Manchopper in….Reading

Result: Reading 2-2 Blackpool (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: Madejski Stadium (Saturday 4th January 2019, 3.01pm)

Att: 10,181

After a round away from Cup action, I was once again on the “Road to Wembley” – or in my case the 5th or 6th round – for the first Saturday of the new year. Having already trumped last year’s first game with a pulsating clash at St. Andrew’s, I was hoping my luck would continue into a trip down to Reading and the Madejski Stadium. The visitors would be the now Oyston-free Tangerines of Blackpool, who would be looking to secure a….ahem, Royal upset and advance into the 4th Round outright.

I caught the train from Manchester at just before 9.30am, and a trouble-free, direct journey had me arriving into the Berkshire town at a little after half-twelve. Having already done something of a scouting mission with regards to Reading’s pub offerings, I decided to start off with one rather nearby the station, by the name of the Corn Stores. Entering, I found a quite strange set-up, with a reception desk set near a flight of stairs that led up to another couple of floors – floors that I later found out housed members’ areas and the like. Anyway, I headed into the empty bar area and was soon in possession of a pint of Meantime Lager for the sum of £5.60, but in defence of that, the tanks holding the beer and all the equipment that comes with it, were located in the foyer of the building. Not a bad pint by any means and after the £7-odd drink I bought last year down in Exeter, everything else is something of a bargain, nowadays!

Reading – just in case you need reminding

To the Corn Stores

From here, I planned out a route that would take me past the town hall and an old church, before arriving at a pub named the Alehouse. This walk also took in the Blagrave – seemingly named after a signee of Charles I’s death warrant – and I thought it would be rude to bypass it. A decent little boozer, the Blagrave was rather empty at this time, although the smashed door window suggests it can get a bit livelier as the amount of hours and drinks climb higher! A pint of Amstel (£4.50) did the job for me here, before I undertook the walk via said ‘places of interest’ (all of which were accompanied by an info board). However, my best-laid plans were interrupted a little as I was struck by the appearance of the George Hotel and – as a rule – anything with this name has to be, of course, paid a visit (usually). A 17th century coaching house, the George had been renovated somewhat here and there, with many a-different door making for a pretty confusing moment, as I tried to see where the bar could be….

Blagrave

George Hotel

Reading is a university and minster town in Berkshire, and lies within the Thames Valley on the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet. Reading may date back to Roman times, possibly as a trading port for nearby Calleva Atrebatum, but there’s no clear evidence of this being so. The first of this type comes from the 8th century, when the town became known as Readingum – likely deriving from the words Readingas an Anglo-Saxon tribe whose name means Reada’s People in Old English. The town was attacked by the Danes, who invaded the Kingdom of Wessex and set up their base at Reading, with this becoming the site of the First Battle of Reading, when King Ethlelred and Alfred the Great attempted to breach the defences, unsuccessfully. The Danes would remain until 871 AD, when they retreated to their winter stronghold in London.

After the 1066 Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror gave land around Reading to Battle Abbey and the town was described as a borough in the Domesday Book, twenty years later. Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I in 1121 and he is now buried in its grounds. The abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1538, with the last abbot hung, drawn and quartered in front of its church, along with the pastor of St. Giles’ Church. By that time, Reading had become the largest town in Berkshire and grew around the cloth trade. It later played a part in the English Civil War, when the Royalist garrison stationed there was defeated by the Parliamentarian forces in 1643, a year after the Royalists had arrived; the cloth trade was subsequently damaged extensively, and didn’t truly recover until as recently as the 20th century. It also saw battle in the 1688 Revolution, though this proved to be the only notable conflict during this campaign. The 1700’s saw the role of Berkshire’s “county town” split between Reading and Abingdon, though the movement of the Summer Assizes in 1867 saw Reading effectively become the sole county town, and this was approved two years later.

Reading

Reading

The 18th century saw major building growth and breweries began to prosper around the turnpike roads linking London to Oxford and the West Country. 1723 saw the Kennet navigation opened, allowing boats from as far as Newbury to access it and the later addition of the Kennet and Avon canal allowed barge journeys through to Bristol to be undertaken. The Great Western Railway only added to the transport links and ease of movement, arriving in the town in 1841 and this was followed by the South Eastern Railway and London and South Western Railway by 1856. The town became a county borough in 1888 and became famous for the “Three B’s” (beer, bulbs and biscuits). Its continued expansion through the 20th century saw it annex Caversham – across the Thames in Oxfordshire – and despite largely escaping damage during the World Wars, it did suffer deaths in 1941, when a sole Luftwaffe aircraft strafed the town with machine guns, before bombing it.

Developments have continued through to the millennium and The Oracle shopping centre, built in 1999, is named after the former workhouse, which partly occupied the site. Reading is one of the largest urban areas without city status (despite the town’s non-league club suggesting otherwise!) and has applied for this unsuccessfully on three occasions, most recently in 2012. It remains a borough council and unitary authority and has good rail, road and bus links through to the Capital and further afield, cross-country.

