Wembley Wonder Completes Cup Quest

As I walked out of Wembley after watching Arsenal lift the FA Cup aloft last month, crammed in amid thousands of supporters waiting patiently to get into Wembley Park tube station, I started to recall where my FA Cup Quest actually began.

Readers of my blog will know that my starting club was South Normanton Athletic. But the decision to start with them, a decision which would ultimately plot my journey to the final, actually began on a wet and muggy July evening at a friendly between Heanor Town and Mansfield Town.

You see, the intention was to begin my Quest in Heanor, a small town in Derbyshire, as I was born there 39 years ago. So I thought it would be fitting to start with them. But, as I went for a half time pint at that friendly, I noticed a poster in the club house informing fans that Heanor’s Extra Preliminary Round tie was scheduled for a Friday night. And, with the missus already having plans for that night – meaning I was on child duty – the decision to once again start at Lees Lane, South Normanton, was made. I like to start local, with a Derbyshire team if possible, so Normo was ideal. I will, at a later date, compare the two routes. The route I actually took, and the route I would have taken had I have been able to attend Heanor’s game.

So as I waited amongst gleeful Gooners, I felt a sense of achievement. I’d accomplished something. I’d done what I set out to do 10 months ago. I’m not the only person who’s ever completed this journey of course. In fact there are probably a few who have done it this season (if you have, let me know. I’d be interested to see your journey). But to go to every game – all 16 – from the Extra Preliminarily Round to the Final, for me, at least, was something I can tick off my ‘to do’ list.

That’s not to say this is the end of my Quest. I’ll be back again in August – hopefully with Heanor Town this time – and I’ll start it all over again. But if it goes belly up and I simply cannot get to Carlisle on a Tuesday night, then so be it. Although I shall try my hardest.

The Final, as you will know, was a cracker. Chelsea v Arsenal could’ve been dull. They could have cancelled each other out. But it was end-to-end, and I’m pleased that the team I was officially following won. Not just because they were my Quest team, but because they absolutely deserved it.

Pre-game I’d spent time amongst Chelsea fans in their designated fan zone. I soaked up the atmosphere as the sun shone down and celery was thrown. Yes, celery. For some unknown reason, sticks of celery were flying over people’s heads as the Chelsea fan zone became vegetable warfare. The fan zone idea is great. A DJ whipped up the atmosphere while beers were drank and burgers were scoffed while a big screen showed Chelsea’s former Cup triumphs.

Although can someone explain why this is only made available for one club? Arsenal fans weren’t given the same deal. There’s only one fan zone and that was Chelsea’s. It was the same in the semi-final, with Man City supporters getting the zone. Maybe the deal is that the ‘home’ side get the zone and the ‘away’ side get the pubs. It certainly seemed that way in the semi as every pub around Wembley was Arsenal.

Despite the lack of balance over the fan zones, all around the ground the atmosphere was friendly. The week before, Britain had once again been targeted by terrorists, as a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester had killed 18 people. With the country’s terror alert maxed up to critical, meaning more terror attacks were imminent, many thought the Cup Final could be targeted. But that did not dampen the atmosphere. In fact, it probably bolstered the air of togetherness; a unity between rival London supporters seldom seen at matches. Fans mingled, selfies were taken with police horses, supporters chatted with cops and people just got on with things. It was heart warming to see a bunch of kids – in both Chelsea and Arsenal replica shirts – happily having a kick about outside the stadium.

It was my first ever FA Cup Final, and what a day it was. Hopefully I shall return next year. Until July, when next season’s Extra Preliminary Round draw is made, that’s all from me.

Pics and videos from cup final day

The obligatory pre-match Wembley Way shot.

Bobby Moore standing proudly outside the stadium.

The Arsenal end fills up…

 …as does the Chelsea end.

The teams are out.

 

My FA Cup Quest is Finalised!

