Manchopper in….Derby

Result: Derby County 4-1 Barnsley (EFL Championship)

Venue: Pride Park (Sunday 6th May 2018, 12.30pm)

Att: 30,682

The second part of the early May Bank Holiday trifecta of matches saw me heading to the county town (should really be city, shouldn’t it?) of Derbyshire and to Derby County’s Pride Park home for a game that saw high stakes on the line. This was the case for both sides, but for very different reasons; the Rams looking to secure a play-off place and a shot at promotion back to the Premier League, while the Tykes, travelling the short distance down from South Yorkshire, were hoping they wouldn’t be travelling down the leagues come around half-past two.

I was given another lift into Manchester during the morning due to the trains’ Sunday hours not being particularly helpful early on, before catching the more scenic stopping service through the Hope Valley to Sheffield, where I’d catch the service over to Derby. All went smoothly and with temperatures steadily rising once more, all looked set nicely for a decent day out in a city I’m certain I’ve visited before whilst in school at some point, but have no real recollection of. With my selective memory, who knows where it was?!

Anyway, I arrived into Derby at a little before half-eleven and embarked on the walk over to the ground, following the crowds in taking the riverside walkway there. I arrived a fair bit less fresh than I was when I’d got off the train and after doing an unintended lap of the ground, I eventually located the ticket office (this despite the very large sign bearing “Ticket Office” above it) and after going through the motions of setting up an account, was soon in possession of a ticket up in the corner between the West and South stands. A few quick pictures of the outside were taken, a programme was bought (£3) and a quick look at the Mercian Regiment’s ram mascot was had before I headed inside ahead of kick-off.

Heading to the ground

DCFC

After stopping off at the food kiosk for a Baseball Burger (£3.80), which is of course named after Derby’s former home ground, I headed up into the Gods up towards the very back of the stand and found my seat just in front of a couple of banners which were proclaiming some slogans that I didn’t take too much notice of, if I’m honest. Polishing off the burger (complete with surprising spicy bit) around the time of “Igor’s” interview, the aforementioned ram soon led the players out onto the field of play, guided by two soldiers in full regalia uniform, whilst a guard of honour by some junior sides, fireworks and flag waving all welcomed them out onto the sun-baked Pride Park pitch. Pleasantries were exchanged between the sides and we were all set to go but first let’s delve into the history of the Rams of Derby County Football Club….

History Lesson:

Derby County Football Club was founded in 1884 as an offshoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club in an attempt to give members, players and supporters a winter pursuit & interest, as well as gaining that all important money. The original intention was to name the club Derbyshire County FC, but after an objection from the County FA on the grounds it would be too long and cause confusion over if it was an FA representative side, the club took on the city’s name instead and so Derby County came into being. They started life at the cricket club’s Racecourse Ground and 1884-’85 saw the club start competing in friendly contests, though their firsts weren’t entirely memorable for favourable – their inaugural game ending in a 6-0 defeat to Great Lever and their first competitive outing, in the FA Cup, ending in a 7-0 reverse to Walsall Town.

What could arguably be considered the club’s most important match came in the following season’s Cup competition, when Derby defeated the emerging force of Aston Villa two-nil to put their name on the map, helping attract bigger names for friendly contests and, in turn, enabling the club to be considered for an invite to become a founding member of the Football League. This duly came around and Derby County joined the League in 1888, and this time had a far more favourable first game, winning on the opening day of the inaugural Football League season after coming from three-nil down to defeat Bolton Wanderers 6-3 away in Lancashire, though the club would only end up 10th come the end of the campaign.

1891 saw them absorb another local side, Derby Midland, leaving County as the city’s sole professional representative. Four years later, the club moved to their long-term home, the Baseball Ground (yes, it was used for Baseball beforehand) and adopted their colours of white shirts and black shorts. They finished League runners-up in 1896 and competed towards the top on a regular basis from then on in, finishing third on numerous occasions whilst also reaching the FA Cup final in each of 1898, ’99 and 1903, but lost all of them to Nottingham Forest (3-1), Sheffield United (4-1) and Bury (6-0) respectively.

Old-school entrance

After selling early star player Steve Bloomer to Middlesbrough in 1906 due to financial constraints, Derby were subsequently relegated the following season but soon re-signed him and regained their First Division place in 1911 as Division 2 title winners. However, they would be relegated again in 1914, only to immediately win the Second Division title once more, though promotion would, of course, have to wait, with WWI putting an end to football for the next few years.

1919 saw the sport resume with Derby taking their place in Division 1. They lasted two further seasons prior to another relegation, however a change of manager in 1925 kick-started a successful period for the Rams and following promotion in 1926 as runners-up, the club again became a force at the top of the table, finishing runners-up twice more in 1930 & 1936, though the title would continue to elude them through the late ’20’s & 1930’s. After initially shutting their doors on the outbreak of WWII, the club did restart again during the early 1940’s and this would help the club in the long run, with recruitment of players stationed nearby enabling the club to amass a strong side which would win the FA Cup upon competitive football’s resumption in 1946 with a 4-1 triumph over Charlton Athletic. This was County’s first major honour.

The Football League restarted the next season and after initially starting well, a steady decline resulted in another drop to Division 2 being suffered in 1953, ending a spell of almost 30 years in the top-flight before 1955 saw them in the third-tier for the first time. They would return to Division 2 in 1957 as Division 3 North champs, though would remain there for the next 12 years, prior to Brain Clough and Peter Taylor joining the club in 1967 and the duo led the Rams to their greatest years, being promoted back to Division 1 in 1969 by again winning the Division 2 before finishing fourth in their first season back in the top-flight. However, the club were duly banned from European competition due to financial irregularities but this did little to stop Derby’s rise and as well as winning the more minor honours of the 1971 Watney Cup & 1972 Texaco Cup, they lifted their first ever Football League title, also in 1972 and despite not defending their title successfully the next season, they did reach the European Cup semi-finals, where they lost out to Italian giants, Juventus. Clough’s outspoken manner would eventually be his downfall at Derby and he left in 1973 having fell out with the then board. They do however have a bronze statue outside Pride Park now, so maybe that wasn’t the greatest decision!

Statue in question

It didn’t look so bad in 1974-’75 though as Derby won their second league championship under Clough’s replacement Dave Mackay, whilst also winning the Charity Shield at the start of the following season, but things soon fell apart, with Mackay and a succession of managers coming and going with Derby resultantly being relegated in 1980. Taylor would return to the club as manager in early 1983, though retired a year later just prior to Derby’s return to Division 3 in 1984. Things were more happy off the field however, as County, in threat of folding due to financial problems, were bought out and thus survived. This also led to an upturn in form which saw successive promotions (the former a 3rd placed finish in Division 3 and the second as Division 2 champions) result in the Rams being back in the top division for Season 1987-’88. A fifth placed finish was achieved in 1989, with Peter Shilton between the sticks, though the club missed out on a UEFA Cup spot due to the ban imposed on English clubs following the Heysel Stadium disaster.

The ’90’s would see Derby begin to fall away, starting with relegation to Division 2 in 1991. The formation of the Premier League in ’92 saw Derby now competing in the newly designated Division 1. After reaching the 193 final of the Anglo-Italian Cup (bring it back) where they lost out to Cremonese at Wembley, they reached the Division 1 play-offs in 1994 under Roy McFarland, but lost out to Leicester City. McFarland was sacked the next year with Jim Smith taking over and he guided Derby to second place and promotion to the Premier League in 1996. Their first season in the Prem was also their last at the Baseball Ground. With plans to redevelop their home sadly not coming to pass, the club instead built a new ground, Pride Park, and moved into their new home in 1997 after finishing 12th in their first season back in the top-flight. The Baseball Ground was eventually demolished six years later and a memorial erected in honour of its role in Derby’s city history.

After back-to-back top 10 finishes, form took a downturn and the club was relegated back to Division 1 in 2002 with both Colin Todd and John Gregory unable to save the Rams from the drop. Further financial issues saw key players sold and Gregory was suspended over alleged misconduct with George Burley brought in to replace him. After being put into receivership, Derby was again saved and after finishing a lowly 20th in 2004, the next year saw County back towards the top, finishing fourth in the Championship and making the play-offs, where they lost out in the semi-finals to Preston North End. Burley resigned early in the next campaign, Phil Brown had a poor run before caretaker-boss Terry Westley kept the club up for another year.

The Ram in the city

Billy Davies was brought in under a new regime in 2006 and he guided Derby to the play-offs once more where this time they beat Southampton on penalties in the semi-final before defeating West Brom at the “new” Wembley Stadium to ensure a return to the Premier League. That season was a horror show though, the club relegated in March whilst recording the Premier League’s lowest ever points total and equalling Loughborough’s 108-year League record of one win all season. Davies was out by that time with Paul Jewell now in the hot-seat. More new investment came in, but another unwanted record arrived the next year with Derby going most matches without a win in the English league and went just four days shy of a calendar year without a league win prior to a 2-1 success over Sheffield United.

Despite taking Derby to the League Cup semi-finals (the club’s first since major one 1976) where County lost out 4-3 over two legs to Manchester United, Jewell resigned in 2008 and was replaced by Nigel Clough, son of Brian. He led the club to safety at the end of that season but after only managing mid-table finishes in the next four campaigns, he was replaced S(h)teve McClaren in 2013 and he led Derby to the Championship play-offs after a third placed finish, but they lost to QPR in the 2014 final. Since then, they have remained a top 10 side, reaching the play-offs again in 2016, dropping out in the semis to Hull City and again this season, where they will meet Fulham.

The ram leads the sides out

The game got underway with Marcus Olsson firing in a fierce drive early on that Barnsley ‘keeper Jack Walton palmed away at full stretch, with the ball seemingly destined for the top corner. However, their reprieve wouldn’t be a lengthy one as, around ten minutes or so later, Cameron Jerome was released by Bradley Johnson and the striker fired the ball high into the roof of the net to spark jubilant scenes in the home ends, though the goal, interestingly, also seemed to make the supporters, around me at least, more nervous than they were at nil-nil. A second was needed, seemed to be the view.

It looked like it had arrived on the half-hour too, as Jerome again found the net after controlling a rebound upon Richard Keogh’s effort coming back off the bar and the Rams faithful were up on their feet once more. But their joy was cut short eventually as the realisation spread around them that the referee wasn’t pointing back to the centre-circle, but was instead signalling the striker had handled the ball, and thus a free-kick to Barnsley was awarded. Jerome’s celebrations were for nought this time and we continued at one-nil.

Match Action

Match Action

Olsson soon broke down for a second time in the half, what seemed to be a knee problem putting an end to his day with the half becoming a tighter affair as things wore on, Barnsley only really making a couple of headed half-chances during the half, Liam Lindsay putting his wide and Kieffer Moore forcing Derby stopper Scott Carson into a fairly routine save. Half-Time arrived with nerves still surrounding all ends of Pride Park, one-nil to the hosts.

The second half began at pace with Derby seeing a couple of early forays forward end with attempts being blocked. Jerome then went close once more prior to turning provider when he got clear and advanced into the area, squaring the ball to the unmarked substitute Matej Vydra who, from around the penalty spot, had the simple task of slotting the ball past the helpless Walton. Two-nil and that looked like a play-off place was safe now.

Kieffer Moore and Oli McBurnie continued to create some issues with their height for the Rams defence, seeing headed attempts drift off target though hopes of a comeback were killed off when David Nugent replaced Jerome on 65 minutes, missed a decent chance to take a shot but then almost immediately made amends when nodding in a deep cross at the back post, much to the home fans’ delight as “NUUUUGE” rang out around the ground. The Tykes fans were by this point being “serenaded” by the usual chants from the Rams fans around them (who created a fine atmosphere all match, it has to be said) and things didn’t improve for them when Tom Lawrence neatly side-footed home from the centre of goal, with me just looking up in time to see the ball creeping into the bottom corner, past the despairing dive of the ‘keeper. Four-nil.

Nugent celebrates making it three

Match Action

Match Action

Barnsley were given something of a life-line when it came to their chances of survival though as Bolton went behind to Forest and George Moncur’s fine curling effort found the top-corner with Carson rooted to the spot. With Burton also drawing with Preston, a huge cheer went up from the away end along with chants of “We are staying up!” emanating from the ranks of red shirts. However confusion reigned, with tables on many apps showing it was in fact Burton who would still be staying up on goal difference and not the Tykes, leading to a….not so flattering chant about their math skills being aimed at them from the vocal home support alongside them. To be fair, they took everything as well as they could, given the situation.

