The atmosphere is left outside the ground.

Continuing my 70th Birthday celebrations my daughter and son and I made our way to see Everton play Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

None of us had been to Goodison before, it being my daughter’s 89th current League venue and my son’s 81st.

The day was sunny but with the start of Storm Ciara threatened. As you get near it is Anfield that dominates the skyline and we drove round its perimeter the ground has become an enormous arena with more to follow. Some of the old terraced house streets have been demolished to enlarge the footprint of the ground and increase the concourse and the football related shops and kiosks. There are some new houses that have been built and more to follow., the whole area is in regeneration mode.

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I was last here on December 13th 1995 for an evening game between the Netherlands and Eire which was a qualifier for Euro 96. The Netherlands won the game 2 nil but the most significant action of the night was when a large Mercedes pulled up in the terraced street opposite to where we were parked and 4 very well dressed men came out of the car to the boot where they discarded their expensive clothes for orange boiler suits, orange hard hats and boots. They marched of towards the ground and when I was inside I saw why, a sea of orange, such dedication and support.

Near Anfield in Stanley park is a very large tarmaced car park where we parked which is used by Everton and liverpool for their home games and the general public at other times. The walk across Stanley park is friendly and the green space and lake are well kept.

Through the trees you come upon Goodison Park and a vibrant atmosphere, club shop, fans area with music, food stands, local pubs, fish and chip shop, cafes, a Lambretta in Everton Colours, a modern street marching brand (representing Everton in the community), football statues of  Alan Ball, Dixie Dean, Colin Harvey Howard Kendall and a definite buzz in the air.

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Walking round the ground you notice it is all clothed in signage for the club so you are unable to see the architecture of the ground. Queing up next to the Crystal Palace fans who are being scanned by two sniffer dogs you eventually enter the ground. Immediately you notice that the sairway has seen better days and that there are no chips because they cannot be cooked in a stand that has wooden floors. The scouse pie we bought instead was dry, hard and not good, we eat it in the cramped seating because there are few areas to balance it and your drink on in the understand concourse.

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Goodison soon fills to a 38987 attendance which is surprisingly quiet, in fact the small band of Palace supporters who have journeyed to this 12.30 kick off from South London out sing the home crowd all game.

Perhaps the fans are waiting for the plans of the new ground next to the Mersey to come to fruition, have been totally worn down by the domination of their near neighbours or have become depressed by their mid table achievement each season. This may also explain the great atmosphere outside that is stifled once they enter the stadium.

The club started as St Domingo FC a local chapel in Everton and assumed the local area name in 1878/. They were one of the small band of clubs who formed the Football League being winners 9 times as well as FA Cup winners on 5 occasions and 1 European Cup Winners Cup. An amazing pedigree that you hope Carlo Ancelloti can build on in the future.

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Palace too have a long history with a Crystal Palace named team known to be in existence since 1861  with the current club started in 1905. They have never one any of the major Trophies but have in recent years established themselves in the Premier League. Roy Hodgson the very respected football manager has been in charge for two and a half seasons and they look likely to secure their status in the Premier League again this season.

Everton 3 Crystal Palace 1

 

Everton started the game the more dominant with slow build ups from the back to bring Theo Wallcott into the game. it was from one of these moves that Walcott beat thedefenders to deliver a cross into the centre of the goal that was met by Bernard who steered it over the goalkeepers left hand into the net.

Just 6 minutes later on 22 minutes Walcott lay injured on what looked like a heavily strapped leg and after trying to continue was subbed two minutes later.

Everton played out the half with both sides looking nervy and unwilling to really have a go at the opposition. Roy Hodgson must have roused the troops with his half time talk as the Eagles pressed forward and within 6 minutes of the restart were level when Zaha put Benteke through to slot the ball under Pickford who should have done better.

The game fell back into some srappy play until on the hour Richarlison, by far the best player on the pitch, ran on to a long ball, twisted and skipped past the Palace defence to send a curling shot past a defenceless keeper.

