Manchopper in….Salford Quays (Ordsall Leisure Centre)

Result: Beechfield United 3-2 Bolton County (Manchester Football League Premier Division)

Venue: Ordsall Leisure Centre (Tuesday 27th August 2019, 7pm)

Att: 45 (hc)

A rarity on these pages, a midweek game isn’t seen too much as it is, never mind one that is played at a non-regular venue a short distance from my abode. But that is just what this game was and the Ordsall Leisure Centre, just beyond its larger neighbour in Old Trafford, would be the host. The ground is within the small area of Ordsall in Salford, but stands just across the road from the plushy Salford Quays area of the city and, as a result of this, it gave me an excuse to sample a few of the pubs and bars the surround the numerous old docking areas.

I set off for this 7pm kick-off at just after 4pm, grabbing a couple of buses which allowed me to journey on over the swing bridge and to the Quays themselves. I would bypass the old Ordsall Hall mansion in doing so before hopping off my second service of the trip just outside the Quays House Beefeater – located right alongside a Premier Inn, perfect for those who like a tipple or two before bed! Incidentally, the most interesting parts of the journey both happened on this second bus (the 79 for those interested) which included a radio station onboard which meant my ride began with Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” soundtracking it, whilst the “bus stopping” sign was illuminated by an unseen hand, as it was only me and the driver on board….Whooooooo!! Spooky.

Ordsall Hall

Beefeater from across the water.

Matchstick Man

As I said, my day began with a visit to the Beefeater, which offered views across the quays towards the Old Trafford side, a nice enough place to sit with a pint of San Miguel, especially in the final throes of the warm, kind weather the bank holiday was allowed. From there, I back-tracked a little to the Matchstick Man, a Hungry Horse pub, where a pint of Boddies kind of reflected its surroundings, coming in at £3.95. Not a whole lot to report in here despite setting off in the direction of a non-existent door for some reason on the way out before again making the walk back towards the Lowry theatre and the neighbouring Craftbrew and Harvester outlet. I gave a miss to the Alchemist, though, as it looked a little….highbrow.

The Salford Quays area is within the area the City of Salford which itself is in the larger Greater Manchester area. It was formerly the Manchester Docks and, upon their 1982 closure, it then became the scene of one of the first and largest urban redevelopments throughout the U. K. The docks were owned and built by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, with Salford being the larger of the two – out sizing its neighbour Pomona. The docks were opened in 1892 by Queen Victoria and would go on to be, at its height, the third busiest port in Britain for a time, but the rise of container transportation and larger vessels meant the docks entered into a decline through the 1970’s, ahead of their eventual 1982 closure.

The Quays

Around the old docks

Heading on over to the Lowry area

The docklands were bought the next year by Salford City Council and renamed Salford Quays, with the area being steadily redeveloped from 1985 onwards to include many living areas, bar, restaurants, hotels, the Lowry Art Gallery, Theatre and Retail Outlet and the Imperial War Museum North. These were linked up by roads, a promenade and bridges, and were later joined by the Metrolink extension through to Media City, with the BBC and ITV having a large presence nowadays.

The Craftbrew was probably my favourite bar of the day beer-wise and had many a real ale on offer. I opted for a Hawkshead Pale Ale and it was bloody lovely too – very happy with that choice and the £4.05 price tag wasn’t bad at all considering its position bang centre within the Lowry complex. Finishing off my pint outside on the small outdoor area, I headed the short distance to the Harvester, which was only a small place and I felt more than a little out of place within the dining peoples, as I seemed to be the only person in there having a drink alone. Ah well, what can you do?! Upon finishing off the 61 Deep of Marston’s here, it was time to head towards Ordsall and a planned brief pop-over to the nearby, famed Salford Lads Club just around the corner. From there, I had hoped to get to the Welcome Inn a few minutes from the Ordsall Leisure Centre itself, but this proved to be impossible.

The reason for this? Well….bus. As I was setting off on my planned 25 minute-or-so walk, I spotted the #50 service popping in a little late. “Bonus!”; I thought to myself as I caught it, but this proved to be a fatal flaw in my plans, as it seemed to take an age to get around, whilst the walk from the stop itself seemed to take far, far longer than the phone map suggested. As a result, having reached the Lads Club, the heartbreaking decision to wrest myself away from the Welcome Inn was enforced and so direct to the ground I was forced to be. I’m sorry to have had to subject you to such scenes. Trust me, just be happy you weren’t there to experience it.

Lowry Area

Craftbrew

Harvester (on the left) at the Lowry Outlet

Ordsall itself is an area of Salford, historically in Lancashire, that is currently undergoing a large amount of redevelopment….kind of. It was first mentioned in an 1117 tax payment by Ordeshala and derives its name from the personal name in Old English ‘Ord’ and ‘halh’ meaning corner or nook, which accurately reflects the location of the Manor of Ordsall, with its boundary on the south Bank of the River Irwell featuring a large bend. However, it could also be from the Saxon primeval word ‘ord’ and ‘hal’ which, together, combine to become ‘very old den’ – the reasoning lying at the existence of a cave in the area known as Woden’s Den. This cave was located on a road that ran to Ordsall Hall and included an ancient, paved ford across the Irwell and is thought to have served as a Christian hermitafor local Kersal-based monks, or an area for early travellers to leave offerings to Odin before attempting the crossing.

Ordsall Hall itself dates back to the times of the Tudors and was the home of the Radclyffe family for over three centuries. It has also been home to a varied assortment of tenants, including a church for clergy, the forerunner of the Manchester Theological College and a working men’s club, and is said to be haunted… so that’s where the bus ghost was going! There is even a plausible, if unsubstantiated, rumour that the Gunpowder Plot was outlined here. The Salford Lads Club (made famous by the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead album) and musical themes continuity alumni of Ordsall including Peter Hook of New Order and Tim Burgess of the Charlatans. Football-wise, Busby Babe Eddie Colema was born in Ordsall, though was sadly one of those killed in the Munich Air Disaster, aged just 21.

Salford Lads Club

Arriving at Ordsall Park

I arrived at Ordsall Park, in which the Leisure Centre’s 4G pitch is located, to find the teams waiting around for the pre-booked training session before their game to finish up. It duly did and we were underway around five minutes late, by which time Dan had arrived and was pleasantly surprised to have made the beginning of the game. As for the ground, there’s not a whole lot to say about it, apart from it being a typical affair of its type, just this one has its spectator area running the full length of the park-side of the pitch, whilst some raised areas behind the far-end goal and the spectator area give a little more watching space, but the cage is an issue, of course; not that this was a problem this evening, unsurprisingly. The history part of Beechfield United can be found within my Salford Sports Village blog to watch their home game there, here, but let’s get straight on with the action of this contest….

The game eventually began once the pitch had been cleared of all and sundry and it was the visitors who came out of the blocks the stringer with #3 firing wide of the upright, and #9 seeing his attempted drive well blocked by a defender. However, they would be made to pay for their early misdirections, as Beechfield soon went ahead themselves. After winning a corner out on the right flank, the resultant ball was whipped in perfectly for the lanky frame of Beechy’s #5, Michele Fresneda, to climb highest and thump a header into the back of the net. One-nil Beechfield!

Match Action

Match Action

One quickly became two as well, when Kurtis Lee’s smart finish found the bottom corner, and they really should have gone and put the game beyond doubt shortly thereafter, but #2 guided his header wide and, down the other end and just before the break, #7 was unlucky to see his low shot fly narrowly off target, as Beechy held on to their lead through to the break, despite a scare when County had a goal ruled out for offside. Incidentally, the one thing I really do love about this level is the break times as, within 5 minutes, we were back up and running for the second half. County again began the stronger, and Matthew Leadsham spurned a fantastic chance to level soon after the restart when some fine work and a superb touch by #9 allowed him to be able to pull back. The goal was there, but the finish, alas, was not.

The ‘great chance, poor finish’ theme then continued right down the other end, as #11 broke clear to deliver a good low ball to the back-post, where the arriving #7 blasted into the side netting only. To be fair, it was a tight angle on this occasion, but nonetheless, they would be made to pay by County after this and two swift strikes from the visitors pegged them back. First, Leadsham made amends for his earlier faux pas by slotting in at the near post from a corner, before he himself then became the assister moments later, as he beat a challenge and pulled back to #8, Liam Short, who fired home from the edge of the area. 2-a-piece and all to play for in the last half-hour or so!

