Talk About the Passion

MANCHESTER CITY 4 PORT VALE 1

FA Challenge Cup 3rd Round

I have in my past seen these two teams play each other twice. On both occasions the side playing away from home were victorious. Things have changed a bit since the previous matches. Surely, Port Vale could not give me the hat-trick.

The first occasion was in 1996, 10 September to be precise. Memory serves me it was a mild evening as a recently relegated City travelled an hour south to Burslem. Their side that included such names as Kinkladze, Rosler, Lomas and Clough ran out deserved 2-0 winners with goals from Dickov and Rosler. City were adjusting to life outside the Premiership under the temporary charge of Asa Hartford following Alan Ball leaving the club.

John Rudge was in charge for both games for The Valiants. Memory tells me he was in charge for about 70 years. He certainly served the club well for a number of years.

After seeing Vale finish 8th in the 96/97 season Rudge repeated his side’s victory at Maine Road the following season with a 3-2 win. City twice took the lead in the first half through Wiekens and Dickov, the visitors levelled through Snijders and Talbot before Tony Naylor netted the winner early in the second half. My over-riding memory of this game was the run-in Summerbee had wit hthe City fans who were also vociferous in their dislike for the current state of the club, chanting “We’re shit and we’re sick of it” and “You’re not fit to wear those shirts”. Vale thoroughly deserved their victory.

Fast forward over 20 years and the clubs were meeting again in my presence. 8,000 fans from the north side of Stoke-on-Trent were in the top two tiers of the South Stand. It was back in those days under Rudge when they last averaged this many fans for a season; these days it is just over half the travelling numbers. If only they would show at Vale Park.

The fans had their moment though as Pope headed in a cross after 35 minutes. The noise they made throughout was brilliant and it is a day that I am sure most will not forget.

City won at a canter. VAR played its part. I got to sit in the posh padded seats.

Attendance: 52,433

Moment of the Match: Pope’s header just about beats the VAR check on a disallowed goal. This was overruled and a goal given. Different way of doing it.

Match Tunes: Murmur – REM

West of the Fields

CURZON ASHTON 0 ALFRETON TOWN 2

National League North

I came into this game with at least one record that had to fall. This was my third visit to The Tameside Stadium, Curzon winning the 2 previous games 2-0 and then 4-0. Would this match the increase? 6-0 on the cards? My only previous encounter with The Reds was also a victory, though this had been at North Street.

Following my arrival at The Nash’s home I quickly remembered the reason I don’t visit here more often. The two ends are open and even on a fairly mild afternoon for the time of year, any gust, wind or breeze is bitterly felt. If you do venture to these parts in the cold months, make sure you wrap up warm.

The away fans, if they were feeling any cold, were soon warmed up as their team took the lead in the 2nd minute. After some less than convincing defending by the hosts Town had an attacking throw-in. Launched in, missile like, flicked on, Morgan-Smith arrived in the box ahead of his marker and steered the ball in by his shin via the far post. Alfreton were ahead. 0-1.

Back came Curzon, Askew, a late replacement due to a warm-up injury, fired straight at Wright. Corners were won but despite causing a bit of bother didn’t look likely to find the way to an equaliser. At the other end, Johnson had a long range missile like free-kick tipped over by Mason. Back came Curzon. Probing. Trying. Creating. But unable to finish.

Alfreton looking dangerous on the break, a last ditch foot preventing Morgan-Smith from being presented a great chance. Curzon’s chance for glory from a free-kick, Dimiao’s effort was close, but no cigar. The referee bizarrely giving a corner. As the half came to a close, you got the feeling that the hosts had wasted their chance(s).

Five minutes into the second period the visitors were awarded a penalty, Morgan-Johnson brought down, Johnson stepped up and scored. 0-2. And so the game as a contest was done. Curzon had the ball. Struggled to break down a solid defence and when chances were presented the hosts could not take them. Alfreton looked dangerous on the break, especially Morgan-Johnson, though his afternoon was tarnished when he was shown a red with 10 minutes remaining.

