Sedbergh and Dent United v Wetheriggs United, Saturday 19th November 2022, 2pm

November 21, 2022

It will be a shame if Elon Musk does cause Twitter to implode as I currently get some great information from it. Last week I discovered from my feed that a team in Cumbria had fielded a sixty-eight-year-old player. You can’t pass up the opportunity to see something like that and so, on the off chance that his performance merited him retaining his place in the team, Jen and I headed for Sedbergh to see Sedbergh and Dent Reserves take on Kirby Lonsdale Reserves in the fourth division of the Westmorland League.

I like to try and combine these trips out with something other than football and a check on the route revealed that we would be passing Cautley Spout, which is the biggest waterfall of its type in somewhere or other, possible Cautley. Further investigation led to the discovery that we could park up at the Cross Keys temperance pub, have some lunch and then walk out and back to the waterfall, all in sufficient time to get to the game.

The Cross Keys was fantastic. It was full of old, interesting stuff and had a coal fire burning in one of the rooms. They do B&B as well, so at some point I’d like to go back and use it as a base for a longer walk across the Howgill fells.

The walk to the waterfall was easy enough as it probably wasn’t much more than a mile each way. Despite the rain on the way over, we struck lucky with a break in the inclement weather and within an hour we were back at the Cross Keys. We saw some unusual looking mushrooms but little in the way of wildlife apart from the brightly painted sheep penned in near to the road.

The short walk meant that we had plenty of time to get to Sedbergh, for the game in the seventeenth tier of the pyramid. However, as two o’clock approached we still hadn’t found a pitch with people on it. A further check on Twitter revealed that the fixture had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and so my plan to see the sixty-eight-year-old was thwarted. Temporarily, I hope.

Plan B meant seeing the Sedbergh and Dent United first team instead. They play in the dizzy heights of the fourteenth tier Westmorland League Division One and just four miles away at the club’s other pitch in Dent.

We arrived at the Church Playing Field twenty minutes into the game and with Sedbergh, in green and black, a goal to the good. It was a decent venue for a game at this level, with a grass pitch, dugouts and goalposts that didn’t require the players to fit the nets and risk losing a finger.

Jen and I set up our camping chairs on the far side from the dugouts, alongside the Wetherigg subs and manager. It was a reasonably feisty first half with a lot of noise coming from both sets of teams. Our arrival brought the attendance up to fifteen which seemed a little on the low side as I doubt that there was anything else going on in Dent that afternoon.

The visitors equalized a few minutes before the break with a well-taken half-volley, but Sedbergh re-took the lead bang on the forty-five-minute mark when the away keeper fumbled a corner. We then got to listen to the Wetherigg half-time team talk in which their captain criticised the jittery defending, commenting that it was as if they had all done three lines of coke. I liked his precision in specifying the quantity.

By the time the second half started it was already beginning to get dark, so much so that with twenty minutes to go there wasn’t sufficient light to take useable photos. The players and management continued to shout at each other and at the ref but didn’t manage to add any further goals. Despite not seeing the pensioner play it had been a good day out and I’ll try to get along to some more Westmorland League fixtures when the opportunity arises.

Skanstes v JDFS Alberts, Sunday 13th November 2022, 1pm

November 16, 2022

Whilst the top-tier Virsliga had reached its conclusion the previous day, there was still a round of fixtures remaining in the next league down. I’d had a look to see what was nearby and there was a choice between a game a few minutes on from the Skonto stadium that we’d been to the day before and one in the opposite direction, a little further away and over the river. On the basis that we hadn’t yet crossed the river I picked that one.

We had a decent view of the old town from the bridge including some of the big churches that we’d had a look inside. Once over the river, it was a little more modern and after forty-five minutes walking we arrived at the location for the stadium. Or at least we would have done if there had been a stadium there.

I asked a fella coming out of a house if there was a football ground nearby and his bemused look told me all I needed to know. We retraced our steps back across the bridge and I headed for the other option. Jen had done enough walking and so she made her way back to the apartment.

