Manchopper in….Wembley (England vs Nigeria)

Result: England 2-1 Nigeria (International Friendly)

Venue: Wembley Stadium (Saturday 2nd June 2018, 5.15pm)

Att: 70,025

Finally, after eleven whole months, the end of the season is within touching distance but first there comes a duo of International clashes to sign off with. The first of which (this very one, of course) has been in the planning for a fair while now, pretty much from when it was announced, in fact. I’d been keeping a visit to Wembley back for an England home game I could actually get to and, after what seemed like forever, they finally had a game scheduled for a Saturday afternoon which met all the things necessary for a nice, easy trip. Well in theory, anyway.

Blog regular Dan had sorted out the match tickets months in advance, whilst I’d been left in charge of sorting out the travel side of things. All looked good to go upon our arrival in Manchester during the mid-morning of a warm, sunny Summer’s day, though we were given a brief scare when a train to Euston was announced as cancelled, but were relieved to find it was the one before ours that had broken down on its way back up North. Consequently, this also meant the train before ours back was also off the table now too, so a lucky escape for once. Usually, these things go against you, don’t they?!

After removing a couple of people taking advantage of the sockets at our booked seats and being offered some croissants by the lady next to us (politely declined), we were soon rocking and rolling back down to the Capital for one final time this season. After passing the usual suspects’ grounds at Stockport, Macclesfield, along with a number of non-league sides’ homes on route, we continued on past the towering arch of the National Stadium prior to arriving into Euston at a little before 1pm. Securing our travelcards for the journey back over to Wembley, a quick peruse of the line-up of timetables in the concourse revealed an earlier than planned service which would take us into Wembley Station via the means of West Midlands Trains to the highly exotic-sounding location of Tring.

First stop of the day, the Liquor Station

Then it was off to the ‘Spoons next door!

Caught in the nick of time (with it sat at the far end of the platform, just to keep it interesting), a short ten-minute hop later saw us setting foot in the North London suburb which is home to the stadium which carries its name, after having had the outdated “Empire” name removed while still in its previous iteration. Soon enough, we were outside the adjoining pubs known as the Liquor Station and the Wetherspoon’s outlet next door – the JJ Moon. Dan suggested the Liquor Station looked a good starting point, and I agreed, though expected it to be on the dearer side. Following a quick bag search (though I did get away without a full-body one which the guy in front of us ‘enjoyed’), we headed inside to find the pints remarkably cheap – £3.60 for an Amstel for me. No complaints with that to start things off with!

With the clock only just approaching 1.30pm by this point, we had the rare novelty of actually having time on our side and not having to rush at all. As such, it was past two by the time we entered the ‘Spoons – after another bag check – and I decided to try out one of the seemingly local delicacies in the form of the Portobello brewery’s London Pilsner. Again this was fairly easy on the pocket, coming in at £3.50, though things were about to go downhill pretty quickly in this regard after a promising start! Our next stop, Thirsty Eddie’s, was a lovely bar, though I could have done without a £5 pint of Carlsberg, that’s for sure! It seemed to become almost a standard price across the bars from here on too, though it was certainly better value than our last one….

Thirsty Eddie’s

The Green Man

The guy up the tree!

Feeling somewhat lazy and with Dan wanting to get the most out of his £12-plus ticket, we decided to hop on a bus for the few stops up to Wembley Hill Road where we’d find the Green Man, a pub which seemed to be highly popular with fans from what I gathered from a couple of guides I’d looked at. Our need for something strong was added to by the very random sight of a guy, decked out in a couple of England flags, Union flags and other paraphernalia, dancing away on the road whilst wearing an Arsenal shirt, before casually walking off. As you do, I guess.

Anyway, the Green Man was certainly the one to go to for the action! The beer garden and bar itself was packed out with fans, largely England, and complete with numerous flags along its temporary fence at the back, which blocked off a wooded area behind, though this was navigated numerous times by the group of kids having a kick-about whilst, somewhat skilfully, avoiding knocking any pints flying, so full marks for that! A couple of the young ‘uns where also taking on roles as the referee, which caused confusion and I don’t think the multi-ref system will catch on anytime soon…

After finishing our pints in here (a round of £9.50) and watching a guy scale a tree in the middle of the garden whilst brandishing a flag of St. George, before being greeted with cheers upon his safe descent, we grabbed another bus and headed off towards the far end of town and the foot of the famed “Wembley Way”. Popping into the Double 6 sports bar for a quick one, we opted for a bottle of Budweiser which was, yet again, £5 (that’s the poor value one) before an attempt to get into the neighbouring Wembley Tavern was denied by the door staff on account that the bars all stopped selling alcohol at 1pm, apparently, Clearly, that wasn’t true, though I didn’t care too much, if at all. In fact, it proved a blessing in disguise as it turned out as, after a charge up Wembley Way to the ground and a stop for a programme (£5), Dan and I got separated and this five-minute delay almost proved fatal to our hopes of getting in for the start. The queues were awful, though didn’t seem like they should have taken a good ten minutes to get through and into the ground, so I don’t know what was going on, other than a few people not understanding how the tickets worked.

The Arch

Double 6

Arriving at Wembley in the shadow of Bobby

Once ours were finally scanned and we were inside, Dan headed for his seats immediately, whilst I made a quick pit stop before joining him just as the minute’s applause for the two legendary Ray’s – Wilkins and Wilson – was starting, and it was nice to be in time to be able to pay some sort of respects to them. Following this, the sides were all set to go and I’m not going to waste much time talking about what Wembley’s like, as I’m almost certain everyone has a decent idea! All I will say is that it is like a vast, bowl-like structure that is a lot better than I was expecting before my visit and I definitely look forward to heading back, now I can go to any game there, finally. Non-League Finals day is calling me….

A history lesson for England, you say? Oh, go on then, it might be the last in its current form….

History Lesson:

The England national team began competing back in 1872, when they met Scotland in the first ever international football match, thus making them, obviously, one of the two oldest national sides in existence. The two nations had previously contested a representative match two years earlier too, though this isn’t regularly viewed as an official “international” fixture, as the latter game was the only one of the two that featured independently picked, and operated, squads representing both countries’ FA’s. The following 40 years saw England compete against the other Home Nations (Scotland, Wales and Ireland) in the British Home Championship, with the Three Lions winning the competition on no less than 54 occasions (including 20 shared titles) in all.

Meanwhile, England would play their first matches against sides from outside of the Home Nations in 1908 (having joined FIFA in 1906), on a tour of Central Europe. At this time, England was still a team that played all over the country, and this remained the case through to 1923, when the opening of the Empire (Wembley) Stadium saw them given a more permanent home ground. However, the first of several strained relations with FIFA soon reared its head, resulting in England leaving the organisation in 1928, and thus foregoing the opportunity to compete in the first few World Cups, only competing in their first World Cup tournament in 1950, when they suffered an infamous first-round exit after a 1-0 defeat to the minnows of the United States having re-joined FIFA in 1946.

However, their first defeat against a foreign side had come the previous year, this coming at the hands of the Republic of Ireland – a 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park seeing the Irish take that honour. A couple of tonkings at the hands of the great 1950’s Hungarian side (6-3 at home, 7-1 away) included the side’s record defeat that remains unbeaten to this day. Better days were to come, though, as England reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1954, where they bowed out to defending champions, Uruguay. 1963 saw Alf Ramsey take over from Walter Winterbottom and his appointment saw him become the first manager to pick the side, this having been done by a committee previously. Of course, Ramsey (later Sir) would go on to guide the Three Lions to World Cup glory in 1966, as they overcame West Germany at Wembley to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy on home soil under the captaincy of Bobby Moore, who still stands guard outside the new stadium, immortalised. Geoff Hurst netted a famed hat-trick to seal an extra-time win over the great foes.

Wembley

1968 saw England reach the UEFA European Championship semi-finals where a loss to Yugoslavia saw them bow out before defending their World title in Mexico at the 1970 tournament, where West Germany gained some measure of revenge by knocking out their rivals at the quarter-final stage after extra-time, having previously come back from two-down to level. Failure to qualify for the 1974 tournament saw Ramsey ousted, but things didn’t improve quickly, as England then missed out on the 1978 competition too, only returning come 1982, when Ron Greenwood made sure of their first appearance in 12 long years, and their first competitive qualification for 16 years. However, despite not losing a game, they only lasted until the second group round. The 1986 World Cup saw Bobby Robson (another to later be knighted) in charge and under he, England fared far better, making it to the quarter-finals once more, but they again were ousted by a big rival, Argentina, in the infamous game which featured Diego Maradona’s contrasting brace.

After losing every match at Euro 1988, they finished 4th in the World Cup of 1990, losing out on penalties to the kings of the spot-kicks, West Germany, in the semi-finals (Gazza’s tears upon being carded being the memorable pic from this) before losing to Italy in the 3rd/4th place play-off. They were still awarded bronze medals and were welcomed home as heroes regardless. Things again turned sour come the Euro’s, 1992 seeing England again fail to win a match, drawing with eventual fairytale winners Denmark, and France, before going out to hosts Sweden. The 1990’s saw a turnover of managers, with Robson’s successor Graham Taylor failing to qualify for the ’94 World Cup in the States, before Terry Venables oversaw a run to the semis of Euro ’96, where eventual winners Germany were again the scourge of the English, penalties breaking their hearts once again.

After resigning due to off-field happenings, Glenn Hoddle was installed and guided England to the 1998 World Cup in France, England going out in the second round to Argentina, again on penalties, despite a magical goal by a young Michael Owen. Hoddle departed soon afterwards and was replaced by Kevin Keegan for the run towards Euro 2000, but again England underperformed and his reign ended soon after the tournament ended for the Three Lions. His departure saw the first foreign boss of England arrive, in the form of Sven-Goran Eriksson and the colourful Swede took his new side to the quarters in each of the 2002 World Cup (Ronaldinho’s cross-shot), Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which saw Cristiano Ronaldo become a pariah for a time upon his return to Manchester United for his part in club team-mate Wayne Rooney’s sending off. Despite only losing five games under Eriksson, he was gone at the end of the tournament, with assistant Steve McClaren given the job.

Down Wembley Way

However, McClaren flopped and England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 (the “Wally with a brolly”) with Fabio Capello brought in to replace him. The Italian guided England to a strong qualifying showing for the 2010 World Cup (losing just one game) but again flopped at the main tournament, scraping through the group stage before going out to Germany in the second round by 4-1, their heaviest World Cup loss. It could have been different had Frank Lampard’s goal stood but, let’s be honest, probably not. Capello resigned in 2012 after differences with the FA over the captaincy role at the time (amid allegations of racism) and his replacement eventually turned out to be Roy Hodgson, to the shock of the majority who expected Harry Redknapp to get the job. Hodgson, with a wide range of experience in the International game, as well as at club level, took England to the 2012 Euros, where they finished top of their group but again found a penalty shoot-out difficult to navigate and bowed out to Italy at the quarter-final stage.

After flopping at both the 2014 World Cup (England went out at the group stage for the first time since 1958) and 2016 Euro Championships (struggling through to the last 16 and a defeat to debutants Iceland) despite winning all 10 qualification matches for the latter, Hodgson resigned almost immediately afterwards and was replaced by Sam Allardyce, who left after just one game (a 1-0 win over Slovakia), a ‘breach of rules’ seeing him resign and thus become the shortest serving permanent England manager with a tenure of just 67 days. However, his 100% win rate means he is, statistically, the best England manager ever! Gareth Southgate, the under-21 boss, was installed as temporary boss in 2015, though this became a permanent appointment the following year, and the former England centre-half has guided England through another unbeaten qualification campaign and will take the side to Russia in a few days time, where they will face off against Tunisia, Panama and group heavyweights, Belgium.

The Three Lions have seen a fair amount of success in minor competitions too, these honours include three Rous Cups (1986, ’88 & ’89) – a competition competed for between England, Scotland and, later, a guest side from South America, the 2004 FA Summer Tournament – a preparatory competition before Euro 2004 featuring England, Japan and Iceland, played at the City of Manchester Stadium, the 1997 Tournament of France (Le Tournoi de France) – a mini precursor to the World Cup the following year, this tournament featured England, Brasil, France and Italy, and the 1991 England Challenge Cup which was a week-long tournament played at Wembley and Old Trafford and featured England, Argentina and the USSR. They’ve also won an unofficial 21 Football World Championships, playing out 88 matches as “champions”.

