Gosforth v Moor Row, Saturday 7th September 2019, 2pm

November 29, 2019

Ticking off this ground was a bit unexpected in that I’d no idea that there was a game taking place until I noticed the players running around as we drove past on the way to a different match. We had plenty of time though and I pulled in and parked up to take a few photos.

Jen and I were staying down the road at Muncaster for British Sea Power’s Krankenhaus festival and had spent the morning walking up on Muncaster Fell. It’s somewhere that I‘ve been to before and we had decent views both inland and out to sea. Further up the coast we could see Sellafield which was somewhere that I first worked at nearly thirty years ago.

Back in those days I stayed just outside of Gosforth and would regularly drink in all of the three pubs that are within a few feet of each other in the village. Sometimes the sessions would go on a bit longer than I’d consider wise these days and on more than one occasion I ended up going straight to work without ever making it back to my digs.

It wasn’t all drinking though, sometimes we had a kick about after work on the same field as where this game was taking place. Although we would usually then end up in the pub anyway so perhaps it was all about the drinking after all.

I learned from one of the home coaching team that this was a cup game against Moor Row, which is a few miles to the north. I’ve no idea what level the teams play at but it looked to be lower than Wearside League standard so maybe 12th or 13th tier. Anyway, I later found out that the cup was the Conway Cup and despite me hanging about for a good ten minutes I didn’t see any of the seven goals that Gosforth subsequently put past the visitors.

Still, it’s another ground, number three hundred and thirty to be precise, and it gave me a chance to reminisce about the times when concluding an evening at seven o’clock meant the next morning rather than early that same evening.

Billingham Town v Heaton Stannington, Saturday 31st August 2019, 3pm

November 22, 2019

I’ve no idea why I’ve never been to Bedford Terrace before. You’d think that for someone with an interest  in ground hopping visiting a ground that is less than ten minute’s drive or just a forty-five minute walk from my house would have been something that I’d have got around to at some point.

Not long after leaving school, one of my mates used to play for them, but it would never have entered my head to have gone along and watched him, just like he wouldn’t have bothered coming to see me turning out for my Sunday League side Hartburn Villa.

Thirty-five years on from the pinnacle of my footballing days and what was the start of a pretty decent career for my mate, I finally made my way over the A19 to see a Billingham Town game.

There’s a decent sized car park which, had I not abandoned my car in one of the side streets, would have been ideal. It was six quid in to the ground, with another pound for the programme for an FA Vase game against Heaton Stannington. I’d no idea where Heaton Stannington is, or even if it is a place. The visitors were wearing Newcastle style strips so my immediate assumption was that they were from that area. However, I later noticed that they were sponsored by the Whitby Co-op so perhaps they are from around that way.

I’m also not sure where the FA Vase ranks in comparison the Northern League games. Stockton made it to Wembley last year so perhaps they had prioritised it. I certainly would have. The officials though were a lot older and fatter than the bright young things that I’d seen officiating in the league, so perhaps the authorities rank it a bit lower.

I went in a covered standing area on the far side which seemed to be the place where the dozen or so away fans were congregating. There was a seated stand opposite where Billingham has a few vocal fans in the top corner accompanied by a drum and possibly some brass instrument.

The windy conditions didn’t make things easy for either team, but it was the visitors who opened the scoring. The goal seemed to increase the extent of the niggling between the teams which peaked when the Billingham nine did something off the ball that led a flat out opponent and a red card. There was no further scoring in the first half and at the interval I got some chips, a coffee and a seat in the main stand.

The second half brought more pressure from the visitors with Heaton having a goal disallowed and drawing a decent save from the Town keeper. At that point Heaton were well on top against the ten men and when one of the visitors was subbed he was in such a good mood that he cheered his own name as it was announced on the tannoy.

The confidence was misplaced though as a Billingham free-kick that was floated into the box appeared to either take a deflection or be caught by a gust of wind. Either way it drifted beyond the keeper for an against the run of play equaliser.

The goal revitalised Billingham and when pressing for a winner were only stopped in their tracks by a blatant body check from a Stan defender. The subsequent yellow was greeted by a cry of “Who’s your father, referee?” which is something that I don’t think I’ve heard for thirty years and something that may very well cause bemusement to anyone born in that time.

With extra time looming a Town central defender went on a mazy run, not unlike the ones that my mate used to do all those years ago. He held off the covering challenges and finished into the corner, giving his team a two-one victory that had looked out of reach for most of the game.

