Manchopper in….Stoke

Result: Stoke City 2-2 Rotherham United (EFL Championship)

Venue: Britannia Stadium (Saturday 13th April 2019, 3pm)

Att: 24,250

A late, late decision allied with an overwhelming feeling of laziness led me to not truly fancying a trip to anywhere too long-winded and once I’d spied the chance to gain an unexpected “tick” towards my 92 tally, I swiftly took it. Booking tickets during the Saturday morning, I’d be off to my 60th league ground – namely the Britannia Stadium (no real/awful sponsor names here) as the Potters welcomed the Millers in what is, quite possibly, one of the most English nickname clashes you can get.

Setting off during the late morning, a delay for reasons unbeknownst to us train customers (clearly deemed not important enough to know) I arrived into a balmy Stoke-on-Trent at around midday and decided to head towards the ‘actual’ Stoke area of the city, rather than the Hanley area that seems to be termed as the city centre. Anyway, the first pub I came across was one by the name of the Ye Olde Bull and Bush which is yet another hostelry to add an unneeded ‘e’ onto ‘olde’, though they did have a nice mural depicting various historical images of Stoke which was cool. A pint of the self-badged Delilah’s Delight (of course) was had at £2.70, before I headed up the road a few doors to the Liquor Vaults. A big, sprawling bar, it was decent enough – especially as the Amstel came in at just the £2.80 and I could get some much-needed charging done too. A good start.

Arriving in Stoke

Bull & Bush

Liquor Vaults

Stoke-on-Trent is a city in Staffordshire and together with the neighbouring boroughs of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands, makes up the North of the county. It is a polycentric city, being made up of six separate towns, the federation coming together in 1910 and derives its name from the original town of Stoke-upon-Trent which was the site of the government facilities and railway station, whilst Hanley serves as the main commercial area. Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Fenton complete the six. Historically known as the centre of English pottery, Stoke itself takes its name from the Old English word ‘stoc’ meaning “place” though it did go on to become more specific and with it being an ancient parish with a 7th century church possibly meant ‘place of worship’ or came from a crossing point of the Roman road from Derby to Chesterton. Later, with Stoke being a common settlement name, the distinguishing feature, the Trent, was added. When the borough of Stoke first applied for city status, it was denied by the Home Office, only for its appeal to reach royalty in the form of King George V, who agreed the borough should become a city in its own right.

Stoke

Stoke

Looks a bit out-of-place….

Its 17th century onwards pottery industry grew up around the area’s canal network which allowed for easy access of china clay from Cornwall to be distributed, starting out as a small few businesses before becoming the major centre with the likes of Royal Doulton and Moorcroft making their base there after Wedgwood’s Etruria Works began the growth for the most part. The larger area was also a centre for coal mining, this beginning as far back as the 13th century, and it was here that the General Strike and associated pottery riots began in 1842. Though many mines set records, they would all close by 1994. Iron and Steel would also be an, admittedly minor, industry too as Stoke was the repair site for the North Staffs Railway whilst going on to be an important part of the WWII effort. Indeed the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire was born in the nearby village of Butt Lane and spent his apprenticeship in the town. Thomas Twyford of toilets fame also is part of the industrial part of Stoke’s history.

Many a famed person has come from the area, but maybe one of the more interesting ones is the late founder of Motörhead, Lemmy, which I had no idea about before writing this and is quite surprising, if I’m honest! Robbie Williams is another musical alumni to come from the area and Slash – of Guns N’ Roses fame – also lived in the town during some of his formative years. TV actors Neil Morrisey and Rachel Shenton also lay claim to being a local. The Staffordshire oatcake is the notable local delicacy.

White Star

Commercial Inn

Sutherland Arms

Better was to come as I walked on over towards the Stoke Minster with the White Star just around the corner seeming to be some kind of ‘tap’ for the Titanic Brewery with all sorts of their ales on the go. I opted for a pint of Iceberg which was ok, though not completely my cup of tea if I’m honest but, at £3.30, I wasn’t going to complain all that much! I soon decided I’d leave the minster until after the game as it was on the route back to the station and so I instead back-tracked a little and instead went off in the direction of the ground, breaking up the walk with a visit to each of the Commercial Inn (Coors £3) and Sutherland Arms (Old Mout Passion Fruit £3.30) on the way before arriving at the closest pub to the ground (I think), the Gardeners’ Retreat. After assuring a few young lads outside I was not taking any pics of them(!), I grabbed a quick bottle of Sol with time at a premium.

From there, I continued on over the footbridge across the canal and to the Britannia where I would pick up my ticket from the “satellite” ticket office which was, handily, just next to my entrance and so I could spend a little time getting a few pics out and around the ground. Eventually it really was time to head in and after paying a visit to the food stalls for a pre-match pie (Steak if my memory serves me correct, this was a couple of weeks back as I write) I headed up into the seats to find my place in the corner of the ground, where I find you can usually get good views of the action, albeit a little further away at times.

The Gardener’s (and Potter’s & Miller’s) Retreat

A Generation Game….