But that was that and the joy from 3 and three-quarters of Pride Park wasn’t shared by the final quarter, as Barnsley suffered the drop, with boss Jose Morais and his assistant coaching staff departing the club soon after. They were a shadow of the side who comfortably saw off Sunderland (maybe not that impressive in hindsight) early on in the season. Derby meanwhile look well set for a shot at the play-offs, though Fulham will obviously be a stern test for them in the semi, but all the best to them, especially as I do like Gary Rowett as a manager. Bolton were the ones that eventually stayed up, having completed a memorable comeback at home to Forest, consigning Burton to the drop alongside the Tykes.

I headed out quickly at the end of the game and ticked off the few roundabouts that pop up on the walk towards the A road that leads through to the City Centre. Eventually arriving in the shadow of the large shopping centre that almost creates a city wall around the area, I soon came across a pair of much-needed watering holes – namely the White Horst and Noah’s Ark – the two pubs neighbouring each other. A quick Kopparberg (£4.10) was had (thus foregoing the need for a plastic glass) in the Horse, before a stop-off in the very music-based Ark was enjoyed, with the place quickly filling up soon after my arrival. A pint of Coors (£3.30~) was fine in here before I continued on my tour of Derby and headed up towards the cathedral where I was to, hopefully, visit the Olde Dolphin. It’s apparently haunted, you know? Wooooooo.

White Horse & Noah’s Ark

Derby

Derby Cathedral

I came across the Dolphin and its somewhat threatening-looking fish thing handing from the timber-framed exterior, finding the 16th century inn to be what you’d expect from a place of that period. Small, cosy and wood all around, I was soon in possession of a Hop House (£4.20), once it had eventually settled down. Alas, I saw nor felt anything from another realm and soon took off over the river Derwent and to the Tap, which sits close by the riverbank. Indeed, you can see it from the roof terrace, though it is somewhat obscured by trees at this time of year. I doubt it’s used too much when you can see it either! Anyway, a pint of the fine Mercian IPA (£3.75) was highly enjoyed whilst up on the roof (did anyone else sing that?) before I popped back over the bridge and back towards the cathedral for a quick Spoons venture.

Located in an old bank, the Standing Order was a decent enough branch of the chain and with time beginning to run a bit tight, I opted to go for a Hooch and swiftly return back towards the station. Unfortunately, my phone’s time-keeping decided to let me down and with it not updating, I thought I had a good five minutes more than I had. As such, I dipped into the Alexandra pub on the corner of the road leading to said station and got a bottle of Veltins for the train back….only to get there and find it had left a few minutes beforehand. Great. Oh, what’s that? I’ve got an hour to wait and there’s a pub just there? Oh, go on then!

Olde Dolphin

Over the river we must go

Tap

The Brunswick would be my final stop of the day and, upon entering, was met with a pretty widespread amount of cask ale and cider. I fancied a pint of the latter for a bit of a refresh and so asked the girl serving what she would recommend. As such, I eventually ended up with a “sweet cider” of some description and it was a spot on choice too. A fine accompaniment in a nice pub and for just the £3.50 too. No complaints there.

‘Spoons

Brunswick. The Alexandra just out of shot

Eventually it was time to get back to the station once again, this time giving myself a little extra time just in case, and no problems were encountered this time, with the Veltins seeing me through the whole trip back to Manchester (via the medium of Stoke). So there ends my median trip of the weekend and it also means I have just one league ground left for the year. The game was pretty good, the ground was excellent in my opinion and the city of Derby is a lovely place too. Beers and pubs all fine and food and programme just as such. So there we go. Palace to round the league trips off next week, but before that, there’s a couple of shorter trips to complete….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

 

 

Manchopper in….Shepherd’s Bush (QPR FC)

Result: Queen’s Park Rangers 1-2 Preston North End (EFL Championship)

Venue: Loftus Road (Saturday 14th April 2018, 3pm)

Att: 13,760

As the season enters into its final few weeks, so the stakes for clubs at each end of their respective tables get ever higher. I would be heading off to watch one team who still could have a hand in the play-offs at the end of the season, and another who are all but playing for pride now. Yes, I was off to Loftus Road, one of my longer-term targets to visit and the battle of the three-named teams with three-letter abbreviations: QPR vs PNE.

Heading out of Manchester upon a packed out early morning train, I arrived in the capital once again for a quarter to midday. A quick descend down into the Underground system saw me heading over towards the Shepherd’s Bush area where I’d be disembarking in the shadow of the former BBC Television Studio building on Wood Lane. However, I had little time to “sightsee” and instead made haste in getting straight to Loftus Road and the club’s matchday ticket office, where I was soon in possession of a prime position ticket for a cool £38. Pricey for the second tier that I think!

After getting a programme from one of the nearby vendors, I opted to visit the ground’s neighbouring pub, the Queen’s Arms, which looked to have formerly been known as the Springbok, its name fitting in with the theme of the area, the likes of South Africa Road and Bloemfontein giving a very “Saffer” feel to proceedings! However, the pub has now seemingly decided to align itself (as shown by its very football-centric interior) more with its much more obvious neighbour and it seems to have worked – the place was packed out already, with a karaoke/disco thing going on whilst a guy lapped the pub with a mobile camera, filming the action. I decided to stay out on the fringes of the craziness with a pint of Hop House. For a fiver. This had been a costly few minutes!!

Queen’s

Hammersmith Park

From there, I continued on towards Shepherd’s Bush itself, walking through the blossoming trees of Hammersmith Park (and past the interestingly named Batman Close) and through the crowds shopping and browsing around the famed market there before arriving at the area’s own Green. Standing opposite said green space was my next target, the Sindecombe Social, which had some friendly doormen on duty out front and is probably the only pub I’ve been into on these trips where I’ve seen two Ferraris in a few seconds outside. More surprisingly though was that plastic glasses were in use within, on account of the match and so I opted to just have a half of the London Lager (at just under £3) in the smart, comfortable bar area before heading back on myself to another of the pubs I’d scouted out prior.

Indeed, next up was the very traditional Shepherd & Flock which is located at the very end of a row of shops and as such is a small, narrow establishment, with little room around the bar itself. That being said, this allows for a good atmosphere within, with this close-knit setting seeming to encourage strangers to interact with each other too. It was another very friendly place to visit and with a pint of Coors coming in at comfortably under £4, it was also the cheapest non-Spoons visit of the day. Kudos to them! The Rangers fans within were more than happy with the happenings at St. Mary’s too, with Southampton going two-up against Chelsea.

Shepherd’s Bush Green

That’s a bit swanky….

Sindercombe Social

After finishing up in here, I exited through a large contingent of QPR fans outside who were taking advantage of a rare appearance of that celestial ball of fire that appears every so often and cut up and back towards the ground. However, I still had some time for a final pre-match drink and there were a few options on Uxbridge Road, a trio of watering holes located in a bit of a cluster just at the far side of the ground itself. Once there, I opted to head into the Queen Adelaide for reasons of ease, but after being ignored a couple of times in favour of others, waiting a good five minutes and seeing plastic glasses in use once more, I decided to try my luck across the way in the Coningham Arms. A big difference in here where, despite being standing room only and fairly packed, I waited just a minute or so for service and was trusted with glass! I wonder what the difference is between each side of the Uxbridge Road line?!

Finding a spot towards the rear of the pub, I had my first glance back up at the screen and couldn’t believe the turnaround on the South coast, where the Blues had fought back to score three goals during my ten-minute journey over. Crazy! Anyway, after watching the conclusion of the game in the Coningham Arms, it was time to head to Loftus Road once again, with kick-off getting ever closer.

Shepherd & Flock

Coningham Arms

Heading to Loftus Road

Following the crowds around the block, I was soon back on South Africa Road and after the now usual scanning of the ticket in the turnstile, was into Loftus Road and my 46th ground of the current 92. Half-way there! A quick stop-off for a piping hot Chicken Balti pie later (£3.50), I was in my seat up at the rear of the stand and the awaiting the imminent arrival of the two teams. North End had brought a good number of fans with them and they were making a good noise from out of the School End’s top-tier.

Loftus Road is a ground with a traditional feel to it. The stands are all located close-up to the action and is fully enclosed, with the corner areas being a mix of differently laid-out sections. The South Africa Road Stand that I was in has a larger upper-tier than its lower-tier “paddock” area, though also had the occasional view-blocking pillars, though they don’t affect things too much. It also houses the hospitality areas, dressing rooms, tunnel and dugouts out to the front. Opposite is the single-tiered Ellerslie Stand, which also has supporting pillars to the front and plays host to the ground’s media gantry. Both ends (the School End and Loftus Road Stand) are fairly similar looking structures, with both featuring two-tiers of similar size and with no pesky pillars, you may be happy to hear! The School End also has a large TV screen installed on its roof. So that’s Loftus Road and this is Queen’s Park Rangers….

History Lesson:

Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club was founded in 1886, when two local sides, St. Jude’s and Christchurch Rangers, merged and the resulting club took its name from the area where the majority of the players hailed from. The club turned professional in 1889 and originally lived a nomadic existence, playing in no less than 20 stadia (a league record) prior to eventually settling at their current Loftus Road home in 1917, though QPR did have a lengthy stay at the White City Stadium through 1931-1963, in the hope of attracting larger crowds. Their first silverware came in the form of the West London Observer Cup – won in 1892 & 1893, whilst they also reached the final of the West London Challenge Cup in 1891 and lifted the London Cup in 1895.

They became founder members of the London League in 1896, though bowed out after a season and a bit, before coming back into action in 1899 and joining the Southern League. 1900 saw Rangers also enter a side in the Western League and 1902 saw a third side entered into the London League too, though the latter only lasted until 1904. 1906 saw QPR take the Western League title and 1908 saw the Southern League side match their compatriots. The Western League side also finished as Division ‘A’ runners-up twice (1907 ’09) before disbanding after finishing the 1908-’09 season. 1912 saw a second title win for the Southern League outfit (now a sole entity, playing at the Park Royal Ground, which was apparently a near-exact replica of Middlesbrough’s former Ayresome Park home) and they remained in the Southern League through until the outbreak of WWI, which also resulted in the club having to depart the ground after it was used by the Army from 1917, moving into Loftus Road for the first time. During that period, the club did win another piece of silverware, in the form of the 1913 Southern Charity Cup. After a further season in the Southern League post-war, the club became a founder member of the Football League’s Third Division South, where they remained through to World War II finishing a best of third on three occasions (1921, 1930 & 1938). Rangers also spent time playing in the White City Stadium (’31-’33), before returning to Loftus Road where they’d remain until this day, outside of a one season spell back at White City in 1962-’63 when seeking better spectator numbers.

Come On You R’s!

After WWII had ended and football restarted (Rangers had won Division B of the Wartime League South in 1940), QPR finished the first season back as runners-up before they were promoted as Division 3 South champions in 1948 and they would remain in Division 2 for the next four seasons before being relegated back in 1952. 1959 would see the club placed in Division 3 upon the league’s re-organisation, with arguably the club’s greatest ever manager, Alec Stock, arriving at Loftus Road. Stock would guide the club to the 1967 Division 3 title and he also ensured the Hoops became the first Division 3 side to win the League Cup that same season, as they overcame West Bromwich Albion 3-2 in the first League Cup Final to be played at Wembley, the final being all the more memorable with QPR having been two-goals down. Rodney Marsh netted 44 goals that season and the success didn’t end there, with Rangers going on to win promotion to the Division One the following season too, allowing the club to embark on their first top-flight foray.

Stock was “harshly” sacked over the intermediary summer, having missed the final few months of the previous year’s promotion season through ill health and this only resulted in a terrible season which encompassed three managers, none of whom could arrest the club’s slide back to Division 2 after the sole campaign. They would eventually return as runners-up in 1973, despite having sold the likes of Marsh and Terry Venables, but now with the talents of captain Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles.

