Manchopper in….Chester

Result: Chester 0-0 Southport (National League North)

Venue: Deva Stadium (Tuesday 1st January 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,953

I’d done it! A whole calendar year without seeing a nil-nil was in the books and so I set off on a New Year Day trip to Chester full off optimism that the run would continue into 2019. Nah, just kidding, I awoke with a strong feeling that the first day of the year would bring it to an end in shuddering fashion. Would my instincts be correct? Well, I was about to find out.

I grabbed the train (an actual Northern one, I know I couldn’t believe it either) and headed into Warrington to catch the train down to the county town (city?) of Cheshire, stopping to pick-up a Tikka sandwich at WH Smith’s en-route over to Bank Quay. After a fair wait, we eventually got rolling and arrived in Chester after around a half-hour’s journey and I set off on a walk of the city walls ahead of finding a drinking hole or two. I was quite taken aback by the amount of “Hello’s” I received on said walk though! Anyway, with my sights set on a number of the historic city’s watering holes, I headed towards Eastgate and to see what I could find.

Chester Racecourse

Chester

Chester

Well, not much was the answer at first which I found slightly surprising. My first three options – the Boot, the Marlborough Arms and the Queen’s Head – were all closed and dark and I began to fear this trip would be something of a let down. As such, I licked my wounds in the Square Bottle Wetherspoon’s over a Punk IPA (£3.49) and tried to figure out a contingency as best I could as the clock ticked onwards beyond midday. Eventually, I came up with something and after a second-look at each to see if anything had changed in the post-12 o’clock times, this wasn’t the case and so I looked to the cathedral for some divine intervention…..and I found it!

Chester is the county town/city of Cheshire and is a walled city upon the River Dee, close to the border between Wales and England. It was founded by the Roman Legio II Adiutrix as a Roman fort (castrum) known as Deva Victrix (from either the God of the Dee or from the pre-existing British name for the waterway and the legion based there) in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in the year 79AD and was one of the main military camps in Roman Britain prior to being converted to a major civilian settlement. They also built an amphitheatre and four main roads and its comparable size to other major cities of the time indicate it may have been intended to have become the Roman capital of Britannia Superior, rather than Londinium. After seemingly becoming part of post-Roman Powys and an apparent battle which featured the legendary KIng Arthur, 616AD saw the Welsh army defeated by Æfelfrith of Northumbria with the city becoming Legacæstir.

Chester amphitheatre

Roman gardens

Chester Cross

In 689AD, King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster church of West Mercia in the city which would go on to become Chester’s first cathedral (the current houses the body of his daughter St. Werburgh) before the city’s walled defences were strengthened and lengthened by the Saxons on their arrival to protect the city from the invading Danish forces. Despite breaching the walls to take the city for a short time, the Danes would be forced back out due to the seizure of cattle and wasting of the surrounding areas by King Alfred, whose daughter Æfelflæd, Lady of Mercia, would go on to create the new Saxon burh. would later These defences later ensured Chester would be one of the last cities to fall to William the Conquerer and the conquests of the Norman army, and it was upon the capture that the castle was added to overlook the city and Wales beyond. The name of Legacæstir would last into the 11th century before falling out of fashion, with the more simplistic title of Chester being introduced instead, though the period between the 14th and 18th century saw the city also known as Westchester, due to its prominent position in the North West of the country, being awarded its city status in 1541.

More recently, Chester played an important part in the Industrial Revolution with the Newtown and Hoole areas featuring the Shropshire Union canal and all that came with it, meaning it then supported a cattle market and both of the city’s rail stations – Chester General and Chester Northgate – with the railways providing many workers with jobs and most of the income and exports. Much of Chester’s current architecture dates from the Victorian era with many being styled in the Jacobean way and post-war modernisation saw negative feelings end with an agreement that historical buildings in the city should be protected and re-used, rather than being knocked down.

Chester’s Spoon’s

Dublin Packet….

…whilst the other two are near the Xmas tree.

Chester Cathedral

All three of the pubs here were open and I began with the first of these in the form of the Dublin Packet. A nice little place, they even had Blue Moon on draught which I didn’t expect in the slightest and this quickly made my mind up what I was having today! Coming in at £4.30 wasn’t all that bad too, though I didn’t get the slice of orange which makes it all the more improved and after finishing up I headed just up the way and past the Christmas Tree, bypassing the Coach House for now, just in case things didn’t improve on the pub front in the meantime and instead popped into the Shropshire Arms alongside. BLUE MOON AGAIN(!!!); I exclaimed in my mind as I spotted the Belgian-style wheat beer’s sign on the bar and I knew what was the order of the day once again immediately. What made it even better was it was cheaper (£3.90) and the slice of orange was in existence this time around. Superb stuff!!

