Manchopper in….Nottingham (Nottingham Forest FC)

Result: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Bolton Wanderers (EFL Championship)

Venue: City Ground (Sunday 5th May 2019, 12.30pm)

Att: 27,578

The final weekend of the EFL’s season “proper” saw a chance to get in a ground that had been a long-term target, both because of its ease of access transport-wise and because, well, I’ve always wanted to go! Dan had also had the City Ground on his ‘to-do’ list for some time as well and so when the chance came around to watch them entertain a Bolton Wanderers side that had been decimated by all the things that have been rather well covered over all kinds of media, it wasn’t going to be passed off. To Nottingham!!

Grabbing a train during the early(ish) morning, we arrived in the East Midlands city for around 11am and swiftly made use of our plus-bus tickets to get over to the ground and collect our tickets. With time of the essence due to the early kick-off, Dan opted to get to his seat early as to allow me a bit of extra time over a pre-match drink in the Southside Bar just at the head of the road and across from the Trent Bridge. Tickets collected and with mine safely tucked away in the programme (£3), I made my way to the pub which I felt deserved custom as they trusted all with actual glasses and not like a group of people who were about to attack each other at any moment! The Amstel wasn’t all that cheap, coming in at a smart £5.20, but that didn’t matter – it would have done if the glass was plastic!

Heading over the Trent to the City Ground

Southside Bar

Nottingham is a city and unitary authority area in the East Midlands of England and has legendary links to Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest area. The settlement itself may pre-date the Anglo-Saxons with Welsh traditions stating a place known as the Brythonic “Tig Guocobauc” meaning “Place of Caves” though under the Saxon chieftain with the attractive name of Snot, the area became Snotingaham (the homestead of Snot’s people).

The city’s castle was constructed in 1068 with the area around the Lace Market being largely the only place confined to inhabitation by the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman Conquest saw it expand outwards to become the Borough of Nottingham. On the hill opposite the castle stood a French settlement supporting those Normans in the castle, though the space between the two was built upon eventually and more defences created, some of which are still visible. As Richard the Lionheart returned from the Crusades, the castle was inhabited by supporters of Prince John – including the Sherriff of Nottingham though Richard soon besieged and captured it.

Old Trent Bridge (and pub behind!)

During the 15th century, Nottingham became a trading centre for locally made religious sculpture and became a “county corporate” in 1449 giving it self-governance, though both the castle and Shire Hall remained parishes of the wider Nottinghamshire county itself. The industrial revolution saw the city grow into a textile stronghold – especially in the form of lace making (with the Reform Act championed by the Duke of Newcastle leading to his residence at Nottingham Castle being torched) – though this declined by the end of WWII with little remaining. The municipal borough formed in 1835 was expanded to take in nearby areas such as Carlton, Basford and West Bridgford (Forest’s home) and then in 1889, Nottingham was awarded county borough status and 1897 saw it become a city as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria. Trams were used in the city in 1901 until 1936 and were reintroduced in 2004.

Finding a place in the packed-out pub, I supped away at the pint in my hand whilst watching the Soccer Special build-up around the country taking place before returning back to the City Ground for a couple of exterior pictures prior to heading inside and up to the rear of the dominant Brian Clough Stand. For some reason, everyone was packed into the rows all around me despite there being two perfectly good (and empty) rows directly behind. Of course, I wasn’t passing up that opportunity and so I took my newly self-designated seat with a nice bit of room to relax into as the teams entered the pitch – Bolton’s younger squad taking on members making up most of the side today, though some first-teamers were back in after an agreement was found for them to end their “strike”.

Nottingham

The City Ground is quite an interesting ground to my eye and is, of course, an all-seater affair that sees the large two-tiered Brian Clough Stand tower above the other constructions around it. At both ends are fairly similar sized stands opposite each other, with the one housing the away fans being a smaller two-tiered affair, whilst the other end features a “Kop”-style stand. The older Main Stand is located along the opposite touchline from the Brian Clough. That side also hosts the dugouts, boxes etc. and all the other needed facilities. That’s the City Ground in short and this is the story of Nottingham Forest….