Hebburn Town v Ryhope Colliery Welfare, Tuesday 27th August 2019, 7.30pm

October 25, 2019

Having broken my Northern League duck for the season it didn’t take long to clock up a second game. Jen and I made our way up the A19 to the Hebburn Sports Ground or as it is currently known, the Energy Check Sports Ground. Whatever the name, it appears to date back to 1899, a good few years before Hebburn Town even existed.

We were there for the Division One clash with Ryhope Colliery Welfare and handed over six pounds each to get in with another couple of quid for a programme that was much more informative and professionally put together than I could have expected at this level. I don’t know how many they sell, but with a crowd of just 249 it can’t be enough to justify the efforts that will have gone into it.

Hebburn were in yellow and black as I suppose a team nicknamed the Hornets probably should be, whilst Ryhope were in purple. The home side had made an excellent start to the season, topping the table with four wins in their first five games. The visitors hadn’t began the campaign too shabbily either and were just above half-way in the table.

It was mainly Hebburn possession and territorial advantage early on, but it took a long ball that was miss-controlled by a Ryhope centre-half into the path of a home striker to break the deadlock. Hebburn were much the better team for the remainder of the the first half but didn’t take any more of their chances.

At half time I wandered around from our seats in the main stand and joined the queue at the food hatch next to the club house. Chips and curry sauce looked to be the best offering and it went down well.

With the nights drawing in the second half was played in near darkness with the Hebburn floodlights little brighter than a landing night light. The substitute board provided more illumination and I’m convinced that the teams were bringing players on just so that they could use the board lighting to see what was going on.

One thing that I did notice despite the gloom was that the officials all seemed very young. I suppose that’s the way it is these days and more to do with getting younger people into officiating rather than a perception due to my age. They managed the game well, with one of the linesman having a very detailed discussion with an unusually polite Ryhope defender over the newly introduced changes to interpreting handball.

From what I was able to see, Hebburn were clearly on top but Ryhope were never really out of it and missed a couple of decent chances to level the score. Deep into injury time, the Hornets sealed the win with a break bringing a second goal. The victory was well deserved and consolidated their position at the top of the table.

 

Thornaby v Stockton Town, Monday 26th August 2019, 11am

October 23, 2019

I’d had a fair bit to do after getting back to the UK so it was a while before I got around to fitting a game in. A bank holiday Northern League derby was perfect though for getting back into it and so Jen and I made the short trip to Thornaby’s  Teesdale  Park.

It was a long walk in down a back lane. There were a few cars parked by the verges including a couple that had blocked a taxi in. The driver seemed resigned to his fate and I wondered if he was secretly happy to hang around and watch the game.

It was six quid to get in, which Jen thought quite expensive for a match that I’d described to her as being in the ninth tier of English football. I didn’t think it was too bad though. You don’t get much for that sort of cash these days.

There were a few choices for sitting or standing. We could have gone in the main covered stand, or in an open stand behind one of the goals. There were some outdoor tables in the club house that you probably had to get there quite early for and, as ever, the option of just leaning on the perimeter barrier. It was a dry, sunny day though and so we sat on the grassy bank across the pitch from the dug outs.

The keepers caught our attention early on, with the Stockton goalie being described by a kid behind me as a “pound shop Schmeichel”. I was initially impressed that the pre-teen would even know of the former Man United keeper before twigging that it was more likely Peter’s boy that he was referring to.

The other goalie was notable for wearing gloves that went so far up his arms that from a distance Jen thought he had plaster casts on them. When I questioned the likelihood of a goalie turning out in that condition she reminded me that it was a Bank Holiday and suggested that, in view of the other demands on their time, the clubs might very well have been struggling to put teams of fully fit players together.

The ground continued to fill up over the first half with the attendance later being announced as 470. That’s pretty good for a ninth tier game and I suspect  the morning kick-off time probably played  a part.

A moment after a fella nearby had commented how evenly balanced the game had been to date, Stockton took the lead when Kevin Hayes hit a speculative shot from distance that evaded the home keeper. A few minutes later Nathan Mulligan, who I seem to remember was on Boro’s books a while ago, rifled home across the keeper for a two goal half-time lead.

The second half was largely as even as the first had been and for a while it looked as if that brief spell just before the break had cost Thornaby. However, as the game drew towards its conclusion Kevin Hayes appeared to miss-hit a cross that wrong-footed the Thornaby keeper and dropped behind him into the net. The scorer looked more sheepish than the goalie did. At the death and with people heading off to their barbecues, Mikey Roberts broke through for the visitors and hit the cleanest finish of the game for Stockton’s fourth.