Finishing up in here whilst watching the start of the early kick-off, I continued my way across to the other side of Eastgate and along one of the roads off the side to the Old King’s Head which must have been one of, if not the, oldest pub I visited during the day and I settled in within the beams and dimly lit rooms along with a pint of Thatcher’s £3.70 before I continued on up the road and back to the Falcon on the corner of the street which would lead up towards the ground. A welcome surprise was that it was a Sam Smith’s pub and cheap beer is always the order of the day in there and so I knew what to expect as soon as I saw the “Tadcaster” emblazoned offerings dotting the bar. A pint of Taddy Lager for just the £2.30 was just the trick for my final pre-match drink before I headed off towards the Deva Stadium and the England-Wales border.

Chester

Old King’s Head

Falcon

Arriving with a good ten minutes to kick-off, I made my way around the ground to the terrace and paid my £12 entry and was into the ground for my second ever visit, my first being Chester F.C.’s first ever home game – a 6-0 triumph over Trafford, whilst I was still watching the visitors home and away – and the club signed Pat Nevin and Perry Groves with Colin Murray (who we spoke to after the game) in situ too. A strange one was all that. The Deva has obviously not changed much, if at all, since then. Two all-seater stands, one on each side, populate the touchlines, whilst both ends are home to sizeable covered terraces, with one (the usual away terrace) home to a clock, though the Port fans weren’t in great enough numbers for that to be in use today, and they instead congregated in the end of the right-side stand from my viewpoint in the home terracing. The tunnel, dressing rooms, boxes and the like are located within the Main Stand on the left-hand touchline. That’s the Deva in summary and this is the story of Chester FC….

History Lesson:

Chester Football Club was founded in 2010 after the demise of Chester City shortly beforehand. City, who had started out under the Chester FC name following the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars and began playing at Faulkner Street, initially in friendly contests and occasional cup ties. Eventually, Chester made the step into competitive league football, joining the Combination league in 1890 and moving to a new home – The Old Showground – eight years later. Unfortunately, they would be forced out due to housing development after just one year there leading to the club’s initial disbanding.

Returning in 1901, the club was now playing at Whipcord Road but would move to the snazzily named “The Stadium” on Sealand Road in 1906, the ground which would become their long-term home. This stability led to silverware – Chester lifting the Combination in 1909 before a switch to the Lancashire Combination was taken the following year with the club remaining here through to after WWI when they left to become a founder member of the Cheshire County League. They would reach the Football League in 1931, taking the place of Nelson, and wouldn’t finish a season outside the top ten for the rest of the decade, this period seeing Chester record both their record wins in the FA Cup & League, overcoming Fulham 5-0 and York City 12-0 respectively.

Arriving at the Deva

The club lifted their second Welsh Cup title in 1933, defeating close rivals Wrexham to do so and also won consecutive Division 3 North Cups. However, the outbreak of WWII would see the side broken up and despite winning the Welsh Cup for a third time in 1947, and finishing 3rd in the league, form would drop off for Chester with no top-half placing managed through to 1958 and the merging of the regional divisions to create a national Division 4. Even then, it would take six further years for this to change. The mid-1960’s would see an upturn in fortunes begin with the club just missing out on promotion, despite netting 119 goals in League games alone. They would again go close in 1971, losing out on a spot to go up by a solitary point, but would right the dubious honour of being the only club in the Football League to have never achieved a promotion by nipping fourth place from Lincoln City in 1975 on goal average. The club also reached the semi finals of the League Cup that same season, a run which featured a giant-killing, as Chester beat English champions Leeds United 3-0 as well as Newcastle United before going down in a tightly contested replay to Aston Villa.

Now in Division 3, Chester went about consolidation of their place and also reached the FA Cup 5th Round in both 1977 & 1980 and narrowly missed out on promotion in 1978. The club also became one of only two clubs to win the short-lived Debenhams Cup (a competition for the two sides from outside of the top two divisions that went furthest in the FA Cup) in 1977 to record their first national trophy in England. After finishing bottom of the league in 1984, the recently renamed Chester City (1983) comfortably won re-election and remained in the League. Selling on the likes of a young Ian Rush and Lee Dixon over this period, the loss of the former not helping he club as they dropped back to Division 4 in 1982 before being at the basement two seasons later. They would recover swiftly though and return to Division 3 in 1986 and again just missed out on promotion in 1989. This preceeded a spell where City moved out of their long-term Sealand Road home, in 1990, spending a time sharing at Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose, which affected income, though the club survived battles with relegation in both 1991 & 1992 ahead of returning to Chester for 1992-’93 at their newly built Deva Stadium home.

