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

 

Integral Plot

Remember the cause
Don’t say because
I’ll fight to the end
Tell the truth
The energy’s gone

GAME OF THE WEEK

Ayr United 3 Albion Rovers 2

Ladbrokes League 1

Attendance: 1,426

Gate: £16

Programme: £2

For the second time this season I watched Albion Rovers.

For the second time this season The Wee Rovers provided top class entertainment.

One look at Rovers away record in the programme has your mouth watering. Prior to this their statistics on the road were P6 W4 D1 L1 F22 A12. Not many teams can match that record, especially when sitting 7th in a 10 team league.

Their opponents, The Honest Men, are in form. Sitting top of the pile they have won their last 6 games on the bounce and unbeaten since early September.

So the scene was set and the two sides did not disappoint.

As the two sides looked to find an opening there was little difference between them until the quarter of an hour when United took the lead, a flick over the top from Shankland played in Moffat who selflessly played in Moore, he was left with the easy chance of tucking the ball home, 1-0.

Rovers came back at their hosts, and 10 minutes later it was all level, a long ball down the left wing by McLaughlin should have been dealt with by Ayr’s Higgins as keeper Hart came out to assist, unfortunately for Ayr he just did nothing, the loose ball was presented to Rovers’ Higgins, who pirouetted and curled the ball over Hart from 25 yards out and near the wing. Absolute class strike. 1-1.

United looked to get control back, but 5 minutes later Rovers should have been ahead and Higgins’, the Ayr variety,  nightmare continued, he slipped 25 yards from goal, Trouten was in on goal, surely, no! he blazed over with only Hart to beat, what a chance. Now it was Ayr’s turn to try and make the most of a defensive error as Marr got all tangled up, Moffat took the ball away from him and hit the post with his shot, Albion broke and after a flowing move Shields fired well over from a good position, what a 15 minutes this had been.

As the clock ticked towards half-time United hit the post again, Ross’ header bouncing back out of the upright with Potts beaten, and right on the whistle Hart had to get down to stop an effort from Davidson.

I was off for a pie and a hot drink.

We were just getting started.

A driving run from Fisher ensured Hart had to start the second half as he finished the first with a decent save low down. United’s substitute McGuffie went through and pulled his shot wide from a tight angle. Hart pulled off a fantastic block from a close ranger header by Marr, who injured himself in the process.

With just under 20 minutes to go we started one of the best 5 minutes of football I have ever seen. United’s Forrest was played in on goal in the left inside forward position, his effort on goal was parried by Potts and as the loose ball ran across the goal Shankland was going to tap in, United fans celebrated. Only somehow his effort was blocked on the line by McLaughlin, Rovers fans celebrated. less than a minute later a burst of pace down the right from McDaid gave him space and time to pick out a pass to Shankland who this time made sure the ball hit the back of the net, United fans celebrated. 2-1

We were going now.

A neat move down Rovers right two minutes later, Vitoria’s ball gave Shields space to pick out his pass across goal, Trouten unmarked tapped into the empty net. Rovers fans celebrated. 2-2

We were cooking with gas now.

Straight from the kick-off the hosts attacked and won a corner, taken quickly a ball was played into the box by Forrest and Higgins of the Ayr variety arrived, a flick of his head and United were back in front. They celebrated, their fans did. 3-2

And that was that folks. Absolutely brilliant.

United’s home, Somerset Park, is a gem to fans of the old grounds. Unfortunately, covered terracing behind the goal to the east is closed off, as is a fair portion of the open north terracing. This stand sweeps round to the west where it becomes covered. On the South Side is the Main Stand. What a treat this stand is, a warren underneath it, finding the toilet is a task in itself. As on Rovers fan who was trying to get from the seats to the small terracing below inquiring as to how, he received the instruction “Down the stairs”, brilliant reply, but not all that simple.

I know there has been talk over the years of United moving to a new home. Please folks, stay at Somerset Park.