 I’ve done it. I have a ticket for the FA Cup Final which means I will complete my FA Cup Quest on Saturday. The final will be my 16th game in this year’s competition, that’s 16 consecutive games without missing one. That was my plan to begin with; that’s what my ‘Quest’ is all about, jumping from team to team as I weave a way to Wembley.

But in truth I never really expected to be able to do it. I’ve had to attend a game on my wedding anniversary (luckily for me it was in Mansfield, which is only up the road from my house otherwise I might be writing this as a divorcee) and I’ve had to rely on fans to help me out with getting a ticket on three separate occasions. But on Saturday, I will once again be at Wembley, officially supporting Arsenal who are my ‘Quest team’, and I have someone else to thank for that.

I’m fortunate to know a FA-affiliated referee. All FA members can apply for tickets and so he did, just so that I could complete my road to Wembley. Top bloke.

Looking down the list of fixtures below, based just north of Derby, I’ve been quite fortunate with my journeys. Wrexham on a Tuesday night was a sod, but apart from two trips to the north-east, I’ve stayed pretty local. No Tuesday night slogs to Exeter or a 12:30 kick off in Carlisle. But that’s the luck of the draw.

Have a look at my Road to Wembley below and follow my Tweets on Saturday. My ‘Quest’ teams are in bold text.

  1. August 6, 2016: South Normanton Athletic 2 – 0 Aylestone Park, Extra Preliminary Round
  2. August 20, 2016: AFC Mansfield 2 – 0 South Normanton Athletic, Preliminary Round
  3. September 3, 2016: AFC Mansfield 2 – 1 Stratford Town, 1st Qualifying Round
  4. September 17, 2016: Coalville Town 0 – 1 AFC Mansfield, 2nd Qualifying Round
  5. October 1, 2016: AFC Mansfield 1 – 2 Stamford, 3rd Qualifying Round
  6. October 15, 2016: Stamford 1 – 1 Wrexham, 4th Qualifying Round
  7. October 18, 2016: Wrexham 2 – 3 Stamford (a.e.t.), 4th Qualifying Round Reply
  8. November 6, 2016: Hartlepool United 3 – 0 Stamford, 1st Round Proper
  9. December 4, 2016: Port Vale 4 – 0 Hartlepool United, 2nd Round
  10. January 7, 2017: Huddersfield Town 4 – 0 Port Vale, 3rd Round
  11. January 28, 2017: Rochdale 0 – 4 Huddersfield Town, 4th Round
  12. February 18, 2017: Huddersfield Town 0 – 0 Manchester City, 5th Round
  13. March 1, 2017: Manchester City 5 – 1 Huddersfield, 5th Round Reply
  14. March 11, 2017: Middlesbrough 0 – 2 Man City, Quarter Final
  15. April 23, 2017: Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester City (a.e.t), Semi-Final
  16. May 27, 2017: Arsenal v Chelsea, FA Cup Final

 

Fan Power Once Gain Rescues My Quest

It looked as though history would repeat itself where my FA Cup Quest is concerned. Last year, I got as far as the quarter-finals stage, where my Quest ended at Upton Park, where Man United defeated West Ham in the last ever cup tie at Upton Park. Despite witnessing a piece of football history, it was frustrating that I could not continue my Quest beyond the Boleyn Ground to Wembley for the Man U v Everton semi.

This year, it looked like my Quest was once again going to to be thwarted just shy of the semi-final stage. But fan power once again came to my aid, as it had done in the previous two rounds. It was the Tuesday before the Sunday of the semi-final, in which my Quest team, Man City, were due to host Arsenal. I’d appealed on Twitter, but it seemed like there would be no third time lucky. I’d come close to winning tickets via a #CupStory Twitter poll run by the official Emirates FA Cup Twitter account. My video of Boro fans playing the drums prior to their quarter-final tie with City was nominated as one of four videos worthy of the poll. But despite all my pleas to get people to vote, the winner was a Lincoln City fan who had filmed 8,000 Imps fans singing at The Emirates as their amazing Cup run came to an end.

