Morecambe v Middlesbrough, Tuesday 19th July 2022, 7pm

July 25, 2022

I’d not been to the Mazuma stadium before and so I was pleased when the Boro announced a pre-season friendly at Morecambe. With nothing going on in the afternoon of the game I had plenty of time to drive across, taking a scenic route via Askrigg, Hawes, Ribblehead and Ingleton. I should have left even earlier and had a wander around at the viaduct as it looked magnificent in the early evening light.

My knowledge of Morecambe is limited. If I’ve given it any thought whatsoever, I suppose I’ve considered it a sort of Blackpool-lite. I arrived early enough to head for the seafront and have fish and chips for tea, near to the statue of Eric Morecambe. Whilst a lot of the country had been staying indoors to mitigate the impact of the forty degree heat, Morecambe residents were out on the beach.

I still tend to think of Morecambe FC as a non-league side, despite it being fifteen years since they reached the Football League. It turns out that they are actually in League One these days, just one step below the Boro.

I did a lap of the ground before finding the correct turnstile and took a seat towards the back of the Boro section. Around six hundred fans had made the trip and after a while the majority took the rare opportunity of sitting at an away game.

Boro had Ryan Giles at left-wing back, and he picked out a player in the box to gain an assist for each of our three first half goals. If we can attack effectively down both flanks this season, then it will hopefully deter teams from doubling up on Isaiah Jones.

There was some neat, quick passing through the midfield as we built from the back with Tav involved in most of the moves. He’ll be hard to replace if the rumoured Premier League does happen this summer.

At the interval I went downstairs for a drink. The queue was slow, probably on the basis that there was a big demand for their award-winning pies. They looked to have a decent beer selection too.

Morecambe had Conor Ripley in goal. He’s a player that I’ve kept an eye on since he left the Boro and it looks as if he should get some game time this season after his bench-warming at Preston. He took some stick from some Boro fans over his weight but reacted good-naturedly. He put in a good performance, pulling off some decent saves and wasn’t at fault for any of the goals.

The tempo slowed in the second half as the effect of playing in the heat and the impact of the substitutions took its toll. Overall though, we looked good and whilst the squad still needs to be added to I’m hopeful of a good start to the season proper.

Horseracing at Redcar, Sunday 17th July 2022

July 24, 2022

Back, I think, in 2019 I joined a horseracing syndicate put together via a football message board. It was interesting to get involved with but when I took the job in Moscow it proved less enjoyable to follow from afar and so I gave it up. A couple of years later, there was an option to rejoin. Jen and I were back in the UK by then and so ended up with a twentieth share in a two-year-old that, after a tight vote, was named Ironopolis.

He’s a horse whose grandad won the Derby and is likely to do best at distances around the mile mark. Isla and I have been to see him ride on the gallops a couple of times earlier in the year at his stables at the top of Sutton Bank. Oddly, he declined the carrots that Isla had brought. Maybe we’ll try apples next time.

With him not being bred for the shorter sprints there was little opportunity for him to run early in the flat season. Besides all that, he’s a bit of a late developer and so it was mid-July before he finally made it to a track.

Jen and I got Owner’s passes and Soph and Isla came along as well to see how he got on. On entering the grandstand at Redcar, Soph and Isla were given free entry by a bloke who had some spare passes. Result.

We watched the first race of the day from the steps at the front of the grandstand and then I made my way over to the Owners and Trainers stand to catch up with the other syndicate members. Some I knew from the stable visits or from the message board, others I was meeting for the first time. The word from the stable was not to expect too much and that this opening outing was primarily intended to get the horse used to the experience of racing. Nevertheless, it was hard not to see it as an opportunity to gauge how he compared to the other horses in his 7f maiden.

He started slowly out of the stalls and was trailing in the opening stages but picked up as the race went on. Once he got into his stride he began overhauling other horses to finish in fourth position and in the prize money. I think he won around four hundred quid for the syndicate kitty which isn’t far off a week’s worth of training fees.

We got a debrief from the jockey and assistant trainer in the parade ring afterwards. The gist of it being that it took the horse a while to realise what he was supposed to be doing and it wasn’t until he went past the horse in second last position that he started racing.

