Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Gateshead Rutherford v Killingworth, Monday 18th April 2022, 6.30pm

May 4, 2022

I suppose the only good thing about the Boro’s game against Huddersfield was that it was a lunchtime kick-off and that meant that I could head to a second Bank Holiday Monday fixture.

I had a couple of options, both in the Northern Alliance, and picked the nearest one which was at Gateshead Rutherford’s Farnacres ground. Rutherford were taking on league leaders Killingworth in the eleventh tier Premier Division.

Farnacres is just off the A1, before the Metro Centre. It’s up a country lane with parking outside of a fence where if you chose, you could watch the game from your car. It was a pleasant evening though and so I headed inside. I don’t think that there was anyone taking money, at least there wasn’t at the gate I used. Hopefully I hadn’t cheated them out of a couple of quid.

Rutherford were in a red and black kit with Killingworth in grey. A win for the visitors would be enough to clinch the title and of the eighty or so spectators who were lined up at the top of the embankment I’d estimate that around half were supporting the champions elect.

In addition to the people watching there were also a few dogs in attendance. I was stood near to an elderly beagle who had that faded appearance that comes with age. At half time when I went into the clubhouse for a chip butty, his eyes didn’t leave me until the empty polystyrene tray had been deposited in the bin.

There were also a few greyhounds, a couple of shih tzus, a spaniel and two French bulldogs. In fact, I missed the final goal of the evening as I was scratching one of the bulldogs on the head.

Rutherford had nothing to play for in this end of season game. Perhaps that explained why they only had the one sub available compared to Killingworth’s full bench. I was pleased to see the lad get on, even if only for the last ten minutes. It would have been soul-destroying to have been the only option for a change and still not receive the nod.

For a team with nothing at stake, Rutherford certainly put the effort in. They took an early lead and when pegged back in the second half soon got back in front. They conceded a second equaliser before nicking the winner with fifteen minutes to go. By that time, it was getting dark and I doubt that anyone was hoping for much added time. The defeat for Killingworth meant that their title celebrations would have to wait another week.

Middlesbrough v Hull City, Saturday 9th April 2022, 3pm

April 11, 2022

When Harry and I got the half-season cards I bought an additional seat thinking that he might want to bring a mate along every now and then. It was only twenty odd quid for the eleven games so if it got used twice it would pay for itself. Plus it has proved useful for cup game tickets.

My niece’s son, Alistair, is into football and whilst he’s often busy at a weekend he was available for the home game with Hull and so he tagged along.

Alistair is seven, although he informed me that it is only “fifty-six sleeps” until he is eight. He is a polite and friendly kid and a contender for the under-eight’s Parkour Champion of the World. He seemed incapable of just walking anywhere in a straight line. If there was a tree to climb, he was up it. Pillars and posts taller than him were summitted. He walked along railings and dodged in and out of bushes. He even slid down the handrails in the ground at the steps up to our seat. He’ll be leaping from one skyscraper to another before he’s ten.

He was fascinated with the group of Army cadets in the North Stand and adamant that every time a Boro player went down it should have been a red card for the opposition offender. He was also amazed by how far the keepers strayed from their goal lines when play was at the other end. I suspect that it’s always ‘stick-goalie’ when he has a kickaround with his mates. Besides, the further you move from the goal the harder it is to shin up the posts and swing from the cross-bar.

Harry and I had been confident of a win before kick-off, but it didn’t work out that way and it seemed a flat performance from early on. Tav did well filling in at wing-back but we missed his drive in midfield and with Isaiah Jones absent again we had nobody to perform that bit of magic needed to bail us out.

Joe Lumley should have kept their winner out and rightly got some stick from Chris Wilder. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s time for Sol Brynn to get his chance. In the two U23 games that I’ve seen him play in this season he looked confident and commanding. I don’t think we have much to lose by giving him a go.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough, Friday 4th February 2022, 8pm

February 9, 2022

When we were drawn against Man Utd in the Fourth Round of the Cup I initially thought that a televised Friday night slot and close to ten thousand tickets being available to Boro fans would make it easy for me to continue my run that stretches back to the Extra Preliminary Round back in August of having attended a game in each round of this season’s competition.

The fixture, however, caught the imagination on Teesside and it sold out long before sales reached recent season card holders like Harry and myself. Fortunately, my friend Paul saved the day with a couple of corporate hospitality tickets that he had going spare at work. Cheers, mate!

I picked Harry up when he finished school for the day and set off for a trip that on a good run would take no more than a couple of hours. With the match traffic and the usual M62 Friday tea-time congestion it ended up taking around three and a half hours. Parking spaces were non-existent and I had to leave the car in a spot where I probably shouldn’t have within our hotel car park. I’ll wait and see if the postman brings a penalty notice.

