Wednesday, 29 August 2007


Winsford United vs St Helens Town

The boy had hit the sack early and instantly; a last-minute dash up two junctions of the M6 to Winsford saw me arrive at the stadium five minutes late. As usual I'd noted that the stadium was somewhere near the main road and breezily assumed it would be easy to find. It was, kind of, but only once I'd sped five off miles in the wrong direction. Such was Winsford's hold on my imagination that Sam's Animal Jungle compilation was still jingle-jangling cheerily in the CD player. Doubling back, the floodlights were helpfully aglow, sitting high above a roundabout - Bethlehem, boys! - so I swung into the car park, guzzled the last of my jelly beans (don't let me buy petrol, ever), and relinquished my four quid. The guy on the turnstile seemed startled that I looked so eager.

Thank heaven for proper floodlights, anyhow. It's not the first time that they've saved me from my own incompetence. For this reason I firmly believe that the traditional stadium skyline is nothing less than a Public Good, whose characteristics should be enshrined in law as a mandatory requirement.

I stroke the chin and reflect a little, but not for long, on the links between Winsford's salt industry and my adopted city. Then I stop faffing and head for the terrace. I don't know much about the Cheshire salt industry, but I'm told that the John Rylands Library used to store rare books in the town's salt mines - I wonder if there's a copy of Give My Regards to Queen Street down there, crammed in amongst the first editions of the German Ideology? It's a scheister to find. It does seem like much of the local interest is underground; and as usual I can never quite understand the alleged wonders of the County Palatine, pleasant though it is.

The Barton Stadium, renamed after the war, used to be called The Great Western Playing Field. I like that. The best way I can describe it is as endearingly crap, but I don't mean that pejoratively. The floodlight electrics are protected by mangled chicken wire. The main stand is missing a huge chunk of roof and the pitch is surrounded by various blackened relics - a mud soaked fire hose, still anchored to its hydrant, several old tyres, and a couple of rusty mowing devices long since reclaimed by nature. There's even one of those adjustable hospital beds on wheels that line the corridors in A&E. The refreshments counter is a full-on transport caff, and the tea is a baked-bean shade of lukewarm permatan - superb; I had another.

Surrounding the entire pitch is a dog track, with concrete lighting in front of the stands lining each straight. To allow for the curvature of the track, there's a semi-circular grassy void behind each goal, manned by yellow-vested youngsters who brighten their gloomy station by spending most of the game throwing themselves into knobbly-kneed pile-ons. The 'keepers keep having to ask for their ball back, please.

For whatever reason I can't remember the Winsford goal at all - I was probably hassling the nice lady for a brew in the caff - but St. Helens' two strikes were excellent, the first a cushion-and-volley from twenty yards low into the bottom corner, the second the product of an excellent build-up, finished assertively from close range.

The visitors looked better and better as the match wore on, and while their "poncey" (or sensible, if you are) stretching routine provoked mirth amongst the home supporters ("are you actually going to play second half, lads?") they were clearly the fitter side. It showed.

At half time, the Winsford manager threatened rather dryly to have me arrested after I encroached on the players' gangway between the dugouts and the dressing room. I thought they'd all run out by then but there you go; people don't make it in football for being prone to politeness and timidity, even or perhaps especially at this level. That's one reason among many why I was spending an evening skulking around an old dog track.

Anyway, there are no pictures (yet) - I managed to offload £400 worth of camera / wedding present on some concrete while retrieving a ball, immediately prior to getting threatened with the Cheshire Constabulary. Hard surfaces aren't good for cameras, y'know, and I have had some explaining to do in the morning.

At the final toots of the whistle, the club officials forgot to open the gates, thus preventing an early or even timely home time for everyone. It was fun to see the fairweathers denied their exit - they seemed kind of embarrassed to ask someone, while mutting about health and safety - but if you've ever had that ffs, what am I doing here? moment at a match, then this was the reaffirmation.

"Crapball would be ok if it just lasted for 10 minutes," reflected Mrs. TUTD sympathetically as she spooned some more porridge into a little mouth at breakfast. She was ok about the camera.

"BALL!" cried the fourteen-month old enthusiastically, ignoring his tasty slop for a second, thrusting his arms skywards and grinning toothily.

