Lyndhurst 0 Fleetlands 2

Saturday 28th February 2009
Lyndhurst 0 Fleetlands 2
Hampshire Premier League
At: Wellands Road
Kick-off: 2-30 pm
Attendance: 20 (headcount)
Weather: sunny
Duration: first half: 46:10; second-half 47:35

Lyndhurst is known as the ‘capital’ of the New Forest and I suppose it turned out to be appropriate that I recovered from my first British Orienteering Championships, held on the forest at Hampton Ridge, by spending the afternoon there before setting off home.

Nobody at the Wellands Lane ground, I’m sure, will have had any idea what a busy time I’d had in the 19 hours before kick-off. Last night, I was at the Sport Stafford Borough annual awards and, following a few hours sleep, set off at 4-15 am for the British Champs. After a 93-minute run which got me 26th position in my course, I decided to stay local watching my first game in the Hampshire Premier League.

I didn’t have a street map printed or directions because I expected to get a few miles under my belt on the way home from the orienteering before stopping off for a match around the M4/M40 corridor. Fortunately, I took the right route into Lyndhurst (A337 from the M27 junction 1) and spotted Wellands Road on the left while queuing in traffic, 100 or so yards before the traffic lights on the High Street. The ground was round to the left at the end of the road.

Through the entrance, the pitch (orientated roughly east-west with a white metal post and rail) stretched widthways with parking was on the right. To the left were two buildings, one a clubroom and the other changing rooms. Dugouts were on the near touchline, either side of the halfway line. Over of the far side was a second pitch. There was no covered standing and no programme was issued, though they plan to resume issuing next season.

Inside the welcoming clubhouse, from where hot and cold refreshments were served, was an interesting cutting (also on the BBC Sport website). Lyndhurst FC was founded in 1885 and four years later became the first opponents to face present-day Arsenal FC (then known as Woolwich Arsenal) in the FA Cup. They may have lost 11-0 but can rightly boast this ‘claim to fame’!

The 2008/09 season is only the second-ever Hampshire Premier League campaign. The competition was founded in 2007 and consists mostly of former members of the disbanded Wessex League Division 2. A total of eighteen clubs started this season though Ludwig Leisure resigned from the league in November after playing just 15 fixtures.

Both sides went into the game just below midtable in the 17-team division. Lyndhurst (19 games, 31 points) were in 9th position, two places and seven points better off than Fleetlands who had played two games less. Runaway leaders Colden Common topped the table with 62 points, some 14 points clear of nearest challengers Clanfield.

Around five minutes before kick-off, the teams lined up on halfway so the referee could carry out a boot inspection before commencing the increasingly familiar fair play handshakes (

To a cry of “Lyndhurst, let’s go,” from one of their defenders, the home side (red/black halved shirts, black shorts and socks) got the game underway, defending the clubhouse end and attacking down the slope. Opting to stand on the near touchline, I soon got chatting to the grandfather of one of the Fleetlands players and enjoyed his company during the first half.

Fleetlands (all blue) should have taken the lead on the quarter hour. Luke Haynes drove the ball across the face of goal to the feet of Scott Hamilton who fired wide at the far post. At the other end, Craig Barker looked to take advantage of hesitancy in the visitors’ defence just after the half-hour and sent a lob wide of the left-hand post.

Chances started to come more frequently as the interval approached. Steve Salway glanced a header wide of the home goal while Haynes got forward down the left for Lyndhurst, only to see his shot deflected wide.

The deadlock was broken by Fleetlands in the 43rd minute. A long throw propelled by Ian Hudson fell to Hamilton, 8 yards out, who finished with a low shot into the bottom-left corner. The lead was nearly doubled in the next attack as Hamilton fired against the left-hand post before the ball was scrambled clear for a corner.

I decided to sample the view from the other side at the start of the second half. Just before the hour, after I had made my way back to the nearside, James Hardy took the ball forward into the Lyndhurst area to latch onto a throughball ahead of the keeper but his shot ended up side of the target. The visitors almost repeated their goal when Barker, this time, fired wide at the far post after another long throw.

