Edin if you can’t wait to find out…

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Middlesbrough

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Result: Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United (FA Cup 5th Round)

Venue: The Riverside Stadium (Saturday 18th February 2017, 3pm)

Att: 28,198

After initially intending to remain local for this weekend and cut some costs, my head had been slightly turned by the price announcement for tickets for this FA Cup Fifth Round tie at the Riverside. For £15, over half of the usual price for a ticket to a game here, I would be able to tick off another league ground and as the week wore on, I came round to the idea of heading to Teeside.

So, after phoning up the Boro ticket office and securing a ticket in the easiest of circumstances, I then had a further brainwave. A ticket up on the train was likely to cost around £38 return. But for just a further 25 minutes travel time I could get there for half that price on the coach with National Express. A no-brainer this one, so come the morning of the 18th, I headed to Manchester’s Chorlton Street coach station for my transport up to Middlesbrough.

After a short wait, the coach rolled in and I was soon becoming aware that the bus was going to be a sell out which meant only one thing. Strangers sitting next to me. Ah, brilliant. I’m not always (or usually, really) the most talkative of people on the whole, so my 2hr 20min journey would be passed with earphones coming in more than handy.

After heading up through Yorkshire and White Rose county’s countryside, eventually the signs for Teeside came into view and soon enough the industrial skyline of Middlesbrough did too. After arriving into the city slightly early (unheard of by rail!), I soon began to take part in my favourite past-time: getting lost. Thankfully, it was fairly simple to correct my error and I was en route to the ground….via a few stops on the way of course!

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

The Isaac Brown

The Isaac Wilson

The first of these stops was entirely accidental. I was attempting to navigate up to Doctor Brown’s, the popular pre-match pub for fans, I came upon the Isaac Wilson Wetherspoon’s and reckoned it’d be rude and silly not to pay a visit and add to my tally of visited JDW’s. Fans of both Oxford and ‘Boro were in here mixing well and I plumped for a Punk IPA as per usual. What was different, though, was that I was served a pint instead. Turns out I’d instead been given a Greene King IPA instead, but no worry there as it’s a fine pint.

With little space to manoeuvre in here, I quickly downed this and headed off for my intended Doctor’s for some much-needed medicine. Instead, I was again side-tracked as I set eyes on the bar across the way co-incidentally named the Medicine Bar. The Medicine Bar looked to be fairly buzzing from the outside and indeed was packed out within. I did employ some dirty tactics here though, looking to the bar to who was being served before heading right behind them and jumping in the gap they’d left. Boo, boo!

The Medicine Bar

The Medicine Bar

Space!!!

Space!!!

I was soon in possession of a pint of the Pale Ale on offer here which was served out, unsurprisingly, in a plastic glass. It was bloody lovely too and went well with watching Burnley vs Lincoln on a mirror hanging above us. Of course as Lincoln went all giant-killer and knocked out their Premier League opponents, I figured I might as well join in with their celebration and had a second Pale Ale, deciding to leave the Doctor’s until post-game.

As a mass exodus triggered come the end of the game and the impending start of everyone’s intended one, I was finally able to have a pint without being boxed in at all sides which was nice and somewhat less sweaty. Soon enough it was time to head for the ground and so I tagged along with the wave of fans being escorted along the way and soon found myself on a very strange approach walk, heading through two multi-coloured underpasses and over a railway line, before spotting the ground directly in front.

After locating my turnstile, I reckoned I ought to go and take a pic of the Ayresome Park gates which sit directly outside the Riverside’s main entrance. This piece of history, though, did mean I forgot to pick up a programme but I didn’t really care too much as I reckoned I’d be able to get one on the concourse. Nope. Ah, problems! Now, a programme isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me, but I do like to pick one up if possible and especially on a trip so I was a bit worried, but both a steward and a Boro fan assured me I could pick one up during the game. If not, I was off to the main entrance!

The first underpass

The first underpass

First sighting...

First sighting…

Anyway, programme issues put away for now, I took my seat which was located almost right on half-way and behind Aitor Karanka’s dugout. Not too shabby! I like to think they knew about the clear royalty that had joined them on this day…no I’m not like that. Honestly. HONESTLY!

The Riverside Stadium is a smart ground. Built in 1995 to replace Ayresome Park due to the requirement of an all-seater stadium, it has four stands and is filled in at each corner. The North stand “Holgate End” backs onto the River Tees, with the “Main” West stand being a two-tiered structure. The opposite East stand is another two-tiered structure, though smaller than the West stand, it now houses the press areas and the majority of away supporters today. The South Stand is home to the most vocal section of the ‘Boro support, the Red Faction, and they were living up to that billing in the lead up to kick-off.

With the game almost upon us and the Oxford fans on the opposite side of the pitch to me also in fine voice, here’s a little about the history of Middlesbrough FC…

History Lesson:

Middlesbrough Football Club was formed in 1876, becoming founder members of the Northern League in 1889 and turning pro. After finishing as runners-up twice in 1891 & ’92, they then reverted to amateur status and went on to win consecutive titles in 1894 & ’95, the latter being joined with an FA Amateur Cup. 1897 saw a third Northern League success with a second Amateur Cup title in 1898 signalling the club’s last silverware of the 19th century.