In itself, the Britannia is a smart ground, all-seater of course and is rather symmetrical when it comes to stand size, with only the Main Stand being noticeably larger than its neighbours. The Main Stand houses most of the facilities with the boxes being located in between the two tiers of seating and the tunnel protruding from its side a little, down in the corner of the pitch between it and the Sharp Stand which was housing the Millers fans today. This is a single-tiered stand and is connected to the side-on stand opposite the Main Stand by a filled in corner, as is the Boothen End opposite – the corner where I was situated for the game today. A large TV stands in the other open corner between the Boothen and Main Stands, whilst the dugouts are also out front of the main, ensuring a short walk from the tunnel. That’s the Britannia and this is the story of the Potters….

History Lesson:

Stoke City Football Club was founded in 1863 as Stoke Ramblers and is the second oldest professional club in the world behind Notts County alone. They changed their name to simply Stoke Football Club in 1878 before becoming Stoke City in 1925 upon Stoke being granted city status. They began life as the Ramblers via the pupils of Charterhouse school who were apprentices on the North Staffordshire Railway works in the town and their first recorded game was played at the Victoria Cricket Club ground against an E.W. May XV. They would move into Sweetings Field in 1875 as a result of rising attendances – not a bad reason for a ground move!

1878 saw the club merge with the cricket club and become Stoke F.C., moving to their long-term Victoria Ground home and took on their current colours around the same time. They turned professional in 1885 and went on to become a founding member of the Football League three years later though struggled there and weren’t re-elected in 1890 – thus joining the Football Alliance. However, this was won straight away and Stoke were re-elected and duly returned to the League once again. They went on to spend the next 15 years in the First Division and reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1899 before eventually being relegated to the Second Division in 1907. Soon after, the club went bankrupt and headed for the non-league ranks, competing with two sides for a time, in the Birmingham & District League (won in 1911) and the Southern League (won Division ‘2A’ in 1910 and promotion to Division 2, 1911 saw promotion to Division 1 as runners-up, relegated in 1913 & 1915 won the Division 2 title). They stayed in non-league until just after the outbreak of WWI, during which time Stoke competed in the Lancashire Primary and Secondary leagues.

SCFC

Upon returning to the Football League as hostilities ceased, they took on their current name in 1925, though this didn’t help matters too much as the club was relegated to the Third Division North in 1926, though returned to Division 2 at the first attempt as champions. The 1930’s saw Stoke’s legendary player, Sir Stanley Matthews, make his bow and begin to make his mark on the footballing world. At 18, he helped the club to promotion from Division 2 in 1933 as champions and 1937 saw Stoke record two club records – a record 10-3 win over West Bromwich Albion and a record crowd of 51,373 vs Arsenal. However, their growth as a force was halted by WWII, though they would rekindle their run post-war and nearly clinched the League title in 1947 when they required a win from their final game to take it. However, they would go down 2-1 to Sheffield United, handing the league to Liverpool whilst Matthews headed to another ‘pool, Blackpool. This would be as good as it got for Stoke and they were back in Division 2 come the end of 1952-’53. Matthews returned to Stoke in 1961 and was still considered a coup at 46 years of age!

Stoke remained in the second tier for a decade, winning the title in 1963 to return to Division One once again and the club went on to reach the League Cup final he following year, but lost out to Leicester City over two legs. The late Gordon Banks joined the club during a year after winning the World Cup and played in the one-off United Soccer Association over in the States in 1967, competing as the Cleveland Stokers in the Eastern Division, finishing as runners-up. Back on home shores, Stoke finally lifted their first major trophy by winning the 1972 League Cup at Wembley – overcoming Chelsea 2-1, whilst semi-final appearances in the FA Cup were recorded in both 1971 and ’72, both seeing them vanquished by Arsenal. The club also appeared in the UEFA Cup in 1971 and ’72 as a result, losing out at the first fence to 1. F.C. Kaiserslautern and Ajax respectively. Stoke lifted the Watney Cup in 1973.

Relegated in 1977 back to Division 2, Stoke returned to the top-flight two years later and the club went on to remain there through to 1985 when they were relegated once more, having survived a brush with the drop the previous campaign. Things didn’t improve despite many a change of manager and the Potters were eventually relegated to Division 3 in 1990. The decade did see silverware arrive at the Victoria Ground in the form of the 1992 Football League Trophy, lifted at Wembley via a 1-0 win over Stockport County, whilst promotion was attained the next year. The club finished 4th and reached the 1996 Second Division play-offs, losing out to Leicester City in the semi-finals, prior to moving to their new Britannia Stadium home at the end of the following season, ending a 119-year stay at the Victoria Ground, but the change proved an unhappy one as relegation back to Division 2 (the third tier now the Premier League was in situ) was suffered at the end of the ground’s first season.

Stan-tue.

2000 saw Stoke win the Football League Trophy for a second time, this time via a 2-1 triumph over Bristol City at Wembley, and 2002 saw promotion attained once more as the club returned to the second-tier at the third straight attempt in the play-offs (having previously lost out to Gillingham and Walsall in the two years before) as the Millennium Stadium bore witness to their success over Brentford. After a five-year spell in the Championship, Stoke were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 for the first time after ending the season as runners-up. This is where my sort-of-soft-spot came for Stoke as I reckoned they’d stay up whilst the club was written off in many quarters – making me feel like I knew something, for once!

