The Football Neutral: Match Fifty One – Walsall vs Doncaster Rovers

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As we begin 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.

So then, it looks like I’m doing this for another season. Season three! That means that I’ve lasted longer than Fawlty Towers. Fifty games done so far over two campaigns, now let’s crack on with some more, starting at the Bescot Stadium. We’ll get to that in a bit.

You’re probably wondering – if you’re a regular reader of my adventures – where I’ve been until the second weekend in September. If you’re new to this blog then you should probably get used to quite a lot of rabbiting on by me on subjects other than football. It’s kind of my thing.

I spent all of August in Edinburgh at the Fringe. I did at least three shows a day for a whole month, meaning I couldn’t ever find a way to get along and watch a game. One Saturday I left my flat and realised how close it was to Easter Road based on the sheer amount of green shirts that passed me by in the opposite direction. Alas, I could never make it down there as games always clashed with my shows. I very nearly managed to make it to a non-league match one night, but then got given the chance to fill in for another comic at a show and make some money.

It’s normal for comedians to get ill during the fringe, what with over working and eating badly and a general lack of sleep. I actually spent my entire time feeling invincible because I was working so hard that I slept like a log every single night and I didn’t have time to drink so much Irn Bru that I got kidney stones (as happened to me in 2011). In theory the first week of September would be a joy for me as I would be able to relax after a hectic month and then ease myself back into my usual working diary.

Well, no. That’s not what happened, because as soon as I got home my body gave up on me. Also, after a month of not driving the roads of England have decided to take revenge. All of Manchester and Birmingham has recently been dug up completely, with diversions in place that mean at least a hundred cars have been trapped in an endless loop for the last month, like a badly programmed video game.

However, with me in Birmingham at the wonderful Glee Club this past weekend, no amount of aches and pains and the last remnants of fringe flu were keeping me away from the footy.  And a trip to the West Midlands meant that finally, I could go to a stadium that I have looked at more than any other in the country.

The Bescot Stadium (or the Banks’ Stadium as it is corporately known these days) is right next to the M6.  I spend approximately 27 hours a week sat on that motorway, most of which is right outside the stadium, whilst swearing at roadworks that never seem to get finished.  It’s not like you can miss the Bescot, with the large North Stand (the “Tile Choice” end) looming over the carriageway, only kept from it by some massive advertising hoardings that often carry piss-taking plugs for Aston Villa games, just a little way up the M6.

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My Friday night gig was a weird one. The Glee Club is always a complete joy, but one entire side of the room was populated completely by utter bell-ends. This included:

1: A Father and Son duo right by the stage who were from Derby. when I asked them where they were from they told me and then the Dad said “and we’re better than Leicester” with a smug “look what I’ve done, son” look on his face. So he had to be destroyed, as my beloved Foxes remain dizzyingly high in the Premier League. Derby are not.

2: A group of lads – sorry, LADZ – who had one among their number who decided to keep interrupting with the phrase “nice shirt”. When I called him out on it he pleaded with me to not pick on him. Then he would do it again. So I talked about his weird compliment based tourettes and then pointed out the bouncer that was stalking around the room to chuck him out. In the darkened room all you could see was his reflective armband slowly gliding around the perimeter. The ladz remained until they were finally chucked out during Dane Baptiste’s set.

3: Speaking of Dane, one woman in the audience took great exception to a wonderful bit of his material because she seemed to believe that she was watching Question Time rather than an award winning comedian doing comedy in a comedy club. She was also turfed out. Bless the audience for telling her to bugger off.

I retired to my hotel room after the show knowing that I’d get a much nicer welcome at Walsall.  A few people had told me that it’s a pleasant club and football fans don’t ever tend to be wrong about these things. By the way, my hotel was very nice. As a frequent user of Travelodges, I’m just happy to be somewhere that has biscuits in your room and a choice of pillows. That’s like the Ritz for me.

