Town Upset Hill and Down Dale

Rochdale v Huddersfield was always going to be a tasty affair, given that the two clubs are separated by just 20 miles of M62, but the 4th Round ‘derby’ between Keith Hill’s Rochdale and David Wagner’s Championship high-flyers Huddersfield had added spice thanks to a wet, zippy surface and a referee who threatened to ruin the game as a spectacle with some OTT decisions.

After constant rain had made the Spotland pitch (I should say the Crown Oil Arena pitch but I’m old school) difficult to judge, both sides were guilty of overplaying passes and misjudging the pace of the ball in the early exchanges. But rather than let the slide tackles slide and take into account the derby atmosphere and the whole occasion, referee Jonathan Hogg was far too whistle happy and the game had very little flow to it, much to the annoyance of the home support, who felt that their side were getting unfairly treated.

When play did flow it resulted in the opening goal, a debut goal for new Town man Colin Quaner, who had an easy tap-in after Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown slid the ball to him.

After the break, Town, backed by a horde of supporters who filled an entire side of the ground, took full control. Rochdale had created little, apart from a chance for Peter Vincenti who should have done better than put his header over the bar from 6 yards out.

In the 66th minute, that man Brown converted a spot kick, and then two goals by fan favourite and potential cult figure Michael Hefele completed Town’s passage into the 5th round.

On a personal note, I think this match was the first match I’d attended as an adult and NOT had a beer! Hold ups on the M1, gridlocked traffic through Rochdale and a major struggle to find a parking spot meant that I arrived at the ground with minutes to spare and no time for a swift one in the clubhouse. And with commitments in the evening, I had to make haste on my return so it was a dry day on the booze front at least, if not the weather front.

Another first for me occurred when leaving the ground. As I walked up Wilbutts Lane, past the ground, two mounted police officers cantered towards me in an attempt to escort a few Town fans away from the Rochdale fans who were pouring out of the ground. The sight of two massive horses coming directly at me was a real sphincter botherer I can tell you!

Town will now host Manchester City and it’s been a struggle to get a ticket for this potential giant killing game. I had to wait until February 14 when the tickets went on general sale but even then, a method of ensuring City fans do not get seats amongst the home fans was put into practice by the club, and so to get a ticket you needed to have purchased a ticket for a previous Huddersfield match. I had of course been to the game versus Port Vale in Round 3, but that was a pay-on-the-day match. So I turned to Twitter where I found help from a very kind-hearted Town fan who has offered to buy me a ticket. Other offers followed from Town fans who had seen my pleas on Twitter and read my blog. Satisfied I’m no City fan, they were more than happy to help further my Quest. Good on them.

So hopefully, thanks to Terry Furness (whom I shall buy a pint on Saturday), I will be at what promises to be a real humdinger of a tie.

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Terriers Tear Into Vacant Vale

There was no cup upset at the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield comfortably beat my Quest team Port Vale 4-0 in the third round of the FA Cup.

Backed by a decent-sized following, Vale, who themselves had swept past lower league opposition 4-0 in the last round against Hartlepool to set up this tie, never really got going.

“We were worse than Hartlepool”, commented one disgruntled punter on his way out of the ground. I wouldn’t go that far, and to be fair to Vale, they were playing a Huddersfield side sitting pretty in 4th place in the EFL Championship table.

Despite five changes from their last league outing, there was no let up in the home side’s dominance and it was only a matter of time before the goals came, with the opener coming in the 28th minute as Jack Payne arrowed a low shot in off the post.

1-0 at half time didn’t really tell the whole story, though. Town were dominant, Vale were holding on. Only Vale ‘keeper Jak Alnwick kept the scoreline respectable with some good work, but ultimately, it was precisely this good work which was to come at some cost to him personally. His acrobatics to push a downward header wide saw him collide with the post. He soldiered on until the 58th minute when his injury got the better of him and he was replaced by sub ‘keeper Miguel Santos who, in the days after this tie, left the club by mutual consent with Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite telling BBC Radio Stoke. “You saw on Saturday when he came on that his heart wasn’t really in it”. Awkward.

However, despite their misfortune in goal with the now apparently non-fussed Santos between the sticks, and with the continuous bombardment from the home side, it wasn’t until Chelsea loanee Kasey Palmer scored with a deflected speculative effort in the 73rd minute that Vale looked properly beaten and Town could afford to relax.

Two further goals followed in quick succession, one in the 80th minute when Harry Bunn was given time to cut inside and finish high into the net and then four minutes later when Payne slid in to convert a low cross for his second and Town’s 4th and final goal.

