Thursday, 17 August 2017

August 16th 1980

AFC Alsager  3  Goldenhill Wanderers  2

Staffordshire County Senior League – Division Two

August 16th is a date that has stuck in my head since I was a seven year old child.

It would be the Summer of 1980, we were on holiday in Weymouth, and back then it was always a huge family holiday with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cats, pot plants, the lot! I’m not sure exactly how it happened but I managed to get my hands on a Panini sticker book, Football 80 it was called, and over the space of a week I’d assembled quite a collection of stickers.

Upon returning from holiday more stickers arrived until a decision was reached to order the final few, or final 150 in my case, direct from Panini. You could only order 50 per household so we had to utilise the extended family to make such a purchase, but within the specified 28 days all packages had arrived and the sticker book was complete.

It didn’t end their though because the football fascination had started, players names, club nicknames, grounds and final league placings in 1979-80 (yes, I had memorised the order of the 22 clubs in the old First Division!)

One thing troubled me though, why was that team my Dad used to go and watch no longer in the First Division? My knowledge of league placings had ascertained that Derby County had finished second to bottom, with Bolton Wanderers below them and Bristol City above them. Five years after winning the league they were now in the Second Division, and had been replaced by Leicester City, Sunderland and Birmingham City. Something was clearly wrong in the World!

Derby’s relegation was something of a story given the clubs recent history, and the mantra coming out of the Baseball Ground was “We’ll be back in 81!”. T Shirts, scarves, flags, you name it, they all had the bold statement emblazoned across them, watch out Division Two, the Rams are going to tear you apart!

I couldn’t wait, plans were afoot for a birthday treat in the November to attend my first game, against QPR, but all eyes were on the opening day of the season, August 16th 1980, Cambridge United v Derby County

I can remember getting up that morning, beside myself with excitement. Breakfast was duly wolfed down and still in my pyjamas I ran along the lane to the Grandparents house.

“When will the football results be out?”

“The games don’t start until 3 o’clock Neil!”

So that was the first learning experience, I had no idea what time games kicked off, but from that moment it was embedded, 3pm on a Saturday.

The game came and went, I listened to second half commentary on Radio Derby, it had been a disaster, the Rams went down 3-0. The season was a failure, sixth place was the final outcome, promotion never ever a possibility, but my first game was a cracker, a 3-3 draw at the BBG with QPR. I was so upset when my Mum and Dad agreed to let me stay up to watch it on Match of the Day, only to fall asleep and miss it. No video recorders in those days! You can now watch it on You Tube though.....

So 16th August is the day when I truly discovered football, and every so often I go to a game that falls on that date, and when that happens it always feels special, and to me, no matter how many games I’ve been to previously in a season, and no matter what day of the week it is, it always feels like the opening day again.

Alsager On Opening Day
Tonight’s game, well it’s been on the radar for a little while but only provisionally due to some debate as to where it would take place.

I saw AFC Alsager last season when they played at the MMU complex on Hassall Road, but at the end of last season it was announced that MMU were shutting the site down. When the directories came out, AFC were still on Hassall Road, but at Alsager Leisure Centre which is directly opposite MMU.

The Shadows Lengthen
Local knowledge was contradictory, some suggested the new location was indeed totally different to MMU, while others suggested that the Leisure Centre had taken over the land that the MMU sports facilities were on. However, the club confirmed, it was a new location, so it was worthy of a visit.

The Leisure Centre is next to Alsager School and in fact it’s essentially the same place. I parked in the car park just off Hassall Road and ended up having to walk a fair way through the complex to the far end to find the football pitch. In hindsight I would have been better using the entrance on Lodge Road, which those with local knowledge had the foresight to do!

I wasn’t expecting much with it being a Leisure Centre but I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. Because the pitches are a long way removed from the buildings and set into an enclave that is surrounded by trees, it felt more like a park. The pitch was roped, but the proximity of the large trees gave it more of an enclosed feel. No furniture to speak of, but the pitch was flat and in good condition.

It'll Be Covered In Leaves By October.....
The first half was very good indeed. Alsager took the lead early via a close range header, but a cheeky back heel and a fantastic 25 yard free kick saw visiting Goldenhill take the lead. A neat individual goal scored from a tight angle made the scores 2-2 by the half time interval. Alsager’s key threat was pace, they had a couple of players who could skip past opponents with ease, it was great to watch at times.