With roads in Birmingham quite tedious at present, I was very relieved to learn that the Bescot Stadium has its own train station AND a return ticket from Brum city centre is just £3.60. That’s a bloody bargain, and I decided to take the train on the Saturday afternoon. Once the hotel kicked me out (I’m never one to leave before checkout time if I can help it) I headed across town and got my train.

On the same carriage as me sat a few teenage girls, an older chap and three Doncaster fans. The Donny lads were all in their late teens / early twenties and dressed like the best wannabe hooligans that there ever was. Someone’s Mam went on eBay and bought a lot of knock off Stone Island, let’s just say that. These three lads were utterly tedious, but it would get quite entertaining.

2015-09-12 12.52.50One of them piped up with this wonderful phrase: “If any Birmingham get on this train it’ll get a bit naughty”. Well, if your definition of naughty is three young lads in fake clothes running away from grown men, then yes it is. An older bloke sat to my right snorted out a laugh. We both knew that the train was heading in the opposite direction.

Another chap kept telling them where they needed to get off. The lads seemed to struggle with it quite a lot, and all three of them asked over and over where they needed to leave. It’s not too hard, lads. IT’S THE NAME OF THE STADIUM THAT YOU’RE GOING TO.

In between their incessant questioning, one of them tried flirting with the girls on the train. No sooner had he uttered an opening line then one of them shut him down by saying “what are you, twelve?”  Beautiful.

Then the ticket inspector came around. Two of the lads were fine, but he asked the final one how old he was. He said sixteen, looking at the girls as he said so (for he was the spurned one). The inspector pointed out that he had a child ticket, and the lad argued that was fine. The inspector corrected him, and told him he needed to pay his full fare from Doncaster again or leave the train. The lad tried arguing whilst we all tried to stifle laughter.

So at the next stop, the lad left. His mates remained. As he left, he stood in the doorway of the train and said “don’t worry about me lads. I’m immortal”. The inspector heard this and walked back, telling his mates that if he gets on ANY other train today he’ll be arrested. They panicked and called people. One of them argued that there is no way another inspector would know who he was, the other one insisted that there would be CCTV. They then genuinely debated whether or not they could get him a disguise, with one saying the following phrase out loud:

“Seriously though, there’s got to be a fancy dress shop in Walsall”.

Geniuses.

I was happy to leave them behind and get off the train and take the short walk under the M6 towards the ground. It’s quite a modern stadium so it’s a bit in the middle of nowhere. I had a walk round the whole place and stood taking pictures in the car park as the two remaining Donny lads were on the phone to somebody, frantically trying to sort out a new coat and hat.

There’s a little club shop and ticket office, so I had a look round the former and got my ticket from the latter. £19.50 to sit in the lower tier of the North Stand, although it is a bit cheaper if you buy in advance. I really should get into the habit of doing that. But as it was still 1pm I couldn’t get into the stadium yet, so I visited a couple of cool places.

First was the Saddlers Travel Centre, in a small cupboard in the supporters club. I wanted to go in there just to take a photo. It reminded me of being a kid again. Thanks to the two nice chaps in there who let me do so.

2015-09-12 13.04.03Secondly, I went to the mildly depressing shopping park next to the ground purely so I could go to the branch of Pets At Home and look at fish and rabbits.  A lot of people would go to a pub and have a swift pint, but I don’t drink and I bloody love animals.  That seems a perfectly acceptable way for me to spend a few minutes.  I did notice that if you dress and look the way I do (heavily tattooed skinhead wearing a black hoodie) then you will most certainly be followed by the security guard in any shop you choose to visit.  I wasn’t likely to steal a rabbit though, tempting though it is.  The wife is allergic.

I got into the ground at about half one. Once you enter the North Stand it has an unusual layout, with turnstiles at either end and then a bar in the middle complete with comfy chairs. Then the concession stands and toilets are in either corner of the stand, and weren’t open just yet. I got chatting to a very pleasant steward who noticed that my hoodie was one from my wrestling company, PROGRESS. He was training to be a wrestler himself and we had a natter for probably twenty minutes or so, until I realised I was probably stopping him from doing his job.

