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.

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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.

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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