Manchopper in….Manchester (Manchester City FC)

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

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

Att: 53,920.

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

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

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

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

The Tap

The Tap

Mother Mac's down the road

Mother Macs down the road

Mother Macs

Mother Macs

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

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

Stevenson Square

Stevenson Square

The Castle

The Castle

Vince enjoying a pint

Vince enjoying a pint

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

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

The Etihad looms

Heading to the Etihad

Arrived!

Arrived!

Look Out

Lookout

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

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Guess what pun could be used here?

Guess what pun could be used here?!

On the concourse

On the concourse

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

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

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

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

Pre-game

Pre-game

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

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

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

Aguero nets

Aguero nets

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Down we go

Down we go

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

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

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RATINGS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Manchester (Northwich Manchester Villa FC)

Northwich_Flixton_Villa_logoStockportTown

Result: Northwich Manchester Villa A-A Stockport Town (NWCFL Division 1)

Venue: Manchester Regional Arena, Etihad Campus (Wednesday 30th March, 7.45pm)

Att: Probably around 65-70.

A blog which should have happened the previous week for the visit of Bacup Borough to the Manchester Regional Arena was put off due to reasons beyond my control. With another game the following week, I reasoned “Ah, no bother there then”. Of course this was going to end up well, wasn’t it?

I set off into Manchester with time in hand and visited the Piccadilly Wetherspoon’s as to mirror my steps from the prior Wednesday. After a highly uneventful stay here, I decided it was best to head over to the Etihad Campus and to the stadium which stands in the shadow of its more illustrious neighbour, the City of Manchester Stadium. After a short 10 minute bus ride onwards, I arrived at Gate 11 of the Etihad and made my way along Citizens Lane to the next in a line of short term homes for the NM Villa.

I was so early, in fact, that I was the first paying customer through the gate (it actually is just a gate) and as such secured myself a programme which is much sought after, as this is the one and only season of the club under this name. I now have both a Northwich Flixton Villa and Northwich Manchester Villa programme in my possession, as well as a programme from a Northwich Villa/Woodley FC Cup Final appearance. The full quota!

Piccadilly Gardens' Spoons

Piccadilly Gardens’ Spoons

Arriving at the Campus

Arriving at the Campus

Cityzens Lane

Cityzens Lane

Wall of achievement from the Commonwealth Games

Achievements from the Commonwealth Games

So, after handing over £5 plus £2 for the full colour programme, bearing the club’s current name alongside the subtext of their next identity of Manchester Diamonds which is to bring the senior side in line with the junior section ahead of their next move into Tameside. I won’t say where though, under vow of silence….

The other two things of note in the programme where the bit where they apparently took over from Woodley Sports in 2005 (though I’m sure I went there in 2009 and then I’m sure it was Stockport Sports after that, prior to Town’s creation, which comes to the answer that Villa is actually spawned from Woodley FC and before that, Woodley Sports Reserves. Oh, there’s a JFK quote in there too, as we all know JFK loved his non-league football.

After a while and with kick-off approaching, I was joined by Gibbo and Ian from the Counties, who had travelled up together to clearly take in the hospitality and the strange sight of the officials getting themselves readied inside the tea bar. The Villa team eventually joined their counterparts from Stockport out on the field after a short time, but Gibbo was restless after his lap of photography and decided to go on a discovery mission. Invited along, it would be rude to decline.

This is where everything started to become even more surreal. In the process of looking for a toilet/bar, we ended up discovering, through a Narnia-like door, the expanse of the indoor athletics centre and the National Squash Centre further to the rear. This is certainly not something you find everyday when you head to watch football! After a lap around here and finding a tactics board in a meeting room, we re-joined the footballing folk who were completely unaware of our magical transportation.

The MRA's own Narnia

The MRA’s own Narnia

Novel.

Different

The hidden bar

The hidden bar, Starters Orders.