I normally comment on my journey to and from the grounds. Their was an issue with overhead lines near Watford. What I don’t get, is why when they know, don’t they stop the trains at the last stations they can use and bus in-between? Then trains won’t get stuck. That’s all I am going to say as Ayr United and Albion Rovers deserve my words after a great match.

ADDED ON

Finally I made it to Stockport Town.

The mantle of the nearest ground I haven’t been to now passes to Buxton.

What a match to visit. Derby Day. The hosts took the lead in the opening five minutes as debutant Pickering somehow scrambled the ball over the line from a Dwyer cross. Both sides had a number of chances in the opening 45 minutes as myself and Mr Wilks were joined by the excellent company of Rob York and Mr i B Block. Thanks for the hospitality Rob.

In the second half everything changed on a refereeing decision. Cheadle’s Whyatt was put through on goal and he managed to toe poke the ball past Forth in the Lions goal and the pair collided. Penalty? Oh yes. Red card? Very very harsh. Looked to me like the keeper made a genuine attempt to play the ball and under the new ‘double jeopardy’ rules I am not sure a sending off was the right call. Shevington converted the spot kick.

Unfortunately, the match became a bit bad tempered from here on in, as the visitors looked to make the most of their one man advantage. Step up Dwyer. The best player on the park then scored a divine chip to give Stockport the lead with 15 minutes remaining, the winger was a constant threat to the visitors all night. With 2 minutes remaining the hosts were pegged back again as Gardiner levelled the scores. 2-2. A decent game.

After scratching the nearest ground off my list, on Wednesday, the sixth nearest went as myself and Mr Wilks headed over to Eccleshill United. After a visit to the excellent Bolton Junction Traditional chippy we made our way over to the Mitton Group Stadium. United are on form, 9 games on the bounce have been won and tonight it was Ollerton Town’s task to put a stop to it. On a freezing night they gave it their best shot and for 50 minutes were very much in the game. An opener midway through the first half when Irving somehow beat Town’s keeper Brooks to a through ball, took it round him and tapped into the empty goal.

In the 50th minute it was if Harrop had seen enough, he just took the game by the scruff of its neck, claimed it, owned it, stamped all over it and then strutted off. His first was an easy finish after a through ball. Fifteen minutes later a through ball was taken round Brooks with apparent ease and finished off. He saved his best for last though, running through the midfield with the ball like he owned them both he slammed an effort into the top corner from 25 yards. 4-0 and welcome to the Luke Harrop Show! United’s run was extended to 10 as they went to the top of the table.

I started my weekend in Wales. At Prestatyn Town. Though i am not sure if I will be welcome for much longer. This was my third visit. This was their third defeat in these games. Though things are improving slightly, at least they finished the game with 11 men this time.

Llandudno were on top early on and deservedly took the lead, but this was the cue for Town to come back into the ‘Seasiders Derby’. Chances were being created but going begging until early in the second half when the visitors extended their lead twice in the awful weather. Town got a late consolation which was the least they deserved, personally 3-1 was a very harsh scoreline, and they had a claim for a draw.

The day after the Lancaster City match as we wandered through the City Centre, we were treated to Scouting for Girls doing a small set as the city lights were turned on. All glamour here you know!

GAMES

Mon: Stockport Town 2 Cheadle Town 2

Wed: Eccleshill United 4 Ollerton Town 0

Sat: Ayr United 3 Albion Rovers 2

FACTS

Games: 447

Goals:  1520

Grounds: 212

Games since a 0-0: 60

Milestone: 60 games since my last 0-0 draw.

Performance of the Week: Albion Rovers. I had intended this to be for an individual, but when you are 7th in the league and you go to top of the table, a team who are winning every game they play and you have a damn good go at them, then you win.

Chippy of the Week: Bolton Junction Traditional Fish & Chips, Bradford.

Random Fact: I have seen 199 Clean Sheets in total, who will keep #200?

