Archive for May, 2022

Chattanooga v Bay Cities, Saturday 28th May 2022, 7.30pm

May 29, 2022

A trip to the US had been in my diary for over a year as there were a couple of family celebrations going on that fitted nicely into a month or so driving around. We were meant to start and finish in New York but as Jen had been stuck in the South since January waiting for a UK visa I decided to head out early and add another couple of weeks to the front end.

We met up in New Orleans and spent a couple of nights in and around the French Quarter. The days were reasonably quiet whilst the evenings, as you might expect, were a lot livelier. There weren’t any sporting activities going on, but I did drive past the Superdome where Ali fought Spinks in ’78.

After New Orleans we travelled on to Mississippi and stayed at Jen’s Dad’s house for a few days. It’s out in the country and I didn’t do a great deal other than lounge about and walk the dog, Roscoe. I hope he is named after the Dukes of Hazard character.

The parts of the trip that had already been booked meant that we had to be up in New York a couple of weeks after I arrived to pick up a hire car and begin the original itinerary. The first stop on the way there was Bryant, Alabama, which is around half an hour from Chattanooga. It had been partly selected because of a game in Chattanooga at the Finley Stadium.

Parking initially seemed difficult until I realised that the metered spots only charged up until 6pm. That saved me from having to download and register Apps that invariably asked me for details that I couldn’t supply.

There was a lengthy queue for tickets, but I found a small window where a fella printed them for me without any fuss. I think that they were just under fifteen dollars each once the various taxes and fees had been added.

Getting into the ground proved to be slightly more problematic, or at least it did for Jen. She had a small handbag with her that apparently contravened the requirements to either be see-through or as small as an ‘index-card’. I went in whilst she nipped back to the car to drop it off.

Finley Stadium has large open seated stands down each side of the pitch. There’s some sort of hospitality area behind one goal and a grassy bank behind the other, complete with a couple of ice cream vans for whenever the small kids needed a break from rolling down the hill. Only one stand was open, and I found a space towards the back well away from most of the other people there.

The stadium is shared with an American football team and so both sets of markings were present on the artificial turf. I hadn’t realised before how narrow an American football pitch is and it easily fitted inside the real football markings.

Directly ahead of us was the singing section of the stand. There were around a hundred or so supporters standing, jumping and twirling their scarves to the beat of three or four drums. There was also a trombone in there although it seemed to be more waved in the air than played.

Proceedings were directed by what I’ve recently learned is known as a ‘Capo’ who spent the game facing his fellow supporters rather than the pitch and making sure that the noise levels didn’t drop. There was one song, as you might expect, about a Chattanooga Choo Choo, complete with railroad tooting arm signals.

The game was in the third tier NISA League with Chattanooga in dark blue and opponents Bay Cities in white. The home side had most of the possession in the first half and took the lead early on. They looked to have added a second just before half-time but the header was ruled out.

I’d forgotten how much of a big deal a caution is over here, with each one being greeted with glee by the stadium announcer. There were also lengthy adverts during play where the announcer would extol the merits of a local car dealership or a brand of hot sauce. It’s something that is creeping in at the Boro with substitutions sponsored by someone or other. I’m not a fan, but then again I don’t have to fund the club to the same extent as Gibbo does.

At half-time I popped downstairs for a coke. There were plenty of options for eating and drinking, meaning that nobody had to queue for too long. Although maybe the low attendance of just under three thousand helped with that too.

Chattanooga doubled their lead five minutes into the second half from a penalty and then added a third soon after. At that point the game looked to be over with Bay Cities dead and buried.

The visitors were back in the game on the hour with a shot that crept into the corner and should probably have been kept out. They scored a second a few minutes later and with twenty minutes to go I was hoping for a frantic finish.

Chattanooga killed the game off with their fourth though ten minutes from time to take the points. There was a firework display to conclude the evening, but we left them to it and watched from a distance as we headed along the highway back to Bryant.

Spartans U15 v Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic U15, Sunday 15th May 2022, 3.30pm

May 28, 2022

When I’d headed up to Edinburgh that morning, I’d no idea that I’d get to see three fixtures in the same day. This bonus game was on the adjoining pitch at Ainslie Park, and I stumbled upon it when I went for a half-time slash. Spartans, in white and red, were the home side and entertaining Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic in an under fifteens game.