Under the lights

Match Action

Caged

Bolton then almost turned the match completely on its head as #11 got forward but did a little too much, and in giving possession back to Beechfield, indirectly allowed them to retake the lead, as they went right down the other end and sub Jordan Jones-Waite, who had been on the field a matter of minutes, slipped his shot across the ‘keeper and into the far side of the net. 3-2 and, unfortunately, the grandstand finish never quite arrived, despite pressure from both teams and a late header flying just wide was the last chance to get something from the game for County, as Beechfield held on for all three “home” points.

After the game, it was straight out of the park gates and to the bus stop a few minutes away for the first leg of the journey home. I bid goodbye to Dan back in Old Trafford and caught a second bus, only to narrowly miss my planned (yet very hopeful) connection by a few minutes. This wasn’t particularly a problem and after a 15 minute wait, I was on the way home to round off this rare midweek venture, and it had certainly been a worthwhile one. Both sides had put on a very entertaining game, with the surface being far better than I had expected it to be (no idea if the players think the same!), and it had been decent to have a few hours in and around the Quays for a change too – though I’m sure those who make their living around there may not be too enamoured. Back onto the norm Saturday games this weekend and the beginning of the FA Vase’s road to Wembley….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 3

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 9

Manchopper in….Cardiff (Millennium Stadium)

Result: Manchester United 2-2 AC Milan (5-4 pens) – (International Champions Cup (Glorified Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Millennium Stadium (Saturday 3rd August 2019, 5.30pm

Att: 65,982

The final weekend of pre-season finally came around to signal one of my most anticipated trips in quite some time. I’d been looking forward to getting back down to Cardiff for another visit, what with my trip to City being a rather rushed, short one, though I was expecting my return to be a watching brief at a Cardiff Met Welsh Prem game. However, when this “International Champions Cup” contest was announced for one of my long-term and fairly unlikely targets, I was in no doubt from that moment that I would be there – a bonus being, of course, that I could watch United whilst finally managing to ‘tick’ the Millennium Stadium.

Having had to miss out on my previously intended game – when Spain were the visitors – here a few months back, this was quite the pleasant surprise and I was upbeat and ready to go by the time I’d caught the 9.30am departure from Manchester through to Cardiff Central. It was a good job I’d pre-booked a reservation too, as the train down was absolutely packed and, indeed, by the time we got to Cwmbran, no one could manage to board. Having said that, a two carriage service at that time was something of a joke though, knowing the old Arriva service well, it seems that TfW are following the same mission statement.

In the square

Duke of Wellington

Cardiff (ft. seagull on his head)

The journey down was spent opposite another pair of lads travelling down to the game. I only really got talking to them in the last hour as they were working through the final few train beers each had in tow, though I was given a can of Coors on account of our shared journey-suffering. Dylan and Tom, cheers lads and hopefully your return journey was a little more restful than mine ended up being….but more on that later. For now, I arrived into Cardiff for just after 1pm and after the lads and the rest of their travelling party headed off on their way into town, I did the same but on my own pre-constructed itinerary. Starting off with a visit to the Callaghan square (where a number of things around there are named after politicians), I back-tracked slightly and headed for my first planned stop for the day – the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately, the Duke was serving in plastics only and, to my immense horror, this became the norm throughout. Amstel down and I continued on my merry way.

I continued on along past an island of stalls and towards a church and rather grandiose museum where I came upon both the Old Market Tavern and, just across the way, the Owain Glyndwr. In the former, a pleasant surprise was had initially as I saw that they had Punk IPA on draught – but then I was brought crashing back down to earth by the £5.05 price tag. Ouch! After spending my time here watching dual TV’s showing both the First Ashes Test and Salford City’s league debut (see both of my blogs here and here for both versions of that ground), I headed for The Owain Glyndwr, hoping for a cheaper time of things. Sadly, this wasn’t the case as the Mephesto IPA came in at £5.25 and was something of an acquired taste, but still decent enough nonetheless. A welcome bonus was that the F1 quali was added to the former two sporting events here, so I was in my element. Lovely stuff.

Cardiff

Old Market Tavern

Owain Glyndwr

From there, I made my way up towards the castle end of the city centre and popped into the Goat Major, the place being packed full of United fans outside. Inside it was a little more spacious and I opted for a Heineken (£4.05) in here to get back onto more familiar ground! A few lads here had the unfortunate happening of trying to start off a song, only for no-one to join in; though they took that well at least! Anyway, upon finishing up there, I began to back-track towards the stadium, coming across the nearby Tiny Rebel (kind of) taphouse as I did so. Entering inside, it was again a popular stopping point and with many a beer to choose from, I reckoned I’d play it kind of safe and go for the Clwb Tropicana (£4.95) owing to my liking of tropical stuff and the back-of-my-mind feeling I’d had it somewhere before.

A final stop was made in the neighbouring City Arms (actually a revisit following my brief terminated one a half-hour earlier) before I reckoned I’d make an early-ish entrance to the ground. This proved inspired as I initially headed in for some food having not seen any programmes out and about, before spotting someone with one as I was queuing for a bite to eat. Asking where he got it, he said “outside the ground”, to which I took he meant before coming in….not the obvious answer of OUTSIDE. A failed attempt to playfully bribe a security guy to find me one followed before I eventually found a steward who could point me in the correct direction which, it turned out was just around the corner which I took to be blocked off. Idiot. Panic over and with a £5 (decent sized A4 issue) bible in tow, I returned to my block once again and returned to the queues for a steak pie. Worth the wait too; piping hot it was.

Castle Walls

Breached!

Goat Major

Taking my pastry-based snack up to my seat, the impressive expanse of the ground opened up in front of me and I have to say, what a ground it is – made all the better by the closed roof, meaning this would be my first “indoor” match. Yes ok, that’s a stretch, but let me have it?! I took my given seating entrance, but this turned out to only mean that I disturbed the whole row I was joining as I continued right on over to the far side seat….right next to the next set of steps up. “Oh, but of course” I muttered to the guy next to me, a fellow United fan who I’d soon come to know be named Dan. A relative local, I talked to him throughout the majority of the game (though he may have wished he’d chose one of the other 65,000+ seats at points!) which, as it would turn out, would be a highly enjoyable affair.

As I said a little earlier, the Millennium Stadium really is an impressive structure – from both outside and in. It is a bowl shape with all corners filled in of course and is the same size the whole way around courtesy of the roof system. Each of the stadium’s sides made up of three tiers, with the bottom tier appearing to be a fair bit smaller than those above it, especially the top level, though this may be skewed somewhat by the large square-like areas behind the goals where both middle and top tiers merge. The dugouts, dressing rooms and tunnel are all located straddling the half-way line and were just to the right of the corner in which I was sitting. Not much else to say, really, so let’s get straight on with the action!

City Arms and Tiny Rebel to finish up

To the Millennium Stadium (no sponsors here!)

Welsh (and German) flavours

The game got going as United began the stronger and they were ahead within the first quarter of an hour when Marcus Rashford cut inside and fired low beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, their lead would last only ten minutes as former Liverpool prospect Suso, who had curled just over moments earlier, this time made amends – adjusting his sights to find the top corner, leaving David De Gea grasping at thin air. One-a-piece!

Following their equaliser, Milan began to gain the initiative and almost – indeed probably should have – gone ahead when the energetic Suso provided the impetus once again and delivered a fine ball for Krzysztof Piatek to attempt a diving header, only for his attempted…er, attempt to almost become the perfect dummy, but De Gea was alert to fling himself and divert the ball away. Piatek then had another chance on the stroke of the break, but his lob was palmed over by the Spanish gloveman to ensure the sides headed in level at the break.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

An uneventful break which saw a venture down into the concourse for no apparent reason came and went and we were soon back underway. Piatek again spurned a chance when he failed to shoot with any conviction during the early stages. United responded with chances for Victor Lindelof and Andreas Pereira, but either truly troubled Buffon’s second coming. In fact, Lindelof would prove more potent moments later but, unfortunately for him, his side and the majority of those within the Millennium Stadium, it would end up with the ball nestling into his own net.

Another direct Milan attack led to a ball in being met by the head of Samu Castijello and his header deflected off of the head of the Swede behind him and Lindelof was fairly unfortunate to be awarded an own goal to his name. The usual glut of substitutions followed, one of which saw Donnarumma replaced by former Liverpool stalward Jose “Pepe” Reina – who proceeded to become the pantomime villain for the majority of those in attendance, being booed upon each touch of the ball he was afforded.