After manager Gordon Jago departed early in 1974, Dave Sexton took the reins and took the club to the Division One runners-up spot, agonisingly missing out on the 1976 title by only a single point to Liverpool. Cup runs also picked up, with Rangers reaching the 1977 League Cup semi-finals, losing in a replay to Aston Villa, and seeing their first European campaign end in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup that same season, losing out on penalties to AEK Athens. Sexton would depart for Manchester United at the close of the season with his assistant Frank Sibley taking charge and, in doing so, becoming the youngest manager in Football League history at the time. Unfortunately, his appointment didn’t go well and he was soon let go. Things didn’t improve under the new boss Steve Burtenshaw either and 1979 saw the club drop back to Division 2.

Loftus Road Stadium

After the likes of Burtenshaw and Tommy Docherty had been and gone, Terry Venables returned to the club as manager in 1980 and would be in place when QPR installed a “plastic pitch” in 1981. They would lose their first game on the pitch 2-1 to Luton Town, who must have liked it as they’d then go on to become the second club to install one! However, things would go OK on the whole for Rangers and they reached the season’s FA Cup Final, which ended 1-1 after extra-time, with Spurs winning after a replay. Things would improve league wise too, with 1983 seeing the club claim the Division 2 title and returning to the top-flight, where Venables would guide them to fifth place and a place in the UEFA Cup, though ‘El Tel’ would be off to Barcelona for the following year instead, replaced by Alan Mullery.

Mullery saw the club knocked out of the UEFA Cup after losing 4-0 to Partizan Belgrade, that despite leading 6-2 after the first leg and despite decent overall form, he was sacked in 1984 with Sibley returning for a second spell in the hot-seat. Again he fared badly and was soon out once again, but not before seeing the club go on an alternating win-loss streak for three months prior to escaping the drop on the final day. Jim Smith replaced him and began life at Loftus Road well, reaching the 1986 League Cup final and finishing fifth in 1988, but denied a place in Europe due to the ban on English clubs imposed after Heysel. He would soon resign and move to Newcastle United, with Trevor Francis joining for a spell as manager. Francis lasted only a short while before being replaced by Don Howe who himself would only remain in charge for just over a season, prior to another Francis, the returning Gerry, to come back as manager.

After an 11th placed finish in 1991-’92, the club became a founder member of the Premier League. Francis would depart for Spurs in 1994 with the late Ray Wilkins taking over in his place and he started well, guiding the Hoops to eighth in the Prem and to the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, though the sale of Les Ferdinand in 1995 wouldn’t help matters going forward and the club were relegated in 1996. They remained here through to 2001, just avoiding the drop in 1999 on goals scored alone, when, after a succession of short-lived managerial reigns, the club were relegated back to Division 2 and to the third-tier for the first time in thirty years.

QPR FC

Under Ian Holloway, the club reached the 2003 play-offs, losing in the final to Cardiff City, before a runners-up placing the next season saw them successfully return to the newly named Championship. However, things soon went sour, with Holloway suspended upon rumours of his imminent departure and financial issues worsening, with things off the field even getting to the point that the chairman at the time was, allegedly, under significant threat. Even a friendly of goodwill a couple of years later against the China youth side ended in a ‘kung-fu’ brawl, which saw a visiting player KO’d and the assistant manager at the time suspended for causing a ‘diplomatic incident’!

After a pair of further managerial changes which saw John Gregory now in charge, 2007-’08 started on bad terms for awful reasons, as Rangers’ Ray Jones was killed in a car crash, aged just 19. Gregory & his replacement Luigi De Canio both left the club in fairly quick succession, though F1 alumni Bernie Ecclestone & Flavio Briatore bought the club not long after, with Iain Dowie installed. However, he would last just fifteen games before being ousted in favour of Paulo Sousa. Neither he, successor Jim Magilton nor Paul Hart would leave a lasting legacy, but under Neil Warnock, Rangers would be promoted back to the Premier League in 2011 as Championship winners, though this was almost scuppered over issues involved in the transfer of Alejandro Faurlin. This didn’t result in a points deduction, and the club’s place in the top-flight was secured.

2012 saw another F1 personality (and airline boss) Tony Fernandes buy the club and he installed Mark Hughes as manager. They would escape the drop at the end of the season (featuring in the dramatic last-minute Man City title win) and a poor start to the following season spelt the end for Hughes, Harry Redknapp coming in in his place, but this didn’t improve matters and the club dropped back to the Championship. However, their return would be a short one, with QPR returning the following season through the play-offs, Bobby Zamora netting a last-minute goal in the final to overcome Derby County at Wembley. Unfortunately for the Hoops, they would yo-yo back down again, with Redknapp departing in the early part of 2015 and the club eventually finishing bottom. Their return has been tumultuous, with Chris Ramsey, the returning Neil Warnock and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink all having short spells in charge, prior to Ian Holloway returning to the manager’s role in November 2016 and he guided the R’s to 18th at the end of last season.

The players soon emerged from the tunnel and, after the usual pleasantries, we were underway. The game was something of a slow-burner early on, taking ten minutes for the first chance of any note when QPR’s target man Matt Smith headed clear of the crossbar. However, the R’s and Smith himself would only need to wait a further six minutes to hit the target, when Manning whipped in a ball at the second attempt and Smith met the delivery to turn the ball past the North End ‘keeper Declan Rudd to give the home fans hope they could continue their recent good form.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

They came close again soon after when Manning himself forced a fine stop out of Rudd with a close-range header, but the game once again settled down after this and little would occur through until the run-up to the break. First, Preston defender Paul Huntington saw his header cleared off the line, but this reprieve would only be a short one as, just as the added-time was about to be announced, a low ball into the area found Callum Robinson running onto it and his poked effort evaded home ‘keeper Matt Ingram, making his first league start for the season and crossed the line despite the last-ditch efforts of a defender. One a-piece as the sides headed in at the break.

The interval was spent largely focussing on a sort of “Hall of Fame” double-induction, with the duo of Chris Kiwomya and Mike Flanagan going into the club known as the “Forever R’s”. I was more familiar with Kiwomya than Flanagan and I’m still not that fond of seeing players I remember from my younger days going into these sort of things. Ooh, was that my back?!!

“Grandad” proved a hit in his hat!

Packed concourse!

The second half was soon underway, allowing me to briefly forget about the quick passing of time – for 45 minutes or so anyway! Again it was the hosts who had the better of the opening exchanges, Manning again forcing Rudd into action as their duel continued. However, in something of a first-half repeat, the game would again settle into a largely even affair, with both sides struggling to create true and clear-cut chances to force either ‘keeper into action.

However, it was the introduction of a glut of substitutes just after the hour that seemed to break up the monotony, as the Lancastrian visitors would go close to taking the lead just seconds after both had made a double swap, the dangerous Robinson firing wastefully wide of Ingram’s upright, before the Lilywhites thought they had taken the lead through that man Robinson again shortly afterwards, only for the strike to be, rightfully in my opinion, chalked off for offside.

Match Action

Preston fans celebrate their winner!

Match Action

But with 15 minutes left, Robinson would eventually strike for a second time. A free-kick from out on the left was flicked on and Robinson arrived at the back-post to knock the ball over the line from a couple of yards and, despite some protestations from the Rangers players that he was again offside, this time the assistant kept his flag down. The Preston fans behind the goal were sent wild as the players celebrated in front of their travelling support, whilst the home fans around me didn’t seem too surprised by the happenings.

They would have hoped that their side could at least put the visiting defenders under pressure towards the end of the game, but this wasn’t to be forthcoming, with Rangers seeming quite blunt up front. In fact, it was Preston who almost added a third when Tom Barkhuizen (his name somewhat fitting in with the South African things too) fired just wide, but that was to be that and it was North End who’d be heading back up…well, North with the three points and their play-off challenge still on. QPR remain in their comfortable mid-table position, though will have an eye on at least ending in the top-half.

Central Bar. It’s Spoons Time!

A quick exit saw me back at the White City tube station within ten minutes of the game ending and I was soon back in Shepherd’s Bush once more, but this time I was off to the W12 shopping centre. I didn’t need to start getting any clothes or anything though, no. You see, within said centre is the local Wetherspoon’s branch, the Central Bar, named after the railway/tube line opposite. A pint of Hop House was soon in once again as I wasted away some time in here as the Grand National unfolded on TV. The lack of cheers overall showed that ‘Tiger Roll’ wasn’t on most people’s slips, at least not the majority of those in the ‘Spoons, though there were a few lucky punters who had just lucked into a good night out!

Soon after the end of the race, I returned to Shepherd’s Bush station for the tube back through to Euston where, after another visit to the trip’s end bastion known as the Doric Arch, I would catch the train back up to Manchester, catching the connection home with no issues to round off the day.

All in all, it had been a good, if fairly costly day out. The fact I’d always wanted to visit Loftus Road did lessen the impact of the £38 ticket, with the programme, food and ground itself all being of good quality. Shepherd’s Bush was a fun place to visit, with the pubs I popped into all being nice establishments whilst all being very different in their appearances. The game was a decent one too, and all travel went smoothly so no complaints can be had there and so it’s onwards into next week, where a trip over the Pennines would again see me end up at an unintended venue. Will I ever get to Emmerdale…..?!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Cardiff

Result: Cardiff City 3-1 Burton Albion (EFL Championship)

Venue: Cardiff City Stadium (Friday 30th March 2018, 3pm)

Att: 21,086

The start of the football festivities of the Easter period saw me heading down to South Wales for what I think was the first time, though I’d end up at somewhere a fair bit different from where I’d intended to be upon setting off during the morning. The seemingly never-ending rain was once again falling all over the country, affecting the fixture lists in the process, and Manchester, unsurprisingly, was no different, the overcast skies blanketing the city as I left Piccadilly station and began the journey down to Cymru.

Intending to visit Newport’s Rodney Parade, I was soon given a nasty surprise on the train over. After keeping a close eye on County’s twitter account through to Thursday, there seemed to be no issues with tickets or anything surrounding the game in general and, as such, I had no reason to be in any doubt that I’d be spending Good Friday in the South Walian city. Alas, something changed and on emergency service requests, pre-registering for a ticket was apparently made a must unbeknownst to me and I’d just so happened to have missed the deadline. Superb news. I now needed somewhere to dig me out of this dilemma, and it just so happened that the Bluebirds of the Welsh capital were playing at home too. I would be at one of the League’s clubs from over the border then, but which it was to be was still not 100% certain, as I reckoned I’d get off at Newport and try my luck anyway.

Not where I’d planned!

After getting a thorough soaking traipsing the streets over to Rodney Parade, I was soon given the unsurprising news that it was indeed impossible to secure one despite my sob story. I didn’t care much by this point as I’d have likely ended up open to the elements anyway and Cardiff became an ever more attractive proposition as the day went along. I was soon in possession of a ticket over to the capital and arrived at just after a quarter-past-one and began a quick whistle-stop tour of the St. Mary’s Street area of the city, just to the right of the station, beginning with the large Philharmonic, where I soon had a pint of the Hop House 13 in my hand, setting me back £4.50. Still, it beat getting as wet as the folks outside the window were!

Cardiff

Philharmonic

Cambrian Tap

From here I crossed right over the road to the Cambrian Tap, a place where the exterior somewhat belies what can be found within. It doesn’t look all that attractive outside (indeed I couldn’t work out if it was open from over the way), but it was and found a large array of real ales and the like awaiting inside. After being recommended the fine XXX bitter, I was given the bad news of a princely £5.50 price tag. Ah well, at least it was bloody nice, otherwise I don’t think I’d have been best pleased!

From there I continued up towards the castle at the top of the road, dipping into the Cardiff Cottage on the way, which is apparently one of the oldest pubs in the city. It didn’t come cheap either, with a pint of Heineken costing £4.20. After swiftly finishing that off, I continued on, turning left at the castle, towards the Cardiff City Stadium where I arrived, passing through the old Ninian Park gates, with around twenty minutes or so before kick-off. Luckily, I’d also dodged the rain too, which had briefly abated and the wait at the ticket booth for a grandstand ticket wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I feared. However, despite securing the ticket with a good five minutes or so to go before kick-off, I couldn’t find the “grandstand”. It turned out there actually was nowhere titled with that name really, it was just a fancy name for the North Stand, so just focus on the turnstile number as that’s the vital bit!

Cardiff Cottage

Cardiff Castle & the third ‘Spoons of the street!