The second half was poor by comparison, Alsager took the lead but no further goals followed. Goldenhill piled on the pressure but a combination of solid defending and poor finishing saw the points stay in Alsager. It got a bit fractious in the second period, the game became punctuated with stoppages and free kicks, plus the obligatory substitutions.

Away by 8.20, home for 9.30, and no road issues tonight for a change. It appears that according to a great many, football was invented 25 years ago today when the Premier League started. How wrong can the blinkered masses be, everyone knows it started on 16th August 1980!

White Lines (Don't Do It)

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Golden Ticket (Part Two)

Slough Town  1  Kettering Town  2

Southern League Premier Division

The town of Slough, the name of which actually translates to ‘Soil’, is somewhat maligned in popular culture, largely due to it being the setting of David Brent’s ‘The Office’, but with a growing population of over 160,000, it perhaps needs a more balanced view taking on it.

Situated right on the M4 and also close to the edges of the M25, it services Greater London, and not only that, it’s an attractive location for business and commerce, with some large multinationals liking among other things  the excellent transport links and also the proximity of Heathrow Airport. The famous Trading Estate, fictional home of Brent’s Wernham Hogg, is the largest privately owned of its kind in Europe.

Slough is also recognised as the most ethnically diverse and multicultural town in the Country, with large Indian and Pakistani communities notable in size. Immigration it appears, started in the 1930’s with an influx of the unemployed Welsh!  

From a football perspective though, considering the size of the population and the economic advantages the business sector provides, life has not been at all easy for Slough Town.

Great Viewing Position
Originally playing at the Dolphin Stadium in the town, the club moved to Wexham Park in 1973, where they remained until 2003 when the landlords evicted them. It was during the nineties that the club was at its most successful, spending a number of years in the Conference National League. Groundsharing took place at both Windsor & Eton and Beaconsfield SYCOB while the club battled to secure a move back to the town. Consequently, a drop through the leagues took place.

After much wrangling and heartache, the club finally moved into the impressive Arbour Park at the start of last season, they are eventually back in town, and it seems the public of Slough are backing them, with large crowds tipping up for games.

Very Impressive
I walked from Slough Station along Stoke Road, it took around ten minutes to get to the ground, and once inside I have to say I was hugely impressed. The large main stand contains a clubhouse at the top with a glass viewing gallery, this also opens out to the sides where the game can be watched al fresco. The stand itself is quite steep and offers excellent views, it really is top drawer in my opinion.

Opposite is a smaller seated stand, while behind both goals are covered terraces offering an elevated view of proceedings. The pitch is artificial, which from an economic point of view is a real win for the club.

What Slough have had to wait for is fantastic, I can only see them going from strength to strength, and after missing out on promotion last season, I expect they will be in the mix this time around.

The North Bank
An impressive crowd of 760 turned up to see another of the favourites in the shape of Kettering Town, who themselves brought a large travelling support. With the sun now beating down, I chose to spend the first half behind the goal Slough were attacking, but it was the visitors who had the lead at half time thanks to a flicked header from the experienced Brett Solkhon.

Slough upped the ante at the start of the second period, and I’d now taken up a position in the smaller stand, right in front of the two chaps who were doing the commentary for Poppies Radio, and it was just as I left them to walk round to the exit that Ben Milnes scored a second for the visitors following a quick breakaway.

Almost from the re-start, James Dobson scored the best goal of the game from 25 yards but it was merely a consolation for the disappointed hosts.

The Small Stand
A quick getaway at the end meant I could get across to Reading in time for the train that would ultimately mean I could change in Chesterfield and get to meet Mark in Alfreton around 9.30 for the golden ticket handover.

I walked into the Victoria where Mark was lamenting Alfreton Town’s heavy defeat at Darlington, we chewed the fat and had a pint as football fans do before I made the two bus journey back to Belper.

What a superb day, all went like clockwork, two great hosts clubs, smashing grounds in very different ways (the oldest and also one of the newest around), while the football itself certainly kept those watching entertained.

I’ll await Mark’s next phone call eagerly, he reckons this ticket may not be the last……….. 

