Arundel 0 Midhurst 3

Arundel 0 Midhurst & Easebourne 3 (31st July 2021)

With two options to choose from, the other being a match at Ramsgate, it was inevitable that I’d choose the one with fewer goals, but I didn’t count on one of the other reasons for picking Arundel, the shorter journey time, also being negated as well. Some heavy rain and some heavy traffic added 45 minutes to what was supposed to be a 75 minute journey, almost putting in doubt the deciding factor – a chance to have a look round Arundel Castle.

The fact that Arundel Castle was hosting a medieval event (falconly, axe throwing, food prices that were highway robbery) made the traffic even worse, but did add a bit to the day. It would have been nice if one of the castle windows or battlements had offered a view of the ground, handily just over the road, but you can’t have everything.

Other than one small but perfectly formed stand, and a covered area in one corner, there isn’t a vast amount to Arundel’s ground, but with the castle poking over the trees, plus glimpses of the South Downs in the other direction, on a surprisingly pleasant summer’s afternoon it doesn’t really matter. It’s a place to take a beer out and watch the game and enjoy the surroundings.

That said, there does seem to some kind of thatched yurt just beyond the fence in one corner, making it also feel like a continuation of the castle’s medieval theme. A white wood-panelled set of changing rooms looked like they be more at home next to a cricket pitch, while the far end had a long expanse of turf before the boundary fence, just big enough to make anyone stood there have to act as ballboy for any shot going over.

There was also what looked to be a tv gantry near the halfway line, strangely covered in camoflage webbing, as if it also concealed a hidden machine gun post, defending Arundel from airborne invaders.

In contrast to last week’s Met Police effort, Arundel’s programme contained no examples of a certain four-letter word beginning with ‘F’. It did, however, did include the line “We will be a very young talented squad but I’m sure you will appreciate the way they play football”, which is normally enough to have the odd alarm bell ringing at the start of the season.

“The Mullets” as Arundel are known (thankfully based on the fish, rather than the 80s fashion crime) did indeed look a reasonably young side, but they did start out acquitting themselves pretty well. The visitors, Midhurst, did look stronger, but in the first half anyway, it was Arundel who were generally having the better chances.

The best of these was 30 minutes into the first half, when a shot thudded against the bottom of the upright, and squirmed along the goal line. A tap-in looked inevitable, but brave Midhurst defending allowed a the ball to be cleared, and the defender bundled into the net instead.

Another Arundel effort was strongly saved, being turned onto the crossbar, shortly after, although Midhurst did have an effort ruled out for offside, albeit with the whistle clearly already gone.

It was looking like Arundel had enough sharpness to maybe nick the win, but the game turned just before half time when they had a player sent off for a “last man” foul. He didn’t really look clean through, and there was a ‘frank and robust’ discussion of the finer points of the ruling from both benches.

It took a long time for the extra man to really tell, but midway though the 2nd half two chances in succession were turned in by a Midhurst attack that previously had had “something we need to work on in training” stamped all over it.

As Arundel head’s understandably dropped, having worked so hard for so long, it didn’t take long for a third to be added, calmly sidefooted in at the back post. The keeper shouted at the defenders, the defenders shouted at other defenders, the ref, anyone who might hear really, and for a while it looked like it might be a case of how many.

That would have been very harsh on Arundel. True, their ‘top of the league after 0 games’ table in the match programme probably won’t feature Arundel in that position again, but they battled well, and did create some good chances, and might have got something out of the game 11 v 11. Midhurst, if they can get a bit sharper, could have a good season.

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Met Police 3 Eastleigh 2

Nearly one and half years after last stepping into a football ground, if you don’t count wandering through an open gate of a stadium in Hue, Vietnam, I was able to get back to something resembling normality.

That said, the gods seemed to want to test me one last time. Firstly, part of a windscreen wiper made a bid for freedom during the drive, whipping about like a rat’s tails as I tried to wipe away the light rain. Then a tyre pressue warning light came on just as I entered the M3, with no turn-off possible until I reached the turn off for Kempton Racecourse, nearly 15 miles away.

And finally I had to find my way from the car park to the ground through a sports club, which seemed to be set up to make you think there was no way though. OK, the route through didn’t really rival the maze at Hampton Court, just up the road, for difficulty, but a sign would have been nice – or maybe it’s just age creeping up on me.