After turning pro in 1899, ‘Boro joined the Football League Division 2, finishing as runners-up in 1902 and thus were promoted to Division 1. After moving to Ayresome Park in 1903, they would remain in the top-tier for a further 21 years before suffering relegation to Division 2 in 1924 (though this stay does include the non-league football years of WWI, in which Middlesbrough won the Northern Victory League). Their stay in the second tier was a brief one, however, as the club won the Division 2 title in 1927 and returned to the Division 1. Alas, this return was only for one season as the spectre of relegation returned.

The club’s yo-yo existence continued as ‘Boro took the 1929 Division 2 title and they remained here through until 1954, encompassing another spell without league football throughout the WWII years. After the recommencing of on-field action, ‘Boro failed to recapture their strong showing leading up to the outbreak of hostilities and were eventually relegated at the close of the ’53-’54 season.

Ayresome Gates & legends Mannion & Hardwick

Ayresome Gates & legends Mannion & Hardwick

This saw a spell of 20 years where Middlesbrough failed to return to the top division and, indeed, fell to the third tier for the first time in 1966. After climbing back up as Division 3 runners-up the following year, 1974 saw the club return to the Division 1 as Division 2 champions. 1976 saw the club continue to progress, reaching the League Cup Semi-Finals in 1976 as well as lifting the Anglo-Scottish Cup in its inaugural season, beating Fulham over two-legs.

After experiencing severe financial issues during the mid-1980’s and after suffering the drop in 1982, were relegated to Division 3 four years later. That summer, the club went into liquidation, the gates at Ayresome were locked and the club only survived via a consortium bringing the required money and beating the registration deadline by just ten minutes.

Again, their stay in Division 3 lasted just a year as the club went up as runners-up and missed out on a second successive promotion on goal difference, but did manage to go up through the play-offs, beating Chelsea over two-legs in the final. However, a quick return to Division 2 swiftly followed in 1989. 1991 saw the club just miss out in the play-offs, bowing out in the semi’s but the ‘Boro achieved promotion back to Division 1 the next year as runners-up and took a place in the newly formed Premiership.

Yet again the club’s stay in the top-tier was only to last one year, but 1995 saw them back in the Prem as Football League Champions. This time the club managed to last longer than one year in the highest echelons. Yes, they managed two before dropping back to Division 1 once more in 1997, this despite additions such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and the brilliant little Brazilian Juninho. A further one season away followed before they bounced back as runners-up and finally managed a substantial stay in the top-flight.

Strange structure outside ground

Strange structure outside ground

An eleven-year stint was to follow for Middlesbrough, encompassing appearances in the FA Cup semi-final in 2002 & 2006, being UEFA Cup runners-up the same year, but 2004 saw the club achieve arguably their highest honour as ‘Boro, under Steve McClaren, lifted the League Cup after defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in Cardiff. 2009 saw the club eventually relegated back to Championship.

The club remained in the Championship through to last season, narrowly missing out on promotion the previous season, the club losing out to Norwich City at Wembley in Aitor Karanka’s first full season in charge. His second saw him guide ‘Boro back to the Premier League, with Middlesbrough finishing the season as runners-up by the narrowest of margins, on goal difference, and they currently sit in a precarious 16th place.

We were soon underway and it quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to be a stuck-in-the-mud tie. Both sides were going for it with Antonio Martinez-Lopez going close in the first minute, Brad Guzan forced into a low save. Middlesbrough responded with Rudy Gestede forcing a decent stop out of the U’s season-ever-present ‘keeper Simon Eastwood and Grant Leadbitter clipping the top of the bar with an attempted chip over Eastwood.

Leadbitter, though, was to get his name on the scoresheet after 25 minutes. Stewart Downing burst into the area but was bundled over by Chris Maguire and the skipper blasted his spot-kick high into the net to give the Premier League side the lead. Oxford thought they’d responded almost immediately when Maguire’s low cross-cum-shot found its way into the corner of the net but the referee adjudged there to have been a foul in the box as the ball went in and the U’s celebrations were cut short.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Leadbitter nets from the spot!

Leadbitter nets from the spot!

From then on in, ‘Boro dominated the remainder of the half and ten minutes after taking the lead, the hosts doubled their advantage in spectacular style, the large frame of Gestede acrobatically bicycle-kicking an effort which flew past Eastwood and into the net. 2-0 and it looked like the U’s run in the cup was at an end as half-time came upon us with little else to shout about.

The break saw me manage to pounce upon a programme seller who was stood on the steps about to go on his rounds and purchase a cut-price, cut-back effort (£2). The main-event, though, was still to come as I headed for the food counter. I’d heard good things about the local delicacy by the name of the “parmo”. This consists of a chicken burger-like thing covered in melted cheese and placed within a bun. My word, how good?! For £4.50, it is more than worth it and kept me more than happy during the early part of the second half. It even comes in a carrier bag. Ooooh. The other highlight had to be Timmy Mallet doing the half-time draw though. Just look at his delight:

Timmy Mallett doing the half-time draw. Yeah.