I didn’t ask anyone the score but saw one Spartans goal whilst stood pitch side. There were around forty people watching, presumably mainly parents although with the main game wanting eight quid to get in perhaps some were just waiting for half-time when they could go in for free.

I later watched some of the game from the embankment in the main stadium, casting an eye over whenever the cup final action slowed for injury treatment, but I didn’t see any further goals. It’s another ground to add to the list though, taking my total of new grounds to three that day and four hundred and thirty-seven in total.

East Kilbride v Bo’ness United, Sunday 15th May 2022, 3pm

May 27, 2022

The second game of the day was the Lowland League Cup Final, or to give it it’s full title the FC United To Prevent Suicide Lowland League Cup Final. It was held at Ainslie Park which is home of The Spartans from the Lowland League and currently shared with League Two team Edinburgh City.

It took me around half an hour to drive from Easter Road and so I got there with plenty of time to spare to kick-off. Although I just missed out on getting into the car park and had to park up on the street outside.

It was eight quid admission and another two for a programme. Ainslie Park is a relatively new ground dating from 2008 and with an artificial pitch. It has a covered stand that seats around five hundred and can accommodate another couple of thousand along the perimeter railing and up on raised embankments.

As I was early enough for my pick of the seats I started off in the covered stand. It soon filled up and the early entertainment came from an incredibly sweary young lad in a wheelchair. Eventually someone told him to pipe down and when he could no longer punctuate with effin’ and jeffin’ he struggled to speak at all.

The competition was for teams in the fifth tier Lowland League. I imagine that East Kilbride who had finished third in the table probably went into the game as favourites over mid-table opponents Bo’ness United. It’s getting easier to gauge the standard of the Lowland League now that there is an opportunity for progression to the Scottish Football League and just that week league champions Bonnyrigg Rose had replaced Cowdenbeath in League Two after their play-off win.

East Kilbride were in navy and gold, with Bo’ness United in white with blue trim. East Kilbride looked the better side early on and took the lead a few minutes from half-time when a ball slid in behind the defence was well-finished. I joined the queue for food at the break but was too slow. Anything worth eating was long gone and I had to settle for a Snickers. It wasn’t even deep-fried.

Bo’ness came out fired up and soon equalised with a shot that looped up and over the keeper. Maybe there was a deflection in there somewhere. A spell of three goals in ten minutes settled the tie in favour of East Kilbride though with a couple of curlers from the edge of the box and a header where the striker was rewarded for his bravery in getting his head to the ball milliseconds before the keeper’s fist arrived.

Bo’ness pulled one back with five minutes to go but by that time the ribbons were already on the cup. I had a three hour plus drive back to Teesside so didn’t hang around for the presentation and celebrations. Not many other people seemed to do so either.

Hibernian v St. Johnstone, Sunday 15th May 2022, 12 noon.

May 26, 2022

I didn’t have much planned for this day and when I saw that there were a couple of games going on in Edinburgh that I could attend I thought I’d have a drive up. The first match was a lunchtime kick-off at Easter Road for the final game in the Premier League for Hibs and St. Johnstone.

I’d bought a ticket online for a central position in the East Stand for twenty-eight quid. The streets around were designated for disabled matchday parking but I was able to find somewhere around ten minute’s walk away.

I’d stopped for a bacon sandwich on the way up so settled for a pre-match coffee. The food options were varied and if I’d wanted, I could have had a macaroni pie followed by a doughnut.

Prior to kick-off there was a tribute on the big screens to the Hibs fans and former players who had died over the course of the season. There must have been a hundred of them and living in Leith struck me as being riskier than spending time in Midsomer. Maybe it’s the macaroni pie and doughnut diet.

When the line-ups were announced I realised that St. Johnstone were fielding an ex-Boro player, Jacob Butterfield. He only played the one season for us. Mogga signed him then got bagged a month or so later and Karanka swapped him for Adam Clayton the following summer. I was away in South Africa for most of that campaign but saw a couple of his early games for us. I can remember elements of both matches but nothing at all about Mr. Butterfield.