It wasn’t really a game where there seemed to be four goals difference between the teams, but Stockton were just that bit more clinical when it mattered .

Philadelphia Union v Orlando City, Saturday 6th July 2019, 7pm

October 9, 2019

After the thunderstorm affected game in Nashville we continued to drive north, staying for a couple of nights in Salem, Virginia before getting up to Chester, Pennsylvania the night before catching the boat from New York back to Southampton.

I don’t imagine Chester is on many tour itineraries but we were there for the Philadelphia Union game. If I’d had a bit more time I’d probably have had a look at the Rocky statute, although I doubt I’d have ran up the steps to it. As it was, we checked into our hotel in the rain and when it cleared drove down to the Talen Energy Stadium.

It was thirty dollars to park the car and that wasn’t even at the stadium, just some gravel wasteland a couple of hundred yards away. Despite the threat of rain there was some tailgating going on, tailgating in the American sense that is of eating and drinking in the car park, rather than the English meaning of just driving too closely behind someone else.

We didn’t bother. As I was driving I couldn’t drink and so milling around next to my hire car didn’t seem all that attractive a proposition. Instead we headed around to the stadium, picked up our tickets from the collection point and, after a cursory bag search, made our way inside.

I’d booked our tickets a few weeks earlier for fifty five dollars a pop with the booking fees. We had seats down the side, but towards the end. One noticeable aspect was the width of the seat. They were much wider than those at the Boro, where I’m generally squeezed up against the fans either side of me.

The width of the seats might have had some correlation to the availability of stuff to eat in the concourse. It was more like a food court than a football ground. I had something called a Goop Dog which was a hot dog sat on a bed of bacon and onions and topped with a layer of cheesy sauce. With a coke it came to fifteen dollars and so it’s easy to see why people may prefer to eat their own snacks in the car park.

Back in our seats there wasn’t much going on. I’d checked the line-ups and Orlando had the ex-Man United player, Nani, on the bench, whilst Union had the dodgy Jamaican keeper that I’d seen three days earlier starting for them. I didn’t see either of them though as the players weren’t bothering to warm up. Perhaps they had done it earlier.

As the stadium clock reached the scheduled start time of seven o’clock there was still no sign of the players. What we got instead was a severe weather warning announcement asking everyone to leave their seats and take refuge in the concourse. About half of the two -thirds full stadium took notice and headed indoors. Some took advantage of the empty seats to move under cover, whilst others, ourselves included, just stayed where we were.

After the game in Nashville I felt I was a veteran of these situations and judged the darkening skies to be more inclement than severe. Besides, I’ve stood in the pouring rain watching the Boro at Oldham in the past and at the end of the game gone home with a waterlogged sheepskin coat that weighed more than I did. That’s severe.

We sat in our seats for the next hour and a quarter watching the lightning in the distance. At no point did it seem anything like as near as it had been at the Nashville game. A fella in front of us had some sort of storm tracking app on his phone that he was scrutinising as if he were a Formula One engineer deciding when to pull his driver in for new tyres.

At a quarter past eight the game was called off. I’d already checked the terms and conditions on the back of my ticket which stated that no refund would be given if the game were to be rescheduled sometime within the next year.

It was later announced that the game would be rescheduled for 4.30pm the following day, exactly one hour after we were due to board the boat to England. Great, that’s a hundred and ten dollars down the Swanee. We made it back to the car before the rain started and then were stuck in our thirty dollar car park for an hour whilst the traffic cleared.

It was a disappointing end to what had been an excellent few weeks in the States. We’d driven the Blue Ridge Highway, watched three baseball games and a football match, hiked in the Smokies and on the Appalachian Trail, startled a bear at close range, tracked a snake and boiled eighty pounds of crawfish in an oil drum. I can put up with a postponed game after that lot.

USA v Jamaica, Wednesday 3rd July 2019, 8.30pm

August 6, 2019

After the Memphis visit and the Redbirds game it was time to head south to Louisiana and Mississippi to spend some time with Jen’s family. I didn’t see any sport this time but we got lucky in that the unseasonably high water levels in the area extended the craw fish season to coincide with our stay. The highlight was a craw fish boil at Jen’s Dad’s house where eighty pounds of of the crustaceans were purged, seasoned and boiled before being tipped into a canoe shaped bowl for us to pick at. You twist off the head, suck out the juices and then peel and eat the tail. It’s what they would have wanted.

After a week of family stuff it was time to return north to catch the boat from New York back to Southampton. Whilst it had been a leisurely drive on the way down we had to do the journey back over four days. First stop was five hundred miles away in Nashville, a city where we’d stayed for a couple of days on the way down.