Match Action

Off-target

However,he would become a little more liked when he was beaten with around 15 minutes to play, when Anthony Martial played in sub Jesse Lingard and the Warrington native fired a blistering low drive past Reina to level up the scores once more. A number of youngsters were introduced to the fray for the final ten minutes or so – Angel Gomes, Dan James and Mason Greenwood for United and the likes of Daniel, son of the legendary Paolo, Maldini for Milan. Despite a large amount of pace and trickery from them, there was no more goals despite a late Lingard chance, and so we headed for penalties.

The first eight penalties all hit the net mark – Hakan Calanhoglu, Lingard, Giacomo Bonaventura, Ashley Young, Andre Silva, Mason Greenwood, Rade Krunic and Angel Gomes all finding the net, before the young Maldini was the unfortunate player to miss, the 17-year-old seeing his spot-kick kept out comfortably by De Gea. This left the new signing Daniel James, back in his “homeland” (he is English-born, after all), to win the game and he did just that, converting the fifth United penno to win possibly the most pointless shoot out of all time – Benfica had already taken the tournament. BENFICA!!!

James converts the winning pen

Post-match pubs via blurred vision

After the game, I had a good amount of time before the train home (ha, famous last words) and so I popped into the stadium-neighbouring Zerodegrees Microbrewery and the neighbouring Queen’s Vaults but, being mindful to get to the station with time in hand, I opted to have just a half of Czech Pilsner (£2) in the former, which was interestingly showing Lancashire’s T20 clash vs Nottinghamshire on a big screen behind the bar, and a can of Dark Fruits (£3.25) in the latter, purchased from a separate, little side-bar. With a good twenty minutes or so until the train, I left for the station just up the road, only to see a kind of organised mayhem, with queues here and there heading in all different directions. I was initially pointed into the Birmingham queue where I was assured I’d be placed on the train back to Manchester (I did have the reservation, after all) but I felt a little iffy after ten minutes waiting and no movement of said queue. A further five minutes of nothingness in terms of help meant the train came and went and wouldn’t you know it, I was stranded. Superb stuff. Clusterfuck.

I was eventually allowed to enter the station after actually getting it through to security what the situation was (though my initial joking denial to move for a family to get through could’ve gone wrong had I not thought on about it!) and, to be fair, the lads in the station building itself did do their level best to try and sort me out a way back. Of course, there was little they could do and so I was left with one option and one option alone. Crewe: end of the line. God, there’s something about that bloody place! Assured that I could claim back money for my troubles (watch out for it whomever is at fault here), I boarded said train which did have one bonus to it – it was empty as anything, meaning a far more peaceful journey back was had than I’d have endured on the Manchester service. Also, my cousin had offered to be my personal taxi for the evening to drop me home from there too, meaning that, all in all, the whole furore had cost me about half-an-hour. Crazy. Back in at just after 1am and with that horrible tiredness pain you get inside your brain itself setting in, that was that until a little later on Sunday morning!

Aside from all that shit at the end, the day as a whole couldn’t have gone much better. The game was far better than expected, the ground superb, Cardiff was fun (despite the plastic crap) and getting to meet some good guys during the day’s events was a pleasure too. Back to competitive action next week for the FA Cup’s Extra-Preliminary Round and with a number of ties jumping off the fixture list, I’m spoilt for choice in where to head….that is as long as the journey back is easier than this one!

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 10

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6 (Marked down due to the obvious)

Manchopper in….Leyland (County Ground, Lancashire FA HQ)

Result: Morecambe 0-2 Accrington Stanley (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The County Ground, Lancashire FA HQ (Saturday 27th July, 3pm)

Att: 350-400 (approx.)

My penultimate weekend of pre-season saw myself without a destination set in stone come the morning of the day in question. However, I did have a few options, both new grounds and revisits, to choose from, but thought I’d see what the Great British summer would throw up weather-wise. As it was, it looked a fair bit of unsettled (and wet) stuff was on its way and so I reckoned I’d play fairly safe and go for a ground with a good surface and, likely more importantly, a fair pit of cover from the elements. As a result, Leyland’s County Ground – the home of the Lancashire County FA – ticked these requirements and my fate was decided. Off to Lancashire!

The journey was smooth despite the added rail traffic due to works on the West Coast mainline and, after a couple of changes in Manchester and Bolton respectively, I hopped off the stopping service bound for Blackpool upon its arrival into a rather damp and miserable Leyland for the second pre-season in a row, having started last season off with a visit to Leyland United’s home ground, Centurion Park, which lies in the Farington area of the town, around a mile out from the centre. Incidentally, the history of Leyland can be found on that blog here. The County Ground is somewhat easier to do due to its location slap, bang in the centre of the town and, as a result, I reckoned I’d get the majority of the walk out of the way and headed on past the ground itself and down a leafy street before reaching the old-looking Eagle & Child on the main road to the juxtaposing modern Asda and the small “old town” in area opposite.

Leyland Motors clock

Church

Leyland

The Eagle was indeed a traditional haunt and I reckon I was the first customer upon my at just before quarter past midday – something I’ve become somewhat accustomed to over my travels! Anyway, I started off with a pint of Estrella (£4.10) and settled in next to a window looking out on the road as the rain began to fall….and wouldn’t stop again throughout my trip. Finishing up, I continued on the short distance, past a raised-up church and the aforementioned out-of-place supermarket, before arriving at the two old town pubs (a far better name for a song in my view) that stand across the way from each other and just beyond the Leyland Cross which holds steady within its more modern surroundings.

I headed for the Withy Arms freehouse first where I plumped for a pint of McEwans Lager at £2.89 (I’m sure Leyland is the only place outside of Scotland that does this seemingly somewhat regularly!) whilst seeing that this place has apparently had a few previous names, according to a few bits and bobs decorating the walls, and has again seemed to have opened with another new look. Opposite stands the more steadfast Fox & Lion (nope, no idea either) which seemed to be the quintessential “local” for this part of town, it being well occupied by punters during the early afternoon. I had a pint of Kronenbourg (£2.90) here before crossing on through the supermarket car-park and towards the ground, with a couple of stops before I got there, of course.

Eagle & Child

To the old town & Withy Arms and Fox & Lion

Bannisters

First up was Bannisters which was a mix of modern and traditional and was a pleasant place to visit to – although my slight cold was making me lag somewhat, making me look as though I was three-times as drunk as I was….though I probably just look quite bad anyway, so it doesn’t make much of a difference! Anyway, I polished off the last of my pint of Hop House 13 (£3.40) in there before continuing on just up the road to the corner-straddling Gables, a large building that dominates its corner and surroundings thereof. My unintentional and non-existent drunkeness continued as I first handed over the wrong amount for my pint of Boddingtons (£3.25), before struggling to climb onto a bar stool. Luckily, no-one seemed to notice. Or maybe they were just feeling a bit sorry for the alky in the corner!

Following there, I found myself nobbing along to the small real ale place at the foot of the road to the ground – known as the Market Ale House. Unbelievably, I was actually quite sensible and, with time not quite on my side, chose to just partake in a half of the Lancaster Pale Ale here (only £1.55 too) though I did perk up a bit too which was timely as kick-off was fast approaching. Heading up the road opposite, I arrived at the gate (a few tables and tents and stuff) where I paid in via student concession and was into the County Ground for a second time, my previous visit being a cup final between Blackpool Wren Rovers and Prestwich Heys, back in t’day.

The Gables

To the Market….ale house

At the ground

The County Ground is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a smart and tidy set-up, but one that still maintains its feel of history. Of course, the modernisation is seen in the large all-seater Main Stand that runs along the majority of the far side, whilst the side from which you enter is populated by the large LFA club building and all that comes with it. Behind the museum end goal, there is a decent sized covered standing area that seems to have been in situ as other parts of the ground were built up around it, and this is flanked by the food bar and clubhouse/turnstiles – the latter of which weren’t on duty today due to the need for an outside bar there. The opposite end has a bit of open terracing, as does the corner between the two stands – again showing the traditional side of the town centre ground. That’s that in a nutshell and let’s get onto the game….