As I left with just added on remaining to head off to my second game the game played out to the end. If Alfreton Town continue to defend and play as a unit like this they will start to move up the table. Curzon Ashton, on this performance, need to find somebody who can put the ball in the net. Despite all their possession, half-chances and general paly they do not look like a team that has many goals in them. It could be a struggle.

Attendance: 160

Moment of the Match: Town’s substitute Oyibo. Went on a bit of a run, nutmegged one Nash defender before putting another on his arse. Brilliant.

Match Tunes: Murmur – REM

Forward to Death

TRAFFORD 1 RAMSBOTTOM UNITED 2

Northern Premier League North West Division

I have, over the years, seen some classic games on New Years Day. I am sorry to say but this will not join that list. In fact, at the moment, it is, safe to say, it is very much at the bottom.

Apart from a scrambled effort by Evangelinos after 10 minutes, 0-1, the first half can, by and large, be totally forgotten about. It can be best summed up by a passage of play around halfway through the opening period. The lethargy on show had spread to the subs who were warming up by standing still, in front of them, a ball was played back about 10 yards to the visiting keeper. Stewart wildly swung his right boot at it. He sliced it badly for a corner. The White’s midfield Palmer took the set piece. The corner was not good, the first defender had to duck down to head it away, the header was not good it went to a Trafford midfielder on the corner of the box. He played it out to Palmer. His pass was not good. It missed his team-mate by about 10 yards and went out for a throw.

Would the second half be better? Not really until we had a moment so bad that it warranted a substitute. The hosts broke, at speed and with accuracy, until following a beautiful pass, Palma was in on goal. He missed. He was 10 yards out with Stewart scrambling to get across. He missed badly. He made way for Grimshaw. The game livened up instantly. Trafford finally had a forward who would run at the opposition, United didn’t like it. Most defenders don’t. The substitute tried his best to drag the rest of his fellow forwards into the game. It had improved.

With both sides shook out of the opening 45 minutes of slumber, at least there was a bit of intent and after both sides had clipped the bar it was Rammy who struck next. With 15 minutes to go Evangelinos showed a bit of class and smashed the ball home from inside the box past Cooper, 0-2. That was a tad harsh on Trafford.

A little justice into the score was restored during added on time, another home substitute, Hazeldine showed a tad of class that was out of place in this game, turming and firing a wonderful effort past Stewart. 1-2.

Trafford’s star players had started the game sat on the bench, but then again so had one of their coaches, but he was shown a red. Bit silly really as there forward Walters had messed up the through ball he had been flagged offside for. Saved his blushes rivalling Palma’s.

Attendance: 243

Moment of the Match: Sam Grimshaw being brought on. He gave the game some purpose when to be honest, it appeared to be lacking any.

Match Tunes: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables – Dead Kennedys

Our Lips Are Sealed

STEETON 1 GARSTANG 4

NWCFL First Division North

A game of two halves they say. Well this was kind of like that, if one half was 30 minutes long and the other 60.

Following a nice tootle over the hills of Lancashire and into Yorkshire passing through Cowling, a ground there seen that I need to head back for. We dropped down to Cougar Park, home of Keighley Cougars and Steeton AFC. This is a gem of a stadium for non-league footy, another Rugby League ground I have seen footy at, a list that I hope to continue to grow beyond the few I have already attended. I need to look into getting to more.

Money paid, last programme bought, raffle tickets bought (not sure if we won or not) we went into the clubhouse for a bit of food and a drink and straight back out for kick-off. It was a good job we did as seconds into the game a burst of speed by the hosts Jeffery saw him through on goal and he slotted the ball past the keeper Kitchen, 1-0.

Garstang were straight into the game after that but just could not get going. Ten minutes in we had a delay; after a 2 minute wait for the hosts keeper to change his boots, then another minute whilst he put his gloves on we got back underway. The game was even, both teams trying to create without quite managing it, a number of balls disappearing into the Industrial Estates surrounding the ground it looked increasingly like we had were in for a cagey game.