With the concessions stand opening up, I queued up for my first burger of the season (which was very nice) plus some chocolate and a diet coke. I asked another steward if it was then ok for me to take this back into the bar and watch the Everton vs Chelsea game, and he told me to feel free.  I sat in a 1960s style egg-shaped leather chair and watched as Steven Naismith completed his hat trick and condemned Chelsea to their worst start to a season in ages. The Premier League – apart from Manchester City – is currently utterly surreal, especially with my lot sitting in second place. That obviously won’t last, but maybe let me enjoy it for just a little while longer.

2015-09-12 12.57.45I was sat pretty much behind the goal, five rows back, and had a really good view in one of the busier parts of the ground. It’s a tidy little stadium, although doesn’t have too much character with it being a bit newer than most.  The weird little bar layout set it apart from the plethora of new stadia built this century though, and there’s a lot more leg room than some places.

The Walsall mascot – a giant swift, who I believe is called “Swifty” – is one of the most hench club mascots that I have ever seen. I appreciate that he’s based around a bird, but he’s got the kind of broad shoulders that make him look like the avian Brock Lesnar. He is massive. Plus, his big forked tail bursts out of his shorts in a truly disturbing way.  Kids seemed to love him, but I was genuinely terrified.

Prior to kick-off, they played “Ready to Go” by Republica over the PA system. They used to play that at Leicester, and I’ve heard it at a load of other places as well.  Is there a more over-used song at football stadiums? I don’t think there is. Not in terms of the actual walking-out music, just one of the songs played in the last ten minutes before the game starts. Just to make everyone feel old by the way, that song is EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD NOW.

The game kicked off with Doncaster wearing a particularly fetching away kit, and their fans in the opposite end.  The first chance fell to the Saddlers, with full-back Jason Demetriou hitting an unusual volley just wide. He’s a hard-working player, and I remember him being at Orient. I didn’t know that he has spent time in between then and now at clubs in Cyprus before heading back to the UK.  You certainly couldn’t fault his work rate throughout the match as he continued to bomb up and down the right hand side.

Conversation between two lads to my right turned to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leader of the Labour Party. One said “Corbyn won then”. The other replied with “that’s the Labour Party doomed then”. The first lad simply said “good”.  I was a bit surprised at this, finding it tricky to imagine that Walsall is a Conservative stronghold, let alone in the popular end of the football ground.

2015-09-12 13.39.45In goal for Walsall was Philippines international keeper Neil Etheridge. I didn’t know much about him before the game but knew of his name – I suspect from Football Manager – and he would eventually be named man off the match here.  I don’t recall ever watching a better performance from a goalkeeper in any of the games that I’ve attended. He’s an intimidating presence and a wonderful shot stopper, as shown early on when he made a fantastic save from Rovers midfielder James Coppinger who attempted a spectacular volley.

Curtis Main was up front for Donny, and he played in one of the first games that I ever went to as part of this blog: for Shrewsbury against Coventry in 2013.  He remains a decent prospect, big and strong but missed a couple of easy chances in the first half. Firstly he managed to shoot wide after an Etheridge save from close range, then he did all the hard work with a great run before forcing another save from the Walsall keeper. On-loan Cameron Stewart won a free kick on the edge of the Walsall box and copped a lot of abuse from the fans around me, most amusing of which came from two girls who were maybe 13 years old, giving him rude hand gestures when their Dad wasn’t looking.

The Black Country accent fits one song really well, to the tune of “Come On Feel The Noize” by Slade, Saddlers fans sing “come on cheer the boys”. As Doncaster started to dominate the first half, the fans got on board with that song to try and rally the troops a little bit. Luckily, Doncaster kept finding Etheridge in fantastic form, keeping his team in it as we went to half time with another brilliant save, this time from a free kick that the referee had given in slightly dodgy circumstances after a supposed foul on Main.

2015-09-12 13.40.07During the break we had a crossbar competition where everyone nearly managed to hit the target, before we cracked on with the second half.  With Walsall shooting towards our end, we hoped to see an improvement in terms of effort and we were not disappointed.  Saddlers manager Dean Smith clearly had a stern talk with his high-flying side and they started the second period energised and with new focus.