Gibbo was then put back somewhat by the sight of former Wigan player Jason Jarrett in his officials outfit heading out onto the field, and was quite amused when it came about that he was tonight’s official. It was certainly shaping up for one of those mad days where everything that was happening was trying to “one-up” the previous occurrence in terms of utter weirdness. Anyway, the sides were soon on the field, with Villa including Mohamud Ali and Socrates in their side, clearly harking back to the era in history of ’80’s heroes. Speaking of which…

History Lesson:

Founded in 2005 following the link up between Woodley FC and Northwich Victoria, Woodley FC/Northwich Villa took up a place in the Second Division of the Mid-Cheshire League an finished runners-up at the end of their first season at that level to be promoted to Division 1.

After winning the Cheshire League in 2009 and finishing as runners-up the following year, the people behind the club decided that it was best for them to begin to climb the pyramid, or at least to compete in it and as such successfully applied to join the North West Counties League for the season 2011-’12. Since their joining, Villa have been mostly strugglers and after a spell at Flixton along with apparent unofficial “parent club” Vics under the Northwich Flixton Villa banner, moved to their current abode for this season having again changed name, now to Northwich Manchester Villa. They managed a club-best finish of 11th last season.

As for the game, well, it was underwhelming and that’s being kind. I honestly can’t actually remember anything of note happening during the first half at all, and we were already confident that this was a stonewall 0-0. There was no way anyone was scoring tonight, though I can now claim to have made a successful pass to Socrates. It doesn’t matter if his surname is Martins, we can forget that bit can’t we?

Anyway, half-time thankfully arrived to break the monotony of the football and Gibbo and Ian headed for the hospitality area/tea hut/officials waiting area, while I headed for the back of the Main Stand and got talking to the West Didsbury/Alty supporting pair of Jonny and Danny. After a short talk about just what the fuck was going on at all around here and why there was a small buggy doing laps of the pitch for no apparent reason (despite Gibbo’s x-rated possible explanation). The guys on the gate where even trying to still charge full price at half-time to get in, apparently. This doesn’t exactly endear yourselves especially when, to use the eternal phrase “you’ve got no fans”.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

Anyway, negativity out of the way, the second half began and I rejoined Gibbo and Ian for what was looking to be the next 45 minutes of action, until the unfortunate incident which caused the abandonment arrived around an hour into the action. It was nothing but a 50/50 challenge in the centre circle, but the unfortunate Stockport player Sam Scott came off much the worse and ended up with a broken leg. The stretcher was called for.

It the became apparent that there was no stretchers to be found. Nada. Zilch. Whether or not this would have aided him in his predicament is unclear, but it certainly isn’t a great showing when a game is going ahead short of usual medical equipment. So, the stricken Scott was left in the centre circle “chillin'” according to the quote from a Villa player (NB: this wasn’t meant in a nasty/mocking way whatsoever). Of course, after a half-hour delay and still waiting for the ambulance, the ref had no option but to abandon the game and we all emptied out into the darkness with the player still awaiting proper medical aid (which eventually arrived an hour after the injury occurred). This is what the cuts do, it seems.

Players start some tennis

Players start some tennis

The Etihad from its little sis

The Etihad from its little sis

More tunnel vision

More tunnel vision

So, that was that, and after a quick lap of the ground it was back out into the Manchester evening and onwards home on the bus routes. Best wishes to Sam on his recovery and hope all goes well and he’s back playing in the quickest time possible.

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RATINGS:

Game: 2- Poor, nothing happened.

Ground: 5- Nice ground, but the facilities are non existent (beyond club’s control for the most part).

Fans: 3- Well, it’s improved since the ‘5’ at Valley Road a few years ago!

Programme: 5- Basic, but randon JFK quote gets a point.

Food: N/A (though there are snacks).

Value For Money: 0- No value really was there!

 

Manchopper in….Manchester (City Football Academy Stadium)

Result: Manchester City u21 1-0 Norwich City u21 (Barclays u21 Premier League)

Venue: City Football Academy Stadium (Sunday 8th November, 4pm)

Att: 300-ish?

