Manchester City


Ground Nº 108Eastlands

Saturday 23 Sep 2006 

The Premiership Manchester City 2 West Ham 0 HT 0-0

Eastlands from outside

            In September my Dad came up for the weekend, and as is the norm these days, we took in a new football ground. It was his suggestion to do Man City. It was a new one for both of us and would complete my Manchester set of league grounds. I was thinking more along the lines of Stafford Rangers or Tamworth but The City of Manchester Stadium was fine, it looked a bit different from the usual boxes that are erected nowadays – it was designed by the same architects that did the Kirkless Stadium in Huddersfield and Bolton’s Reebok, so I knew it was worth seeing.  My hunger to ‘clean up’ the non-league grounds of Staffordshire would have to remain unsatiated for today.

Tickets, please

Trying to buy a ticket for a Man City game turned out to be unimaginably complicated. By the Thursday of the week before the game, and after me and my Dad had both registered against our will with the Man City website, it went into Monty Python territory. We gave up, having been told (finally) that they sell tickets on match days at the ticket office at the ground and there would be some available.

My Dad and I got the train up from Stoke to Manchester Piccadilly. It was standing room only. It occurred to me on the train that this was going to be a bit of a nostalgia trip for my Dad as he studied French at Manchester University in the mid fifties and hadn’t been back since. I guessed that maybe this was the reason he had chosen Man City for the venue today, even if it was only subconscious on his part.

My Dad was in Manchester in the Busby Babes era, he used to watch Mans Utd and City every week. He told me on the train about being at Maine Road for a local derby with 82,000 others. Apparently in those days Man City were extremely erratic and their matches often high-scoring. Man Utd were a bit more predictable. He lived on the edge off Rusholme and remembers the first Indian restaurant opening in the area which is now renowned for it. All these memories brought to mind a better era in football, and maybe in life too. Or did my Dad have a spare pair of rose tinted specs? Who knows?

Alighting©

We alighted at Piccadilly (when did trains patent the word alight?) and wandered out of the station. My dad looks around and recognises nothing from his student days. As I, too, look around it dawns on me that I remember little from coming here just 5 years ago! Manchester appears to be turning into London from what I can see. The relentless noise of buses, the background chatter of too many people, pneumatic drills and east european accents. It must be heaven if you own a scaffolding company. As we walk down from the station I was heartened to see that the Blood Donor centre was still there in all it’s bland glory.

We lunched near a plaza-type area near the Bus Station before getting a bus to Ashton via Eastlands, situated in an area called Sports City, which was home to the Commonwealth Games. Sports City had a good atmosphere about it and I even liked the peculiar piece of sculpture entitled ‘B of the Bang’, a rusty looking spiky ball on a pole. We get to the ground which reminds me from a distance of the Mexican Hat ride you get on fairgrounds. Closer inspection reveals a very aesthetically pleasing piece of architecture, even reminding me a bit of Gaudi. If Gaudi designed football stadia then this would be the closest approximate of what you’d get.

I was particularly intrigued by the four walkways at each end of the ground which looked like walnut whips, spirals of smooth access to the middle and upper tiers of the ground. They teetered on the precipice of being eyesores but they just stayed the right side of it and actually worked. You can see three of them in the above picture, although I have to say the picture does not do them justice.

Oh, I wish I’d gone to Droylsden, yes I do

Having suffered the embarrassment of wasting time trying to give a premiership club money in the week, by means of buying a ticket, we had a contingency plan in case of any more needless red tape and bureaucrasy in the name of watching a bleeding football match – and that was to hotfoot it to nearby Droylsden for their Conference North game. I think we both wished we’d chosen Droylden from the beginning anyway by this point

Well, we joined a queue for tickets on the day…then had to join another (of course) for tickets for non-something-or-other-members (jeez – they were pernickety bastards) and by 2.45 realised that it was probably too late for Droylsden but that we were really pissed off by now. The speed of the queue suggested that they were fingerprinting everyone, photocopying their passport and birth certificate and then running a check on previous convictions and any leanings toward extremist terrorist groups. I don’t exaggerate – it was a ludicrous situation and made me angry, kind of sapping all the fun out of a fun day out.

