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Euro 2016 Diary – Part 2

Thursday 16th June 2016 – England 2 – 1 Wales

Euro 2016 Group B @ Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, France

“Don’t take me home, please don’t take me home, I just don’t want to go to work, I wanna stay here, and drink all the beer, Please don’t, Please don’t take me home…”

Day 2 started with a fuzzy head; Belgian beers are very more-ish, but they do provide some pain the morning after.

Lille was drizzly and grey that morning, but alive with activity as it sought to feed breakfast, and send to Lens the 30,000 or so English and Welsh fans residing there temporarily. This was the day of arguably one of the stand-out matches of the group stage; England vs Wales.

My knowledge of Lens prior to getting tickets for this one was limited to the fact that if you wanted to turn a French team into the next Real Madrid on Championship Manager 01/02, RC Lens were a decent choice. I was surprised therefore to find out that the capacity of the Stade Bollaert-Delelis (38k) is larger than the actual population of the town (32k).

Lens is reached from Lille via train in c. 45 minutes. We booked our tickets in advance, but the French authorities scrapped designated tickets, and let you travel whenever. Extra trains were laid on, and whilst the queues snaked round the station, the process of shifting fans was relatively quick and painless.

Upon arriving at Lens the sun was out; it was forecast to hose it down all day, so this was an unexpected surprise. The ground was visible in the distance to the left of the train station. The road which led there was already thronging with both sets of fans.

If events of the last week had reflected badly on England fans, this match was a fantastic reflection of the good side of both sets of fans. Lens had a real party atmosphere with largely good nature all round. The alcohol ban that was placed on Lens was seemingly non-existent, with the five pubs en-route the ground overflowing onto the street, and locals selling cans to those who wanted them.

Stade Bollaert-Delelis, once the town has been cleared, is reached via a park; the trees made it difficult to photograph from the outside. Security was slightly slower than at Russia vs Slovakia, a mixture I believe of most fans opting to turn up closer to kick-off and also smaller checkpoints – they seemed a bit overwhelmed.

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The ground reminded me of a slightly more modern Upton Park. Our seats were in the upper-tier behind the goal; this was the official England end (with Wales opposite). I’m not sure how many Wales took, but the ground appeared to be three-quarters England, with the bulk of the stands to both left and right also seemingly taken by England fans.

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Hodgson had picked an unchanged side from the one which drew with Russia in the previous game. With Slovakia beating Russia the day before, the group had been blown wide open (though with 3rd place also able to qualify, it is arguably now always open). Rivalry aside, the stakes for this one were high. A loss for England, and Wales would be through, with England needing a win against Slovakia to stand any chance of qualifying. A win for England and winning the group would be in their hands, and it would be Wales with the bulk of the pressure in the final game. I had this one down as 2-2.

Post anthems, the atmosphere was, and continued to be, both tense and full on. This was helped by the stewards allowing standing behind the goals.

It was Wales that went in ahead at half-time. Whilst not overly impressive, they had a slight edge on an England side seemingly devoid of ideas and alternatives when they didn’t work. Raheem Sterling played like somebody who knew he was having a nightmare. Wales fans were signing “England’s going home….” throughout.

Half-time was massive for Roy Hodgson; Coleman had got his substitutions right against Slovakia, and it was to be that Roy did the same against Wales.

A couple of minutes after the break and Vardy scored, sending three of the four stands into chaos and a fully blown “Jamie Vardy party”. Post-match highlights show there was an argument for offside, but it wasn’t obvious at the time. England maintained the pressure from then on, sending on an extra striker at one point in the form of Marcus Rashford, who whilst inexperienced, looked lively.

It was all out attack for England, but it looked like it was heading for a draw. Then in injury time, roughly the same point as when Russia equalised the previous Saturday, Sturridge bagged the three points. Despair for the Welsh fans, the polar opposite for England. Watching the celebrations, including Joe Hart run the entire length of the pitch, you would have thought England had won the entire competition. But this was a big three points, and could mean an easier path through the knockout stages.

Post-match the party continued; Wales fans have to be applauded, as whilst gutted, they accepted defeat with good humour, and seemed intent on continuing to enjoy themselves rather than be down about it all. We opted to hang back in Lens for a couple of hours and have a few beers whilst the queues for the train back shortened, albeit only slightly.

