Bournemouth v Middlesbrough, Friday 15th April 2022, 3pm

May 2, 2022

At the start of this season, I still had four Championship grounds to tick off. Everything had gone to plan so far and prior to this game Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium was the only one remaining. I didn’t really fancy heading there and back in a day trip, particularly with Bank Holiday traffic and so I went down to London a couple of days in advance and then got a train from Waterloo on the morning of the game.

As there is always stuff to do in London I’d gone along to a Sea Power gig at the Roundhouse the night before. They were as good as they always are and back up to full strength with Phil being available due to it being a school holiday and Abi having found someone to look after the sheep.

The train journey took just under two hours and passed through Southampton and Brockenhurst, both places that I’m familiar with from working down there thirteen or fourteen years ago. I passed sections of the New Forest that I’d walked in, pubs that I’d drank in and the seven a side pitches that I played on after work.

There were plenty of Boro fans on the train, but on leaving from the station most of them headed into town whilst I followed the signs for Boscombe Beach.

I walked for a few hundred yards parallel to the sea and then went for a stroll along the pier. Strolling seems compulsory on a pier. There was a bloke fishing off the end but I couldn’t see if he had managed to catch anything. There were a few holes of crazy golf with a sign warning that lost balls would be charged at a quid-fifty a go. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing a round without hitting a ball off the edge into the water.

After some lunch and a pint overlooking the sea, I headed for the ground. It took around half an hour. There was a drinking area outside but for home supporters only. That seemed a bit inhospitable, do they think that we are incapable of having a drink without being an arse?

With nothing worth hanging around outside for I headed in and after being extremely thoroughly searched I was able to watch the back end of the Luton – Forest game in the concourse.

For some reason I’d assumed the Vitality Stadium was a new ground, but it seems that it’s just a new name. Dean Court was rebuilt apparently twenty years or so ago with a ninety degree rotation but I think some of the stand to my left had been kept. It looked that way anyway, surely nobody would build a stand in the twenty-first century that still had columns obscuring the view.

It was good to see Jones back on the pitch, but he seemed off the pace and with a much less sure touch than normal. Perhaps his illness was still affecting him. Bamba had a good game again filling in for Fry. He didn’t ever move quickly but rarely had to as his positioning was spot on and that invariably gave him the time to do whatever was needed. Daniels returned in goal and put in a solid performance, but we never looked like scoring.

Still, an away point at a promotion contender is a decent result and with all the Championship grounds now ticked off it made for a decent day out.

MCC v Wales, Thursday 14th April 2022, 10.30am

April 28, 2022

I was down in London for a Sea Power gig at the Roundhouse in Camden and with the day free, I checked to see if there was any County Championship cricket going on at Lords. There wasn’t, but there was a one-dayer between the MCC and Wales. It was only a fiver to get in, so I booked myself a ticket online.

It’s not far from Camden to Lords and my initial plan was to walk along the canal. I noticed that there were some boats going between Camden Lock and Little Venice and so I travelled on one of those instead. It was a pleasant journey with an informative commentary. I learned that Paul Weller has a house alongside the canal and has been seen feeding the ducks. The route skirted along the back of London Zoo and I spotted an African Wild Dog walking along in its enclosure.

Little Venice is actually a bit too far along the canal, so I had to retrace my journey to reach the Grace Gates. I got there at about 12.30, which was two hours after the scheduled start. That’s not really a problem when play is likely to go on until six or so, unless a team gets skittled in the opening hour.

I needn’t have worried as MCC were just past the mid-way point of their innings and had scored 126 for 6.

There weren’t many people in the stands, maybe two hundred in total. Perfect. I’m generally happy to trade ‘atmosphere’ for having fewer people around me.

I took a seat in the Grand Stand, with the pavilion to my right. These were the only two areas open and as I wasn’t with a member or wearing a jacket and tie, my choice was limited to where I was.

The standard didn’t look that high, but maybe it was deceptive. Wales had an incredibly slow bowler who was sending them down at a pace that you might do if indulging a small child. It worked though and he was able to keep the runs down to around three an over. It’s as well that nobody was able to tonk him, as the boundary on my side was incredibly close. There was barely a gap between the rope and the discs denoting the fielding restriction circle.

