The Football Neutral: Match Fifty Seven – Solihull Moors vs Gloucester City

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So this is season three of my adventures, don’t forget you can pick up the ebook of last season on Kindle for less than £3. Do it and support this blog! I’d be very grateful! Loads of games from Dortmund to Clapton. You can also get the first season at Amazon too!

A quick apology: I’m a very happy-go-lucky kind of chap, but last weekend I found that I couldn’t drag myself to football after the events in Paris.  I was due to go to watch Queens Park play Peterhead at Hampden as I spent the weekend in Glasgow, but as I got off stage on the Friday night my wife texted me to tell me what had happened.  I then spent the entire night watching the news, trying to process what had occurred.

I’ve never been to France, but that doesn’t mean that events like that shouldn’t upset you (likewise I’ve never been to Syria, Mali or anywhere else where horrific events have happened recently).  The fact that part of the atrocities happened outside a football stadium wasn’t why I was so upset either, although it certainly made me think about how I would cope in that situation.

I’m an atheist. I did an interview this week with a podcast in the USA where I talked about recovering from addiction and stated that I’m not a preachy atheist (which to me, kind of defeats the point).  If you have faith then that’s cool.  I could well end up being wrong about heaven and hell and all that jazz, although I doubt that very much.  But I have friends of every possible religious denomination.  My Muslim friends are all, uniformly, the most reasonable and peaceful people that I know.  That anyone would choose to act in such a way in the name of a religion is terrible; the fact that it now tars the vast majority of Muslims with the same brush in the eyes of utter idiots upsets me just as much.

I just want everyone to get on.  I come from a city where everybody DOES get on, and sitting reading through Twitter after those horrible events was utterly depressing as rumours start to spread of arson at Calais, and American ultra-Christians tweeted me all kinds of anti-Muslim bile.  I’m as scared of the knee-jerk reactions of idiots as I am of ISIS.

So yes. No football last week. But for once I chose to watch an England game on TV in the week and I was heartened to see the reaction of every supporter at that match, and realised just how powerful messages from football fans can be. The behaviour of the England fans was magnificent that evening, and I don’t think I’ve ever welled up watching the national anthems of two teams that I don’t support before.  That gesture snapped me out of my sadness over the events and made me press on with this week.

***

This past week has been very busy and full of travelling. I’ve been to Manchester, Scunthorpe and Durham and then was due in Bath on Saturday night.  A scan of the fixtures revealed a decent looking local derby between Cheltenham and Forest Green Rovers, but I’ve been to Whaddon Road on my travels before. There wasn’t much else that I could watch and then get to Komedia for my show, so in the end I settled on Solihull vs Gloucester.  The Conference North never usually disappoints.

The Moors were formed in 2007 as a merger between two clubs: Solihull Borough (which is what some road signs around the ground still say) and Moor Green (who I watched play Hinckley Athletic when I was a teenager, I’m sure of it).  I know Solihull as the go-to place to mention when performing in Birmingham if I have to make a reference to an affluent area.  Having been to the town centre a couple of times, it strikes me as a pretty pleasant place.

The side are currently managed by former QPR defender Marcus Bignot, and they’ve clearly set about to try and build a decent side by using his connections in the game. They’ve got a big striker up front in Dutchman Akwasi Asante (formerly of Birmingham City), with Swiss Under-21 International Benjamin Siegrist in goal; and they have veterans Stefan Moore (twin of Luke Moore, both formerly of Aston Villa and Stefan briefly played on loan at Leicester) Darren Byfield (formerly married to Jamelia). Undefeated in Conference North going into Saturday, they’re clearly having a real go at things at that level.

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Solihull play at the Automated Technology Stadium, very close to the Jaguar factory and Birmingham airport.  On my drive along to the ground I passed a few plane spotters, stood in lay-bys with long lenses on their cameras.  My Uncle partakes in that hobby, and I’ll never understand it.  Who gets excited at getting another plane number?  I understand being excited by seeing planes up close, I still do after years of flying all around the world.  But it just seems such a dull hobby… says the man who was getting excited about seeing the architecture of another football stadium.

I knew that I would have to stay in touch with my Dad throughout the game as Leicester were playing up at Newcastle with Jamie Vardy – every neutral’s favourite player this season  – having the chance to tie the consecutive games scored in record with Ruud Van Nistelrooy.  If you’d have told me that a Leicester player would be top scorer in the Premier League more than halfway through November then I wouldn’t have believed you, let alone imagined that one of our lads could get near such a record.  I found myself wanting him to break it as much as I wanted us to win the match.

My first impression of Solihull was given to me by the incredibly pleasant lady who took my £2 to enter the car park.  With the ground in the middle of nowhere, you only really have the option of using the official car park, but it’s big enough and convenient so fair play.  She saw me get a tenner out of my wallet and noted the money in there as I’d been paid in cash for some gigs this week, and said “bloody hell, someone is doing ok for themselves” with a smile.  I parked up and sat in the car for a bit, because it was freezing outside.

I didn’t have any gloves with me.  I always buy gloves around this time of year, and then I put them away in the spring and they go missing, never to be seen again.  Someone has clearly thieved at least thirty pairs of gloves from me.  Winter socks as well, I have no idea where they all end up. I had luckily demonstrated the foresight to wear many layers and bring along my massive winter coat though.  It looked like it was a good job that I had as the car park filled up and fans quickly hurried into the ground.