History Lesson:

Nottingham Forest Football Club was founded in 1865 by a few ‘shinty’ players at the city’s Clinton Arms pub, where it was agreed the players would wear twelve red tasselled caps which were then titled the ‘Garibaldi Reds’ – after the leader of the Italian ‘Redshirts’ fighters and thus the club colours came into being. They played their first game against local rivals Notts County in 1866 and began a multi-sporting existence whilst also donating kit to Arsenal to allow them to play and started their own red and white existence as well as embarking on a tour to South America which saw Argentine side Independiente take on the colours and become “Red Devils” (as Forest were called out there). Forest entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1869 and beat County at the Beeston Cricket Ground before going out in the semi-finals to Old Etonians.

Their application to join the newly-formed Football League in 1888 was rejected, with Forest instead joining the Football Alliance from 1899 and this was won in 1892 thus giving the club the platform to enter the league that time around, which led to Forest’s first FA Cup triumph as they took the 1898 title with victory over Derby County. They remained in the First Division until 1906 when they were relegated after a steady slide down the table over the years, though would return after just a season away after winning the Second Division. Despite this, a second relegation would be suffered in 1911 and the club had to seek re=election in 1914 ahead of WWI and the cessation of the League.

NFFC

Upon the end of the war, Forest missed out on a place in the newly-expanded First Division and took up a place in the second tier where they were again promoted as champions from in 1922. A three-year stay in Division 1 followed though they would be again relegated after finishing up bottom this time around with the club remaining in the Second Division through to 1949 when they dropped into the third-tier. Promoted back to Division 2 after two years, Forest reached the First Division once more in 1957 and 1959 saw them lift their second FA Cup via victory over Luton Town. A title challenge in 1967 saw Forest just fall short as runners-up to Manchester United but a swift decline followed which again resulted in relegation from the top-flight in 1972. Forest’s legendary manager Brian Clough took over at the start of 1975 and after a rather inconspicuous start went on to turn around the club’s fortunes, beginning with a comfortable defeat of Leyton Orient to win the 1977 Anglo-Scottish Cup and going on to feature promotion back to Division 1 come the season’s end.

This promotion led to Forest immediately winning their first Football League title in 1978 (becoming the most recent team to achieve the feat in their first season post-promotion) and then made this a double by defeating closest league rival Liverpool after a replay in the Football League Cup Final. The next year began with the Charity Shield being won via a 5-0 thrashing of Ipswich Town and their unbeaten 42-game run was eventually ended in December of 1978 as Liverpool in European Cup competition. This record was only eventually broken by Arsenal in 2004 just prior to Clough’s passing, though Forest did, of course, go on to win the Cup with a 1-0 victory in the Munich final over Malmö and then beat Southampton to lift the League Cup for a second consecutive time, though Liverpool did gain revenge in the league as Forest had to settle for 2nd.

They successfully defended their European title the next year by overcoming Hamburg in Madrid having already defeated FC Barcelona in the European Super Cup at the start of the season. A third League Cup final ended in a narrow defeat at the hands of Wolves, whilst a disappointing 1980-’81 Euro campaign saw an early exit to CSKA Sofia and defeat in the Super Cup to Valencia and in the Intercontinental Cup, Forest were bested by Uruguayan outfit Nacional. 1984 saw the club beaten in the UEFA Cup semi-finals by Anderlecht though 1988 did see Forest win the Football League Centenary Tournament by beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties, with the decade ending with the 1989 Full Member’s Cup won against Everton and the League Cup Final against Luton Town was won 3-1, though the FA Cup run to secure a cup treble that year was marred by the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool went on to win the re-arranged game 3-1.

Brian Clough Stand

The 1990’s began with Forest retaining the League Cup with a 1-0 win over Oldham Athletic and the following year saw Clough reach his one and only FA Cup final, but would suffer an extra-time defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. 1992 saw the Full Members Cup won again and despite missing out in that year’s League Cup Final to Manchester United, Forest finished 8th in the table and therefore qualified for a spot in the new Premier League for the following campaign. However, Forest would be relegated at the close of the first Prem season, with Clough duly leaving Forest – though, fittingly, his son Nigel netted the last Forest goal under his tenure.

