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.

Atomic Pork Chops v Winnipeg Goldeneyes, Saturday 11th June 2022, 6.30pm

June 12, 2022

After Buckingham, Jen and I drove up to Newark to swap the hire car for the one originally booked and then headed to the Keystone State Park for three nights. We had a ‘modern cabin’ booked. I think ‘modern’ refers to it having a bathroom, something that didn’t strike me as being particularly modern at all. It was an enjoyable place to stay, as most accommodation with a firepit tends to be, although there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife nearby other than rabbits and squirrels.

In an effort to try and see bears and snakes, or at a push some deer, raccoons or muskrats, we went for a hike around the lake and up into a forest. It was a good way to spend a morning but despite wandering around for six miles we didn’t really see anything other than birds and butterflies.

Next stop on the trip was Chicago. It’s somewhere that I’d picked mainly because I thought there would be good opportunities for sporting events. It’s also somewhere with a bit of family history in that one of my grandads visited it in the 1920’s and saw someone shot dead whilst walking down the street. He was in the merchant navy and travelling cross-country from New York to San Francisco to join his next ship. I don’t know how long he and his shipmates spent in the city but I thought it interesting, particularly when walking around some of the historical areas, that they might very well have walked the same streets getting on for a hundred years or so ago. We didn’t see anyone shot dead, so maybe Chicago is a bit safer than in the 1920’s.

One of the things that I’d like to do sometime is see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Whilst it’s not quite the oldest, it’s probably the best known of all the baseball stadiums. The Cubs were out of town though and so we had to make do with a tour. It was very informative and we started off with some general info whilst sitting in various parts of the stands, before moving down to pitch side to stand in the outfield.

We then moved on to the locker room used by the visiting team and at various times over the years by Paul McCartney, Pele and Michael Jordan. It was strange to look around and imagine each of them preparing to head out into the daylight.

We then went up to the press box and finished up by sitting in the home dugout. I’ll get back for an actual Cubs game at some point.

Whilst there was an option of going to a MLB White Sox game across town, I decided to head for some lower league action instead at the Midwestern Medical Field. It’s a stadium that dates back to 1991 and has a capacity of almost eleven thousand.

The game was in an independent league for teams too far from others to be allowed to play in the AA or AAA leagues. The Kane County Cougars were taking on the Winnipeg Goldeneyes. Although for some reason the Cougars were playing as their alter-egos, the Atomic Pork Chops. This may have been a ploy to sell different shirts and more bacon products. Who knows?

We opted for central bench seats at fifteen dollars, although we could have paid ten dollars to sit on the grass. Or even ten dollars to walk past the grass and sit in the fifteen dollars seats. I had a hot dog which didn’t look as good as the hot dogs that I saw some other people eating so there must have been some selection option that I hadn’t noticed.

Jen went for a funnel cake. I’d not heard of it and tried a bit. It’s just mis-shaped donut really. It tastes ok but I can’t see it catching on.

Winnipeg Goldeneyes are a Canadian team, from approximately eight hundred miles to the north. I doubt that you get many away fans in this league. A father and son duo who had been roped in to sing the Star Spangled Banner also trotted out what I presume was the Canadian anthem. It’s not particularly catchy and maybe something like ‘I’m a Lumberjack’ would have gone down better.

For additional between innings entertainment we were treated to stunt dogs. These were collies that had been trained to catch frisbees and run between their owner’s legs. It was better than it sounds and but unfortunately none of them took a piss against any of the bases.

We also had races between the mascots and small kids around the bases and something called battle ball where small children put their upper bodies into an inflatable ball and then tried to concuss each other. They also sang Happy Birthday to those celebrating that day. Jen asked me if the song triggered any particular thoughts, which it didn’t. Turns out it was her birthday and I’d forgotten. Again. I like being married to someone who doesn’t make a deal about something like that. I suspect that some fellas in a similar situation may have ended up in a worse state than the battle ball kids.

Goldeneyes went three up early on and then twice finished an innings with the bases loaded but without adding to the score. It looked as if this might come back to bite them in the arse when the Pork Chops hit three single home runs, two of them in successive balls to level at three all in the sixth. The Canadians got away with it though running out five-three winners in the end.