The walk back through Lille to our digs seemed somewhat more peaceful than the evening before. The bars were full, but it seemed more like people having a couple of final beers as opposed to chucking as much down their necks as they could.

So there is my Euro 2016; two great grounds and two very entertaining matches. The good (mostly) and the bad of fans at tournaments. And a fair few beers along the way. One more thing ticked off the footballing bucket list also.

The rest will be enjoyed on TV as I head towards fatherhood, unemployment (for a short time hopefully) and another season of Hull City AFC. To those who read and are still out or heading to France, stay safe and enjoy!

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Euro 2016 Diary – Part 1

Wednesday 15th June 2016 – Russia 1 – 2 Slovakia

Euro 2016 Group B @ Stade Pierre-Mouroy, Lille, France

Euro 96 was were it all began for me as a fan. The first international tournament I was aware of, and from that moment on, an aim to visit one myself, and experience the atmosphere that a month of solid football would offer. With the next two World Cups being held in a seemingly unfriendly Russia and the human rights violation that is Qatar, and Euro 2020 being designated a continental musical chairs, coupled with an impending new arrival in the family, Euro 2016 was to be that final opportunity (for now).

Despite applying for dozens of tickets in the ballot, I was initially only successful in obtaining one pair of group stage tickets for a Thursday afternoon game in Lens. A bit of a disappointment, and it seemed like a waste to take three days off work for one game. Then the draw was made – and that crummy fixture turned out to be England vs Wales – more on that in Part 2.

So it was on. And to add a bit more depth to the trip, I managed to get further tickets in the re-sale for Russia vs Slovakia in Lille the day before. Lille was to be our base. Hotels booked. Eurostar sorted. Pubs scouted. I was really looking forward to this.

Then Marseille happened…..

Suddenly a trip to a Lille filled with English, Welsh, and seemingly hell-bent on destruction Russian fans didn’t seem so attractive. Twitter accounts over the weekend detailed how innocents, as well as the usual so-called louts, had been picked off by these state-sponsored thugs from the east. I wasn’t fancying having my jaw dislodged from my face in a Lille backstreet or being tear gassed by French police. Family asked me not to go. Friends asked me to reconsider. Packing for the trip of a lifetime suddenly seemed like I was preparing to head off to the frontline. But to not go would be accepting that hooliganism has won. After much debate, my friend and I decided Russia vs Slovakia was to be done as planned, and we would do our best to enjoy it, despite the apprehension!

Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mouroy isn’t at all central but easy to get to nonetheless. Our train arrived in Lille just before 1pm. The ground can be reached from the centre by taking the Metro (yellow line, all the way to the end) which is a short-walk away at Gard de Lille Flandres. My notes on Euro 2016 will feature a few comments on how badly organised it was; the Lille metro is the first example. Whilst the trains ran on time and were frequent, no preparations whatsoever were made for the increased number of people using the network – the queues for tickets were huge, and it took us over half an hour to get ours.

Fifteen minutes after boarding we arrived at the end of the line; the ground is c. 10 minutes walk from the metro station. And here is the second example of bad organisation. The French police have received significant criticism for their handling of crowds. Whilst there were plenty present looking mean outside the metro station and the ground, if anything were to happen in the walkway between the two, it would probably be five minutes before anybody arrived to control the situation. No security at all present anywhere unless it was a landmark, or there was an opportunity to sit on a bench.

We went through two sets of security before we reached the ground, no stone left unturned seemingly (except, post-Marseille, for the coat of the Russian who got a flare in, the Croats who got dozens of flares in, and the Turks who also got flares in…..)

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The ground itself is striking in appearance; a continuous bowl with a razor blade texture on the outside (which I believe lights up at night, but our game was at 3pm, so I didn’t see this for myself). A small fan park had been setup outside selling food and drink and also merchandise; as inside the ground, and to be expected, both were very expensive. Two pints of beer cost €13. I say beer, but Carlsberg have for this tournament provided an incredible 0.5% proof tipple! Now the alcohol content isn’t everything, but when you order a beer, you expect a proper beer! Amazingly there was also a non-alcoholic version!