He did ok in this game, sitting deep and playing mainly short passes. The very definition of tidy, I suppose.

There wasn’t anything at stake in this game and I got the impression that a lot of Hibs fans had just taken the day off. Those that had turned up made it a priority to say their seasonal goodbyes to those around them and to look forward to seeing them again in August.

I was transfixed by a bloke a couple of rows down from me with an elaborate comb-over. It was aimed at disguising the bald spot on his crown and included a parting halfway down the back of his head with hair swept upwards. He played safe by brushing his fringe backwards for double coverage. It’s a style that requires assistance and he had used enough hairspray for it to resemble a Coco Coir doormat.

Hibs were the better side and ran out four-nil winners with man of the match James Scott getting three of them. It wasn’t as one sided as the score would suggest though with St. Johnstone having plenty of opportunities and more of the ball. The contest wasn’t really over until Hibs got their third just after the hour.

As the game petered out Hibs emptied their bench and gave debuts to what seemed like most of their Academy. It’s not easy to tell whether young players will go on to have a decent career but if it doesn’t pan out for them at this level, they will have had an enjoyable few minutes in a first team shirt to look back on.

Rothbury v West Moor & Jesmond, Saturday 14th May 2022, 2.30pm

May 24, 2022

The Boro’s season is over, but there is still the odd game taking place. This one was the final fixture for both sides in the twelfth-tier Division One of the Northern Alliance League. It was pretty much a dead game in that neither side were involved in matters at either end of the table and West Moor were guaranteed a sixth-place finish regardless of the result. Rothbury had a little more to play for in that if results elsewhere went their way, then they might move up from ninth position to seventh. I doubt that it kept them awake the night before.

The drive up to Armstrong Park was a scenic as it gets. I think that it just about borders the Northumberland National Park. It’s a fair distance though, around seventy-five minutes from Teesside, although as I didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon it was no big deal.

That morning Isla and I had been to have another look at the racehorse. We watched him on the gallops and had a chat with some of the stable staff. Apparently, he’s not one for the minimum distances so won’t make his debut until later in the season when the races get longer. Oddly enough, he doesn’t like carrots. Weirdo horse.

There was a clubhouse, I think, at Armstrong Park or maybe it was just the changing rooms. A few people were stood in front of it, but most were sat along one side of the pitch on a raised embankment area. The smart folks had brought camping chairs with them but most, like me, had found a spot where a level piece of ground met the slope so that there was somewhere to angle your legs downwards. As usual there were dogs in attendance including a spaniel and an enormous Dalmatian.

Rothbury were in red, with West Moor in blue and white. They each had to volunteer a sub to run the line, although the Rothbury lad was so biased that after a while the ref, who rarely strayed from the centre circle, just ignored him. The lack of exertion from the man in the middle wasn’t only limited to covering ground, but extended to whistle blowing. If he could let play go on he did do and on the occasions when forced to blow his whistle he did it so quietly that it undermined any authority that he may have had.

The visitors went two up in the first half, with Rothbury pulling one back early in the second half before West Moor rattled in another two to make the game safe. There was a late consolation for Rothbury and it finished four-two.

At the end the ref continued his minimal effort approach by blowing just twice to bring the game and the Northern Alliance season to an end.

Preston North End v Middlesbrough, Saturday 7th May 2022, 12.30pm

May 12, 2022

Once Harry started getting into following the Boro, I began looking at away games for us to go to. This one was always on my radar as it might very well have been the game that clinched a play-off spot or, at one stage, maybe even promotion.

The problem though was that I didn’t think that we would be able to get tickets. Our half-season cards put us a long way down the priority list and so back in February I decided to try and get something in hospitality directly from Preston. They were very good about it and despite me admitting that I was a Boro fan they sold us tickets for the Sir Tom Finney Lounge.

The Boro’s allocation turned out to be 5,600 tickets and as they reached general sale, we would have been ok, but it’s always nice to see a game in a bit of comfort so I wasn’t too disappointed that I’d shelled out more than I needed to.

