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The Abbey Stadium – Abbey Hey

9 Sep

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Edgeley Park – Stockport County

3 Sep

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Stockport County – 0

Colwyn Bay – 1

Football Conference North – 26th August 2013

And after the heroics of the last six games, here we go again.

Colwyn Bay fought brilliantly to remain in the (now named) Skrill Conference North at the last 6 games of last season, consigning (unfortunately) Corby Town to the drop, and played in their third season at Conference North level. From looking at the teams following the AGM Cup, one team stuck out.

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Stockport County.

When I started watching football Stockport County were a solid First Division (now the Championship) side. In fact they were in the Championship up until the 2001-02 season, but in probably the worst ever capitulation from any football club I’m aware of has seen them in the 2013-14 season in the Football Conference North. Admittedly they have been installed as either favourites or near enough favourites from some bookmakers, but early season results haven’t exactly been great – picking up one point from the first 3.

To be honest Bay’s start was the same, a point from the first three games, but the Seagulls went into this game brimming in confidence – said point came in the previous match against Guiseley – pretty much Colwyn Bay’s bogey team, after a 95th minute equaliser from 2-0 down saw them rescue a point. So it was with zero confidence County fans made the trip to Edgeley Park, and a mixture of nervous trepidation and a resignation to enjoy the day that 74 Colwyn Bay fans made the trip.

I t was probably my first ever Bay game that I took the bus to the match, so it was incredibly difficult to judge the highly irregular bus from Chorlton to Didsbury (there’s a running joke that it’d be easier to get from North Korea to South Korea than doing the jump from two of Manchester’s top suburbs), so arrived remarkably early. After a walk from Stockport bus station to Edgeley Park (which is up a massive hill), and buying a badge where I spoke to a few County club shop workers who enquired about the game at our place (on the Bank Holiday Monday), I decamped to the Sir Robert Peel pub to enjoy a few ales.

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It was quite nice, but outside was roasting, and it was much too hot for me. Instead I rested inside until kick off, where I made the small journey to the ground.

And took a look at the away end, which was in baking sunshine and completely without shelter from the heat. Not being allowed to stand up, we were thankfully let into the area under shelter in time for the teams (with Colwyn Bay wearing their unbelievably sexy red away kit) to come out and kick off.

Colwyn Bay started brightly, controlling the first 10 minutes with relative ease, without forming any clear cut chances. County played like a team devoid of confidence, and it was only Bay’s lacking of penetration that stopped them from taking the lead, with Rob Hopley shooting wide in front of the home end on about 30 minutes. Stockport did begin to come back into it, with a half chance cleared rather comfortably off the line from Danny Taylor the best chance of their half. Bay fans – who were looking for a day out when they woke up this morning – felt as if they didn’t get anything from the game it would be a travesty. Morally it was 1-0 to the Bay, but at half time it was still 0-0.

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Stockport started the second half brightly, bringing the locals into life which was surprising as the 2400 strong County contingent were rather quiet for the first half, but slowly the Bay came back into it, and two more clear cut chances from the forwards saw the locals quiet again, the best coming from James Ellison who failed to connect with a Cameron Darkwah cross. They were nearly brought roaring into life on the 69th minute when Aman Verma headed against the post and it bounced out in a goal that I was sure was going in, but from the break Stockport fell to sleep, and a 3 on 2 situation ended with Jamie Matthews scored with a backheel to send the 75 strong away following delirious. You could see how much that goal meant for Matthews, who seems to be really enjoying football at the Bay.

Bay had a chance to go two nil up, with Evans denied from some last ditch tackling in the 6 yard box, but as time ticked on, with no injury time board being held up, Bay held on for a final whistle that couldn’t have come soon enough. The first 3 points for Colwyn Bay of the season, and the season is kicking off again.

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For Stockport, you do feel sorry for them. Years of mismanagement has caught up with them, and it is rather sad, but take nothing away from The Seagulls. Yes they rode their luck a bit of it, but neutrals watching the game must’ve left with the satisfactory feeling that the better team won.