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I feel like I have moaned a lot already, so some positives. The ground inside really is great – very spacious concourses, impressive exterior, and fantastic sight lines. The roof was closed for this match adding to the atmosphere.

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Our seats that day were in the upper-tier of the Yellow block (technically the away end) above the noisy Slovakian fans behind the goal. The Slovakian fans really were good value, and in terrific voice. Our own stand included a number of their contingent who obviously couldn’t get tickets via their FA, and also lots of English, French, German and Belgian fans. I even spotted some Dutch and Scots (clearly lost)! The Russians were opposite behind the goal, and markedly much fewer in number compared to their opposition.

The ground wasn’t full though; at 50,000, Stade Pierre-Mouroy isn’t small, but the corporate seats around the middle were largely empty, which felt a shame. That said, this wasn’t a standout group game, so perhaps understandable.

UEFA put on a pre-game opening ceremony (this is done before every game…..) which involves a lot of running around and shouting. On the latter point, shouting is something of a theme at Euro 2016, with over enthusiastic presenters seemingly discovering nirvana when announcing everything including who the third choice goalkeepers are.

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But to the game. Russia drew their opener with England. Slovakia lost 2-1 against Wales, and were propping up the group. My own views were that Russia, despite their point, looked the poorest side in the competition, and that Slovakia were slightly unlucky against Wales, who seemed to be riding high on the occasion in their opener (helped by a couple of well-timed substitutions from Chris Coleman). My pre-game prediction was 2-1 to Slovakia.

And I was right….!

Slovakia dominated the first half, and exploited weaknesses in a poor Russian defence (something England couldn’t do in the previous game). Both goals carved open Russia’s back line. Hamsik’s second was sublime and a joy to watch. The game was pretty much won at half-time. The Slovakians were loving it and in cracking voice, helped by the continuous thud of a drum.

Russia came back into it in the second half, but Slovakia looked in control. A goal did however come in the 80th minute, and Russia had a route back into the game. We had decided a few minutes before the goal that we would leave five minutes before the end; this isn’t something I normally do, but we still had concerns following trouble at the weekend, and also had to check into our digs at some point. The appearance of a flare following the Russian goal was frankly quite remarkable given firstly the emphasis on terrorism at this tournament, and also following the use of a flare gun in Russia’s last game. The stewards quickly dealt with it, but we left at that point, not wanting to risk more fun and games.

Upon getting back into town, we took a cab to our apartment near the zoo. Lille was full of English and Welsh fans by this point, many of whom had clearly been on the sauce for some hours. From what we saw it was relatively good-natured at that point (c. 5.45pm), albeit the police had seemingly penned most people into around five pubs near the train station and the main square.

That said….

Yes it was good-natured (by the vast majority), but we did see people relieving themselves in the street, and anti-Russian songs seemed to be the order of the day, so it was perhaps not surprising trouble occurred later on. The reasons why are debated at length on the internet; I can only comment on what I saw passing through. All day drinking will invariably lead to trouble at some point.

Apartment sorted, our evening was spent in the very pleasant surroundings of La Guinguette de la Marine, and later on, Le Corfou. Belgian beers were enjoyed from an actual glass (plastic only elsewhere in town) to accompany an amazing pork dish, and the France vs Albania game watched with the locals, with police helicopters hovering in the distance. A nice end (for us) to a day in which we had initially had serious safety concerns. Euro 2016 – so far so good!

Other photos from the day

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Dusseldorf Part 2 – Land of Little Pea

Saturday 30th April 2016 – Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2 – 1 Hertha Berlin

Bundesliga @ BayArena, Germany

Our second installment of the Düsseldorf weekend was to be Bayer Leverkusen playing host to Hertha Berlin; our original intention was to get to Borussia Dortmund, but given every man and his dog wants to go now, and the fact there were seven of us, it was nearly impossible to get tickets without parting with at least €300 each. So Bayer Leverkusen it was to be (Bayer 04 Leverkusen to give them their full name).

If MSV Duisburg was to be the equivalent of a drug fuelled all-nighter, Bayer Leverkusen was the 6am carrot juice sat on a sofa in a chillout bar.