The Terriers were genuinely impressive throughout. Their one-touch pass-and-move style of play under David Wagner is, at times, a joy to watch.

They won’t be able to rely on that style too much in the next round away at Rochdale. They’ll have to dig deep and turn style into grit if they’re to emerge victorious at Spotland where Rochdale will be a difficult side to beat.

As I’m now supporting Huddersfield on my Quest my ticket has been purchased and I’m looking forward to the Lancashire versus Yorkshire match-up.


Below are some pics of the John Smith’s Stadium, a familiar haunt of mine. So familiar in fact that I decided to sit amongst the home fans for a change of scenery, despite officially following Vale for this match.

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Cecilia Helps Break Hartlepool Hearts

Hartlepool were comfortably beaten by Port Vale on Sunday, December 3, in the 2nd Round of the Emirates FA Cup, as Vale illustrated a clear difference from League One to League Two.

From the moment Vale’s 6’ 5” Curaçaoan forward Rigino Cicilia slotted the home side ahead after just 12 minutes, it was clear that Pools were going to find this tie a struggle. And they did.

And it never helps when two minutes later one of your players scores the most awkward-looking of own goals. Under pressure from Vale striker Alex Jones, Pools defender Jake Carroll got himself into a weird shape as the ball was whipped in from the left and then somehow managed to divert the ball in with his arse!

In the 31st minute, Jones, a hot property on loan from Birmingham, rolled his man before finishing neatly beyond beleaguered Pools ‘keeper Carson. It’s clear to see why Vale are keen to extend the forward’s signature when his loan deal expires on January 2nd.

By this time the hardy band of away supporters were venting their frustration at manager Craig Hignett, a man they do not believe should be in the manager’s seat. Also, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a small section of support continuously chant “We’re a pile of shite” at their own side! What happened to getting behind your team? I’m amazed they weren’t challenged by decent Pools fans. Maybe they all agreed with the chant.

In fairness to the majority of Pools fans, they made half time a party around the food and drink counter, throwing a bright purple wig around and having a D.I.S.C.O. regardless of their team’s inadequacies on the pitch.

The second half was one to forget. It was bitterly cold and the only incident worthy of note was when Nathan Smith was tripped in the Pools area. Ryan Taylor, once of Newcastle, had no problem dispatching the resultant penalty.

Vale’s comfortable victory means my allegiance switches to them as they make the trip to Huddersfield in the 3rd Round. For me, Huddersfield’s John Smiths’ Stadium is familiar territory, having seen my beloved Forest play their on numerous occasions. I even saw a Bon Jovi concert there, but the less said about that the better!

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The view from the car park

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A look around Vale Park (#1)

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A look around Vale Park (#2)

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A look around Vale Park (#3), including a batch of Pools fans whom I was sat amongst.

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Being a Forest fan, this anti-Derby County sticker in the away toilets made me chuckle.

Pools Prove Too Much for Plucky Stamford

It was always going to be tricky. Stamford’s trip to League 2 Hartlepool in their debut appearance in the FA Cup First Round proper would have to be either nicked or taken back to their Zeeco stadium for the non-leaguers to stand any real chance of an upset.

But sadly, the long trip north was a step too far and a pipe dream too many as the league side favoured so famously by Sky’s leading anchor Jeff Stelling ran out 3-0 winners.

In fairness, that score line flatters Pools a little. Stamford never really threatened apart from a few sorties into Hartlepool territory but they held on until a precise Nicky Deverdics free kick in the 68th minute broke the hearts of the 505 die hard Daniels fans who had made the journey up the A1.

But after that goal went in, Pools felt a huge weight lifted from their shoulders and a deflected volley from Jordan Richards and a textbook Billy Paynter header gave the score line more gloss than their display deserved.

For a full match report visit: http://www.hartlepoolunited.co.uk/news/article/2016-17/hartlepool-united-v-stamford-fa-cup-match-report-3402552.aspx

The most credit has to go the those 505 Stamford fans. For a club whose home gates seldom leak above 300, to take more than most league teams take north is both commendable and applaudable.

With the score 0-0 at half time, they might have dreamed of stealing something but alas their league hosts had that little bit extra and will now play Port Vale away in round 2.

As per the rules of my quest I now follow Hartlepool, and will make the relatively short trip over the border into Staffordshire for the game against Vale on December 2. But it’s been a joy following Stamford. I was part of their biggest ever home attandeance when Wrexham were the visitors in the 4th Qualifying Round, I made the journey to Wrexham with just over 50 others, and was a member of the 505 who witnessed the club’s first ever appearance in the FA Cup 1st Round in their 120-year history. I sincerely hope they go on to have great success.