Arriving at the ground

Eventually getting to my seat after five mostly uneventful minutes (no sounds of excitement had gone up, though Burton had almost scored apparently), the rain had returned over the stadium which is dominated by the Ninian Park Stand – of course named after the club’s former home ground which stood around a five-minute walk from the current stadium, with the nearby station still carrying its name. It is a three-tier structure, though the two higher red seated tiers (added upon the ground’s awarding of the 2014 UEFA Super Cup Final) were unused today and I imagine it lends a decent spectacle when full. It’s roof has a large overhang too, which again adds to its impressive look. Both ends feature virtually identical grounds which are single-tiered, feature a big screen each and curve round to connect to the respective side-on stands, the Ninian and the Grandstand, the name of this taken from the old stand of the same name at Ninian Park. This structure is two-tiered and houses the tunnel, dressing rooms, executive and corporate boxes and the dugouts are situated in front. It is, of course, an all-seater ground. So that’s the Cardiff City Stadium and this is the story of the Bluebirds….

History Lesson:

Cardiff City Football Club was founded in 1899 as Riverside A.F.C. as a way of keeping the cricketers of Riverside CC together and in shape during the off-season. The club’s first season saw them competing in friendly games at their Sophia Gardens ground – now the home of Glamorgan CCC and hosting regular England games – before 1900 saw them join the Cardiff and District League for their first competitive season. Upon Cardiff being awarded city status by King Edward VII, the club requested to the local FA to change their name to Cardiff City, however this was denied as they were deemed to be at too low a level to take on the name.

To hopefully change this view, Riverside moved into the South Wales Amateur League in 1907 and this move worked in allowing them to become Cardiff City the following year. After being forced to turn down an invitation to join the Southern League’s Second Division upon its formation due to the lack of facilities at Sophia Gardens, the club purchased their own land and moved into Ninian Park in 1910. This ground move then allowed Cardiff to join the Southern League and they were duly placed in the Second Division, with Davy McDougall becoming the club’s first manager, but he would only last a season, despite achieving a fourth placed position and winning the 1912 Welsh Cup. Under new boss Fred Stewart, Cardiff won the Second Division title the next season (1913) and thus were promoted to the First Division where they would remain through to the outbreak of WWI.

1920 saw the club lift their second Welsh Cup title and after the initial post-war season back in the Southern League, joined the Football League for the 1920-’21 season. Their first League match ended in a 5-2 Division 2 win over Stockport County and this gave a clue of the success that was to follow, as Cardiff went on to finish as runners-up on goal average only and achieve promotion to the First Division, whilst also reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup. The following two seasons saw them win the Welsh Cup for a third and fourth time, prior to their third season in the top-flight which saw the club miss out on the title by just 0.024 on goal average to Huddersfield Town after missing a penalty and drawing 0-0 in the final game of the season. The following year saw further heartache as the club reached Wembley for the first time but lost out in the FA Cup Final to Sheffield United by a goal-to-nil.

Ninian Park gates

1927 would see the FA Cup Final reached once again and this time they were on the right side of the same result as the previous season, Cardiff becoming the first non-English side to win the Cup, courtesy of a win over Arsenal. They doubled up with a Welsh Cup triumph too and went on to lift the Charity Shield at the start of the following campaign as they overcame amateur outfit Corinthians and ended it with yet another Welsh Cup success. Unfortunately for the Bluebirds, form soon fell away and 1929 saw them relegated from Division One, despite conceding the least goals of any club in the division.

1930 saw Cardiff’s seventh Welsh Cup won but just a year later they were again suffering relegation and were now in Division 3 South for the first time. They’d remain here, largely struggling, through to the outbreak of WWII, with the end of hostilities bringing the club success, with the Third Division title arriving at the end of the 1946-’47 season. 1952 duly saw the club return to the top division as they finished as Division 2 runners-up and would spend the next five seasons here before being relegated, this again happening a year after a Welsh Cup (1956) success. They soon regrouped, lifting their 9th Welsh Cup in 1959 before returning back to the Division One in 1960, once again as runners-up.

Cardiff’s mascot: Bartley the Bluebird!

Their return would last just two seasons though before another relegation would be suffered, though their Welsh Cup successes began to take on an extra significance during the ’60’s, as it became an entry point to Europe. Their tenth success in 1964 duly gave Cardiff their first crack at European competition in the form of the Cup Winners’ Cup and they won their first game over Esbjerg fB 1-0 on aggregate. They went on to reach the quarter-finals before bowing out to Real Zaragoza. The 1965 Welsh Cup success allowed Cardiff to go one better in reaching the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup, the furthest any Welsh side has gone in Europe. After securing a 1-1 draw in Hamburger, the club bowed out at Ninian Park after a 3-2 defeat. They defended the Welsh Cup in each of the 1964-1970 (bar the 1966 competition) seasons, making the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals again in 1971 where they met Real Madrid. They defeated the Spanish giants in the first leg at Ninian Park by one goal-to-nil, but again lost out narrowly in the second leg, going down 2-0 at the Bernabeu. The season would end with a 16th Welsh Cup won, meaning another crack at Europe was to come.

1973 saw yet another Welsh Cup won, though the club’s league struggles came close to peaking as they escaped relegation on goal average. They defended the Cup the next year too, but this again preceded a relegation, with 1975 seeing Cardiff go down to the Third Division, however this would last just a sole season as they returned as Third Division runners-up whilst also taking their 19th Welsh Cup to round off a successful campaign. Their league fortunes didn’t improve too much though and relegation struggles soon returned and after surviving close-calls in both 1977 & 1981, 1982 saw them return to Division 3 once again. They’d only remain there for another one season, but this time they went the wrong way, dropping down to Division 4.

CCFC

Two seasons later, Cardiff returned to Division 3 again as runners-up and won the Welsh Cup for the 20th time. The nineties started off poorly, though, with the drop again returning to Ninian Park and seeing City return to the bottom division in 1990. 1992 & 1993 saw a further two Welsh Cups won with the club returning to Division 3 upon the formation of the Premiership. The change proved to bring some luck, with Cardiff being promoted to Division 2 as Division 3 winners. Unfortunately, their stay would last just two years before relegation back would come in 1995 and the Welsh clubs competing in England were also banned from taking part in the Welsh Cup, thus making Euro campaigns harder to accomplish. After finishing Season 1995-’96 in their lowest League position of 22nd, they would turn things around to reach the play-offs in 1997, losing out in the play-offs, but were promoted again in 1999 after finishing in the third promotion spot.

One season back in Division 2 followed before relegation, but they flipped that coin to last just a further year back in Division 3 before getting promoted back again as runners-up (benefitting from Chesterfield’s nine-point deduction) and winning the FAW Premier Cup, whilst also surviving an attempted renaming by the owner at the time to the horrendous sounding Cardiff Celts and changing colours to green, red and white. Success followed on the pitch though with 2003 seeing the club promoted through the play-offs (after missing out the previous year), beating QPR to return to Division 1 at the Millennium Stadium. The club remained in the First Division/Championship through to a 2006 take-over by Peter Risdale and went on to reach the FA Cup Semi-Finals in 2008 (their first for 81 years), where they beat Barnsley 1-0 and reached the final, losing out to Portsmouth.

Statue

After losing out at Wembley in the 2010 Championship play-off final to Blackpool, another take-over came the same year (the red-shirts, Vincent Tan one) which saw Malky Mackay come in as manager and guide the club to the League Cup Final for the first time in 2012, whilst further play-off semi-final disappointment followed, this time at the hands of West Ham United. 2013 saw them bypass the play-offs though and take the Championship title, though a struggle at the start of their first Premier League campaign saw Mackay ousted in favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The change didn’t work and Cardiff were relegated at the end of their sole season to date at the current top-flight level. Solskjaer left early in 2014-’15, with Russell Slade coming in, though his appointment again failed to change matters and he left the club with Neil Warnock joining the Bluebirds in October of 2016 with them second-bottom in the Championship table. A good run of form saw them end up 12th last season, with this season seeing the side break the club’s existence-long record by winning their first four matches. They currently sit 2nd and on course to return to the top-flight as it stands.

The match continued on and just ten minutes after my arrival the first goal arrived and it was the hosts who took the lead. Junior Hoilett was sent away down the left and the Canadian squared the ball into the area for Kenneth Zohore who finished smartly. The Bluebirds were away and on their way again in their quest to achieve, at the very least, the second automatic play-off place.

However their lead didn’t last long and they were soon pegged back by the visiting Brewers, who I’d only seen against leaders Wolves at Molineux a couple of weeks earlier. A poor piece of play allowed Lloyd Dyer to force his way forwards and after advancing into the box, he slid the ball across the six-yard box where veteran journeyman Darren Bent arrived to turn the ball home and level up the scores. One-a-piece and game on once again.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The vocal Cardiff support to my right weren’t silenced much by this set-back and they continued to drive on their side, with the very small band of Burton fans away in the far corner of the stadium unable to really make any sort of effect. Ten minutes later, Cardiff came close to forcing their way ahead once more when Joe Bennett’s free-kick found the head of Sean Morrison and his effort was kept out by Stephen Bywater between the Albion sticks, before Nathaniel Mendez-Laing beat Bywater to a long-ball out on the touchline, prior to advancing inside and pulling the ball back for the unmarked Craig Bryson who only had to seemingly side-foot home into the unguarded net. However, Bryson seemed to lose his footing or something and his effort went just wide to the disappointment of both himself and the home support.

Dyer himself went close shortly afterwards as Burton looked to reply, but City’s overall pressure did eventually tell before the break when a long-ball was flicked on by Zohore to the onrushing Mendez-Laing who continued on and hammered the ball high past the helpless Bywater and into the roof of the net. A great time to score they say and Cardiff certainly won’t have had any complaints about the timing! Half-Time duly arrived shortly afterwards with the score still at two-one and I headed into the concourse to find a bite to eat, eventually coming away with what looked like the last hot-dog. With little seemingly left to choose from, I was just pleased to have gotten something and it was a fair size too.

Half-Time in the concourse

After watching the final straggling half-time scores arrive on Soccer Saturday, it was back up to the seats for the second half. Little of note was to occur in the opening quarter-hour of the period, before Morrison headed home from a corner, only to see the “goal” ruled out for an infringement on the ‘keeper. A lucky turn for Burton the Brewers’ fans may have believed, but the reprieve only lasted three minutes when the ball fell to the feet of Callum Patterson in the area and he fired home to give the home side a crucial two-goal advantage and almost certainly made the three points sure to stay in South Wales. Gary Madine almost added a fourth immediately after coming on, charging down an attempted Bywater clearance, but the ball eventually ran wide of the target, saving any embarrassment for the stopper, before the introduction of Aron Gunnarsson, returning from injury, seemingly provided the highlight of the day for many in the stadium today!

Match Action

Match Action

Full-Time scoreline

Cardiff continued to look for further strikes to add gloss to the score, with both Marko Grujic and Madine both being denied by Bywater, before the whistle arrived to signal another three points for the Bluebirds as they look to return to the Premier League for the second-time. A further defeat for Burton makes their situation ever more bleak, but they wouldn’t have expected to gain much from this one, most likely. A quick exit back out of the old Ninian Park gates was made before continuing on back towards the station.

Passing over the River Taff and close by the Millennium Stadium (which was hosting the big Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker fight the next day) as I went. However, it wasn’t to the station I was headed just yet. No, it was the two Wetherspoon’s pubs close by that took my fancy, the first coming in the shape of the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was probably the slightly more interesting of the two, being located in an old theatre building and dominated by the spiral staircase right in the midst of it. A swift Punk IPA was had in here and then it was on to the second of the pair, the Great Western, located just a minute or so from the station’s entrance.

Millennium Stadium & the Taff

Prince of Wales

Great Western

With time beginning to run down to something of a premium, I decided that a Hooch would suffice in here and after a short time over it in the old, grand-looking inn building, it was back off to Central station and to grab the train straight back through to Manchester. The journey was completely trouble-free once again and I got back with time I hand which meant it’d be rude not to pop into the Piccadilly Tap and end off the day in there. A pint of Hogan’s cider went down well (I’d have an even better day with it on the Monday) before heading back to the station for the final leg of the journey home.

