Manchopper in….Cambridge

Result: Cambridge United 2-1 Crawley Town (EFL League 2)

Venue: Abbey Stadium (Saturday 2nd November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 3,538

For the first time this season, I would finally be adding to my total of the EFL’s ’92’ with a trip down to one of the ground’s I’d most wanted to get to for quite some time – never mind the city itself being a place I’d always fancied paying a visit. Thankfully, the previous week’s issues with flooding and overall rainfall had subsided somewhat, and this meant my trip down to Cambridge was pretty smooth sailing. Catching the train from Manchester to London, I listened to those far more rugby-inclined than I, reacting to England’s seemingly dismal final performance against the South African Springboks, before arriving into the capital at around 11am and walking through the drizzle to King’s Cross. From here, a train through to Cambridge was direct, and though high winds seemed to be a factor elsewhere, these hadn’t quite reached their peak in this part of the country. Thank God!

I arrived into Cambridge just before 12.30pm and, as anyone who has been this way will know, the station is annoyingly placed within touching distance of the city centre, but also outside of comfortable distance. Missing the bus from outside made my mind up to save a little money for the time being (more on that later) and so I embarked on the half-hour-or-so walk through the initial parts of Cambridge, bypassing the Wetherspoons offering for the time being (I intended, though never got round to returning) prior to making my way towards the maze of thin streets weaving their way through numerous churches and sprawling colleges of the universities. Eventually, I arrived in the historic centre, and was immediately faced with a pair of pubs named the Eagle and the Bath House – a few doors separated from each other. The rather uninspiring Brewdog stood opposite, somewhat juxtaposed against its surroundings.

Arriving into Cambridge

On the way to the centre

The Bath House would be my first stop of the day and it was here that I’d come across my first experience of Cambridge’s rather strange monotony of available beers (it seemed, anyway), especially when it came to Amstel; not that I was complaining in that regard. Quite honestly, this made it easier to make up some time around the city’s drinking holes, as no less than my first four pints would all be the Dutch lager that does have a bit of a hold on me from their advertising of the Champions’ League growing up! Thinking about it, perhaps I should have seen these drinking habits coming all along….

First Amstel done (£4.30), I continued the said few doors down to the Eagle which is, apparently, the oldest pub still standing in the city. Also, rather fittingly considering the time of year, it is complete with an ‘RAF bar’ which, despite its name, is more of as USAAF bar, with graffiti from many a thirsty airman decorating its ceiling – and it really is superb to see this kept in situ, whilst being added to over the years by other visitors continuing the brave legacies of these fine aviators from many a-country (and ground crew, I suppose). Anyhow, surrounded by loads of stickers bearing the logo of numerous squadrons, I again polished off an Amstel (£4.75) before continuing away from the ground towards the river. However, there would be another stop before I got there!

The Bath House

The Eagle’s “RAF Bar”

I had a choice of two watering holes, in fact, with both the Mitre and interestingly named Baron of Beef. However, the more historic pub won out and the Mitre it was and, lo and behold, an Amstel (£4.60) was again the drink of choice in this rather popular pub, before I headed over the River Cam itself, via a bridge no less(!) and to the much-lauded Pickerel. This was another of the older, traditional pubs which I’d been seeking out on this trip and, after watching out for a rather small doorway near the bar area on a couple of occasions that I assume has seen a few inebriated heads meet it’s beams over the years, a final Amstel – for the moment at least – was had (£4.70), prior to me finally making my way back towards the Abbey Stadium.

Cambridge is a university city within (unsurprisingly) Cambridgeshire, of which it is the county town, and is a non-metropolitan borough. Evidence of settlements dating back to prehistoric times have been uncovered around the area, whilst an Iron Age settlement was discovered upon Castle Hill, dating back to the possible arrival of the cultural differences brought in by the Belgae peoples around the 1st century BC. A small, Roman-era fort named Duroliponte also stands on Castle Hill and is located nearer to the original village populated by the early British people, whilst further Roman farmsteads and the like have been discovered around the wider area. The withdrawal of the Romans in 410 AD saw the site likely become Cair Grauthe, one of the Britons’ 28 cities, and the Anglo-Saxons would see its importance later in the century, also seeing value in populating it. Their settlement, in and around the same Castle Hill area, would become known as Grantbryscge (Granta-bridge) and, by the Middle Ages, it, alongside the larger surrounding area, was known as Cambridge.

In the RAF Bar – graffiti on the ceiling

The Corpus Clock (the gold thing on the left)

It became a fairly important place for trade links to hard-to-travel fenlands, though did fall into disrepair – according to an account by Bede – who noted it was a “little ruined city”, that contained the burial place of Etheldreda. It stood upon the borders of the old kingdoms of East and Middle Anglia respectively, and grew up on both sides of the river after which it derives its name. The arrival of the Vikings in the 800’s AD also saw Danelaw applied and they grew the city up around their trading links, which the Saxons prospered from, following their reclamation of Cambridge following the Danes’ departure. Two years after his conquest, William The Conqueror built the namechecked castle upon the hill and thus Cambridge fell under the rule of the Normans. The 1100’s saw Cambridge gifted its first town charter by Henry I, recognising the town’s monopoly of waterborne traffic and hithe tolls, whilst also recognising the borough court there. Indeed, the city’s Round Church dates from this period, the University being founded in 1209, by students escaping hostile Oxfordian locals!

After almost having its population wiped from the map during the 1349 Black Death, a suggestion was made that two parishes should merge together due to a lack of parishioners and further colleges were founded to train clergy. A revised town charter was given to the town to show its loss of privileges due to Cambridge’s participation in the Peasant’s Revolt, though these were then gifted to the university anyway, so didn’t move all that far! The city’s famed King’s College Chapel began being built in 1446 and its construction lasted almost 70 years, overseen by numerous monarchs through the years of the Wars of the Roses and being completed during the reign of the Lancastrian Tudor king, Henry VIII. The area went on to be a wartime stronghold, becoming an Eastern Counties Association HQ for the East Anglian army, which would go on to become a mainstay for the Parliamentarian forces, prior to the formation of the New Model Army. Control of Cambridge was given to Parliament by Oliver Cromwell (who’d been educated there), though despite coming close, the Royalists never tested the town’s defences.

Cambridge

Cambridge

In more modern times, Cambridge expanded rapidly due to improvements in agriculture and supplies to the markets it held, whilst Inclosure acts saw its boundaries increased to take in more land to expand onto, whilst the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway only increased this, the link to the capital meaning building industries also grew in the town. During World War II, Cambridge was an important part of the Eastern defences of Great Britain, and became a military centre and RAF training camp. Indeed the town’s largely escaping of bombing raids allowed for a secret meeting of the Allied military leaders, in which the foundations of the 1944 invasion of Europe would be laid. It was granted a city charter in 1951 on account of its historical and administrative importance, though does not have the historic requirement of a cathedral – though isn’t exactly short of steeples. It maintains strong rail, bus and road links, whilst also being host to its own airport – not far from the Abbey Stadium. Indeed, the Cambridge Rules that played a part in the influence of ‘association football’ rules came about on the grassy fields of Parker’s Piece’ – both being played there first (apparently). It was also used for first-class cricket during the 1800’s, though Cambridgeshire is now a minor counties side, whilst the university team does compete in regular pre-season games against the major sides.

Of course, Cambridge has been home to many a famed name, the likes of the late Richard Attenborough, Grease actress Olivia Newton-John, St. Trinian’s creator Ronald Searle, and singers Charli XCX and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy – amongst a sizeable list of people I’m not schooled enough to recognise! Sporting-wise, footballers Luke Chadwick and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Touring Car driver Tom Blomqvist, Tommy Pryce, winner of the first post-war Speedway World Cup, Paralympic sprint star Jonnie Peacock, Winter Olympic Gold Medallist Amy Williams and cricketing great Jack Hobbs all have hailed from the city. Of course, many great minds have schooled in Cambridge too, such as Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Sir Francis Bacon and DNA biologists Crick and Watson. Also, literati figures Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare collaborator John Fletcher, Lord Byron and Samuel Pepys all studies there, as well as actors/presenters like Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Sacha Baron-Cohen and David Attenborough, and numerous royals, politicians and historical figures – including the (largely recognised) first British PM, Robert Walpole and signees of the US Declaration of Independence.

The Mitre

Looking down the river….

….before visiting the Pickerel!

Passing through the Christ’s Pieces green area of the city, I came upon a few pubs nestled out of way all close around each other. Unfortunately, with time at a premium, I had to choose just one and the Free Press, on account of its overall rather strange history (having produced one paper for , came out on top – although both the Cricketers and Elm Tree looked fine options too and will be on the list come another visit at some point in the future, all being well. What the Free Press did do – apart from another having an apparent ban on phones – was to allow me to escape from this Amstel purgatory I’d found myself in, though Beck’s (£4.90) wasn’t quite as far removed as some might have been! Anyhow, I polished this off and gave myself good time to get to the bus stop to catch the bus along Newmarket Road and to the ground itself in time for the remembrance ceremonies that the U’s had planned out. Well, we’ll see how well that went right now….!

I made my way back to Christ’s Pieces and after spending around a minute at the stop, I felt something wasn’t quite right. As is the norm with me – IT WASN’T THE RIGHT ONE!!! “Ok, no panic, the other stop is just there, around the corner”, I thought to myself, “I have time to get there”. I was correct too, though the problem was I was five seconds too late and I turned the corner just as the bus was pulling out and heading off into the distance. Cue profanities emanating from my lips, but I soon came to peace that I had a mission ahead of me. A mile in twenty-five minutes, plus needing a ticket and all that comes with these pages…let’s do this!

Free Press

Finally at the Abbey

I arrived at the Abbey’s gates as the minute’s silence was ongoing and had a ticket in hand from the office outside, as the Last Post sounded out over the sullen ground as it has done around the country and battlefields many a-time before. The usual kick-off roar came around soon enough to break the silence and the game was on. Luckily, everyone was already in the ground pretty much by this time, and so I could head straight in with no issue, my decently priced £18 ticket gaining me entry and it was soon joined by a programme (£3) from one of the sellers alongside the terrace behind the goal, where I’d opted to settle for.

The ground itself was well-attended, the grand, traditional-looking main stand adds the character that is much needed in many new builds all over the country. That’s not to say the newer areas of the Abbey aren’t decent too, and its newer bits, as with Tamworth’s Lamb Ground the previous week, certainly add nicely to the ground’s overall image. An all-seater stand is located behind the far goal and today housed the band of travelling Crawley fans, whilst an older covered terrace runs the length of the other side of the pitch to the all-seater Main Stand. The terrace I was in is a more-modern construction compared to its neighbours, but the old floodlights which tower over all may just trump the stands themselves…lovely stuff – a real throwback that is sadly becoming more and more threadbare as the years pass. Such is progress, I suppose. Anyhow, with the game in progress, here’s the story of the U’s of Cambridge….

History Lesson:

The current club was founded in 1912 as Abbey United, derived from the district of Cambridge in which the club is located. There had been a short-lived Cambridge United (from 1909) side prior to the current club’s forming, with Abbey taking on the mantle in 1951. Before that, however, Abbey began life in local amateur leagues and took up residence at numerous grounds during their more formative years, prior to settling in at the Abbey Stadium in 1932. After the end of WWII, Abbey joined the United Counties League and turned professional in 1949 and upon their re-naming to Cambridge United, they joined the Eastern Counties Football League and remained there through to 1958, when a runners-up placing saw them promoted to the Southern League’s South Eastern zone. After a further three seasons there, they then secured promotion to the Premier Division as runners-up and remained there through to their Football League election in 1970, winning the league title in both of their last two seasons there, whilst also lifting the 1969 Southern League Cup to secure a double, alongside their first title success.

Replacing Bradford (Park Avenue) in the league ranks, Cambridge took a spot in Division 4 and quickly justified this by being promoted in 1973 – although they would be relegated back after just the sole campaign in Division 3. However, they soon rose up again as, under Ron Atkinson (and John Docherty completing the job), the U’s won successive promotions to reach the Second Division for 1978, but unfortunately for Cambridge, things would take a turn for the worse a few years later. After being relegated in 1984 and setting a record for most successive league games without a win (which wasn’t surpassed until Derby County’s ill-fated 2008 Premier League sojourn) in the process, the next year saw the U’s drop back in the Fourth Division, a season which saw them setting another unwanted record in the process; this time equalling the then record for most defeats in a league season, and then had to apply for re-election after a third consecutive poor season – finances also taking an understandable hit.

Finally at the Abbey

The 1990’s saw a change for the better once more for the U’s, as promotion from Division 4 was secured in their first professional appearance at Wembley Stadium, via a play-off final triumph over Chesterfield, Dion Dublin netting the only goal of the game to see Cambridge get promoted for the first time in a dozen years. That year, and the one following, both saw United make fine cup runs to the FA Cup’s quarter-final stage, whilst the latter campaign also saw them achieve promotion to Division 2 once again, this time as Third Division champions. They then continued their strong run with a 5th placed finish, although defeat in the play-offs would mean Cambridge missed out on being a founding member of the Premier League. That 5th placed finish technically remains the U’s best to date, although they did spend a year in the newly-designated First Division, this seeing United’s form desert them as they were relegated to Division 2, now the third-tier, despite a run to the Football League Cup quarter-finals.

Two seasons later, Cambridge found themselves dropping into the Third Division ranks once again, and although they would return to the Second Division in 1998 as runners-up, they would again suffer the dreaded drop in 2002 – despite a run to the Football League Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, which ended in a convincing 4-1 reverse at the hands of Blackpool. If this wasn’t bad enough, 2005 saw disaster at the Abbey, with Cambridge relegated from the League for the first time since their admission 35 years earlier. Now in the Football Conference, the Amber-clad side would have to fight off administration and a threat of the drop in 2007, before finishing up 2nd in 2008 and making it to the play-off final at Wembley where, after seeing off Burton Albion in the semis, the club would miss out on a relatively quick return to League football, losing 1-0 under the arch to Exeter City. They then repeated this unfortunate trick the next year, another runners-up spot and semi victory – this time over Stevenage Borough – led them to Wembley Way once more, but again they would come unstuck, at the hands of Torquay United, on this occasion.

Famous Names

A bit of upheaval both on and off the field led to Cambridge again flirting with the drop zone in 2011, but things soon settled with the U’s again making the play-offs as Conference runners-up in 2014, but this time they would be successful in their quest to return to the Football League – defeating FC Halifax Town and Gateshead respectively in the process – a case of third time lucky for Cambridge! Ending their nine-year absence, they soon celebrated this fact even further upon their Wembley return, seeing off Gosport Borough 4-0 to lift that year’s FA Trophy. Their return to FA Cup action as a League club saw Cambridge force Manchester United into a replay after a goalless draw at the Abbey, although the U’s would eventually succumb 3-0 at Old Trafford, whilst Cambridge have since largely cemented themselves as a rather solid mid-table outfit, finishing 9th in 2016, although they did have to fight off the threat of relegation to the National League last season, finishing up 21st come the season’s end.

