Tuesday, 12 September 2017

OGC Nice v AS Monaco, Saturday September 9th, 2017

4 Nice v Monaco 0

Richie from Bottom (the late Rik Mayall) once said: "If you want to have a good time - Forget it." 

With an hour to go before kick off these words were on my mind as I sat stranded in my car in a suburban Nice carpark. I was dressed in shorts and t-shirt as the rain continued to pour down as it had for much of the afternoon. The chances of the game going ahead seemed slim. I'd already endured a stressful drive trying to navigate the French motorways. On finally arriving at the ground I'd then been told by police that the car park I had found with great difficulty was closed for security reasons. I was waved off from the entrance and before I knew it had accidentally got back on the motorway adding another half an hour of toil. The day was salvaged though when news came through on twitter that the pitch was in good shape despite the down pour. With 45 minutes to go to kick off, the rain subsided and I was able to walk to the ground without getting completely drenched.

Not the weather I was expecting

Regular readers of this blog will know that it's bread and butter is mainly non league games in the South West of England. Being on holiday in the south of France though gave me the opportunity to nourish myself with something more exotic: The Derby de la Cote d'Azur between Nice and nearby principality Monaco.

When looking for a French game to go to this one caught the eye - not only is it a local derby but Nice have had a good couple of years in a new stadium and Monaco are defending French champions and lit up the Champions league last season. Another attraction was the price: 15 euros for a seat directly behind the goal. To put that in to context, I paid roughly the same to watch a pre season friendly at fifth tier outfit Weston Super Mare in July. Weston, like Nice is a seaside town but other similarities don't easily come to mind. 15 euros was a steal.

Until 2013 Nice played at the Stade du Ray which had a capacity of 18,000. They have since moved in to their current home which is much larger at 35,500. The ground has been named the Allianz Riviera in honour of a German insurance company.

As I approached the stadium it looked futuristic with it's glass / perspex shell covering a mountain of more traditional grey concrete below. I did a lap of the ground and bought a beer from a trailer. My French is non existent so when I heard two blokes talking in English I didn't hesitate in imposing myself on them. Like me they were here for the first time. One was a Man U fan whilst his mate was Turkish and a supporter of Bodrum who apparently are rising swiftly up the Turkish lower leagues. As we supped our Kronenbourgs we concurred that their seemed to be more families and women than we were used to seeing at English games. With kick off approaching we parted and headed in to the ground.

As I came in to the main concourse I noticed that unlike in England the concourse had no wall blocking the pitch meaning supporters could still see the pitch whilst queuing for the toilet or getting a drink at the bar. From the inside the stadium was impressive, it had a touch of the Emirates about it with symmetrical rising stands, all three tiered and felt bigger than it's 35,500 capacity. Taking my seat I noticed that a lot of people were openly smoking and drinking pints in the stand. I assume this is permitted but from my experience of France I wouldn't be surprised if not. France seems to have endless restrictive rules and laws that locals get around by simply ignoring them completely.

The ground wasn't quite full which I suppose isn't that surprising considering the new stadium holds double what the Stade du Ray did. There was a good atmosphere though with the Monaco fans crammed in to a corner to my left and standing up and singing throughout. Opposite was the stand holding the Nice Ultra's who were an impressive sight and sound.


I was pleased to see that Balotelli had made the starting line up for Nice. The enigmatic Italian had been injured but evidently didn't want to miss the big game. Falcao was leading the line for the visitors.

Monaco came in to the game having won their first 4 games of the season in defence of their title. They started the match confidently with their attacking wide men especially looking lively. Balotelli seemingly hasn't changed much, the first thing he did before having a touch was give away a foul, kick the ball away and then ignore the ref as he told him off. The lovable rogue didn't get a booking though and a couple of minutes later was fouled himself in the penalty area. Up he stood and converted from the spot to give Nice the lead.

Balotelli waits to take his penalty in front of the impressive ultras

Monaco continued to dominate possession and it was very much against the run of play when Nice doubled their lead with a lightning counter attack. Alassanne Plea raced on to a through ball from the left before shooting passed the keeper who could only get a hand to it.
Nice had JM Seri in the defensive midfield role and he was doing a great job of halting Monaco attacks and forcing them to rely more and more on their wide players. They looked very capable and got themselves in to some lovely positions but couldn't find the final ball that Falcao was hoping for.

