Talk About the Passion

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world

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GAME OF THE WEEK

Sandbach United 1 Abbey Hulton United 2

The Hallmark Security League First Division

Attendance: 136

Gate: £5

Programme: Not seen for sale

So with the festivities over for another day, time to get out the Christmas coat/scarf/hat/gloves/jumper, you get the picture, and head off to a local derby. Ashton United and Droylsden both called their games off, so as Mr Wilks picked me up there was no plan. I mentioned Sandbach United and we were on our way.

An unexpected new ground, my 214th and the second nearest to my home that I have never been to. That statistic has now gone to their opponents for the day, Abbey Hulton United.

After a quick tour of the streets of Sandbach trying to find a cash machine, we finally got to the Sandbach Community Football Centre, at least a ground without a sponsorship name, but not one that would roll off the tongue for the fans in a song. ‘We are Sandbach, super Sandbach, from…’ Once parked, we made our way in, passing the match board with the visitors name spelled incorrectly, always a pre-match winner for the opposition manager.

What a centre this is, football pitches all over and I am sure that the local community benefit enormously from this facility, just a pity that there isn’t more like it across the country and in particular the region. The main pitch is fenced off  and is only accessible on two sides. The main side where the clubhouse and changing rooms are housed behind is open standing and also includes a nice patio area that I am sure the club use to great effect in sunnier times. Behind the goal to the right of the clubhouse is also available to watch the game from. In addition to the Colin Oakes Stand, a covered seated new structure and then the best is saved for last; there are two wonderfully crafted wooden covered standing areas. Superb folks, superb, love them.

As the sides came out a 135 game run came to an end. At last a female official. Only the 13th I have ever seen and a year, two months and eighteen days since the last one I had witnessed. As the game in this country makes this great public parade about being diverse I think that seeing 11 in 438 games in the four home countries is a pretty poor show, especially when 3 of those are repeat appearances by a previously seen official. For those who cannot be bothered with the maths, I have seen a different female official once every 55 games. Hardly something to brag about is it?

Back to the match and another official made this game. The referee. From the off the hosts were in charge and attacked more and with a little more purpose, but also pretty much from the off the man in charge allowed things to go. He several times signalled he was playing an advantage when there wasn’t an actual foul. That should not detract from a cracking game though.

Sandbach were wasting chances, Abbey were defending manically at times but it took the hosts until the half hour mark for them to take the lead, as Abbey had been attacking the goal came on the break, Jones finishing off a good move. As the half-time whistle came, both sides were starting to turn this derby into a feisty affair. The referee just waved play on.

Out for the second period and we continued as we left the first half, tackles flying in, challenges that make this game, proper football. Sandbach were missing chances, surely they wouldn’t rue them. Abbey got a little more of the ball and looked dangerous on the break, then a moment of pure inspiration. Williams who had been battling in midfield picked up the ball and from 25 yards out unleashed an unstoppable shot, 1-1. Abbey were level. Surely they couldn’t win it.

The equaliser changed the game, Abbey started to boss the game more, Sandbach players were getting riled. Whether it was Abbey’s game plan or not, they had brought Sandbach into a battle and they were winning it. Then with 5 minutes remaining the comeback was complete. Abbey were in the ascendancy and pushing at this point, when Wooliscroft saw his chance he curled it beyond Moss into the back of the net. Abbey’s players celebrated. Abbey’s bench celebrated. Abbey’s fan celebrated.

Sandbach tried to get back into it, but their threat had gone. Abbey Hulton claimed all three points.

ADDED ON

After a great experience earlier in the year at Parkhead, another visit was always on the cards (as will another be). Another road-trip with Mr Wilks. Ducks at Tebay Services are always worth a visit as you pass.

Then onto Glasgow and a chippy lunch. Already pre-selected, we passed close by Hampden Park as we made our way to ‘Hooked’. If you are ever in this area, you must give this chippy a go. Delicious.

The match itself was watched from the lung bursting upper tier of the Lisbon Lions Stand, Mr Wilksy hiding the fact that there is a lift as we walked up countless steps out into the ground and another 30 or so when we emerged into the open. Breathing back to normal the teams came out and we got underway. Until the opening goal in the 40th minute this was an even game, both sides having half chances and looking to create. Boyata lost the ball to Mackay-Steven who then dragged his shot just wide, At the other end, Sinclair shot straight at Lewis when clean through.

Celtic then got their stroke of luck, Lustig’s effort striking Ball on the back and looping into the opposite side of the goal, Lewis had no chance, 1-0 to the Hoops.

After the break it was pretty much Celtic’s, Dembele fired wide, headed over from a corner, fired over. The Dons went close at the other end, a McLean shot taking a deflection and creeping just wide, though that was a rare foray into the bhoys territory. With 20 minutes remaining it was 2-0, a Sinclair cross was headed away, hit Arnason and bounced into Hayes’ path for him to slot home, 2-0. Followed minutes later by the third, clearing a corner the task of playing the ball back to Lewis was McLean’s responsibility. He failed. Ntcham intervened, went round Lewis and scored. 3-0.

The only thing left to do was have a fog effected drive home. We’ll be back soon.