The route to the Hanzas Vidusskolas Laukums ground took me past the Russian Embassy and up to the Skonto stadium again. A further few hundred metres on I spotted the game, albeit on the opposite side of the road to that indicated on my phone. The scoreboard revealed that we were almost an hour into the game and it was level at one each.

I couldn’t see a way in from the side of the road and so had to make my way past the pitch and turn the corner before finding an entrance on the far side. Nobody was taking any money at that late stage, although I doubt that anyone will have had to pay at any time. There were three rows of seats along one side of the artificial pitch and I made my way around behind the goal and sat down. I’d estimate that there were maybe sixty people or so watching.

One team were in black and orange, with the other in grey and black. I didn’t bother asking anyone which was which as I was hoping that a further goal would solve the identification issue. There were plenty of chances in the final twenty minutes, but they all went begging and I finished none the wiser as to the team’s identities.

It was good to tick off a second Latvian stadium though, even if it meant a twenty-five thousand step day. With their leagues running from March to November I’m tempted to go back in the summer and take in some games outside of Riga.

Riga v Riga Futbola Skola, Saturday 12th November 2022, 1pm

November 15, 2022

Now that Jen has her visa, it’s a lot easier for us to travel outside the UK. We don’t have to worry about whether the border force fella is having a bad day and might refuse her entry just because he can. I’d been looking at the various options for heading off for a game somewhere and ended up picking Riga. We took cheap flights from Newcastle and spent four days wandering around the old part of town.

The weekend coincided with the final fixtures in the Latvian leagues and on the Saturday we made our way to the Skonta stadium. The route took us along the recently re-named Ukrainian Independence Street which, by remarkable coincidence, happens to be the street where the Russian Embassy is situated.

There’s a great view of the Paul Stradin Museum from the side windows of the Russian Embassy, although the diplomats and staff may not appreciate the image of Putin that has been fastened to the wall of the museum. It’s a handy reminder for them though that there is little support for their actions in the rest of the world. If the Putin image wasn’t enough, a small group of protesters maintains a presence across the road and visible from the front windows.

Whilst the route to the Skonto stadium went past the Paul Stradin Museum, it’s a place that we’d intended to visit anyway. It had a lot of historical scientific stuff, but it was a ‘two-headed dog’ that had drawn us in. I’d been expecting some sort of mutation, similar to calves and lambs that I’d seen elsewhere, but this was actually a scientific experiment with the head of a small dog grafted onto the upper back of a larger one.

Back in the fifties someone had thought it a good idea to see what would happen if the head of one dog was attached to the body of a larger one and connected into the host circulatory system. Apparently, the small dog was able to see, hear and smell as well as drink and respond to the transplant team. Hopefully it gave some of them a vicious nip. Both dogs lived for four days and in future experiments other dogs lasted for over a month.

Interesting as all that was, we had a game to see. As the museum is only ten minutes or so from the ground I’d usually expect to be able to follow the crowd. However, despite it only being half an hour to kick-off, there wasn’t anyone that I’d readily identify as being on their way to the match.

The reason for this is primarily that football isn’t very popular in Latvia. It’s an ice hockey country. I’d checked the fixtures for that sport in advance but it was a blank weekend.

The Skonto stadium was built in 2000, but it has aged quickly. I’d have dated it as being twenty years older than it actually is. We did a lap around the ground, cutting through the car park behind one goal where the stand has been demolished. I paused for a photo from the far corner which is where the away fans would be situated. The ground holds over eight thousand but I doubt the capacity is ever threatened.

I’d bought tickets online the day before for five euros each. They were general admission and we had the choice of the main stand or behind the goal to our our left, which housed the local ultras. The forty of so of them kept up their drumming and chanting throughout the game and then let off a few flares at the end.