But when it looked as though I’d have to settle watching the semi on telly, up popped City season ticket holder Ben Bradley on Twitter, who offered to buy me a ticket. You see the thing is, with these big games, you have to be registered with the club, bought a ticket previously and – at this stage – have Cup membership too. Ben had all of this. But he couldn’t get to the game so out of the goodness of his heart he got me a ticket and posted it to me. Top bloke. I paid him, naturally, a Viles always pays his debts.

So it was third time lucky after all. Three times on this year’s Quest fans have lent a hand and offered me tickets, proving to me that real football fans are willing to help out people like me.
And I may yet have to count on the generosity of Arsenal or Chelsea fans to do the same if I’m to complete my Quest and get to the final. If any Gunners or Chelsea fans are reading this and can help me out, please get in touch.

So, with a ticket in my pocket, I set off to Stanmore, the north London terminus for the Jubilee Line, with the motive being to park there and get the Tube to Wembley Park. It’s a ploy I’d done successfully before, when myself and my bezzie mate went to watch his beloved Grimsby play MK Dons in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 10 years ago. And I’d also used Stanmore to cut out London traffic when I visited Fulham twice on previous quests. But this time, despite my early start, there was no joy. Stanmore was full. Whether it was early bird Arsenal and City fans getting their before me, or traffic for the London Marathon which took place that morning, I had to revert to plan b: drive to Canons Park Tube and hope for a space there. As I arrived at Canons Park, just a 5-minute drive down the road, I noticed a car pulling out of the car park. This made way for the only vacant space in the car park. My luck was in.

Hitting Wembley early meant I had time to kill. ‘I’ll go to the pub’, I thought. But this presented a problem. The nearest pub to Wembley Park Tube seemed to be maxed out with Arsenal fans, and although I had no City emblem on my attire, I had decided to wear a sky blue polo shirt to reflect my support for City for the day. This is not great when you’re amongst a pub full of red! The bouncers really ought to have warned me.

Wandering around it was an all-too-familiar sight: pubs welcoming Arsenal supporters only. Proper Gunner-centric. Eventually, in the distance, I could see a mass of sky blue. A City-friendly pub, I assumed. But alas I was mistaken. It was no pub. Presumably due to the lack of a City-friendly watering hole, City fans had found a bit of greenery in an otherwise concrete jungle and had taken it over, supping from cans of ale they’d purchased from the Tesco Local opposite.
I’ve nothing against lounging in the sun sipping a beer or two, but as I was on my own, that may have looked a little desperate.

So I headed towards the stadium via a shopping complex. Whilst there I spotted the City fan enclosure. At last I could get a beer from a proper bar and not be concerned that my attire would get my head caved in. After soaking up the sun, it was time to soak up the atmosphere inside Wembley. The mood was good, largely because most people were getting well oiled. Ricky Hatton made an appearance, seemingly appearing from nowhere dressed in a suit and enjoying a beer with us ‘normos’.

In the stands, Wembley had provided all fans with silver and blue foil flags. They made for a very eye-catching spectacle when waved, but a bloody nuisance when they were at your feet!

I’m sure I don’t need to waffle on about the match; you will, by now, have seen it and read about it, so I’ll end by saying a huge thank you to Ben Bradley for getting me the ticket. Sorry I couldn’t bring you any luck.

As rules stipulate, I’m now an unofficial Gooner for the final. I just need to get a ticket. Anyone?…

The view from Canons Park Tube station. If you look closely, you can just make out Wembley’s arch.

The view down Olympic Way. Not Wembley Way. When did that change?

City fans find a green patch and turn it blue.

Good shot of the arch.

Ricky Hatton makes an appearance amongst his fellow City fans.

Foil flags

More foil flags.

The ground gradually begins to fill up.

The big badges are out.

The players are out.

Semi for Citeh

Middlesbrough hadn’t been in a FA Cup semi-final since 1997, when they required a replay to beat third-tier side Chesterfield after a thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. So the Riverside was pumped up for the visit of Man City, and with the new rule brought in for this stage of the competition meaning that there would be no replay, Boro fans sensed victory.

