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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The Football Neutral: Match Fifty Six – FC United of Manchester vs AFC Telford United

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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!

Since I started writing about my football related travels, I’ve been lucky enough to have many of my chums from the world of comedy say to me “ooh, we should go to <INSERT TEAM NAME HERE> together”.  I’ll get around to them all eventually, because there’s nothing better than taking in a match with a mate, especially if he can give you some insight into the club.

Most people in comedy know Big Lou. That’s his name. Well, he’s really called Lewis Jones, but we all call him Big Lou.  He gave himself that name, may I add.  He’s a Manchester based comic and I think it’s fair to say that he’s one of the nicest people that I know.  The sort of lad who would help anybody out and only ever has good things to say about people.  Over the last few months he’s implored me to accompany him to FC United, and after missing out the last couple of weekends because I’ve been busy, it seemed the right time to take him up on his offer.  I checked the fixtures on Monday night and realised I could take in a game on my night off the next day, so all it took was a quick Facebook message to Lou and we were on.

I’ve been keen to watch FC United for quite some time because I think most football fans are completely aware of their entire history.  I can’t think of another non-league club where as many fans are as in tune with the minutiae of their existence since inception.

Here’s the short form: In 2005, fans of Manchester United decided to set up their own club in the wake of Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of the Old Trafford club, amongst other reasons for their general feeling of disillusion.  The idea quickly gained traction, with the team quickly climbing the league ladder.  On the pitch the team achieved three promotions in their first three seasons (from level 10 of the football pyramid to level 7) whist off the pitch the club was lauded for being truly fan-owned and fan-governed.  It may have taken FC United a little longer than planned to get to the sixth tier of football, but now they’re there they have everything in place to try and stay at that level and maybe kick on and shoot for bigger things.

Until 2014, FC United had a ground share with Bury, using their Gigg Lane stadium for their games and often drawing magnificent crowds for matches at that level.  Then they had a season sharing with both Stalybridge Celtic and Curzon Ashton before moving in to their own new home – Broadhurst Park – in May of 2015.  The 4,400 capacity stadium was mainly funded by the fans themselves, from community share schemes (which raised around £2 million) and internet crowd funding alongside grants and loans from the FA and the local council.

If you know me by now – and I like to think that you do – then you’ll know that I can’t resist a new stadium and that I’m a massive fan of fan-power and ultras culture.  So going to FC United seems like it is far too overdue.  I can only presume that the reason I’ve held off for so long is the club’s ties to Manchester United, because like every fan of any other team in the country, I’m not too hot on them.  I’m also man enough to admit that this is 100% down to utter jealousy.  I support Leicester, and I can only dream of their success.  They’ve been the best team in the country for the vast majority of my football-watching life.

I’d spent my Monday in London, taking the train there and back to do a voiceover job.  On the way down I’d watched a magnificent documentary about Joy Division, one of my favourite bands.  The archive footage of Manchester in the 1970s and early 1980s came back into my mind as I drove down the M56 on my way to Broadhurst Park, which is in Moston, a few miles north-east of Manchester city centre itself.  That film made me muse upon how the Greater Manchester area can sustain so many football teams, with the working-class history of the area set into sharp focus.

Speaking of the M56, ever since I’ve returned from the Edinburgh Fringe it has become my nemesis.  It should take me around an hour to travel from my home in North Wales to Manchester.  Yesterday it took me nearly three hours to get to Moston.  It wasn’t just me that was stuck though, as the Telford team bus got delayed as well, pushing the kick-off back to 8.15pm.  I arrived at 7.30pm and parked up, just as Big Lou sent me one of the best messages that I’ve had in ages:

Kick off delayed to 8.15pm. Fuck me, you must be important

The large amount of cars parked on the streets around the stadium told me that it wouldn’t be a sparsely attended game for sure.  As you approach the ground you realise that it’s a very pleasant place to watch the game, not just a faceless metal and plastic bowl in the middle of nowhere.  With football pitches facing it for the younger sides to play on (Lou would explain to me that they’re set out that way deliberately to give young players a sense of aspiration, working their way towards the main stadium), it’s illuminated in a way that makes it stand out from every other non-league ground that I’ve ever visited.  Excuse the bad photograph, it was hammering down at the time:

2015-11-03 19.36.35I met up with Lou on the Boardwalk outside, and we made our way inside.  At this point I must confess to breaking one of my official rules.  I would usually pay to attend a game, but Lou insisted that he would sort this out.  For the record, it’s only £9 to watch FC United, but Lou does a few bits and bobs for the club so we managed to get in for free.  Even better, we didn’t even use the turnstile.  Lou nodded at a steward and he just let us in through one of the corner gates.  We even walked past the manager Karl Marginson, who Lou pointed out through a window.  He’s been the manager of the club since its inception, and has now abandoned his fruit and veg business to do the job full time.