In the busy clubhouse pre-match

Now in the renamed Division 2 after the creation of the Premier League, City began their time in their border-straddling stadium with an, immediate relegation to Division 3, before bouncing back immediately as runners-up. After the departure of boss Graham Barrow led to a threadbare squad, the club were again relegated and this time would remain there for a substantial time – five years in all – though did lose out in the 1997 play-off semi-final to Swansea City. However, this was a close as they would get to the Division 2 ever again, as administration issues and multiple manager changes led to instability and relegation from the Football League in 2000. They would go close to folding the next year and the ownership issues would only grow over the next few years and despite reaching the Conference play-offs in 2003, losing the final on penalties to Doncaster Rovers and getting back to the Football League the next year as Champions, more. managerial upheavals would end up with relegation being staved off in both 2005 & 2008, but they finally succumbed in 2009 to a club who would follow the same future path that was soon to occur – Darlington. Points deductions all, over the place saw Chester begin the year with – 10 points and an overturned CVA saw this become – 25.

The club was later prevented from beginning the 2009-’10 campaign and despite eventually getting underway, they struggled, ending up bottom and were suspended in February of 2010 after a culmination of issues and they were later expelled from the Conference and duly wound up shortly after an application had been made to join the Welsh Premier League. The club’s supporters group, City Fans United, stated their intention to create a new fan-owned entity and Chester FC took a spot in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North for 2010-’11 (after overturning an initial placement in the North West Counties on appeal), playing at the Deva Stadium. The club enjoyed immediate success, three straight promotions, winning both the Division 1 North and NPL Premier Division titles and the Conference North championship too, these successes seeing the club back in the Conference Premier by 2013. They would spend the next five seasons before being relegated back to the now named National League North last time out.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that my run would be in serious trouble come around 4.50pm. You know when you can just tell? Well it was one of those days. An apparently weakened Chester looked solid enough, but did look more in trouble on the odd occasion anything at all happened against their visitors who came into the game in a rich vein of form. The first half-hour or so really was dire and I was quite happy I opted have my pie then so I didn’t have to endure it with my complete consciousness. Devarn Green fired comfortably over for Southport, but that was largely that.

Match Action

Match Action

“Shents” action

On the half-hour that big chance came when, just after Jordan Archer just couldn’t provide a touch to direct a low ball into the open net with Grant Shenton in the Chester goal committed, Archer was sent clear of the defence and one-on-one with Shenton, but he found the Chester stopper in no mood to fold and he stood up as long as possible to block out the striker’s effort. Sadly, that was pretty much that apart from a few shots going well awry here and there. Half-time was something of a welcome break for once. One guy behind me remarked there would definitely “be a goal in this”. I wasn’t as sure.

The second half began in far better fashion than the first – not that it had much to improve on, mind you – and despite the game being more watchable, chances still were almost non-existent. In fact, it took until around the hour mark for anything resembling something that could render a “oooooh” from those watching to occur, when Matty Waters fired over from range, the ball nestling in the terrace behind rather than in the goal itself. Southport began to make attacking changes and look for the points as we entered the final half-hour but this didn’t do much to help in all honesty.

F&F – Fans & Flag

Match Action

Match Action

David Morgan hit a well-struck but unthreatening effort straight at Shenton and Charles fired just over later in the game, but that was really as good as it got for the visitors and it was the hosts that almost grabbed the elusive opener (and likely winner) with five minutes or so left to play when Craig Mahon’s goal-bound effort was blocked within the six-yard box by a ‘Port defender betwixt some nervy defending but that would be that and a run dating back to 25th November 2017 at Gillingham came to an end. Nil-nil was, well and truly, written all over it. I made a quick exit.

After the game, I beat a quick haste through the evermore cold night and back to the city centre, popping into the second of the older pubs I’d visit on the day, the Old Customs House where I opted for a pint of Peroni (£4.30) to aid me in my attempts of getting back warmth, before walking off back towards the station, stopping off in the fairly close-by Olde Cottage where I had a pint of a White Ale £3.30 before hopping back on the train back to Warrington and undertaking the short-walk back across town for the train back to end off the day.

No second ‘e’ by order of the grammar po-po

Olde Cottage – see above.