Queues….

View from our vantage point

England got us underway and the hosts wasted little time in going forward. Just six minutes in, Kieran Trippier saw his stinging drive well saved by Nigerian ‘keeper Francis Uzoho and from the resulting corner, Gary Cahill climbed highest to meet a Trippier cross and direct his header into the top-corner, despite the Super Eagles having a defender, whom the ball flew over, on the line. A good start!

The hosts had the best of the play for the majority of the first twenty minutes, seeing a number of forays forward end with shots being blocked by the Nigerian defence, Ashley Young coming closest to doubling the advantage when reaching the angle of the six-yard box only to see another player wearing the glorious Nigerian World Cup kit get himself in the way of the effort. At the other end of the pitch, Odion Ighalo and Brian Idowu looked the most dangerous for the visitors and the former was particularly quick off the mark on numerous occasions, though often a little too quick and was caught offside a number of times during the game. When he wasn’t, though, he received a ball from Idowu and fired in an effort that caused Three Lions’ ‘keeper Jordan Pickford into a decent low stop.

Match Action

Match Action

‘Just like a waving flag…’

England responded to this with Raheem Sterling’s effort flying over the bar, before skipper Harry Kane would double their lead around five minutes before the break, when his drive from outside the area went under the body of Uzoho and nestled in the bottom corner. A poor mistake by the ‘keeper. Nigeria did try to get right back into the game just before the break, with both Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses going close, the latter forcing a save out of Pickford, but they couldn’t find the net and the sides headed in with the hosts looking pretty comfortable, all things considered.

After trying to find some chips in one of the speciality food bars dotted around the sprawling concourse, I gave up and, with time running out, decided to get a Chicken Burger for a whole £6.50. It was a good job I was prepared for the shock, as others may not have been and began hyperventilating! Anyway, after navigating through the crowds – made up of fans of both sides – and back to a dozing Dan in the stands, we were soon all set to go for the second half….and it started with a bang!

Straight from the kick-off, Nigeria went on the attack and after Iwobi and Ighalo both went close, with the Watford striker seeing his shot come back off the upright, Arsenal midfielder Iwobi capitalised on the loose ball and drilled it beyond Pickford and into the bottom corner to send the Nigerian fans (especially those grouped together behind that goal) into something of a frenzy. Great scenes from their fans who created a good atmosphere throughout, though wasn’t as loud for us down the opposite end. We did have the band, though.

Match Action

A pretty full Wembley….bar that bit there.

Match Action

The Super Eagles continued to pile on the pressure and went close from a pair of corners, before England broke away and Sterling looked to be in the clear and one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but inexplicably dived and was duly carded. Why would you do it in a friendly? Practicing technique, perhaps? Who knows, but it was seemingly pretty pointless to us up in the higher reaches of Wembley. Moses responded by shooting wide for Nigeria too, before the steady stream of subs began to disrupt the flow of the game as it so often does.

John Mikel Obi and Marcus Rashford both went close for their respective sides, Obi’s shot on-target and Rashford’s going narrowly wide of the far post, whilst the Manchester United forward again went close with five minutes remaining, his looping header ending up on the roof of the net. That was pretty much that and a pretty entertaining game (by usual standards!) came to a close with England securing a comfortable enough victory, though Nigeria looked like a game side too, who can create regular problems for teams in below the “elite” sides.

A quick exit back past Bobby Moore was made whilst being swept along by the crowds back along Wembley Way and to the Park underground station. I made it just in time before the station was briefly put into crowd control, catching Dan at the foot of the stairs. This made little impact on our journey, though a non-planned change at Baker Street made things a little more hectic than they ought to have been. Regardless, a change was made with little issue and we were back in the Doric Arch in time for a swift one before the train back.

The journey back was an easy one as per, despite both of us and the lad who joined us at Milton Keynes being confused as to why we were stopping at Nuneaton (which I’ve never done before on this route) whilst also getting onto conversing about the local cricketing scenes and the ‘Father Ted’ episodes. Many catchphrases and scenes were re-enacted up until Stockport when we bid goodbye to our companion whilst Dan and I continued on through to Piccadilly, where he rushed off to get some late-evening shopping. I was off “shopping” too, ending in a usual place. Ah, the Tap, a perfect way to sign off any trip!

So, Wembley is finally in the books and “ticked”. It was great to get there after so long and at least the game was decent and goals were seen (48 and counting since a nil-nil, which is shocking to me considering the amount of higher-level games I’ve been to this year). Pubs were all good (not too overly pricey) whilst the chicken burger was good, if steeply priced. Programme was a good read, as expected and the travel all went well enough too. No complaints once again, it was a better experience than I expected and now just the one game remains. A carnival featuring ties….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Selhurst (Crystal Palace FC)

Result: Crystal Palace 2-0 West Bromwich Albion (Premier League)

Venue: Selhurst Park (Sunday 13th May 2018, 3pm)

Att: 25,357

Rounding off yet another week was a penultimate trip down to the outskirts of the Capital and once again it was South of the river that I’d be heading. Ground #49 of the current 92 (though will soon become 50 after the relegations/promotions go through) was on the cards and it was yet another long-term target of mine. Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace was next up and it was one I was looking forward to.

After getting a lift into Manchester once again from my Dad, I arrived just in time to catch my booked 8.25am service through to Euston. Having been out the previous day, I was still not fully filled up with the recommended sleep amount (though there may have been other more alcoholic forces at work too) and so it flew by as I continually nodded off on the way down. The journey time was also helped by engineering works actually finishing early (I know, what is happening) and we pulled into London a whole half-hour earlier than scheduled. A quick swap over to St. Pancras and a 20 minute wait later, I was en route to Selhurst.

Arriving at just after midday, I opted to start off near the station and head off back to the North towards the ground as kick-off drew nearer, whilst also looking to seek out somewhere to watch the Spanish GP that was starting during the early part of the afternoon. Anyway, that wasn’t on the agenda at this point and so I came up to the first stop of the day, the Palace stronghold pub by the name of the Holmfield Arms. It was already packed full of Eagles fans within and outdoors too, though I did narrowly beat even more of a rush, as the numbers swelled even more soon after I’d got a pint of Amstel in. At £4.50 a pint, it wasn’t too bad considering, though the plastic glass curse did strike here, though it was fair enough considering.

Arriving in Selhurst

The Holmefield Arms

Two Brewers

Being kept company by the fish in the pair of tanks in here, I soon headed back out and down a small side road opposite where I was hoping to find the Two Brewers. As expected, there it was and, once more, it was decked out in the Blue/Red colours synonymous with Palace and the kits which made me have a soft spot for them growing up, the name also being enamouring to me then! In here, I came across another lesser spotted beer just as I had at Dunkirk the previous afternoon, this time the Dutch Pilsener offering of Oranjeboom. When do you see that anywhere?! I had to have one on that basis and again it wasn’t badly priced once more, just the £3.70.

Having no luck in quizzing the locals in where I could find somewhere screening the race, a quick search gave up the Prince George as a likely spot. A 10-15 minute walk later and I was at the large corner pub located on a cross-roads of sorts, just a few minutes from Selhurst Park itself. Unfortunately, I soon received the news that it was football only in there today, but I don’t like to go in somewhere and not get something (unless there’s an obvious reason too!) and so I got in a Hop House (£4.50) whilst being sat near a pair of WBA clowns. No, I don’t mean that derogatory, I mean there was two women in here in full clown regalia, including the make-up and everything. Fair do’s!

Anyway, with little time to waste – at least that’s what I thought, I opted to back-track on myself and have a look at a pair of pubs just off the main road leading up to the Prince George. On Pawson’s Road, there is the namesake pub, the Pawson’s Arms, but this was packed with fans and not only did it look a bit of a quest just to get served quickly, there looked little scope in terms of them putting on anything other than the Celtic-Aberdeen game that was in full flow. As a result, I continued on and past an unassuming walled cemetery that you’d have no idea was one if not for the odd gate being open and revealing the fact, before arriving at the emptier, yet cosy, Lion Inn. After asking the girl working in here the same question I’d perfected by now, she directed me to the landlord who was kind enough to put it on one of his screens for me, and so I settled in with a pint of Strongbow expecting to find the race a few laps in. However, it quickly became apparent I’d f*cked up somewhat and, in fact, it was a 2pm start. Do your research, kids!

Heading off towards the ground

The Brom clowns!

The Lion

After wasting away a good 45 minutes in here prior to the race, whilst being humoured by a few of the signs hanging above the bar, I then only got to see about eight laps, courtesy of the ever encroaching kick-off and the start crash in Barcelona. Luckily, it soon became apparent I wouldn’t miss much else during the remaining 58 circuits! Finishing up in here, it was back off to the ground and a further fifteen minutes walk or so was undertaken, buying a programme (apparently one of two different covers, the other being in honour of John Motson’s final game in commentary) in the shadow of the fine-looking Holmesdale Road stand before navigating around to the away end where I’d be watching the game from today, on account of having a purchase history with the Baggies and the usual difficulty in getting tickets within the Eagles’ home ends.

Upon entering the turnstiles, I headed straight for the food bar, getting in a pie of some description on account of my initial choice being sold out already and headed up into the stands, firstly ending up in the wrong place after being directed there by a steward, before being alerted to the fact when a group of Albion fans arrived to find me in their seats. I ended up with a stanchion in front of the far end goal too….the one Palace would go on to score both in. Fantastico.

Selhurst Park is a good mix of relatively new and very traditional. The Arthur Wait Stand the away fans were located in is the second-oldest stand in the ground, as shown by the aforementioned arsing stanchions and has a TV gantry protruding down from its roof, which mustn’t help the views for those up towards the back either. It’s a large, single-tiered affair that is, of course, all-seater, along with the rest of the ground. On the opposite side of the pitch is the Main Stand, the oldest stand in the ground – dating from 1924. Again, it is obviously host to a number of stanchions to the front of it and is, again, single-tiered. Both run the length of the pitch, with the Main Stand hosting the tunnel within the corner between it and the Holmesdale Road Stand.

Arriving at Selhurst

A…fairly full away end concourse!

Speaking of which, this stand is the most impressive in my eyes and looks far older than it really is. It is a two-tiered affair which opened in 1995 and has a far larger lower-tier than its higher part. Its curved roof gives it real character and the more boisterous home fans and their tifosi-like banners are largely located here. Opposite is the a more modern-looking stand (apart from the fact it isn’t strictly), the Whitehorse Lane Stand, which was originally a terrace prior to seats being put in and executive boxes added later on, likely around the time of Wimbledon’s groundshare. It also plays host to a big screen on its roof, though I couldn’t see too much from it, as I was almost level with the goal-line at this end. So that’s Selhurst Park, and this is the history behind the Eagles of Crystal Palace….

History Lesson:

Crystal Palace Football Club was founded in 1905 at the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition building by the owners of the FA Cup Final hosting Palace stadium, which was situated just inside the historic building’s grounds. The owners of said venue wanted to create a professional side to tap into the local catchment area around the Crystal Palace (as well as to make some extra cash from the attraction) and so the club was duly formed in the September, taking the Crystal Palace FC name of an old amateur side, who had existed between 1861 and around 1876. The new Palace club, then known as the Glaziers, would initially apply to join the Football League alongside another newly formed London-based club, Chelsea. Unfortunately for the Glaziers, it was Chelsea who were accepted to the League ranks and Palace would go on to join the Southern League and its Second Division for Season 1905-06 (whilst also entering a side into the mid-week United Counties League, and it was this side who had the honour of playing the first Crystal Palace game of the new era, defeating New Brompton 3-0 and who also added a title here in 1907, having finished runners-up the year prior).