Seri then played a beautiful ball through to Alassanne Plea and it looked like another goal was coming, Balotelli though either wasn't fit enough or couldn't be bothered to run and join the attack and Plea had no option but to shoot from a tight angle in to the arms of the keeper.

Half time came and I ventured back in to the concourse. Here I was intrigued to see many of the locals sipping on espresso's whilst discussing the opening 45 minutes. Amongst the stylish family outings I then saw a couple of lads embrace with a kiss on both cheeks greeting outside the gents. The impossible suaveness of it all was almost overwhelming.

Monaco started the second half enthusiastically, evidently feeling they had enough quality to turn the game around. Seri however continued to boss the midfield for Nice and as the game progressed the visitors looked less and less of a threat. They conceded a soft third when Nice right back Souquet was allowed to get in a low cross from the corner flag. He should have been shepherded out and worse still, sloppy marking in the box allowed Balotelli an easy tap in. 3-0.

Monaco had given up now and there was no surprise when they conceded a fourth. Ganago on as substitute found himself baring down on the keeper with one man chasing, he cooly rounded the keeper before side footing past the defender who had got back on the line.

4-0 at the final score.

A memorable day out at the Derby de la Cote d'Azur which I can now add to the Bristol and Sheffield derby's. I found a lot to like about French top flight football. The prices, the family day out feel of the game which didn't detract from the atmosphere and singing, the ultras, beers on the terraces and half time espressos. I look forward to finding a new French ground next time I'm here.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Brislington v Cribbs, Tuesday 22nd August, 2017

Brislington 2 Cribbs 1

Crunching tackles, bizarre hand balls and a dramatic winner. This game had the lot. Played at a frantic pace with emotions often running high, it made the one paced friendlies and touchy feely first few games of the season seem very far away. 

This was my first visit to Brislington's Ironmould Lane. Situated off the A4 between Bristol and Bath, the ground isn't visible until you go a fair way down the lane and past a cricket pitch.

On paying my £6 entry which included a free programme (nice touch) the first thing you notice is how much of the ground is under cover. Ironmould Lane is built with sheltering from the elements in mind. Three sides of the ground are entirely covered terraces. The remaining side has the dug outs as well as the main stand (covered seating) and another covered terrace.

I'd seen Brisligton play last season at Bitton when they'd been 4-0 winners. Back then Niekell Plummer had led the line and scored two goals. Part of the Bristolian footballing and Goggle box family, I was pleased to see Plummer named in the starting line up as that night his power and touch had made him a joy to watch. 

Brislington are long established members of the Western League, having played at this level since the early 90's. Cribbs meanwhile have been on a steep upward trajectory over the past couple of decades and reached the Western Premier league for the first time in their history in 2012.

I often think you can smell a groundhopper a mile off. About the first person I spotted at the game had all the hall marks of a fellow traveller. My instincts proved right and I spent much of the game chewing the fat with Ed of @Westcountryfb fame who's write up can be found here.

From the start it was clear that the teams were pretty evenly matched and the game quickly became an absorbing affair. Cribbs in the blue had a couple of early chances, the best of which fell to the wonderfully named Horace Ormsby, he wriggled  his way in to the box past several defenders but couldn't beat the keeper.

Next came one of the more bizarre passages of play I've had the joy of witnessing at a football match. It started when Cribbs Number 11, Dowdell picked up the ball and went charging down the left wing. Pursued by a defender he slightly over ran the ball and it clearly went over the touch line before he tapped it back in to play and carried on in to the area. Most of the Brislington players were almost stationary calling for a goal kick to be given, there was no whistle forthcoming however and Dowdell almost sheepishly carried on his attack. As he played the ball in to the 6 yard box, A Brislington defender, number 6, had a rush of blood and literally took things in to his own hands by sticking both arms in the air and stopping the ball in its tracks. For a moment time seemed to stand still. His Brislington team mates were in stunned silence whilst the Cribbs players looked equally confused but eventually started halfheartedly appealing for a penalty. The flummoxed ref ran off to consult with the linesman who had also clearly failed to realise the ball out had gone out of play. 

A penalty was awarded and coolly dispatched by number 11 Dowdell himself. "Play to the whistle" were the obvious words echoing round the terraces as the home team were left seething.