Overall though even if we hadn’t have won the match I enjoyed the day out. County fans are warm and welcoming, with a black sense of humour on their team. I genuinely hope they pull out of their predicament, and I’m sure they will.

Firhill – Partick Thistle

29 Apr

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Partick Thistle – 6

Livingston – 1

Scottish League Division 1 – March 23rd 2013

For those who want to know how to run a football Twitter account, they can’t do much better than looking at @ThistleTweet, the official twitter account of Partick Thistle Football Club. Well aware that a fair few Welsh fans would be staying in Glasgow for 24 hours after the game, they began hopping on the hashtag for #WalesAway, asking them not to be impressed by the bright lights of Rangers, but instead to head to Firhill, to see them play.

It wasn’t just hopping on the hashtag, but they were also incredibly helpful, managing to shave a bit of time to lost Welshmen who didn’t know how to head to the ground. A warm welcome was promised, but I was overwhelmed by how warm it was.

I nearly didn’t make it to see The Jags, as the Ibrox ground staff and police both a) didn’t know where Govan Subway stop was and b) were directing me to the incredibly busy Ibrox tube stop. After taking their advice and ignoring it, I loaded up Google Maps to head to Govan – and arrived in St. George’s Cross, eventually arriving at Firhill about 20 minutes before kick off.

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After a swift pint and a chat with the locals, I took my seat in the home end. My first though on Firhill was the amount of work needed to get the ground upto grading if they ever played in the Blue Square North – behind one of the goals was open area – but the atmosphere was great. Lots of songs sung by the Jags faithful, but would the team repay the favour against Livingston, a team who were third in the league going into the game?

In a word, yes.

Much of the early stick was given to the Livingston keeper – Andy McNeil – who had the world’s most ridiculous bobble haircut. The kind of haircut you probably couldn’t get away with in a surburban Glasgow, and he didn’t. Partick Thistle took the lead in the 19th minute when Arron Muirhead thumped away a penalty after Paul Watson handled in the area.

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Steven Craig then doubled the hosts lead after he headed in at the far post from a Sean Welsh cross. The Welsh in Firhill obviously began to have an effect. The atmosphere in the home end was electric, and even the Welsh fans began to learn a few songs. We weren’t the only travellers though – a fair few fans arrived from Amsterdam looking at a flag, and somebody was watching the game from New Zealand. New Zealand! Our efforts seem tame in comparison.

McNeil was to blame for the third goal when James Craigen’s strike bobbled over the keeper in humourous fashion, and Steven Lawless added another goal before half time when he found himself in acres of space in the area. Half time whistle blew, and Partick Thistle were 4-0 up, with Greenock Morton 2-0 down at Cowdenbeath, a chant of “We are top of the league” broke out, which – as a Colwyn Bay fan – I never thought I’d head myself sing in 2013.

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The second half began a little nervy for The Jags, and Livingston got a consolation goal, with Paul Watson scoring from close range, and threatened to get a foothold into the game. These threats were dashed by in my view the man of the match Chris Erskine, who broke past three defenders, and played a one two before cooly slotting in from close range. Kris Doolan then scored an equally good goal when Arron Muirhead’s long range pass found him in the area, and he cooly volley into the back of the net.

Partick Thistle fans then began a change of “Welsh fans, geez a song”, which was duely obliged, and the fans attention turned to keeping warm and making new friends. There was talk of running a bus from Cardiff to Partick Thistle every week now, if that was how they performed with Welsh fans. Overall though, a warm welcome was an understatement. The Jags’ fans are credit to their club, and they were friendly and warm and welcoming. A top club, and I’ve now adopted them as my Scottish team. So much so that I will attempt to watch the game against Queen’s Park in the Ramsden’s Cup Final.

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So yes, it was a very successful trip, and Glasgow was wonderful. I’ve become a Partick Thistle fan, not only for the warm welcome, but their passing on of their knowledge.