The game got underway as I entered the Abbey Stadium’s turnstiles, though there was very little true action early in proceedings. Most of the danger came via Crawley’s outlet on the wing, Panutche Camara. His pace threatened the Cambridge defence on a few occasions, with him setting up Nathan Ferguson to fire wide, shortly after Bez Lubala had also missed the target for the Red Devils. Cambridge would respond with Marc Richards’ shot evading the upright on its way the wrong side of the woodwork from a U’s persuasion, before Crawley forced the first save of note in the game out of United stopper Dimitar Mitov, Reece Grego-Cox’s low effort being kept out in fairly routine fashion.

Match Action

Match Action

Chance?!

Mitov was also tested by Ashley Nathaniel-George shortly afterwards, before the game again settled into something of a bitty contest, with neither side overly troubling the other. I missed little during my trip to the food truck behind the stand for some chips and curry (£2.50), before I returned in time to see Camara go close this time, his drive flying over the bar. That would be largely that in terms of first-half action, and I was already in some fear that my 0-0-less run was in danger of ending. The break was taken up by a pair of former United players embarking on a kind of lap of honour, before the present day players entered the field once again for the second period.

As in the first half, it was the visitors who came out of the blocks the stronger, with the direct play of Grego-Cox and Camara proving fruitful once again. The former cleared the cross-bar from the edge of the area moments after the whistle, whilst a Tom Dallison header from a set-piece was denied by Mitov between the Cambridge sticks. Speaking of the sticks, it would actually be Cambridge who would go the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute – Sam Smith meeting a low ball in and directing the ball goalwards – only for the ball to be deflected onto the woodwork. A close call and, for me, some hope that a goal was on its way!

Half-time band action

View from the Terrace

 

George Maris then really should have done better when released by a fine back-heeled ball into his path, but he wastefully drove a shot straight at Crawley ‘keeper Glenn Morris in what was his first real test of the game, and after Grego-Cox had again gone close down the other end, the game suddenly burst into life in the final ten minutes, pretty much out of the blue (or red, I suppose). A ball into Lubala allowed him to advance into the box, whereupon he smashed the ball beyond Mitov at his near post, to send the Crawley fans behind the goal into raptures. The home fans didn’t have to suffer being behind for all that long though – just the three minutes in fact, as the previously unfortunate Smith was gifted a second chance by Elliot Ward’s fine ball across to him. Smith showed a good touch to make space for the shot, which fizzed along the ground and just beyond the outstretched hand of Morris on its way into the far corner.

1-1 from out of nowhere and, if that wasn’t crazy enough, what would prove to be the winner was quite fitting for the overall game as a whole, when it came to the attacking third. Cambridge cleared long from a Crawley corner, with the ball ending up half-way between the box and the touchline out on the left-side. Morris rushed out to meet it, but arrived at the same time as the gambling Paul Lewis, and his persistence was awarded when the attempted clearance cannoned off him and flew agonisingly (at both ends of the spectrum) into the unguarded net – nestling centimetres inside the post. 2-1 to the hosts and Crawley’s players, officials and supporters could be afforded their shock.

Darkness descends as United level!

Late on

The U’s safely saw out the remainder of the match to secure the points that, to be honest, no-one really deserved on the day. Anyway, post-match, I swiftly made my exit and headed back city-wards, though found the nearest pub to the ground that I saw, the Wrestlers, between opening times and going about re-opening as I got there. I didn’t have time to spare and so continued on back towards the city itself and to the Corner House instead, a place I’d planned on getting in anyway, as I had no idea the Wrestlers existed before I’d actually seen it with my own eyes. The Corner House was a decent little boozer too and got me back on the Amstel path (£4.20), before I headed off station-wards, but not before paying a visit to an old centre of Cambridge’s transportation past. This was the Tram Depot, so named because it used to be the depot for Cambridge’s old tram network, back in t’day. I know, shocking that isn’t it?!

The (barely visible) Corner House

and slightly better Tram Depot

Aaaaanyway, after finally gaining entry, I popped over to the bar for a Peroni (£5.10) before returning back to the station for the train back into the capital which, delays notwithstanding, would deliver me back into London nicely in time for my train back up North. Indeed, this went like clockwork and after walking between the two termini, I boarded the Virgin service to Manchester a few minutes before its departure, the journey passing nice and quickly thanks to a bit of nodding off on the way. However, the toileting facilities weren’t exactly working like clockwork, with two or three being completely out of order and the one I found open, I soon discovered, had its flush operator broken. Fantastic scenes that obviously forced me into a drink in the Piccadilly Tap upon arrival in Manchester, before I caught the bus back home, an hour’s wait one I couldn’t be arsed with.

So ends off the day and finally my 64th ground of the ’92’ is done. Cambridge didn’t disappoint – it is a bloody lovely place – and the ground, too, was characterful, especially under the lights. The pubs were great, the Amstel dominance helping me in gaining back lost time through the day and the programme and food on offer back at the Abbey were of good quality too. Transport was easy and allowed me to practice out other trips I’d have to do at some point, as I’d never been to Cambridgeshire (as far as I know) before and so was stepping on new ground, as it were. Anyway, I’m rambling and it’s back on the FA Cup trail next week as I search for a cupset. A solid Wall of all would be useful to secure or deny this….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Grimsby

Result: Grimsby Town 0-0 Bury (EFL League 2)

Venue: Blundell Park (Saturday 23rd March 2019, 3pm)

Att: 4,375

“Hail fellow, well met!” I really should start a mission to bring that phrase back into mass usage, I thought as I headed over to the East Coast and to Grimsby, where I’d bring up the big 300. Blundell Park seemed a fitting venue for such an honour and despite my bored thoughts delving off into Alan Partridge levels of 16th century welcomes, I was very much up for seeing what the town had to offer. I just hoped that the name wasn’t reflective!

Eventually arriving at about a quarter to midday, I headed slightly out-of-the-way to have a quick peruse of Grimsby “Minster” before walking on through the surrounding gardens and into the centre, passing a striking fisherman statue as I went. Soon enough, I came upon my first stop of the day, The Parity, which is one of those large ranging free houses in the mould of a Spoons. A rowdy group of lads were providing the soundtrack in here as I entered before they were told off by a youngster for doing so and disturbing her dinner. Fair play, though they soon departed and the place quietened down markedly as I supped at a pint of Coors which, at £2.80, provided me with a fair amount of hope when it came to the rest of the day, wallet-wise!

Grimsby

The Parity

The Friary

From there I continued onwards through the centre, passing by the closed Tivoli Tavern as I did so and coming upon my second stop- The Friary. As I approached the bar, I began to see things, crazy things – things like beers costing £1.50. I must have had something I ought to have not, I figured but nope, there was the drinks all lined up with only Stella taking the “normal” price approach. As such, I opted for a Carlsberg for the magical price stated above which came in a pretty attractive glass too. Not too bad so far that’s for sure and I was loving Grimsby!

Speaking of which, Grimsby is a large coastal seaport on the East coast of England and is located in North East Lincolnshire on the River Humber’s South Bank close to the river’s estuary into the North Sea. Titled as Great Grimsby as to avoid any confusion with Little Grimsby, a village 14 miles away, it is neighboured and linked with Cleethorpes and many local villages that are now encompassed within the town’s overall reach. It is located within old marshlands and was originally founded upon islands and low-lying areas within them and the areas of East and West Marsh hark back to this. There is some evidence to suggest a small Roman presence, but the Vikings are far more prevalent, their settlement dating back to the 9th century and, indeed, it is thought that Grimsby comes from a Viking fisherman, Grim, with the suffix ‘by’ meaning village in Old Norse, with mythology suggesting the God Odin would travel in this form whilst in the presence of mortals.

Grimsby

Grimsby did make an appearance in the Domesday Book as a small settlement of around 200 people and transformed into a fishing and trading port in the 12th century and was later granted its town charter by King John in 1201 and its medieval St. James’ Church now serves as the “minster”. However, the 15th century saw the river’s estuary begin to silt up, restricting access and therefore leading to a decline in Grimsby’s fortunes which would last into the late-1700’s. However, upon the river’s dredging around this time, the port was revived and the area boomed once more with new docks created to cope with the new demands. The arrival of the railways in 1848 took some stress off the port and allowed for ease of transport of goods and this allowed the town’s fishing exports to grow in popularity and gain the status it holds. The upturn continued until the Great Depression and the setbacks that came with it.

During WWII, many of the area’s trawlers were commissioned by the Royal Navy into the ‘Patrol Service’, but this came at a cost with over 2,000 crew killed and a memorial alongside the 19th century Dock Tower commemorates those lost. 196 further lives were lost during numerous bombing raids at the hands of the Luftwaffe. Grimsby’s local industries soon fell apart post-war and the closures of many port companies and mines left many redundant, with the food processing apparently one of those that continued to expand instead. The town’s tram system also became redundant in the 1950’s as buses became the better option.

Old Lloyds Arms

The Barge

A few doors down sits the Old Lloyds Arms which seems to be Grimsby’s rock/metal haunt, disguised as an old-school, traditional boozer. A Stella (£3.15) was had here with little to set the pulse racing on offer once more (that’s probably the biggest gripe I had with the drinking holes of Grimsby) and I swiftly dispatched that as my head had been turned by what was across the way. It was a bar, yes, but not as we know it. No, it was on a Barge. An actual canal boat. Scenes were AOTS as I headed up what I termed the “gangplank” and down a fairly sizeable set of steps to the bar area. Again, the beer choices weren’t too amazing, but I did spy Dandelion & Burdock (alcoholic, don’t worry) in the fridge and my mind was made up.

Serving as my designated ‘refresher’ the D&B went down well enough but it was soon time to head onwards and next up was a choice of the Duke of Wellington or the Hope & Anchor. I opted for the latter as it was right in front of me and not about ten seconds walk down the side road. A second Coors of the day was had here as I awaited the bus on towards the Wellington Arms, the very pub that the Mariners were formed in back in 1878. It seemed more akin to a sports club within, and was decorated with many a piece of Grimsby related memorabilia and the like, and again the beer choices sort of reflected this as I had to settle for Coors once again.

Hope & Anchor

Wellington Arms

Blundell Park

As I complained about earlier, this day hadn’t been too adventurous, disappointingly, and I hopped back on the bus to two Blundell Parks in the hope of better things. The ground would come second however, the pub would come first, with the closest thing to Carling (their Black Fruits offering at £3) that will ever pass my lips being chosen due to….well, you know the story by now, before it was finally time to head to the “real” Blundell Park. Ground 300, let’s hope the game lives up to it, I thought to myself. How to get your hopes up….

Blundell Park itself is a brilliant, old school ground. Yes, its views from the away end aren’t superb (and that’s being rather kind), but I’d rather have somewhere with character than one of the soulless new builds that continue to rise up around the country – anyway, I digress. The old Main Stand sits to the right as you look and the middle part of the structure is apparently the oldest bit of Football League stand still in situ in the country. The large, domineering two-tiered stand opposite this towers over the rest of the ground and gives it a somewhat lopsided look, almost akin to that of Gresty Road, whilst the far end features a more modern seated stand. The away end seems to be pretty similar to the Main Stand on the whole and is all but connected to it with the one corner filled in between them. That’s Blundell Park in a nutshell, and this is the story of the Mariners….

History Lesson:

Grimsby Town Football Club was formed in 1878 as Grimsby Pelham by members of the Worsley Cricket Club, though would only spend a year under that name before changing to their current Town name. The club moved into Blundell Park in 1898 after spending time at locations on Clee Lane and latterly Abbey Park, first competing in the Combination from 1888 and, upon the league’s collapse shortly after, applied and failed to join the Football League – instead heading to the Football Alliance. However, their stay here would be rather brief and 1892 saw Grimsby accepted to the newly expanded Football League’s 2nd Division.

The title was won in 1902 along with promotion to Division 1 but after spending two years in the top division, they were relegated and returned to the non-league ranks within a decade. However, their time outside the League ranks was short, the Mariners winning the Midland League title in their sole season out before replacing rivals Lincoln City by virtue of election process. Interestingly, Grimsby and Hull City were the two teams allowed to compete on Christmas Day due to the fishing trade’s demands, though this would later fall out of use as the trade became less of a bind. Meanwhile, the era around WWI saw Town immediately relegated to the new Third Division in the first season post-war, and though 1921 saw the club play against the newly accepted Southern League but an equivalent Third Division North was created the next season with Grimsby subsequently switching.

Small inscription about GTFC’s founding

By 1929, Grimsby were back in Division 1 where they stayed until 1939 (outside of a two season stint out between 1932-’34) recording their highest finish of 5th in Division 1 in 1935. Town reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1936, losing out Arsenal at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground. They did so again in 1939, but again were on the wrong side of the result, and this time to Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of a record Old Trafford crowd. Post-WWII, Grimsby were relegated from Division 1 in 1948 and have not returned since, with the vast majority of the 50’s & ’60’s saw the Mariners flit between the Second and Third Divisions, the latter of which ceased to be regionalised during this time. Under Bill Shankly, Town finished as Third Division North runners-up to local rivals Lincoln City in 1952, missing out on promotion due to only one from each region going up at the time. Shankly would later depart, though Town were still promoted as champions in 1956, despite having to apply for re-election the previous season, in doing so, becoming the only club to go from that extreme to the other consecutively.

However, things would soon turn to the wrong side again and by 1968 Grimsby were in the 4th Division and were again forced to seek re-election successfully the next year upon ending the campaign second-bottom. Again things would soon look more rosy for the Mariners and they lifted the Division 4 title in 1972, going on to spend five seasons in Division 3 prior to relegation in 1977,though they would return just two years later. They would take promotion form into a further season as the club took the Third Division championship and returned to Division 2 where they’d remain until 1987 when a horrendous run of form saw them drop from 8th to the drop zone. The following year saw a second consecutive relegation suffered and Grimsby were again back in Division 4. Not only that, but Grimsby also, had to stave off a very real threat of going under altogether. They Would do so happily and continued on to a swift return to Division 2 by 1991.