I hadn’t been too impressed with Nashville. The bars in Music Street were competing for custom by trying to drown out the noise of their competitors and these days I prefer something quieter. We eventually found one with just an acoustic singer but it took some doing. Even worse was the homeless problem. Every corner or doorway seemed to have someone camped out. I appreciate numbers are more concentrated in the tourist areas but it was disappointing to see the extent of the problem.

One women on the street asked Jen if she could have the lunch left-overs that Jen had brought out from the bar with the acoustic singer. Jen handed it over and later commented to me that whilst we’d done that umpteen times when living in South Africa, she’d never been asked for left-over food in her own country before.

On a slightly more upbeat note, the Johnny Cash museum was worth a visit, although at more than twenty dollars a head it seemed expensive to me. I voiced that sentiment to the cashier and he nodded his agreement with me. I should have left it at that, but then went on to mention that I doubted I’d have considered paying as much as that to actually see him play live. That earned me a glare.

The other museum that we visited was dedicated to The Dukes Of Hazard and ran by a minor character that I’d forgotten even existed. They had some interesting memorabilia including original scripts and it gave me a chance to pose next to the General Lee. Or at least one of them.

We didn’t make it into town for the return visit as we were only able to stay overnight and we had plans for a game at the Titan’s Nissan Stadium. For convenience we stayed across the river at the Quality Inn next to the stadium. I’m glad we did, as being able to walk to the ground saved us the $40 car park fee, which was actually more than the $35 that I’d paid for my match ticket.

Whilst the stadium is more normally used for American football it’s too early (or too late) in the year for that and so the game that we were here for was a proper football match, between the US and Jamaica. My first game of the season was a semi-final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which judging by the far from sellout crowd may not be a particularly prestigious trophy.

Our tickets were for high in the upper tier. The 55,000 capacity stadium wasn’t particularly well attended though and that gave us the option of sitting just about anywhere we fancied. We started off in the upper tier but moved to a central position a handful of rows from the very back. I was like watching ants, but you got a good idea of formations and with the whole pitch in view at all times you could watch the action without the need to ever move your head. Or your eyes.

The hosts looked sharp early on and soon took the lead with a well-worked goal, celebrating to the somewhat overused Seven Nation Army.  Unfortunately for fans of the White Stripes hoping for the tune to be reprised, the American momentum was promptly halted by the arrival of a thunderstorm sufficiently concerning for the ref to order the players to the dressing room and an announcer to order the rest of us to go and hide in the concourse.

The delay went on for over an hour and a half and by which time I’d had enough of standing in the concourse. Our initial upper tier vantage point had allowed me to work out which areas of the stadium were both undercover and with spare seats and so we moved to the back part of the lower tier, near to a corner flag.

With the teams still in the dressing the crowd amused themselves with Mexican waves and chants of “Let’s play soccer”. One fella ran on to the pitch to retrieve a stray ball and was swiftly bundled to the floor by armed security and hand cuffed. It seemed a little over the top in the circumstances. Although maybe he could have considered himself lucky not to have been shot dead.

The game was a lot tighter after  the restart with Jamaica pressing harder than they had done before the interruption. The Jamaican cause wasn’t  helped by the tendency of their keeper to palm the ball into the path of incoming strikers though and it ended up 3-1 to the hosts.

I’m glad that we had a result in normal time as it was six minutes to midnight when the final whistle blew and by that stage of the evening I didn’t fancy another half hour of extra time or even penalties. I think one of the things that I like about football is its relatively short duration. Thunderstorm delays not withstanding.

Memphis Redbirds v Nashville Sounds, Tuesday 25th June 2019, 6.35pm

August 4, 2019

After Lynchburg we headed back into the mountains and along the Blue Ridge Highway. We stayed a couple of nights in a hut at the Fancy Gap campground which was close enough to a music place for us to nip up and listen to old people paying bluegrass on fiddles and banjoes. I doubt that they were paid for their efforts but it seemed a great way of getting them out of their wilderness cabins.

We moved further south along the highway, breaking the journey to Newlands with a stop at some museum. I didn’t really have much interest in its contents but that didn’t matter because we stumbled across a snake on the pathway up to it. It was just crossing from one grassy area to another and so we were able to stalk it. Jen reckoned that the shape of its head meant that it probably wasn’t venomous. It was moving slowly enough for me to have caught it but as I doubt that my medical insurance covers me for Steve Irwin-style mishaps we limited ourselves to photographing it in the undergrowth.