However, the buzz prior to kick off in the town centre and in the pubs quickly evaporated, as David Silva sliced the ball beyond Brad Guzan after just three minutes.

In fact Guzan produced a number of fine saves to deny Silva, Leroy Sane and deflect an Aguero shot on to the post, as City dominated play.

After the break, Boro had a few moments that panicked the City back four, but the result was put beyond doubt when in-form Argie Sergio Aguero converted from Sane’s low cross to earn his side a Wembley semi-final.

For me, getting a ticket once again came by virtue of a supporter’s kindness. Paul Brockett, a Boro fan and goundhopper who was registered with Boro to get tickets, answered my appeal on Twitter. He got me a ticket for the game and I paid him via bank transfer. Unfortunately, due to Paul’s love of ground hopping, he’d made a mammoth trip down to Somerset, so I never got to meet him in person. But massive thanks to him for his help.

I suspect I shall need the same kind of social media assistance if I’m to bag a semi-final ticket. I came close to winning one when one of my videos of Boro fans drumming prior to this game got nominated for ‘Best Tweet’ in the official FA Cup Twitter account’s #CupStory poll. I lost out in a 4% swing. Gutted. So if any Man City or Arsenal fans are reading this, please get in touch. I’m true to my word and always stick to my promise of paying. A Viles always pays his debts.

Snow Upset at City

In the end, the result was perhaps something of a formality. For me personally, my trip to Manchester was anything but a formality as I suffered a slight accident on my return. More of that later.

On the pitch, Huddersfield, who had more than matched their illustrious opponents in the original tie, were once again fielding a weakened side, with their aspirations of joining the likes of City in the Premier League at the forefront of coach David Wagner’s priority list.

So it came as a huge surprise when, after just 7 minutes, Town’s Harry Bunn shot through Claudio Bravo’s legs to open the scoring. Huddersfield’s army of fans – roughly 5,000 of them – were ecstatic but that goal only served as a wake up call for City.

Tap-ins from Leroy Sane and Pablo Zabaleta, with Sergio Aguero’s clinical penalty in between, turned the replay in City’s favour before half-time.

After the break the game fizzled out as both sides preserved energy. After Sergio Aguero had added his second and City’s 4th with a neat finish from a Raheem Sterling cross in the 73rd minute, many fans started to head home, myself included. This meant I missed substitute Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal, which was essentially the last kick of the game. As that went in I was already awaiting my tram back to Ashton.

So City cruised through after an initial shock. And talking of shock’s, mine was yet to come.

Back in the car, I set my sat nav instead of following my natural instinct to use the M60 towards Stockport and join the A6. This decision proved costly. As I drove away from the park and ride at Ashton, it was raining. It continued to rain until I reached the south end of Glossop, through Charlestown, where the A624 begins its climb up Chunal Hill.

In daylight, this is a pleasant drive, as the views across the Peak surround you. And I could cope with rain, but as I made my ascent I noticed the rain was beginning to turn to sleet. Then the sleet became snow. Then the snow became big bloody flakes and suddenly – almost an in instant – the landscape was white over and the road – still an incline – was becoming more and more treacherous.

There were two cars in front of me, so naturally I kept my distance, but at the same time I was aware to the fact that if I stopped I’d probably struggle to get up the hill such was the slippery conditions.

As the road began to level out, a car behind me overtook all three vehicles. This car was a police 4×4, but the driver had neglected to switch on his blues and twos so to me, and I assume to the other drivers too, he looked like a lunatic. As the cop pulled in front of the leading car in our three-car convoy, that car braked, making the car in front of me brake and making me brake. Sadly for me, I began to skid. And I just kept on skidding, gathering speed and momentum for a good few yards. I had two options: skid into the back of the car in front, which I knew had four people in it, or go into the verge. I chose the verge and hit something – the kerb, a rock, a log, who knows? – with a massive thud.