Not long after the Brislington number 6 had a chance to make amends. Plummer who had been kept quiet so far chested a ball in to the box right in to his path but he couldn't find the target with just the keeper to beat.

In the second half Cribbs were not sitting back on their lead and it was there two wide men - Dowdell and Horace Mormby who continued to impress. In and around the penalty area however the Brisltiongton centre backs looked solid and were keeping the forwards largely at bay. Cribbs did have one golden chance to make it 2-0 after a brilliant run from Mormby. The young winger again cut in from the right, showing great skill to get past 3 defenders before putting the ball on a plate for the on rushing number 9 - Aldam. He hit a fierce shot but was brilliantly denied by Chris Blammon in goal who pushed it over the bar. What would have been a brilliant goal turned out to be a turning point.

By this time me and Ed had took up a position near the dug outs. Unfortunately for the lino who'd played his part in the penalty incident earlier, he was patrolling the side right in front of the dugouts. Needless to say he was getting all sorts from the Brislington bench and players. After one particular verbal volley, the Cribbs manager attempted to offer some comforting words to the young assistant referee: "No one said it was gunna be easy hey lino!". The tackles were flying in by now and Ed made the good point that it was surprising more yellow cards hadn't been given (3 was the final count).

Brislington equalised with about 15 minutes to go. A long ball wasn't dealt with and as Plummer chased it down he inevitably out muscled his marker. He chipped it over the out rushing keeper before they clattered in to each other as the ball found the back of the net.

The last ten minutes were increasingly physical but there was still time for a moment brilliance from Brislington's Curtis Jack that would prove decisive. As he took the ball down the right wing it looked like the Cribbs defenders had done enough to shepherd him out to what at best looked like a crossing position. He had other ideas though and unleashed a wonder strike. Such was the angle when he hit it, from where we were it looked like it was destined to go out for a throw-in at the other side of the pitch. Instead it rocketed in to the far corner cannoning off the inside of the post giving the keeper no chance. Easily the best goal I've seen so far this season.

Jack disappeared under a jubilant pile-on and there was no time for a Cribbs reply. 2-1 to Brislington at the final whistle.

A fantastic game of football. Absorbing from start to finish, the kind of match that can tire you out just watching it. I'll be seeking out more games involving these two this season hoping for more of the same.

Looking back down Ironmould Lane

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Yate Town v Bideford AFC. Tuesday 15th August, 2017

Yate 0 Bideford 1

Not for the first time this season, due to childcare commitments I arrived at tonight's game a minute or two after kick off. There was no need to fret though. My occasional side kick Bryan was in attendance to fill me in on the early exchanges. He also had a pint waiting for me. Thanks Bryan.

This was my first visit to Yate's Lodge Road, or to give it's formal title - The Jelf Stadium. Yate have been a Southern League club for the past 17 seasons. A recent highlight was reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup in 2012/13 where they eventually bowed out at the hands of localish football league side Cheltenham.

It was a beautiful summers evening and as I entered the ground and parted with my £9, I immediately knew I was going to enjoy the night. I'm a big fan of ever greens at football grounds and Lodge Road has some belters, so big they looked down on the flood lights. As I supped on my beer and inhaled the fresh South Gloucestershire air, the stresses of work and family life faded in to triviality. What a great thing a night at the football is.  

I was looking forward to seeing tonights visitors Bideford in action again. Last season I'd spent a very enjoyable day at their Kingsley Road home that you can read about here. From the starting line ups, it was good to see Sean Downing in the Bideford team, he's been capped at England C level and ran the show when I saw them last year. Another big player for them last season - big Chris McGrath, son of ex Aston Villa and Irish international Paul has moved on to Taunton over the summer. Compared to Yate, the away teams bench looked pretty sparse - I counted 4 subs and no non playing staff apart from Sean "Who needs Mourinio we've got Sean Joyceio" Joyce the manager. Not surprising perhaps given that travelling from North Devon at rush hour would probably mean leaving work at about 3pm.
For Yate I was looking forward to seeing new signing Ben Brooks who featured on these pages last season whilst at Larkhall.

