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The Coral Windows Stadium – Bradford City

10 Oct


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Abbey Stadium – Abbey Hey

9 Sep


Abbey Hey – 0

Congleton Town – 2

FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round – September 7th 2013

Ah. Non League Day.

Non League Day was a day set up in 2010 as a way to promote non league football. On the first international break of the season, social media users were encouraged to visit their local football club, rather than watching matches on Sky or watching a Premier League side. Three years after it began, clubs are getting involved running discounted entry or other events or entertainment in & around the ground. Now – 3 years after beginning – even the Premier League & the FA have backed Non League Day, and long may it stay.

But, as an event. I’ve never celebrated it.

I don’t know why. I’m not sure it’s usually either I’m busy or away or Colwyn Bay are playing in the arse end of nowhere, but I’ve never celebrated. I’ve kind of exonerated myself though due to the sheer amount of games I usually go to, so I encourage, I tweet, but never go.

Until this year.


Yes, I had nothing better to do, so I decided to go and watch a non league game. Now what game to go to? Well it was suggested to me to either watch Hyde, Stockport County or Clitheroe (all playing at home), but all of those are relatively well supported clubs (Clitheroe were playing Darlington), so do I buck the trend and go to a League 1 or 2 club, many of which who are struggling? Or do I drop down a few leagues and watch a game I’d never see? All I wanted was a new ground. After some drunken research after the Macedonia/Wales game, I found my target – Abbey Hey Football Club.

Abbey Hey are a club based in Gorton in Manchester, and have a long and storied history knocking about the lower leagues in Manchester. This season they had returned to the top flight of the North West Counties league, and their opponents were fellow North West Counties Premier League mainstays – Congleton Town. This game was however in the FA Vase – the lowest ranked competition which has a Wembley Final – and was the first qualifying round.


I arrived at Abbey Hey’s ground, tucked away in Gorton, with about half hour to go before kick off. I headed to the clubhouse, a fine building with “ABBEY HEY” written on tiles on the roof, and whilst you couldn’t take beer out of the clubhouse, the fact it was elevated above the ground meant that you could’ve – if you wish – watch the game through the bars. It’d be good to do one day, as you can see the Beetham Tower in the distance, reminding you that the ground is well and truly in Manchester.

The game kicked off and Abbey Hey started brighter. They have had the better start to the season, and threatened, in particular the Abbey Hey number 7 and number 9 looking in particularly sharp. Congleton had their own worries though, with Jack Graham going off injured from an inconspicuous challenge. So it was a bit surprising when Griffiths Jones – given acres of space in the six yard box – headed in for the visitors on 40 minutes. The half time whistle came and Congleton took the only chance of the game, leading 1-0 at the break.

At the half time break I took in a rather delicious meat pie and a pint in the clubhouse, when I noticed something odd – a chap wearing a Llanrwst United shirt! I didn’t bother him to find out if he was local to Llanrwst, but instead I smiled. It got over the loss of the raffle.


The second half kicked off and Abbey Hey threatened again, with a few chances that were borderline 3/4 chances. However, thanks to Northern Rail, with their one-train-an-hour from Ryder Brow, I made a dash from the ground on the 65 minutes. And I paid for it.

Yes, you see as I was leaving the ground I heard a roar from the crowd. I debated heading back to the ground, but I didn’t want to miss my train. Turns out I missed an exciting 25 minutes, with a missed penalty, red card and a second goal for Congleton. Moral of the story – NEVER leave a football ground early. I’ll know next time.

The crowd were around the 70 mark. Without being familiar with how much they usually get, I’m unsure whether Non League Day was a success – I don’t think they advertised anything as the twitter feed and (the fantastically designed) website didn’t mention anything. Nevertheless it was a fun day out, though my curse of the Greater Manchester teams continues!

Bramall Lane – Sheffield United

4 Dec

Sheffield United – 3

Torquay United – 2

FA Cup 2nd Round – 3rd December 2011

Like any football fan, I was devastated with the sudden and tragic death of Gary Speed. Although until recently with his transformation of Wales he never managed or played for a team I supported, he always seemed like one of the nicer men in football. On news of his death, I did discover a different side to him – that him and his father were not a unseen presence at Llanelian Road, sometimes seen and sharing words and friendly chats with the Colwyn Bay faithful, joking with fans that if he had remembered his boots, he “may have been lucky to make the subs bench for the Seagulls”. Speed made everybody seem welcome and almost important in his presence, which is precisely why his was so well revered. Thoughts that made his untimely passing so much more shocking.

Upon news of his death, I scoured my fixture list for a game that I could attend to pay my respects. One game that stood out was the second round FA Cup clash involving Sheffield United. So rearranging christmas shopping trips and other less important events, I headed to Sheffield for an FA Cup clash and to pay my respect.