Reading Minster

High Street

It names alumni such as actors John Altman (EastEnders’ “Nasty Nick”), Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer, director Sam Mendes, presenters Chris Tarrant, Matthew Syed, Jeremy Kyle, Lucy Worsley and Adam Boulton, comedian Ricky Gervais, satirist Charlie Brooker and poet and authors Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen – the latter schooled in the town. Politician Michael Foot, Paddington Bear-creator Michael Bond, former Archbishop, the late Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Sports-wise, swimmer and Commonwealth gold medallist Rebecca Cooke, the late rally driver Richard Burns, cricketers Peter May, Ken Barrington and 1926 Ashes-winning skipper Percy Chapman and footballers Hayden Mullins, Lawrie Sanchez, Deon Burton and Jamie Ashdown. The town has also been home to VC recipient Fred Potts and Earl William Cadogan, commander-in-chief of the British Army during the late 1600-early 1700’s.

I eventually settled on the Dickens brasserie/bar at the rear of the building’s courtyard, which was a strange mix between these two and an Indian snack-bar, whilst being set right next to the Mercure hotel’s reception area, where I watched one group arrive from somewhere out in the far-east in connection with the University, and the welcoming party weren’t too pleased that their rooms weren’t ready, as they had apparently been promised. Anyhow, this wasn’t affecting me and I finished off my pint of San Miguel (£5.70) and initially set my sights on the aforementioned Alehouse across the way, only to see it hit with the curse of NYD’s Birmingham; closed. Not to worry, I supposed, and instead continued on through the pedestrianised area and to the area around Reading’s “Minster”, where there was a few pubs I looked at trying to get in – though I could feel the onset of the legacy of a number of trips upon my intake beginning to take hold. As such, I played safe in the Horn, opting for a bottle of Sol (£4), with the intention of getting another bottle in the Sun Inn, somewhere around the corner.

Horn-y, Horn-y, Horn-y, Horn-y

The Allied Arms

But, for once, my sensible side took control and I decided to instead opt to head for the Allied Arms just over the road and then return back towards the station for the shuttle buses direct to the stadium. A Heineken (£5.60) went down well and though the sneezing fit I suffered wasn’t exactly ideal, at least I was all-but finished by the time this decided to pop-up. Anyway, it soon wore off as I walked back through the town centre – bypassing numerous sellers, charity workers, preachers and the like as I went – and arrived at the bus stop to find about five or six buses waiting to depart in short-order, with one due to leave every two minutes or so. Brilliant organisation by the club and the other involved companies it has to be said. Said bus duly dropped me outside the ground around ten minutes later, but it was here things began to unravel. After securing a Charlie Adam’s face covered programme (£3, and if that wasn’t meant with the “Old Man” tweets during the week following his goal, then that’s some co-incidence) from one of the kiosks, I made my way around to the away turnstiles and the ticket window situated there. Only, it wouldn’t bloody move. At all. Honestly, if the queue had moved five feet in twenty minutes, it would be a miracle.

Chatting with a couple of Tangerine fans in the same boat, we lamented the fact that there was a third window Reading hadn’t employed today, though we were later informed by some of the stewards that they had been caught completely off-guard by the number of travelling fans who’d made the journey. I was surprised too, but on the complete other end of the spectrum, as I remember getting into Carlisle a couple of years back after a trip to Gretna, to find a notable amount of ‘Pool fans still populating the pubs in the Cumbrian city. Yes, it’s a fair bit closer, but I don’t think it was anything too out-of-the-question to summise that a fair number would be making the trip. I certainly expected as much. Anyway, the minute of mental health consideration and the relevant video came and went and after missing ten minutes of the match, I finally grabbed a ticket and headed inside, able to bypass a bag check as, to be fair to Reading, they went through these checks whilst I was still queuing for tickets, as to make entry a little quicker, so kudos for that.

I decided to grab some food whilst the concourse was deserted, and after a bit of the “banter” with a lad manning it from the antipodean region (I assume an Aussie), I was soon heading up into the seats with a steak pie in hand and quickly found my seat. Judging by all the sounds we could hear concerning how the game had gone to that point, I figured I’d missed a corner or two and perhaps one decent chance, quite like my similar experiences at Cardiff and Southampton. Anyway, finally in the Madejski, the ground is one of the earlier examples of the now wide-ranging boxed-in stadia, with all stands at a similar size and linked together in each corner, with a big screen located in one of these, just off to my right, as I looked from the away end. The Main Stand looks a fair bit bigger than it really is, with a couple of tiers being split by the usual array of boxes and the like, with the tunnel extending from the centre – between the two dugouts. The remaining stands all consist of one tier and could be interchanged between each other fairly easily, should they become sentient. That’s the Madejski in very short order, and this is the story of this set of Berkshire Royals….