The sat nav took us over the A66 and then down the M6. That’s a much more pleasant drive than the M62. There were a lot of dead badgers though. If I’d had a spade in the boot, I might have stopped and got one of their heads as I’ve often fancied having a badger skull. Harry thought that would be an odd thing to do despite him seeming happy enough with a sheep skull that I gave him a few years ago. Apparently, it’s different if you just stumble across them as opposed to deliberately carrying and using a dismembering tool. Whatever, it sparked a decent discussion over the merits of maggots v worms for removing the flesh.

We arrived about an hour before kick-off and our car park pass was waiting for us at the gate. There was time for brunch and a chat with some Preston fans on the same table. They weren’t at all hopeful of taking anything from the game and whilst they thought that there would be some players looking for new contracts, they reckoned that their team would already be ‘on the beach’.

They were wrong and Preston turned in a decent performance. With results from elsewhere not going our way the defeat didn’t make any difference to our play-off hopes and some of the players efforts might well have been useful to Wilder in helping him to make his plans for next season.

Despite the result I enjoyed the day out. It’s good to chat to the fans of the other side and Preston managed the hospitality very well. We didn’t even get kept back in the car park afterwards to let the crowds clear and were soon on the M6. That’s it for the Boro until July when I’m hoping for another season challenging at the top end of the table.

Wolverhampton Wanderers U23 v Middlesbrough U23, Wednesday 4th May 2022, 7pm

May 11, 2022

One of the Premier League grounds that I’ve never been to is Molineux. odd really, as it’s probably somewhere that most Boro fans of my age, or even a fair bit younger, will have been to on at least a couple of occasions.

I should have gone for the sixth-round replay in ’81 when half of Teesside headed down the A19 mid-afternoon. For some reason I’d been singled out at school and told if I got away early then they wouldn’t enter me for the exams. In hindsight, what a load of bollocks. I should have called their bluff as we weren’t a school that had many kids who were capable of a handful of ‘O’ Levels and if mine were taken out of the equation it would probably have dropped their average score for our year by a couple of percentage points.

The other one I missed was the promotion game under Lennie. I was married then to a wife who didn’t like me having fun without her. Instead, we were at Newmarket to see Lester win his final classic. I’m not sure she enjoyed that very much either but at least she could see what I was up to.

The evening got off to a good start when I parked up and spotted a rat.  I’ve nothing against rats. They get a bad press on account, I think, of their tails. If they had fluffy jobs like squirrels, people would be putting food out for them.

I’d bought my £4 ticket online and had to register as a Wolves fan. I’m ok with that although they are already spamming me with season ticket offers and last year’s kit. This morning they tried to sell me a guided tour of their museum accompanied by a legendary goalie. The only Wolves goalie I could think of was the other Phil Parkes, the one who didn’t have half a game for England. Although I’ve a vague recollection that they loaned us a goalie a few years ago who did ok. I’ve forgotten his name though.

Fortunately I wasn’t required to put on a Black County accent to get past the stewards and I was soon inside the Billy Wright Stand. The ground looked pretty new to me. I can remember them building a stand down one side around thirty years ago that was constructed behind the existing one, leaving a large gap to the pitch when the old stand was eventually removed. It was hard to picture Bosco and the like playing here whilst I remained at school forty-one years ago. There were rail seats behind the goal to my right, something that I didn’t realise had already become a ‘thing’ in England.

There were a few hundred people inside, all in the lower tier of the stand I was in. Prior to kick-off the announcer played ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and the crowd sang along to the chorus, replacing ‘Silver Lining’ with ‘Wolverhampton’. I suppose it’s no worse than Pigbag.

The song brought back memories of my time working in Rumours, an over the border nightclub. Silver Lining was always the penultimate song of the night signalling the time to cast your eyes around for a partner for the smooch that followed. There was no time for grabbing grannies here though as the ref blew the starting whistle the moment the chorus was done.

This game was an U23 fixture in the semi-final of the Premier League 2 Cup. Boro haven’t had a great season in that division whilst Wolves, with some much more expensive players, are up in second. Still, the cup’s a great leveller, or at least it was until Wolves took the lead inside the first minute.

Boro had a few players who I was keen to have another look at, Brynn in goal, Wood at the back and Payero in midfield. Joe Gibson is usually the star man whenever I’ve seen the U23s but had a quieter game this time.