The Met Police’s ground is a tidy place. OK, it’s not going the rival Henry VIII’s old stomping ground for architectural merit either, but with a decent stand, a nice bit of cover at one end, and a couple of steps of terracing all round elsewhere, you can’t really expect much else at their level.

Lovers of an old style floodlight pylon, and there certainly are a nostalgic few, will feel a delight at the Met Police having three of them – what happened to the 4th, replaced by a skinny imposter, is unknown. Getting near the ground, and seeing a pylon towering over the houses though, is how it should be.

One oddity was one of these plyons being almost on the pitch, definitely the wrong side of the perimeter wall, with the base covered in thick padding, like rugby posts. The floodlight at the other end partially obscured a memorial gate to what looked like a private house. The hedge leading to one side of the gate gave this corner the feel of a country lane, that had somehow found its way into a football ground.

Another oddity, and something of an irony, was that before reading The Met Police’s effort, I’d never seen the word ‘fuck’ used in an official matchday programme before. One law for them…

The Met Police no longer draw their players exclusively (or at all quite often) from the ranks of the Metropolitan Police, and are effectively like any other semi pro club. That might seem strange, but it’s not as if Chelsea field players from Chelsea too often, and nobody minds.

Taking them on this afternoon were Eastleigh, who have progressed hugely as a club since Iast saw them play in a friendly v Reading Reserves ten years ago. Then, the Conference South looked the very limit of their ambition, but now they are clearly aspiring to be a league club.

As such they would definitely have fancied their chances against a Met Police side two steps below them in the pyramid, but as the home side took the field to The Clash’s “I fought the law”, they’d find the following line “and the law won” surprisingly prophetic.

While never easy, Eastleigh definitely had the better of a first half that started under grey skies, but warmed as the afternoon wore on. They should have made more of their opportunities but would have to be satisfied with a 1-0 lead. The home sides best chance was dragged wide from a shot across goal, but it showed they were a danger.

The home side did bundle in an equaliser from close range, but the game seemed to be going more to script as the Met Police made wholesales changes to their line-up at once. A penalty dispatched with a confidence that would have been nice at Wembley a couple of weeks ago put Eastleigh back ahead after 77 minutes, and despite the Met Police’s spirit, it did look like Eastleigh would go on to win.

The Met had other ideas though. Another ‘bundled in’ goal from a free kick made it 2-2 with just a couple of minutes left, and in injury time a foul gave the hosts a free kick outside the box. A very tempting gap to the far post looked visible from the angle I was watching from, and the Met Police free kick taker agreed, curling in a beauty past the diving keeper.

It was a genuine ‘last kick of the game’ goal too, with the ref blowing as soon as he’d let the players celebrate. Hearing the lyrics from another playing of The Clash’s track would have been apt, but even without it, I suppose Eastleigh could guess their race was run.

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Hue Stadium

February 2020

For no obvious reason I bring you a few pictures of Hue’s Tự Do (Freedom) Stadium, a good four months after they were taken. There was no game on, but the stadium was very close to my hotel in Hue’s small but passable tourist district. Walking back I’d bump into a guy I met in a bar in Da Nang a couple of days earlier, and rather too many beers would be drunk. At about 50p a pint, it’s hard not to.

No beers at the stadium, and no football either in Hue though. There was still football on in Vietnam at the time, but Vietnam’s small 2nd tier, where Hue’s team have mostly found themselves of late, hadn’t started their new season yet.

Tự Do Stadium isn’t one that will appear on too many fan bucket lists, being a fairly standard concrete oval, save for the addition of a velodrome track, but the gates were welcomingly open, and that was enough for me. It was, after all, the closest I’d come to seeing any football on the whole trip.

I had actually planned to go to a game in Cambodia a few days earlier, but sadly I fell asleep after an extended lunchtime “period of refreshment” at a Phnom Penh bar after by overnight flight, and missed the whole game. This was in my hotel room, I should at, not at the stadium. There’s always next year, I thought, not suspecting that this new virus thing going around could make that potentially a doubt. Here’s hoping I won’t have to wait too many more months before I can see another football match. Anywhere.

Few come to Hue for football though, even if there is a game on. If you can avoid the idiot backpackers who are drunk by 5pm, who haven’t grasped yet that not everywhere in SE Asia thinks dressing like you are at a Thai beach resort is reasonable, it’s a great place to spend a few days.