Timmy Mallet doing the half-time draw. Yeah.

Its Parmo-O'Clock!

Its Parmo-O’Clock! Yeah!

The second period was underway shortly afterwards and, in truth, little happened during the early part of it bar a couple of half-chances. But, just before the hour mark, Oxford sparked into life. The U’s were awarded a free-kick in the ‘D’ and Maguire stepped up and atoned for his earlier error to curl the ball over the wall and beyond Guzan. 2-1 and suddenly it was all to play for.

This was the case even more-so when, within a minute of them pulling one back, they were level. Winning the ball back from the kick-off, the U’s players rushed forward in numbers and a low shot from the left by Maguire was only parried by Guzan into the path of Martinez-Lopez, the Spaniard given the simple task of side-footing the ball into the open net. All-square, 2-2, and the travelling Oxford fans were in a state of delirium!

With Middlesbrough shaken, Karanka opted for a double change but, my word, the fans didn’t like it! Boos rang out around the Riverside as the hard-working Adama Traore was replaced by Cristhian Stuani and Viktor Fischer subbed for Gaston Ramirez. However, Karanka was to have the last (or first?) laugh.

Oxford celebrate their leveller

Oxford celebrate their leveller

Match Action

Match Action

Crowd Action

Crowd Action

The on-field big guns were completed late on by the introduction of Alvaro Negredo and he was to have a big hand in the winner. With just four minutes left on the clock a ball in was missed by Negredo, who attempted to emulate the player he replaced, Gestede, with the spectacular only for the ball to fall at the feet of Stuani arriving at the back post and he gleefully finished with aplomb before wheeling away in front of the raucous Holgate End. Full-Time: 3-2; an upset narrowly avoided.

After the final whistle, the same walk back as before was undertaken before I finally got into the Doctor’s which had some sort of on-off karaoke and sing-a-long’s going on. It was a fun atmosphere, however the pint of Moretti in a plastic glass for £3.80 meant I’d only be having the one in here before moving onwards back towards the bus station for the coach back.

On the way, I decided to follow ‘Lost Boyos’ Matt’s advice and head into the Last Orders pub near Middlesbrough station. With wonderous karaoke promised, I headed inside but the songs weren’t the best, with the quintessential karaoke tunes all coming out. More to my liking was the return of the cheap pint, a Kronenbourg costing just £2.20 with bottles being advertised for 99p. 99p! Madness!

Doctor Brown's

Doctor Brown’s

Last Orders

Last Orders

Last stop...Yates'!

Last stop…Yates’!

With Wolves-Chelsea underway, I watched a bit of the tie in here before reckoning I might as well squeeze one more pub in before heading for the coach. As such, the Yates’ round the corner looked the best bet, plus it would complete a nice little touch in my mind as a pub that I was frequently in during my youth (non-alcoholic times) had been called both Yates’ and Doctor Brown’s before being knocked down, so it was a given to me that I’d have to pop in both whilst in Boro.

So, after cutting through the pedestrianised shopping street I arrived at Yates’ before settling in with a nice pint of the Czech beer Kozel and watching the early stages of the second half of the aforementioned late kick-off before giving in to time and bidding farewell to Middlesbrough.

The journey back was a largely uneventful one, despite being confused by a toilet door and almost falling over whilst exiting (I wasn’t even drunk, honestly) and I arrived back in Manchester pretty much on time. National Express had served me really well and given a nice insight into what awaits me when my railcard runs out after next season and arrived back home just over three-hours after leaving Middlesbrough itself which wasn’t too shabby at all.

All in all, I found Middlesbrough to be a fun place, its cheap beer being a plus and despite my stay only being a brief one, I fail to see why it gets such a bad rap, even from its own people sometimes! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and the ground was good too, helped massively by the seats I was given, so cheers to the ‘Boro ticket-office lady for that! Onwards to next week, if we survive Storm Doris….

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RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 7

Food: 10

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Brentford

959px-brentford_fc_logo-svgefc-logo

Result: Brentford 5-1 Eastleigh (FA Cup Third Round)

Venue: Griffin Park (Saturday 7th January 2017, 3pm)

Att: 7,537 (1,428 away)

As my ‘ticking off grounds that may not be long for this world’ quest continues, the FA Cup draw is always something that throws up a good chance to tick another one off. Last season saw me squeeze the Boleyn Ground in shortly before its closure and this year saw the draw award Brentford a home-tie at their Griffin Park home. Being the FA Cup, it also gives a bit of a cut-price ticket opportunity which is always welcome and a trip back down to London for the second time in two years for the Third Round looked on the cards.

As such, I purchased my tickets ahead of the Manchester Central game on New Year’s Eve and I was all set for my first new ground in a month. I did play it somewhat risky, though, and hope that Brentford’s twitter was correct in saying tickets would be available up until kick-off. It all seemed good and so I set off for London Euston on the morning of the first Saturday of 2017.

My arrival was delayed slightly by, seemingly, nothing, but this wasn’t anything too severe and I was soon entering the underground world. The usual cattle-market feel was in full flow and I was pleased to get in and out of the ticket hall in fairly quick time, before heading for the first of my trains, which would see my change at Green Park before a swift change over to the Heathrow-bound line for South Ealing. Easy.