To bunch Leverkusen into the category of a Düsseldorf weekend is slightly misleading; Leverkusen is technically closer to rival city Cologne, but was easily reachable from our base by train (price of which was included in the match ticket).

As the name of the club might suggest, Leverkusen is dominated by German pharma giant, Bayer AG. The biggest employer in the area, the club and ground is owned by the company (naming rights too obviously).

Like Duisburg, we didn’t actually need to go into Leverkusen itself to reach the BayArena. From the station, the ground is a 5 minute walk through parkland.

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The ground was redeveloped in the early part of the century with the intention of hosting World Cup 2006 games. At 30k capacity however, it was deemed too small. The outside of the ground is nothing short of impressive and almost space-age. I have read elsewhere that Bayer Leverkusen are German football’s, albeit much more successful, equivalent to Wigan Athletic. Ever present in the top flight (which Wigan once were), impressive ground, but with a small local populace / fanbase.

My previous experience of Bayer Leverkusen has been their regular match ups against English clubs in the Champion’s League. Indeed, this was 3rd vs Hertha Berlin in 4th. And at the this stage in the season, could prove a deciding fixture as to who gets the riches of the CL next season.

Inside the ground, Leverkusen also sported a featureless concrete concourse, similar to Duisburg. There was a slighty more corporate feel to the BayArena, and annoyingly they employ the system where you have to put money on a pre-paid card in order to purchase beer.

Getting tickets for this fixture was slightly tricky, and not cheap, at €35. We were seated to the left of the away fans, who were sandwiched between our stand along the length of the pitch and some corporate boxes. To the left of us behind the goal was a terrace which was making a good amount of noise.

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The BayArena feels relatively compact inside; the most striking feature is the roof, with a surreal circular hole in the middle. The ground is impressive, though slightly puzzling in terms of layout.

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Bayer Leverkusen secured CL football in this game, which goal wise was done and dusted by half-time. Leverkusen’s two goal lead (which started on the 2nd minute) being halved, but in all seriousness, Hertha Berlin never looked like getting back into the game. Hats off to their fans – who numbered c. 1,500 – for singing throughout.

There were no flares like the night before, and whilst the atmosphere was still decent, felt like something of an anti-climax compared to the previous evening. Tickets on the terrace were hard to come by, I imagine the experience would have been better had we been there. Seats in the other stands are however spacious and offer decent views of the pitch.

BayArena is a top quality ground that was a pleasure to visit – it just lacks what you might expect from a German crowd.

So a throughly enjoyable trip to an area that is packed with football clubs and ground ticks. Düsseldorf made for an excellent base for multiple ground visits. German football is to be applauded; terraces, drinking in the stands, (largely) affordable tickets, friendly fans, and travel thrown into your matchday ticket.

And I feel like a new allegiance was formed with MSV Duisburg. In which case, it looks like we may be going back in 2017…!

Other photos from BayArena

 

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Dusseldorf Trip Part 1 – Zebras

Friday 29th April 2016 – MSV Duisburg 2 – 1 Fortuna Düsseldorf

Bundesliga 2 @ MSV-Arena, Duisburg

“He’s the Georgian Messi, mate….”

So last month I went to Germany. Düsseldorf to be exact, used as a base for visiting two of the many clubs based in Germany’s Upper-Rhine region (and to take advantage of the excellent pubs in the Old Town of course).

The first trip was on Friday night to the MSV-Arena, home of MSV Duisburg. At the time of booking, MSV Duisburg were rooted to the bottom of Bundesliga 2, and despite this being a local derby against Fortuna Düsseldorf, we were apprehensive as to whether this would be one turning up.

We were not to be disappointed.

Duisburg is one of the smaller towns in the area, and like much of its surroundings, heavily industrialised. To get to the MSV-Arena however, which sits on the outskirts, you don’t need to go into the town itself. Which whilst a shame, fit in with our flights. It took two attempts to get on the S-Bhan, such was the throng of Fortuna fans travelling alongside us, but after that it is a 35 minute journey, and roughly 10 minute walk at the other side.

