Archive for July, 2022

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

July 25, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horseracing at Redcar, Sunday 17th July 2022

July 24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

July 9, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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