The game got underway with Morecambe slightly on top early on, though the game was even-stevens on the whole. Morecambe had the only real sights of goal in the first half-hour or so, with a shot across goal by Kevin Ellison missing the far post and a poor back-pass being seized upon by the Shrimps’ #8, Lewis Alessandra, only for him to be denied by a good stop by Stanley stopper Dimitar Evtimov. Accrington’s one and only real chance of the half saw Sean McConville, wearing the #11 shirt, played in, before he wastefully shot wide. Morecambe almost grabbed the opener towards the end of the half – some poor Stanley defending led to an Alessandra effort being brilliantly blocked, with the looping ball eventually having to be cleared off the line.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Barry Roche then made a pair of good stops to deny a couple of headed Colby Bishop efforts, Half-time arrived to end a rather turgid first-half which really did mirror the weather and mid-afternoon lighting around Leyland, and whilst many too shelter in their well-suited clothing, mackintoshes and umbrellas I, as per usual, took shelter under the slight overhang of the Lancashire FA’s clubhouse roof which proved to be decent enough cover during the fifteen minute sojourn. Anyhow, I would soon be venturing out into the damp Lancastrian weather once again as the players had made their way out back onto the field ahead of the second period.

The half began with the Shrimps again seeing the better of the early chances come their way; the best of which came when a counter-attack ended up at the feet of Alessandra who, after some later, patient build-up play, saw his low drive kept out by Stanley ‘keeper Evtimov. Down the other end, Accrington’s first chance of the second half came from a set-piece, the ball in being met by the head of the #7, Jordan Clark, but the ball was pretty comfortably kept out by Roche between the Morecambe sticks.

Balls & Brollies

View from the stand (ft. back of guy’s head)

Real and fake together

A further chance came the way of both sides, McConville & Aaron Wildig firing over for Accrington & Morecambe respectively, before the Shrimps were awarded a clear-cut spot-kick around ten minutes into the half when the quicksilver John O’Sullivan was brought down by Seamus Conneely inside the box. O’Sullivan dusted himself down and stepped up, but saw his kick bounce back off the upright via the fingertips of Evtimov and clear of danger. His mood would only be worsened when this miss was punished soon after by Stanley. A good cross was delivered by Callum Johnson, and found Stanley #9 Colby Bishop who guided his header beyond Roche and into the net. One quickly became two when, following some good build up play, the ball was back-heeled for McConville and he placed his effort across the Morecambe stopper and into the bottom corner.

Accrington, by now and regardless of the score-line, had well and truly gained the upper hand in the contest. Indeed, they almost went three-up when Bishop clipped an effort over Roche, but was unlucky to see it not quite dip in time, the ball instead clipping the top of the crossbar on its way over. Both teams had a late sight of goal too – Morecambe again seeing a swift attack give them a shooting chance, but sub Rhys Oates was denied by another good low stop by Evtimov and his opposite number equalled this in denying (I kid you not, as ‘A Trialist had already started) ‘B Trialist’ in the last meaningful action of the contest. Full-time, 2-0 to the League One side.

Heading back towards the station

Leyland Lion post-match

Post-match, I had a fair bit of time until the train back and so nipped into the Leyland Lion Wetherspoons outlet just around the corner from the ground, where I indulged in a bottle of the Chinese beer, Tsingtao (£3.15), another one of my more obscure faves. This provided a decent shelter from the elements through until I took my leave and headed for the train back once more. The journey back was uneventful on the whole and so that brings to an end my penultimate pre-season venture.

Overall, if you discount the weather, it had been a good day out. The remainder of Leyland’s hostelries I’d left for just this return visit were all decent places for a pint, whilst the ground is always quite a low-key, decent affair. The game was okay for what it was (albeit far better in the second half) and the short journey was welcome ahead of my trip down to Cardiff and the Millennium Stadium next week for my last pre-se….oh, er….International Champions Cup clash. How prestigious….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: Teamsheet from hut

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Scarborough (Scarborough League XI vs Scarborough Ath)

Result: Scarborough & District League XI 0-10 Scarborough Athletic (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Scalby Lane, Scarborough RUFC (Saturday 13th July 2019, 3pm)

Att: 300-350 (approx.)

As pre-season entered its third weekend, another slightly unusual ground venue offered itself up and, as is the norm, it was an opportunity that would have been silly to pass up, especially having missed out on said ground last year. As such, when the Scarborough & District League again announced its select XI would be taking on Scarborough Athletic at Scarborough RUFC’s Scalby Lane ground, I immediately drew up plans for another visit to the seaside.

Setting off at just before 9am, I transited through Manchester and onwards straight through to York though, as seems to be a regular occurrence on Transpennine Express, I was forced to stand throughout; honestly, you’d have thought they’d have managed to discover this issue by now…but then again….anyway, having fifteen minutes until my connection left the White Rose county town, I felt little in the way of tension as I headed into the ticket office. But it seemed that all those who were around were incapable of deciphering different tickets and what company they could use them on and the ticket machine decided it didn’t really want to help either, as the contactless payment just didn’t register and left me in a bit of limbo. Then, with my options narrowing, I decided to return to human interaction and take my chances, but with little in the way of progress being made at the ticket windows, I instead plumped to try my hand at the barrier.

£31?! I exclaimed in disbelief at my quoted price! Knowing full well I could get a ticket for less than half that, I gave into time and returned, yet again, to the ticket office and did my good deed for the day in allowing a rushed fellow ahead of me. Eventually, I was able to purchase my £13~ ticket for the journey onwards to the coast and with a good half-hour until the next service was due to depart, soon felt a little parched. Now, having visited the York Tap on a few occasions by this point, I decided to instead try out the Duke of York – the station’s over pub. I settled in with a pint of the Yardbird Pale Ale which, at £4.10, proved an inspired choice. Lovely stuff.

Finally in Scarborough

Scarborough

Along the front, ft. police box (or a TARDIS?)

Eventually, I could finally head on over to Scarborough with the journey, thankfully, trouble-free. Arriving at a little after midday, my initial plan to hop on the cliff-spanning tramline fell apart as it didn’t quite fit in nicely with my planned route de la pub and so I instead took the manual way down via the steps and jumped on the first bus that came….which of course happened to be of the open-top variety. Sadly, with the journey only taking a few minutes along the promenade, it wasn’t worth my while getting my luscious locks all windswept (you can decide if I’m joking) and indeed, before long, I was debussing outside of the Newcastle Packet; a rather nice, old-style drinking hole that was filled with, rather unsurprisingly, a large amount of maritime paraphernalia.

A Moretti (£4.50) on the couch was the order of the day (no, not some Scarborough-exclusive cocktail, just a beer whilst sat on a couch) before I continued a few doors down to the Golden Ball – a pub I didn’t know was there until I spied it whilst taking pics. After making the acquaintance of a couple of canines outside, I wandered into what was again a small, old-style pub, abundant in wooden beams and the like. Even better was the discovery of it being a Sam Smith’s place and, of course, this means cheap beer in the form of Taddy Lager at £2.30. I love you, Sammy boy!

Newcastle Packet

Golden Ball

Lord Nelson

Suffering through the pub’s mobile/tablet/any other electrical communication-capable device rule (though the fact my phone was refusing to help my navigation anyway did make this a little easier) I soon backtracked to the other nearby drinking hole – the Lord Nelson – which was featuring middle-of-the-day karaoke, which I don’t think I’ve come across much, if ever, before….on these shores anyway. And, no, Blackpool doesn’t count. A pint of Heineken at a rather steep £4.40 was had here before I set off uphill towards the chapel at the top which is home to the final resting place of one-third of the Brontë authors, Anne. However, my interest was peaked by the Leeds Arms half-way up, with me reasoning that I really ought to have a rest….you know, just in case.

Unsurprisingly when you consider the name, the Leeds Arms was decked out in a number of Leeds and Leeds United-based merchandise and the like and so I thought I’d fit in with my surroundings and try out the Leeds Pale Ale which, at £3, wasn’t too bad at all. However, time was beginning to go against me and I didn’t really know the regularity of the buses because, as I alluded to earlier, my phone didn’t want to play ball today. Indeed, I asked Dan to text me over a couple of timetables and these duly arrived three days later. No help there then, I decided to only pay a brief stop-off at the aforementioned church before coming across my planned final pre-match stop-off point of the Scarborough Arms – when in Scarborough, after all! This was a rather nice little place, hidden away somewhat off the beaten track as it is, and after opting for a Dark Fruits (£3.50) for the previously outlined reasons, was soon en route back towards the station for the bus up to the ground….or so I hoped!

Leeds Arms

Church

Scarborough Arms

I arrived and recognised one of the few bus numbers already pulled in, which lessened my stress levels somewhat! We set off shortly afterwards and arrived up at the ground in the village of Scalby around ten minutes later, though when I say arrived, I mean I missed the actual stop I needed, but luckily the next one was a matter of a few hundred metres away. That could have gone horribly wrong; damn phone! Anyway, safely within sight of the home of Scarborough RUFC, I headed on around towards the “gate” which consisted of a table in the foyer of the club’s main entrance and took a look at the clubhouse on the first floor before returning back to ground-level and heading out pitchside, with kick-off not too far away. A quick visit to the food bar resulted in a tepid (and that’s being kind) steak pie which would have to satisfy me for the day. Ah well, can’t win them all.