I'm not sure whether to be heartened or mortified by that.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

"Football is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings."

Queen of the South vs St. Johnstone

With apologies to Robbie Burns.

This, readers, was how football should be. Goals, enthusiasm from the players, occasional flashes of skill, plenty of local character in the groundscape, and a big old echo-chamber of a terrace upon which to perch one's ample self.

Ground full of character

Portland Park, home of Queen of the South, hosts Scottish football's largest remaining standing area, the Portland Drive Terrace. It's a throwback in steel and blue Dulux, being rather louder and loftier than the rest of the ground, and with just the one tiny hatch at the top dispensing more Ribena than you've ever seen in one place.

One thing I love with traditional grounds is the way the stands are flanked by huge floodlight pylons, and in this case four halogen beacons stand proudly above the town and its attractive position on the River Nith.

Scotland's largest remaining terrace

We had taken the train north to Dumfries, home of Robert Burns, following a rather sodden night's camping in the Lakes (Tesco Value Tent -£7.99 - its purchaser did claim it was the next model up from value, and insisted that 'value' or not, there shouldn't be any difference in the quality of waterproofing; anyway, I digress...)

It was a welcome, warm day with blue skies, the first day of the Scottish season. These things make a difference to the great unwashed (I'd had a shower, but then I'm not a real groundhopper in the overnight-train-across-three-European-countries-with-all-your-clothes-hung-out-to-dry sense). We mooched around the very pleasant town centre and decided to plump for a themey-looking pub called the Hole i' th' Wa', which turned out to be the fans' local, full of Doonhamers watching Inverness Caledonian Thistle take on Rangers (more on the QoS nickname and the pub-quiz Bible thing here - I also heard a couple of people cheering on the 'Rievers,' but I've no idea how widespread that one is). Anyhow, for once, Mr. Murdoch and Co. did me a favour. Calie's ground, whilst modern, does appear to have plenty of uniqueness, with a view across the water and over to the mountains. It joins Ross County on my all-new Highland hitlist.

After we'd sunk a couple of 70'- , we made for the ground, just across the river from the town centre and round the back of an ice rink. The stadium filled nicely, though the open terrace was closed. At this time of year, it's nice when you can saunter round the side of the pitch and into a sunny spot. In so doing we got a better view of the impressive terracing where we stood during the first half. Apart from the (I guess) obligatory guy with a drum in a kilt, there was also a woman with an old-fashioned football rattle, something I got for Christmas when I was six, but that I've never seen at a ground.


The match was excellent, ending 3-3 - though very much a case of two-nil up (including a missed penalty, and you all know the rest) when St. Johnstone got their equaliser on 89. The Doonhamers' Steve Dobbie looked especially worthy of the 'great touch for a big man' cliches. His opener, a smart lob from twenty yards after three minutes, was the first of many great touches - skilful, strong, but not too quick, a bit like our own Pawel Abbott.

QoS score from the spot

An appreciative and upbeat crowd in a superb football setting helped make this a great experience. As Scottish fans will know, it's just great to have football back a week earlier than everyone else. As one columnist wrote in last month's WSC, "we need football like we need air."

That just about sums it up, regardless of the absurdities.

Home fans

Ten notes lighter

Stafford Rangers 1 vs 3 Walsall

24 July 2007

A scintillating pre-season encounter that featured what is perhaps a non-league first - an amazing footballing cloud formation ghosting in unnoticed at the back stick... say no more (somehow I can't bring myself to write anything anyway, except that one really does feel ten notes lighter at the end of it).

Freaky footballing cloud

Pre-season wonder!

Services for the disabled!

Bums on seats.

Look busy, boys!

Help is at hand


Sunday, 3 June 2007

Urban Countryside

A few weeks ago, Mike Wolfe - who I often find myself agreeing with - wrote a strange opinion piece (sadly not on the website) in the local rag, criticising plans to create green corridors between Central Forest Park and Hanley Park.

Stoke-on-Trent's urban countryside is one of its best features. It also helps the place retain a humane sense of scale and space. In fact I'm off there in a min.

