Archive for December, 2021

Darlington v Gateshead, Tuesday 28th December 2021, 3pm

December 29, 2021

I’d had my eye on a Darlo game for some time and added this visit by Gateshead to my spreadsheet a while ago. I bought tickets online in advance paying sixteen quid for me, nothing for Harry as an under eleven and a fiver to park in the official car park.

Driving in brought back memories of using the car park seventeen years ago when I worked in Darlington for a few months and it was hired by the company I worked for as a base for a shuttle service. I was briefly involved in the subsea industry, work that appeared to be so weather dependent for a profit that you might was well instead bet on it snowing on Christmas Day.

As Harry and I queued to have our tickets scanned he remembered that he had been at Blackwell Meadows before too, playing on the one of their rugby pitches for Billingham a couple of years ago. The ground works well, I think. There’s a covered standing area behind one goal which, if not quite enclosed enough to make it reminiscent of The Shed at Feethams, did the job in providing a home singing end.

We had seats in the main covered stand along one side, with an impressive building opposite that had a hospitality balcony. An open area behind the goal to our left was given over to the Gateshead fans.

We initially had trouble finding two unreserved seats together and it took a while for me to convince an old bloke to move along one seat so that Harry and I could sit together. Relations got worse when I bashed the fella’s arm with my seat when rising to let someone else pass. Despite my profuse apologies he seemed determined to be pissed off about everything, to the extent that if I’d acted on my urge to give him a swift poke in the eye I doubt that his mood could have been any further darkened.

I kept my eye on former Boro Academy player Junior Mondal in the first half. He was playing on our side of the pitch for Darlo and made a decent job of it. I remember seeing him in a more forward role for Whitby three years or so ago and it’s good that he has continued to make a living out of the game.

Gateshead had the best chances in the first half but it was goalless at the break. Harry and I joined the queue for the food cabin which was long enough to mean that we watched the opening ten minutes of the second half from that line and then just stayed on the rail afterwards.

Gateshead brought on Luke Williams at half-time. Boro fans will remember him as the wunderkid in the dark days of Strachan. He’s been unlucky with injuries over the years but seems to be making a consistent contribution from the bench for Gateshead most games. Twelve years on he looked as good as ever on the ball in a slightly deeper role than I’d anticipated.

The game came to life in the last quarter with three goals in as many minutes. Gateshead took the lead, Darlo equalised and then Gateshead regained the advantage creating quickly contrasting emotions for those who cared. A third goal for Gateshead before the end clinched the points and kept their National League North promotion challenge on course.

Middlesbrough v Nottingham Forest, Sunday 26th December 2021, 3pm

December 27, 2021

With my grandson Harry having enjoyed our visit to the Riverside last month, despite us throwing away the points against Preston, I decided that we’d have to go more often. Initially I thought that once every few weeks would do, but then realized that at forty-seven pounds a time for the two of us it would be far cheaper to buy season tickets.

With eleven games left this campaign we would only need to go to six of them to make it cheaper than paying match by match and so I sorted us with cards for the family section in the East Stand.

As we made our way around the ground there were long queues at each ticket office and turnstile. Some of them will have had more than a hundred people lining up. We were lucky in that there were very few people waiting at the East Stand and after showing my Covid pass we were inside.

A quick drink each and we were up to our seats, ten rows back and looking out at the penalty spot at the North Stand end. We got a decent view of a fantastic first-half Boro performance in which we could have gone in five-up after dominating play and possession. There was just the one goal to show for it, a comedy own goal from a Forest defender who hit a blind back pass beyond his own keeper.

The concourse was packed at half-time and we queued for the full duration for a coffee and coke. Next time I’ll try a different set of steps and see if I can join a line a little sooner.

It was disappointing to see so few of our fans wearing masks inside. I wonder how many of them feel that when the rules aren’t observed by the those who set them then there’s no reason why anyone else should bother.

Forest re-grouped for the second-half and initially looked to be making a game of it, but Boro picked up the pace and added a second through Sporar. Despite Forest hitting a post late on the result never looked in doubt and it’s probably the best performance I’ve seen from us for a few years.

Wilder has made a big impact already and at the risk of getting carried away I think top six is nailed on.

Buxton v FC United of Manchester, Saturday 18th December 2021, 3pm

December 24, 2021

I’ve no recollection of ever having been to Buxton before but having noticed that Richard Hawley was playing there we decided to pop down for the weekend. It’s a decent place for a mooch about and on the edge of the Peak District so ideal for doing some walking. The weather was poor though and so Jen and I did no more than wander around town.