The ground itself is a rather picturesque one and houses its own garden/seating area down the left-hand side of the ground, just alongside the clubhouse which plays host to all the amenities required in a sporting ground – food bar, dressing rooms, bar etc. Opposite is a lovely, old-school seating stand which straddles the half-way line and gives the ground a lot of character – as does the views out over the coast and along the way back to Scarborough off behind it and the right-hand end respectively. A little open terracing occupies the area behind the left-hand end goal, with open standing behind the other. The area in front of the clubhouse building is also open, hard standing, with the pitch fully barred-off. That’s the ground in short and I don’t have any club to do a history bit on, so let’s get straight on with the action, shall we….and stop cheering at the back!

On arrival….

Heading in

In the clubhouse

We got going with Athletic immediately stamping their authority on the contest against the side made up of players from numerous clubs throughout the local area. Indeed, the opening true chance of the afternoon led to the first goal, Michael Coulson firing across the District League GK Callum Myers and in via the inside of the post. That lead would be doubled in swift fashion too, with Harry Coates, following a half-cleared corner, meeting the ball sweetly on the volley and leaving Myers with little chance. Two-nil to the NPL side in no time at all and it did look a case of “how many?”.

The ‘Boro’ kept on coming and after the District League #5 had produced a fine last ditch block to deny the experienced James Walshaw a first of the afternoon, the frontman grabbed it nonetheless when, moments later, he was latching onto a through ball following a good advantage played by the referee and Walshaw duly chipped tidily into the net. Luckily for the XI, Athletic’s attacking prowess seemed to be put on the back-burner for a while and only added number four just before the break – Walshaw grabbing his second after a good interchange between he and Coulson allowed him to fire home.

Match Action

Back of the net!

Along the stand

Multi-ball!

Half-time came and went with little of note occurring, and after a brief visit to the clubhouse, I watched the opening stages from above the field of play – courtesy of the balcony which looks out across the pitch and over the sea beyond. An almost fully changed Athletic side was introduced for the second period and these mirrored their first-half comrades in coming out of the blocks all guns blazing. However, their sights weren’t set quite as well and their initial chances all missed their intended target – a free-kick flying just wide, another sub shooting wastefully over when well placed and Myers latterly pulling off a fine stop between the sticks.

When they did eventually find the net, it would then be ruled out for offside. But the respite would be short-lived, as Athletic’s fifth arrived courtesy of Wayne Brooksby, who knocked home from close range after some good build-up play by Flynn McNaughton. The so far threatless District XI finally got within sight of the Athletic goal after this, but could only manage a pair of efforts that were both well blocked out by the NPL outfit’s back-line, who would likely have been rather grateful for something to do.

From up on high

Match Action

That would pretty much be all they had to exert themselves for though, as the ball swiftly returned to the other end and a penalty was won and it was duly converted, straight down the middle, by Walshaw for his hat-trick. McNaughton had won the spot-kick but fancied getting in on the goal-scoring action himself and duly met his targets when he was repaid the favour by Walshaw, the striker teeing him up to side-foot home from the edge of the box. The impressive McNaughton then had a major hand in the eighth, with his cross being put through his own net by a sliding centre-half.

Eight-nil and with time running short, my thoughts began to turn to whether I could finally be about to see a side record ten in a match for the first time ever. Myers however, was in determined mood and kept out an attempted Walshaw chip, with the resulting corner seeing a shot end up in the side-netting. Walshaw would add number nine just after as he ended off a good move by driving home from a headed knock-down and, with the last-kick of the game (and by this time being serenaded with tongue-in-cheek choruses of “What a waste of money!!), he unleashed a fine volleyed effort from all of 40 yards which drifted over the beleaguered Myers with pinpoint accuracy and nestled into the back of the net. There it was, it was ten and Walshaw had grabbed half of them. Not a bad day’s work!

Walshaw nets one of his five, from the spot

Match Action

SUFC

Post-match, I undertook the short walk to the village centre of Scalby which is home to a couple of neighbouring pubs, the first of which was the Nags Head which was featuring some folk/Irish music from local musicians as I entered. Something different, for sure and it made a pleasant change whilst I sat over the far side and listened to them finish up their set before heading on off. I soon finished my pint of Stella (£4) and followed but instead popped into the Plough Inn just down the road and back towards the bus stop. This was more of a gastropub and I could take my time over the pint of Amstel (£3.80) in here (my phone had decided to stop having a sulk) with me having a fair bit of time until the train back.

 

Nag’s Head

Along the high street to the Plough

After around a half-hour in the Plough, I was soon back at the bus stop and on board a bus back to the station, though my plusbus ticket did seem to confuse the driver who had apparently not seen one before and had to take a picture of it for reasons beknownst to him; this despite me having boarded the exact same service back to outside the train station. Hmmmmm. Anyway, there was no issue or anything, but I do think this is something that the drivers need a bit of help with as it seems a pretty regular occurrence. The train back was on time and allowed me to make a two-minute connection home from Manchester too to round off the day on a high! I had finally got a 10-goal for a team game and an unusual ground along with it. The pubs were all quite nice, the ground was too and a programme was a nice little extra touch. Sadly, the food was, as I mentioned earlier, a definite let down. But, hey ho, on to next week and a ground-based derby clash….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 2

Programme: 4

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Liverpool (Brasil vs Croatia)

 

Result: Brasil 2-0 Croatia (International Friendly)

Venue: Anfield, Liverpool (Sunday 3rd June 2018, 3pm)

Att: 42,000

*Just a quick note to say that I know the correct spellings of most of these players will be wrong, due to the amount of accents included, but due to the fact I don’t know how to get the correct ones up, this isn’t possible to do. So, apologies for this, but I’m sure it’s understandable! Anyway, on with the show….

It finally arrived! The final day of the season was finally upon me and what a way to end it off. After eleven whole months and spanning over 80 matches, I was finishing up at Anfield, having started at the start of July at AVRO’s shiny, new home, the renovated Whitebank Stadium in Oldham. Indeed, that game featured the visit to Manchester of Lower Breck F.C, whose Anfield Sports Club home is located a short walk from its more famous neighbour, somewhat bringing a tidy end to proceedings. To Liverpool it was, but it was for an interesting friendly contest, pitting the 5-time World Champions Brasil against the talented Croatian side including the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, amongst others.

With my Mum being a mad Liverpool fan, and having a wide interest in the game as a whole, I brought up this game to here and she was immediately interested in joining me on the trip, even going as far as paying for both our tickets (thanks, Mother!). My Dad also found his charitable side(!) and offered to drop us off, and with the Liverpool-Manchester line undergoing works, this was more than welcome as well. A problem-less hour’s drive later and we were being dropped off outside the famous Kop End, but there wasn’t so much of the Liver Bird on show today, as the yellow, blue and green of the Selecao and the classical white-and-red chequered shirts of the Croats. Both nation’s flags were on display widely too (be that by natives of both countries, or neutrals with an interest in either), though my Mum was understandably attracted by the Red flags adorning the outer walls of the Twelfth Man pub, and it was here our day began in earnest.

First stop, the Twelfth Man

The flag-adorned ceiling of the Albert

Finding out my phone had gone walkabouts upon entering, a call to my Dad was required to reunite me with said necessity, which had attempted its escape. I’d have been lost if I was alone! Panic over, I could enjoy my pint of Hop House, whilst my Mum carried on her new-found liking of Strongbow’s Dark Fruits. With the pub getting ever busier thanks to an influx of supporters of both countries, we exited and headed onwards to the outside of Anfield, but we weren’t headed for the ground just yet my friends, oh no. Instead, it was to The Albert, a large Victorian pub which sits right alongside the Paisley Gates and in front of the Kop. It was packed in here with both sets of supporters again mixing superbly and getting on well together, which was a theme of the day. With it being so full and space at a premium, the pint of Carlsberg (it had to be, didn’t it, with the Liverpool connection!) went down quickly prior to us continuing on slightly away from the ground and to our next venue, The Sandon or, more accurately, its neighbouring matchday bar, Dodd’s.

