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Grange Lane – North Ferriby United

20 Jan

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North Ferriby United – 2

Colwyn Bay – 3

Football Conference North – 21st December 2013

It was the game before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was sober,
Not even a mouse

I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the trip to Humberside to watch one of the new teams in the Conference North. By some remarkably unfortunate luck, I had three Christmas Parties, that were all on consecutive days. The last one was a predictably messy affair in Prestatyn, which meant that the daft decision to be up at Guy’s Newsagents pickup in Colwyn Bay at 8:35am was drilled into me with a dreadful hangover and tiredness.

I was umming and ahhing all week whether to make the trip to North Ferriby, there was a massive risk and reward. With the exception of Stockport County, I had hit Christmas and not seen any of the new teams in the Conference North. Whilst at Christmas Colwyn Bay were progressing well, three of the new teams in the league looked like they wouldn’t be in the Conference North in the 2014/15 season: Barrow are rock bottom, and North Ferthe riby along with Hendesford Town and Telford United are riding high in the league. With only Brackley and Leamington to go in the “Teams I’ve yet to visit in the Skrill North” List I have, I felt that I had to go, plus I could imagine it’s more expensive on the train than the tenner I spent on the coach.

Nevertheless, it didn’t make the early start that much easier, plus I did feel like a lamb to the slaughter. North Ferriby were unbeaten in 10 games at home, coming off the week before of a demolition of Woking in the FA Trophy. Bay on the other hand were unbeaten in 4, but the last game against Histon wasn’t exactly the world’s most convincing performance. Admittedly the pitch was dreadful, but it was more of a battling performance. Nevertheless, North Ferriby are currently riding high in the league, and the Seagulls were firmly in mid table mediocrity, this game had the Villagers as the firm favourites.

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In a rarity, I didn’t spend most of the pre-match build up in a local pub, but after one pint in The Duke of Cumberland (which produced a really nice session ale named after the football club), we headed through the lovely village to the ground, with comments usually relating to “How the heck can this place accomodate Luton, Wrexham & the like if they’re in the Premier?”.

The clubhouse was nice though. A good selection of tapped ales, and the football on. The supporters were friendly too, stating that North Ferriby generally support two teams – them and Hull City, and the gates were expecting to be slightly up due to the Tigers playing away. All in all, it was pretty jovial build up.

Another thing to point out is the food at North Ferriby was superb. A proper butcher pie with real steak pieces, and thick tasty gravy, with proper chips that tasted superb as well. All in all, we were well prepare for the not-unexpected loss.

The game kicked off and North Ferriby started brightly, looking dangerous every time they approached the goal, with Bay hitting on the counter attack that has worked so well in the run up to this game. Although Ferriby had the earlier chances, Colwyn Bay took the lead on 24 minutes when a ball found Jamie Ellison in the right hand side of the box, and he shot into the opposite corner with very few defenders back. Bay extended their lead on the half-hour mark with Sean Williams producing an audacious chip to beat the keeper from 20 yards, in a fantastic goal.

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Bay got an early Christmas Present with a third from Jamie Ellison, when he broke the offside trap to score and should’ve got a first-half hat-trick, with a harder chance than the first goal was skied over the bar. In short the game should’ve been out of sight in the first half, but this is the Bay, isn’t it?

Yes, North Ferriby in the second half produced a lot more quality as they showed in the game at Llanelian Road, with probably the key decision was bringing on Anthony Wilson just before the half hour mark, and Bay’s nerves began to set in when – with half an hour to go – Russell Fry headed in from a right hand side corner at the far post. The game changed again with – on 65 minutes – Mike Lea got sent off for being the last man. It was on the edge of the box, with a free kick, which was blocked. However, Ferriby pulled within one goal with Nathan Jarman scoring an overhead kick to set up a nervy last few minutes, but with some great saves from Chris Sanna, Bay held on for 3 points.

