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

Manchopper in….Selhurst (Crystal Palace FC)

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

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

Att: 25,357

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

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

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

Arriving in Selhurst

The Holmefield Arms

Two Brewers

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

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

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

Heading off towards the ground

The Brom clowns!

The Lion

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

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

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

Arriving at Selhurst

A…fairly full away end concourse!

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

Palace gates

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

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

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

Palace fans’ display

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

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

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

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

Pre-match

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

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

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

Match Action

Along the Arthur Wait Stand

Match Action

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

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

Post-match pleasantries

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

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

Thornton Heath

Spoons

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

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

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

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

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

 

Manchopper in….Leicester

1024px-leicester_city-svgmanchester_city_new_badge

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

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

Att: 31,966

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

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

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

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

Leicester Tigers' ground

Leicester Tigers’ ground

Nelson Mandela Park

Nelson Mandela Park

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

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

Leicester

Leicester

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight...

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight…

King Richard & Leicester cathedral

King Richard III & Leicester cathedral

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

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

The Last Plantagenet

The Last Plantagenet

Arriving at the King Power

Arriving at the King Power

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

History Lesson:

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

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

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

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

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

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

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

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

Just in case you didn't know...

Just in case you didn’t know…

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

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

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Vardy celebrates his second

Vardy celebrates his second

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

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

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Kolarov finds the net

Kolarov finds the net

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

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

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

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RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Tottenham

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

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

Att: 31,793

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

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

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

Heading to Victoria

Heading to Victoria

Wetherspoons!

Wetherspoons!

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

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

En route...

En route…

Arriving at the Lane

Arriving at the Lane

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

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

History Lesson:

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

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

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

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

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

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

Filling up before kick-off...

Filling up before kick-off…

...in more ways than one

…in more ways than one

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

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

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

Bravo's pen save...far away

Bravo’s pen save…far away

Close quarters

Close quarters

Match Action

Match Action

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

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

On the way out

On the way out

Mozart. Culture.

Mozart. Culture.

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

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

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

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

Manchopper in….Manchester (Manchester City FC)

Mcfc150px-West_Bromwich_Albion.svg

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 (Manchester United FC)

Manchester_United_FC_crest.svg1718012

Result: Manchester United 2-1 Swansea City (Barclays Premier League)

Venue: Old Trafford (Saturday 2nd January 2016, 3pm)

Att: 75,415

For the first of a trio of “high brow” games in the following week, I was heading to what is the closest ground in the league (if you accept it as such), Old Trafford. Yes, before you try with the stereotypes, I am a local United fan. So, yeah.

A couple of weeks prior to the game, I contacted Matt of LostBoyos to see if he was to be attending said game as it included his beloved Swans. The answer was the affirmative and it was soon the morning of the game and I was heading into Deansgate, decked out in my “Fletcher 24” chevron shirt where I was to initially head over to a bar to meet up with Matt and his entourage, which is beginning to resemble something of an army.

I’d not long begun my walk down past the Museum of Science & Industry that I was told plans had changed and instead it was off to The Piccadilly, pretty much sitting slap bang between the Gardens and the station. So, after heading back past the Roman ruins of Castlefield, I hopped on the Met over to the Gardens and onwards to the Piccadilly.

Castlefield, Manchester

Castlefield, Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

No sooner had I entered the bouncer protected establishment, ordered my first Cubanisto (the rum flavoured beer) and found the Swans bunch, namely Matt, his German Dortmund supporting housemate Niklas, Tom and Dan, than I was ordered to down it as fast as possible as we were heading over to a usual stopping point; the Piccadilly Tap.

The tap has been featured on a few occasions now on these pages since Matt and Gibbo introduced me to its delights on the way back from Emley back in October and I was immediately hooked, helped by the discovery of the football table on the first floor, which is sadly out of order as it stands. But, not to worry, there’s still a bar and after meeting up with further members of the Swans travelling support, “Chester Mike” (who you’ll apparently hear shouting at the top of his lungs at most games) and Martyn, I was soon in possession of a Bitburger, despite Niklas saying it was “shit” and being pretty much agreed with en masse. Used to being in the minority, I went ahead with the choice anyway.