A fast-finishing fourth place was seen by everyone as a very pleasing outcome for a first race. Hopefully he’ll be back on the track again before too long to gain some more experience.

England v Northern Ireland, Friday July 15th 2022, 8pm

July 22, 2022

I’m not sure if I’ve arrived at a game by way of a boat before. I probably have, although not after spending a week sailing across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. I like the relaxing nature of a sea crossing and I managed to get more steps in by lapping the deck than I’d been able to do in the summer heat of the southern US. I still had plenty of opportunities for idling on a deck lounger watching the small birds that follow the boat and the porpoises that flit along the Gulf Stream. One morning there was a pod of whales and whilst most were content to briefly surface and exhale air, one very kindly put on a show of backflips as he passed us by.

On the way into Southampton Docks, we sailed past Marchwood Power Station. I’d worked there for around eighteen months back in 2008/9. It all looked very peaceful at five in the morning and it was interesting to see it all from a different viewpoint, despite me not being able to spot anything that I remembered.

One night after work at Marchwood a couple of mates and I fished at the inlet, despite signs telling us that we shouldn’t. We caught some fish, but they were too small to keep. Even if they had been bigger, I doubt we’d have taken them as there looked to be a fair amount of industrial discharge into the water. I’d like to think that those fish were still swimming around as we passed by this time.

Whilst working at Marchwood I lived a short drive away in the New Forest and enjoyed the sight of wild ponies lolloping around. As we had some spare time, Jen and I spent a few hours in Lyndhurst. There were as many horses around as I remembered, and I pointed out the places in the village that I knew from my stay.

I recalled taking in a game at Totton in the Wessex Premier Division and also an early FA Cup Qualifying fixture at Brockenhurst. For some reason though, I didn’t ever make it along to St Mary’s Stadium and it remained one of the Premier League stadiums that I’d still to tick off.

When I saw the schedule for the Women’s Euros and realized that we’d be arriving in town on a day with a fixture I booked a hotel and waited for the ticket sales. My ticket cost forty quid, which seemed expensive for a tournament that is hoping for full stadiums, but on the basis that the match sold out almost immediately, it looks as if whoever set the prices got it right.

Our hotel was a half hour walk away from the stadium and the route took me across a bridge where I got my first view of the ground. Even with an hour to go to kick-off there were lots of people making their way to the game.

There were sizeable queues at St Mary’s, with a lot of groups of kids, presumably school or sports club trips. There were also a lot more family groups than you generally see at men’s fixtures and far more women and girls. There were also a lot of same-sex couples attending, something that is still not really noticeable in the men’s game. All in all, a diverse attendance and without any undercurrent of violence. There wasn’t much drinking going on and if any of the schoolkids were doing coke they weren’t yet at the stage where they were fighting each other.

 

I had a seat in the east stand, perfect for a view of the sun going down. I got a good view of the play as well and an England performance that, whilst it didn’t quite reach the heights of the eight-nil Norway game, was far too good for Northern Ireland.

There’s a gulf between the full-time and the part-time players but Northern Ireland did their best to keep it tight, holding out until almost half-time before conceding but then quickly shipping a second before the break.

Two early goals in the second half suggested a rout might be on the cards but England didn’t take their chances and, in the end, ran out five-nil winners. Both teams took the applause at the end, with England topping the group and Northern Ireland heading home.

Lehigh Valley United Sonic v West Chester United, Wednesday 6th July 2022, 7pm

July 9, 2022

After the short stay in Lubbock Jen and I continued to head south, and we spent three nights in a cabin in the Davy Crockett National Forest in Texas. There weren’t any games going on nearby and at over a hundred degrees it was too hot to hike.

I saw some deer whilst driving into Crockett for supplies, but the only real wildlife we saw around the cabin were squirrels. Squirrels with white chests.

There were some large grasshoppers too, that appeared around the same time each evening and climbed a tree next to where we were sitting. I’d estimate that they were between three and four inches long. That’s Jen’s hand in the photo in an attempt to try and give a sense of perspective.

After the Davy Crockett National Forest we drove on to Mississippi for Jen’s Dad’s seventy-fifth birthday celebrations. With it being a large family gathering we stayed half an hour up the road at another cabin in the woods. Again, there were no nearby games and the nearest we got to any hiking was taking Roscoe for a walk in the woods.