The teams looked evenly matched in the first half. The pitch was in fantastic condition and both sides took advantage of the playing surface, knocking it about nicely looking for an opening. Brooks looked lively for Yate in the number ten role but it was a set piece that came closest to delivering a goal. Yate's centre back, Norris came up for a corner and saw his firm header hit the bar and sail over. A few tackles were flying in but the female ref and her officials generally held the lid on things and the game had a decent flow to it.

The attendance was given as 153 and we heard a Yate fan muttering about the high turn out and wondering where all the new faces had come from: "Have we signed Edgar Davids over the summer or something?" What he probably didn't realise was that a large contingent had made the trek up from North Devon. At first we thought the four vocal fans behind the goal with the Bideford flags were the extent of the the travelling party. It turned out however that a large number of supporters on the touch line were also cheering on the Robins.

Most spectators tonight enjoyed the action from the side of the pitch which housed the main stand, the dug outs, the club bar, the tea hut and the changing rooms as well as the club shop. This could give the ground a lopsided feel but the majestic ever greens coupled with a covered terrace behind one of the goals make Lodge Road a fine place to watch football.

In the second half, the challenges began to get a bit stronger and the politeness shown to the officials in the first half faded away with both teams desperate to get their noses in front. The tall linesman on the dug out side started to get a bit of stick. After a Bideford penalty shout went unanswered he seemed to be smirking at some of the choice comments from a visiting fan. "And it's not funny either" was the angry response this got, "Yes it is" he fired back. Brilliant from the lino. He defused the incident and was quite happy explaining decisions and sticking up for his colleagues as the game went on and the managers were increasingly in his ear. An early contender for linesmaning performance of the season.

The deciding moment of the game would come on the hour mark. By this time we were behind the goal Bideford were attacking and chatting to the Bideford fans with the flags. This car load full made the effort to get to every away game and impressively got to all but 3 last season. Especially impressive as the designated driver amongst them works nights at weekends! Top man. As they explained the ferocity of the North Devon derby with Barnstable (a fixture I definitely want to get to one day), a corner came in from the right. It was headed skyward at the near post and as it came down, the under pressure keeper wasn't able to gather and it was bundled over the line by Craig Allan. Scenes behind the goal. A young fan next to us had a particularly exuberant celebration and star jumped over to two Yate fans at the back of the terrace to let them know how happy he was. He was pretty fired up to be fair. The Yate guys declined to react and seemingly looked on with a mixture of bemusement and fear.  

Yate players protest but the goal is given. Bideford take the lead.

Yate attempted to respond but Bideford continued to look a threat on the counter. Sean Downing though not as dominant as when I last saw him still showed flashes of brilliance. One mazy run ended with him some how riding a heavy challenge, staying on his feet and sending a curler aimed at the top corner just over.  

A few niggly fouls and the general wiliness of Joyce and his men helped break up Yates rhythm. Though the home team bought on fresh legs and showed some good build up play, they struggled to create the clear cut chances they needed. At the other end Billy Tucker almost doubled the visitors lead, he raced on to a Downing flick on but saw his shot well saved by Rivers in the Yate goal.

1-0 at the final whistle. A hard fought game with plenty of quality from both teams, all played out on a lovely summers evening in a picturesque setting. Just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Hallen AFC v Chippenham Town. Tuesday 25th July 2017

 Hallen 1  Chippenham 3

I'd been meaning to pay a visit to Hallen AFC for a while. Not least because their ground is a mere 15 minutes drive from Gone For a Burton's north Bristol HQ. I'd heard good things about the Hallen Centre, plus as if I needed another reason to venture out on this glorious summers evening, tonights visitors were Chippenham town, newly promoted to the National League South, I saw them play three times last season and was treated to a feast of football on each occasion.

Hallen play in the Western Premier League (3 steps below Chippenham in the pyramid) and you can find their home a few miles north west of Bristol. I somehow managed to miss the entrance to the car park and ended up approaching the ground through a field. The ground is enclosed and has training pitches and facilities on the outside. 

After paying a ridiculously reasonable £3 entry, I took in the team news. Chippenham had bought a full strength squad and I was pleased to see David Pratt and Andy Sandell upfront. The Torvill and Dean of the Southern Lague last season, the chemistry between them is something to behold. They danced and pranced their way through countless defences before banging in the goals as Chippenham raced to the title.