The pacey Milan Lalkovic won a corner within the first few seconds with his persistence, and he then went close with a decent effort after being teed up by Tom Bradshaw. The latter is incredibly popular, with his name on the back of half a dozen replica shirts that I could see.  Not bad for a lad who was playing for Aberystwyth a few years ago in the Welsh League. Doncaster had a chance up the other end through Andy Williams but it remained all Walsall, just with no end product as the minutes ticked away.

Donny keeper Thorsten Stuckmann got into an argument with one Saddlers fan, sticking his tongue out at him and trying to rile him up. Unfortunately for him, every other Walsall fan saw this and decided to barrack him at every turn. An unusual feature of the support there is for every corner or direct free kick near the goal, the fans at the front stand up and move forwards to the back of the advertising hoardings. The stewards don’t stop this, but know it will happen and take position accordingly. It certainly makes the atmosphere a bit more intense as the corners start to mount up and the home team are chasing a goal.

Andy Taylor drew a good save from Stuckmann before Lalkovic and Henry were replaced. I initially thought this was a bad decision as their pace and skill was entertaining, but Smith would be proved right for doing so. In the 85th minute there was a decisive breakthrough, and the first example of why Bradshaw may well end up in the Championship or higher sooner rather than later.

There was a scramble in the box and the ball fell to Bradshaw who smashed in a wonderful volley from a tight angle. He celebrated in front of the jubilant Walsall fans, as I watched to see Stuckmann admonish his defenders and then try to avoid the gaze of the fan he had a row with earlier.  Straight from kick-off, Donny went up the other end and drew another good save from Etheridge, before Walsall drove forwards again. In injury time, Bradshaw sprung the offside trap and chipped a wonderful finish over the advancing Stuckmann to keep Walsall near the top of the table and the fans excited about what could happen this season.  There is certainly spirit and ability in their ranks.

As for my season, it’s great to be back. I can’t wait to go all over the place watching football this year, and if I have as warm a welcome as I did at Walsall (not to mention seeing goals that good) then I’ll have a smashing year.

Summary:

Walsall 2 (Bradshaw 85, 90) vs Doncaster Rovers 0

Attendance: 4,127

Cost: Ticket £19.50, Burger £3.60, Snickers £1.20, Diet Coke £1.60, Train Journey £3.60

Fun Factor: 7/10

The Football Neutral: Match Forty Eight – Rochdale vs Leyton Orient

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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!

…I’m a sucker for a ground surrounded by houses.  That always makes a stadium proper to me; playing off my memories of going to Filbert Street as a kid.  Spotland is just like that, and it instantly makes me feel nostalgic.  We went into the Sandy Lane End, the terrace behind one goal.  The rest of the stadium is seated and to be fair, it may be small but it’s in good nick and still feels like it has a character, unlike so many nameless bowls around the place.  The game was just kicking off as we got in, and I got myself a meat and potato pie.  This is the only pie you should ever eat when in the North West.  I first had one at Blackburn years ago (they have to be Hollands ones) and I’ve been addicted ever since.  Although saying that, James clearly has been reading this blog in detail because he presumed I’d be annoyed at the lack of hot dogs.

As I got my pie, an older chap next to me asked if they were hot this week.  I said I didn’t know yet, but it felt it.  He proceeded to tell me that at the last game they were cold, but the game before that they were “nuclear”.  I like to think he has a chart on his wall at home, marking off pie temperature by game.  This being near the end of the season, it would now be pretty much filled in.

James noted the Rochdale keeper was Josh Lillis, who went to the same school as him.  I don’t have the joy of seeing footballers I went to school with playing the professional game, my school was much more into rugby (it produced Dead Richards, Graham Rowntree, Manu Tuilagi and many others).  although I do remember one lad having a trial with Notts County once, and we treated him like he was a god from that moment onwards.