For me, next up is a trip to Vale Park, another old fashioned traditional football ground, much like Hartlepool’s Victoria Park. I’ve been there twice before, once, in 1999, when my beloved Forest, led by David Platt, persuaded his old mate Ian Wright to join on loan from West Ham. If I remember rightly, Wrighty scored one of his 5 goals for Forest at Vale Park. My second visit came when Forest were languishing in League One in the late noughties.

As for the club I’m now following, their ground, Victoria Park, really is one of the coldest places on Earth. The wind whips in off the North Sea, and you know it’s cold when even the locals moan!

For us away ‘fans’ there’s no respite from the bitterness. Although the away stand is covered, the gap that runs along the whole stand is just enough for the wind to chill your bones, and at half time, the only respite is in the toilets! The food kiosk and bar is open to the elements. Luckily it was just the cold we had to contend with. Had it been raining or – heaven forbid – snowing, it would have been unbearable as there really is no escape from God’s mercy. I had a steaming hot tray of chips which were stone cold within five minutes due to the cold. How people could even hold a cold lager is beyond me!

For me, should I return, at least I’ll be amongst the home fans whom, by the way, are a friendly bunch. Local boozers are welcoming to away fans in general and even if you want to enter the Corner Flag – the supporters’ club HQ I assume – you’re welcome but are asked for a donation on the door.

So it’s Pools who I now follow, and my visit to Victoria Park ticked off a new ground on my ‘Grounds Visited’ chart. Will I be back? We’ll know over the next few rounds I guess.

Videos and pictures from the game

The teams emerge from the tunnel…

Stamford’s players applaud their travelling fans…

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My ticket for the game

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It’s all about the monkeys up in Hartlepool.

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Shot of the ground No. 1

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Shot of the ground No. 2

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Shot of the ground No. 3, including the Stamford Massive.

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Defeated but not disheartened.

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The Stamford players applaud the 505 fans who made the long journey up the A1.

The Lee Beeson Show

Stamford’s Lee Beeson helped his club to an historical FA Cup First Round Proper tie against Hartlepool United by scoring two penalties, one in the original tie at Stamford and then again in the replay at Wrexham.

His first spot kick earned his side a well-deserved 1-1 draw against National League side Wrexham, who are three tiers above them at non-league level.

His second put Stamford one goal up in a monumental tie at the Racecourse Ground. Stamford would go on to be 2-0 up only for the Welsh side to peg them back to 2-2 in the closing minutes. In extra time, Jake Duffy’s free kick put Stamford through, making history for the club. They face Hartlepool in what will be their first appearance in the First Round Proper in the club’s 120-year history.

I thought I’d post both his penalties on here for Stamford fans to savour.

Stamford Joyous At Wrexit Result

Stamford created a huge slice of history on Tuesday, October 18, by beating Wrexham in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round replay at the Racecourse Ground, meaning they will appear in the First Round Proper for the first time in the club’s 120-year history.

Having drawn the original match 1-1 at Stamford’s Zeeco Stadium, it may have seemed that their chance had passed them by. But despite being dominated for large periods of the replay, they progressed with a 3-2 win after extra time which sets them up with an away tie at Hartlepool United on the weekend of November 5.

Wrexham, three tiers above them in the football pyramid, had the lion’s share of possession in a frustrating first half for the Dragons, who were limited to half chances and long range efforts. An early shot from Forest loanee Gerry McDonagh was one of the best, forcing a smart save from Stamford’s Sam Donkin. John Rooney also brought gasps from the crowd with a curling 25-yard free-kick which arced just wide of the post.

But, as the half began to peter out, the visitors were awarded a penalty after a rare break into the Wrexham box. Lee Beeson, whose penalty set up this replay, took the spot kick and rifled it past a hapless Shwan Jalal.

The 52 supporters who had made the long trip from south Linconshire – and one from Derbyshire – were ecstatic. A shock was on.

After the break it was more of the same for the hosts, who played like 11 strangers for the most part, dominating play but with no end result.

Then, from a rare Stamford corner, Wrexham failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to midfielder Kern Miller who fired in a ferocious volley into the roof of the net, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead and a real chance to dream.

Many of the home side’s supporters vacated their seats at this point, unable to watch an embarrassment unfold before their eyes.

What they missed was pure FA Cup drama. Shaun Harrod pulled one back on 87 minutes, giving the remaining home support renewed hope and providing a nail-biting finish for the small band of diehards from Stamford.