Heading to the ground

Division 2 would become the Division 1 upon the Premier League coming into being the next year and Grimsby set about setting the ground works to be a steady side in the second tier. They remained there until 1997 she was they were relegated once more, this despite the efforts of the legend that is Clive Mendonca. 1998 was a good season for the team and after a 3rd placed finish in Division 3, Grimsby would make a double appearance under the twin towers of Wembley, and the first of which saw them defeat AFC Bournemouth (not just Bournemouth remember, that’s a different club altogether) to lift the Football League Trophy, having defeated Burnley in the Northern Section final to get there. Their second was in the play off final where they met Northampton Town and again were successful, a 1-0 triumph meaning Grimsby were back in Division 1 – and with a 100% Wembley success rate!

This spell wasn’t particularly good for Town and they regularly battled the drop over their five-year stint, eventually going down in 2003, though they did record victory over holders Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup. Financial issues were suffered again due to the collapse of ITV Digital (I still remember the silhouette of Monkey, hanging in the background of an ad – imagine that nowadays, though PG tips has Lazarus effects it seems!) and 2005 saw Grimsby relegated back to Division 3, or League 2 as it was, and still is I suppose(!), known. Despite a strong promotion challenge, they missed out on an immediate return after dropping into the play-off places and going on to lose out in the final to Cheltenham Town at the Millennium Stadium. 2007-’08 saw their 100% Wembley record end (though this was at the “new” one) as the Mariners lost out in the Football League Trophy final to MK Dons, though things would still go on to get worse as Grimsby were relegated from the Football League in 2010 after the best part of a century there.

Arriving at Blundell Park

In the Conference for the first time, Grimsby started out in mid-table before finding their feet and reaching the 2013 play-off semi final, losing out to Newport County, the season seeing double disappointment after Town had previously lost to Wrexham in the FA Trophy final at Wembley on penalties. 2015 saw a second play-off place reached, but again the club were defeated on spot-kicks this time in the final to Rovers, as the new Wembley proved less kind than its predecessor. However, it would finally reward Grimsby for its persistence in 2016 as they overcame Forest Green Rovers in the National League play-off final under the arch to return to the EFL League 2 after six years away, despite having suffered a second FA Trophy disappointment months earlier at the hands of FC Halifax Town. They have finished the last two seasons in 14th and 18th as they look to gain a foothold with a view to another rise up the leagues, akin to those that they’ve done before.

The game got underway and there was little in the way of action early on with the first twenty minutes or so seeing just the one shot per side, Martyn Woolford seeing a shot comfortably saved by Bury stopper Joe Murphy in the 9th minute, whilst Jay O’Shea saw his own effort kept out by Murphy’s opposite number, and Grimsby skipper, James McKeown, some ten minutes later as both teams tested each other out.

Match Action

Match Action

As the half continued on towards the half-hour, the game continued to be a pretty uneventful contest in truth (despite the match report on Auntie Beeb trying to convince otherwise) and after Luke Hendrie’s drive was kept out for the hosts, Bury duo Eoghan O’Connell and Jordan Rossiter both spurned chances on goal, with only the former forcing McKeown into any kind of action. The remaining minutes somewhat mirrored those of the early part as the action died out and the half came as something of a relief. 0-0 and it was…..well, grim.

I was lucky enough to spend the second half in the company of Shakers fan Mick towards the rear of the stand where it turned out it mattered even less where you were for this match as even less went on to occur by the seaside. Bury, now attacking the away end, started the half strongly – O’Connell testing that McKeown was alert a couple of minutes in, whilst O’Shea fired over with the Shakers looking to press home their possible title and more likely promotion credentials.

Match Action

Match Action

The best chances of the game would come along during the final quarter, with Bury’s Byron Moore seeing a goal-bound effort superbly blocked on the line and the resultant loose ball cleared away, before Nicky Maynard was well denied by McKeown from close range. However, the Mariners would come on strong as the contest drew to a conclusion – Jake Hessenthaler, Harry Clifton and Charles Vernam all seeing shots fly just off-target, whilst Bury would reply as Grimsby looked to drop in and consolidate late-on, but due to substitute Gold Omotayo not quite having the touch his name promised on a couple of occasions, the sides would deservedly share the spoils in a game that threatened to, but never quite got into full flow.

Having lost my bus ticket somewhere along the way, I set off on the half-hour walk back into Grimsby with the goal of beating the bus – one which I achieved. Splitting the walk up with the earlier missed Duke of Wellington, a decent watering hole, for a pint of Stella (£3.10), I then completed the day with a visit to Grimsby’s ‘Spoons offering:- the Yarborough Arms, which handily neighbours the station. As such, I could wile away the time through to the train back to Manchester without issue whilst sipping at a Punk IPA. No problems it seemed, but then I saw it. Delayed. Cancelled. Trains were falling apart and I had no idea of the cause. As it was, the train eventually pulled in and we set off, seemingly clear of issue….that was until we arrived in Barnetby – a place that is now ingrained in my memory for all the wrong reasons. Despite nodding off two times, both times I awoke saw us still in the Humberside outpost and we were soon informed of likely ‘alternative transport’ that was being arranged. And we all know what that means.

Duke of Wellington

Yarborough Arms

With a Northern service stuck along with us, we soon got the news we were waiting for. After a good hour-and-a-half’s wait, the track was clear and we could proceed. As everyone piled back on, I couldn’t be arsed finding a seat and so settled in on the floor opposite a group of, who I’d later find out to be, Bury fans with conversation certainly not being of normal circumstance from one of these. Upon his disembarkation at Doncaster (if memory serves me correct), I was invited up to join the group, finding out this fella wasn’t part of their group and instead was a randomer they’d encountered whilst in Barnetby. It will do this sort of thing to you, drinks, nil-nils and Barnetby.

Anyway, I’d remain with Joanna, Dave Don, Mark, Mike through the remainder of the journey (including the unwelcome switch of train at Sheffield) though we eventually rocked up in Manchester. I bid goodbye to the guys and girls from Bury and jogged off over to Oxford Road for my connection I figured I could just about make….only to miss it by seconds – I arrived just in time to see it pulling away from the platform. In some sort of slight luck, a bus was due shortly anyway and so I was still home by midnight. It had been a long day for sure, the ground being the highlight, with Grimsby’s beer offerings not being too inspiring and the game being pretty poor overall. At least the pie was decent! Oh, and I just got back my train fare in full too; isn’t it great this delay repay, when it works, that is! Anyway, onwards to another week and it’s back off over the border to a town fame for its castle….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 7

Food: 8

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 5 (added point for getting money back!)

Manchopper in….Birkenhead (Tranmere Rovers FC)

Result: Tranmere Rovers 2-0 Exeter City (EFL League 2)

Venue: Prenton Park (Saturday 3rd November 2018, 3pm)

Att: 6,209

I’d already visited Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, but that game was in the Cheshire Senior Cup and, as such, I always felt as though it was one I couldn’t really count (first team games only at regular grounds being a rule of mine now). So when I found myself with an empty weekend and not looking to travel all that far, I felt it looked like a perfect storm was forming on the banks of the River Mersey. Back to Birkenhead I would be headed and for Rovers’ home clash with fellow League 2 high-riders Exeter City.

With the never-ending RMT strikes still taking their toll on the local rail system up North, I was forced into an earlier than ideal start, though this did mean a quicker service to Liverpool Lime Street was in service, so I guess there was some silver lining to be found within the mayhem. Having arrived in Merseyside, a quick trip down into the depths of the station’s Merseyrail system platforms had me on my way under the river and into Cheshire (I hope that gives me some brownie points with the locals!), the short trip to Birkenhead Park station taking just 15 minutes. With the time being way too early for beer, especially with regards to my 11am self-imposed acceptable start-time, I decided to pay a visit to the park which supplies the station with its name. There was a fair amount to see too, including some discarded pumpkins, a man mowing a cricket pitch and some joggers. Exciting just doesn’t cover it.

Birkenhead Park’s Grand Entrance

Hamilton Square

‘Spoons

Having spent a good 40 minutes exploring the town’s large greenery, I passed the grand (no joke this time) pillared entrance to the park, the time was slowly ticking towards eleven and so the DRINK – said in Father Jack voice – was on the horizon. As such, I looked for somewhere to begin my tour, though these looked to be very few and far between at that hour and so I chose to err on the safe side and opted to pay a visit to the Wetherspoons first. The Spoons here goes by the name of the Brass Balance, though my visit wouldn’t be too smooth as my ordered Baltika would turn into a Bud as it was served. Not one to care too much, I took said bottle and settled in to begin the final bits of my Sunderland blog from my previous week. Oh, and I’d get that extra Baltika back later on.

From there it was off towards the river and the ferry terminal, with the Liverpool skyline looming over the Mersey as I entered my second stop-off of the day: Gallagher’s. This pub is a brilliant little place, filled with an assortment of maritime paraphernalia all over the ceilings and walls including a story of a legend of H.M.S. Birkenhead’s ‘heroic’ (bar the gunpoint bit) act which lends its name to the “Birkenhead Drill” – the “Women & children first” call came to be on the ship for the first of only two occasions for it to have taken place. A pint of Hop House here came in at the decently priced £3.80 before I finished up and popped next door to the River View where I opted for a pint of Coors (£3.30) whilst watching the start of the Bournemouth-Manchester United game aside a window, shockingly, overlooking the river. After around twenty minutes of the game had been played, I began to work my way back towards the ground, which still stood a good mile-and-a-half or so away. Of course, this trek would be getting broken up along the way and after crossing a bridge over what seemed to be a long gone railway line, I came upon the interestingly named Swinging Arm. Despite the visions of what sort of things within may have inspired such a name, the place was actually very musically driven and a pint of the Spanish Palax Craft Lager came in at just the £3.45. It was bloody good too.

Gallagher’s & River View

Gallagher’s

Swinging Arm

Birkenhead is a town on the west bank of the Wirral peninsula, historically in Cheshire. Its name likely derives from the Old English ‘bircen’ meaning ‘birch tree’ and probably means headland overgrown with birch, with regards to the many trees which grew on the headland that jutted out at Woodside and not the Birket stream which enters the Mersey nearby. Ferry “services” began operating from Birkenhead in 1150 for the Benedictine monks who’d built the Birkenhead Priory which would later be visited by King Edward I and was later granted further rights in a 1330 charted by Edward III. Distanced from the Industrial Revolution in Liverpool, Birkenhead retained its agricultural status through to the advent of the steam ferry services which introduced something like the service which runs today in 1817, along with services to Ireland and Isle of Man, and five years later the paddle steamer Royal Mail would begin operating between Liverpool and the Woodside terminal Maritime business continued to grow and shipbuilding began on the peninsula from 1829 following on from an initial iron works built by William Laird in 1824. This eventually grew to become Cammell Laird with the likes of HMS Ark Royal, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Birkenhead itself being constructed on the site, as well as the submarine HMS Thetis which sank in sea trials in Liverpool Bay prior to being raised and commissioned as HMS Thunderbolt. Sadly, this would later be lost in action with the loss of its full crew.

The Mersey Railway tunnel opened towards the end of the 19th century, becoming the world’s first tunnel under a tidal estuary, providing direct rail access to the city across the water and this was later joined by the Queensway road tunnel (1934) and this opened the peninsula up to development, due to it providing easier access. Previously, Birkenhead became home to the first street tramway in Britain, which was later electrified in 1901, prior to its closure, though a heritage line still remains with a pair of trams brought over from Hong Kong along with a maintained original. With growing links, the area began to become more industrialised and urbanised, with the town growing from just 110 inhabitants in 1801 to almost 111,000 inside a century, with an influx of workers and settlers from Ireland, Wales and other parts of Cheshire. However, the 20th century would signal a period of decline and a reduction in port activity. A few side notes saw Birkenhead Park become the first publicly funded park in Britain and it is home to a Greek-style Grand Entrance, modelled on the Temple of Illysus in Athens, an ornate ‘Swiss Bridge’ and a ‘Roman Boathouse’ as well as two lakes. Hamilton Square contains the most Grade I listed buildings in one place outside of Trafalgar Square, including the Birkenhead Town Hall (on the site of the original Birkenhead Market which saw Michael Marks of M&S open up a penny bazaar), whilst scenes for the film Chariots of Fire were shot at Woodside, substituting for 1920’s Dover. Its priory remains standing too….

After a brief visit to the peninsula’s oldest building, the Birkenhead Priory, I continued heading for the Glen Affric Brewery in an otherwise unspectacular warehouse estate by the side of a busy intersection. However, inside the warehouse bearing the brewery’s name is a “tap” bar with a decent selection of its own stuff brewed on site, all equipment is located by the side of the tables, with the benched areas being home to vintage Nintendo game consoles too. A bit of a throwback to my youth for sure there! It was quite fun watching it go through its demo runs and seeing the vintage classics loaded upon it, but it was soon time to up sticks once again and set my sights on my final planned pre-match stop, the Sportsman’s Arms, which was eventually reached a good 15 minutes later having walked through a few side-streets and encountering a rather steep hill from outta nowhere. Dark Fruits would be my choice of refresher here whilst I watched the final throes of the match and Marcus Rashford grabbing us the three points. At least I wasn’t alone in exclaiming “YES!!!” or I may have been in some bother….

Birkenhead Priory

Glen Affric Brewery

Sportsman’s Arms

A short walk later had me at Prenton Park where, having a few extra minutes in hand, completed a lap of the ground before opting to head into the first of the cash turnstiles I came across, completely forgetting my best-laid plan to take a place in the Kop. Instead, I ended up right on half-way, so I couldn’t be too aggrieved! After a quick visit to the food bar for some chips (more like potato wedges really) it was off to pitchside ahead of the game, which was only a few minutes away. Having again got to my seat in time for the minute’s silence – this being a dual one, with it also serving to remember the victims of Leicester’s helicopter accident – it was soon time to get into the match. First, Prenton Park is a decent ground with the all-seater, one-tiered Kop stand behind the left-hand goal (from my point of view) largely dominating the ground, with only the Main Stand opposite my seat being anything close, and having something of a hint of age about it, giving the ground some extra character. Both the right-hand Cowshed End, housing the away fans today (and that appears to slope away to one side due to its seating arrangements and not due to drink) and the Johnny King Stand – named after the club’s most successful manager – that I was in are both fairly small affairs, though are easily capable, the latter running the length of the pitch. That’s the ground described in short and this is the story of Tranmere Rovers….