Torch FC v Pennsylvania Classics, Sunday 5th June 2022, 6pm

June 7, 2022

After spending a couple of nights in a hut on top of a hill in Kempton Jen and I moved on to the nearby town of Buckingham. It’s another small place and less than sixty miles from Newark Airport where we’ll need to swap hire cars.

Jen had noticed that there was a heritage railway on the way and so we stopped to take a ride. The conductor was an friendly fella to chat to and despite having worked there since ’76, a relative new boy compared to some of the other volunteers. There was an old bloke sat near to us who spoke just like Paulie Walnuts. I made sure that I did nothing to upset him.

Buckingham has a nearby nature reserve and so we spent a couple of hours following some of the trails. I’d been hoping to stumble across bears and snakes like our last visit to the states, but the most we saw were squirrels and a heron. It was still a worthwhile wander about though and with plenty of tree cover we managed to spend most of our time in the shade.

One of the other advantages of Buckingham was that there was a fourth tier fixture scheduled for the evening of our arrival and as it was only twenty-minutes down the road we popped along. Torch FC were taking on Pennsylvania Classics in the Keystone Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. It’s a short competition with the eleven teams in the league playing each other just the once and all within a seven week period.

The game took place at Pennridge High School. There wasn’t a fixed price for admission but a suggested donation of ten dollars a head. Whilst it struck me as expensive for a fourth-tier game, we’d paid twice that for third-tier Richmond a few days earlier and so I coughed up. We were given a free programme which was a pleasant surprise.

Refreshments were better value with Jen getting a one dollar pretzel whilst I went big on a two dollar hot-dog.

I learned from the programme that Torch FC are a sort of Christian missionary project, a ministry through sport. Prior to the national anthem, which was sung by the club president from the commentary box, there was a prayer thanking God for providing a sunny day suitable for football. I’m sure there are plenty of football fans that will offer up a prayer during a game, more likely in respect of the result rather than the weather, but I’ve always thought that if there were any gods listening they’d have better things to do than get caught up in sporting events, particularly obscure ones.

Having said that, I’ve probably got better things to do most of the time than attending lower tier fixtures, so who’s to say that gods don’t have a similar mindset and are happy to prioritise prayers for minor leagues over major pandemics.

Once again, the pitch was cluttered with markings for a variety of sports in different colours. I reckon that six different activities took place on the pitch, including lacrosse. One benefit, I suppose, was that the ref was able to avoid pacing out ten yards at a free-kick and instead simply referred the players to the American Football one-yard markings to determine the placing of the wall.

Torch were in white with an orange trim, whilst Pennsylvania Classiscs were in a dark blue and teal kit. The players were all very polite, some of them referring to the ref as ‘sir’. We should adopt that in England.

Not a lot happened for most of the first half. Torch rattled a post a few minutes from the break before opening the scoring a couple of minutes into added time when the keeper flapped at a cross and someone tapped home from close range.

Torch doubled their lead on the hour before Classics notched a couple of goals to level the scores with fifteen minutes remaining. The points went Torch’s way though with a disputed late penalty that led to off the ball head-butting and a distinctly un-Christian reluctance from those involved to turn the other cheek.

Reading United AC Reserves v Ocean City Nor’easters Reserves, Saturday 4th June 2022, 2pm

June 6, 2022

After our stay at Richmond Jen and I headed further north. The two hundred and eighty-five mile drive to Kempton in Pennsylvania seemed like nothing after the nine hour stint from Bryant to Richmond and the shorter trip meant that we had time to break the journey at Gettysfield.

There’s a museum there which is mainly outdoors. If you wanted to do it justice you’d have to drive around the twenty-four mile suggested route, but as we only had a couple of hours we limited our involvement to wandering around the cemetery where Lincoln made his famous address and having a look at a couple of the battlefield sites.

There was a lot of interesting info and with it following on from a visit to the Civil War Museum in Richmond I’m starting to get a better understanding of what went on in the 1860s over here.

Kempton is pretty quiet and we’d picked a remote place to stay in the countryside. Our cabin was off-grid in that it had no electricity or running water but all of that was available at the bottom of the hill.

We had a firepit though and once it got dark, a fantastic view of the stars.