The game was put beyond Palace’s return with a few minutes left when that man Richarlason rose to head a ball delivered from a corner against the crossbar which fell to Calvert-Lewin to tap in.

Everton have slowly crept up to 7th in the League only losing one top flight game in their last 11 while Palace’s losing run leaves them only 6 points above West Ham in 17th place.

A great day out but an expensive one with the cost of my ticket being just over the price of two tickets to see Hellas Verona in Serie A only two weeks before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, What a Night

A quick turn round from the trip to Verona and it’s off to see Aston Villa play Leicester City in the Semi Final second leg of the Carabao Cup.

The fans outside were happy as they ambled to the third second leg final in four years. The omens were good having won through the previous two but tonight it was against Leicester City who trounced Villa at home 1-4 in the League. This though was a cup game and Villa had looked good in the first leg 1-1 draw. The belief was there despite the betting industry having Leicester as odds on favourites. Villa Park has seen many Semi Finals and great games but most fans were buzzing and only looking back to last week when Villa dug out an improbable 2-1 win in the last minute at home to Watford to move out of the relegation places.

Once inside Villa Park it was straight to buy some chips which I didn’t smother with curry sauce to enable me to compare them with others. The chips were hot, large, thick and well cooked but flowery scoring 68. But the best chips of the season so far were the ones made for me by my daughter on my 70th Birthday card, definitely a score of 100.

 

The ground filled quickly and the full house soon found their voice.

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Aston Villa 2 Leicester City 1

(3-2 on aggregate)

Leicester were the first to settle and if it wasn’t for Orja Nylands acrobatics to palm shots with his left hand round the post they would have taken an unassailable lead. On twelve minutes though Villa Park erupted as Jack Grealish running into the penalty area somehow wrong footed the Leicester defence by back healing a ball with his right foot onto his left and into the path of Matt Target who was all alone on the left side of the penalty area. From an acute angle he smashed it across Schmeichel into the far corner of the net.

Nyland was again soon in action as he heroically managed to get his fingertips to a Youri  Tielmans blockbuster to send it onto the bar and out of play. It all happened so quickly that it wasn’t until it was replayed on the screen that the crowd gasped and roared enthusiastically. Villa were letting the opposition come on to them but were still being dangerous on the break. During this period of play they had to endure a strong shout for a penalty when a shot seemed to hit Marvelous Nakamba’s arm. It was waived away by the referee and his decision was confirmed by a VAR review.

The half ended with Villa still leading but with the home crowd anxious for a larger lead.

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Villa kept Leicester at bay and created good chances including a second for new signing Mbwana Samatta that the striker somehow contrived to miss completely from close range. His second miss of the match but at least he showed great promise in being in the right position.

Vardy came on to change Leicester’s fortunes  and in the 72nd minute Harvey Baines hit a low cross in from the left which Iheanacho confidently tapped home.

It was now a tense open game, first Maddison came close for the visitors and Trezeguet fluffed a good chance when through. It seemed that Evans header that went wide from Maddison’s corner in the 89th minute would be the final act.

With the last two minutes of added time left and penalties looming a high cross from the right by Elmohamady, who had not long replaced Guilbert, looped over the back peddling defence to reach Trezeguet at the far post who guided it past Schmeichel and into the net. The Villa players celebrated as some Leicester players lay prostrate on the ground. Trezeguet stayed knelt on the ground as if praying for thanks for the delivery of the goal made by the two Egyptians. It was not all over though as Leicester were awarded a free-kick in the centre of the of the pitch within scoring distance but the ballooning of the ball over the bar was the last of the action and Villa were through to the March 1st Wembley final.

The pitch invasion was disappointing but that couldn’t take away the relief and happiness of the fans. A hug with my son, songs and smiles everywhere were continued as fans walked away from the ground.