MCC managed to eke their innings out until the fiftieth and final over, scoring 226 all out. That was my cue to head for the Lords Tavern for a burger and a couple of pints. I doubt I’d have got near the place during a Test match.

Wales struggled to match the MMC score and were all out with a few overs remaining and around eighty runs short. I’m pleased that they all got to bat so that they could enjoy the full Lords experience of walking through the Long Room and down the pavilion steps.

I headed back to Camden along the canal keeping an eye out for African Wild Dogs and the Modfather feeding the ducks.

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.

Wallington v Alnwick Town, Friday 8th April 2022, 7pm

April 10, 2022

I’d been intending to take in a game at Whitley Park for a while as it’s the home of the Newcastle U23 side and their fixtures keep appearing on my futbology app. I’d spotted this game on Twitter though as a consequence of following any number of obscure sources and with a free evening I headed north to watch the final of the Northumberland FA Football Safety Officers Association Benevolent Bowl.

Whitley Park isn’t far beyond the Tyne Tunnel. It’s a route that I’m a lot happier using now that I’ve discovered that you can pre-pay for up to ten tickets in advance. Having to get home and remember to pay online had been pissing me off, but now I can just drive through without any thought other than a mental calculation of how many of my ten trips I’ve used.

What I invariably do wonder though, is what it would be like if water started gushing in? I’m sure it will have been covered in some disaster movie and each time I travel through the tunnel I imagine having to out-pace a wave of water gushing in from behind. It’s not a scary prospect like, for example, those recurring dreams I have where I fall out of a cargo plane with an open ramp at the back, more of a curiosity as to whether I’d be able to make the end of the tunnel. Probably not and, I suppose, one reason why pre-paying too far ahead may not be prudent.

It was three quid in with team sheets available and a digital programme that I downloaded with one of those Q-Codes. Wallington were taking on Alnwick Town, both teams being in the top division of the Northern Alliance, so that’s tier eleven of the pyramid.

I’d not heard much about Wallington, but Alnwick Town were in the Northern League until around four years ago and as their ground dates back to the arse end of the nineteen century I’ve long had plans to head up there for a game. Wallington were in green and black with Alnwick in black and white

There was a full clubhouse with a bar and with a buffet laid out on some tables at one end. I presumed that it was intended for committee members or safety officers as it certainly wouldn’t have been enough to have fed a crowd of over three hundred. I settled for a cheeseburger from the tea hut and then took a seat in one of the two covered stands that ran along one side of the well-maintained pitch.

A dozen or so Alnwick fans had taken over the terrace behind the goal to my left. They chanted about the Wallington support being “fuckin’ shite” and pondered loudly whether Whitley Park might be the kind of establishment where books could be borrowed. One threw a used air horn on to the net defended by the Wallington goalie. It all seemed a little too earnest for this level.

I recognised the ref. Mainly because he had officiated at a game I’d attended last week and because he has such a startling likeness to one of my former brothers-in-law that for a while I’d thought it was him.

It was only when I realised that Mick is a good thirty years older than the ref that I concluded that it wasn’t him. That and the different names. I find I often see people out and about that I think I know only to realise that the person I’ve noticed looks like someone did long ago. If I were to chance upon the person that I thought I’d spotted the reality is that by now they will be bald or grey and wear Sketchers to accommodate their bunions.

Alnwick had a elderly striker who was getting for that stage in life and he spent the game berating the ref and getting into scraps with the opposing defence. It seemed that he thrived by having a strop on with the world and everything in it. A bit like my Mam when I take her shopping. The odds on the angry bloke’s side taking the trophy dropped when they opened the scoring with a quarter of an hour to go but Wallington equalised within a couple of minutes and then deservedly clinched the Bowl with a second goal towards the end.

I stayed for the presentation and obligatory jumping up and down, then headed back through the tunnel, putting my foot down in case of leaks.

