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Hampden Park – Scotland

28 Mar

scotland1

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.

scotland2

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.

The Greene King Stadium – Hinckley United

20 Jan

hinckley1

Hinckley United – 1

Colwyn Bay – 3

So ever since that defeat to Chester Colwyn Bay have been on a bit of a downturn. The early season optimism was replaced with a run of defeats that saw us slump down the table. Even a victory against Warrington Town & taking the first points off Conference North new boys Brackley Town did little to lighten the mood, largely due to a disciplinary crisis. Nevertheless, two impressive performances in the FA Cup (that ultimately saw us eliminated) and a win against Hinckley United at home saw us unbeaten in the league in 2 games, the second best run of the season. A rearranged fixture vs Hinckley away at the Greene King Stadium could see us on our best league run since January.

In truth, although we had 14 available players for Hinckley, the Knitters were in a lot worse situation. With 3 solitary points and rooted to the foot of the Conference North, the new board of Hinckley United have actually come in and actually promised to sort out the finances rather than the team on the pitch. Even more surprisingly, the fans have accepted this, even if the reprieved team from Leicestershire last year seem odds on for the drop. It is admirable but understandable – I think most fans given the choice would rather watch an unsuccessful club than no club at all.

 

We left for Hinckley at the obscenely early time of 8:45 from Colwyn Bay, heading towards Leicestershire. Making a stop in Keele along the way (which was teaming with Reading and Blackburn Rovers fans), we made good time, and arrived at The Greene King Stadium.

The stadium in Hinckley is your typical new build stadium, located on the outskirts of the town. One thing that did strike me about Hinckley was how pretty the town was driving through it. Nevertheless, after bribing the driver to drop us in town, we headed to the local weatherspoons for a few drinks. At £1.69 a pint for ale, it’s probably one of the cheapest pints I’ve had on an away day. Which is great. Also the locals were incredibly friendly, with Hinckley United fans introducing us once they realised that we “weren’t Villa fans”. After putting the world to rights, and as the most sensible member of the Bay away crew, we organised taxis to take us to the ground.

The ground on the inside was nice, with surprisingly low advertising hoardings, a nice club shop and okay food (the chips were nice!), though the music played over the tannoys was painful, like listening to R2D2 tripping on some psychedelic drugs or something. The tannoy’s didn’t like it, and ended up breaking half way through the warm up.

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The game kicked off and Colwyn Bay threatened early on, keen to avoid going two goals down like they did in the fixture last week. They got their deserved breakthrough after 10 minutes when Matty Berkeley crossed the ball into the box, for Sean Williams to bury into the corner. Hinckley attempted to get a foothold into the game, but found themselves 2-0 down after 25 minutes when Cameron Darkwah, on the run from the right wing, set Rob Hopley free into the box, who rounded the keeper to coolly finish in the bottom corner. Colwyn Bay had a 2-0 lead and looked comfortable.

However Hinckley got a lucky break, after a freekick (which seemed a little soft, the referee wasn’t the best), shot against the wall, the ball looped over to Aaron Wint who buried the ball to give Hinckley a lifeline. A further boost to the home team was handed to them just on the stroke of half time, when Tom Smyth pulled up with a foot injury. The change was cancelled out when Hinckley’s centre back went off after a clash of heads with his own player, and the game was 2-1 to the Seagulls at half time.hinckley3

Hinckley however seemed like the more likely to score, and after the half time break, another free kick saw the post rattled, and Colwyn Bay dropped deeper and deeper into their own half, Hinckley didn’t create many chances, and a break saw Sean Williams (who was my man of the match) square the ball to Johnathan Breeze, who scored his first goal for the club with 3 minutes to go. Despite a late rally by the home side, Colwyn Bay finished the game as 3-1 victors, lifting them further from the drop zone.

Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Hinckley, it’s a shame that the club is currently in a period of transition, and are likely to struggle this season. Colwyn Bay are now on a 2 game win streak, and are beginning to show a bit of form that characterised their early season.

The Exacta Stadium – Chester FC

7 Oct

Please Note: Due to the schoolboy error of me forgetting my camera, the pictures were taken on my mobile phone, so won’t be as good as normal, or as extensive. Sorry!

Chester FC – 2

Colwyn Bay FC – 1

Football Conference North – 25th August 2012

With all due respect for the rest of the Blue Square Bet North leagues, there was one game that was looked out for before all others. The trip to Chester away was the one game that most Colwyn Bay fans looked forward to. Not least because the game was between two local teams straddling the North Wales/England border, but for the early years of The Seals seemed to be intertwined with The Seagulls, Neil Young and his management team, days after winning promotion for Colwyn Bay to the Northern Premier League, left to take the helm at the phoenix club. Players soon followed out the door as well, although many of them returned after various stints, and the business of the first ever Chester game was against Colwyn Bay (that was – admittedly – marred in trouble), meant that the first competitive game against Chester FC could be a tasty one.