So that was an unplanned trip to the Welsh capital, which means the only capital I’ve left to visit within the UK is now Belfast, unless you count Douglas of course. The day ended up being a very enjoyable one and I look forward to returning with some extra time to have a look around properly. The pubs were on the dear side it must be said, though nothing too extortionate, and the game and ground were both decent to see and watch from. The programme was also a good read (£3) and no issues were to be had with the food. It’s all good for Round One of the Easter weekend and it’s onwards to Hucknall for Saturday’s game of the day….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Wolverhampton

Result: Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 Burton Albion (EFL Championship)

Venue: Molineux (Saturday 17th March 2018, 3pm)

Att: 29,977

**Having delayed writing both this and the Wigan blog due to personal reasons, both may be a little on the inaccurate side with regard to the day’s overall events. That being said, I don’t have an awful memory when it comes to this side of things (other things may be more selective), so let’s get on with it and see how it goes….**

With the season rapidly approaching its climax, blog regular Dan and I had picked out this very context from far earlier in the season. With it being apparent from quite early on that Wolves would be one of, if not the, Championship’s front-runners come the latter stages, the chance for me to visit a likely near-capacity Molineux wasn’t one that I was looking to pass up in a hurry. It also helped that Dan had a Wolves membership, on account of him having family ties to the area, and so the first of this week’s double-header began with the train journey down to the West Midlands city.

Despite the best efforts of the “Beast from the East pt.2”, there was little to no disruption experienced and I arrived at a little before mid-day before heading straight into the “Moon Under Water” Wetherspoon’s, situated just a few minutes walk from the station. The bracing wind and occasional snow flurries made the ‘Spoons an even more attractive proposition than usual and I was quick to dive inside and have a pint of Punk IPA within my grasp. Another positive was that I happened to come across a recently vacated table too which, considering how full the place was with football and non-football folk alike, was no mean feat. Draught Punk is something else and the fact you can get it fairly cheap and ever more freely in these fine establishments (including the one nearest me now too!) is just adding to the pleasurable experiences!

Bohemian

Old Still in the snow

I have to own up at this point and say that this was the first of many a pint in my quest to get as drunk as I possibly could due to said reasons and the exploits would continue on beyond my departure from Wolverhampton. The fact I managed to get to Wigan in a remarkably good state is nothing short of a miracle tbh! Anyway, next up was the Bohemian, a cool little bar just a few doors down. Once again, I timed my arrival to perfection as, no longer than five minutes after I’d settled in with my pint of Hop House 13 (which at under £4, wasn’t too bad), the place began to become fairly packed, as more Wolves fans began to venture out – the bar being just a few minutes away from Molineux. I however was headed away from the ground, as I wanted to go and have a look at the historic St. John’s Church. It also helped that there happened to be a pub round the corner but God must have spite me again as the pub ended up closed and, having had my brief look at his apparent “house”, I was left to traipse back over to the town centre and thusly the ground.

I had already stopped off en route to the church (take that seer of all) and popped into the packed out Old Still Inn, having had the choice between that, the Duke of York opposite and the Billy Wright (named after a footballer) just up the road. With a heavy snow shower passing over the city, my decision was made hastily and it was a good one, the pub having a good atmosphere and being cheap too – not that I can remember what I had unfortunately.

Wolverhampton

St. John’s Church

Following my sightseeing tour to the church, my fourth stop came along in the form of the Dog & Doublet which I’d picked out as a definite stop prior to the trip. It proved another popular venue too, as again it was standing room only for a while before a table again happened to come available right opposite where I’d happened to place myself and await Dan’s eventual arrival and release from Dad duty. No such offspring issues for me (my word, could you imagine!) with my (I think) pint of Coors taking my attention at the time!

From there it was onwards up to the ground where I was to meet Dan, who’d been delayed on his way, and head straight in. I had other ideas, though, and had scouted out a nearby place on the quiet, namely Lounge 107, located just a couple of minutes from the ground’s far side and opposite the Asda. I convinced Dan that the visit would be worthwhile and upon arriving I again had (this could be incorrect remember) a pint of Amstel which was on the cheap side once more. The only downside was the fact the pints came in plastic cups (not that this would affect the taste of Dan’s Carling of course), though this was highly understandable considering how busy the place looked to have been prior to our arrival.

Dog & Doublet

Heading to Molineux

Lounge 107

After swiftly finishing up, we headed right over to the ground and joined the long and winding queues outside the Steve Bull Stand. A quick bit of crowd judgment saw me pick out where a shorter queue had formed and so we jumped a good five minutes of time ahead of a number who weren’t as lucky! The steward who searched me said something regarding my camera, but I didn’t really listen and just agreed with whatever he said. I probably disobeyed as it was, but hey-ho it’s been a couple of weeks. Safely inside, a quick visit to the food bar was undertaken where I plumped for….something (I think it was a pie, but may have been chips as they’re the only two things I usually get) and I’d guess it was around the £2-£3 mark! I told you this may be a bid bad, but do stick with me, the match and ground descriptions will be more factual….I hope.

Molineux is a very tidy ground that is pretty impressive too. All stands are, of course, all seater with the largest being the Stan Cullis Stand, a large two-tiered affair that towers above the other three structures. Both the Steve Bull and the Billy Wright Stands are similar in size with both being interesting in that they curve away from the field of play in the middle in a sort of crescent shape. The former is the oldest stand in the ground, dating from 1979, with the Billy Wright being the Main Stand, which duly plays host to the tunnel, dugouts and hospitality boxes. At the other end of the ground, the Sir Jack Hayward Stand is a one-tiered stand that doesn’t quite run the full width of the pitch and so, squeezed in at one side is a small open, temporary seating stand though this wasn’t in use today. This is (so I’ve read on the Football Ground Guide) referred to affectionately as the ‘Gene Kelly Stand’ as you’ll likely end up “singing in the rain”. The corners of the ground are open, though two are populated by replay screens. So that’s Molineux, and this is Wolverhampton Wanderers….

History Lesson:

Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club was founded in 1877 under the name St. Luke’s FC by two pupils of the school of the same name after they’d been presented with a football by the headmaster. They played their first game in January the same year against Stafford Road prior to merging with local side The Wanderers FC to form Wolverhampton Wanderers and they’ve carried the name ever since 1879.

After short spells at a pair of local pitches, the club moved to their first substantial home at Dudley Road in 1881 and it was here that Wolves would lift their first silverware, in the form of the 1884 Wrekin Cup. Later turning professional, Wolves were nominated to become one of the twelve founding members of the Football League in 1888 and subsequently played the first ever League match to be staged, when they took on Aston Villa. The first league season saw the club finish up in third place whilst also reaching their first FA Cup Final that same year where they lost out to double-winners Preston North End. Come the end of the season, Wolves moved into their current Molineux (derived from the nearby Molineux house) home where they have remained ever since.

The club won their first FA Cup title in 1893, beating Everton one-nil in the final before returning to the final three years later in a losing effort. A second triumph would follow, though, in 1908 – when the club defeated Newcastle United despite having been relegated to the Second Division for the first time a couple of years earlier. However, this was to be their last success for a while, as the club’s form dipped around the years of World War One and, despite another FA Cup Final being reached in 1921, relegation to the Third Division (North) was suffered in 1923. They would go on to win the division and return to the Second Division at the first attempt though and 1932 saw the club back in the top division after winning the Division 2 title. From here, Wolves, under Major Frank Buckley and his monkey-gland extract injections, went on to establish themselves as one of the leading sides in the country leading up to World War Two, finishing as league runners-up in both 1938 & 1939 and reached the final pre-war Cup final where they suffered a shock loss to Portsmouth, prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

Stan Cullis Stand

Following the sport’s resumption, Wolves were beaten to the title on the final day for the second time (after the 1938 season) when they lost out to Liverpool in a result that handed the title to the Merseysiders. This game was also the final appearance in a Wolves shirt for club legend Stan Cullis, though Cullis did become manager of the club just a year later. In his first season in charge, Cullis would guide Wolves to their first major trophy in forty-one years when they defeated Leicester City to win their third FA Cup title and a further year later saw the club again come within agonising distance to taking the League title, but lost out on goal-average only.

The 1950’s spawned the most successful period in the club’s history, as they embarked on a silverware spree. The league title was finally won in 1954 and again in 1958 and 1959 and became the press-proclaimed “Champions of the World” after they defeated Hungarian outfit Honved, a team that featured many of the famed Hungarian side of the era. These competitions would also help to promote the creation of the European Cup, which Wolves would become one of the first English clubs to compete in. The first success led to the club’s only outright Charity Shield win too, with the latter leading to their third (and so far last) share of the trophy, after a couple of previous occasions of sharing in 1949 & 1954.

The 1960’s began with a fourth FA Cup success (and almost the first 20th century “double” – Wolves lost out on the Division 1 title to Burnley by a solitary point) but form soon dropped off into a decline. Cullis was relieved of his duties in 1964 and, despite this, the end of the ’64-’65 season saw relegation suffered for the first time in three decades. However, this departure from the top-flight was only a brief one, as they returned in 1967 as Division 2 runners-up. The close season of 1967 saw Wolves take part in a mini-season in North America as part of the fledgling United Soccer League, which featured clubs from Europe and South America. Wolves became the Los Angeles Wolves for this short stint which saw success as they won the Western Division and ultimately the Championship after defeating Eastern Division winners the Washington Whips.

Welcome to Molineux

The return to the England’s top-flight saw a good start and a fourth-placed finish in 1971 led to a place in the newly formed UEFA Cup, as well as lifting the Texaco Cup (which included home nations (and the RoI) who had narrowly missed out on European competition). They would go on to reach the final of the inaugural season of the UEFA Cup, defeating the likes of Juventus along the way, before losing out on the trophy to Tottenham Hotspur, 3-2 on aggregate. 1973 saw the club win the League Cup for the first time, beating Manchester City in the final, but again form dropped off and relegation occurred once again in 1976. A quick return was secured as Wolves immediately won the Second Division title once more and 1980 saw a second League Cup success when record-signing at the time, Andy Gray, scored the only goal as Wolves overcame reigning European and League Cup winners Nottingham Forest.

The rebuilding of the Molineux Street (latterly Steve Bull) stand in 1979 almost led to financial ruin for the club and this took a toll on the pitch. 1982 saw the club in receivership and relegated to Division 2, with the club only saved from liquidation at the eleventh hour. The initial funds from the takeover brought another immediate top-flight return, but these investments soon dried up and Wolves dropped through the leagues, three consecutive relegations seeing the club in the bottom division. 1986 saw them again in receivership, with the council purchasing Molineux and its surrounding land from the club and this seemed to improve the state of play sufficiently as to allow Wolves to reach the inaugural Fourth Division play-offs but were denied promotion in the final by Aldershot. The final two seasons of the 1980’s saw the club begin to climb back up through the divisions though and they would go on to win both the Fourth and Third Division titles to return to Division 2 for Season 1989-’90. 1988 also saw Wolves add the Football League Trophy of 1988 to the Molineux trophy cabinet via victory at Wembley over Burnley.

Sir Jack Hayward purchased the club in 1990 and his funds not only helped make Molineux a much more modern, all-seater stadium, but also then went into helping the team on the field. Playing in the newly designated Division One, the club reached the play-offs in both 1995 & 1997, but lost out at the semi-final stage on both occasions. 2003 would finally see Wolves promoted to the Premiership for the first time, with it being a case of third-time lucky with regards to the play-offs as the club overcame Sheffield United three-nil under Dave Jones. Unfortunately their top-flight return was short-lived, as Wolves were relegated after that sole season.

Steve Bull Stand

After a failed attempt at a return under Glenn Hoddle, Mick McCarthy led the club to the play-offs in 2007, before winning the Championship title in 2009. They would remain in the Premier League through to 2012 when they were relegated under McCarthy’s former assistant, Terry Connor. The managerial changes came thick and fast, with the club’s first overseas manager, Stale Solbakken lasting just six months before being replaced by Dean Saunders in January of 2013. This didn’t improve matters and relegation to League One was suffered come the end of that season, with Saunders being sacked and replaced by Kenny Jackett. He took the side back into the Championship at the first attempt, setting a new club-record points total and Tier 3 points record in the process. Jackett would remain in position through to 2016, when a change in club ownership and personnel saw his contract terminated in favour of Walter Zenga.

As often happens in these cases, the appointment was unsuccessful and Zenga was out after 14 games with Paul Lambert brought in instead. He too lasted a short time, only until the end of the season in fact, with former FC Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo taking his place. So far, the Portuguese has had a highly successful debut season in England, with Wolves leading the way in the Championship and looking a good bet for a third stint in the Premier League come next season.