I was hoping to see some wildlife and we weren’t disappointed. A deer paid a visit early morning and then returned at dusk. I regretted not buying the deer corn advertised at many of the petrol stations that we’d passed as we might have been able to tempt it closer in.

As ever, I looked to see what games were going on locally and there was one forty minutes away in Reading. The town sounded familiar and when I checked I discovered that it was the town where John Updike grew up and was thinly disguised as Harry Angstrom’s Brewer in the Rabbit novels.

Even better, Updike’s childhood house in the suburb of Shillington has been turned into a museum and we called in for a mooch around pre-match. It was well-presented and restored to the way it looked in his childhood with lots of photographs and memorabilia. Nearby was Updike’s old school and the inspiration for Rabbit’s High School basketball career. I’d have liked to have seen a game there and imagined it in the fifties.

After the house visit, we headed for the game at Alvernia University Stadium. The fixture was between the reserve sides of Reading United and Ocean City Nor’easters. Both of the regular sides play in the fourth tier USL League 2 and this game was a curtain raiser to the full fixture later in the evening.

Reading were in yellow and black with Ocean City in light and dark blue. The standard wasn’t too good but if it’s players who can’t quite make the fourth tier then that’s not unexpected.

I spent some time watching three buzzards circling the pitch. If I were a player, I doubt I’d go down easily and then play dead. There might be consequences that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

The Alvernia University Stadium holds around five thousand with uncovered seating down one side of an artificial pitch. Once again, the pitch was marked for a variety of sports and this time the American Football posts were still in position with the soccer goals fitting beneath.

Jen and I found a table with a parasol to the edge of one of the stands. It wasn’t the best view in that I had to look through railings and had no sight of the far goal, but you can’t turn down a spot out of the sun.

My groundhopping rules were put to the test when I noticed that there were no linesmen. In the past I’ve not counted games in those circumstances. However, it was clearly a ‘proper’ match and on the basis that if something as important as the Ministerial Code can be revised or ignored when it proves inconvenient then I’m happy to change my no linesman rule to being just something to take into account when deciding the status of a game rather than an absolute deal-breaker.

The visitors went three up in the first half. Whilst I saw the crosses going in, I didn’t see any of them put into the net due to my poor view.

Nor’easters continued to dominate in the second half and added a fourth goal fifteen minutes from time after a break down the left. A fifth came soon afterwards with a calm finish from around ten yards out. With the goals coming at ‘my’ end, I was able to see them both in full.

On the drive out through Reading I tried to imagine it as Brewer. The area that we passed through had a more suburban feel than I’d imagined in Rabbit, Run, but fitted the later novels much better. I’d like to return sometime and take a longer look around.

Richmond Kickers v Chattanooga Red Wolves, Wednesday 1st June 2022, 6.30pm

June 6, 2022

After leaving Alabama we drove up to Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. It’s a fair distance between the two and the five hundred and sixty odd miles drive took the best part of nine hours.

We stayed in a quiet district, where a lot of the houses were more than a century old. That, as the janitor mentioned to me, is a big deal over here. I told him that St Mary’s church at Norton is around a thousand years old, but graciously highlighted that we rarely get hurricanes twirling their way across the Green.

There wasn’t a great deal that we wanted to do in Richmond, but we did call into a civil war museum that had some interesting exhibits. After our epic drive north, I was surprised to learn that Virginia fought with the South but as in England I suppose that your perception of where north changes to south depends on where you are from.

One of the reasons that I’d picked Richmond was that there was a football game scheduled for the time that we were there. Richmond Kickers were taking on Chattanooga Red Wolves in the third-tier USL League One.

The Kickers claim to be the longest continually existing football club in the US. I’ve no idea if that’s true or what qualifiers might apply to it, but a quick check suggests that their history goes back to the nineties rather than the seventies and what might be regarded as the golden era for US soccer.

It was $20 dollars to get in, although we could have paid less if we had booked in advance of the matchday. As the City Stadium was only a half-hour walk from where we were staying we were able to have a drink. Jen got wine in a can whilst I had a couple of pints of IPA. Unlike at the supermarket, we weren’t asked for ID. Presumably I look over twenty-one when outdoors.

Our general admission tickets entitled us to sit in the shade up against the back wall. I was pleased to see that it was a grass pitch with no markings other than those necessary for a proper football game. There were two main uncovered stands, but only one was open, restricting the potential capacity from around twenty-two thousand to nine thousand.