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Guiseley 2 Gloucester 1

Guiseley 2 Gloucester City 1 (18th Jan 2020)

You know it’s a cold day when you are twelve minutes into a game, and you are already thinking about half time, and the chance to get inside into the warm. It hadn’t seemed too bad driving up, with the clear blue skies making everything look more like March than January. Inside the ground, however, it was a different story. If Formula 1 teams wish to test the aerodynamics of their latest cars, they could just take them up to Guiseley’s Nethermoor Park, as it seems to be a very effective wind tunnel.

Furthermore, there seemed almost nowhere to take shelter, as if the wind had a mind of it’s own, and its icy fingers would seek you out wherever you tried to hide. Even an oddly shaped wedge of covered terracing near the bar didn’t help, as for some reason it had no back wall for most of its length. It did feature a dog almost large enough to act as a wind break itself, but anyone standing near it risked being eaten whole if it got peckish. Like much of the terracing at the ground, it featured crush barriers of a thickness that looked sufficient to stop tanks in their tracks, let alone the few hundred hardy souls who stood on the shallow steps to watch Guiseley most week.

If there’s one thing that does warm you, as a neutral, it’s an early goal to kill off those “I hope this doesn’t end 0-0” fears. Gloucester did the honours after just three minutes, heading in from a corner, but the play quickly went into a pattern of Guiseley being on top, and Gloucester having the odd break.

Gloucester didn’t seem very confident in defence, and Guiseley were quick to pounce on mistakes. Had they actually been more confident in actually making the most of the mistakes, it could have been comfortable home win, rather than the battle it became.

Guiseley thought they’d equalised after twelve minutes, when the ball pinged around a packed box, to be turned in from close range. Only the little kids nearby didn’t notice the offside flag raised though, but it set the tone for a half of disappointing ends to promising positions for Guiseley.

The welcome relief of half time was delayed by a clash of heads that resulted in a Gloucester defender being stretchered off, looking like he didn’t know what day it was. While that was a serious injury, the only thing hurt during half time itself was the pride of a group of kids who decided to play football on the adjoining field. Playing football in normal shoes on muddy and slippy grass is not likely to end well, but they seemed to have fun, despite it looking like a cross between football and Bambi On Ice at times.

No such comedy during the real game, but Guiseley seemed to get more inventive in their ways of not scoring. It looked every inch like a game where they’d go on to win if only they equalised, but it wasn’t obvious they would.

Eventually it did come, with the ball squared from close range to offer a simple chance to side-foot in for 1-1. It made you wonder how they’d taken so long to level.

For all their troubles at getting one, it didn’t take long to get a second, but this one had an element of luck about it. A corner was swung in, no doubt aided by the wind, and it deceived the keeper. If the keeper’s embarrassment at not claiming the corner was bad enough, it came back off the post and hit him on the back, deflecting into the net for 2-1.

The goal was awarded to the corner-taker, his name shouted out by Guiseley’s hyper-excited PA guy, who read most announcements like they were an audition for Saturday-night TV gameshow work. That said, I’m sure the Gloucester keeper didn’t mind not getting the credit.

From there, the game sort of petered out, as if both teams were too frozen to truly care. Gloucester nearly had the last word, with the last kick of the game being a shot which was decent, but didn’t really have the power to trouble the keeper too much.

The youths on the far side of the pitch sang about Guiseley getting promotion. Older heads rolled their eyes. With news of Leeds United, just a few miles down the road, suffering yet another set-back in their 16 year bid to return to the top flight, folks in these parts clearly know the dangers of getting carried away too early.


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Oswestry 2 West Didsbury & Chorlton 1

Oswestry Town 2 West Didsbury & Chorlton 1 (26th October 2019)

Had plans worked out I’d have been mixing a report around a Steeton AFC match at Keighley Cougars rugby league ground with location shots of Ripping Yarns’ Barnstoneworth United ground, and “Golden” Gordon Ottershaws house, which was filmed in the area.

Sadly heavy rain called for a drastic change of plan as we reached the end of the A43 at Northampton. With option after option also being called off, “anywhere with a 3G pitch” become the sole consideration, and a trek in horrible weather across the West Midlands almost to the Welsh border became the plan.

In the report from my Goole trip, I mentioned gloomy-sounding northern towns being mentioned occasionally on the Saturday afternoon football results, presumably located in hinterlands so remote that “dragons lived here” could have been etched onto maps of the area. While not northern (not that I knew any better) the name “Oswestry Town” certainly fitted into that category.

