Amy has really got into this series.
I thought I’d reward that by taking her to where, arguably, the best football in Europe is currently being played: Manchester City. Okay, tickets were also only £15 for students and we can basically see the Etihad from our flat, but that’s irrelevant…
On the Road:
Midweek games always make it difficult for us to make kick-off given Amy works until 5pm and I’m just generally shocking at time-keeping. However, the Etihad is incredibly easy to get to. If driving, there are plenty of reasonably priced car parks not too far from tram stops such as those around the Northern Quarter and Shudehill.
Trams also run regularly towards the stadium from both Piccadilly Station and the centre of town with a designated stop dropping you off right outside. We fell victim of a random snow storm waiting for the tram back after the game though. This would’ve been fine if Amy hadn’t decided to do her best Oliver Twist impression and wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them. With valentine’s day on the horizon, maybe she was hinting at a gift idea… shame all she’s most likely getting is a Moonpig Card and one of those ‘free backrub’ coupons that all boyfriends make for their significant other after they’ve left it too late to get anything else. Don’t say I don’t treat you Amy!
From Victoria Station, walking to Piccadilly Gardens or St. Peter’s Square isn’t too difficult but, if you get lost, people are always willing to help. Most people are friendly in Manchester and it isn’t considered a war crime to ask directions from someone you don’t know like it is in London. If you don’t fancy the trams, it’s probably about a half-hour walk from Piccadilly station to the stadium.
If you haven’t been before, the Etihad is very impressive with plenty to get on with before the match. There are plenty of bars outside the stadium and a main stage with a live performance or special guest speaker. If you’ve got some time beforehand, it’s well worth checking it all out- nice atmosphere and plenty to do.
However, there was something that Amy hadn’t encountered before on her away day adventures: lots of stairs. It seems she decides to do a leg day at the gym the night before any away day which will involve lots of walking or steep hills. Unfortunately, her requests to be carried to her seat fell on deaf ears.
Tickets are expensive but that is simply a sad fact of the top two divisions of English football. The one upside is that you normally do get your money’s worth. The downside is that we overbudgeted worse than 99% of students on loan day for this match. Amy’s next away day experience probably won’t be as glamorous as this one.
Given the financial clout that City possess, we had high expectations when going for our half time grub. I was looking forward to the staple British Chicken Balti on arrival, but we decided to be adventurous and went for a Chorizo and Bean pie instead.
We weren’t disappointed- the meat-veg-pastry ratio was almost perfect. The only downside to it was the fact that we had to fork out a fair chunk of our student loan to get it. This was the general trend for all the catering options: top notch food for the price of a mortgage. It’s no wonder City had £57 million to spend on Aymeric Laporte the other day when the cheapest pint at the Etihad is £4.
There’s also the option of getting a glass of wine for £5.50 for those of you with money to burn and ambitions to get absolutely plastered. Overall, irrespective of its price, the food was top notch and can’t be faulted.
Bit of a cop out for this section as we could only get tickets for the home end. We were sat right above the West Brom fans though and could hear them throughout the game. Travelling midweek for almost two hours to watch your side, who are bottom of the league, face arguably the strongest team in Premier League history deserves some respect. All the best for the rest of the season.
The City fans were in full voice throughout the game but that’s hardly surprising when your side’s playing like they are. Nevertheless, to get 53,000 to a midweek match against a side who aren’t an immediate rival is impressive.
Amy enjoyed the chants, strangely commenting on the quality of the “acoustics” in the stadium. She then confused City’s chant of “Oh Kevin De Bruyne” to the tune of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army with “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. It would be pretty funny if Jeremy Corbyn had been brought in on deadline day to be fair, saying the transfer was “for the many not the few” and that he liked the club’s ambition, given City’s anti-austerity stance in the transfer market. There was also a classy gesture from the fans towards Gareth Barry, who was applauded when coming on as a sub for West Brom. It’s always nice to see a set of fans acknowledge a former player’s efforts.
Manchester City were immediately on the front foot, zipping the ball around but failing to break through a stubborn West Brom rear-guard. After twenty minutes though, an incisive De Bruyne pass cut the defence in two to find Fernandinho, who coolly finished past the onrushing Ben Foster. The Brazilian was lucky to escape punishment soon after though, appearing to stamp on Grzegorz Krychowiak (no I haven’t just run my fingers along my laptop’s keyboard, that’s his name).
