Manchopper in….Southampton

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

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

Att: 30,367

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

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

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

Arriving in Southampton

The Juniper Berry

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

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

Southampton

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

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

One of the older buildings in Soton

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

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

Titanic

The Duke of Wellington

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

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

Red Lion

More Southampton Sights

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Arriving at St. Mary’s

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

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

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

SFC

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

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

St. Mary’s from a different POV

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Heading back to town

Railways and buildings.

The Old Vestry

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 8

Programme: 7

Food: 5

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in…Highbury (Arsenal FC)

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

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

Att: 59,893

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

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

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

Hemingford Arms

Heading along to Islington High Street…

…. and to the Tap Room

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

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

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

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

Arriving at the Compton Arms

Passing by the old church

Highbury Brewhouse

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

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

Highbury

Highbury

Highbury Barn

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Arsenal Stadium….or Highbury

More centralised

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

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

AFC (the old clock just visible)

Over the bridge….

The new(er) home…

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Having forgotten Spoons, here’s The Alma

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 9

Programme: 10

Food: 8

Value For Money: 7

The Manchopper Awards 2016-’17

Well, here we are again. Eventually. After a season consisting of 65 games (I know, a real cut-back this one), over 10 whole months, within three countries (nothing too exotic though!) and at levels from Premier League right down to the lower levels of amateur football on the public fields, it’s time to nominate and indeed award the good, the bad and the downright ugly of this last footballing year, as well as the stranger goings on that have cropped up here and there!

Whether it be attending the soon to be flattened White Hart Lane or standing on the touchline at Flixton Fields; from Ladybridge FC at the start of July through to Turton FC at the beginning of May, there have been things that have been seen and heard that deserve some recognition, not to mention some of the things overheard in the many “locals” I’ve popped into here and there!!

So, here you have it; Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, here’s the cream of the crop from Manchopper’s Ventures 2016-’17…

*All players/teams considered must have been seen by myself during this season*

Celebrity/Former Player Random Appearance of the Season:

Nominees: Paul Dickov (at Lostock Gralam vs AFC Macclesfield) Timmy Mallett (at Middlesbrough vs Oxford Utd), Alan Kennedy (at Huddersfield Town vs Preston North End)

Winner: Paul Dickov. As the only person at a game whilst not involved in a half-time on-pitch draw, Dickov gets the nod on this award, which is surely a bigger memorable moment than the play-off goal.

Meeting Paul Dickov. Top Guy!

Cuisine of the Season:

Nominees: Middlesbrough’s Parmo, Clitheroe’s Pie, Whalley Range’s chips with chilli sauce on, Gretna’s Scotch Pie.

Winner: Parmo. I’d heard good things. They were true. The parmo is superb.

Its Parmo-O’Clock!

Clubhouse of the Season:

Nominees: Penycae, Turton, Skelmersdale Utd, Farsley Celtic, Witton Albion.

Winner: Witton Albion. Top clubhouse here. Triples up as a shop and a DJ booth!

Witton’s Clubhouse

City/Town/Village/Hamlet/other place of the Season:

Nominees: Ramsbottom, Tadcaster, York, Boston, Edinburgh.

Winner: Edinburgh. What a place. Enjoyed all the above, but the Scottish Capital is a great city.

Edinburgh

Worst Weather Experience of the Season:

Nominees: Beechfield United

Winner: What a shock, it’s Beechfield United. The only really poor weather I’ve experienced this year left all there damp and cold.

Strangest Moment of the Season:

Nominees: Discovering & watching a game at Millmoor, Light knocked off stand at Gretna, The 90-minute nil-nil at Charnock Richard (how?).

Winner: Visiting Millmoor. It was all a bit eerie and, for sure, a strange experience.

Millmoor

Welcome of the Season:

Nominees: Heyside, Richmond

Winner: Has to be a tie! Can’t split them and wouldn’t wish to!

Dan enjoyed Heyside’s hospitality.

My hospitality at Richmond!

 

Individual Performance of the Season:

Nominees: Jake Pollard (PARTINGTON vs Sale Ams), Tom Heaton (BURNLEY vs Manchester Utd), Jordan Gidley (BARNOLDSWICK vs Charnock R), Rick Tindall (POYNTON vs Eagle Sports), Connor Ripley (OLDHAM vs Port Vale)

Winner: Tom Heaton. Included the ‘Match of the Day’ “save of the season” as Heaton denied Ibrahimovic. The ‘keeper faced a record amount of attempts against his former club and still came away with a point and a clean sheet.