Lyndhurst, encouraged by defender Craig Mason and from the dugout, pressed for an equaliser. Craig Barker headed wide at the far post and the same player fired straight at keeper Mike Smart. Mason also got forward to fire a well-struck long-range shot straight at Smart. The Fleetlands bench was concerned. In the 74th minute, Shalloe delivered a free-kick into the area which was headed down to Barker who curled a shot wide of the right-hand post.

Fleetlands managed to get forward in what was turning out to be an entertaining hard-fought contest and should have doubled their lead. A perfect cross from the left by substitute Lee Mancell fell to unmarked Billy Coates, barely six yards out, who sidefooted wide across the face of goal.

The miss didn’t matter as the visitors soon doubled their advantage in the 77th minute. Mancell was the supplied with another low cross from the left and this time Hamilton turned and fired into the roof of the net from seven yards out to score his second goal. This was a real blow to Lyndhurst who were looking likely to net an equaliser.

To their credit, Lyndhurst kept on searching for a goal, urged on by the vociferous Mason who actually finished the game wearing a black left boot and a red right boot. In the closing stages, Peter Hurst dribbled past several defenders and when he found his way blocked, laid a pass to Waterige who sliced a shot well wide of the Fleetlands goal.

Back into the car at full-time and home for 8 pm (via Salisbury, Swindon and the M5) in time for a much-needed meal at the Barley Mow.

Ollerton Town 1 Kinsley Boys 0

Wednesday 25th February 2009
Ollerton Town 1 Kinsley Boys 0
Abacus Lighting Central Midlands League Buckingham Insurance Supreme Division
At: 'The Lane', Walesby Lane
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 70 (headcount)
Weather: cold, dry
Duration: first half: 45:00; second-half 48:30

As my usual Wednesday evening ‘taxi service’ wasn’t required today, I quickly took full advantage of the opportunity and made a last-minute decision to head out to a match. A quick look at The Football Traveller showed this Supreme Division fixture, so I set off after getting directions to the ground.

Ollerton Town’s home, called ‘The Lane’, is actually in New Ollerton, nine or so miles east of Mansfield, just off the A616. At the major roundabout, adjacent to a service station and McDonalds amongst other things, follow A616 in the direction of Ollerton and Newark to the next roundabout. Take the A6075 (Tuxford) and then turn left by the police station, after literally a few yards, into Walesby Lane and the home of Ollerton Town FC is around 1/3 mile on the left just past a school.

There was car parking through the entrance and a large playing field with cricket in front and to the left with the football ground on the right. A pavilion was also on the right at the end of the car park with the pitch stretching lengthways (orientated north-west to south-east) along the far side. There was a brick structure behind the near goal, which provided covered standing, and the dugouts were on halfway on the far side.

Programmes (£1) was sold from in front of the pavilion and before kick-off, I took full advantage of a hot drink.

Ollerton went into the game in 6th position with 38 points from 20 games, and were looking to bounce back from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Calverton. Visitors Kinsley occupied a midtable position on 29 points from 21 games. Back in October, Ollerton won 3-0 at Kinsley so were looking to complete a ‘double’.

The teams emerged from the changing rooms side-by-side behind the match officials and exchanged fair-play handshakes on the pitch. Though there was the aforementioned covered standing was available, most spectators chose to watch the game, like me, stood on the near touchline next to the cricket pitch as it was a dry but chilly evening.

Visitors Kinsley Boys, who got the game underway attacking the covered end, soon had the ball in the ball of the Ollerton net. However, striker, Mark Whittaker had been flagged offside before firing into the bottom-right corner from the edge of the area. One of the Kinsley defenders was encouraged by his team’s bright start, shouting: “well done yellows, keep it up.”

I decided to have a go on the raffle, 50p per strip, and wondered if my luck would change – alas, it didn’t!

As the first half wore on, Ollerton (Red shirts, black shorts, red/black hooped socks) started to create the bulk of the chances. Just before the half-hour mark, Julian Topliss fired a low shot from 30 yards out which just missed the left-hand post with the keeper scrambling across. But, they should have taken the lead in the 41st minute. Lee Wilson burst down the middle at pace on the break and played the ball forward to Topliss who saw his initial shot blocked by the keeper. The rebound fell to Gavin King who lifted a shot over the bar of an unguarded net from 15 yards out.