After beating the team that recently beat them 1-4 at home they now face the team that recently beat them 1-6 in the Premiership, Manchester City.

An away trip to Bournemouth on Saturday is another perhaps more important final in their fight to retain their Premier League status.

 

Hellas Verona 3 Lecce 0

A Love affair With Verona.

Many people visit Verona ‘The City of Love’, as we were told by the owner of the Bed and Breakfast we stayed in, because of the story of Romeo and Juliet’ but for me this 70th birthday trip was inspired by Tim Park’s book ‘A Season with Verona’.

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I read the book 15 years ago and it is not just a football book about Tim following a season with Hellas Verona F.C. in Serie A but also a travel guide, a description of Italian Culture, and warm personal expression of the personalities and experiences of it’s fans, players and officials. Hellas Verona were fighting relegation which is not unusual for this under achieving club which did once win the Serie A title back in the 1984/85 season.

Tim Parks was was born in Manchester in 1954 , grew up in London, studied at Cambridge and Harvard and moved to Italy in 1981. He worked as a Professor at the University  in Verona and has written many books and literary pieces. Tim has become fully embedded in the Italian way of life and with his Italian born wife brought up a family of three children.

I have read some of Tim’s other books and they are all so well written, absorbing and easy to read.

The Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi is set in a  residential area a short walk from the ancient historic quarter of Verona, the concrete arena similar to the Roman Arena only 30 minutes walk away. It was built in 1963 and updated in 1990 for the FIFA World Cup and is the eighth largest stadium in Italy used for multi teams, sports and concerts.

To get in you must first show Photo ID to match the names on the tickets and then move on to the second gate where you scan your ticket and to pass through a turnstile. At 30 minutes before the start there is singing and chanting that is drawing you up the concrete steps to find your seat. The bars and food kiosks are busy but no chips here. I could have satisfied my Chip League score outside the ground where there are many stalls but that would not have been in keeping with my rules.

The seats were high up and just on the edge of the Curve Sud the home of the ‘Hellas Ultras’ who have draped many banners everywhere, some are holding up monstrous flags on poles and others waving the yellow and blue flags handed out free to everyone entering the ground.

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The grey drizzly weather has given way to to blue skies with wispy high clouds and the biting cold wind has subsided to nothing. The pitch is perfectly flat as you would expect at this level but the middle of the pitch at the southern end is well sanded due to the wearing grass.

You are further away from the pitch as normal due to the running track but this does not spoil the atmosphere that is building as the teams come out. A passionate song about the giallo e blu lead into one song/chant after another, many nare favourites you can hear all over Europe. The passion throughout the game is exactly as Tim Parks had described although the ferocity of the supporters may have mellowed.

Hellas are back in Serie A this season and their hometown rivals who also play at this stadium, Chievo, were relegated to Serie B last season so bragging rites are all with Hellas. The game starts with some chanting from the small contingent of Lecce fans who are way off in the upper reaches of the ground and it reminds me of the small band of Accrington Stanley fans at the Stadium of Light on a Friday night last season.

Lecce started the game the more confident team and Lapadula had a shot cleared off the line after rounding the goalkeeper after which Verona started to dominate the game. It was no surprise that they took the lead on 19 minutes when a curled in corner from the left was met by the head of Pawel Dawidowicz for the lead.

Lecce had to substitute their goalkeeper Gabriel for Vigorito  about 5 minutes later after what appeared to be a leg injury.

Most of the Verona attacks were down the left which may have been because the right side of the pitch seemed very soft and was cutting up easily.  It was again a ball in from the left that saw Verona get their second goal, another header, this time by Matteo Pessina.

Lecce did come close when with 3 minutes of added time just ending Zan Majer clipped the crossbar from range.