It had been a decent one all things considered, the pubs I ended up visiting were a good contingency and the Deva is a decent stadium to watch a game in, even if its location isn’t the best. Yes, the game was pretty dreadful in the long-run and it ended my long nil-nil less run and so it now has a place in the memory banks for two reasons! Hopefully get back on-track for another run from Saturday, or perhaps the tone has been set for this year already….

RATINGS:

Game: 2

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 5

Manchopper in….Southport

 

Result: Southport 2-0 Leamington (National League North)

Venue: Haig Avenue (Saturday 13th January 2018, 3pm)

Att: 848

My only completely undecided weekend of the month saw no lack of options on the table by the time it came to deciding where I’d be watching my football. Late Friday night saw the ninety-seven options whittled down to a handful and, between myself and regular blog appearance maker Dan, got it down to a final two; Ossett Albion or Southport; Queen’s Terrace or Haig Avenue. For Dan both would be a new venue, whereas only Southport’s home gave me another to add to the ever-growing list, having visited Albion’s home on about four occasions. Dan was happy with either and so to the coast it was.

This proved to be a pretty good decision too as it turned out, with trains from Liverpool being messed up come the morning by signalling failures. As such, this meant most of the express journeys towards Yorkshire were experiencing crowding problems whereas the trains heading to Southport had no such issues. However, I still had to come up with a contingency plan to get there myself, with my pre-planned itinerary going out the window. As such, I instead headed into Manchester, arriving in the nick of time to meet Dan on the train over to Merseyside…or Lancashire depending on who you ask!

A problem free journey whilst passing the grounds of Wigan Athletic and Burscough followed before we arrived within view of Haig Avenue itself at just before half-eleven on a windswept and fairly miserable day in the coastal resort. Not that there was much in the way of holiday makers today, mind you with the town being far emptier than it might be during the summer months. Anyway, after arriving into the station we set off around the town on a fruitless venture to try to find a pay-point for Dan, though he did manage to find some cough sweets, so there was something of a consolation prize in that. We soon abandoned this pursuit and instead decided to put our time to far better use. That use being drink!

Southport

Southport

Funland!

After heading up to the coast we popped into the large Victoria pub on the main coastal road where we’d plan out the rest of our tour of the town. A Moretti at £4 did for me whilst we watched the opening stages of the Cardiff-Sunderland game. Upon finishing up, we headed onwards over the bridge opposite and down to the pier where Dan decided he didn’t fancy becoming more exposed to the bracing winds (what with his cough and all) and so I made a dash up there solo. Not much to see, outside of a few people struggling to walk against the oncoming gale! I was more than happy to keep my stay brief and we quickly returned over the Marine Way bridge and onwards to the (at least self-proclaimed) “smallest bar in Europe”, the Lakeside.

“Shut until February” read the sign and “Bollocks” thought I. Luckily, our next planned stop was only a couple of minutes away in the form of the Windmill. The Windmill stands on land that has seen a pub on it from the 18th century (or the 1800’s) according to the menus on the table and the pub is certainly an old-school, welcoming one, complete with small windmill outside. A pint of Amstel was a good accompaniment as we shook off the cold prior to making the short walk back into the town centre and to the Wetherspoon’s named the Willow Grove which stands just off the main thoroughfare, Lord Street. A fairly standard ‘spoons offering, the Willow Grove was what you’d expect really and a bottle of Hooch was once again had in here (yes, I had the round in here) as we decided that we’d be better served catching the bus to the ground, or more specifically the foot of Haig Avenue itself. Though this almost went awry….

The Victoria

Up On The Pier

The Windmill

After almost getting the correct bus number, but the one heading in the wrong direction, we found the stop we wanted and was soon en route to Haig Avenue, eventually arriving with a good twenty-five minutes or so before kick-off. A five-minute walk later and we were at the gates of the ground which is dominated by its large all-seater main stand.

The Willow Grove

Approaching Haig Avenue

The strangely priced £13.50 entrance fee was paid and we were into the home of the Sandgrounders. Programme soon purchased (a decent offering at £2.50), I headed off in search of the bar, before soon realising that there was no way (that I could figure out anyway) of getting there once you’re inside the ground itself. So I instead grabbed some chips (£2.50) from the “away end” food trailer before completing a pre-match lap of the ground and returning to find Dan with far thinner chips than those I was just finishing off. Pros and cons in that, I guess.