An immediate return was secured the next year by a returning member of the 1979 European Cup winning side Frank Clark who led Forest to 2nd in Division One and after finishing third at the end of their first season back, qualified for the UEFA Cup and reached the quarter-finals but things turned sour soon after and the club were relegated in 1997 but again bounced back at the first go, this time by winning the Division One title but their yo-yo existence continued with relegation in 1999. They would remain in the second-tier through its name change to the Championship and finished 6th in 2003, losing in the semis to Sheffield United. However, their struggles outside this season continued and the club were relegated to League One in 2005, becoming the first European Cup winners from England to drop into the third-tier.

2007 saw a healthy lead at the top squandered before a defeat in the play-off semi-final to Yeovil Town consigned Forest to another season there, but this one was successful as Forest achieved automatic promotion. After an initial struggle upon their Championship return, they reached the 2010 & 2011 play-offs (losing out to Blackpool and Swansea City in the semis respectively) though a change in ownership began a managerial merry-go-round and instability therein with nine managers (not including temps) being installed over around a 6-year period before a further ownership change saw little change in this vein with a further three coming and going over the most recent two-year-or-so period ending with current incumbent Martin O’Neill taking over from Aitor Karanka at the beginning of 2019. Forest had been continuing their mid-table existence after ending up 17th last season.

Entering the ground

The game got underway with Forest quickly asserting themselves, though they never really got going as it seemed they reckoned Bolton were there for the taking. Indeed it would be Wanderers who would have the first true sight of goal, when Josh Magennis forced home ‘keeper Luke Steele into a low stop. This early mini-scare seemed to spur Forest into action and after Joe Lolley had an attempt kept out around the 20 minute mark, his second just before the half-hour resulted in the opener, a low drive fizzing past Bolton stopper Remi Matthews to give the home fans something to cheer.

Match Action

Match Action

Robin Hood is a keeper.

Unfortunately that was pretty much that in terms of action for the first half and the break featured a host of young players from around the area (especially Arnold Town’s kids) showing off their talents before the players returned to the field – with Bolton’s being given a very sporting welcome by the home support, I guess in recognition of their struggles this season. A nice touch.

Anyway onto the second half and as per the first period, very, very little of note happened for the best part of half-an-hour as Bolton fans amused themselves by unveiling an anti-Ken Anderson banner for a very short time and a number of inflatables – including a giant penis which went up and down like….well, you can probably guess what the rest of that sentence would be. Back on the pitch, we finally had an attempt on goal with about fifteen minutes left on the clock, Forest’s Adlène Guédioura forcing Matthews (who had a pretty good game between the sticks when called upon) into a stop low to his right.

Match Action

Match Action

A sum up of Bolton’s season?

As the game entered the final few minutes, the chances began to increase a little and Bolton’s Magennis again went close, guiding a header straight at Luke Steele, whilst substitute Daryl Murphy nearly sealed the home side’s win minutes afterwards, but headed wastefully wide before then shooting off-target moments later. As it was, that would be that and the misses weren’t to be punished as Forest held on to seal a top-ten finish in the table, courtesy of other results going for them – not that it will be particularly celebrated, I’d assume. Bolton, meanwhile, will be surely happy to just see the end of the season finally come around….and hope they have another to come. Fingers crossed all works out for them.

Dan and I’s post-match plans included a visit to the “World Famous” Trent Bridge Inn – which had become a Wetherspoons in a move I’d missed somehow and so I opted for a Punk IPA here whilst Dan stuck with his disgustingly trusty Carling. I’d also spotted that the original Trent Bridge crossing was still standing in the midst of the dual carriageway opposite and, always one for culture(!), I wanted to have a quick peruse of said bridge before heading back into the city centre to sample a few more of its historic hostelries. By looks, the bridge really was only lacking the troll under it!

Post-match riverside

Bell Inn

Ye Olde Salutation – wrong ‘Olde’ again!!