Well, it would have been had I not decided to go to the wrong platform at both stations and, therefore, miss a connection at each. Clever. Anyway, this was only a minor set-back and I was soon headed towards Brentford. The combined journey on the tube only lasted for around a half-hour (if you take out my own poor directional decisions) and I was soon disembarking onto a damp South Ealing station at just before 1.30pm. Happily, the estimated walk time was fairly miscalculated and I arrived at the ticket office in Braemar Road just 15 minutes later. Ticket secure, it was off to the pubs!

Arriving in Brentford

Arriving in Brentford

First stop...the Princess Royal

Fir…well, second stop…the Princess Royal

Griffin Park was famed – up until a couple of years ago for being the only ground to have four pubs surrounding it: one on each corner. Alas, the Royal Oak has since shut its doors, leaving the Princess Royal, the New Inn and the Griffin to keep fans watered. With programme (£3.50) also safely stowed away, it was off to the first of the trinity: The Princess Royal. Unfortunately this was packed, as were the others according to overheard conversations, and I had a 20-minute wait for a pint. By the time my Fuller’s Frontier had arrived, the body heat in there had made me resemble a long-distance runner in the sweaty stakes.

I had the idea to do the three pubs pre-game, but with the bar clock stating the time at 2.15pm, I decided to let the New Inn be and just head for the Griffin. I did have to down the decent pint of plastic-glassed Frontier to give me some extra time for the next, before heading over to the Griffin. The Princess Royal and the Griffin were both traditional-style pubs (which are always welcome here) and pints for £4.00 and £4.20 (Stowford) weren’t too shabby either. Interestingly, the Griffin’s Southern Comfort bottle was playing host to a Red Bull Leipzig sticker, for some reason. After seeing the reassuring United result on TV, I then had the “inner me” moment. “Do the New Inn” it exclaimed. I’m easily swayed…

The Griffin proving popular

The Griffin proving popular

RB Leipzig represent

RB Leipzig represent

Completing the challenge: To the New Inn

Completing the challenge: To the New Inn!

So, after getting rid of two pints within 15 minutes, I was off to complete the lessened challenge. The New Inn was emptying out as I arrived, as the time was now at almost twenty-five to three. This didn’t stop me ordering a Coors in here though, though the Irish barmaid’s understanding of my accent almost delayed things! Luckily, the guy next to me translated and everything ended well!

Coors downed and now feeling fairly well aeriated, I headed off back round and past the first of the three stops, finding myself at the Ealing Road terracing turnstile shortly afterwards. Ticket scan successful, I was inside whereupon I was, as standard, subject to a bag search. What isn’t quite as standard though, was the steward then exclaiming in a…different put on accent “What you got in da baaaag?!”. As it was, there was nothing of note and I made my way up to the terrace and into Griffin Park for real.

Onwards to Griffin Park

Onwards to Griffin Park

I think this is the place...

I think this is the place…

Dating from 1904, Griffin Park is a lovely ground; well, to me anyway! It still has its terrace intact (for now, at least) and an old-style all-seater stand down the far side. The more modern Main Stand sits on the opposite touch-line, with the best stand in the ground housing the visiting Spitfires today. The two-tiered mixed terracing/seating stand sits behind the far end goal to the full terrace. It was certainly worth the trip. Anyway, enough about the ground for now, here’s a bit about Brentford FC….

History Lesson:

Brentford Football Club was formed in 1889 and have played at Griffin Park since 1904 after brief spells at five grounds prior to finding their permanent home. The club was formed by members of the Brentford Rowing Club as their winter sport, beating off competition from rugby union. After the levelling of the former Fuller’s brewery orchard, Griffin Park was erected in time for the 1904 season.

Their early years saw a fair amount of success. They began life in the West London Alliance – which was won in 1893 – and allied this success with numerous cup wins, beginning with the 1894-’95 West Middlesex before this was added to in the form of the Middlesex Senior Cup & London Senior Cup double in 1897-’98. Brentford moved into the Southern League around the turn of the century, winning the Division 2 title in 1901. They rounded off the decade with a win in the 1909 Southern Professional Charity Cup.

After winning the 1911 Ealing Hospital Cup, season 1918-’19 saw the club lift the London Combination before they went on to found the Third Division of the Football League in 1920. After just one season, the division was regionalised with Brentford, somewhat unsurprisingly, placed in the Southern section. This began a period of strength for the club, as they went on to win promotion to the Second Division in 1933 as Champions of the South section and just two years later, they were in the top-flight after winning the Division 2 title. Their final silverware before wartime hostilities broke out once more was the club’s first London Challenge Cup, won in 1935.

Buzz

Buzz

During WWII, Brentford competed in the London War Cup, which they lifted in 1942. However, the end of the war saw an immediate downturn in fortune for the club on-field, as they were immediately relegated back to the second tier. This set the club into something of a downturn and they found themselves back in the Third Division by 1954 and the bottom rung of the ladder, the Fourth Division, eight years later.