The result moved Bay into the dizzy heights of 10th in the Conference North, a fantastic result going into the Christmas period – Ferriby remain in the playoffs with results kind of going their way.

All in all, a pretty good day out, and a great way to shift a hangover, with a football match in the shadow of the humber bridge.

Signal Iguna Park – Borussia Dortmund

9 Dec

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Borussia Dortmund – 1

Hanover 96 – 0

Bundesliga – 19th October 2013

In recent years, German football has seen a bit of a revival. I mean, they’ve always been annoyingly brilliant at international level, but after a few years in the doldrums, where the Premier League dominated, the German teams seemed to have resorted to something that the English ones seem to be against – fan power. With cheap tickets and amazing fan experiences, it is no surprise games across Germany sell out, whereas similar games in the UK have empty seats. Therefore, it was seen as a welcome slap in the face when – in the 150th year of the Football Association, the final at Wembley was played between two teams from the Bundesliga: the all powerful Bayern Munich, and the plucky fan favourite club Borussia Dortmund.

After seeing the wall of yellow that was present at Wembley, I decided to see what the fuss is about, so after obtaining tickets via a third party for a little more than I’d have liked, I headed to Dortmund to see my first ever Bundesliga game.

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That day’s opponents were Hanover 96, a team that were no slouches themselves (they are knocking on the door of the Europa League spots), but even though they were present in a small part of the ground, that Saturday was very much a home tie in Dortmund.

On arrival into Dortmund the day before, I was surprised to see how much the city love their football team. Shops are everywhere with every single piece of Dortmund related memorabilia you can imagine. With very little tourism, a lot of people come to the city just to see the football – indeed it was only one of possibly two things that is mentioned in the “Things to Do in Dortmund” section. I suppose it is becoming popular now as you can now nearly afford to get a flight to the city and a ticket for the match at the same price as a Premier League match in the UK. That’s more than a little scary.

Most people walking around town did seem to wear a scarf either adorned with the crest, in the colours, or both. Being one to desperately try and fit in, I purchased my own scarf, a fairly inoffensive yellow and black number with a crest on it and the year of formation on the other end. I also bought the standard pin badge as well.

As I went about town on the day of the match, I was surprised how busy it was. As somebody who lives in Manchester, who generally tries and avoids the city centre on a Saturday afternoon, I was surprised that it seemed like almost everybody was going to the match. I think this is because Dortmund only has one side to the best of my knowledge, and unlike Manchester there is generally only one game in the city on any given day. Sure the derby is a little busier, but still it struck me how busy it was.

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After navigating the Dortmund underground (and looking incredibly foolish in the process, as a couple of drunk Polish people took a shine to yours truly), I headed to walk around the stadium. It was huge and with over 3 hours to go before kick off it was rammed already. One such area that I was keen to check out was “Dortmund Live”, a fan-zone like area where you could watch highlights, drink beer and eat Bratwurst with your fellow Dortmundites, with inoffensive music playing in the background.

I’m a big fan of these “Fan Zones”, as it’s something the Americans do for their sporting events and they do it well. Unfortunately as traditionalist and alcohol adverse the UK is with sport I can never see them taking off in the UK, which is a shame as every single time I’ve been to a fan zone they have been fun. Dortmund was the best though, with the music and the table layout it felt more like a beer festival than the prelude to a Bundesliga clash. After taking a seat, I got chatting to a few locals: which at the time of writing 5 nights before the end of my holiday, was probably my favourite moment of the trip. I loved it. The locals were friendly and accommodating to my terrible grasp on the Bundesliga and my even worse grasp of German, and offered to meet me back after the match for more beers. More beers is generally pretty good so yes!