Anyway, the Potters would spend the next decade in the Premier League, largely as a solid mid-table outfit, and made the 2011 FA Cup Final, losing to Manchester City. They did qualify for the Europa League off the back of this though and after seeing off Hajduk Split, F.C. Thun and a group containing Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Stoke made the second round, eventually bowing out to Valencia. 9th place in 2014 meant the club’s best finish since 1975 and followed this up by finishing in the same position in both of the next two seasons, however things went awry last season and this resulted in Stoke’s eventual relegation and return to the Championship. This also saw the managerial roundabout begin once more as instability saw Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Gary Rowett come and go in quick succession, ending with current incumbent Nathan Jones taking the hot-seat in January after joining from Luton Town. However things haven’t improved and the club are stuck in a disappointing mid-table battle.

The game got underway somewhat slowly with little action during the first twenty-five minutes or so. For what there was, Anthony Forde drove an effort narrowly wide for the visiting Millers and Jon Taylor fired over, before Stoke would grab the opener with their first real sight of goal; Ashley Williams chipping a delivery into the box which Sam Vokes nodded home from close range and just two minutes later the Potters doubled their advantage with their very next attack – Vokes turning provider for namesake Sam Clucas and the latter smashed an effort high above Rotherham stopper Marek Rodak.

Match Action

Match Action

Despite being two down, it was the Millers who kept on looking more likely to find the net and Jon Taylor and Will Vaulks both went close in quick succession, before the Potters would end the half on the front-foot with Vokes being denied by Rodak but that would be that and the sides headed in with Stoke holding a two-goal advantage that only the most rose-tinted glasses-clad fan would claim they had truly earned.

Popping down into the concourse for half-time to catch up on the scores around the country courtesy of Soccer Saturday, we were soon back underway in the balmy Staffordshire sunshine. As in the first half, there was little to get the juices flowing early on as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand over the game as a whole. Clark Robertson forced Jack Butland into action to keep out his header before, just minutes later, they would grab a goal back through Michael Smith’s header after a corner hadn’t been fully cleared.

Match Action

Corner from a corner

The ineffective Bojan Krkic, once hailed as the heir-apparent to Lionel Messi of course, was subbed off in the aftermath to be replaced by Benik Afobe but this only seemed to further hamper a Stoke side surprisingly desperately short of creativity and after Butland had pulled off a fine stop to deny Joe Newell’s stinging shot which seemed destined for the top corner, it would be another set-piece that would lead to Stoke’s further downfall. The ball would eventually fall at the feet of Matt Crooks just a few yards out and he duly forced the ball over the line to send the visiting Millers fans behind the goal into raptures. This also give Stoke a taste of their own medicine somewhat, the Potters having completed the same comeback at the New York Stadium earlier in the campaign.

The fans were, unsurprisingly, not too pleased with these happenings and their overall performance, as shown by the lack of argument as Butland was announced as man-of-the-match, especially as he’d pulled off another great stop high to his right to deny Crooks a second from close range. That was largely that and after the whistle, the players seemed to get away from the ire of those around me for the most part, but it was safe to say this wasn’t the case for boss Nathan Jones, whose applause was greeted with loud boos from those in the Boothen End. Safe to say, he has work to do to get them onside should he be given the time to do so.

The bar….ge

Stoke Minster

Post-match I decided I’d let the crowds disperse a little, but I wouldn’t be waiting around inside the ground, oh no, sir! Beating a hasty exit, I was soon back crossing the footbridge, but instead of finding my way back to the roadways, I instead popped onto the canalways and to the small barge that serves as a can/bottle bar to enjoy a bit of time in the sun in some rather pleasant surroundings. The barge (named Barge-Inn Booze in a superb pun) served Dark Fruits in a can at just £2 which isn’t to be sniffed at whatsoever, and I spent a good half-hour watching the match-goers head off in their respective directions before continuing my own walk back to the town centre along the towpath.

After getting back to road level and paying my due visit to the minster, I popped into the Stoke Wetherspoons named The Wheatsheaf for a Punk IPA (£2.89) before finishing up in the Glebe Hotel, not too far from the station helpfully, where I saw that this looked to be another of a brewery taphouse, this time that of Joules’, though I could be mistaken. Whatever the case, I finished up my Stoke trip with a Joules Pale Ale which was my dearest drink of the day at £3.50(!), before catching the train back in good time, the remainder of the trip home going as smoothly as could be hoped for.

Last stop:- the Glebe Hotel

All in all, Stoke is nothing like as dreary as some people like to make out it is, with the old church, canal route and pubs all being pleasant affairs on the whole. The ground is smart with good views (just a shame the goals were right down the far end) and the food and programme were decent offerings too, though the pie was one of the standard offerings you get on the league ladder. So that’s another trip in the books as the season winds down to its conclusion and next up is the Easter weekend’s trio of matches which see visits to the exotic towns of Mansfield, Crewe and….Hanley! Don’t you just love it…..!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Southend

Result: Southend United 2-0 Rotherham United (EFL League One)

Venue: Roots Hall (Saturday 24th March 2018, 3pm)

Att: 7,719

A trip a fair while in the making, the penultimate weekend of the month saw me heading down to the seaside. I’d always wanted to visit Roots Hall – having been intrigued for ages by the small two-tiered stand at Southend’s home – and with league grounds taking more of a precedent this season, the question of “Well, why not?” came around and train tickets were duly purchased and, on a surprisingly decent morning, I was heading down to the capital once again prior to catching the connection over to Southend. Well, I thought it was going to be that simple, anyway….