The first thing that strikes you upon entering Broadhurst Park are the banners.  They are everywhere, especially on the smaller terraces to one side of the pitch and behind one of the goals.  Behind the other goal is a very large terrace where most of the vocal FC United fans stand, and then there is the impressive main stand with a mixture of seating and standing, as well as a bar area behind glass at the top and the usual food stands on the bottom.

Some of my favourite banners on display were as follows – and there were too many to list, as well as the massive scarf behind one goal in the colours of the club that I didn’t even notice it until the second half.

“Making friends not millionaires”

“Mancunian dissent”

“We are the resurrection”

You can buy sweets – and oddly, temporary tattoos – from a table just inside the entrance, but I required more sustenance.  I am happy to report that for £3 you can buy a pie, mushy peas and gravy.  Plus they keep the prices of drinks down (just £1) and they sell wafers (like those that you get in a coffee shop) rather than the usual Mars range.  I even had a can of Dandelion and Burdock, and they leave out free bread for anybody having their home-made soup.  I may have taken some bread.  I’m marathon training and need the carbs.

We went off to find a seat, and I realised that Lou knows everybody.  He introduced me to a chap called Vinny, who works in a commercial capacity for the club.  He seemed a smashing bloke, and he in turn introduced us to a chap who had just climbed Kilimanjaro for charity.  At every turn FC United feels like an inclusive, family club where everyone is welcome – although maybe if I was wearing a Manchester City shirt things might feel a little bit different.

We took our seat and I finished my pie.  I remained hungry, and spied a food van on the small terrace behind the goal nearest to us.  I walked over to it to get my second course, expecting the usual football fare.  I was pleasantly surprised with what I discovered.

2015-11-03 19.56.22Yes, that’s right. Quesadillas.  Two vegetarian options.  At a football match.  I ordered a chilli beef one and chatted to the chap serving them up.  With the sides warming up, he all of a sudden became very aware that footballs may well be flying into his kitchen area in the near future.  He told me he’d not thought about that when he got set up.  Whilst he toasted my quesadilla in front of me, another bloke ordered some of the home-made oxtail soup.  It looked amazing, loads of meat and vegetables in there.  I can happily report that my quesadilla was really rather wonderful, although it’s a hard thing to eat on a paper plate whilst sat at a football match.

FC United haven’t had the best of runs in recent games, with five consecutive defeats going into this match.  Telford were faring even worse, with them following up their relegation from Conference National last season with a dreadful start to this season, starting the game in bottom position.  I went to see them last season when they took on Dover and they looked poor at that level, but they tend to yo-yo between tiers five and six in the pyramid.  They had brought a couple of coaches worth of fans to this game as well, demonstrating decent support on a wet Tuesday.

I asked Lou how it works with FC United fans with regards to Manchester United – who were playing at home to CSKA Moscow at the same time – do they cheer their score if they’re winning? Or have they abandoned one side to support the new one?  It seems that most FC United fans remain fans of the Old Trafford club, although some of the younger fans will no grow up supporting FC United only.  For Lou it’s odd as he isn’t a Manchester United fan, he’s actually an Everton supporter as his Dad was from Bootle.  So it was only me, him and the Telford fans who weren’t bothered on how the Champions League game across town was going.

The game kicked off with Telford instantly taking it by the scruff of the neck and being much the better team.  If you didn’t know that they were struggling, you would have presumed that they were a team pushing for promotion.  They looked bigger, stronger and fitter, and midfielder Sean Clancy wore his floppy hair under a headband and wandered around the pitch like he was a Conference North version of Gareth Bale.  I love flair players at this level, mainly as I imagine that they’re a nightmare to train with and play alongside.

FC United’s keeper Dave Carnell had a rather schizophrenic opening few minutes, spilling routine shots but then redeeming himself with good saves.  In his defence, the goalmouth was very greasy as the rain continued to belt down.  One stop in particular was world-class after he had blocked a shot with his chest when it looked easier to catch the ball.  He’d then be bailed out by  centre-back Nia Bayunu after spilling another chance. Bayunu – who looked decent throughout – would then clear off the line after a Telford scramble.  It was all Telford at this stage, and the inevitable goal followed.

Was probably my fault for mocking him, but in the 20th minute Clancy tucked the ball away following a cross from Samuels.  I noted then how unsegregated the fans were, with a pocket of Telford fans behind the goal that he scored in, plus a larger contingent on the left side of the main terrace and a few dotted around us in the seats.  Was never any trouble between anybody though, everything was very cordial.  The only animosity came from one FC United fan near us who complained constantly about the performance of his own team.  True, they weren’t in the game at this point but during their first season at this level you’d think he’d cut them some slack.  He was the only fan at this stage to be so vocal in his criticism, mind you.