Dodd’s was nice enough too though, once again, it was full of fans of all persuasions enjoying a pre-match beverage or two. Its archway-filled interior gives it a cool feel and it has a sort of clubby vibe to it I felt, which lends it something of a different look. Anyway, Coors in hand, we found some space up near the pool table and latterly secured a table which were certainly at a premium, with it seeming to be the case that there was no outside area. Sadly, it turned out there was as we departed around the corner, the car-park area full with even more punters and rocking. A shame, but the final pre-match stop was calling.

Dodd’s

The Arkles (turrets just visible)

…and inside

The Arkles was up next and despite it having some suspiciously Evertonian-looking turrets adorning its steps, is another staunch Liverpool pub it seemed, with the Reds’ memorabilia being far more obviously on show. You can guess who was in here by what I’ve said before, so don’t want to bore you with a repetitive theme! Anyway, with time ticking down to kick-off and me wanting to get there in far better time than I’d ended up doing the previous day – at Wembley for the England-Nigeria game – I finished off my pint sharpish and navigated our way the long distance back to the ground and the Shankly Gates. Just kidding, they’re about a minute away!

Following a standard visit to the touching memorial to Hillsborough, decked out as ever with loads of tributes to those so tragically lost in such a terrible way, we continued on to the Kop’s turnstiles and, following the standard bag check, were swiftly inside – Anfield seemingly far better organised than Wembley in this case, regardless of the difference in crowd size. Scanning our £30 tickets (my Mum found this rather tricky, being not as versed in the recent, more technical ways of ticketing….sorry Mum), we quickly cut the crowds and headed up the steps, finding our seats in the middle of one of the Kop’s many rows….despite having picked out seats on the edge of the row whilst buying online. Hmmmmmm…..

Arriving at Anfield’s Shankly Gates

To the Kop. VVD’s a bit shorter in the flesh!

Anyway, we still had fine seats for viewing the game from, just off from centre and slightly to the left of the goal as you look from the stand in question. The sides soon emerged from the tunnel and after the Brasilian fans next to us belted out their national anthem loudly and proudly, the Croatian fans – largely grouped together down the far end in the Anfield Road stand, had their turn too. Both anthems were respectively received by their opposite numbers (and everyone else too) and we were all set to go. Brasil’s talismanic forward, Neymar, would be starting from the bench today, continuing his recovery from injury. Indeed, this wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen him, though the previous time was a far closer affair. Are you sitting comfortably….?

It just so happened I was lucky enough to work security for a short time during the 2012 Olympic Games, guarding the hotel where the players were staying when playing at Old Trafford. Brasil happened to be one of the teams (along with Spain, South Korea, Japan, Egypt and Morocco(?), whilst the USA and Canadian women’s sides also stayed prior to their clash). I’d make a point of saying ‘Hello’ to all about (as you couldn’t do much else) and so that was how I managed to get a thumbs up from him, along with a full conversation with Leandro Damaio, prior to them playing ping-pong together. I hope Neymar’s improved his skills on that front!

The game pitted the five-time World Champs against Croatia, whose best World Cup performance was a third-placed finish at the 1998 tournament in France, the first I can remember watching! Whilst the Croatians have a less than impressive record in terms of honours, winning only the Hassan II Trophy in the 1996 tournament (besting Morocco, Nigeria and Czech Republic) and the 1999 Korea Cup (the 23rd and last edition of the competition), contested against South Korea, Mexico and Egypt. They also finished as runners-up in the 1997 Kirin Cup, finishing behind hosts Japan, but ahead of other competing nation, Turkey. A more dubious “honour” is the fact that Josip Simunic was shown three yellow cards in a match against Australia by Graham Poll in the World Cup of 2006, but wasn’t sent off as, apparently, Poll thought he was an Aussie due to his Australian accent. Yeah, we all believe that, it’s easy to get confused when they’re wearing the same…oh.

Anfield

The Paisley Gates

Meanwhile, Brasil’s record is nothing short of exemplary. Alongside their 5 World Cup titles (1958, ’62, ’70 & ’94 & 2002), they have also finished runners-up twice, in each of the 1950 & 1998 tournaments. They have also lifted the Confederations Cup on four occasions (1997, 2005, ’09 & 13), finishing runners-up in 1999, and have won the South America Championship (now the Copa America) on eight occasions, these coming in 1919, ’22, ’49, ’89, ’97, ’99, 2004 & 2007 and have finished runners-up on no less than eleven occasions. They also added two Panamerican Championships to their long list of honours, these coming in 1952 & ’56, whilst they were losing finalists in the 1960 tournament too, meaning the competed in each of the three finals during the competition’s tenure.

In addition to these more major honours, Brasil have also won numerous friendly tournaments during their glittering history. Their multiple title wins include 11 Copa Roca’s/Superclasico de las Americas (between 1914 & 2014), seven Copa Rio Branco’s (between 1931 & 1976), eight Taco Oswald Cruz titles (between 1950 & 1976) and three Taca do Atlantico titles in 1956, 1970 & 1976. In addition they have won one each of the Taca Independencia (1972), USA Bicentennial Cup (1976), Rous Cup (1987), Australia Bicentenary Gold Cup (1988), Umbro Cup (1995), and the 2005 Lunar New Year Cup. They have also won four Gold Medals at the Pan-American Games – these coming in 1963, 1975 (shared), 1979 and 1987, two Silvers (1959 & 2003) and two Bronze (1983 & 2015). In the Olympics, Brasil have taken just a single Gold Medal – in their home 2016 Rio Games, whilst winning three silver medals (1984, ’88 & 2012) and two Bronze (1996, 2008). However, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has eluded them, with Brasil finishing runners-up in both the 1996 & 2003 tournaments whilst also finishing third in 1998.

Teams line up for the anthems

Enough of the nostalgia trip (also known as blowing my own trumpet) and let’s get on with the game. From kick-off, it was definitely a slow burner, however this didn’t mean it wasn’t still highly watchable. The first twenty minutes was largely interrupted with a number of fouls and offsides, before Dejan Lovren nodded the first true chance of the game narrowly wide on his home turf, before Andrej Kramaric forced Brasil’s ‘keeper Allinson – who may also be soon playing at Anfield on a regular basis if rumours are to be believed – into a fairly comfortable stop.

Match Action

Match Action

Luka Modric was running the midfield for the Croatians, with Ivan Rakitic providing good cover for the defence at times, whilst also transferring into a more attacking role when required. However, it was Phillipe Coutinho, returning to his former club’s home ground, who had the next attempt, firing high and wide into the Anfield Road End behind Danijel Subasic’s goal. After this, there was little between the sides in the way of chances, with only a few blocked efforts for Willian and Paulinho being seen prior to the break. Half-Time and the majority of the crowd around Anfield were hoping for the appearance of Neymar to spice up the contest.

The break saw the fans treated to the appearance of a bird mascot kitted out in a full Brasil kit, who went on a lap consisting of posing and keepy-ups which lasted the whole 15 minutes. Finally, his display was at an end and he received a warm reception for his efforts, as the bird (which obviously isn’t a man dressed up, for the assurance of any kids) made his way back off the pitch. He was soon replaced by the 22 players and officials, with Neymar indeed being introduced for the second forty-five, entering the field to loud cheers around the ground.

The bird loves it….

….as do the fans!

The vast majority of the Selecao’s play during the second half went through Neymar, whose influence on the game grew quickly and impressively, considering it was only his first game back after injury. Both full/wing-backs Marcelo and Danilo saw shots fly off target (the former’s a fair bit closer), before Neymar’s first attempt was at least on target, forcing Croatian gloveman Subasic into a low stop. Modric departed the scene soon after this, being replaced by Mateo Kovacic and this seemed to lessen the attacking forays Croatia embarked on. At the other end of the pitch, Roberto Firmino (or “Bobby” to his friends around here) was introduced on the hour to a similar reception to that of Neymar fifteen minutes before, replacing today’s skipper, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, who’d toiled away for little reward up front.

Nine minutes later, the opener finally arrived and, of course, it was the South Americans’ talismanic #10 who grabbed it. After receiving the ball at the end of a move involving Willian and Coutinho, he forced his way into the box, beat a couple of defenders, and absolutely smashed the ball beyond over Subasic and into the roof of the centre of the net. A fine goal and one that bodes well for him and his side’s chances, if he’s not at full sharpness yet.

Match Action

Neymar celebrates his opener

Match Action

A fair period of quiet followed, with little occurring in way of chances. After Rakitic (who’s one of my current favourite players out there) was replaced, only his team-mate Duje Caleta-Car, who’d earlier replaced the veteran Vedran Corluka at the back, had a chance up towards the end of the game, his header from a free-kick flying wide of the mark. Neymar’s late free-kick flew comfortably wide as Brasil looked to add some gloss to the score-line, before Firmino went on a late quest to grab the rare opportunity to net for his nation at the home of his club.