With the party over it was time to head north to catch the boat back to England. Jen had been waiting for her passport back and it finally arrived a day later than expected. This meant a twelve hundred and thirty mile drive over a day and a half to reach our booked cabin in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

Driving on the larger American highways isn’t too onerous but the nineteen hours or so at the wheel from Louisiana in such a short period of time wore me out. We arrived at Quakertown around five in the afternoon, giving me just enough time to empty the car before we got back in again and nipped down the road to the John Makuvek Field at Moravian College in Bethlehem.

The fixture we had driven seven hundred miles that day to get to was in the Mid-Atlantic Division of the fourth tier USL2 with Lehigh Valley Sonic United taking on West Chester United.

We left the car in a visitors parking spot outside the university offices and wandered over to where the players were warming up. The pitch wasn’t fully fenced and therefore there wasn’t really an opportunity for someone to charge for admission.

We stretched out on a grassy bank that ran the length of one side of the pitch. There were probably around another fifty spectators, most of whom appeared to be family members of the players on the home side. There was frequent and enthusiastic encouragement of the kind that I rarely hear at games in England. One wretched miscreant somehow missed an open goal and was consoled with “Alright Guys, good try, good try!” That’s something David Currie won’t have heard from the Holgate or the Chicken Run.

Both sides generally played decent football for this level, keeping the ball on the ground and trying to build patiently. West Chester, in black, were the better side though and they took the lead with a penalty after the keeper wiped out a forward whilst successfully collecting the ball. I doubt it would have been given in the UK, but, even as an ex-goalie, it seemed just to me.

By half-time, the visitors had added two more goals and could have been further ahead with better finishing and if the home keeper had not pulled off some decent saves. Surprisingly Lehigh swapped goalies at half-time, perhaps to share around the pitch-time, but the change had minimal impact and West Chester took the points with an eventual six-nil victory.

The game was the last of the American trip and two days later we were on the boat back to England. It had been another excellent holiday and whilst we didn’t have any close encounters with bears or snakes this time I enjoyed the hiking, particularly in the Colorado mountains, the wild camping and being out in the woods for most of our stay.

The driving was a necessary evil to attend two very enjoyable family celebrations and we ended up clocking nearly eight thousand miles as we did a four hundred and fifty degree circuit from New Orleans up to New York, across to Laramie and down to Colorado, then back to Louisiana again before re-visiting New York. Highlights of the driving hours were spotting a coyote trotting along in an adjacent field and unscheduled stops at places such as a Pony Express Station and the grave of Buffalo Bill.

We saw eight football matches, spread over five tiers and also five baseball games, including the Rockies at Coors Field and a variety of lower-level fixtures where the emphasis seemed as much on entertainment as a win. That’s not a bad return in seven weeks.

Lubbock Matadors v Irving, Saturday 25th June 2022, 7.30pm

July 2, 2022

After the week in Colorado, it was time to head south for another family celebration in a weeks’ time. Our first stopover was two nights in Lubbock, Texas. It was a six-hundred-mile drive and we managed it in around ten and a half hours. We stayed on a horse ranch on the outskirts of the city.

Lubbock was as hot as it had been in Nebraska, with the temperature beyond 100F. I was glad of the air-conditioning.

I didn’t really know very much about Lubbock, other than it’s the place where Buddy Holly was from. With that in mind we went along to the Buddy Holly Centre to look at some of the memorabilia. There was a house in the grounds of the museum that had belonged to one of the Crickets, Jerry Allison, and where he and Holly had written ‘That’ll Be The Day’.

Apparently, the reason that it is Allison’s house that was transported to the centre and not Holly’s is that the Holly family home been knocked down long before anyone thought of cashing in on it.

We also went to the City of Lubbock Cemetery to visit the grave. It was well signposted and easily found. Some people had left trinkets and glasses. There was even a Christmas tree bauble. I reflected on how strange it seems to me that Buddy Holly had actually played the Globe in Stockton. Twice, in fact, on the same day in his only tour of England in ’58.

He’d been to my town and now I’d been to his.