Even though they were behind, the FC United fans on the large terrace were excellent, singing their hearts out and possibly getting even louder when their team went a goal behind.  This seemed to galvanise the side on the pitch, as they improved greatly and seemed to have much more attacking nous from then on.  There was a scary moment as FC United’s Sam Sheridan and Telford’s Darren Campion both went hurtling into the advertising hoardings at great speed.  This held the game up for a while and Campion was eventually substituted (and apparently needed stitches to the inside of his mouth).

Sam Sheridan hit a decent free kick at goal which the Telford defence scrambled away for a corner, before Matthew Wolfenden forced keeper James Montgomery into a good save with a chance from the resulting corner.  With FC United doing a lot of pressing, their recent bad luck and form should tell you what happened next: They went 2-0 down.  Telford won a free kick, Kyle Brownhill whipped it in and Robert Paratore smashed it home.  The small pocket of Telford fans behind the goal spilled onto the pitch, so Lou nudged me and said “those lads should calm down, it’s only a Tuesday night”.

As the game drifted to half time, one FC United fan really made me laugh.  A Telford player won a throw in just in front of us, and his manager (Rob Smith) barked instructions at him.  The fan shouted “hey mate! Don’t listen to him! Have your own thoughts! Or listen to us!”  It gave everyone around us a good giggle, and even Smith acknowledged it with a grin.  As the half time whistle sounded, there were no boos from the home fans, even if the disappointment at their current run was palpable.

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I always tend to notice what music is played during half time breaks.  Quite aptly, the music played during this interval was “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy.  I couldn’t have made a better choice.  Whoever is responsible for that is a genius.  I noticed another couple of banners on the large terrace  – one representing German side St Pauli, another bearing the “Refugees Welcome” message and a third saying “Football: Saturday, 3pm”.  Broadhurst Park really does have the right vibe to it.

For the second half FC United brought on returning all-time top goalscorer Rory Patterson.  Initially at the club between 2005-2008, he scored 99 goals as the team ascended through the lowest reaches of the leagues, before going on to play in his native Northern Ireland and briefly for Plymouth Argyle.  He even earned 5 international caps before making his way back to Manchester.  The fans were pleading with Marginson to bring him on, and he replaced Matthew Wolfenden.  Having seen pictures of Patterson during his first run at the club, he’s a little heavier now than he was but as soon as he entered the field he looked to be exactly the catalyst that FC United needed.  He was eager and on occasion, his enthusiasm did transfer into being a little bit naughty as the game became scrappy and a tad ill-tempered.

Tackles were flying in like on the latest version of Pro Evolution Soccer, where you can pole-axe someone at knee height and the referee won’t even blow the whistle.  Challenges came in from both sides with increasing ferocity, leading me to think that if this was a Premier League match that both sides may well have been down to eight apiece.  Thing is, nobody rolled around as if they were injured, they just got on with it.  It wasn’t a dirty game, just a lot more enthusiastic in the tackle than you would normally see.

A few cards were handed out – to Wright and Daniels in quick succession, among others – but FC United struggled to make any clear chances despite having more possession than the first period.  A series of corners seems to yield nothing, until in the 74th minute Telford keeper Montgomery made a hash of one of them, punching the ball right onto the head of Tom Greaves.  FC United had a goal back, it was game on. Would the bottom side of the division start to wilt under the pressure?

In a word, no.  Telford wisely slowed the game down, with full-back Samuels getting booked for time wasting before a long goal kick in the 85th minute arrived on the head of Dave Hibbert.  It sailed past the onrushing Carnell, hit the post and trickled over the line.  That was it, game over.

Interestingly, whilst a few fans set off for home – after all, the game had been delayed by 30 minutes – most stayed put and carried on singing.  You cannot fault the fans at all, and it’s a lot to ask for the team to get to the sixth tier and just walk it to the next level.  It took a while to get to this stage, it might take a while to go higher but everything is in place for this club to do great things.

It’s a shame to go to Broadhurst Park for the first time and not see them win, but if you get a chance to go along there and you love your football, jump on it.  Yes, you might not like Manchester United, but there is nothing but a long list of things to like about FC United of Manchester.  A smashing club.

Summary:

FC United of Manchester 1 (Greaves 74) vs AFC Telford United 3 (Clancy 20, Paratore 40, Hibbert 85)

Attendance: 2,781

Cost: Ticket free (should be £9); parking free; Pie, peas and gravy £3; wafers £1; Dandelion and Burdock £1; Chilli Beef Quesadilla £4

Fun Factor: 8/10

The Football Neutral: Match Forty Nine – Oxford City vs Guiseley

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The only way to read this post in FULL along with 23 others from 2014/15 is to buy my season review eBook in the Kindle store. It’s less than £3 and over 300 pages of my daft adventures. Pick it up, enjoy it and you’ll be supporting my travels next season. Feel free to tell anyone you might know about it too! Thank you so much!