They did soon bounce back, however, winning promotion in 1963, but this just set a yo-yo existence into motion, with the club going between the Third and Fourth divisions on three different occasions, with ’72 & ’78 seeing another two promotions. The club did, however, win a further two London Challenge Cups during this period (’65 & ’67). After defeat in the Football League Trophy in 1985 at Wembley, the club reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1989, but were vanquished by the reigning English champions, Liverpool.

After 45 years, Brentford were eventually promoted back to the second tier in 1992 as Third Division champions, with the Second Division becoming the First with the creation of the Premiership. Alas, it mattered little to Brentford, who were immediately relegated to the “new” Second Division. After a near-miss in the 1997 play-offs, the club were then relegated to Division 3 the following year, but did only spend a year there before winning the division in 1999.

On the concourse...

On the “concourse”…

2002 & 2005 saw more play-off anguish, as the club missed out on a place in Division 1 (latterly the Championship)to Stoke City and then to Sheffield Wednesday respectively. After another failed play-off campaign the next year, the club again suffered a major drop-off, as in ’98 and were relegated to League 2. However, after a two-year stay, the Bees won the division and returned to League 1. 2011 saw defeat in the Football League Trophy Final for a second time and 2013 saw yet more play-off misfortune, this time at the hands of Yeovil Town.

However, the club eventually succeeded in 2014, bypassing the play-offs and winning automatic promotion to the Championship and a return to the second tier for the first time in 21 years. Their first season back at this level was a success and Brentford reached the play-offs but, as you could probably guess, they were defeated in the semis by eventual winners Middlesbrough. Last season saw the club attain a 9th placed finish.

Heading in

Heading in

Here come the sides!

Here come the sides!

The game was soon underway, with all the action being crammed into the first 45. It took just eight minutes for the deadlock to be broken, a trip in the area giving the home side the perfect chance to get rid of any doubts of being unable to break down the non-league side. Yoann Barbet, after a considerable wait, did the rest with Eastleigh’s dismay being confounded by the injury to Gavin Hoyte in the lead up to the penalty, seeing him forced off.

It was soon two, as Bees wideman Tom Field netted his first professional goal. After some good build up play down the right, a fine ball in found the head of Field who powered the ball beyond Graham Stack, who’d just returned from a spell with Kerala in the Indian Premier League. Ooh, the hipster. 2-0.

To their credit, Eastleigh’s heads didn’t drop and they decided to take the attack to their hosts, as they now had to of course. But, they were caught by a swift breakaway from one of their own corners, which saw the influential Romaine Sawyers find Josh McEachran who, in turn, squared the ball to Lasse Vibe who curled a drive with the outside of his foot beyond the helpless Stack. 3-0 and game over, you felt.

Challenge

Challenge

Match Action

Match Action

Barbet nets the opener

Barbet nets the opener

It was all Brentford for the first quarter of the game and Vibe went close to adding a fourth but a low ball from Sawyers just evaded him, before Eastleigh grabbed a goal back on the half-hour. Following a decent spell of pressure that had seen the home fans try to get their side to find their ruthlessness again, the Spitfires forced a corner. The resulting delivery saw Daniel Bentley in the Bees goal blocked off somewhat and Ayo Obileye slotted the rebound in. There wasn’t enough for a foul in this one for me, though the next corner – which saw Eastleigh hit the post direct from the set-piece – was definitely a foul on the stopper.

Eastleigh continued to sense their time was now and continued to pile forward, with James Constable leading the line. But, they were soon to see their hopes snuffed out once more as McEachran, who looked a class act during the game, played a sublime through ball that Field ran onto before confidently placing his shot through Stack and into the back of the net.

There was still time for a sixth goal and this was the best of the bunch. Those that left early for food/amenity breaks would have been somewhat disappointed to have missed it! Again, McEachran was instrumental in creating the chance playing the ball forward for a lay-off to Sawyers who fired a stinging daisy-cutter into the bottom corner with the besieged Stack rooted to the spot. 5-1, though I did mutter to myself that that would be it for goals today. It happens so often!

Beseiged

Besieged

Half-time arrived soon afterwards and I headed down to the concourse area and the refreshment bar. I had to feel for the guys and girls on duty here, as it must feel like you are being bared down upon by the masses as the crowds approach from above into a compact area. The last pie went just before me and thus I had to make do with a burger (a rarity for me), with the only other options a hot dog or the abomination known as a Cheese & Onion pasty. Only crisps are ok with this combination. Or toast. Or sandwich…YOU GET THE POINT!!!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Final Score.

Final Score.

The second half was the expected anti-climax. In fact, I was more interested by the exotic fly-overs by aircraft on final to Heathrow because, yes, I am that interesting and cool. The game became almost a glorified training session for the Bees, with the odd chance for Sawyers and Josh Clarke going awry. Eastleigh had their odd moment too, with ex-Sunderland man Mikael Mandrom seeing his effort kept out well by Bentley before denying Jai Reason’s attempted lob. The big moment in the half, for the home fans anyway, was the return of Spaniard Jota from his loan at Eibar. he looked good during his time on the field. Anyway, full-time arrived after one added minute, 5-1. An added note for the Eastleigh fans, who kept up a good noise and atmosphere throughout the game. Good stuff.