The game was in the top tier, between Riga and local rivals Riga Futbola Skola. They went into the final game of the season in second and third place in the table respectively. FS were marooned in third, but Riga still had a chance of the title if they won and the team in first place did no better than a draw.

You’d think with a title at stake that there would have been more people there than the two to three thousand that showed up but, as I mentioned, it’s a hockey town.

Riga were in sky blue with FS in navy. There weren’t too many chances in the first half apart from one FS shot that hit both the bar and post but somehow stayed out. FS were probably the better side in a game where they had nothing to play for other than denying another Riga team a chance of winning the league.

There were a lot of people around me watching the other game that affected the title race on their phones and it remained unsettled until well into the second half. The league leaders went ahead in their game and then Riga went behind when an FS sub rattled one into the top corner within seconds of having come on. Riga attacked frantically towards the end but couldn’t force an equalizer.

The defeat meant that the score in the other game didn’t matter and Riga’s chance of the title was gone. Nobody seemed unduly disappointed, and I’ve seen more annoyance at the outcome of mid-table Boro games. Maybe they save all the anguish for the hockey games.

Middlesbrough v Bristol City, Saturday 5th November 2022, 3pm

November 7, 2022

As expected, Gibbo had appointed Michael Carrick as manager, with Leo taking a backroom role away from the first team as something to do with player development. I suspect that he will drop in back in as caretaker again when Carrick gets the chop, presumably next October.

It was a surprise to see Johnny Woodgate back as a coach. I suspect that was Gibbo’s idea rather than Carrick’s, but I’ve been impressed by Woodgate whenever I’ve heard him on the radio talking about coaching or providing analysis. I think he will make a contribution.

Alistair was available to come with us again and was wearing a boro scarf when I picked him up. When he first came along last season, he told us he was a Man City fan, so I’m hoping that these trips to the Riverside have converted him to his local team. I got him the white third strip for his birthday recently so hopefully that will help too.

Carrick had been in charge for a couple of away games with a last gasp defeat at Preston and a good win at Hull. He’s tinkered with the formation, moving Akpom back into a supporting three, behind Forss. It seems to be working reasonable well and hasn’t impacted upon Akpom’s scoring streak.

We started poorly again, conceding within ten minutes after City opened us up far too easily. Boro got better as the half went on though and the visitors had their goalie to thank for going in at the break a goal up.

Chris Kamara got a warm reception when he came onto the pitch at half-time. It was heart-breaking to hear his difficulties with his speech, but great to see him out and about.

In the second half we continued to create chances but took just the one with Akpom scoring for the third game in a row and his fourth goal in five games. Strange to think that both Warnock and Wilder had written him off for such a long time. The performance and the point were generally well-received and with the World Cup break just a week away, there’s going to be time for the new manager to get his ideas across to the players.

Bradford Park Avenue v Gloucester City, Monday 31st October 2022, 7.45pm

November 6, 2022

I’d had a few opportunities to get to a game over the last week or so, but the weather had been pretty poor. I generally don’t mind if it’s raining, as long as I’m going somewhere with some cover. The dog had been staying though and he’s less keen on heading out in the drizzle, so I passed up the various options and let him spend his evenings dozing on the settee instead.

Soph had taken him back for a couple of nights, the first of which coincided with a game down in Bradford. Whilst an hour and a half drive for a match that doesn’t involve the Boro seems a bit much, I’d just received the Revolver re-issue and was happy to spend time in the car listening to the two rareties discs. There’s little that I like better than hearing the formative versions of familiar songs, particularly when it’s The Beatles.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Yellow Submarine and would happily have seen it replaced on Revolver by Paperback Writer or Rain, which were recorded at the same sessions but put out on a single instead. It was great though to hear Lennon’s early demo and then the way it developed into the nursery rhyme final version that still forms the basis of football songs fifty-odd years on.

The game was between Bradford Park Avenue and Gloucester City in the sixth-tier National League North. Park Avenue are famous to me for being booted out of the Football League when I was a kid and then going bust. Apparently, they had a stint as a Sunday side before restructuring and eventually making their way back up the pyramid.