Apart from Neil Bausor, who I’d seen outside looking a bit lost, I didn’t see or hear any other Boro fans in the ground. At least not until half-time when I spotted a fella with a red and white scarf on. He clearly had taken no notice of the Home Fans Only edict. I bet he nicked off school in ’81.

Whilst we drew level midway through the first half, Wolves regained the lead just before the break and then doubled their lead in the second half. A late consolation for the Boro wasn’t enough to prevent us from getting knocked out.

I headed back up North with the Real Madrid-Man City game on the radio. I bet there were a few City fans in Madrid who wished they had a wife who stopped them from going to games.

Durham County U18 v Northumberland U18, Tuesday 3rd May 2022, 7.15pm

May 10, 2022

This game was an U18 County Cup Final at Perth Green, home of Northern League club Jarrow. I missed the first twenty minutes due to the sat nav taking me back out of Jarrow and along the A19 until I was adjacent to the ground and then telling me that I had arrived at my destination. Great, providing I could abandon the car on the hard shoulder, scramble up the embankment and then scale a fence.

I ended up detouring through Bolden before eventually finding my way to Perth Green.

It was one each when I arrived, Durham County were in blue with Northumberland in yellow and black tops with red shorts and socks. I worked out which team was by checking out the colours on the badges worn by a lot of the officials and which matched the kit worn by their team.

I took a seat in a fifty-capacity covered stand, next to a brown spaniel. There was a covered elevated standing area on the other side of the dugouts and despite intermittent drizzle a few people watching from pitch-side whilst leaning on the perimeter fence.

Durham took the lead a few minutes from half-time with a penalty that was hotly disputed by some of those sat around me. The ref, who I think I’ve seen a couple of times this season elsewhere, took his time before penalising the defender and awarding the spot kick. The keeper went the wrong way and Durham were two-one to the good.

I got a drink at half-time and felt like the only fella who was paying. Just about everyone else in the room was a committee member or official and got their tea for free. They also had a plate of chocolate digestives that, if they were being offered around, didn’t make it my way.

Durham added a third goal a few minutes after the restart. I’m not sure if the Northumberland keeper was injured in that attack but he limped off a few minutes later. Northumberland didn’t roll over though and had some decent chances to peg back the deficit, including one shot that the Durham keeper tipped onto the bar.

With ten minutes or so to go Northumberland made it three-two, sparking some argy-bargy as players fought over the ball. They pushed for an equaliser but Durham held out for the win.

I hung around for the presentation out of politeness. The trophy looked impressive and as if it had a decent history. Unlike the cup final that I went to at Eppleton recently there were no flares or arse baring this time. Probably for the best.

Middlesbrough v Stoke City, Saturday 30th April 2022, 3pm

May 9, 2022

My niece’s son, Alistair, came along to this one with Harry and myself. His Dad, who I don’t think is really into football, has tried to make Alistair into a Man City fan. I’m hoping that if he enjoys being at the Riverside for a few wins then he might just switch allegiance. He’s seven, so it’s ok at that age.

The Boro’s first half performance was enough to have him cheering and stood on his chair in celebration as we knocked in two goals in quick succession and had a ‘third’ disallowed.

With a real third goal in the second half, it looked as if the goal difference with Sheffield United had moved sufficiently to make a win at Preston enough for a play-off spot, assuming of course that that Sheffield only get a draw in their fixture against Champions Fulham. A last-gasp consolation skewed all of the calcs though and it now looks like we will need a two-goal win for our part of the equation.

There was a disruption in the second half when a young lad ran on the pitch to get himself a selfie with Tav. He looked in his teens to me and therefore old enough for some rough tackling by the stewards. The upshot was that his Dad, who filmed the invasion and was then abusive to the stewards, got a life ban. That’s fair enough in my view as I consider that when the pitch side fences came down, our part in the bargain as fans is that we stay off the pitch. I don’t want to go back to watching games through wire mesh.

We hung around at the end for the lap of honour and applauded the players and staff. It’s been a good season whatever the result at Preston and the form that coincided with our half-season tickets looked to have got Harry hooked. I think that if we are in the Championship next season and can keep racking up the home victories, there’s a good chance of Alistair joining him as a Boro fan.