Then came a game changing moment, Steeton wasting an outstanding chance to make it 2-0, a goalmouth scramble ensued, but the score remained the same. That was their chance. Five or so minutes later instead of being two goals ahead they game was level. A deep cross from the reds right-back Melling was perfect, Coar of the #10 variety simply nodded it in through Thorpey’s grasp. Maybe those gloves hadn’t been put back on correctly. 1-1.

After the break the game was as one-sided as I have seen for a while. Yes Steeton had moments, but they were too late and too infrequent. A minute after the restart and we had another goal at the Terry Hollindrake Stand, this wasn’t as stylish, but very simple. Coar #10 crossed to the far post for Coar #9 to nod in. 1-2.

Garstang controlled things so much from here on in you had to wonder if they would regret not taking the number of chances they created. Luckily for the Lancashire side they didn’t. With 10 minutes to go they made the game safe. Again scorer turned provider, Coar #9 passing to Hothersall who had the simple task of putting the ball home. 1-3.

The final goal came courtesy of the guy who didn’t have the greatest afternoon of his life; Steeton’s keeper Thorpey. He dropped a corner straight to Coar #9. He did the rest. 1-4.

On this performance and having watched a few teams from this league this season, how on earth are Garstang near the foot of the table?

Attendance: 106

Moment of the Match: Not a match moment. The main stand at Cougar Park is a beauty. If you have not been then go. It is a gem.

Match Tunes: Beauty and the Beat – The Go-Go’s

It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

MOSSLEY 3 OSSETT UNITED 2

Northern Premier League North West Division

I hope that those present remember this game for the good that happened, this was a decent end to end match with both teams creating a number of chances.

In a game where one set of fans or the others seemed to be unhappy with the referee I thought he got most decisions correct, including the early penalty awarded to United for a foul on Greaves. The striker picked himself up, dusted himself down and scored to give the visitors the lead. 0-1.

It didn’t take long for the Lilywhites to draw level, substitute Hanley cutting in from the wing and shooting low, unfortunately for Ossett’s stopper Souter, they ball somehow evaded him and found the back of the net. 1-1.

Greaves then saw Mossley’s stopper Roberts deny him when through on goal and shortly afterwards with a spectacular save from his header. Then Basic curled in a free-kick on target, Roberts saved well, he had been warned. The break came with the game in the balance. Mossley having more of the possession, the visitors the better chances.

When we got restarted it was Souter’s turn to impress with a brilliant one handed stop from a Halfacre header.

Despite both teams pushing forward we looked like we could be heading for a draw with both sets of forwards having an increasingly frustrating afternoon. Step up United’s number 10, Basic. His free-kick from 20 yards out was curled perfectly over the wall and beyond Roberts’ grasp. Had the visitors snatched the game? 1-2.

Cue Mossley’s second inspired substitution. With Hanley already on for the injured Abadaki, the hosts changed Rainford for Halfacre. It worked a treat. With 10 minutes to go he turned and played a perfect cross-box ball to the oncoming Hanley who buried beyond Souter. 2-2.

A couple of minutes or so later Rainford hit the post. He had lifted his side. He then got the winner. Well I thought he did. Substitute Hanley fed another replacement Fitzgerald, his shot saw Souter get a hand to it, but he hadn’t stopped it. The ball hit the post and bobbled along the line. Rainford tapped it in from 2 inches out. 3-2. The man on the tannoy gave it to Rainford but then took it away. Either way the game was won.

A bloody good game.

Attendance: 341

Moment of the Match: When the ball was bobbling along the line before Rainford turned it in. Heart stopping moments like this are brilliant. Well, unless you were from Ossett.

Match Tunes: Fun Boy Three – Fun Boy Three

No Dancing

CHADDERTON 1 DAISY HILL 1

NWCFL First Division North

This was a pretty decent game. A fine Dean Singleton header gave the visitors the lead shortly before half-time and the equaliser came with 15 minutes to go through Jordan Butterworth, though I am sure the Cutters keeper Dryden will be unhappy about letting it in.

However. With the visitors leading 1-0 Chaddy got a free-kick at the Fire Station end. I was down the other end. it looked about 25 yards out. It was hit well. It beat the keeper. It hit the bar. It came back out.

