Archive for November, 2021

Middlesbrough v Preston North End, Tuesday 23rd November 2021, 7.45pm

November 30, 2021

After the success of the Wearside League game the previous week, I thought I’d take my grandson Harry along to a Boro match. I bought tickets for Block 62 in the South Stand on the basis that my son Tom is in that section and it meant that I could spend a bit of time with him too.

We all travelled down together in my car. Apparently, Tom usually parks near some college right next to the ground these days and my choice of along from the Westgarth Social Club meant a much greater walk than he was used to.

I’d been to the Westgarth a couple of times in the last ten days. At the weekend we saw Withered Hand and Billy Liar, whilst the week before we watched The Nightingales and Shrug. The latter are as Teesside as lemon tops, parmos and a chip on the shoulder. They put on a good show, despite not playing Archie Stephens Birthday Party.

Unfortunately, I left my phone in my car and so whilst I was able to borrow Tom’s for a photo outside the ground we don’t look sufficiently alike for me to fool the facial recognition once inside. That will make this post mercifully short.

At half time the there were lengthy queues of young lads waiting for the toilet cubicles. I suspect that it was more likely to be for a toot off the cistern than a dump in the bowl. In the second half a fight broke out in the row immediately behind us that spilled over the seats and nearly sent us crashing forward. It might very well have happened partly because the participants had artificially enhanced both their levels of confidence and fuckwittedness.

Harry, as ten year olds tend to be, was quite excited by the disturbance but at fifty-seven I was less impressed and next time we’ll be avoiding that area of the South Stand. On the pitch we ballsed it up again by throwing away a lead in the final quarter of an hour to end up with nothing. That’s the Boro for you.

Shotton Colliery v Darlington Town, Tuesday 16th November 2021, 7.45pm

November 21, 2021

One of the things that I’d planned to do on coming back to the UK was to get my Grandson Harry more involved in going to football. It’s getting on for two years since we’ve been to a game together and when some childcare duties clashed with a match that I’d been intending to go to I took him along.

He was wearing his ‘leavers’ hoodie that his class had all been given at school that afternoon. As it’s only November I assumed that he’d been expelled.

The last game that we had attended together was the Boro against Spurs in the Cup and so I thought an eleventh tier Wearside Division One fixture between Shotton Colliery and Redcar Town might not hold his interest for long. It was two quid in for me and fifty pence for him. No programmes, team sheets or seats. There was a covered standing section in case it rained but we just stayed on the barrier close to the half-way line.

Shotton were in blue and a man down from about a quarter of an hour in after an uncontrolled tackle that sparked plenty of shoving from both teams. There was niggle throughout the match but no goals in the first half. We warmed up with a coffee and a tea from a hut behind one of the goals.

Redcar took advantage of having the extra man and went ahead early in the second half. They wasted a lot of chances to kill the game off before scoring at the death with a lofted shot from at least forty yards that caught the keeper just far enough off his line to dip in. Harry reckoned that it was a decent game and so I’ll bring him along again. Whilst games where you don’t care who wins are fine, I’ll have to get him to some Boro games too so that he can watch his team and learn all about disappointment.

Fawdon v Heaton Stannington A, Saturday 13th November 2021, 1.30pm

November 14, 2021

This game featured one of the oddest things I’ve seen happen during a match. It wasn’t quite as good as the occasion when I played for Hartburn Villa in the Stockton Sunday League and an opposition player who had been sent off returned in his car and drove across the pitch in an attempt to run over the ref. It wasn’t far short though.

Anyway, I’ll set the scene. Jen and I had gone to see a game in the Northumberland FA Minor Cup. I’ve no real idea what the Minor Cup is or whether the Northumberland FA have a more Major Cup, but the location, Druid Park, was somewhere that I’d not been to before.

The game was hosted by Fawdon, who are in the third division of the Northern Alliance League. The visitors were Heaton Stannington A, who are one division above them in the same league. That meant that we were seeing a contest between clubs from the thirteenth and fourteenth tiers of the English pyramid.

Fawdon were in a Newcastle style kit and this confused me for a while as I’d understood that those were Heaton’s colours. On this occasion though, Heaton were dressed up as Barcelona. There wasn’t much of a crowd. I counted twenty people watching on the dugout side but some of them may have been subs or passers-by. Jen and I had the other three sides of the ground to ourselves and we watched from an empty covered stand that was probably sufficient for another two hundred and fifty others.