As we left the cemetery, we spotted a prairie dog on sentry duty by its burrow. There were a few others just outside the gates. I stopped the car so that Jen could take some photos, clearly bemusing the driver behind us who may very well have seen prairie dogs on grass verges by the road every day of his life.

After exhausting the Buddy Holly options Jen and I went along to Lowery Field, home of the Lubbock Matadors football team. They had a home fixture against Irving in the Lone Star Conference of the Western Division of the National Premier Soccer League. Lowery Field is another stadium used predominantly by an American Football team, but utilised for soccer in the offseason. It has a capacity of 8,500.

I’d bought tickets online a few weeks in advance for ten dollars a pop plus taxes. As we showed the fella on the gate the tickets on my phone, he offered us a dog bib if we could show him a photo of our dog. We don’t have a dog but I had a recent photo of me with my brother-in-law’s dogs that earned us two extra small bibs. They might fit the shiatzu belonging to Jen’s sister.

We had seats on the forty yard line, directly above around twenty or so singing ultras. They made a racket with a megaphone throughout the game, supplemented by drums and two trumpets. The crowd was later announced as over four thousand, which seemed a little high to me. Maybe they count tickets given away whether the recipients turn up or not.

There wasn’t much action in the first half, but the game came to life in the second when Irving went a goal up. This sparked some aggression from both sides and the visitors were soon a man down. Lubbock equalized with twenty minutes to go and the game then petered out to a draw with the focus moving to settling scores and accumulating yellow cards rather than any real attacking intent.

CISA v Flatirons Rush, Sunday 19th June 2022, 6pm

June 26, 2022

In all we spent a week in Colorado, initially staying a night in the woods, then a couple of nights at the in-laws and then four nights in a cabin at a family celebration ten thousand feet up in the mountains at Leadville. On the drive up to the cabins Jen and I were distracted by a sign for Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum. Who wouldn’t detour for that?

It was an interesting way to while away an hour with some vintage footage of the wild west shows and memorabilia. There was a book that listed his touring performances and I noticed that he played Stockton and Middlesbrough on successive nights in July 1904.

From what I can gather, the Stockton show may well have been down by the railway line across the road from Norton Aldi. I might dig a little deeper as its weird to think of Buffalo Bill having galloped around a place more commonly used these days by young kids on motorbikes. Maybe we should re-introduce bison to Norton and give the lads on their bikes a chance to round them up.

The mountains around Leadville are great for walking. We hiked a total of thirteen miles around Turquoise Lake on a trail that was mainly on the flat and benefitted from good tree cover. The higher altitude in Colorado made the temperatures much cooler and far more pleasant to hike than it had been in both Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

We also went up a big hill to a height where there was still snow on the ground. It took about two hours to get to the lake at eleven thousand feet that we were aiming for and there were some great views on the way up of the mountains behind the torrents of water gushing downwards.

Some of the group suffered a bit from the altitude and so had to go back down and I was pleased that Jen and I had been in Colorado for a few days in advance. At the lake we ate our left-over pizza from the previous night and tried to tempt the trout in the clear water to take a bite of crust. They would swim towards the splash but then decline the crumb at the last minute.

Whilst there were no sporting events to watch in Leadville, Jen and I had been able to get to a football game whilst staying at David and Jackie’s house. It was a few miles away at the Randy Penn Stadium at Englewood High School and in the fourth tier USL2.

Colorado International Soccer Academy were taking on Flatirons Rush in the Western Conference, Mountain Division. It’s a division with only five teams and Flatirons went into the game in second place in the table with CISA two places below, but having played fewer of their fixtures than the rest of the division.

We arrived at the High School car park to find people tailgating. They waited until the national anthem struck up before packing up their beer and food and heading inside. Over on the opposite side of the pitch there were people who watched the entire match from their truck, saving the ten dollar admission fee. The fence didn’t obscure the view too much and by standing in the back of the truck they were able to get a perfect view.

The Randy Penn stadium looked as if it was more usually used for American Football, with the markings on the pitch and the posts still up at each end. There was also an athletics track around the pitch.

We sat in a twelve row aluminium stand that ran the length of one side of the pitch and there was a smaller, similar stand opposite that hadn’t been opened for this game. I’d estimate that the attendance peaked at around sixty.