GAMES

Sat: Glasgow Celtic 3 Aberdeen 0

Mon: Sandbach United 1 Abbey Hulton United 2

FACTS

Games: 452

Goals:  1547

Grounds: 214

Games since a 0-0: 65

Milestones: Total attendances over 400k; Season attendances over 200k; 200th Clean Sheet; 200th goal of the season – Stephen Jones (Sandbach United)

Performance of the Week: Abbey Hulton United’s fans. Sang and cheered their team to victory and made a great atmosphere from their temporary home in the Colin Oakes Stand.

Chippy of the Week: Hooked, Glasgow

Random Fact: For the first time in 135 games, or 1 year 2 months and 17 days if you like, I saw a female official.

SOUNDTRACK

Murmur – REM

 

Lisbon

‘You’re gonna look at me twice, it’s eventual’

GAME OF THE WEEK

Glasgow Celtic 2 Hibernian 2

Ladbrokes Premiership

Attendance: 59,259

Gate: £35

Programme: £3

A figure like 200 requires something special. Very special.

So for my 200th ground, I wanted to do something a bit over the top compared to where I usually go. So I put together a list and there was one standout option. Glasgow Celtic. Parkhead. Home of the Lisbon Lions. First British side to win the European Cup. A club with a special history.

Ticket bought over the old internet, I had decided to pay the extra few quid for a padded seat and would be watching the game from the Jock Stein Stand. First of all though I had to get there. Setting off from home at 9am in the company of my pal Mr Wilks, we were soon driving through sun then rain, then sun again and then rain again. Stopping for refreshments en route a couple of times we arrived in the East End of Scotland’s biggest city.

Parked up we headed to the ground, had a walk around, headed to the club shop, had a gander and then parted for the game. Yes, we were sat in opposite stands. Don’t like him that much!

Once inside Parkhead the buzz grew, even whilst I was having a drink on the concourse, the music was playing. This place is special. Out to my seat, soaked up the atmosphere and waited for the afternoon to unfold. A version of ‘Dirty Old Town’ was played, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was belted out by the fans and finally the teams come out. Followed by the home boss, to a big cheer, then followed by old boss, Neil Lennon, returning to Celtic for the first time as a visiting boss, cue massive cheer.

Situated at the opposite end to me, in the railed seating (standing) area are the fantastic Green Brigade. They never stopped singing, waving flags. I need to be in this end at some point of my life.

Attacking the end hosting the ‘Green Brigade’ the hoops started the better, though Hibs were obviously not over awed and attacked when they could rather than just sitting back. Half chances were appearing at both ends. Celtic struck first, Dembele holding the ball up until McGregor arrived on the scene, controlled the pass and dispatched the ball into the back of the net, 1-0.

Efforts straight at the keepers were swapped before the best chance of the game, Boyle was put clean through, running 40 yards he was just about to pull the trigger when somehow Boyata had got back and prevented the equaliser.

Things got even better at half-time. Picking out the winning ticket was Coolio. Brilliant!

Second half saw the introduction of Sinclair for the largely ineffective Edouard, but apart from one effort from the sub, it was the visitors that had taken the game by the scruff of its neck, especially McGinn. He was bossing it, Ntcham was struggling. It was no surprise when in the 53rd minute the ball broke on the edge of the box for McGinn, he hammered into the bottom corner, their fans went mad, 1-1.

Whittaker headed just over from a free-kick then came a moment of brilliance. A corner flicked on at the near post and there was Whittaker to make it 2-1 for Hibs. Somehow Gordon got across and kept his effort out, If you haven’t seen it, Google it. It is incredible. I cannot remember ever seeing a better save.

Then Hibs took the lead. With just 13 minutes to go, McGinn again picked up a loose ball and hammered it past Gordon, 2-1 to Hibs. Was the unbelievable going to happen, was a 57 domestic game unbeaten run going to come to an end? Was Neil Lennon going to do the unthinkable?

No.

The lead lasted 3 minutes.

A ball to the far post broke in the area, who was on hand? McGregor. Side footing the ball past Laidlaw and also a stray boot on the line. 2-2. The release was enormous.

I can only imagine what it would have been like had Celtic been awarded a penalty in added on time. How the referee missed the hug given to Sinclair yards in front of him I will never know. Though to be fair a draw was a fair result.

Game over, I headed back to meet Mr W and the long trip home.

A great day. I am going to come back. Again and again. Love it.

ADDED ON

At one point every season I will be at a match around this point when the weather has turned, I am ill prepared clothes wise and I think to myself ‘Why on earth do I bother?’. Then the football entertains me and all such thoughts go out of my head. High flying Linnets made the trip north on this cold, wet and thoroughly miserable Wednesday evening and totally controlled the opening 45 minutes.

A strike from Bryant just past the halfway point of the first half was all the visitors had to show for their efforts when the players went in for the break. They should have had more. Quite a few more.

As the teams swapped ends so did the pattern of play, the hosts were reduced to 10 for a second yellow to right back Brown, and then picked up their game. Darwen went for it, as the weather continued to play havoc, they were eventually unlucky not to grab a point. Good effort lads.

Linnets may well look back on this as a very important evening. Awful weather, didn’t play particularly well, opposition had some decent chances, but they still came away with all 3 points.

GAMES

Wed: AFC Darwen 0 Runcorn Linnets 1

Sat: Glasgow Celtic 2 Hibernian 2

FACTS

Games: 420

Goals:  1430

Grounds: 200

Games since a 0-0: 33

Milestone: 200th Ground – Glasgow Celtic

SOUNDTRACK

My Love is Cool – Wolf Alice