Haig Avenue is a pretty smart ground and gives off a nice sense of character I felt. Outside of its classical Main Stand – which reminded me a little of Altrincham’s – the rest of the ground features fairly substantial terracing. Only one area of this is covered, however, with that being at the right-hand end, the closest end from where we had entered. This also gives a decent raised view of the action. The remainder is open to the elements but many weren’t too perturbed by this today, with the travelling support from Leamington, along with their impressive number of flags, taking up a temporary home opposite, behind the other end. The terracing is split up sporadically, meaning there is around eight separate areas around the ground with the covered terrace being joined by around three areas at the uncovered end and a further five on the far side of the ground, running the length of the pitch. So, ground description out of the way, here’s the backstory of Southport F.C….

History Lesson:

An original Southport Football Club was founded in 1881 initially as a rugby outfit before switching to association football after only a few months. 1882 saw the team compete in the FA Cup for the first time, recording a 1-1 draw with Liverpool Ramblers before the club merged with the Southport Athletic Society a couple of years later prior to a later amalgamation with another local side, Southport Wanderers. The club would retain the Wanderers name and moved to a new ground on Scarisbrick New Road, not far from their current Haig Avenue home.

After only a few months over the summer of 1886 retaining the Wanderers suffix, the club reverted to being known as Southport FC and they joined the Lancashire League upon its founding in 1888. Upon doing so the club again changed name, this time to Southport Central, and after an FA Cup 1st Round meeting with Everton in 1895, finished as league runners-up in both 1900 & 1901. The league title was eventually won in 1902 before Southport switched to the newly created Lancashire Combination for the following campaign. The Combination’s Division 2 was won at the end of the club’s first season here and Southport’s next season, their first in the top division, ended with what was to be their highest finish: third. After lifting their first silverware in the form of the 1904-’05 Lancashire Senior Cup, 1905 saw Southport move into Haig Avenue (then known as Ash Lane) and they have called the ground home ever since.

‘Copter action

1911 saw Southport move into another newly founded league, this time the Central League, where the club mostly had a struggle, finishing no higher than 15th. After a second-bottom finish in 1915, the outbreak of WWI put a stop on football for the next few years. Upon resumption in 1918, the club again had a name change, now being known as Southport Vulcan due to the Vulcan Motor Company’s purchase of the club and became the first team to have a “sponsor” in their name. This was short-lived, though, and by the time the club joined the Football League in 1921, they were back to simply being known as Southport.

Becoming a founder member of the Third Division North, Southport would remain here for the next 29 seasons finishing a best of fourth twice (1925 & 1939). They also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1931, again losing out to Everton and won the Third Division North Cup in 1938. Their long Third Division North tenure ended with the creation of Division 4, which Southport would take a place in for the 1958-’59 season. 1967 saw the club promoted as Division 4 runners-up, though their stay in the now nationalised Division 3 was a short one, lasting only three seasons until their relegation in 1970. However, 1973 would see Southport return once more to the third tier as Division 4 champions but an even shorter stay was to follow, a sole season spent back there before returning to the bottom division of the League.

A swift decline was to follow and, after three consecutive second-bottom finishes between 1976 & 1978, the club was voted out of the Football League, their spot being taken by Wigan Athletic via the re-election system, with Southport becoming the final victim of this rule prior to the introduction of automatic relegation in the bottom division. This meant that the Sandgrounders would be playing in the non-league Northern Premier League for the 1978-’79 season.

Southport FC

A 15 season spell in the NPL was to follow, which encompassed the league’s “demotion” to a Step 2 competition upon the creation of the Alliance League (later the Football Conference). After lifting the NPL League Challenge Cup in 1991, Southport’s initial stint in the league was eventually ended in 1993 when the club were promoted to the Conference as NPL Premier Division champions. That season also saw the club reach the FA Cup’s Second Round for the first time since 1968. 1998 saw Southport reach the FA Trophy Final and take their first (and to date only) trip to Wembley. Unfortunately for them, it would end in a 1-0 defeat to Cheltenham Town.

After finishing fourth in 2001, fortunes changed and 2003 saw the club relegated once more to the NPL. A 6th placed finish at the end of the next season was enough to ensure Southport a place in the newly formed Conference North, the inaugural season of which ended with “Port” as champions. Promotion to the Conference duly followed, though their stay was brief, the club being relegated after two seasons of struggle, though 2006 did see the start of Southport’s fleeting attempt at going full-time (this ended in 2008). Three years were spent back in the Conference North, with 2009 seeing an unsuccessful play-off appearance before the club was again promoted as champions the next year, beating the ambitious Fleetwood Town to the title.