The club was immediately successful and gained promotion at the end of the campaign as Second Division champions whilst the UCL club finished as runners-up in their competition. The club would remain in the Southern League’s First Division through to the outbreak of WWI in 1914 (whilst also fielding a side in the Western League for two seasons (1907-’08 & ’08-’09), but with the Admiralty requisitioning the Crystal Palace ground and the club were forced to move into a groundshare at West Norwood FC’s Herne Hill Velodrome. Their Southern League top-flight stay also saw them record a shock FA Cup First Round win over Newcastle United in 1907 & finishing runners-up in 1914 – just missing out on the title by goal average. The club did also record a couple of successive London Challenge Cup wins, these coming in 1913 & 1914 respectively.

After just the one season at Herne Hill (1914-’15) prior to the war putting a halt to the sport, the club would return to the field in 1919 after the end of hostilities but were now calling the newly vacated Nest home, upon the folding of Croydon Common FC. The ground, opposite Selhurst station, would be home to Palace through to their move into their purpose-built home of Selhurst Park in 1924, and saw the Glaziers finish 3rd in their final Southern League season (1919-’20) before their acceptance into the Football League for the following year. They would immediately win the Football League’s Third Division South in 1921 and were duly promoted to the Division 2, with Palace also adding their third London Challenge Cup title to that season’s League success.

Palace gates

With Palace now moved into Selhurst Park, their life at their new home started badly, the club losing their first game at Selhurst one-nil to Sheffield Wednesday before eventually being relegated back to the Third Division South come the end of the 1924-’25 season. They would go on to remain there through to the outbreak of the Second World War, being ever-presents in the top-half whilst recording three runners-up placings in each of 1929, 1931 & 1939, but none of these would yield promotion, though the first was a mighty close call, Palace just missing out on the title, again, by goal average alone. During the war years, Palace would win two leagues, the South Regional League and the South ‘D’ League prior to retaking their place in the Third Division South post-war, but this period would prove something of a struggle, the club remaining in the lower-half of the table bar one season, where they ended up 7th, whilst also having to apply for re-election on three separate occasions having finished bottom of the League in both 1949 & 1951, and second bottom in 1956.

Upon the Football League’s re-organisation in 1958, the lower half of the Third Division South joined their Northern counterparts to form the new countrywide Fourth Division. Their stay here was brief, however, with Palace being promoted in 1961 as runners-up. They also welcomed the great Real Madrid side of the era for a friendly game (Real’s first ever match in London) the following year and the club continued to go from strength to strength, being promoted from Division Three in 1964 and Division Two five years later (both as runners-up) to find themselves in the top-flight eleven years after being allocated a place in the bottom division. They would remain there for the next four years prior to being relegated twice in two years, going straight through Division Two after one season, and returning to Division 3 for the 1974-’75 campaign.

With a new nickname, the Eagles would regroup here and reach the 1976 FA Cup semi-finals, beating Leeds United & Chelsea en route. The next season, 1976-’77, saw Palace promoted back to Division Two after finishing 3rd under Terry Venables and the future ‘El Tel’ would take the club back up to the top-flight in 1979 too, this time as Division Two champs. The team was dubbed the “Team of the Eighties” come the turn of the decade and were top of the League’s First Division table for a brief time in 1979-’80, before financial difficulties would result in the team’s eventual break-up and they fell away to eventually suffer relegation just one season after having topped the country’s footballing landscape.

Palace fans’ display

Steve Coppell was appointed manager in 1984 and slowly rebuilt the club in the Second Division and having reached the play-offs in 1989, were promoted through them at Selhurst Park and duly returned to the top division. They then reached the 1990 FA Cup Final at Wembley where Palace drew the first match 3-3 before losing out in the replay by a single goal to Coppell’s former club as a player, Manchester United. The Eagles continued to build on these successes and recorded a league-best finish of 3rd in 1991, though missed out on Europe due to the partial UEFA ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster. However, they would end the season on a high by winning the Full Member’s Cup by defeating Everton 4-1 (AET) at Wembley. The following season would see the departure of star-striker Ian Wright to Arsenal, but an eventual 10th placed finish was enough to secure Palace a place in the new Premier League for 1992-’93. But after also selling Mark Bright to Sheffield Wednesday, the club were relegated at the end of the first Premier League season, despite having amassed a record 49 points, the most made by a relegated PL side and this led to Coppell’s departure after almost a decade at the club. His assistant, Alan Smith, took over and led Palace to an immediate return by taking the First Division title.

The Eagles’ return season (1994-’95) was a fairly memorable one! This was none-more-so down to the infamous Eric Cantona “kung-fu” incident at Selhurst which resulted in the Frenchman receiving a jail sentence (later reduced to community service) and the Palace fan a ban from Selhurst and being found guilty of threatening Cantona. Then, forward Chris Armstrong was suspended after a drugs test but things still went fairly well on field, with Palace reaching the semis of both the League and FA cups, but were eventually relegated as a result of the Prem’s reduction from 22 to 20 sides, having finished fourth-bottom. Under Dave Beasant, Palace lost the 1996 play-off final in dramatic fashion, as Steve Claridge netted in the last-minute for Leicester City. Bassett departed for Nottingham Forest during the next season, with Coppell returning and he again led Palace to the Premier League through the play-offs, defeating Sheffield United in the final at Wembley. Again, their stay was brief and they were relegated come the end of their second season, 1998-’99, though did compete in that year’s (and my personal favourite competition) Intertoto Cup.

A change in ownership and management in 2000 saw Simon Jordan and Alan Smith (again) at the club, though Smith’s stay was short with Palace almost relegated in 2001, caretaker-boss Steve Kember winning the final two games to keep Palace up. Kember was given the job in 2003 after short spells under Steve Bruce and Simon Francis yielded little but a good start quickly faded and Iain Dowie took the hot-seat and guided Palace back to the play-off final in 2004 where they defeated West Ham United 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium to return back to the Premiership, but were again relegated shortly afterwards, this time after just one season. Things would settle down for the next few seasons as Palace remained in the First Division/Championship until 2013, though this period didn’t count 2010, which saw the club survive a spell in administration, a points deduction, the selling of key players such as Victor Moses, a change of both manager (from Neil Warnock to Paul Hart) and ownership soon afterwards and a final day survival which saw a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday relegate the Owls instead. This all sorted out eventually with a group of “wealthy fans” purchasing the club and appointing George Burley as the new boss.

After Burley was let go soon after and his replacement Dougie Freedman left for Bolton, 2012 saw Ian Holloway installed as manager and he got Palace promoted come the end of the 2012-’13 season, another play-off final success seeing the Eagles overcome Watford. The resulting initial period back in the Premier League saw a number of managers come and go, with Holloway resigning in the October and Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock and Alan Pardew seeing short spells come to an end by the end of 2016, though Pardew did lead the club to the 2015-’16 FA Cup Final, where Palace lost out to Manchester United again, losing 2-1 (AET), and Pardew’s dance didn’t age well. Sam Allardyce took over come Pardew’s sacking in the December, but resigned unexpectedly at the end of the season, with former Dutch international Frank de Boer coming in for the start of this season. This went horrendously wrong for the Eagles, as they lost their opening four PL games with Roy Hodgson coming in to arrest the slide and guide the club to a comfortable 11th placed finish and another year in the top-flight next season.

Pre-match

After an appearance from the Palace mascot, the usual pre-match pleasantries and a fine display from the home fans in the Holmesdale Road Stand, we were underway. Unfortunately, there wasn’t too much in the way of action initially, or indeed for the majority of the first half. The first fifteen minutes or so only saw the two teams share one attempt each – Palace skipper Luka Milivojevic firing wide, whilst the Baggies’ Grzegorz Krychowiak (still got it right first time!) repeated the trick down the other end.

Match Action

Match Action

The first true chance came when Ben Foster in the visitors’ goal was forced into a comfortable enough stop by Wilfried Zaha, before being serenaded by the away fans, the West Brom fans letting Foster know they wanted him to remain at The Hawthorns next season. The remainder of the half saw just a half-chance for each side fashioned once again, with the hosts’ Patrick van Aanholt getting forward from left-back to fire wide, whilst Salomon Rondon couldn’t quite direct a difficult headed opportunity goalwards. Despite having had the majority of the play, Palace couldn’t break their relegated visitors down before the break, as Darren Moore’s rekindled Baggies battled hard. We went in goalless at Selhurst.

Half-time saw a performance by the Eagles’ famed cheerleading group, the Crystals being well received before we were all set to go once again. Unfortunately, the second-half started in a similar vein to the first, with a tight opening seeing no chances of note really, until Ruben Loftus-Cheek forced Ben Foster into his second real stop of the afternoon, the ex-England stopper reacting well to keep out the close-range stop. This would be a rare bit of goalmouth activity during the early stages, as the West Brom fans and found some common ground with those of an Eagles persuasion, as they took part in joint chants of how fond they were of “Woy”, whilst also showing their…..strong dislike of Alan Pardew. Not even that dance at Wembley could make him popular, it appears (being a United fan on the wrong end of said Dad dance, that’s not too upsetting)!

From the hour mark, Palace would begin to truly take on the mantle of the game’s dominant force, as they began to threaten the Brom goal at regular intervals. First, Andros Townsend saw an effort fly wide of the upright, before James McArthur was penalised for a very poor attempted dupe of the ref and duly carded, if not for the dive itself, then for the awful technique!

Match Action

Along the Arthur Wait Stand

Match Action

On 70 minutes, the opener finally arrived and it was little surprise that it was Zaha who grabbed it; with he, along with Yohan Cabaye, having been the outstanding players on the day in a home shirt (though I may be somewhat biased towards Cabaye, having always been a fan of his since his arrival in England). Whatever, this was about Zaha, as the forward latched onto a low cross from van Aanholt and his side-footed effort made its way over the line, despite the efforts of the defenders on and around it. The Palace fans in the Holmesdale were up and Palace were too.

Christian Benteke, who had been introduced off the bench shortly before, then saw his header easily kept out by the ever-more busy Foster, though the latter would be beaten for a second time shortly afterwards, van Aanholt turning from provider to goalscorer when Andros Townsend got in down the left and fired low across the six-yard box where the Dutchman arrived to steer the ball home and give his side a seemingly unassailable two-goal advantage. This was the cue for a couple of away fans around me to end their season slightly early, and who could really blame them?

Post-match pleasantries

Palace, though, had seen a remarkable turnaround under Roy Hodgson after their early season woes and despite James McClean finally forcing the Welsh international Wayne Hennessey into some sort of action late on in the fray, they saw the game out comfortably, even being able to bring the returning Pape Souare (after that awful accident he had a couple of years back) on as a sub late in the day, to end their season on a high. West Brom have only positives to look forward to under Darren Moore going into next season I’m sure, having already looked far better than they did when playing Southampton in the Cup a couple of months ago.

I made a quick exit out of the ground and tried to get into the ground-neighbouring Clifton Arms, despite knowing the chances would be slim-to-none. This proved to be the case despite me showing the door guys what I do, with one being decent enough to say it’s just what they’re told to do, while the other got a bit arsy about it. When you’ve been trained it yourself, you know how to speak to people and that certainly wasn’t it. Ah well.

Thornton Heath

Spoons

Regardless, from there I headed off towards the Wetherspoons opposite the nearby Thornton Heath station. On arrival here, the doorman was having a bit of fun with a couple of away fans, saying “If anyone asks, tell them you’re a Mansfield fan”. That’s how you do it, you see?! Anyway, upon entering, I got in a pint of the Wimbledon Ale ‘Bravo’ and quickly drank it down, with plans to visit the Railway Telegraph next door, though these were scuppered upon the revelation that it was all shut up for some reason. Ah well. Off to the station, then, were I’d just missed the earlier train back and so now had a twenty-minute wait, though I did overhear someone saying the ‘Spoons was to shut the following week, so I’d recommend giving this part of the area a miss from now on, if on the lookout for a place to drink. This duly happened too come the following day or so!

The journey back was an easy one, following the same route and after a visit to the Doric Arch once again for a pint of the fine Frontier (and talking to the Italian guy behind the bar there) it was back on the train home, which again flew by as I continued to nod off, not really fancying the trip too much! The connections all ended up sorting themselves out nicely too, as my League season ended in decent fashion.