…The game ebbed and flowed for a while, and it wasn’t a bad game at all but the entertainment on the terrace was second to none.  Again using “Seven Nation Army” as a theme, the Oxford fans responded to a “Yorkshire” chant from the Guiseley lot with “Mild, Flat Caps and Whippets”.  The Guiseley fans weren’t annoyed, indeed they applauded the creativity.  This was followed by further excellent, written on the spot Oxford songs – the benefit of a smaller crowd iss these things can spread to fans that want to sing much more easily – such as “You’ll Never Take the Woolpack” and “You’re Just a Bus Stop Near Minston”.  That last one was researched on the spot by Alex, and was then followed with a chant from both sides of “Local Knowledge!”.  Brilliant.

The fans were desperate to see substitute Paul Stonehouse be brought on to the pitch, singing songs about him (one set to “Stay Another Day”, for crying out loud) and even asking Snow White to walk around the pitch and ask the manager to bring him on.  Just as that started to pre-occupy us, Tom Winters scored in the 70th minute to put Oxford back in front.  As we sang in celebration, keeper Scott joined in with us.  It might not be the biggest crowd, but it must be fun playing in front of that lot when things are going right.

I chatted with Alex and the others about the club website during a brief lull in the singing.  When I visited it to enquire on ticket prices it looked like it had been hacked by someone spamming you about knock-off university courses.  It turns out that it wasn’t, it’s just that the club has been bought by an American who is using the Oxford City name to get interest in his other businesses in the USA and beyond.  It’s certainly true that the Oxford name has kudos attached to it, you only have to look at how many tourists in London are wearing Oxford hoodies on their flights back home.

Snow White now had his own dwarf, which was an Oxford fan called Sam (on his knees).  Sam would later regale us with the song “Any Dream Will Do”, belting it out as we laughed at him uncontrollably.  Yussuf would add his second – and Oxford’s fourth – in the 85th minute, and that just kicked the party up a notch.  Snow White managed to find seven dwarves now….

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The only way to read this post from last season in full (along with 23 others and a load of extra stuff) is to get my eBook for less than £3. Click here to get it. I’d be really grateful!

 

 

The Football Neutral: Match Thirty Four – Colwyn Bay vs Harrogate Town

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The only way to read this post in FULL along with 23 others from 2014/15 is to buy my season review eBook in the Kindle store. It’s less than £3 and over 300 pages of my daft adventures. Pick it up, enjoy it and you’ll be supporting my travels next season. Feel free to tell anyone you might know about it too! Thank you so much!

…Upon reaching the turnstile, there was a chap with a clipboard.  I smiled at him, and he smiled back.  He didn’t seem to want to talk to me about whatever was on his clipboard, so I just carried on queuing.  Then a dad and son lined up behind me, and he went over to them, addressed them both by name and ticked them off the list.  I can only presume that instead of giving out physical season tickets that this pleasant bloke just checks people into the ground, like a footballing concierge.

I couldn’t help noticing the accents as I entered the stadium.  My wife is originally from Holywell, a few miles east of Colwyn Bay.  When I tell people that my wife is Welsh they’ll often put on the full Gavin and Stacey South Wales accent, but she doesn’t sound like that.  Equally, she doesn’t sound like a Scouser – even if she does edge a bit closer to that when she’s had a fair few drinks.  The North Wales accent is a curious one, and one that I sense I’ll never be able to do an impression of properly.  And inside Llanelian Road I could hear accents like Mrs Smallman, plus some definite scouse twangs and some people with a much broader Welsh twinge.

I also heard a couple of Yorkshire accents, making me look up to see three Harrogate Town fans heading to get a burger.  With Harrogate playing in yellow and black they looked like oversized Northern bumblebees.  Of course, football at this level seems to have no animosity at all and they were happily chatting with Colwyn Bay fans.  They would be joined by a handful more Harrogate fans, some standing on one side of the pitch and a further pocket sitting in the main stand, unsegregated.

As I walked around taking pictures before the kick-off, I noticed a dog and owner.  I’m like a kid sometimes, all it takes is the sight of a dog for me to lose all concentration.  This dog was leaning on the wall around the pitch with her front paws, making it look like she was studying the warm-up intently.

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I said the bloke holding her lead (who was wearing an official looking Colwyn Bay manager’s jacket) “bless her, she’s got a good view”.  He nodded and said – totally seriously – “yeah, she insists on coming down for every game”.  I was introduced to her formally – she’s called Peggy Sue and is quite well known in the football world with her own Twitter account and everything. I stroked her, took the picture above and walked off…

The only way to read this post from last season in full (along with 23 others and a load of extra stuff) is to get my eBook for less than £3. Click here to get it. I’d be really grateful!