Buxton seems to provide a lot of the mineral water that you see on supermarket shelves and if you live there you can drink it fresh from the ground. I had a couple of handfuls from a tap in town and it was warmer than I’d expected, although not as warm as the near scalding stuff that I sampled in Spain a few years ago.

The Hawley gig was at the Opera House. It’s an interesting building and about one hundred and twenty years old. We had seats in the front row of the fourth-tier gallery which I was happy with as it kept us out of the way of most of the rest of the audience.

The Opera House could do with more functional bars, although if I ever went back I might just save some lengthy queuing and a bit of cash by taking a few drinks of my own in.

Richard Hawley was ok. I’m not a massive fan but liked his Coles Corner album. I don’t think I’ve listened to anything else since though. We hung around for an hour of the set and then cleared off. He’d played his hit and so I was happy enough with that.

Next day, Buxton were at home to FC United of Manchester in the seventh tier Northern Premier League Premier Division. It’s the division that Scarborough and Whitby both play in and one up from Stockton’s current position in the pyramid.

Before heading for the game, I watched the Boro’s early kick-off in the Queen’s Head. We look as if we are improving match by match under Chris Wilder and I think a play-off place could well be within reach.

It was a tenner in at the Tarmac Silverlands Stadium. I’m sure I read somewhere that it’s the highest stadium in England. Or maybe the Opera House was the highest Edwardian music hall. Or perhaps I’ve just made it up. Who knows?

The fans were generally segregated which is rare at this level. I know FC United pride themselves on doing a lot of singing but it seems astonishing that they would be up for a scrap. We went in the Buxton half of the ground on the basis that I’m happy to sit in as quiet an area as possible.

We ended up in the main stand which gave a reasonable view between the stanchions. People were spacing themselves out although not many were wearing masks. There was drizzle in the air and so I was glad of the roof.

There were more Buxton fans in a covered stand to our right with the FC United fans occupying a covered standing section opposite and the open area behind the goal to our left.

The most notable aspect of the game was the fog. It cleared at times in the first half but there were periods of play where the only thing I could see reasonably well on the opposite touchline was the lino’s luminous flag. The FC United goalie was in a grey kit that rendered him virtually invisible.

The game was niggly from the start and it all kicked off when someone appeared to be deliberately stood on. A dozen or so players got stuck into each other with the remainder being far enough away not to be able to see the fracas through the fog.

Buxton were the better side in that first half and took the lead through a well-planted header. They went into the game top of the table with FC United just about in the top half.

In the second half the visibility got worse. When the ball went over to the corner flag to my left, I couldn’t see any action at all. The visitors coped just fine with the fog though and scored twice to take a well-deserved win. As Mr. Hawley so nearly said, ‘Tonight The Streets Were Theirs’.

Stoke City v Middlesbrough, Saturday 11th December 2021, 3pm

December 15, 2021

The Bet365 stadium, or the Britannia Stadium as it was formerly known, is another of those grounds that I’ve never been to but feel as if I should have done. Still, it’s never too late until they’ve been demolished and so I got myself a ticket in the Boro section behind one of the goals. The tickets didn’t quite sell out but with almost seventeen hundred there it was still a sizeable away contingent.

Jen and I decided to stay over on the Saturday night and booked in at the Sutherland Arms which is about half an hour’s walk from the stadium. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful with food and beer suggestions and as it was raining quite heavily kindly arranged me a taxi to the ground.

They also suggested that we tried oatcakes from a shop over the road. I’ve a feeling that oatcakes are the Stoke equivalent of a parmo and that everyone visiting town will be asked if they’ve had one. As breakfast choices were limited and the oatcake shop opened at seven on a Sunday morning we had one before we left the next day. It was ok, just a pancake style wrap really, but when filled with egg, bacon and sausage it hit the spot.

The taxi dropped me close to the ground and after initially heading for the wrong turnstiles and then a quick body search outside the correct ones I was soon inside. The concourse area was far too small for the amount of fans that we had brought and it was a squeeze to move around. I eventually jostled my way to the bar for a final pre-match drink. It didn’t seem wise to try and carry a pint so I opted for a bottle of cider but still had to put my thumb over the opening as young lads around me bounced up and down.

The air quality in the enclosed space was already suffering from the usual farts and body odour but got worse when someone lit a flare. Maybe I’m just too old for that sort of thing but who would think that it’s fun to light one of these indoors in an over-packed space? Oh, and what’s the idea behind the song calling a former Geordie number nine a ‘sex offender’? Don’t we have enough historical local experience of false allegations in this field to be better than that?