There’s just the couple of turnstiles in the one entrance, and it’s only a tenner to watch the game. You can choose to sit or stand, but as cold as it was there was no way I was sitting down and losing the use of my extremities.  As soon as you’re inside the ground, you can use your ticket to get entry to the clubhouse, or you can just mill about for a bit.  I did the second option, getting a burger from the van that was positioned pretty much at pitchside.  Only £2.70 is a bargain for a burger these days as well, fair play.

The main stand is painted blue and yellow (Solihull’s colours) and has a few areas fenced off for officials. It’s a very old-school two-tiered structure that I instantly took a shine to.  The rest of the ground isn’t as well appointed, with one stand behind a goal, and the other end and side just flat concrete with barriers.  Attendance wasn’t too shabby though, especially considering the weather.  My favourite thing about grounds like this is being able to walk a full loop around the pitch.  I did so until I found myself in the covered end, next to the tuck shop.  It’s actually called that.  The last tuck shop I ever went to was at my school when I was 14 and addicted to Nerds and Tango.

I bought a Bovril (obviously), a Twix and a packet of crisps.  This cost me just £1.90.  I had to check that the bloke hadn’t made a mistake, as that would have been at least £6 in a Championship stadium.  I’ve not eaten this cheaply since Germany.  I took my place on the terrace and put my Bovril on a brick wall that was meant to block off the “away end”.  In said end were a load of Solihull youths, and they were moved on by a steward.  The Gloucester fans were up at the other end as that was the goal they were attacking in the first half, so when two Moors lads returned to find their mates had gone they just stayed, presumably reasoning that their friends had been kidnapped by aliens.

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Ok then. I’m now going to make a departure from my previous posts.  I usually blend in my observations on fan culture, architecture and the like with a full-blown match report.  This week I cannot do that.  Why?  Because whilst the Solihull Moors experience is very pleasant (fans are excellent, everyone I met at the club was cool, more on that stuff in a second), the game was by far and away the worst that I have ever watched.  Not just this season or since I started this blog.  Ever.  It was the kind of game that makes me understand how people can not enjoy football.  Here’s everything that happened in the game:

  • After about half an hour, Siegrist saved well from a header from Gloucester’s Jones.
  • Two minutes later, Stefan Moore broke but was eventually rebuffed by former Moors keeper Jas Singh.

That was genuinely all the action in the entire game.  It was woeful.

Of course, the fans made the experience worthwhile.  I truly was a football neutral, by staying in the same position for the entire game I was surrounded by Moors fans in the first half and Gloucester fans in the second.

FIRST HALF

I’ve had the song “Moors Moors Moors” – to the tune of “More More More” by Andrea True Connection – stuck in my head for 24 hours now.  It’s an obvious song if you think about it, but using a 1976 disco hit as a basis for a club anthem in Conference North is pretty bloody inspired.

The Moors fans chatted with former keeper Jas Singh throughout the first half, and he took it all in good humour.  Everybody in the ground both noticed his hot pink jersey, but also the fact that his number one on the back of it had been ironed on the wrong way.  Speaking of kits, the Gloucester away shirt that they sported that day was excellent, making them look like a Serie B side, the joy of having a Macron kit.

On the stroke of half time, Jamie Vardy scored up at St James’ Park and I found that I briefly forgot how unbelievably cold I was.  As the whistle sounded, nobody booed or applauded.  We were just relieved that it was all over.

HALF TIME

I was all of a sudden pretty much alone on the terrace, until I was joined by a few Gloucester fans.  One produced several flags and started tying them to the front of the stand.  They were a pleasant lot, but then a steward asked them to move the other side of the wall I was leaning on because that was the “away end”.  They tried to reason with him, but it quickly became the most polite and British discussion of all time as both sides apologised and did exactly what they were meant to do.  Credit to the steward who chatted to them like they were human beings, not just treating them like cattle.

SECOND HALF

The linesman checked the nets in front of us with all the interest of a man kicking the tyres of a used car that he isn’t interested in.  I don’t think he really wanted to be there either.

The chap who owned the Gloucester flags was a Birmingham supporter, like the steward who moved the away fans.  We chatted over the plight of Aston Villa (at that point 4-0 down) and he then remembered that the Solihull keeper was on loan from Villa so chanted at him about them going down.

The stewards would occasionally spot a rogue Gloucester fan in the same area as me and would move them on.  One lady got spotted and asked to move along, to which her own fans chanted “you’re getting banned in the morning” at her.  Another fan – called Tommy – was greeted with “Tommy is from Cheltenham”.

I think we all forgot that there was a game going on, and that was for the best really.

After the final whistle, I got back to my car to learn that Leicester had won 3-0 and were now top of the Premier League.  I could only conclude that I had somehow passed out due to the cold and was in a coma.

I still can’t feel my toes, by the way.

So, not the best game.  Far from it.  But a great little club and two excellent sets of fans.  and you know what?  I’d always choose an awful 0-0 draw in the freezing cold over sitting in a hotel room feeling depressed at the world.  The impeccably observed minute’s silence for Paris at the start of the match told me that football will always carry on.

Summary:

Solihull Moors 0 vs Gloucester City 0

Attendance: 542

Cost: Ticket £10, Parking £2, Burger £2.70, Drink, Twix, Crisps £1.90 total

Fun Factor: 6/10

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