Upon my arrival into Euston, I headed over towards Euston Square for the underground which would take me over to Fenchurch Street where I would catch said connection. However, here’s where things took a turn. The station was shut and it soon became apparent that this wasn’t a localised problem. No, both lines I could’ve used to get me over to Fenchurch Street were both off and so I had a real dilemma, which was only exacerbated when I wasn’t allowed to grab a train from St. Pancras as it “wasn’t valid”. No common sense sometimes.

After a moment of thinking my plans may have to change, I reckoned this could still be doable, I just had to play it smartly. So, having grabbed the underground to Bank, I jumped on the Docklands Railway service to Limehouse where I’d be able to intercept a slightly later train than I was planning on originally. The guard here took pity on my plight and allowed me to do so (the common sense was strong with this one) and so I was soon en route, well and truly, to Southend. Unfortunately, I still managed to bottle it, by panicking on my arrival at the station and jumping on the first train that pulled in showing Southend as its destination. It turned out this was the far slower stopping service and not the quicker Shoeburyness-bound one I planned on grabbing. Ah.

Think I’ve made it!

Southend

Eventually arriving a good half-hour later than I should’ve done, I quickly made my way to the front and embarked on a whistle-stop tour of two nearby pubs, both of which handily neighboured each other. My time constraints weren’t helped by the fact the first of the pair, The Borough Hotel, was a popular haunt for many on this early afternoon and so a wait of around five minutes or so was endured prior to me quickly downing my Dark Fruits (had to keep it on the easy side) and heading next door to the interesting-looking Papillon, complete with sailor/pirate figure out front. It was just as interesting inside too, with someone on the other end of a phone call being in trouble for not being entirely faithful. I wasn’t earwigging, I honestly couldn’t have not heard! Anyway, I politely decided I should leave before I heard too much and polished off my pint of Amstel before climbing up the steep incline of Pier Hill which, would you believe, is near the pier and jogging the short distance to the bus stop where, with time rapidly running out, I’d catch the 29 service up to Roots Hall for the princely sum of £1, which myself and a couple of others were allowed on for (the full single fare was only £1.60 anyway, as I discovered on the way back).

The bus driver was surprised at the amount of traffic outside the ground and quizzed me on how the fortunes of Rotherham were this season and if that was the cause. I answered they were doing ok, but I couldn’t imagine that the visitors, with all due respect, were the reason for drawing in the crowds. Anyway, we soon beat the lights and I was headed for the ground which I eventually reached with around ten minutes to kick-off. Having had no luck in finding a home-end cash sales point which looked as though you wouldn’t have to register, I instead plumped for the away end, as I’d basically entered that way as it was and so was the easiest option. After purchasing the programme from the hutch just outside the turnstile (£3) and paying the £24 entrance fee at the cash window, I was into Roots Hall. And what a ground it is!

Borough Hotel & Papillon

Arriving at Roots Hall

A real classic (in my eyes anyway), Roots Hall is an (unsurprisingly) all-seater affair and consists of four stands, including the legendary (I may be biased) two-tiered stand. The Main Stand, to the left of the away end, is a one-tiered construction and houses executive boxes to the rear of it and the dugouts and tunnel too. Opposite stands the West Stand which dates from the 1950’s and has a pretty unique barrel-shaped roof, as does the North Stand that the decent number of travelling away fans were located in today. Both stands are linked by the corner of the ground between them having been filled in with more seating. The West Stand also plays host to the TV gantry, which doesn’t exactly give the feel of somewhere you’d want to be on a particularly windy day! At the far end from us, the two-tiered South Stand is the most modern part of the ground (dating from 1994) It also plays host to a clock on the roof which is named after the Shrimpers’ former player, director and chairman Frank Walton. The floodlights are a traditional quartet too, which are always a delight to see. That’s Roots Hall in a nutshell and this is Southend United in a little more detail…..!

History Lesson:

Southend United Football Club was founded in 1906 and immediately joined the Southern League’s 2nd Division which the Shrimpers won on both of their first two campaigns, with only the latter giving the club promotion to the top division. Their first stint lasted for three seasons prior to relegation, before a Second Division runners-up placing in 1913 saw a second attempt at Division 1 embarked upon. They would continue to be a feature towards the lower-end of the table (as they were first time around) prior to the outbreak of World War One and the suspension of football.

1919 saw the club back in the Southern League and an eleventh placed finished in their first post-war season preceded a move up into the Football League ranks, becoming a founding member of the Third Division. Their first league campaign ended with a 17th placed finish after the division was regionalised into a North/South split before United’s debut season, with Southend, unsurprisingly, allocated a place in the Southern section. They would go on to remain here through to 1958, becoming a more regular feature in the top-half, recording a best finish of third on two occasions (1932 & 1950), whilst also winning a total of five Essex Professional Cups during this period (1950, ’53-’55 & 1957).