I quickly made my exit from Griffin Park and made my way along the road and back to South Ealing, just in time for the train back. Unfortunately, I gave up my spacious train at Green Park for my connection, only to find the Victoria Line had been suspended and thus had to find an alternative route. As luck would have it, I’d already explored this possibility and headed back for a train to Russell Square. But, oh my God was it packed! As in ‘people jammed in the doors’ packed. Don’t get on, there’s another in five minutes for f*cks sake!

Post-match lights

Post-match lights

Doric Arch to end the day

Doric Arch to end the day

I was relieved to see Russell Square and be able to head over towards Euston in fresh air and without anyone up in my face. I had until seven until my train back to Manchester and so had time for a quick one in the great Doric Arch. A Veltins in here did the trick of relieving the stresses of the underground and the remainder of the first half of Preston-Arsenal kept me, somewhat, entertained until it was time to pop over to the station.

A thoroughly incident-free journey home followed, bar a mouse scurrying into the small WH Smith’s at Manchester Piccadilly and a guy getting escorted out of Oxford Road by the police, as kids debated what would happen to him in his drunken state. Ah, it’s good to be back. Next up…who knows. Probably somewhere easier on the ol’ wallet, but Brentford & Griffin Park is great. It’ll be sad to see it go…

Match Action

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Sheffield (Wednesday)

150px-Sheffield_Wednesday.svg Fulham_FC_(shield).svg

Result: Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 Fulham (SkyBet Championship)

Venue: Hillsborough (Saturday 19th September 2015, 3pm)

Att: 18,706

After weeks upon weeks of non-league action, it was time for something a little different. Yes, indeed. The trusty Manchopper Draw (which will likely be put away for a few weeks now) delivered an ending poles apart, either Daten of the Cheshire League 1 or Sheffield Wednesday of the Football League Championship. Needless to say, the price of one over the other was a fair amount more, but it was also far more attractive. So, I was off to Hillsborough.

Saturday morning arrived and I was duly on my way into Oxford Road station in Manchester, before heading onwards to Sheffield. Due to a slightly late running initial train, I had next to no wait for the Norwich service to pull in and I had arrived into Sheffield just an hour and 20 minutes after I’d initially set off. I’d certainly enjoyed such a problem-free journey over the Pennines and into South Yorkshire.

Sheffield Station

Sheffield Station

Arriving in Hillsborough

Arriving in Hillsborough

So, upon exiting Sheffield station, I was met with a sound of a tribal nature. Indeed, it was a marching group of women who, it appeared, were campaigning against rape. Whatever it was, it was an unexpected greeting to the city on a sunny and pleasantly warm early afternoon. I had previously decided to grab a bus from the city to Hillsborough, but then I decided that 3 and-a-half miles wasn’t too far to walk, so I set off under pretence that there would be somewhere to stop off on the way. Alas, when I did eventually come across a pub, I was only around 15 minutes from the ground, with just over an hour to kick-off. So, against my usual judgment, to Hillsborough it was.

After a quick cut through Hillsborough Park I was crossing the footbridge over the River Don, which provides access to the ground and Main Entrance, before purchasing the match programme for the game, priced at the usual £3. The issue was in memoriam of club legend Ron Springett, who’d sadly passed away during the week. So, with the purchases done, I headed for the Spion Kop which was to be my temporary home for the next few hours, mostly due to it being the cheapest part of the ground to get into, priced at only £33. Only £33. If I keep repeating it, I may just believe the phrase.

Hillsborough though the trees

Hillsborough though the trees

Sheffield Wednesday FC

Sheffield Wednesday FC

The Main (Cantilever)Stand

The Main (Cantilever)Stand

Yes, £33 lighter, I was into the home of the Owls, Hillsborough. After heading up the steps of the Kop stand, I took a few pre-match pics of the stands, with one in particular being well known. We all know to what ends this is the case, and I don’t wish to dwell upon the tragedy here. It is, however, impossible to ignore the fact you are looking at a place of such carnage and horror and you just can’t imagine it, having not been around when it transpired. RIP to all those lost.

As I say, I’m not dwelling upon this, as it isn’t the place to do so, and I have to agree with the few comments I received on twitter about the place. It is brilliant! There is something about each of the stands that stands out in their own right, be it the Cantilever-style Main Stand, the South stand with its uncovered corners, the Kop End, which was already decked out in preparation for the arrival of the club band, or the Leppings Lane End, with its dominant upper tier. Simply tremendous. So, with the remainder of Nottingham Forest vs Middlesbrough being shown on the big screen to entertain us early arrivals, it’s now time to delve into the history of the Owls of Sheffield Wednesday.

History Lesson:

Sheffield Wednesday FC was formed in 1867, under the name of The Wednesday, but the club has origins harking back to the cricket club, formed in 1820. The name was gained from the day on which the cricket club played its games. However, the name Sheffield Wednesday has been in unofficial use since 1883, when the title was painted upon the stand roof at Olive Grove stadium. They also used to be known as the Blades, due to the city’s known trade, before the Owls came about after the club’s monkey mascot was replaced with a much luckier owl!