Half time came and went but not without some excellent entertainment. Move over Grand National, the only race I’m betting on this year is Manchester City’s mascot sprint, which we were introduced to before the second half. According to an anonymous source, the bookmaker’s favourites were Dr. Devil (roundly booed by the crowd for his links to Manchester United) and Colin the Christmas Tree.
Dr. Devil eventually ran out as a clear winner, making the most of his excellent current form on the good to firm ground this season. Amy was content with the result, seeing as she had Colin the Christmas Tree on an each-way bet.
Into the second half and City began to dominate with good chances going begging for Sterling, Agüero (who Amy knew as the “AGÜEROOOOOOO” man, as she later told me) and De Bruyne. It was the latter who eventually doubled the lead after breaking through the centre of the pitch, avoiding a cynical foul by James McLean to play a one-two with Sterling before finishing comfortably.
Two important saves from Ben Foster ensured that the Baggies were still in the tie, tipping over an audacious 50-yard chip from De Bruyne and getting down smartly to his left to keep out an Agüero backheel. However, despite the away side’s best efforts, a clever reverse pass from Sterling found Agüero just before stoppage time and the Argentine duly put the game to bed.
We were the opposite end of the stadium to the tackle that got everyone talking- Matt Phillips’ drop kick on Brahim Diaz. As a result, we’ve sadly got to pull an Arsène Wenger here and say we didn’t see it. However, replays show it was the kind of tackle you’d see put in on anyone with pink boots and gloves on a Sunday League pitch. Phillips, disappointingly, didn’t complete the Sunday League likeness by making the universal “I got the ball ref” sign by imitating a spherical object with his hands. Gutted. In all seriousness, Diaz luckily seemed alright after the challenge. West Brom did have a couple of decent chances, the pick of the bunch falling to loan signing Daniel Sturridge. One on one with the keeper, the England man had two bites of the cherry but failed to convert. Final Score: 3-0.
Man of the Match: Kevin De Bruyne
The Belgian is on another level, working tirelessly to form a first line of defence and faultlessly inventive when going forward. I get the feeling, in a decade or so’s time, people will be saying: “I saw De Bruyne play”, just like Henry, Shearer, Ronaldo etc.
Amy’s Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling
One of the few players that Amy has actually recognised on our travels because she’d laughed at his running style on Match of the Day. Sterling did have a great game, but I doubt that’s why Amy’s picked him- more likely because she thinks he’s cute because he “looks about 12” and funny because he runs like a tyrannosaurus rex.
Highlight of the Day:
About an hour into the match there was a lull in play after an offside decision. Amy suddenly broke into a rendition of ABBA’s Mamma Mia without warning. It was like she had a form of Tourette syndrome where the tics were cheesy 70s/80s European pop groups. Can’t wait for her to start blasting out Africa by Toto next game.
Amy’s Highlight of the Day:
Amy very excitedly tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards play in the second half. At first I thought she’d spotted something incisive, a late run into the box, an off the ball incident or an injury. Turned out it was just a pigeon that couldn’t get out of the stadium and was flying around the players, much to her amusement. This stuff just writes itself.
Finally, big shout out to our mates Michael (a veteran of our trip to Deepdale) and Joel who came to the game with us- your company was, as always, greatly appreciated.
Thanks for reading once again!
Top 5 Footballer Adverts
As a youngster nothing was more exciting than seeing the latest Nike or Pepsi advert on TV. It meant one of two things, either there was a World Cup around the corner a new pair of boots of boots were about to hit the shops and you could start trying to convince your mum that not having the very latest in boot technology would hamper your flourishing career
Footballers appearing in big budget adverts during the mid 90’s early 200’s was an ever presents, surprisingly though, as the global commercialisation of the game has continued to sky rocket the trend of our favourite stars donning cowboy boots for a ribbana free kick or a five-aside game on a rusty cargo ship seems to have subsided. So with the World Cup on the horizon it seemed only fitting to have a throwback to some of the best/worst from the last 20 years.
