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 :-)