History Lesson:

Reading Football Club was founded in 1871 and gained their current nickname for being within the Royal County of Berkshire, though were previously known as the Biscuitmen due to links with former snack makers, Huntley and Palmers. The club turned professional was in 1895 and after having had spells at the Reading Recreation Ground, Cricket Club, Coley Park and Caversham Cricket Ground, the eventual switch to long-term, purpose-built home, Elm Park, was undertaken in 1896. In 1913, Reading toured Italy and were termed by press there as “the finest foreign team to play” in the country, having convincingly defeated Genoa, AC Milan and champions Pro Vercelli, though we’re beaten by Casale. As a result of the tour though, Attillio Fresia joined the club and, in doing so, became the first Italian to play in England.

Reading were elected to the Football League’s Third Division in 1920, as the league took in clubs from the Southern League. Placed in the South division, Reading won this in 1926 to be promoted to the nationwide Division 2, where they remained through to relegation in 1931. During the war, Reading lifted the 1941 edition of the London War Cup, and upon the resumption of league football post-war, Reading finished as Division 3 South runners-up in both 1949 and 1952, though were not promoted. After the nationalisation of both regional divisions into a Division 4, Reading dropped to that level in 1972, before yo-yoing between the bottom two divisions in the latter half of the decade, promotion in 1976 being followed by immediate relegation and another promotion in 1979, as champions, rounded it off.

Arriving at the Madejski

After another relegation in 1983, the club avoided a strange merger attempt by Oxford United’s chairman to ally the clubs and become the Thames Valley Royals *shudder*. Thankfully, this didn’t come to fruition and the club again won promotion, this time to Division 3, in 1984 and have remained at least at that level since. Winning the Third Division title in 1986, the Royals then lifted the Full Members’ Cup of 1988 – defeating Luton Town at Wembley, but were then relegated come the season’s end. Taken over by John Madejski at the beginning of the new decade, Reading won the “new” Division 2 title in 1994, and went on to immediately finish as runners-up in Division One the next year, only to be denied promotion due to the Premier League being trimmed down by two clubs. As such, they had to make do with a play-off place and having defeated Tranmere Rovers in the semi, lost out to Bolton Wanderers by 4-3 (AET).

Reading’s final season at Elm Park ended in relegation to Division 2, the club beginning life at the new-build Madejski Stadium soon after. They were defeated in the 2001 play-off final by Walsall, but they went up automatically as runners-up two years later. They finished their return season in Division 1 in 4th, but again suffered play-off disappointment, being bested by eventual winners Wolves. However, they again saw success by missing out the play-offs, taking the 2006 Championship title and being promoted to the Premier League for the first time in the process. They finished their first season in 8th place, though (unforgivably) turned down the chance to play in everyone’s favourite competition, the Intertoto Cup. They did compete in the 2007 Peace Cup – played in South Korea – in the build up to their second campaign, but this would end in eventual relegation, with the Royals unable to repeat their first season heroics.

Concourse

Losing in the play-offs in both 2008 and 2011, to Burnley (semi-finals) and Swansea City (final) respectively, 2012 saw them achieve a return back to the Premier League automatically, although this would only last a sole season. Back in the Championship ranks, Reading ended up missing out on the play-offs to Brighton, who netted a last minute winner against the Royals to snatch the spot, but worse was to follow, as the threat of administration loomed over the club and a poor eventual year in the league saw Reading stave off the drop to secure 17th place. However, their FA Cup run allayed this disappointment somewhat, a semi-final appearance at Wembley ending in narrow defeat to Arsenal. Quick managerial changes continued, and after the likes of (in no particular order) Brian McDermott (twice), Nigel Adkins, Steve Coppell, Brendan Rodgers and Steve Clarke had all come and gone with the span of eight years, Jaap Stam did lead the side to the 2017 play-off final, but again defeat would be suffered, this time at the hands of Huddersfield Town, after a penalty shoot-out.

However, the Dutchman was out by the end of the next season, with Paul Clement installed. He saw off the threat of the drop, but was himself soon out of the job last season and was replaced by José Gomes, who repeated Clement’s feat in finishing 20th and just above the drop zone. But he too wouldn’t occupy the hot-seat for long, the something of a poisoned chalice being handed down within the club this time – to Mark Bowen – in October. Since then, Bowen has overseen a fair upturn in form, with Reading climbing from the relegation places to sit in mid-table and beginning to optimistically glance upwards.

The game was already going as previously stated earlier, and soon after I’d headed up into my seat, Reading went close on a couple of occasions; firstly, Sam Baldock drove an effort straight at Blackpool ‘keeper Mark Howard, before Matt Miazga (who I remember being introduced at Stamford Bridge upon his Chelsea signing, alongside Alexandre Pato before an FA Cup win over Manchester City) headed over the bar. On 23 minutes, Baldock struck the upright from close range, whilst Lucas Boyé fired narrowly off-target as Reading continued to largely dominate the game chance-wise, but not in the overall play. There the visitors had a clear advantage, and they duly shocked the home support just before the half-hour, when Nathan Delfouneso smartly headed in Armand Gnanduillet’s delivery to send the Tangerine fans down the far end from him crazy.