Which is the better #11?

Firmino scores. He wasn’t flagging!

After going close twice in the lead up to stoppage time, he got third-time lucky as he ran onto Casemiro’s through-ball and fired beyond Subasic to wrap up the game with the very last kick. A nice moment for him, his smile revealing his set of very bright teeth, which were visible even to us half-way up the stand! Full-Time, Brasil 2-0 Croatia. A decent game!

After the game, we popped into the Park Tavern across the way from the Kop and after a final drink in here, hopped onto a bus (£2 single) and headed back to the city centre, whilst the Brasilian and Croatian fans continued their respective parties outside what seemed to be one of the most popular venues on the day. Soon back at Lime Street station, I came up with the idea of finding the recently saved Lion pub, which had been under threat of closure after the brewer pulled out. Sadly, it ended up being a little too far for us to be bothered too much on this day, and so we decided to leave that for another time and deviated instead onto Mathew Street and the famed Cavern Club.

My Mum couldn’t miss a chance for a pic in the Kop…

….nor out front with Bill & Bob!

All fans together in the Park

After paying the £2.50 p/p entrance fee, we descended down several flights of stairs before finally arriving in the….well, cavernous bar where I spotted a group of Brasil fans that I was sure had been in at least two other pubs while we had been there too. Crazy. Anyway, my first experience of the Cavern was a cool one and after a couple of pints down in the depths of Liverpool, whilst enjoying the live music on offer, we headed back up onto the streets and met my Dad who’d kindly offered to pick us up again. Of course, it’d be rude for us not to include him in the tour somewhere along the way, and so a final one was had in the large, impressive-looking Crown, just over the road from Lime Street, before we embarked on the journey back home.

So, there ends a trip that was a little bit different, and brought back memories (somewhat) of the strangeness of the Qatar-Northern Ireland trip a few years ago, where Matt Harrison’s (of Lost Boyos fame) dancing came to the rescue. I’m sure he’s not had to repeat the trick as of yet! All in all, it had been a fun trip and very economical as my Mum pretty much paid for everything bar the final round!! No programmes or food were tested (saving that for a Liverpool game in earnest) but the pubs were all fun and I look forward to returning soon.

Day ended off back in Liverpool

…and its famed Cavern Club!

The Cavern “proper”.

Thanks for reading my silly tales this season one and all, I really appreciate the support in what has been a difficult period. This has been my outlet from the real world, somewhat, and your kind comments, support and the massive jump in views has helped me to continue on through. So, once again, thanks to you all and see you again in….well, about 4 weeks (Jesus!)….well, if you’re not interested in my silly cricket sojourn over the summer, that is. Also, keep an eye out for my highly prestigious end-of-season awards too, which will be put up at some point. 2018-’19, you’ve got a lot to live up to….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: N/A (didn’t sample)

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 10 (I pretty much didn’t pay for anything!)

Manchopper in….Walton (Liverpool County FA HQ)

Result: Eagle Sports 3-0 Byrom (Liverpool Challenge Cup Final)

Venue: Liverpool County FA HQ, Walton Park (Tuesday 28th April 2015, 6.30pm)

Att: 120

This was a game I’d planned to attend, ever since Eagle reached the final back in March. Finally,  the evening had arrived, and after finishing work at around about 4pm, it was straight to the station for the train towards Liverpool. Well, I say train, it was more akin to a battery farm, how everyone was crammed in. Anyway, after enduring these conditions for around 45 minutes, I hopped off at Edge Green, before embarking on the walk up to Walton.

However, I soon found out I had massively underestimated the walk, and it turned out to be a good three-four miles! This in addition to getting lost (shock) and ending up near Tue Brook. As such, I decided to make the most of a bad situation and go on a football tour of Merseyside, walking past both Anfield and Goodison Park. Amazingly, it was the first time I’d ever seen Goodison in my life.

The Kop

The Kop

Goodison

Goodison

Famous Stanley Park

Famous Stanley Park

After heading past Stanley Park and heading up Walton Road, I finally found myself at the entrance to Walton Park and the Liverpool “Soccer Centre”, as it was advertised on signposts. What a dreadful word, soccer. Before I set off on a rant, I will carry on. I handed over my £2 admission fee, receiving both entrance and a programme for my money. Upon entering, it struck me just how little there is featuring inside the pitch being used today. There is one stand, a slightly raised covered terrace, the changing rooms are built into the rear of the main building and there are some hedges. But apart from that, that was it. And it was very much the same story for the twin ground next door too. For me, there has to be a better place to host a final.

The Stand

The Stand

The Hedge End

The Hedge End

Clubhouse End

Clubhouse End

The game, featuring Byrom of the Liverpool County Premier League and Eagle Sports of the Cheshire League Premier Division was underway around 15 minutes of me arriving. Almost immediately, it was obvious that it was going to be a largely one sided affair, a Eagle gained the upper hand, which they were never to truly relinquish.

Handshakes

Handshakes

It's all kicking-off

It’s all kicking-off

It did, however, take them 20 minutes to finally break the deadlock. A free-kick was won on the left flank, the delivery wasn’t cleared and skipper Richard Chinn volley home to give his side the advantage.

Byrom were still recovering from this knockback when Eagle grabbed their second two minutes later. Again, it was an attack down the left that caused the danger, before a vicious strike was wonderfully tipped onto the post by the Byrom goalkeeper, who was rather unfortunate that the ball rolled along the goalmouth where Ged McAllister arrived to slide into the gaping net. 2-0, and game over, you felt.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

At thebreak, the  score remained the same, and I headed for the small refreshment window at the side of the main building, which seemed to be housing a referees course. They could do worse than to watch  the ref in charge tonight, who I thought officiated very well. There were a couple of minor errors, which are to be expected,, but nothing too major. Anyway, I managed to grab the last pie on offer, a Steak variety, for just £1. It was delicious and definitely worth the quid. So, with pie in hand, I headed back to the ground for the second period, which was soon underway.

The second period saw Byrom unleash their secret weapon, a quicksilver winger/midfield player wearing 14. He absolutely single handedly caused Eagle problems and looked like he might just give the Merseysiders a fighting chance. Apparently, he is a player for Skelmersdale Utd in the Evo-Stik League, and his class was showing. Unfortunately for him, the rest of his side weren’t up to it and Eagle’s Lee Boardman applied the finishing touch to the final with 15 minutes left on the clock. Boardman collected a through ball before delightfully chipping the ball over the onrushing GK and into the net. A fine finish. 3-0.

Soon enough, the final whistle blew to signal Eagle’s win and first silverware this season,, whilst Byrom left empty handed, having never posed much of a threat. The celebrations began and after the champers was sprayed and the trophy was lifted it was onwards home.

Eagle's Chinn lifts the cup

Eagle’s Chinn lifts the cup

The champagne is finally sprayed!

The champagne is finally sprayed!

I hitched a lift back to Sankey on the Eagle team coach, as to aid my trip home. After a quick drink back at the club on Thornton Road, and a win on the football card to the tune of £20, I left to my own fanfare and headed into the night around Warrington and arrived at Sankey station, in a much more able state than usual! 20 minutes later, I was disembarking back at Urmston and back home after two cup finals in two nights. Next up, the May Day weekend, and a trio of matches…..

My Byrom M.o.M.- The #14, didn’t catch his name sadly.

My Eagle Sports M.o.M.- Richard Chinn.

RATINGS:

Game: 5 – A one sided contest.

Ground: 4- Very simple and not great facilities for a final.

Fans: 7- All round effort.

Food: 8- Pie was very good. And cheap too!

Programme: 4-More of a teamsheet.

Value For Money: 8- Cheap travel, admission and food makes for a happy hopper!

Manchopper in….Leyland (Lancashire FA Headquarters)

Result: Blackpool Wren Rovers 5-2 Prestwich Heys (Lancashire FA Amateur Shield ‘sponsored by Thornton Sports’ Semi Final)

Venue: The County Ground (Wednesday 19th February 2014, 7.30pm)

Att: Around 140-150 (headcount)

A slightly different take on my blog for this one, as with their being no club to feature as a home club, it becomes more or less a match report, and a description of the ground & town, which I unwittingly saw a large amount due to me getting lost…again!