The sides entered the field not long after we’d taken our seats and therefore we were underway quickly. The game took a while to heat up in the cold temperatures, though the first real shot on goal would produce the opener, when Helder Costa received a long ball from Conor Coady and fired beyond Stephen Bywater and into the corner of the net. One-nil to the Championship’s leaders.

Costa celebrates his opener

More chances would follow for the hosts, with both Ruben Neves and Ivan Cavaleiro testing Bywater from a fair way out and Costa and Romain Saiss both shooting off-target. Despite this, Burton were never quite out of it. The Brewers created the odd crossing opportunity here and there and also had a decent penalty shout turned down mid-way through the half, so you felt Wolves would need that second goal to well and truly give them breathing space.

It duly came four minutes before the break. Neves played a fine through ball for Benik Afobe to run on to and the striker ran clear and fired high past Bywater and into the top corner for two-nil and that, in truth, looked like game over. The Burton fans next to me (they’d gained tickets from Marston’s or something along those lines) weren’t too happy, but still applauded both the home goals. It turned out the guy (whose name obviously escapes me now) had been following Albion for over half a century and so had enjoyed their rise from non-league also-ran’s to second-tier competitors. Not a bad experience and quite a few new grounds and fine trips involved there I’m sure!

Match Action

Match Action

They were to feel a fair bit more optimistic just a few minutes later as Burton grabbed themselves a lifeline from out of nowhere. After forcing a corner on the right-flank, the resultant ball in was only half cleared and Lloyd Dyer’s fizzing low drive found the net, despite John Ruddy getting a touch on it. Two-one and the game was still very much alive as the players retired to the dressing rooms for a team-talk and a warm!

The second half almost shadowed the first early on, in that the initial stages of play saw little in the way of action until a goal came along. The crucial fourth strike would go to the hosts and it was Afobe again who would find the back of the net, the former Arsenal man recovering the ball from the grounded Ivan Cavaleiro and guiding the ball away from Bywater and into the corner. Three-one and that, surely, was that.

After Afobe almost immediately forced the ball over the line for his hat-trick, the remainder of the game saw little in the way of action for the most part, with only the odd chance going the way of the hosts, whilst Burton seemed to adopt something of a damage-limitation mindset – which was understandable. The highly impressive Cavaleiro again went close when he beat a couple of defenders but shot wide, before Bywater denied Costa a brace of his own, staying big to deny the Wolves forward at point-blank range.

Match Action

Match Action

At some point during the latter stages, my Burton supporting neighbour got into some kind of spat with a Wolves fan behind him, with him complaining about his seat being repeatedly nudged. The guy responded that he ought to sit forward then and that really ought to have been that. But it continued between the two without moving on much and I took little interest, until one of the most childish insults ever heard on Earth was thrown out by the homer as he said “Ooh, your nose is running too!”. Really?! I got involved at that point, told them to grow up and leave it before he tried to complain to me. I made it clear that I was watching the game and that was all I was bothered in and not a peep was heard afterwards. Some things are far, far more meaningful and I was not at all in the mood for that kid of utter bullshit.

Anyway, that was that and a quick exit was made with us heading back through the underpass and towards another church spire. Our altar was to be found within the nearby Cuban Exchange though were a further pint was enjoyed before we moved on back into the centre and what with it being St. Patrick’s Day and all, we reckoned it’d be rude not to join the Irish in celebration. As luck would have it, an Irish bar was located not far from the station and just happened to be on our route back over. What were the odds?

Church action

Irish McGee’s

Prince Albert

Irish McGee’s Bar was another that was absolutely hammered, as I’m sure were a fair few in there, especially one guy in the loos who was talking to a guy who’d since left and was still going on to himself, only to eventually realise after a good twenty seconds or so. Dan too got in on the act, enjoying the karaoke far too much, though he’s lucky the pics are far too blurred to possibly be on here! After a couple of pints in here enjoying the festivities, we headed to the station neighbouring Prince Albert for a final one (as Dan had never been in despite his many visits) prior to getting my booked train back. The journey was a swift one, as I fell asleep for a good hour of it!

Returning back into Manchester, Dan headed off home whilst I finished off back in my parents’ Three Barrels bar once again to end off the day. Wolverhampton had provided a good day, the game was more than decent, Molineux itself is a fine ground, the city is worth a visit if only for the amount of pubs alone (luckily there’s numerous non-league outfits to return for) and the travel had been cheap and non-problematic. The Irish bar had also added another positive on the day. Next up was a trip over to Wigan and their big FA Cup quarter-final tie with Southampton….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Bermondsey (Millwall FC)

Result: Millwall 4-1 Barnsley (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: The Den (Saturday 6th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 5,319

The first weekend of the year arrived and, as is the norm, it featured the return of the FA Cup and the turn of the big boys to enter. The Prem sides bring with them the supposed “glamour” ties for those lower in the pyramid of course, but then there are the few Championship sides who also rock up as part of the late intake of the 2017-’18 year. It was to be one of the latter set of clubs that I would be visiting for Third Round day but I did have one issue come the previous evening before I travelled down to the capital. I had made no definitive decision on where I was actually about to end up. That was soon put to bed though…

My interests are usually peaked by those grounds that are under threat for one reason or another (having visited Brentford’s Griffin Park for last year’s Third Round & the Boleyn the season before that) and so I’ve had QPR’s Loftus Road on my list for some time now, though this doesn’t seem to be in any imminent danger of leaving us as it stands. One that does seem in some strife, sadly, is the (New) Den – home of the infamous “Lions” of Millwall. What with this and always having been interested in the stories that surround the Den and what have you, I decided that said ground would be my host for the first Saturday of the year. So after setting off at just after eight in the morning, I was soon arriving into Manchester for the train down to the smoke.

A very trouble-free journey down resulted in an early arrival into Euston which made the connection onto the tube all the more simple, although, having found the right line, I did contrive to almost board the train heading in the opposite direction. No eventual worries, though, and I was soon heading across the city and over into the shadow of the Shard where I’d catch the train for the short hop over to South Bermondsey station. Upon arriving here, I reckoned I’d be best served sorting my ticket early and so I made haste for the Den and was soon handing over my £15 which would allow me entry in a few hours time.

Arriving at Bermondsey

Southwark Park

From there I was headed back towards the river, around a 25 minute walk away, though I did try and get an answer on whether I could use my travelcard on the bus which runs just past the ground. Having been told something resembling a “yes” and a probable “no” from the staff and stewards I came across, I reckoned I’d be best served playing it safe and set off on foot.  As I continued onwards towards the Thames, I bypassed a few decent looking pubs en route and kept one back, the Ancient Forester’s, for after the game. I wouldn’t end up there though.

Cutting through Southwark Park and the King’s Stairs Gardens, I was soon in Rotherhithe and, more specifically, the (dated 1620~) Mayflower which claims to be the place from which the ship of the same name began its journey over to the “New World” with the Pilgrim Fathers on board. Indeed, the mooring outside is apparently the very place, though I didn’t see it myself today. Instead I set up shop inside the packed bar with a pint of Blue Moon. This did set me back the eye-watering £5.80, but considering how brilliant this oak-beamed place is, it was worth the little extra. It is also, apparently, the oldest pub on the banks of the Thames, so is well worth a visit…for cultural reasons, of course!

The Mayflower

The Ship

Canada Water

With the pub continuing to get busier – to the point it was getting pretty cramped for room – I decided it was high time to head slightly back on myself and to another pub just round the corner I’d passed on my way to the Mayflower. Passing the church and along the old workshop-lined cobbled street, I arrived at the Ship Inn. The Ship was a far, far quieter affair with only myself and other chap within and it was fairly cheap (in comparison anyway), with a pint of Amstel coming in at around £4.50. It was in here that I also decided I’d get a bit lazy and, instead of walking the short distance towards the town centre, I’d jump on the train at Rotherhithe and undertake the, what I thought, was a one-stop journey. It was two, but this did allow a circumnavigation of the Canada Water. I’d clearly been inspired by these Ship-related pubs….

Eventually I arrived at the town’s own Wetherspoon’s, which was a pretty uninteresting affair. A refreshing Hooch (£2.20) later and it was time to continue on just down the road to my final pre-match stop, the Farriers Arms. This was another decent little old-school boozer and was nice enough to spend twenty minutes in whilst watching the second half of the Fleetwood-Leicester early kick-off. This wasn’t too inspiring and I hoped my game held better as I began the short walk over to the Den.

‘Spoons

The Farriers

En route to the Den

Passing by a factory and under railway arches, the ground soon reappeared in front of me. With the area around the ground still seeming fairly quiet, I bought a programme (£2) and headed around to the front of the Main Stand for a quick picture prior to returning around to the Dockers Stand where I’d be watching today’s game from in the upper tier. Upon entering, I made sure of grabbing a pie for around £3.50 before heading out into the stand where, upon trying to locate somewhere close to where my seat is, a guy told me to “just sit anywhere”. I took his advice, though decided to stay in the same area I’d been given. This proved to be an interesting decision, as I soon seemed to be within some of the more vocal home support. This could be fun!

The New Den is a really nice ground in my opinion and sprung to my attention during Millwall’s play-off run the previous year. Despite being fairly new compared to some other grounds around, it still looks more traditional, having escaped the now usual bowl-like build seen all over the country. It hosts four separate stands, albeit fairly similar, with the Main Stand opposite us housing the tunnel, dugouts and hospitality areas. The Dockers Stand is a similar construction, with both being two-tiered affairs with good views over the action on offer. The wonderfully named Cold Blow Lane end stands to the left with the away fans travelling from Barnsley today housed just to the right in the stand with no name, at least visibly anyway! Both are also two-tiered, with the band of Tykes faithful given a section of the upper tier. So with all that out of the way, but before we get into the game, here’s the story of the Lions….

History Lesson:

Millwall Football Club was founded in 1885 as Millwall Rovers by workers of a canning and preserve factory in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. Their first venue was on waste ground on Glengall Road where they played for just one season before moving to the nearby Lord Nelson Ground. In 1886, the East End Football Association created an East London FA Cup, which Millwall shared with London Caledonians having drawn 2-2 in the inaugural final. They then went on to win three straight East London Senior Cup titles between 1887 & 1889 which ended with Millwall being allowed to keep possession of the trophy having won it on each occasion they entered.

1889 saw the Rovers suffix replaced with Athletic as Millwall moved to the Athletic Grounds (still on the Isle of Dogs) which was the club’s first purpose-built ground. They’d remain here for the next eleven years until the land was reclaimed by the Millwall Dock Company for a timber yard. Their stay here was a successful one though as the club became founder members of the Southern League in 1894 and went on to win the title in each of the first two seasons of the league’s existence. The club followed these triumphs by entering a second team into the new United League in 1907 (with their first side still competing in the Southern League) and winning that twice too, these coming in 1897 & 1899.

Millwall F.C.

The turn of the century saw a strong start as Millwall Athletic reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1900 prior to their enforced move from the Athletic Grounds to North Greenwich. They became Millwall FC in 1903 and made a second FA Cup semi-final appearance that year. Following this, the club would switch from their second side from the United League to the Western League. Additionally, a third team was then added to the London League in 1902 too! 1903 saw the club drop its Western League side with their London League team winning the 1904 title prior to this team leaving to return to the Western League in 1905. The Western League outfit would win the Division 1 ‘B’ title in 1908 & 1909 prior with those being its last season before Millwall became a one senior side club through to the present day (bar 1946-’47 when they had a second side in the Southern League once more).

This all preceded the club’s move to the original Den in 1910 situated in the New Cross area of South London, a move away from their East London foundations. The first match here was against the reigning Southern League champions Brighton & HA, which Millwall won one-nil. They remained in the Southern League with little success through to the outbreak of WWI and had a sole season following the war (1919-’20) here too prior to joining the Football League at the end of that season, with the Southern League making up the majority of the league’s clubs making up the newly formed Third Division South. They won their first League match against Bristol Rovers 2-0 at the Den. They continued to become league challengers over the next few seasons before finally winning the Third Division South title in 1928 and being promoted to Division 2. They’d spend the following six seasons here before dropping back to the Third Division South in 1935 after finishing second bottom.