The Oswestry Town I’d be seeing would not technically be the same club I recall from those Saturday afternoon football results of my youth. Having folded in 1998, Oswestry reformed a few years later, before eventually merging with Total Network Solutions to form The New Saints, after losing their ground for housing.

This incarnation of Oswestry Town formed in 2013, and shared The New Saints’ ground, but very much as a junior partner. The sports complex appeared to have no signage at all indicating it was also the home of anybody other than The New Saints.

The building that served as the club bar was also a bowling alley and children’s play area, meaning any pre-match conversation was drowned out by screaming kids and the rattle of bowling pins being knocked over. It was partly due to this, and our early arrival, that the decision was made to find a pub in town for a pre-match beer. I can thoroughly recommend the all day breakfast in “The Griffin” – a fine old-style pub full of awkwardly adjoining rooms on different levels.

Sadly lacking in any kind of similar old style charm was Park Hall Stadium itself. You can’t knock the facilities of the sports centre, but the place was, perhaps understandably, clearly designed as a community asset rather than a football ground. A covered seated stand at one end, oddly off centre, was the best part of the ground. A temporary canvas roofed seated stand just round the corner did at least break up the cliff face of the high wall of the sports centre. The other half down that side had a raised balcony area just off from the cafe/bowling alley/kids play area, which offered a fine view, but did again just present a high blank wall on that side. With the turnstiles closed, access via this balcony was the only way into the ground.

Opposite was the kind of ridiculously over-engineered tv gantry that’s apparently a requirement for all Welsh Premier League club. I’m not sure who designed these things, but I suspect they must have shares in a steel company, going by how much is deemed necessary to support a small camera crew.

Directly beneath were seats for the players of both teams, with the steps and floor also oddly covered in (fake) grass, as if it had been partially reclaimed by nature.

Everywhere else was just hard standing with a mesh fence behind, including the end behind which was the overflow car park. A few saw little point in bothering to pay to get in, when they could just watch for free from there.

For much of the game it did look like those few not bothering to pay to get in might have made the right decision. It was a 1st v 4th fixture, but both teams seemed to just cancel each other out. Early on, WD&C were having most of the play, but not really creating anything. Oswestry got more into if after a heated minute or two, when a series of “competitive” challenges flew in, and probably had the edge after that.

Oswesty seemed intent on “working the channels” with many a ball played long and wide. It would have been a great tactic if the Oswestry forwards could stay onside to receive these balls. On or two did come off though, and one of these, towards the end of the first half, saw the first goal. The very mobile WD&C keeper tried to collect a ball toward the side of his box, but couldn’t get there. From a very tight angle the ball was cut back at pace, and found the inside of the far side-netting to put the home side ahead.

The second half was watched from the balcony. The view here was much better, as was the weather compared the journey up, but the game saw little improvement. Both defences, and the offside flag, were winning the battles, and the game looked set for a 1-0 finish. I wouldn’t have quite called it boring, but it was definitely rather too cagey for my liking.

Thankfully it burst into life in the last few minutes. An Oswestry run into the box from the right, and a powerful shot which came back off the post, injected some much needed urgency into the game. WD&C responded, and at last seemed to realise that if they were going to score an equaliser, it would be best to try to have a few shots.

They’d put one good chance badly wide, before a ball was cleared to the edge of the box by the Oswestry defence. It dropped kindly for WD&C’s No.8, and his low shot seemed to catch everybody out as it torpedoed into the bottom corner. The travelling fans, who must have made up close to half of the crowd ,celebrated, as the away team salvaged a point in the 88th minute.

Or so they thought. With the game going into stoppage time, Oswestry won a corner. A perfect set-piece saw a deep corner met with a thumping header from a player running in, and it was in the net before anyone could react, putting Oswestry back in front.

There’d be no more excitement though. The ball found its way to the corner flag, and just stayed there for the final minute or two. I can fully understand why teams do it, even when presented with free kicks around the box, but it’s not the most edifying spectacle. The home fans would hardly complain though, and with other games in the division postponed, it put them six points clear at the top. And on a day that had threatened to be a washout, I was just pleased with the late drama.

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New York Rangers 2 Philadelphia 1

(should have been a post rather than a page… oh for the ability to edit)

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San Jose 1 Philadelphia 2

San Jose Earthquakes 1 Philadelphia Union 2 (25th September 2019)

After a great few days in the fine city of San Francisco, I found myself down the road in San Jose due to an early flight to New York from San Jose Airport the following morning (the only airport I’ve been to where the PA announcer sings the announcements) and also the chance to take in a San Jose Earthquakes match in the evening.