Whilst I liked Spotland a lot, it did bother me a bit that the seats that spelled out “ROCHDALE” in the Willbutts Lane Stand weren’t quite centralised and symmetrical.  It’s tiny things like that which I’ll often spend far too much time worrying about, odd little man that I am.  The Orient fans took up one block, making some noise but still looking crushed from such a disappointing season  Last season they were brilliant and came so close to promotion, what a difference one year (and a change in ownership) makes.  I feel bad for them, they’re a cracking team and a good bunch of fans…

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 Forty Seven – Swindon Town vs Yeovil 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!

…On the pitch, I was quickly impressed by left back Nathan Byrne who was full of pace and running.  It looked like he was playing as a wing-back for this game, spending much more time virtually up front and trying to cut into the box as often as he could.  Also a real talent is centre forward Jonathan Obika, a massive handful who looks like he could play at a much higher level.

On 15 minutes, I stifled a cheer as Leicester went 1-0 up against Swansea.  It was the weirdest feeling not screaming out, and I channelled my excited energy into loudly “oohing” as Obika missed an absolute sitter with the goal completely at his mercy.  Swindon should have been one up, and they kept up the pressure on a Yeovil team who could barely get out of their own half. Yeovil keeper Artur Krysiak wasn’t helping his own team with some incredibly wayward kicking, with three straight clearances going out for throw-ins on the left hand touchline.

Ben Gladwin hit the post for Swindon with a great curling effort from outside the box and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before they’d be in front.  It took 40 minutes for Yeovil to have their first chance (and just after I’d stifled a celebration for Burnley going behind at Everton) as Kieffer Moore aimed a decent header at goal but it was saved by Wes Foderingham.

I couldn’t believe that it was still goal-less at half time with Swindon completely bossing the game.  Our entertainment during the break was one of those target shooting things, where a series of fans aim for holes in a tarpaulin suspended in the goalmouth.  Everyone who had a go wasn’t the best, including a girl who I willed to show us all how good she could be… and she then proceeded to be utterly terrible.  Credit to the fans around me though, there was none of the catcalling and whooping that there would have been ten or twenty years ago.

Some schoolkids were doing a lap of honour in their little team kits, and they got a great reception.  I wish I’d have had chance to do that as a kid, although five years ago this week I did manage to run two laps around the pitch at the King Power Stadium to help Alan Birchenall raise money for charity (and I recorded it for my then radio show).  I was 31 at the time and that experience was mind blowing, so if you;re ten it must be simply amazing.  When there’s a load of kids, there is always one who knows how to play to the crowd properly; you’ll see him, kissing his badge and patting his chest as he implores the crowd for more noise…

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 Forty Two – Crewe Alexandra vs Scunthorpe United

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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!

…Once in Crewe I was surprised that I seemed to be the only person on the train heading to the football.  Gresty Road really is easy to find; come out of the station, head left and take your second left.  I already knew this, but two different policemen in the station politely asked me if I was heading to the game and gave me directions.  I have no idea how they knew I was likely to be watching the match, as I was wearing nothing to give it away and they didn’t ask any other passengers.  They’re both tremendously polite and incredibly perceptive.

You walk past the away end that has its own ticket office. It is the whole side of the ground rather than an end, and is named wonderfully.  A few years back I went to Gresty Road with my Dad to watch City play there on the last day of the season (I think) and we noticed that the game that day was sponsored by the same company that now sponsor this stand: Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Vans.  On that day and this Saturday, I asked myself the same questions:

1: There is a company that just makes ice cream vans?

2: How much demand is there for ice cream vans?

3: Who is going to watch Crewe Alexandra and thinking “hang on a minute, I might buy an ice cream van. Thank god they sponsor that stand as it jogged my memory!”

