from Pantperthog to Knockando

Thursday, August 08, 2019

And we are back! Pre-season and opening Football League weekend review

The end of July and beginning of August saw the return of the Football League with an earlier than ever opening weekend date of 3rd August.

However, on the last Saturday in July I timed a work trip to also catch the last Shrewsbury Town friendly of their pre-season warm-up, against Scottish Championship side Dundee United.

Lenny the Lion had dressed up to make our Scottish visitors feel at home.

Or maybe he had swapped allegiance, I'm not sure.

Whatever, I got some "mascot loot"

My Mum had got the tickets for us. Only the main stand was open for home fans, which meant that we got to see the teams facing forward for the handshaking rigamarole.

The Shrewsbury team had squad numbers but no names on their shirts. It was the first time I had seen the new shirt being worn and I liked the look of it.

Obligatory selfie with football companion. One day I will learn how to do these.

We were both in waterproofs because the weather had turned horrible. It had not deterred the very respectable-sized away crowd though. Props to these fans.

It was a good game to watch. Shrewsbury have clearly worked on their system in the close season and two new big centre-backs as part of a central three look really solid. After 7 minutes, the game was already 1-1 thanks to a penalty each. Shrewsbury won with a second half goal from Fejiri Okenabirhie, or Fey as he's known. The team looked very tight defensively and a real threat going forward. It left me with an unusual feeling about the new season: mild optimism.

The following Friday was a chance to see Barry Town's new post-Europa League signings in action against Swansea City's Under-23 team.

Right from the off, Swansea were ready for it, standing in attack formation while Barry were still in a huddle.

I don't want to sound disrespectful to the newly rebranded JD Cymru Premier League, but I doubt there will be many better sides gracing Jenner Park this season than the City youngsters. It finished 2-1 to the visitors, with Barry's Jonathan Hood scoring a screamer for their goal. He doesn't do tap ins, as his Sgorio Highlights reel shows.

I took my friends Sara and Leanne to this game. Leanne is a Swansea season ticket holder. Sara is a Cardiff season ticket holder, but for one night only was a proud member of the Barry Massive of course. Cue amateurish selfie:

(They both managed to look at the right bit of my phone!)

The following day was the opening round of matches in the English Football League and I went back up to Shrewsbury to see them take on Portsmouth. Mum has decided to renew her season ticket at least for this year and had got me the seat next to her.

It is still a strange experience going to games without Dad. Before the match we went to the little memorial garden and looked at the plaque in memory of him.

"Promoted to glory" is an old Salvation Army phrase. Dad wasn't a Sally Army member, but he would have approved of the concept. I think it's a really nice touch that the club have a memorial area, and it was good to take a couple of minutes to remember the man who ignited my love for going to football matches.

We also stopped in the club shop so I could buy a shirt. There was a run on them and I had to ask a slightly overwhelmed staff member to have a rummage out the back to try and get one in my size.

Lenny was no longer playing dress up and was back in shorts today.

My dad's occasional football buddy, Brian, had bought a ticket and was sat next to us. He is even less skilled than I am at appearing in selfies.

And I had my Mum sat on the other side as well.

As for the game, well, Portsmouth turned up in a thousand wash grey away strip.

The visitors dominated the first half, had multiple corners and looked the most likely winners. Then local lad Ryan Giles scored an absolute worldy of a goal to put Shrewsbury in the lead and despite some real pressure, Portsmouth just couldn't score. They are tipped to be in the hunt for promotion this year so it was an excellent three points for Town and always great to start the season with a win.

Mild optimism is a nice feeling.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Best of the Rest of Belfast part 2

After a few hours sleep (mainly because my brain decided I wanted to wake up at 6am), it was time for day 2 of my flying visit to Belfast. I was meeting up with my friends Bryan and Elaine, but first I posed for a selfie with a fish.

Technically, he's The Salmon of Knowledge, but everyone just calls him the Big Blue Fish.

Those big yellow gantry cranes in the background are part of the shipyard and are called Samson and Goliath. They are also Belfast icons.

Bryan and Elaine took me to Titanic Belfast, a museum attraction as grand on the inside as on the outside.

Outside, the outline of the Titanic and Olympic are marked out in a park area around the actual ramps the ships were launched from.

The exhibit covers everything, from the building...

... to the launch... (hey! That's my birthday!)

... to the disaster.

The tragedy is covered in a very respectful and thought-provoking way. I found it quite moving reading the stories of those who died.

The park outside is also a memorial garden. Walking the length of it makes you realise how massive these ships were.

Next to Titianic Belfast is the SS Nomadic, which was the ship used to ferry passengers to an from liners at the port of Cherbourg. It carried passengers onto the Titanic for the Atlantic crossing.

It also gives you another good view of the Titanic Belfast building.

For lunch we went to an "Honesty Cafe" called The Dock Cafe. You pay what you can, or what you feel it was worth, for your food. It had a lovely ambiance.

There's also an art installation of the Titanic done like an Airfix kit. I thought it was quite cool.

Bryan and Elaine know me well enough to take me to a shop that sells Lego. It also had a lot of large scale sculptures, including this massive one of Clone Wars era Yoda.

We then drove along the coast to Carrickfergus. This is where Elaine grew up, and centuries beforehand, it was where William of Orange landed to fight the supporters of his predecessor, King James. "King Billy" has a statue, which is apparently life-size, in which case he was quite short.

His statue is right next to Carrickfergus Castle, which is a proper battle-worn fortress.

And, the front looks like Castle Greyskull!