Catching a bus from outside the nearby cricket ground, we were soon back in Nottingham and just around the corner from the Bell Inn – though I didn’t realise just how historic the place was when I picked it out back in the Bridge. The site has been a pub since medieval times and still looks to date from the 1600’s or so in the smaller bar area, whilst the rear was more grandeur and showing the football – Huddersfield-Manchester United, just to punish us. Dan opted for the 2x£5 Budweiser bottle offer here whilst I went back on the Amstel (£3.80) once again, before we continued onwards on our route back to the station via the short walk over to another historic pub – the Old Salutation Inn.

When you look at it from outside, you think of a quaint, little old place full of nooks and crannies within and, whilst this is true for the most part, what you don’t really expect from the outside is that within it is a house of hard rock and the like. Really crazy and it shouldn’t work but, weirdly in some way, it does! Anyhow, I went for a pint of Red Stripe (£4) in there (Dan was on something starting with ‘C’ that I bet you don’t know(!)) though time began to go against us and he decided to leave a first visit to the superb Trip to Jerusalem until another time. A shame, but we still had just enough time to pay a visit to the Canalhouse which is actually what it says – it houses a bit of canal (and boats) within it. Not too different….

Going to the Canalhouse

The canal within.

As I finished my Amstel in the beer garden here, Dan had gained a bit of a head start back to the station for the train back and I quickly caught him up though somehow and somewhere we’d lost a few minutes of time and so arrived on the platform with a couple of minutes in hand. Good timing? NO! The bloody thing was right down the far end and despite getting there just in time and asking the guy to hold the train for no more than 30-40 seconds, he sneered “The train’s got to go.” and signalled it on its way – despite the fact that Dan was hobbling down the platform in full view, bad feet and all. Nice one, dickhead.

As it was, “dickhead” wasn’t going to get too much of a triumph as I quickly set about a contingency plan which would see us going out-of-the-way down to East Midlands Parkway and going back up to Sheffield via Derby. Despite this unplanned diversion, we actually got back into Manchester just twenty-minutes later than planned, meaning our jobsworth friend hadn’t cost us too much…..and me nothing at all as I still caught the train I reckoned I was more likely to get home. Nice.

So apart from our friend there, the day hadn’t been all that bad. The game was your typical end of season snoozefest in truth with next to nothing happening and 1-0 flattered the contest as a whole – the blow up cock was the other highlight! It’s always nice to visit Nottingham though and to do a bit of an explore around the areas of the city I hadn’t been to before was decent to do too. All the other sundries were all ok too so there’s another week ticked off towards the end of the season – just the two left and a couple of slightly different length of trips to come….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Stoke

Result: Stoke City 2-2 Rotherham United (EFL Championship)

Venue: Britannia Stadium (Saturday 13th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 24,250

A late, late decision allied with an overwhelming feeling of laziness led me to not truly fancying a trip to anywhere too long-winded and once I’d spied the chance to gain an unexpected “tick” towards my 92 tally, I swiftly took it. Booking tickets during the Saturday morning, I’d be off to my 60th league ground – namely the Britannia Stadium (no real/awful sponsor names here) as the Potters welcomed the Millers in what is, quite possibly, one of the most English nickname clashes you can get.

Setting off during the late morning, a delay for reasons unbeknownst to us train customers (clearly deemed not important enough to know) I arrived into a balmy Stoke-on-Trent at around midday and decided to head towards the ‘actual’ Stoke area of the city, rather than the Hanley area that seems to be termed as the city centre. Anyway, the first pub I came across was one by the name of the Ye Olde Bull and Bush which is yet another hostelry to add an unneeded ‘e’ onto ‘olde’, though they did have a nice mural depicting various historical images of Stoke which was cool. A pint of the self-badged Delilah’s Delight (of course) was had at £2.70, before I headed up the road a few doors to the Liquor Vaults. A big, sprawling bar, it was decent enough – especially as the Amstel came in at just the £2.80 and I could get some much-needed charging done too. A good start.