2011 saw the club finish in the relegation zone but were reprieved due to Rushden & Diamonds being expelled from the Conference. The following season saw a far more successful campaign for Southport, with the club just missing out on the play-offs in finishing 7th, their best league finish for a decade. Their yo-yo-ing continued with the 2012-’13 season seeing a narrow escape from relegation, though this latter happening was to become more familiar, with each of the next three seasons seeing brushes with the drop survived along with regular changes of manager. Last season saw their luck run out, however, as Southport were relegated back to the National League North after ending up second-bottom of the National League’s top-flight, with this season seeing a bright start replaced by a sharp drop in form resulting in the dismissal of manager Alan Lewer, with Kevin Davies taking the reigns in October. Southport have also won numerous local cup competitions, seeing nine (or maybe eleven?) Liverpool Senior Cups (1931, ’32, ’43, 63, ’75, ’91, ’93, ’99 & 2012) & eight Lancashire Junior Cups (1920, ’93, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’06, ’08, 2010) arrive at Haig Avenue.

As Dan and I finished off our pre-match feasts the teams were getting us underway on the pitch. We relocated to the covered terrace for the early stages and it didn’t take too long for the first action of the game to occur and that first action was to see Southport take the lead. Winger Adam Dawson, who’d go on to have an outstanding game on Southport’s right side, played the ball inside before it fell to Jack Sampson and the forward made no mistake in firing beyond Leamington ‘keeper Tony Breedon.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

This early goal may have given some an inkling that this was going to be an end-to-end struggle between two sides looking over their shoulders with some trepidation down towards the wrong end of the table. Unfortunately for us neutrals, though I guess very much welcomed by the Sandgrounders fans – the contest was to be a fairly dour and uneventful one on the whole. Leamington’s Daniel Udoh had the visitors’ one major chance, firing just wide of home ‘keeper Jon Worsnop’s goal whilst Dion Charles came close to doubling the home side’s lead on a few occasions, including clipping the top of the crossbar with a drifting effort. A goal-line clearance kept the Brakes a solitary goal behind after we’d took up a spot in the stand as the temperatures began to dip. The score remained unchanged as the sides headed in at the break. One-nil.

If the first half was quiet and it wouldn’t take much for the second half to be an improvement. Sadly, it wasn’t. Indeed, very little of note happened outside of the early excitement of a double helicopter take-off from a neighbouring school field until, with 20 minutes left on the clock, Jason Gilchrist sealed the win for “The Port”. A swift counter saw Dawson deliver a ball into Gilchrist and he finished comfortably.

Great Main Stand

Match Action

Dawson came close to adding a goal his performance deserved, firing over late on, as did the impressive David Morgan who was denied by Breedon, but this mattered little as Southport deservedly took the points and, on this performance at least, look to be heading in the right direction. Leamington meanwhile look to be in need of improvements. And quick. Dan was more than happy with the result and has made me have to say that his pre-match prediction was correct. So there you go, Dan!

After the game we headed into the Grandstand bar within the rear of the stand where another Amstel was had (~£3.50) and Dawson was given his richly deserved Man of the Match award (some Veuve Clicquot I think). From here I came up with the plan of, instead of traipsing back into Southport, we might as well get the train from the nearer Meols Cop station instead. There also happened to be another couple of pubs on the way. Who’d have thought such a coincidence might happen?!

Grandstand Bar

Dan loves pubs…

Thatch & Thistle

A further pint in each of the Richmond and the Thistle and Thatch were enjoyed before we headed through the night on the short walk up the road to the station for the train back to Manchester. Again this journey was completed with no issues and I arrived nicely for my connection homewards. There ends my trip to Southport’s home and it was a pretty decent day, weather removed. The ground’s decent, travel was cheap enough and the pubs were all fine and decently priced. The game could have been better, but no real complaints there. Onwards to next week and another tick off the ’92’ via one of the stranger ways you can enter a ground. Any guesses?!

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Gateshead

200px-gateshead_fc-svgsouthportfc

Result: Gateshead 3-0 Southport (National League)

Venue: The Gateshead International Stadium (Saturday 4th February 2017, 3pm)

Att: 620

For the first of two weekends I’ve dedicated to my birthday celebrations (it’s neither here nor there between the two, you see), I originally planned a low-key, nearby game ahead of the following week’s trip up to Scotland and Gretna. But once Matt “the celebrity groundhopper” Harrison had put out his intention to head up to Gateshead on account of it being Craig’s much-favoured destination, I decided it’d be rude not to join the ex-pat on his sole journey back in the North of England.