We had three nights at Newlands where it rained for much of the time. It was a decent place to be holed up though and with a creek running by the back of the house I was able to pass some time fishing for trout. I didn’t get as much of a bite with any of the flies that I was using but I didn’t break any rods either. It was enjoyable just being down by the river

Newlands was the last stop on the Blue Ridge Highway before the Smoky Mountains. We camped for three nights inside the national park at Big Creek Campground. Once again we were lucky enough to be next to a river and one afternoon I cooled off after an Appalachian trail hike by sitting up to my shoulders in the fast flowing water. I watched a humming bird hover a foot above the water looking for fish and it occurred to me that life rarely gets much better than this.

One morning I’d been cooking sausages and an orange spider appeared from under the table and started to eat some of the grease that was on the knife I’d used to prick them. I’m not usually scared of spiders but a spider with a knife cranks things up a level. He was a leg short, no doubt due to some past cutlery-related mishap but seemed friendly enough. If I’d known how much he was going to enjoy the sausage fat I’d have saved him some of my breakfast.

Big Creek signalled the end of the camping part of our trip and was followed by a couple of nights in each of Nashville and Memphis. We are heading back to Nashville on the return leg of the journey so I’ll describe that then and move on to Memphis now.

We were staying in an area described as ‘historically hip’ which to me just means ‘likely to be murdered’.  We got away with it though and were able to pay a visit to the Civil Rights museum which is based around the motel where Martin Luther King hadn’t been quite so lucky. We also did a tour of the Sun Studio where we stood in the small room where so many of those early rock’n’roll classics were recorded. It’s not really my kind of music, but I sort of wished it was.

Being in Memphis meant that we could take in a third baseball game of the trip. I think Memphis Redbirds are a triple A team, and so their contest with localish rivals Nashville Sounds was just one tier below the Major League. From what I understand that would mean that most, if not all, of the players involved would be contracted to a top tier team but were currently judged to be not quite up to the top flight and so were farmed out to one of their affiliates. I’m also told that an injury or form crisis in the MLB side means that players turning out for the Redbirds or Sounds can suddenly receive a top-tier call up, with their places at this level then being filled by some fella from a double AA team.

The Uber car that took us to the game had a small hole in the windscreen which I assessed to be about the size of a bullet. However our driver assured us that it had been caused by nothing more serious than someone throwing a rock at the car. That’s ok then.

We had pre-booked tickets at Autozone Park and after a cursory bag search we were up on the second tier beyond third base but not quite beyond the netting. There wasn’t a big crowd though, maybe a thousand in a ten thousand seater ball park and so it was easy enough to move a few seats along for an unobstructed view.

A lot of the people on our tier seemed to be on work trips out and as such many of them had little real interest in the baseball. I did wonder how such a low crowd would make the team viable but I suppose with the amount of money kicking around at the top level, funding an affiliate team is just seen as one more Major League expense.

There were some decent craft beer options at $8.75 which you could pretty much consider to be a tenner once you’d added the tip. Whilst it was cheaper than the Mets it’s still an expensive do. At those prices I doubt many people in the US get shitfaced in the way that I did when I attended baseball games in Korea.

There was a hint of rain in the air and so we moved downstairs after the first couple of innings to increase our chances of staying dry.

Both sides were quickly off the mark and as we reached the end of the third visitors Nashville had an 8-4 lead with the home pitcher having already been hooked for being too easy to hit. It slowed down somewhat after that with the main entertainment coming from a catch that one fella dropped only for a teammate to scoop it up before it it the turf.

Three hours is enough for me at these games and after getting the circulation going doing the seventh innings stretch, we kept moving all the way out of the gate. We didn’t miss much with Nashville adding a further two runs in the ninth for a 10-4 victory.

Lynchburg Hillcats v Wilmington Blue Rocks , Friday 14th June 2019, 6pm

June 24, 2019

After the Mets game it was time to start what I regarded as the proper holiday. The plan was to drive down to Louisiana and Mississippi to see Jen’s family and then get back up to New York for the boat trip back. We had thirty days before embarkation and had plotted a route that took us along the Blue Ridge Highway to the Smoky  Mountains, then on to Nashville and Memphis before heading south for a few days  prior to a mad dash back for the boat.

We started with a couple of nights in Shenandoah National Park, staying in the nineteenth century paymasters cabin. Bedding must have been in short supply in the olden days as we had to use the sleeping bags that we’d brought for the nights when we’d be camping.