Arriving in Stoke

Bull & Bush

Liquor Vaults

Stoke-on-Trent is a city in Staffordshire and together with the neighbouring boroughs of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands, makes up the North of the county. It is a polycentric city, being made up of six separate towns, the federation coming together in 1910 and derives its name from the original town of Stoke-upon-Trent which was the site of the government facilities and railway station, whilst Hanley serves as the main commercial area. Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Fenton complete the six. Historically known as the centre of English pottery, Stoke itself takes its name from the Old English word ‘stoc’ meaning “place” though it did go on to become more specific and with it being an ancient parish with a 7th century church possibly meant ‘place of worship’ or came from a crossing point of the Roman road from Derby to Chesterton. Later, with Stoke being a common settlement name, the distinguishing feature, the Trent, was added. When the borough of Stoke first applied for city status, it was denied by the Home Office, only for its appeal to reach royalty in the form of King George V, who agreed the borough should become a city in its own right.

Stoke

Stoke

Looks a bit out-of-place….

Its 17th century onwards pottery industry grew up around the area’s canal network which allowed for easy access of china clay from Cornwall to be distributed, starting out as a small few businesses before becoming the major centre with the likes of Royal Doulton and Moorcroft making their base there after Wedgwood’s Etruria Works began the growth for the most part. The larger area was also a centre for coal mining, this beginning as far back as the 13th century, and it was here that the General Strike and associated pottery riots began in 1842. Though many mines set records, they would all close by 1994. Iron and Steel would also be an, admittedly minor, industry too as Stoke was the repair site for the North Staffs Railway whilst going on to be an important part of the WWII effort. Indeed the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire was born in the nearby village of Butt Lane and spent his apprenticeship in the town. Thomas Twyford of toilets fame also is part of the industrial part of Stoke’s history.

Many a famed person has come from the area, but maybe one of the more interesting ones is the late founder of Motörhead, Lemmy, which I had no idea about before writing this and is quite surprising, if I’m honest! Robbie Williams is another musical alumni to come from the area and Slash – of Guns N’ Roses fame – also lived in the town during some of his formative years. TV actors Neil Morrisey and Rachel Shenton also lay claim to being a local. The Staffordshire oatcake is the notable local delicacy.

White Star

Commercial Inn

Sutherland Arms

Better was to come as I walked on over towards the Stoke Minster with the White Star just around the corner seeming to be some kind of ‘tap’ for the Titanic Brewery with all sorts of their ales on the go. I opted for a pint of Iceberg which was ok, though not completely my cup of tea if I’m honest but, at £3.30, I wasn’t going to complain all that much! I soon decided I’d leave the minster until after the game as it was on the route back to the station and so I instead back-tracked a little and instead went off in the direction of the ground, breaking up the walk with a visit to each of the Commercial Inn (Coors £3) and Sutherland Arms (Old Mout Passion Fruit £3.30) on the way before arriving at the closest pub to the ground (I think), the Gardeners’ Retreat. After assuring a few young lads outside I was not taking any pics of them(!), I grabbed a quick bottle of Sol with time at a premium.

From there, I continued on over the footbridge across the canal and to the Britannia where I would pick up my ticket from the “satellite” ticket office which was, handily, just next to my entrance and so I could spend a little time getting a few pics out and around the ground. Eventually it really was time to head in and after paying a visit to the food stalls for a pre-match pie (Steak if my memory serves me correct, this was a couple of weeks back as I write) I headed up into the seats to find my place in the corner of the ground, where I find you can usually get good views of the action, albeit a little further away at times.

The Gardener’s (and Potter’s & Miller’s) Retreat

A Generation Game….

In itself, the Britannia is a smart ground, all-seater of course and is rather symmetrical when it comes to stand size, with only the Main Stand being noticeably larger than its neighbours. The Main Stand houses most of the facilities with the boxes being located in between the two tiers of seating and the tunnel protruding from its side a little, down in the corner of the pitch between it and the Sharp Stand which was housing the Millers fans today. This is a single-tiered stand and is connected to the side-on stand opposite the Main Stand by a filled in corner, as is the Boothen End opposite – the corner where I was situated for the game today. A large TV stands in the other open corner between the Boothen and Main Stands, whilst the dugouts are also out front of the main, ensuring a short walk from the tunnel. That’s the Britannia and this is the story of the Potters….

