Manchopper in….Southampton

Result: Southampton 1-1 Huddersfield Town (Premier League)

Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium (Sunday 12th May 2019, 3pm)

Att: 30,367

The final game week of the Premier League campaign saw my sights set for the majority of the season on a long trip down south to the coast what with Huddersfield’s likely relegation (of course since confirmed) making it quite a pretty likely concept that I’d be able to secure a ticket for the visit to St. Mary’s. This proved the case and after being dropped off early on Sunday morning in Manchester, I jumped on the CrossCountry service that would, hopefully, deliver me to Southampton in trouble-free style.

There was a slight moment of concern near Wolverhampton as we were held for a good 15 minutes due to “overrunning engineering works” though this proved to just negate the planned wait in Reading as it was and, in the end, it didn’t matter one bit and I arrived into a sunny Southampton at a tick after 1pm. After eventually getting my bearings I set off in the right direction to have a quick look along the front before returning towards the older part of the city for a few stops in the local pubs. Well that was the plan at least, but I did instead get lost in the shadow of a large, imposing cruise liner around the port/cinema area. A good start.

After a short while trying to figure out where I needed to head, I finally got to the old city walls and jogged up the seemingly somewhat famed “50 steps” (yes there are 50, I can confirm) before arriving at the Juniper Berry Hotel which wasn’t actually one I’d planned on stopping in – but looked far too interesting to miss out on. As such, I popped in for an Amstel with the first song coming on being an Oasis number, so they were clearly expecting my arrival….or not.

Arriving in Southampton

The Juniper Berry

Southampton is a unitary authority and major port city on the south coast of England and is the largest settlement within Hampshire. Situated on the northernmost edge of Southampton Water and the confluence of the Rivers Test and Itchen, whilst the Hamble joins more to the south of the urbanised area. Believed to have been inhabited since the stone age, the Romans later founded the fortress of Clausentum in 70 AD (situated at the current site of Bitterne Manor) and this grew to become a trading port and defensive outpost to the important centre of Winchester. The fort was abandoned in 410 AD before the Anglo-Saxons later began to form their own homes around the St. Mary’s area of Soton, with the settlement becoming known as Hamwic, Hamtun and then Hampton – from where Hampshire derives its name.

Following Viking assaults from 840 onwards, the area declined initially before it became fortified in the 10th century and eventually became the medieval beginnings of Southampton. The Norman conquest saw Southampton become a major transit place between the then capital of Winchester and Normandy, with a castle being added in the 12th century and buildings from this time still survive today. As the years went on, the port began to import large amounts of Normandy wines – in exchange for English wool and cloth – and a Franciscan friary was founded in 1233 with the monks implementing a water supply system in 1290 and later giving the town access to this too.

Southampton

Then, between 1327 and 1330, the people of Southampton petitioned King Edward II that a group of conspirators and rebels led by Thomas of Lancaster had entered the area and burned and stole ships and other vital goods. However, in implementing the King’s advisor Hugh de Despenser the Younger, some were imprisoned but later pardoned by Edward III and Queen Isabella.

Southampton was then sacked by French, Genoese and Monegasque forces in 1338, with these led by Charles Grimandi, who would use the plunder to form the principality of Monaco. As such, Edward III ordered walls to be built tighter around the town to stop invasion – but these weren’t much use in stopping the Black Death, which arrived in the country via the ports there. Prior to King Henry’s departure for the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the ringleaders of the ‘Southampton plot’ were tried in what is now the Red Lion pub and executed nearby. The walls also play host to the country’s first purpose-built artillery post and has housed a gaol, town’s gunner and but these walls were later rendered somewhat obsolete by Henry VIII’s strengthening of the defences around the Solent area.

One of the older buildings in Soton

Southampton became an important shipbuilding area for a time and this included the construction of Henry V’s warship, the HMS Grace Dieu, but this was rather short-lived and this, along with the friary, soon disappeared, though the latter’s ruins lasted until being washed away in the 1940’s. The pilgrim fathers set sail from the port in 1660 and the English Civil War brought conflict via the arrival of a Parliamentarian garrison in 1642 with the Royalists unable to take the town which later became a spa town in the 18th century and was also a major military embarkation point for the wars with France as well as the Crimean and Boer Wars. The Port of Southampton was formed in 1835 and this tied-in with a large Victorian-era expansion which also saw tramways and rail links with London added in 1840 – meaning Southampton gained the moniker “The Gateway to the Empire”.

Shipbuilding continued to be a strongpoint into the 20th century, with many warships being repaired throughout the numerous conflicts and also imfamously saw the RMS Titanic set off for New York, never to return. Despite the loss, Southampton became home to the Cunard liners as well as Imperial Airways’ Flying Boat fleet. It went on to become a hub of military embarkations in both World Wars with its importance as a goods handling area too making it a high priority target for the Luftwaffe, who regularly struck and took many lives. It is perhaps fitting that the Supermarine Spitfire would be designed here. Southampton gained city status in 1964 and later became a county borough within Hampshire in 1973.

Titanic

The Duke of Wellington

From there, I continued on just around the corner to the Titanic with the barman decked out in full waistcoat and shirt and was telling a couple of tourists about the tale of the bell and how they toll it on the anniversary of the 1912 disaster. It was all very interesting and the place highly friendly too – decked out as it is in an abundance of paraphernalia regarding the ship and what have you. Incidentally, I visited the home town of Captain Smith only a few weeks previously too – if you’re interested, here’s the blog from that.

Unsurprisingly, this was a Titanic Brewery stronghold, though I didn’t opt for one and instead went for a San Miguel (£4.10) before paying a visit to the old Duke of Wellington just a few doors away. With a Heineken in hand (£4.60), I plugged in my earphones for the start of the Spanish GP (with no TV’s in this place!) but this only lasted a short while as the information of an awful Räikkönen start immediately had me tuning out and turning to further drink. You can’t blame me! My next stop was planned to be one across the way from a park and a bit closer to the ground, but my interests were peaked by the Red Lion I just about spotted and upon entering, I was happy I had done so.

Red Lion

More Southampton Sights

Inside was full of all kinds of pieces relating to, seemingly royal, history…oh, and a budgie. Sadly, I didn’t have all that much time in here and so my perusing of the decorations and the intricate décor was somewhat limited and as soon as I had downed the last of my Grolsch (£4.10), I headed on out of the ground and followed the crowds who looked to know where they were headed. All went well too, until I actually got to the ground, whereupon I got lost looking for the away ticket office and then having the gates fail to work – though myself and a group of Terriers fans were eventually scanned manually and let through a gate. This slight delay did mean that my usual pre-match visit to the food bars would be delayed until the break, but it could have been worse!

St. Mary’s is a very decent ground in which to watch a game and the atmosphere between the two sets of supporters for this dead-rubber, end of season clash was good spirited. All stands are of the same size and all have a translucent rear as to allow as much natural light into the stadium as possible. The stands are all named too, with the East Stand – named the Itchen Stand – serving as the main stand and this stand plays host to the usual matchday facilities, boxes and dugouts. Opposite stands the Kingsland Stand with the two ends being named the Chapel and Northam Stands respectively – the latter giving a clue as to which compass point it is located at – with the visiting fans (and myself) being located in the this. That’s St. Mary’s in a nutshell and this is the story of the Saints of Southampton….

History Lesson:

Southampton Football Club was founded in 1885 as St, Mary’s Young Men’s Association and gain both their stadium name and nickname of “The Saints” from their Christian church beginnings. They played their early games on The Common, though games here were frequently interrupted by pedestrians exercising their “right to roam” and so more important matches were played on cricket grounds at Hampshire CCC on Northlands Road, or the Antelope Cricket Ground on St. Mary’s Road. The club later shortened their name to St. Mary’s F.C. in 1887 before becoming St. Mary’s Southampton in 1894, upon the club’s move into the Southern League. The club won the title here in 1897 and then became a limited company as Southampton Football Club.

They would complete a hat-trick of titles by 1899 and added a further three championships in the early part of the next century (1901, ’03 & ’04) and also reached a pair of FA Cup Finals during this period, going down to Bury and Sheffield United in the 1900 and 1902 finals respectively. During this period, Southampton moved to a newly built ground known as The Dell and despite the club’s early tenure here being rather tenuous via rent from the ground’s landlords, they later made the eventual purchase and set their long stay in stone.

Arriving at St. Mary’s

After WWI, the Saints joined the Football League in 1920, where they took a place in the newly formed Third Division’s Southern section a year later upon the regional divisional split. 1922 saw the club promoted to the Second Division, whereupon they would spend a little over three decades, featuring in two FA Cup semi-finals (1925 & ’27) – both ending in defeat – to Sheffield United and Arsenal.

WWII bomb damage would see Southampton ground-share with rivals Portsmouth for a while at Fratton Park, but they returned to the Dell and 1948 saw them just miss out on promotion to the First Division, finishing third, and the following two seasons also saw brushes with promotion end on the wrong side of things from a Southampton viewpoint. However, 1953 would see the club drop back to Division 3 (South), where they would remain through to 1960 and their eventual promotion back to Division 2. 1963 again saw the club vanquished in the FA Cup semis, this time at the hands of Manchester United, but the Saints would finally reach the top-flight in 1966 as Division 2 runners-up.