So, what of my Palace experience? Well, I like Selhurst Park as a ground, with it still having a largely traditional feel (for the time being, anyway), though the stanchions did put a bit of a dampener on it if I’m honest. The game was ok I suppose and the programme and food were both what you’d expect – all good. Ticket was the subsidised £30 as is usual I gather, whilst the pubs were all good fun, especially the Holmesdale. Just don’t remind me of the Clifton episode! That aside, it’d been another good trip down around the capital, but now its back into the local leagues for a couple of weeks and next up is somewhere a little more quaint in the Cheshire countryside….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5 (point off due to stanchion in the way of far goal)

 

Manchopper in….West Bromwich

Result: West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton (FA Cup 5th Round)

Venue: The Hawthorns (Saturday 17th February 2018, 3pm)

Att: 17,600

The FA Cup reached its last sixteen and the lure of a quarter-final spot loomed over each tie, as did the chance to get one stop closer to a date at Wembley. But for eight of the sixteen, this attempted date arrangement would be one that would end in the equivalent of a slap in the face. Well, unless you happen to be Rochdale and Spurs, of course! As it was, I’d be off to the Hawthorns to witness two of the Premier League’s strugglers; visitors Southampton taking the trip up from the South coast to the “Second City” and the Hawthorns. Having missed out on the last round of the cup, I was looking forward to re-joining the trail to Wembley Way.

Getting the train down from Manchester at just after 10am, I undertook a change in Wolverhampton before heading over towards Smethwick and, latterly, the Hawthorns’ own station. Whilst on the train, though, I decided that hopping off at Sandwell & Dudley would provide a more direct route straight into the centre of West Bromwich, via a twenty-minute walk, thus meaning I’d forego the attraction of a number of pubs en route from Smethwick to the high street of Brom. There are regular buses to take you up the hill too from Sandwell station, but taxis appeared to be in short supply for some reason….sorry, I couldn’t resist!

The station neighbouring Railway was still shut as I exited and so I continued onwards and, after heading along a litter-strewn dump of a road, I the town centre eventually began to come into view, largely in the shape of its bus station and some sort of modern landmark. As luck would have it (!), this road also took my right past West Brom’s Wetherspoon’s offering and I reckoned it’d be a shame to miss out on achieving another “tick” on that list too (yes, I’m one of those people as well). It was well worth it, though, as I entered the Billiard Hall to discover the staple Punk IPA. However, this came with a slight difference. That difference? It was only on draught! My break from the stuff made it seem all the more heavenly.

Arriving in West Brom

‘Spoons

The Sandwell

With the clock having just passed midday, I had more than enough time to sit back and take some time over said IPA whilst watching a number of different Winter Olympic sports on the ‘Spoons’ big screen whilst a few early risers from Southampton tucked into lunch opposite. Before long, though, it was time for me to move on, though not before a visit to the “facilities” gave a clue to how the Brom fans felt about the notorious taxi incident, with “embarrassing” being a widely used term in the conversation.

Anyway, from there it was onwards over the road and to the newly renamed Sandwell. A large pub, the Sandwell was also handily showing the early kick-off between Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea. As such, once the manager had ensured the lady serving that my Scottish £5 note I’d inherited the week before was fine, I settled in with a pint of Amstel (I think) for £3. Not too shabby, though the game itself wasn’t any great shakes, as the Swans and the Owls battled their way to a half-time stalemate. My empty glass was collected swiftly by a pretty apologetic guy and I headed on out down through the market area of the high street and past the clock which has some story to it, the Sandwell having a framed piece of writing on its wall regarding the large timepiece. I didn’t bother to read it, though, so don’t know exactly what the purpose (if any) of its installation was – aside from helping to keep track of time, of course….

West Brom

West Brom’s famed clock

Prince of Wales

Next stop for me was the Prince of Wales, a pub that emanated something of an Asian feeling from its exterior and this was the case inside too, with a few pictures around the place showing some of the Southern Asian-style artwork, with the wooden bar also having the trellis-like effect in diamond shapes within. After being informed by the barman that the Coors was now off due to lack of sales, I instead opted for the safe haven of a Stella which, for £2.70, was very decently priced. The Prince of Wales was also showing the game, which had seemingly seen little improvement during the early part of the first half, and also played host to a pool table which was well populated today. I finished up my pint in here, before arranging a rendezvous with Dan, who would be joining me via a short hop on the tram from Wolverhampton, where he’d been visiting family during the morning.

After a short wait, Dan soon appeared around the corner and, with time in hand, we headed on to the Sportsman a short walk down the road. The Sportsman was a rather modern type of bar, the bar itself being reached by climbing a set of stairs to the first floor of the building. The place was proving popular with those of a home persuasion and I was soon in possession of a pint of Dark Fruits, courtesy of Dan who settled on Carling. Again *shakes head in disappointment*.

The Sportsman

The Sportsman. Carling glasses haunt me too!

Arriving at the Hawthorns

After watching the trip-spanning game at Hillsborough come to its goal-less conclusion, leaving the two to meet in a replay at the Liberty, we decided to follow the lead of the majority of fans in here and head over to the ground. After a fifteen minute walk, the Hawthorns began to loom into view and after buying a pair of programmes on our way down to the ground, passing the neighbouring ex-pub Greggs and a few pics of the ground’s exterior, we headed around to the far side of the ground and through the Jeff Astle memorial gates, complete with the image of Brom’s legendary #9. From there it was to the turnstiles of the highest League ground above sea level in England.

Once inside, I reckoned it’d be best to get some food in before the usual half-time rush and so headed straight for the food bar and I was soon taking a Chicken Balti pie up to our seats in the stand. Seated in the East Stand and just about on the half-way line, we were situated fairly close to the front and so had a pretty close-up view of the action. The ground is totally enclosed, with the corners at each side of us featuring large imagery of past players to have graced the Hawthorns, though this, interestingly, included Peter Odemwingie and I wasn’t too sure how positively the home fans feel about him after all the shenanigans of that now infamous deadline day. There is also one of two of the grounds’ two big screens to the right side of the stand for all your informative needs and more interestingly is the fact that the screen is home to a large throstle, stood upon a ball. As you will know, this is the club’s emblem but this bird used to be perched upon the top of the old half-time scoreboard and has been kept over from the old East Stand in a nice touch.

Continuing from there, the East Stand is the most modern part of the ground, being completed early in the last decade and is a large, one-tiered affair that also plays host to the club’s hospitality boxes. Opposite stands the Halfords Lane Stand which has the club’s name proudly emblazoned along the front of its roof. This stand also extends around both corners to connect with both the Smethwick (away) and Birmingham Road (home) ends, though the Smethwick was shared today between both sets of fans, with the Saints fans being located at the side nearest to us. All stands are, of course, all covered seating. As for the Albion….

History Lesson:

West Bromwich Albion F.C. was founded in 1878 as West Bromwich Strollers by workers of the George Salter Spring Works in the town. However, they would take on the club’s current name just two years later and, in doing so, became the first club to adopt the Albion suffix with Albion, in this case, referring to an area of West Bromwich that most players lived and/or worked in. The area is now known as Greets Green.

Albion would join the Birmingham & District FA in 1881 and so became eligible to compete in their first cup competition, the Birmingham Cup and reached the quarter-finals in their first campaign. Two years later, the club achieved their first piece of silverware in the form of the 1883 Staffordshire Cup. That same year also saw West Brom join the Football Association which led to them entering the FA Cup for the first time in the 1883-’84 season. Turning pro in 1885, the Baggies reached the 1886 FA Cup final but would lose out after a replay to Blackburn Rovers. Further disappointment followed the next year with another Cup final defeat being administered, this time by West Midlands rivals Aston Villa. However it would be third time lucky for Albion as they went on to finally lift the Cup in 1888, beating favourites Preston North End and, in turn, this allowed West Brom to qualify for a “Football World Championship” game which was played against Scottish Cup winners Renton. Unfortunately for the Baggies, they ended up on the wrong side of a four-one defeat to their counterparts from North of the border.

WBA FC

1888 saw Albion informed of the FA’s intention to form the Football League which was duly started later that year with Albion being one of the original twelve founder members. Their first silverware as a league club came in the form of their second FA Cup title (1892) and saw the club gain revenge on Villa in a repeat of the 1887 final but 1895 saw Villa again take the bragging rights in that year’s final between the two local rivals. The turn of the century would see West Brom move into the Hawthorns after brief stays at a number of grounds, including their first enclosed ground, the Birches and their previous home, Stoney Lane. Sadly, their first season at the Hawthorns was memorable for all the wrong reasons, with that year seeing Albion suffer their first relegation, from the League’s Division 1 to Division 2.

The next (1901-’02) season saw the Baggies bounce (pun intended) back as Division 2 champions, only to be relegated again after two seasons back in the top-flight. A longer stay in the second tier would follow, West Brom remaining here until 1911 when they lifted the Second Division title for the second time. 1912 saw the club on the wrong side of a cup upset when Division 2 side Barnsley defeated them in a replayed final, but greater times were to follow at the end of the decade. Upon the resumption of football after WWI, West Brom would go on to win the League title for the first, and to date only, time at the end of the 1919-’20 season, recording a then record 104 goals and 60 points and going on to latterly win the Charity Shield. They would finish as runners-up to Huddersfield Town in 1925 but would soon fall away and be relegated once again just two seasons later.

The relegation again saw WBA playing in the Second Division, but this didn’t stop their fairly regular runs to the FA Cup final. Indeed, they’d go on to win the 1931 competition, beating another of their local rivals, Birmingham City, by two goals to one. This was allied to a successful league campaign which saw Albion promoted back to the top-flight as runners-up with this “double” (FA Cup & promotion) not being achieved either before nor since. 1935 would see the Final reached yet again, but their up-and-down record would continue with a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and things would also drop away in the league prior to WWII, with West Brom being relegated again from Division One in 1938.

Jeff Astle Gates

Following the war years, Albion were promoted back once more in 1949 and this time the club managed to find some impressive consistency in remaining in the English top-flight for the next 24 years. During this time, Albion almost became the first club of the 20th century to lift both the League and FA Cup double but, despite lifting the latter by overcoming Preston for the second time in a final (1954), a loss of league form towards the end of the campaign saw them lose out to another rival, (and perhaps their most fierce) Wolves. Still, this era was something of a golden one for Albion, with the side being hailed as “Team of the Century” in 1954 and even being tipped by one newspaper to have their whole team taken to represent England in that year’s World Cup!

The club remained competitive through to the end of the decade, with the Cup semi-final being reached in 1957 and three top-five finishes in the league being registered between 1958 & 1960. However, the sixties would see their league form begin to drop away, though the club’s FA Cup exploits continued, with Albion lifting their first League Cup title in 1966 with a two-legged 5-3 win over West Ham United in the last ever final to be played over two games. They just failed to defend the League Cup the following season, the Baggies suffering a surprise defeat to Third Division QPR in that year’s final after being two-up at half-time. Despite this setback, 1968 would see West Brom register their last major honour to date, with the familiar form of the FA Cup returning to the Hawthorns’ trophy cabinet via an extra-time win over Everton thanks to Jeff Astle’s winner in a one-nil success. The following year saw Brom reach the semi-final in defence of the Cup and also made that season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final and the League Cup Final, losing the latter to Manchester City.

After winning the 1971 Watney Cup (played between eight highest-scoring sides who weren’t competing in Europe or been promoted), 1973 saw the end of the club’s lengthy top-flight stay as relegation to Division 2 was endured. Again the club would return fairly quickly, 1976 seeing them achieve promotion back to Division 1 once more. 1977 saw Albion triumph in the pre-season Caledonian Cup, before 1978 saw another FA Cup semi-final appearance registered, before Albion embarked on a trip to China in May of 1978, becoming the first professional English side to play in the Far East country. This seemed to be a good call as the 1978-’79 season saw Albion finish in their highest league placing for two decades, ending up third, and also reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup where they were knocked out by Red Star Belgrade. This side saw the emergence of Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, the trio considered to be flag-bearers for the acceptance of black players in the English game.