History Lesson:

Stoke City Football Club was founded in 1863 as Stoke Ramblers and is the second oldest professional club in the world behind Notts County alone. They changed their name to simply Stoke Football Club in 1878 before becoming Stoke City in 1925 upon Stoke being granted city status. They began life as the Ramblers via the pupils of Charterhouse school who were apprentices on the North Staffordshire Railway works in the town and their first recorded game was played at the Victoria Cricket Club ground against an E.W. May XV. They would move into Sweetings Field in 1875 as a result of rising attendances – not a bad reason for a ground move!

1878 saw the club merge with the cricket club and become Stoke F.C., moving to their long-term Victoria Ground home and took on their current colours around the same time. They turned professional in 1885 and went on to become a founding member of the Football League three years later though struggled there and weren’t re-elected in 1890 – thus joining the Football Alliance. However, this was won straight away and Stoke were re-elected and duly returned to the League once again. They went on to spend the next 15 years in the First Division and reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1899 before eventually being relegated to the Second Division in 1907. Soon after, the club went bankrupt and headed for the non-league ranks, competing with two sides for a time, in the Birmingham & District League (won in 1911) and the Southern League (won Division ‘2A’ in 1910 and promotion to Division 2, 1911 saw promotion to Division 1 as runners-up, relegated in 1913 & 1915 won the Division 2 title). They stayed in non-league until just after the outbreak of WWI, during which time Stoke competed in the Lancashire Primary and Secondary leagues.

SCFC

Upon returning to the Football League as hostilities ceased, they took on their current name in 1925, though this didn’t help matters too much as the club was relegated to the Third Division North in 1926, though returned to Division 2 at the first attempt as champions. The 1930’s saw Stoke’s legendary player, Sir Stanley Matthews, make his bow and begin to make his mark on the footballing world. At 18, he helped the club to promotion from Division 2 in 1933 as champions and 1937 saw Stoke record two club records – a record 10-3 win over West Bromwich Albion and a record crowd of 51,373 vs Arsenal. However, their growth as a force was halted by WWII, though they would rekindle their run post-war and nearly clinched the League title in 1947 when they required a win from their final game to take it. However, they would go down 2-1 to Sheffield United, handing the league to Liverpool whilst Matthews headed to another ‘pool, Blackpool. This would be as good as it got for Stoke and they were back in Division 2 come the end of 1952-’53. Matthews returned to Stoke in 1961 and was still considered a coup at 46 years of age!

Stoke remained in the second tier for a decade, winning the title in 1963 to return to Division One once again and the club went on to reach the League Cup final he following year, but lost out to Leicester City over two legs. The late Gordon Banks joined the club during a year after winning the World Cup and played in the one-off United Soccer Association over in the States in 1967, competing as the Cleveland Stokers in the Eastern Division, finishing as runners-up. Back on home shores, Stoke finally lifted their first major trophy by winning the 1972 League Cup at Wembley – overcoming Chelsea 2-1, whilst semi-final appearances in the FA Cup were recorded in both 1971 and ’72, both seeing them vanquished by Arsenal. The club also appeared in the UEFA Cup in 1971 and ’72 as a result, losing out at the first fence to 1. F.C. Kaiserslautern and Ajax respectively. Stoke lifted the Watney Cup in 1973.

Relegated in 1977 back to Division 2, Stoke returned to the top-flight two years later and the club went on to remain there through to 1985 when they were relegated once more, having survived a brush with the drop the previous campaign. Things didn’t improve despite many a change of manager and the Potters were eventually relegated to Division 3 in 1990. The decade did see silverware arrive at the Victoria Ground in the form of the 1992 Football League Trophy, lifted at Wembley via a 1-0 win over Stockport County, whilst promotion was attained the next year. The club finished 4th and reached the 1996 Second Division play-offs, losing out to Leicester City in the semi-finals, prior to moving to their new Britannia Stadium home at the end of the following season, ending a 119-year stay at the Victoria Ground, but the change proved an unhappy one as relegation back to Division 2 (the third tier now the Premier League was in situ) was suffered at the end of the ground’s first season.