Middlesbrough v Fulham, Wednesday 6th April 2022, 7.45pm

April 8, 2022

It seems a while since Harry and I had sat in our regular seats. I checked and it’s over a month although we’ve seen the Boro away and from the West Stand in that time. It was a dash to get there as he had rugby training in Stockton that didn’t finish until after seven. I only caught the back end of the session and saw them play a couple of games of bulldog. I suppose it’s probably good practice for rugby as long as you bring the runners down with a tackle to the legs rather than a straight arm clothesline to the throat. I saw a bit of both.

As usual we parked up near the old Gazette office which meant a twenty-minute walk. It worked out fine, with us entering the East Stand with three minutes to spare and reaching our seats as Pigbag piped up. With no time for food or drink, I had to wait until half-time to get a molten lava pie. There were a lot of empty seats and clearly fewer people there than the near twenty-two thousand attendance that was announced, although with it being mid-week and also on the telly I could understand why people might not want to travel or cough up thirty odd quid.

The team news was disappointing, with Isaiah Jones missing due to illness. He makes such a difference to the team that my hopes for a win immediately changed to being happy with a point. It brought home how influential he has been in our run of good form under Chris Wilder. Lee Peltier is a decent full back, but his strengths are defensive rather than causing teams problems at the other end.

First half was cagey, and I thought that we gave them a little too much respect at times, but you could see why they have run away with the league. In the second half we picked up the tempo and looked the side most likely to score. We didn’t though, missing some decent chances and then failing to pick up Mitrovic at a free kick. His thirty-eighth goal in thirty-seven Championship games this season was enough to take the points for Fulham. Hopefully we’ll have a chance for revenge next season in the division up.

West Allotment Celtic v Crook Town, Tuesday 5th April 2022, 7.30pm

April 7, 2022

The Northern League finishes this month and there are plenty of midweek fixtures as clubs deal with games lost to the weather and covid. This one was at East Palmersville Sports Pavilion, just a bit north of the Tyne Tunnel. West Allotment Celtic moved there this season after a nomadic few years and I suppose their recent arrival explains why I couldn’t see any allotments anywhere around the ground.

It was six quid in, with another two for the programme and a further quid for the raffle. No luck again, although as I rarely drink rose wine, it wasn’t a big disappointment.

There were slim pickings at the tea hut, with a choice between a hot dog and a cheeseburger. As the cheeseburgers were still being cooked, I went for the hot dog. I’m not really convinced that they should count as food, but I hadn’t had my tea and thought I should have something.

I took a seat in one of the covered stands where I was soon joined by an old bloke who supported the visitors, Crook Town. He was adamant that Crook would win and kept telling me that they were the better side.

On discovering that I was from Stockton he advised me that the market day was a Wednesday, but there was little point in going as it had declined a lot in recent years. Whilst I knew Stockton’s market day, I’ve no idea of market days in any other town. That sort of knowledge struck me as a bit of a superpower and was certainly more impressive than his assessment of the state of play on the pitch.

There were few chances and no score in the first half. West took the lead midway through the second with a cracking strike from the edge of the box. I missed the Crook equaliser from a penalty in the dying moments as with ten minutes to go I’d nipped out to the clubhouse for a slash and with the rain coming down decided to head for the car rather than return to my seat.

The draw kept both sides in a lower mid-table position as they see out the season.

Birtley Town v Durham City, Saturday 2nd April 2022, 3pm

April 5, 2022

I had some college stuff to do this weekend, but it had been changed late on from an in-person workshop to all being done remotely. That meant that when my involvement was finished by early afternoon, I could look for a local game rather than the ones that I had been considering somewhere near Chelmsford.

The fixture I selected, on the basis of it being less than forty minutes’ drive away, was in the second Division of the Northern League. Birtley Town were taking on Durham City at Birtley Sports Complex.

Birtley were one of the founder members of the Northern League in 1889, but soon dropped out and then disappeared for a while. They were promoted from the Northern Alliance four years ago and have had a steady mid-table season this year.

Durham City have had a disastrous time of it lately, with just two draws all season and a goal difference approaching minus one hundred and fifty. Maybe today would be their first win.