Gloucester never strikes me as a football place. Rugby, yes, fancy sausages, yes, Doctor Foster, that’s about it really. Plus, it’s down south, how on earth did they end up in the National League North?

I arrived at the Horsfall Stadium with twenty minutes to spare to kick-off and with the rain coming down was tempted to stay in the car for another rendition of Eleanor Rigby. I was hungry though and so paid the fourteen quid charged at this level and got myself a pork pie and a coffee from the food kiosk near to the main stand.

I also got a programme which covered both this game and the one two days earlier. There was a cabin that sold old programmes and second-hand books. I’m trying to cut down on bringing that sort of stuff into the house these days, but it was fine for a brief browse.

Bradford, who went into the game third from bottom of the table, were in green with Gloucester, who were up near the top of the league, in a red and yellow kit of the kind that shouldn’t really be worn by anyone other than Melchester Rovers.

I didn’t hear any away fans but there were a couple of sections of home fans at either end of the covered stand and we got renditions of ‘Avy, Avy, Avy, Avy, Avenue’.

Gloucester took an early lead, but Bradford levelled before the break and went ahead in the second half. The visitors pushed hard for an equalizer and came closest with a speculative shot from around forty yards in the last minute of added time. It hit the bar and bounced out. If it had gone in it would have been real Roy Race stuff. At the final whistle and with the rain still coming down heavily I legged it to the exit along the running track that surrounded the pitch. I doubt I’d have covered the ground any faster in my prime.

Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town, Saturday 22nd October 2022, 3pm

October 26, 2022

It’s been a while since Harry’s cousin Alistair has been able to come along to the match with us. He’s a kid with lots to do and plenty of people to see, mainly on Saturdays it seems. In fact, it’s been so long that he’s been able to grow his hair sufficiently for him to attract ‘Jack Grealish’ comments from passers-by.

It wasn’t the best of games for Alistair to make his return. We struggled to create much and whilst I think that Leo’s decision to play four at the back best suits the players that we have, it seems a waste of Giles to play him at left back. If he’s focusing on defending, then it limits his opportunities to get crosses into the box and we don’t have anyone better than him at doing that. I’d go 4-4-2 with him and Jones both playing wide and feeding Muniz and Watmore. If Coburn hadn’t been loaned out, I think he would have thrived in that formation.

Anyway, it was goalless and a less than ideal send-off for Leo. Highlight of the afternoon for Harry and Alistair was having a post-match kickabout in the car park with some of the Cook Islands rugby league players who were in town for their World Cup and had been watching from the posh seats behind Gibbo. I suspect that the kickabout was the highlight of their day too.

Easington Lane WMC v Thornaby The Griffin, Sunday 16th October 2022, 10.30am

October 25, 2022

As I tick off more of the grounds in the local leagues, my options for new places to visit get fewer. The various Sunday leagues provide some fresh choices though and I took Henry along to South Hetton Cricket Club to watch a first-round tie in the Heart Foundation Cup between Easington Lane WMC and Thornaby The Griffin.

As you’d expect at this level, there weren’t any stands, or even dugouts. There were changing rooms though, so at least the players didn’t have to get togged up in their cars. It was well attended, with around fifty or sixty people turning out and a few more wandering over for the second half, carrying pints from the clubhouse on the other side of the cricket field.

Thornaby, of the Stockton Sunday League, went ahead around ten minutes in against the run of play. Easington, of the Peterlee and District Sunday League, grew into the game as the half went on and after hitting the bar and forcing a succession of corners drew level on the half-hour. They took the lead from a penalty not long before the break that the Thornaby keeper was unlucky not to keep out.

The contest looked over early in the second half when Easington added a third, but Thornaby pulled one back with a quarter of an hour remaining. Despite the ref playing a fully warranted five minutes of added time they couldn’t force an equalizer though and it was Easington that progressed to the next round.