After again making the FA Cup semi-finals in 1937, the club would achieve a return to Division 2 in 1938, again as Third Division South champions. The outbreak of WWII made their return a short one though, with just a sole completed season played in prior to the abandonment of the Football League during hostilities, though they did appear in the Football League War Cup Final against Chelsea at Wembley in 1945 as the war entered its final throes. The Den had suffered heavy damage during the war (both through air raids and cigarettes burning down a stand) so the club were forced to play at Charlton, Palace and West Ham during the war-time competitions. Following the end of the war, Millwall returned to the league in 1946-’47 and continued on in Division 2, but lasted just that and a further season before being relegated again.

The Den

After successfully applying for re-election to the league in 1950 after finishing bottom of the league, the club finished as Division 3 South runners-up in 1953 but no promotion was forthcoming with only the champions going up. But a downturn in fortunes saw the club struggle towards the bottom of the table and end up being founder members of the new Division 4 in 1959. After winning the title in 1962, relegation soon followed two seasons later but only a sole season was encountered back in Division 4 as the club went up again, this time as runners-up. Better things were to follow immediately as the club went straight through Division 3, again going up as runners-up and found themselves in Division 2 for Season 1966-’67. This spell encompassed a 59 home game unbeaten record. The club would remain here through until 1975 (including hosting the first ever Sunday Football League game in 1974) when they were relegated back to Division 3, but once again only one season was taken before the club bounced back after taking the third promotion spot.

Relegation was again suffered in 1979, but this time it took six seasons for Millwall to escape the third tier, though they did win the Football League Group Cup in 1983 (the predecessor to the FL Trophy). Going up as runners-up in 1985, the Lions would spend three seasons in Division 2 before finally achieving promotion to the top-flight in 1988 as Division 2 champions under John Docherty. They competed up towards the top for a long while during their first season at the top level (with my all-time footballing hero Teddy Sheringham at the forefront) and even topped the league for a short time. They ended up 10th before again leading the table early on in the following season before horribly falling away and being relegated at the end of 1989-’90. After losing out in the 1991 Division 2 play-offs, the creation of the Premier League in 1992 saw Millwall now playing in the newly designated Division 1 where they remained through their move from their long-time home at the Den to their current New Den ground in 1993.

Finishing third at the end of their first season in the New Den, the club lost out in the play-offs before a drop in form saw relegation suffered in 1996, Millwall returning to Division 2. That season saw financial issues which resulted in a short-lived period in administration but things slowly recovered and the Lions reached the 1999 Football League Trophy final after a run which included a win on the (maligned or missed?) golden goal rule against Gillingham.  They’d lose out to Wigan Athletic in the final, with the Latics again pouring misery on the club the following season by knocking Millwall out of the play-offs. However, this proved to matter little as Millwall won the title the next season and returned to Division 1, reaching the play-offs at the end of their first season back but losing out again in the semi-finals.

Millwall-This is the Lions’ Den

2003 saw the club reach the FA Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium under player-manager Dennis Wise and in Jeff Winter’s last game as a pro ref (his is a good book, I recommend it). This ended in a 3-0 loss to Manchester United, but did ensure the club were the first club from outside the top division to make the final since 1992. This meant a place in Europe for Millwall too, though a short-lived campaign was ended by Hungarian outfit Ferencváros. Division 1 was re-designated the Championship in 2004 and the club lasted a further two seasons when a large turnover of managers resulted in relegation in 2006. The club remained in League One through to 2010 when they reached the play-offs for the second successive season and beat Swindon Town to ensure a return to the second tier after four years.

Another FA Cup semi-final appearance followed in 2003 before Kenny Jackett left the club having become its fourth longest-serving manager. The sacking of his successor Steve Lomas in 2013 allowed Neil Harris his first taste of management (in a joint-caretaker role) prior to Iain Holloway being appointed soon after. His stay was short, leaving in 2015 with Harris returning as sole caretaker this time, though he couldn’t save the Lions from the drop. 2015-’16 saw better for Harris as he led Millwall to fourth place and the play-offs, but the club suffered defeat in the final to….Barnsley! Last season saw a successful one at the Den as the club knocked Premier League sides AFC Bournemouth, Watford and PL champions Leicester City on their way to the quarters. The end of the season saw Millwall make the play-offs again, after a sixth place finish, and this time they were successful, the Lions beating Scunthorpe in the semi-finals before defeating Bradford City in the final at Wembley.

After the strains of fine Millwall club anthem “Let ’em all come down to The Den” (which followed after each home goal too) had faded away, we got started with both sides staying fairly cagey but, as with all cup games, the tie was opened up on ten minutes as the visitors surged ahead. A cross in from the flank by Adam Hamill found its way to Brad Potts in the middle of the area and the Barnsley man had no trouble in sweeping the ball past home ‘keeper David Martin. One-nil to the Tykes and the home support went silent for a short while.

Millwall responded and a goalmouth scramble following a corner in the middle of the half almost saw them draw level before the Barnsley defence managed to scramble the danger away, before the Yorkshire side came close to doubling their advantage when striker Tom Bradshaw fashioned a chance for himself but saw his effort deflected out for a corner of which nothing came of. From there, though, Millwall began to find more of a foothold in the contest and they levelled with around ten minutes of the half remaining as Aiden O’ Brien got in to fire beyond Adam Davies.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Jed Wallace then went close to giving the hosts the lead late on in the half, but after just about beating Davies to the ball, his toe-poked effort went narrowly wide of the target and this ensured that both sides would head in at the break level-pegging, in what was a pretty fair reflection of the game so far. The half-time was pretty uneventful and so I’ll press straight on and get into the second half which was almost all one-way traffic.

About one minute after the whistle to begin the second half had blown, the Lions were in front. The Millwall dangerman of the day, O’Brien, added an assist to his earlier strike, providing a low cross for Ben Thompson to latch on to and fire past Davies for 2-1 which cued much celebration and hand-slapping within the group I was with in the home end, myself included. Anyway, this setback proved to be one that the visitors would never recover from and their cause was made all the more difficult when, just minutes after the hosts’ second strike, Joe Williams flew into a challenge on Wallace. The home players and fans alike weren’t too impressed with the challenge and the referee shared their view, giving Williams (one of three on the pitch) his marching orders, the Barnsley man giving the tunnel a boot on his way down it. Whether that was disappointment in the decision or himself, I don’t know. I wasn’t sure about generalisation of the “Dirty Northern Bastards” chant, though!

From there on it was all Millwall which, allied with some “interesting” chants being sent Barnsley’s way, I guess made for a fairly miserable experience for those who’d made the trip down. Five minutes or so after the red card had been unfurled, it was game over as Millwall’s third goal arrived. O’Brien was again at the fore of the attack, taking on Wallace’s wayward shot before coolly picking his spot and sliding past Davies from just outside the area. They quickly added a fourth on the hour when Fred Onyedinma was played in, found himself clear of the defence and finished clinically. The only question now was if Millwall would add more to their tally.

Match Action

Match Action

The answer to that was a pretty resounding “no” as the game pretty much petered out into nothingness and the final whistle arrived to signal Millwall’s passage into the Fourth Round and end what was, in the end, a one-sided game but one that was a decent watch too. A quick exit followed for me and, despite heading out the wrong way, I was soon back on the right track and heading back to the entrance to the station. However, my pub plan soon came into force when I saw the number of people stood on the raised platform and with more still heading up the ramp, I reckoned a post-match beer would be the best option. As I headed down the road back towards the Foresters I came across a sign which read “Eebria” and something about beer. The problem was this was pointing me through a shady railway arch and down a dark and seemingly lifeless back alley. Still, nothing ventured and all that so it was beer or something less than pleasurable. Luckily, it was the first! Two back-street pop-up craft beer bars within the arches came upon me and, after visiting the further one down for a can for the train home, I headed back to Eebria where I soon discovered there was only one drink left on. With a two-thirds pint costing £4.80, it wasn’t cheap, but it was certainly good!

They soon ran out of this beer too and this, from what I could gather, ended the bar’s trading for the night! One of the guy’s owning it was happily stating the loss of just one glass all night just when another was elbowed off one of the tables and ended in pieces on the floor. Smirking at his resulting bemoaning of the loss, he spotted me doing so and, laughing, said as much. I told him I knew the problem all too well, having dabbled in the line of work of late in my parents’ bar. After sharing some views on brewery’s etc. it was time for me to head over to the station for the first leg of my journey home. Soon back onto the tube (this time without any issues of wrong directions) I was quickly getting back into Euston whereupon I decided that I needed to use some facilities and oh, that’s right, the Doric Arch is right there isn’t it? What luck. A pint of the lovely Frontier (again not too cheap at just over £5) accompanied me through to the time to return to the station for the train back to Manchester. The trip back was made up of programme reading and drinking the fine canned beer which you can see below. Decent!

Eebria

Train accompaniments

So that ends my account of my trip to Millwall. It’s good to have ticked off one of those I’d always wanted to and especially so with the ground’s future being, sadly, in doubt. Hopefully it all works out preferably for the Lions. The day itself had been fairly costly, though I’d still saved, of course, on the ticket price. Pubs were decent, ground was good and the game was somewhere in between. All in all it had been a good one. Hopefully the Fourth Round sees some games fall favourably as I’m stuck in Walsall without a game….!

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 5 (cut-back issue I think)

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Sheffield (Sheffield United FC)

Result: Sheffield United 0-1 Bolton Wanderers (EFL Championship)

Venue: Bramall Lane (Saturday 30th December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 28,387

With the wet weather once again playing havoc with fixture lists the length and breadth of the country, thus it was the case that my intended game at Cheshire League outfit Billinge fell victim to the prolonged rain around the North West. This was hardly a surprise, mind you and, as such, I had a few options up my sleeve that would ensure a more successful pursuit of a ‘blog game’ than Boxing Day had turned up. Eventually, and after much umm-ing and ahh-ing about whether it was truly worth the expenditure I’d be soon paying out into the economy, I set off headed for Sheffield and the third club I’d have visited that carries the city’s name.

Unitedites may be unimpressed to hear that I’ve visited both their fierce rivals and the club that formerly called Bramall Lane home before them, however I’d hope they may be kind and be of the opinion it was a “saving the best ’til last” situation! Bramall Lane had certainly been on my list of ‘must visit’ grounds and thus I was more than happy to finally get the chance to “tick” it during the final weekend of 2017, whereas there has often been something cropping up to send me elsewhere. For today though, and as I mentioned earlier, it was roles reversed and so having headed through Manchester (where it looked as though I’d be slightly delayed by rail works, which should apparently benefit us according to those defending yet another unadulterated fare rise) I managed to make my intended train which had been delayed and we set off, packed in like sardines, around five minutes late. These “improvements” can’t come soon enough (though delays would be beneficial later in the day!).

Heading through the snow-capped Pennines, I arrived in the South Yorkshire city at just before half-past midday. Getting my bearings eventually, I decided to forgo a stop in the much visited Sheffield Tap for now and instead head more into the centre. On my way there, though, I reckoned I’d be best served stopping a little earlier and making a plan of action. As it was the Roebuck gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that, though the pint of Moretti wasn’t cheap, coming in at £4.50. The Roebuck was a nice enough establishment though and, in obviously having no colours, I had no issues at this time, despite the proclamation of “no away fans”.

The Roebuck

Sheffield

Bell. Must be important.

From there it was onwards through the Peace Gardens and past the grand-looking town hall before finding myself approaching a large funfair carousel, which had a surprisingly large amount of adults taking advantage of it whilst a small band played at some volume alongside it. This wasn’t a distraction I was about to partake in and instead I was headed for Bungalows and Bears. No, not another type of ride but a large bar situated just a few blocks down. In here, I spotted the interestingly named Leodis lager which is brewed in Leeds and this seemed nice enough during the small taster I had. Pint purchased at £4.20, I soon discovered it had a fairly strange aftertaste, which definitely lingered and made it a difficult one (for me at least) to polish off fairly quickly. It was still a nice pint, though, so no real complaints there.

Onwards again and just a few doors is the Great Gatsby. A pub with a bit of a varied food menu it seemed (though I admittedly didn’t take too much notice), I had a quick pint of Somersby cider (£3.50) in here before heading a little further down the street and to the Devonshire. Upon entering, the waiter asked if I was ok, as I tried to locate the (as it turned out) well-signed facilities. I answered that I was, but for some reason decided to also inform them of my next move before doing some sort of awkward laugh. Don’t ask, I have no idea. For even more unexplainable reasons, I then also reckoned I should make a bit of a joke out of this with the barman, but then discovered I was having something nearing drunk conversation whilst being nowhere near drunk enough to not be finding it cringeworthy. I can only apologise for the mental scarring I left in my wake!