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The second half was dominated by Hellas and made worse for Lecce with the sending off of Cristian Dell’Orca for a second bookable offence. The game was petering out and two fans to the left decided to take off their tops and display tans that must have been forged in the summer and whip up the support around them and then to the whole stadium. May be not coincidental but a few minutes later on 87 minutes the goalkeeper rushed out and upended the acrobatic Sofyan Ambrabat to give Giampaolo Pazzini the chance to smash the penalty straight down the middle and give Hellas Verona a very comfortable three nil win.

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The atmosphere throughout the game and outside was very relaxed and parked near one entrance was a sea of motorbikes, reminiscent of Matlock Bath on a weekend.

The daily paper ‘La gazzetta dello Sport’ covered the game the next day and this publication must be a reason for learning Italian.

Finally thank you Tim Parks for inspiring me to make the trip, it was thoroughly, fascinating,  enthralling and enjoyable.  Your writing is up there with the great football writers of Brian Glanville and Hugh McIlvanney in making you feel totally involved in what is written.

 

 

The fight back delayed.

I visited Athersley Recreation FC on Wednesday evening to see them play Maltby Main FC in the Toolstation Northern Counties East, Premier Division. I had been to this ground in the past but that was to see the now defunct Shaw Lane AFC who were ground sharing at the time. It is on the edge of a housing estate in North Barnsley and has a handy car park down a narrow entrance between two houses.

The clear night was cold with a biting wind. The pitch was heavy and slightly sloped towards each goal with muddy areas down the centre of the pitch having taken a hammering with all of the recent rain.

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My first port of call was the snack bar for a large tray of chips and a coffee and I sat down in the cosy and warm portakabin bar area.

I ventured out a few minutes before kickoff to see a reasonable crowd of 117 had braved the elements.

Athersley Recreation FC 0 Maltby Main FC 3

Athersley had a very young side particularly up front and had two clear chances in the first 15 minutes although Maltby looked the more polished side. It was no surprise that on 28 minutes Jonathan Hill was left alone in front of the goalkeeper to score Maltby’s first after some neat passing. Athersley never gave up and dominated the ten minutes before half time.

Bovril this time at half time to warm the hands,  it tasted good, being quite strong compared to some.

Maltby’s strength was beginning to show and they further increased their lead on 61 minutes when Rory Coleman guided the ball  from a narrow angle on the left of the goalkeeper to make it two nil. This was after a strong run from Hill from near the halfway line.

Just 3 minutes later a ball through to Maltby’s Foster beat the offside trap and Ross Pritchard in the Recreation goal raced out and fouled him on the edge of his area. The referee took time to consult his linesman who was nearer the incident and the goalkeeper was lucky only to be shown a yellow card. Maltby reacted quickly and Coleman swung in a ball with the Athersley defence not fully prepared and it went into the back of the net off a home defenders head.

Athersley kept at it but didn’t create any strong chances. This was despite Kane Swinburn (No 10) terrorising from the right wing but not being able to make a decisive pass after such good work.

The result consolidated Maltby’s mid table position while Athersley are fully rooted to the bottom with only 9 points, 4 away from their nearest rivals, despite some recent better performances. Considering the fact that they did compete for the whole match they could still make up the difference.

The game was competitive but fair and there was no repeat of my Saturday experience when the two teams constantly harangued the referee.

 

It was good to see Dan Jarvis, Local Barnsley Central MP and Mayor of Sheffield City Region supporting Athersley in the program.

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The large portion of chips and coffee were £2.70 with the chips being hot, crispy and tasty. A slight burnt taste to the oil meant a score of 68.

 

 

 

Forging a new identity.

I’ve been meaning to go to Ollerton Town FC for some time and finally made it to this small town in North Nottinghamshire within the area known as the Dukeries just on the edge of Sherwood Forest. Once a farming community noted for its hop growing it became a mining community in 1920 with the sinking of a coal pit that attracted miners from all over Britain and some from Europe. The mine went in 1994 and the area now looks for a new identity.