The big advantage of the park though was that the Appalachian Trail went past our cabin and so we had easy hiking options that didn’t require us to find a starting point. First day we hiked north and didn’t see very much at all in the woods. Second day we started earlier for the southern option and were rewarded with a deer, a few chipmunks and something in the undergrowth that was probably a groundhog.

After a drive along the skyline we spent the next two nights camping at Big Meadows in Virginia. This was also on the Appalachian trail and we hiked a circular route that detoured to Hollow Falls before rejoining the trail for the last section back to the campground.

Jen was walking in front as we turned a corner to discover a mid-sized black bear stretched out in the sun on a rock no more than about six feet ahead of us. It had probably been asleep but was quickly wide awake, frantically crashing through the bushes to get away from us. I’m not sure which of the three of us got the biggest shock but I now know that Jen’s go to expletive in times of high stress is “Holy Fuck!”.

I’m pleased to say that over the past nine years, I don’t recall doing anything to trigger that particular response. The bear paused briefly about fifteen yards away to stare at us, no doubt muttering something similar to itself, before ambling off into the woods.

Back at the campground we discovered a second bear wandering around close to our tent. This one was much smaller and probably less than two years old. It didn’t seem interested in us, preferring to spend its time digging up roots. If we got close it would move away, occasionally grabbing a tree trunk but never bothering to climb up. At one point it halfheartedly chased a deer that got too close but I think they both knew that the gesture was more for show. After an hour or so a warden turned up with an air horn and what looked like a paintball gun to chase the bear away into the woods.

Our next stop took us out of the mountains for a couple of days and into Lynchburg. This gave us the opportunity to take in a minor league baseball game at the City Stadium.

I’d booked the seats online a few months earlier, opting for the $8 unreserved ‘bleacher’ seating mainly for the flexibility of being able to choose who I sat near to. If I’d wanted, I could have had a seat behind the plate for $15, but I’m not overly keen on looking through netting. It’s like those sensors or what ever in a car windscreen. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to filter it back out again.

Our tickets were easily collected from the ‘Will Call’ line at the ticket office. I didn’t even need to show ID, just told them who I was and the bloke behind the counter readily handed them over.  As we made our way into the stadium we were given pink tee shirts as part of a mammogram awareness campaign and then a bag each for putting them in. It all seemed a lot for an $8 dollar ticket.

Once inside, we chose ‘bleacher’ seats at third base, just beyond the netting and in the shade. Best seats in the house in my opinion. There were plenty of bars selling beer at less than half the price than at the Mets the previous week, but I was driving this time so wasn’t able to take advantage.

Local side Hillcats were supporting the mammogram campaign with one-off pink player jerseys that were being auctioned off after the game. This fixture was the sixth in a run of eight consecutive daily meetings in the Carolina League between the two sides. The visitors, Wilmington Blue Rocks, had been having the better season but had struggled in the recent head-to heads.

A lot of the crowd seemed to know each other, although I’d expect exactly that in the UK at a lower level football game with a smallish attendance. There were a few college kids in who gave the impression that it might have been their first night ever on the drink, but we’ve all been there.

As we reached the sixth innings Jen and I moved around to the seats at first base for a different vantage point. This coincided with the sunning starting to set and for a while, until the full benefit of the floodlights kicked in, I thought the twilight conditions were a significant disadvantage to everyone other than the pitcher.

Our move coincided with the opening of the scoring, with the Blue Rocks scoring two runs in the sixth, before the Hillcats countered with one of their own.  A third run for the visitors in the eighth was enough to clinch the win.

Overall it was a much better evening out than the Mets game had been. Warmer weather, cheaper prices and a smaller, more traditional ground all outweighed the drop in playing standards that I’m not experienced enough to notice anyway.

New York Mets v Colorado Rockies, Saturday 8th June 2019, 7.15pm

June 14, 2019

It’s a while since I’ve been to a sporting event, the last one being a football game in Spain three months ago. There has been stuff going on in Malaysia but with it being so hot and with Ramadan kicking in, the matches haven’t been starting until 10pm and that’s too late for me. Shame really, as ex-Boro player Herold Goulon was in town recently with his Pahang team. I’d seen him play for the reserves at Central Avenue  a few years ago and thought it might be worth seeing how he was doing these days, but my curiosity wasn’t enough to justify a midnight finish.