Although after 3 years the bitter rivalry sweetened a bit, largely due to a great working relationship that was established between Neil Young and Dave Challinor (then Colwyn Bay manager), meaning that there were often closed door friendlies between the clubs. The fans did their bit as well, donating collectively about £200 to the Raise the Roof campaign, and I wrote for the excellent Blue and White Fanzine, a lot of the issues became water under the bridge, and many of the fans were looking forward to the first game between the two sides.

Considering that for me it was one of the more “local” games, I set off to Chester ridiculously early. I think I left my front door at about 10am, which is only an hour after I left my house to go to Bishop’s Stortford. I headed to the station and jumped on a ridiculously busy train to Chester (the train’s destination was North Wales, so full of holiday traffic). After a while though, the train began filling up with Chester fans, outnumbering my one Bay shirt to the tune of about 15 to 1. I arrived at Chester, met a friend, and headed into town.

It was only midday, so I took my friend to one of my favourite bars in the city – The Temple. Whilst still amazing, the semi-boozy night the night before meant I was struggling a bit, and probably didn’t enjoy the curry as much as I usually do. Still, after food, we headed to the Exacta.

The last time I was at the Exacta Stadium (then the Deva) was a few days before the previous club, Chester City, closed their doors for the last time. On that day, I had helped support a friend in joining a protest against the owner (and all round nasty dude) Stephen Vaughan. There couldn’t have been more than 10 people there, as Vaughan had orchestrated a scheme to cancel the protest until the next day, where he could manipulate the protest to his own needs. After a while, we left and went to the pub. Not such today, with the car park full of happy faces, we headed into the club shop and then into the club house (which required a donation of £1 to get into). It was spacious with plenty of people there, and two big screens showing the football. We were – at the beginning – the only Bay fans in the club house, yet soon after more entered and we managed to commandeer a table. It was a friendly rivalry, yet still I wanted 3 points – to continue our 100% start to the season.

We arrived into the away end for the match. Whilst there was segregation, it was fairly lax, and I could’ve walked to the home end if need be. Nevertheless, I took my seat for the encounter. One thing that surprised me was how quiet the game was, with Seagull fans making seemingly more noise, beyond the odd “City” chant every now and again.

The first thing the home fans had to sing about was a rocket of a volley from Nathan Jarman that rattled the crossbar with Sanna well beaten. Most of the play was in the middle third, with Chester resigned to long chances and Bay looking to get their forward line of Danny Lloyd, Allan Collins and Kevin Holdsgrove into the game. Jarman did get Chester the lead on 26 minutes, finishing off a clever through ball that saw him celebrate in front of the Bay fans. Sod. The lead however was to last all of 3 minutes with Kevin Holdsgrove muscling his way through the Chester defence to equalise.

After the half time interval, Danny Lloyd had the chance to put Colwyn Bay ahead when he was one-on-one with the keeper, only to fire a shot straight at the keeper. Chester made Bay pay for that mistake with Ben Mills looping a ball, seemingly impossibly over Chris Sanna to hit the side netting and in. No matter what Colwyn Bay tried, including hitting the bar from a Lee Davey free kick, Chester held onto the win.

A concern for the Bay was Chris Sanna going off injured right at the death due to a clash of heads. The Bay shotstopper spent the night in hospital with concussion, though was released early Sunday morning.

Overall, the game wasn’t quite as exciting as the build up provided (largely due to the poor officiating taking a sting out of the game), but  the crowd was large (1000 more than when I saw the old Chester City play Mansfield Town) and friendly. After the game we spent it in the clubhouse, enjoying talking to the barstaff and volunteers. A credit to their club.

All in all, a good day out, bar the result.

The Airfield – Airbus UK Broughton

28 Aug

Airbus UK Broughton – 1

Colwyn Bay – 6

Preseason Friendly – 11th August 2012

So my amazing week of sport finished with a preseason friendly against Airbus UK.

After taking in the Olympic Park on Wednesday and Eton Dorney on Thursday, the Saturday saw me head down the coast from Colwyn Bay to the small village of Broughton to see Colwyn Bay’s last away pre-season friendly.

Airbus UK have become a stable side in the Welsh Premier League, after winning the Cymru Alliance in 2004, and have had a pretty good preseason including a victory over new Conference North boys – Chester FC.