After beginning my journey at Urmston Train Station at a little after 5pm, I switched trains at Deansgate, and was soon on my way upwards to Lancashire, and the town of Leyland. Leyland plays host to the headquarters of the Lancashire County FA, who have a relatively large complex in the town, featuring a couple of 3G surfaces, (though it may have been the same one from different angles whilst lost), and a grass pitch, which was to be in use today. I arrived at Leyland Station at around ten-to-seven, and had around 50 minutes to kick-off. I was bemoaning my decision therefore to get this train, and not the one due about 20 minutes later, as I knew where I was going. Or so I thought…

After heading down the main road and through the town centre and past a Wetherspoon’s which I planned to visit when I had found the ground entrance, I approached the ‘British Transport Museum’ which had floodlights clearly visible tucked in behind it. However, as I started to walk up the road towards the lights, it became clear to me there was no way in this way, so I continued on. And on. And on. And on some more. For 45 minutes, I traipsed around the dark streets and back alleys of the town, desperately lapping the ground many times, the floodlights mockingly remaining in view, yet out of reach.

At 7.20pm, I finally found the entrance, through a car park. As I approached the turnstiles, I crossed the road to see right next to it the Transport Museum I had seen a half hour earlier. It could have been oh so much easier, but it wouldn’t be a manchopper trip without getting lost in some way. If you live near a football ground, and you do ever see someone walking past your house, ranting at their phone screen, it is more than likely me!!

After paying £5 entrance, and receiving a team sheet which still advised the game was at Bamber Bridge’s home, Irongate, where the tie was originally planned to be staged  until the weather forced a switch, I entered the ground just as the two teams exited the tunnel. Wren Rovers from the Squires Gate area of Blackpool, and Prestwich Heys, from the Bury area of Manchester. Wren Rovers ply their trade in the strong West Lancashire League, so where considered favourites by many, despite having just come off the back off a long period of inactivity due to the weather. Prestwich Heys play in the Manchester League and hadn’t played on grass for a while, with previous few weeks of game being played on various 3G venues.

A look around the ground shows a large brick building on the left of you as you enter, and the players tunnel and refreshment bar on the right. Next to these, and behind the right-hand goal is a small stand, almost perched up against the wall of the Museum directly behind it. Behind the left hand goal was a small terraced area and a 3G pitch which was in use tonight, so created illuminations that would make the Blackpool side feel right at home. The far side opposite you as you enter, is a rather impressive, smart all seater stand bearing the letters LFA in white seats amongst a red seat background.

After a minutes silence in memory of the late, great Sir Tom Finney, the game began at a frantic pace, Wren Rovers starting on top and they really should have took the lead after five minutes when Ric Seear, fired wastefully wide from close range. Even he looked shocked and bemused by his miss as he covered his face with his hands.

The afro-sporting Heys right-winger Erike Sousa then stung the hands of Wren Rover ‘keeper Andrew Speight, and Heys were made to pay for this miss soon afterwards as a good team move from a Wren Rovers corner ended with Oliver Crolla finishing with aplomb past Heys’ ‘keeper Rob Sadler. At this point, I realised that Wren Rovers’ number 5, looked remarkably like Shane Watson, the Australian batsman, although maybe this was just the lights? I later found out this was Ant Pearson, and he prefers to be known as Pirlo!!

A few minutes later, the impressive Ric Seear attempted a delightful chip over Sadler but the ball dropped narrowly wide of the near post, but this miss only served to help Seear get his radar right, as a minute later he repeated the trick, only for the ball to find the far corner on this occasion. It was a terrific bit of skill by the front man.

Heys tried to fight back against an ever more dominant looking Rovers, with Paul Tierney’s backheel being held on the line by Speight, and then Mark Drew had to be denied by the Rovers ‘keeper, diving away to his right, as Heys began to seize the initiative back from the boys from the seaside. And with 10 minutes of the half remaining, their pressure told. Shaun Johnson was played in by Jon Lyons, and had time to pick his spot, which he did, despite appearing to panic slightly, from 20 yards.

It got even better for Heys. On the stroke of half-time, the Manchester side won a corner on the left-flank after a free-kick was deflecting just wide of the far post with the ‘keeper rooted. The corner was beautifully whipped in and centre-back Luke Hodson rose highest to power a header past Speight from 8 yards. 2-2 at the break.

With drizzle beginning to fall, the players made their way to the dressing rooms, and the fans made the trip to the refreshment bar for some hot stuff. Behave. I decided to get a hot chocolate, for 50p (it was quite small), and a bag of Aero Bubbles, orange flavour, for £1. At this point, word got round about Stoke City’s Charlie Adam being in attendance tonight. Not sure why, but must have been from his Blackpool days?

The second half began with questions to be answered. Were Wren Rovers starting to struggle with lack of match fitness, could Heys complete a comeback, and an upset? The answer was to be no on both counts.

Three minutes into the second period, and Rovers regained the lead, as a mistake in midfield gifted possession to them and the ball found its way to Lee Tobin who proceeded to within 20-yards of the Heys goal before firing in an effort reminiscent of Heys’ first.

It was all Rovers from this point, and Tobin almost added to his tally soon afterwards when he found himself unmarked 12-yards out, but he was thwarted by a wonderful save from Rob Sadler in the shadow of the museum wall, however the let-off was only temporary for Heys, as Crolla received the ball on the right, cut inside and unleashed a superb effort from range past the helpless Sadler, for a knockout punch his namesake Anthony would have been proud of, if it was an actual punch of course….

Out of bad puns, and back to the game. With Heys now pouring forward and throwing the proverbial kitchen sink and more at Wren Rovers’ back line they were hit on the counter with just under 10 minutes to play, as Seear added the icing on the cake when he was released clean through, and he slotted past Sadler via the post to make it 5-2 and send his side into the final. Despite the best efforts of Heys’ defence on the line, the assistant gave the goal to no complaints.

The scoreline was somewhat harsh on Heys, who weren’t three goals worse than their opponents on the night, although the result was the correct one as the better side won through. No complaints from either team, who both put on a great display of football to show great credit to both their clubs, and the leagues they were representing. A shout here for the referee too, who I thought was exceptional, he got everything right for me.

I was soon back on Leyland Station Platform 2, and getting wetter by the minute as the rain teemed down, before I got on the train to Buckshaw Parkway, where the wind was whistling through like sound of a phantom conductor whistling. It was eerie to say the least, and I was happy to be on the train to Deansgate, before any ghost trains came through!

*The final will be between Blackpool Wren Rovers and the winners of the tie between Thornton Cleveley’s and Rochdale Sacred Heart, in another clash of West Lancashire League vs Manchester League. This tie is to be played this Wednesday (26th Feb), a 7.30pm kick off.

My Blackpool Wren Rovers M.o.M.- Oliver Crolla

My Prestwich Heys M.o.M.- Mark Drew

RATINGS:

Ground: 8- Simple, yet effective and tidy. Nice set up.

Game: 9- I really enjoyed the game, two teams going at it, but a little one sided second half.

Food: 7- Small Hot Chocolate, but Aero Bubbles in orange helps the rating!

Fans: N/A- Not a home ground so I can’t give a rating.

Programme: 1- Token team sheet, nothing more, and venue was still wrong. Boo.

Value For Money: 8- Good value all round really.

Referee: 10- Really impressed. One of, if not the best refereeing performance I’ve seen this season. 

TEAMS:

BLACKPOOL WREN ROVERS: 1.Andrew Speight, 2.Lewis Cook, 3.Nick Greenall, 4.Conn Methven(c), 5.Anthony ‘Pirlo’ Pearson, 6.Danny Pickering, 7.Mark Fiddler, 8.Mickey Clark, 9.Ric Seear(2),10.Oliver Crolla(2), 11.Lee Tobin(1). SUBS: 12.Kurt Bradley(p), 14.Nick Corless(p), 15.Ryan Willetts, 16.Fran Donaghy(p), 17.Steve Creelman.

PRESTWICH HEYS: 1.Rob Sadler, 2.Darius Photiou, 3.Phil Woodcock, 4.Shaun Johnson(1), 5.Gareth Walsh, 6.Luke Hodson(1), 7.Erike Sousa, 8.Jon Lyons(c), 9.Paul Tierney, 10.Mark Drew, 11.Chris Mackay. SUBS: 12.Greg Wills(p), 14.Martin Love(p), 15.Conor Landers(p).

OFFICIALS: REFEREE: Mr. Mike Barlow. ASSISTANTS: Mr. Paul Turner & Mr. Ian Claridge. FOURTH OFFICIAL: Mr. Peter Simm.