It will be unlikely that I’ll see any more Malaysian sport now as I’ve finished my contract at the power station. Three years was enough to see whatever I wanted to in the region and I’m gambling that after a bit of a break I’ll be able to pick something up closer to home. My daughter and grandkids came out for a holiday before we left and we took a trip over to Sarawak to get up close to the proboscis monkeys and wild pigs.

proboscus monkey

After flying back and making full use of everybody’s luggage allowance Jen and I set off for a holiday in the States. I’d not been since we got married in 2013 and so felt it was time to catch up with her family and see a bit more of the place. To make it more of a trip we went by boat from Southampton, a seven night crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

Queen Mary 2

I really enjoyed doing very little for a week. Internet access was slow and expensive so I barely bothered with it. Instead, I wandered around the deck and rounded off my evenings in the cigar lounge in the company of Roy Walker. I didn’t get around to seeing his show but he’s a very nice fella to smoke Cubans with and not at all ‘big-time’.

We were late into New York after diverting to Canada to drop off a passenger who wasn’t well. This meant that we arrived in the daylight rather than before dawn. Disembarkation was slow and so we spent a couple of hours on the deck loungers watching the river traffic on the Hudson go about their business.

Statue of liberty

Our first couple of US nights were in Long Island. I liked that it wasn’t full of tourists. I’m a tourist, but I’m happy to avoid the bustle of others if I can. It didn’t take long to get into Manhattan on the subway and so were were able to catch up with Jen’s brother and sister who live there whilst I walked around with my head tilted back in classic tourist pose looking up at the skyscrapers.

empire state building

I’d booked tickets for the Mets baseball a few months ago, but was spoiled for choice when the day came. GGG was fighting at Madison Square Garden and there was a big race meeting at the Belmont Horse Track. I’d probably have preferred the boxing but thought I might as well stick to the original plan rather than waste the $51 tickets.

We took the subway to Citi Field and had a wander around outside the stadium. Our seats were in the Bullpen section which is around by second base. It was fairly busy getting in but our phone tickets were scanned successfully and we were carrying nothing that attracted the attention of the security blokes.

citi field

Once inside, I headed for the beer queue. It was a short queue mainly because they wanted a minimum of eleven dollars for a beer. That’s about nine quid. I’m on my holidays though so we ordered a couple of twelve dollar Stellas to be greeted with “Do you have ID, Sir?”

As I’m fifty-four I rarely get asked for proof of age these days and I didn’t have anything suitable with me. Fortunately the lady behind the bar suggested that I get someone else to buy it for me and the person behind was happy to go through the pointless charade of taking my money, handing it to the bartender and then completing the reverse process with our drinks. After all the fuss I was happy to settle for the single round.

citi field concourse

Our seats were in the middle tier, but with it being a sharp incline we seemed close to the action.  I was surprised by how many empty seats there were though. It filled up over the first hour but there always seemed to be as many fans in the concourses as there were in the stands. It wasn’t helped by the chilly weather though or by the wind blowing through the seats.

citi field second tier

Whilst I’ve seen a lot of baseball, this was my first Major League game. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed.  The balance between bat and ball seemed out of kilter with only the one decent hit in the time we were there. Too many of the pitches were top-edged into the crowd behind. The pitchers slowed the entertainment down by opting all too frequently to try and run out batters already on bases who were attempting to sneak a yard. Just get on with it.

One of the best things about the game was that the pitchers have to have a bat. None of that replacing with a pinch hitter nonsense. One had a really low average but was happy to have a slog which is what I’d have hoped all the batters would be doing.

citi field

Long before the end we’d had enough. A combination of little in the way of action, the arse on of obtaining an expensive beer and the cold wind blasting around us meant that we cut the evening short in the fifth innings with the Mets a run ahead. They added another after we’d left for a 5-3 win. In hindsight I should have gone to the boxing.

Gimnastica Segoviana v La Granja, Sunday 24th February 2019, 5pm

May 9, 2019

Whilst we’d flown into Madrid on this break, I’m much happier staying somewhere less busy and so Jen and I spent five nights about an hour away in Segovia. It’s just like most other Spanish towns in that the historic centre remains intact, with the usual castle and cathedral, but it has the added attraction of a Roman aquaduct. Apparently there is no mortar between the blocks and all of them are held in place by nothing more than gravity. I’ve worked on plenty of construction projects that skimped on materials like that too.

A further benefit of basing ourselves in Segovia was that it was on the route of the Madrid to Santiago de Compostela Camino. Never heard of it? Me neither, I’d thought it started in France, but it turns out that there are loads of different pilgrim trails to Santiago de Compostela.

This meant that we had two easy options for going for a walk. On the morning of the match we struck out in the direction of Madrid, walked along the route for a couple of hours and then retraced our steps back into town. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, unless cows count, but there was a decent mountain in view for the outward stretch.