History Lesson:

Initially formed as Belmont Football Club in 1884, upon the merger of two cricket clubs’ footballing arms – Lyndhurst Wanderers and Belmont, the club played, largely, only friendly matches through to 1888 due to a lack of a league, though did enter the Liverpool and District Challenge Cup in 1886. They would play their initial matches at Steeles Lane in Birkenhead before changing their name to Tranmere Rovers prior to the beginning of their second season in existence (a previous Tranmere Rovers side had existed as an offshoot of the cricket club of the same name in 1881-’82, though this side was unrelated to the current club) and would later purchase Tranmere Rugby Club’s Ravenshaws Field in 1887, renaming it as the first ‘Prenton Park’, 25 years before Tranmere would move into their current home. Entering their first league – the West Lancashire League – in 1889, the club would spend eight years here prior to switching to the stronger Combination in 1897, winning the title in 1908. Two years later, Tranmere would join the Lancashire Combination and 1912 saw them make the move to the current Prenton Park home, complete with 800-seater stand. A further two seasons later, the club would lift the Lancashire Combination title and they would remain in the league through to the First World War, whereupon Tranmere did continue to remain active throughout the conflict, though players were criticised for avoiding active service, despite working in the local shipyards.

After Leeds City Reserves were ousted from the Central League in 1919, Tranmere were able to take their spot and this timing proved a further blessing as after just the one campaign there, four clubs were invited to join the newly formed Third Division North of the Football League as founder members. They duly accepted and won their first league clash 4-1 at home to Crewe Alexandra. 1924 saw Dixie Dean make his debut for Rovers and he went on to net 27 goals in 30 matches before moving to Everton where he would make his name, with further local players would follow in his footsteps up the leagues. In 1934, an FA Cup tie pitted Rovers against Liverpool at Anfield in a game watched by just a tick over 61,000 fans, Tranmere would latterly achieve a place in goal-scoring history, as they defeated Oldham Athletic 13-4 on Boxing Day of 1935, with the game’s 17 goals remaining the highest aggregate scored in one Football League game. Bunny Bell netted nine in that game. During the same period, Rovers would compete in the Welsh Cup and reached the final twice, losing to Bristol City in the 1934 final after a replay first time around, before defeating Chester one-nil in the next season, the club’s first silverware as a Football League Club.

Rovers would win their first League title in 1938, lifting the Division Three North championship and promotion to Division Two for the first time and this remains their first and only League title to date. Success didn’t immediately follow either, with Tranmere relegated at the end of the next season. Post-WWII, Tranmere re-joined the League and again took their spot in Division 3 North. They would remain here until the restructure of 1958 with Tranmere’s 11th placed finish seeing them achieve a high enough spot to remain in the newly nationalised Third Division. The final match, against Wrexham attracted a crowd of 19,615, which remains a record at Prenton Park for a league match.

Prenton Park and Johnny King

In 1961, Rovers skipper Harold Bell left the club, having not missed a game from the first game post-war through to 1955 when he was eventually dropped from the side, a total of 459 consecutive games which also remains a record. His influenced was missed, as Tranmere were relegated that same year to Division 4, and the club switched up their kit from blue shirts, white shorts to all white, to distinguish themselves from Everton. 1967 saw them return to Division 3 and the following season saw the club reach the FA Cup Fifth Round for the first time, ahead of a game in that competition three years later achieving a club record attendance at Prenton Park of over 24,000 for a tie vs Stoke City. 1972 saw Ron Yeats join the club and his links to Liverpool saw the likes of Ian St. John join the club as well as Bill Shankly in a consultancy role. This team would go on to record one of the most memorable Tranmere results as they won one-nil at First Division side Arsenal in the League Cup. However, things soon went awry and 1975 saw them return to Division 4 once again, though they would be here for just one season, with promotion immediately won the following year.

After another drop back to Division 4, many poor seasons would follow, with Rovers rarely troubling the top-half of the table, though after a resurgence in the latter part of the 1980’s (including a first appearance at Wembley in the League Centenary Tournament), 1989 would see them recover up the division to the runners-up spot and the rise back up to the Third Division once again. They missed out in the following year’s play-offs, having had a strong season, losing in the Final at Wembley to Notts County, just a week after lifting the league’s Trophy at the same venue with a 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers, and they would have play-off success the next season, with wins over Brentford and Bolton Wanderers seeing the club in Division 2 for the first time since the 1930’s, though lost out in their second consecutive League Trophy final. After Division Two became Division One upon the formation of the Premier League in 1992, and with John Aldridge beginning his decade-long spell at the club (going on to net 170 goals for the SWA and becoming Tranmere’s first – and only to date – player to score at a World Cup), Tranmere went on to reach the play-offs for the next three successive seasons, missing out on promotion to the Premier League in each of 1993, 1994 and 1995, and ’94 saw further disappointment as they went out in the League Cup semi-finals to Aston Villa on penalties.

Prenton Park was reconstructed and re-opened in 1995 but financial constraints took a-hold over the millennium season, though they did reach the Sixth Round of the FA Cup and reached the 2000 League Cup Final, losing out to Leicester City by 2-1 in the last game played at the ‘old’ Wembley. The all-white kit was re-introduced ahead of the next season but despite success in the cups (including a 3-0 win over Everton), the club were relegated to Division 2 ending a decade-long spell in Division 1. The play-offs were reached in 2005, but the campaign was unsuccessful and despite going close to reaching them again, they never would. Just avoiding the drop to the now-named ‘League Two’ in 2010, 2013 saw manager Ronnie Moore sacked after admitting breaching betting rules and the season would eventually end with Rovers relegated to League Two for 2014-’15. Further disappointment was to follow immediately, as Tranmere dropped out of the League in 2015 ending their 94-year stay.

A poor start to their non-league life in the Conference followed, though a resurgence saw the club just miss-out on the play-offs and after double disappointment in 2017 saw Rovers lose out in the FA Trophy semis and miss out on promotion in the play-off final to the extra-green Forest Green in, despite a runners-up spot and 95 points being achieved, last season saw the club eventually return to League football as they recovered from another sluggish start to again reach the play-offs where they overcame Ebbsfleet United in the semis before overcoming Boreham Wood 2-1 in the Final at the ‘new’ Wembley and they have bucked the trend of the last few years in starting a season strongly, sitting towards the right half of the table.

We got underway with Exeter forcing a couple of fairly comfortable stops out of the home ‘keeper Scott Davies, before Connor Jennings responded for the hosts, with his low shot being kept out by Davies’ opposite number James Hamon. The first-half hour came and went with the game still all-square in deadlock but on 31 minutes it was finally broken from a Paul Mullin cross – Mullin himself had gone close minutes before, his delivery being guided into the net by James Norwood, despite the Hamon seeming to get a good piece of the ball on its way into the net. Be that as it may, it was another game closer to a calendar year without a nil-nil. Just the three weeks to go!

Match Action

Match Action

Outside of a few blocked shots, Norwood going close to adding a second to both his and his team’s tally, very little happened in terms of real action in the remaining fifteen minutes or so of the first half as Tranmere headed in with their slender advantage still intact at the break. Half-time saw little in the way of action, so let’s get straight on with the action! Again, it was City who would fashion the first chance of the half, Matt Jay this time forcing Davies into action to maintain his clean sheet for the time being at least.

After Jennings and Jay had traded chances for their respective sides, Tranmere would grab that vital second goal and it was Norwood who would grab it, showing some real striker’s instinct in the process. After the impressive Larnell Cole had seen his rasping drive from a good 25 yards beat Hamon only to unluckily smash into the post, Norwood responded well to be in the right place at the right time to slot the rebound home and send the fans in the Kop behind the goal into brief delirium. That looked to be that in truth, as Exeter were pretty disappointing overall and their display was summed up by Dean Moxey receiving a second yellow card within 15 minutes to receive his marching orders for (I think I remember) handball.

Match Action

Match Action

From there it was a pretty routine quest for Rovers to see out the final twenty minutes or so, though they also looked to take advantage of their extra man and add one or two more strikes to their scoring sheet. However, Hamon was in no mood to let any more past and kept out efforts from each of Johnny Smith, Jennings and the hat-trick chasing Norwood. Lee Martin would go close for the visitors as the game ran down, keeping Davies alert to the end, but that would be that and it was a big three points for Tranmere in this top(ish) of the table clash. Not a bad return so far for the SWA. As for me, that’s two games and no goals this season for Exeter, so maybe I have something to do with it?

Post-match, I took in a swift visit to the ground neighbouring, and appropriately named, Prenton Park for a quick Dark Fruits (£3.10), before heading off and up to Rock Ferry station where I’d pay a visit to the two station neighbouring hostelries, namely the, again fittingly named, Rock Station (Coors £2.7/95) prior to popping over the road to the Bedford where a Rekorderlig Mixed Berry came in at a decent £3.20 ahead of the train back into the lower reaches of Lime Street. Arriving with a good 40 minutes to spare ahead of my train back, I thought I’d grab that Baltika I’d missed out on earlier in the station’s Spoons, whereupon I would be rewarded for my day’s good deed, giving up a table for a group of guys and girls who’d come into the packed place, meaning a free one was on them, despite my protestations to the contrary. Ah well, if you can’t beat them!!

Rock Station. Camera didn’t play ball on the others!

My gift.

So that ended another trip and it was good to truly get Prenton Park done. The game was decent, Birkenhead is too for a few and all else went smoothly, so can’t have too many complaints, especially with a nice early return home being secured (i.e. before 8pm), a distinct rarity these days. Anyway, it’s back onto the FA Cup trail next (this just gone as it is) weekend and a visit to a club who are just experiencing their first season in non-league, having replaced this very club for this season. Twisted….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 4

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Sunderland

 

Result: Sunderland 3-0 Southend United (EFL League One)

Venue: Stadium of Light (Saturday 27th October 2018, 3pm)

Att: 30,894

Finally getting back on the ’92’ trail, I decided to ‘tick off’ one of the longer-term trips I have left on the cards, though also one that was on the easier side, compared to some others. The Stadium of Light has been a ground I’ve long had as a target to visit and so I reckoned that there was no time like the present, especially having not been to a league game for almost two months, since being hamstrung by my aging past the limits of the 16-25 railcard. Of course, with the news of the new one being rolled out nationwide, my quest becomes all the easier on the pocket and so, having booked tickets a couple of weeks before, this would end up being something of a needlessly dear do. Ah well, to Sunderland it was!

Being dropped off in Manchester, I caught the service from Victoria at just after 8.30 and via a swift changeover at Northallerton onto a rubbish bag filled Grand Central service which was also full of both home and away fans en route to the game, I arrived into Wearside at just after 11.50am. After a short time getting my bearings outside the station, a cut through the nearby shopping centre had me heading towards what was my first planned stop of the day, the quite unfortunately named Ship Isis, or as the guy there conceded, he’d take it, quite understandably, as simply “The Ship”. In here, I opted to start off on something refreshing and opted for a pint of the Grapefruit ale they had on. It was bloody lovely stuff too, though at only 2.5%, it was somewhat premium at £4. Moving on, the nearby Museum Vaults was sadly shut it seemed and so I returned towards the Sunderland Minster and to the Dun Cow, where a pint of Moretti set me back an unexpectedly eye-watering £4.90. OUCH!! Entertainment here was supplied by a pint being knocked over the table and the resultant furniture re-organisation taking a fair bit of time. A guy did remind me to take my bag with me though, which helped relieve my shock which I was obviously still suffering from!

Sunderland

Ship Isis

Dun Cow (and neighbouring theatre)

Sunderland is a city in the Tyne and Wear area at the mouth of the River Wear. The earliest inhabitants of the area were from the Stone Age and nearby Hastings Hill was of particular significance to the early dwellers. It is also thought the Brigante people occupied the area spanning both sides of the Roman-era in Britain, while legend has it the Romans had constructed a fort where the former Vaux Brewery stands, though there’s no evidence of this to date. Historically located in County Durham, there was originally three settlements in the area that Sunderland now occupies, while Monkwearmouth to the north of the river was settled in 674 AD when King Ecgrifth of Northumbria gave land to the North of the Wear to Bishop (St.) Benedict Biscop (now the city’s patron saint) to found the monastery there.

The Bishop was later granted further land to the south of the river and this village became known as “soender-land” as it was separated from the monastic community and this would grow into a fishing community prior to being granted a charter in 1179. Meanwhile, Bishopwearmouth made up the trio in 930. On a side note, the “finest book in the world” – the Codex Aminatus and the ‘…History of the English People’  was created by the “father of English History, Bede, at the monastery. The Vikings raided the area in the 8th century and the monastery was abandoned soon after. After the Civil War had seen skirmishes in the local area, Sunderland would continue to grow as a port throughout the years, largely trading in coal and salt before ships began to be built on the river during the 14th century and the world’s second iron bridge was built there in 1796 which was, at the time, the largest single-spam bridge built.

Sunderland

Sunderland Minster, surrounded by scaffold….

By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had absorbed the nearby areas of Monk and Bishop-wearmouth due to the ever-growing importance of the shipbuilding industry there, though it was also the first place to be affected by the era’s cholera outbreak that later spread across the country, taking the lives of 32,000 people, including Sunderland Naval hero Jack Crawford. The Borough of Sunderland was later created in 1835 due to demands. However, the 20th century saw the decline of Sunderland’s traditional industries begin to decline after the wars (during which Sunderland experienced regular raids on its ports and factories) and this continued throughout the century, these being replaced by the expanding automotive industry, whilst also taking on science and technology companies too. It received city status in 1992.

Having seen a large group of people heading into the unspectacular looking The Rabbit a few doors back down (they seem to like animal-named pubs around here, by the way), I decided to go and have a look in case I was missing anything. To be honest, I wasn’t really although it did allow me to watch some of the game on TV with a Hop House (£4.60) before I crossed over the road to pay a visit to the interestingly named Vesta Tilley’s, whose cheap beer sign outside had peaked my interest on my earlier passing. It was duly packed inside and didn’t let me down either, a pint of Woodpecker coming in at just the £2.45, somewhat allaying my earlier shockers! The place was decked out in numerous Hallowe’en decorations too which gave it a different feel too, though I did want to give myself some time to head over the road to the old Fire Station bistro/bar place which looked quite cool. I didn’t expect too much in the way of cheapness in there, but that consideration went out the window almost as soon as I went in as I saw Blue Moon on draught and I didn’t care about prices any longer. £4.75 it ended up being, which wasn’t too bad overall, and I headed over to the rear of the building, it being standing room only once more. However, this did end up allowing me to meet with Dad and Son duo David and Joe, two St. Mirren fans who also follow the Black Cats. Joe has had a good start to his live footballing life, his previous St. Mirren game being the Championship presentation and this, his first Sunderland game, had all the hallmarks of a good clash too. David was even kind enough to offer a few Love Lane-themed extras if I ever visit St. Mirren’s ground, so thanks again for that!