A spell of eight seasons in Division One followed, with Southampton recording 7th place finishes during this period, the first of which, in 1970, saw them qualify for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, where they bowed out in Round 3 to Newcastle United. The second 7th placing saw the club take part in the cup’s successor – the UEFA Cup – where they met, and bowed out to, Spanish club Athletic Bilbao in the first round. Despite becoming victims of the new three-down system in 1973, the club rebuilt in the Second Division and they defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley in 1976 to finally lift the FA Cup. This allowed Southampton access to the Cup Winners’ Cup the next season, where they reached Round 3 before being knocked out by Anderlecht.

SFC

1978 saw the Saints finish as runners-up to Bolton Wanderers in Division 2 and thus return to the First Division under the captaincy of Alan Ball. The next season had Southampton in the League Cup Final, which saw a 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest suffered and Southampton lead the way for a time in 1981-’82, but a poor end to the campaign saw them fade to 7th come the season’s end. Another FA Cup semi-final loss was suffered in 1984, but the league table read a bit more favourably, as the Saints ended up as Football League runners-up – their best ever finish. The next few years saw the likes of Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer break through the ranks and go on to make names for themselves in both club and international football.

Southampton became founder members of the Premier League in 1992 after finishing in a high enough position to ensure their place at the new top-table, though would go on to struggle for the most part and were regularly battling against relegation for the first decade of their initial stay. Avoiding the drop in 1996 on goal-difference alone and again in 1999 via a “Great Escape” after spending a fair time at the foot of the table (and, no, the Souness-era Ali Dia debacle will not be menti…oh). They bid farewell to The Dell in 2001, after over a century, with a 3-2 win over Arsenal secured by a late Le Tissier winner and went on to move into their new St. Mary’s Stadium home. The club reached the FA Cup Final in 2003, losing out to Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, but 2004 saw the Saints relegated to the Championship on the final day of the season.

St. Mary’s from a different POV

After Harry Redknapp had swapped and returned to Fratton Park via an unsuccessful, brief stop at St. Mary’s, the 2006-’07 season saw another name introduced by the Saints who would go on to build a reputation for himself – Gareth Bale. However, the club weren’t immediately successful and indeed had to stave off relegation and administration in 2008 and both eventually came around the next year, with many assets needing to be sold off to keep the club afloat. Southampton were eventually bought by Markus Liebherr whose tenure was cut tragically short when he passed away in 2011. Starting their first tier-three season in over 50 years, the club won the Football League Trophy in 2010 – defeating Carlisle United 4-1 at Wembley – and were promoted from League One the next season as runners-up to Brighton & Hove Albion, before going straight through the Championship at the first attempt, finishing runners-up to Reading.

Their return to the Premier League had Southampton cementing their place back in the top-flight as regular mid-table finishers. During their second season, Sadio Mané recorded the fastest ever Prem hat-trick in netting all three goals within just 176 seconds and the club finished 7th, qualifying for the 2015-’16 Europa League in doing so, where they defeated Vitesse Arnhem before going out to FC Midtjylland in the play-off. They repeated the feat the following season, but this time via a best ever Premier League placing of 6th, missed out the qualifying stages and entered at the group stage but were eliminated. They also suffered disappointment in the EFL Cup Final when they were bested by Manchester United at Wembley. Current boss Ralph Hassenhüttl took the hot-seat mid-season after the dismissal of Mark Hughes and he, as with his predecessor, has guided Saints to safety come season’s end.

The game began rather quietly, with only Karlan Grant’s early effort going anywhere close to testing either ‘keeper – Saints’ stopper Angus Gunn being comfortably equal to his shot from a tight angle. Shane Long and Danny Ings both saw shots fly off-target as the hosts began to take control of the half but, in truth, the game was pretty poor and many of the support were making their own fun in the sun – especially in the corner of the ground where we were located.

Match Action

Match Action

After Grant and Juninho Bacuna had seen shots saved and fly over respectively for Huddersfield, the hosts eventually opened the scoring five minutes or so before half-time, which their overall dominance on the game had suggested was on the cards. A fine through ball by Ings released Nathan Redmond – who’d looked dangerous throughout the half – and the winger cut inside prior to firing high into the top corner, giving Terriers keeper Joel Coleman no chance.

That was that for the first-half action and a quick on the whistle visit down into the concourse was on the cards. It was a good job I had done so when I did too, as I was just in time to grab one of the few hot dogs that were all that was left of the culinary delights on offer in the away end by the break. To be fair, it wasn’t bad and was bloody hot to handle too! Anyway, back up to the seats I headed for the half-time entertainment which consisted of an interview way down in the corner at the far end of the pitch by former Saints player Franny Benali and his daughter, presenter Kenzie, who was doing the interview about his very decent “IronFran” charitable efforts that I certainly wouldn’t envy even attempting! Fair play and very much worthy of the applause from all sections of the crowd.

Half-time ended shortly afterwards and the match was back underway and despite Southampton immediately going close through James Ward-Prowse’s drive that forced a fine stop out of Coleman, it didn’t take long for the visitors to grab the equaliser, after a horror moment for Angus Gunn. The Saints keeper received a back-pass under next to no pressure, but when faced down by an optimistic Alex Pritchard charge, allowed the ball to escape his control and Pritchard needed no second invitation to pounce upon the loose ball and roll it into the unguarded net. One-a-piece and the visiting fans were in raptures – it was only their 22nd goal of the season after all!

Match Action

Match Action

Unfortunately, rather than open the game up into a free-flowing, winner-take-all contest which may have happened, it instead became a pretty turgid and, to be honest, boring watch with very, very little occurring to get pulses racing. Bar Pritchard seeing a shot from range evade the target and Yan Valery heading straight at Coleman down the other end, it looked as though it had petered out into a fair draw….that is until stoppage time….and a pitch invader who managed to get himself into the net. Good effort and the common “You Fat Bastard” chants were seemingly much welcomed!

Ninety-three minutes were on the clock when substitute Charlie Austin was given a great sight of goal, courtesy of a fine Redmond pass, but his shot went agonisingly wide of the upright from his viewpoint….and I guess from the Huddersfield POV too, only for differing reasons! Full-time, 1-1, and the Terriers Premier League experience was officially at an end. I just wish I knew about the free shirts, mine had gone walkabout before my arrival!!

Heading back to town

Railways and buildings.

The Old Vestry

Post-match, I undertook the walk back towards the city centre and the train station, though I had slightly underestimated the length and time it would take to get there and so just had time for a single pint prior to jumping back on the service for the long trip up north once more. I seemingly chose well for this though, with this final bar(though actually more of a restaurant), the Old Vestry, being in an old, converted church, that still maintains the look and feel of its former reason of use. I entered just as a couple were being turned away from the fully-booked restaurant and with no issues at the bar, I settled into a final pint of Beck’s (£4.60) before returning across the way just in time for the train back.

No issues were experienced from thereon in and I was back in Manchester in time for the last train connection back home too which was a pleasant bonus to have in rounding off my long-distance ventures for this season. As a whole, I had very much enjoyed my visit to Southampton, despite it being oh, so brief. The pubs I squeezed in were enjoyable and seemed the more interesting around whilst the ground was good to watch a game of football in, even if the game was a typical last day affair. Everything else was fine too and the programme served a fine foil to get me through the first hour of the journey back. So, the last game of the season sees a winner takes all promotion game (well, that was what it’s supposed to be) in the Cheshire League – Broadheath Central vs Blacon Youth. You’ve gotta love it!!

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 5

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Brighton

Result: Brighton & Hove Albion 0-0 West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup 4th Round)

Venue: Falmer Stadium (Saturday 26th January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 27,001

The FA Cup 4th Round draw threw up little in terms of intrigue or excitement – in my eyes anyway – and so I was quite stuck with what my plan for that weekend would be. Yes, my booking history with West Brom did give me the option of heading down to the south coast and the Falmer Stadium – home of Brighton & Hove Albion. But did I really want to make the trek? Did I? Come the Thursday afternoon arrival of my ticket, the question was duly answered and to Brighton I set, fittingly bright and early.

Getting the train at a little after 8am, a trouble-free trip had me arriving in Euston around quarter-past ten and after purchasing my tickets onwards there, the short walk over to St. Pancras followed where I’d catch my carriage onwards to Brighton. A nice bonus was the saving of a couple of quid on the ticket there due to the subsidisation of travel to the ground which is included in the match ticket, meaning I only had to buy to Haywards Heath – the rest of the journey being “free of charge” in many respects. Whatever the case, I wasn’t complaining!

Arriving into Brighton

On the front

First up: the Fortune of War

After finally pulling into the large expanse of Brighton Station at just after midday, a ten minute walk down the busy main road linking the two had me on the seafront. Getting my bearings, I quickly sought out where my first planned stop of the day was located – this being the interestingly named Fortune of War, located inside what were apparently former railway arches that now run beneath the seafront road. The Fortune of War has been termed as an “upside down boat” and it proudly proclaims itself as Brighton’s only pub in this regard. Really nice place with view over the sea from the large window on the slightly upstairs area. They also allowed me to charge my phone too (which was much required) whilst I supped at a lovely pint of Pale Ale (£5.05). The service was en pointe too, so props to the guy for that.