Anyway, there was a good show about urban biodiversity on the radio the other night, which makes these points far more elegantly than I can.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

A500 Apartheid Road

Whooppee! We’re from Newcastle-under-Lyng!

Alec enquired today about what else I rant about if not the more masochistic extremes of our national game. It's as if I have a one-track mind and the only break I give my mind is the lunch-time trip to Soo's Shop for a carnivorous treat. No, fair point though, actually, all things considered.

Well, the debate that I totally own on a regular basis - mysteriously unblogged until today - concerns the relative merits of Stoke-onTrent and our dear, near neighbour, Newcastle-under-Lyme, home of those two twins off Big Brother (ha - and we're like, "one-nil!").

It does seem to be emphatically the case that our sub-region is a divided one. The 'professionals' flock in their waves to 'nicer' Newcastle via Checkpoints Penkhull and Porthill, eschewing the glories of this illustrious city for all they are worth.

I just don't understand what makes Newcastle such an attractive proposition by comparison. Don't get me wrong, I don't *mind* Newcastle particularly. What winds me up is the widely-held and frankly barmy perception that Stoke is the abyss to Newcastle's Arcadia. That is to say, it's just bollocks.

Nil thread!

This man is a genius


Arrington de Dionyso, Taylor Johns House, Coventry
Sunday 27 May 2007

I first encountered Arrington de Dionyso (formerly of Old Time Relijun) at Festival Mo'fo in 2005, when Holty and I stood stunned before the stage as the performer greeted the crowd in broken French and proceeded to open his improvised set by blasting and snorting down the wrong end of his saxophone (or bass clarinet, whatever). We rapidly retreated for the bar, trying suppress a tipsy snigger each.

Fast forward to May 2007 and long-time mate Matt has texted me saying he's back in the country for a few days. A quick ride on the internet is enough to enlighten me: there's a gig(gle) on in Coventry and one Mr. de Dionyso of Portland, Oregon is headlining. Woop! Time to give him another spin - and drag along an unsuspecting primary school teacher too. Mwahahaha!

Tonight's venue, Taylor Johns House, is situated in Coventry's canal basin, an area regenerated in the late eighties but cut off from the rest of the city centre by the ever-dispiriting marble-chute of a ring road. The bridge providing access is wobbly enough to put its more famous London counterpart in the shadows - amateurs! The canal basin did however find fame on the back of a Specials LP. In all, though, it's A Rainy Night in Covo, and the wind wasn't whistling any charms (yeah, I know, wrong band).

We roll up during the soundcheck and are a little disconcerted to discover that the venue has been kitted out specially with those wooden chairs you used to have in school assembly's. I half expected to be told to pick up your chairs, 6P, and file back to the classroom. As it stands, we're politely ejected and informed that things are to kick off at 8.15. So we sod off to Wetherspoon's in the pouring rain, only to find there are no real ales on. Nnngh. Pivovar Herold is a worthy substitute. How very Bohemian.

Back to Taylor Johns and Mr. de Dionyso is busy fingering his iBook, pretty much the only other person in the bar. It's a bit like following Darlo away in the LDV vans trophy, when the only other people in the Maxpax queue are the subs, texting away on their mobiles instead of warming up or something. Nice venue though - bijou, housed in a couple of old coal vaults, and with (in the bar at least) nice chairs of comfy varieties.

Gradually, a few punters drizzle in, invariably looking like the sort of people that read The Wire. The only exceptions, us aside, are the group that can only be music lecturers, and the two EMO kids, who have probably come because it's the only gig on tonight. All in all, that makes about 16.

The first act is about to start. One of the staff is very anxious that we all amble over to the other vault: Adrian Palka awaits, with his home-made "bow chime" - a clutch of metal rods, a bow, a drumstick, and an amplifying "thing" that reminds me of a Roman centurion's shield, only much tweer. Palka produces an improvised series of textures, a strokes his instrument as if it it were an embryonic painting. The aural textures are gorgeous, but it's not my thing visually. I do think he should run some ante-natal neuromusical programming sessions - it's just that sort of meditative effect. Great anyhow. I like pop music and it takes me time to adjust, but great.