The Rabbit

Spooky Vesta Tilley’s

Old Fire Station

It was soon time to move out and having managed to get Joe do partake in a real handshake via the medium of his Dad’s persuasion, I headed onwards directly towards the Stadium of Light, which is easily visible from a fair way out. Crossing over the dual foot/road bridge, I was soon coming up towards the Wheatsheaf, a pub just across the way from the ground which I’d been recommended by “Jimmy Sirrel’s Lovechild” on Twitter. I never thought I’d type that….Anyway, the Wheatsheaf proved a fine tip and also offered a former taste of home up in the North East in the form of Boddington’s. Of course, I would have to accept the fact this would be in plastic, though this didn’t affect things too much. In a bit of a rush by that point, I forgot to take a both a photo of the pub or a note of how much the Boddies cost (sorry, Kenny, please let me off on this one!).

With the time heading towards half-two, I reckoned I’d make my way round to the nearby cash turnstiles, as I wanted to be in the ground for the wreath laying and minute’s silence with regard to Remembrance Day, this fixture being Sunderland’s last home game before the 11th. Sorting out a programme en route (£3), I headed to the turnstiles for the usual bag check prior to handing over my £20 entry fee and heading up into one of the corners of the ground, taking what looked like the final Chicken Balti (£3) pie with me as I went. Nice too. Finishing up just in time for the aforementioned acts of remembrance, the minute’s silence was observed impeccably after the initial roar from some forgetful/unaware fans in the away end prior to the game being all set to go.

Over the bridge…

Forces guard

The Stadium of Light is quite an impressive ground in my opinion and offered fine views from my vantage point in between the North and East stands. The ground is obviously an all-seater stadium, being built in 1997 to replace the now departed Roker Park. Being named during construction as “Wearside Stadium” and “New Roker Park”, its “Stadium of Light” name was eventually revealed just before the ground-opening game against Ajax, its name deriving from the area’s coal mining heritage and Monkwearmouth Colliery site – more specifically the Davy Lamps the miners used, the name “…allows the image of this light to shine forever”. A lamp is duly located outside the ticket office. The name was initially taken with mixed reactions, with some fans unhappy with the name already being associated with the ground of S.L. Benfica, the Estadio da Luz. The ground itself sees its West Stand hosting a higher upper tier (known as the Premier Concourse) than the remainder of the ground, and also is home to executive boxes and the dressing rooms/tunnel. The North Stand also has an upper tier and hosts an executive bar area, whilst the East and South Stands are of similar size. On a side note, the pink seats around the ground are in the process of being replaced and this seems to be a very important and joyful happening! That’s the Stadium of Light in a nutshell and this is the story of the Black Cats of Sunderland….

History Lesson:

Sunderland Association Football Club was founded in 1879 as Sunderland and District Teachers AFC and would later join the Football League in 1890, replacing Stoke who’d failed to be re-elected. In doing so, they also became the first “new” club to join the league since its formation. They won the title in 1892, just the club’s second season in the League and successfully defended their title the next season, scoring 100 goals in the process, a feat which wasn’t matched until 1920. They continued to be successful in the lead up to the turn of the century, finishing runners-up in 1894, but did win back the championship in 1895. They would then go on to play Scottish champs Hearts in the “Championship of the World” match, with Sunderland winning 5-3 and being declared as the World Champions. They would again finish as league runners-up in 1898, which was their last season at their Newcastle Road ground, the club moving into their new home, Roker Park.

After finishing runners-up for a third time in 1901, their fourth title win came the next year and achieved their record win, 9-1, in the league in 1908, this coming over arch rivals Newcastle United. A fifth title arrived in 1913, though the club would miss out on FA Cup success in their first final, losing out to Aston Villa by 1-0. Post-war, things would become slowly more difficult after an initial strong start in finishing runners-up once again in 1923, Sunderland narrowly avoiding relegation just five years later. However, the 1930’s would see an upturn in form return and a fifth league title was won in 1936, with a first FA Cup success following the next campaign, after a 3-1 triumph over Preston North End. The remainder of the decade saw the club drift into mid-table, priory to the outbreak of WWII. Wartime football was maintained in the form of the Football League War Cup, with Sunderland having a best of beaten finalists in 1942. Post-war, the 1949-’50 season saw the club record their best finish since their last title win with a 3rd place, though 1958 would see financial troubles affect the club and eventually result on their first relegation in their 68-year league history, as Sunderland dropped to Division 2.

Arriving at the SoL

Their absence from the to flight would last six seasons, Sunderland returning to the First Division as runners-up, though would be relegated once more back to Division 2 come the end of the decade. However, 1973 would see the club lift their second FA Cup title as they bested Leeds United, though this would end up being their last major trophy to date. In winning the Cup, Sunderland qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup- their only European competition appearance to date, where they beat Vesta Budapest before bowing out to Sporting Lisbon over two legs, despite winning the first game at Roker Park.

After again spending six seasons in Division 2, Sunderland returned to the top flight as champions, but were immediately relegated back after one season. 1985 saw the Black Cats record their first League Cup final appearance, though this would end in disappointment, as they lost out to Norwich City and things got even worse three years later as Sunderland were relegated to Division 3. However, this drop would only be a brief blip, Sunderland returning back to Division 2 at the end of the season. The next season saw them achieve a second straight promotion in strange circumstances, as the club was promoted instead of Swindon, who’d defeated them in the play-offs, after the Robins had been penalised for financial irregularities. Their return to the top division would only be a short one, though, as they were relegated again two seasons later, just prior to the formation of the Premier League which ended up meaning Sunderland stayed in Division One, just at a lower level.

Sunderland would reach the FA Cup Final in 1992, losing 2-0 to Liverpool and after a flirtation with relegation during the earlier part of the decade, Peter Reid was brought in as manager and he achieved promotion from Division One to the Premiership in 1996. The club’s first Premiership foray would be brief, though, as they were relegated after a single season, though would return in 1999 as champions, their second season playing at the Stadium of Light, having left Roker Park in 1997 after an OCD wrecking 99 years. At the time, the new ground was the largest post-war ground built. The end of the seasons saw a highly credible 7th place achieved, with Kevin Phillips securing the European Golden Shoe in the process.

SAFC

After again being relegated in 2003 with a then record low 19 points, Mick Mccarthy was brought in and he guided the club to the Division One title in 2005 and they duly returned to the top-flight. However they went one better the next season, but not positively, as the Black Cats went down with just 15 points to their name and McCarthy duly left soon after. Under Roy Keane, the club went 17 games unbeaten to secure a return to the Premier League as champions. Keane would be out after an up and down start to the 2008-’09 campaign, and a change of ownership saw Steve Bruce installed as boss. Further managerial changes followed, with the likes of Martin O’Neill, Paulo Di Canio and Gus Poyet taking the reigns. Poyet did lead the club to the 2014 League Cup final, in which they lost out to Manchester City at Wembley, though he would also be out by early 2015 and replaced by veteran Dutch manager Dick Advocaat, who kept the club in the Premier League.

Unfortunately, his early success didn’t translate into the new season and he resigned just eight games in, with Sam Allardyce taking over. He also saved Sunderland from the drop, though after he left for his ill-fated one-game spell as England boss, David Moyes took the job and oversaw Sunderland’s worst start to a Premier season. They were duly relegated come the end of the 2016-’17 season and things only got worse last season as both Simon Grays on and Chris Coleman came a went prior to Sunderland’s relegation to League One for this campaign, which had started in promising fashion, under new ownership.

The game got underway with the hosts taking the initiative early on, Jerome Sinclair seeing an early header fairly comfortably saved by Southend stopper Mark Oxley. Lee Cattermole saw an effort on goal fly wide of the mark for Sunderland, whilst the visiting Shrimpers’ early efforts came through Dru Yearwood and Taylor Moore, though neither hit the target. Southend were forced into an early change after 20 minutes when Ben Coker seemed to land awkwardly and was resultantly stretchered off and ten minutes later they suffered a further setback when the Black Cats took the lead, George Honeyman guiding a header into the corner from a Lynden Gooch delivery.

Match Action

Match Action

Southend came on strong after going behind and Simon Cox went close to levelling the scores soon afterwards, but saw his shot go narrowly wide before Harry Bunn saw his effort kept out by home ‘keeper Jon McLaughlin, but the game slowly turned into one of quite a number of fouls as the half wore on and after Cox had also forced McLaughlin into action, the sides headed in at the break with just the one goal still separating them. The half-time period came and went with little to speak of happening so let’s get on with the game, shall we?

The second half began with little of note occurring until the 53rd minute, when Yearwood saw an effort kept out before Sunderland duly countered and the ball ended up at the feet of Chris Maguire who unleashed a rocket of an effort that flew into the top corner, leaving Oxley with next to no chance of keeping it out. Aiden McGeady was introduced in the aftermath of the second goal and despite Southend continuing to create chances for Cox and Shawn McCoulsky seeing his goal-bound effort well kept out by McLaughlin, the points were made safe by McGeady himself when he latched onto Josh Maja’s pull back to slot home. 3-0 and the game was up.

Maguire celebrates netting the second

Match Action

Both sides would fashion one final chance each to add to the scoreline, Maguire seeing his shot blocked and Sam Mantom responding with an effort flying just over, the result would remain as it stood and Sunderland would secure their clean sheet and record a comfortable win over a strong-looking Southend side. As for me, a quick exit had me heading back through the gates and back over the bridge to the Peacock, where I was asked by a group of women what was housed in the tents in the square across the way. I said I thought there was a bar or something, but did stress I didn’t really know, though I was told not being local wasn’t an excuse and I was up for blame if I was wrong. I sincerely apologise if I was!! Anyway, after opting for a pint of Rekorderlig Passion Fruit in here (£4.95, God, what is happening?!), I headed back out to try and find an apparent “speakeasy” bar nearby.

This trek didn’t go well and I soon decided to give up on this fruitless task and instead pop into one of the Wetherspoon’s, the William Jameson, just along the road from the station. Finishing up my Sunderland visit on a cool day with a fitting bottle of the Russian beer Baltika, I headed back off to the station and its strange shadow display opposite the platform. It’s quite eerie in a strange way, especially if its quiet I’d presume. A small delay meant I would have a little extra time upon my arrival into York and so I took a visit to the York Tap on the station where a half-drunk guy made an effort to get me served as I’d spoke to him, despite there being no-one else waiting at that point. I appreciated the effort though! After a pint of Aspall’s in here to refresh, I grabbed the train back and pecked a lad by the name of Christian’s head until his eventual detraining at Huddersfield. I bet he was relieved!! I arrived back in Manchester to meet my parents, who’d been at a Rick Astley concert, in the Irish Bar near Victoria, where I would take advantage of their taxi back and I could definitely say I’d had the more enjoyable Saturday and concert the previous night, courtesy of Enrique. Sorry, Rick.

Back to the centre

Post-match visit to the Peacock

So ends my trip to the Stadium of Light and Sunderland itself. It had been a good, if pretty costly one, though was worth a visit. Despite the dear drinks around town, the £20 ticket was well worth the money, the game was decent and the pie was good. The programme was a fine read and transport went largely untroubled too, so not too perturbed. That’s that then and its a return for a proper “tick” next week as I head over to somewhere famously linked by ferry….

Manchopper in….Exeter

Result: Exeter City 0-3 Lincoln City (EFL League 2)

Venue: St. James’ Park (Saturday 1st September 2018, 3pm)

Att: 4,067

The second of my trips to Devon in consecutive weekends saw me heading the slightly shorter distance this time around out of the county’s two League sides. Yes, I was off to Exeter this time around, having been further down the line at Plymouth the previous week, for their 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Posh. Plymouth was a decent day, question was :- could Exeter go one better?

Grabbing the 8am train down from Manchester, I arrived into St. David’s station at a little before a quarter to midday, after having to endure a tortuous 10 minutes of sitting stationary outside on the station approach. This duly meant my first drink of the day would need to be a swift one, and so the walk to my first stop would need to be too. After eventually gaining my bearings (I’m getting a little better by now!), I set off towards the side of the River Exe and the appropriately named “Mill on the Exe” which, you may be surprised to learn, used to be a mill. I know, I share your disbelief!! Anyway, a swift pint of Rattler cider (the locally brewed stuff) was enjoyed out on the balcony overlooking the river bridge crossing, prior to me continuing onwards into ‘town’.

View from the Mill

The Iron Bridge…called Iron Bridge

View to the city, Iron Bridge Inn on the right

After heading past what first appeared to be an old, grand garden (though a later deduced it was actually a seemingly abandoned cemetery), I approached a large iron bridge which, again, was fittingly named “Iron Bridge”. Hence, there had to be a pub named just as well, and, shock of shocks, there stood the Iron Bridge Inn, right there upon the bridge. Just kidding, I knew this was there! What I didn’t fully expect was the pint I ordered to cost a full £6.50, though I was of course informed prior to the matter. Not being one to shy away when it comes to a good beer, the Tropical Pale Ale was, as promised, bloody fantastic. The pub was a lovely old classic too, so well worth a visit.

Next on the list was something of a diversion, if I’m to be honest. Having planned to seek out the Beer Cellar first, I couldn’t spot it for one reason or another and so instead popped into the far easier to see City Gates, which I just so happened to be stood right outside of. This was another elder statesperson of the city, dating from the 19th century and age seemed to equal cost here, as a bottle of Sol came in at a full £4.40. Jesus. Anyhow, I took it out into the nice ‘Walled Garden’ outdoor area, which also allowed a quick exit out of the old coaching entrance.

City Gates

The price didn’t make me feel sunny….

The name Exeter derives from the Old English Escanceaster, from the anglicised from of the river now known as the Exe and the suffix -ceaster, used to mark important fortresses and towns. Exe is a separate Brittonic name meaning “water” or, more specifically, “full of fish”. The area began as a riverside settlement, likely dating from around the times of the Roman occupation, with coins from the Mediterranean – especially the Hellenic region, having been found dating back to 250 BC. It would later grow into a fort, with it becoming the southwest terminus of the Fosse Way and served as base for the legion presided over by Vespasian, who would later become Emperor. The fort grew into a larger settlement containing the families of those based here, alongside natives, becoming the tribal capital of the Dumnonii area. Upon the forts abandonment in 75 AD (CE can piss off), the grounds were converted for civilian use and is located close to the cathedral.

Exeter would latterly be conquered by the Saxons, though they did leave a quarter of the city to remain under native control, the road named Bartholomew Street (nee Britayne Street until 1637) was formerly named, apparently, in memory of these people. In 876, it was attacked and captured by Viking raiders, though they were driven out rather quickly by Alfred the Great. King Athelstan, who went on to further fortify the city, drove out the British to (perhaps) the St. David’s area just outside the city’s walls. After a further failed Danish attack, the Norman conquest took hold and, despite the city’s peoples rebelling a couple of years in, a siege put in place by King William put paid to that. In later years, the town would become a more market-based area, for the benefits of the locals.