After Wrexham then hit the bar and had the subsequent rebound cleared scrappily off the line, it looked like plucky Stamford had done enough. Alas, they had not. Substitute Jordan Evans drilled in a late-equaliser in the 92nd minute! Stamford’s players collectively collapsed to the floor, gutted. They had come so close but now, with tired legs, they had to face an extra 30 minutes.

Wrexham came out of the blocks raring to go, now seeing Stamford as a wounded animal ready for the taking. But this is the Cup, and Stamford completed the famous victory when Jake Duffy’s late free-kick found the back of the net to put the visitors into the first round proper for the first time in their history.

A proper cup shock, and a privilege to see it unfold in such a famous old ground.

The Ground

It’s fair to say that at least three sides of Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, officially Glyndwr University Racecourse Stadium, has seen better days. It has stood since 1807, and used as Wrexham’s home since 1864 when Wrexham FC were formed in the local Turf Hotel pub, a pub which I visited. It’s a very proud Wrexham pub as you’d expect from a place which founded the club, but away fans are welcomed in small numbers.

The Kop – an all-standing terrace able to host 5,000 supporters, has an element of decay to it. A smattering of grass has sprung on the terracing, giving an almost derelict look to it.

The Mold Road stand is the newest, and secured lottery funding. However, it now somehow looks incongruous in such old-fashioned surrounds.

The away stand’s seating is, how do I put this, ancient. The seats are made of old plastic that looks look it would snap with very little force. The kiosk is tiny, not much more than a hole in the wall. But it does your standard footy fayre, and you can get cider and beer in bottles. These cannot be taken into the stands, which meant firstly fans had to quickly down their beers before the second half began.

Well worth a visit is The Centenary Club at the back of the The Yale stand, which houses both away and home fans. It’s a modern, well-furbished clubhouse which sells good beers, serves pies and shows Sky Sports. Away fans are also made very welcome.

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The tired-looking Kop terrace

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The Yale Stand which housed both home and away support. In the foreground are the Stamford supporters; in the background is the Kop.

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The Mold Road stand, a somewhat incongruous image amongst an aging stadium.

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The Glyndŵr University Stand behind the goal

Stamford Waste Late Chances To Wreck Wrexham

Stamford and Wrexham will have to do it all again after a 1-1 draw in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup in South Lincolnshire on Saturday.

Wrexham, who are rudderless having sacked manager Gary Mills in the week, were considered favourites in a tie that pitted them against a team three levels below them on the pyramid.

And led by the interim management trio of Joey Jones, Andy Davies and Dean Keates, that chasm looked like it might be a major factor after the National League side made the perfect start when Shaun Harrod converted close range after Martin Riley had headed John Rooney’s deep cross back into the danger zone after just six minutes.

The travelling Welsh fans, fearing the embarrassment of a giant killing, would have been happy to get the early goal and would have hoped their team could add a few more.

But the goal was just a smokescreen for Wrexham’s shoddy form of late. The team are struggling in the league, and they failed to capitalise in a pretty average first half.

And their lack of a cutting edge was to haunt them when, in the 57th minute, former Forest defender Hamza Bencherif brought down Jevani Brown in the box and Lee Beeson fired home from the spot to the delight of the bulk of the 1,264 crowd, a new record at the Zeeco Stadium.

Stamford were now buzzing and should have won the tie. Ryan Robbins and Jevani Brown each wasted one-on-one chances, with Wrexham ‘keeper Shwan Jalal saving the Dragons from embarrassment.

So it’s to Wrexham’s famous Racecourse Ground I go tomorrow night. A long trek on a Tuesday but it’s doable.

The Ground

The Zeeco Stadium, formerley known as the Borderville Sports Centre before sponsors came in, is a modern ground only two years old. It has a terrace behind one of the goals as well as an all-seated stand along the south side of the pitch with room for around 250 spectators.

Behind the opposite goal and the north side of the pitch is a simple fence on which fans can lean on. A huge bank of turf overlooks the ground from which thrifty fans can watch the game for free, if they can avoid the security guards who, at this game at least, were on hand to disperse those who climbed up there.

The club house is situated on the first floor of the main complex, giving thirsty fans a handy view from the balcony outside. You can even watch an entire game from inside the club house if you wanted to thanks to the windows.

Below is the ‘Larder’, where you can get your usual footy grub, and a burger van was also drafted in for this game, presumably to appease the high attendance.

On that topic it’s worth noting that the 1,264 who attended set a new record for the ground. For a club that normally attracts between 200-300 people, that’s a massive jump in local support and a big boon for the club.

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