We followed the crowds to Old Trafford and reached the Sir Bobby Charlton Suite with ten minutes to spare. We had to pass through an airport-style scanner on the way in, although I’d have thought doing it on the way out to stop us nicking any silver cutlery might have been a better use of it.

The lounge was just about the right level of poshness with buffet food available and a couple of bars. It was busy, but far less of a crush than you’d get in a concourse. Our last-minute arrival meant that that we didn’t have much time for anything other than a pre-match slash, but we were in our seats as the teams came out.

We were surrounded by Man Utd fans, but they were very friendly in that way that you can be when you expect your team to win. They saw it as our ‘big day out’ and smiled indulgently at every chance they squandered, confident that there would be others. As you might have seen on the telly they ran out of chances eventually and we nicked it on pens. Big day out indeed.

I was interested in their attitude to Phil Jones. He’s been out injured for a long time and his appearance from the bench was treated with mirth. They praised everything he did with a smirk, as if he was there as a competition winner or something and clearly thought Man Utd were too good for a player like him. He didn’t look any worse a centre-half than Harry McGuire to me and I wouldn’t swap either of them for Dael Fry.

It seems commonplace these days for me to praise Chris Wilder in these posts and this one is no different. I’ve lost count of the times when a big Boro cup turnout has seen key players ‘rested’. Stevie Mac infuriated me at times in the UEFA Cup runs with his selections, although to be fair to him he generally got the results that he needed to overall. This was a full-strength selection from Wilder with the intention of giving it a real go against a Man Utd line-up that the fans around me reckoned was as strong as it could be from the players that they had available. It’s great when decisions like that pay off.

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.

Gateshead v Guiseley, Monday 30th August 2021, 3pm

September 15, 2021

I’d been to Gateshead International Stadium a couple of times previously but for athletics and rugby. I’m pretty sure my son Tom and I went to watch Linford Christie run there in the early nineties and I definitely remember us watching England A take on their All-Black equivalents around about the same time. I’ve never seen a football game there though and so thought I might as well tick it off by way of a sixth tier National League North game between Gateshead and Guiseley.

I’d bought the tickets about a week in advance and had splashed out twenty-five quid for hospitality seats. As regular admission was fifteen quid I reckoned that we wouldn’t need much in the way of extras to make it worthwhile.

We got to the stadium about forty minutes before kick-off. Parking was easy enough at that time and we were soon in the lounge allocated for us VIPs. There was a decent buffet, coffee and juice, a programme and seating at a table for six where the other two occupants were young lads getting stuck into a few pre-match cans of Fosters. At the risk of incurring the scorn of Roy Keane I had what I believe to be my first ever prawn sandwich at a game. When we made our way out into the cold our seats were central in the main covered stand and padded. On returning at half-time there was a well-stocked cheeseboard. Very nice.

One of the reasons for picking a Gateshead game had been their recent signing of former Boro player Luke Williams. He stood out as a kid under Strachan but a series of injuries have meant that he hasn’t played a lot since. Unfortunately he didn’t play in this one either as he was serving a suspension for being sent off in the previous game. Maybe I’ll fit in a Gateshead away game at Darlo or York and see how he is getting on then.

An announcement on the tannoy revealed that the attendance was eight hundred and sixty including forty-eight fans from Guiseley who were out of sight to our left. A few of the fans behind us were singing in support of ‘the heed’, mainly about how much they disliked Blyth Spartans or that they were ‘just a stop on the metro’.

Gateshead gave their fans plenty to sing about with a goal inside the first ten minutes from someone that they all just referred to as Macca. He cut inside from the right and finished well, across the keeper. A few minutes later he added a second and an easy victory looked on the cards. Gateshead had plenty of chances to kill the game off but with ten minutes remaining Guiseley pulled one back. That gave us a frantic ending to the match including a header that just went wide from the away keeper who was up for a last-minute corner. There were no more goals though and ‘the heed’ held on for the points.

I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed back into the hospitality after full-time but an announcement that “Dickson’s excellent pies will be available at a reduced rate of one pound on way out” was enough to send me on my way with the masses. I picked up a hot pork pie for a quid and had scoffed it before I’d hit the A19.

Bootle v Millom Reserves, Wednesday 18th August 2021, 6pm

August 28, 2021

Jen and I recently spent a few days in the southern lake district with my daughter, the grandkids and the beagle. We stayed in glamping pods in Corney which were closer to an apartment than a tent. There were horses on the site and so my granddaughter was kept busy riding and brushing them whilst I played a bit of one-on-one football with the grandson. It turns out we each have the same trick of feinting to go one way with a drop of the shoulder and then treading on the ball and ending up on our arses. Maybe it’s hereditary.