Astle immortalised

1982 would see the Baggies reach the semis of both domestic cup competitions prior to the club entering a steep decline on the field. 1986 saw them relegated from Division 1 with the worst record in the club’s history and, five years later, Albion were relegated to Division 3 for the first and only time. Upon the creation of the Premiership in 1992, Albion were now in the re-designated Division 2 and reached the play-offs at the end of that season, winning promotion at Wembley via victory over Port Vale in their last game under the old twin towers. Now in the First Division, manager Ossie Ardiles moved to Spurs and this prompted a regular turnover of managers, though Albion continued to consolidate their position in the division over the next few years.

The turn of the new Millennium saw Gary Megson join the club as manager and he guided the club to the 2001 play-offs before going one better the next year and winning promotion to the Premiership for the first time. They yo-yoed again over the next two seasons, being immediately relegated in 2003 before returning at the first attempt. 2005 saw Megson relieved of his duties and Bryan Robson installed and “Captain Marvel” would oversee the club’s famed “Great Escape” where the Baggies became the first club to avoid the drop having been bottom at Christmas and also at the foot of the table on the final day. However, the next campaign saw relegation to the Championship prior to Robson leaving and Tony Mowbray being brought in. He oversaw a play-off final defeat at the “new” Wembley in 2007, before taking the club back there the next season in the FA Cup semi-finals, where they lost out to Portsmouth. However, one month later, Albion would see disappointment turn to glory as they lifted the Championship title to return to the Premiership once more.

2009 saw the Baggies relegated immediately, with Mowbray now being replaced by Roberto Di Matteo.  He led the club back up at the first attempt but was soon sacked during the next season and replaced by the future England boss, Roy Hodgson. Upon his appointment, Steve Clarke took the hot-seat, taking the club to a Premier League-high finish of eighth at the end of his first campaign before form went out of the window during the next season and he was out for Pepe Mel who lasted just a few months through to the season’s end. 2015 saw Tony Pulis join the club, but he too had a fairly brief reign, ending in November of this season, with Alan Pardew installed as boss to attempt to save the club from again returning to the second-tier. However, the club currently sit bottom of the table.

On the concourse

The sides enter the pitch…as does Baggie Bird

We were soon underway with Albion and the Saints clashing in the Cup on the very same date the two sides met in the 1968 competition, a game which West Brom would go on to win en route to lifting the famous trophy. As such, some within the home fan base were looking to this omen for some positivity at the end of a difficult week for the club. But, Wesley Hoedt is clearly not one for sentiment and it took him just eleven minutes to put Albion behind, as he met James Ward-Prowse’s corner and volleyed a low shot home with, seemingly, all the time in the world. It looked like yet more doom and gloom for the hosts.

Ben Foster was then forced into a great stop to deny Saints’ Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from adding to the Saints’ advantage before the hosts responded with James McClean fizzing in a low drive that flew wide of the target. Unfortunately, though, that was pretty much that in a tight first half of football with Southampton looking on course to add to their league win at the Hawthorns the previous week.

Match Action

Match Action

Half-time came and went with little of note occurring and we were soon back playing. Fortunately, the second period was a far better affair for the neutral than the first, with both sides looking to get loose of their tethers somewhat. West Brom this time had the first chances of the half, with Jay Rodriguez forcing a save out of Alex McCarthy between the Saints’ sticks, before ex-Radcliffe Borough man Craig Dawson seeing his header from the resultant corner palmed over the bar and into the Birmingham Road End.

McCarthy was at work again soon after, adjusting well to keep out a wickedly deflected effort and this save would prove a pivotal moment as, around a minute later, the South coast side would add to their lead and seemingly book their spot in the quarter-finals. A chipped through-ball found frontman Dusan Tadic who brought the ball under control, turned and lifted it deftly over Foster, the ball nestling into the net and sending the good number of travelling supporters mad while lapping it up in front of them. 0-2 and, surely, that was that.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

But West Brom, for all their recent off-field events, showed real spirit to get themselves back into the contest just a few minutes later and what a goal it was to allow them the chance to stay in the Cup. A fine ball by Paris Saint-Germain’s on-loan Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak (yes, I did spell his name without checking first) found Salomon Rondon on the left-side of the box and the striker rifled in a first-time volley which whistled past McCarthy in an instant and flew into the top corner. WHAT A STRIKE!!! You felt that maybe, just maybe, that may be a catalyst for the Baggies to rescue something from this tie.

They had their chances too, McCarthy saving once more from a goal-bound effort before, with around eight minutes of normal time remaining, their big chance arrived….and went. The home side won a corner which was duly delivered into the area and found its way to Ahmed Hegazi. The centre-half scuffed a volley towards goal which looped high over the heads of all and sundry in the area, only to find the crossbar in between it and the net. That wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as the ball rebounded off said woodwork to Rondon, whose resultant header saw Ryan Bertrand in the right place to head off the line and the danger was eventually cleared. West Brom’s fans, staff and players alike held and shook their heads in disbelief, trying to figure out how the equaliser had evaded them, whilst the Saints may have seen it as divine intervention….but probably not. The introduction of Oli Burke and a late Foster appearance up the other end for a corner proved to be in vain and that was that. There’ll be no-one viewing Alan Pardew’s dancing “skills” on the side-line at Wembley this season. Baggies fans may agree this is some consolation!

A different meaning of “Keeper’s Up!”

So Southampton reached the last eight and secured a surprise visit to the DW Stadium, as Wigan achieved this season’s ultimate giant-killing in overcoming English champions-elect, Manchester City, one-nil the following Monday evening. Up the ‘Tics and all that. Back to the game at hand and I’ve just had a look at the stats which, apparently, saw Southampton muster just five shots to Brom’s 23. Only seven of those 23 ended up on target, though, whilst the visitors saw three of their strikes do the same. Really surprising.

Anyway, we exited the ground and with me having a good hour-and-a-half until my train back, there was time for a couple of pints before heading on home. First up was the nearby Royal Oak, a large, sprawling pub around a six-minute walk from the Hawthorns, at the far side of the ground. Another Amstel was got in courtesy of Dan in here, before we undertook the walk down to the Hawthorns stop for the short trip down the line to Smethwick. Once here, it was over the footbridge and down a warehouse-side walkway (featuring rat) until we eventually reached our final calling point, the Vine. This was apparently another pub with an Asian connection, though this was less obvious than in the Prince of Wales, though the fine smelling curry the guy near us was feasting upon was probably enough to prove this right! Finishing off our final drinks of the trip in here, we headed our separate ways as Dan headed for the tram back to Wolverhampton, whilst I headed for the train. The plan was to meet up at the station for the same train back, but best laid plans and what have you….

Royal Oak

No such issues for me fortunately and my journey was complete with no real issues, with the programme proving an able accompaniment for the trip – with a couple of pieces honouring the late, legendary, Cyrille Regis MBE, whom my Dad waxed lyrical about watching an a goal-fest at Old Trafford, when I visited him recently and mentioned about heading to the Hawthorns. The outpouring of emotion after his passing clearly showed what a special player, and guy, he was.

As for the day itself, well….it had been a decent enough one. West Bromwich was okay enough for a visit, the cheapness of the drinks being a major plus point! The Hawthorns is a nice ground too, good seats and view and the overall experience of doing one of the more traditional grounds is always one to savour, despite it, obviously, being modernised over the years. Just £20 for the match ticket too which you can’t complain about, with the game certainly being worth the money spent. So, that’s that for Brom and it’s off back to the depths of non-league next week….or maybe that should be next Leek…..!

 

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Huddersfield

Result: Huddersfield Town 3-2 Preston North End (EFL Championship)

Venue: John Smith’s Stadium (Friday 14th April 2017, 3pm)

Att: 21,254

The second game of my Easter weekend sees a visit to the upper echelons of the English system and a fair change from the previous evening’s venue! A barred-off pitch to a 20,000-plus seater stadium is a bit of a leap in ground standard to say the least and with me ideally needing to be back at a fairly early time, high-flying Huddersfield & their John Smith’s Stadium fit the bill nicely.

Setting off over the Pennines at just before 11am, I arrived into Huddersfield at just after midday. Joining a few other earlier arrivals from both sides in the station’s Head of Steam pub, I plumped for an Orchard Pig cider, costing around £3.50. It even came in one of those old-school dimpled glasses, which is always something of a plus….God, how sad does that sound…?

Head of Steam at the station

Huddersfield looking a bit soggy

Anyway, after remaining in here for a good half-hour and creating something of an itinerary for my tour de Hudds, I upped sticks and headed off for the town centre, being collared by some guy selling booklets in support of dementia charities whilst heading through the town’s pedestrianised area. Now, I’m usually careful when it comes to things like this, but I reckoned a pound either way doesn’t mean anything, even if it wasn’t kosher. So, with good deed for the day done, I reckoned I deserved a treat and this came in the form of King’s Bar and a pint of an old favourite of mine, Warsteiner.

This was actually an unplanned diversion, as I was originally headed for the neighbouring Wetherspoon’s, the Lord Wilson, but King’s looked the more interesting of the options and I always like the sort of small, hip bar thing they had going on. The Warsteiner wasn’t too pricey either, but having paid around the £4 for my previous two pints, I decided the ‘Spoons would have to come up next, if only to readdress the balance somewhat.

A good combination: King’s Bar & ‘Spoons

The Vulcan

“Hi, do you have any Punk IPA left in there?”, came my question. The answer brought a chill to my spine as the barmaid replied “Oooh, doesn’t look like it”. No Punk IPA. In a Wetherspoon’s. This was clearly the work of the lone Magpie I’d been unlucky enough to spy earlier in the day. Alas, I decided the 5AM Saint would be a fairly decent softener for my disappointment.

With the Lord Wilson being the usual ‘devoid of any atmosphere’ modern ‘Spoons outlet, I quickly downed the red ale and headed off in the general direction of the ground. Of course, with a good hour and a half to kick-off, it was still far too early to get to the John Smith’s Stadium and so I instead made a pit stop at the bustling Vulcan pub, which is definitely the one to be in for nearby drinks it seemed. Fans from both sides mixed well in here and got on with no issues. I was also able to grab an issue of a fanzine in here, just to negate the loss of my £1 earlier. Yes, I’m that turgid with money.

With pint in here finished, I made my way through the crowd and out onto the streets. I was now headed for the ground, but it wasn’t the end of the pre-match drinking yet Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, oh no (DISCLAIMER: I don’t recommend it to the latter two categories, though. Well, not until you’re 18 anyway). I’d decided it was probably best to beat the queues now and pick up my ticket from the ticket office before the masses engulfed the area and it proved a shrewd move (even if I do say so myself), and I was swiftly in possession of my match ticket and back en route to the Yorkshire Rose pub, a short walk away.

Final stop at The Yorkshire Rose…

…before heading to the ground…

…via this lovely footbridge.

Having been directed there by a steward in the car park, I arrived just as the place had begun to empty out, which was handy. One further pint was had in here (the dearest of all I’d had during the day, though I can’t remember what this one was) and, to be honest, very little happened in this recent build place and so I swiftly finished it and headed off, properly this time, to the ground for the big game of the day: Huddersfield Town vs Preston North End.

Arriving at the ground via the footbridge over the neighbouring canal, I made my way around to the North Stand, in within which I would be situated in the lower tier, pretty much behind the goal. After going through the turnstiles, I decided to head for food pre-game and so set my sights on the trailer in the open concourse. For £3.50 I was in possession of a decent sized chips & curry. But not for too long though.

The stadium is a pretty decent one in my view, helped by it having a bit of a unique shape to it (a little Bolton-esque to my eye) and with the tree-filled hill behind the East stand. All stands are largely similar, though the North and Riverside (Main) Stands are two-tiered and host the posh boxes. The South Stand was playing host to the large, vocal band of PNE fans today and also features a large, electronic scoreboard which was much-needed as it told all in attendance just who sponsored each goal-kick. Essential. Anyway, as for Huddersfield Town….

History Lesson:

Following the birth of Rugby League in the town in 1895, an association football team, Huddersfield Town AFC, was formed in 1910 and took up residence at Leeds Road. After an initial season in the Midland League, the club quickly moved up into the Football League after just one season. Fans then staved off a move that would have seen the club move to Leeds in late 1919 and replace, the then recently defunct, Leeds City at Elland Road.