As I now know how to get into heaven when I die…

Ibrox – Glasgow Rangers

2 Apr

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Glasgow Rangers – 0

Stirling Albion – 0

Scottish League Division 3 – 23rd March 2013

So the second game in the “Three Games in 24 hours” many Welsh fans were undertaking was one that in the time of the draw many people would not have expected to occur.

You see, much has been written about Glasgow Rangers’ problems in the last few years and there relegation from the top flight of Scottish football to the bottom tier, but it’s also worth remembering that – when there is international duty – many of the top leagues in countries pause their programme for a period of time due to lack of players. Scotland only pauses it’s top tier, but Rangers’ match does go ahead, and we were lucky enough to be in Glasgow for Stirling Albion’s trip to Ibrox.

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The game was an earily kick off, and the home side were heavy favourites going into the match, largely due to the fact that they could’ve won the title at the game, but Stirling had a good record against Rangers.

In any rate, I arrived at Ibrox about an hour or so before kick off. It was busy, but not uncomfortable. Walking to the ground this didn’t feel like a Scottish Division 3 clash, as there was people everywhere. After looking around unsuccessfully for a badge (note to football clubs. I hate pink crests, it just looks so patronising. “I’m a girl and must like pink!”. Please.) I headed into the ground and took my seat.

I had great seats just on the half way line for the princely sum of £17, and about 10 or 15 rows from the front. The game had a huge build up (even though it transpired that they couldn’t win the league at the game as Queen’s Park game against Annan was called off), with marching bands, bagpipes and a fairly friendly, if a little bit sterile atmosphere. There was two other places I’d have preferred to sit though – above the Rangers’ die hard fans in one corner (who humourously unveiled a “Less time tweeting, more time training” banner as being 22 points clear of 2nd place isn’t good enough in some fans eyes), or with the Stirling Albion lot, who seemed to acquire a few Welshies as well.

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The game kicked off, and Rangers pressed hard for an early goal. Lee Wallace getting The Gers’ best chance early, forcing a save, but with all their possession and territory, Rangers didn’t look like scoring.

In fact it was Stirling Albion who began to press towards the end of the half, with Jordan White heading goalwards that was only denied by an off the line clearance, and Scott Davidson shooting over from a one on one situation. Half time came and Rangers were booed off the pitch.

I went and got a pie from the concession stands and went for a Scotch Pie. Say what you want about the blue half of the Old Firm, but the Scotch pies were absolutely top notch. No complaints from me.

The second half began like the first half began, with Rangers pressing, but after an hour and more frustration, Stirling Albion once again began to find their footing, much to the delight of the travelling contingent, who were beginning to find their voice. Rangers had few chances in the second half, and nearly conceded an own goal. After 0-0 after 85 minutes, I did something I never do.

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I left early.

In truth, I was more excited to head to the final game in my 24 hours of football – Partick Thistle vs Livingston. Ibrox was good, I’m glad I went, I just felt I was a curse for what happened on the pitch. Nevertheless, I had a pound on a 0-0 draw at 25/1, so that paid for the trip to Ibrox.

Hampden Park – Scotland

28 Mar

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Scotland – 1

Wales – 2

World Cup 2014 Qualification: UEFA Group A – 24th March 2013

If you have been following this blog to almost stalkerish levels (or – more than likely – I told you), you may be aware of a few posts missing, but probably the biggest one being Bulgaria away at the tail end of Wales’ campaign to qualify for Euro 2012. Well the truth is I flew out to Bulgaria, but after getting scammed in a bar, I had to head back to Bulgaria a day early, missing the game.

As such, I hadn’t been to a Wales away game for ages, but was still keen to go to more games. As such when the draw was made (a draw I watched in my mate’s floozy at the time’s house in Wythenshawe), one game piqued my interest more than any other.

Scotland, in Glasgow.

Immediately with gusto, I texted my Glaswegian mates to inform them of the game and I was heading up to see them on a random day in March 2013. Being summer 2011, they said I was mad, and get the Olympics out of the way before even planning.