Upon the reorganisation of the Football League in 1958, the Division 3 was again nationalised and a Division 4 was created, with Southend taking a place in the former. However, despite recording a further three Essex Professional Cups during their stay (1962, ’65 & ’67), they rarely featured in the top-half of the league table and were relegated to Division 4 in 1966. It would take a whole six seasons for the club to return, achieving their first ever promotion in 1972 via a runners-up placing, whilst also lifting their ninth Essex Professional Cup and adding their tenth the following year in a successful defence of the trophy.

SUFC

After a four-year stint back in Division 3, the Shrimpers were again relegated in 1976, but this time their return to the bottom-tier was only a brief one, the club taking two seasons to again return to Division 3 which again came with a second-placed finish. From here the club began something of a yo-yo existence, dropping down again in 1980 before immediately winning the Division 4 title the following year and spending the next three seasons in the third-tier, along with winning their first Essex Senior Cup in 1983, prior to again returning to the foot of the Football League’s system in 1984, after a season which, at one point, saw Southend’s squad numbering a total of ten players and Bobby Moore installed as the club’s chief executive and later manager. Another three-season spell would follow, with their first season seeing Southend just avoid the need to seek re-election with a 20th placed finish, before the club again found themselves back in the familiar surroundings of the Third Division, after finishing third in Division 4, but again they couldn’t cement their position here and were relegated once more to round off the 1988-’89 season, but only on goal-difference.

However things soon took a turn for the better and United secured promotion again in 1990, along with the Essex Thameside Trophy, prior to a first promotion to the Division 2 the next season as runners-up, which was again paired with silverware, this time in the form of the club’s second Essex Senior Cup. 1992 duly saw Southend record their highest league finish to date, with 12th in Division 2 – after a season which had seen the club top the table at New Year, only to fall away in the second half of the campaign and miss out on the chance to become a founding Premiership member.

Upon the creation of the Premiership, Division 2 became Division 1 and Southend would remain here for the next five seasons before dropping into the “new” Division 2 after finishing bottom of the table, though the season was again given some positivity, with a third Essex Senior Cup arriving at Roots Hall. The club certainly didn’t hold on to any kind of good vibrations this may have given as their stay in the Division 2 would last just a sole season before United were relegated again the following year, returning to Division 3 once more.

Roots Hall

After a long period of instability in the manager’s post, Steve Tilson, brought a more stable feeling to the hot-seat and guided the club to their first national cup final in 2004, but the Football League Trophy would elude them as they were defeated 2-0 by Blackpool at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This would prove a precursor to better times and 2005 duly saw United win promotion to the now-named ‘League One’ after a fourth placed finish and subsequent successful play-off campaign which saw the club overcome Lincoln City in the final back in Cardiff, despite having missed out on the Football League Trophy for a second time at the same stadium a short time earlier in the season. The following year then saw the club return to the second tier, Southend winning the League One title to achieve promotion to the Championship with the final appearance of Shaun Goater’s professional career being marked in style.

Unfortunately for the club, they’d only last the next year in the Championship before returning back to League One. Their returning seasons did see them reach the League One play-offs again, but this time they bowed out at the semi-final stage to Doncaster Rovers. 2008 would see the club’s penultimate silverware to date be attained in the form of their fourth Essex Senior Cup, before 2010 saw a downturn in form end with relegation to League 2 suffered and the departure of Tilson soon followed, the club having suffered from a 2009 transfer embargo and a brush with administration.

Arriving….

Paul Sturrock arrived as his replacement and, with Southend under another transfer embargo and a second brush with administration having just been had, managed to assemble a squad of just seventeen players initially, eventually finishing 13th. The next year saw the club return to the upper reaches of the table, leading the way for a time prior to eventually finishing up fourth and earning a spot in the play-offs. Again, the club fell at the semi-final hurdle, this time to Crewe Alexandra. A further transfer embargo was enforced upon the club before the 2012-’13 season which again meant a depleted squad was assembled, but Southend performed well despite this and looked on course for a play-off place once again for a while, before form fell away and Sturrock was dismissed just two weeks before the club’s third Football League Trophy appearance. Despite this, he was asked to manage the side in the coming final – an offer Sturrock refused – and again it was Crewe who handed out disappointment to those of a Shrimpers persuasion, running out 2-0 winners.

Phil Brown was next to take the reins and he also led Southend to a play-off place in 2015, with this one ending in success via a penalty shoot-out win over Wycombe Wanderers to achieve promotion back to League One. After finishing their first season back at the third-tier in 14th, last season saw the club finish up seventh, missing out on a place in the play-offs by a solitary point. They currently sit in a comfortable mid-table place in League One and look to be remaining there into next season too, with Chris Powell currently overseeing things on the field.

Not long after I’d joined the ranks of the travelling Millers faithful, the players were heading out of the tunnel and onto the Roots Hall pitch. Underway soon after, the first true chance of the game also brought the first goal. Seven minutes in, Simon Cox forced his way into the area and played the ball across goal for Stephen McLaughlin and the Irishman fired beyond Rotherham ‘keeper Lewis Price to give the hosts the dream start.