Heaton during a game last season.

Team Performance of the Season:

Nominees: Partington Rovers (vs Sale Amateurs), Curzon Ashton (vs York City), Leicester City (vs Manchester City), Old Ashtonians (vs Whalley Range), Altrincham (vs Boston United), Mold Alexandra (vs Caernarfon Town)

Winner: Old Ashtonians. With only ten men for the full ninety against title chasers Whalley Range, Old Ashtonians pushed them close before falling narrowly short. Great effort.

Old Ashtonians trying to hold out

Fans of the Season:

Nominees: Curzon Ashton, Oxford United, Colne

Winner: Curzon Ashton. It’s a second straight win for the Nash boys from the Nash Bar.

Curzon fans after the equaliser at Westfields

Programme of the Season:

Nominees: Charnock Richard, Boston Utd, FC Halifax Town, Ramsbottom Utd, Winsford Utd

Winner: FC Halifax Town. Still holds up with some football league clubs, as it should. But it’s a good issue nonetheless and the best I came across this year.

The Shay

Ground of the Season:

Nominees: Leek Town’s Harrison Park, Witton Albion’s Wincham Park, Boston Utd’s York Street, Colne’s Holt House, Turton’s Thomason Fold.

Winner: Turton’s Thomason Fold. It’s fairly basic, but it’s a gem. Just remember to watch the grass around the pitch!

Goal of the Season:

Nominees: Alex Murphy (PADIHAM vs Team NorthumbriaJosh Wilson (Ramsbottom Utd vs AFC TELFORD UTD), Chris Thompson (RICHMOND vs Liobians), Joe Gaughan (Charnock R vs BARNOLDSWICK T), Mark Adams (CHARNOCK R vs Barnoldswick T), Wes Benjamin (WITTON ALBION vs Kettering Town), Nathan Craig (Mold Alex vs CAERNARFON TOWN).

Winner: Witton Albion’s Wes Benjamin. Benjamin’s strike just pips it on account of it being a last-kick winner. And what a winner too.

Witton celebrations after the late winner!

Match of the Season:

Nominees: Tadcaster Albion vs Scarborough Ath, Leek Town vs Kettering Town, Middlesbrough vs Oxford Utd, Huddersfield vs Preston NE, Farsley Celtic vs Ossett Town.

Winner: Huddersfield Town vs Preston NE. A pulsating game saw the hosts take the points in the last-minute and, of course, they would go on to secure a play-off spot before taking a place at English football’s top table for next season.

Quaner sends the home fans crazy (bar the guy nearest the camera)!

Team of the Season:

Nominees: Curzon Ashton, Charnock Richard, Witton Albion, Huddersfield Town, Windle Labour

Winner: Pro: Huddersfield Town Non-Lge: Windle Labour. Huddersfield’s season was brilliant, with them bouncing back from a lower-end finish to achieve promotion to the Premier League. Windle’s was, perhaps, less spectacular, but to join the Cheshire League for a first season at the level and win the League’s League 2 is no mean feat. Congrats to both.

Player of the Season:

Nominees: Tom Heaton (Burnley), Rick Tindall, Connor Ripley (Oldham (loan)), Danny Rowe (Fylde), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea)

Winner: Connor Ripley (Oldham (loan)). Twice I saw him and twice he had great games. I also heard his double pen save from nearby Royton Town too, and played a huge part in keeping the Latics up. So he pips all the above to the honour. Big things lie ahead for him I’d say.

And that’s that for this season’s award. Congratulations to all those who have achieved one of these prestigious “Chopper” awards. Also, they’re very easy to accommodate on your mantelpiece as they take up exactly zero space! See you all again next year for the fourth “Chopper Awards” ceremony….

 

Manchopper in….Huddersfield

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

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

Att: 21,254

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

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

Head of Steam at the station

Huddersfield looking a bit soggy

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

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

A good combination: King’s Bar & ‘Spoons

The Vulcan

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

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

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

Final stop at The Yorkshire Rose…

…before heading to the ground…

…via this lovely footbridge.

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

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

HTAFC

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

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

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

Current ground sponsors

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

Alan Kennedy dodging the spray

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Chris Maxwell’s pen save was in vain…

….as Quaner sends the home fans crazy!

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 7