Sadly, my extreme pre match enthusiasm petered out, and I was left just to go on my own to Hampden Park, but although I was on my own, I was not alone.

The day of the game arrived and I woke up with absolutely zero hangover. The night before I attended a pre-match party in a pub in The Iron Horse, the Glasgow home of the Tartan Army. Much fun was head sharing pints and stories and away trips with the Scottish fans (which included a bunch of German fans), so to wake up non hungover was a pleasant surprise.

After a wee bit of culture in Glasgow (which you can see results of here), exploring the city and seeing the cathedral, I headed to the warm confines of my hotel to get ready for the game. It should be said – and not forgotten – that the weather was absolutely Baltic. I knew Scotland would be colder than Manchester, but it was absolutely freezing, and there was some doubt that the game would be called off, along with my games the next days – Rangers vs Stirling Albion and Partick Thistle vs Livingston.

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Not so though, and the game went ahead. 3pm came and I headed to The Iron Horse for an afternoon of patriotic verbal jousting, but on the way to the ground I stumbled across a fellow Colwyn Bay fan, and we headed to another boozer for a few pints.

The atmosphere in this pub was a lot more muted, but still good fun. I kind of thought that The Iron Horse would be louder and funner, so I tried to drag my fellow seagulls to this pub. I was successful, but upon arrival the pub was full! Disaster! After a pint in a pub across the road (where I felt so uncomfortable due to overly friendly Scots buying pints, and my mates abandoning me to try and get into the Iron Horse again), a successful foray into The Iron Horse, and then an overly unhealthy tea of grease and chips, I headed to the game.

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Hampden was a blizzard, but buzzing and after a friendly train journey and my desperate search for a match badge, which saw me buy three of the buggers, I entered Hampden Park. To say it was cold was a vast understatement. Rival fans were keeping themselves warm by singing songs to each other, but I preferred the more traditional way of a scolding hot tea.

The teams arrived onto the pitch with an impressive level of pyrotechnics for teams bottom and second bottom in the World Cup Qualification group, and after the anthems (with the Scottish one sung by Amy MacDonald, bonus! I bloody love Amy MacDonald!), the match begun.

Wales pressed for an early goal, and nearly got it with the opening attack which was superbly blocked, and Scotland were forced into an early change with their striker Steven Fletcher being stretchered off following an innocuous challenge, Wales dominated the play for the first 20 minutes, with much of the play being in the home side’s half, so it was a surprise when – on the stroke of half time – Grant Hanley had headed in from close range from a corner, Wales’ inability to defend corner

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The goal sent Scotland fans into a frenzy, and were given a further cause to celebrate when Gareth Bale – Wales’ great hope – was withdrawn on half time for Jonathan Williams. At the time, baffling. In hindsight, a masterstroke.

Scotland began the second half brighter, with a shot ricocheted off Boaz Myhill’s upright, but Wales pressed, and were denied an equaliser from Andy King when it was adjudged that the keeper was infringed in the build up.

The game changed however on the 70th minute, when Chris Gunter was fouled in the box by Snodgrass, who received his marching orders, and Ramsay thundered in the equaliser off the bar, a penalty even now I still thought he missed. Three minutes later Wales took the lead, when a cross from Andy King found the head of Hal Robson-Kanu, who headed it beneath the keeper.

Following the two quick goals, the atmosphere changed with the home fans, as there looked like no comeback for the Tartan Army. In truth, I think the fact that most of the fans both froze and sobered up, meant the atmosphere wasn’t quite as loud as the first half. Nevertheless, Scotland was given a chance where Arron Ramsay cynically brought down James McArthur when the latter was through on goal. However, the resultant free kick was blasted over, and Wales win for the first time with me in attendance. Scotland 1 – 2 Wales.

After the game the queue to the station back to the city centre was large, and we queued for over an hour, everybody was in high spirits though, and many of the Welsh away supporters would say they’d join their new found compatriots in the Tartan Army in two more games, that followed the next day.