Ollerton Town FC’s ground is located in a housing estate surrounded by some grassy areas that is used for training and parking. The immediate reaction to the welcome and facilities is homely. You can see the edge of Sherwood Forest from the ground and pigs roam a nearby field. Like other clubs at this level there are Youth and Ladies sections to the club and this can bee seen in the number of younger players in their team, particularly the forwards. I have noticed that more clubs at this level are bringing through youngsters at an earlier age which is due to them developing local talent and not having to pay the wages of non-league journeymen.

There has been a football team in Ollerton from the late 1800’s and was called Ollerton Colliery for a time up to 1988 when it folded. Reformed in 1988 as Ollerton and Bevercotes Miners Welfare it changed again in 1994 to Ollerton Town FC with the demise of mining. The club have developed well in local football and are now in the Northern Counties East League Division 1 and taking part in the FA Vase. Their current aim is to establish themselves at this level and eventually be elected to take part in the FA Cup.

The game I went to see was a League game against Hallam FC. Hallam as I have written before have an amazing pedigree being the second oldest football team in the world, took part in the world’s oldest derby against Sheffield FC, play at the World’s Oldest Football Ground still in use and possess the World’s Oldest “knock out cup”, the “Youdan Cup”, some pedigree.

Ollerton Town FC 0 Hallam FC 0

The pitch had a slight end to end slope and an undulating surface with good grass cover. The temperature of 8 degrees was a lot colder in the strong developing wind with grey overcast skies that were heavy with occasional rain spots. 112 fans braved the wind with a good away support from Hallam.

I have been to some nil nil draws that have been fantastic matches but this was decidedly uninspiring. The lack of a team sheet meant I did not know who was who but the stand out performance was Hallam’s number 11 who hit the woodwork or bar three times and his harrying led to an Ollerton defender handballing in the penalty from a long throw in. He did not take the penalty 15 minutes into the second half but this was trusted to their captain number 9 who hit it to the left of the goalkeeper who calmly palmed it around the post for a corner. The Ollerton forward line were energetic and skillful but overall Hallam must have felt this was 2 points lost rather than one gained. Ollerton now sit just one above the relegation positions in the league with Hallam just below half way.

The game was competitive and the word ref was being shouted continually as each side contested all of his decisions. Some strong abuse by the home management and some of their players that was directed towards him at half time was unseemly and should have been dealt with firmly.

The food area was small but very warm, friendly and needed on this cold day. The chips were red hot, thick, golden and tasty and with a cup of coffee only £2. The Chips scored a very good 74.

Real Park Football

A short move along the A6 Trunk Road from Boxing Day’s  Matlock game you come to Bakewell.

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Today I’m not visiting this Derbyshire market town for a much sought after Bakewell Pudding but to see Bakewell Town FC play Long Eaton United Community in the Central Midland Football league Macron Store Stoke Division One South.

A Bakewell Town FC have been in existence since 1883 but todays incarnation is from a merger of three local teams in the 1999/2000 season to play in the Hope Valley League and to step up to the Central Midlands League recently. Long Eaton United Community are the reserves side of Long Eaton United and field a very youthful development team.

The players get changed in the Cricket Pavillion and the home team put up the nets, corner flags and a one strand perimeter fence in the Recreation Park. A crowd of about 30 comes and goes during the game with the stalwarts using the park benches to watch in comfort.

The pitch was flat but a bit bumpy, wet through and heavy but the grey skies do not look like rain. The recreation ground was busy with people walking dogs and just strolling with the backdrop of the Derbyshire hills.

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Bakewell 1 Long Eaton 3

Long Eaton are a very youthful side and their deliberate short interpassing game saw a dividend on 5 minutes when No.9 turned neatly and fired under the Goalkeeper for the lead. Bakewell didn’t give up and their more physical game exerted enough pressure to draw level through Aaron Maund whose run and shot from the left was deflected to loop over the Long Eaton keeper. Half time soon came round and was a reflection of how well the young referee had kept the game moving to the point of no added time being needed.