I’d cut it a bit too fine and with the car park full I missed the opening few minutes. As I walked across the adjacent pitch, I saw Birtley take the lead. They were in green and white with Durham in black and red. Maybe another double figure defeat was on the cards for Durham. It was a fiver in with no programmes or team sheets. My strip of raffle tickets was about five away from winning whatever the prize was.

Once inside I took up a position on the rail and watched a collie playing with a burst football. Every now and again he would nip under the barrier with it between his teeth, as if to show the players what he might do if their ball came his way. There were other dogs in attendance including a chihuahua in a green scarf that had its own bed in the tea hut.

After a while I moved around to the small, covered stand on the far side. The potential goal rush didn’t materialise and Durham had their chances to equalise before Birtley doubled their lead just before half-time. There was a hint of offside about the goal and the Durham defence stopped and waited for the whistle. It didn’t come though, causing one of their management team to give the ref some serious abuse. He took it better than I would have and when a spectator suggested that he simply tell the gobshite to fuck off, he replied with a smile “Good idea, mate, but I can’t”.

At half-time I got some chips and gravy, attracting the attention of the collie who saw them as much more interesting than his burst football. Birtley added a third midway through the half before Durham managed a consolation from a penalty towards the end.

It was a competitive game, which suggests Durham are on the right tracks. It would be good to see them get a win before the season ends.

Middlesbrough U23 v Newcastle United U23, Friday April 1st 2022, 7pm

April 3, 2022

I’ve seen a couple of Boro U23 games this season, but they were primarily to tick off new grounds and I hadn’t really thought of going along to the Riverside to watch them. However, I’d been down there earlier in the day to renew the season cards and, on a whim, asked if the car parks were open. They were, at a cost of two quid. That made for an easy evening out, where I could leave the house at half past six, park up and watch a game that’s included in the season card package.

The lower tier of the West Stand was open and I picked a seat in the back row. Those ones are usually used by the occupants of the executive boxes so it had a small amount of padding on it. I think that if I was paying a couple of hundred quid a game for my seat I’d want some sort of Jim’ll Fix It style armchair.

The attendance wasn’t announced but I’d estimate that there were a few hundred there including a handful with Newcastle colours on. A bit of chanting broke out late on with one Geordie having both his BMI and parentage questioned. He took it in good humour and flashed a tattoo of his club’s initials around his belly button displaying a well-earned beer gut that wasn’t far off needing a wheelbarrow to move it around.

It was an entertaining game. Boro bossed the first half and genuinely could have gone in at the break six or seven up but for some poor finishing that limited the score at that time to two-nil. Newcastle came back into it in the second half and we finished with a four-two home win.

Joe Gibson was the stand-out performer, driving forward from midfield and creating a lot of our chances. I kept a close eye on Nathan Wood and thought he did well. He played on the right of a back three and if he wants to displace Anfernee Dijksteel from the first team, he still has some improvement to make in his attacking play. Sol Brynn looked solid in goal, it’s a shame that he had his Scottish loan cut short as I think he’d have gained better experience at that level.

The car park emptied quickly, and I was home fifteen minutes after the final whistle. Perfect.

Whickham v Newcastle Benfield, Wednesday 29th March 2022, 7.30pm

April 2, 2022

Isn’t British Summer Time good? Unless, I suppose, you’ve got early morning cow milking and electric lights haven’t yet reached your part of the world. The changing of the clocks meant that this was the first evening game in a while where I’ve been able to drive there in the daylight. I went up to Whickham, which is just off the A1, moments before you would pass the Metro Centre.

Whickham were taking on Newcastle Benfield in Division One of the Northern League. Both sides have had a decent season but are some distance off the possibility of promotion.

The game was at The Glebe. Its capacity is listed as four thousand, but with just the one small stand a capacity crowd would mean people having to stand around four deep along the railings. Fortunately, the attendance didn’t quite reach one hundred and fifty, so we all had plenty of room.

I paid six quid to get in, another two for a decent programme and gambled a quid on the blind card. I’ve yet to win a single thing at any of the grounds that I’ve been to. Maybe there should just be a bucket for me to tip the contents of my wallet into instead.