The referee’s whistle signalled the end of a first half littered with free-kicks and a retreat back to the clubhouse for a warm, and most welcome, vegetable soup.

Kinsley (yellow shirts, white shorts, yellow socks) almost made Ollerton pay for not turning their ascendency into a goal. Whittaker was put clear in the 65th minute with a defence-splitting pass only for home keeper James Fletcher to race of his line to prevent a shooting chance.

It looked likely that the outcome was going to be a goalless draw until Ollerton found a 90th-minute winner, timed by me at 89 minutes 18 seconds. Wilson crossed into the area from the right and Dean Hankey forced the ball home to earn three valuable points in his side’s quest to overhaul leaders Harworth CI and second-placed Calverton MW.

Harrowby United 3 Nettleham 2

Saturday 21st February 2009
Harrowby United 3 Nettleham 2
Abacus Lighting Central Midlands League Buckingham Insurance Supreme Division
At: The Arrows, Dickens Eoad, Grantham
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 30 (headcount)
Weather: sunny, cooling wind
Duration: first half: 45:49; second-half 51:06

After what seems to have been a couple of months of awful weather, normality finally returned this week – at long last! For the first time since I finished my reporting stint in The Potteries, we were able to have a family day out, confident that my chosen game would have no weather problems. My mission was, therefore, to find a small/medium-sized town to occupy the family with a ground I hadn’t previously visited for me – Lincolnshire was the destination, Grantham the chosen town and Harrowby United v Nettleham the chosen match.

The town of Grantham is synonymous with Mrs Thatcher and Isaac Newton. The route in via the A52 from Nottingham took us past what was the grocers shop owned by Mrs Thatcher’s father, now a chiropractic clinic and holistic retreat.

Harrowby United are based to north-east of the town centre at the end of Dickens Road. Travelling away from town on Harrowby Lane, turn left into Edinburgh Road next to Mark Jarvis bookmakers and follow the road round to the left (into a mini one-way system). Turn right at the T junction then first right back into Edinburgh Road before turning left into Dickens Road. The entrance to the ground is at the end of the road to the right of the green railings. There is a short cut for those of foot by going right at the start of the one-way loop.

Programmes (£3 including admission) were sold at the entrance (north side) and the pitch ran length ways, orientated north-south. It had a post (red) and rail (white) all round the perimeter. Next to the near corner was the changing room / clubhouse building which incorporated a tea bar and had an area of covered standing attached next to the pitch. On the near touchline were the dugouts, close together either side of the halfway line. A stand on the opposite touchline, flanked by a row of conifers, contained a central section of seven rows of benches with further areas of standing at each end. Another row of conifers stood tall behind the near goal.

Visitors Nettleham are long-standing members of the Central Midlands League, having joined in 1987 and enjoyed an unbroken stint in the Supreme Division since the start of the 1990/91 season. In contrast, Harrowby, nicknamed ‘The Arrows’, are playing their first season in the CML. They were members of the United Counties League from 1990/01 until 2005/06 and spent their last three seasons in the Premier Division. A disappointing 2005/06 season saw them finish bottom with two wins from 42 league games with conceded 190 goals in the process, and they dropped down to local football. Last season they finished bottom of the Lincolnshire League yet successfully joined the CML which lost clubs due to the formation of the East Midlands Counties League.

Both sides went into the game near the foot of the Supreme Division table – Harrowby third from bottom and Nettleham one place above. So this game was a real ‘six-pointer’, especially for the home side. Since Christmas, Harrowby have suffered three heavy defeats but got back to winning ways with a 4-1 success at Rolls Royce Leisure last Saturday. In fact the victory was the first in the league for over four months. In his programme notes, the encouraged Harrowby player-manager hailed the performance at Rolls and wrote: “… an outstanding performance by the whole team which hopefully this week it will continue …”. Nettleham, incidently, won the reverse fixture 5-0 back in September.

I borrowed the team sheets from the helpful home Secretary and enjoyed a tea (50p) from the tea bar hatch before the action got under way.