I chugged my cider as quickly as I could and headed up to my seat. Boro had made a couple of changes with Lumley returning in goal and Fry at centre-back. I’m not sure that I really rate any of the keepers that we have so I don’t suppose it matters much which one plays. It was good to see Fry back in the side though and I thought he had a decent game, directing operations from the back and looking to drive forward whenever there was a gap.

The Britannia Stadium appeared to be not much more than half-full to me so I was surprised to read that there were more than twenty-one thousand there. Perhaps a few season ticket holders had gone Christmas shopping. Three sides of the ground were in a horseshoe but the main stand not only stood alone but stood well back from the pitch. When combined with a very gradual incline it meant that fans in that part of the ground were a long way from the action. With all the money that the Bet365 owners have they might want to consider building a new stand next to the touchline.

Neither side created much of note. Duncan Whatmore had a reasonable chance for us and one of the Stoke players put a header wide towards the end but otherwise it was a game where not much went on. I think a goalless draw was about right.

On leaving my seat at full-time I found myself trapped in the concourse with the exit gates locked and more fans coming down the steps behind me. It’s bad enough being packed in like sardines during covid anyway but there really is no excuse for potential crushes at football. Eventually the gates burst open under the pressure, clattering a steward on the other side.

The issue arose from the local police decision to stop away fans leaving the stadium for half an hour after the game. I hopped on a shuttle bus that was headed for the station on the basis that I might as well sit down whilst waiting and it would be easier to get an onward taxi from there. Other fans weren’t so comfortable as they were kettled and then pepper sprayed. It’s as if we were in the eighties all over again.

Rochdale v Plymouth Argyle, Sunday 5th December 2021, 12.15pm

December 14, 2021

Have been to all the previous seven rounds of this season’s FA Cup I was keen to keep the run going and get to a second round game. Initially I’d looked at the Buxton-Morecambe fixture but getting hold of tickets was an arse on with the hosts understandably keen to maximise revenue by prioritizing fans who could be tempted to attend a prior league game.

Rochdale had tickets on sale fairly early on for their Sunday lunchtime tie with Plymouth and whilst we could have got in for a tenner I took advantage of the lower than normal reduced price of forty quid for hospitality in the 1907 lounge.

Jen and I got a table for two prior to the game, some pastries and a full English. We also had padded seats close to the half-way line in the stand with the sun behind us. It was generally ok but the breakfast was served with beans sat on top of everything else. Who likes baked bean juice on their bacon? Plus, I’d put on real shoes instead of trainers only to find that just about everyone else ignored that directive. Despite all that it was still worth doing.

I’m not sure if I’ve been to Rochdale before, back when the ground was known as Spotlands. I think I might have been in the first Rioch promotion season, but with no recollection or proof I’ve had to consider this as being my first visit to the re-named Crown Oil Arena. Even if I had been before, it looks as if all four stands might have been replaced in the last thirty-five years and so it would have been a ‘Trigger’s broom’ dilemma anyway.

I had no real preference as to which team I wanted to win. Rochdale had ex-Boro full-back Robbie Stockdale managing them, but to counter that I’ve a Plymouth supporting mate. I had a look out for Rich in the four-hundred or so travelling fans opposite but couldn’t see him. Maybe he was the bloke in the hot-dog suit.

There was a minute’s applause in the sixth minute in memory of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. I joined in, but I can’t see what these gestures achieve. Twenty years on from the death of Victoria Climbie, children’s voices still aren’t being heard and it seems as if we are a country that considers clapping to be sufficient.

Anyway, back to the game. From what I could work out third-tier Plymouth had put out a reasonably strong side and so I backed their striker Ryan Hardie to score at any time. He barely got a kick though and when he was subbed a few minutes from the end that bet went down.

At that time the scores were level at one each, but Plymouth nicked a winner just before the end to clinch a third round tie that really could have gone to either side.

Dunston UTS v Bridlington Town, Saturday 4th December 2021, 3pm

December 13, 2021

Jen and I had tickets for a concert at the Sage, Gateshead in the evening so I picked an afternoon game that was less than five miles from our hotel. The gig was ok, but nothing special. It was the London African Gospel Choir singing Paul Simon’s Graceland. I like that album, but the choir arsed on too much, stretching it out by introducing everyone and indulging them with a solo and then having the women in the audience singing one line, whilst the men sang another.

I’ve no interest in party games. When I go to a gig, I just want them to play the songs and then clear off. If you haven’t got enough songs, then play some of them twice if you must rather than stretch the last two songs out for half an hour.