Middlesbrough v Blackburn Rovers, Saturday 15th October 2022, 3pm

October 18, 2022

It’s getting on for a fortnight since Gibbo pulled the plug on Wilder and there’s no sign of a replacement. Rumours of Rob Edwards, Michael Carrick and even Lee Cattermole have been doing the rounds but with no word from the club yet.

I’d assumed that there had been some sort of succession plan in place similar to when Woodgate and Warnock got the bullet but it seems not. That suggests to me that the Wilder decision came suddenly, perhaps after a bit of a bust-up.

The game started badly with us failing to pick up players from a set piece and Blackburn were a goal up within a couple of minutes. They added a second a quarter of an hour in with a shot from distance that left Steffen flat-footed. If Joe Lumley had conceded that one last season there would have been hell on. Steffen made up for it though in the remainder of the half with some excellent saves to keep the game alive.

Watmore nicked a goal just before the break to give us hope that there might be something to be had from the game. We played a lot better in the second half, particularly after Leo switched to a back four. I think that formation suits the players that we’ve got as playing with wingbacks who don’t offer much defensively leaves us exposed at times, particularly now that Tav isn’t there to bail out Howson and Crooks.

The late improvement wasn’t enough to nick a point and we slipped back into the bottom three. If Huddersfield and Coventry were to win their games in hand, then we’d be rock-bottom. Whoever comes in certainly has some work to do.

Middlesbrough v Birmingham City, Wednesday 5th October 2022, 7.45pm

October 13, 2022

It’s that time of year when the nights draw in and Gibbo pulls the plug on the manager. I remember when he had a reputation for giving them time, too much time probably. Not these days though. It doesn’t seem like long since Karanka left, but we’ve burned through Agnew, Monk, Pulis, Woodgate, Warnock and now Wilder. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve missed one or two off that list as well.

I parked in the college on the other side of the ground, as Harry had rugby practice and I thought we might be cutting it fine if I parked in our usual location of near to the old Gazette building. It worked, but at the price of taking ages to get out afterwards. I think I’d rather gamble on missing the first few minutes for any further Wednesday night games.

Caretaker boss Leo did well. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and kept the wing-back system that had produced diminishing returns as Wilder’s tenure drew to a close. He brought in youngster Hayden Hackney though and the lad impressed with his energy in a midfield that often looks pedestrian these days. The overall performance didn’t seem much different from recent weeks but a first half goal from Akpom was enough to clinch the points and move us out of the relegation zone.

Durham City v South Moor, Saturday 1st October 2022, 2.30pm

October 12, 2022

I’ve seen Durham City a couple of times this season and at times you feel like peeking through your fingers. They came down from the Northern League in the summer and in the games that I’ve seen so far they lost by eleven and fourteen goals respectively.

For some reason they seem to struggle to find a settled squad and it’s like watching a new scratch side every time I see them. For this game, they announced six new signings, although I’m not sure how many of them started.

Jen and I drove up to the pitch at Leyburn Road in Houghton-le-Spring. I’ve never been to Houghton before and noticed they have a castle of sorts. If I ‘d realized I’d have left an hour or so earlier and had a wander round. Although we had the dog with us, so that might have made things difficult. The pitch was a fair walk from the changies, so when we got to half-time the players just sat down on the grass.

This game had been publicized as raising awareness for a young lad who needed a bone marrow transplant. He was there kicking around with, I think, his brother. I thought that someone was going to be taking swabs from people to see if they were a bone marrow match, but there was nothing going on. I’m probably too old anyway from what I’ve learned, as you might have to be under fifty-five.

Durham started well and kept South Moor at bay for the opening half-hour. By the break they were just the two goals down and their manager was telling them that it was the best that they have played all season. It all went tits up in the second half though as they conceded another seven without reply. Still, they kept it to single figures which is an improvement of sorts. I’ll keep an eye on them and hope that they can become competitive before the season’s up.