Wingate Howden v Easington Mechanics, Thursday 28th April 2022, 6.15pm

May 8, 2022

I’m not one for thinking too deeply, particularly about why I do the things that I do. I’ve never really had a career plan, for example, instead I just stumbled into a particular line of work and then kept on with it in various guises. It’s the same with the groundhopping. It’s not a hobby that I’d any interest in up until a few years ago and I think what probably triggered it was adding a total for grounds attended to my spreadsheet that records where I’ve been.

Perhaps it’s a collector’s mentality, but it’s a collection that can never be completed. Alternatively, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing it to try and impress people. But who would be impressed by someone rocking up at different football grounds, never to return? There are groundhoppers on the Futbology App that I use who have been to thousands of grounds and their ‘achievements’ just make me wonder why they would spend their lives doing that.

Sometimes I think I do things just because they have somehow become the things that I do and that’s about as deeply as I go into it. All that preamble is probably because if I ever were to think too much about what I get up to I would have no idea why I was in Wingate for a game in Division One of the Peterlee and District Sunday League.

Sunday football doesn’t fit into the national pyramid and if it did it would probably be down around the fifteenth tier. This fixture wasn’t even in the top division in their league with a Premier Division above it for the teams to aspire to.

There were still a few games to complete in the league, presumably due to postponements of Sunday fixtures during the winter. It hadn’t been the best of seasons for Wingate Howdon, with them starting the game second from bottom of their ten team league. With just two games remaining of their season they had the possibility of climbing to third from bottom, but as I’ve no idea how many teams get relegated to the second division that might mean very little.

Easington Mechanics, in fifth place in the table, should be ‘on the beach’ at this stage of the season, but as they had only played eleven of their eighteen games they still had a chance of reaching the top two or three, if that counts for anything.  By way of a form guide, Easington won the reverse fixture a couple of weeks ago by seven goals to one.

The Wingate Welfare ground is twenty minutes up the A19. It’s on the site of a long-closed colliery. There are two grass pitches and some changing rooms in the distance. Next to the ground is either a very well-developed set of allotments or a shanty town. There’s a fence around three sides of the pitch that was in use with the gate locked at one end meaning that someone had to climb over it whenever the ball was hoofed into the field next door.

A horse was tied up behind the section of the fence near to a corner flag. I went near for a photo of him with the game in the background and he assumed that I’d come to feed him. My horse coat that would usually have carrots in the pockets was at home and so he had to settle for having his snout rubbed. That’s not a euphemism for anything untoward.

Wingate Howden were in yellow and blue with visitors Easington in green. Both keepers wore the same colour shorts and socks as their team-mates but with a fleece rather than a goalie top. It made sense as the temperature had dropped a little. The first task for the away keeper was to flatten the fresh molehills in his goalmouth. That’s not something you see in the Champions League.

I’ve a groundhopping rule that requires games to have linesmen. This one stretched it to the limit as the flags were held be members of the coaching teams and were never even unfurled. The only use that one flag got was when a player went down and his manager used the flag to rap him on the injured knee and then jab him in the balls to encourage him to stand up.

There weren’t many spectators, maybe six for most of the game with a late peak of around ten as people arrived towards the end. One of the early six probably shouldn’t have counted as he spent the time repairing his bike and was maybe only there because that was the place where his chain came off.

The home goalie got plenty of encouragement from his manager who invariably shouted “what a fucking save, Trevor” whenever the keeper touched the ball and occasionally when he hadn’t. I was surprised by how little stick the ref got but he’d have had an easy response in that if he had been anywhere near competent, he wouldn’t have been officiating at this level.

The standard, as you might expect, wasn’t up to much. There was one fella at the back for Wingate who could play but everyone else seemed to spend the whole game misplacing their passes, safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t matter as the other side would then do the same. Easington were two up at half-time and added a third soon after the restart. A restart that took place after a two minute break for half-time. Howden pulled one back but it finished three-one.

The time watching gave me a chance to reflect further on why I go to these games, and I concluded that it’s because I enjoy watching live football. Simple really. This one had some moments where I genuinely laughed out loud, sometimes at something someone said, often at something they did. I also realised that I enjoy getting out and about, especially to places that I know nothing of. Maybe I don’t need to think too deeply after all.