The remainder of the half saw a fairly turgid affair begin to take place, with Southend having the better of what chances there were. Dru Yearwood’s stinging drive from range was well tipped over by Price, before Marc-Antoine Fortuné had his appeals for a penalty rightly turned away, with the Millers stopper having just beaten the forward to the ball. This was then followed by Fortuné almost adding to the score-line around half-way through the half, his header having to be cleared off the line by David Ball.

McLaughlin celebrates his early opener

Match Action

Match Action

However, having not really forced Mark Oxley in the home goal into any action of note, the visitors almost grabbed a leveller just before the break. The aforementioned Ball received the ball at the side of the box and flashed a cross-cum-shot across the goalmouth, but no-one of a pink-shirted persuasion was on hand to turn the ball over the line. So, shortly after I’d visited the food bar in what appeared to be a part-time classroom at some points for a rather sizable sausage roll (£3~), the whistle blew to signal half-time and I hoped the second half would be an improvement.

It began well enough with Rotherham again going close when Richie Towell’s low shot was parried by Oxley into the path of the onrushing Jerry Yates. However, Yates couldn’t quite sort his feet out to unleash an effort, falling over instead and the chance was gone.

From then on, the game worsened from a neutral viewpoint as Rotherham had the majority of the play but did almost nothing with it and, thusly, this allowed Southend the chance to net the crucial second goal and secure the three points. And they did just that with ten minutes left on the clock when a long punt up-field by Oxley was latched onto by Simon Cox, the striker beating Semi Ajayi – which summed up his below-par performance on the day – and smartly firing past Price and into the near corner before celebrating with some relief! Two-nil to the hosts and that looked to be game, set and match.

Match Action

‘Keeper Action

Indeed it was, though it didn’t come without a late scare or two. Indeed, this second seemed to awaken the play-off chasing visitors and only in the last five minutes did they ever look like they’d manage to breach the Southend defences. An initial chance was cleared off the line, Towell’s deep cross bounced back off the top of the crossbar and Ajayi also saw a well-struck shot cleared on the post by Michael Timlin as Chris Powell’s side ensured a clean sheet would go along with a fine performance. Full-Time arrived shortly afterwards and a quick exit to the bus stop outside ensured I could catch the nicely timed five-to-five service back to the town centre where I headed for a very, very swift Hooch in the Last Post Wetherspoons directly opposite the station prior to heading for the faster service back into London.

‘Spoons

The Doric. Dependable.

The journey was complete without a hitch and, after being re-directed around a film set and getting slightly lost in the poorly-signposted Bank station while trying to locate the Northern Line (the arrow had been painted out for some reason), I eventually got back into Euston with time in hand for a final drink in the bastion that is the Doric Arch before heading for the train back to Manchester. Again, no problems were encountered on the return leg and so ends another lengthy trip.

All in all the day had been a bit of a pain, but at least I’d got around to visiting Roots Hall. As I alluded to earlier, the ground is a brilliant, more traditional place with a real throwback feeling. Southend itself seemed ok from the little I saw of it in my fleeting visit and all else went well enough, so no real complaints though the game wasn’t the greatest I’ve seen. But so is this game. Onto the Easter weekend then, starting with a trip to South Wales….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 8

Food: 7

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Rotherham

Result: Rotherham United 3-2 Bury (EFL League 1)

Venue: New York Stadium (Saturday 9th September 2017, 3pm)

Att: 7,848

My “92” trail continues at something of a snail’s pace. Having said that, my initial season’s target is still on, though it’s not quite going as I’d planned. You see, my initial plans had me buying a fair way in advance and working my way, within reason, from the South and back up North, leaving both the stupidly dear and easy to reach remaining to do. But these best laid plans were to fall into ruin when I remembered that the first few trips wouldn’t be able to fit the bill, with my railcard running out just prior to this weekend and thus me being left out to dry. But, with this now renewed, these glamour destinations await on the horizon…..in some form.

For this week, though, my Northern stop-gap would be the New York Stadium, current home of Rotherham United. Having already visited their former home, Millmoor, at the beginning of the year in what was something of an eerie experience, I felt the New York Stadium would definitely be more of a standard trip, without overgrown and leaking stands. The weather leading up to the game was definitely testing the latter out though! Anyway, having renewed my card and bought my tickets, it was off the South Yorkshire once more.

Dodging the heavy showers to the west of the Pennines, the East side of the mountain range was experiencing fairer weather, with broken sunshine an improvement on thundery showers as I arrived into Rotherham town centre at just after midday. I was now left with a dilemma. What would I do for the next two-and-a….oh okay, it’s the pubs again, via a bit of a look around near the church.

From the train

Rotherham

After a backtrack, I began  my “crawl” with a visit to the Plough, located near the Tesco and a rather stand-out blue clock commemorating a Coronation (I think, I can’ remember now). The Plough was mad cheap too, a pint of Grolsch in here costing a smidgeon over £2 which, I mused, must be the reason it’s so popular with the punters during an early afternoon. However, I was soon to discover these town-centre prices were common place!