Beetham Tower

Beetham Tower

Piccadilly Gardens

Piccadilly Gardens

After a pair in there, it was decided we’d move on to one of the Oyster bar (our initially intended first stop) or Corbieres, one of Matt’s hidden gems that sits down a back alley off Market Street slap bang in the city centre. The consensus eventually decided on the latter and so it was off down the crowded pedestrianised street leading to the Arndale Centre and finally down a pretty wet back passage. Oh, I say! Some steps leading downwards came upon me and down we headed into the underground cave that is the bar.

Corbieres is definitely something that is unexpected, quite different from its street-level surroundings, a comfortable place to enjoy a couple of drinks in and to be told about what “being cute and speaking French” can get Niklas. It certainly wasn’t anything he was willing to actively hide and definitely created a good laugh did that comment! After a pair of Desperados in there for me, we exited and jumped a taxi, chipping in a couple of quid each into the £9 fare, to Old Trafford, arriving at around 20 past 2.

After bidding goodbye to the Swansea crew as they headed into the away end (well, corner) at OT and purchasing a programme at the kiosk on Sir Matt Busby Way (£3.50), I headed round to the Stretford End where I would be seated for today’s game. After passing by a late running Jesse Lingard at the players’ tunnel entrance, I soon entered through the turnstile after a fair old pat-down and was into Old Trafford for the first time in over a year for a first team game. I know, I’m awful.

Arriving at OT

Arriving at OT

Sir Matt stands guard

Sir Matt stands guard

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

After climbing the stairs up into the upper echelons of the Stretford End’s top tier, I eventually clambered over to my seat three rows from the back and right in the midst of a main singing area in the stand. After 20 minutes of staring at a large flag on the pitch that was providing today’s pre-match entertainment, it was time for the big match. The players made their way to the field and past the stupid ball station and to the equally pointless BPL sign where the handshakes take place, but thankfully these were soon got rid of and we were set to go. But for now…

History Lesson:

Founded in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR by members of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath, they initially competed against other depots but eventually began to compete against clubs, wearing the green and gold colours of the company’s name they carried. They became founder members of The Combination in 1888 and joined the Football Alliance a year later after the former league’s folding.

Three years later, the Alliance was merged into the Football League and Newton Heath (as they were now named) were placed in the First Division but lasted at that level for just two seasons before dropping into Division 2.

After a winding up order was served in 1902, the club’s Captain, Harry Stafford, along with others invested in the club to save it and subsequently a name change was prompted and Manchester United came into being. 1906 saw promotion back to the First Division which was won two years later. The club then lifted the first ever Charity Shield at the beginning of the next year and won the FA Cup for the first time at the end.

The second league title arrived in 1911, before the football was stopped as a result of WWI. Following the end of hostilities, the club was back in Division 2 after another relegation, but were promoted again in 1925, before almost going bankrupt in 1927 (until JW Gibson’s intervention) and following a further drop in 1931 became something of a yo-yo club but were back in Division 1 by the time WWII broke out.

Upon the resumption of football, Sir (as he was later to be titled) Matt Busby was appointed manager and his first trophy came in the shape of the 1948 FA Cup. This was followed by the First Division title in 1952, the club’s first in 41 years. In 1957, the “Busby Babes” side registered the club’s record win, a 10-0 success over Anderlecht, before the tragic Munich Air Disaster took the lives of eight of the side and 23 souls in total.

Munich Tunnel

Munich Tunnel

Memorial

Memorial

The 1960’s saw the FA Cup return to Old Trafford in ’63 and two league titles followed in ’65 & ’67 before the club became the first English club to lift the European Cup, before Busby resigned in 1969. The 1970’s saw United be relegated in ’74, promoted in ’75 and another FA Cup success in 1977.

This was the last silverware to arrive at Old Trafford until the cup returned twice in quick succession (1983 & ’85). Another future “knight”, Alex Ferguson, was appointed in 1989 following the dismissal of Ron Atkinson, though he may not have lasted long had his side not beat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final replay, if the rumours are to be believed. As it was, unprecedented success over the next two-and-a-bit decades was to follow as Ferguson filled the trophy cabinet.