In something of a celebration of Huddersfield retaining its football club, Town reached the 1920 FA Cup Final as well as winning promotion to the Division One come that season’s end. This post-war success continued with the club lifting the 1922 FA Cup and, later, three successive Football League titles, spanning 1924-’26, as well as finishing runners-up for the two seasons immediately after their hat-trick of titles.

HTAFC

After WWII, and a fire at Leeds Road that saw the club actually end up at Elland Road for two games, the club entered a decline which saw them eventually relegated from Division 1 in 1952. Despite coming straight back up the following season as runners-up, they were relegated again just three years later. They would remain out of the top-flight for the following fourteen years, returning in 1970, but were relegated after just two years back in Division One, which signalled the final time the Terriers have competed in the English system’s top division…so far!

The drops continued for Town, finding themselves in the third tier in 1973 and 1975 saw the club languishing in the Fourth Division, the Terriers dropping from the top-flight to the bottom rung of the League within four seasons. However, their recovery began in 1980 with promotion as Division Four Champions. They followed this with promotion back to Division 2 in 1983, though a blip did follow with Town relegated back to Division 3 in 1987.

After missing out on a return to the second tier in 1992, ’93 saw them end up there anyway, of sorts, with the formation of the Premiership meaning Division 3 became the Football League’s “new” Division 2. 1995 saw Town return to Division One after defeating Bristol Rovers in the play-off final. They remained in the second-tier until 2001 when they were relegated once more.

Current ground sponsors

Back in Division 3 by the time the 2002-’03 season came to its conclusion, their stay here lasted just one season, another play-off success seeing Town overcome Mansfield Town on penalties in the final. With further renaming seeing Division 2 becoming League 1, the club missed out on promotion to the Championship on two occasions, defeats in the play-offs in 2006 & 2010 seeing them remain in League One until they got lucky at the third time of asking, defeating Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United on penalties at Wembley. Since being promoted, Town have mostly struggled to lower mid-table positions. However, this season has seen David Wagner and his side get the Terriers to within sight of automatic promotion and a likely play-off spot, the club currently sitting in fourth position.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that this was going to be an open affair, with both teams going for it from the off. Elias Kachunga’s deflected effort was saved well by Chris Maxwell early on, as the hosts began brightly, but the visitors grew into the game and in the 23rd minute they struck, Aidan McGeady firing in a stinging, rising drive from 20+ yards that flew beyond the despairing dive of Danny Ward. 0-1 to Preston.

Match Action

Match Action

Both teams continued to really go on the attack and although little was created in terms of clear-cut chances, the game was very watchable. But, just a couple of minutes before the break, Town got the leveller when a corner from the right flew over the lost Maxwell and Elias Kachunga nodded in from around six-yards. Half-Time, 1-1 and cue Alan Kennedy (I think I remember that rightly and it actually was him!) doing the draw while dodging the sprinklers!

Alan Kennedy dodging the spray

The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with Kachunga again being the first player to go close, firing into the side netting after good work by Town’s impressive Aussie midfielder Aaron Mooy. The game got a bit tetchy here and there, with yellows being dished out on a regular basis and little really happening going forward for ever team. See the resemblance?!

But, on 70 minutes, the Terriers took the lead with a quick-fire move that saw a cross-field ball being run on to by full-back Tommy Smith and his first time ball in was met by sub Jack Payne’s head and the ball hitting the net sent the home fans into raptures.

However, their delight wasn’t to last too long. Within ten minutes the Lancastrians were level, Jordan Hugill powering a towering header beyond Ward and this time it was the band of Lilywhite fans who were up and cheering. 2-2 and a grandstand finish looked to be all set up. However, who would it be who would get that one final chance to take all the points.

Match Action

Match Action

Well, it looked like it would be no-one as both teams struggled to create that one big final opportunity. But, as anyone knows by now, there usually is one that arrives through some means, and this time it was through Hugill’s utter stupidity. The ball had just been cleared away when Hugill squared up to Kachunga. Now, all he had to do was walk away and his side would surely have come away with a more than creditable point. But no, Hugill decided to floor the home striker off the ball, leaving the ref no option but to award a penalty, the assistant doing well to have seen the issue. Being right behind it, it was a clear spot-kick.

With 95 minutes on the clock, up stepped Mooy. Faced by Maxwell and his clever gamesmanship, that sadly earned him a yellow (I love a bit of mind games), it was the gloveman that came out on top to push the pen away and seemingly secure that point. That is until the ball fell at the feet of recent sub Colin Quaner and the big German striker gleefully slid the ball under Maxwell and into the back of the net. 3-2, the home fans went wild and that was that. Great game to watch and credit to Maxwell for his, seemingly genuine, applause to the opposition fans after the game.

Chris Maxwell’s pen save was in vain…

….as Quaner sends the home fans crazy!

A quick exit was made to ensure I made the earliest possible train back, which I did without any issue. It was only as I jumped on the train that Paul managed to alert me to his presence! Paul was on his way back from watching some egg-chasing antics at Castleford and we just happened to be on that same carriage. Spooky. Anyway, this all made the journey pass quickly and I was soon back in Manchester and on the way home.

In summary then, it was a decent day in Yorkshire, with the worst of the weather missing us for the most part. A few decent pubs were visited, a good ground was ticked and a great game was seen. Can’t ask for much more than that. So, next up is the third of four games over the Easter break, with a visit to the home of red squirrels and a nice beach. They may no longer have a team carrying the Formby name, but the ground still plays host to someone. Who? Well, you’ll have to find that out…what do you mean you’re not interested….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Leicester

1024px-leicester_city-svgmanchester_city_new_badge

Result: Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City (Premier League)

Venue: King Power Stadium (Saturday 10th December 2016, 5.30pm)

Att: 31,966

As the mid-season mark rapidly approaches for most sides in most leagues around the country, which seems strange as it seems only a few weeks since the season got underway in earnest, I also had the conundrum of quite where, and indeed how, to mark my 200th ground. Having had the 100th pass in pretty mediocre (I think, I haven’t checked) fashion, I had already decided it had to be somewhere a little special. So, when my City supporting pal Ashley came up with the idea of heading to Leicester, I was pretty up for it. The only thing left was to get it to tie in with the bicentennial home.

It turned out that the schedule worked pretty kindly, but did require a double game the previous week, hence the two visits to Tempest United and, latterly, Port Vale over the weekend. So with 199 grounds in the book, it was time to head for Leicester and the King Power Stadium, home of the Foxes; the champions of England!

After being picked up (yes, it’s a rare non-public transport blog) at just before midday, it was a quick and pretty uneventful journey down through Cheshire, Staffordshire (Der)Byshire as one sign announced it with the bracketed letters obstructed before finally negotiating Leicestershire. All this was done without truly hitting a red light, leading to Ashley having many aborted efforts to remove his coat. When we did eventually catch a red, we were just seven miles from the city. Unlucky, mate!

After a while of negotiating the, admittedly not too pretty, streets leading into Leicester, we eventually pulled into some matchday parking (£6), which far undercut the “official” price and set off back into the city but not before being given some directions going along the lines of “there’s a pub and a Nando’s, lots of choice” by the car park guard. I don’t think that was said in sarcasm either strangely. Anyway, off we headed passing the Leicester Tigers ground as we went, as well as the Nelson Mandela Park, Ashley regretting visiting the public facilities here. That last part may even be an understatement. I wasn’t going near.

Leicester Tigers' ground

Leicester Tigers’ ground

Nelson Mandela Park

Nelson Mandela Park

Heading towards the centre itself, it has to be said that, at that point, we weren’t too enamoured by Leicester. All that, though, was changed as we arrived at the pedestrianised centre and a quick walk through the festively decorated streets showed that there is everything and more that you could need here. Another big plus, for myself at least, was the large amount of watering holes available! Sadly, I was on a cut-back for today, so these would have to wait for another occasion. For now, though, it was off for some culture!

Firstly, we headed to the castle gardens where we found no castle, but we did find some grass and a canal. There was the motte still visible but the bailey had long gone. Next up on the list was the cathedral and a quick 10 minute walk back towards the centre was undertaken. Once here, a quick picture of this and the statue of King Richard III, who I still believe has little in common with the city bar being found there in not too good off a condition, and we headed off to find some fast food to keep Ashley sane.

Leicester

Leicester

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight...

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight…

King Richard & Leicester cathedral

King Richard III & Leicester cathedral

Ashley reckoned a Subway would suffice, so after a quick stop, it was off to the Last Plantagenet Wetherspoon’s for a quick Punk IPA (for me only, the ever reliable driver remained on the softs) and a catch up on the scores of the day on the poor man’s Soccer Saturday. The ‘spoons was fairly full, with a mix of both club’s supporters in here, but the place was a bit bland, to be honest and I wasn’t too disappointed when it was time to head for the ground. What I was put off by was the steady rain that had now begun to fall.

After a fair soaking while walking the 25 minutes or so towards the King Power, we were soon inside the, surprisingly empty, turnstiles we’d been allocated, with the others being pretty full with fans filtering through. With programme already secured and a good feel up encountered, it was into the concourse and for a Chicken Balti pie (£3.70). The pie was your bog-standard PL-style cuisine, but nothing to complain about, as I reckon I’ve done that a fair amount over the course of this blog already!

The Last Plantagenet

The Last Plantagenet

Arriving at the King Power

Arriving at the King Power

With food bought, we headed up the #Fearless stairway and into the stands in earnest, finding that we were on the segregation line, which promised some fun, though this would be tempered somewhat by the fact it appeared he family area was the side directly opposite. This is both a good and bad idea, I think, as it keeps trouble to more of a minimum, but doesn’t create too great an atmosphere for the youngsters and families who don’t want that sort of stuff. Pros and cons and another moan there. Anyway, the King Power is a smart, new-build ground, fairly basic in terms of description with all stands fairly similar. Penchants from loads of clubs line the top of them all too, which is a bit different, so a plus there. We quite liked it, so the 200th ground wasn’t a damp squib. Well, apart from the weather…anyway, here’s a bit about Leicester City FC…

History Lesson:

Leicester City Football Club was founded in 1884 by a group of Wyggeston School Old Boys and took on the name of Leicester Fosse, with the club joining the Football Association in 1890. The club played at five grounds during their formative years before moving to Filbert Street in 1891, when the club moved into the Midland League. Leicester were then elected to the Football League’s Division 2 in 1894, after finishing as the Midland League’s runners-up.

In 1908, Leicester achieved promotion to Division 1 as runners-up, but were relegated after just one season in English Football’s top division. Here they remained through to WWI and after the cessation of hostilities, the club folded and reformed as Leicester City FC, following the borough’s recent awarding of city status. They went on to win the 1925 Division 2 title and finished runners-up in Division 1 in 1929. They remained in the top-tier through to 1935, when they suffered the drop, only to bounce back up (1937) and down again (1939) within the next four seasons.

After being losing finalists in the 1949 FA Cup, the club did ensure survival a week later to remain in Division 2. They went on to win a second Division 2 title in 1954, but were relegated again the following year. After returning to Division 1 in 1957, they remained there through to 1969, the longest period of time the club has spent, uninterrupted, in the top flight, which encompassed three further FA Cup Final appearances, a League Cup Final win over Stoke City in 1964, but a further Final defeat in 1965.

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

1971 saw City back in Division 1 and they also won the Charity Shield for the only time to date, playing in it due to Arsenal’s European commitments. They were relegated once more in 1978, but again won the Division 2 title in 1980 but their stay was again to last just one season. However, 1983 saw the club again return to the top-level, as their slight yo-yo existence continued and 1987 saw the club back in the second tier.

Following the creation of the Premiership, Leicester found themselves in Division 1 for 1991-’92, losing in the play-off final to Blackburn Rovers, following this with another play-off final heartbreak the next season. But it was to be third-time lucky for the Foxes, as the 1994 play-offs were successful and the club overcame Derby County to take up a place in the Premiership, but again one campaign was all they could manage before suffering the drop.

1996 saw Leicester back in the Prem once more, following a late winner in the play-off final and this time Leicester were able to consolidate a place in the top division. With Martin O’Neill in charge, the club went on to win two League Cups (1997 & 2000), qualifying for the UEFA Cup on both occasions and were runners-up in 1999 too. After O’Neill’s departure, a downturn in form followed and 2002 saw Leicester return to Division 1.