I was directed to the entrance at the south west of the stadium, and could not believe the people there. There must’ve been about a thousand or two people trying to get into that area of the ground. Stopping them was around 4 or 5 stewards, who were efficiently searching everybody for concealed weapons. I got in, but it was a little late, so when I was still outside the stadium when Dortmund’s anthem rang out (You’ll Never Walk Alone), I sprinted to my block in the hope of catching a few notes of the Dortmund faithful singing. Alas it wasn’t too be, but even though I was dying from sprinting up 8 flights of stairs which brought on a bout of dizzyness, I did manage to catch kick off.

Straight away I can see why Dortmund is popular with groundhoppers the world over. The noise from the West Stand (and yes, it is a stand, no seats can be bought there) was deafening. Leading the way was this one chap who wasn’t appearing to be watching the game, instead standing facing the crowd, with a megaphone! It was an incredible sight and the noise was electric. Unfortunately with the amount of German words I know limited to the numbers 1 to 10, yes, no, please, thank you and how to order a beer, I couldn’t make out the chants. Instead I just sang along to the familiar tunes heard all over the world in football stadia. And “Hey Baby” by DJ Otzi.

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Dortmund took an early lead. This happened with a penalty converted by Marco Reus after Hiroki Sakai brought down Erik Drum in the box. With noise echoing around the arena, the home team were expected to capitalise on their early goal. However even after chances and a fair few corners, the score remained 1-0 to the home side at the break.

I went to get one of those massive German Pretzels you occasionally see knocking about in the UK, but was surprised to learn that I couldn’t pay with cash. Instead I had to buy a card and use the money on that to pay for food, drinks (yes, you could drink in the stands. In fact they had people selling beer in your seat! Marvellous!) or the odd souvenir. I got one with 5 on it, but with pretzels being 2.60, I was left with a souvenir of my visit. Ho hum, never matter.

The second half came and it was more of the same really. Hanover rarely threatened to break the defence of Dortmund but – even after 12 or 13 corners, the home side had few chances. This did lead to a few angry home fans after chance after chance was squandered, which was compounded when news of both Shalke and Bayern Munich were winning after going behind. There is nothing scarier than an angry German fan at football, let me tell you! As the match went on though there were celebrations, as it became more and more likely that Dortmund would hold on for a victory.

That they did, sending the home fans who were angry before into delirium. The home side celebrated in front of the West stand, who were obviously delighted with the result. After soaking up the atmosphere one last time, I headed back to Dortmund Live, where much beer was drank and Bratwurst was eaten in the company of new found friends until late into the evening.

A lot has been said of the experience of seeing Borussia Dortmund, as a team they are regularly mentioned on those lists of “100 teams you must see before you die”, but it’s hard to describe why. Everybody is so friendly (even though the performance against Hanover wasn’t the best), and the while you experience the noise and the atmosphere that you see on TV, it really doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact the home game seemed to be akin to an Oktoberfest, inconvenienced with a football match in the middle of it.

And that – my friends – isn’t a bad thing in the slightest.

King Baudouin Stadium – Belgium

4 Nov

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Belgium – 1

Wales – 1

World Cup 2014 Qualification: Group A – 15th October 2013

So that’s the way the campaign ends, not with a bang, but with a wimper.

You see, Wales’ “golden generation” campaign didn’t progress as well as most Welsh were quietly hopeful after the European Championship campaign started. It seems to be a bit of a gallows humour amongst the Welsh faithful that we play better when the campaign is lost – something true of this one after we mathematically had nothing to play for after a defeat to Macedonia. As such we began picking up points, defeating Macedonia at home before going to the last game against Belgium.

Belgium themselves have their own golden generation, but unlike the Welsh, they have excelled themselves, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years with relative ease. Looking through the side you can see why: Kompany, Hazard, Lukaku, Benteke on their own would get into any team anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of Lukaku at Chelsea). When you consider that Mingolet – one of Europe’s best keepers – can only make the bench, you can see why this golden generation is a lot of people’s outside shot to do well in the finals.