I’d not had time for tea before setting off and so called into the cabin and bought some chips with curry sauce. I got a can of coke but it was too cold outside to drink it and so I stuck it in my pocket and got a coffee instead. It seems that the hot weather of the past weekend was only temporary and with snow forecast I was quite pleased that I hadn’t moved the rescue minnows from their tank to the small pond in the garden as I’d planned to do. I might not be able to put them in there at all now as my granddaughter has filled it with tadpoles from the quarry and I’ve no idea how they would get on.

Incidentally, have you ever given any thought to what tadpoles eat? Me neither, but I didn’t think it would involve me buying, boiling and finely chopping spring greens. I put more effort into the tadpoles dinner than I do my own. Apparently once they grow legs they become carnivorous and if you don’t give them meat they will eat each other. Charming. I doubt the beagle will stand idly by whilst I lob steak cubes into the water.

Whickham were dressed up, as so many teams are in this part of the world, as Newcastle whilst Benfield were in a yellow kit with red trim similar to the one that I’ve a slight recollection of Liverpool wearing in the eighties.

The home side took the lead in the first couple of minutes when a floated cross from the left dropped in at the back post. Two more crosses from the same side led to headed finishes and Whickham were three goals to the good by half-time.

I left the covered stand for the second half and watched from different vantage points on the rail. The slope on the pitch was much more noticeable from the side. You’d think that there would be a farmer up there with earth moving equipment who’d be willing to level it out during the close season.

Whickham added a fourth from a penalty when a defender handled whilst lying on the floor. It was borderline deliberate DOGSO in my opinion so him feigning astonishment at both the decision and the subsequent yellow card seemed a little extreme. A fifth goal followed midway through the half after a rare Whickham break down the right-hand side.

The sixth and final goal for Whickham came after a free kick was charged down and the loose ball cracked home on the half-volley from twenty yards. Whickham clearly deserved the win but I think the six goal margin flattered them and suggested a gulf between the teams that wasn’t often reflected in open play. Still, that’s what the records will show.

England U19 v Armenia U19, Saturday 26th March 2022, 2pm

March 31, 2022

International weekends are often seen as a time to go and watch a non-league game. I see plenty of those anyway and so don’t really need the excuse of the Boro not playing to make a grass roots visit. Harry is quite keen on watching England and so instead I picked out an England U19 fixture at Rotherham. It worked for me as I’d not yet been to the New York Stadium and also because I needed to go to Rotherham anyway to pick up some old chimney pots that I’d bought.

The tickets were cheap enough at a fiver for me and half that for Harry. I needed to register with Rotherham which was a bit of an arse on, but if we end up playing them in the next two or three years it will give me a buying history that could come in useful.

Unfortunately, a late change of plans for Harry meant that he couldn’t go, but I was committed to picking up the chimney pots and it’s only an hour and a half or so down the road.

I parked up when I saw the floodlights. It turned out that they weren’t for the New York Stadium but for Rotherham’s former ground, Millmoor. I had a mooch around the outside of the old place, thirty-six years after seeing the Boro there. Oddly, despite Rotherham having moved out a decade or so ago, the posts are still up, and the grass is cut short. It looks as if someone has been playing there. I’ll have to try and find out what the story is and maybe pay it a visit next time I’ve got architectural salvage to lug up the A1.

The New York stadium is a decent venue. It holds twelve thousand in single tier stands. I was near enough on the half-way in the back row, N, so that’s fourteen rows from the pitch. Pretty much a perfect viewing point. Only the one stand was open and it was fairly full so I’d estimate the crowd as about two to three thousand. There were lots of family groups with small kids as well as a few old codgers like me.

England were by far the better side and were two up at half-time before doubling their advantage in the second half. The biggest drama was a scuffle that led to an Armenian player receiving a red and having to be dragged from the pitch by his keeper. England later ended up with ten men too but at least that fella went willingly. The standard was good, as you’d expect, and I look forward to stumbling across the programme sometime in the future and seeing how many of the names have become familiar.