Truth be told I’d have been wanting to go to Bramall Lane for a while, more specifically Sheffield. It’s a city I’ve never been to so I’ve been meaning to go. With my planned trip to Newcastle using my complimentary travel voucher (due to the problems in me getting to Bradford for the Bay/Park Avenue clash last year) rapidly expiring, Sheffield seemed like a viable alternative.

Bramall Lane - Signposted.

I headed to Sheffield mid afternoon to take in the delights of the city, and was greeted with a city of contrasts. The steelworks dominated one side of the station, whereas the other side was dominated with a modern urban development – we’re talking water features, people. With time being an issue, plus the fact it was absolutely freezing, I headed straight for the ground.

The ground itself is tricky to find, hidden within a terraced estate, but it’s well signposted. After walking around the ground, I found the way in, with the shrine to Gary Speed.

R.I.P. Speed

Inbetween two statues of Blades heroes, were flags, shirts, scarves and messages for Gary Speed. As well as Sheffield United and Wales shirts, there were ones from various other teams, including a Sheffield Wednesday shirt and one brought by the visitors today, Torquay United. Sheffield United have been accomodating for people paying their respects, changing the flags outside the ground to Gary Speed (which will remain for the rest of the season), and you can write a condolence message in the club house).

After paying my respects, I headed into the ground. Inside the ground I looked to try something new – a “Steak and Stones Pie”. Thinking that “Stones” was a local delicacy, or stones were a local term for kidney beans or something, I tried it – only to be told that Stones is the ale used in the pie. Gutted. Nevertheless, the pie was lovely and the pint went down well.

I took my seat for the game – which was a bit of a mistake, as the seat was low down meaning I had a fair amount of the rain hitting me, I’ll know next time – when there was pre match entertainment, and introduced to another tragedy to befall Sheffield United – the tragic death of Bethany Adcock, a 14 year old footballer who played for Sheffield United Community Ladies FC’s under-15s team. Team mates of Bethany were at the game waving flags, something that I thought was incredibly brave.

15 minutes before the game, we were introduced to the tribute video that Sheffield United produced. It gave me a lump in the throat and I fought back tears – the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd now has a whole new meaning, it was a wonderful package. People arround me were less able, with the girl sat next to me was in floods of tears. A minute’s applause observed impeccably by both sets of fans – Torquay unfolding a banner for Gary Speed during the moment’s of respects. With chants ringing out, the game kicked off.

Torquay pressed early on

Almost immediately, Torquay pressed for an early goal, and got one on the second minute when a flick on wasn’t dealt with the Sheffield United defense (which was poor all game) and Rene Howe finished from close range to put the underdogs in front. This resulted in audible disquiet from the home faithful, who began to get on the players backs. Sheffield United slowly began to assert their dominance, with two great chances (Ched Evans hitting the woodwork, and a free kick saved by the Torquay keeper), but you just felt that Torquay could get another, hitting on the counter attack multiple times. Despite chances at both end, the first half ended up one nil to the visitors. A “cupset” was on the cards.

The second half began in almost the same way that the first began, Torquay having the first chance of the half which was shot just wide. However two minutes changed the game on it’s head.

Firstly, a Matthew Lowton cross was diverted into the Torquay net by Mark Ellis and then almost immediately from the restart Ched Evans pounced on a loose ball and shot passed the keeper. Evans, a Welshman, ran towards the dugout to unveil a t-shirt saying “Rest in Peace Speedo”. The referee however, along with advice from Torquay’s manager Martin Ling, kept his cards in his pocket.

Ched Evans celebrating two goals

Ched was to get a second later in the game to put it beyond Torquay, when he capitalised on an error from an otherwise superb Robert Olejnik. Torquay were to get a late goal through Danny Stevens to send the Gulls faithful home fairly happy, but Sheffield United were through to the third round of the FA Cup once again.

After the game, I left to find a delayed train, so went to find a pub. Along the way, I got speaking to a Liverpool fan who attended a Justice Tonight gig, and a couple of Steampunks (Google it) in a local boozer, where I reflected on the day. The day was absolutely brilliant, everybody I spoke to was warm and friendly, and Sheffield seems like a nice city.

Flags: Half Mast

Just wish I didn’t attend in such tragic circumstances. Rest in Peace Gary Speed.

Moss Rose – Macclesfield Town

15 Nov

Macclesfield Town – 2

Swindon Town – 0

Football League 2 – 30th October 2011

It was during a remarkable Indian summer that I attended my first league game of the season. I was out with a friend the Tuesday before the League Two encounter described in this blog post when he said that he was off with his friend – a staunch Swindon Town fan – to watch them play Macclesfield, a not-to-tricky journey from Manchester. He invited me, or rather I invited myself, but shared a warning that we were in the away end at Moss Lane.

