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

 

Manchopper in….Preston

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

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

Att: 7,380.

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

The prettier front of Preston Station

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

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

Fishergate

Preston

Old Black Bull

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

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

Fishers

Bull & Royal

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

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

Bear’s Paw

Blue Bell

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

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

Today’s Game

Arriving at Deepdale

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Deepdale

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

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

Sir Tom’s famed moment

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

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

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

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

On the concourse

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Travelling Toon Army

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Punk & Programme

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

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 5

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

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Bolton

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

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

Att: 23,376

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

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

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

Bolton

Bolton Town Hall

High Street

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

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

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

Old Three Crowns

Old Man & Scythe

The Dragonfly: both real & virtual football!

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

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

Heading to the ground…

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

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

Nat Lofthouse statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Middlesbrough

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

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

Att: 28,198

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

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

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

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

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough

The Isaac Brown

The Isaac Wilson

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

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

The Medicine Bar

The Medicine Bar

Space!!!

Space!!!

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

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

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

The first underpass

The first underpass

First sighting...

First sighting…

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

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Ayresome Gates & legends Mannion & Hardwick

Ayresome Gates & legends Mannion & Hardwick

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

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

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

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

Strange structure outside ground

Strange structure outside ground

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

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Leadbitter nets from the spot!

Leadbitter nets from the spot!

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

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

Timmy Mallett doing the half-time draw. Yeah.

Timmy Mallet doing the half-time draw. Yeah.

Its Parmo-O'Clock!

Its Parmo-O’Clock! Yeah!

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

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

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

Oxford celebrate their leveller

Oxford celebrate their leveller

Match Action

Match Action

Crowd Action

Crowd Action

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

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

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

Doctor Brown's

Doctor Brown’s

Last Orders

Last Orders

Last stop...Yates'!

Last stop…Yates’!

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

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

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

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

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RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 7

Food: 10

Programme: 5

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Brentford

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

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

Att: 7,537 (1,428 away)

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

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

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

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

Arriving in Brentford

Arriving in Brentford

First stop...the Princess Royal

Fir…well, second stop…the Princess Royal

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

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

The Griffin proving popular

The Griffin proving popular

RB Leipzig represent

RB Leipzig represent

Completing the challenge: To the New Inn

Completing the challenge: To the New Inn!

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

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

Onwards to Griffin Park

Onwards to Griffin Park

I think this is the place...

I think this is the place…

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Buzz

Buzz

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

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

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

On the concourse...

On the “concourse”…

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

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

Heading in

Heading in

Here come the sides!

Here come the sides!

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

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

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

Challenge

Challenge

Match Action

Match Action

Barbet nets the opener

Barbet nets the opener

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

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

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

Beseiged

Besieged

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Final Score.

Final Score.

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

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

Post-match lights

Post-match lights

Doric Arch to end the day

Doric Arch to end the day

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

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

Match Action

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 8