Ignatz is next, a quietly spoken Belgian who plays geetar kind of like a seetar - and treats the resulting vibes with a range of distorted drones and fizzes. It's the kind of soundscape that used to shake our student house when Ben was in his bedroom reading that massive blue book of Chaucer by which all English Literature students are to be identified. The textures are coarser, perhaps a little harsher, but I'm starting to adjust. Getting into this kind of stuff is a bit like the feeling in your ears as the plane climbs and descends.

It's just as well, since Arrington does not disappoint. His set commences with a freestyle montage on the sax / bass clarinet / whatever. He then carefully disassembles his piece, and experiments with each component in almost every conceivable way. Throughout the set, a cast of several instruments is introduced - two carrier bags, some bits of rubber, a sheet of tin foil, and one of those jaw harp thingies.

The EMO kids slouch in their school chairs, arms tightly folded.

Dionyso's star turn is his Tuvan throatsinging - like an impressive, and passable impression of a didgeridoo. Lungs and throat built at Shelton Bar, clearly. This is probably why critics (via his record company's website) describe him as "some fuckin' scary shit." He is.

After the gig, Matt wondered whether the guy was mad or a genius. I love the fact that he can tour the world and make a living on the back of a very idiosyncratic talent. Long may he continue. As a gig, it's not the sort of thing I'd go to regularly, but it's a damned refreshing (and relaxing) change.

Taylor Johns House is a really friendly joint that seems to specialise in this sort of night. Apparently The (excellent) Chap are there on Friday, so you never know, I may be back.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn...

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn,
Flambro' Head comes next in turn,
Whitby Light shines clear and bright,
Sunderland Light lies in the night,
And if all gans well, we'll be in Shields tonight.

Today I received a consignment of photocopied notes that my grandfather had apparently made towards the memoirs that he never wrote up before his death. All I know of him are the odds and ends, the ships and exotic places named in his old log books, and the occasional song and rhyme passed down through our family. So this bunch of papers, with that wonderful wrought-iron handwriting that nobody uses nowadays, is the closest I've ever come to the old seaman himself:

"South Shields: a back street just off King Street and at the corner of Chaplin Row and near the G.P.O: Merkel's the Pawn Shop. Window filled with instruments of all descriptions, mainly nautical but other things as well, treasures brought home from afar, or so it seemed to me. This shop always had a fascination for me and became my first stop in a journey around Shields. At this time I would be around 13/14 years of age. Always alone out of preference. No-one to please or displease. It was at this shop that I would in a few years time, having acquired a B.O.T. certificate , buy my very first sextant. This would be in the year 1924. Mr. Merkel took me into a back room in which the mahogany sextant cases were piled high right up to the ceiling, rank upon rank. Each one represented a 2nd mate or a chief mate or a master down on his luck. One thing that a mate or a master never parted with was his sextant. In much the same way the cabler with his awl, the gunner with his linstock, the seaman with his sheath knife, and so the navigator with his sextant: all of them tightly bound up with the tool of his trade. There was a saying in those days which ran: "a sailor without a knife is like a whore without a fanny." And so in 1924 in one pawn shop alone, hundreds of sextants, a bitter indication of the state of the Merchant Service.

Lots more to get through, including a description of a visit to South Shields by Gustave Hamel and his monoplane :-)

Monday, 30 April 2007

Death of a football ground

Nuneaton Borough vs Vauxhall Motors

I'd hazard a guess Manor Park is just the place William Carlos Williams had in mind when he took such delight in the 'anarchy of poverty.' It's exactly the sort of creation you'd expect to find down the local allotments, and today we were witness to the final competitive game ever to be played here, prior to the Brewers' move across town to Liberty Way.

Nuneaton's sun-soaked town centre was brimming with riot police when we arrived; presumably Warwickshire's finest were expecting some spin-off from Coventry's game with West Brom, as there wasn't a great deal of tension surrounding the main event. The ever-clandestine Holty had considered covering his face with a Greggs' cheese and onion pasty, but somehow slipped by unprotected and undetected.

After walking round the ringway and down Queens Road for probably the last ever time, we arrived to find the Cock and Bear End - a fine vantage point - bedecked with countless flags, and playing host to most of the 2,000-plus souls who eventually turned up to enjoy the sunshine.