As I neared the ticket booth I vowed that this would be my last dalliance with the Premiership. Within seconds though, Villa Park and Goodison Park had appeared in my mind looking indignant at my thought. If they were people rather than stadia they would be chastising me for my lack of faith, eschewing their Archibald Leitch stands just because of a bit of over-zealousness in the organisation of modern football. The thought made me smile. They were right. I couldn’t miss out on the beauty of these grounds just because of what the premiership had done to football. I should rise above it – after all none of it was Archibald Leitch’s fault.

Curves

Eastlands insideThe ground was nice, impressive even. It looked smaller than from the outside. It was difficult to imagine 48,000 in here. It was a much sexier stadium for having the curves and the disparity of three tiers on two sides and two on the others.

The match was OK. It wasn’t great though, certainly not £30 worth of great, but the individual performance of Georgios Samaras was almost worth it in itself. He was outstanding from start to finish and certainly shined in a first half of extreme lack of self confidence from both sides. He scored both goals in a 2-0 win too. He was the only one I saw who was of an obviously better class than the usual dross I’m used to with Brighton.

The day was good and topped off by alighting (there’s that word again) at Longport and walking to Burslem’s finest alehouse for a couple of pints of Titanic and then on to the Elms for a curry. Man City’s stadium is a beauty but the difficulty with which to watch them is a serious problem and probably explains their 8,000 shortfall on capacity at most home games to some extent.

I can’t wait now for Market Drayton vs Oadby in the Midland Alliance – back to proper football and none of this sitting down nonsense!

Market Drayton Town


Ground Nº 109Greenfields

Saturday 14 Oct 2006

Midland Alliance Market Drayton FC 2 Oadby Town FC 2 HT 0-1 Att: 87
Greenfields Main Stand

From the Premiership to the Midland Alliance within the space of three weeks. A discount of eight divisions and £27 on the entrance fee. The Midland Alliance is the sort of league where chants of

There’s only four of you singing

and

There’s no-one there, there’s no-one there…

are more likely to be just statements of fact rather than derisive taunts between fans.
Despite the eight league difference I was as excited about this game as I was Man City three weeks hence. I’d never done a Midland Alliance fixture before so engaged in a bit of research in the week.

The Polymac Services Ltd Midland Football Alliance is at the fifth tier of non-league football (with the Conference being the first tier). Promotion would be to either the Southern League Midland division or the Northern First (Unibond). They have some of the most enchanting sounding team names that would seem more apt in a Charles Dickens novel than a league table: Boldmere St Michaels, Friar Lane & Epworth, Romulus, Quorn, Biddulph Victoria and today’s visitors Oadby. Is Oadby willing?

I picked up Tom on the way, fellow non-league aficionado and grounds connoisseur, who’s home town of Leamington were, coincidentally, a long way top of the Midland Alliance. We drove the 22 miles, much of which was among pleasing woodland with overhanging trees forming natural tunnels, down to the 8th century market town and spiritual home of gingerbread. It struck me as a pleasant, affluent little town that rarely wakes. As we entered its borders it opened a sleepy eye, viewed us with avuncular benevolence and went back to its slumbers.

Finding the ground is always tricky at this level – there are no floodlights looming majestically on the horizon anywhere, no throngs of people with replica shirts shuffling their way in the same direction. We had gone in and out of the town centre before Tom’s keen vision spotted a couple of small pylons that could be floodlights. We headed in their direction through a new housing estate and down a one track lane to the ground. It was in a nice sylvan setting with the small car park betwixt the ground and a cricket pitch.

We entered Greenfields Park, no turnstile, just a man who told us it was £3 and handed out some free raffle tickets. We bought a programme each too. Greenfields is a tidy little ground. There is one stand (pictured above). I counted 108 seats, six seats up in two blocks of nine. They looked more like pews than your normal stadium seats. Maybe they had done a swap with the local church which now had lurid red flip-down bucket seats! Next to the stand was a portacabin from which they sold refreshments and club merchandise. Apart from this there was just the standard issue railing separating pitch and spectators, but it was gleaming with fresh paint.

Radio 5 live was playing loudly from the PA system which was an unexpected treat. We went round to the main area to buy coffee, and continued around the ground. The floodlights were appealing, cute even; small metal simple constructions with a protective wooden sheath round the bottom, a square hole had been cut into the wood through which we could see some switches!
Apart from the obvious, there were two things about this experience that were markedly different from a premiership game. First, the coffee was 3 times cheaper, just as nice if not nicer, and there was no queue. Secondly, as the game kicked off it occurred to Tom and I that we didn’t know which team was playing in which colour. We remained ignorant for a further two minutes; I proposed the theory that Market Drayton had a blue sounding name. I was wrong. The programme revealed that Oadby were in the all blue retro Italian style kit and Market Drayton were in the red.
There looked to be around 100 fans in the ground, possibly more. We spotted someone who was undoubtedly ‘one of us’ and he meandered furtively round with his camera poised, eyes betraying a childish excitement. I was interested to know how many away fans there were from Oadby. With no fan segregational at this level the only way to tell was to see who celebrated when they scored or eavesdrop on conversations.

The idea of chanting between fans at this level amuses me. A friend went to watch Alsager Town vs Castleton Gabriels a few years back and claims there was one away fan, an old gent with a pipe who regularly shouted ‘Play up the Gabs!’ If he really was the only one he could’ve sung:
I thought you were shit – I was right! or Come and join me, come and join me, come and join me over here!
I think there were four definites from Oadby. I spied them as their team took the lead around the half hour mark. A good run down the right and a firm, accurate cross was met perfectly by their number nine who poked it into the back of the net. There was only one pocket of fans celebrating; the four of them positioned by the pristine wooden dug outs on the far side ‘went off’ like a dud-bomb. It got me wondering whether celebrations at this level of football were more muted on account of self-consciousness rather than lack of passion.
Greenfields (view from main stand)

Oadby deserved their half-time lead. It hadn’t been a pretty first half but they’d been a bit more slick and looked the more confident of the two teams. A lot of hoofing, thudding and misplaced passes made it fairly unmemorable. It was easy to drift off and admire the crisp autumn sky and stillness of the location.
The second half saw a much more resurgent Market Drayton who, while maybe not any more skilful, certainly looked more up for it. After hitting the bar once and a fierce drive deflecting on to a post on another attack, the equaliser finally arrived. The Oadby keeper could only parry a header to the awaiting number 7 who chested it down before banging it in the net from 6 yards.

The polite applause had barely died down when a long Oadby ball down the middle found the number 9 onside in a swathe of open space. He skilfully hooked the ball over the onrushing keeper and, with time to spare, stroked the ball in for 2-1. The Oadby faithful went off again. How I wished that they’d start singing with arms pointing at us, now stood behind the Oadby goal:

Will you come to Oadby Town! Will you come to Oadby Town! Who are ya? Who are ya?

Alas, they remained quiet. The home fans started to find their voice, though, encouraging their team to search for the equaliser. After a few near misses a last ditch effort in injury time resulted in an almighty scramble, the ball headed back into the six yard box into a sea of legs and after some pinball the ball was kicked out by an Oadby defender but it only got as far as an oncoming red-socked shin and back into the net for 2-2. Tom and I joined in the celebrations, a deserved end to all their efforts

Greenfields floodlightThere was only time for the restart before the ref blew for full time. The Oadby captain’s scream of FUCKING BOLLOCKS soared out into the crisp Shropshire air as we all ambled out very happily from a most pleasing afternoon’s entertainment.Will the last person to leave the ground please turn the floodlights out!

Links: Market Drayton Town FC

Oadby Town FC

Midland Alliance