Stan-tue.

2000 saw Stoke win the Football League Trophy for a second time, this time via a 2-1 triumph over Bristol City at Wembley, and 2002 saw promotion attained once more as the club returned to the second-tier at the third straight attempt in the play-offs (having previously lost out to Gillingham and Walsall in the two years before) as the Millennium Stadium bore witness to their success over Brentford. After a five-year spell in the Championship, Stoke were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 for the first time after ending the season as runners-up. This is where my sort-of-soft-spot came for Stoke as I reckoned they’d stay up whilst the club was written off in many quarters – making me feel like I knew something, for once!

Anyway, the Potters would spend the next decade in the Premier League, largely as a solid mid-table outfit, and made the 2011 FA Cup Final, losing to Manchester City. They did qualify for the Europa League off the back of this though and after seeing off Hajduk Split, F.C. Thun and a group containing Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Stoke made the second round, eventually bowing out to Valencia. 9th place in 2014 meant the club’s best finish since 1975 and followed this up by finishing in the same position in both of the next two seasons, however things went awry last season and this resulted in Stoke’s eventual relegation and return to the Championship. This also saw the managerial roundabout begin once more as instability saw Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Gary Rowett come and go in quick succession, ending with current incumbent Nathan Jones taking the hot-seat in January after joining from Luton Town. However things haven’t improved and the club are stuck in a disappointing mid-table battle.

The game got underway somewhat slowly with little action during the first twenty-five minutes or so. For what there was, Anthony Forde drove an effort narrowly wide for the visiting Millers and Jon Taylor fired over, before Stoke would grab the opener with their first real sight of goal; Ashley Williams chipping a delivery into the box which Sam Vokes nodded home from close range and just two minutes later the Potters doubled their advantage with their very next attack – Vokes turning provider for namesake Sam Clucas and the latter smashed an effort high above Rotherham stopper Marek Rodak.

Match Action

Match Action

Despite being two down, it was the Millers who kept on looking more likely to find the net and Jon Taylor and Will Vaulks both went close in quick succession, before the Potters would end the half on the front-foot with Vokes being denied by Rodak but that would be that and the sides headed in with Stoke holding a two-goal advantage that only the most rose-tinted glasses-clad fan would claim they had truly earned.

Popping down into the concourse for half-time to catch up on the scores around the country courtesy of Soccer Saturday, we were soon back underway in the balmy Staffordshire sunshine. As in the first half, there was little to get the juices flowing early on as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand over the game as a whole. Clark Robertson forced Jack Butland into action to keep out his header before, just minutes later, they would grab a goal back through Michael Smith’s header after a corner hadn’t been fully cleared.

Match Action

Corner from a corner

The ineffective Bojan Krkic, once hailed as the heir-apparent to Lionel Messi of course, was subbed off in the aftermath to be replaced by Benik Afobe but this only seemed to further hamper a Stoke side surprisingly desperately short of creativity and after Butland had pulled off a fine stop to deny Joe Newell’s stinging shot which seemed destined for the top corner, it would be another set-piece that would lead to Stoke’s further downfall. The ball would eventually fall at the feet of Matt Crooks just a few yards out and he duly forced the ball over the line to send the visiting Millers fans behind the goal into raptures. This also give Stoke a taste of their own medicine somewhat, the Potters having completed the same comeback at the New York Stadium earlier in the campaign.

The fans were, unsurprisingly, not too pleased with these happenings and their overall performance, as shown by the lack of argument as Butland was announced as man-of-the-match, especially as he’d pulled off another great stop high to his right to deny Crooks a second from close range. That was largely that and after the whistle, the players seemed to get away from the ire of those around me for the most part, but it was safe to say this wasn’t the case for boss Nathan Jones, whose applause was greeted with loud boos from those in the Boothen End. Safe to say, he has work to do to get them onside should he be given the time to do so.