Moss Lane’s away end – the Silkman Stand – is old school terracing with crash barriers and no roof. My Chester supporting mate warned me about the game, saying that as an away day Moss Lane is depressing. With that said, he went during February. I had the pleasure of going in the middle of an epic heatwave, which meant that the uncharacteristic shorts and a t-shirt were the order of the day in Macclesfield.

Macclesfield Town's Mascot

I met my comrades (a die hard Swindon Town fan and a die-even-harder Northern Ireland fan) in the bar above Manchester Picadilly where we shared our hopes for the game. Of course, one third of us was hoping for a Swindon win, but we (stupidly) put money on improbable results, my friend bet on a Swindon Town win, and I did my Groundhoppers Insurance bet of £3 on a 0-0 draw. We also were keen to try out the “new and improved” menu that was heralded on The Silkmen’s website to make a debut at the upcoming fixture.

Just before 7 we arrived at Macclesfield Station. We asked which way it was to Moss Rose, where a copper told us it was quite a walk of a mile or so. This was made into quite more of a walk due to me foolishly misreading Google Maps and sending us not only the wrong way, but up an annoyingly steep hill. After being redirected the right way, we arrived still 10 minutes before kick off.

Macclesfield Town – in a bid to increase attendance, moved a number of home fixtures to Friday night. This, along with the fact that the ground is rather small – holding no more than 8,000 people –  lead to a cauldron of noise from The Silkmen fans. We rocked up to the now famous food stand for some of the new found food to be told that there was no hot food until half time. Dejected, we took our place on the stand with Swindon Town fans, who unlike their rivals for the game sat in silence.

Swindon Town's Mascot - Paulo Di Canio (maybe)

Swindon are famous for a couple of things. Firstly, they were one of the first teams in the Premier League, lasting one season before being relegated rather unceremoniously (although they hold the honour of taking the most points off Champions Manchester United that season), the second is that they are managed by controversial figure Paolo Di Canio. Having such a high profile manager hasn’t really helped the Robins, as they’ve been distinctly average, finding themselves in 10th place in the league.

The teams were lead out and I saw an odd occurrence. The Macclesfield Town Mascot – took part in the team handshake, shaking hands with all the officials and opposition players, before resuming his usual duties of geeing up the crowd. It worked, as the game got even more noisy when it kicked off. Though not admittedly from Swindon’s point of view.

The game kicked off and the first half was a bit dull. Few chances were had by both sides and much of the game was played in the middle third. In fact I can’t remember much of what went on, so we’ll just leave the match report at that. Now to try the new food menu.

Unfortunately, the food wasn’t particularly great. I don’t know whether the new food menu was for the home end or there were issues but the burger I received was decidedly stodgy and unappetising. Still, it filled me up for what hopefully should be a better second half.

It was, the game screamed into life when George Donnelly collected a 40 yard cross, beat a defender and then scored into the bottom left hand corner on the 70th minute. It was no more than Macclesfield deserved after a strong start, but with 20 minutes left the game the reserved Swindon fans became a cauldron of activity following a flashpoint which should’ve lead to a chance for an equaliser.

Macclesfield Pressed for much of the game.

Matt Ritchie of the Swindon Town midfield danced his way into the box, taking the ball around the keeper only for Jose Veiga (Macclesfield’s keeper) to clip Ritchie’s ankles. Ritchie kept his footing, but let a weak shot go. This was deemed to be an advantage and as such there was no comeback for the earlier foul. The Swindon fans were incensed, storming the pitch, and almost storming onto the pitch. It didn’t help that a few minutes later, Ross Draper scored an amazing strike from just outside the box to put the game beyond Swindon.

Me and my neutral mate were cursing the fact we were in the Swindon end, which was dull and lifeless for most of the game, compared with the Macclesfield end, which was full of life. One reason can probably be attributed to it.

Macclesfield struggled with attendances for many years, often scraping above 1,000 a few times, and one such initiative that Macclesfield have employed (I wouldn’t say lead, I think Accrington Stanley did it first) was to play on a Friday night. This saw attendances go up by at least a thousand. With less competition for games, Macclesfield now get the crowds in. I’m unsure how it’d work in lower leagues such as Colwyn Bay when players could miss games due to work commitments, but it may be worthwhile testing.

Boundary Park – Oldham Athletic

25 Jul

Oldham Athletic – 2

Blackpool – 1

Pre-season Friendly – 23rd July 2011

Question: Which League One Club can afford to sell their rights of match day photography for such a large amount they can afford a helipad, yet not justify making enamel badges of their new crest?

If you answered “Oldham Athletic”, then you’d be correct (and smart, because this post is about Boundary Park).