Manchester United and Real Madrid – Pepsi
Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle – Pizza Hut
100 Goals – Nike
The Last Game – Nike
Manchester United – X Men Apocalypse
Netflix’s new football drama 21Thunder is the greatest/worst thing you’ll ever see.
We open on a shot of a battered jeep speeding along a potholed road, ramshackle shanties teetering in the background. Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a caption reads. Inside the jeep a mean looking African man cradles an assault rifle, while another man in a flash suit relays details of a business deal to some guy called ‘Albert’ over the phone.
Cut to ‘Albert’. Montreal, Canada. A bald, continental man paces the centre circle of an empty football stadium with all the floodlights on. We are not told why he chooses to conduct business here and not in his office, but he does. Seems like a waste of electricity really. Pound shop Pep is worried about the snakes from Malmo undercutting him. His associate tells him that they were delayed because the army blocked the road this morning. This too seems strange given that there hasn’t been a war in the Ivory Coast since 2011.
Now our flashy friend, in a lovely lilac shirt, arrives in a village where a football match is being played on a dirt pitch. The army appear to have stopped blocking the road too. They’re watching on in full uniform, despite having not seen active service for seven years. But this is why lilac-shirt is here, he’s scouting a player for Plastic Pep.
And this lad looks the real deal. He’s absolutely rapid. Although you can’t help feeling that he looks absolutely rapid because the extras he’s running with have been told to jog to make him look faster. Nonetheless, ‘Albert’ is blown away by the footage he’s sent of this boy running half the length of a dirt pitch in an African village, and tells his well dressed partner to pull the trigger on a deal immediately, complete with $15k signing on bonus. For a youth player. In the MLS. He even agrees to let the lad’s kid brother tag along for the ride.
Welcome to the batshit ludicrous world of ’21 Thunder’, Netflix’s series on the trials and tribulations of a fictional MLS franchise’s under 21s team. If you like your TV well thought out, realistic, and entertaining then look away now. But if you’re a fan of car crash television with hilariously bad footballing sequences and a surprising amount of narcotics felonies then buckle up, cause there’s eight whole episodes of this madness.
Next we meet Nolan Gallard, poster boy of the side. He’s making the greasiest bacon you’ve ever seen for his breakfast. Not sure what the team nutritionist would have to say about that, but if they operate on the same level that the rest of the backroom staff seem to they’d probably encourage it.
Quick aside, ’21 Thunder’ loves exposition. If there’s something to be spelled out, you can guarantee there’s a news report there to spell it out. And so we learn, while Nolan tucks into his plate of cholesterol, that Thunder have signed Manchester legend Davey Gunn. Whether Manchester refers to United or City is not specified. The show is like PES in real life. Not to spoil any future episodes for anyone, but the series finale features a friendly against London.
Also joining the Thunder staff is five time player of the year (not sure in what competition) and Olympic medalist (probably bronze because it’s also not specified), Christy Cook. Plastic Pep isn’t happy because she’s never coached and doesn’t have a penis, but the club’s feisty owner Ana insists she joins because it’ll be a ‘PR squirt fest’. Her words, not mine. Cook brings pearls of wisdom like ‘put your shoulder on an opposition player when you jump for leverage’. However did they manage without her?
Making up the rest of the Thunder roster we have the likes of Stefan Arnaud, or ‘Big Snacks’ to his friends, a womanising bully who looks about as much like a 21 year old as Dick van Dyke does.
There’s also Alex el Haddadi, whose trying to get into Cornell, captains the side, and happens to be literally the worst goalkeeper you’ve ever seen, and a guy I think might be called something Tran. It’s difficult to tell because nobody ever refers to him by his name and every time he speaks somebody talks over him. Tran has just been promoted from the under 18s and is given a bit of a rough time by Big Snacks at first, but I’ve got a feeling he might come good. Either way, he’s the best character and I’m firmly rooting for him in everything he does.
Highlights from the first episode include Nolan giving the ball away once in training and being made to run 20 laps, the new Ivorian signing’s little brother attacking a member of airport security for not letting him take some mysterious seeds through customs, and the weird mute guy who lives in the team condo and watches documentaries about giraffes.
Nothing can surpass Manchester legend Davey Gunn’s first training session though. One by one he asks the lads to try and beat him on the dribble. When Nolan nutmegs him, he gets up and elbows him square in the face. It has to be seen, words can’t do it justice.
Later that night, by way of an apology, certified lunatic Gunn invites Nolan to partake in an ‘hour of power’, in which they down a drink a minute for 60 minutes. It’s medically impossible, but ’21 Thunder’ doesn’t care for things like science or logic. All this happens the night before the first game of the season too.
Events take a turn when Nolan runs into childhood friend and stereotypical wrong’un Special K.
Special K. I shit you not.
I won’t spoil anything for anyone by giving too much away, but let’s just say that curfews are curfews for a reason and Nolan is bloody good at hopping fences.
Thunder then play their first game of the season against LA. Might be Galaxy, probably isn’t. Nolan has a shocker, the Ivorian, who we finally learn is called Junior, scores the best goal you’ve ever seen by a man in a pair of running shoes (no jokes, he’s wearing trainers), Davey Gunn is necking a glass of red on the touchline, and, as predicted, Tran is sensational.
Special K then sets fire to a car.
The show might be all about a team called Thunder, but it’s creators have captured absolute lightning, even if it is for all the wrong reasons.
Match day with the Missus | Blackpool v Peterborough
After the glasses of wine and chorizo pies of the Premier League, it was time to knock Amy down a peg and take her to experience some proper football once again. When I mentioned a trip to the beach, Amy had images of a last-minute flight to a beautiful, secluded, rural Spanish coastal town. Unfortunately, I meant a replacement bus service to watch some League One football in North-West Lancashire in the middle of February.
On the Road:
As usual, we opted for the train to Blackpool, running regularly from both Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria. An adult open return is about £20 so doesn’t set you back too badly. Surprisingly for a Sunday, the platform was absolutely packed- it was as if there had been a massive boxing match the night before in Manchester or something… Onto the train and Amy became amused at a billboard just outside Wigan advertising “Uncle Joe’s mint balls”. The smile was soon wiped off her face, however, when we rolled into Preston and realised we had to get on the replacement bus service. There’s work going on along most north-western routes for a few months so a heads up on that one- give yourself an extra hour or so on your journey if possible. It doesn’t really matter whether you get off at the Pleasure Beach or at Blackpool North- both stations are about a 20-minute walk to the ground. I would recommend making the most of your time there though, especially as you basically have to walk along the sea front to get to Bloomfield Road anyway. This was particularly exciting for Amy and myself as, growing up in the midlands, summer trips to Skeg Vegas were as good as it got for us. There’s plenty of decent places to grab a pre-match pint or some food- two in particular being the Manchester Bar and the Albert and the Lion. Both are right on the seafront, have a good, lively atmosphere and sell very reasonably priced beer.
As mentioned, Bloomfield Road is easy to find whether walking to the ground or driving. It’s a nice away day, plenty of parking spaces as well as fitting memorials to Blackpool legends such as Stan Mortensen and Jimmy Armfield. The away end is situated around the back end of the stadium, facing towards Blackpool Tower and tickets can be bought on the door. By ‘on the door’, I mean a small green shed around the side of the stand- rustic. There weren’t any student priced tickets so a flat rate of £22 for an adult, £18 for 60+, £10 for under 19s and free entry for under 11s is on offer. Thank god Amy made an absolute killing on the arcades to fund our tickets for the match. It was sad to see how empty the stadium was when the game started, an entire stand deserted to our left. This is understandable of course, given the current situation at Blackpool. Many fans are refusing to fund the owners by attending home matches. The fact that Blackpool’s team and the pitch were in pretty average condition and yet there was a swanky hotel suite looming over the Jimmy Armfield end pretty much proves those fans’ frustrations.