Following dual-watching the Test Match and the Man City-Liverpool game via the well-placed screens, it was time to head onwards and a little closer to the ground, which incidentally must be one of the only new-build’s to be as close )if not closer) to the town centre than the old one. Obviously this negates the need to leave a chunk of time to walk on up to the ground (a la Coventry) and leaves more time for the more important matters of putting money into the local economy. This is how I reason my drinking anyway…

The Plough & lovely “Coronation” Clock

Corn Low

Inside the Mailcoach

Next up was the Corn Low, complete with cash machine for those who need more cash on the fly. Not that this should be a regular occurrence, with my pint of Carlsberg costing about £1.80. Yes a whole one-pound-and-eighty pence. Unfortunately, the ‘Spoons-but-not style of pub isn’t really my thing and so it was quickly polished off before a slight detour off and down the neighbouring road to the Mailcoach which would turn out to be a good choice as this was my favourite pub of the trip.

Despite being open somewhat, the Mailcoach still maintains an air of the traditional to it, helped along by the dim lighting and lamps along the top of the bar. The pint of Somersby at, again, just over £2 also helped matters, but I had little time to enjoy it in here before having to move onwards to tick off the second of the Rotherham ‘Spoons offerings, the Bluecoat, which meant it was back uphill. I was looking forward to this one, with it being housed in an old schoolhouse, so I was intrigued to how this would turn out. Sadly, you’d never have guessed the above, with little in the way of character remaining. A quick Punk IPA sufficed before I swiftly exited. Shame.

The Bluecoat

Cutler’s Arms

New York Tavern

With kick-off getting ever nearer, I felt it was time I’d head down into the valley (you can see the ground from around the ‘Spoons) and towards the New York Tavern, which I felt had to be visited given the name of the ground after all. However, as I approached the end of the lane leading down the hill, I came face-to-face with the Cutler’s Arms, a large traditional pub which is a definite favourite for the home support. After a bit of a wait and with time beginning to beat me, a very, very quick Corona (my dearest drink of the day at £3.20) was downed before a brief visit to the New York to end up the trip, though I did somewhat regret my choice of half an Estrella. Not my greatest choice, as it’s not one I’d usually go for but hey, when in Rotherham.

With twenty minutes until kick-off, I reckoned it was just about time to head for the ground. After being thanked on my way out of the tavern by a guy outside (I assume he runs it and wasn’t just saying it), I got lost near a dual-carriageway before back-tracking on myself by following the crowds which made me wonder why I hadn’t just done that in the first place. Anyway, upon getting to the road leading to the ground, I purchased a programme from the seller here for £3 and headed off towards the away end I’d be populating today, having bought my ticket from Bury (Gigg Lane blog here) the prior week. I was happy I had too when I saw the queue for the away ticket booth!

Scanning in without any issues, I bypassed the food bar for the moment with it being pretty busy and headed up into the seats. Taking up a spot at the back, this provides good views of the immediate area back up the hill and towards the town centre, with the three church spires towering above. Soon after I’d got in, the two sides made their way out from the tunnel on half-way and onto the New York Stadium pitch.

Heading in….

The ground itself is a smart ground and one that feels big enough without being overly so as to leave it devoid of atmosphere. Dating from 2012 when the Millers moved back to the town after a spell at the Don Valley in Sheffield following their departure from Millmoor after 101 years, it houses four all-seated stands. The Main, West Stand houses the boxes and tunnel and all that comes with it, and is the largest stand in the ground. Opposite is the smallest stand, the East Stand, which enables the view mentioned above. Both ends are fairly identical, with a scoreboard housed in a corner at each. The floodlights protrude over the field from the rooves of both sides, with Perspex glass used around the ground to allow for more light to enter. With that out-of-the-way, here’s the story of Rotherham United F.C.

History Lesson:

Rotherham United F.C. was founded in 1925 following a merger between Rotherham Town and Rotherham County, the latter dating from 1870 since its formation as Thornhill F.C. in that year. Rotherham Town, meanwhile, were the leading side in the area, having competed in the Football League while Thornhill (latterly United) were competing in the Sheffield & Hallamshire League. By the turn of the century, however, Town had resigned from the League and folded, with a new club under the same name later forming in the Midland League. Thornhill would go on to greater things, taking on the mantle of the town’s premier club and becoming Rotherham County F.C. The club’s finished first and second in the 1911-’12 Midland League but it became apparent the town couldn’t support two pro sides and the merger duly followed, soon re-elected to the Football League as Rotherham United F.C.

After pre-war struggles (including having to re-apply for the League in 1931), 1946 saw United win the Third Division North Cup before finishing runners-up three times in succession (’47-’49). 1951 saw them take the Division Three North title and 1955 saw them achieve their highest ever league position, third in the Second Division, with only goal average denying the Millers a place in the top-flight after finishing equal on points with Birmingham and Luton. 1961 saw the club lose out in the inaugural League Cup Final (over two legs), despite winning the opening leg versus Aston Villa at Millmoor. They’d go on to lose 3-2 on aggregate.