So, having bought my train tickets a while in advance, I was soon heading up to Newcastle where I would meet the two aforementioned partners in crime somewhere along the way. After a, thankfully, largely uneventful trip up past the Angel of the North, I was soon within sight of the towering fortress that is St. James’ Park and from the station it was en route to the Old George pub, which I was told was around Monument. So off I headed only to come across the pair, along with Matt’s friend Tom, heading in my direction from the opposite way. This did save me the best part of ten minutes being lost, fortunately…

Newcastle

Newcastle

Newcastle

Newcastle

We soon arrived in the 16th century establishment, which had apparently been graced in the past by King Charles I on his outings from a nearby open prison, but perhaps a “Punk” IPA didn’t quite fit in with the royal love-in. Regardless, this was the beer of choice, with the added bonus of it being on draught and fairly cheap too. I did feel it’s name was mocking me somewhat for bringing up my quarter-century, but I’ll let it slide this once…just this once!

Soon we were joined by Sunderland fan Andrew going with the full, unintentional “Sami Zayn” look which Tom and I agreed with was pretty spot-on, despite Andrew being, I think, unaware of just who this fella is. Anyhow, I’m beginning to ramble. After one pint in here whilst being regaled by Matt’s hearsay story of the upstairs of the Rose & Crown and some…different entertainment, our sights were set on there.

The story centred around a fabled upstairs area which Matt had been informed about by a fellow Swansea fan and which included, none other than, strippers. Yes, that’s right, strippers. Now, I can’t tell the story, but if for whatever reason you are intrigued by this, then feel free to let Matt take you through the tale right here!

The Rose and Crown, strippers or not, is very clearly a Toon Army stronghold, with the walls being decorated at all angles with Newcastle United merchandise, shirts and photos as well as numerous replica shirts from over the years being worn throughout the establishment. At a guess, I’d say Andrew wouldn’t have felt too at home! Our number was soon completed by another Matt, an Ebbsfleet fan based up in Northumberland and we remained in here for a few pretty easy on the wallet pints (plus my one staple Newcy Brown), before our departure to the Metro station was necessitated by the clock and the ever closing in of the kick-off of the big game on Tyneside: Gateshead vs Southport.

The Old George

The Old George

To the Rose & Crown

To The Rose & Crown.

When in Ro...er, Newcastle

When in Ro…er, Newcastle.

After I had issues with the ticket machine which Craig kindly sorted out with no trouble, but in some disbelief (I stared at it confused and was unable to figure out how to work it), we were soon disembarking at the Gateshead Stadium Metro Stop and a short walk later we found ourselves at the gates of the ground. After the essential group photo, we headed for the turnstile where for £15 I was given a lovely piece of card. Fair deal I’d say.

Once inside, I wasted little time in heading straight for the food bar where I plumped for a mince pie. Not a festive one mind you, but a mincemeat version. I also think this was the only pie on offer, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve had. Anyway, with pie in hand it was up into the seats and the fresh Northumbrian air as the teams were set to take to the field at any moment.

En route to the Stadium

En route to…

The Gateshead International Stadium.

…the Gateshead International Stadium.

The Gateshead International Stadium isn’t, to me, a bad ground by any stretch. Yes it has a running track around it, but when you’ve been to as many 3G cages as I have, this makes little difference and indeed the view of the game from our stand made it fairly irrelevant in my eyes. Many will certainly disagree with these sentiments I’m sure, but I’d say it’s a better view than other similar stadia. The two stands in use, either side of the pitch, housed one lot of fans each, the home fans in the “Main” Stand with the visiting Sandgrounders housed in the second of the covered stands opposite. Both uncovered seating ends were not in use today and I’m guessing its pretty rare they are required. As for the club itself, here’s a bit of background to Gateshead FC…

History Lesson:

Gateshead Football Club in its current form was founded in 1977, but the club can trace its roots way back to 1889 and South Shields Adelaide FC, who played eight miles out of Gateshead. The club eventually dropped the ‘Adelaide’ suffix and became just South Shields and went on to join the Football League Division 2 in 1919. After financial struggles, Shields dropped into Division 3 North in 1928 and after a further two seasons the club moved from South Shields and into Gateshead.

Taking on the moniker ‘Gateshead A.F.C.’, the club remained in the Football League through until 1960, when they failed to gain re-election after finishing in the bottom three of the Division 4. Following spells in various regional leagues, the side became founder members of the Northern Premier League. But after a two season spell, the club dropped from this level and joined the Midland League for a further two seasons before being liquidated in 1973. The club was pretty successful during its time, winning five Durham Senior Cups, the 1945 Tyne-Tees-Wear Cup, the Northern Regional League title in 1964 as well as two runner-up spots in Third Division North (1932 & 1950) and were FA Cup Quarter-Finalists in 1953.