Match Action

Match Action

With more belief in their ranks, getting the opener actually inspired Blackpool onwards and forwards, in opposition to what is the norm in many of these situations. Callum Guy went closest to adding a second, being denied by a decent Sam Walker stop, whilst, down the other end, Andy Rinomhota forced Howard into action moments before the half-time whistle, as his header was saved down low. The whistle duly followed in short order and it looked as though the upset may just be on the cards.

An uneventful break came and went and it was soon time to get the second period on the go. Again, it was Blackpool who initially started off the brighter and Delfouneso nearly grabbed his and ‘Pool’s second just after the resumption, but he wastefully hit the ball straight at Walker between the home sticks. But the Royals would draw level just prior to the hour mark, as Baldock clinically fired across goal and into the far corner. Parity would last just four minutes though, as the Tangerines broke out of their disappointment in quick-time and Gnanduillet fired in as he and Delfouneso reversed roles from the opener. Queue a “rush” from the away fans to goad the home support across the segregation line, but no nastiness was around from either, it has to be said.

Match Action

Match Action

The quick fire goal action continued, as Reading again equalised just six minutes later. This time it was Danny Loader – who’d only been introduced to the game in the moments before Blackpool’s second- who would find the onion bag, shooting low, beyond Howard from around the penalty spot. 2-2, but again Blackpool came straight back out of the blocks and immediately won a penalty for a foul on Gnanduillet – a decision that couldn’t have really created any complaints. The excited Tangerine fans began celebrating already, but I tempered expectation somewhat, stating to a few of them to “Let him score it first!”. Alas, no-one could have predicted what was to follow.

The France-born Ivorian dusted himself down and stepped up to take the spot-kick. He sent Walker the wrong way and it looked like that was that; 3-2! But….no. His chipped penalty had too much loop placed upon it and it agonisingly drifted against the crossbar and was eventually scrambled clear by the Royals defence. Gnanduillet was left red faced and Blackpool had spurned what was likely their best chance to give Reading a red card from this season’s competition. Goalscorers Loader and Delfouneso traded chances between them, the former hitting wide and the latter straight at Walker, whilst some late Reading pressure saw Howard pressed into action to deny both Omar Richards and Soné Aluko. But that would be that, and an entertaining, pulsating contest came to an end with nothing decided, and after all had been said and done, they would have to do it all over again on the Lancastrian coast in around ten days time.

Oh, Armand!

Late on

Post-match, the fine layout and planning of the buses saw me back on one within ten minutes of the final whistle, and stepping back off of it back outside Reading station within the half-hour. Not bad at all, and for just the £2 return too. I had two or three watering holes I still wanted to pay a visit to, the first of these being the Bugle, which seemed to be one of the older pubs in the town. On my way there, I had to turn rescuer, as a woman tumbled over in front of me and, along with a couple of other lads, I helped her up to her feet and back onto the couple of crutches she had with her. I wondered if it was a mobility issue but being outside a ‘Spoons and the info of one of the lads there “she’s pissed” gave a different outlook! Anyhow, she was soon on a bus back to wherever and I was in the miniscule Bugle over a Dark Fruits (£4.10), before returning back to the ‘Spoons for a swift Hooch (£2.39), in hope I could manage to squeeze in either of the Gateway or Greyfriar of Reading near to the station, or indeed the Three Guineas which stands at the entrance to the station itself.

Unfortunately, the pre-match warnings came around again and I decided it really wasn’t worth the hassle and instead took my good time before getting back to the station in good time for the train back. Getting on, I found an empty window seat and just so happened to have snuck in past a Blackpool fan – though I hadn’t recognised this at the time. Anyhow, I got talking to Phil for the rest of the trip back up to Manchester about all things football, Blackpool, the crazy Oyston-era (and Owen’s choice of hats) and many other things therein, including his walking jaunts around the historical Lancastrian boundaries. The trip went through quickly as a result, so cheers to Phil for that and I returned the favour somewhat by pointing out a train back up Preston-way that saved him a good half-hour, so hopefully it all went smoothly?!