CISA were in light blue and, I think, were an U23 side. Visitors Flatirons Rush, who were in a white and grey kit, had the best of the early possession and territorial advantage. They took the lead ten minutes in after a break left them in a two against one position and the free man neatly tucked the ball away.

Flatirons should really have doubled their lead on the half-hour from a penalty awarded after the lino spotted some skulduggery in the box. The shot came back out off the inside of the post and so it stayed at one-nil.

The second goal came on the hour when a Flatirons striker broke away and sat the keeper on his arse before rounding him to roll the ball into the empty net.

It was a niggly game and CISA didn’t take well to being behind. There were a few tackles where the foot was left in and plenty of off the ball contact. One of the home coaches was sent off for bending the ear of the fourth official one time too many and his team picked up at least two yellows for dissent.

Flatirons sealed the points from a free-kick on the edge of the box that they took quickly and whilst the CIMA defence were still trying to organize the lining up of a wall. A simple pass to a man stood unmarked in the box allowed him the luxury of knocking the ball into an open goal whilst the keeper was still holding the far post and demanding the wall moved six inches to the left.

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres, Saturday 18th June 2022, 7.10pm

June 25, 2022

After staying in Laramie, it was a relatively short two-and-a-half-hour drive to Denver where we met up with Jen’s brother and sister-in-law. David had planned a wild camp for the four of us in one of the forest parks in the Rocky Mountains and so we set off before lunch with their two dogs.

We didn’t have to move too far off the trail to find somewhere to pitch the tents and we spent a very enjoyable twenty-four hours out in the mountains. Whenever I’ve wild camped it has always a bit slapdash with cereal bars or maybe a tin of rice pudding. David and Jackie had brought us four Cornish hens and tequila. I need to up my game.

Jackie is a big baseball fan and regularly goes to see the local major league team, the Colorado Rockies. The night after the wild camp they had a game against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field in Denver and so Jackie and I went along.

Denver was extremely busy as their ice hockey team was at home in the finals of the Stanley Cup. That meant two large spectator events within about a mile of each other. We arrived early though and with a pre-booked parking space a few minutes’ walk from Coors Field we were soon inside.

Our early arrival meant that we were able to pick up ‘bobble-heads’ that were given away free to the first fifteen thousand spectators. I’ve enough tat in my life and so mine will end up at Jackie’s parents.

I wasn’t driving and so was able to have a couple of beers. They came in twenty-four-ounce cans, which is about a pint and a half, I think. I must be getting used to American prices as fourteen dollars a can didn’t seem out of the ordinary. I also had a polish sausage which was an improvement on the usual hot dog as it had a bit more spice amongst the minced lips and eyelids.

Our seats were in the upper tier, reasonably central behind the plate. At twenty-five dollars they compared very favourably with the prices I had been paying for minor league games. We got an excellent view of all that was going on in the stadium and also the Rocky Mountains to our west.

We also had a good view of the scoreboard which switched sports every time the hockey team scored a goal in their game. We saw the Avalanche put seven past their Florida opponents and take a two to nothing lead in their Stanley Cup final.

As the game went on, I thought back to my time in Kazakhstan where I worked with a Rockies fan. It was the year that they made the World Series and my friend Mike had talked up their chances as the season progressed. It didn’t conclude as planned as they lost at the final hurdle, but for a few months back in 2007 I was caught up in it all by proxy. I think Mike died a few years back, but I’m glad I got to the Coors Field that he wistfully spoke about.

The game was evenly matched and level at four-each at the end of the seventh. The Rockies nipped five-four in front in the eighth and then brought on a new pitcher for the ninth. Apparently, he was a fella with an interesting backstory in that he had been a decent player then lost form sufficiently to retire, before coming back after regaining his confidence training in his garden.

It went well for him, and he finished off the Padres without them drawing level. With the supporters of both Denver sides celebrating victory, it was a lively atmosphere outside as we headed back to the car.

Gem City Bisons v Casper Horseheads, Thursday 16th June 2022, 6.10pm

June 23, 2022

The reason that Jen and I were travelling west was to attend a family celebration in Colorado and after the stay at Platte River State Park in Nebraska, the next destination on our route was Laramie in Wyoming. I’d picked it partly because I’d heard of it and assumed it must have some wild west connections and partly because there was an opportunity to take in another ball game.