I probably went a few hours too early though, and found myself not quite sure what to do in San Jose’s pleasant, but incredibly dead town centre. The main life appeared to be from a few crazy homeless people, one of whom seemed to walk around dancing to a rather funky tune that only existed in his head. Another was just shouting random things at nobody.

I did stop off for a small lunch in a 50s style diner called Johnny Rockets, thinking chips with cheese and bacon sounded good. It did sound good, but the cheese was evil. It was a sauce, like it was out of a sachet, and tasted like something that was a byproduct of the Firestone tyre factory. Luckily a pub down the road was rather better, even if not everyone was there from the beer. Asked if he wanted a drink, one guy said “OK, but I only really came in to avoid Beetlejuice”, pointing to a wild-haired homeless guy outside.

Walking round in the afternoon I was wondering if I’d become very English about how warm it was, making a fuss out of nothing. It was only when I checked the forecast on my phone that I realised it was currently 37 C, and wondered if it would impact the game later on. Luckily, by the time the free shuttle bus from the centre of town to the station had arrived, darkness was falling, and temperatures were dropping.

Located right on the airport perimeter, close enough to be able to smell the aviation fuel from the bus stop, the Avaya Stadium, home of the Earthquakes since their return to the city in 2015, is a decent enough stadium without being spectacular. A large upper tier curves around three sides in a horseshoe(ish) shape, with an actual terrace at the open end. This terrace is shallow, and mainly grass rather than concrete, but a terrace it is.

Behind this terrace was an large open grassed area, full of food stalls and activities for fans. Really nice in the Bay Area climate, but I can’t see it catching on in Barnsley. The light chatter was interrupted by planes landing on the runway behind every few minutes.

The noisiest fans preferred the opposite end, either for the boost the roof overhead gave to their songs, or because they liked to watched the planes land during duller moments of games. They weren’t large in number (and the actual attendance looked way below the announced figure of 16600) but they would become increasingly vocal as the game went on – just not for the right reasons.

San Jose had gone in front in the first half. They’d already missed one great chance when a deep cross could only been turned into the side netting, but on 36 minutes they went 1-0 up when a cut-back from the byline was sidefooted past the keeper from six yards.

They must have felt confident of going on to win at half-time, and even more so just after. Inside the first minute of the 2nd half they’d scored again. A shot from a left wing cross was saved, but the ball was only parried out, and the rebound was fired in for a 2-0 lead. Or so everyone thought.

The celebrations were cut short by the announcement of a VAR review, and then the ruling out of the goal for offside. Watching the replays, it took a long time to spot it, as every attacking player was in line, however the foot of one guy who received a pass was ahead, and that’s enough to chalk off the goal. Technically correct, but almost absurdly harsh.

Philadelphia came into the game more after that, with San Jose possibly a bit unsettled by what they would have seen as injustice. With 20 minutes left they levelled the scores, with midfielder Alejandro Bedoya making space in the box and firing a low shot beyond the keeper into the far corner. Again, as with the away goal I’d seen in Los Angeles a few days earlier, this was greeted with the unfamiliar sound of total silence. It’s not surprising. English fans might think it’s a long drive to go to Scunthorpe, but piling into a Ford Focus with a couple of mates for the 2900 mile trip from Philadelphia to San Jose would be something else entirely.

Six minutes later they’d turned the game on its head. A deep cross from the left really ought to have been cut out either by the marking defender or the keeper. Instead it dropped nicely onto the head of Philadelphia’s top scorer, and PA booth announcer’s nightmare, Kacper Przybyłko, and he nodded it in from six yards.

San Jose, who’d since had another goal ruled out for offside – less controversially this time – must have felt aggrieved, but an 80th minute spot-kick looked to have earned them some reward. An attacker, trying to get to the ball near the byline, was just obstructed and forced out of play by a defender. It looked a clear pen, but then, yet again, there was the VAR review call.

The defender looked too far from the ball to be deemed just shielding it, but that can be the only reason for reversing the spot-kick decision. The fans behind the goal were not happy, and cups and other packaging rained down on the officials at that end. They must have been angry – with the prices the food stalls charge you’d need to be to throw your drink onto the field.

After that fans began to head for the exits as the final minutes ticked by. I moved round to the grassed terrace ready for a quick getaway, not knowing how big the shuttle bus queues would be. All around fans had that silent stare of supporters knowing their team is about to lose, but just hoping something, anything, could happen. Invariably it doesn’t though, and beyond a bit of anger at the final end towards the referee, the final whistle was greeted with a resigned acceptance.