The Bugle

‘Spoons

Anyway, my connection was made nice and easily and that was that for another day, another weekend and another round of the FA Cup. The 4th round draw also threw up a number of interesting-looking ties too, so that should mean another game is on the cards in this competition. As for the day at hand, Reading as a town had been far more interesting than I’d expected/been led to believe, its few historic churches and other buildings were worth seeking out and the pubs too were decent in both this respect and in how they were overall. The ground and game were both decent, though the stadium does lack a sense of character, despite being over two decades old at this point. Its out of town location doesn’t aid this feeling either, although the bus services do remedy the usual issues with places like this (I’m looking at you, Ricoh). Also, a word for the stewards who did the best with what they were given overall, especially with regards to the ticketing queues. So that’s about that for this blog, next up….well, who knows. It could be rich, breight (this is meant), or perhaps another royal name….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Birmingham

Result: Birmingham City 2-3 Wigan Athletic (EFL Championship)

Venue: St. Andrew’s (Wednesday 1st January 2020, 3pm)

Att: 18,616

New Year, New Me? Dry January? Resolutions? Nah, none of that crap here! Yes, dear reader, you will be offered up the same old shit you’ve become accustomed to over the years (or, if here for the very first time, you know what to expect!), so please take comfort in that. Or run in horror. Both are equally as expected! Anyway, before I go fully off on a mad one, I hoped this New Year’s wouldn’t be a repeat of the last; one which saw a rather unspectacular trip around Chester and a dour nil-nil between they and Southport. Dour is being kind too….; anyhow, Birmingham vs Wigan may not have been on many people’s list as a bit of a goal-glut and Brum’s previous 4-5 goalfest defeat to Leeds both encouraged and worried me in equal measure. On one hand, you had the evidence that Birmingham could bet, but weren’t all that solid at the back, whilst Wigan were bottom, and you usually end up there for a reason. However, both were on a pretty bad run. So nil-nil, then.

Whatever the case, I set off for the second city during the mid-morning and arrived into New Street at around midday. After getting a little lost, I soon regained my bearings and found my way over towards the city’s cathedral, where I would find the first grouping of pubs I was hoping to pay a visit to. The first of these happened to be the, rather interestingly named, Trocadero, where, with little idea on what may and may not have been open at the time, I opted to play safe with a Bud Light to begin with. New Year’s brotherhood in the city seemed prevalent, as supporters of both City and Villa were populating the pub whilst Villa played out the early kick-off and we had a miracle occur when both teams’ supporters agreed the VAR ruling in this one was one of, if not the, worst one yet. In its current form, it has to be the worst idea football has had in many years – perhaps the golden goal may rival it, but at least it was exciting!

Arriving in Birmingham

Heading to the Trocadero

Birmingham is a major city in the West Midlands, and the second largest city and metropolitan borough area in the UK; as such it is usually referred to the country’s “second city”. However, its early days were of a remote and marginal area, with the larger early settlements lying around the Rivers Trent, Severn and Avon, with Birmingham instead lying within the sparsely populated Forest of Eden. Birmingham has been inhabited since around 8000 BC, with artefacts suggesting the area was settled seasonally for hunting and the like, whilst burnt mounds dating from the bronze age point towards it being around this time that more permanent settling and cultivating began. This influx was short-lived though, perhaps because of conflict or immigration into the area, although the 1st century Roman-era included the creation of Metchley Fort at Edgbaston, with many roads centred from it.

Birmingham itself came into being during the Anglo=Saxon age and the city’s name comes from the Old English Beormingahām – meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingo, a 6th or 7th century Anglo tribe and regio of the area. Despite this, it was one of the poorest and least populated areas come the Domesday Book of 1086, and it took until 1166 for it to begin its transformation into an urban and commercial centre, with Lord of the Manor Peter de Bermingham getting a market charter around the castle, whilst growing a town around the area now taken by the Bull Ring. Within two centuries, it grew to be the third-largest town in Warwickshire. However the governing guilds and lordships collapsed by the mid-1500’s, with freedoms meaning the town could grow even more, although it would have to survive through regular Royalist assaults through the Civil War, with the area being largely sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause.

Birmingham

Bullring

The Battle of Birmingham in 1643 was the major clash in the area, and it later became a Puritan and Nonconformist stronghold. Industrially, Birmingham grew due to its iron forges and furnaces which were creating trade opportunities, and the merchants that arrived attracted further people to live in the town; so much so that the population grew fifteenfold by the 1700’s and it had become the fifth largest town in England and Wales. Also, it began its industrial changes slightly earlier than many of its Northern contemporaries, with it largely featuring skilled and specialist workers, over the largely unskilled workforces brought in later in the revolution to meet demand. Duly, patents started flooding in and the likes of Lloyds Bank and Ketley’s Building Society (the world’s first) saw it become something of a financial focal point, during the 18th century. Acid and alkali research in the area led to the modern chemical industry coming into being, whilst cotton also became a large employer.

Having been the focal point of 19th century political reform, Birmingham played a large role in the working classes being given more voting rights and the innovations continued with both of the world’s largest rail lines of the time terminating in the town, whilst plastic and modern postal systems are also derived from the area. Extensive canal routes were built to lend ease to transportation of goods and by the late-1800’s, Birmingham had attained city status. A university was started at the turn of the century, and this ever growing industrial importance led to the “Birmingham Blitz” in World War II and the heavy damage that came with it. However, the wartime saw the discovery in the city of how nuclear weaponry could be constructed, whilst the key components of radar systems discovered here would also prove vital in victory. The 1950’s and ’60’s saw regeneration of the Bull Ring and tower blocks built around the suburbs, and many Commonwealth immigrants would settle in the city and also, more infamously, the city was the scene of a probable IRA bombing and the later-judged miscarriage of justice of the “Birmingham six” – who had been convicted of the bombings.