I popped into the home ticket office to get mine sorted out – twenty two quid, same price for any part of the ground – and headed into the massive main stand.  And it is HUGE compared to the rest of the ground.  I seemed to remember Gresty Road being bigger back in the day, but it might be because it was fuller then.  It holds just over 10000 fans now, with the main stand taking up nearly 70 per cent of the seats.  Crewe thankfully still have turnstile operators – I loathe those barcode readers – and I climbed the stairs up to my seat.  I’d been given a seat number, but was told I could sit anywhere that was free.  I sat in an aisle seat just as the game kicked off, with Crewe in red and Scunthorpe in an unfamiliar green…

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 Forty One – Crawley Town vs Barnsley

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…There were a lot of kids on the terrace with us, presumably a day out watching Crawley is cheaper than heading to watch Brighton or Crystal Palace.  Like my trip last season to Dagenham and Redbridge though, there is a strange atmosphere.  I’ve no doubt that some people love Crawley dearly, but without a long legacy of league football many of the crowd seem to treat the club as their second team.  A few fans wore red scarves or shirts, but it wasn’t the norm.

As the teams came out and the line-ups were announced, I listened out for familiar names.  A striker for either side caught my ear:  For Barnsley they had diminutive, pacey frontman Leroy Lita – a player that I thought was headed for the very top when I saw him play for Bristol City years ago.  Now 30, his career hasn’t fired as he would have liked and he signed for Barnsley in August after Swansea released him.

Up top for Crawley was Izale McLeod, a player that Leicester were linked with a lot during his time at MK Dons.  He’s never reached the heights that Lita played (briefly) at, yo-yoing up and down the league ladder.  After a poor spell with Charlton he rebuilt his career at Barnet and Portsmouth before a second spell at MK Dons that led to him being released and snapped up by Crawley.  Also 30 years old, he’d be the player we’d be talking about at the end of the game.

We kicked off and the Barnsley fans made some noise.  One flag in their end read “Hove Tykes”.  If I’d have known, I could have asked for a list with them and left that bloody car in North Wales.  Barnsley started on top – as a team shorn of their manager often do, some players to prove a point, some to impress who is coming in – and the fans around me started to vocalise their worries.

I couldn’t help noticing that Crawley employ the tiniest ballboys that I have ever seen.  One behind the goal at the opposite end looked to be all of 3 feet tall and 4 years old, although still did a half-decent job as Barnsley chances peppered the goal of Crawley keeper Lewis Price.

Assisting McLeod on his initially thankless task up front for Crawley was Mathias Pogba.  Sound familar?  He should, as he’s the brother of Juventus star Paul Pogba, a player currently touted as being worth tens of millions of pounds.  Mathias isn’t worth quite as much, although he works hard enough and puts himself about.  He does have a ridiculous haircut though, looking like someone has applied tipp-ex in a line around his head…

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 Three – Sheffield United vs Leyton Orient

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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!

…We then headed for the wrong turnstile, poked our tickets around in the automated barcode readers for a bit, and then were pointed in the direction of the turnstiles we actually needed.  It seemed very busy, and the Kop looks like a “proper” stand from the outside, stairways snaking up either side of it.  It holds over 10,000 over one tier, making it one of the largest “Kop” ends in the country.  The street behind it has a few chip shops and the like on it, and they were ridiculously busy with queues winding their way out of the door and down the road.

Once in the stadium, I grabbed a burger (which wasn’t too bad) and because it was oddly warm, didn’t have a Bovril (just 7up for me).  Tony had a pie and a coffee, but then we walked up the steps towards the seats and found a chip shop up there.  Obviously Eddy had chips and mushy peas, but did have to return them once because they were cold.  I admire him for bothering to do that; I’m the sort of weakling who would just sit there and put up with my cold chips, try and coat them in the peas to work as some kind of mashed-vegetable type blanket.

The chip shop had a “sauce station” across the way from it with all the condiments that you would want.  Most were in little sachets, but there was a massive bottle of Henderson’s Relish there as well, a very localised speciality.  I only know of it because I used to work with a lad from Chesterfield and he had to have it on EVERYTHING.  It’s like a cross between brown sauce and vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and magic.

The Kop end is massive.  Maybe it’s because of the trip to the tiny confines of Coalville, but it really is a great stand in a Premier League level stadium.  Already boisterous when we arrived, the louder and more enthusiastic Blades are concentrated towards the back of the stand and the centre, whilst we were further down and towards the corner.  The playing surface looks great these days too, I remember it always being a bit boggy back in the day…

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 Twenty Eight – Chesterfield vs Rochdale

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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!