Vauxhall Motors' coach had suffered a breakdown on the way from the Wirral, and it wasn't until around 3.30 that their squad gingerly entered the arena, red-faced and besuited and to a derisive chorus from the home crowd. Sufficient time, then, to visit a urinal so deep that Skippy is kept on standby in case of lost children.

A lively enough game ensued after some prolonged parading of 'legends,' and an extended encore from the Scotch pipers, whose repertoire was dragged to wedgie point with a wailing rendition of Auld Lang Syne, deep into what should have been first half injury time. On the pitch, Gez Murphy scored for the Boro' before Motors' excellent number ten equalised. Some tidy play followed, but neither team was incisive enough to particularly deserve the victory.

Two male streakers (and no police) later and the match was over. Both teams gathered for a squeeze of Lucozade and a rendition of The Last Post before a netful of perhaps fifty ballons was manhandled onto the pitch by some enthusiastic young 'uns.

Three neckless specimens in hi-vis jackets tried manfully to free the contents, and after five minutes managed to liberate a lone balloon. This in turn quivered back and forth on a breeze of indecision, briefly motioning towards the sanctuary of a corrugated stand roof, before bravely mounting a noble cross-wind (and doubtless popping on a TV aerial somewhere quixotic like Bedworth).

Then the customary pitch invasion, and that was that. "We'll be coming back next year," raged a small quorum of die-hards, as the curious onlookers (myself included) dissipated towards our rail replacement buses.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

The words that you heard when you were young

The Levellers, Warwick Arts Centre, 27 April 2007.

At what point should one become concerned about one's experience of live music becoming a matter of nostalgia? Well, if that sort of thing makes you cringe, be warned; the Wordpress servers are poised to splatter my youth incontinently across the blogosphere. Notionally at least, I hauled forth my Alsatian-on-a-string, adjusted the greasy dreads, pulled on the German army surplus overcoat (ironed by mother), and - erm - popped my Saver Return to Coventry on the plastic.

This gig was the soundtrack to my teens, my adolescence bunsen-burnered and reduced to a crystalline musical form in just ninety minutes. I didn't feel particularly wounded that we'd had to settle for 17 quid's worth of upholstery (standing sold out) and a rather acute view of the stage. I was knackered because I'd hopped a train straight from work, but in the (ahem) 'old days' I'm sure we would have boinged our way in with the groundlings. As it was we'd come from Cardiff, Norwich and the Potteries, and I for one couldn't be arsed.

Living in Stoke-on-Trent, I'm largely deprived of double-decker buses nowadays, and so it was with a distinct sense of old-time glee that I rode high above the leafy thoroughfares of Earlsdon and Hearsall Common, past the spot where Frank Whittle first witnessed powered flight, and swamped by gaggles of prospective management consultants whinging about what a shithole Coventry is (their opinion, not mine).

Presently, we approached the university campus. INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL, proclaimed the puffed-up banners on every lamp-post. Ha, clever, these milkround men! FESTIVAL PARK WITH AN IQ would have been my offering. I've never been one for campus universities, and this one is awash with high-end eateries, multi-storey car parks, its own branch of Fopp (a sizeable adjunct to the bookshop) and a massive Costcutter. An oddly repellent formula, but clearly seductive to students. Indeed, it's 36 years since E.P. Thompson wrote a critique called Warwick University Limited and then packed his bags (fat lot of difference that made, then). It's certainly gone upmarket since my dad used to bring me to work on Saturdays, and I'm fairly sure it was rather upmarket in the first place.

A couple of Black Sheeps swiftly sunk (in the upscale arts centre bar) and the three of us wobbled to our seats in time for the last number by a support act whose name evades me. Once the gig was underway, I became painfully aware that I was tapping my feet sedately to the classics - Riverflow, The Road, Hope Street etc.

There may be better bands, but few are as much fun live and on returning from the bar (where some forty-somethings are complaining about the 'fascist stewards') we perch ourselves in the heavens on some handy steps and bob about while the band belts out Beautiful Day. Jon and I righteously concurred, once upon a time, that this song indicated the band's inevitable sell-out, but it certainly sounds grand tonight. Did I say fun? Well I enjoyed it, and surprised myself by not feeling at all envious of the throng below.