Cathedral

Birmingham and the Bull Ring Tavern

The Bullring has again been redesigned in more recent times, and the city will host the Commonwealth Games in 2022, and many old industrial areas, canals, buildings and the like have been restored and regenerated. The beginnings of the much-maligned HS2 station have also begun to be implemented, though whether these will ever see action is in some doubt. It counts many famed names as alumni, although it’s hard to nail down who is actually from an area when its the city as a whole and, as such, these will be split into the smaller suburbs and satellite towns, as and when they are visited.

Finishing up in here, I headed off around the corner and up towards a couple of larger pub/eateries named the Cosy Club and the Lost and Found respectively. I was sidetracked somewhat by the sight of the impressive looking Fuller’s pub: the Old Joint Stock, which was one of those theatre pubs which seem prevalent in the capital. Alas, this was closed, as was the Lost and Found I soon found out, and so the Cosy Club came to my rescue. A pint of Amstel in one of the more grander “Lounge” outlets was decent enough, and it was time to seek out a couple more historic pubs nearby – the Old Royal and the Old Contemptibles – the latter of the two being of interest to me with its war links.

A fruitless “old” chase

Cosy Club

Shut and shut. Brilliant. Contingency plans were in place and I even came across a supposed “Peaky Blinders” bar en route but, guess what, shut. As bleak as the series’ story. As a result, it was to the road leading through to St. Andrew’s itself, beginning with the Bullring Tavern, a Craft Union pub, which usually means cheap pints and this was no different, a Coors coming in at £2.55. Interestingly, this was also the only pub of the day to serve plastic glasses although, to be fair, it was the only one I came across that even approached being full, with the Trocadero being busy but not too much. From here, I continued further on down the link road and came to the Digbeth Works, a bit of a craft beer/gastropub-style pub if you get what I mean. A pint of Amstel here was surprisingly good value, though, setting me back just the £3. Very decent.

Next along was the BIG Bull’s Head which, due to its size, I reckoned may be a bit tricky to get served at this time and so instead headed a couple of doors down to the apparently oldest building in the city, the Old Crown. I caught it at just the right time too, the place was empty apart from about ten people and another Amstel was had in some peace. Nice; as was the pub too, with it keeping a lot of its character within the beamed décor and monarch portraits adorning the walls. It was soon time to leave though, as the ground was still a good 10 minutes away and, with wanting to get there a little early, just in case, I set off under a couple of railway arches and over a dual carriageway before the Main Stand of the Blues’ home came into view over the surrounding roofs.

Digbeth Works

Old Crown

Upon arriving at the ground, I purchased a programme from the sellers outside (£3) and quickly took in the Main Stand exterior, before reckoning it was going to be easier to head for the away end and join the supporters of the former Northern Premier League outfit as they sought out a long awaited away win. Soon relieved of £25 at the turnstile – not that bad all things considered – I was soon asked to put my picture taking skills to the test by a few Wigan lads. I hope it came out well enough! I did see a couple of them after the game too, and there wasn’t any disaproving looks, so it must have!

St. Andrew’s is an impressive ground that retains a lot of character that more recent redeveloped grounds do not. The three more modern stands tower over its old mainstay, almost like Plymouth’s Home Park did until recently. The other three stands are of a similar size and the corners are all enclosed within them – the exception being the couple either side of the older construction. The dugouts are located out the front of the old stand too, whilst the players enter the field from the corner between it and the stand behind the goal we were located in today. Sightlines are good too, though I suspect that some views from the elder statesman may be a bit restricted. Anyway, that’s the ground in a nutshell, and this is the story of the Birmingham blues….

History Lesson:

Birmingham City Football Club was founded in 1875 as Small Heath Alliance, who became an F.A. Cup semi-finalist in 1886, a year after turning professional. They then dropped the Alliance suffix in 1888 to become, more simply, Small Heath F.C. and went on to play in the Football Alliance in 1889, having played local football beforehand. The Alliance ran alongside the Football League until 1892, when its member clubs were invited to join the League’s newly-formed Division 2 – which Small Heath duly won at the first attempt – but the first season would eventually end in disappointment, as the club lost out to another heath, Newton Heath, in Test Match action. However, they would win their second attempt at promotion when, having this time finished as runners-up, the club defeated Darwen in the Test Match game to secure promotion to the First Division.