After a meeting at a local hotel, the idea of a football club came about, to keep the cricketers fit during the winter and thus the club that would become Sheffield Wednesday was born. The football club is the third oldest club currently competing within the English Football League. Their first ever piece of silverware was the Cromwell Cup, a four team local tournament, which was won at Bramall Lane, Wednesday’s home ground.

In their early years, the club had Charles Clegg, who went on to be chairman of both Wednesday and the FA after his playing career, which included the first ever international game (for England vs Scotland in 1872) and the man considered the first ever pro footballer in England, James Lang, joined in 1876.

After splitting with the now defunct cricket club in 1882, Wednesday turned pro in 1887 after pressure from players who threatened to move if this step wasn’t taken. The switch meant a move from Bramall Lane to the new Olive Grove ground. In 1889, Wednesday became founder members of the Football Alliance, which they became the first champions of in the Second Division. In addition, they were losing finalists in the FA Cup at the Kennington Oval. Remarkably, they finished the next season bottom, but were eventually elected to the bigger Football League upon its creation in 1892.

Hillsborough on arrival

Hillsborough on arrival

Hillsborough in action

Hillsborough in action

After winning their first FA Cup in 1896, the club were forced to move grounds again, due to the expansion of the railway line. They eventually sourced land in Owlerton,which would become Hillsborough. Here, the club won the League twice, in 1902-’03 & ’03-’04, as well as a second FA Cup in 1907. This was to be the club’s last major success for a long while, indeed their penultimate one as The Wednesday, before the name change to the one we know today. Their success under their original name came in the form of a third title, in 1928-’29.

The club’s first cup as Sheffield Wednesday came in the form of another FA Cup, in 1935, before the breakout of WWII meant major shake-ups and following the war, Wednesday began a period of struggle and yo-yo years. After being promoted back to the top-flight in 1950, they went on a sequence of three relegations followed by three immediate Second Division wins on each occasion. After a run to the 1966 FA Cup final, in which Wednesday played all their ties away from Hillsborough. The Owls also beat an all-star Manchester United side, featuring the likes of Charlton, Best and Law, 5-4 in 1968.

After a trio of players were banned for life and imprisoned for match fixing, they were reprieved soon after, with two returning to the Owls for their twilight playing years. After a drop which almost saw the club go into Division 4, Jack Charlton and Howard Wilkinson saw the club back to Division 1. Of course, the ground was also the main reason for the introduction of all seater stadia in England after the Hillsborough tragedy.

Sheffield Wednesday FC on the Leppings Lane Stand

Sheffield Wednesday FC

Tribal

Tribal

Just in case you forget

Just in case you forget

During the ’90’s Wednesday became a strong side, featuring in the top-fight for the most part and reached the final of the ’92-’93 FA and League Cups. Unfortunately for Weds, they lost on both occasions to Arsenal. In 2000, Wednesday’s tight tenure ended, and this was followed with relegation to Division 2 in 2003. They eventually returned to the Division 1, now the Chanpionship, in 2005 via the play-offs, where the club, more of then than not, flirted with relegation. They wee eventually condemned again in 2010 and after a number of off-field changes and money issues, the club re-stabilized somewhat and, eventually, were promoted again in 2012 via automatic means.

Under new ownership, the club had a decent season last time out, finishing up in a solid, if unspectacular, 13th place. The owner has stated his intention to return Premier League football to Hillsborough by 2017, the club’s 150th anniversary.

Teams enter the field

Teams enter the field

Line-Ups

Line-Ups

Getting underway

Getting underway

Back to the present day again, and after being entertained by a group of Cheerleaders prior to kick-off, who weren’t actually that bad a group, we were soon all set for the off. The teams were greeted by a guard of honour, provided by said cheerleaders and flag wielding kids in club shirts, as they made their way out for the customary pre-match handshakes. This was followed by a minutes silence for Ron Springett, which turned into an impromptu applause, which all joined in with heartily. I do always think the applause is much more fitting for those who have passed after providing entertainment and ensuring history in the past.

It was the visitors from London who got us underway, but it was the Owls who quickly established themselves first in the contest. First, the Cottagers’ goalkeeper Andy Lonergan pulled off a superb stop to deny Wednesday’s recent addition, Barry Bannan, but he was helpless to stop Fernando Forestieri’s headed opener. Forestieri climbed highest before heading downwards and into the vacant side of the net. This seemed to spur on Fulham and wake the visitors from their slumber and they began to pressurise the home goal on a frequent basis and this eventually proved fruitful.

The equaliser came when a ball in wasn’t sufficiently dealt with by the home back line and it fell to Jamie O’Hara, 20-yards out, whose drive took a big deflection off a defender and crept inside the wrong-footed Keiren Westwood’s left-hand post. 1-a-piece, and all to play for.

