BURY 2-3 MILLWALL 26.11.2016

AKA …….. Two postponements in one day.

Taking in two United matches and having a spare Saturday afternoon in the North-West of England, that could only have meant one thing ……. to go and see in another local game while I was there, ideally at a ground i’ve never been to before.

I had a look at the fixture lists and one game stood out, Oldham v Peterborough. It was mainly due to both clubs having a Northern Ireland connnection.

Both managers (Steven Robinson and Grant McCann) are former Northern Ireland players, with Robinson being part of the coaching staff at Euro 2016.

On the playing staff, there were Northern Ireland players who began their careers with Irish League clubs, Oldham boasting Cameron Dummigan (Cliftonville), Ryan McLaughlin (Glenavon), Carl Winchester (Linfield) as well as Billy McKay (never played for an Irish League club).

Peterborough count boast Michael Smith (Ballyclare Comrades and Ballymena United) but not Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) who is out on loan to St Johnstone.

And as a bonus, tickets were being offered at a discount. I think we have a winner here folks.

I headed to Boundary Park around lunchtime, the plan being to get some lunch near the ground, I had a check on my phone to see if the game was still on.

Manchester was frosty on the Saturday morning, so a postponement was a possibility. The game was on when I boarded the tram at Victoria, but off when I checked Twitter upon getting off in Oldham.

So a change of plan then.

As a side note, the game has been rearranged for Tuesday 24th January 2017. Frustratingly, i’m in Manchester for the Hull City game (League match, not the League Cup Semi-Final) the following week.

When getting the tram, there were a couple of FC United fans who got on and disembarked at Moston/Newton Heath.

I knew their ground is in Moston, having visited it when it was still a work in progress when I was over for a match in November 2014.

FC United were at home in the FA Trophy, and it’s on the Metrolink route back to the City Centre. Well, I might as well head to Broadhurst Park.

Broadhurst Park is a ground I have noted that I want to visit, so I might as well make the most of this opportunity.

I arrived and checked and followed the directions on the club’s website, and checked Twitter to see if the game was still on. It was, but only just, as there was a pitch inspection pending.

So, I waited outside the ground for confirmation that the game was on before entering. Just after 2pm, I saw supporters leaving the ground and steward shouting “MATCH OFF!! MATCH OFF!!”, confirming what I was already suspecting.

There wasn’t a lot of football in the North West that day.

By this point, I was determined to see some football. So, I decided to brave negotiating the Metrolink to get to Bury for their match against Millwall, getting a taxi from the station to the ground for a fiver (you can barely get down the street for a fiver in Belfast) and only missing the first five minutes.

In the early months of the season, this looked like it would be a top of the table clash, but a run of nine successive defeats (fourteen without a win in all competitions, two draws and twelve defeats) saw Bury hover just above the relegation zone and manager David Flitcroft leave the club, while Millwall were in a traffic jam of clubs outside the play-offs.

And despite not getting to Boundary Park, there would be some Northern Ireland interest in the game in the shape of Shane Ferguson, who was involved in most of Millwall’s attacks in the first-half.

One of those attacks saw a mid air collision result in what looked like a Bury free-kick. As the game was stopped, I decided to check Irish League scores on my phone. I was surprised to hear howls of derision from the crowd as the referee awarded a penalty to Millwall.

Not quite, as the referee consulted with the linesman, and he reversed the decision to applause from the Bury fans. Football fans can be so fickle.

Neither side were on top in the first-half with no real attacking threat. Bury’s cause wasn’t helped by poor decision making when on the attack.

Just after the hour, Bury took the lead when a James Vaughan header hit the bar and went in off the keeper after hitting the bar. Finally, a break for Bury.

Bury were now on the up, and soon made it 2-0 when Vaughan was played through, and showed the type of finish that saw him playing in the Premier League at 16.

It was all going well Bury, too well, and they were brought back down to earth when Niall Maher handled a goalbound shot on the line, with the double whammy of a penalty and a red card.

The penalty was converted by Shaun Williams, prompting an inevitable melee in the goalmouth as Milwall players tried to grab the ball to restart the game, the referee booking a player from each side at the end of it.

The game had now changed and the impetus was with Millwall, who were applying all the pressure while Bury were defending.

The inevitable equaliser came when Callum Butcher headed home from a corner on 85 minutes. Bury were dead on their feet. Supporters around me had seen enough and headed for the exits.

There was still time for a winner, and Millwall knew it. They got it in injury time when Aiden O’Brien got on the end of a cross. Like the equaliser a few minutes earlier, there was an exodus around me, but greater in numbers this time.

A rather entertaining game that made it worthwhile making the dash from not one, but two postponed matches.

Broadhurst Park

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MANCHESTER

Last weekend, I headed to Manchester for a short break. I’d been to the city many times, to go to Old Trafford, but rarely explored it. The only previous time I got the chance was four and a half years ago, in April 2010.

I usually travel to Old Trafford by bus the day before, and only get a brief visit to the City Centre on the day of the game before heading back home the next day.

In June, I decided I would pick a match and make a weekend of it. The problem was, with no European football this season, there was always the risk that I could choose a game, only for it to be moved to a Monday night. So, I chose a Saturday game leading into a midweek fixture list (Hull) and booked a trip from Friday to Monday.