With two defeats and a draw, I’d not really been a lucky charm in California. Maybe a trip to the east coast would bring more luck. Goodbye California. New York awaits.

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LA FC 1 Toronto 1

Los Angeles FC 1 Toronto 1 (21st September 2019)

Most away trips, there isn’t that much of interest around the ground. A pub, a nice view of countryside if you are lucky. Perhaps even a minor historic building now and then. At LA FC’s Banc of California Stadium, well, it’s next door to the LA Memorial Coliseum, venue for the 1984 Olympics, and now home to the LA Rams NFL team, as well as the USC Trojans college football team. Next to that are the Natural History Museum of California, and the California Science Center. Oh…the Science Center sounds interesting, much in there? Yeah, plenty of stuff to see, and it’s free. Anything else? Oh…yeah, that reminds me…they have the Space Shuttle Endeavor there as well, if you want to look at that.

The Banc of America Stadium itself is worth seeing too. Completed in the spring of 2018, I’m struggling to think of many better stadiums of its size. Holding just 22,000 but looking bigger, it’s an unashamedly modern build, but with enough difference in the stands to make it interesting. Three sides hold two tiers of seats, but one side has open corners, making that side stand out, and also, if you are in the right place, offers a clear view of the Los Angeles downtown skyline two and a half miles to the north.

The opposite end doesn’t offer such a view, but does feature a 3000 place “safe standing” section, which effectively functions as a traditional home end terrace, where all the noise comes from. Strange how litigation-happy USA is fine with such arrangements, while the authorities in the UK insist such areas are far too dangerous to be allowed (unless the ball is oval-shaped and passed backwards, or the football isn’t of a high standard – both of which are vital in assessing safety).

While it’s easy to wish UK clubs building similar sized grounds would build something of such quality, it does have to be said it came at a price tag, $250 million, which would seem expensive to build something twice the size in England.

Maybe people in the USA are just a lot richer. I have seen what they seem happy to pay for food and drink in US sports grounds, and $25 to park seems quite normal. And looking at LAFC’s rather smart black and gold shirts in the club shop, I couldn’t but think English clubs’ overpriced shirts would seem like bargains in the US, where a new LAFC shirt would give you just one cent of change from $130. It might even be worse than that, if like many places in the USA, the sales tax isn’t added to the display price.

Opting for a seat in the end opposite the safe standing end, I was well placed to view the display of flags, singing, and black smoke from the smoke bombs set off now and then during the evening. They were certainly an enthusiastic bunch, even if they went for the ultras style of singing which I find a bit one-paced, rather than rising and falling in flow with the game going on, the in the UK.

On this day though, that was for the best, as it wasn’t the greatest game. LAFC played some nice football, but flattered to deceive, and it wasn’t a huge shock when Toronto went in front inside 20 minutes. They’d looked dangerous on the break, but got their chance due to dithering at the back, allowing the ball to be nicked from the defender and squared to Jozy Altidore. Jozy, best known in England for flopping at both Hull and Sunderland (two goals in 70 appearances) laid the ball off to Japanese striker Tsubasa Endoh, and he hit a fine low shot across the keeper to silence the home fans.

The home side did slowly wake up, forcing a save with a shot from outside the box, and even thinking they’d equalised when Uruguayan Diego Rossi slipped the ball past the keeper at the near post. A flag was rightly raised though, and the home team went in a goal down.

If you were a Toronto fan at the game – a given the silence that greeted their goal, that’s unlikely – you’d have wanted them to carry on pushing, to get the 2nd goal that would have made the game safe. Instead they chose to sit back in the 2nd half, and play for the 1-0.

To be fair, it nearly worked. LAFC kept playing the same pretty but ineffective football that had failed for the previous 45 minutes, as if they had no idea of how to inject a bit of urgency into their play. Had it been an English game, there’d no doubt have been a fair degree of four-letter “encouragement” to the players, but American crowds seem too polite for that.

Right at the end though, something at last paid off. A good ball was played out the the wing. As the winger cut into the box, a defender made a total hash of what should have been a routine clearance, missing the ball completely and kicking the winger in the chest with his follow-through.

Somehow it required VAR to confirm it was a penalty rather than a corner, and Mexican Carlos Vela, once of Arsenal and something of a crowd favourite took the kick. He stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way for a 95th minute equaliser, saving the game, and doing his hero status no harm at all.

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LA Kings 2 Vegas Golden Knights 3

Los Angeles 2 Las Vegas Golden Knights 3 (19th September 2019)

What did you do for your birthday? Night out in town? A meal with the family? Me? I went to Los Angeles.  OK, it wasn’t actually for my birthday, but I found myself in the city on my birthday, with the bonus of my first NHL game thrown in. OK, it was a pre-season game, but a game at the 21,000 capacity Staples Center is a bit different to going to watch a Reading XI at Boreham Wood on a Tuesday night.

Located in Los Angeles’ city centre, a 50 minute journey from my hotel in Santa Monica along the cheap but slow LA Metro, I was starting to get to know the bland urban sprawl that seems to make up much of Los Angeles.

With it taking a little longer to get into the centre than planned, I had no chance to do much on arrival, so it was straight in, braving the eye-watering prices that would no doubt exist at the concession stands inside the arena. A hot-dog and beer cost nearly $20, although it was apparently an extra large beer (domestic). I’d normally be glad of an extra-large beer, but only when it was poured did I discover that was Bud-Light. Even the most ardent US-hater would admit the nation has invented and produced many many great things. Sadly, Bud-Light isn’t one of them. It was terrible. The hot-dog was tiny too.

Definitely not tiny was the Staples Center arena itself. The biggest ice hockey “arena” I’d been to previously was at Bracknell (capacity 3000). This held a mere 18,000 more, and it’s a bit like comparing Walsall and Barcelona. A large split lower tier was topped by a three tier ring of executive boxes, and atop those was another tier, and that’s where my seat was. The view, even from up there, was surprisingly good, as the home DJs controlled the laser and light show to build up the atmosphere as the start approached.

One thing the dimmed lights couldn’t hide was the low crowd. LA sports fans are known for being notoriously fickle, and the majority of the seats were empty. Perhaps at best the place was a third full, but it was still just about enough to give it the feel of an occasion.

The visitors from Las Vegas, true to the occasion, took to the ice with a “pre-season” mentality, and barely looked interested for most of the game. The Kings were well on top, but struggled to do much with their advantage. Both teams managed to hit the goal frame in the first period, but neither looked confident trying to score. Their play was probably best summed up by a total swing-and-miss air-shot, when scoring looked easier.

A similar theme maintained in the 2nd period too, and just as I was contemplating my first ever ice-hockey 0-0, a Vegas penalty set up a 5-on-4 powerplay for the remainder of the period. This gave the Kings the chink in the armour they needed. Careful work allowed the puck to be pulled back and fired in. It was saved, but the rebound was hit back hard and low under the keeper to put the hosts 1-0 up with 45 seconds remaining in the period.

It set up a happier 2nd period break. Among the usual scoreboard entertainment, such as picking out local celebrities (the lead guitarist of Bad Religion might be lost on some) in attendance, they also featured a Pictionary style between two players, where one had to guess what the other was drawing. A picture of a small bird had the other player guessing “turkey, goose, duck, pigeon, eagle…”   Giving up, he was told it was a chicken.
“A chicken?” he replied. “A chicken isn’t a bird”.
“…err… it’s got wings.”
“That doesn’t make it a bird” he said, laughing to himself, sadly not revealing what kind of animal he thought a chicken was. Maybe he thought they lived as nuggets. And people say footballers are thick.

A second home goal looked to have sealed victory, and with just six minutes left, the away players’ ambitions looked to be extending no further than getting a good seat on the four-hour coach ride back home to Vegas. A foray into home territory though saw the puck cut back from right wing. A Kings defender stuck his stick out to cut it out, and surprised everyone by just deflecting it past his keeper into his own net.

It got worse for the home team just a minute later. A break for the Golden Knights saw an away player evade one challenge and poke the puck forward. A player skated past the wrong-footed defenders, controlled the puck, took it round the keeper, and slid the puck in to make it 2-2.

It got even worse, with another break early in overtime saw an Vegas attacker put away. His shot was fired high into the roof of the net. It bounced down rapidly and rolled along the goal, but the red flashing light indicated a goal, and the home side had indeed lost a game they hadn’t looked like doing until right at the end. Maybe those fickle stay-away LA fans had the right idea after all.

Posted in North America, USA, World | Leave a comment

Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 Irlam 3

Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 Irlam Town 3 (24th August 2019)

Nice weather, nice ground, nice scenery, nice number of goals…a tick in the box for them all. OK, I’ll gloss over an eight hour round trip in a car that was rather too warm, and being honest, I wasn’t totally taken with the large pork pie in the club bar. It was a bit too large in, truth. I asked to borrow a knife to cut it up, and was presented with what looked more like a machete, but overall it was one of the better club bars.

The bar, being perched up on the first floor, was also a popular spot for those wishing to drink while watching the game, offering a fine view of both the pitch and the hills to the north.

The ground itself was up a steep hill, round a hairpin bend, passing an odd castellated tower, leveling out just enough for it to have only a moderate slope. A cricket pitch beyond also had a slope. The two teams in whites, playing as we arrived, no doubt, opted to knock the ball to the downhill boundary whenever possible.

Stocksbridge Park Steels’ ground also used to be a cricket ground. The clubhouse and offices are in the corner, pavilion style, which one empty side which looks like is used to be a cricket outfield, but now is home to a permanent looking fence. The field beyond doesn’t look like it’s hosted cricket for quite a while, looking more like a training pitch for the football club now.

The main stand opposite is a decent structure, named “The Jamie Vardy Stand” after their most famous ex-player, who had three seasons at Stocksbridge between 2007 and 2010. Beyond here is a steep grass bank. Signs telling you to keep of the banking are possibly redundant, as the five foot high sheer wall before the banking even starts would deter all from climbing up, beyond those who regularly attend football matches with crampons and a climbing pick.

There is another grass bank at far end, although with this one climbing up is not only possible, but allowed. The slope of the pitch causes this to be higher at one side than the other. The man who took our money for the car park was stretched out on a blanket at the top, with his wife, having been released from car park duty on the grounds that Irlam weren’t expected to bring any supporters.

The near end, as well as the terracing rising up to the start of the clubhouse, featured a covered end terrace. Such is the slope of the ground, that the roof of this was below ground level as you walked in. The terrace itself would probably be a more popular vantage point when the winter sets in, despite its distance from the pitch. On this day though, with the sun beating down, only a handful of fans used it, one of whom appeared to have dropped a whole pie onto the terracing, lying there, semi-squished, like a meat & potato roadkill.

Also squished, were Stocksbridge Park Steels’ FA Cup hopes. Top of their division after two games, and facing an Irlam team categorised as a division below, they would have at very least fancied their chances. The early signs were that this was well-founded, with the home side doing well in the opening stages. Had an early laid-off chance hit the target, rather than being blazed over, the afternoon could have been different.

As it was though, Irlam, in their first meaningful attack, took the lead, blasting a powerful shot past the home keeper after just four minutes.

Just two minutes later the lead was doubled. A through ball put the Irlam attacker away in what used to be called “the inside left channel” and he took advantage of a keeper seemingly in two minds about whether to come or stay, dinking the ball past him when he did eventually advance.

This was not in the script, and the home side were rattled for quite a while after, not being able to get their game going at all, with Irlam content to play on the break. On a very warm day (especially for Yorkshire) this was understandable, but a little risky. They got away with one chance when a flicked header from a corner had to be cleared away from nearly on the line. They were also fortune when their keeper spilled what looked a routine save. The Stocksbridge player following up was deemed to be offside, sparing the keeper’s blushes, and saving the 2-0 advantage.

The second half started with the home side looking stronger, now attacking down one of the slopes the pitch had. The early pressure told, with the home side curling a fine shot across the keeper, into the top corner, to put them back into the game.

The equaliser always looked on the cards after that, and it was a surprise that it took as long as the 65th minute to come. This time, a cross into a crowded box was controlled and brought down, before stumbling forward and thumping the ball past the Irlam keeper to level the scores.

There looked only one winner now, but Irlam had other ideas. Not long after, a break down the left saw the ball crossed in. The home keeper came out to claim, but didn’t get near enough, and it was flicked over him to drop into the net. Irlam back in the lead.

After working so hard to get back into the match, this goal seemed to really knock the stuffing out of Stocksbridge, and they never quite got on top of the game again, and Irlam saw the game out with probably more comfort than the few that came from Irlam thought at the time. The liveliest moment was probably when a frustrated Irlam played angrily kicked out a ball that had rebounded after going out for a throw, only managing to take out one of his own teammates in the process. So well done to Irlam. Commiserations to Stocksbridge Park Steels. You may have lost, but if nothing else, at least it was a nice day for it.

Posted in England, Europe, World | Leave a comment