Forestieri climbs to head the opener

Forestieri climbs to head the opener

But Jamie O'Hara soon cancelled it out

But Jamie O’Hara soon cancelled it out

Lonergan repeated his early heroics to deny Alex Lopez as the Owls looked to respond quickly and they achieved this goal just  minutes after the equaliser, when a right wing corner was met at the back post by Owls’ skipper Tom Lees, whose header crept under Lonergan for 2-1. With Wednesday looking dominant in aerial combat, it was no surprise that their giant frontman, Atdhe Nuhiu, was a focal point for them in attack. Despite failing to really glean any real chances from this game, he provided a constant threat and presence for others to feed off.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Half-Time arrived, the score remaining at 2-1. I set off behind the stand for a pie, getting one of the last remaining Meat and Potato Pukka Pies for a further £3. After carefully navigating the crowds with the precious cargo of pastry in hand, I made it back to my seat with all in one piece, though it didn’t remain this way for long. After watching some, rather ordinary, penalties from Wednesday fan “Andy”, who was getting ripped to pieces by the half-time announcer, it was time to leave it to the pro’s for the second half.

The last time I’d seen Fulham’s Ben Pringle was at Boundary Park, when he was wearing the red of Rotherham and after some comments attributed to him about Wednesday, needless to say there wasn’t a lot of love abounding around Hillsborough for the blond-haired winger. At the Oldham game, he was outstanding, therefore it was a huge disappointment to see him hardly have a sniff during the first period, and therefore be pulled at the break. I’m sure my sentiments weren’t echoed by many in the ground.

Despite the change and the introduction of another man mountain in Dan Burn. Wednesday increased their lead just a few minutes after the restart. Another set piece was delivered and another headed goal sufficed, Michael Turner this time, being presented with a free header, that he dispatched well. 3-1.

Michael Turner, about to head home for 3-1

Michael Turner, about to head home for 3-1

Turner celebrates with the Owls faithful

Turner celebrates with the Owls faithful

But, back came Fulham, and they grabbed one back when Tom Cairney nodded home an O’Hara delivery from close range to set up a nervous finish. This wasn’t aided by some questionable refereeing, none more so when he decided to add six minutes of added time on to the game at the climax of the contest, from absolutely nowhere.

Match Action

Surrounded

Match Action

Match Action

After Barry Bannan, who could’ve had a hat-trick on another day, smashed wastefully into the side netting, Fulham won a late corner and up went Lonergan, who got his head tot he delivery at the near post, but it was cleared away, before Fulham’s late, late chance fell to centre-back Burn, who’d been pushed into service up front. A knock through the defence of the hosts saw Burn one-on-one with Westwood. Hillsbororugh fell silent for a split second, before the ball rebounded to safety off the underside of Westwood’s body, to sighs from three stands and groans from the other. Full-time, 3-2. What a game!

Joyful Owls fans

Joyful Owls fans

The Cottagers' fans...less so.

The Cottagers’ fans…less so.

As I joined the droves of happy Yorkshire folk exiting the Hillsborough floodgates, I had decided that I wasn’t to repeat the walk back to the City Centre and instead was to grab a bus back. But, after missing one, I wasn’t to see another pass me until I had reached Sheffield again, about 45 minutes later. So, with my plans for a pre-match drink now joined on the scrapheap by that of having one post-match across from the station, I headed straight for Sheffield’s station, dwelling on the fact that I had been denied much time in the city, bar the short time walking past places like the Crucible Theatre. After picking up an Irn-Bru for my parched self, I quickly headed over to the far side platform where the Manchester-bound train was sitting, flanked by the police for some reason. Possibly due to the expected fights between the bitter rivals of the Oldham fans already on board.

As soon as I set myself down next to a much needed plug socket, I realised that my earphones had been claimed by Yorkshire. They were gone. So, as I reflected soon after on twitter, bar from the ground and the game itself, pretty much everything else went, well, pretty shit really. Which was a real shame, as Sheffield seems a great place. Luckily, I’m returning to these shores soon enough, when I head to nearby Dronfield for Sheffield FC in a couple of weeks, so I think a brief stop here is due. As with Crewe, I think the best is yet to be discovered…

On the way back, though, there was a guy sat on the opposite side of the train and the guy couldn’t stay awake. So much so, that a Northern employee got on and he requested he wake him up on arrival at Piccadilly. This was ok, but take into account this request was made when leaving Stockport which is no more than a 10-minute ride away. Surely, he could have stayed conscious for this long?! Then again, maybe he’d had the better of Sheffield that I missed out on!

In addition, there was also a moment where a guy headed into the toilet I was sat opposite. No less than a minute later, a woman came walking in and without warning pressed the open button to reveal the poor guy in all his glory. Needless to say, there was some embarrassment and humour within the carriage, depending on how much you were involved in this situation, with most of the embarrassment radiating from, perhaps surprisingly, the woman rather than the guy doing his best David Cameron impression. Thankfully, there was no pig in sight…

DSC00511

RATINGS:

Game: 8- End to end contest, which wasn’t the usual I was assured.

Ground: 9- Really great ground, both in atmosphere and in build.

Fans: 8- The band kept going throughout, and most were great, but a couple were needlessly negative to Nuhiu.

Programme: 6- Decent, with some different articles, but nothing brilliant.

Food: 7- Pukka Pie, decent as always.

Value For Money: 6- £33 ticket was always going to bring this down, but much else was standard to good.