Corney was handy for the beach at Silecroft, which was quiet enough for us to sometimes have it entirely to ourselves.

A highlight was finding a dead seal washed up. More for us than the seal I suppose.  As I’d previously had no idea what a seal’s teeth looked like it was interesting to see quantity and size of them. The beagle has a decent pair of jaws but I’d rather take a nip from him than a seal.

I’d noticed a football pitch when driving between the campsite and beach and on passing it one evening there were cars lining the road. That’s always a good sign of lion sightings in places like Kruger and it works just the same for lower league football in the middle of nowhere.

I parked up and had a wander over. There was indeed a game going on and after quizzing a fella on the railing I discovered that it was Bootle against Millom Reserves in the Furness Premier League. Millom is only a few miles up the road and a little digging around revealed that the league was tier fourteen in the pyramid.

At that level it can be difficult to get officials and this game had a couple of blokes running the line who looked as if they has been drawn from the crowd.

I stayed just long enough for the brief chat and a few photos as I had other stuff planned. If I’d hung around I’d have seen a few goals as it finished up five-two to Millom. I might have to check out their fixtures next time I’m over that way.

Ryhope Colliery Welfare v Goole, Wednesday 11th August 2021, 7.45pm

August 27, 2021

After being in quarantine for ten days my first opportunity for a game fell on day eleven after our return from Russia. There was an FA Cup Extra Preliminary tie replay going on just up the road at Ryhope and so I thought I’d go along to that. It’s strange, I have very little interest in the latter stages of the Cup these days, unless of course the Boro are involved, but I thought that getting along to the very first round of this year’s competition was much better than watching, say, a semi-final between the reserve sides of two Premier League teams on the telly.

The winners in this Extra Preliminary round will need to successfully negotiate a further five ties before reaching the First Round where the likes of Sunderland will enter the competition and seven more before the big clubs such as the Boro come in.  The losers of this game would take home little more than they would on Bullseye or Blankety-Blank with £375 for their trouble, with the winners picking up £1,125.

The fixture was at the Ryhope Recreation Ground. I’d passed through Ryhope on numerous occasions, mainly fifty years ago when visiting my grandparents in Sunderland, but I hadn’t been to the part of town with the ground. To get in you have to walk past a cricket pitch. Ryhope Cricket Club had a fixture the same evening and I passed to watch a couple of deliveries in a light that made sighting the ball difficult.

It was six quid to get in and I took up a position over on the far side facing the dugouts, tea-hut and the covered standing area. The pitch could best be described as undulating, with slopes and troughs in all directions. The grass had clearly been cut recently as the rakings were still littered across the surface, but the groundsman must have used a high setting on his mower as the grass was of a length to make pinging the ball along the ground at pace more difficult than it could have been.

Ryhope Colliery Welfare were in red stripes with visitors Goole in blue stripes, although for both of the teams the stripes only extended to the fronts of their shirts with the backs being a solid block of colour. At times this gave the impressions of there being four teams on the pitch.

Goole play in the nineth tier Northern Counties East Premier Division with Ryhope CW operating at the same level in the pyramid in Division One of the Northern League. Over recent years the Northern League had been considered to be one of the stronger leagues at that level but with promotions of the bigger clubs and the restructuring I’m not sure that it’s currently the case.

Goole opened the scoring after a one on one with the keeper. The striker didn’t connect as cleanly as he would have liked with his shot but then again neither did the keeper who got a hand to the ball but couldn’t prevent it from ending up in the net. That was the only goal of the first half and with rain in the air I switched sides at half-time for a view from inside the  covered standing area opposite.

Ryhope equalized in the second half and despite both teams going for it, the score stayed level at full time. In the first period of extra time the home side took the lead, only for Goole to peg it back in the second period.

With penalties looming Goole nicked a winner. In a strange quirk all five goals had been at the same end of the ground, in front of a small, covered stand that appeared to consist mainly of broken plastic sets. Maybe I should have braved the weather and stayed at that end.

Zenit St. Petersburg v Lokomotiv Moscow, Saturday 17th July 2021, 7pm

July 26, 2021

I didn’t even know that Kaliningrad existed until it hosted some games during the Russia World Cup and on the admittedly often disproved theory of mine that if I don’t know something then it’s unlikely that anyone else will, I should probably give some details.