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We arrived in Belgium the Sunday before the match for a day to look around and a few beers. This was a family affair as well as local affair – my brother made his first trip on a Wales away visit, consigning him to a lifetime of dejection. However he was due to arrive on the Monday, and the Sunday saw us find the famous Delerium bar, to have a beer or two.

Monday saw us take a quick look around the city, before heading out to view a couple of football grounds – FC Brussels and Anderlecht. The first one in particular was interesting as I always like viewing lower league football grounds in other countries, and see how they compare to Conference North standards – this would’ve been a “borderline may meet ground grading” at best.

The next day, we headed for a smaller look around the city, before I met my brother. We kind of got the other side to Wales away with him – rather than enjoy Belgian beers, they found the first Irish Bar and drank themselves silly on cheap rubbish. Each to their own but I preferred the beers I was drinking the night before – though to be honest as far as Wales away goes this was a relatively sober affair.

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We arrived at the stadium and us being us we got off at the wrong stop – or rather the stop that wasn’t closest to the Welsh away end, but instead we walked through an army of Belgian fans. Like all the Belgians we spoke to on our trip, they were respectful and very friendly, I suppose the fact that the game was effectively a party made them a lot more welcoming but I am pretty sure they would be the same even if there was something to play for.

We walked through a wall of Beglian fans that descended on the stadium, everything though was happy and smiley, rather than troublesome. It was a cracking atmosphere that wasn’t dampened by the dismal weather.

After looping the stadium, we found our entrance where at that point I proceeded to lose my companions. Nevertheless, I took a seat inside the stadium.

The stadium was massive! It was probably not as big a Wembley, but because we were placed in the upper tier corner away from the pitch we could see everything. The view was fantastic but there was no way – unlike other trips – we weren’t going to outsing our Belgian rivals for the night.

The game kicked off and Wales started amazingly how they did against Scotland, by playing keep-ball for the first 3 or 4 minutes. It actually was surprisingly effective, as it took a little bit of the sting out of the game. Belgium did eventually get a few chances, but nothing concrete – Lukaku had a double chance but in a half full of less than-half chances, it was probably no suprise that the game remained 0-0 at the break.

We were treated to a Belgian rapper at half time, rap a few songs which got chants of “who are you?” from the visiting contingient – the natives seemed to enjoy it though. More abuse from the Welsh was aimed at the referee, who let some strange decisions go, including what appeared to be a stonewall penalty for Simon Church after he was seemingly bundled over in the box.

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The referee didn’t get any better in the second half, particularly when Ramsay was bundled over just on the outskirts of the box. It was a clear foul and play stopped, only for the ref to not blow the whistle. Both sides were taken aback by the decision, which – when play stopped for a less inocuous tackle no more than 15 meters away, Bellamy marked his last match in a way only he knows – getting booked for gobbing off to the (admittedly terrible) official.

It got worse for Wales when an appearingly harmless throw in found it’s way to Kevin de Bruyne in the box and he scored, sending the Belgians into a frenzy. It was deserved but in the same way undeserved, as the visitors had played well keeping one of the World Cup favourites at bay for nearly 70 minutes.

After the goal Belgium pressed for a second, having a few decent but nothing clear-cut, but Wales had the chance to equalise: Wales had 3 shots in the area that brought either a diving save or a block, but it seemed like all hope for a point was lost until the 88th minute, where Arron Ramsay found himself in the box and, from an acute angle, he slotted the ball inside the goal sending the Welsh fans into a frenzy. They had a chance to win it too, but a square ball into the box was a bit behind the retiring Bellamy, and it wasn’t to be. In fairness a 2-1 win wouldn’t be quite justified, and we’d rain on the parade of our hopefuls. A 1-1 draw saw the Welsh fans go home happy.

To be honest, I doubt the Belgians cared about the result – as afterwards they were treated to a congratulatory firework display, which meant leaving the stadium was relatively quick and painless – certainly compared to Wembley or Hampden park, it’s something Europeans just seem to get.