Luke Denson had a cracking game for the visitors.

I left for Airbus in a car pool (yes! Odd for me!) quite late on, and arrived at the ground about a quarter of an hour before kickoff. Nevertheless, in that time I took in the ground (a small ground located on the edge of Airbus UK’s Broughton factory, hence the name), bought a burger and a badge from the club shop. It is – to coin a phrase associated with us Welsh – tidy. The pitch was immaculate and the game kicked off.

Colwyn Bay started brightly against a tricky team, and took the lead after 10 minutes when Rob Hopley linked up well with Luke Denson down the left wing, and a ball across the box eventually found its way to Paul Ennis who rifled into the top corner. Hopley – who was dangerous all day – nearly doubled Bay’s advantage when he – linking up well with Holdsgrove – fired in a shot that hit the crossbar with the keeper well beaten.

Airbus never really threatened, and really had an extra man on the pitch with the referee seemingly give the home side a lot more of the 50/50 decisions. One such incident was after Paul Ennis pulled up off the ball with a twisted knee, the game was allowed to continue by the referee. It was a friendly game for goodness sake!

Ennis eventually, after lengthy treatment, continued for a bit, and set up Colwyn Bay’s second from a left sided corner, that Hopley allegedly headed in, though it looked more like an own goal from my vantage point. That was the last action from Paul Ennis, who was substituted on the stroke of half time, with the score 2-0 to the visitors.

Colwyn Bay created chance after chance after chance.

The half time raffle followed, with a fantastic gesture from the Wingmakers – all proceeds going to Danny Meadowcroft’s charity. Our captain Danny Meadowcroft’s daughter suffers from Short Bowel Syndrome and is running the Great North Run for “Short Bowel Survivors and Friends” and “Ronald McDonald House Charities”. You can donate if you want here.

The second half began and the game was effectively over ten minutes later when Kevin Holdsgrove scored a 6 minute hat trick, all three from fast break, and all three with confident finishing. Holdsgrove linked up well, and was immediately taken off following his hat-trick, to be replaced by Allan Collins. Collins got the sixth after beating the keeper to the ball on 65 minutes. Michael Thomas then got the ball in the net but it was ruled offside, Hopley hit the bar again, and Airbus UK got a late consolation, a penalty, to make sure that Colwyn Bay’s run of not keeping a clean sheet extends for one more game.

Nevertheless, it was a great day in the office for Colwyn Bay. After a wobble after the Rhyl game that lasted until the Caersws game, we’ve picked it up again. Holdsgrove and Hopley seem to be full of goals for this season. I’m excited for the season, bring on the Blue Square North!

Old Trafford – The Olympic Games Football

30 Jul

Egypt – 1

New Zealand – 1 &

Brazil – 3

Belarus – 1

The Olympic Games Football, Group C Matches – 29th July 2012

So after 7 years, the Olympic Games are finally here.

If you were to believe the press coverage leading up to the XXX Olympiad (I like calling it that), you’d know that there were a bunch of monumental screw-ups, and questions were being asked about the games. One of them were the ticketing – how many tickets would end up in the hands of fans, and how many would go to people genuinely interested in it?

The first round of tickets offered were offered via a ballot, and for a long time, the football tickets – by far the easiest tickets to get – were the only tickets I could get my hands on. I later manage to get Handball tickets (which follows in a couple of weeks on this blog), at the second round, first-come-first-serve of tickets being sold.

Anyway, first up was football, and – thankfully – no Team GB. Instead I get two nations with a remarkable football pedigree, and two other emerging nations in games. I left my house at the obscene time of 9:30am on a Sunday to head to Old Trafford for the first time. The home of Manchester United is the closest ground to my house, and yet, before today, I’ve never been. Been to the second closest football ground to my front door (Brantingham Road, the home of Maine Road, that ironically began as a Manchester City fan team), but not the first.

This appeared outside my home recently.....

As I headed to the Metrolink stop (which I board every day to go to work), I got greeted by one of the many volunteers helping at the games. I kind of imagine that they have to undergo a Clockwork Orange esque scene of being forced to watch puppies, kittens and rainbows, they are so incredibly cheerful! I got helpfully pointed towards Old Trafford, and – after a rather efficient bag search – I was in the ground.

They say arrive two hours before the games, the entire process meant I was in the ground an hour and 45 before kick off, but absolutely no complaints about the seats! Third row, and just about under the covers. It resulted in a time-killing phone call to the parents to describe where I was, and to look out for me. Nothing like crippling the mother and father’s day by forcing them to watch football, is it?