Pre-match announcements included a description of the ref as the ‘Head Referee’ and adverts for partners such as the Official Pest and Termite Control Affiliate. I wonder if the likes of Man United have one of those.

Kickers were in white with Red Wolves in red. I think the policy in this league might be that in the event of a clash, the home team is the one to switch kits. There were probably around four hundred people watching including a lively group with drummers and flares.

It was a fairly even contest until around ten minutes from half-time when Kickers went one up with a header from a corner. A couple of minutes later they repeated the move to double their lead. A curler from outside the box made it three before the break and effectively sealed the points.

At half-time I toured the food trucks and got us some pulled pork and tater tots, which are a sort of chicken nugget sized hash brown. I also had a different IPA from one of the stalls. There was certainly a much better choice of beers than I’m used to at the Boro.

Both teams had the odd chance in the second half but with Kickers happy to keep it tight and Red Wolves keen to avoid a hammering there were no more goals and it finished up three-nil.

Chattanooga Lookouts v Birmingham Barons, Sunday 29th May 2022, 2.15pm

June 2, 2022

Bryant, Alabama was an enjoyable place to stay, and we spent four nights in a hut by a small fishing lake. There were plenty of opportunities to cook on an open fire and for watching squirrels and birds. At dusk and dawn I kept an eye out for the family of deer that we had been told would visit the lake. If they did show up then they managed to keep out of sight.

There were a couple of options for things to do nearby, one of which was Rock City, a park where you could walk through caves and between giant boulders. There was a view from the top of a hill that took in seven different states. Nearer to Bryant was a cave that was home to thousands of bats. We turned up at dusk to watch them exit one evening and it was a constant stream from both sides of the cave. Many of the bats flew over our heads but they didn’t hang around. It was interesting to see but not as good as the bigger fruit bats that we would watch at dusk in Darwin a few years ago.

Bryant is also handy for Chattanooga and it wasn’t much more than a half hour drive to the A T & T Stadium for some third-tier AA baseball between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Birmingham Barons.

Top price seats were $14 for the lower box seats. We went for the next section up at $12 on the basis that it was more likely to have some shade. What we should have done is bought the $10 General Admission seats as they provided the best shade of all. If we’d done so we could have got in for free as Jen is an ex-soldier. They were also free to anyone making a foodbank contribution and at a reduced price to over fifty-fives like me.

As you would expect there were lots of food options. Jen got a pulled pork sandwich whilst I went for ‘bacon on a stick’. It was a single streaky rasher in a barbecue type sauce. I don’t see it catching on. If I hadn’t been driving, I could have chosen from a wide selection of beers.

Our seats in the upper box section were in the sunshine so we moved back to the unreserved General Admission seats higher in the stand. The stadium was small enough to provide a good view from just about everywhere and so we watched from under the shade provided by the roof.

We stood for a rendition of the national anthem that sounded like the strangling of a cat and then applauded those who had served in the military. I think it was just for US personnel rather than the likes of the Taliban. Jen gets a bit embarrassed to stand up for this sort of thing, perhaps because she didn’t ever get shot at, but it’s commonplace to make a fuss of service veterans over here.

I think that one of the best things about baseball is the variety of entertainment that takes place at the end of each innings. We started off with a bloke having to decide whether to swap a bobble head doll for a mystery prize. Apparently it might have been a million dollars but turned out to be a baseball cap. There was a contest where kids had to put on a tee shirt that was handed to them as a frozen block, a dizzy bat race, a ‘find the lady’ style cap shuffle, guess the crowd and a kid taking over as the stadium announcer.

There were a number of cam events too. We had a jump cam where people would leap in the air and a dance cam that seemed popular with the grannies. There was a smile cam, sponsored by a dentist, and an air guitar cam with a bloke on a podium who looked like he was grating cheese.

Highlight of the day was a Barons home run in the seventh that cleared the stand and ended up outside somewhere. The fielder didn’t even move. That one contributed to a seven-three lead for the visitors as the Lookouts started their ninth.

They managed to load the bases and threaten an epic comeback but couldn’t quite pull it off at the death and the score remained at seven-three to the Barons.