It might have been the last day in May, but my football season was still ongoing, as I headed to Crewe (a first time visit) to see Northern Ireland take on Qatar in an international friendly.
It was Qatar’s home game, and they chose Crewe as the venue as they are having a training camp in England. Both teams are working towards vital qualifiers in June – Qatar in the World Cup and Northern Ireland in the European Championship.
I had eyes on the rumoured friendly away to Wales, but as that didn’t happen, I decided to head to this one. Easy to get to and cheap to get to as well.
I flew in to Liverpool and met a friend at Lime Street and got the train to Crewe, 30 minutes away. The ground was near the train station. Not that surprising considering that Crewe Alexandra are known as The Railwaymen.
As we headed to the ground and picked up our tickets, we saw a programme shop and a bar. Near a train station, with a programme shop and a bar. This ground is almost perfect.
Our seats were in the upper end of the main stand, the only stand in operation for this game. Sadly, the Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Van Stand wasn’t in use.
The first thing noticed was the pitch. It wasn’t in the best of condition. I had some spare time on the Monday morning before my train to Liverpool so headed to have another look at the ground, and the pitch was being torn up and relaid.
The Football League season ended on May 2nd, four weeks prior to this game. With the number of Northern Ireland players playing at this level, there was a danger some players could be doing into the game against Romania without a game in six weeks. That’s why this game was so important, even if the result was not.
Unsurprisingly, it was a much changed team from that which faced Finland at the end of March. Of those that were on the pitch, Niall McGinn, Conor McLaughlin and Stuart Dallas were getting a lot of joy out wide.
Northern Ireland were dominant and Qatar didn’t have an attacking threat. Qatar’s keeper was worked but not overworked. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland couldn’t get the goal that reflected their dominance.
They didn’t have to wait long in the second-half to get that goal, as Stuart Dallas fired home in the opening minutes of the second-half. Northern Ireland looked set for victory.
Patrick McNair, in his second cap, took the opportunity to get forward, firing a few shots on goal.
Qatar got more into the game and had a short period of pressure. During this period, they got a goal, with a long range strike.
As with any friendly, substitutions in the final twenty minutes disrupted the rhythm of the game and the game fizzled out into a draw.
With a lack of footballing entertainment, Northern Ireland fans taunted their opponents over recent scandals at FIFA, asking “How much did you pay, for the FIFA World Cup?” and taunting their own Jim Boyce over watches he received with “Boycie Boycie, what’s the time?” before some local Crewe fans managed to start “We hate Port Vale, we hate Port Vale”
Overall, a good trip, and always nice to visit a stadium for the first time. If i’m ever in the North-West of England and at a loose end, I wouldn’t be adverse to making a return visit to Crewe.
The result wasn’t important, it was all about getting match fitness for Romania. Still would have liked to have won. Should have won. Qatar are not a good team and have a lot to do in order to just be competitive for the 2022 World Cup, that they are due (situation changing every day) to host.
So, i’ve travelled to see Northern Ireland at Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford, Hampden Park, Lansdowne Road, Amsterdam Arena and now Gresty Road.
Hopefully, the next one will be in Paris, Lille or Lens next summer.