The next day I said goodbye to our travel companions, as they were heading home. Me on the other hand was continuing my holiday, as I headed to Cologne, before seeing my first Bundesliga game in Dortmund.

The Coral Windows Stadium – Bradford City

10 Oct

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Bradford City – 2

Shrewsbury Town – 1

Football League 1 – 28th September 2013

Corporate Football.

Two words that kind of send shivers down the spine of the average fan. A necessary evil in the modern game. Football is big business in the UK, and with massive stadiums to fill and even bigger wages to be paid, utilising business links – both local and worldwide – seems like a decent enough marriage. However people can feel that it can be a little bit unfriendly at times, with the common fan ushered to the side to accommodate corporate hospitality, and 100-year plus heritages of clubs sold up the swanny for a season or two, you can see why the odd fan can feel a bit disenfranchised.

Take for example the title of this post. Most fans will know of Bradford City’s ground as Valley Parade, so when confirming the ground name on Wikipedia, I was surprised to see the ground took the name of the ground to bear the name of a local double glazer. I don’t begrudge Bradford City, heck even my beloved football club of Colwyn Bay bore the stadium name of a butcher who paid a tidy sum to rename the ground for a couple of years. It didn’t matter to me per-se, as it was still Llanelian Road to me, but you can see why occasionally it grates with some people.

So it was fascinating that a few months ago, one of my Bradford City mates rang up two of my Shrewsbury Town mates and asked if they wanted for the game at Valley Parade (sorry Coral!) in League 1 to “go corporate”. Be wined, dined and watch the game in the comfort of the half way line, near the directors and press. As a token groundhopper amongst my mates, I was also invited. £60 later I was on my way to Bradford.

I also had the luxury of a lift for the game, so arrived in Bradford after a comfortable drive at around 11:30. After arriving and a quick wander around the stadium (pausing for a few moments at the memorial to commemorate the tragic Bradford City Stadium Fire) we entred the Chaiman’s Suite for the corporate hospitality.

We were greeted by a chap who was managing the hospitality in our room (there are a number of rooms offering corporate hospitality at the club), who lead us out onto the stand so we can look over the pitch and see everything. Our seats were incredible, two rows back from the front, of the upper tier, right on the half way line. After a few photos and soaking in the empty stadium (this was still a few hours before kick off), we returned to the suite to be fed and watered.

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The suite was quite nice actually, we took the table nearest the only TV screen showing the Nottingham Forest vs Derby County, and we were sharing our table with another party. After a few beers, a read of the complimentary programme, and chatting amongst ourselves and our table guests, our first course arrived – Chicken Liver Pate.

I must admit it isn’t my favourite, but I ate it. A couple of my party weren’t exactly huge fans and so asked for the soup option. I probably should’ve asked for that as well, but the poor hospitality manager looked like his permanent smile was waning.

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No such complaints for the main course however, which was slow roasted pork on a bed of vegetables that I only recognised carrots, it was delicious.

The final course was a vanilla cheesecake. This was the best of the bunch actually, a really nice cheesecake, sweet yet not overpowering, and swimming in a delicious cream sauce. I could’ve eaten three of them, if I’m honest.

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Following the food (which was pretty good), we were introduced to the mascots for todays game as well as one of the Bradford City players – ex Wigan Athletic player Caleb Folan. A few presentations were made and we headed out for the match.

The stadium, that was empty just 2 hours before, was now awash with the roar of certainly one of the bigger sides in League 1. 14,000 fans – more than the visitors Shrewsbury Town ground can hold – packed into the stadium to watch this encounter, so they were a bit subdued where – less than a minute after kickoff, the visitors took the lead. Tom Bradshaw heading in from point blank range to take the lead. The fans became even more subdued losing Nahki Wells to a long injury which saw 4 minutes off added time at the end of the first half.