After a very full day (and a meal overlooking Carrickfergus Harbour), I was dropped back at the airport. I'd managed to cram a huge amount into 2 days. A big thank you to Bryan and Elaine for giving me a grand day out.

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Monday, July 08, 2019

Best of the Rest of Belfast part 1

I had about 36 hours in Belfast around Barry Town's Europa League game with Cliftonville FC. Here's what I got up to on day 1.

First Belfast selfie: Outside City Hall when the taxi dropped us off.

After an Ulster Breakfast (veggie version), I went to the Botanic Gardens.

The Palm House is pretty old, and has an impressive array of plants inside. (You can see the early sunshine had disappeared at this point.)

The rose garden was spectacular visually and olifactorally.

And the Tropical Ravine House has a waterfall inside.

Next to the Botanic Gardens is the Ulster Museum. I felt at home as soon as I walked in.

The dragons were part of a special Game of Thrones exhibition. It was mostly filmed in Northern Ireland and everyone is cashing in on fantasy nerd tourists.

I found the section on the Troubles very interesting. It brought back memories of the 6 o'clock news coming on after Neighbours during the 1980s. If the first story was Belfast or Northern Ireland, it was undoubtedly another atrocity.

My favourite exhibit that I saw was labelled as possibly the most dangerous toy ever sold, which was shipped to customers with radioactive isotopes inside. (Including Polonium, which Russia uses to kill ex-citizens it doesn't like!)

The instructions were humorous too.

After the museum, we walked past Queen Anne's University.

I went and met my friends Bryan and Elaine for lunch. Then on the way to my hotel I saw the Titanic Memorial on the other side of City Hall.

It was a nice hotel. There was a mint on my pillow.

I was knackered, having been up since 3.45am. So I rested for a couple of hours, charged up my phone and when I left it was time to go to the game!

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Sunday, July 07, 2019

Europa League Dreams - Unbelievable Barry Town versus Cliftonville FC

When I declared for Barry Town last season, I didn't think they would qualify for the Europa League preliminary round. Of all the clubs in the draw, Cliftonville was the closest away trip we could get. (I had been a bit worried we would end up in Kosovo.)

The first leg was at 'home' but UEFA didn't pass Jenner Park as fit to host European football, so Barry had to decamp to Cardiff Athletics Stadium in Leckwith. Now as Leckwith is next door to Grangetown, this benefitted me personally, but I think it was to the detriment of the team.

Despite decking out Leckwith with Barry flair, it wasn't a 'home' game.

Barry flair

Even bringing along a huge number of mascots didn't work to dull the brightness of the blue interactive running track (seriously, it's called Power Track and times races by itself).

Mascot plethora

Still, Barry battled to a decent 0-0 draw against their Northern Irish opponents.

Which set things up nicely for the return leg. I got the early flight into Belfast, landing at 7.15am and with some newly-made friends arrived too early for breakfast at a  city centre Wetherspoons. Once it opened I had the veggie version of an Ulster Breakfast. I'm going to post a general post about everything else I did in Belfast, but suffice to say about 11 hours after our flight landed, I arrived at Solitude, the home ground of Cliftonville FC.

We all gently and politely squeezed into the clubhouse, which had already been claimed by the Barry fans. I discovered Clonmel Lager. I liked it.

We made ourselves at home

Soon it was time to head to the away end in anticipation of kick off.

That big, derelict looking stand? Yes, it has actually been condemned. There's been discussion about how Solitude made it past the UEFA inspectors when Jenner Park failed. The pitch is an old style artificial pitch with so much black crumb getting kicked up the players looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon strips. I also noted that the directors parked their cars next to the derelict stand, inside the ground, at considerable risk of a drilled clearance denting their bodywork.

Previous visitors had left their mark on the away end.

We flagged it up. I don't think anyone brought stickers.

We saw a lot of action in the first half because Cliftonville were kicking towards us. And the game seemed to be mainly Cliftonville kicking the ball towards us.

First half close up action

Cliftonville led 2-0 at the break. I stood motionless in the chip van queue for 15 minutes then gave up as the second half kicked off. The sun came out. The rays really made the rust patterns on the derelict stand 'pop'.

Second half distant action

We saw very little down our end in the second half. Cliftonville got two more goals. This then prompted a conga of Barry Town fans around the away end, and in front of the 'overflow' home fans who had been parked in seats next to us, singing "Four nil down; Who give a f***; We're Barry Town; And we've got a fox!"

Conga time

So, yeah, about the fox (as seen at the front of the conga there)... Well, two Barry lads turned up with it. There are already a few versions of the story going round, but the one I heard is that "Basil" (as he's now known) was acquired as they walked through a housing estate to the ground, when a random old chap asked them if they wanted to buy a stuffed fox (it's a proper stuffed fox, as well, not a toy). Now, that in itself is weird, but I suppose the really weird thing is that they said yes, and brought him along to the game.

The fox has come home to Barry. It took the lads in question an hour with environmental health officers to get him on the plane. As hand luggage.

A 4-0 defeat, a plane ride away from home? Well, you got to keep singing. At the end the players trudged across the pitch to applaud the fans and stood there for five minutes listening to us sing.

Mutual admiration

The reaction on social media from the Cliftonville fans shows that we made an impression the way we kept on singing throughout the game. Realistically, football-wise it was a hammering. It was an epic away trip in every aspect apart from the 90 minutes on the pitch. I have no regrets about going and I would do it again... except that's the end of the Europa League dream for this season.

(A shout out to the Barry Town fans I made friends with on the trip and Mike, Steve, Neil, Mark, and Kathryn, in particular. Also to Tom and Steve H who sat through the 0-0 at Leckwith with me.)

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