Next to arrive was the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup, followed by the Super Cup and the ’92 League Cup joined the pair. 1993 saw the first Premiership title arrive at Old Trafford and ’94 saw it retained along with the FA Cup to complete the club’s first “double”. 1999 saw this bettered with the historic treble: Premiership, FA Cup & Champions League, the latter being as dramatic as any (especially memorable for me as my footballing hero Teddy Sheringham had a rather big hand in proceedings). They later won the Intercontinental Cup to add gloss to the achievement.

Jesse Lingard arrives

Jesse Lingard arrives late. Fine.

Two further league titles followed in 2000 & ’01 and another arrived in 2003. The 2004 FA Cup was won in Cardiff and the League Cup was won again in 2006. The Premier League was regained in 2007 and won again in 2008, before this was joined by the Champions League following victory over Chelsea. The club later won the year’s Club World Cup and then the 2009 Premier League & League Cup, before the latter was retained. A record 19th title was won in 2011, which became 20 in 2013 before Sir Alex retired at the end of 2013 to signal the end of a true dynasty.

Since then it’s been something of a different story at Old Trafford. Despite winning the Charity Shield, David Moyes lasted all of 10 months before being sacked and after a short period under Ryan Giggs’ caretaker management, Louis Van Gaal was recruited and guided United to a 4th place finish last season.

Big Flag

Big Flag

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

The game began with Ander Herrera having his shot charged down almost straight from the kick-off but from there the game became a tight and rather dour affair. Wayne Rooney selfishly drove into the side-netting while Swansea seemed content to contain and see what came their way during the first half, which wasn’t much. Nor was it overflowing with excitement for the Untied fans either, but us at the top kept ourselves entertained as much as possible with the usual songlist. But at half-time, it remained 0-0, despite one clear shout from Chester Mike resonating from the away end.

Underway

Underway

Match Action

Match Action

After deciding against heading down into the stand for food, on the basis of large crowds, the time and the cost, I remained in my place and delved into the trusty contents of the United Review, but soon bored and couldn’t wait for the second period to start. Thank God half-time is only 15 minutes.

United again began the half on the front foot and it was little surprise when Anthony Martial struck to head past Lukasz Fabianski from Ashley Young’s whipped cross. 1-0. But this goal only spurred Swansea on to better things as they decided to go for it and began to play with purpose, becoming the better side easily for the next 20 minutes or so.

Andre Ayew was first to come close, as his drive struck the woodwork with David De Gea beaten and after a penalty appeal was turned down, Gylfi Sigurdsson grabbed a deserved goal for the Swans, as he looped a header over De Gea and into the top corner, to send the Swans fans into delirium (I presume from sound as I couldn’t see them from my viewpoint!)

Match Action

Match Action

Martial celebrates the opener

Martial celebrates the opener

But, they had their joy cut short as United burst away down the left and Martial tuned provider for Rooney to cleverly flick home (though it looked like a header to my strangely wired mind at the time) and move into second on the Premier League’s all-time scorers list and in United’s own too.

But, late drama was almost supplied from the unlikeliest of sources. Swansea were really going for it again in the last five minutes, winning two corners in the last minute of added time. Up came Fabianski and even I thought “I may even concede a win for Fabianski t-…” Jesus, he was bloody close! On reflection no. No I wouldn’t have.

That was that, and I set off round to meet the guys again, onto find out they’d already jumped in a cab on their way back to town. This, as it turns out was a blessing in disguise as it meant I could go and have some further beers and food all for free back in Urmston! Bonus! My programme didn’t fare so well as it decided to take a dip in a puddle and as such isn’t in the pristine condition I crave. Damn weather….

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RATINGS:

Game: 6- Poor first half, decent second.

Ground: 8- Bit biased here, probably, but I do like OT. Views good as are surroundings.

Food: N/A

Fans: 8- Good to be in a true standing (er, sitting) and singing bit at Utd.

Programme: 8- As always, full of content but also bits of pointless stuff.

Value For Money: 6- Dear do at Old Trafford (£41.50) plus the extras!