Brighton & Hove is a city and seaside resort on the south coast of England, lying between the South Downs and the English Channel with archaeological evidence showing the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, whilst also showing later occupation by Roman and Anglo-Saxon peoples. A Neolithic camp was found on Whitehawk Hill dating from between 3,500 BC-2,700 BC with numerous burial mounds and tools suggesting it was a place of importance. A Bronze Age settlement was discovered in the Coldean area, whilst the Iron Age Brythonic Celts, upon their arrival in Britain, set up a settlement around Hollingbury Castle from the 7th century BC which has been suggested to have been the tribe’s capital. A Roman villa was located at Preston Village, with a Roman road running nearby, whilst the Romano-British Celts began to expand into farming prior to the Romans’ departure in the 4th century, whereupon the area returned to Celtic control.

Church on the Lanes

After the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the late 5th century, the region became part of the Kingdom of Sussex from 477 AD, under King Ælle. The village of Bristelmestune was likely founded by the new settlers due to its more favourable location – both geographically and weather wise, growing into a fishing and agricultural settlement. Mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Brighthelmstone”, the town grew in importance after the Norman Invasion and during the Middle Ages as the Old Town area developed at pace, with a church and market being founded and Brighton becoming Sussex’s most populous and important town, but later regular attacks by invading forces (Brighton was sacked by the French in the early 1500’s), storm damage and the resultant suffering of both the economy and population numbers saw the area begin to subside, along with its ailing fishing industry.

Royal Pavilion

King Charles II fled from Brighton to exile in France after his defeat at the 1651 Battle of Worcester and a permanent barracks was built up in 1793. During this time, the port area was apparently thought of as part of the wider Shoreham area, despite occasional mentions of a “Port of Brighton”. As the years rolled on and the roads and transport links were improved, Brighton began to flourish – becoming a boarding point for ships heading to France and also had those seeking supposed health benefits from bathing in the sea water beginning to swarm into the town. But it was during the Georgian Era that it became a fashionable resort, frequented by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) who spent much of his time in Brighton and duly had the Royal Pavilion constructed. The railways only added to Brighton’s popularity and it continued to boom through the Victorian-era with day trippers escaping the capital and many large hotels and the piers were then built too to accommodate the tourists’ comfort and leisure needs.

Town Hall

Brighton continued to grow through into the 20th century, gaining much in the way of housing estates as it grew to encompass surrounding areas in the post-WWII years, and it merged with neighbouring Hove in 1997 to form the unitary authority of Brighton & Hove, the two adjacent towns being granted city status in 2000 as the city of Brighton & Hove, during the Millennium celebrations. More recently, the area has become a popular haunt for the LGBTQ community, with Brighton being bestowed the title of “unofficial gay capital of the U.K. It has since added to it unofficial titles, being termed as both the U.K.’s “hippest city” and the “happiest place to live in the U.K.”.

From there I headed for the old part of town – the Lanes. Here there is a wide range of restaurants, shops and other amenities, but I’m sure by now you know which ones I was looking out for! My first stopping point in here came about rather by accident, as I found myself at the door of the Cricketers which, by all accounts, is Brighton’s oldest pub. Luckily it was on my list anyway, so I quickly headed inside. After a pint of Heineken at £5.05 (that 5p would become a theme), I continued onwards after deciding against the neighbouring Black Lion in favour of a change of scenery, and soon came upon the Pump House – a mix of a restaurant and bar that still resembled more of a pub than most that undergo the change-up. Timing it just right to get a table (which were at a premium), I had my first of two straight Amstels in here (£4.05) prior to heading on just down the way to the Sussex for the second of the duo which was 40p more for some unknown reason.

Cricketer’s Arms & Black Lion alongside

Looking towards the Pump House

Sussex

With drizzle beginning to fall as I exited and with time starting to run out, my next two stop-offs would have to be brief. The nearby pubs of the Druids Head and the Market featured bottles of Corona and Sol respectively, though this proved to not be as economical as I’d hoped – coming in at £4.75 and £4.40 respectively. To make matters a little worse, I then misjudged the walk back to the station and missed my planned train up to Falmer, meaning I’d be on the last one. Luckily, this seemed to work out OK as it was actually fairly empty, with the majority of fans seemingly already at the ground. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

Druid’s Head

To the Market Tavern

Arriving at the ground around ten minutes before kick-off, I managed to somehow turn the wrong way, resulting in a lap of the ground before finally making it to the turnstile I was looking for. Entering in whilst the minute’s appreciation for the missing Emiliano Sala was happening, I soon purchased a pie (£4.20 ish) and headed up to the stands and my seat away in the corner of the away end giving good views across the pitch. The ground is somewhat like the Kirklees in appearance, all stands are of a similar size, though are all connected here, unlike its Yorkshire counterpart. The tunnel and dugouts populate the right-hand touchline from my viewpoint, with the main stand also hosting the executive boxes etc. That’s the Falmer Stadium and this is the story of the Seagulls:

History Lesson:

Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club was founded in 1901 and had the suffix ‘United’ for a short time before swiftly becoming Albion and first played in the Southern League Division Two, taking the place of the defunct Brighton & Hove Rangers and becoming professional in the process. After being promoted to the Division 1 in 1903, Brighton won the Southern League title in 1909-’10 and went on to lift the FA Charity Shield at the start of the following season, defeating Aston Villa, to record their first national honour – with the Shield at the time contested between the champions of the Football League and Southern League. Brighton also entered a side in the Western League for two years from 1907, winning the Division ‘1A’ in 1909 before losing the ‘play-off’ to Division ‘1B’ champs Millwall and being closed. Brighton initially played at both the Hove County Ground and the Goldstone Ground – home to Hove F.C., with both clubs sharing the latter stadium from 1902 onwards.

In 1920, the Seagulls were elected to the Football League and its newly founded Division Three South. They remained here throughout the period between the two World Wars with little success coming their way, their best finish being 3rd, twice, in 1937 and 1939. After the end of WWII and the recommencement of football nationwide, the club struggled initially and finished bottom of the league in 1948 though remained in the Football League and soon rose back up the table in the immediate years following and 1958 saw them finally escape Division 3 South as they took the title and were duly promoted to Division Two.

Seagulls….

Spending the next four seasons there, they steadily dropped down the table each of those seasons before being relegated after finishing bottom in 1962. Things immediately worsened and Brighton headed straight on through Division Three the next year, finishing third-bottom and found themselves in Division 4 with the league having been fully nationalised. However, the club would spend just the two seasons there before going up as champions in 1965 and 1972 saw the Seagulls back in Division 2, having finished up as Division 3 runners-up. Their stay in the second-tier would be brief, the single campaign ending with the dreaded drop once again being suffered as the club found themselves heading back to the Third Division, where they would spend the next five years before going up to Division 2 once again.

This time, things got even better for Albion and after spending another two years in Division Two, the club secured their first stint in Division One with a runners-up placing in Division 2 and would remain in the top division for the next four seasons prior to relegation in 1983 and 1987 had Brighton back in the Division 3 once again, but they would bounce back immediately by finishing as Division 3 runners-up. Despite reaching the 1991 play-offs and losing in the final at Wembley to Notts County, Albion became one of the sides to hold the dubious honour of being relegated in 1992 from Division Two, only to end up in the re-designated one after the formation of the Premier League) and remained there up until the penultimate season at their long-standing Goldstone Ground home.

It was then things went awry, with relegation to Division Three being suffered in 1996 and two successive second-bottom finishes duly followed, though relegation was avoided with it not being a relegation place at the time. Indeed, the 1998 survival was only secured on the final day, with Albion meeting relegation rivals Hereford United on the final day and doing enough to ensure it would be the Bulls whose League stay would come to an end by virtue of goals scored taking priority over goal difference at the time.

Heading down from the station

Upon the club’s return to Brighton after a two-year hiatus at Gillingham, things quickly improved and two successive promotions were enjoyed at the Seagulls’ new home the Withdean Stadium. Not only that, both promotions came as champions as Brighton lifted the Division 3 title in 2001 and Division Two in 2002 and were back competing in Division One. Unfortunately, the stay would only be a sole season and the club were again relegated to Division Two, only to make an immediate return after reaching the play-offs and defeating Bristol City in the final at the Millennium Stadium. They went on to compete in the newly named Championship for the next two seasons before suffering the drop once more – to League One in 2006.

The club would have a five season stay in League One until 2011 when they took the title in their final campaign at the Withdean before moving to their new Falmer Stadium home and returning to the Championship for a second time, this time established themselves as a major contender for promotion to the Premier League. Brighton made the play-offs in each of 2013 & 2014 – losing out in the semi-finals to Crystal Palace and Derby County respectively, and suffered worse heartbreak in 2016 in missing out on the runners-up spot and automatic promotion and were then defeated in the play-off semis for the third successive year, this time by Sheffield Wednesday. Finally they broke their near-miss curse in 2017 by securing the runners-up placing in the Championship and with it the much coveted automatic promotion place for the Premier League, finishing 15th at the end of their first season.