New York Stadium

Remaining in the Second Division until 1968, the club entered a decline that saw them in Division Four by 1973. In 1975, they were promoted back to Division Three (now nationalised) which saw them able to take the Division 3 title in 1981. After relegations in ’83 &’88, United were back in Division 4. 1989 saw the club take the Division 4 title, but their stay in the third division would last just two seasons. After finishing runners-up in Division 4 in 1992, the club were able to take a spot in Division 2 upon the creation of the Premiership. They’d remain here for five seasons before relegation in 1997, though they did win the 1996 Football League Trophy at Wembley.

2000 saw Rotherham return to Division Two as Division Three runners-up and then went on to be promoted as Division Two runners-up the following season. They’d remain in Division One for four seasons, through to its renaming as the Championship, but were relegated to League One in 2005. After staving off relegation again the next season, a ten-point deduction left the club with a large issue ahead of the following season. 2007 saw the club drop to League 2 and despite spending a large part of ’07-’08 in the promotion race, another ten-point deduction proved fatal to their hopes. A 17-point deduction and departure from Millmoor followed in 2008-’09, 2010 saw Rotherham reach the play-off final at the “new” Wembley, but they’d lose out on that occasion to Dagenham & Redbridge.

The old from the new

2013 saw the club return to Rotherham after their spell at the Don Valley and they immediately achieved success, finishing League 2 as runners-up and getting promoted as a result. 2014 ended with the Millers in the League One play-offs, where they’d defeat Leyton Orient on penalties to return to the Championship. Last season would see Rotherham relegated from the Championship after finishing bottom of the table, returning to League 1 for this season.

The game got underway with it quickly became apparent this would be an open contest. Both sides had early sightings of goal, with the Millers slowly growing in ascendancy, Will Vaulks and Richard Wood both forcing saves out of Bury’s ‘keeper, Joe Murphy, before Ryan Williams forced the visiting stopper to save well from his fizzing drive. It looked only a matter of time, however, until the opener would arrive for the Millers.

Indeed this did arrive after twenty minutes, a long ball forward found Kiefer Moore who looked to have all the time in the world to bring the ball down, control it and set himself before sliding the ball beyond Murphy. One-nil to the Millers and it looked as though it may be a long day for the visiting Shakers fans, a couple of whom got talking about Millmoor and who currently/recently plays/played there. I couldn’t resist a quick plug!

Match Action

Moore celebrates his first

Taylor then fired into the side-netting after being forced wide in rounding Murphy as Rotherham looked to double their advantage, but then, against the run of play, the visitors grabbed a leveller. Ryan Lowe provided the cross from the left-flank and journeyman striker Jermaine Beckford arrived to stoop his header beyond home debutant Marek Rodak, the on-loan Fulham ‘keeper having little chance.

Half-Time was spent in fruitless (or should that be pie-less?) pursuit of food back down in the concourse and, left empty-handed, I headed back up for the second-half, though I did see a couple arrive back at their seats with a couple of said pastries, though I’ve no idea where these were found! Anyway before long the second half was about to start, but not before I got excited by a rainbow and the fact I could only see it whilst in sunglasses. I quickly got a poll going with the guys near me to who could see it with glasses and those without. The results were….all could see it, as could I without the aid of shades. Ah.

Around ten minutes into the second period, the Millers regained their lead, a ball to the back-post finding the head of Moore and he planted his header across Murphy and into the net. Two-one to the hosts and Moore had both of the home side’s goals. After a number of other chances to kill the game off, Rotherham would again find themselves punished for their inability to provide that killer touch.

Match Action

Cameron about to score…

Scramble

Following on from a set-piece, the ball was delivered back into the box and after a flick on, Bury’s centre-half Nathan Cameron found himself in the right place to nod beyond the ‘keeper to once again level up the scores. Two-two and all to play for once again. This time, Bury looked to have gained more of a foothold and the game looked to be petering out into a draw and a point-a-piece for both teams.

Rotherham did go close with around ten minutes to go, when Anthony Forde’s effort looked to be cleared from almost on the line but then, with stoppage time looming, Rotherham grabbed the final, decisive goal. The ball began with Rodak and his ball forward found its way through to Richie Towell. The man on-loan from Brighton then struck a perfectly directed effort that skimmed across the surface of the New York Stadium and into the bottom corner to send the home fans mad. This time there was no time for Bury to respond and it was time to cue New York, New York. Full-Time: Millers 3-2 Shakers.

After finding my way in now blocked off by stewards allied with metal fences, I eventually figured out how to get away from the stadium and headed back for the town. This time, it was straight back to the station….well, almost. With a good twenty minutes until my train back, a visit to the Bridge, just across from the station itself and neighbour to the “Chapel on the Bridge” was called for. A bottle of alcoholic Dandelion and Burdock was refreshing and enjoyed before it was finally time to depart South Yorkshire and head home.

“No Dickheads”

An easy, problem-free journey back was undertaken to end off the day. All in all, it had been a decent day. Rotherham is a decent place, which is easy on the pocket (outside of match tickets) and the ground is a nice one to visit. The game too was entertaining and you can’t beat a late winner as a neutral (sorry Bury fans)! As for next week, it’s back on the FA Cup trail with a rare trip up to the North East, featuring a possible giant-killing against famed giant-killers….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: N/A (not about when I got there)

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 7