Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

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.

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.

CISA v Flatirons Rush, Sunday 19th June 2022, 6pm

June 26, 2022

In all we spent a week in Colorado, initially staying a night in the woods, then a couple of nights at the in-laws and then four nights in a cabin at a family celebration ten thousand feet up in the mountains at Leadville. On the drive up to the cabins Jen and I were distracted by a sign for Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum. Who wouldn’t detour for that?

It was an interesting way to while away an hour with some vintage footage of the wild west shows and memorabilia. There was a book that listed his touring performances and I noticed that he played Stockton and Middlesbrough on successive nights in July 1904.

From what I can gather, the Stockton show may well have been down by the railway line across the road from Norton Aldi. I might dig a little deeper as its weird to think of Buffalo Bill having galloped around a place more commonly used these days by young kids on motorbikes. Maybe we should re-introduce bison to Norton and give the lads on their bikes a chance to round them up.

The mountains around Leadville are great for walking. We hiked a total of thirteen miles around Turquoise Lake on a trail that was mainly on the flat and benefitted from good tree cover. The higher altitude in Colorado made the temperatures much cooler and far more pleasant to hike than it had been in both Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

We also went up a big hill to a height where there was still snow on the ground. It took about two hours to get to the lake at eleven thousand feet that we were aiming for and there were some great views on the way up of the mountains behind the torrents of water gushing downwards.

Some of the group suffered a bit from the altitude and so had to go back down and I was pleased that Jen and I had been in Colorado for a few days in advance. At the lake we ate our left-over pizza from the previous night and tried to tempt the trout in the clear water to take a bite of crust. They would swim towards the splash but then decline the crumb at the last minute.

Whilst there were no sporting events to watch in Leadville, Jen and I had been able to get to a football game whilst staying at David and Jackie’s house. It was a few miles away at the Randy Penn Stadium at Englewood High School and in the fourth tier USL2.

Colorado International Soccer Academy were taking on Flatirons Rush in the Western Conference, Mountain Division. It’s a division with only five teams and Flatirons went into the game in second place in the table with CISA two places below, but having played fewer of their fixtures than the rest of the division.

We arrived at the High School car park to find people tailgating. They waited until the national anthem struck up before packing up their beer and food and heading inside. Over on the opposite side of the pitch there were people who watched the entire match from their truck, saving the ten dollar admission fee. The fence didn’t obscure the view too much and by standing in the back of the truck they were able to get a perfect view.

The Randy Penn stadium looked as if it was more usually used for American Football, with the markings on the pitch and the posts still up at each end. There was also an athletics track around the pitch.

We sat in a twelve row aluminium stand that ran the length of one side of the pitch and there was a smaller, similar stand opposite that hadn’t been opened for this game. I’d estimate that the attendance peaked at around sixty.

CISA were in light blue and, I think, were an U23 side. Visitors Flatirons Rush, who were in a white and grey kit, had the best of the early possession and territorial advantage. They took the lead ten minutes in after a break left them in a two against one position and the free man neatly tucked the ball away.

Flatirons should really have doubled their lead on the half-hour from a penalty awarded after the lino spotted some skulduggery in the box. The shot came back out off the inside of the post and so it stayed at one-nil.

The second goal came on the hour when a Flatirons striker broke away and sat the keeper on his arse before rounding him to roll the ball into the empty net.

It was a niggly game and CISA didn’t take well to being behind. There were a few tackles where the foot was left in and plenty of off the ball contact. One of the home coaches was sent off for bending the ear of the fourth official one time too many and his team picked up at least two yellows for dissent.

Flatirons sealed the points from a free-kick on the edge of the box that they took quickly and whilst the CIMA defence were still trying to organize the lining up of a wall. A simple pass to a man stood unmarked in the box allowed him the luxury of knocking the ball into an open goal whilst the keeper was still holding the far post and demanding the wall moved six inches to the left.

Chicago Red Stars v Orlando Pride, Sunday 12th June 2022, 5pm

June 17, 2022

The second sporting event of our Chicago stay was a visit to the Seat Geek Stadium for a Women’s Major League Soccer fixture between Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride. Women’s Soccer is supposed to be pretty popular in the US and so I ordered the tickets and parking in advance. It was thirty dollars a pop for our seats in the East Stand and another twenty for parking. With taxes and fees it came to just over ninety bucks, as they say over here.

We needn’t have bothered with the parking as there were plenty of free spaces at the south end of the ground. We paid over the odds for the tickets too as it was effectively free-seating inside. Had we bought nine dollar tickets for behind the goal we’d have had exactly the same choice of sitting anywhere we wanted. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that you learn from experience, but when you have no plans to return to a ground it’s knowledge that won’t necessarily benefit you in future.

With the sun shining directly on to our allocated East Stand seats, we walked around to the West Stand and took up a position on the half-way line in the shade. Surprisingly, this was the least popular area, with most of the three-thousand plus crowd choosing to sit opposite us or behind the goal to our left, both areas directly in the sun.

There were a few food choices, but nothing that really appealed, and we ended up with chicken tenders and fries.

One of the best female players ever, the Brazilian Marta, plays for Orlando. She wasn’t listed in the line-up though and I later discovered that she is out for the season with a torn ACL.

I also found out afterwards that the Orlando coach was former Boro player, Seb Hines. He’d moved out here after we released him in 2015 and played for the Orlando men’s team for a couple of years before retiring. He’d been appointed interim head coach a few days earlier after the suspension of the incumbent. It’s good to see that he is building a career in that side of the game.

All bar one of the Orlando team took the knee during the national anthem. It’s a gesture that requires a certain amount of bravery in the US where showing maximum respect to the flag and anthem is expected, whereas in England taking the knee is generally seen as the right thing to do outside of a small number of Johnson’s acolytes. It was a gesture that had me rooting for the visitors.

I was a little disappointed in the standard of play as I’d thought that WMLS was the pinnacle of the women’s game. It certainly wasn’t at the, albeit international, level of the England v Canada that I’d seen at the Riverside earlier in the season but I also thought that the domestic games that I’d watched in Russia last year were of an overall better standard.

There was a significant gap in the skill levels between teammates and whilst you get this in every team, I wondered whether there was a team salary cap in place that might explain why some players spent the whole game looking as if they were using their weaker foot.

One player who really stood out for the right reasons was Mallory Pugh, a striker for Chicago and who looked comfortable with either foot in any situation. If they had used half of any team salary available just for her it would have been worth it.

Pugh proved to be the difference between the teams when she ran at the Pride defence early on and curled a shot from the edge of the box in off the underside of the bar. The one-nil win lifted the Red Stars to second in the league and left Pride second from the bottom. Hopefully Seb Hines gets some easier opponents in the remainder of his caretaker appointment.

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

June 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chattanooga 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.