Backing onto my trip to Coventry the day previous was this very trip right here. A short hop over to the Bradford area of Manchester to watch the City u21 squad under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira for the last time before his appointment to New York City. Dan Watkinson had picked up two tickets previously on account of his Citizenship and, as such, I headed into the City Centre to meet with Dan and catch the bus for the short trip to the Etihad.

Disembarking at the Etihad, I made it a priority to head for the Corner Shop pub, after hearing and reading good things about it, especially from the Lost Boyo himself, Matt Harrison. Could I find it though? No. Until I did a full circle round and came across the pub in all its splendour standing directly in front of me, no less than 2 minutes from the road we’d got off the bus on. We’d been walking for 15.

The Corner Shop

The Corner Shop

Arriving at the Academy Stadium

Arriving at the Academy Stadium

CFA

CFA

After a “splash & dash” stop here to catch the final throws of Aston Villa vs City, we headed back outside and, after feeling exceptionally lazy, caught the bus for a grand total of two stops from the Etihad to the CFA. Upon arrival, we were straight into the North East section of the stadium and upon entering through the turnstiles, we were all issued with a team-sheet for today’s game. City’s side was featuring the much lauded Thierry Ambrose and Norwich’s keeper was Ben Killip, who I’m almost certain I saw play a couple of years ago in non-league, possibly for King’s Lynn?

We headed for seats around the half-way line and the game was soon underway, with next to nothing happening during the first period, bar Ambrose striking the post with a header and a shot passing just wide of Killip’s right-hand post. Norwich rarely threatened the City goal in the first period, looking to break on the counter when they did attack, which was very rarely witnessed as City dominated possession, but failed to break down Norwich. It was raining at the break but, sadly, it wasn’t raining goals at the CFA. 0-0 and it was pretty dire.

Teams enter the field

Teams enter the field

Underway

Underway

Match Action

Match Action

The second period got underway as the rain eased somewhat, but the game never really improved as a spectacle. The fact that Killip’s bright pink kit & that every Norwich player seemed to have been injured at some point  are “highlights”, tells you all you need to know.

Norwich did look a bit more sprightly, as City began to get sloppy at the back, with a couple of weak passes almost putting them in danger, with a great last-ditch tackle denying a Norwich attacker a one-on-one when he latched onto a poor, under hit back-pass. Ambrose was unlucky again soon after, as he curled a wonderful effort against the bar, before City won a free-kick. Bersant Celina stepped up and whipped a free-kick perfectly into the top corner. If it was anywhere else, it was likely Killip would have kept it out, but it was on a penny and left him no chance. Celina definitely enjoyed his strike, sliding on his knees in front of us in the main stand. 1-0 and that was it in terms of chances.

Match Action

Match Action

On a postage stamp

On a postage stamp

Celina celebrates his strike

Celina celebrates his strike

Scoreline

Scoreline

So, full-time arrived and we dodged the rain again for the most part, as we bussed it back into Piccadilly and onwards back home. Sadly, for the second time in two days, the game was pretty poor overall but at least there was a goal which stretches my run of no 0-0’s to….actually, I have no idea, I’ll have to check. Dan’s record reached 100 he informed me afterwards, so Celina has definitely become a bit of a favourite of ours I’d say.

As for the City Football Academy Stadium, it really is a fine ground to watch a game in. I’d been once previous, to watch England v China in a Women’s International when it was pretty full, so I can base it on that, rather than today and the sparse crowd. With only the Main Stand in use and the two covered terraces behind each goal and opposite stand out of bounds, it wasn’t great for atmosphere, but it’s to be expected and it’s cheap football, so who really cares?! The only negatives was the wet and cold. What happened to 17 degrees?!!

Academy Stadium, after dark.

Academy Stadium, after dark.

Underway

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Poor on the whole, little entertainment.

Ground: 8- A really good ground to watch a game in.

Fans: N/A- Doesn’t really count here.

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7- Just the £6.60 travel & earlier drink, so a cheap day.