Exeter

Old church

As time went on, into the Tudor period, the city withstood a siege from the local Cornish and Devonians, outraged by the religious instructions of the monarchy at the time. This was ended in battle, with many rebels meeting their end soon afterwards. The city would go on to play a major part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, whereupon it is said it gained its motto “Semper Fidelis” from Elizabeth I in recognition of its service, though schools teach that it was in fact bestowed by Charles II in 1660 after the Restoration due to its part in the English Civil War. Around this time, Exeter became a stronghold of the wool and cloth trades, trading with many areas of the world, with the industrial revolution of the 19th century bringing agricultural goods to the fore. Bridges, tramways and railways were also introduced to help expand transport links both locally and to the rest of the country.

The city was bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe during WWII, Exeter defended by a squadron of Polish night-fighters, named the Lwów Eagle Owls, based out of Exeter Airport. Incidentally, the Polish city Lwów shared the same city motto with Exeter. The city was the first to be gifted a Polish flag in friendship and one is duly raised on each 15 November. In recent years, a serious fire damaged the Royal Clarence Hotel (said to be the first venue to call itself a hotel in England), though restorations ended up uncovering medieval pictures. The hotel’s restoration is still ongoing.

White Hart

Inside too. Full of all sorts.

George’s Meeting House. I had no-one to meet.

Continuing on, I headed onwards towards the cathedral part of town and to a pair of drinking holes just across the way from each other. The first, the White Hart, was another oldie worldy place, dating from the 1500’s. However, this wasn’t so apparent when outside, though once you head on through the entry way, it quickly became timber-framed and narrow. Indoors, the bar off to the right was the one in use, and it was, fittingly, dimly lit and full of all sorts of various paraphernalia lining the walls. This time, the older place was a little more easy on the pocket, the pint of Thatcher’s coming in at £3.95. Crossing over the way, it was to another fittingly named pub (personally anyway), George’s Meeting House, which was also the first Spoons visit of the day. This is an old chapel or something of sorts and is one of the more interesting ones I’ve visited in a while. It was cool for a quick one, the now staple Hooch at £2.39 to round off the pre-match drinking session.

Cutting through the cathedral grounds, I continued on through down a little side road before again having to figure out where I was to be going. Eventually, I spotted a couple of guys who looked like match goers (you get to know them eventually) and followed them up to a large roundabout, from where I could actually recognise roads and the like. However, this didn’t help me in a pursuit of a programme, as I instead ended up with a fanzine but, for a quid, I wasn’t fussed at that and was actually looking forward to having a look through one of these for the first time since….maybe Huddersfield a couple of years back. It turned out to be a decent little read too.

Exeter Cathedral

Through the grounds

Eventually, I did locate the programmes via the help of “helpers” outside the ground and was soon in the queue for the Big Bank. Handing over £16 for entry (not too bad, really), I was into the already crowded terrace, though I did pop into the line for food first up, the Steak pie (I think it was) went down very well indeed. Anyway, St. James’ Park is a pretty smart-looking ground, though it does sadly now lack the traditional old stand I enjoy, though I dare say the Grecians fans may indeed like the new facilities better. The new grandstand is now pretty much complete bar the shouting, and is all-seater. The big bank is a large, covered terraced area, which stretches back a fair way above the playing area, affording decent views out to the city at the far, open, unused end. The current “Main” Stand is also all seater, though is a smaller affair than the grandstand in terms of overall size, it is longer, running the majority of the pitch. So that’s the ground and this is the story of Exeter City….

History Lesson:

Exeter City Football Club was founded in 1904, upon the merger of local clubs St. Sidwell’s United and Exeter United, the sides having backdated football in Exeter back to 1890. In 1904, Exeter lost 3-1 to St. Sidwell’s whereupon, after the game had finished, the two sides agreed that the two merging was best for the future. The new team took on the Exeter City name and continued on playing at Exeter United’s ground, St. James’ Park. The new club’s first competitive outing came in September, where they defeated the 110th battery of the Royal Artillery by 2-1 at St. James’ Park, in the East Devon League. City would duly go on to lift the title at the end of the season and transferred into the Plymouth & District League for the next few years.

1908 saw the club turn professional and successfully applied to join the Southern League, replacing Tottenham Hotspur in doing so. They got rid of their supposed “unlucky” green and yellow kit (derived from St. Sidwell’s colours) and switched to their now familiar red and white stripes. Upon the change, a 0-0 draw with West Ham United was followed by five consecutive victories, thus confirming the switch was indeed for the better, in those of a superstitious view. City would go on to tour South America in 1914, just prior to the outbreak of WWI, where they played eight matches against Argentine and Brazilian opposition, whilst also apparently providing the first ever opposition for the future Selecao, the Brazilian national team. This game ended in a 2-0 loss, or a 3-3 draw, depending on whom you believe!

Post-war, 1920 saw Exeter invited to join the Football League’s Third Division South, and invite they duly took up. They took on Brentford in their first league match, a game which ended in a 3-0 home success. 1931 saw the Grecians record their joint best FA Cup run, as they reached the sixth round prior to bowing out to Sunderland. They would repeat the trick again 50 years later, this time eventually going down at the hands of eventual winners, Spurs, by 2-0. 1964 saw City secure their first ever Football League promotion, as they finally exited the bottom tier and duly took a spot in the, by this point, nationalised Third Division. However, their stay would only be a short one, as they would be relegated just two seasons later. They would remain in the Fourth Division for a further long spell, though this would eventually end in a first ever Championship title in League football, with this being lifted in 1990, ahead with a return to the Third Division. This time, the Grecians doubled their previous tenure here, but were relegated in 1994, from the current Second Division (re-designated upon the birth of the Premier League).

Man takes picture of man taking picture of sign

Back in the bottom division, Exeter would go on to struggle for the most part, entering administration and almost folding in the latter part of 1994 and having to sell off their ground to property developers, though were eventually able to remain at St. James’ upon the council purchasing it latterly. They would eventually exit administration in 1996, though things didn’t improve too much and, seven years later, City would be relegated out of the Football League to the Conference National, the club becoming the first to suffer this fate having not finished bottom (they ended 23rd). Continuing financial issues and off-field shenanigans continued to threaten the club’s existence for the next few seasons, but hard work from supporters and a helpful replayed FA Cup tie against Manchester United (after a 0-0 draw had been secured at Old Trafford) in 2005 helped boost the coffers.

2007 saw Exeter reach the play-offs, whereupon they reached the final with a semi-final win over Oxford United. However, they would go on to lose out at Wembley to Morecambe. They went one better the next season, though, as they defeated local rivals Torquay United after an away second-leg comeback, before defeating Cambridge United by a single strike in the Final, thus securing a return to the League. Their first season in League 2 was an immediate success, as Exeter went straight on through to League One, a final day one-nil win at Rotherham United securing their promotion as runners-up to Brentford.

They would remain in League one for the next four years, though scraped survival in 2010 by overcoming promotion chasing Huddersfield Town on the last day by 2-1 and so condemned Gillingham to the drop instead. The following campaign saw the club bounce back from the tragic loss of Adam Stansfield to just miss out on the play-offs (by a single point) and finish up a strong eighth. However, this season was a false dawn of sorts for the Grecians, as they were relegated at the end of the following campaign, back to League 2. Here they have remained, despite a strong showing initially in 2013 before a tail off in performances.  Meanwhile, 2015 saw the club become the victims of an FA Cup giant-killing, as they went out at the First Round stage on live TV at the hands of Northern Premier League side, Warrington Town. Their next cup campaign would be memorable for the right reasons though, the highlight being a 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

I think he saw me.

2017 saw the club recover from a poor start to just miss out on promotion through the play-offs, a fifth placed finish being the precursor to a dramatic last-minute success in the semi-finals over two-legs against Carlisle, before they were defeated by Blackpool in the final at Wembley. Last season saw the Grecians end up in 4th, whereupon they again entered the play-offs, but were unsuccessful in the final again, despite seeing off today’s visitors in the semis, Exeter again fell at the final hurdle, this time to Coventry City. Paul Tisdale departed the club afterwards, with former skipper Matt Taylor taking the reigns for the coming season, which has seen another strong start.

The game got underway soon after I took up a spot within the Grecian support up in the Bank, with very little happening in the first half hour or so, though Exeter were probably just about having the better of the play. After a few blocked shots had come and gone for both sides, it was the hosts’ Pierce Sweeney who eventually got in an attempt on goal, his shot flying over the bar and out of the ground, following a corner.

Lincoln responded well and forced a few consecutive corners which ended in Tom Pett firing narrowly wide, before it all went wrong for the hosts in the final few minutes of the half. First, Lincoln skipper Lee Frecklington finished off from a couple of yards following good work by the ever dangerous John Akinde, who was played in on the left side of the area and slid across the face for Frecklington to add the finishing touch.

Match Action

Far end action

Akinde would then grab a goal himself on the stroke of the break, netting in the second minute of stoppage time. He completed a solo effort by traipsing his way across the edge of the box, beating two defenders as he went, prior to sliding his effort beyond Exeter stopper Christy Pym, who was left rooted and wrong-footed. Half-time duly arrived with the game having taken on a very different look than it appeared to have been meandering towards.

After a half time lit up by many attempted chips into a large bin, which also saw the mascot end up in there for a short while too for some reason, we were back playing once more. Again, there wasn’t a whole lot of action early on but, on 56 minutes, the Imps secures the points when Harry Toffolo (who is definitely the most famous person with that surname, ok?) drove into the box and delivered a low cross which was diverted into his own net by Troy Brown, denying the waiting Akinde behind a second goal in the process.

Match Action

Match Action

ECFC

Jayden Stockley and Sweeney again saw shots drift off target as Exeter strove in vain to get back into the game in some respect, but it would be Lincoln who would go the closest to finding the net again when Akinde struck the upright with around ten to fifteen to play. But that would be that and the Imps held out comfortably to gain a measure of revenge for their play-off defeat at the hands of Exeter a few months back. Full-time, 0-3.

After the game, a hasty retreat back to the city was beat with a visit paid to the old Ship Inn, hidden away down a small, unassuming side street lined with scaffolding. A lucky spot, really, but it would prove to be a second week in succession where I’d drank in an apparent favourite of Sir Drake. A pint of Amstel in this lovely, old pub cost a very decent £3.85 before I resisted the urge to seek out the Beer Cellar once more and took the far more sensible option of heading to the Imperial ‘Spoons near to the station to await my carriage home. In something of a stately home, Exeter certainly has some of the more intriguing offerings! A Kopparberg (again £2.39) was had here to give something of a refresh before I hopped on back over to St. David’s and onto the train for the journey back north.

The Ship. Just about visible!

Exeter from the graveyard walkway

Imperial

After spending all but around twenty minutes without having to endure anyone sitting next to me, I arrived back into Manchester in time to meet up with blog regular Dan for a quick one in Piccadilly Gardens’ own ‘Spoons (which is certainly a fair bit less interesting) before grabbing the bus back on account of the bloody train strikes. But there ends my last long-range trip for a while. I really enjoyed visiting the city and the ground was decent too. The game wasn’t up to much, but the programme and food were both good and at least there were goals, so there’s that. Onto next week and a return to the FA Cup trail, with somewhere a little closer to home on the horizon….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Plymouth

 

Result: Plymouth Argyle 1-5 Peterborough United (EFL League 1)

Venue: Home Park (Saturday 25th August 2018, 3pm)

Att: 9,214

As my time with a railcard winds down and I approach my twilight years, I decided I’d take full advantage of the short time I have left with the third-off card and book a few long-range trips to begin the season, ticking off a few of the South coast clubs in the process. Thus, my season “proper” had begun with a visit to another ‘mouth’, Portsmouth, on the 4th of August – as they overcame Luton Town by a single goal – before following that up with a pair of more local trips prior to suffering the long-range journeys down to Devon. First off the rank was the Pilgrims of Argyle.

After an arse/leg/back/neck numbing five-and-a-half hour journey down from Manchester, I arrived into Britain’s ocean city at a little after 12.30. Having had an initial struggle locating the area around the dockside where I intended to head, I found myself instead upon the Hoe. No, not an insult towards a person (though I would be so lucky regardless), instead the Hoe is a large park-like opening on the coast-side which plays host to numerous statues, memorials and a lighthouse added in for good measure. There’s also a pitch and putt, for those who like that kind of thing, and who doesn’t?! There were now bowls being played as far as I could tell, so I’m sure Sir Francis Drake wouldn’t have been too impressed. Though, maybe this only can happen if an Armada is due…..?

Plymouth

The Hoe

Plymouth

Eventually, I found myself at the foot of a road, rather intimidatingly called Citadel Road, which led down past (would you believe) an Army base and to the docks. I was more interested in the group of pubs dotted around the area, and the historic nature of a number of them. Having scouted out a fair number of watering holes before my arrival, I first came across the Queen’s Arms, where I think I may have annoyed a pair of locals with my double-denim rocking appearance. That’s style for you, I guess(!). After a swift Thatcher’s Haze, I continued on just around the corner where I came upon the Admiral MacBride, a pub that, apparently, plays host to the original Mayflower steps that the pilgrim fathers used to board their vessel over to the New World. They now reside within the women’s toilets, so there’s that.

Plymouth is the largest city in England to have never hosted to-flight football and is the most largely populated city in Devon. It’s early history extends back to the Bronze Age, when the first settlement in the area emerged in the Mount Batten area. It continued as a trading post for the Romans until it was usurped by the village of Sutton, now Plymouth, named after the “mouth of the River Plym”. The Hundred Years’ War saw the area attacked by the French in 1340, though despite taking prisoners and causing damage, the French failed to gain entry into the town, though it would later be burned by the Bretons in 1403. A castle was constructed in the late 15th century in the Barbican area, its purpose to protect Sutton Pool, prior to the construction of Plymouth’s dockyard. Further fortifications were added through the Tudor period, with a fort (known as Drake’s Fort) created in 1596 on what is now the site of the domineering Citadel.

The Citadel

Mayflower Memorial Steps

The Pilgrim Fathers

Plymouth would go onto be a large producer of cotton through the 1500’s and became home to many traders as a result. It became famed for its part with Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada in the battle of 1588, and also for the launching of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower in 1620, as they established Plymouth Colony, the second English settlement in what would become the USA. The civil war saw Plymouth side with the Parliamentarian forces, and was duly besieged for some four years by Royalist forces, though they were eventually defeated by Roundhead forces. However, upon the latter restoration of the monarchy, many of the Parliament supporters were imprisoned on nearby Drake’s Island. The 17th and 18th centuries saw Plymouth begin to lose its importance as a trading hub, with a dockland and new town set up called Devonport.