SOUNDTRACK

Scared to Dance – Skids

Pressure

Gotta keep it up, keep it up
Keep up the pressure

GAME OF THE WEEK

Montrose 1 Queen of the South 3 aet (1-1 after 90 minutes)

IRN-BRU Cup Round 3

Attendance: 534

Gate: £15

Programme: £2

Since the news filtered through in the Bobbins household that my much better half (think …..) was off to London for the weekend with her mother I was on my laptop planning and plotting. First thoughts were ‘bugger it is international weekend’, before I noticed it was IRN-BRU cup weekend. Where could I get to that was different for me. Only one stood out. Montrose v Queen of the South.

Everything booked, I was to Angus.

In My I went to Dundee United, the train journey to Tayside is a beautiful journey, the added part is every bit as spectacular. I also now need to get to Arbroath, looks an amazing ground. Alighting with amazing views over Montrose Basin, I made my way to The Little Mermaid chippy for an excellent lunch of fish and chips.

Off to Links Park, the home of the Gable Endies and a ground that is close to the 5th oldest golf course in the world, see educational as well as entertainment! Entry is behind the goal to the west. Opposite and to the North is the open standing area, a Main Stand to the south is a modern covered seating structure, my favourite part of the ground is the West Stand. terracing under cover with a great little extra bit in the corner.

One thing I love about this competition, the sides come out, none of that phoney handshake malarkey and we kick-off. No messing about, game underway. Get on with it. Brilliant.

Once underway it was difficult to spot which side was a couple of divisions above the other, which is all credit to Montrose. They turned up and gave it everything. Missing a golden chance early on when McLaren could not turn a rebound home, they continued to have a go, meanwhile the Doonhamers started to gain a foothold with Dobbie of Swansea City and Blackpool fame causing trouble.

Midway through the half the hosts took the lead, Masson scoring with a low effort from just inside the box. As the visitors gained more of a foothold, Fleming was called into making a point blank save and was saved by his crossbar not long before the half ended.

Due to an injury Dykes came on for Queen of the South at the restart, his performance raised the question as to why he hadn’t started. Lively, causing the opposition trouble and testing Fleming. The pressure was being cranked up and up as the half went on. The home fans getting nervy especially as McFadden, who would 24 hours later be a pundit in the Sky Sports studio for the Scotland match, came on and added even more class.

With the clock ticking towards 89 minutes the pressure told as the ball sat up nicely for Dobbie, his finish showed he had not lost his touch, great finish from 20 yards, Fleming had no chance.

So, an extra 30 minutes. There are times when you are happy with this, times when you are not. This was certainly the former.

Both sides went close in the first 15 minutes, the woodwork saving the visitors, the keeper denying them. The second period of extra-time belonged to Queen of the South as experience and fitness told. Dykes latched on to a through ball rounded the impressive Fleming and finished, before right at the death Dobbie got his second from a seemingly impossible angle. 3-1 the final score. Harsh on Montrose that.

Back to the train station and back to Glasgow. Could do with some of that girder strength they have in IRN-BRU to get me through the journey, or I could just have a kip. I picked the zzzzz’s.

ADDED ON

I have started to take the father-in-law on a tour of some of the best (and worst) grounds locally and after waxing lyrical about Winsford United’s home the plan was made to visit when Runcorn Town were the opponents on Monday night.

In all my years of being at football, many of them as a fan, but now some 400+ games as a neutral I have never seen such an awful refereeing performance. His assistant on the main stand side was not much better. To say they favoured the league leaders would be an under statement. They got the vast majority of decisions, were let off with numerous indiscretions, the main culprit being Joseph Holt. He could have been booked 8 times that I can remember, his skipper was not too far behind, neither shown a single caution, in fact I cannot think of a team-mate getting one either. Very disappointing behaviour, shocking officiating. Oh yes, they won 4-2.

Wednesday it was up a few levels to the National League and a second trip to Prenton Park and Tranmere Rovers v Leyton Orient. As Football League clubs continue to drift down slowly, games like this become more of a norm in non-league.