A quick ten minute half time break for this 2 o’clock kick off, no lights here, got us back in action and Bakewell started stronger. Long Eaton though were still very much in the game and on 62 minutes No.9 again netted, with his left foot this time, after his first attempt was blocked.

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The Long Eaton keeper who made some good saved, particularly with his legs to beat advancing forwards, made a wander save from point blank range with 25 minutes left when a goal seemed certain. Just a minute later the Long Eaton No. 7 hit the crossbar with a free kick which should have been scrambled home by the attackers.

With just a few minutes left the No. 9 for Long Eaton scored his hat trick when a shot from the left was deflected in off the goalkeeper.

Long Eatons Nos. 7&9  and Bakewells No. 2 were the men of the match.

No refreshments here and no charge. Perhaps a bucket collection would have gained some money for the club and the players efforts who gave a competitive enjoyable game on a difficult surface.

Traffic Flow reversed on A6

It’s always a pleasure to get out on Boxing Day to get some fresh air and see a football match. A trip to Matlock to see the A6 derby was a reverse of last years visit to Buxton.

The Matlock ground is one of the most iconic and picturesque in the country, three sides for supporters and the fourth open to the next door cricket pitch. It is overlooked by Riber Castle atop of the hills overlooking the ground which are shrouded in swirling clouds and although only 3 o’clock its seems that night time has started early. The pitch is flat being on the river Derwent valley floor opposite a glorious local park that is bordered by the river. Matlock is the county town of Derbyshire and this battle is for bragging rights in the Peak District.

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The pitch is in good condition considering recent weather and a crowd of 922, 42 more than last years fixture have turned up. Matlock started the season well and looked promotion candidates in the early fixtures but have lately been slipping down the league to be just below half way. Buxton by contrast have all season been in the relegation area and recent results have seen them start to climb to a safer position.

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Matlock Town 2 Buxton 4

This Betvictor Northern Premier League game started with a bang and within 5 minutes Matlock were two nil ahead. The first goal after just 2 minutes came from a high speculative cross from Matlocks Luke Dean to the far post which was headed in by Luke Hinsley who was challenged by Grant Shenton in the Buxton goal who felt he had been fouled.  A few minutes later a through ball was met by Tomas Poole who neatly hit the ball with the outside of his right foot to the right of the diving Shenton.

Buxton did not collapse and started to take control with their completed pass rate much superior to Matlock’s and a definite stronger will to win and attack the ball.

To the confusion of the crowd on 26 minutes the referee walked off the pitch handing over to his senior assistant and a plea to the crowd for an assistant referee at this level was met by a spectator, Mark Tracey. Buxton continued their ascendancy and were rewarded on 38 minutes when Alex Byrne riffled home after Matlock failed to clear four shots on goal from Buxton.

Matlock were ahead at the break but the second half started as dramatically as the first with Buxton equalising after just 90 seconds of the restart. A long throw in from the right was missed by two Matlock defenders giving Liam Hardy an easy tap in goal.

Buxton now dominated further and Matlock seemed to lose heart and direction as the half continued. Two goals from Diego De Girolamo on 55 and 88 minutes wrapped up a very comprehensive win for the visitors. His first taken cooly when a ball threaded to him behind the home defence was placed easily past the lonely Dan Wallis in goal and the second a gift from a bad pass by Bailey Gooda allowing him to dribble the ball into the net.

The Matlock Manager quoted from their official website summed it up perfectly although I did feel that Buxton’s more positive attitude had a major effect.

“All four goals were down to our errors, we’ve got to be better than that” said Matlock boss Steve Kittrick afterwards. “It was a comedy of errors, Buxton didn’t have to really work for their goals and it’s disappointing after doing so well in the last two or three games.”

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Really good food here and I was not surprised by the queue. The chips were cooked in a large deep fryer and were piping hot, golden and crispy outside, good value for £2 and a magnificent score of 80.