More recently, during the Second World War, Plymouth played host to the RAAF’s Sunderland Flying Boats and many major Royal Navy units, whilst also being the HQ of Western Approaches Command. It was a high target during the Blitz era (Charles Church being a lasting monument to this), and would later be an important embarkation area for the US Troops assembling ahead of the D-Day landings. Post-war, the dockyard was kept busy by refitting aircraft carriers such as the Ark Royal and, despite the majority of the army having left the city by the early 1970’s, it remains home to 42 Commando of the Royal Marines.

Queen’s Arms

Admiral MacBride

The very blue Fisherman’s Arms

A board within the entrance foyer area of the Admiral MacBride lists the names of those travellers, with this giving credence to the story. With the recreated memorial steps just across the way, I settled in for a short while with a pint of Thatcher’s Gold this time, prior to circling round to just off the beaten track, where the interesting looking Fisherman’s Arms was located. Run by a Scouse couple, the Fisherman’s is definitely worth the slight detour it requires, with a flight of steps up through the adjoining flats providing a helpful short-cut. Having arrived whilst a wedding party and a few Posh fans were still in situ, I seemed to empty the place upon doing so, meaning I finished off the pint of Stowford in more quiet surroundings than I’d expected.

From there, it was onwards off towards the town centre a little more, with the time now past half-one. Next stop was to be the Minerva in, a little, traditional gem down a suburban street. It does seem a little out of place within its surroundings, but inside is a story onto itself. Again, the place emptied out as I entered, and with time against me, I opted to just take a bottle of Sol in the meantime. Whilst being the only punter in the place, I struck up conversation with the lady at the bar (who I deduced to be the owner/manager, though whose name escapes me, sorry) and was given an interesting guide through the history of the pub, complete with trap doors and tunnels to smuggle drunken punters onto ships to work, back in the day. It was also, apparently, the favoured haunt of Sir Francis Drake, who stayed just a few doors down at an acquaintance’s house on regular occasions. All interesting stuff, but sadly my time was brief in there and I was soon passing the large Minster and heading onwards down the main road towards the pub known as the Bank. Unbelievably, this was located in an old bank! I know, crazy!

Dolphin

The Minerva

The Bank

A bottle of JD Cider was had there before a check on Maps showed that a bus was due to leave up to Home Park imminently. Of course, the bottle was swiftly polished off and a quick half-jog to the bus stop was undertaken, with a single journey up to the roundabout near the Britannia Wetherspoons costing just £1.40. Well worth the saved walking time! Upon getting to the ground, a quick visit to the ‘box office’ was undertaken where I was soon in possession of a ticket for the stand opposite the old 1950’s grandstand, which isn’t long for this world, sadly. It was all shut up as is to be the case all year as the structure is taken down, but it was still the main reason for my visit. I’d missed out on the one at Exeter, so wasn’t making the same mistake again. I did make an arse of myself at the ticket window though, as I forced the change under the window as you tend to do in the vast majority of places, not realising the huge gaping opening right in front of my eyes, where my ticket was duly passed through. God knows what the girl there was thinking! To be honest, I’m surprised I was allowed in!

Anyway, I was and after acquiring a programme, I was pointed into a smaller queue to enter the ground in quick time. This also duly allowed me to get to a food bar in time for kick-off, a Steak pie being duly ordered, the (I assume) Ginster’s offering going down well and taking me through the first quarter-hour of the game. That fifteen minutes hadn’t gone all that well to be honest for Argyle! But before we get onto that, here’s a bit of history about the Pilgrims of Plymouth Argyle….

History Lesson:

Plymouth Argyle Football Club was founded in 1886 as plain Argyle F.C., the name deriving from either the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders division of the British Army, who had a strong footballing pedigree, or the nearby pub by the name of the Argyle Tavern, or perhaps a street by the name of Argyle Terrace. They disbanded in 1894 for a few years, before reforming in 1897 as part of the general Argyle Athletic Club. Having moved into Home Park in 1901, Argyle joined the Southern League in 1903, turning professional in the process. The club also entered a team in the Western Football League for a short while, alongside their Southern League outfit, with this side winning their title in 1905. Argyle would go on to win the league title in 1913, before the First World War ended the sport for the majority of its duration.

1921 saw Argyle join the Football League’s Third Division as a founder member (along with the majority of their Southern League competitors) where they finished their first League season in 11th place, before finishing in 2nd place in each South section season between 1921-’22 & 1926-’27 inclusive. Interestingly, an Argyle side travelled to South America in 1924, where they beat soon to be World Cup winners Uruguay by four-goals-to-nil, whilst also defeating Argentina by a-goal-to-nil.

They eventually won promotion to Division 2 in 1930 when winning the Third Division South title. They remained here through to 1950, when they were relegated back to Division 3, though would return after just two seasons, taking their second Third Division South championship. The following campaign would see Argyle come the closest they have to playing in the top-tier, when they finished 4th in Division 2. On a side-note, the Pilgrims would win the wartime South West Regional League in Season 1939-’40, though their original home would be largely destroyed by German air-raids on the city.

The old façade (lost sign not withstanding)

They yo-yoed between the divisions once again shortly afterwards, being relegated again in 1956, before winning the now nationalised Third Division in 1959. They would cement themselves somewhat this time round, remaining in the second-tier through to 1968, when the spectre of relegation returned once more, though Argyle did reach the semi-finals of the League Cup in 1965, losing out to Leicester City over two-legs and repeated the trick nine-years later, but again went down to a City, this time, Manchester. After a seven-year stay in Division Three from 1968-’69, they again were promoted in 1975 as Division 3 runners-up, only to drop back down after just a further two seasons, a record that has continued for the majority of Argyle’s existence. However, the Pilgrims did reach the FA Cup semi-finals as a Third Division club in 1984, when they eventually lost out to Watford by a single goal at Villa Park. This would provide something of a springboard for the club, though, as they were promoted in 1986 as runners-up once more.

They remained in Division Two through to 1992, whereupon they were, once again, relegated to the third-tier, which would become Division Two itself upon the formation of the Premier League for that coming campaign. A big swing in fortunes saw Argyle reach the play-offs in 1994, losing out in the semi-finals, but were then relegated the next season, now in the fourth tier. They would stay there for just a sole season though, as they went up through the play-offs after wins over Colchester United in the semis and Darlington in the final, via a 1-0 triumph at Wembley. They continued to cement their status as something of a yo-yo club, as the Pilgrims again suffered the drop in 1998, but things soon took a turn for the better after the turn of the millennium, as Plymouth won both the Division Three title in 2002, before lifting the Division Two championship just two years later, finding themselves back in the second-tier after a long time away.

PAFC

Playing in what was now known as the Championship, Argyle would remain in the second-tier through to 2010 when they were relegated down to League One. Things soon took a turn for the worse off the pitch, with financial issues resulting in administration and this in turn affected on-pitch matters, with Argyle receiving a ten-point deduction, leading them to be relegated to League Two after just the one-year back in tier three. After a few fruitless years away from the chance of promotion, both 2015 & 2016 saw play-off heartbreak for Plymouth, as they were knocked out in the semi-final by Wycombe Wanderers the first time round, before reaching the “new” Wembley for the 2016 final, were they lost out to AFC Wimbledon. Season 2016-’17 saw them go slightly better, missing out the play-offs completely and just missing out on the title by goal difference alone. However, they would still go up as League Two runners-up, returning to League One for this season, and the first time in seven years. They finished last season in a strong 7th place, just missing out on the play-offs.

The battle of the alphabetically ordered sides got underway with the Posh quickly asserting their dominance. However, their opener on eight minutes would come courtesy of an awful mistake by Argyle ‘keeper Matt Macey, whose clearance only went as far as Jason Cummings and his resultant cross was met by Matt Godden at the far post, with him firing home from around ten yards. If that was bad enough for the home support, one quickly became two when, just three minutes later, another loose ball at the back was seized upon by the quicksilver Cummings who advanced forwards before laying the ball into the path of Siriki Dembele, who lashed home to double the Posh’s lead, their small band of followers jubilant at their side’s start.

Looking across to the old Grandstand

Fan Action

Match Action

Plymouth did begin to find something of a footing after their horrendous start, with Graham Carey seeing his header comfortably saved by Aaron Chapman in the Peterborough goal, before the same player forced a better stop out of the ‘keeper, his shot palmed behind for a corner. The sides continued to trade chances, without really coming close to adding to the scoreline as the half wore on, though it was Argyle who had the majority of these, their most potent threat coming through Freddie Ladapo, who had a shot and header go close. Half-Time duly arrived with the visitors holding their lead fairly comfortably in truth. The break was largely uneventful, so let’s get on with the show….

The second half began just as the first had, the Posh claiming an early strike against their hosts and this time it was the creator-in-chief from the first half goals, Jason Cummings, who got his name on the score-sheet. The forward latched onto a pass by Godden – returning the favour from the first half – and he slotted beyond the former Arsenal youth stopper Macey to make it 3-0 and surely secure the points. Indeed, the icing was put on the cake well and truly just seven minutes later, when Graham Carey was harshly adjudged to have tripped Joe Ward just inside the left-hand side of the box, with Cummings duly converting from the spot, his kick coming down off the crossbar on its way into the net.

This prompted a double substitution for Argyle, with Ryan Edwards being one of the two players introduced into the fray, which was rather nice for myself, as I’d been in the Morecambe end at Luton shortly after his illness had been diagnosed earlier this year. Of course, happily, all seems to be well on that front and Edwards is once again making his way in the game. The game would become something of a non-event for the next fifteen to twenty minutes, with it again mirroring the first half in some respects, Argyle again fashioning the better of the half-chances, with Ladapo again going close on a few occasions, and Antoni Sarcevic – who I first saw at Woodley Sports in the Northern Premier League as a 16 or 17 year old – also just missing the target, before going in the book soon after.

Match Action

Cummings nets from the spot

Match Action

Edwards grabbed a goal back for Argyle as the game entered stoppage time, meeting a Conor Grant free-kick from the left and guiding his header into the bottom corner, so denying Chapman his clean sheet, much to his chagrin, which was quite obvious. However, his mood may have been lifted slightly just before the whistle as Peterborough added their fifth, a quick break forward ending with Godden also netting his second of the day, firing into the far corner to ensure an emphatic win for the league-leaders and consigning Plymouth to the foot of the table for the time being. Full-Time, five-one the Posh and a quick exit was made to the Britannia ‘Spoons a short walk from the ground, with a Hooch doing fine in the short ten minutes or so I had to tick one of the outlets off. Better than nothing!

Inside the Britannia ‘Spoons

After a fifteen minute power walk back to the station, I arrived in nice time to grab the packed train back up North, though definitely annoyed one guy by removing him from my booked seat, the girl he’d tried his best into fooling both her and me into moving finding it quite amusing. Unlucky, lad. Anyway, a nap took off an hour of the trip home, giving me a preview of next week’s trip just up the way to the home of the Grecians. The journey back was completed surprisingly trouble-free, with us actually arriving early back into Piccadilly upon our return to Manchester. I was then left with a dilemma – a twenty minute wait in the Gardens, or pop into the Tap for a pint. Ok, just kidding….

The trip was duly completed with little issue and I returned in time for a couple more in our bar back at home to close off the day, though it would definitely play into affecting me come the following evening (I zombie walked off on people I was with, leaving a pint in the process), though in my defence, I had added a good eight or nine pints to my tally and overcoming an awful Belgian GP earlier in the day. As for Plymouth, the day had been a decent one. I enjoyed exploring the area around the old, historic docks and visiting the pubs that played host to some of the more important people to hail from the area, for one reason or another. The ground was great, though you can see why the Grandstand has had its day in this era of shiny, smart new-build stadia. Alas, it was good to get there while it remains in situ. The pie was good, the programme just as so it just remains to ask – Exeter; can you beat it……?!

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 8

Food: 8

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Portsmouth

Result: Portsmouth 1-0 Luton Town (EFL League One)

Venue: Fratton Park (Saturday 4th August 2018, 3pm)

Att: 19,018

My “proper” season began with this trip down to the South coast, as I completed one of the longer trips required on the jaunt to the ’92’. Having been helped out massively ticket-wise by the man known in parts as the “hemelhopper”, Andy, without whom I’d have an entirely wasted journey otherwise apparently, an early start had me on a train bound for the capital at a little before 7am. The two-hour-plus journey was completed without issue and the resulting underground hop over to Waterloo was more pleasant than it would have been a few hours later, that’s for certain!  Indeed, the tube train actually had room to spare upon its arrival into the appropriately named (for this trip) London terminus and I was able to catch an earlier, and far quicker, service down to the Royal Navy’s home port city which would, in turn, give me a little more time to explore Britain’s only (traditionally) island city in glorious sunshine.

Upon eventually arriving on Portsea Island at a little after 11am, I met Andy at our pre-arranged spot near Portsmouth Harbour station’s café, where I handed over the £25 ticket price I owed and was given a spot-on explanation of what view I’d have from my seat in a few hours time. After a quick chat, Andy went off to return to his wife and prepare for the game later and I set off towards the historic port area, which was on an all-ticket basis to enter, which I decided against partaking in, a few pictures of HMS Warrior sufficient. Before long, I was feeling a bit parched and so set my sights on the pubs around the towering perimeter wall surrounding the naval base. At this time, most were shut or fairly empty, but one, by the name of the Ship & Anson, was bustling with fans of both Pompey and their visitors for today from Luton. It seemed a no-brainer, so to the Ship & Anson it was!

Portsmouth

HMS Warrior

Ship & Anson

It was a decent boozer too, with it being pretty large inside and I luckily just beat the next rush to the bar, getting in a Hop House 13 to begin the day – costing £4.50, while watching a bit of the tantalisingly poised Test Match at Edgbaston, where the something of an anti-hero would prove to be Ben Stokes as England took out the England lower order. Sadly, I didn’t get to see too much of it, as the TV I was watching was switched to a National League preview or something, with the cricket TV’s elsewhere being out of view. I could have moved, but I couldn’t be arsed….Anyway, I’m waffling now. I soon finished up and headed off along the front and past the few tour ferries lining the docks whilst moving into the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower whilst trying to locate the next hostelry on my list, the Old Customs House, which was within the smart Gunwharf Quays area. This was another nice place with a large outdoor seating area, which afforded views across the pedestrianised area and the two small pedal boat areas before the ferry ports. There was also Frontier on in here which is always a massive bonus for me, the £5.25 price expected, but not wanted! Good things cost more, I guess!