Egypt probably not taking the warmup as seriously as they should

After being entertained by DJ Spoony, who was providing warm up (which lead to a few moments of resounding boos, most notably when he asked if there were any Manchester United fans in attendance), I headed off for a sausage roll. I kind of wish I didn’t as it was the single most revolting thing I’ve ever eaten. Rubbery and borderline sickly, I expected better from the 19 time Premier League Champions. The game began to fill up, though oddly for the first game there were empty seats next to me. Those that were there (which was announced as a shade over 50,000) were mainly Egyptian fans, and come midday, the match kicked off.

Empty seats. Brazillian, not corporates, incidentally.

Egypt straight away seemed like the much stronger side, and seemed a lot more value than their previous game (a 3-0 defeat to Brazil), so it was surprising when the All Whites took the lead, a corner taken by Michael McGlinchey was flicked on by Tommy Smith, which lead to Chris Wood of West Brom’s fame to bundle into the net. In literally the first attack for New Zealand, they were 1-0 up.

The lead didn’t last for too long, however, as Mohamed Salah equalised just on the half hour mark burying a cross beneath the New Zealand keeper, who played well, and did get his hand to the ball. Come half time, the score was 1-1.

Egypt look good for the win but struggled the second half.

The second half was a lively affair, with Egypt having most of the ball, but New Zealand defending resolutely. Very few clear cut chances were present until injury time, which had the most remarkable passage of play I’ve seen at a football match.

Emad Moteb raced onto a ball in the box, and dodging and weaving between players, he had the goal at his mercy. Instead of putting the game beyond doubt, he blasted it over. Egypt, thinking that was it, fell asleep only for New Zealand to counter attack. A chance went straight at the keeper, who launched a final counter attack. Although it lead to a decent chance, it was easily save. Mark Clattenburg brought the game to an end with the honours even, with the crowd nicely warmed up for the real stars – Brazil.

The next World Cup Winners (and West Ham's James Tomkins)?

An hour break was between the games, but nevertheless much of that hour was spent watching the fascinating Brazil training sesson. As somebody who has taken photos at football matches you can kind of predict where the ball will go. Not with Brazil, some of the tricks and their ball control was superb. The atmosphere picked up as well, as the sea of red that was a mixture of Egypt fans and empty seats changed to a sea of yellow for Brazil.

As the teams were announced, the first cock-up of the day occurred. One of Brazil’s substitutes was announced as the rather unBrazilian James Tomkins. James Tomkins is one of Team GB’s footballers, so yes, massive screw up.

Neymar

Belarus though had much cause to celebrate. Qualification for the first time in an Olympic games, this team – if a little older – could become a challenger to the European elite. You could see it on the emotion of the players playing before kick off, which happened soon after 3.

Brazil seemed content to pass the ball in front of Belarus, who went through the first three minutes without touching the ball once. It was a surprise of Eric The Eel proportions when Renan Bardini Bressan (a favourite on Football Manager) scored from Belarus’ first attack to put the Eastern Europeans 1-0 up after 7 minutes. The lead lasted until the quarter of the hour mark, when the latest Brazilian hero Neymar sent a glorious cross to the far post for Pato to head in. No more goals occurred in the first half, despite much Brazilian pressure, and the game was 1-1 at half time.

Oscar had a very strong second half.

The second half kicked off, and Neymar began to run the show. After a couple of mazy dribbles past a few Belerussian players, he was fortunate to get a free kick 35 yards out when it appeared he (accidentally) kicked one of the Eastern European centre backs in the back of the head. There was no mistake with the free kick, leaving the keeper well beaten with the finish, in what was the goal of the game.

PICK THAT ONE OUT!!!

Although it didn’t kill the game off, it was still all Brazilian pressure, and the game was finally over when Neymar took the ball past two players, backheeled it to Chelsea new boy Oscar, who rifled the ball into the back of the net. Final score, Brazil 3, a spirited Belerus 1.

I left the games beaming from ear to ear. Sod the ticket fiasco, sponsorship and G4S. Today was watching the greatest sport on Earth played at the greatest event on Earth, with possibly one of the greatest teams on Earth. Nothing can put me off, not least the three empty seats beside me.

Yes, those empty seats? Well it may have played into my hands. After checking the London 2012 website, tickets for a Thursday early morning session of Canoe Sprint have come available. It’ll be an early morning trek to Buckinghamshire, but for a once in a lifetime experience, it’ll be worth it.

A once in a lifetime experience, which I’m experiencing three times in two weeks now.