….I’ve been to Chesterfield to watch football before, a League Cup game at their old home Saltergate.  I think Leicester won 2-0.  All I remember is one really mouthy Spireite repeatedly walking over to the fence separating the fans and making a cut throat gesture whilst fans of both sides laughed at him (especially the Chesterfield fans who wore looks of “we have to put up with this prick all the time”).  At the end of the game he did it one final time, before running off and falling down some stairs.  When we were let off of our terrace we had to walk past him being loaded into an ambulance, where he was slightly less mouthy.

I remember Saltergate being a fun ground, if a bit run down even then.  The Proact Stadium opened in 2010 and is a tad bigger.  It certainly feels like a new stadium (as they always seem to), but the fans inside it try to make it a decent place to watch football.  It seems very breezy as well, with the open corners and the peak district not a million miles away.  It’s not as windswept as Barnsley used to be back in the day, but you can tell that you’re in Derbyshire if you were dropped there unknowing.

Like all new stadiums, you can’t just buy your ticket at the turnstile.  You have to go to the ticket office, get it, and then scan it through a barcode reader at the turnstile (yes, those AGAIN).  I queued up to get mine as a Norwegian man was getting his and asking about the best place to sit on his first visit to the ground.  Maybe he was the Scandinavian version of me, I didn’t ask.  He could well have been on stage in Oslo the night before and then driven over.  He still would have spent less time in his car on the Friday than I did….

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The Football Neutral: Match Twenty Seven – Fleetwood Town vs Crewe Alexandra

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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!

….So then, it seems that I’ll be watching football in different places every weekend again this season.  But why, may you ask?  Because last season was both tremendous fun (trips to watch Guiseley, Ebbsfleet, Wigan, Portsmouth, Ajax and more) AND it seemed that me staying away from my own club (asides from a couple of times at the end of the season) made us be rather brilliant and get promoted to the Premier League.  More than one Leicester supporter has made me promise to continue watching other clubs this year – and every year – if it means we become the world-beaters that our owners want us to be.  I will not argue with that at all (plus the people who asked me to do it are bigger than me).

Obviously I’ll once again have to try and stick to my own rules – which you can read here – and I’m throwing myself the additional curveball of trying to not go back to any stadia that I visited last season (even though my own rules just state within one season).  I figure that there are enough grounds for me to go to.  Saturday was a case in point; with me working in the North West (Preston Frog and Bucket, where I did jokes about Blackpool’s lack of players.  They’re a football savvy crowd – I once did ten minutes on Nuno Gomes inexplicably ending up playing for Blackburn Rovers) I had tons of games to choose from.  Accrington was quite tempting, having never been there before and being a child of the eighties.  You know what I mean.  Read the following two words:

Accrington Stanley.

If you either read them in a Scouse accent OR followed the words with “exactly” then you’re around the same age as me.  Although that is a more long-winded and niche age test than me just reading out your birth certificate.

In the end I decided to go to Highbury.  No, not that Highbury.  That one has long since been knocked down and had overpriced flats built in its place.  I mean the home of Fleetwood Town, and this season it is a stadium that is hosting League One level football for the very first time.  You might be reading this now thinking “that’s not a big deal, it’s only League One”.  If that is the case, allow me to slap you around the gills with an amazing statistic: Just ten seasons ago, Fleetwood were playing in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division.  I’m a nerd and I didn’t know how far down the pyramid that was until I looked it up.  It’s the NINTH tier.  They’ve gone from that level to the THIRD tier in ten seasons. That is a remarkable achievement.  Seemed only right that I go and watch their first ever game at that level….

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The Football Neutral: Match Thirteen – Leyton Orient vs Sheffield United

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This is now an edited version of the original blog… you can read the full one by downloading my Football Neutral 2013/14 season review on Kindle.  Well over 300 pages of daftness. Less than £2! Thanks!