After watching the small road train do a few laps of the area, I continued over towards the Spice Island area in what is known as “Old Portsmouth”, despite it apparently not actually being the old part of Portsmouth. I unsurprisingly got lost in a gated-off resident’s area, but a quick clamber over a fence and test of ankle strength soon remedied the issue! I was soon at the appropriately named Spice Island Inn (which looked more interesting than its neighbour the Bridge Tavern), where I opted for a pint of the Old Mout berry (I think) flavoured cider. This was decent too, and also allowed for a bit of much-needed charging for my phone which was on its last legs at this point, having lost 40% battery while turning itself off. Don’t you just love technology, eh? It makes everything easier, doesn’t it? Stress free? STRE……

Gunwharf Quays

The Old Customs House…and this guy!

More tower action

Whilst we’ve reached that tangent, let’s delve into Portsmouth’s history, shall we? The area can be traced back to the Romans, whilst the dry dock is the oldest in the world, with its name derived from the Old English ‘Portes’ (haven) and ‘muoa’ (mouth of a large river/estuary). Another explanation (from Winston Churchill) is that Portsmouth came from a pirate by the name of Port, who founded the city in 501, with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seemingly giving this credence by stating a warrior called Port, along with his two sons, murdered a man that same year. However, it wouldn’t be mentioned under its current name in the Domesday book, but instead a few areas of what now makes up Portsmouth were mentioned as separate areas.

In its formative years, the area was attacked numerous times by the Danes, and conquered on occasion, before the raiding forces were massacred by the surviving English. During the 17th century, Portsmouth was on the front-line of Britain’s defences from the French forces, with fortifications consistently being added through to the mid-1800’s, with Palmerston Forts being built in anticipation of future attempted invasions and by the latter part of the decade, the city was the most heavily fortified in the world, giving credence to its importance to the British Empire and its navy. This importance would come back to haunt the city though, with the Blitz bombings of Portsmouth killing 930 as the Luftwaffe looked to aid the German navy of the time to become the outstanding naval force in Europe. Incidentally, the city also played host to Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D Eisenhower, during the conflict.

However, it stood strong and remains the home of the Royall Navy to this day, and houses the likes of HMS Warrior, Victory (the oldest warship still in commission) and the ill-fated Tudor-era ship, the infamous Mary Rose. In more recent times, the Spinnaker Tower is one of the largest structures in the UK (at over 500 feet) and is also fairly rare in having both an Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedral and counts Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel amongst its more famed exports.

Spice Island Inn.

Portsmouth’s old chapel. Where’s Baldrick?

In the Dolphin

The Nelson cabinet

Okay, I’ve calmed down, so let’s continue on, shall we? From here, I reckoned I ought to start making my way towards the ground a little more, with there being one pub en route to Fratton Park that I didn’t want to miss out on visiting. This was the Dolphin and proudly proclaims itself to be the “oldest pub in Portsmouth” dating back to the mid-1700’s. It even has a cabinet where Lord Nelson himself is said to have engraved his name on the glass frontage with a ring and, indeed, “Horatio” is there for all to see. Is it true, or just local legend? Who really knows, but it is certainly possible. Beer-wise, I opted for a pint of Moretti here which went down extremely well. Exiting out in full view of the cathedral across the way, a short walk later saw me just around the corner from Southsea station, where I planned to hop on the train for the one-stop journey to Fratton itself. First, though, I wanted to stop-off in the Brewhouse, though came across the Duke of Buckingham first. I thought it looked ok for a quick one, so nipped in for a bottle of Sol (£3.10), before arriving at the Brewhouse around the corner a couple of minutes later. It proved a costly visit though, a pint from the “World’s Oldest Brewery” (the word old is popping up a lot, isn’t it?) Weihenstephan coming in at all of £5.65. Ouch.

That rounded off the pre-match venturing though and after catching the aforementioned train, was soon within sight of Fratton Park’s towering, traditional floodlights and its famed mock-Tudor façade. However, I did want to pop in to one of the pubs around the ground and eventually sought out the Pompey paraphernalia-covered Old Barn/Milton Arms (delete as appropriate!) I’d scouted earlier in the week, where a swift Dark Fruits was had for somewhere in the region of £3-£4. From there, it was to the ground in earnest and after getting the staple programme (£3) headed on through the turnstiles and up to the concourse, where I also invested in a Steak pie. Nice and hot it was and kept me going through the first twenty-odd minutes, whereupon the combination of not much sleep, early starts, sunshine and alcohol began to take over and I had to stave off the horrendous possibility of nodding off in my seat….which I just about managed.

Duke of Buckingham

Brewhouse

Milton Arms/Old Barn

Anyway, before we got onto the game, let’s talk a bit about the ground (for the benefit of those who haven’t been perhaps). Fratton Park is one of your more quintessential, traditional grounds. Both the North & South Stands at the sides of the pitch are two-tiered (the lower formerly terracing), old affairs – dating from 1935 & 1925 respectively, with the latter neighbouring the aforementioned façade and has a TV gantry on the roof. Both have supporting stanchions, though these didn’t impede my view of the action (cheers, Andy!). The Milton end was off to the left and nearer to the city and played host to the visiting Hatters fans today. It also has a large TV on its roof. Opposite is the more modern Fratton End, dating from 1997, which was where the majority of noise from the home fans emanated from, including the famed “Pompey chimes”. So that’s the ground in a nutshell, and here’s a bit of the story behind Portsmouth F.C….

History Lesson:

Portsmouth Football Club was founded in 1898, following on from Portsmouth A.F.C. (1883-’96), which was formed in part by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and Portsmouth Town (1891~) who almost became Portsmouth’s professional club, but failure led to the club’s disbanding. There was also the Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) side who played at the United Services ground (now US Portsmouth) who disbanded after a scandal of sorts in 1899, prior to a one-season return in 1900-’01. The current club first joined the Southern League in 1899, having moved into the newly built Fratton Park, after an ambitious application had been submitted, and accepted, to join the First Division there, before the club had gone through the usual probationary period in the lower divisions. Their first season was a successful one, Portsmouth winning their first game at Chatham Town before ending up as runners-up to Tottenham Hotspur come the season’s end.

The following season saw Pompey also field a side in the Western League and yielded a 3rd place Southern League finish, whilst the Western League side took the Division One title. The Southern League was won in 1902, along with the Western League being successfully defended, but no promotion was taken. A third straight Western League followed, before things began to slightly drop away. 1909 saw all Western League Division One sides resign from the league, with Portsmouth’s duly joining the annuls of history and 1909-’10 saw the club drop their salmon pink and maroon kit in favour of white shirts and blue shorts, a mirror image of what was to become the norm.

It didn’t bring any good luck though as Pompey were relegated in 1911 to the Southern League Division 2. They were promoted back as runners-up the next year, but the original company was in dire straits financially and was wound up, with Portsmouth Football Club Ltd coming into being instead. They adopted the now familiar blue shirts, white shorts kit and the star and moon badge followed in 1913. Upon resumption of football after WWI, Portsmouth won their second Southern League title in 1920, with the club then being elected to the Football League’s Third Division as founder members. Here, they finished their first season as a league club in 12th place and, unsurprisingly, took a spot in the South Division upon the league’s regional split for 1921-’22.

The famed facade

Winning the Third Division South in 1924, Pompey were promoted to the Second Division where they ended their first campaign in a more than solid 4th. 1927 would go even better, ending with a runners-up spot and promotion to Division One, the top-level of English football. The season also featured a 9-1 win over Notts County at Fratton Park, a result that remains Portsmouth’s record home win. In achieving this promotion, Portsmouth became the first club South of London to reach the top division, and the first to also have gone through two leagues to get there. They just avoided relegation by a point come the end of their first top-flight season and they again scraped safety in 1929, but also reached the FA Cup Final where they would lose out to Bolton Wanderers. They again reached the final in 1934, but lost out again – this time to Manchester City.

Things improved and Portsmouth began to be regular mid-table finishes through to WWII. They also reached the FA Cup Final for the third time in 1939, and it was third time lucky as they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 in the press-dubbed “gland final”, a reference to monkey-gland injections used by both sides. During the war, Portsmouth competed in the “League South” with little success before the cessation of hostilities saw football return in earnest. The FA Cup apparently remained in Portsmouth during the war, being ferried around the city (and outskirts) to avoid Luftwaffe bombing raids.

1949 saw Portsmouth become First Division champions for the first time before defending it successfully, but only just, winning it on goal difference from Wolves. Fratton Park hosted the first ever Football League floodlit game in 1956 as Portsmouth hosted Newcastle United, but began to find themselves down the wrong end of the table more often than not as the decade came to its end. 1959 saw them finish bottom and were duly relegated, ending a 32-year stay in the top-flight. 1961 saw Pompey drop back to the Third Division, though this only lasted one season, Portsmouth taking the Third Division title. They would remain there through to 1976 when they dropped back down to Division Three once again. 1978 saw even worse come along, Pompey finishing bottom and finding themselves in the Fourth Division.

Fratton Park

1980 saw a 4th placed finish be enough for promotion, with further promotions in 1983 as Third Division champions, and 1987 as Second Division runners-up (under Alan Ball) seeing the club back in the top-tier. However, this lasted only a season, as financial problems dogged them and relegation was immediately suffered. After a few poor league campaigns, the club reached the 1992 FA Cup semi-finals (losing on penalties in a replay to eventual winners Liverpool) but would reach the 1993 play-offs in the newly designated First Division, losing to Leicester City in the semis. Further poor campaigns saw relegation avoided closely on a few occasions through to the turn of the millennium and the club also went into administration at the end of 1998. Further brushes with the drop followed, but 2003 saw a big upturn in fortunes, with Svetoslav Todorov’s 26 league goals helping them to the First Division title and promotion to the Premier League. Their first Premier League campaign ended in a solid 13th place.

A number of managerial changes would follow over the next few years, with Portsmouth just staving off relegation in 2005-’06, finishing 17th. Things again went better the next season though, but the club slightly disappointingly, missed out on Europe by just one point, finishing 9th. However, 2008 would see them make it to continental competition, when they won the FA Cup at Wembley, with a 1-0 win over Cardiff City seeing the cup return to Fratton Park for the first time in 69 years. Their first European game came against Vitoria Guimaraes of Portugal, a tie which ended in a 2-0 triumph and a 4-2 win over two legs. They made the group stages and drew with A.C. Milan as a highlight. Sadly, things soon went awry for Pompey as results would fall away over the next few years, with financial issues also returning. They survived a winding up order, administration and suffered a nine-point deduction which saw them unable to survive a third strike, relegation back to the now-named Championship in 2010. However, they did make the FA Cup Final that year, but lost out to Chelsea and, in a further hit, were denied a license to play in Europe.

After coming close to closure, Portsmouth survived but the struggles on-field (as well as off) continued. Further administration and winding-up issues came along in 2012, as did relegation to League One. After the whole professional squad left at the end of the season, things didn’t improve and the drop to League Two subsequently followed. A brush with the possible drop to non-league football was experienced in 2014, before things finally became a bit brighter and 2016 saw the club reach the play-offs, but again lost out in the semi-finals, this time to Plymouth Argyle. 2017 saw them go better and promotion to League One came as League Two champions. Manager Paul Cook resigned to take on the Wigan Athletic job, with Kenny Jackett taking the reigns for last season, where, with a new club crest adorning the kits, he guided the club to an eighth-placed finish.

The game got underway and it was a fairly quiet affair in the opening quarter-hour with little in the way of chances coming the way of either side. However, this all changed on 16 minutes when Jamal Lowe gave the hosts the lead when Ronan Curtis forced his way down the right flank, broke into the box before pulling the ball back for Lowe who coolly slotted the ball beyond the ‘keeper and two defenders. One-nil to Pompey and the Fratton End’s bells rang out.

Match Action

Match Action

The contest continued to be fairly tight overall, broken up by a number of fouls from either side, however the Hatters could definitely claim to have had the better of the remaining half-hour of the first period. James Collins and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu both fired narrowly wide as the visitors strove to get themselves back on level terms, the latter’s even bringing many in the Luton ranks to their feet and getting a few cheers out of them before the realisation dawned that the midfielder’s shot had actually gone wide. They were duly given the usual sarcastic mirror response from the home support.

Luton would go even closer seven minutes or so prior to the break, Alan Sheehan’s well struck free-kick smacking against the far upright as it travelled across the box from out on the right-hand side but Pompey would hold their nerve to head back into the dressing rooms with their slender lead still intact. It had been a bit of a slow burner, but the game had definitely been a decent one. Well, when I was awake enough to take it in! An uneventful half-time passed by surprisingly quickly and we were soon ready to go once again.

Ronan Curtis tested Luton stopper Marek Stech early on as Portsmouth again began the half the slightly brighter of the teams but, as happened in the first, Luton grabbed the initiative once again and never really relinquished it. Collins became the second Town man to be denied by the Fratton Park woodwork when his own free-kick from the opposite side of Sheehan’s came back off the crossbar, and Harry Cornick latterly saw an effort kept out by Pompey ‘keeper Craig MacGillivray, who I first saw as a teenager when on loan up at Harrogate Railway Athletic.

Match Action

El-e-vation!

Matthew Clarke then had his header routinely saved in a rare Portsmouth chance and Nathan Thompson fired comfortably wide soon after as the hosts looked to take advantage of the ever more attacking Luton side, and despite dangerman Collins again being denied by MacGillivray, Luton couldn’t manage to find the net despite their overall dominance over the 90 minutes. Indeed, Portsmouth almost added a second in time added on, when Ollie Hawkins’ header flew narrowly over and into the Fratton End, but the fans here and in three-quarters of the ground soon rose to their feet in jubilation, as they celebrated their side beginning the season in the best possible way. Three points in the bag:- Portsmouth 1-0 Luton Town. I made a swift exit from the ground on the shrill whistle and went about seeking out the nearby Staggeringly Good Brewery (their words, not mine, though it was very decent tbf), located in the industrial estate just in behind the North Stand I’d called home for the last couple of hours.

A fine pint of their Trapped Amber went down nicely, before I’d get lost once again in a nearby housing estate, which caused me to miss my train back and, duly, the one home from Euston too. Good job I had an open ticket for once! Eventually, all sorted out, though a further delay getting back into Manchester meant a taxi would be required. The day ended in (maybe) a strange kind of way, as I told the driver I’d been down in Portsmouth for the day for the football and I think he’d decided I had been playing, so I just went along with it. You can pass me my wages whenever you’re ready, lads!

This way….

Decent. Vintage arcade upstairs too.

So that ends the first of three long-term trips around the start of the season. Portsmouth seems a fun city, though is pretty costly around the tourist-y bits, but that’s to be expected, of course. Fratton Park is a brilliant old ground and definitely has an aura around it with regard to its age and history. Food was good as mentioned earlier and the game was ok, but not brilliant,, but it’s not really about that. Hell, at least there was a goal! That’s that for this one, it’s the FA Cup up next and a famous, yet newer name….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 6