For those a little older than me, their man is Roger Davies of Derby County. In the early 1970s playing at Chelsea, he went on a run, went round the keeper and missed. He overran the ball. He missed a sitter.

My generation will remember Gordon Smith of Brighton & Hove Albion. In the dying embers of the 1983 FA Cup Final he was presented with an incredible chance against Manchester United. He managed to hit the ball straight at Gary Bailey. The match was drawn. United won the replay 4-0. He missed a sitter.

Those a little younger. Ronnie Rosenthal. Playing for Liverpool he latched on to a log kick by David James, he takes the ball round the Aston Villa keeper with aplomb. He takes the ball towards the empty goal and from 7 yards out he hits the bar. He missed a sitter.

Kids, they will think of Fernando Torres. Chelsea trailing 3-1 at Manchester United with 5 minutes or so to go he is played in on goal. He side steps van der Sar, the goal is at his mercy. He puts it wide. A deflating confidence is destroyed. He missed a sitter.

For the 73 in attendance at Chadderton, we will remember Leon Ilube. That ball that hit the bar came out and from what looked like about 5 yards out with the keeper prone, the goal gaping he missed. The ball went into orbit. He missed a sitter.

Attendance: 73

Moment of the Match: Chadderton’s second half onslaught. Hit the bar twice, had another kicked off the line. Should have won this comfortably.

Match Tunes: My Aim is True – Elvis Costello

Tora! Tora! Tora!

HYDE UNITED 1 GAINSBOROUGH TRINITY 1

Northern Premier League Premier Division

Much like my history with Hyde United, their own has been one very much of ups and downs since their original forming in 1885.

I am sure all reading this will be very much aware of the 26-0 scoreline that the club lost to Preston North End in the late 19th century, though some sources advise that the true score was actually 28-0. Not the best of starts for the club. I first saw them in 2013 when they lost 2-0 at home to Gateshead in the then Conference Premier Division during a season when they only won once, away at Welling United. The club at the receiving end of a Twitter account @HasHydeWonYet which tweted after every game ‘No’.

After moving to their present home early in the 20th century, the club disbanded during the Great War. My next Hyde experience was on New Years Day in 2015, and a 7-1 humiliation at the hands of rivals Stalybridge Celtic in another season of woe and relegation.

Things would soon improve though, the club reformed in 1919 and went from strength to strength, winning trophies, runs in the FA Cup before joining the Northern Premier League in the 1980s. I saw United involved in another 7-1 scoreline in September 2015 when they at last won in my presence, thrashing Stamford as the club started to gain a foothold and stop the rot, just over a month later they overcame Colwyn Bay 3-2.

After a new main stand was built, runs in the FA Cup continued along with a couple of appearances in the FA Trophy semi-final where the trip to Wembley eluded them in consecutive years. I next saw them on a Monday night in February against Whitby Town. The visitors arriving late due to traffic and the game finishing very late, though the Tigers ran out 2-1 winners.

Following promotion after a controversial title award in 2005, money trouble, a partnership with Manchester City they reached the Conference Premier Division in 2012. They were on a high. It would be nearly 2 years after my visit for the Whitby Town match when I saw United again, beating Colne 1-0 on a bittely cold February afternoon in 2018.

Good times don’t last and the afore mentioned Conference freefall soon occurred with the Tigers eventually finishing up in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North. It was at this level when I saw them lose 1-0 at Trafford in March last year. Promotion followed for Hyde and they currently find themselves mid-table though not in the best of form. An indifferent November finished with a 0-0 home draw against Witton Albion. December has seen them lose at lowly Atherton Collieries before another 0-0 home draw in the League Cup against Lancaster City; they did win on penalties.

So to this game against bottom of the table Gainsborough Trinity. The first half was a non-event, neither side producing anything of note. The game took a turn for the better after half-time. United taking the lead through Dyche after five minutes or so of the second period, Trinity deservedly levelling with about 15 minutes to go through Dunne. My over-riding memory of the game will be of 2 misses by Trinity’s Hannah, luckily for him the second was given as offside, it was a sitter, of the bib variety. A draw was a fair outcome.