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City returned after the break brightly and equalised when a cross was guided in by Kyel Reid from within 8 yards. After that, the Bantams searched for a winner, and despite nearly conceding a few times, they were given a slice of luck when on 88 minutes when Dave Winfield after a second bookable offence, in a moment that was cheered by me 30 seconds after it happened (in truth, I was cheering for the Rob Hopley goal that eventually saw us through to the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup). The other 14,000+ people in the stadium had something to cheer with the last kick of the game, when James Hanson scored in off the post in the last few seconds. To my Shrewsbury Town mates, dejection. To my City mate, revenge from a similar game a few years earlier.

After a few drinks we headed next door to the brand new 2012 Suite. Decked in Claret & Amber, this told the tale of Bradford City’s remarkable 2013 season, which saw them go all the way to Wembley in the League Cup, and win promotion from League 2. A fantastic achievement by the club considering they knocked out three Premier League Teams on the way. Also the beers were cheaper in there – horray! I took some photos which are below.

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All in all, I had quite an enjoyable day as member of the Prawn Sandwich Brigade. It certainly was an experience, the food was nice, and the seats were comfy. But most importantly, the game was cracking for the neutral. There is already talk of doing the same the reverse fixture at The New Meadow.

Or as it’s known in the bloody corporate world – The Greenhaus Meadow.

The Recreation Ground – West Didsbury & Chorlton

30 Sep

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West Didsbury & Chorlton – 0

Burscough – 3

FA Cup Preliminary Round – 31st August 2013

Ah, probably the greatest competition of club football in the world. Yes, sod the Premier League, the FA Cup is brilliant. The romance of the competition, that a team of misfits can take it from the Extra Premlinary round right through to the final at Wembley, it’s unseeded, and it’s fantastic. But screw the romance packages you experience in video montages on ITV, lets look at real romance. Real, sexy, romance. Romance that Adrian Chiles can only dream about. Romance that was alive and well in an area of South Manchester.

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Romance exemplified by West Didsbury & Chorlton. You see, since they were promoted for their first time to the North West Counties Premier League, West Didsbury & Chorlton this season entered the FA Cup for the first time. Furthermore, they are also have something many teams (including Manchester United, who are little over a mile away from the Whites) don’t have – a 100% record. Beating Abbey Hey in the first game, West Didsbury & Chorlton welcomed Burscough on something described in some quarters as a cup run. I arrived at the ground close to the Bowling Green pub in Chorlton a bit ahead of schedule, thankfully in the cricket pavilion that dominates one side of the ground was a makeshift bar, with a TV and also a rather impressive mural detailing the history of the club in the past 100-odd years. After a quick pint (which was too quick, as you could take beer outside), I took my space on the half way line (which was a bit troublesome, due to a large floodlight between the stand and pitch), to watch the match. West Didsbury started brightly, as the weaker team they seemed keen to get the early goal, but after about 10 minutes Burscough got more into the match, and come the 20 minutes mark the home team were under immense pressure, with only poor finishing leading to the teams being level. The deadlock was broken around the half hour mark when Jordan Williams seized on a mix-up in the back to slot the ball past the keeper. No further action took place in the first half and it ended up 0-1 to Burscough.

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I retried to the clubhouse, where a couple of Chorltonites were discussing Stockport County‘s defeat earlier in the week to Colwyn Bay (which I had great delight I informed them I was a Bay fan). I took my beer outside for the second half. Again it was the same story, West Didsbury started brightly but soon Burscough came back into the game, and were 2-0 up on the 75 minute mark when a sexy near post corner was headed in by Paul Williams at the far post. Absolutely stunning goal. The home side pressed to save their undefeated record in the FA Cup but were punished when they left space at the back for Mark Beesley to score in the dying minutes. Final score 3-0 to Burscough, a well deserved win, and West Didsbury & Chorlton’s unbeaten record in the FA Cup has gone.

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All in all though, I had a cracking day out in the third closest club to my front door. I must go again, the location was brilliant, the weather was lovely and the beer was outside. What better way to spend the last Saturday in August?