…Then came time for the football.  Quick tube journey and a bit of a walk and I was bearing down on Brisbane Road with enough time to spare to actually have a wander around the ground.  What was odd was the tube journey in; even for my trip to Dagenham and Redbridge the tube was busy with fans on the way in.  For this match, 40 minutes before kickoff… nobody.  The odd early Christmas shopper, but no fans of either team.  Was most bizarre.

Walking down the main street from the station towards the ground, fans of both sides mingled perfectly, the police keeping a watchful eye but with smiles drawn rather than batons.  It all felt really pleasant, and the pavements were packed with fans hurrying through the chill air to get the stadium and grab a bovril.  This wonderful atmosphere was shattered briefly by cries of “BBC” from a cab carrying five youths from Sheffield.  BBC, in case you were wondering, stands for “Blades Business Crew”, the firm of United hooligans.  Rest assured, your license fee does not fund them and pay for their Stone Island and Aquascutum.

Thing is, I doubt that these chaps had anything to do with said collective.  Why, do you ask?  Let me list my reasons.

(Before I do, may I say that I know a few, shall we say, “naughty” chaps who may have misbehaved at football matches in the past.  I definitely don’t condone what they’ve done, but I know enough about this subject to pass the comment below)

1:  These lads were honestly, 16 or 17.  Whilst they may have said they were in a taxi to the ground to make out they were flash, it’s infinitely more likely that they were in the cab because one of their mums gave them the money so they wouldn’t have to take the dangerous old tube.

2:  If you’re a member of a group of genuine football hooligans, do you think shouting out the name of said group from the window of a taxi that is stuck in traffic, in front of the police, alerting them to your presence, is the brightest thing to do?

3:  When the taxi went past and they shouted out said phrase, two very hard looking thirtysomething lads next to me looked at each other and, in broad Yorkshire accents, said “stupid fooking kids, making us look like twats.”  I suspect these two gentlemen may have been real members of the BBC.  They were not happy at all.

Instead of the fear that I think these kids thought their shouting would instil in the Orient fans, they drew laughter from fans of both sides, and a roll of the eyes from a policeman who radioed for his colleagues further down the road to “have a chat” with these boys, delivered with a tired sigh….

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The Football Neutral: Match Eleven – Notts County vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

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This is now an edited version of the original blog… you can read the full one by downloading my Football Neutral 2013/14 season review on Kindle.  Well over 300 pages of daftness. Less than £2! Thanks!

…It’s a pleasant walk from the city centre to Meadow Lane, through some pretty streets, along the river and past a Hooters.  I went in there with a mate once who made me swear that I’d never tell his wife that we were there.  For some reason people think it’s a strip club, rather than a sub-par version of TGI Fridays.  Presumably there’s one in Nottingham to capitalise on the stag party scene, with men flocking from far afield to realise the oft-spoken fact of there being 8 times more women than men in the city is actually an urban myth.

On my walk I bumped into two fans.  They were clad in black and white, scarves proudly on display and talking excitedly about the game.  Except they weren’t speaking English, but Italian.  We all know the association between Juventus and Notts County from eons ago, but I was genuinely surprised to see two Juve fans attending the game.  I tried to chat with them about it but neither spoke any English and my Italian stretches as far as telling a policeman than a child has stolen my wallet (the only phrase I can remember that I uttered during a trip to Naples).  Was a shame, but we shook hands and bonded briefly over football.

Media man Jamie had retweeted something I’d written about attending the game, so I had a few tweets from County fans to read through.  Most suggested that the real comedy was on the pitch at the moment, and one suggested that I bring a noose to the game.  Could it really be that bad?  I was at least going to the first home game of a new era of management at the club, with Shaun Derry installed as the gaffer.  I’ve always liked him, mainly because he’s spent the last few years patrolling midfields with the swagger and hair of Paul Weller….

This is just a tiny excerpt from the full report which you can get (along with 25 more and loads of other stuff) by downloading my ebook for less than £2.  You’d really be helping me out by buying it. Ta!