Back to basics with a pie this week and we weren’t disappointed. We went for the Cheese and Onion option- crisp pastry, flavoursome contents and a reasonable price of £2.50. Then again, with a four-star hotel physically inside the stadium, you’d hope the food would be decent. Barbaric we went for Cheese and Onion as well I know. The pints were pretty good too with a choice of Carling, Worthington’s or Kingstone Press on tap, all priced at £3. Amy opted for yet another hot chocolate and seemed to be enjoying it before chaos ensued. As we took our seats behind the goal, a shot from the training session fired over the bar and flew towards us. The shot hit Amy’s hot chocolate straight out of her hands and all over her. Still don’t understand how, even when under no pressure from the opposing centre forward, she opted to punch rather than catch the ball. A blind Simon Mignolet with no arms would’ve made a better effort at holding the shot- a terrible fumble from Amy.
A long way to come for the Peterborough faithful but about 300 fans made the journey north and did their side proud. They were relatively upbeat at the start of the game, especially when Posh took the lead, but those spirits were dampened as the game progressed and the standard of football dropped hugely. I get the feeling we just caught them on a bad day as, when they were in full voice, the fans were excellent and clearly gave the players a lift. The majority also stayed and clapped the players at the end of the game- regardless of whether your team’s played out their skin or have been useless, that respect is important. Hats off for that. Individually there were some funny moments from the away end as well. One fan made the same joke about Blackpool’s goalkeeper, Joe Lumley, calling him Joanna Lumley, and still found it hilarious four or five repetitions later. You could say it was an “absolutely fabulous” gag… I’ll see myself out. Another fan had one of those old football rattles you rarely see these days- swinging it around with the energy and randomness of Maurice Moss from the IT Crowd- very entertaining. Overall, Posh have a really decent bunch of fans. After “hotchocolategate” a few supporters checked if Amy was alright, even at half time when they saw her. That was a nice touch and one that I know was greatly appreciated.
Peterborough were on the front foot from the get-go and the deadlock was eventually broken around the 20-minute mark, the lively Jack Marriott heading home from a cross to score his 25th of the season in all competitions. Posh were good value for their lead but didn’t capitalise thanks to some wayward shooting, putting the hotel guests above the stand in danger. Blackpool slowly grew into the game- especially down their left flank where Viv Solomon-Otabor’s pace and power was causing problems. In stoppage time that pressure told when the winger’s cut back was chested in by Blackpool striker Nathan Delfouneso. There was a hint of handball in the finish and the striker’s frantic look to the linesman may have inferred guilt.
Into the second half and the quality of the game dropped like Dele Alli with minimal contact in the penalty box. The pitch didn’t help, both sides were forced into long balls and, for Peterborough in particular, they didn’t have the personnel to suit that style. Poor Jack Marriott can only be about 3 foot nothing and yet was having to battle in the air with a centre back regularly mistaken for the Blackpool Tower. Few clear-cut chances were created, even with the added impetus of Peterborough frontman Omar Bogle. Amy had lost interest, searching for decent chippies as she, ironically, tried to warm herself up after spilling hot chocolate over herself. Final Score 1-1.
Man of the Match: Viv Solomon-Otabor
His distribution wasn’t always the best, but Blackpool’s winger offered an outlet at all times and was willing to take his man on at any given opportunity. It’s much more difficult for the opposition to defend if they’re facing their own net and Solomon-Otabor made that happen regularly. Special mentions for Blackpool’s technically excellent Jimmy Ryan and Peterborough’s two solid centre backs, Jack Baldwin and Ryan Tafazolli.
Amy’s Man of the Match: Viv Solomon-Otabor
He had a good game, but Amy has chosen Viv because predictive text turned his surname into “Solomon-iRobot” when I wrote his name down. She’s such a ducking idiot sometimes I swear.
Highlight of the Day:
Absolutely smashing the arcades. We were like Leonardo Di Caprio from the Wolf of Wall Street with all our tickets after taking the two pence slot machines to the cleaners. And just like Jordan Belfort, we got our hands on a massive pile of powder… we were gutted to find out it was only sherbet though. It’s amazing what fully grown adults will do just to get their hands on a stick of rock that you hope is only brown because of the food colouring added to it.
Amy’s Highlight of the Day:
The fish and chips after the game. If you’re after a classic, quality fish and chips then look no further than Big Fish Trading Co. Homemade fishcakes, chips, mushy peas and gravy all for under a fiver- what’s not to like? Amy’s research during the match was justified after this meal, setting us up for the long replacement bus journey home.
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