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The ground itself, whilst large (over 30k in capacity), looks basic from the outside, pretty much a large steel and concrete square. Our tickets that day were on the home terrace, a snip at €12.

Once inside, you are greeted by an open concourse, selling beer and food (all of which looked delicious – and was a far cry from the pie and rubbery hot dog served in the UK). The first lesson for us however was get there early, particularly for a local derby. The terrace was packed even 45 minutes before KO. Speaking to the locals, Duisburg’s lowly position this season means they average no more than 22k supporters for most matches. But being against local rivals, this was  a full house. So we had to make do, at first, with a small strip next to the seating area, which didn’t offer the greatest views of the pitch, but did offer a decent vantage point to observe the festivities kicking off in the rest of the stand.

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Roughly 20 minutes before kick off, and aided by the announcer and some music, the home fans started a barrage of songs, flag waving, and general rowdiness. It was impressive. My last experience of German football had been in the St. Pauli away end at 1860 Munich, where despite their reputation, it was a relatively tame affair. The demonstration of support extended way beyond kick off, though the flags were lost as soon as the whistle went, ceremoniously thrown below the stand.

A word also for the Düsseldorf fans. Whilst fairly quiet in the first half, the ground was filled with smoke from flares in the second, and at one point the match was stopped whilst the chap swinging a flare round on some rope was asked to stop. Most of the actions of fans in Germany would result in a banning order back home, here it was just part of the fun.

The match itself, as you might expect for two teams at the foot of Bundesliga 2, whilst low in quality, was played at the high tempo characteristic of a local derby and a game where so much at stake. A loss for Duisburg would almost certainly confine them to German third division football. A win would give them a chance, and drag Duisburg into the mix.

A local we befriended described Duisburg as being like Villa that season; they looked doomed by Christmas. But unlike Villa, they mounted an incredible comeback. Düsseldorf he described as Chelsea; richer than most clubs in that division and expected to win promotion with ease, but whose team of stars had not gelled, and now resided in the bottom half.

He also advised that if Duisburg scored we would be soaked in beer. Just after the half-time break they did. And we were.

The first goal took the atmosphere to a new level; the aforementioned flares came out and the Duisburg fans increased the volume. A second goal wasn’t far behind – a victory against the local enemy, made shaky by Düsseldorf pulling one back, was secured and they were in with a chance of beating the drop.

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The party, and beer drinking, continued long after the final whistle. I’m not sure how the customary Premier League quick wave at the fans would go down in Germany, were mutual worship post-game appears the norm.

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It is difficult to articulate afterwards how good the atmosphere really was. In what could have been a dead rubber – Duisburg looked doomed when the tickets were booked – turned out to be a cracking local derby, and set is up nicely for a weekend of football. As I write this a month on, unfortunately Duisburg did go down, losing in the relegation play-offs. It is however well worth the trip, and if you can get a game against one of their local rivals, all the better.

 

Other photos from the MSV-Arena

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Play-Off Awesomeness

Saturday 14th May 2016 – Derby County 0 – 3 Hull City AFC

Championship Play-Off SF 1st Leg @ Pride Park, Derby

“…..Sheffield Wednesday, we’re coming for you…..”

Wow. Just wow. It is a rare moment when a performance just comes together, but when it does it is truly amazing. Fans, players, manager and occasion all joined forces and created something simultaneously remarkable and devastating.

Derby were well and truly ‘mauled’ yesterday; I hope I am not eating these words at 10pm on Tuesday, but this tie looks dead already. Forfeit now! The second-leg is surely a formality?! I’m not going to apologise for the arrogance or over-optimism in this post. If you can’t enjoy being 3-0 up half way through a two-legged tie, then when can you boast and gloat?!

After a season of never quite getting out of second gear, but always staying near the top, City left the automatic promotion spots towards the end of March, like somebody sneaking out of a party because the girl he was looking to chat up had snogged his best mate. It was an anti-climatic end to the season both on and off the pitch (more on the latter later) that ended with the aim of the last 3 games being to ‘grab 4th’ and have the benefit of the second leg at home.