Raining all evening, it was the O’s who took the lead through Harrold midway through the opening 45, only for Cook to equalise minutes later sliding home a loose ball into an unguarded net. Following the half-time break the game was pretty much all one way, and with 20 minutes left it was no surprise when Rovers took the lead, Norwood nodding home from close range. 3 points to Tranmere, myself and Mr Wilks back up the M56.

So. On to Scotland. Friday off work. Early train north despite Northern Rail’s best efforts to stop me getting to Warrington, Virgin rounded off a miserable trip with very poor service on the train. Never mind, I was in Glasgow, in my hotel and soon looking to head west for Dumbarton.

Train from Queen Street took little time in getting to Dumbarton East and the ground is little more than a 5 minutes walk from there. If in doubt head for the bloody big hill. It’s right next to that. My 201st ground and a little bit of weird one. In the shadow of Dumbarton Rock with the castle on top you feel it should be a great setting. Sadly the one and only stand faces away from the view. Three sides just have a fence around them, you feel as though the club have missed a trick with the design and layout.

Stranraer came to have a go at their hosts, but it was the Sons game from the off really, after a couple of close shaves for the visitors, Barr did well to control a ball in the area and finish from close range. An injury to the hosts keeper led to a substitution on the half hour and the lead was preserved with ease to the break.

Stranraer gave it a good go after the break but they were missing that clear cut chance, with 25 minutes left Stewart powered in a header for Dumbarton’s second and the tie was over. Or was it? Still Stranraer came forward, chances started to come more often but they couldn’t take them. That was until with virtually the last kick off the match when substitute Okoh fired in from inside a crowded box.

I headed back off into the drizzling night air and my return to Glasgow City Centre.

GAMES

Mon: Winsford United 2 Runcorn Town 4

Wed: Tranmere Rovers 2 Leyton Orient 1

Fri: Dumbarton 2 Stranraer 0

Sat: Montrose 1 Queen of the South 3 (aet)

FACTS

Games: 424

Goals:  1446

Grounds: 202

Games since a 0-0: 37

Milestone: 100th goal of the season – Dykes (Queen of the South)

SOUNDTRACK

Connected – Stereo MCs

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

Still Feeling Blue

I hope you’re out and happy now
Doing up the town ’cause you know how

GAME OF THE WEEK

Irlam 2 Parkgate 1

The Buildbase FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round

Attendance: 68

Gate: £5

Programme: £2

If it had not been for work I would not have been at this game, I would have been over the hills in Parkgate country. But I wasn’t, I was here.

It was only once I made the 5 miles journey home did I fully realise just how long it had been since my last visit to Silver Street, four weeks shy of a year or exactly 100 games. Far too long. Will not be this long again Irlam, I promise.

This ground is my ‘5 minutes journey’. Five minutes to Urmston Station, five minutes on the train, five minutes on the bus and five minutes walk up Silver Street. Easy peasy.

Clubhouse visited, Ian Williams met, hot pot bought, out to the ground to await the 2 teams. This was my 9th visit to Irlam’s home, a 50% win record for the Salford blues in my previous 8 games. My Parkgate record was just the one game, part of the Easter groundhop in 2015, a 2-1 home defeat.

Kicking off on this overcast afternoon, the hosts attacking the ’62’ end started the brighter and looked the more likely to score from the off, the reds from Rotherham just lacking that spark in the final third, the game started to get a bit niggly, something that would increase as the afternoon wore on, the referee failed to act on any of it and therefore made things worse later on.

However, halfway through the half we saw a touch of class as a move down the hosts right wing finished with Mooney coming in off the wing and firing low into the net, 1-0 Irlam. Aside from a Parkgate free-kick, which whizzed past the post the rest of the half did not leave much to remember from an entertainment point of view.

We did though see a red card and Irlam were lucky not to be reduced to 9. Following a set piece and ensuing scramble the referee blew as a visiting player was down with a head injury, with the ball still bouncing around the inevitable melee and handbags ensued. When all had been pulled apart, the blues skipper Mills had received his marching orders. Minutes later the whistle blew for half-time and Morrison’s screaming at the referee could easily have seen him see red too.