For the first half, I opted for a standing position near the dugouts. Harrowby (red shirts, black shorts and black socks), attacking the far end, got the game under way but were soon under pressure. Nettleham (all yellow) won an early corner from which Rick Wheatley sent a header just wide of the right-hand post – “free header, we learn from that,” was the warning from the sidelines given to the home defence. Play was certainly end-to-end with both sides looking to get forward and Nettleham almost scored just past the midpoint of the first half. Chris Bennett produced a fine full-length diving save to keep out Darren Elding’s right-foot volley that was destined for the bottom-right corner.

Nettleham did take the lead in the 26th minute. Wheatley played a short pass to Steve Mason who sent a left-foot shot into the bottom-left corner. However, Harrowby got back on level terms in the 43nd minute. Jamie Gyoury-Hales cut into the area from the right only to go to ground after being caught by Callum Simmons. The referee, who I thought had a decent game, awarded a penalty which skipper Lee Winters duly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way.

It was certainly an enjoyable first half and nice to watch a game in sunshine without having to think about for how much longer I had to endure the cold.

Another tea at the interval, then a walk round to the other side to sample the view from the back row of the stand. Harrowby won a couple of corners at the start of the second half, and made their first change, before taking a 58th-minute lead. Defender Paul Chappell played the ball forward into the area from the right and Simon Bolland hooked it into the far side of the net. Could Harrowby hold on to win back-to-back league games? Nettleham didn’t want it to happen and they were urged to “step it up”. They went close to an equaliser. Javin Pillay got forward from the back and sent a dipping 30-yarder just over the bar.

Harrowby added a vital third goal in the 83rd minute and what a strike! Bolland sent an unstoppable 35-yard drive into the top right corner. The goal proved crucial as Pillay reduced the deficit two minutes later. Substitute Chris Charles propelled a long throw into the area from the right and Pillay ran in unchallenged to head home at close range.

Harrowby survived six minutes of stoppage time to earn a crucial win which enabled them to swap places in the table with the side they had just beaten.

Tuesday 17th February 2009

Nuneaton Town 2 Romulus 0
BGB Southern League Division 1 Midlands
At: Liberty Way
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 576
Weather: dry, cold
Duration: first half: 46:51; second-half 48:07

I somebody had asked me this time last year ‘when will you be visiting Nuneaton’s new Liberty Way stadium?’, I would have confidently replied with something like ‘sometime during the 2009/10 season for a Blue Square North fixture between Nuneaton and Stafford’. However, things changed last spring – I stopped watching Stafford Rangers and Nuneaton Borough went into liquidation. From the ashes of Borough came a new club in summer 2008 named Nuneaton Town playing at the Liberty Way stadium in the Midland section of the BGB Southern League Division 1.

I visited Nuneaton’s old Manor Park ground on quite a few occasions watching Stafford Rangers but could never commit the route to memory and finding it often proved a problem. Not so with the new ground which I found easily approaching from the west on the A5 – A444 towards the town centre to the one-way system north of the station, then A47 signed Hinckley. Follow this road then right at the roundabout, signed A4254 to Attleborough and the ground is eventually on the right in the industrial estate.

The ground was shared (or may be still is) with Nuneaton RFC and has been substantially developed over the past few years. The pitch runs widthways through the entrance with a large covered terrace behind each goal – Ian Neale Stand behind the near goal and Stuart Plumbing Stand behind the far goal. One the near touchline, in front of what I think is the Rugby Club’s clubhouse, was open terracing with a temporary seated stand over on the far touchline. In the corner, near to the entrance, was a refreshments bar.

Looking at the lineups in the programme (£2 sold from near the entrance), the probable Nuneaton team included several familiar names from the Nuneaton Borough days – Darren Acton, Rob Oddy and Gez Murphy to name three. Seb Hamilton, who had a brief spell with Stafford last season, was named amongst the Romulus substitutes. The lineups, as expected, were announced over the tannoy.

I opted to pay an extra £2 for a seat in the stand. My hand was stamped to say that I had paid!