Kaliningrad is an enclave of Russia on the Baltic coast between Poland and Latvia. Russia got it as a prize at the end of World War 2 and so it meant that Jen and I could fly there for a weekend on a domestic flight without any of the immigration restrictions or requirements arising from Covid.

Our flight from Moscow took just over an hour and a half and so by lunchtime on the Friday we were there. It’s an interesting place. Whilst a lot of the city was destroyed in the war that led to it changing hands some parts of the old city walls remain. We had a look around some of the parts of it, as much to keep out of the sunshine as anything.

There are plenty of areas for eating and drinking with one of the better places being alongside the rivers near to some famous cathedral. There’s a definite German feel to a lot of the buildings which on one hand isn’t surprising given the history of the place but apparently most of the town was flattened during the bombings and so it seems slightly odd that rebuilding by the Russians would be influenced by what had been there before.

And why Kaliningrad? Well, that’s easy. It was hosting the Russian version of the Charity Shield, the Super Cup curtain-raiser for the new season between Champions Zenit St Petersburg and Cup winners Lokomotiv Moscow.

It had been an arse-on getting a ticket. I’d initially got one through Zenit by downloading their App and registering as a fan. Unfortunately, they required me to collect the ticket from St Petersburg so I needed a Plan B.

After registering with Lokomotiv I bought a ticket for their section. A bargain for a fiver but behind the goal, in a singing section and with the possibility of having to watch the game through netting. When tickets for the neutral centre sections went on sale I bought one in the lower-tier near the half-way line. It was more expensive at twenty- seven quid but likely to be a much better view.

The stadium was only around a half-hour walk from the apartment we had rented following a lot of the route along the river that we’d walked earlier in the day. Long before I saw them I heard the Zenit fans chanting and letting off fireworks. As I reached the river I could see their support marching to the ground, waving flags and flares.

I stuck to the opposite bank for as long as I could, but eventually had to join the convoy. By now the flares were exhausted but the Zenit supporters continued the singing and flag waving until they reached the turnstiles.

I had another five minutes walk to reach my entrance, where despite having my temperature taken and my body scanned I wasn’t asked for a ticket. That didn’t happen until I was inside the stadium and ready to enter the concourse area. If anyone fancied the sort of shenanigans that we saw at Wembley for the Euro final it would have been a lot easier for them at Kaliningrad.

The stadium had been built for the 2018 World Cup and it’s where England lost their group game to Belgium. Baltika Kaliningrad of the second tier National League use it these days and I doubt that they ever come close to needing the thirty-five thousand capacity.

By the time I’d got a coke and was ready to take my seat there were around five minutes to kick-off. By coincidence that was also the time when a gaggle of cheerleaders were heading into the stand. I found myself caught up in the line of them before I took my seat on the edge of the aisle. In revenge, the one stationed just in front of me nearly had my eye out with one particularly reckless waft of a pom-pom.

In addition to the risk to my sight, the Plan C seat that I’d bought was situated in the only part of the sunshine still bathed in light. It wasn’t until the start of the second half that the sun had dipped sufficiently behind the opposite stand for me to benefit from some shade. At one point I thought about nipping around to behind the goal and using my Lokomotiv ticket instead.

The game itself was pretty good. I’ve no idea of the extent to which the teams used fringe players but there were some decent moves from both sides. Zenit took the lead in the first half and Lokomotiv should really have equalized early in the second. The chance was spurned and Zenit went straight down the other end and doubled their lead. A real sliding-doors moment.

The second goal opened things up as Lokomotiv tried to get back into the game but despite some chances to pull one back it was Zenit that notched the third and final goal. They were deserved winners.

I didn’t stay for the trophy presentation but as I skirted the stadium perimeter on the way back to the eating and drinking area by the river I could hear their fans singing along to ‘We are the Champions’. Fair comment.

Burevestnik v Lightning, Sunday 28th March 2021, 11 am

April 2, 2021

As a ground hopper it’s great when you stumble across a match that you weren’t expecting. I was on my way to the second tier game between Spartak Moscow’s reserve team and Tekstilshchik Ivanovo when I heard the unmistakable sound of a referee’s whistle coming from the first pitch at the Spartak Academy complex. I’d just walked from Sokolniki Park where the snow was still on the ground but enough of the paths were clear for me to enjoy a stroll around in the fresh air.

Sokolniki is supposed to have wild boars in it but I’ve never seen any. Apparently, it was used by one of the Tzars as a place to catch rabbits with his falcons. I’ve not seen any rabbits or falcons either. Nor any Tzars for that matter. There are always some of those grey and black crows about though, generally in pairs. I spotted one that seemed to be collecting food rather than eating it.