Upon arrival, I got the tram at the new station at the airport. I had to stop off and get a connecting tram to get to my hotel. I would have had to do the same if I was staying in the City Centre. One of the stops on the route, Trafford Bar, is handy for Old Trafford if you’re flying in and out on the same day. In future, i’d probably get the train to Picadilly and travel from there.

My hotel, was at Salford Quays and easy to get to, served by two tram stops. I know the area reasonably well, and it is close to Old Trafford, my main destination of the weekend. Walking past the stadium en route to the Old Trafford tram station (I’d purposely chose to do so, just to have a look at the ground), there was still a lot of activity, with tourists visiting the ground, and unofficial stalls looking to capitalise on their visit.

Getting the tram into the City Centre, the first thing I did was the first thing I do everytime I visit the City Centre – visit Empire Exchange.

It’s a “Retro Junk Store”, but as the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and there’ll always be something in there you want to buy.

From there, I headed to Affleck’s, an independent indoor market space i’d previously visited in 2012. I got sidetracked while there of the mosaics outside, of various landmarks such as both of the city’s football teams, Coronation Street and Factory Records.

I also spotted some Street Art, and then found some more, then found myself getting lost and photographing more Street Art. I love Street Art, but i’d never really got anything photoworthy in Manchester. That was soon rectified.

The Northern Quarter was a part of the city i’d never really ventured to, much to my loss. Lot’s of fantastic independent stores and Street Art, which I enjoyed visiting, and hope to do so the next time i’m in Manchester.

After a walk to check out the Christmas Market at Arndale, I was soon on a bus, to Accrington, to take in some football, Accrington Stanley v Exeter City, before heading back to Salford Quays, with two more busy days to come.

I got up relatively early on the Saturday morning, so I could have a stroll around the City Centre before the match, which kicked-off at 3pm.

Again, I decided to walk to the Old Trafford tram stop, deliberately, just to walk past the stadium. It was quire eerie and surreal to see Sir Matt Busby Way so quiet and peaceful (bar a few street cleaners and stalls) on a matchday.

When I booked the trip in June, Hull City were still in European competition, and i’d hoped they’d get to the group stages of the UEFA Cup so the match would be a Sunday, freeing me up to spend more time in the City Centre and/or going to another game in the Greater Manchester/Lancashire area. However, it was not to be.

I got a tram to the City Centre, having a look around Arndale and Arndale Market, as well as seeing some of the street performers and catching up on some of the Street Art I missed on the Friday (It was coming up to 4pm when I was taking photos, and there’s wasn’t a lot of natural daylight to work with)

It wasn’t just Arndale I went to, I also had a venture around Printworks, the Christmas Markets around there, as well as a visit to the National Football Museum. As I only visit Manchester every 6-7 months (my last visit was 8 months ago, and I didn’t get a chance to visit the National Football Museum), visiting there doesn’t become stale due to the turnover of exhibitions. I took the opportunity to purchase a retro Red/White/Black bar scarf i’d been trying to get for a while.

At around Noon, I got the tram back to Old Trafford to have a look at Red Star Sports and the unofficial stalls, before dropping off my City Centre purchases in the hotel room, before a bite to eat, then into the ground.

The match itself, my first seeing Van Gaal’s United in the flesh, was a routine win, though it wasn’t perfect, due to injuries to Di Maria and Rooney.

Back to the hotel room for a quick change, then out for a quick bite to eat, I headed to the University Area, got hopelessly lost, before finding The Deaf Institute, a bar on the site of an abandoned Deaf Institute (hence the name) to see The Ting Tings.

It was a rather good gig, when you ignore them walking off three songs in due to technical difficulties.

(They did come back on once the problems were fixed)

I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in on Sunday morning, before heading for a stroll along Salfrod Quays, photographing some Street Art i’d spotted from afar over the previous two days from the tram.

The end of that trail, saw me at Cornbrook tram stop, so I got a tram from there to Market Street, having a browse at the Christmas Markets, somehow getting lost in these markets (especially the German market) and ending up in Deansgate.

With a bit of time to spare, I headed to Moston to have a look at FC United’s proposed new stadium, Broadhurst Park, which is at a very advanced stage.

I’ve always been meaning to go to an FC United game, but whenever i’ve actually been in Manchester for a whole weekend, they’ve been away. Even this weekend, with “Big United” playing at 3pm on a Saturday, FC were away.

Hopefully, when the stadium is up and running, i’ll get a chance to visit for a match.

From there, it was back to the hotel, then out for a bite to eat, before heading to Manchester Apollo for Erasure. I’d tried to get tickets for their Belfast gig earlier in the month, but they were sold out. I couldn’t believe my luck when I checked the concert listings and they were playing when I was there, so it more than made up for missing out on the Belfast gig.

In fact, it was a brilliant weekend for gigs in the city, with Erasure, Human League, Ting tings, Imelda May, The Beat and Paloma Faith all playing between Friday and Sunday.

Erasure, were fantastic. The bus back to Picadilly turned into a party bus with revellers singing from Erasure’s back catalogue.

Unfortunately, trams to Eccles (which was the route to my hotel) finish early on a Friday night. If the gig venue was in a more central location, I could have made it. Unfortunately, I had to walk from Trafford Bar to Salford Quays back to the hotel, when I couldn’t have been bothered walking any more.

I had a bit of a lie-in on the Monday morning, before a bit of breakfast, then checking out. The 3pm flight home didn’t allow me much of an opportunity to see the city on the Monday.

With that, my Manchester break was over, I found myself wishing i’d stayed over a few more days for the Stoke game.

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