I got chatting to the bloke on the turnstile, Tony was his name and he filled me in on Hallen's pre season to date and advised me to look out for their number 9, Aaron Anglin. The pitch looked fantastic in the bright sunshine, apparently Hallen recently invested in new drainage equiptment and the turf was resplendently green. As I chewed the fat with Tony, Chippenham were awarded a penalty which was duly converted by Sandell. [Boring fact: I checked when I got home and realised that in the 4 games I have seen Chippenham in the last year - Sandell has scored a penalty in every game!]

It was time to have a wander around the pitch, besides, Tony had excused himself to count the gate money before moving on to help with half time preparations.

The main stand, The Frank Fairman Stand, is a covered all seated affair straddling the half way line. Along side were a series of porta-cabins housing the tea hut amongst other things. On the opposite side were the dug outs with the changing rooms and club house behind the goal at the entrance. Behind the main stand and club house were the training pitches whilst the rest of the pitch was surrounded by high trees and picturesque countryside.

It seemed most people were in a relaxed and friendly mood tonight. Next up I got chatting to a couple of Chippenham fans, topics included Merthyr, of which they said "very insular" and "you wouldn't want to break down there" (a bit harsh) and Andy Sandell - "I think he's lost weight over the summer" (a bit generous).

Meanwhile on the pitch, the Hallen keeper was keeping his team in the game with a fine double save. The Hallen number 9, Anglin, then went on a run down the right and won a corner. The initial corner led to another and that was volleyed in by the number 11 from 20 yards out: 1:1.

It wasn't long before Chippenham were back in front courtesy of a James Guthrie effort from the edge of the box. 2-1 became 3-1 not long after when Alex Fergeson converted from close range. By this time I was watching from inside the main stand which afforded a great view of the goal Hallen were attacking with a lovely hillock in the background. There were a few kids in tonight and it was nice to see a Dad lean out the back of the stand and be able to check up on his son who was using the back of the stand as a goal with his mates.

As the half drew to a close, Hallen were unlucky not to score their second of the night, dogged determination saw their number 9 chase down what looked like a lost cause, he dispossessed the keeper and put the ball in the net, only for the ref to rule it out, presumably for a foul.

Half time let me wander around the ground some more. I was surprised to see what looked like a keepy upy pen emblazoned with the name of Everton star - Yannick Bolasie. It turns out Bolasie trains at Hallen in the summer and gave the club his support when they faced being evicted a couple of years ago following a dispute with Almondsbury council. What a man!  

Half time BBQ

A flurry of substitutions accompanied the beginning of the second half. Hallen continued to look dangerous at times, their floppy haired number 7 proving an effective outlet on the right. At the other end their keeper came to their rescue again when he made a fine point blank save from Scott Donelly, who'd been played in by a deft Sandell flick.

On another lap of the ground I met an old bloke who told me he played for Hallen as long ago as 1950 when they were called Lawrence Weston Athletic. Whilst we chatted away, Tony from the turnstile walked by, nursing his arms after another trip in to the stingers and overgrowth to fetch a lost ball. Surely Tony must be shoe in for Hallen Clubman of the year 2017/18? 

Back on the pitch Chippenham's new signing, Josh Morgan-Williams was putting himself about upfront having come on as a sub. He impressed when I saw him play for Bitton last year and hopefully can do well at the higher level.

As the game was petering out, a Chippenham centre back showed that he had either missed the memo about this being a relaxed friendly, or was single mindedly focussed on getting Chippenham's rear guard ready for National League football - he tore in to his right back for not "tucking in" with a level of venom that felt a bit out of place with the rest of the game.

3-1 at the final whistle. A thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Hallen Cetnre. As I slowly made my way out of the ground, there was no surprise when I saw Tony forgoing the club bar and taking down the nets on his own.

I salute you Sir

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Weston Super Mare v Bristol Rovers. Tuesday 11th July 2017

Weston Super Mare 0 Bristol Rovers 3

Football is back. So begins another long season. And pre season. As much as I've enjoyed a little break over the summer watching a bit of tennis and cricket on t.v., I couldn't wait to get back out on the terraces and embark on another 9 months or so of football.
The first Gone for a Burton trip of 2017/18 found me heading to Weston Super Mare for their pre season friendly against Bristol Rovers. Before the game the heavens had opened for the first time in weeks, remembering my wasted journey to Cinderford last year, I made sure I checked on Twitter before setting off, no news was good news; the game was on.

I was hoping get to Weston in plenty of time for a look around before kick off. My 3 year old son had other ideas though, his bed time rebellion ensured that by the time I left home I had little chance of making the start of the match, let alone enough time for an ice cream on the pier or a donkey ride on the beach. As it happened I arrived a few minutes in to the game. After paying my £12 entry (a bit eye brow raising for a pre season friendly) I was reliably informed the game remained goalless. 

Rovers had bought a strong first team squad along with the handful of trialists that often go hand in hand with pre season games. For Weston I noticed that Goggle Box regular Tristan Plummer was on the bench. I'd seen him last season playing for Hereford and he is now back at Weston for what is his fourth spell at the club. Of the Rovers trialists, one with a notable back story was young Tom Broadbent at centre back, tall and well built, from what I understand he is still serving in the army and is presumably hoping to swap his military fatigues for a full time contract.

On entering the ground I took a position behind the goal Weston were attacking. The first thing I heard was a young Rovers fan moaning to his mates about how steep the fine was for being caught urinating in public by the police. The beautiful game: I doubt you get to be in earshot of gold like this at Lords or Wimbledon often.

Having glanced over the teams it was time to re-orientate myself with the Woodspring stadium, a ground I had visited once before, a couple a years ago on a filthy winters night when Weston had beat Oxford City in an 8 goal thriller. The ground was opened in 2004 and sits on the edge of town on a main road. It reminds me a bit of Walsall's ground in that it has a stand behind the goal which towers over the rest of the ground. This is a large covered terrace that wouldn't look out of place at a league one or two ground. Behind the opposite goal is a small standing area with a bit of covering. One side of the pitch has quite a big club house with a covered stand in front that stretches about half the length of the touch line and is 4 rows deep. The opposite side is empty apart from the dug outs and the 8 foot wall that wraps round the grounds perimeter. All in all a decent ground with plenty of trees nearby making a nice backdrop.

A quirky feature of the big terrace behind the goal is that a few narrow rows of red seats have been plonked at its front. I presume this was very much an after thought to meet national league regulations around required number of seats. Tonight, despite a large crowd of 720, they nearly all remained empty.

I got chatting to a Weston fan who pointed out how nice the pitch was looking, indeed it was very green considering all the recent dry weather. He also pointed out that Weston's on loan midfielder from Cardiff looked to be "carrying a bit of timber for a full time pro". As we mulled this over Rovers took the lead. Some neat work from Billy Bodin, who I am delighted hasn't been snapped up by a championship club over the summer, created a chance for flame haired Northern Irishman, Rory Gaffney to sidefoot in past Purnell in the Weston goal. Bodin himself had a good looking shot saved shortly after and it remained 1-0 at the break.

The smell of onions coming from the snack bar was delightful, I'd had my tea though so instead went to the adjoining club shop and bought a lovely Weston mug. I lingered in this corner of the ground as the game restarted. I soon moved on though as a group of kids started entertaining themselves by throwing chips at each other.

A flurry of substitutions came from both teams. Weston are under the new management of former player Marc McGregor who clearly wants his team to play a patient passing game. Even in tight situations they were passing it out from the back and avoiding hitting the ball long where ever possible. Their best spell in the game came early in the second half and culminated in a fierce shot from their number 7 which beat Adam Smith in the Rovers goal but came back off the bar.

Rovers trialist Michael Kelly at left back looked pretty decent and put in the cross for Rovers second goal - A clever header from Ellis Harrison who diverted a ball that looked to be going behind him over Purnell and in to the net. With a Matty Taylor size whole in the Rovers front line, and no striker signed in the close season so far, it was nice to see both Gaffney and Harrison on the score sheet.

Weston continued to look well organised, Plummer, on at the break proved a handful in midfield though they didn't create many chances. Rovers bought on two youth players in midfield who I'd be very surprised if they were any older than 16. They more than held their own though and one was involved in some lovely build up play that led to the final goal of the night, a deft back heel flick from wide man Ryan Broom from a Harrison cross. All in all, a very enjoyable first game of the season. Here's to 2017/18 and all the thrills and spills to come.