The club moved into the ‘Walker’s Stadium’ at the beginning of 2002-’03 season and despite administration, the club returned to the Premiership at the end of the season, only to return back to the newly named Championship for the ’04-’05 campaign. After a tumultuous period concerning the managerial position whilst the club transitioned through ownership, the Foxes dropped into the third tier of English Football, League 1 for the first time at the end of the ’07-’08 season.

Just in case you didn't know...

Just in case you didn’t know…

They did manage to return to the Championship at the first attempt, though, finishing as League 1 Champions and reached the play-offs at the end of their first season back in the second tier, only to lose out in the semi-final. Following another take over and Sven Goran Eriksson’s managerial tenure, Nigel Pearson returned to the club and led them to the play-offs once more, only to miss out in the semis again, however they were promoted the next season ’13-’14, following a 10-year absence, as the winners of the Championship.

After a 14th placed finish under Pearson in their first season back in the Premier League, he was sacked in favour of Claudio Ranieri. In what some have called a fairytale season, Leicester went on to lift the 2015-’16 title after starting off at 5,000-1 outsiders. This season has seen them struggle to recreate the magic of the last campaign, with the club currently sitting just above the drop zone.

After an informal touch for Chapecoense, involving inviting some applause for the club in a show of support, the teams came out of the tunnel to the traditional fox-hunting bugle call. This definitely seemed to resonate with the champions on this occasion, as they flew out of the blocks, swiftly blowing away the visitors in a matter of minutes and leaving the majority of the travelling support in a state of disbelief.

First, a swift attack saw Jamie Vardy get clear of the static City three-man back-line and fire across Claudio Bravo and into the far corner, sending the fans across the way from us into raptures and clappers flying to all parts. This quickly became two, Andy King unleashing a fine, curling effort into the top corner, past the despairing dive of Bravo and the home fans, who’ve had something of a disappointing season thus far, were entering delirium by this point.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Vardy celebrates his second

Vardy celebrates his second

If they were at delirium by the second goal, then when Vardy added his second just minutes later to make it three-nil to the home side, then I don’t know what adjective they were at! Inside twenty first half minutes, Leicester had taken Manchester City apart and stormed into what looked an unassailable lead. Surely, they weren’t going to throw this away?!

Indeed, the visiting City showed little signs of coming back into the game and the half fizzled out somewhat, with fans behind us largely having and back and forth with one Leicester fan clad in orange, who therefore became many different words, followed by the suffix “in orange”, just to make everyone certain who the barbs were directed at. Indeed, this eventually escalated to involve burger vans, but the stewards seemed to find it all fairly amusing. Ashley and I were also regaled with one fan’s story of a trip to Highbury in the ’80’s and how its bad start reflected this game. Or something like that. Oh and back on the pitch, the half ended 3-0, before the “Jester from Leicester”, Mark Selby, paraded his new UK snooker title on the pitch following his recent defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan.

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

The second half got underway, with the visitors showing a little more life, but definitely seeming to struggle without the dynamic style and pure threat of Aguero and the control of Fernandinho in the middle of the park. Leicester, therefore, were able to control the game a little more, with skipper Wes Morgan and Robert Huth winning most that was put in front of them. Despite this, when the Citizens did break through, they found their own finishing skills lacking, with De Bruyne and Gundogan both pulling shots wide.

Eventually, though, Man City’s push for a goal back fell away and Leicester again became the force in the game, this despite the introductions of Yaya Toure and Nolito into the fray, though I did tip Nolito to net as he made his way onto the field. Indeed, Vardy completed a fine hat-trick, as he intercepted a poor pass-back by John Stones before finishing from a very acute angle, the goal-line technology confirming the goal to Michael Oliver. 4-0 and considering the last time I’d seen Jamie Vardy score was for Stocksbridge Park Steels in 2008, he’s not done too badly.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Kolarov finds the net

Kolarov finds the net

Despite being four down Man City, to their credit, did battle on and pulled two goals back. Firstly, Aleksandar Kolarov bent a free-kick from the edge of the box past German stopper Ron-Robert Zieler, before Nolito showed I am, clearly, a football predicting genius by cleverly finishing Kolarov’s low ball in. (NB: I’m not a predictive genius, please don’t ask for tips, you will lose).

So, the full-time whistle went to signal Leicester’s fine 4-2 win and we quickly exited the arena, eventually finding ourselves on the right track back to the car, after finding ourselves heading the wrong way when we popped up somewhere near the club’s old stomping ground, Filbert Street! Soon and mercifully out of the non-abating rain, Ashley created a decent exit strategy and we were, fairly swiftly, on the way back up North and onwards back from whence we came.

Arriving back at just after a quarter-past ten, Ashley dropped me back off before going off in search of some more deep-fried goodness, whereas I headed off to indulge myself in some more of that beautiful stuff with alcohol in it. You know, alcohol. That was that, then. 200 grounds have been and gone and in fairly quick time too. So then, where for the next 200?

dsc03457

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Tottenham

500px-tottenham_hotspur-svgmanchester_city_new_badge

Result: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Manchester City (Premier League)

Venue: White Hart Lane (Sunday 2nd October 2016, 2.15pm)

Att: 31,793

Following last seasons trip to Chelsea and on the late-evening coach journey back from London, the subject of our next venture was quickly brought up. Unsurprisingly I didn’t hesitate in bringing up, the soon to be lost, White Hart Lane for the trip and with my City-supporting pal Ashley in agreement with the fact that this would be a good outing, it was set in stone that we would be off here, if circumstance allowed, during Season 2016-’17.

Fast-forward to September and with tickets and travel sorted and with thanks to my Dad on getting us there for 6.30am, we once again found ourselves waiting in the lovely surroundings of Manchester Shudehill, alongside a number of “other football” fans heading to Wembley for their strange version and the odd-drunk still making their way home after a heavy outing over the previous evening. Our Megabus (more on them later) arrived and we were soon whisked onwards towards the Capital.

After having the morning’s journey ably passed with help from the Malaysian GP, we were soon into the winding streets leading towards Victoria coach station. Eventually, we pulled into the station and were swiftly making our way over to the rail interchange of the same name, where we would catch the tube through to Seven Sisters station. After a 5-hour trip down, I was in desperate need of some sort of liquid to quench my thirst and oh, how luck would have it (obviously, there was no research into this), there was a Wetherspoons right in front of us. I was soon joined by a 5AM Saint, in lieu of a lack of Punk IPA, with my phone gaining some much-needed energy, following the amount I’d forced it into using on the way down.

Heading to Victoria

Heading to Victoria

Wetherspoons!

Wetherspoons!

Soon enough, we descended into the underground station, along with the masses, with my railcard coming in more than handy, to ensure an all-zone ticket for £8.00, over Ashley’s return of just under £10. For a 20 minute journey. How does anyone afford this regularly?! Anyway, payment complete and ticket in hand, we were through the gates and swiftly onto one of the regular trains over to Seven Sisters.

After being mistaken for a girl’s Dad upon reaching the top of the escalator, much to their amusement (though I hope I don’t look so old yet), we undertook the 30 minute walk down the bustling street, heading for the large white and blue-clad cranes tasked with the sad mission of demolishing the great, old stadium. Having arrived with time in hand, we agreed on heading straight for the ground as to beat most of the rush and to secure some food without the requirement of a queue. After purchasing a bog-standard programme (£3.50) from directly outside the turnstile, we were soon inside, after a search of both body and bag (happily not together in one word). A quick shout here for the Spurs stewards, who were really courteous and friendly towards the tasks. When you can share a quip with a steward, you know they’re good.

En route...

En route…

Arriving at the Lane

Arriving at the Lane

Through the turnstiles with success, we were into the concourse and after a quick visit to the facilities, it was to the food bars for a pair of Steak & Ale pies, complete with printed logo on top, for £4.00 a pop. They were ok, nothing too special though, as to be expected I guess. After finding our seats, we soon found ourselves in the midst of a conversation between two City fans, berating the fact that a foreign fan had got a ticket for the game, thus robbing it off an “actual” fan. “Head down, head down” I thought. Would I survive two hours? Well, you know the answer, unless this is all being written by a ghost…on that note watch the film with Ewan McGregor in by that name. It’s great. I did, however, sort of like City during their time in the lower leagues and Paul Dickov’s goal against Gillingham still sticks in my mind, so let me off here guys!

Anyway, as most of you know what the make-up of White Hart Lane is (seats, lots of seats) with a gaping hole in the far corner to the away end, where I was excited to be under the futuristic-looking police-box, let’s move straight on to the history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club…

History Lesson:

Founded in 1882, Tottenham Hotspur first competed in the Southern League from 1896, winning it in 1900 and remained here through until 1908 when they were elected to the Football League’s 2nd Division. Their first major success came in the form of the 1901 FA Cup, making Spurs the first non-league club since the formation of the Football League to win it. 1909 saw Spurs promoted to Division 1 as runners-up, where they remained until relegation in 1915.

Upon resumption of football after the war, 1920 saw Spurs back in Division One as Division 2 champions to prior season. 1920-’21 saw a second FA Cup lifted as well as being league runners-up. Relegated again in 1928, they were promoted again in 1933 as runners-up, but a short two season stay back in the top division is all that followed. The end of WWII thankfully arrived and 1950 saw Spurs again back in the top division as Division 2 champions, but this time with much more success, as Spurs took their first Football League title.

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

Spurs won the League & Cup double in 1961 and successfully defended the Cup the following season. 1963 saw Tottenham become the first British club to win a UEFA club competition, in the shape of the Cup Winners’ Cup and 1967 saw the FA Cup lifted for a once again. The 1970’s featured a UEFA Cup win in 1972, with Spurs becoming the first British club to win two different major European trophies. A pair of League Cups (1971 & ’73) also arrived during the decade, though a low note came with relegation in 1977, promotion was again quickly attained the next season.

The 1980’s proved a highly successful period for the club, with two more FA Cups (’81 & ’82) joining the trophy cabinet, alongside the Charity Shield and the UEFA Cup in 1984. The 1990’s saw the club become founder members of the Premiership, but also less silverware. An 8th FA Cup win in 1991, along with the 1999 League Cup was all that came to fruition during this time, the ’99 League Cup being their last trophy win until the 2008 competition.

The latter success did however mean that Spurs became only the second club, along with Manchester United, to win a major trophy over each of the last six decades but is their last silverware so far, though Spurs did record a Premier League-best 3rd place last season.

Filling up before kick-off...

Filling up before kick-off…

...in more ways than one

…in more ways than one

The sides came out to the strains of Obi-Wan (oh, look McGregor gets another shout) and Anakin’s final battle in the Revenge of the Sith Star Wars film and they were soon underway and Spurs quickly took on the role of the aggressor, with City taking on the “You underestimate my power” over-confidence that the soon-to-be-Vader played host to. It was little surprise, therefore, when the hosts took the lead; Aleksandar Kolarov putting Danny Rose’s cross into his own net, via the underside of the cross-bar.

Spurs were all-over the visitors and the optimism that filled the away support’s ranks at kick-off quickly changed to one of apprehension, especially when it came to anything to do with Kolarov or indeed Claudio Bravo, who is the proverbial rabbit-in-the-headlights when he has the ball at his feet under any pressure. He was helpless when Christian Eriksen bent a free-kick inches wide of his right-hand post, following a rash Nicolas Otamendi challenge, but Dele Alli soon added the second, as he broke the offside trap and slotted unerringly past Bravo, following good work by the outstanding Heung-Min Son.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

City did have the odd chance during the first period, usually coming in the guise of Sergio Aguero, though they never truly threatened Hugo Lloris. Half-time and a very convincing 2-0 lead to Spurs and by now the atmosphere in the fans had changed from one of apprehension to quiet acceptance and resignation of how this one was going to end. There was still a bit of optimism and why not, look at the team and the manager, but this never looked like being anything other than a first defeat of the season for City from here.

The second half was soon kicking-off and, to be honest, there was still a good pact to the game, as to be expected in the PL, but little in terms of pure goalmouth action. The best chances came with Aguero striking the post via Lloris’ unorthodox save, where he almost let the ball escape his grasp and cross the line, before Spurs had the chance to well and truly take the points, as Dele Alli was taken out in the box, but Erik Lamela’s spot-kick was well stopped by the Chilean Bravo.