The five-hundred-and-twenty-mile drive was brightened with sightings of deer, turkeys and maybe a fox. There were also a couple of bad crashes. Not us though. We broke the journey with a stop at a Pony Express Station in Gothenburg.

The lady in charge told us the history of the place and sold us a couple of postcards. Apparently, the Pony Express only ran for an eighteen-month period in the mid-1800s. The work was dangerous, and for this reason the company preferred to recruit orphans. Seems a bit harsh to me, as orphans have already had it rough in life without then going to work and getting scalped for a ten-bob postal order in a birthday card.

The baseball game was at Cowboy Field and a convenient fifteen-minute walk from our hotel. I’d bought tickets online in advance for eight dollars each and I suspect that it might have been the only online sale. The young lad on the gate didn’t have a scanner, but said that they looked genuine enough.

Cowboy Field is at the University of Wyoming and the game was in a Collegiate League that had been set up, I think, to keep student baseballers busy during the summer holidays. Despite it being a campus, it sold beer and we were able to take advantage of being able to walk to the game by having a few.

There was a great view of the hills in the distance, but the scoreboard was partially obscured by the trees that ran alongside the diamond towards third base.

The home side were Gem City Bisons, so presumably Laramie was once famous for diamond mines or something. The visitors were Casper Horseheads and clearly a town of ghosts with an equine bonce.

I’d estimate that around sixty people had turned up, mainly supporters of the Bisons, but with a few people cheering on the visitors. There must have been a shortage of baseballs as any that were hit into the crowd could be exchanged for a handful of lollipops.

The between innings entertainment included two fellas having to down a beer then spin ten times with their head resting on a three-foot pole before trying to race ten yards. There was also a musical chairs session which was won by a bloke who, when seeing that he was unlikely to be able to sit down first, snatched the chair and ran off with it.

The standard wasn’t too good, particularly in the field, but it was enjoyable to sit and watch a game with a few beers and the hills in the background. The Bisons were leading ten-two early on but the momentum turned around and it was the Horseheads who finished the game in front, winning by fourteen runs to twelve.

Lincoln Saltdogs v Lake County Dockhounds, Wednesday 15th June 2022, 7.10pm

June 21, 2022

After Chicago, Jen and I continued west for another four hundred and sixty-five miles to the Platte River State Park. The drive took us out of Illinois, through the breadth of Iowa and into Nebraska. It’s a part of the country that is sometimes described as a bit dull, but I quite enjoyed the endless views of cornfields, punctuated by the odd grain silo or windmill.

The highlight was seeing a coyote trotting through one of the fields. I don’t recall seeing one in the wild before although I suspect that most Iowans have them rooting through their bins these days.

Something that I hadn’t expected about this part of the country was the high temperature. When we arrived at the state park the temperature was 102F. Out of habit I bought firewood, but who on earth would light a fire when it’s over a hundred degrees? I left it in the car to burn somewhere more suitable.

We went for a walk along the woodland trails that bordered the river. I was hoping, as ever, for bears and snakes. The best we saw though were birds and butterflies, including the one in the photo. If it had orientated itself differently could very well have served as a route marker.

Wildlife was easier to spot from the chairs outside the cabin in the evening. On the first night a wild turkey walked past. There were also squirrels that looked to be a mix between the reds and greys that we have in the UK, a rabbit and a few birds that had markings that I’d not seen before.

As dusk approached on the second evening, we were visited by a deer. It was only about ten yards away from our chairs as it emerged from the undergrowth and continued along a trail that we’d walked upon earlier in the day.

Not long after it had left us a tornado passed by that had trees crashing down and left the power off until mid-afternoon the next day. It did have the benefit of dropping the temperature quite significantly though.

On the third night of our stay, we drove into Lincoln for a baseball game. It was at Haymarket Park and in the same independent minor American Association league that included the Kane County Cougars that we’d watched in Chicago.