Sheffield

Bungalows & Bears

Great Gatsby

After polishing off my second consecutive pint of cider, which I haven’t made a note of the name but was decent for £3.80, whilst in the shadow of a bicycle hung on the wall near the doorway, I headed onwards to Bramall Lane, forgoing my plan to head to either the Brewdog outlet or the Cricketer’s Arms alongside the Lane itself in favour of leaving one of these until after the game. Following the crowds through the many underpasses (where I purchased a programme for £3) I arrived at the ground and found the away ticket office first thing. After a quick peruse of the outside of the Lane, I deduced that this would be the quickest, and easiest, way of getting in by this point and so I was soon a full £29 lighter but was into the home of the Blades and the oldest professional football ground in the world.

Bramall Lane dates from 1855 and its original usage was as a cricket ground, playing host to Sheffield United CC and Yorkshire CCC and remained as one through to 1973, with the final year including Yorkshire hosting Lancashire in the Roses clash. The ground hosted its first football match in 1862, a clash between Sheffield FC and Hallam FC. Both clubs are still competing to this day, of course, Sheffield currently playing at the Coach & Horses ground in Dronfield (but with plans to move back to the Olive Grove area of the city) and Hallam still at their original home ground, Sandygate, in the Crosspool area of the city. Bramall Lane also played host to the first ever floodlit football match, this game being played back in 1878 between two Sheffield FA representative sides. It had also hosted ‘The Wednesday’ (current day Sheffield Wednesday) prior to United’s formation and subsequent occupation of the ground following Wednesday’s departure to a ground at Olive Grove.

Devonshire

Arriving at Bramall Lane

My first memory of the inside of Bramall Lane is that of being met by the putrid smell of a blue smoke bomb that had been let off just as I made my way through the turnstiles. By the time I had a steak pie in my grasp (£3.50), it had all but cleared. Anyway, from there it was out into the away end just behind the goal in the East Stand where we had a bit of material hanging above us, protecting from anything that may be dropped down from any badly behaved Blades fans above! Opposite us stood the Kop End, with its lesser-spotted open steps up to the rear visible. To the right stands the South Stand which is a fairly standard issue large construction and houses the tunnel and dressing rooms and features the dugouts out front, whilst the North Stand opposite is far more appealing to the eye (not in the marrying an inanimate object sort of way, though some may have these feelings), with its gable on the roof giving that traditional feel to it, despite it being far more modern than Barnsley’s, for example. This stand has also had both corners filled in, with the corner adjoining the Kop playing host to the Family Stand and the one closest to us being offices. The executive areas are also housed within this stand. So, ground description done, here’s the lengthy back story of the Blades of Sheffield United….

History Lesson:

Sheffield United F.C. was founded in 1889 as an offshoot of the Sheffield United Cricket Club at the Adelphi Hotel which stood on the site now occupied by the Crucible Theatre, famed in snooker circles. After Wednesday had left Bramall Lane following a dispute over rent, United’s football arm was formed after a large crowd turned up for a FA Cup semi-final between Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion at the ground. Having seen the appetite for a permanent club here, it took just six days after the semi-final for the club to come into being and they became a professional entity almost immediately.

United’s first season consisted of friendly matches and local cup games, though they did also compete in the FA Cup and reached its Second Round, defeating Football League outfit Burnley in the process. However, their next game saw them meet Bolton Wanderers who recorded the club’s record defeat: 13-0. This persuaded the committee of the club that regular, competitive league games were needed for the club to progress and they duly joined the Midland Counties League for the 1890-’91 season. They had already played a club from this league during their previous season, meeting Notts Rangers at Meadow Lane.

After a sole season in the Midland Counties ended in fifth place, the club switched to the Northern League where they finished third at their first attempt in the new league. At the end of the season, the club applied for a spot in the expanding Football League First Division but failed in their attempt to take one of the two new spots available. Instead, United were allocated a place in the newly created Second Division with the Alliance Clubs, taking advantage of the demise of Birmingham St. George’s. Their start to the league was a success, securing promotion to the First Division at the end of 1892-’93, after finishing runners-up to Small Heath and defeating Accrington in a “Test Match”. The club then went on to better things, enjoying a 37-season stay in the top-flight, which apparently remains a record for a newly promoted side.

SUFC-Forged in Steel

United were League runners-up in 1897 before going one better and winning the title in 1898. As a result, they played and won an unoffical two-legged tie against Scottish Champions Celtic, which was billed as a “Champions of Great Britain” game. 1899 saw United lift the FA Cup with a 4-1 victory over Derby County at the Crystal Palace before starting the new century as League runners-up of 1899-1900. Further FA Cup Final appearances at the Palace in 1901 an 1902 saw fluctuating fortunes, with United losing to Southern League Tottenham Hotspur in the ’01 final before defeating Southampton of the same league the following campaign. The next highlight for United would see them return to the Cup Final in 1915, this time defeating Chelsea at Old Trafford to lift their third Cup title.

After the end of WWI, it took the club until 1925 to reach the Cup Final again, with their first Wembley final ending in victory over Cardiff City. This would also be the club’s last win in the competition. 1934 saw United relegated to the Second Division, the first relegation the club had experienced. Coming close to promotion in both 1936 & 1938 (finishing third on both occasions), the club made it third time lucky in pipping rivals Wednesday to second place at the end of the ’38-’39 season, securing the runners-up spot in the last game. The club began the next season well, but this was curtailed after the outbreak of WWII, though United continued strongly in the wartime League North competition, winning it in 1946.

After WWII, United fell away somewhat and were relegated again in 1949 and saw roles reversed the next season as Wednesday pipped United on the last day to take promotion. After long serving manager Teddy Davison stepped down, Reg Freeman guided United to the 1953 Second Division title before tragedy struck as Freeman passed away in the summer of 1955. That coming season saw the Blades relegated to the Second Division once more. They remained here through to 1961 when they went up as runners-up and reached the FA Cup semi-finals but bowed out in a second replay to Leicester City. However, relegation wasn’t too far away and Blades suffered the drop once more in 1968.

Promotion was again achieved in 1971 to see the club return to the top-flight. Here they went on a fine run that saw them top the table after a long unbeaten run before eventually being usurped. This success brought about the move to make Bramall Lane a football-only stadium, with a fourth stand being added in 1975. This didn’t see any great success immediately, though, and after a sixth place finish and just missing out on UEFA Cup football in 1975, the club were relegated the next season. After a bit of financial trouble on the back of the drop, relegation to the Third Division for the first time followed in 1979. Despite World Cup winner Martin Peters taking the reins in 1981, the club’s fortunes only worsened and relegation followed at the end of the season with United now in the bottom rung of the Football League, with a missed last-minute penalty making all the difference between survival and the drop.

The Blades

Peters was replaced by Ian Porterfield and this coincided with a return to form for the Blades. The Fourth Division title arrived in 1982 and 1984 saw promotion back to Division 2 sealed, with Hull City just failing to defeat United by the three goals they required to take the 3rd promotion spot away. Following Porterfield’s sacking in 1985-’86, a few managers followed before Dave Bassett came in shortly before the club dropped back to Division 3 in 1988. Bassett oversaw two successive promotions over the next two years which saw the Blades back in Division 1 in 1990. After a couple of seasons in the “old” Division One, the club were allocated a place in the newly formed Premiership in 1992 and Brian Deane scored the first ever goal in the new league for United in their 2-1 loss to Manchester United.

A couple of up-and-down seasons preceded relegation in 1994, the club going down on the final day, with Bassett lasting one further year before leaving the club. 1997 saw United lose out in the play-off final which was repeated in 2003 when they lost out at the Millennium Stadium to Wolves, though this season did see high points with runs to the semis of both the FA and League Cups. 2006 saw United end a twelve-year stint in the second tier, finishing runners-up in the Championship to achieve promotion to the Premiership. Alas, their return was a short-lived one, the club returning to the Championship after a single season, despite an appeal again West Ham after their controversial signings of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez.

2009 saw the club again lose out in the play-off final, but worse was to come in 2011 when they dropped to the League One. Being regulars in the play-offs early on, the club lost out in both 2012 & 2013, with the first campaign seeing the Blades again pipped to automatic promotion by their city rivals. A FA Cup semi-final appearance in 2014 was the highlight of that season with 2015 seeing the club reach the League Cup semis and the play-offs, with the latter again ending in disappointment in the semi-finals. 2016 saw United finish in their lowest position since 1983, 11th in League One, before Nigel Adkins was replaced by current incumbent Chris Wilder. Wilder turned things around after a sticky start to last season and guided the Blades to automatic promotion as Champions, ahead of Bolton and in doing so became the fourth club to win a title at each of the four levels of League football and the first not to be a founding member. In finishing top, the club also broke the 100 goal barrier and are currently chasing a play-off finish this campaign.

We got underway soon after and I got talking a little to the guy next to me after I’d spotted his Hyde United tracksuit and enquired on what had brought him to the game. It transpired that their game was off and, having had ice hockey during the evening, decided to join one of their group in joining the Bolton faithful. I think that’s right, anyway! The game was something of a slow burner, with little in the way of action to get truly excited about within the first twenty minutes or so.

But the 21st minute saw the Wanderers grab the lead. A good move down the left led to a fizzed cross that Gary Madine got to first and poked home from around six yards. The in-stand battle of Madine vs Billy Sharp was being led by the Bolton man, with Sharp being less than popular with the travelling support due to some happenings during a previous clash apparently.

Match Action

Match Action

Aerial Attack

United soon made a tactical switch, with former Spurs man Cameron Carter-Vickers being replaced by George Baldock and the sub soon went close, forcing Bolton ‘keeper Ben Alnwick into a decent stop. The Blades continued on from there and could have levelled before the break with Leon Clarke getting clear but seeing his effort stopped by the outstretched leg of Alnwick in what was a superb stop. This ensured Bolton would head in with their lead intact against the play-off chasing Blades, half-time seeing the score remain 0-1.

Following a fairly uneventful break, the second half soon got underway following a call to arms by the PA guy to get the fans behind the hosts and drive them on to better things. The second half saw more of the same really as Bolton sat back on their lead and invited United onto them. United were, of course, only too happy to oblige and saw centre-back Jack O’Connell go close, as he nodded a cross from a free-kick just wide.

Sharp was replaced soon after much to the delight of most of those around me as the home side looked to try something different in their quest to draw themselves level. Baldock was again denied by the impressive Alnwick and the gloveman was imperative in Bolton’s efforts to hold their lead. They were helped out by some wayward shooting as well, with United’s Clayton Donaldson and Baldock firing off target. By that point I’d changed view to the back of the stand and we soon entered six minutes of injury time which largely consisted of me having to help calm down a pacing Wanderers fan who was struggling to cope with the nerves of the elusive Championship away win being within touching distance.

Scramble!

Match Action

Match Action

The dangerous Baldock continued to look most likely to rescue something for his side, but his efforts went astray, as did a late, late effort from Samir Carruthers that flew just wide as Bolton hung on to grab that win over their League 1 promotion counterparts from last season and I was grabbed by the fan during his emotional release! After a quick stay to watch the celebrations from the travelling Lancastrian support I joined the masses outside and reckoned it was probably best to forego the Cricketer’s as a stream of Blades supporters headed in to ease their disappointment.

I decided to miss out a few other watering holes en route back to the station, as I reckoned being back in the Tap and, therefore the station, was the best option. That is until I arrived back and decided to check the timings on the off-chance of a delay. Of course, delays aren’t an off-chance are they? There it was, a few minutes late and enabled me to grab the train back to Manchester an hour earlier than expected which also flew past in the company of the fine programme. By the time I’d finished up reading the “bible” the train was pulling into Piccadilly and a short walk later completed my trip.

So on the whole it had been a decent, if pretty expensive day. £29 isn’t exactly easy on the pocket (I wouldn’t like to be paying out that sort of money every week), but it was worth it, just about, as it had given me the chance to visit the historic Bramall Lane after a decision on the morning of the game, which isn’t always necessarily possible at Champo level. It was nice to actually spend some time visiting the city for once and with the game itself being a passable watch, it was just about worthwhile on the whole. Next up is the first game of 2018 and a visit to the clash of the clubs that have something Manchester United-y about them somewhere along the way….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Programme: 8

Food: 6

Value For Money: 5

 

 

 

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