Next day we walked towards Santiago de Compostela. We cheated a bit by driving to Zamarramala and starting from there but it cut out the urban section of the walk and a big hill. We walked for a few hours to Los Huertos and back, stopping in the same cafe for breakfast on the way out and then lunch on the way back.

This time we had views of fields, with the track stretching out in front of us into the distance and the odd hawk hovering overhead.

Having exhausted the easy Camino options we decided to our next walk should be at the snow covered mountain that we’d had as the backdrop. It was a few miles away in the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park and peaked at around 1800m. It seemed a good idea initially but without spikes it was fairly treacherous underfoot. After a series of slips we drove back down the hill a couple of hundred metres until we got below the snow line and then did a few miles along a forest track instead.

So, Segovia has some decent historical features and it’s a great base for a walking holiday. It’s also famous for suckling pig, although I thought the ones that we had were too old at six weeks. I prefer the two week old ones with the thinner skin that we get in KL. Segovia has some decent bars too and we visited just about all of them.

Fortunately it also has a football team, Gimnastica Segoviana, that plays in the fourth-tier Tercera Division. Just as fortunately, they were playing at home during our stay, although good planning on my part in selecting Segovia as our destination might actually have had more to do with it.

The six and a half thousand capacity Estadio La Albuera is on the edge of town and as four hours walking earlier in the day was enough we took the car. There wasn’t much of a queue at the hole in the wall ticket window and we picked up a couple of eight euro tickets for the stand on the far side.

I’ve no idea how well attended Segoviana’s games usually are or whether the fact that their opponents, La Granja, are from just a few minutes drive away had made a difference, but there was a lengthy queue to get through the gates.

Once inside we walked around the back of the goal which, just like the other end, had no seats or terracing. There were barriers though, so anyone wanting to stand could get close up to the action.

Our stand seemed to be the popular one and we had to walk the full length of it, passing the counter that was serving alcohol free beer and low strength Radler shandy, to find an area with few people in it. To our left we had the local ultras, some of whom preferred to face away from the pitch so that they could better coordinate the singing.

I didn’t notice any La Granja fans, but even with the traditional reluctance of Spanish fans to travel away, you’d think some would have made the effort to make the short trip.

The main stand opposite us looked a lot older than our section and I think is the one original stand remaining, which dates it to the stadium opening in 1978. It holds around about 600 and from what I could hear it had the benefit of a lack of drums.

Anyway, enough about the ground. It’s the shirts that made my afternoon. Not so much Gimnastica, who were turned out in an unimaginative Barcelona style kit, brightened up with a Burger King logo.

La Granja, though, had oddest shirt I’d ever seen. At first glance I thought it featured peanuts or maybe potatoes. After a closer look I concluded that it was probably baked beans. Eventually, after some zoomed in photography I spotted small morsels of pork among the beans, so presumably it was some sort of stew, possibly a dish that their village regards as their local speciality. No doubt there will be a parmo shirt somewhere in the Boro’s future.

La Granja’s play was as bad as their kit. Their defence didn’t have much confidence in their keeper and panicked whenever they thought he might be given something to do. Further upfield was a diminutive number ten with a temper as short as his stature and who looked unlikely to go the distance. Somewhat surprisingly, Segoviana failed to take advantage and the teams went in level at the end of a goalless first half.

With the sun getting lower and in our eyes, we took the opportunity to switch to the opposite side of the ground for some second half shade. As we made the move we got a decent view of the hills from the steps at the end of the stand.

We started off inside the barrier, leaning back against it but were soon moved behind the railings by someone dressed up as if he were on the coaching staff but who was actually turned out to be little more than a fifty year old ball boy. The change of location gave us frequent close ups of the right back for La Granja being given the runaround.

The game remained goalless until twenty minutes from the end when an indirect free kick missed everything but the visiting keeper‘s fingertips. If he’d been just that little bit more hapless then he would have got away with it.

The goal seemed to intensify the bad feeling between the keeper and his defence. One fella was in a constant state of fury because the goalie would never play it short to him. Bizarrely, the first time the keeper did throw him the ball was from a goal kick. The defender just blasted the ball back at him in frustration. On taking the goal kick correctly, the keeper found his man again only for Mr. Angry to let it roll under his foot and out for a throw in.

There was some quality from the home side though in the final moments as one of their strikers ran from deep leaving at least three La Granja defenders floundering. He rode their increasingly wilder lunges, kept his feet and then twatted the ball home with the keeper getting his fingers nowhere near this time. The two-nil win for Segoviana and the stew on the visitor’s shirts will have given the headline writers an easy caption.