Shaken, I continued, but at this point I hadn’t surveyed the damage. I rolled down to a slight dip in the road and – to my delight – I saw a pub. So I pulled in safely to assess the damage, and as you can see from the images below, the wheel was buckled. God knows what I hit but it was hard. I could have changed it there and then, but with the snow still cascading down, and with me still shaking, I decided to see if the pub – The Lantern Pike in Little Hayfield – had any rooms. Thankfully they did, and in fact, as the staff returned from a celebratory night out, they too had to spend the night in the Inn, as the road had now become completely impassable.

In the morning, after an excellent fry up by the way, I changed the wheel, checked the brakes and made my way back home as most of the snow had disappeared.

I’d never seen snow envelop a road as it did that night. It was scary stuff.

I’d like to thank all the staff at The Lantern Pike for their hospitality, and for providing me with not only a bed for the night, but a stiff drink on arrival too! I needed that!

Bloody snow!

My buckled wheel

The Lantern Pike. Never have I been so glad to see an inn!

The damage in daylight.

No Separating Town and City

It’s fair to say that this season’s FA Cup 5th Round included an eye-catching, mouth-watering array of matches, with many Championship sides hosting Premier League sides, and with two non-league sides still in there (whilst we’re on the topic, well done to Lincoln City for reaching the Quarter Finals. Historic stuff).

Huddersfield versus Man City was one of those eye-catching fixtures, and although both sides made changes – Town 7, City 8 – with both teams having an eye on games they consider of higher importance, it was still an entertaining affair, even if there were no goals.

Going into the game, both sides had eased past their 3rd and 4th round opponents, scoring 8 goals each and conceding none. Something had to give, and although City sprayed the ball around better, as you’d expect given the calibre on show, Town more than matched them for commitment, endeavour and spirit, and restricted them to a handful of chances which were dealt with by ‘keeper Joel Coleman, making only his fourth appearance for the club.

In fact, it was the hosts who had the ball in the net but Phil Billing’s effort was ruled out due to an offside decision.

A replay is the last thing either side needed as they have more pressing agendas, but that’s what they have on Wednesday, March 1, in front of the live BBC cameras. Having spoken to a few Town fans prior to kick off, they said although it would be a nice feather in the club’s cap to knock out the Premier League giants, they saw the game as a ‘distraction’ from the league, in which they currently occupy third place. City supporters were probably thinking the same, although their focus is on the Champions League as the league is all but out of their reach.

As you will see from my photographs, the setting for a game of football could not have been better. It was an incredibly mild February day, with the prolonged Yorkshire sunshine tipping the temperature into the 15 degrees mark.

The atmosphere was buzzing pre-match, and credit must go to the Huddersfield supporters amongst the sell-out crowd – a record attendance at the John Smith’s stadium, 24,129 – as they produced chant after chant. Normally it’s the away support who are the noisiest, but City’s support, despite amassing 4,000, was quiet, and Town fans easily outsung them.

I can’t sign off without mentioning Terry Furness. He was the guy who got me into the game. Huddersfield had put into practise a method to stop Man City fans getting hold of tickets among the home fans. This process meant that in order to get a ticket, you needed to have purchased at least one Huddersfield ticket via the official ticketing service which I had not. I’d been to the Town v Port Vale game and the game at Rochdale but for the former I paid on the day and the latter I decided to sit with the Rochdale supporters.

Terry responded to a Tweet I’d sent bemoaning my decreasing ticket options. After looking back through my timeline and seeing that I wasn’t a City fan, he offered to buy me a ticket. We spoke on the phone and arranged payment and then an e-ticket was emailed to me. What a top bloke! I couldn’t go to the game without at least trying to meet the guy so that’s Terry and I pictured below (I’m on the right).

My focus now is getting a ticket to the replay and then the quarter final match at Middlesbrough.

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Myself and Terry Furness – a top bloke who sorted me out with a ticket.

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The pre-match atmosphere was buzzing in the Yorkshire sunshine.

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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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