A couple of us once secured prized passes for the Levellers' backstage 'party' (same venue: an ice bucket with a solitary can of Guinness, while the band wandered off to watch Match of the Day), but tonight we simply headed off for a curry with the warm echoes of Classic Gold resounding in our ears.

Any free-thinking radicals wearing army surplus had been no doubt intercepted by security upon breaching the boundaries of the Business School. That or they're too busy pursuing MBAs to bother with this sort of stuff. And me? Well, I'd love to blog into the small hours, but I've got work in the morning.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Campaign for an Elected Editor

It's scarcely a good day to bury bad news when your windswept local outpost of the Daily Mail gleefully cultivates it by the spadeful.

The ten BNP candidates, we read, are all terribly concerned individuals with strongly-held opinions on fly-tipping in back alleys, hoodies, bobbies on the beat and the return of the parkies.

Working people, just like us. This, of course, is why these charming folk joined the BNP in the first place. Time for a bit of common sense (and so forth).

Two out of three irk-faced mugshots intend to vote for common sense, we read. After all, why on earth would we ever wish to know about all of Mr. Batkin's spectacular achievements in the last two years?

That would make wonderful reading. What happened to journalism? Time to Ctrl+C another replica press release, people - go to it!

In other news, the city has shortlisted architects to, err, do some stuff to Hanley's beating heart - the area round the bus station, that is, for those in the know. Not that you'd ever know that something positive was afoot.

TUTD says: Doubtless Wayne Hemingway was OVERWHELMED by the attentions of the local paparazzi. Oh well, at least the letters pages are full of fun. I vote Mike Wolfe (who actually wasn't a bad seed)!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Dissolution in the Dales

Matlock Town vs Whitby Town

19 April 2007

Causeway Lane

Small-town charm springs from the Dales at Causeway Lane, home of Matlock Town Football Club. Insofar, that is, as charm can spring from a motley collection of 'grand' stands and brieze-blocks-for steps. But that's not bad at all, is it?

Loftily surveyed from the heights of Riber Castle's lofty but crumbling crenallations (do all of Derbyshire's buses look like this?) and soundscaped for 90 minutes by the tireless campanologists of St. Giles (which is illuminated into the night), this place oozes 'modest provincial sport' and 'corinthian spirit' like almost no other.

Those who've been to the Gay Meadow, Tunstall Road or Feethams (rest in peace) may pciture the scene, however, and it's a small but vocal crowd that doubtless enjoys it that way - a gaggle of well-lubricated patrons who can visit the Gladiators' Social for a plastic pint of Mansfield Best, then perch themselves contentedly on the steps outside. From here, they can watch the game as it bobbles back and forth against a backdrop of church bells and blossom.

The to-ing ands fro-ing of drinkers elicits spirited resistance and no little defamatory mirth from the bar staff, who have left their realm unattended to hang lazily over a couple of crush barriers (though I hesitate to use the term in the context of Causeway Lane) with little intent to return to their posts.

Every now and again, a squadron of ducks strafes the arena, picked out in the halogen glare as the skies darken. A handful of spectators have taken cover in their cars, with Thermos flasks and a brace of marmite-'n'-mighty-white, no doubt. These drive-in die-hards evoke TUTD's magical mystery tour to Prestatyn two weeks ago (an occasion I probably won't blog about, save to say that Sammy was born in Stoke and therefore It Is Done: he must embrace Rhyl and Prestatyn).

The effect doesn't last long, but it's a nice sunny evening, and there's a similarly refreshing breeze skipping down from the hills. None the less, the occupants of the vehicle in question continue to monitor the Matlock goal mouth as if they're daydreaming a path towards the distant horizon, trying to visualise landfall in the soft-focus of their mind's eyes.

In all, 263 souls witness the razing of Whitby's resistance, and the dissolution ends 5-1 to the home team. The visitors are managed by former Quaker legend Lee "Nogoals" Nogan, who spends an appropriately ascetic evening agitating the gravel on the edge of his dug-out.