The game got going with the hosts on top during the early stages, though they created little of note. Shane Duffy’s header was the closest either side came within the first twenty minutes, before Beram Kayal’s effort finally forced one of the ‘keepers into action – Jonathan Bond saving rather comfortably in the end. The Seagulls continued to have the vast majority of play through to the half-hour, restricting West Brom to the odd breakaway here and there with Yves Bissouma, Kayal and Florin Andone all being denied by Bond – the first stretching him the most. West Brom did come into the game more as the half entered the last fifteen minutes or so with Jonathan Leko firing way off target in the visitors’ first true sight of goal.

Match Action

Match Action

The tempo of the tie kept rising and the contest became a highly entertaining one, with West Brom happy to try to break at pace against a Brighton side who continued to press on forward. It was Brighton too who would have the better of the late first half chances, Bissouma and Andone firing off target as the sides headed in still deadlocked. Not consecutive nil-nil’s, surely?

An uneventful half-time was spent having a flick through the scores on the doors before the game got back underway with the Baggies seeming far more adventurous in their attacking endeavours while attacking the end at which their fans (and me) were located. Hal Robson-Kanu, annoyingly wearing #4 against what really should be a law, had a headed effort comfortably saved by Brighton stopper David Button and Rekeem Harper drove a shot just wide of the target as the visitors started strongly.

Just before the hour, the Seagulls would go as close as they would come in the game when the ball came to Dale Stephens just outside the area and his low shot looked to be headed for the bottom corner until Bond’s hand intervened, diverting the ball onto the post. A good stop, which would soon be matched by opposite number Button, when he palmed Tosin Adarabioyo’s header from close-range onto the crossbar.

Match Action

Match Action

As the game entered its final quarter, both sides were looking to grab the deciding goal and send themselves into the fifth round alone. Robson-Kanu saw an effort fly wide and Brighton sub Viktor Gyokeres again found Bond in the way, but other than that, the substitutes didn’t have too much effect on the tie overall. Glen Murray was sent on in the final stages and the veteran almost grabbed the winner with seconds left on the clock when he was denied by another Bond stop to ensure the goalless draw and both teams a place in the hat. The double-0 part definitely fitted in.

Post-match I headed round to the club shop with some really freezing rain now falling steadily. Having been pointed this way by a steward at half-time as a likely place to secure a programme, I came across a few at one of the tills and upon being asked for the £2 due, just happened to have my wallet come out upside down….only for the correct amount to drop out. I definitely meant it, it’s my party trick (my parties really are that exciting). From there, I made haste to join the growing masses attempting to make the Falmer platforms in any sort of respectable time and, to be fair, it was marshalled well and enabled me to be on a packed third post-match train back to Brighton, giving me a good hour and a bit back in the city centre.

Post-match rush

Bright Helm

Battle of Trafalgar

Popping into the Spoons I’d come across earlier in the day, the Bright Helm, I discovered the walk had been significantly longer than I expected (I hadn’t learned from before) and so had to resort to a Hooch – which came in a plastic glass “because of the football”. No, me neither, but this wasn’t to be the worst of it as, on attempting to visit the station neighbouring Railway Bell I was told it was by home match ticket only. WTF?! That really was my thoughts at the time, but the guys on the door did give me a couple of options (one being directly next door) and another being just up the hill. Luckily, I’d already scouted out the Battle of Trafalgar before the trip so a quick Amstel was had in this really traditional pub before finally returning to Brighton station for the final time for the day and grabbing the train back to the capital.

A doze off passed the majority of the journey and I awoke just before Croydon, meaning just a short hop remained until I could disembark and return to Euston for one of the more welcome trains I’ve ever seen to this point. All went smoothly and a slight delay getting to Manchester even helped out to shave a few minutes off my wait for the bus home. A good day, good pubs, good ground, good food and a good place to visit too. The game was alright considering it was the dreaded nil-nil, but having suffered through three in six matches now, I’m well versed in the feeling. How I pine for the 81 game streak….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 5 (cut back effort)

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Fulham

 

Result: Fulham 1-2 Oldham Athletic (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: Craven Cottage (Sunday 6th January 2019, 2pm)

Att: 16,134

The third round of the FA Cup is the one each and every club outside the “big boys” aspires to reach, with the lure of getting one of the top teams in English football a very real possibility and a rather large pay-day on the cards as well. As it was, Saturday’s ties didn’t throw up much to anything that attracted me, in fact the whole draw was rather threadbare on that front. However, one did stand out. Fulham vs Oldham Athletic pitted a current and former Premier League side against each other and with the venue being a long-term target of mine, Craven Cottage, it was a no-brainer.

With the £57 ticket price down to London seeming not quite as bad having encountered life without a railcard for a short period, an open ticket allowed me travel without the rush of having to ensure I was at certain places at certain times which certainly made a change from the majority of times I’d been down to the ‘big smoke’ before – Arsenal notwithstanding. Having felt a little on the lazy/charitable side, I delayed calling on my Dad’s taxi (not a real taxi) service until around 9am, getting into the capital for around 11.30, ahead of jumping the tube over to Putney Bridge. It transpired that many of the travelling Latics fans had the same plan of action too, with a group near me interrupting one unfortunate girl’s attempts at revision – although the fact it was proclaimed as “boring” may point to this being more of a blessing!

First stop of the day – King’s Head

Onwards to the ground….

Eventually the tube rolled into Putney Bridge station and pretty much the whole train seemed to disembark, giving an idea of just how many travelling fans were converging upon the old, classic ground. Pushed for time and wanting to ensure my place in the ground (despite it obviously never going to sell out) I decided to pop into just the one pub pre-match. This seemed to be a smart decision, even if I do so myself, as a few of the pubs and bars in this area were operating a home-fans only rule. It looked as though my own luck was out until I came across the strange set-up of the King’s Head. The décor of the inside and outside of the building really was a bit of a transposition but in more of a good way. The £5 bottle of Tiger in a plastic cup was less pleasing on both the eye and the pocket, but not too surprising all things considered. After all, it’s getting a bit on the posh side isn’t it?!

The Fulham area of London is located in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the north bank of the River Thames. With recent digs showing habitation in the area since Neolithic times up to 5,000 years ago, and later Roman settlements from the third and fourth centuries, the area would become known as “Fulanhamme”, thought to have meant land in river bend – of “fowls or “mud” – or land belonging to an Anglo-Saxon chief, Fulla. The manor of Fulham is mentioned in medieval documents as having been given to Bishop Erkenwald in 991 for both him and his successors in the ‘See of London’. As such, Fulham Palace became a summer home for Bishops of London for nine centuries and is the manor and parish of Fulham. In 879, Danish invaders sailed up the Thames and took refuge for the winter in Fulham.

Fulham Palace

Bishop’s Park

There’s no record of the building of a church in the area, but a mention of said church first came in 1154 as a result of a tithe dispute. This is the All Saints Church (otherwise known as the church in “The Omen”) just on the other side of Bishop’s Park from Craven Cottage, though the extant medieval church (though dating from the 15th century) was demolished in the 1800’s however the church the other side of Putney Bridge, St. Mary’s, is comparable in age and stands on the opposite side of what was formerly a ferry crossing. In 1642, the Earl of Essex, withdrawing from the Battle of Brentford, ordered a “bridge of boats” be constructed across the river as to enable him to link up his detachment from Kingston with the retreating Charles I and Prince Rupert and is thought to have been close to the eventual circa-1729 wooden Fulham Bridge which was later replaced by Putney Bridge in the late 1800’s. A riverside mansion by the name of Brandenburg House was used as HQ by General Fairfax during the 1647 Civil War. By this time, the area had also become a centre of ceramic making before carpeting and tapestry making came to be too under the French manufacturer Gobelins.

During the 18th century, the area became something of a den of debauchery for the high and mighty, with gambling, prostitution and the devil drink prominent, with a number of breweries and distilleries springing up. The 18th century saw the disconnection of Hammersmith from Fulham (later rejoined in 1965) and upon the prominence of the gas industry for both lighting and ballooning, the area became home to what is now, reputedly, the oldest gas cylinder in the world, dating from 1830. A two-mile stretch of water from Chelsea Creek – the Kensington Canal – was to link to the Grand Union Canal though its delays would see it open in 1828 and swiftly usurped in importance by the railways. Incidentally, a fair bit of land around the canals would then become sites for business, rail lines and the Midland Rail Depot. As the 20th century began, the Piccadilly Line engineering HQ saw the expansion of the line (now the District Line) into the suburbs and the Omnibus became motorised. This saw the continuing growth of automotive businesses in the area, including Rolls Royce, Rover, the London Omnibus Co. and Geoffrey de Havilland built his first aircraft in his workshop in 1909. The First World War would see de Havilland craft built in the Darracq Motor Factory. Meanwhile, Fulham would also become home to many Belgian wartime refugees within the Empress Hall. It later was the birthplace of Daniel Radcliffe. Magic.

Fulham’s old church peering over the trees

Putney’s response!

Finishing up, I headed off through the adjoining small park along with a group of very vocal Latics fans and down past some tennis courts – where those playing the game just around the corner from Queen’s club, some joggers and a few other people taking part in activities were given a rather tired, outdated and unimaginative heckle by some people unconnected with the aforementioned group, that I won’t dwell on. Now I’d like to point out this wasn’t at all said in any kind of nastiness or the like, but I’m sure better could be thought up for next time. Anyway, passing by Fulham Palace and Bishops Park gardens, I arrived in the shadow of the Cottage, swiftly grabbing a programme (£3) and handing over £10 at the cash turnstile in a nice jump back in time for this part of the ground.

Entering behind the famous old “cottage” pavilion – which is not the actual cottage (which itself was a former hunting lodge that no longer stands) and is in fact a solution to the oversight by Archibald Leitch who forgot to include changing rooms in the adjoining Johnny Haynes Stand – I entered into the outdoor away concourse, buying a Chicken Balti pie from the polite staff at the food bar for £4.50 and settled in to test it out. Bloody good it was too, not too hot, not too cold. Take it away, Goldilocks:- it was “just right!”.

Arriving at the Cottage.

Craven Cottage is obviously one of those grounds that is very familiar to the vast majority of English Football fans and is located on the banks of the River Thames. Beside the “cottage” in the corner of the ground, between the Putney and old Johnny Haynes stands which includes a few rows of hospitality and the dressing rooms, the aforementioned Putney End is where the away and ‘neutral’ fans are usually located, whilst the Leitch designed Haynes stand features old wooden seats to the rear and is Grade II listed, dating from 1905. The front of this stand now has modern seating where it was formerly a terraced area and is the oldest stand in the Football League. The Hammersmith End is another large all-seater stand, almost a twin of the Putney End and is usually home of the more vocal home support (though this wasn’t too obvious for this game) whilst the Riverside Stand is home to the TV gantry and dugouts to the front. Luckily, the “Jacko” statue is long gone. That’s Craven Cottage and this is the story of Fulham FC….

History Lesson:

Fulham Football Club was founded in 1879 and are the oldest London-based club to play in the Football League. Beginning as the long-winded Fulham St. Andrew’s Church Sunday School F.C. by churchgoing cricketers, this church still stands today and features a plaque commemorating the team’s foundation. Mercifully shortening their name to Fulham Excelsior, the club would win the West London Amateur Cup in 1887 ahead of becoming just Fulham Football Club the following year and winning the West London League in 1893 at the first attempt. They began playing at Craven Cottage from 1896 playing the now defunct Minerva F.C. in their first game at their new home. Fulham would turn professional two years later upon being admitted to the Southern League becoming only the second side in the capital to do so, following the example set by Royal Arsenal.

Playing in a red and white kit more akin to that of the modern-day Arsenal through to changing to white in 1903, the club would win two consecutive Southern League titles in 1906 & ’07 before joining the Football League’s Division 2 for the season after their second triumph. They would finish just three points off promotion at the end of that season in finishing 4th and reached the semi-finals of that year’s FA Cup. Fulham would add the London Challenge Cup to their cabinet in 1910 before ending their spell in the Second Division with relegation to the Third Division South on 1928. They would remain there for the next four years before becoming champions of the division in 1932 and thus returned to Division 2, finishing third on their return – again just missing out on promotion to the top-tier. A second FA Cup semi-final appearance would follow in 1936 ahead of a match with pre-Anschluss Austria which ended in a draw.

The outbreak of WWII saw the League split into a regional wartime competition, though the Cottage would be repurposed as a training base for the armed forces. Post-war, Fulham would win the 1949 Second Division title and go on to spend a struggling three seasons there before falling back to Division 2 in 1952. After a largely unimpressive stint, 1958 saw fortunes turn with another run to the FA Cup semi-finals being followed up by promotion back to Division 1 the next year as runners-up. The next campaign would see them seal 10th spot which would end up being the club’s highest finish until the 2003-’04 season, 44-years later. However, Fulham would soon return to the wrong end of the table and were relegated once more in 1968, having staved off the drop in 1966 after a late resurgence. Things only got worse the next year and a second consecutive drop saw the Cottagers back in the, now nationalised, Division 3.

Teams enter the pitch

Promoted back to Division 2 as runners-up after just three seasons in Division 3, the next few years saw Fulham take part in some of the more obscure competitions nowadays – namely the Anglo-Italian Cup and Anglo-Scottish Cup (the latter seeing the club be losing finalists to Middlesbrough) – and they also made their first (and to date only) FA Cup Final in 1975 where they lost out to West Ham United. However, the club’s league fortunes would take a dip with relegation back to Division Two in 1980 though would again secure a quick return with promotion in 1982. 1980 had also seen Fulham create a rugby league offshoot in the form of the London Broncos, who remained tied to the club for four loss-making years before becoming a separate entity and moving out from Craven Cottage.

Missing out on successive promotions in strange circumstances (a 1-0 loss to Derby County stood despite a pitch invasion and subsequent abandonment on 88 minutes), Fulham’s very existence was put in doubt with debts and an ill-advised merger attempt with QPR, but Jimmy Hill’s restructure of the club to a limited entity would eventually save it from the annuls of history. The foundation of the Premier League in 1992 saw Fulham back in the “new” Division 2 but this would only be a brief respite, as the Cottagers were relegated to Division 3 in 1994 and this would be the catalyst for one of the poorest spells in the club’s history, as they finished in their lowest ever league placing, 17th, in 1996, though would see a swift upturn as Micky Adams became player-manager and led the club to second place and promotion, though missed out on the title to Wigan Athletic on goals scored, this having trumped goal-difference for that year, on the advice of Jimmy Hill himself. Oops.

Mohamed Al-Fayed’s purchase of Fulham in 1997 with the duo of Kevin Keegan and the late Ray Wilkins quickly replacing Adams at the helm. Wilkins would depart a short time later and Keegan would oversee a run to promotion in 1999 to Division 1 ahead of his departure to take the reigns of England. A brief Paul Bracewell spell in charge preceded John Tigana, the Frenchman introducing the likes of Louis Saha to the English game and this French-based team would see Fulham to the Premiership in 2001, passing 100 points in the process. Finishing their first season back in the top-flight since 1968 in 13th, the Cottagers became the only 21st century team to host top-flight football whilst still having standing areas in the ground. This would end up forcing Fulham into a groundshare with Crystal Palace from 2002-’04, whilst the Cottage was made an all-seater stadium, though it appeared the club may never return to their long-term home, with the ground sold for development by Al-Fayed during that time.

The “Cottage”. A good solution to a mistake!

2003 saw Tigana ousted and the recently retired Chris Coleman was given a shot at management. He saved the club from the drop and then guided the club to a fine 9th placed finish at the end of his first full season in management. The next few years saw Fulham consolidate in mid-table, beating Chelsea in the West London derby of 2005-’06, though next season saw a bit of a struggle against the drop, resulting in Coleman’s sacking and Lawrie Sanchez was brought in, unspectacularly keeping the side above water. A poor start to the following season saw him replaced by Roy Hodgson. A fine recovery saw them stave off the drop in 2008 and the next year saw the club secure a spot in the renamed UEFA Europa League. They would reach the final of the inaugural season of the competition, but would eventually go down 2-1 AET after a run which had seen them overcome the likes of Hamburg and Juventus. Hodgson would depart for Liverpool at the end of the season, with Mark Hughes taking over and despite securing another Europa League position, Hughes would depart the club after less than a year, being replaced by Martin Jol.

Jol would continue to cement Fulham’s place as a Premier League outfit through to the change in ownership to Shahid Khan in 2013, when a poor start (despite just missing out on a club record Premier League points tally) saw the Dutchman replaced by René Meulensteen. This would be the start of a run of quick changes in the hot-seat, Felix Magath unable to save the club from the drop to the Championship in 2014. His overhaul of the squad for the next year didn’t improve matters and Kit Symons was appointed as caretaker-manager and later permanent boss after keeping the club in the Championship. The loss of key players saw the side’s struggles continue, Symons out soon into the 2015-’16 season with Serbian Slaviša Jokanovic brought in to replace him.

Again surviving a flirtation with the drop-zone, another squad overhaul this time worked out, with Fulham making the 2017 play-offs though were beaten in the semi-finals. Last season saw a club-record 23 game league unbeaten run be the basis of the Cottager’s return to the play-offs, missing out on automatic promotion on the final day. Defeating Derby County in the semis, Fulham defeated Aston Villa in the final at Wembley and securing their first win at the national stadium (in any form) in their 139 year history. Their return to the Premier League this year has been a struggle to this point, the club rooted in the drop zone and Jokanovic recently replaced by Claudio Ranieri, whom they’ll be hoping can resurrect them in something resembling the way he managed at Leicester City.

The game got underway and the early part of the first half saw a hard and closely fought contest in truth, with Oldham holding their own and more against their top-level hosts. Aside from an early effort from the hosts’ Ibrahima Cissé, very little happened, before Floyd Anité missed a pair of presentable chances. First, the pacy forward headed Maxime Le Marchand’s delivery just wide of Oldham ‘keeper Daniel Iversen’s right-hand goalpost, then repeated the trick on the half-hour, only this time to the wrong side of the left upright. A generic announcement about the ground being an all-seater stadium received the biggest cheer of the half, being responded to by a “Stand up if you love Oldham” chant from the Latics ranks. Good luck with that one, FFC.

Match Action

Match Action

Fulham would largely have the play as the game went on, though hardly dominated the overall game, only seeing efforts blocked out rather than testing Iversen, whilst Oldham’s battling midfield and defence remained strong. Denis Odoi wasted a good chance when he blazed high and wide when well placed, before Oldham’s first true chance saw Chris O’Grady’s eventual tame effort comfortably nestle in the hands of Fulham stopper Marcus Bettinelli. Soon after Neeskens Kebano would go down in the area only to see himself adjudged to have dived and duly be awarded a yellow card. It looked harsh from my viewpoint (albeit miles away), but would seemingly be agreed with post-match during my meet-up with a few lads and ladies. That would largely be that and the half-time was largely uneventful aside from me going very sad and getting excited by a flight path change into Heathrow. I know, I know….Let’s get back onto the football, shall we?

The half-time wander.

The second-half began much the way the first did, with Fulham still having the majority of the ball, but not creating all too much with it. However, their first chance of the half would result in the opener, as a loose ball dropped to Denis Odoi in the area and he controlled the ball well on his chest before half-volleying a cool effort beyond Iversen and into the net, completing the celebrations with a spectacular flip. No Lomana Lua-Lua slip-ups though, please. 1-0 to the hosts.

This seemed to do nothing but awaken the Latics to the fact they now had nothing to lose and their marauding began to show the nerves that were bouncing around a Fulham side devoid of many of their regular first-team starters. Regardless, it didn’t really look as though the visitors could truly get through to cause the Premier League side much trouble in the final-third, indeed it was Kebano, who had drawn the ire of the Oldham fans due to his perceived “dive” in the first half, who fired wide when he ought to have at least tested Iversen. Indeed, the fans in the Riverside stand had already begun to cheer as the ball evaded the Oldham gloveman, only to be silenced in surprise as the shot missed the target.

Match Action

Surridge nets from the spot!

Then, a shock as the League Two side were thrown a lifeline with around fifteen minutes left to play when the highly rated youngster Ryan Sessegnon, who’d just been introduced from the bench, hauled down Peter Clarke in the box and the penalty was duly given. Up stepped another recent sub, Sam Surridge, and he kept his nerve to slot past Bettinelli and level up the score-line. Was an upset on the cards? Well the brief period of parity looked due to end just seven or so minutes later when Chris Missilou was adjudged to have fouled Fulham skipper Tom Cairney in the area and the hosts had a spot-kick of their own.

Despite protests, calls for VAR, actual VAR and more protests to the ref that Cairney had gone down far too easily (he likely made the most of it by virtue of MotD replays despite going off), the pen stood and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who’d come on for Cairney, took responsibility. A first-touch penalty never feels the best option and, indeed, it wasn’t here as Mitrovic’s kick was well saved by Iversen though, admittedly, it was at a perfect height for him. Oldham would defend the resultant corner, go down the other end, force one of their own and after a later foul on George Edmundson led to a free-kick, Gevaro Nepomuceno’s fine ball to the back-post was met by Callum Laing and he wrote his name in Latics’ recent folklore by nodding across Bettinelli and into the far corner to spark scenes of utter jubilation within the Oldham fans and their bench, featuring a leaping caretaker-boss in Pete Wild, a fan in his own right. Electric.

Iversen denies Mitro. If you can see anyway!

Nerves show in many guises….

….then joy & relief!

Despite late ‘hail mary’ efforts by Sessegnon, Vietto and Jean-Michel Seri, Oldham would hang on and seal their place in the 4th Round draw. The fans and players showed what seemed to be real appreciation for each other which was good to see, with one of the players taking his nation’s flag (one of the small Caribbean nations I think) off to the tunnel after receiving it happily from a fan. Shirts were given out as I headed out and off back along the Thames path and over Putney Bridge eventually seeking out the Lost & Co. bar where I’d be meeting Matt (of seemingly postponed Lost Boyos fame), Craig (of Crawley Town media fame), Dan (of crazy Europe-wide ‘hopping fame) and Marilyn (of some fame I’m sure, but I’m not party to that information as of yet! Anyway, a bottle of Le Chouffre came in at a full £6.50 (though it is a lovely, lovely drink) as I caught up with bits about the game and all sorts, before they departed to return to differing parts of the country and left me to tour the area around the bridge, beginning with the Spotted Horse just a few doors along.

The Spotted Horse was a nice, seemingly fairly aged large pub and allowed me to watch a fair bit of the late kick-off – Newport County vs Leicester City – whilst sipping at a pint of Aspalls (£5.45) before I continued to backtrack, ending up at the Rocket, a Wetherspoons tucked in behind the old church at the foot of Putney Bridge. A pint of Punk IPA (£3.99) was had here as I planned out the last few bits of the journey back to Euston and fit all the connections together.

Across the River….

Lost & Co.

Spotted Horse

Rocket

Crossing back over the famed waterway, I next came upon the King’s Arms which also had the game on and it looked as though another “shock” was on the cards down in South Wales whilst I was having a first of two successive Amstel’s (£4.45). Crossing the road to the Temperance for my second Amstel (£4.85) and catching the final throes of Newport’s triumph, a small group of Oldham fans unveiled their flag bearing the title “Detroit Latics”. The Motor City-based fan club must have been quite pleased with their choice of trip!

A couple of swift visits saw me take in the Golden Lion (Dark Fruits, £4.20) and the Eight Bells (Corona, £4) before jumping on the tube to Victoria and connecting back over to Euston, jumping on the train home with a nice 10 minutes to spare. A doze took up the majority of the journey and I was soon heading home on yet another bus as the train strikes continue unabated.

King’s Arms

Detroit Latics in the Temperance.

Golden Lion

Eight Bells

The day had been a really enjoyable one, having ticked a ground I’d wanted to do for ages and exploring another new part of the capital, one where the people were far removed from the stereotypes that Londoners are sometimes shackled with. The game was decent to watch on the whole and the atmosphere the Oldham fans created added to the experience. Food, drinks and pubs were all fine too and it was good to catch up with Matt especially, having not seen, him since his sojourn to the continent. On to next weekend and a visit to somewhere a bridge was once broken….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 9

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7.

Manchopper in…Highbury (Arsenal FC)

Result: Arsenal 1-0 Huddersfield Town (Premier League)

Venue: Emirates Stadium, Ashburton Grove (Saturday 8th December 2018, 3pm)

Att: 59,893

Having gone a few months without adding to my total of the ’92’, the possibility of ticking one over each of two consecutive weeks looked even more attractive than it would do usually. However, it would be the latter of the two trips that would be sorted out first, as I took full advantage of my previous booking history with the Terriers of Huddersfield Town – whom I’d visited during their promotion year as they dramatically defeated Preston late-on – to take the opportunity to tick the Emirates (or Ashburton Grove for those of you who are staunchly against commercialisation) for a pretty pocket-friendly £27. Of course, this did follow the hit of an £87 train ticket down to the smoke in the first place, so the slight sensation of a recoup was more than welcome!

Whatever the case, I was once again afforded a lift off my Dad into Manchester and Piccadilly station where I’d catch the train at a little before 9.30 down to Euston, from where I would undertake the 50-minute walk up to the ground. The journey went smoothly enough (having apparently dodged transport issues back in Manchester) and I arrived in the Capital at just before a half-eleven and made haste in heading up along Euston, passing the Greek cathedral, and heading onwards towards a canal bridge, where a pub would apparently be open to ensure me somewhere to break up the initial part of the walk and plan out the rest of my day. However this soon went tits-up as the place was still closed when I arrived, meaning the further half-hour or so walk towards a sort of gastropub in an old bus depot (surprisingly called ‘The Depot’) was now going to have to be made, unbroken. It looked as though some ale house, though quite foodie, place had come to my aid on the corner of a junction not far from a Wetherspoon’s up near the ground, though this too was shut up and, despite apparently being open at midday, was the Depot when I arrived there at nearly quarter-past. This was an evidently successful beginning to this day out….

Beginning to fret a little, a quick peruse of Maps soon revealed I wasn’t too far off from Islington high-street and, before that, a pub slightly off the beaten track by the name of the Hemingford Arms – a pub covered in Ivy, almost so much as you can hardly make out the building from the front. It looked highly welcoming though and once I’d gotten inside, it proved a pretty inspired choice to head for here, even if I say so myself. Eventually able to plan out something of a route round towards a Highbury for a quick visit to the old ground whilst sipping at a pint of Amstel (£4.50), I retraced my steps a little before crossing through a rather smart terraced street complete with old-style road lighting and wound up at my next stop – the Tap Room – on Islington’s high street itself. This was one of your fairly quintessential new-breed of real ale places, quite stripped back but offering food and a fair amount of beers and the like. I opted for a pint of the Easy Peeler and, my word, was it bloody gorgeous too. It did set me back a cool £5.60, but when it tastes as good as that, you really don’t mind so much. A orangey, citrus-flavour beer it truly was.