The ref had been strict early on, warning someone that “more chat and you’ll spend the rest of the game watching from the bench”. Refs get a lot of stick at this level, at all levels in fact, and it was good to see him laying down the law. His job wasn’t made any easier by the fact that his linesmen were drawn from the ranks of the subs and couldn’t be relied upon to be either impartial or attentive. When they weren’t flagging for bogus offsides one lino was keen to practice his keepy-uppies whilst the other spent more time checking his phone than following the game.

With fifteen minutes gone one of the Heaton central defenders said something that the ref took exception to and was shown a straight red. This caused one or two of his team mates to critically comment on the decision and at that point the ref decided that enough was enough. He strode away towards the dressing room waving his arms as if stood over a stricken boxer who was in no condition to carry on.

It seemed as if the game had been abandoned. One player removed his shirt, another had a fag and the remainder either joined the lino in checking their phones or wandered around aimlessly whilst miserably contemplating whether the now-free afternoon might have to be spent at the likes of IKEA instead.

A player was sent indoors to negotiate and after about five minutes the ref returned and the game resumed. The players were extremely polite thereafter, with a few comments of “well done ref” and even one of “you’re the boss”.  The missing five minutes were then ignored for the purposes of adding time with only a single minute extra played in the first half. Presumably the pitch was booked for afterwards by someone else and there wasn’t time for it.

Whilst the new respectful manner was impressive the play wasn’t with passes frequently miss-hit and balls often mis-controlled. Fawdon had a few chances in the closing minutes but the away keeper was on form and it finished goalless.

The Heaton keeper then had a chance to be a hero in the subsequent penalty shoot-out after making the first save. However, his own penalty was saved by his opposite number who up until that point had only looked likely to save a goal bound shot if it were to inadvertently smack him in the chops. Fawdon took the win and a place in the next round.

Horden CW v Redcar Town, Tuesday 9th November 2021, 7.45pm

November 10, 2021

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Northern League grounds, but hadn’t put any urgency on visiting Welfare Park, home of newly promoted to Division Two side Horden Community Welfare. Then I read that their old main stand was to be knocked down and despite never having even heard of it before it became a priority to visit whilst it was still there. It’s hard to fathom the stuff that suddenly appears important when it clearly isn’t.

Anyway, it’s only twenty minutes up the road when the A19 hasn’t been closed for repairs. I parked on the road outside, paid my fiver and another pound-fifty for the one remaining programme. It came complete with the elastic band that had been holding the bundle together and which added to the dog poo bags, carrots for horses and face masks that were already filling my pockets. If I ever get sent to prison I’ll no doubt be baffled when they give me back my possessions on the way out.

The main stand was still in use, although the seats at the outer edges were covered with sheeting. I took a seat in the second row and listened to the blokes behind me chat about the sport in general. One or more of them clearly had professional connections and it made me think about how little I know. I don’t mind that though, I’m quite happy to rock up without even knowing who any of the players are and just watch an eleven v eleven contest unfold.

There was a young lad sat in front of me who was supporting Horden and he was keen to see them open the scoring. He asked me if I thought that they were doing ok and I told him that they were. They had the best chances in the first half and it was only due to some poor finishing and good goalkeeping that the game remained goalless at the break.

I got myself chips and gravy at half-time and having experienced the condemned stand I wandered around to the terracing behind the goal to the right. There were around a hundred and fifty spectators in total with a few groups of teenagers having a laugh, a selection of solitary old blokes like me and some dog walkers who were combining a bit of football with exercising the pooch.

The lad in the stand got his wish when Horden went a goal up early in the second half. Redcar were never out of it though and turned it around with two goals in the last ten minutes. It was a niggly game and it spilled over at the end when the players realized that they had ran out of time to settle their scores on the pitch.

One player picked up a red card after the final whistle and a couple of the protagonists looked keen to continue their disputes as they disappeared into the tunnel. I struggle to understand that mentality and that, in addition to a lack of talent, fitness and inclination, is probably why I’ve generally watched football rather than played.

Harrogate Town v Wrexham, Saturday 6th November 2021, 3pm

November 9, 2021

It was FA Cup time again, with this First Round tie extending my run of attendance to all seven rounds to date, starting back in August with the Extra Preliminary Round at Ryhope. I’d picked Harrogate Town on the basis of proximity to Teesside and that I’d not been before. They are also in the Football League these days so it’s another tick on the ‘92’ list.

Parking could potentially have been a nightmare. I drove past the ground and followed the parking signs which took me into the town centre. The first option was full and the second so far away that I turned around and retraced my route back past the EnviroVent Stadium, eventually finding a spot in the housing estates about fifteen minute’s walk away.

I’d bought my ticket online in advance for the Black Sheep Stand. At sixteen quid it was a pound cheaper than the adjacent seated stand but that one looked a little on the small side and I thought I’d have better prospects for distancing if I stood. There was a good view despite the single stanchion plus I got a barrier to lean on and nobody came too close. Ideal.

I missed the Wrexham goal just before half-time as I was making my way around the back of the stand to join the line for the tea hut. The visitors had started well and had brought close to six hundred fans with them which meant that they filled the stand behind the far goal and most of the stand opposite me.

The tea-hut queue had a much shorter separate line for those just wanting a drink rather than food or both. I joined that one and then switched to the stand behind the goal for the second half. This was much smaller than the Black Sheep Stand, effectively three or four rows deep and with the benefit of less wind and rain ingress.

Harrogate turned it around late on with two goals at the far end. Wrexham gave it a go and had a couple of corners in stoppage time where, with the goalie up, they came close to an equalizer. It wasn’t to be though and it’s Harrogate that will be in the draw for the Second Round.

Luton Town v Middlesbrough, Tuesday 2nd November 2021, 7.45pm

November 7, 2021

As a ground hopper with almost four hundred grounds under my belt my record for the current ‘92’ is pretty poor in that I’ve only been to half of them. When the fixtures for this season came out I checked to see where I hadn’t been in the Championship and entered the four Boro away fixtures for the necessary stadiums into the spreadsheet that plays a big part of keeping track of what I need to do and where I need to be.

The first of those fixtures was Luton. I was a little surprised that I’d never been but a quick check revealed that around the time we moved up to the Premier League under Robbo Luton were slipping down the leagues and it’s only in the last couple of seasons that we’ve been back in the same division.

I had a bit of business on the other side of the M25 and so spent just about all of the day driving. I didn’t fancy another four hours of the same after the game so booked a hotel ten minutes walk from the Kenilworth Road ground. The ticket had been easy enough to get, reaching general sale and I thought it was very good value at only twenty quid.

It was fairly quiet when I arrived around an hour before kick-off. I got myself a bacon sandwich and was directed down an alley to the side of the ground where the away fans entrance was. I’ll be amazed if that alley was used in the days when fighting was commonplace, you could imagine a burning barrel or a large boulder being rolled down it, Indiana Jones style.

At the other end of the alley was the Oak Road entrance for Boro fans. It went through a row of terrace houses, with the top storey above the turnstiles being used as flats. I had a chat with a steward once inside and he confirmed that still people lived in them. I’d have thought that they would have made ideal club offices, or even a bar area.

In the area behind the turnstiles at ground level was the actual bar. The area was small and you could only access it from one end. I got my first pint easily enough but once another twenty or so Boro fans had arrived it became a lot harder and I was fortunate to get a second in time to drink it before kick-off.

We’d been allocated most of one of the stands behind the goal and a thousand Boro fans had made the trip. From the accents and the overheard conversations I’d say a lot of them were from London. I made my way over to the far corner where I had a reasonable view upfield but less so of the goal at our end.

Kennilworth Road is pretty run down. There is what looks like a temporary stand built out of portacabins and scaffolding with the rest being a mishmash of stands from different eras. I liked it. The steward had told me earlier that Luton were planning to move to a new ground in the next couple of years and I can see why, but it will be a shame to lose their current home. In a way, I’d like to see them go up so that they get a final year in the top flight before the move.

On the pitch everything was fine until it wasn’t. A decent first half performance had us a goal up but five mad minutes in the second half saw us concede three in that time and the points were gone. I thought Jones had a good game and Coburn, who I’d seen score in a couple of U23 games this season, took his goal well. Otherwise it was just another of those Championship games that could have gone either way but didn’t go ours.

As usual, some of the crowd were furious and ranted at the players, management and the shiteness of life in general. The majority of fans were a bit more supportive and stayed to applaud the players off. Josh Coburn, in particular, got a good send-off. I can’t say that I got too emotionally involved. When we scored I applauded, but I didn’t celebrate as if we’d won a trophy, as a lot seemed to do. When we conceded I saw it as something that had been on the cards. Maybe if I start going a bit more it may start meaning more, but I doubt it. Anyway, forty-seven done, forty-five to go.

Haltwhistle Jubilee v North Shields Athletic, Saturday 30th October 2021, 2.30pm

November 6, 2021

On the way up to Glasgow the previous week Jen and I had driven past Haltwhistle and it struck me as somewhere that would be good to combine a game with a bit of a walk. It didn’t need to stay in my thoughts for long as a fixture in the eleventh tier Northern Alliance Premier League the following week soon brought us back.

We drove a couple of miles outside of town and parked up at Cawfield Quarry, close to Milecastle 42 of Hadrian’s Wall. We had set off later than intended and so only had two hours or so, but an hour walking eastwards along the wall and then another hour back again was a very pleasant pre-match activity.

Jen and I had walked the wall around ten years ago but I’ve no recollection of this particular part. I doubt that it has changed much so it’s more likely my failing memory. I’m tempted to do the walk again as a refresher, but this time in the other direction.

There had been some doubt as to whether Haltwhistle Jubilee’s fixture with North Shields Athletic would take place. There had been heavy rain the day before but the result of a mid-morning pitch inspection at their Burns Field pitch was tweeted to confirm that it was on.

It was free to get in with any revenue for Haltwhistle coming from the sale of programmes at a pound-fifty a pop. I know they sold at least twenty-nine as that was the winning number for a bottle of wine.  Even if that was the full extent of sales that’s not bad from a crowd that I counted as sixty-six people and four dogs. That crowd figure may have included some of the management teams, but I didn’t count the bloke watching from his garden that the beagle kept baying at. After a while that fella very kindly hid behind a tree to keep the noise down.

The Northern Alliance Premier is a diverse league. This setting wasn’t far off Sunday league with no stands whatsoever. In contrast Newcastle Blue Star have been attracting four-figure gates with many of their fans taking tables in hospitality. I doubt that Haltwhistle would meet the necessary ground standards for promotion to the Northern League, but I could see Blue Star moving beyond that level very easily.

Haltwhistle Jubilee were in blue with North Shields Athletic in red. The hosts opened the scoring with a well-worked goal in the first half. That increased the level of abuse from someone that I assumed was associated with Shields and who kept wandering on to the pitch. The ref didn’t have it easy as he was effectively on his own with his linesmen being co-opted from the subs for each team.

In the second half the abuse increased and one bloke was made to go and stand ten yards further along the touchline. He was also the fella that won the bottle of wine in the programme draw, but I doubt that he’d had time to drink it all by then.

Jubilee doubled their lead with a well-planted header. We had a bit of late drama when Athletic subbed their keeper for no apparent reason and he sulkily made his way along the touchline. The new goalie didn’t concede and it finished two-nil to Haltwhilstle.

Blantyre Victoria v Rutherglen Glencairn, Saturday 23rd October 2021, 2pm

November 5, 2021

Jen and I were up in Glasgow for a Billy Bragg gig. We’d seen him two days previously at Sage in Gateshead and that was a very good show but his performance at Barrowlands was another level up. It may have been due to what he termed a ‘proper Saturday-night crowd’ or it may have been the all-standing venue, but he got great feedback and singing along on the songs that benefitted from it and silence on those ones that should be listened to without a sound. An excellent night.

In a nod to old age I bought a tea-towel at the merchandise stall. I also got myself a Billy Bragg tee-shirt to replace the one that I wore out in ’85, traipsing around Europe. This one is probably a size or so larger than that one but that’s the way it goes.

On the afternoon before the gig Jen and I stopped off at the KG Stadium at Blantyre on the outskirts of Glasgow for a game in the Premier Division of the West of Scotland Football League. It’s the sixth tier in Scotland and provides the opportunity of promotion to the Lowland League, but as a consequence of a recent restructuring a more likely drop into the seventh tier as seven teams will be going down this season.

It was seven quid in and as I’d taken longer to find somewhere to park the car than I’d intended we arrived just as visitors Rutherglen Glencairn were putting away a third minute goal. The bloke on the turnstile called me a jinx.

I had a chat with one of the home supporters and he was able to tell me that Blantyre had gone into the game second from bottom of the table. He reckoned that they had lost a few of their players to better paying clubs and revealed that the current team were on between fifty and a hundred quid a game.

This quite surprised me as the standard was pretty poor, certainly no better than Wearside League, although I’ve no idea what players at that level receive.  For anyone interested Blantyre were in blue with Rutherglen in black and white.

It got worse for Blantyre when a wild tackle reduced them to ten men after only twenty minutes and Rutherglen added a second goal before half time. We were sat in a small covered stand behind the goal and despite having lived in Scotland for a total of around ten years I could barely understand what the people around me were saying. I used to work with a bloke from the Hebrides and had to have someone translate for me. I suspect if I ever moved to Blantyre it might be the same.

At half-time I got myself a Scotch pie. I should have known better really as having taken the pastry from the top the inside resembled the sort of cheap burger that I wouldn’t give to a dog. Very tasty, though.

Rutherglen added a third goal in the second half for a well-deserved victory.

Northallerton Town v Penrith, Wednesday 20th October 2021, 7.45pm

November 2, 2021

I very nearly went to the Boro game this evening, but in the end couldn’t really get excited about another Riverside game that I knew I wouldn’t be able to distinguish from all the others that I’ve been to. Sad really, but I think I’ve moved on from caring about the result of games that I watch and once you’ve done that then there’s little reason to watch your team.

As an alternative Jen and I headed off to Northallerton’s Calvert Stadium for their ninth-tier Northern League Division One fixture with Penrith. It was six quid each in and I was soon relieved of my change in return for a programme and a 50:50 ticket.

I’d had my tea before I came out so didn’t bother with any food but saw one fella eating a roast dinner in a tray that, I think, was four quid something. Pretty good value if it was. Certainly better value than my half-time cup of tea that set me back a pound-seventy.

There were plenty of seats in the main stand and we were able to find an unobscured view of both goals. We could have sat further along at tables or, if we had known about it, in a hospitality lounge for twenty-five quid each.

Northallerton, in black and white, were fourth from bottom of the table with Penrith, in red, one place below. Penrith had the best of the first half and missed a great chance just before the break that would have put them three-one up.

One of the Penrith defenders had a bit of a childcare issue and had to spend half-time looking after his three kids. The youngest, who looked about five, wasn’t happy at all about his Dad having to go back onto the pitch at the restart and was even less impressed when his Dad was too far from the touchline to be able to return his ball that he had kicked onto the pitch after play had restarted.

Penrith got that third goal in the second-half, but a late fightback from Northallerton made it three-each at the death.

Pontefract Collieries v FC Halifax Town, Saturday 16th October 2021, 3pm

November 1, 2021

Jen and I had spent the night before this game staying in Shipley on the outskirts of Bradford for a Boo Hewerdine gig. As usual he was very good and as he so often does was collaborating with someone else. We’ve seen him with Eddi Reader and Chris Difford in recent years and this time it was Heidi Talbot up on stage at the Live Room with him. In addition to their own stuff they covered Tom Waites’ ‘Time’ and Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ which both went down very well amongst the sold-out capacity crowd of 120.

It was also a sell-out at the Beechnut Lane stadium the next day for the FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie between Pontefract Collieries and FC Halifax Town. I’d been looking to keep my FA Cup run going and as this one was pretty much on the way home it seemed an ideal choice.

I’d bought twelve quid tickets online within a few minutes of them going on sale and then watched with interest the build-up throughout the days leading up to the game.

We actually arrived at the ground two hours before kick-off. Not through excitement but because I’d planned to park up and then go for something to eat. Beechnut Lane isn’t really handy for anything though and once were in the car park the best option was probably to get in early and nab a couple of seats.

The plan worked and we ended up in the main stand next to a lady whose son had played for both teams in his younger days. Whilst it was good to have a seat and I’m fine with sitting quietly I’d have enjoyed it more if the DJ had brought enough records to only have to play each one the once. Most of his songs were from the seventies and good as a lot of them were, I didn’t really want to hear some of them three or four times over.

It was a big game for Pontefract and the first time that they had reached the final qualifying round. They play in the eighth-tier, in the same division as Stockton whilst Halifax are a former Football League club and currently third in the fifth-tier National League.

The crowd was a record and not far off fifteen hundred. It seemed as if the whole of Pontefract was there with a mix of lads on the beer, kids scoffing crisps and old blokes wondering why their regular spot on the railings was already three deep with half an hour to go to kick-off.

There was a good turnout from Halifax too, some of them in the seats near me but the majority behind the goal to my left. They also made the most of being allowed to drink at the pitchside, something that I don’t think that they can do at their level.

The size of the crowd put a strain on the tea hut but fortunately I’d got my chips and gravy not long after entering the ground.

Pontefract created some half chances, but Halifax always looked the better side and more likely to create something from nothing. Their pressure meant that the home goalie had plenty to do and he did it extremely well in a man of the match performance.

With the game in added time Pontefract had a man sent off for a second yellow. It was late enough for it not to matter though and they hung on for the goalless draw and a place in the draw for the First Round proper.