Nuneaton went into the game with hopes of promotion on their mind. Following Saturday’s home win over Stourport, they occupied second position, some 15 points behind Leamington but with three games in hand on the leaders. Leamington had been unbeaten for their first 24 league games but had lost the last two so top spot (the only position with automatic promotion) was again up for grabs.

Romulus may have been in 11th though they had games in hand on all ten teams above them, as much as five on some. So, with a gap on eight points on fifth-placed Leighton, who occupied the last play-off berth, Romulus’ season was still very much alive.

The teams came out in fair-play fashion between two rows of cheerleaders all wearing Nuneaton replica kit.

Nuneaton (in familiar blue and white striped shirts, blue shorts and socks) got the game underway, attacking the far Stuart Plumbing Stand. While both sides created the odd chance in the opening 25 minutes, visitors Romulus (green and black striped shirts, black shorts and green socks) certainly looked the more likely side to score in the latter 20 minutes of the first half. Tyrone Fagan glanced a header just wide and Jason Lanns provided another warning when he should at least have hit the target from 15 yards instead of ballooning the ball over the bar.

The home fans around me were getting edgy. “The way they are playing, they could beat us,” said one of them and I tended to agree. Seven minutes before the break, Romulus hit the bar.

At half-time, the cheerleaders did a short routine. The tannoy man tried to lift the spirits of the home fans by announcing the latest score at The New Windmill as ‘Leamington 0 Aylesbury 1’.

Nuneaton nerves were eased soon after the restart in the 48th minute when Town took the lead. A free-kick from the right was flicked on to the far post where Danny Pitham hooked the ball home.

Just past the midpoint of the second half, Seb Hamilton came on for Colm Tiernan and it was good to see a former Stafford player in action again. Murphy almost made it two, only to be thwarted by a diving save from Matt Harris. Then Nuneaton survived a real scare when a header rebounded off the bar before the points were secured with a second goal in the 89th minute. Substitute Robert Foster ran down the left and played the ball into the path of skipper Mark Noon who slotted into the bottom right. It was a good job the second goal went in as Acton produced a flying save to turn round a well-struck 25-yard shot.

On my way out, there was a joyous roar with the announcement that leaders Leamington has lost 2-1.

Saturday 14th February

Darwen 3 Chadderton 1
Vodkat League Division 1
At: Anchor Ground
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 50
Weather: cold, overcast, dry
Duration: first half: 46:14; second-half 49:18

I first became aware of Darwen’s plight a couple of weeks ago when Mike Roe sent a message for The Football Traveller Website. It read: “Darwen FC face a winding up order on Wednesday 11th February which will not be contested by the Club. This weekend's game against AFC Blackpool at the Anchor ground may well be their last. The Club has appealed for as many followers of football and residents of Darwen to turn up for the game, from Lancashire and beyond. An article to show support for one of the early members of the Football League and further info is available on the NWCL website.”

So my thought was to go and see that game against AFC Blackpool but the poor weather forecast made me head for Manchester City instead. My chance to visit the famous Anchor Ground has gone?

However, Darwen successfully argued for a delay to the winding-up order so there was only one destination today – the Anchor Ground! The club’s answerphone message didn’t suggest a problem and, with the knowledge of a nearby Vodkat League game was definitely on, I set off up the M6.

I had coach loads and car loads of Coventry City fans heading for an FA Cup tie at Blackburn for company on the way up but I did have to briefly detour off the motorway. Queues at junction 26 meant a quick trip through Orrell and Shevington to rejoin at the next junction.

Darwen’s turned out to be straightforward to find from M65 junction 4. Down the A666 to the ‘T’ junction, then left. After 1/4 mile turn left into Anchor Road and take the left-hand folk to the ground. I parked up outside the ground, located next to the Crown Paints works, just before Trevor Pike and travelling companion pulled up having journeyed up from Devon. ‘Red Hopper’ was also at the game as well.

The entrance, at the south-west corner, was off the car park and, once inside, the pitch (orientated north-south) ran lengthways. The most prominent feature was a large stand on the near touchline that contained plenty of red individual bucket seats and areas of covered standing as well. Between the stand and entrance was the large clubhouse which included a tea bar. Behind the remaining three sides were a terrace steps.

Programmes (£1-50) were picked up at the entrance. I borrowed the teamsheets from the referee and took a seat on the third row near to the dugouts which were incorporated into the stand.

While Chadderton occupied a mid-table position, Darwen went into the game in 16th position in the 18-team division with 16 points from 18 games. It was 4-3 to Chadderton in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Last Saturday, Darwen lost 1-0 at home to AFC Blackpool and player-manager Dennis Hill felt that off-field events had an impact on the performance of his players. He wrote: “It has been difficult but I still have a good set of lads around me who have shown loyalty to the club during this difficult time.”

Visitors Chadderton (orange shirts, black shorts and orange socks) got the game underway attacking the south (car park) end in the first half. And they created the first decent chance with less than four minutes on the clock. Paul Ashton cut in and ran along the edge of the area before unleashing a left-foot shot which the diving Chris Thompson turned round the right-hand post. Thompson was needed again from the corner to keep out a header from Ian Knapman.

Darwen (wearing all red) survived the early scares and took the lead in the 8th minute. Jason Jones delivered a free-kick diagonally forward from the left into the area which was headed on for defender Andrew Charlesworth to head home at the far post.

Midway through the first half, Paul Posteraro had the ball in the back of the visitors net, only to be flagged offside. Up to this point and beyond, the game was littered with free-kicks and I felt the referee had to work hard to stop things boiling over. Eventually, the first of seven yellow cards was brandished in the 34th minute. ‘Love’ between the teams was in short supply on St Valentine’s Day!

The day got even better for The Salmoners in the 38th minute when they doubled their lead. Posteraro buried a low shot into the bottom left corner from 15 yards out.

The Salmoners? That’s the Darwen FC nickname which originates from their Football League days when they wore salmon and pink shirts. The programme included a decent history of the club who were League members between 1891 and 1899 – they still hold the record defeat for a top-flight league game when they lost 12-0 to West Brom in the old Division 1. Their final League season was the 1898/99 Division 2 campaign when they again entered the history books – for the most goals conceded during a season (141 goals in 34 games) and losing 18 consecutive league matches.

Back to the action and the Chadderton fan near me feared the worst for his team. “I don’t think we’ll score three goals,” he said to his mate. And the way Darwen finished the first half, I think the visitors were fortunate not to need more than three goals to win the game. As the interval approached, Liam McMillan saw a shot cleared off the line and Lee Turner was denied by a good save from Ben Aspinall who dropped Dominic Mulkerrin’s corner.

Chadderton had a couple of chances in first-half stoppage time. The lively Ashton lifted a shot over the bar and Knapman fired wide.

It was getting a degree or two colder so I opted for a tray of mushy peas (without the meat pie) at the interval.

Back to the stand for the second half and once more the views of Lancashire countryside and industry. Six minutes after the restart, Darwen almost scored again and only the boot of Aspinall getting in the way of a shot Posteraro prevented a third goal. Midway through the half, Ben Greenidge set up Ashton who forced the diving Thompson into a save and within a minute, at the other end, Anthony Hodges hit the Chadderton bar with a deflected shot.

Darwen put the outcome beyond doubt with a third goal scored in the 70th minute. Posteraro took full advantage of a slip by a visiting defender to latch onto a throughball and hammered a low 15-yard shot past the helpless Aspinall.

The home side appreciated their three-goal later as Chadderton pulled a goal back when Ashton was rewarded five minutes later for his efforts during the game. He burst down the middle and confidently sent a low shot into the bottom-left corner.

Darwen (red/red/red): Chris Thompson, Oliver Telford (capt), Ben Walker, Dominic Mulkerrin, Andrew Charlesworth, Martin Parker, Liam McMillan, Jason Jones, Lee Turner, Paul Posteraro, Anthony Hodges. Subs: Dennis Hill (for Mulkerrin, 79), Alex Rossi (for McMillan, 85), Richard Fogarty (for Turner, 68).

Chadderton (orange/black/orange): Ben Aspinall, Martin Booth, Christopher Pauley, Ben Greenidge, Keith Melvin, Gareth Morris (capt), Daniel Shaw, Donovan Greenidge, Andrew Fulham, Ian Knapman, Paul Ashton. Subs: Gary Hartley (for Melvin, 79), Lee Swanson, Paul Socha (for Shaw, 69), Steve Pattison.

Referee: A. Worthington.
Attendance: 50.


Saturday 7th February

Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 0
Barclays Premier League
At: City of Manchester Stadium
Kick-off: 12-45 pm
Attendance: 40588
Weather: dry, sunny though colder by full-time
Duration: first half: 46:24; second-half 48:08

I wondered after last weekend’s trip to Pinxton if ‘normality’ had returned to choosing my Saturday game without having to check for pitch inspections, doubts and postponements. How wrong I was with the week of weather we have had! Snow fell on Monday, followed by a lot more on Thursday. A host of postponements yesterday and forecasts of freezing temperatures overnight even gave thoughts/worries that today my even end up being a blank Saturday.

I seriously felt that finding a non-league game on to be equivalent to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack and that a top-flight game with undersoil heating may be the most sensible option. I’d seen Premier League football before at both Middlesbrough and Selhurst Park, so a game at the highest level wasn’t going to be a first for me.

There was plenty of ‘umming and arring’ yesterday until I decided after tea to take the plunge and book a ticket for City v Boro. Booking online, I was able to choose my seat which was between one on the lower tier near pitch-side or one up high up down the side on the upper (third) tier of the West Stand. I opted for the upper tier, curious to find out 18 hours later if I had made a good or not-so-good choice.

Rather than drive all the way to the City of Manchester Stadium, I opted for an improvised ‘park-ride-walk’ with a drive to Navigation Road station in Altrincham, a tram to the city centre and then a walk along the signed route to the stadium.

On arrival I got my programme (£3) from one of the numerous sellers, found the box office and collected my ticket, before taking the appropriate spiral ramp inside one of the external towers up to the top tier. Just like at Leicester City a few weeks ago, I emerged into a hidden world inside the stand of food outlets, TV screens, toilets and betting points. After having lunch, fish and chips with mushy peas (a bit pricey but excellent for stadium food), I found the appropriate entrance and got my first sight of the pitch and stands – a compete contrast to the places I normally watch my football. The steward told my seat was six rows from the back so up I climbed up to my seat them turned round to get an almighty shock – vertigo! It was like looking down from the top of the ski jumps I’ve been to in Oslo and Lahti. I soon settled to admire the 47, 726 capacity stadium with views of the snow covered hills to the east as a bonus.

I don’t see too many Brazilian players on my travels, if at all, so I was hoping that Robinho would be named in the starting line-up. He was, and Shay Given made his debut in goal for City having moved from Newcastle United.

Another thing I wondered beforehand was about the music and whether the sound of the Gallagher brothers would be blasted over the tannoy – answer ‘yes’ at 12-32 pm!

Manchester City (sky blue shirts, white shorts and sky blue socks) got the game underway, attacking the South Stand which housed the travelling Middlesbrough fans. I’d made a prediction for 1-0 to City on the Football Predictions League competition I’ve been doing all season (

I really thought for a moment that my prediction was going up in smoke in the 28th minute. Adam Johnson got down the right and pulled the ball back to unmarked Afonso Alves, just 8 yards out. The Brazilian looked certain to score until Given pulled off a superb save. That’s £1m of his transfer fee repaid already? The save seemed to bring the fans around me to life with their “C’mon City” chants. At the other end, Middlesbrough keeper Brad Jones equally excels with two saves to twice deny Craig Bellamy.

In the 39th minute, City went close again. This time Stephen Ireland headed against the bar. Soon after Stuart Downing sent a 27-yard free-kick wide and signalled an exodus of City fans to the refreshments queue some five minutes before the interval.

In front of a 40, 558 attendance, City broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute. Bellamy fired across the face of goal from the right and into the opposite corner of the net. Bearing in mind my prediction, I settled for it being the only goal!

The last ten minutes seemed to last for ages, with me getting colder and hoping for no more goals. City got four late corners, all taken short with no intention of doing anything other than ‘keep ball’.

Final whistle – 1-0 to City, three points for then and more importantly three points in the prediction competition.