In the middle of the dark January when the news was dominated by travel disruption caused by freak weather, unlike now, I just felt like I needed something to look forward to when the weather improved come April.
Having taken a shine to the possibility of going to Ewood Park to watch United take on Blacburn, and seeing James on tour, I decided to book a mini tour of the North of England, and then count down the days.
The build-up was nervous as a threatened rail strike meant I faced the very serious possibility that I would be spending 3 hours on a bus with an hour long stop in Leeds. Thankfully, that situation was avoided.
After checking in to my hotel, I decided to have a wee stroll in Sheffield City Centre and the first thing I saw was the top of the main stand at Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United.
I decided to have a wee nosey at the ground and started by visiting the club shop. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get access to the stadium to look inside, but I did get some photos of the exterior.
Later on in the afternoon, I saw a bus with ‘Hillsbrough’ on the LED screen at the front, so I decided to jump on, in the interests of fairness.
I had a wee look in the Wednesday shop, and the first thing that comes to mind is that it is spacous.
Like at Bramall Lane, I wasn’t able to actually get inside the stadium, but I did get a look at the memorial stone for those who died in the Hillsbrough Disaster, the 21st anniversary of which was this week.
Back in the city centre I had an enjoyable day. Sheffield is worth visiting, though it is probably more to my detriment that I didn’t get to see a lot of the city as I had to cram it all into one day, though it certainly doesn’t have the wow factor that Manchester has.
Thursday night was spent at the O2 Academy in Sheffield to see James in concert. If you’re too lazy to click the link, James were excellent.
Come Friday, it was bye bye Sheffield and hello again Manchester. Having been there in February, I spent most of my time based in the city centre (though in reality, with the football matches on Saturday and Sunday and going home on Monday afternoon, I only got one full day in the city centre) I decided that I wanted to see more.
Having booked tickets to see Sean Lock on the Sunday night at the Lowry Theatre, I decided to do a dry run to try and find the venue and get home from it.
Getting there was easy enough, and Salford Quays on a beautiful sunny day is an enjoyable experience, especially when you can get a brilliant view of Old Trafford.
If only I had a better camera with a better zoom.
The Lowry Centre is well worth a visit, whatever your interest.
I decided to then walk up to Old Trafford, just to see what it was like on a non-matchday. Despite there not being a match on, there was plenty of activity, as local merchandise stall holders were on hand to satisfy the needs of passers-by.
As I was walking past, preparations were being made for the weekend’s big event, not a United match, but the X-Factor auditions.
From there, I popped in to the ‘other’ Old Trafford, to have a wee look around and was rather embarrased to walk in during a match between Lancashire and Durham. I didn’t really have a clue what was going on.
After taking an early night on the Friday to try and compensate for the 3am start on Thursday.
I was up bright and early on Saturday morning to get a train to Liverpool. Word of advice, NEVER EVER get a train to Liverpool on the morning of the Grand National as it’s a warzone, although it was funny to laugh at the drunk knobs on their way to the event, who clearly didn’t have a clue about Horse Racing.
The reason why I was in Liverpool was that I was visiting a mate who had moved there from Belfast. I was meeting him at 4.30pm to watch the Aston Villa-Chelsea match and get something to eat.
I decided to head over early and see a bit of the city before meeting up.
The first thing I did was visit Central Library, across the road from Lime Street Station to view ‘The Everton Collection‘, which was suggested (actually, it wasn’t suggested, I was told to go) to me by a work colleague.
As the name suggests, it is a collection of Everton memrobillia, and it was great to look around he collection, and see the history of one of Britain’s biggest football clubs right before you.
Unfortunately, the exhibition will be closing this weekend.
After viewing it, I couldn’t help but think how good ‘The Linfield Collection’ would be, if it was feasible, especially with the club’s 125th anniversary taking place in 2011.
It would be great to have a room to view articles and memrobillia from Linfield’s history, either in Central Library or City Hall, though even if it was downsized, it could work to the club’s advantage, possibly taking place in Sandy Row Library, which could help the club reach out in it’s local constituency of South Belfast.
On Saturday, Liverpool City Centre was transformed into a mini-spain for the day, and it wasn’t just the weather, as the Spanish Holiday Board tried to cash in on the success of Merseyside football legends such as Antonio Nunez and Albert Rieira by attracting loads of Scouser to their country through a fair in the city centre, complete with live music.
Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, and I was gagging for a lolly, more precisely, a Polly Pineapple, which there didn’t seem to be any in Liverpool.
If you love graffiti, Liverpool is worth going to, as there was some excellent pieces.
One of my favourites was an animated portrait of The Beatles with the tagline “We all live in a terrorist regime”.
The Myspace link at the bottom of the image is that of a Liverpool based graffiti artist and well worth checking out.
After meeting up and having dinner while watching Villa lose to Chelsea, I headed back to Manchester on the last train, as we were to meet up in Blackburn, ahead of travelling to Ewood Park to watch United take on Blackburn.
It was my mate’s first United away match, and my first away match in the United end. The only other United away match I was at was incidentally at Ewood Park, as I sat with Rovers fans as I had to keep quiet three times when United scored, though unfortunately, Blackburn scored four which ruined the night.
After meeting up at the train station we shared a taxi with four others on the way top the ground, at a total charge of £6, £1 each. Win.
We headed into the deignated away supporters bar, The Fernhurst, which was heaving so much, we only (just about) were able to get 1 drink for the time we were there.
The match itself, was a frustrating affair. It was one of those games where you reach a point midway through the first half where you realise no matter how much possession and chances you have, it’s going to end 0-0.
If it was an uphill struggle after the Chelsea defeat, United now have a mountain to climb after this result.
I then headed back (eventually, after being stuck in a hick town reminiscant of Royston Vasey) to Manchester to see Sean Lock, who I managed to miss the first five minutes of due to disruption on the tram line.
Thankfully, the rest of the show made up for this inconvenience as he was excellent.
I also did a bit of celeb spotting as his 8 Out Of 10 Cats co-star Jason Manfiord was sat directly 2 rows in front of me. I didn’t se Jimmy Carr though.
On my way to The Lowry, I noticed some anti-Glazer graffiti on the walls along Salford Quays, which I went to get some photos of on Monday morning, before mostly milling around Manchester before getting a bus to Ringo Starr Airport for my 7.30pm flight.
Flying at Sunset is truly amazing, I really wish I was able to get some photos whilst on the plane.
Well, that looks like me in terms of travel for the near future, until I starting getting the wheels of a trip to the Edinburgh Festival in motion once the Finge programme gets published on June 10th.
Already counting down the days.