That’s enough of the music. The game that we went to beforehand was Dunston’s eighth tier Northern Premier League East Division tie with Bridlington Town at the UTS Stadium. We were able to park up in a nearby street a minute or two away.

It was seven quid in. I didn’t see any programmes, although they may have been selling them in the club shop. Maybe they have done away with paper copies completely as there was an electronic programme mentioned on Twitter.

There was a covered seated stand on the half-way line and we found a spot towards the back. It was absolutely freezing and whilst Jen had brought a blanket I wasn’t sure that she would survive the entire ninety minutes. The Tommy Mooney Stand opposite was standing only with a lot of people lined up along the rail behind the goal to our right.

Dunston went into the game in fifth position in the table with Bridlington rock bottom. Current form also favoured the home side with them having won four out of the last five whilst the visitors had managed no better than a couple of draws over the same period.

The standard of football wasn’t the best but I don’t mind that. By the time you get down to the eighth tier of English football it can be a bit hit and miss. I suspect Dunston will have played a lot better this season. The grass looked a little on the long side and I don’t think it helped with trying to pass along the ground. Once the turf started to churn it became even harder and the easy solution was to hit longer balls.

Virtually nothing happened in the first half until Dunston had an on-target shot blocked in added time. There was more going on in the second half and the Bridlington player-manager opened the scoring with a shot that went in off the post. They added a second with a finish that I felt the Dunston keeper could have done better with.

The tempo picked up after Dunston pulled one back from a pen but with the visitors time wasting at every opportunity tempers spilled over and a home player saw red for a kick at the Bridlington goalie.

Despite the cold we saw out the game and the away win. The chatter from the home fans on the way out was all about Newcastle’s first win of the season. A nice distraction for them from the dropped three points.

North Ferriby v Nostell Miners Welfare, Saturday 27th November 2021, 3pm

December 3, 2021

This weekend didn’t quite work out as planned, mainly due to Storm Arwen. Jen and I spent a couple of nights in Scarborough, primarily to see From The Jam at the Spa, but also with good intentions to finish off the Cleveland Way in Filey. Neither of those events happened with the gig being cancelled an hour or so before the doors opened due to high waves outside the venue and the weather making hiking a dismal prospect.

The storm messed with my football options too with the Scarborough Amateur League game in Filey being called off. I wasn’t too disappointed as that one looked to be in a field with no cover. My alternative choice took me to North Ferriby for a tenth tier Northern Counties East League Division One game. It was a seventy-five-minute drive which might seem a little excessive but the alternative was just cabining up in a bed and breakfast and that had minimal appeal.

North Ferriby is right on the Humber River. I could see it as I was driving into town. The water looked to have been a higher level than usual and was a brown colour. I’ve no idea if it was due to mud from the banks or from tory sanctioned sewage. Maybe both.

I parked up and walked past some allotments. There was a church just along from the ground and to the far side the Humber Bridge was visible. With a railway line running along one side of the Dransfield Stadium there was something for everyone to look at if the football was on the dull side.

It was a fiver to get in and another couple of quid for a programme. I was given a team sheet and bought a raffle ticket for a signed away strip. I commented that I hoped it was at least XL only to be told that it was in a frame. I resolved to give it back if I won.

I started off behind one of the goals, mainly to take some photos. There was steady drizzle though and I quickly moved into the covered stand on the railway side of the ground. I reckon that it probably held around four hundred in the central seated area with a standing section tagged on to each end.

It was absolutely freezing. My top half was ok as I had two coats on, a woolly North Ferriby hat that I’d picked up at the club shop, some gloves and my hood up. My legs were covered by nothing more than a single layer of denim and I spent most of the first half trying to keep the circulation going by rubbing my thighs Vic Reeves-style.

The temperature was 2 degrees, but apparently it was supposed to feel as if it was minus 3. I wasn’t going to argue with that. It took me back to the Torpedo Moscow game a year earlier where I’d squeezed in one last match before the Russian winter shutdown and almost done myself a permanent mischief.

North Ferriby were in green and white with visitors Nostell Miners Welfare in yellow and black. The fans around me were expecting the top of the table hosts to take the points in a game where the conditions meant that the floodlights were on before kick-off. North Ferriby were responsible for most of the chances in the first half, including one that they created at their own end with a wellied back pass to almost beat their own keeper. At the proper end they hit the bar and went close in some frantic goalmouth scrambles. Nostell held on though and it was still level at the break.

North Ferriby finally clinched the points twenty minutes from time after some six yard box pinball following a corner. It was a relief to the majority of the 276 crowd who, like me, had braved the conditions to avoid an afternoon cabined up.