The club remained in the First Division through their 1905 name change to Birmingham Football Club – a year in which the club won their first silverware: the Birmingham Senior Cup in their last season as Small Heath – and moved into St. Andrew’s a year later. However, the move didn’t immediately inspire and after relegation in 1908, Birmingham were forced into a re-election application in two years later and remained in Division 2 through to the outbreak of World War One. Upon the restarting of League footballing action after the war, Birmingham lifted the Division 2 title in 1921, before reaching their first FA Cup final a decade later, where they would lose out to local rivals: West Bromwich Albion. Birmingham would remain in the First Division from their 1921 promotion almost right through to the cessation of the sport once again for the duration of World War II, but were relegated in the final, full pre-war campaign.

Arriving at St. Andrew’s

Taking on the City suffix in 1943 whilst competing in the wartime Football League South – a league which they won in 1945 – the club went on to lift their third Division 2 title in 1947, although they would suffer the drop once again in 1950. After five seasons back in Division 2, City again won the divisional title in 1955 and achieved their highest league placing, to date, of 6th, in their first season back; a season which also saw them reach a second FA Cup final, but again this would end in defeat – this time at the hands of Manchester City. The game is remembered more for Bert Trautmann’s performance whilst playing on with a broken neck suffered during the 3-1 win for his side, the former P.o.W. beginning to cement his hero status and changing the minds of many along the way.

In 1956, City became the first English club to compete in a European competition, playing in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a competition in which they reached the final (again becoming the first English cup to reach a continental final) on two occasions, but lost on both occasions to Barcelona and AS Roma in 1960 & ’61 respectively. However, the 1961 competition saw City defeat Internazionale at the San Siro – a victory that set an English record that would stand for over 40 years, until Arsenal finally equalled the feat. Back in domestic action, Birmingham won the 1963 League Cup with victory over city rivals Aston Villa, though they would be relegated from the top-table of English football just two-years later, ending a decade-long stint. They would return again in 1972, though would be relegated again at the close of the decade – a year which included the club selling Trevor Francis for £1 Million – Francis becoming the first player to be sold for the fee. What a bargain it seems now!

They swiftly returned, but went down again in 1984 and despite again achieving promotion at the first attempt, this was marred by the tragedy of the death of a young boy, when a stadium wall collapsed upon him during rioting. This day also coincided with the Bradford City fire, which claimed a further 56 lives, on what was a truly dark day for football. The club suffered on the field during the post-promotion years too, which led to the club dropping into the Third Division by 1989; and things only got worse as new owners saw a lack of promised investment come about, players threaten to leave en masse, and rapid changes of managers. However, things were slightly tempered by victory amidst the chaos in the 1991 Associate Members’ Cup. Promotion followed with a third-place in 1992, with the ownership changing once again shortly afterwards, and although 1993 saw saw the drop staved off, it was suffered the next year. Yet again, City would return at their first go of it, finishing as 1995 Division 2 champions, whilst also lifting the Football League Trophy via a golden goal against Carlisle United at Wembley. The lead up to the turn of the millennium saw three straight play-off defeats, and City also were on the wrong side of the 2001 League Cup final, losing on penalties to Liverpool.

BCFC

Under new boss Steve Bruce, Birmingham achieved promotion to the Premier League in 2002, defeating Norwich City in the play-off final to get there. They went on to spend four seasons there prior to being relegated and after a season back in the Championship, they would yet again be promoted at the first attempt, as runners-up. Relegated after a season back, (guess what?) they ONCE MORE came back first time around – again after a 2nd placed finish – and this time they remained in the Premier League for a couple of seasons, the most notable arguably being the 2010-’11 campaign, which saw the Blues lift the League Cup for a second time and thus qualify for the Europa League. However, their league form wasn’t there and the same season saw City relegated back to the Championship, where despite making the 2012 play-offs, financial issues and instabilities returned, with managers Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark and Gary Rowett all coming and going in quick time.

Gianfranco Zola was hailed by the new owners as the man to bring stability but he too was, understandably, dismissed in short order, with experienced replacement Harry Redknapp able to stave off the drop to League One with late season results. However, Redknapp and his former assistant Steve Cotterill were both gone within half a year-or-so, with successor Garry Monk able to follow Redknapp’s lead from the previous year in keeping Birmingham just clear of the drop zone. A 9-point deduction for financial issues followed the next year, though Monk steered City to 17th, but this wasn’t enough to save him from the axe and his assistant, Spaniard Josep Clotet came in as caretaker, before being given the job “permanently” for the season.

The game got underway with the hosts initially starting off the brighter, seeing Jérémie Bela and Lukas Jutkiewicz efforts go off target during the first five minutes. However, it would be Wigan who would grab the opener on nine minutes, Joe Williams’ low ball reaching the back-post, where the arriving Josh Windass slotted home from close range. Birmingham responded with Bela forcing Latics ‘keeper Jamie Jones into action, while Williams did similar to home stopper Connal Trueman shortly afterwards.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Harlee Dean fired in a speculative effort just after the half-hour that failed to trouble Jones, just prior to Williams again seeing a sight of goal, only to again be denied in fairly routine fashion by Trueman. Wigan’s centre-back Cedric Kipre headed a Josh Windass corner towards goal, where the Blues’ ‘keeper was again in position to save. These stops proved to be vital too, as City drew level around five minutes before the break, when Kristian Pedersen forced his way into the area and slid across goal for Kerim Mrabti who turned, beat his man and forced the ball in from a tight angle, despite the efforts of the despairing Jones.