Bravo's pen save...far away

Bravo’s pen save…far away

Close quarters

Close quarters

Match Action

Match Action

With Rose getting more and more grief as the game went on for his OTT theatrics, including a miraculous recovery from one challenge, thus City also began to take the game to the hosts for the first time, the only issue being there was only around 10 minutes remaining in the game. Kelechi Iheanacho’s weak effort was comfortably saved by Lloris, before Spurs’ French glove-man brilliantly tipped over Aguero’s dipping efforts, whilst back-peddling while off-balance. Great save! This pretty much ended the game, as Tottenham held out fairly easily for a fine win and to cue the sounds of “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur” to fill the Lane again.

Heading back out the ground, we swiftly made our way back towards Seven Sisters and once again jumped immediately onto a train heading back to Victoria. Upon our arrival back at the station, Ashley had decided that he needed some food and this turned into a bit of wild goose chase, involving seeing a number of supercars lining the streets and the house where Mozart created his first symphony, or so the plaque claims. Anyway, we eventually found ourselves back at Victoria and the station’s Burger King outlet, before heading back for our coach at 6.30. OH AND HERE THE FUN BEGINS!

On the way out

On the way out

Mozart. Culture.

Mozart. Culture.

So, we arrived back at the coach station for 6pm, only to see the word “Delayed” plastered upon the screens above our gate. Not to worry, particularly, as the coach prior to ours arrived with a 15 minute delay and was soon on its way. So, we waited. And waited. And waited. Oh, and waited. Now, I like to think I’m…fairly patient, but once it approaches an hour with next to no information, I begin to get a bit pissed off. Then I get sarcastic with comments and generally, I guess, be a bit of a dick. But, its deserved when this happens, so MegaBus, I want our £25 taxi reimbursed. That obese cartoon conductor with his thumb up and smiley-face was rubbing it in even more and….

OK, I’ve had half-an-hour off, so can complete now after getting that rant out of my system! Anyway, that’s about it. It was great to tick White Hart Lane off before the end of the historic ground’s life and everything about the day up until about 6.02pm was great. Cheers to Ashley for sorting out the tickets and there may be another trip in the future, so long as no-one links my blog to my appearance and robs my ticket for a fan. Fingers crossed…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 4 (thanks to Megabus. Never again to London!)

Manchopper in….Manchester (Manchester City FC)

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Result: Manchester City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion (Barclays Premier League)

Venue: City of Manchester Stadium (Saturday 9th April 2016, 5.30pm)

Att: 53,920.

After a fairly long sojourn away from the upper reaches of the English football pyramid, I was to return to the highest of the lot: the Barclays Premier League. Despite having been to the City of Manchester Stadium on many previous occasions, I’ve never really gone into the day in depth, so when City fan Ashley contacted me with the chance to join him at the game on this fine Saturday, I didn’t take too long to agree. The 5.30 kick-off time also meant a late start and no rushing about, so positives all round!

Anyway, with the trains being affected by the Grand National at Aintree, my carriage of kings was delayed by around 15 minutes on its return from Liverpool, but having given myself a little over a couple of hours in which to head, eventually, over to the CoM, I was in little panic over this one. You have to pick and choose your battles on days like this and it seemed as though the City game was, indeed, an inspired choice to attend. *Blows own trumpet unashamedly*.

Eventually the train arrived and whisked me into town for a bit of a foray around. With plans slightly changed from where my itinerary was originally looking to take me, I arrived into the packed Piccadilly Tap for the usual Tap tipple of my own, Bitburger. Being so full, it was a bit uncomfortable and so I rushed it down slightly and headed over towards Piccadilly Gardens. However, the Gardens weren’t to be my stopping point, but rather Back Piccadilly a small road hidden away to the rear of the bustling interchange.

Here, I found Mother Macs, one that had taken my interest for two reasons. One, that its doors are guarded by large metal rails and, two, that it is apparently haunted. Spooky. Unfortunately any ghostly ambiences were thrown out the window due to Macs being seemingly very popular with the home support and even a ghost would have found it hard to find space in here, with standing room only being the order of the day. Again, after a rushed Corona (which I seemed to be looked upon with suspicion for not having something from a glass, I released myself onwards back into the Mancunian air and to Stevenson Square.

The Tap

The Tap

Mother Mac's down the road

Mother Macs down the road

Mother Macs

Mother Macs

Here, the plan was to head into a hidden “speakeasy” type bar. I won’t ruin the illusions here as I’m not sure if the place likes to maintain some sort of mystique, but all I will say is it has the façade of a sort of shop. Unfortunately, the bar was shut until later in the afternoon, meaning an earlier than planned divert to the Castle Hotel, which was to be my last stopping off point before heading over to the ground and meeting Ashley.

The Castle is one of the older establishments in Manchester, dating back to the 1700’s, though it has been updated since then. The thing that I was most happy about here, though, wasn’t the age, the ambience or the beer, oh no. It was the pure fact there was actually space to move! Thank the Lord. So, after a more comfortable final drink alongside the injured City skipper Vince, I headed back out to walk the 20 minute journey to the home of the Citizens.

Stevenson Square

Stevenson Square

The Castle

The Castle

Vince enjoying a pint

Vince enjoying a pint

But, just as I had exited the Castle, the rain began to fall and so I wimped out and headed back to Piccadilly Gardens for the Metro towards New Islington (the edge of the Central Zone), where my ticket allowed me to get to without paying more. The stop is only 10 minutes from the Etihad, so not too taxing a walk, though the main battle was fighting through the crowds on the tram just to get off.

Having negotiated this successfully, I made my way along the roads leading to the ground, which looms over the surrounding area. Having been told to watch out for a tram while crossing, despite having about 5 seconds until it even got anywhere close, I eventually found myself at the gates to the Etihad Campus and walking alongside the Manchester Regional Arena, current home of the mystifying Northwich Manchester Villa. Programme bought, I headed towards the CityStore, where Ashley was awaiting my arrival.

The Etihad looms

Heading to the Etihad

Arrived!

Arrived!

Look Out

Lookout

After spotting him miraculously quickly through the crowds, I was given my ticket and we headed round to the South Stand and our seat in the top tier of the ground, the newest part since its refurbishment and extension. After climbing the stairs to the concourse and finding amenities, I purchased some chips for £3 from the kiosk, before heading out to the seats.

Climbing up through the rows until we began finding double letters after row ‘z’, we eventually got to our row exactly three from the rear of the stand. But, I always find that views from the Gods are better than those lower down, so I was more than pleased with this view and another plus was the fact we were well out of the rain which was now falling rather steadily on those back on Earth.

As the players got through the final stages of their warm-ups, Ashley was getting more worried than anything by the impending beginning of the City pre-game “We will fight for you” video, which flashes up on the big screen. However, he was to be delighted when the sides came out of tunnel with the pure cringefest nowhere to be seen. Seemingly, others must have had the same thoughts! Anyway, without further ado, let’s delve into the history of the Citizens…

History Lesson:

Manchester City FC was founded in 1880 as St Mark’s (West Gorton), before two swift name changes in 1887 (to Ardwick AFC) and 1894 got to the name of Manchester City. They won their Second Division of the Football League in 1899 and with it promotion to the First Division. After winning the FA Cup in 1904, financial issues saw the suspension of most of the squad and a later fire at the club’s Hyde Road ground in 1920 saw further problems hit the club. Three years later, they moved into Maine Road.

In 1934, City broke the English club attendance record with 84,569 filling Maine Road for an FA Cup tie with Stoke City. The league was won three years later, but the club was then relegated the next year, despite being league top scorers!

Guess what pun could be used here?

Guess what pun could be used here?!

On the concourse

On the concourse

After winning the 1956 Cup final (the Bert Trautmann broken neck game), and playing back in the First Division, the club were relegated once more in 1963. 1966 saw the club win Division 2 again and just two seasons later they were First Division champions for a second time. These pre-ceded another FA Cup win (1969) a League Cup (1970) & a first European success the same year, the Cup Winners’ Cup.

After relegating rivals United in 1974 via Denis Law’s back-heel, the 1976 League Cup win saw the end of this golden age for the Blues and a period of, mostly, decline began throughout the ’80’s and ’90’s. After suffering two relegations in 1983 & ’87 from the top flight, they returned again in 1989 before becoming founder members of the Premier League in 1992.

1996 saw City relegated from the Premiership and after two seasons in Division One, they dropped into the third tier. After promotion at the first attempt in a dramatic play-off vs Gillingham (Dickov, anyone?), a second successive promotion saw City return to the Premiership, only to be relegated again in 2001. An immediate return followed as Division One Champions and in 2003, City moved into the Commonwealth Games home, the City of Manchester Stadium.

After the high-profile take-overs, City began to become a force again and be real challengers for honours and broke the British transfer record in signing Robinho. 2011 saw City win the FA Cup, their first major silverware for 35 years. Then came the famed “Aguerooooooo” moment as City whipped the title away from under arch-rivals United’s noses for their first title in 44 years before winning it again in 2014, alongside the League Cup, which was again won earlier this season for a fourth time.

Pre-game

Pre-game

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

The game got underway, and the game’s first real effort saw its first goal and it was to be the visitors from the Midlands who were to take something of a shock lead, with Stephane Sessegnon’s rocket of a half-volley flying past the statuesque Joe Hart and into the back of the net. Sessegnon’s posing celebration showed just how much he enjoyed it too and Brom were ahead. 0-1!

As it was, the lead didn’t last all that long, as City got on the attack and the mercurial Sergio Aguero was, once more, their focal point of the attacks, alongside the ineffective Wilfried Bony. I do feel a bit for Bony, who just clearly doesn’t fit into the playing style of City’s and so looks much worse than he is. As it is though, Aguero definitely does fit into their style and a clear trip on Aleksandar Kolarov provided him with the opportunity to bring the Blues level from the spot. Unerringly, he thumped the ball past Ben Foster for 1-1.

Aguero nets

Aguero nets

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The game sort of fizzled out throughout the rest of the half from then, and the sides went in at the break level. With next to nothing to speak of during the break other than catching up on non-league scores (as you do) and realising a kid in front of us kept turning round and staring for a few seconds at least once every two minutes, the game was mercifully back underway with City on the front foot.

But, both teams were still largely cancelling each other out, but when City brought on more of their heavy artillery in the shape of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure, they began to threaten more. But it was the returning Samir Nasri who’d grab the eventual winner, picking up the rebound from an earlier shot and placing it beyond the man on the line and into the net from eight yards. 2-1.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Aguero was then denied well by Foster after a clever quick free-kick by Toure had released the Argentine, but West Brom began to counter-act the City attacking subs with one of their own, 16-year-old Jonathan Leko being introduced into the fray. And from there, Brom really should have had a point. Two great late chances were spurned, with Berahino firing wide and then, with Foster up in the last minute, James McClean whistled his effort inches past the post, whereupon the referee brought the game to an end. 2-1 City.

So, after letting the crowds disperse somewhat, Ashley and I headed down and out of our lofty perch and out into the drizzly Manchester evening (shock, horror). After walking back to Piccadilly, Ashley headed off to get the tram back over towards Stretford, whereas I stuck to my guns and headed over to Oxford Road for one more drink in the Paramount ‘Spoons close by the station before heading off for my train back.

Down we go

Down we go

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

So, that’s probably that for me in terms of Premier League action for this season and with everything else going on at the moment, it could be the last for a good fair while. But, it was a good game and at least it wasn’t a 0-0 to sign-off on for a while. Next week sees a return to the usual non-league action. Of course it does….

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- Decent contest, with both sides in it right to the whistle.

Ground: 9- Even though my persuasion should say otherwise, I do like the CoM.

Fans: 6- Fairly subdued today especially, more so than other games I’ve been to of late.

Programme: 9- Packed with articles and other sorts of data etc. Good read for £3.

Food: 7- Chips were alright, and a decent amount for it too. When I say decent I mean about 10p a chip!

Value For Money: 6- Was an ok day overall, and can’t complain for a £20 ticket. It’s plenty, after all.