The Town End In The Distance

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Golden Ticket (Part One)

Maidenhead United  2  Hartlepool United  1

National League

The phone call was somewhat out of the blue, it was my mate Mark, he had a question for me.

“How do you fancy a once in a lifetime opportunity?”

Intriguing, and knowing Mark as I do, it wouldn’t be an over exaggeration, it was clearly something worth listening to.

To cut a long story short, Mark had acquired an unlimited travel railcard via a cushy little job he’s landed, and consequently he didn’t need to use it the following Saturday. Did I fancy it?

He didn’t need to ask twice, of course I’d take advantage, I mean, anywhere in the UK free of charge? Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? It did have a couple of proviso’s though, I would have to collect it late on Friday night, but also, I had to somehow get it back to him on the Saturday.

Like a kid in sweetshop, I’d got the Non-League Paper on the table and National Rail Enquiries up on the screen, the possibilities were endless, but then I spotted that Maidenhead United had got a 12.30 kick off against Hartlepool United due to live TV. So, the question was, could I do a double, but more importantly, could I do it via train?

The answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’, Slough Town were at home to Kettering Town, and due to the proximity of the station to the ground in Maidenhead, it could be done. The plan was hatched, the ticket was duly collected late on Friday and it was time to set the alarm for silly o’clock the following morning.

With ticket secured safely in the wallet, it was the 6.43 from Belper and then the 7.06 from Derby to Reading. Arriving in Reading at 9.40, it was pleasing to see that the Three Guineas was open nice and early, in fact it was pretty busy due to racing at nearby Ascot which had clearly drawn the crowds out for the day.

Bell Street End
A short hop to Maidenhead saw me entering the turnstiles at the Bell Street End (it doesn’t get shortened to the Bell End so it seems), into what is recognised as the oldest football ground n continuous use in the Country. It’s a charming ground as well, the Bell (Street) End has a covered terrace on it with the rear wall painted black and white with the clubs name picked out. Opposite is another small covered terrace, and then to the right on the railway line side is a smart new seated stand. To the left is a small area of terracing, the dressing rooms and clubhouse, and also the undercover all weather pitch.

When Alan Met James
It was in this general direction I wandered to find the Stripes Bar and acquaint myself with the local delicacies. Sat in the bar was James Richardson from BT Sport, along with Adam Virgo and Chris Hargreaves who were doing the expert summarising. It was in here that we had to stay silent for a brief while so Richardson and his team could film an interview with Maidenhead boss Alan Devonshire.  

Maidenhead United is a great success story. We saw them at the start of last season when they won at Whitehawk, and to be honest they never really looked back, winning the National South, largely helped by the goalscoring form of the classy Dave Tarpey.

They have started the season with a draw at Maidstone United and a defeat at home to Wrexham, but with the TV cameras in town and a Hartlepool United side that have found going tough in their inaugural season after being relegated for the first time to Non-League football, Maidenhead really fancied this one.

The Main Stand
A crowd of just under 1,500 pitched up and saw a determined home side take the lead in the 40th minute when Tarpey himself latched onto a through ball and found the back of the net.

Hartlepool, with around 250 followers, hoped for better in the second period, but a mistake at the back let in Tarpey who finished with a thunderous shot off the crossbar. With Hartlepool heads dropping, it was time for the Maidenhead support to gleefully taunt the visiting fans across the segregation divide, it was all good humoured and their version of ‘My Sister Belinda…’ brought a smile to my face.

A Mixture Of Things
In the 86th minute Padraig Amond put a penalty away to reduce the deficit, and as the game moved into injury time I made my exit and jogged the couple of hundred yards for the train to Slough, which I just made. 

As the train passed the ground I could see the players leaving the pitch, it had been a historic day for the men from York Road, and as for Tarpey, the question is I guess, can they hold on to such a special talent?

“All Over My Soggy Sombrero….” – I was still chuckling as the train pulled into my next destination, and not many people can say that when they arrive in Slough!

Opposite The Bell End

For The Love Of The Game

Malpas  4  Crewe  5

Cheshire Football League – Premier Division

On exceptionally rare occasions, you find that everything comes together at once, to create the perfect scenario.

In footballing terms, that might be the crucial game that defines a clubs history, or it may be that a big event runs so smoothly that only positivity exudes from those that are either involved in, or experience it.

When you aren’t involved with a club and consequently have little or no emotional attachment to the team or the game, it is that little bit more difficult for the perfect scenario to come together. Not always a bad thing because I’m in the fortunate position whereby I don’t let the football ruin the football, and much of that is due to the fact for me it’s about a love of the game, not a specific team.

The down side though is those moments of perfection are very rare indeed, principally due to the lack of emotion. Maybe once I season I’ll come away and think ‘wow’, but to put this into some sort of context, a couple of years ago I did a piece on the 20 most memorable games I’d ever been to, and a large chunk of those involved teams I’d had an attachment to.

Last season, the Borussia Dortmund 8 Legia Warsaw 4 game would fall into the category for obvious reasons, while the Manchester City 3 Barcelona 1 game was also a bit special, but these were Champions League games with World class players and iconic venues involved. I guess you would almost expect it?

I came away from Malpas on Wednesday evening and even at this early stage of proceedings, I had the view that my experience would probably not be beaten this season, it was that good.

The Stand
Three things are required in my view for the perfect scenario. The first is the ground and its location, the second is the people involved, and the third is the game itself.

Lets start with the ground at the Oxhays. Malpas is an English border town just North of Whitchurch, it’s a very small town, and you might argue it’s actually a large village. It’s also a wealthy town, the houses are impressive and the centre is attractive with nice shops and eateries. The ground itself is located on the Wrexham Road and forms part of a larger sports club incorporating cricket. The football pitch sits on a slight plateau, but the striking thing about it is the views that it offers towards Wrexham, Llangollen and Mold, with the Welsh Mountains as the backdrop, simply stunning.

The pitch is surrounded by a post and rope, while a small stand sits just to the right of the half way line. The pitch itself was also in excellent condition despite the heavy overnight rain.

Sunset Over The Mountains
When I walked into the clubhouse I was met by Mick, I’m not sure what his role is at the club but we spent quite some time chatting about Malpas FC, it’s ambitions, the Cheshire League, the locality, all manner of things really. The nice thing was though that he was generally interested in the fact I’d travelled to watch ‘his’ club, and the welcome from him was first class, as it was from others that I was introduced to.

The feel good factor was already well in place, two of the three vital boxes had been ticked, but could the third hit the mark?

Crewe took an early lead but the hosts hit back quickly, and with the hugely impressive Alex Hughes leading the line, they were soon 2-1 in front. Crewe took advantage of an error and got it back to 2-2 before Stu Dickins hit a 25 yard screamer into the top corner to leave the half time score 3-2. It had been breathless and hugely entertaining.

Malpas made it 4-2 just after the break and it looked to be a case of seeing the game out, but a goalkeeping error saw it go to 4-3, and then inexplicably a deep cross was handled in the box by a Malpas defender, he received a second yellow and had to go, the resultant penalty was converted, it was now 4-4!

Stunning Views
As the game moved into injury time neither side was prepared to settle for a point, but it was Crewe who had the momentum and with almost the last kick of the game they found the back of the net from close range. It was pandemonium on the visitors bench as they celebrated, but for Malpas it was hugely frustrating, and that frustration boiled over on the final whistle when a second red card was brandished for something that was seemingly said to the referee.

A truly memorable game of the football, one that could have gone either way, and in the end it was a pity someone had to lose, but that’s the game we love.

I was buzzing as I drove back, and even the A50 being closed at Uttoxeter could not dampen my spirits. Malpas was the final ground in the Premier Division I needed to visit, so it had been a champagne job of sorts, but in terms of the overall experience, I definitely saved the best until last.

Malpas Football Club – I salute you!

Me Taking The Picture - With Mick Stood Next To Me!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Memories Of The 1983 Pitch Scandal

Rylands  4  Greenalls Padgate St Oswalds  0

Cheshire Football League – Premier Division

It was while I was stood in the kitchen area of our Liverpool office, discussing with a colleague the fact he was going to watch AFC Fylde at Chester later that night, that my boss jumped in with a comment..

“Are you some kind of non-league football oracle? Is there anything you don’t know?”

My response was guarded, and to be honest, I really didn’t want the can of worms opening on that one, especially given the fact that my little bit of knowledge about AFC Fylde for some would in itself be regarded as beyond geekish.

It did make me think though, the amount of knowledge and information that us enthusiasts have gained over the years is colossal, you only need to look at the various forums to see that, but sometimes it’s the downright weird, wonderful and perhaps even quirky stuff that I’ve stored in my mind that amazes me.

Gimme Shelter
Rylands, for example, I can remember hearing about them in 1983 as an eleven year old, just at the time I was developing my interest in non-league football. They had drawn Rainworth Miners Welfare at home in the FA Vase, it was a big game because two years earlier the Miners had reached the Final and lost to Forest Green Rovers.

Rylands won 4-1, and to be fair at the time, it was probably the best result in the clubs history, a 4th Round tie at Rothwell Town loomed, but, the Miners appealed over the size of Rylands pitch. They won the appeal, the pitch was deemed too small, and the game was replayed, at Rainworth, which the hosts won.

I’d not forgotten that story, and bizarrely as I drove into the ground and saw the impressive Georgian style clubhouse, it instantly took me back to a photograph that’s contained in the second edition of the old Tony Williams publication ‘The Non League Football Grounds of Great Britain’ which he had published in the late Eighties. All a bit spooky really, but when this is your passion, is it really that surprising that our memory banks are so full of imagery and fact?

What of Rylands Football Club? They are based to the East side of Warrington town centre and as my meeting was on Merseyside, the journey was a very simple one along the M62 and down into Wiretown. The journey in fact took me past the Tetley’s Sports Ground home of tonight’s visitors and that in itself is less than a mile away, so this was a real local derby.

It was also the first game of the season, and as a result, combined with the local interest a healthy crowd well into three figures turned up to watch the fixture. The ground is very good, one of the better Step 7 facilities you could visit, and with the impressive clubhouse outside the turnstiles, serving the wider sports club, it has everything you would want as a spectator, including some seats under cover that provided shelter from the persistent yet light rain that set in the for the evening.

It Looks Big Enough To Me....
The first half saw a fired up Greenalls as the better side for the most part, however they couldn’t breach the hosts back line. But then as the half drew deep into the closing stages Rylands broke away down the right hand side and the subsequent low cross was swept into the net unmarked to give them something of a surprise lead.

Rylands grabbed a second just after half time, and within moments Greenalls were down to ten men thanks to a rush of blood, so it was effectively game over. The home side scored a further two well taken goals to give the scoreline a slightly harsh reflection of the visitors, but to be fair Rylands had been very good in the second period.

Tug Of War About To Start
So honours in the Warrington Derby go the way of Rylands, but with Eagle Sports also within the Town’s confines having a very good win over Billinge in the opening game, it could be very interesting this season, especially with promotion places to the restructured North West Counties League up for grabs.

I’ll keep an eye on the landscape, but then when you are the oracle of non-league football, it would be churlish to do otherwise. Let’s just hope for the sake of Rylands though that the pitch was the correct dimensions!
Plenty Of Local Interest

Sunday, 6 August 2017

First Rock From The Sundorne

Rock Rovers  1  AFC Wednesbury  1

West Midlands Regional League - Second Division

You could forgive me for being somewhat cautious when it comes to the first day of the competitive aspect of the football season.

Three years ago I turned up at Aston United on a beautiful sunny day to watch them in the Midlands Regional Alliance, only to find a cricket match taking place, and no evidence whatsoever of a football pitch in the vicinity. I ended up that day on the plastic watching PMG Cavaliers, it wasn't what I had in mind.

Then last season, my plan was to go to Azaad Sports in Wolverhampton, which I did, only to find the place bereft of any life. I checked the website only to see the game had been postponed, for seemingly no apparent reason. That day was a bit more testing as I had to make my way at a pretty rapid pace down the M5 to Badsey to see Montpellier in action, and even then that nearly didn't happen because of a torrential rain storm and lightning overhead!

Today, I did my homework, I sent a text the Rock Rovers Club Secretary (who was prompt and helpful) and also checked the weather forecast. Ordinarily in a league like this on a day like this I would just chance it, but today, no way!

It wasn't the most straightforward of journeys, I'd factored in the Shrewsbury Town home game element with Rock playing so close, but forgotten all about the fact Wolves were at home to Middlesbrough in front of a full house. I was stuck in a queue of traffic from the Cannock M6 Toll junction all the way down to the M54, it didn't please me one bit, and then on the M54 I drove into an absolutely torrential downpour that virtually bought the traffic to a standstill. I was hoping it was 'very' localised as it wouldn't have done a football pitch much good if it got hit by that just prior to kick off.

Thankfully, once beyond Telford all was good in the World again, and pretty soon I on the Wenlock Road in Shrewsbury and meandering my way through the estate to the Mereside Community Centre.

The Facilities
Rock Rovers were formed ten years ago, and after a lengthy spell in the Mercian League, they have joined the West Midlands Regional League for the first time this season. Previously they played at the Shrewsbury / Sundorne Sports Village on the pitch used by Haughmond but have now relocated, for what reasons I am unsure.

The Mereside ground consists of a large car park with both the Community Centre and a Sports Pavilion to the side of it. The pitch itself is one of two that are set some seventy yards away up a slight slope. The pitch used by Rock is fully railed and has what look to be some temporary dug outs.

The Crowd Gathers
With seemingly no refreshments available I took a little wander down a nearby path that bought me out on Sutton Road, which conveniently housed the Charles Darwin public house. It was a busy venue, full of Shrews fans who were having a pre-match snifter before the game with Northampton Town, but not long after I arrived, the bulk had made the way to the stadium.

Suitably refreshed, the walk back was a brisk one and I was pitch side some fifteen minutes prior to kick off. Rock have been consistently one of the stronger sides in the Mercian over the years, whereas Wednesbury were something of an unknown quantity with this appearing to be their first season as a Saturday club.

The game kicked off with the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance, which it ironically did on that day 12 months ago at Montpellier, but it never threatened to disrupt today's game. The other roar came just prior to the kick off at STFC, when the sound from the stadium drifted the short distance Eastwards on the breeze.

The first half was a tight affair, nothing between the two sides, both having limited chances but both also trying to play football on the flat and green playing surface. Things changed in the second period when the visitors scored with a close range header, but Rock came back and looked very threatening from in-swinging corners, however it did look like Wednesbury were going to hang on.

But then as we moved into injury time, Rock won a corner which from where I was standing (right next to it), was very much a goal kick. Anyway, in it came again but this time it was met with a bullet header and found the back of then net, Rock celebrated wildly, the visitors were understandably furious.

The game had got a bit feisty at times in the second period, and this incident didn't help matters, but thankfully despite some frustration and raised tempers, things were kept a lid on. The referee to be fair did ok and kept control, but for the goal, his linesman let him down.

That said, in my view it was a fair result, both sides looked very capable and I would expect both to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

Just as I was getting back into my car I heard another roar, Shrewsbury had got an injury time winner, must be the day for late goals in Salopshire. My getaway beat that games traffic and the Molineux mob had long since gone as I arrived on the outskirts of Wolverhampton.

A good day, but for me, just getting to the game I planned was a result given my track record!

The Storm Clouds Gather

Saturday, 5 August 2017


Portimonense  1  FC Porto  5


Apparently, the British invasion of the Algarve is all the fault of Sir Cliff Richard.

According to the commentary on the bus tour, it was Cliff (as he was back then) who 'discovered' this part of the World in the early sixties, and it was his passion and indeed promotion the area that started the waves of tourists that now flock to Faro Airport by the thousands on an annual basis.

They like Cliff a lot in the Algarve, and in particular in the Albufeira area where he has a home and a vineyard. A street in the town is called Rua Sir Cliff Richard, and you don't have to walk far to see a giant cardboard cut out of the man promoting his own brand of wine.

Relations between Britain and Portugal remain strong and tourism plays a significant part in that, but events in the football arena did threaten to put a slight spanner in the works. Jose Mourinho famously danced down the touchline at Old Trafford as FC Porto dramatically ended the Champions League hopes of Manchester United, only to suddenly find himself in the hot seat at Stamford Bridge, it was going to be fun.

The 'Special One' was Marmite, some loved him, some hated him, was he the image of Portugal we really wanted to see, and was he the image that Portugal indeed wanted us to see? Again, open to debate.

But, it all really kicked off in the Summer of 2006 when England played Portugal in the Quarter Final of the World Cup. Wayne Rooney accidentally stamped on Ricardo Carvalho, it all got a bit heated and Cristiano Ronaldo stuck his oar into the proceedings and was viewed by many as being responsible for Rooney's subsequent red card. But what happened next threatened to cause an international incident, Ronaldo was captured winking towards a team mate as Rooney left the field, as though to suggest he had managed to influence the decision.

Outcry, outrage, Ronaldo must never be allowed back into the Country, and even if he did, Rooney would have the nations support to dismember him in full public view. Oh, and we lost on penalties of course.

It calmed down, as it always does, and relations to this day remain intact and indeed very strong indeed. It's a good job really, Sir Cliff's wine business would be shafted otherwise!

The Entrance To Estadio Algarve
Anyway, I spotted that local side Portimonense were scheduled to play FC Porto in a friendly fixture at the Algarve Stadium on the Thursday night of our holiday, but, wherever I looked I could find no way of how to obtain tickets. Surely though it couldn't be that hard?

On the first night of our holiday, our Thomson Rep, Angelo, conducted the standard introductory meeting. Angelo was a really nice man but also a humorous guy at the same time, and during his talk he did allude to his love of football. I had a thought, after the meeting finished I approached him and asked about the game and if he knew how to get tickets. He instantly reacted positively, it turned out he was an FC Porto season ticket holder, and he would try and get the tickets for us, but not only that, he would drive us to and from the game! He had to make some phonecalls though...

It didn't turn out to be that simple, after the two of us spent some time online, it appeared getting tickets meant a trip to a local Post Office who it also appeared were the only outlet for tickets, and then you had to be registered and have an account. Angelo took care of that though, he went out of his way on a half days holiday to sort it out, what a great thing to do.

Impressive Design
On the day of the game, we were picked up from the Reception of our resort and driven the 35 minutes to the Algarve Stadium. We talked football, tourism, Portugal, hopes and plans, all things really, the journey flew by, and soon we were parked up outside the ground that was built specifically for the European Championships.

But, while it may be a fine stadium, it is something of a white elephant. Initially it was thought Farense would use it as a home ground but as they fell on hard times it was clearly not practical for that to happen. So, it is not used as a home ground by any club sides, and isn't likely to be any time in the future. It is used for friendlies, the odd international, and for the occasional tournament, but otherwise it is an expensive 28,000 seater modern facility that is vastly underused.

With A Temporary Feel
The FC Porto fans were in big number, a crowd of around 7,000 were in attendance and the vast majority were followers of the side 500 kilometers to the North. To be fair though, they attract support from all over Portugal, and of course many would have been on holiday in the area also. That said, the support was superb and the atmosphere they created was tremendous, but at that same time friendly. We sat just to the side of the 'Ultras' and the show they put on with their flags and the choreography orchestrated by the chap with the megaphone was something you would only see in Southern Europe.

The Sun Begins To Set
The game was very one sided. FC Porto raced into a 3-0 lead with the utmost of ease, but then the newly promoted side from Portimao did pull a first half goal back. To be fair though, the gulf in class was huge, but I guess in a league where three sides dominate and the rest simply jockey for position or try to survive, that isn't a huge surprise.

Two more goals followed in the second period as the sun set and floodlights lit up the pitch at the Algarve Stadium. It is a very impressive stadium, two large stands on either side of the pitch with arched roofs, while behind either goals were open banks of seating, albeit they did look somewhat temporary (think Gillingham!).

The Ultras Display
The ground is set in the middle of nowhere on the West side of Faro, but the car parks are large and the road links are good, almost perfect for say a large sporting tournament??

We got away with relative ease at the end, and again the talk flowed, but more about football and specifically Angelo's passion for FC Porto (his favourite all time player being Deco). We were dropped safely at our resort and bade farewell.

What a great evening, but all thanks to Angelo who went above and beyond in terms of his duties. But, we had a common bond, and that was football, and even if that did threaten to split our two nations in the Summer of 2006, our great national sports will only ever be a unifying force.
Obrigados Angelo Ribeiro, você ajudou a tornar nossas férias muito especiais!
I'm sure Sir Cliff would agree!
More Ultras