This gave the hosts renewed belief in the lead up to the break and, in truth, they likely should have gone in ahead, via Dean’s headed effort – which was well saved by the Wigan stopper. As it was, the whistle came at just the right time from a Wigan perspective and the sides headed into the dressing rooms all-square and I returned down into the concourse for a bit of a change of scenery, during the 15 minute interval. Soon enough though, the clock was ticking around to just after 4pm and it was time to, once again, head up into the St. Andrew’s seats.

In the concourse….

Just as in the first half, Wigan would grab an early goal to forge ahead once more and, as before, it was Josh Windass who would get it. Windass fired in from an acute angle via the frame of Gary Gardener and despite it going down as an own goal by the Birmingham man, it did appear to be heading into the far side despite the touch. Jutkiewicz again went close for the Blues, firing just wide, but they looked somewhat devoid of belief, in juxtaposition to the position of the Wigan players at that point – with both they and their fans sensing the long-awaited victory may just be around the corner – as the game entered its final twenty minutes.

Half-time sub Chey Dunkley saw his header from another quality delivery by the impressive Windass well kept out by Trueman, but the home gloveman would be powerless to stop Cedric Kipre making it three off of his midriff/upper thigh just a few minutes later. Another set-piece again caused issues at the back for Birmingham and an attempted header clear deflected into the net off the Wigan defender, who wheeled away in delight amongst his team-mates. It really did seem as though they and the fans wanted to urge each other on at this point, and they almost made it four when Jamal Lowe nodded off target from another dangerous Windass ball.

Light and dark

Match Action

City began to pressure Wigan as the visitors began to drop in and attempt to secure the points, and after Jutkiewicz had again seen an effort fly awry and many Blues fans begin to head for the exit, Jacques Maghoma had his targets set a little more accurately – the substitute powering a header beyond Jones, as Jutkiewicz turned provider, nodding down a delivery from the surprisingly subdued, highly-rated youngster, Jude Bellingham. And they almost drew level moments later, when Álvaro Giménez ran onto a Jefferson Montero ball in, met it sweetly with his head, only for Jones to be equal to it and pull off a fine stop to ensure his side stayed ahead. Alas for the Blues, they struggled to create anything more against a stubborn Latics defence, Wigan holding on for a deserved (and overdue) away win.

Post-match, I returned largely the way I’d arrived, traversing the nearby railway and industrial area before returning onto the Main Road and coming back upon the BIG Bull’s Head. Again rather spacious at this time and unlikely to change, unless the City fans were after drowning their sorrows, I ordered a pint of Hop House 13 (£3.80) here whilst weighing up whether or not to try out the Anchor just across the way. It didn’t really take me out of the way back station-wards anyway, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. Shut. I should have known. Unfortunately, the decent looking Spotted Dog was a little too far off at this point though, knowing how the day had gone, I’m sure that would also have been the “s-word” of the day.

Late on….

….and post-match – the BIG Bull’s Head

My plan now was to tick one of the Wetherspoons, most likely the hotel I’d seen earlier, but this came with a risk I truly couldn’t be arsed with and so settled upon a quick bottle in the All Bar One at New Street, despite really trying to get in somewhere with a little more character. I soon wished I hadn’t bothered, but with fifteen or twenty minutes until the train, it was a little too over what I wanted to wait and so, I wasted about ten of those over a Corona before navigating the strange set-up of New Street and jumping on the service bound for Manchester once more.

All connections and journey went smoothly, a nap on the way making it go all the more swifter, which is always a bonus. What wasn’t a bonus was getting back home and getting cramp in my leg, leading to me toppling over like a ton of bricks and getting a slightly twisted/bruised ankle as a result. I guess the bruised blue was kind of fitting. All in all, it was decent to actually visit Birmingham itself, as I’d never really got the chance to do so before. I think it often gets a bad rap, but the centre itself is decent if you know what’s about and know where you fancy heading for.

The areas around the Cathedral and near to the Bullring are pleasant too, and the road leading to the ground has its own share of decent watering holes. The ground itself is good, the views from the away end were excellent and I particularly enjoyed the fact that the old stand still stoically remains, amidst the modern “improvements”. I’m a traditionalist, what can I say? The game was a surprising gem of a match, with it being tight and tense, but the few chances that were created either being taken when they came along, or going largely close to ending up in the net. Birmingham done and its onto the next game. The FA Cup returns to these pages after a round away. Happy Reading….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 6

Value For Money: 7

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