The bar….ge

Stoke Minster

Post-match I decided I’d let the crowds disperse a little, but I wouldn’t be waiting around inside the ground, oh no, sir! Beating a hasty exit, I was soon back crossing the footbridge, but instead of finding my way back to the roadways, I instead popped onto the canalways and to the small barge that serves as a can/bottle bar to enjoy a bit of time in the sun in some rather pleasant surroundings. The barge (named Barge-Inn Booze in a superb pun) served Dark Fruits in a can at just £2 which isn’t to be sniffed at whatsoever, and I spent a good half-hour watching the match-goers head off in their respective directions before continuing my own walk back to the town centre along the towpath.

After getting back to road level and paying my due visit to the minster, I popped into the Stoke Wetherspoons named The Wheatsheaf for a Punk IPA (£2.89) before finishing up in the Glebe Hotel, not too far from the station helpfully, where I saw that this looked to be another of a brewery taphouse, this time that of Joules’, though I could be mistaken. Whatever the case, I finished up my Stoke trip with a Joules Pale Ale which was my dearest drink of the day at £3.50(!), before catching the train back in good time, the remainder of the trip home going as smoothly as could be hoped for.

Last stop:- the Glebe Hotel

All in all, Stoke is nothing like as dreary as some people like to make out it is, with the old church, canal route and pubs all being pleasant affairs on the whole. The ground is smart with good views (just a shame the goals were right down the far end) and the food and programme were decent offerings too, though the pie was one of the standard offerings you get on the league ladder. So that’s another trip in the books as the season winds down to its conclusion and next up is the Easter weekend’s trio of matches which see visits to the exotic towns of Mansfield, Crewe and….Hanley! Don’t you just love it…..!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Derby

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

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

Att: 30,682

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

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

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

Heading to the ground

DCFC

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Old-school entrance

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

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

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

Statue in question

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

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

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

The Ram in the city

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

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

The ram leads the sides out

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Nugent celebrates making it three

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

White Horse & Noah’s Ark

Derby

Derby Cathedral

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

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

Olde Dolphin

Over the river we must go

Tap

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

‘Spoons

Brunswick. The Alexandra just out of shot

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

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

 

 

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

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

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

Att: 13,760

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

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

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

Queen’s

Hammersmith Park

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

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

Shepherd’s Bush Green

That’s a bit swanky….

Sindercombe Social

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

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

Shepherd & Flock

Coningham Arms

Heading to Loftus Road

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Come On You R’s!

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

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

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

Loftus Road Stadium

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

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

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

QPR FC

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

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

“Grandad” proved a hit in his hat!

Packed concourse!

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

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

Match Action

Preston fans celebrate their winner!

Match Action

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

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

Central Bar. It’s Spoons Time!

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

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Cardiff

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

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

Att: 21,086

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

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

Not where I’d planned!

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

Cardiff

Philharmonic

Cambrian Tap

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

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

Cardiff Cottage

Cardiff Castle & the third ‘Spoons of the street!

Arriving at the ground

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Ninian Park gates

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

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

Cardiff’s mascot: Bartley the Bluebird!

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

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

CCFC

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

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

Statue

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Half-Time in the concourse

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

Match Action

Match Action

Full-Time scoreline

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

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

Millennium Stadium & the Taff

Prince of Wales

Great Western

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Wolverhampton

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

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

Att: 29,977

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

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

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

Bohemian

Old Still in the snow

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

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

Wolverhampton

St. John’s Church

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

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

Dog & Doublet

Heading to Molineux

Lounge 107

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Stan Cullis Stand

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

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

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

Welcome to Molineux

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

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

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

Steve Bull Stand

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

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

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

Costa celebrates his opener

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Church action

Irish McGee’s

Prince Albert

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Bermondsey (Millwall FC)

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

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

Att: 5,319

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

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

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

Arriving at Bermondsey

Southwark Park

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

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

The Mayflower

The Ship

Canada Water

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

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

‘Spoons

The Farriers

En route to the Den

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Millwall F.C.

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

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

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

The Den

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

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

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

Millwall-This is the Lions’ Den

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

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Eebria

Train accompaniments

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

 

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 5 (cut-back issue I think)

Value For Money: 7