The game arose because I was desperate for some football. I saw Colwyn Bay play against Connah’s Quay Nomads over two weeks before, so was due a game. Seeing Blackpool had been a small ambition of mine since their amazing first season in the Premier League, so finding out they were playing Oldham – a bus ride from my front door – I thought it was a good way to spend an afternoon.

Yeah, try telling Abrhamovic a Tuesday Night League Cup Replay Tie isn't an "Emergency"

I arrived in Oldham relatively early, and had a look around the vicinity of the ground. It’s hard to believe that Oldham used to be a Premier League side. Located in the north east of the town, it’s not the greatest ground in terms of access, but that’s what makes it beautiful. One thing that does has great access is the helipad next to the ground. I say helipad, it is instead a field behind one of the stands which is a field. But it was a designated area for landing a helicopter. One can hope that should Chelsea play against Oldham, that his helicopter will land on that field, in the style of the old ITV Game Show Interceptor.

After a couple of drinks in the Brewers Fayre pub near the ground, I headed up to purchase my usual purchase at a new ground – a badge. Unfortunately, the club has decided not to release badges with the new crest, registering the new logo (a terrifying looking owl) for use “only on hats, scarves and shirts”. A plucky fan has picked up on this loophole, and is getting unofficial crest badges made. With an exchange of an email address, I headed to the ground.

I liked Boundary Park. I was sat in the main stand (which was £10 – bargain!), and the ground had character. The newest stands appeared to be the home and away stands, with the more traditional fold down seats you see at football matches. The home stand seats looked a lot older, and and was a little cramped. However, as it was a glorious day, I didn’t mind, as opposite was some makeshift terracing that was empty bar a corporate box and a rickety camera tower. Above that you got a glorious view over some suburban Oldham and countryside.

Oldham's crossing was deadly in this game.

Blackpool got the game kicked off on the hour, and dominated the early posession, however when Oldham finally got a touch of the ball on the third minute, they pressed forward in numbers and took an early (if slightly surprising) lead on the third minute when Matt Smith headed in from within the six yard box from a brilliant cross from the left wing by Paul Black. Oldham pressured for most of the half, with Blackpool resulting in a switch ball to the right wing (which never worked) as their main focus of the attack. They also did some decidedly unfriendly tackling, which incensed Paul Dickov who made Blackpool’s manager Ian Holloway seem as threatening as Mort Greenwald from Family Guy. At the half time break, it was 1-0 to the League 1 side.

Blackpool were quite hard in the tackle.

I moved seats in the second half to where Blackpool were attacking, but moved again on the 70th minute (more on that later) when Oldham made wholesale changes to their side. It worked, as 4 minutes later Carl Winchester broke free from the midfield and was fouled on the edge of the box. David Mellor took the free kick and it rifled past the Blackpool keeper. Blackpool pulled back a goal seven minutes from time when Billy Clarke scored from inside the area to give the travelling contingent of 300 or so Blackpool Fans something to cheer about. After minimum injury time, Oldham run out the deserved winners, winning 2 – 1.

The last photo I took before "The Almighty Bollocking"

The game was soured on the aforementioned 70 minute mark. A steward came over and shouted “Oi! You can’t take photos, it’s illegal!”. I wasn’t in the mood for fighting, but did stand by ground briefly. “Illegal?” I answered back. “Yes!”, he replied, “Illegal! Football Rights Society have the rights and have sold it to all the people taking photos here except yourself! You have stolen from them and you have stolen from the club!”.

I may have paraphrased the last sentence, but it was something like that. Either way, I wasn’t particularly in the mood for fighting, so I put my camera away, and then moved seat when the wholesale changes took place. I wasn’t happy, because I didn’t know it was illegal. There’s something in the ground regulations which does state it though:-

16 No person (other than a person who holds an appropriate licence) may bring into the Ground or use within the Ground any equipment, which is capable of recording or transmitting (by digital or other means) any audio, visual or audio-visual material or any information or data in relation to the Match or the Ground. Copyright in any unauthorised recording or transmission is assigned (by way of present assignment of future copyright pursuant to section 91 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) to the Club.

I imagine most football clubs have this, but as somebody who has seen nearly 200 football matches, from International & Champions League Matches down to North West Counties Leagues, I’ve never ever been asked to stop taking photos. I didn’t expect it at Oldham. Not Oldham, and not in a friendly.

It’s crap, because it strikes me as counter-productive for many football clubs, who struggle to get people in through the door, to give a fan a reason not to go back is foolish. Also, for such a silly reason too! It was a small camera, not a massive SLR.

Anyway, I will put it down to a plain jobsworth steward, not the policy of the whole club (I had snapped plenty of photos in the first half with the steward a row behind me). The rest of the staff of the club as well as the fans were great. Just the day was soured by somebody who was a completely over-reactive to what I was doing.