Pitch 1 of the Spartak Academy is a small ground with seats along one side that have an obscured view through a fence. There are no seats behind either of the goals and the opposite side of the pitch houses the dugouts.

As I approached the entrance a fella in a grey kit was leaving.  A quick count up revealed that his team only had ten men so I suspect that he was heading for his car in a huff after being shown a red.

A banner identified the team in blue as Burevestnik and a bit of online research revealed the visitors as Lightning. They were competing in the Under-17 Winter Championship of Moscow and had drawn a crowd of around twenty spectators, some clearly supporting the teams playing and not just killing time before the Spartak game.

I hung around for fifteen minutes or so which was long enough to see a goal for each side, including one cracker from outside of the box that clipped the bar on the way in.

Lokomotiv Moscow v Tambov, Sunday 20th September 2020, 7pm

October 5, 2020

I’ve made good progress in working my way through the Moscow clubs since I got back to Russia a few weeks ago with Lokomotiv being the last of what I’d consider to be the ‘big four’ that also includes CSKA, Spartak and Dinamo. I would have added Torpedo to that but despite the familiarity to me of their name they currently turn out at Chertanovo’s ground in the second division, so not very ‘big’ at all.

CSKA’s heritage is the military, Spartak was the union team and Dinamo the KGB. Lokomotiv, you may not be surprised to learn, were and are the railway team. It therefore seemed somewhat appropriate that I took the Metro towards the RZD Arena. I had a few hours in hand though and so I got off a couple of stops early to have a wander around Sokolniki Park. It is definitely one of the better parks that I’ve been to in a city where there is a lot of competition.

There’s a section for eating and drinking near to the fountain at the main entrance and various activities spread around the park. You can ride a horse or a roller coaster.

My preference in these parks is just walking on the quieter trails and my route took me past a lake and on to something called a ‘Health Trail’. It was a pathway about three kilometres long with exercise equipment every hundred yards or so. There were also quieter offshoots that made it easy to thin the traffic even further and extend the distance. I’d read in a guidebook that there are wild boars in the adjoining reserve north of the park but if there were any wandering around they kept well away whilst I was there. The best I saw in terms of wildlife was a red squirrel.

As kick-off time drew nearer I got back on the Metro for two stop trip to the Lokomotive Station and then had a five minute walk around the corner to the turnstiles. I’d bought my ticket online in advance paying 1.200 rubles for a seat in the back row of the lower tier in the stand facing the tunnel. I could have sat behind the goal for only 500 rubles and season tickets were an even bigger bargain starting at 5,500 rubles or fifty five quid. At the moment I’m happy to ground hop, but when I’ve exhausted Moscow’s possibilities then a team with a stadium near to a decent park might hold some appeal.

In honour of the railway connection Lokomotiv has a great big train parked up in the area between the turnstiles and the stadium. It was popular with people wanting photos and struck me as a better alternative to scrapping it. I think I’d like to see old trains dumped all over the place.

My seat was very good with no obstruction from the overhang and sufficient space between me and everyone else. On the opposite side of the pitch I noticed that each team had a dugout to accommodate forty-five people. That apparently wasn’t sufficient though and both dugouts also had a few extra chairs tagged on at the end.

The teams came out to the sound of a train whistle, with Tambov in blue and Lokomotiv in green and red, a combination that I never really consider to be proper football colours. I always think of green as non-league, although I’m sure fans of Sporting Lisbon or Celtic might disagree. Green and red, just doesn’t go though.

The Tambov goalie was forty years old and a former Lokomotiv player. Despite all that he got very little reaction from the home crowd. Maybe the indifference was due to them forgetting about him in the thirteen years since he had left, or maybe a lot of them were just not old enough to remember him.

The old bloke conceded early on, although there was little he could have done about it and there was just the one goal in it at half-time. I quite fancied a drink but even with only six and a half thousand people spread around a near thirty thousand capacity ground the queues were both long and tightly packed. I played safe and did without.

The veteran keeper was booked in second half for taking too long over a goal kick despite his team being behind. Maybe they are strict about running on time here. He then pulled off a very good one handed save with twenty minutes to go. There was no urgency from Tambov as the game drew to an end. I’d been expecting to see their goalie in the Lokomotiv box and hoped that he’d make the sort of impact that only a late goal from a player that should be a hundred yards away at the other end of the pitch can have. I was disappointed though as Tambov didn’t even risk throwing any outfield players forward and instead seemed content to settle for the one goal defeat.

The final whistle was greeted by more train whistling and then a firework display. It all seemed a bit over the top really. Perhaps they don’t win very often.