Lincoln Saltdogs were hosting Lake County Dockhounds. I’ve no idea what a Saltdog or a Dockhound is, but I don’t suppose that matters. The Saltdogs are mid-table in the Western Division, whilst the Dockhounds are towards the bottom of the Eastern Division. This was the second game of a three match series between the teams with the Saltdogs having taken the win in the opener the previous night.

Tickets were sixteen dollars a pop for lower tier box seats. We’d asked for something in the shade, but just about every seat bar those on the grass would have worked in that respect.

Most of these lower league games have some sort of promotional activity and this evening it was two dollar hot dogs and bring your dog to the game. We don’t have a dog so couldn’t take part in that one, but there were around twenty dogs dotted around the stadium. Most of them were on the grass, others took turns in a paddling pool.

I didn’t bother with the two dollar hot dog either as there were better things to eat. The offer seemed popular though with people taking handfuls of them back to their seats, presumably for large groups. Or maybe not.

Highlight of the between innings entertainment was a three-legged race for kids. It looked as if nobody had explained that striding in unison was the way to go and we saw a variety of alternate methods such as jumping and shuffling that invariably broke the coupling apart. I think a pair of dogs might have made a better effort.

The game was low scoring early on but by the time we had reached the seventh innings the scores were tied at five each. The visitors then rattled off seven runs in the eighth to eventually run out twelve-nine winners and level the series at one game each.

Chicago Red Stars v Orlando Pride, Sunday 12th June 2022, 5pm

June 17, 2022

The second sporting event of our Chicago stay was a visit to the Seat Geek Stadium for a Women’s Major League Soccer fixture between Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride. Women’s Soccer is supposed to be pretty popular in the US and so I ordered the tickets and parking in advance. It was thirty dollars a pop for our seats in the East Stand and another twenty for parking. With taxes and fees it came to just over ninety bucks, as they say over here.

We needn’t have bothered with the parking as there were plenty of free spaces at the south end of the ground. We paid over the odds for the tickets too as it was effectively free-seating inside. Had we bought nine dollar tickets for behind the goal we’d have had exactly the same choice of sitting anywhere we wanted. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that you learn from experience, but when you have no plans to return to a ground it’s knowledge that won’t necessarily benefit you in future.

With the sun shining directly on to our allocated East Stand seats, we walked around to the West Stand and took up a position on the half-way line in the shade. Surprisingly, this was the least popular area, with most of the three-thousand plus crowd choosing to sit opposite us or behind the goal to our left, both areas directly in the sun.

There were a few food choices, but nothing that really appealed, and we ended up with chicken tenders and fries.

One of the best female players ever, the Brazilian Marta, plays for Orlando. She wasn’t listed in the line-up though and I later discovered that she is out for the season with a torn ACL.

I also found out afterwards that the Orlando coach was former Boro player, Seb Hines. He’d moved out here after we released him in 2015 and played for the Orlando men’s team for a couple of years before retiring. He’d been appointed interim head coach a few days earlier after the suspension of the incumbent. It’s good to see that he is building a career in that side of the game.

All bar one of the Orlando team took the knee during the national anthem. It’s a gesture that requires a certain amount of bravery in the US where showing maximum respect to the flag and anthem is expected, whereas in England taking the knee is generally seen as the right thing to do outside of a small number of Johnson’s acolytes. It was a gesture that had me rooting for the visitors.

I was a little disappointed in the standard of play as I’d thought that WMLS was the pinnacle of the women’s game. It certainly wasn’t at the, albeit international, level of the England v Canada that I’d seen at the Riverside earlier in the season but I also thought that the domestic games that I’d watched in Russia last year were of an overall better standard.

There was a significant gap in the skill levels between teammates and whilst you get this in every team, I wondered whether there was a team salary cap in place that might explain why some players spent the whole game looking as if they were using their weaker foot.

One player who really stood out for the right reasons was Mallory Pugh, a striker for Chicago and who looked comfortable with either foot in any situation. If they had used half of any team salary available just for her it would have been worth it.

Pugh proved to be the difference between the teams when she ran at the Pride defence early on and curled a shot from the edge of the box in off the underside of the bar. The one-nil win lifted the Red Stars to second in the league and left Pride second from the bottom. Hopefully Seb Hines gets some easier opponents in the remainder of his caretaker appointment.