Hemingford Arms

Heading along to Islington High Street…

…. and to the Tap Room

From here, a cut up past a Mediterranean temple-esque building was undertook, as I sought out the Compton Arms, hidden away down a little back-street heading towards a busy roundabout which was home to another Spoons, alongside a fair few other drinking holes too. The Compton, which I’d assumed was named after former Gunner and England cricket legend Denis, though I did figure out it was more likely as it was stood on Compton Avenue (though maybe that got its name from him?), was another really nice place to have a pint. Surprisingly snug, it was pretty full with match-goers, although it did seem to be one that passes the masses by, which is a shame if that’s the case. A quick pint of the very decent Pure Cider (its actual name) which ended up as the second straight £5.60 drink was had whilst watching the very late and very early stages of either half of the AFC Bournemouth vs Liverpool match before continuing up the quiet back-road towards the ever-growing crowds beginning to congregate in the hostelries around the aforementioned roundabout, passing a large, old and somewhat hidden church just short of it as I went. Arriving there, I chanced my arm somewhat at getting into the Highbury Brewhouse, as it looked the most atmospheric at the time and was unsurprisingly stopped at the door by the pair of lads manning it. After explaining I wasn’t necessarily there to watch either side and was doing a blog on the day, they quite happily allowed me in, though found it quite amusing that I was doing ground-hopping. I’ll leave it for you to decide if they were laughing with or at this!!

Highbury is a district in North London and is currently part of the London Borough of Islington. The area now known as Islington was previously part of the larger manor of Tolentone, as mentioned in the Domesday Book and included all areas north and east of Canonbury and Holloway Roads. The manor house was situated near the east side of Hornsby Road and near the junction with Seven Sisters Road, though after the original manor decayed, a new house was built in replacement in 1271 and to differentiate it from its predecessor was known as Highbury. The site of Highbury Manor was originally used as a site for a Roman garrison’s camp during the summer months, with the construction of the new house in 1781 unearthing tiles of either Roman or Norman origin, though these have sadly since been lost.

One of the pubs I’d visited known as the Highbury Barn derives its name from that of a long gone dancing venue. After the original manor house was destroyed in 1371, the grange and barn remained from the original structure and latterly grew into a small ale and cake house by 1740. Thirty years later, the barn, now under new ownership, increased in size and popularity to take in the are where Kelvin Road is now situated to include a bowling green, grounds and gardens. It quickly become one of the most popular venues in London and was the site of aeronaut Charles Green’s balloon ascent. By 1865, a stage, rebuilt theatre, music hall, pantomime, high-wire acts and the original Siamese Twins all became attractions (be it quite correct or otherwise), though the Barn soon became a victim of its own success as a riot stemming from Bart’s Hospital in 1869 led to complaints from locals about the barn’s clientele, which eventually led to its closure in 1871. The house itself began to have its land sold off in 1794 and within two decades the area had become a school, prior to eventually being demolished in 1938 and the site is now taken up by the Eton House flats.

The area grew up through the 19th and 20th centuries and was bombed by the German V-1 bombs, with one taking the lives of 26 people upon hitting Highbury Corner. However, the station here continued on to the 1960 when it was decommissioned although its buildings still exist on the opposite side of Holloway Road station and the event and place are commemorated with a red plaque. After the war, Highbury went through a large-scale rebuilding phase which saw non-modernised villas demolished for more modern housing, though those that remained later sold for around £1 million each during the 1980’s.

Arriving at the Compton Arms

Passing by the old church

Highbury Brewhouse

A quick pint of Oranjeboom (which I still only seem to find in and around London) was had in one of those slightly more acceptable bicarbonate glasses – a success when you consider I had almost tripped over a guy’s feet behind me at the bar, having just gotten it within my grasp – and continued on along the pathway through Highbury Fields and more towards Highbury itself. Eventually I came upon my final pre-match stop-off, the Highbury Barn, and after watching the final part of the early-kick off on the South coast along with a pint of Estrella (£5) I found myself within view of the façade of the legendary Highbury ground (or Arsenal Stadium to be pedantic), which is still ingrained in my memory, along with that of Ibrox, from the dramatic pre-match intros on (I think) FIFA 97. I decided against taking up the advice of someone’s advice online to pop into the reception area with it being a matchday and all, and instead continued onwards towards the modern-day home of the Gunners, the impressive Emirates/Ashburton Grove. This is going to be a running theme, I fear.

After crossing a footbridge, bagging a programme (for £3.50 and complete with a classic cover, a season-long theme celebrating Arsenal’s 100-year unbroken top-flight stay) and undertaking a quick lap of the ground, which was surprisingly quite easy and not too crowded, I passed by the likenesses of Chapman, Bergkamp, Henry – along with new celebration wall – and Adams prior to coming back around to the away turnstiles. Once inside, I popped for a Steak and Ale pie (£4) and took it up to my seat just a few rows from the pitch. Not a bad view at all, especially as being in the corner gives a good view of all parts of the ground, which I find interesting to have a peruse of if the game gets a little tedious. Luckily, this strategy didn’t come into use that much, despite the overall lack of goal-mouth action.

Highbury

Highbury

Highbury Barn

The Emirates/Ashburton Grove is a highly impressive ground. Built in the now familiarised bowl-like style, all stands are off a fairly similar size and are all 3-tiered affairs with boxes fitted within the small middle and large top tiers, all the way around the ground, with the bottom tier being somewhere in between in the size stakes. Away fans are, of course, located down in the corner alongside the Clock End which has a replica of the famous clock mounted above it, with the original up on the exterior of the stadium, I was told. The top-tiers’ wavy effect (not too far removed from that of Wembley) gives the ground that little bit of extra character and, in my opinion, you can feel it beginning to seem more like a long-time home now. That’s the Emirates/Ashburton Grove (I’m getting fed up of that now!) in a nutshell, and this is the story of the Gunners….

History Lesson:

Arsenal Football Club was founded in 1886 as Dial Square F.C. with its name deriving from the heart of the Royal Arsenal complex in Woolwich. They quickly took on the Royal Arsenal name and originally played at two grounds in Plumstead:- the Common and the Manor Ground, where they would win three trophies – the 1889-’90 Kent Senior Cup and London Charity Cup and the 1891 London Senior Cup – whilst playing out of South East London. Royal Arsenal turned professional in 1891 and became Woolwich Arsenal upon joining the Football League in 1893 and in doing so became the League’s first Southern member, starting life there in Division 2 before achieving promotion in 1904. However, poor attendances and the springing up of more accessible clubs around the capital led to Arsenal having a brush with bankruptcy,  before a few new investors led to leaving their Woolwich home and moving to North London’s Highbury area, soon after being relegated back to the Second Division in 1913. Becoming The Arsenal Football Club on their move to Highbury, they returned to the top-flight in 1919 as the Football League voted to promote Arsenal into the post-war expanded Division 1 over their new regional rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. Soon after, the club began to drop “The” from their official club name, leading them to become known by their simpler and more familiar name – Arsenal.

Attendances at Highbury were double those of the Manor Ground back in Woolwich and the club appointed their legendary manager Herbert Chapman in 1925. He moulded a new Arsenal and the club’s spending and gate receipts led to them gaining the nickname of the “Bank of England club”. These investments allowed the club to flourish on and off the field, with the FA Cup being won in 1930 and two league championship titles would follow in 1931 and 1933. Sadly, tragedy would strike midway through the 1933-’34 season as Chapman succumbed to pneumonia, with Joe Shaw and George Allison following on his work to lead the Gunners to secure a hat-trick of titles, with further championships being lifted in both 1934 & 1935 and another following in 1938. The club would also add a second FA Cup in 1936 ahead of the outbreak of WWII. The war would be costly on the battlefields for the club, with the Gunners seeing more players than any other club killed. During the Football League’s seven-year wartime sojourn, the club won the South Regional Wartime League (1939-’40), London Wartime League on two occasions (1942 & 1943) and the Football League Southern War Cup in 1943. Arsenal won the second post-war season in 1948 in Tom Whittaker’s first season as manager, this securing Arsenal’s feat of levelling the record of English Football League titles at the time. A third FA Cup would be won in 1950 and a record-setting seventh league title would follow three years later, but debt from stadium reconstructions would see the club’s success falter for the next couple of decades or so.

Arsenal Stadium….or Highbury

More centralised

Going 18 years without lifting either the League or FA Cup trophy, with Arsenal spending most of these seasons in mid-table, the interesting appointment of club physio Bertie Mee as acting boss initially in 1966 saw the club reach the consecutive, if unsuccessful, League Cup finals in both 1968 and 1969. The following year would eventually end the Gunners’ trophy drought as they lifted their first European silverware in the form of the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and this propelled Arsenal to greater heights as they secured a league and cup double in 1971. However the side would soon be broken up and success would again fall by the wayside, though close calls would become the norm over the next decade with Arsenal finishing runners-up in the Cup in the 1972, ’78 and 1980 finals, whilst also ending up 2nd in the 1972-’73 First Division. They would also suffer penalty heartbreak in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final of 1980, though did lift the 1979 FA Cup, overcoming Manchester United by 3-2 in a game widely considered a classic contest. George Graham, a former Arsenal player, returned as manager in 1986 and led the club to their first League Cup success in 1987 and the 1988 Football League Centenary Trophy. These two cup successes led the club to league success in 1989 as Arsenal snatched the title with a last-minute goal over title rivals Liverpool. A further title would be won in 1991 (with Arsenal losing just the one game during the season) and soon took a spot in the newly created Premier League for the 1992-’93 campaign.

The Premier League era began strongly for the Gunners as they won a League Cup and FA Cup double in 1993 and followed this with another European success in the form of the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup, this being lifted for the second time. However, Graham would soon be dismissed with his name tarnished and his replacement, Bruce Rioch, would last just one sole and unsuccessful year before being replaced by a man who would go in the polar opposite direction, Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman brought in countrymen such as Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry as his new-look side achieved quick success by winning a League and FA Cup double in 1998 and repeated the trick in 2001-’02. Though they were defeated in the millennium season’s edition of the UEFA Cup Final, they did achieve further FA Cup success in the mid noughties, lifting the silverware in both 2003 and 2005, these wins being split by the famed “Invincibles” season of 2003-’04, where the Gunners went the whole Premiership season unbeaten and this was eventually extended to an unbeaten run of 49 matches, a national record. Wenger’s first nine seasons at Highbury saw Arsenal finish in either 1st or 2nd position in all but one year although they were, rather strangely, never able to retain their title. In 2006, Arsenal became the first London club to reach the Champions’ League Final, though they were narrowly edged out 2-1 by Barcelona and in doing so, narrowly missed out on a fitting farewell to the Arsenal Stadium at Highbury, as the club moved into their new home just across the railway at Ashburton Grove.

AFC (the old clock just visible)

Over the bridge….

The new(er) home…

Known as the Emirates Stadium since its first game, the club has struggled to attain much in the way of silverware since the move, losing out in the 2007 and 2011 League Cup finals to Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively, but 2014 saw a nine-year trophy-less run ended when Arsenal fought back from 2-0 down to defeat Hull City by 3-2 to lift the FA Cup at Wembley. They successfully defended the Cup the following year in overcoming Aston Villa in much more convincing fashion (4-0) and in doing so became the most successful FA Cup side with 12 trophy wins, a record Manchester United would level the very next year. However, the Gunners would soon go outright once more as they lifted the 2017 edition by defeating Chelsea to take their 13th FA Cup, with Wenger becoming the first (and likely last, let’s be honest) manager to lift the Cup on seven occasions. However, Arsenal would drop out of the top-four for the first time under Wenger’s management that season, ending up in 5th place and after a second unsuccessful league campaign in 2017-’18, Wenger finally bid farewell to Arsenal after a 22-year spell. Sadly, this did come under a fair amount of dissatisfaction as results waned. His tenure would come to a fittingly successful end though as his side overcame Burnley and Huddersfield Town in the final two games to ensure one last home and away win was recorded. With big shoes to fill, ex-Valencia, Sevilla and PSG boss Unai Emery was handed the task of filling the Gunners hot-seat and has since done a good job, still unbeaten in the league to date. In addition to the above, Arsenal have also won 11 London Challenge Cups from 1922 through 1970 and 15 Charity/Community Shields (one shared) between 1930 and 2017.

The game got underway with very little being created by either side in the first twenty minutes or so, Arsenal’s play being constantly harassed and broken-up by the Terriers’ players who were more than living up to their club’s nickname. The hosts seemed to get a bit flustered by their inability to create and this seemed to be summed up by a pair of yellow cards for diving or “simulation” if you want to be kind, with both Granit Xhaka – not living up to his name – and Shkodran Mustafi going in the book via these means during the first half. Between the two cards though, the Gunners did begin to create a little more, though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seemed very ineffective and his strike partner Alexandre Lacazette particularly wasteful. Indeed it was Huddersfield who would have the first true shot on goal, Chris Löwe – whose name is still one of the most English-spelt (if you ignore the accent), yet German-sounding names I’ve ever seen shooting off target and not troubling countryman Bernd Leno between the Gunners’ sticks.

Match Action

Match Action

Both Aubameyang and Lacazette would see chances come and go, the former firing wide of Jonas Lössl’s goal and the latter comfortably over when he ought to have done better, whilst Xhaka also saw an effort fly off target before the game became particularly scrappy as the half-entered its final ten minutes, when the cards began to truly rack-up with six shown in that time with Mustafi’s previously mentioned yellow in the stoppage time period being the last. In juxtaposition to this though, the chances also began to come along a little more freely, with Lacazette running onto a back-pass and finding the net, only to have been adjudged offside from the initial play and the visitors responding via Laurent Depoitre and Alex Pritchard who both went close, but again failed to test Leno. Lucas Torreira’s goal-bound hit was brilliantly denied by a strong left hand by Lössl as the game entered stoppage time, before the half came to an end with the game still goal-less and it being quite intriguingly poised from a neutral point of view.

Unai Emery decided he’d had enough of his first-half side once again and made a double-sub at the break, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi replacing Lacazette and Stephan Lichtsteiner as he looked to well and truly gain the initiative on the field and the Armenian immediately got into the action, shooting narrowly wide within moments of entering the fray. Huddersfield began to be hit on the injury front with both Jonathan Hogg and Tommy Smith forced off, but they remained solid, with only an Aubameyang header from around eight yards going truly close to troubling their clean-sheet. Arsenal themselves would then be struck with the injury bug, Mustafi being forced from the field for the returning Nacho Monreal, who has seemingly traded him for a place on the physio’s bench!

The match entered the final ten minutes with Huddersfield gamely battling away for what would have been a well-earned point, being supported well by not just their fans in the corner of the Clock End, but also by forward Steve Mounié, who had also entered the away end. His bobble hat would eventually give him away and he was soon being regaled via the medium of chant. Arsenal, being roared on by their own ever-more vocal support began to truly pressure the Terriers’ defence, though Aaron Mooy in the centre of midfield once again really impressed me with his overall play and work rate.

Match Action

Match Action

But their resistance would be broken with just seven minutes remaining when a chip into the area by the ever more effective Aubameyang found Torreira who worked himself into a position to do a sideways bicycle-kick from the six-yard box to finally breach the visitors’ defences and get the large flags behind the goal flying. It was a cracking finish and saved me from an increasingly likely nil-nil, but I did feel for the Town fans around me and the team who’d battled hard to get something from the game. Despite late chances for Depoitre and a late, rather desperate, penalty appeal, the whistle soon went to ensure the three points would be remaining at the Emirates/Ashburton Grove…..ah, damn it! I was doing so well too….

Post-match it was back via the Highbury Fields route with the pub across from the ground, the Drayton Park, being both likely troublesome to get in and was seemingly shut regardless. To the roundabout I returned and to the White Swan Wetherspoon’s as the masses entered the neighbouring Highbury & Islington station. After a pint of Punk IPA in here for £4.20 (*insert the is this a….meme here*) I continued onwards back towards Islington and Euston a little further on, whilst setting my sights on the Islington Beer Co bar not far from St. Pancras. However, having headed off the main road, I soon found myself in the closing up Chapel Market area where I came upon the Alma which, from looking at its exterior, had turned from an old pub back in the day to a modern ale-centric place. Another citrus-style ale was tried in the form of the a Juicy IPA (£5.20), but afterwards I thought I’d be rather sensible and return to Euston and my now spiritual end-point, the Doric Arch. I did have a little stutter en route and thought I might back-track, but a bout of hiccups put paid to that thought and to the Doric it was as I looked to cure the ailment!

Having forgotten Spoons, here’s The Alma

Once in the Doric, I got talking to Simon :- an AFC Wimbledon and Lancashire CCC fan (a truly unexpected duo, I know) at the bar. He was cutting it fine for his train back to Crewe and so decided to join me on my service back as I gifted myself a little extra time rather than rush the pint of one of my faves, Frontier. Eventually it was time to catch the train back up North and we shared many a tale of football and cricket trips here and there. Simon was great company through to Crewe where he departed into the later evening and I continued on the short distance back into Manchester and ended my trip on a bus. Ah, the joys of Northern rail….

In conclusion then. Arsenal had been a fine day out. I really enjoyed visiting the areas around the ground, they weren’t as costly as I had feared and I also got to squeeze a brief visit to Highbury in there too. The game was decent in terms of interest and the ground is one of the better I’ve been to in quite a while in the top levels for view and the design (especially for a new build) and the pie was piping hot upon purchase, the programme being by far one of, if not the, best I’ve collected in the last few years at least. No complaints with travel and an otherwise boring journey back had some fine company as it was too. No complaints once again and it’s onto next week and a trip to a famous cross….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 9

Programme: 10

Food: 8

Value For Money: 7

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