Nogan was a sturdy enough centre-forward in his day, but spent so much time running sideways that you suspected he was mounted on an invisible fussball axle. He is joined by fellow former Feethams men Alex Janes, Phil Brumwell, and Matty Appleby, who have amassed league games aplenty between them.

It all leaves me reflecting on how utterly naff Darlo must have been in the last few seasons. Perhaps - despite the introduction of two up, two down a few years back - it remains fair to say that the Football League is all but a closed shop, with the door to the Conference still only slightly ajar. Most of the clubs in the fourth tier really are much of a muchness, I guess, and our seasons tend simply to wilt as spring approaches.

"Whitby were away so Whitby lost again" surmised the Seasiders' webmaster cheerily. I'd imagine he didn't feel much like appending a fulsome report, but, hey, it may have seen the light by the time you read this.

Causeway Lane

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Diary Milk

Meir KA vs Cadbury Athletic

10 April 2007

Unbelievable, even for me.

I've just returned from a trip to the Springbank Stadium, my second time in two weeks, and indeed only my second time ever. It'd been a while since The Groundhog and I had popped out, and therefore about time our plans coincided. That's my excuse, anyway. That, and it was a particularly nice evening in north Staffordshire as the yawning floodlights oozed pale disinterest throughout tonight's big event.

While the self-regarding Man Ure kicked seven bells out of their 'other' some fifty miles north, Cadbury emerged from the dressing rooms with the purple swagger of a brummie Viola stuck indefinitely on step six. By the end of the night they'd be more a discarded pack of Silk Cut, as KA grabbed one goal for each graduation in the hallowed pyramid.

About thirty tifosi took note, including one undisputed ultra - a pleasant fellow and sometime acquaintance of TG's who really has to be a fan if he's going to do this every week (which he does).

Several miles up the food chain, the 92 clubs that traditionally define our 'national game' are asking for more and more so that they can keep reinforcing the mega-brand values of the Premiership and Champions' League, either directly or as the knock-on effect.

Fans, meanwhile, can less and less afford twenty quid plus travel to watch our fourth-tier teams flounder every week, and while I'll still travel with the mighty Quakers, that's as far as it goes; the rest is just TV.

Egan's post on the corinthian spirit of football in Finland seems to apply equally to the Meirs of this world: "it's safe to say that they will retain the personal touch that often makes smaller football clubs friendlier, more welcoming places. So what if [our] pro teams aren't the best in Europe?"

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

A place in the sun

Stone Dominoes vs Squires Gate

4 April 2007

Stone in action

A radiant spring evening announced the beginning of a long weekend and with Sammy and I having fulfilled our obligation to the ducks - who were engaged in a mass exodus from the lake to the rose garden - I myself fled the homestead for what is surely Meir Heath's third most prestigious visitor attraction.

The Springbank Stadium - normally home to Meir KA - sits in a pleasant acreage a little way out of the city. Endearingly, it boasts an improvised 'hospitality suite' picked out in bright red and perched inhospitably above the gents' urinals.

There's also a two-step terrace set some way back from the pitch. The roof of the latter rises only a little over six feet in height, and leaves you feeling like an extra in <i>Being John Malkovich</i>. Behind the dugouts is a proper paddock backed by leylandii, a steep and vacant slope that recalls the way in which most modern stadia began. This also saves the embarrassment of having to run and get the ball from under the bushes (such is Stone's big-time status), as wayward passes tend to drizzle back towards the field of play.

So, under a blood-red sky, a rather sparse crowd of 45 or so had gathered - the chosen few, U2 might say. The game was unremarkable, though fast-paced, and 'The Gate' were easily one up by half time, having enjoyed the best of the play. A gaggle of Blackpool supporters to my right began to ponder loudly on whether to give up on the Tangerines altogether.

For only the second time ever, though, I left the match early at 0-2. Doubtless one or two of you hardier souls will scoff, but I'd pledged to return home nice and early so that we can plan tomorrow's trip to the seaside with the offspring.

None the less, I witnessed one of the finest goals I've ever seen - a 50-yard volley from a Gate midfielder that nobody realised had gone in until the centre was taken. Such outrageous skill was thereby celebrated to a fitting backdrop of rapturous slurps from Thermos flasks.

Can't wait for the trip to Notts County now :-)