It was surely going to be a long second 45 minutes for Irlam, though to be fair they coped very well, and the big wait was for both sides out a good couple of minutes before the officials finally appeared. Give credit where it is due, you could not tell that Irlam were a man down for the rest of the game. Boland and substitute Illidge caused problems, Ledson and emergency defender Holt, looking fairly solid. Dhesi trying his best to drive the visitors forward.

With 10 minutes left the visitors grabbed an equaliser, the ball bouncing around the area, Alali rising above White and nodding in. Was I going to get an extra 30 minutes for the second time in a week? No. With five minutes to go, Irlam were awarded a penalty. No arguments, nailed on. Up step Boland, no nerves shown as he gave Ledger no chance. Game won.

So it was time to head home, courtesy of Ian Williams, First Buses, Northern Rail and my old legs.

ADDED ON

Well what do I know, as I walked along Brantingham Road I thought to myself that I should have given this game a miss. So glad I did not take my own advice. What a cracker. First half bossed by the hosts, should have gone in with a far bigger lead than the 2-1 scoreline, missing 2 great chances, 1 in particular. Totally bossed it.

After the break so did the visitors, who also could probably have finished with more goals than they did. Cracker of a game, one of those that you brag about being at, thanks to both teams.

In Glasgow with work the following day, the only option available to me was Partick Thistle v Glasgow Rangers in the BetFred Quarter-Final. Another end to end game, the 0-0 scoreline at half-time was down to poor finishing and great goalkeeping. After the break the Gers missed a glorious chance before Pena, the guy with the Jake the Snake haircut flicked the ball in with his head, or his ponytails. An equaliser in the 90th minute took us into extra-time.

There was only one team in it from this point and the Blues took a deserved place in the semi-finals.

GAMES

Mon: Maine Road 2 Runcorn Town 5

Tues: Partick Thistle 1 Glasgow Rangers 3 aet

FACTS

Games: 418

Goals:  1425

Grounds: 199

Games since a 0-0: 31

Milestone: N/A

SOUNDTRACK

GP – Gram Parsons

Just Can’t Get Enough

However, that isn’t to say the hosts were lucky. Rovers were dogged, attacked with pace and played their part in this cup-tie.

GAME

Tues: Albion Rovers 4 Hamilton Academical 4 (Albion Rovers won 4-2 on pens)

GAME OF THE WEEK

Albion Rovers 4 Hamilton Academical 4 (Albion Rovers won 4-2 on pens)

Betfred Cup 1st Round Group G

Attendance: 497

Gate: £10

Programme: £2

Ahead of my trip to Serbia, work took me back north of the border, and later than planned in my hopping life I got to visit Albion Rovers’ home, Cliftonhill, I was not disappointed either, a great old ground and one of the best games I have ever seen.

A lift off my work colleague from my city centre hotel and we were soon at the ground, a little perplexed by the 2 turnstiles, one for home fans and the other for away, not unusual I know. That is apart from the fact that once inside there was no segregation. Quirky!

You enter behind the main stand and make your way round either side of it, what greets you is a fantastic old ground, the only shame is that the end to your left and the side opposite, a big covered terrace area are no longer in use, I would have loved to have had a walk around. To the right is an open terraced stand where the majority of Accies fans congregated. It is the main stand that is the gem. An old structure with terracing at the bottom and seating in the top half, brilliant.

There probably isn’t anything that I can say about the match that others will not say. It was a cracker, the hosts had more of the ball and going off chances created they should have been out of sight. However, that isn’t to say the hosts were lucky. Rovers were dogged, attacked with pace and played their part in this cup-tie.

Taking the lead after 10 minutes through hesitation and a touch of good luck with the bounce, Rovers Trouten pounced, was a shock on the cards? As we headed towards half-time a fantastic strike by Donati levelled the score and right on the whistle Want scored the first of his brace, the Premiership team headed in for the break 2-1 up.