And 4th it was. And our opponents? Derby County. A team that had beaten us 2-0 and 4-0 already this term. Nobody really wanted the play-offs; the club, the manager, the fans, and probably not the players – there has been an air of superiority around the club this season, and deservedly so. If this was Football Manager we’d have walked the league.

But we didn’t. And the play-offs it was. And on a sunny, but slightly nippy, May Saturday, the Tiger Nation ventured to the East Midlands.

I have only ever been to Derby for the football. I have therefore never been in the City centre. It could be beautiful (it probably isn’t though). But the location of Pride Park (or more recently, the iPro), whilst close to the train station, is not central. The early kick-off for Sky also meant there was little time for exploring beforehand – an 8am start from Kent, I arrived just after 11am, and made my way to the ground.

To get to Pride Park from the station is relatively simple, and depending on the length of your legs, takes 10-15 minutes. Like a lot of new builds, this one is through a retail park. Once you have ventured past the car dealerships and resisted the temptations of Chiquitos however, the ground itself is quite a sizeable affair. Capacity is just shy of 34k, making it one of the bigger grounds in the Championship (until next season when Villa and Newcastle arrive).

The club is to applauded however as despite the location, there are a myriad of food and drinks options outside the ground, including a small fans park (which looked like home fans only…), the usual burger fans joined by a host of pop-up options, a Starbucks and a Greggs!!! This writer opted for a pop-up burger which at £3.50 was deemed reasonable value, but I stopped short of the egg-cup sized portion of chips on the side (an extra £3).

Sup that day was in the ground – about £3 a pint. Nothing special. Lager, bitter or cider. But it did the job.

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Hull fans were situated in one of the corners. To our left was the rowdier of the home fans also behind the goal. The inside of the ground is pretty neat – it came almost as a surprise as it was probably about 7 years since I had last been. Despite being right at the back, the view of the pitch was fantastic. A stadium, that without sounding cliché, would not be out-of-place in the league above.

As it was play-off day, a great scene was made for Sky, who were no doubt throwing out all the usual “such a difficult league”, “so close to call” type superlatives beforehand. Derby opted to provide flags and confetti for the home fans to throw around and provide some ‘passion’ for the cameras.

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City fans opted to lift red cards en-masse instead, a protest aimed at the Allam family who continue to persist in ‘not fucking off’. Many have written on the subject much more eloquently than I will attempt, but a ticket price structure that sees kids and OAPs pay as much as adults is lunacy and could have a serious impact on the long-term supporter base of the club. Stop it now.

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But on with the show…

Protests over and City fans got behind their team. The stewards didn’t attempt to make anybody sit down, and cap tipped, were genuinely good value all day from what I saw. Once the flag waving fun was over, the Derby fans were relatively more subdued despite their team having most of the possession and being the better side in the opening exchanges.

On the half hour mark though City struck first. Hernandez shot from just outside the area and 1-0 it was. From where I was stood it looked like Carson should have saved it. But I wasn’t going to complain!

Derby had looked good before that, and I was expecting them to come back all guns blazing given the occasion.

Not to be. Being blunt, they shat it. They completely imploded and it looked like half-time could not come quickly enough for them. A bit (ok a lot) of luck was involved for the second; a shot from Odubajo (he’s magic you know….) ricocheted off the arse of Jason Shackell and Carson was beaten again. Chaos in the away end. The Derby lot started filing out for their half-time brews five minutes early. City fans were suddenly feeling confident enough to start singing about Wembley.

My mate booked his hotel in London at half time.

After the break I was again expecting a response from Derby but nothing came. Perennial continental butter fingers Eldin Jakupovic deputized for Alan McGregor on the day which had me worried, but Derby didn’t really test him.

The second half seemed much of a nothing. Derby tried to get forward. They even brought on Darren Bent. But City were in control. The fans just enjoying the occasion.

A third would have been nice but we weren’t feeling greedy. But a third we got. I didn’t really see it that well from my vantage point, but deep into second half injury time Robertson slotted home to send the tie to the mortuary. More chaos in the away end. Game. Set. And match. Barring nothing short of a total meltdown on Tuesday, Hull City will play their final game of the 2015/2016 season at Wembley Stadium. Our fourth visit since 2008. And a high likelihood of being in with a chance to say we have beaten both Sheffield clubs at our national stadium.