Attendance: 323

Moment of the Match: Trinity’s goal. One of the very few moments of class in this game. Wonderful through ball to Dunne who stuck the ball away with ease.

Match Tunes: Speak & Spell – Depeche Mode

There Will Be Chances

MANCHESTER UNITED 4 ALKMAAR ZAANSTREEK 0

UEFA Europa League Group L

This was the final group match and I had been to all 3. To be honest, after the Astana game I would have questioned if I would have stayed the course. However, following a much improved performance against Partizan I was up for this. But then the weather kicked in, I ummed and aahed over it and eventually decided it would be better than staying in, but only just.

So after an hour’s stroll I found myself crossing the railway line and entering the Munich Tunnel at the Stretford End and taking my seat near the tunnel. I was ready.

The opponents on this wet Thursday were Alkmaar Zaanstreek, although incorrectly referred to as AZ Alkmaar just about everywhere you look. A quick look at their history showed a list of some pretty decent ex-players. Anyone a bit older will surely remember Johnny Metgod, also once of Real Madrid and Nottingham Forest, where he scored a quite brilliant free-kick vs. West Ham United , the recently deceased Fernando Ricksen, Graziano Pelle and United’s keeper for the night, Sergio Romero. My other nugget of information is their nickname, they are wonderfully called ‘The Cheeseheads’. Love it.

Both sides came out in red, the visitors dispensing of their tracksuit tops that saved and amusing spectacle and played in black. I thought the visitors were the better side in the first half, restricting their host to very little attacking wise and creating a few decent half-chances, with their left winger Idrissi in particular catching the eye.

The second half was somewhat different, this time it was the hosts left winger, Pereira, who started to rattle the opposition. A cool finish from a tight angel by Young, sweet strike number 1 from Greenwood, penalty from Mata and finally sweet strike number 2 from Greenwood all within 12 minutes early in the second half finished this game off.

Both sides progress into the draw for the next round, with United’s potential opponents including Rangers and Roma, AZ’s could be Arsenal and Inter Milan. I’m sure both will hope for an easier tie in February.

Attendance: 65,773

Moment of the Match: More of a general nod. After seeing the ‘mob’ that AZ had brought I expected a din, but it was United’s new singing section that were in fine voice barely stopping all night.

Match Tunes: Different Days – The Charlatans

Happy Endings

BRADFORD CITY 1 NEWPORT COUNTY 0

Football League Two

Following a late change of plan due to reasons that I will not go into here, I was left looking for a new adventure. So three games picked as alternatives, the choice would be picked by whichever bus turned up first. Valley Parade, as I and most of the footy world know it has been on my list for a while, and so when the number 15 turned up a short bus ride followed by a tram to Victoria Station. Ten minutes later than scheduled we set off over the hills to Bradford.

Arrival kept down to the same ten minutes delay a 25 minutes stroll to City’s home followed with a fair number of police along the route and I was at my destination. After exchanging some money for a ticket I made my way inside to be greeted by a Salvation Army Brass Band and two of the most pleasant females serving at a kiosk that I have ever encountered inside a football ground.

I was told as a kid by my Gran that if I didn’t have anything good to say then it was better saying nothing at all. So after the sides came out for the second half a football match finally started. The home fans had finally found their voice, and drum, and things started to happen. County went close with their first effort of the game, before City took the lead. County’s Inniss passed back from must be 50 yards out, those of us on the upper tiers could see Vaughan waiting, he pounced, with all the time in the world he went round the visiting keeper Townsend. The keeper pulled Vaughan down, was lucky to get away with a yellow. Vaughan dispatched. 1-0.

The yellow card was a decision that was to keep the score down to just the one goal. City kicked on and the Welsh side’s stopper was in form, two great saves keeping the Bantams out. So the only other thing of note was due to the number of players with head injuries, mostly County, we finished with 9 minutes of added on time. Though this saw a return to the first half standard. Off I trundled into the dark Christmas lit night and my train and follow-on journey home.

Attendance: 14,016

Moment of the Match: The half-time whistle! Put an end to the worst 45 minutes of football I have seen in a long time. If not ever.

Match Tunes: His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp