Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Bank Holiday Sunday, and there was no local football on, so I thought I had better give Michelle my undevoted undivided attention and proposed that we go out for the day to the seaside.

I know – the seaside on a bank holiday weekend – only an idiot would propose that! Did I say it was my idea? I meant to say I suggested we went out and Michelle chose the seaside Winking smile ( I’m in trouble when she reads this….)

Both Michelle and I have spent numerous weekends as children with families on this most beautiful stretch of coastline. I for one am glad the rest of the country don’t know how beautiful it is. Its our little secret.

We decided to head up to Amble on the Northumberland coast.We have been there many weekends this year. More often than not, there were few others there.  Amble’s best feature is one of the 2 fish and chip shops there. One has the slowest service in the world with the least helpful staff ever. Sadly that is the one in the best position and gets most of the trade.

Anyway, despite the warnings of impending traffic chaos we set off for Amble. We did manage to find congestion just north of Morpeth on the A1, but using the back roads we skirted the various accidents and traffic queues to get to Amble. This normally sleepy fishing port was rammed with day trippers and those staying at the nearby caravan parks. Now, I am not complaining but where were these people every other weekend we came to Amble?

Clearly the sunshine had brought them out for the last bank holiday before Christmas! Yes, Christmas is coming……

Still, we managed to get parked and took the dogs down onto the beach and let them have a paddle in the sea. A friendly spaniel came along to join in the fun carrying his lead and clearly having escaped from his owner. After seeing the owner a bit later, I don’t blame the dog for escaping.

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After the sea, we went for fish and chips, but the queues were far too big, so lunch was sandwiches made from bread and ham from the co-op. Far healthier than fish and chips, but not nearly as much fun. This was the first time we’ve been to Amble and Michelle remembered t o bring some vinegar as she likes lots on her chips, and we never got to have any! There is a moral in this story.

Next, we drove in the glorious sunshine through Warkworth and past Alnmouth and on to Craster so Michelle could get some kippers – you know those horribly smelly fish type things! There is a council / local authority development in Craster that has some of the best views in the country. The pictures below are the views from those living room window of those properties.

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Some people would pay large sums of money for such views. Just look at the silly property prices at say Sandbanks in Dorset as an example. Here these views come free with local authority homes.

For those who do not know the place, Craster is a lovely little fishing village that now seems to be 505 holiday lets. There are numerous coastal walks that people can go on from here. It really is a beautiful place.

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The castle in the picture ( s) above is Dunstanburgh Castle and is one of many wonderful castles on the North East Coast. These again are worth a visit. Even the children’s playground in Craster is in a picturesque setting.

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As for the bus stop, this again is in a picturesque setting, but it is also the only bus stop I know where the bus reverses into the stop. In the ensuing picture you will not what looks like Mt & Mrs ET. If you can tell me why they have so many shopping trollies with them I would be grateful.

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Sadly after getting the kippers, it was time to return back to Michelle’s home, without even time for a stop at Shilbottle. Home and then along to Michelle’s parents for Sunday dinner and a few alcoholic drinks to round off a perfect day. Well it was rounded off after a few more drinks and sharing a bag of peanut M&Ms with 2 very tired but content dogs.

A day of simple pleasures, but a great day out for all five of us. ( Michelle, Josh, myself and the 2 dogs). It was a reminder that a good day doesn’t involve TV, spending lots of money or anything other than time together.

Oh and for those of you who say there is nothing to do in the countryside and its boring….

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Que Sera, Sera: Ground Hopping 25th August 2012 Spennymoor Town v West Allotment Celtic: Brewery Field Spennymoor

Not exactly a new ground, but Saturday brought the excitement of the FA to my travels. I came to this game with Michelle and Josh, as the excitement of the FA Cup tie against West Allotment Celtic [WAC] was too much for them to miss out on.

Michelle and I had undergone stringent preparations for this game. As you will appreciate, preparation is everything in a cup tie. So on Friday night we drank around 5 1/2 bottles of wine to limber up the vocal chords and get the body finely honed for such an important match as the FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round. This was the 2nd game of the competition for Spennymoor after seeing off Scarborough Athletic in the last round two weeks ago. As you will recall, I missed that game as I was stuck in London watching Barkingside v Great Yarmouth town.

So, Saturday morning came and we excitedly woke up looking forward to the game, but realised we had both failed the early morning fitness test and collapsed back asleep in bed until mid to late morning. Fried egg sandwiched were the order of the day to help get the body to wake up. I’m glad Michelle is still able to operate the cooker after so much wine the night  before, because I sure was not safe to let near such dangerous things.

Food eaten, showers undertaken and it was time to hit the road.  Arriving at the Brewery Field, we then realised we hadn’t got enough cash to get in and for me to pay my sponsorship money to the club. Yes, I’m sponsoring a player’s kit this season. I know, its a slippery slope, soon I’ll be eating prawn sandwiches etc. So, a quick drive to Asda for some cash and into the ground. £15 for three of us to get into the game is remarkable value really when it can cost 3 times or more for one person to get into a premiership game.

Going through the turnstiles reminded me of what I love about the non league experience. The programme seller Chris greets the three of us with a cheery hello and knowing we are Newcastle fans tells us the Mackems game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. The friendliness of football at this level makes it a pleasure to come to the games.

Next stop was the bar for a swift hair of the dog just before kick-off.

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The view from the bar, pint in hand as the game has just kicked off. No rules here preventing you seeing the pitch as you have a drink at the bar. In fact, you could spend the whole game drinking in the bar at £2 per pint (until the first goal) or £2.50 for a Bulmers No. 17 Cider. Premiership football can’t match the price of the view of the game whilst drinking!

Unusually, Spennymoor were to kick up the slope in the first half i.e. to the uncovered Durham Road End. This factor and the rain meant the usual vociferous choir behind the goal Spennymoor were attacking was surprisingly quiet today. A suggestion for the chairman, Brad Groves – how about a roof on that end? Winking smile

Anyway, after last night, I was not going to spend the afternoon in the bar. So, it was time for some of the finest food after a skin full of alcohol the night before.  Yes, the cheeseburger from the Sizzling Sausage burger van. Just what the doctor ordered. ( Did I tell you the doctor had a skin full last night as well?). The only problem with ordering this culinary delight was that we were still getting served when Spennymoor scored the first goal, in the 2nd minute. Now, I’m not going to suggest anything improper, but I wonder why the £2 per pint offer was on until the 1st goal!!!!!

That goal sadly effectively killed off the game. Northern League second division WAC tried valiantly, but they were simply not up to the task. They did play some neat football and will I think mount a strong challenge for promotion from division 2 this season.

Half time came with the score still 1-0. This was the cue for some more food. What could be better than chips and curry sauce. You know the curry sauce that glows a luminous colour and if seen at Windscale would cause a scare.

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Despite what I said about the colour etc., they were delicious.

The second half of the game and the Moors were now playing with the slope. An inspired substitution saw Taylor come on for Spennymoor and score with his 1st touch of the ball. A third goal followed and by this time it was in doubt who were going to win. To give credit where its due, WAC carried on trying to play football and trying to score. They were unable to create any sustained possession or threat to the Spennymoor goal and the game ended 3-0.

The next round of the cup sees Spennymoor play at home to Harrogate RA or South Shields. They drew today and replay at South Shields this week. Sadly, Shildon drew in the FA Cup today as well and now must also replay this week. This means that Spennymoor’s game on Bank Holiday Monday is postponed. The start of a fixture pile up? It is when you consider the game on 8th September at Darlington is also off now because Spennymoor are in the FA Cup. Darlington, being a new club ( according to FA Rules) are not allowed to play in this season’s FA cup so are looking to rearrange/ bring forward one of their league games to this date.

The win today earned Spennymoor £1750 prize money to add to the £1000 won in the last round. This is a large sum for a club at this level.

Now, some of you will know my issue with the man on the shed roof at Shildon or the man on the plastic chair at Barkingside. It is clearly something where Spennymoor are lacking. They have no one on the shed or on a plastic chair. The best they can manage is the steward with the brolly.

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I did however notice this structure on the Tees Crescent side of the ground

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I am left asking could this be the beginning of a structure to enable the Moors to put a man on a shed, or even perhaps something grander?

PLAYER SPONSORSHIP

As I said earlier in this blog post, I am sponsoring a player’s kit this season. The cost of this is £50 per player per season. I am sponsoring our diminutive striker Gavin Cogdon. When you consider the size of the centre halves or perhaps Mickey Rae and their sponsors only pay £50 as well, I think that as Gav and fellow vertically challenged team mate Anthony Peacock clearly only need youth sized kit, we should be entitled to a reduced sponsorship rate, after all the youth kit in the club shop is cheaper than the adult sized kit.   Devil  Winking smile

 

All in all, it was another enjoyable day amongst friends at the Brewery Field, even if the body was weak and the mind still fuzzy from the night before. The only slightly disappointing things were the gate of only 201 and the lack of noise from the Moors Choir. Indeed there was a lack of banter at all today – not sure why unless everyone else was feeling as we did.

 

Oh, and Michelle tells me I have to apologize to those standing on the Tees Crescent stand in the second half. Apparently the release of chemicals in a football ground is in appropriate. This includes methane gas.

 

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Just a Cockle Picking Minute: Ground Hopping: 21st August 2012 Morecambe FC v York City: Globe Arena

As I was working in Liverpool this week, I thought I’d use the opportunity to take in a game in the North West. I saw Morecambe play at their old ground Christie Park way back in around 1981 or 1982. Since then however, things have changed. Morecambe have seen several promotions and are now a League 2 team playing in a new purpose built ground THE GLOBE ARENA on the outskirts of Morecambe. Bishop Auckland find themselves back in the Northern League as they were when I saw them at Morecambe ( having been promoted and relegated from the Northern Premier League) they to have a new ground which I visited at the end of the 2010/2011 season when their pitch resembled a beach. I’m told it has improved since then. it will need to as it is hosting both Bishop and Darlington games this season.

Anyway, Morecambe is only 65 or so miles up the motorway from Liverpool, so I took a drive up after work and followed the signs for the Isle of Man Ferry through Lancaster and into Morecambe. Arriving at the ground, the only parking on site is for ticket holders, so it was a case of finding street parking nearby. This was easily found, but in a rather unfortunately named street.

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Arriving at the ground, there was a very laid back friendly atmosphere. In the second of the photographs below, you may notice that one of the stewards is using a walking stick. This suggested to me that there is rarely if ever any form of trouble involving Morecambe games.

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Rather unusually for a relatively new ground, it is approached via some wasteland separating it from the main road. There is also motor vehicle access and numerous car parking spaces at the ground, including spaces for away coaches, directors of the away team, and more disabled spaces than I have seen at a football ground since Chelsea and Coventry used to allow people to park invalid carriages alongside the pitch back in the early 1970s. Instead of their being a lack of provision for disabled people at this ground, I did wonder if they have provided too much in terms of car parking

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The other unusual feature of the outside of the ground was the provision in 3 of the 4 corners of covered bicycle parking. This was clearly appreciated by the fans as several bicycles and motor cycles were parked in these stands. This will hopefully reduce the people driving to the game and therefore reduce parking and congestion issues around the ground.

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The ground itself consists of 1 large-ish stand running the length of the pitch and seating 2200 people. It has the changing rooms underneath it. There are a small number of executive boxes there as well. The visiting fans get one end of this stand as well as the small covered terrace behind one goal. The other goal has a larger single tier terrace behind it which is covered and forms the home end. For a small crowd, the crowd at this end were able to make a considerable amount of noise.

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The remaining side of the ground consisted of around 6 steps of terracing from the corner flag to 10 yards or so from the halfway line. This small terrace was uncovered and had in the corner an electronic scoreboard. Perhaps unusually for a league 2 side. This small terrace compared to the large stand opposite gave the ground a lop sided feel.

Admission to the stands was via turnstiles in the corners, apart from the open side where the turnstile brought you onto the halfway line. This was where I chose to stand. Why? Well, it was cheaper than the rest of the ground! Us ground hoppers have to count the pennies though. Admission here was £14 and £15 in the other 2 ends. The main stand prices were more still. It was a rarity to be able to pay cash at the turnstiles rather than having to go to the ticket office first. It was even more unusual to hear the chap in front of me, a regular, chat to the turnstile operator and apologise for forgetting the prices had gone up this season ( it being the 1st home game) and offering to pay the extra on Saturday. This was accepted by the turnstile operator.

Once inside the ground, I tried to buy a programme only to be told by the steward he had walked down to the corner flag. By the time I got there, programme seller had moved onto a different stand. So instead I went to the food kiosk and thereupon found the highlight of the trip, the Morecambe FC Chicken, Leek and Ham pie with mushy peas for only £3. It was worth the trip on its own. In fact these pies are so good  that they are stocked by other companies, including a certain London corner shop known as Harrods. I’m sure that you will not get the pies for only £3 in Harrods. The disappointment for me was that there were no cockles of shrimps for sale. Given the proximity of Morecambe Bay that was a shock. Its a bit like going to Grimsby and finding there is no fish there, or there are no thieves in Liverpool!

When the teams came out, the York fans tried to create a Catalonian effect with lots of flag waving. They are still on a high, with this being only their second game back in the Football League.

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The football in the first half wasn’t too exciting, but the second half made up for that. The game ending in a 2-2 draw with Morecambe scoring their first from a penalty.

 

Reflections on the game and the trip are as follows:

1. This is a new ground that is not built attached to a supermarket or retail development- this seems to be a rarity these days.

2. The stewards and people at Morecambe are incredible friendly and welcoming. I was made to feel they valued my custom and wanted me to enjoy myself. Even the club photographer was telling me where to get the best shots from.

3. The small crowd did not seem drowned in some huge ground that was far too big for the size crowd they attract, unlike say Darlington were at the Arena before they moved to Bishop Auckland’s ground.

4. A small crowd in the right ground can make some noise.

5. The pies are fantastic. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming a Morecambe fan, just so I can have the pies. Well either that or I’ll get the butler to order some on my Harrods account each week.

6. I couldn’t find a pub near the ground – disastrous.

7. It did strike me that a ground like this could be the ideal solution for a club like Darlington who have vacated the 28,000 seater Arena as it was too large and the running costs crippling. They could never hope to fill such a venue. Morecambe’s ground is only a 6500 capacity stadium which allows them to fit their average home crowd into easily and allows the fans to create some atmosphere. It would be relatively cheap to build, with 3 sides being simple concrete/ breeze block construction. The main stand has a limited number of corporate boxes and has function rooms that can be used on non match days as a source of extra revenue. The Globe Arena has its own website to market it for functions, weddings, conferences etc. It is a definite option for smaller clubs and the buzz around the place seems to indicate their is a sense of pride and optimism created by the new venue.

 

This is definitely a club I would like to visit again. Come on Spennymoor – get to the 1st round of the FA Cup and draw these – please

Ground Hopping: Spennymoor v Team Northumbria 18th August 2012

Saturday brought my first visit of the season to Spennymoor’s Brewery Field ground for their opening game of the 2012-2013 Ebac Northern League. The game was between last season’s league Champions (Spennymoor) and last Season’s Division 2 Champions, Team Northumbria. At the end of last season, Team Northumbria beat Spennymoor in the semi-final of the League Cup. However, already this season, Spennymoor had beaten Team Northumbria to win the JR Cleator Cup. The Northern League’s equivalent of the Community Shield.

Albeit, this was Spennymoor’s first league game, they had also played an FA Cup tie at home the previous Saturday beating Scarborough 1-0.

The first image of the ground after entering the turnstile was that it looked very tidy, having had a coat of paint on the walls. The pitch also looked the best I have ever seen it in 40 years of attending the Brewery Field

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However, it was not instantly visible where the major improvement had taken place. The Tees Crescent side of the ground had at one time been condemned, given the crumbling terraces, grassy bank and general unsafe standing area. This comes about as a result of years of neglect following the demolition of the old stand on that side.

That side looked like this in March 2001

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Now in August 2012, it looks like this

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Quite a change I would say. This is a big improvement for any football club, not least one who only get around 300- 350 people at a home game. These improvements mean there is now proper disabled access to the ground. The refurbishment of the turnstiles on the Tees Crescent side of the ground enable the club to introduced segregation if it were to be needed.

The developments on this side I understand have not yet finished. There are to be new dugouts on this side of the pitch and if planning permission is granted, then there is to be a new covered terrace.

Credit has to be given to chairman Brad Groves and the committee and volunteers at the club, and even the fans who have come along and helped with the improvements. The future looks exciting for the club. One only has to look at the commercial packages the club have put together and the number of main sponsors, programme and ground advertisers etc. the club have. Details of these are on the club website

These improvements are even more impressive when one considers that they have not been done at the expense of the team. Spennymoor have won the northern League for the last 3 years. There is however, significant competition in the Northern League with many well run clubs who are able to challenge at the top of the Northern League.

Another thing to note about football at this level is how cheap it is. Admission is only £6 per game. Replica shirts cost as little as £15 for an adult size top. Compare this with £50 for a premier league club’s replica shirt.

The game itself was a rather one-sided affair with Spennymoor dominating the game without ever seeming to get out of 2nd gear. They were 2-0 up by half time in the August sunshine. A penalty at the start of the second half made it 3-0 and allowed Spennymoor to ease up and still win comfortably. I must however mention that the goalkeeper, Robert Dean did make a couple of good saves in the second half. I understand Team Northumbria were missing a number of key players, but even allowing for this, they were made to look very ordinary by Spennymoor. Hopefully this Spennymoor performance will be repeated often throughout the season.

One of the things that make football at this level so enjoyable is how friendly and approachable everyone at the club is. One is always made to feel welcome. Can you imagine the directors walking round the ground chatting to spectators during the game at St James’ Park? No, I meant outside of the corporate boxes! Well every game, Mike Rowcroft and other committee members are doing this at Spennymoor.

One thing that did cause me to raise an eyebrow on Saturday was the newly refurbished toilet block on the Tees Crescent side. The Gents toilet is clearly signed and easy to enter. However, when one looks for the ladies and disabled toilets, it seems they have to climb the fence and relieve themselves in someone’s garden

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Ground Hopping–The Road to Wembley–10th August 2012

Yes, The Olympics are over and the football season is here. Sadly, I was unable to make it up to Spennymoor for their tie against Scarborough so I decided to go to watch a game local to me. I’ve cycled past the Oakside Stadium in Barkingside, and been past it on the Tube, but never in the 14  or so years of living in London have i been there. I decided to go to watch the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Tie between Barkingside FC and Great Yarmouth Town there.

The ground itself used to be Barkingside’s ground, but in approximately 2002, during a turbulent time in their history, Barkingside sold the lease of the ground to Ford FC (now Redbridge) and are now the tenants of Redbridge FC. This is said to be a permanent ground share agreement, so the cynic in me expects it to end soon.

Barkingside play in the Essex Senior League which is at Step 5 of the non league pyramid, some 8 divisions below the Premiership.

There is free car parking at the ground which is only a couple of minutes walk from Barkingside High Street and is adjacent to the Tube station. Indeed the Tube station is immediately behind the main stand at Oakside.

Admission to the ground was £6 which seemed a bit steep when the admission for games to Redbridge was stated on a poster at the turnstiles to be £5. Redbridge being in Step 4 of the non league pyramid!

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Immediately beyond the turnstiles is a rather smart looking clubhouse serving reasonably priced beer and with a function room, pool table etc. Enquiries at the bar sent me back to the turnstile in search of a programme. Despite the face price of the programme being £1-50, the turnstile operator charged me £1 for the programme. This seemed over priced for a photocopied programme that was badly laid out and I’m sad to say does not reflect well on the club.

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Being an FA Cup tie, the programme  had 2 pages entitled “Some FA Cup Facts”. These two pages seemed to be about a certain game played in Hereford in February 1972 GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Has nothing else ever happened in the history of the FA Cup?

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Note the plastic chairs outside the clubhouse. Note no mention of Barkingside FA anywhere around.

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Panoramic View of ground from outside clubhouse

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The Covered terrace looking as if it has seen better days. This is actually the section used for visiting fans in the event of the need for segregation.

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Segregation and the turnstile that is only used when there is a need for segregation. Used last season in Redbridge’s FA Cup run.

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Hardly the Kippax at the former Maine Road.

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Foliage and more segregation halfway along the covered stand. The remainder of the covered stand and the other end of the ground is out of bounds to most spectators.

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Barkingside’s garden? Plant life growing on the covered terrace.

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The Main Stand – yes, really, the main stand at this Step 4 ground. It does not compare to most Northern League grounds. Behind the main stand is Barkingside tube station.

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After the clubhouse, the most impressive part of the ground is the excellent refreshment kiosk serving a wide range of food and drinks all reasonably priced and very tasty.

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The above pictures show the main terraced part of the ground which is a rather unusual split level terrace. At the front there are a small number of very shallow steps that you will note are barely used. Above this there is a level very wide walkway upon which most standing spectators stood. I’m not sure why they didn’t make the terracing steps higher and increase the capacity. It would probably have required less concrete to do this.

One thing you may have noted in the photographs of the ground is the complete lack of advertising surrounding the pitch. It is no surprise that Barkingside struggle for money if they do not/ can not sell ground advertising. Presumably neither can Redbridge FC either.

I was stood on the terrace behind the goal as the game kicked off and a shout out from someone nearby was “Come on the side!” It seemed a strange shout at a football match until I realised that of course the home team were BarkingSIDE

The game itself was a rather even affair. For the first 20+ minutes it was looking only a matter of time before Barkingside took the lead. Indeed they had a goal disallowed in the opening minutes. However, it was Great Yarmouth who took the lead with virtually their first shot of the game! Barkingside equalised at the start of the second half. After that, the game fizzled out  for a draw and a replay which took place on 14th August with Great Yarmouth winning 3-0.

The crowd was stated to be 186, but it seemed lower than that to me. I wonder if the chap below was included in the crowd figures?

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At the start of this year, I posted a Ground Hopping Blog post about my Boxing Day trip to Shildon v Spennymoor. One of the pictures in that blog was this one – On The Shed from NLZ Forum

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I wonder if the chap at Barkingside is any relation? Perhaps a long lost relative?

Now Barkingside take their external spectators far more seriously and look after them much better than Shildon do. As you will note, On The Shed at Shildon is sitting alone there looking cold and miserable.

At Barkingside, they allow their external spectator to have a prime position sat behind the goal, and even give him one of the plastic chairs from outside the social club. No need for him to bring his own seat.

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In the following photograph, we see ON THE CHAIR practicing his photography. Perhaps he free-lances by selling action shots to the local paper?

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Now, taking photographs can be a risky business, so Barkingside allocate ON THE CHAIR his own steward to keep him safe from mishit footballs whilst the game is going on and he is taking pictures.

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The Stewards at Barkingside will even ensure no one pinches ON THE CHAIRS seat whilst he wanders off, perhaps for food or a toilet break.

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Shildon FC, you have a lot to learn from Barkingside about spectator care. When are you going to introduce stewards to look after ON THE SHED?

To sum up the day at Barkingside, it is a nice club, lots of friendly people there, but a distinct lack of atmosphere and a ground that is not up to the standard of most Northern League grounds. The pitch was more like a field with wild grass rather than turf. They  may play a step 4 ground, but it does not match most Northern League grounds and the standard of football was no where near as good as at Spennymoor.

The Olympics–a Personal Experience

Well, after all my posts about the Olympics, you could be forgiven for thinking I am anti the Olympic games. So, you may be forgiven for being surprised to know I attended at the Olympic Park on Thursday night to watch the hockey. The GB women’s team played against Belgium, followed by NZ ladies against Argentina.

I had not applied for tickets for any Olympic events, partly because of the cost, partly because of the lottery system and partly due to apathy. However, last weekend, I was offered a ticket via a contact as a result of my involvement with Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club where I am the child welfare officer. It was a chance to visit the Olympic Park and experience the whole Olympic experience for myself. I thought that I should learn about this first hand rather than making judgements based on reports from other people.

Since she learned I had a ticket to the Olympics, Michelle has been panicking that I would protest inside the Park or create some sort of scene. She made me promise not to wear a Pepsi T Shirt or Nike Trainers. She even confiscated my Official Protester T Shirt.

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The search I and my bag had to undergo before Michelle would allow me to leave the house, made the security at the Olympic Park seem like a cake walk. If she had rubber gloves, I’m sure she’d have carried out an intimate search. Its nice to be trusted! I mean, its not as if I’ve ever expressed anything less than underwhelming support for the Olympics.

I took the train to Stratford and as I had a few minutes, I went into the shopping centre outside the station. no, not Westfield, the posh new shopping centre, but the original town centre shopping centre which has 99p shops unlike Westfield’s Armani shops. Outside the station was busy, lots of police and stewards monitoring the crossing of the road to ensure the safety of pedestrians and the ability for traffic to flow. Interestingly, it seemed that every religious evangelist was there preaching why it was time to convert to whichever religion they were evangelising about.

To get into the Olympic Park, i had to pass through Westfield Shopping Centre, but it was so busy, there was no time to look in the shops, even if I had wanted to . The shopping centre was busy as well as people arriving for the evening session, people were leaving from the afternoon sessions. I have to say that the operation to get people into the park was as efficient as could be expected given the crowds. Lots of praise must be given to the volunteers who were there checking tickets, directing people and generally helping people on their way. Their good natured enthusiasm set the tone for the event. Even the police were in good humour, even the usually stand offish armed police were making light of their roles.

Once into the park, the first thing you see is the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit sculpture. The Olympic Stadium was empty as the athletics events had not started and this meant the numbers in the park was less than it could have been.

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I had arranged to meet Bob near the Velodrome. This was appropriate as the Velodrome was built on the site of the former clubhouse at the old Eastway Cycle Circuit which was demolished to make was for the Olympic Park. The Velodrome was some 20+ minutes away from the main entrance. It was interesting to see the throng of people wandering through the wide expanses, some leaving, some heading to events, some just soaking up the atmosphere. There is an area in the middle of the park with a huge TV screen, a bit like Henman Hill at Wimbledon. People could buy a ticket to get into the park to soak up the atmosphere and watch the event on TV. I have to say, I’d rather watch it on my TV at home with a crate of beer than sit in the park watching on TV and paying £4.30 for a 330ml bottle of warm Heineken lager.

A couple of sights on the way to the Velodrome were the BBC TV studios. As the host broadcasters, you may have expected them to have plush studios. Well, the inside of the TV studio may be plush, but the exterior was not what you may expect. The studios are plonked on top of a pile of shipping containers. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact it is cost effective, but not what I was expecting to see.

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The other sight I noticed was the ever present reminder of the corporate bribe payers sponsors. In this instance, the presence of the World’s largest McDonald’s restaurant. Its rather incredible that the World’s largest sporting event is sponsored by an organisation whose products do their best to ruin the health of the nation. Quite what sort of message a 1500 seat restaurant sends out to the visitors regarding sport and healthy eating?

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Meeting Bob at the Velodrome, he got some food and we had a beer each. It was interesting to look at the topography and remember the bits of the old Eastway that was left. There remains parts of Oxo Hill and other bits of the old venue. We also mused what the cycling circuit will be like when they reinstate the venue. The feeling is not one of a great legacy for road/ mountain biking. The Velodrome itself will be a great facility. However, I learned that it will not be available to the public until sometime in 2014. It will remain unused for 2 years whilst the rest of the park is redeveloped. Quite why the velodrome will remain unused and fail to cash in on the boom post the Olympics is a mystery to me.

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The Hockey stadium is a temporary facility built of temporary seating held up by scaffolding. There is no problem with this. What did surprise me was to find myself fenced in like the bad old days at football in the early 1980s. The fencing was not to prevent the crowds getting onto the pitch, but to protect the crowd from the risk of being hit by a stray shot.

The view of the pitch from the seating was excellent. The view over the stand opposite shoed part of the London Skyline including the Olympic Stadium and Canary Wharf.

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I have to confess that i have never seen a hockey match before. Indeed when the match started I did not know whether the good looking females in red or the good looking females in white were Team GB. It was the team in red.

The game itself was fast moving, exciting and very skilful. Team GB were dominant but took until the last seconds of the 1st half for GB to score. The second half produced more of the same with GB winning 3-0 in the end.

The game was noticeable for the lack of dissent shown by the players, the lack of diving and lack of faking injury by the ladies. The skill and speed was breath taking. I was well impressed with the game and would definitely go to watch hockey again and recommend it to others.

The atmosphere in the stadium was very unlike football. The band played and the crowd sang along to their tunes. There was a very family atmosphere in the ground. There were lots of empty seats in the first half of the game, but these were filled by the end. Returns being sold or people turning up late? I do not know.

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At the end of the first game, there was a break of nearly an hour before the next game. The cynic in me would say this was to maximise sales of food and drink. You could not leave the hockey ground and return later, so all you could do was buy food/ drink from the concessions in the Arena. Bob and I chose to leave and take a look round the Park before heading for the train home. Watching Team GB was good, but being biased, I had no interest in seeing other nations play. It was nice to have a leisurely stroll back to the station avoiding the crowds.

So, my view on the Olympic Experience was that it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. The organisers have done well to make it run so smoothly. Having said that, the £9.5 billion they have spend should guarantee this.

So to the surprise of many, I attended the Olympic games. To the surprise of many, I did not protest or get ejected. In fact, I must be mellowing as it is several years since I have even been ejected from a football match.

If you get the chance to go to the Olympics, then I’m sure you will have a good time.

None of the above should be taken to mean I have sold out. I still think it is disgraceful the way the public in London have been pushed around and how much brown nosing of the IOC there has been. (see previous posts re this)

Cycling & Today’s Olympics

Today, the major news story coming out of the Olympics is cycling related.Sadly though it is not making the headline news, although it is by far the most important event of the day. Tucked away on the BBC news website is the following story:

Cyclist dies in Olympic media bus crash

Olympic Park The accident happened close to the Olympic Park hockey pitches

A cyclist has been killed in a crash with an Olympic media bus on the border of the Olympic Park in east London.

The man, believed to be aged 30, was injured just before 19:45 BST at the junction of Ruckholt Road and East Cross Road, Hackney.

Police and an air ambulance attended but the man was pronounced dead at the scene about half an hour later.

"The police are investigating and our thoughts are with the cyclist’s family," Olympic organisers Locog said.

No arrests have been made in connection with the incident.

‘Tragic’ death

The crash happened close to the Olympic hockey centre, velodrome and Paralympic tennis arena.

The victim has not yet been identified, but an International Olympic Committee source told BBC London he was not an Olympic competitor.

Locog said in a statement: "We can confirm that a cyclist tragically died as a result of a collision with a bus carrying media from the Olympic Park this evening."

Following the collision no buses were allowed to arrive or depart from the Media Transport Mall’s multi-story car park.

The Olympic Park internal shuttle remains operational.

The incident is being investigated by the Met’s Traffic Investigation Unit.

One of the things everyone who attends the monthly bike ride known as Critical Mass has in common is a desire to improve the safety on the roads for cyclists. Last Friday during the Olympic Opening Ceremony, 183 cyclists were arrested for doing nothing more than riding their bikes. The police being determined to brown nose the IOC and prevent any form of expression of will other than that approved by the corporate bribe payers sponsors. It is therefore sadly ironic that today, less than 120 hours later, a cyclist is killed near the Olympic Park by an Official Olympic Vehicle.

I do not know the cause of the accident and do not intend to speculate as to who was to  blame. What however is highlighted by this accident is the danger caused for cyclists by the lack of proper provision for them. Perhaps Critical Mass have proven right in their highlighting the dangers caused by the Olympic Route Network (ORN)

It is also ironic that this tragic death came on the day of the Olympic Time Trials in the cycling. I had intended to write this night’s blog about the time trial and in particular the success of the (hopefully soon to be knighted) Bradley Wiggins

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Who can fail to admire the success of this man, having won 4 Olympic gold medals including being only the second person ever to win the Tour de France and the Olympic time Trial in the same year.

Best of British

  • Bradley Wiggins (cycling): seven medals – four gold, one silver, two bronze
  • Sir Steve Redgrave (rowing): six – five gold, one bronze
  • Sir Chris Hoy (track cycling): five – four gold, one silver
  • Jack Beresford (rowing): five – three gold, two silver
  • Henry Taylor (swimming): five – three gold, two bronze
  • Sir Matthew Pinsent (rowing): four – four gold
  • Paulo Radmilovic (water polo): four – four gold
  • Ben Ainslie (sailing): four – three gold, one silver

What needs to be appreciated is that Bradley Wiggins is the first ever Britain to win the Tour de France in its 99 year history. In fact if we turn the clock back 4 years to the Beijing Olympics, the idea of a Britain having won the Tour de France at all let alone before the start of the London Olympics was quite simply unrealistic and fanciful.

Bradley Wiggins was a time trialist and a track rider, not a road racer.

His success as he will tell you is not just down to him, but to all at Team Sky. Wiggins is a modest man and the owner of the most famous sideburns since Elvis. I’m not sure Elvis could time trial or road race.

If Wiggins does not win the Sports Personality of the Year award and pick up a knighthood, then it will be a huge injustice.

Congratulation Bradley Wiggins, you are a credit to British sport and cycling in particular. It was noticeable as I cycled home from work tonight that people knew who Bradley Wiggins was. The number of people who made comments about Wiggins and waved from their cars or as they walked was heartening to see. Sadly the news of the fatality tonight dampens slightly the feel goo factor.