There are some games that live long in the memory. This will be one of them.

City are ace again. Bring on 28th May.

 

Footnote / Special Mention

I can’t end this blog entry without mentioning North Ferriby United; FA Trophy Winners in 2015 and promoted to the National League ‘proper’ (Conference for us traditionals) this weekend after an extra time 2-1 against AFC Fylde – a fantastic achievement. This is a club which at the start of the season looked like it was going down a couple of leagues to make the books balance. A village of 4,000 mixing it with fallen giants. Hope they enjoy the moment!! I look forward to seeing them when they travel south next season!

 

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Nearly there….

Saturday 9th April 2016 – Huddersfield Town 2 – 2 Hull City AFC

Championship @ John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield

….but also seemingly some way off. Automatic promotion is way beyond the horizon. And a play-off spot not a given. But after 39 games, Hull have hit the buffers. The defeat to Boro before the international break was put right with a 4-0 defeat of Bristol City a week prior, but the reverse scoreline was inflicted mid-week at Derby.

The team look done. Bruce looks out of ideas. Results at this stage come with massive ramifications.

But of the seven games remaining prior to last Saturday, all are against sides in the bottom half. We have the easiest run-in. Get back to winning ways and secure a play-off spot. You never know, others might falter and we might sneak second.

The start of this ‘easy run’ was away to Huddersfield Town.

Unless in the event of the play-offs Hull play on a Saturday away, this was to be my last City away game of the 15/16 season, and possibly, with my first born due in August, the last for some time….

I had not been to Huddersfield before. The previous trip I could make was subject to severe restrictions on travelling fans from our friends at West Yorkshire Police. That wasn’t to be this time (though their presence was somewhat over the top).

We didn’t venture far for our watering hole that day. To the right of the exit at Huddersfield Station is the very agreeable Head of Steam pub. On tap, a wide selection of locals ales, and good grub. The door staff enforced a ‘no football shirts’ policy, but otherwise very friendly. Definitely to be included in ‘Worth a sup…‘, and one benefit of perhaps staying down is going back there next season!

We spent too long in the pub so got a cab to the ground (only a fiver) though the walk is only 10-15 minutes if you opt to go on foot from the train station.

Huddersfield is the birthplace of Rugby League (as the below pictures show), and the John Smith’s Stadium (or Galpharm) is shared between the football club and the town’s rugby league team.

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The approach is quite ‘Wycombe-esque‘ – it feels as though you are walking towards a forest of some sort as you get nearer, though it is not an out-of-town ground at all. The design is four arched tiers with gaps in each corner – it actually looks quite impressive, and the design is certainly unique. The concourse is outside, but on a sunny April Saturday wasn’t an issue.

Unsurprisingly John Smiths is sold inside alongside the usual fare. Our seats that day were in the South Stand (or Chadwick Lawrence Stand) where views were decent, and stewards allowing us all to stand.

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Strangely in the stand opposite was a mural that looked like something out of communist Cuba, but it was a good touch:

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I was expecting a decent atmosphere given this was a Yorkshire derby. The home ends were however relatively empty, with swathes of empty seats (official attendance just shy of 13,000) – that said Huddersfield have in effect nothing to play for – it may have been a factor. They won’t go down, but nor will they threaten the top places. Hull only brought a couple of thousand too, so the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, rising on 19:04 for a missed chorus of “City til I die” on the two-year anniversary of the FA putting our deluded owner back in his box.

As for the match, Hull continued with their frustrating form, against a team that looked nothing special. It was however the ‘Nothings Specials’ that went ahead five minutes before the break, leaving the travelling fans wondering whether it really could be two defeats in a row. At one point the gap with 7th placed Cardiff had shortened to just three points…..

The match continued in the same way in the second half, and was pretty unremarkable. But on 76, our Uruguayan top scorer rediscovered the ability to hit the back of the net. Cue smoke bombs and wild celebrations. It felt dirty though. Undeserved.

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A draw felt more ok as time passed. Huddersfield were not really pushing, but nor were City. Or they didn’t seem able to. One of the two. It looked all over though on the stroke of 90, when Harry Maguire bundled into his own net. 2-1.

Comments around me turned to it being time for Bruce to go. That the squad didn’t care. That we had snatched an overall season defeat from one of such promise. So it was with some half-heartedness when Norway’s very own Nick Proschwitz, Diomande, equalised. Again, it felt wrong. Undeserved.

But a point is as they say, a point. The damage morale wise that could have been done by another defeat would undoubtedly have been huge.

But the players, and management, should still be questioning how it came to this. How are we now 4th and way off automatic promotion when we looked in danger of being champions in January? How do players, some of whom on paper are better than those playing for the sides in the bottom three of the league above, play like this? How do they turn it around? Is Bruce really distracted by the Villa job?

My own view is Bruce should drop all those out of form, forget the top 2, and focus on getting back to winning ways. The play-offs is all about momentum. And we need some of that, and with some urgency!

City aside, Huddersfield was a decent trip out, albeit atmosphere a little flat. Some good boozing to be had in town, and one of the better identikit stadiums to watch a match in.

In the nicest possible way though, I hope we are not back next season. But I think we probably will be!

“…that’s why you’re staying down…”

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Chairboys

Saturday 12th March 2016 – Wycombe Wanderers 1 – 0 Stevenage FC

League Two @ Adams Park, High Wycombe

“Time wasting bastards, we know what we are….”

A totally random ground tick, born out of a reunion between old university housemates, and dictated largely by geography.

I’ve not a great deal experience with either club. My first recollection of Wycombe Wanderers as a football fan was their famous win against Leicester in the cup back in 2001 (the one with the striker who they signed via Teletext…) and more recently though Matt Bloomfield’s column on the BBC Sport website.

Stevenage FC (or Stevenage Borough in earlier memories) seemed to be a club always knocking on the door of the football league, but denied because their ground wasn’t up to scratch. When we agreed on this fixture, Teddy Sherringham was in charge – a draw of sorts in itself – but he has since departed.

So play-off chasing Wycombe, versus drop avoiding Stevenage.

High Wycombe is a town of many hills, as we noted walking from the train station to the centre. A nice market town, we frequented The Antelope (good beers, very loud music) and The Falcon (no-nonsense ‘spoons) prior to the match. There are some nice little pubs in Wycombe – we did a small crawl after the game trying to find Everton vs Chelsea (but ended up in Yates as everywhere was showing the egg chasing), but not lots of choice, as you’d expect from a smaller town – but you won’t be disappointed wherever you choose.

The location of the ground also dictates. Adams Park is a good trek from the centre. One of our party drove that day; the area surrounding the ground has its own micro-economy on match days, with all available space being flogged for between £4 and £6 to park during the match.

From our parking spot in a woodyard, the ground was about 5 minutes away on foot. Most out-of-town stadia tend to be surrounded by ringroads and retail parks, but Adams Park has something of a woodland vibe to it. From our position on the terrace behind the goal, all you could see were trees. The twitcher in me also spotted a kestrel being chased away by some crows during a lull in play.

Anyway…

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We paid £20 to stand on the terrace. We actually stood along the advertising hoardings, something rare in the football league these days. Given there is no concourse, there is no bar (from what I could see) in this area, but there was a decent kiosk. To the left is a tiny stand, which must have only had a couple of hundred seats at most, and opposite it a large double tiered all-seater. Away fans were positioned opposite behind the goal.

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The game itself was a very entertaining 1-0 victory for the home side, though I sensed it was better for a neutral than the actual fans. Stevenage were no great shakes, but threatened to get back into it occasionally. Wycombe seemed to miss chance after chance to put the game to bed, much to the annoyance of the home fans.

The home fans generated a good atmosphere in the ground. The terrace behind us was noisy and in good voice. The away fans too. I imagine Wycombe may be one of those places that has more people heading towards Marylebone to watch the ‘big clubs’ than go to Adams Park, but the club is certainly one for the town to be proud of.

I had heard horror stories about getting away from the ground after the game, but we were ok.

Verdict? Well worth a visit if you have not done so already – not sure when Hull will ever play Wycombe again (would presumably have to be a cup unless a drastic change in fortunes for either side) so pleased I got the tick.

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