Arriving at the gates

Arriving at the gates

After a further, short-lived South Shields FC (latterly Gateshead United) competed for a further three seasons (’74-’77), the current Gateshead FC was formed shortly after the demise of United. They were immediately accepted into the Northern Premier League and took up residence in the Gateshead International Stadium once more. Following a six-year stint in the NPL, Gateshead won the league title and with it promotion to the Alliance Premier League, the forerunner of the Conference.

Here they remained through to 1985 when they suffered the drop back to the NPL, but this stay lasted just one season as they immediately bounced back to the Conference and also added the NPL League Challenge Shield to their cabinet. Again, just one season was spent in the new league and Gateshead found themselves back in the NPL until 1990 when they were promoted as NPL runners-up. After a fairly successful stint in the Conference saw the Heed in the mid-table positions and occasionally higher, they were eventually to fall victim to relegation once more in 1998 and then found themselves in the NPL Division 1 after a further drop in 2003.

Craig loves Gateshead.

Craig loves Gateshead.

Just one season at this level was endured by the Heed as the immediately took a place back in the NPL Premier. 2008 saw them achieve a further elevation up into the Conference North through the play-offs and they were immediately promoted from Step 2 via the play-offs after ending up, impressively, as runners-up. They have remained at Step 1 ever since their promotion, losing out in the play-offs in 2014 after a best finish of 3rd. Last season saw the Heed chalk up a decent 9th placed finish.

The game was a pretty cagey affair for the first 20 minutes or so, though Southport did have the odd half-chance during that time, while Gateshead struggled to create much in reply. Indeed it was with almost their first real chance that the hosts took the lead, Jordan Burrow heading home a floaty cross from close range. The timing of this goal was much to the disapproval of Craig, who’d chosen that very moment to be in the concourse purchasing his own refreshment and bemoaned his luck, or lack thereof, on his return!

This seemed to deflate the visitors and their play seemed to escape them. Gateshead, though, took the initiative and never let it go for the rest of the contest and it is little to no surprise when they added a second just before the break, left-back George Smith fizzing a low drive across the Southport ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net. 2-0 and that looked game over it had to be said.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The break came and went and largely surrounded Andrew’s incredulous delight at his Sunderland being three up at Crystal Palace and this escalated further when they netted a fourth before half-time. It was probably best for his wellbeing that he wasn’t watching that game and could cool off a bit in the surroundings of the International Stadium.

The second half was largely a display of Gateshead protecting their lead against the relegation-threatened visitors and they never truly looked like letting them in. The Heed almost extended their advantage with a shot which cannoned back off the inside of the post and rolled back across goal, just the wrong side of the line from Gateshead’s point of view. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in and went on to tell everyone in our group, and many within earshot around us, that fact multiple times.

Soon after, though, the third did arrive as Danny Johnson broke clear of the defence before firing in via the legs of the visiting custodian who would have been highly disappointed to have let the effort go through him in such a way. It should have been stopped but in the end it mattered little to the eventual result.

Nice curves...

Nice curves…

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

After we voted en-masse for George Smith to win the twitter-awarded man-of-the-match award, (on account of him being ex-Crawley and with a fine Christian name), the game came to its conclusion with the Heed running out triumphant.

Plans had already been set out earlier to head to the nearby Schooner pub, which sits nestled down a small lane alongside the Tyne. Another old-school boozer, the Schooner provided a fine end to the day with a further couple of drinks (in my case a Sam Adams bottle and a pint of Pilsner Urquell, I think). I also remember quipping something to do with Elton John and “Sacrifice” in relation to football, but I can’t remember what it involved and, as such, my possible breakthrough comedic moment goes by the wayside…

Post game. The stewards wanted us out pronto!

Post game. The stewards wanted us out pronto!

The Schooner. Great little place.

The Schooner. Great little place.

Before too long it was time to head our respective separate ways and after bidding goodbye to Yorkshire-bound Tom, Craig and Matt “celebrity groundhopper” (he actually had picture requests, so I’m considering copyrighting this statement), myself, Ebbsfleet Matt and Andrew were left to navigate the housing estate lanes back to the Metro, whereupon I went on my seldom way back at Central Station.

It had been a fine day, good to finally visit Newcastle itself and good to meet up with both old and new faces, which all came together to make Gateshead a far better trip than it would have been solo, for sure. As for next week, it’s the second of the “birthday weekend” trips up to Scotland and my first “true” Scottish game, having only done Berwick previously. I’m just getting out my wedding suit (it may be required)…

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RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6