Surely Accies would run away with it after the break? Not a chance. Trouton got his second several minutes after the restart, the lead regained within no time by Want’s second. Once again seven minutes later Trouton equalised, this was incredible.

With quarter of an hour remaining the visitors won a penalty, converted easily by Bingham, Rovers looked spent. Was fitness going to tell? It certainly looked so. That was until the 94th minute, when Davidson blocked a clearance, ran through on goal and superbly finished from distance over Hamilton’s keeper, it was all but the last kick of the match. Penalties!

Time for a hero. Step up Graham Bowman the Albion stopper. He saved the first two Accies spot-kicks and his team-mates did the rest. The home fans celebrated, and rightly so.

If I see a better game than this during the rest of this season then I am in for a cracker.

FACTS

Games: 396

Goals:  1356

Grounds: 191

Games since a 0-0: 9

MILESTONE

700th Home Goal – Alan Trouten (2nd)

SOUNDTRACK

Speak & Spell – Depeche Mode

 

 

Many Rivers to Cross

‘ah Kyle Lafferty all over.’

GAME

Sat: Heart of Midlothian 3 East Fife 0

GAME OF THE WEEK

Heart of Midlothian 3 East Fife 0

Betfred Cup 1st Round Group B

Attendance: 6,265

Gate: £15

Programme: £3

My fourth season as a groundhopper started in Scotland a week later than anticipated due to being let down last Saturday with a lift north.

A Virgin Trains sale bought journey north from Warrington to Haymarket was not the most pleasant,  screaming kid and pensioners who walked up and down the carriage pretty much the whole way from Preston. Annoying.

Alighting into the drizzle of an Edinburgh summer I turned right out of the station and a 20 minute stroll later I was at Tynecastle, the home of Hearts, my 190th ground. Squeezing through a very tight turnstile I was inside, now I know I am not the most svelte of men, but on my travels I have met some, shall we say, larger folks. I have no idea how they would get in.

Inside the Wheatfield Stand, up the steps, pie and drink bought, I joined others looking out of the back of the stand and over towards the impressive home of the egg chasers Murrayfield Stadium. Looks good from the outside. Pre-match meal consumed, I made my way to my ‘Premium’ seat in Block B, row 16, seat 16. A fairly decent view, but not the most spacious of seats.

Tynecastle is currently undergoing the building of a new Main Stand and as such is 3 sided. East Fife’s travelling following were in the Roseburn Stand behind the goal away to my left, the home fans left with the remaining 2 stands, which they did a decent job of filling.

The hosts took the game to their opponents from the off and only ‘The Fifers’ keeper Goodfellow and the upright prevented right-back Smith from opening the scoring in the 6th minute. Six minutes later and Lafferty missed a golden chance, heading wide from close range, something he did again minutes before the break, In-between though he made amends and finished with his head from his hardest chance, ah Kyle Lafferty all over.

East Fife threatened  occasionally, assisted by Hearts stopper, Hamilton, not being the best under a high ball, flapping at a couple of crosses.

After the restart, the visitors had a couple of decent chances as the heavens opened. And boy did it rain, it rained in a way that it only can in Scotland, It rained in a way that it only can in Scotland in summer. Two years ago I was at a match in Lockerbie in July that was abandoned due to a downpour, surely not again? After 10 minutes of so of the ‘shower’ the rain eased. Slightly!

With 20 minutes or so to go, the Jambo’s doubled their lead, a corner was met by Berra, his header finding the back of the net, East Fife’s hopes over. The result in the bag, the scoring was too with 5 minutes or so left, a penalty given for a foul by Fife’s Gordon, which earned him a second yellow and his second shower of the half, Lafferty stepped up and scored, I was on my way back for my train, which was due minutes later.

The journey home was much more pleasant and peaceful. A good day out in Scotland’s Capital.

FACTS

Games: 395

Goals:  1348

Grounds: 190

Games since a 0-0: 8

SOUNDTRACK

The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff