from Pantperthog to Knockando

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bucket list floodlight failure - the lost "twofer" opportunity

One of my main hobbies at the moment is going to football matches. I made it to 30 games last season and so far this season have been to 25. It would have been 26. Technically it's 25.16666666 games.

It's been on my (saddo) bucket list for a while to do a "twofer" - two football matches in different grounds on the same day. I've done two matches on the same day before - back to back Olympic matches in the Millennium Stadium back in 2012. But never two in different grounds.

Last Saturday the stars aligned. Or, at least the fixtures did. Shrewsbury were playing at Bristol Rovers just across the bridge, kick off 3pm. And Barry Town, who I've been following this year, had an evening televised game, kick off 7.30pm. That's a do-able schedule and I resolved to do it.

My friend Stewart lives in Bristol and was joining me for the match. I successfully found his house, met his delightful daughter, Delilah, for the first time, and then parked quite near the Memorial Stadium in plenty of time for the game. Too much time, really, because it's blinking cold in the Mem. The away end is either an open terrace, where I almost died of exposure once, or the scaffolding and canvas temporary stand that has been there since before 2003. I think it's probably the oldest temporary stand in the football league; it certainly feels like it. I call it the perma-tent.

We didn't have much to look at so we messed around with selfies.

Although I moan about the away end, the rest of the ground isn't much better. There are two home stands that look like gazebos, the home end is one long terrace adorned with cider adverts, there is a large stand on side with the executive boxes in that looks like it should be at a race course or a cricket ground, and another giant cantilever stand that runs for the middle third of the pitch opposite it. The dug outs are the opposite side of the players' tunnel, and even they are mis-matched with one part of the visiting dug out slightly lower than the rest. Stewart said it felt like a stadium built out of left over bits of other stadia. To me, it reminded me of when I tried to build Lego buildings when I was younger and by the end any colour, size or shape brick would do to try and finish it.

Before the game there was a minute's silence for Emiliano Sala. While I do understand that this is a tragedy that has happened within the wider world of football, there is part of me that thinks that generally the public observation grief is getting out of hand. Emiliano had no connection to either club. I'm not sure why there was this need to silently contemplate the fragility of life and the inevitability of our own mortal demise here, but we did, and it was observed impeccably.

Shrewsbury were wearing a nifty black kit, started the game really well and led 1-0 at half time. There was a bit of needle in the game and a couple of players were lucky to stay on the pitch. Last year I saw Shrewsbury win here courtesy of a goal created by Alex Rodman. He now plays for Bristol Rovers and, naturally, he headed home the equaliser in the second half.

The game carried on being niggly and bad-natured. A Shrewsbury sub, Greg Docherty, had to leave the field for persistently bleeding from a head wound, and was replaced by hometown hero Dave Edwards, making his second appearance in his second spell at the club where his career started. A few minutes later Dave was sent off for a desperately stupid two footed lunge tackle that would have been daft in any game, but in one where players had been warned for most of the match about their kicking and shoving, was a nailed on red card. To be fair, if he had been on the receiving end of it, I would have been baying for blood. Shrewsbury hung on and it finished 1-1.

I dropped Stewart home, got back on the M4, dashed back to Wales through the spray, enjoyed not having to pay a toll, and pulled up by the Gladstone Road turnstiles at Jenner Park at about 7.15. The twofer was on!

Once I was in I had to walk around to the other turnstile to buy a programme. This meant I could get a picture of the bigger stand that I normally sit in. I also bought some chips. I had to wait at the chip van, though, so only got to a seat as the teams came out. I then stood through my second minute's silence for Emiliano of the day. I don't have a photo of it because, and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, I was still eating my chips. Stealthily. Like a chip ninja. A respectful chip ninja.

Barry were entertaining Bala Town in the second phase of the Welsh Premier League. This is the section of the league where the top six teams all play each other again. Back in August I saw Barry beat Bala 3-2. Bala had three men sent off in that game, including one player who must have said something extremely rude to the referee after Barry striker Kayne Maclaggon punched the ball into the net for Barry's third goal and neither the referee or linesman saw the handball. I was hoping this game might live up to that excitement, especially as it was live on S4C.

Fate had other ideas.

Bala scored from a poorly defended free kick on 14 minutes. As the Barry players trudged back to kick off one set of floodlights went out.

The players stopped. Managers started milling around. Flashing blue lights behind the clubhouse alerted us to the fire brigade arriving. This was all very entertaining to the Barry Ultras who sang the theme tune to Fireman Sam, the Super Furry Animals song 'I've Got a Fire in My Heart for You" (which is a regular in their repertoire, to be fair) and then an impromptu version of 'We Didn't Start the Fire' by Billy Joel.

"We didn't start the fire
It was Barry Council
With the Dodgy Wiring"

Meanwhile S4C were desperately trying to fill air-time. As they set up pitchside to interview the managers, and it seemed, just about anyone they could, a chap ran out with an additional spotlight. It was quite humorous, as if he was going to try and replace the floodlights.

The warmth of the chips had worn off. I went up into the clubhouse as I was getting cold again and bought a cup of tea. Quite a few other fans had the same idea and the Ultras sang "We can't see youo sneaking out" as people began to drift out of the stands.

The Bala players came back out, providing a brief glimmer of hope the game would recommence, just before the stadium announcer said the game was off.

So that was my "twofer" well and truly busted. No tick on the bucket list. The double entry on my list of games will always be one game and one abandoned game for the 9 February 2019. I've seen 76 goals so far this season, but only 75 will count in official statistics.

I walked past the Bala players on my way back to my car. They were warming down. It's a long bus journey from Bala to Barry to play just 14 minutes of football. And they will have to do it all again in a few weeks time.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

15 Christmas cards from the ACCA '18

Ooh, you lucky, lucky things you. In the past I've shown off 10 or a dozen Christmas cards that we've been sent. This year you get 15.

Let's start, like we usually do, with a token religious card or two. Religious cards are usually dire. I don't know why. In Christian theology, Christmas marks the actual moment when the creator God of the universe was born as a tiny, helpless infant, on a quest to redeem humanity from the stain of sin. Quite how you can make that idea boring, I don't know. But card companies do. Repeatedly.

Anyway, I quite like this card.

Obviously, it's not particularly interesting as a picture, but the artistry in the design elevates it above the herd of boring stables and lone stars in dark nights above stereotypical middle eastern townscapes.

But Christmas seems to have transcended its religious roots, merging with and absorbing all kinds of other traditions. And extra stuff seems to get heaped on with every passing year. Like Christmas jumpers. They started off a few years back as a bit of a joke. Now they are mass-produced in Chinese sweatshops year-round in anticipation of the cheap novelty jumper frenzy every December. 

If you were going to choose one cultural accretion to mash up with the religious aspect of the holiday, why not Christmas jumpers? I actually really liked this card with cutesy nativity characters on jumpers.

Of course, we all know who the real star of Christmas is. Move over Jesus, the kids are more interested in Santa anyway.

This year we got an advent calendar card with Santa on. It arrived the end of November. There are elves behind the doors - but you'll have to take my word for that because I scanned it with the doors shut.

Who buys Santa presents? Inquiring minds want to know.

Snowmen, apparently. Goodness knows what he's wrapped up in there. Something frozen, I hope. 

Speaking of snowmen, this chap amused me. However, this is one of the cards that arrived in an orgy of glitter, which I am still noticing on the carpet.

Some newish themes came our way this year, particularly animals in the snow. This blackbird had a mscheivous glint in his eye.

And this donkey looked surprisingly chipper, despite only having a scarf to ward off the perishing cold.

(Seriously, animals do not stand out in falling snow. Animals are smarter than that.)

Another random theme, featuring on two cards this year, were hares and moons. Not mooning hares, although that will no doubt feature at some point as any cultural shift gets debased. These cards were captioned "Hare by Moonlight" and "Moonlit Hare". See if you can work out which was which.

We had no dogs in Santa hats this year (which deeply disappoints me) so I'm declaring hares and moons as the new dogs in Santa hats, in terms of card fashions. I guess they'd also count as 'animals too dumb to shelter from falling snow' along with the donkey and the cheeky berry-thieving blackbird. (You know it's not his berry. He's nicking it. You can tell by the glint in his eye. And good for him. We need more anarchic animals taking on humanity; pinching berries, burning stuff, overthrowing capitalism.)

Another macro-theme would be 'cards that people send me to mess up my audit'. The next one clearly falls into this theme. I'm fairly certain my friend Stewart was trying to derail me with this card.

Also, now I have to have a llamas category because someone thought it wise to send us this.

I didn't want a new category but Cathy insisted, because llamas.

Penguins - that's a sensible Christmas category that we've always had since the audit began back in 2012. (Ah, remember 2012? We'd just had the Olympics. The nation was united. We weren't going to be leaving the EU and plunge into economic chaos because a bunch of gammons were fed up with foreigners coming over here and doing all the menial jobs and paying tax on their earnings. A simpler time.)

Anyway, enough of the reverie about a time before the country turned into a toxic hot mess. Penguins. They're cute on their own of course. But even cuter as a couple.

The "Cosy Christmas Cuddles" card was Cathy's card to me. It's probably not that surprising that every year two of my favourite cards are the ones that we give to each other. I went native with my choice. You can't get more Welsh than two sheep saying Happy Christmas in Welsh.

Seriously, how cute are they? I bought this card when I saw it in November, instead of procrastinating and doing my usual 23rd December late dash to a supermarket.

And so, on to the last card I'm going to show you from this year's collection. This was from my northern-dwelling sister-in-law, Abby. It's a Geordie version of a popular Christmas song. It's the perfect marriage of concept and design and it's even got the Angel of the North on it in faint outline. Now, that's my kind of Christmas angel.

Thanks for reading this. Only 49 weeks until Christmas 2019!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The big Annual Christmas Card Audit 2018 (ACCA18)

I get a lot of questions about this audit, mainly along the lines of 'Are you going to do your audit again this year?' It seems to be the most interesting thing I do, which, now that I think about it, doesn't make me sound like the most thrilling person on the planet. (And quite a few people are deliberately sending me cards trying to bugger up my categories. I know who you are.)

But I do find this sort of thing interesting. The trends. Why are the rich, well-dressed three kings of the Orient so much more popular than the smelly shepherds? Why do religious Christmas cards almost never mention Christmas? Why are penguins perennial paradigms of Christmasness? What happened to all the dogs in Santa hats (none again this year!) The numbers. The charitable causes. The glitter.

Ah, the glitter.

Can I have a word about the glitter? It's incredibly bad for the planet. But never mind that, just when I've finally managed to hoover every stray bit of tinsel and fake green bits off the tree (why do plastic trees shed?), I then have to take down the Christmas cards. Glitter doesn't stay stuck. It's one of the laws of physics, I think. (Maybe I should have paid more attention in science class. If it's not a law, it should be.) Or rather, it doesn't stay stuck where it should, so I now have a glittery carpet, glittery socks, glittery thumbs and by the end of this, a glittery keyboard too, no doubt.

I'll get to the stats in a minute, but first something we've never received before - a very early Christmas card that doubled up as an advent calendar.

And so, on we go. New categories are asterisked.

Total number of cards: 82 - a year-on-year decline of 8 

Hand-made / home-produced cards: 7 (same number for the fifth year in a row)
Cards designed by kids: 5
Cards with glitter: 17 (exactly the same as last year)

Cards sold in aid of charity (or fundraising):50
Total number of charities represented: 36
Most popular charity represented: British Heart Foundation were the winners this year with 6. Cancer Research UK and the Traidcraft / SCIAF / CAFOD / Christian Aid combination were joint second with 5.

Religious themes
Religious-themed cards: 30 (down 1 from 2017)
Cards featuring the Nativity: 15 (down 1 from 2017)
Christmas story 'characters':
Three kings: 6 (same as last year)
The shepherds: 1
The star of Bethlehem: 1
Angels: 1
*Choirboys: 3 (All three looked very much alike - groups of choirboys in red and white robes standing outside a village church in the falling snow.)
'Cartoony' religious: 1

Other themes
Santa: 6
Penguins: 3
Bears: 1 
Deer/reindeer: 1
Christmas decorations: 2
Christmas trees: 6
Christmas food: 4 (mainly Christmas puddings)
Robins: 2
Donkeys: 1 
Sheep: 3
Winter scene/scenery: 3
Snowmen: 5
Licensed characters: 0 (no Star Wars cards this year)
*Llamas: 1 (Cathy wanted this as it's own category, even though it's really just a Peruvian deer)
*Hares and Moons: 2 (This year's 'dogs with Santa hats' type of trend, maybe? But less joyful. Because a dog in a Santa hat is always fun, even if it's a grumpy pug. but hares by moonlight look a bit mournful.)
*Holly and wreaths: 3

Messages (front of card only)
Cards that mention 'Christmas' on the front: 30. Only 6 of them were religious themed. This just confirms my annual observation that religious themed cards don't use the word Christmas. Also 1 card saying Nadolig Llawen. 
"Seasons Greetings": 1
Mentions "Jesus": 0 but 1 card did have "Emmanuel" on it
Bible verse: 2 (Well, kind of. They both said "unto us a child is born" which is a Bible verse, but neither had a Bible reference saying where it was from. But I'm going to count them because otherwise there would be zero.)
*Lines or titles of Christmas carols (including) "Joy to the World": 7
*Lines or titles of Christmas songs: 3

Previous years:
2015 plus 10 favourite cardssenders analysis and Bible verse breakdown
2016 plus favourite cards
2017 plus a dozen favourites and Christmas carol audit

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

2017-18 football season review - new records in the modern era

With the World Cup over, I no longer have an excuse for not writing my season review of 2017-18.

2017-18 was a record high season for me in the 'modern era', which for me is any time after about 1996. I went to 30 football matches, the second most I've been to in a season ever and the highest number since 1993-94. Along the way I saw the champions elect of England, I went to Wembley twice, and I saw Wales blow their best chance of making it to a World Cup since that time they lost a qualifying play off to a bunch of juiced up Russians.

As per previous seasons, here are the overall stats:
Season: 2017-18
Total games: 30
Most goals in a game: 8
Fewest goals in a game: 0
Total goals seen: 81
Number of football grounds visited: 7 (2 of which I’d never visited before)

In previous years I gave a little pen picture of each game, but that would be exhausting for 30 games. Instead, I'm just going to do a rough overview and then give out some awards.

I went to thirty games for three main reasons.

1) Shrewsbury Town had their best season in a generation, spending a lot of the season in a promotion place before slipping to third in the final weeks of the season. They went to Wembley twice - in the Checkatrade Trophy final and in the play-off final.

They also had a sell-out televised third round FA Cup game, which included Joe Hart's return to his hometown club. I saw them win away at Bristol Rovers, I saw them beat Walsall for the first time in many encounters, and I even saw them win on my birthday, against Oxford United.

2) Football is a people activity. My friend Sara is a season-ticket holder at Cardiff City, and so are most of her family. But sometimes they can't all go to games and they invite me along to fill a vacant seat. I saw five games with them this season. My mate Steve sorted me a ticket in the away end of Cardiff City Stadium to see QPR, and we also went to a couple of other more random games. And my mate Ben came with me to a couple of matches, and I went to see him play in the Welsh League a couple of times. Until he decided to swap sunny South Wales for some place called Los Angeles, California. What was he thinking?

3) Barry Town are back in the Welsh Premier League. I decided to go along to one of their first games, and ended up there five times over the course of the season. It's a nice atmosphere, it's affordable, and the games usually had a decent number of goals. There's a hard core of fans who sing throughout and I really like that. And you get unexpected stuff like this.


Best team: Without a doubt, Manchester City. I have never seen football played like that.
Best moment: Seeing Shrewsbury win with a late, late, goal at Bristol Rovers, courtesy of an unpredictable bit of skill from Alex Rodman. It was the first time Shrewsbury had won at Bristol Rovers since the 1960s. I'd driven over there on my own. The weather was crap. The stadium is crap. The game wasn't great. And then there was THIS!
Second best moment: Ben Woodburn. The dream was still alive! Russia, here we come...
Biggest disappointment: After two trips in a season, Shrewsbury have now been 5 times to Wembley. I have been 5 times to watch them. I have seen them lose 5 times. That's all you need to know about Shrewsbury's season, really. Ultimately, after being surprise candidates for promotion, they ended up with nothing. Here's a suitably dismal photo.

Most frustrating game: Shrewsbury's 0-0 draw against West Ham in the FA Cup. Live on TV and West Ham were poor. Shrewsbury's Stefan Payne missed the one chance that fell to him that would have won the game. This was my only 0-0 of the season. But I did see Alan Shearer and Ian Wright in their temporary TV studio. Later they got their make up done.

Strangest goal: Kevin de Bruyne against Cardiff City in the FA Cup. I saw this from behind the goal and he made an absolute idiot out of the whole defence.
Most memorable miss: Neil Maupay for Brentford against Cardiff. I was again stood behind the goal and I have absolutely no idea how he missed. Cardiff then almost immediately went up the other end and scored a second goal to seal their win.
Most touching moment: It's unusual for a visiting player to get a round of applause from the home fans when his name is read out. But Joe Hart did when his name was read out over the tannoy when West Ham came to the New Meadow. Then the rest of his team-mates got booed. As you'd expect.
Strangest scoreline: STM Sports 4 v 4 AFC Lwydcoed. I went to see my mate Ben play for STM Sports in the Welsh League Division 2. he got subbed off when STM were winning and we watched his team score one and concede two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game. I took this photo of him in action, along with a STM Canine Superfan who had made his owner bring him along.

Most unusual match up: Wales 'C' v England 'C' at Jenner Park, down in Barry. I have now seen Wales, Wales B, Wales C and Wales Under-21s play. Read a full review here.
Best crowd: Has to be the Barry Town fans. They always make me laugh.
Unlikely moment of fame: I went with my friend Steve to see Cardiff Met play in a post-season play-off against Barry Town. The game was live on Sgorio. And so were we at one point!

And finally, the most stupid thing seen at a football match: This sign by the concession stands in Wembley!

And that's it. Roll on next season.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

We do like to go and see the C side - non-league international football report

I am cruising towards a twenty year high in terms of the number of games I've been to this season. Last week I went with one of my erstwhile footballing compadres, Steve, to see Wales 'C' versus England 'C'. This is an international played between players at the semi-professional level or, if you like, a 'non-league' international. England C have been playing for a while, but this was apparently the first time the Welsh FA has fielded a C team.

The teams line up for the anthems

I have seen Wales and Wales B, so was pretty pleased to add Wales C to my list of teams I've seen play. Cathy asked if there was a Wales Z composed of the country's absolutely worst players. "If you've never played football before, you're in," she said, laughing.

The game was played at Jenner Park in Barry, which given the weather, wasn't going to live up to its Barrybados nickname. More like Brrry, I thought, as I layered up with long johns, long sleeve under shirt, thermal socks and a snood. There was a massive pile of snow by the side of the pitch as we came in through the turnstile.  I was still a bit cold by the end of the night, even with all that clobber on.

The Wales team was drawn exclusively from the Welsh Premier League, given that the game was apparently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the WPL's predecessor, the League of Wales. I saw a League of Wales representative game back in the late 90s, so in a sense only the branding had changed. The England team was mainly from the National League. No Wrexham players were present on either side, which was a bit odd considering they are doing pretty well in the National League. They are probably considered an English club by the FAW, but there must be some Welsh born players in their team and playing elsewhere in the semi-pro system in England.

My dad had asked me to get him a programme. There were no programmes. There was a QR code instead. I would have to download it. Given there were over 800 people there, the decision not to print some programmes seemed a bit odd. I couldn't get the QR code to work as I'd not scanned a QR code in the two and a bit years since changing my phone, so I just went to the website, old-school style, and downloaded it from there. (A couple of days later I found a menu option in the scanning section that enabled me to swap to a QR scanner.)

The teams came out and lined up for the anthems with a surprisingly large number of press photographers taking lots of photos. Laudably there was no booing. There was a comedy moment when the announcer stumbled over name of the England number 11, Fejiri Okenabirhie, and then muttered "I can't pronounce that name" which came through loud and clear over the tannoy.

It was a decent game of football. Both sides tried to play pass and move football. I've had a few conversations recently about how the quality of football at lower levels is so much better these days and this was a showcase for how quality has trickled down the pyramid.

Almost inevitably, Okenabirhie scored the first goal, benefiting from an unselfish pass from the number 9 who had pressured the defence into a mistake and then drew the keeper out. The announcer mangled his name again. The vocal locals who sing all the way through Barry matches were present in force and sang "We can't say your name, we can't say your naaaa-aaaame, Number eleven, we can't say your name." I thought that was amusing.

It was 0-1 to England at half time. Should have been 0-2 but somehow the striker hit the bar and the guy following up headed over from 4 yards out. Wales had had an early chance but didn't look particularly threatening.

Wales were better in the second half but were soon down 2-0 after the spawniest penalty I've seen in a long time. It looked like a clear dive and it looked like it was outside the box. For the first time ever the crowd sang for VAR. But despite the protests and the boos from the stand, the penalty was well dispatched by Okenabirhie. This time the announcer tried to put the stress on different syllables, but that didn't work either and he paused mid-surname, which was cheered by the crowd.

Wales rallied in response to the refereeing injustice, getting a goal back. But then England scored their third goal, which was an absolute cracker from the edge of the area. It also sealed a hat trick for Okenabirhie. The tannoy man bailed and just announced it was "a hat trick for... FEJIRI!" as if he was a Brazilian player with one name. The crowd cheered and the announcer stuck with the one name moniker when Fejiri was subbed later on.

Wales stuck at it and seemed the stronger side as the game went into the last twenty minutes. They pulled it back to 3-2 with a few minutes to go and had two really good chances to equalise before the end, but they just couldn't get the ball in the net.

I'd give Fejiri man of the match. In a game where the overall organisation and quality was surprisingly good, he stood out as a very talented player. He plays for Dagenham & Redbridge, but could probably do some damage at a higher level. He's certainly as good as several players I've seen at League One and League Two level.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable game and I hope the FAW continue with the C International experiment. I thought it was an excellent advert for both the WPL and the English non-league system. However, next time we really need to have proper printed programmes. There are only so many innovations we can live with in football.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Continuing adventures in community litter picking

It's been several months since I joined in on a Tidy Grangetown litter pick. This time, Fiona, who is one of the stalwarts of the group recognised me as the chap who wrote a blog about it. (Looking back, I've actually written two!)

This time round we were meeting by the Channel View Leisure Centre, which is right next to the River Taff. Dave from the Cardiff Rivers Group, who brings all the bags and holders and litter grabbers and gloves and high-vis vests, suggested I go explore down by the water-sports slipway where a lot of rubbish had washed up.

In doing so, I met a new friend.

He was a very friendly swan who seemed very interested in what I was up to as I fished various bottles out of the water. There were lots of ducks around who weren't as interactive and minded their own business a bit more.

After having a nice chat with the swan ("Hello, Mister Swan, don't worry, I'm just picking up all this plastic crap, no, don't try to eat the plastic crap...") I walked through The Marl to Ferry Road. At this point the sun had come out and it had turned into a lovely spring morning.

In The Marl I found the obligatory lost toy who had clearly lost his latest duel with Batman.

On Ferry Road I found a magnetic 'L plate' that probably dropped off a passing car and a smashed in, backless mobile phone.

During the pick, I found a ziplock bag full of dodgy looking self-rolled smokes, nitrous canisters aplenty, and my first syringe. It didn't have a needle in it, although one of the other volunteers did find a syringe with a needle intact. As I have blogged before, you learn a lot about a neighbourhood by picking up its trash. People seem to lose their socks around here, for example.

And another first! I fished a Tim Horton's cup out of the river next to Mister Swan. The latest coffee chain to hit Cardiff have only been open a couple of months, but already they are following the lead of Starbucks and Costa in selling their wares to litter-bugs. Tsk!

At the end of the litter-pick we were invited into the Leisure Centre for a cup of tea as a thank you. Channel View is the only leisure centre in Cardiff that is still run by the council; all the others have been privatised. The centre is having a refit which will triple the size of the gym and provide a picture window view over the river, which will make it a much nicer facility to use. Work is due to complete by the end of April. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

25 years of football - fun football mascot malarkey

I've been writing a series of posts about going to football matches over the past 25 years. Admittedly they are a bit self-indulgent. I wrote them for me, really. But this post is different. This post is for Cathy.

Cathy loves football mascots. When they show those scene-setting clips at the start of game highlights on Match of the Day, she always goes "Yay! Mascots!" if they get a half second of screen time.

I've seen a few football mascots and I try to take photos to show her later. Here are some of my favourites.

Got to start with Lenny the Lion. Lenny is the Shrewsbury mascot.

Dylan the Dolphin from Poole Town. I dig his strutting attitude. Impressive for a mammal with no legs...

Spark the Cat from Queen Spark Rangers. (Do you see what they did there?!?)

The mighty, famous Gunnersaurus Rex (Arsenal).

Rocky the Robin (Cheltenham Town) - one of the few mascots to bother talking to away fans.

But what do mascots do? They have lots of important duties on match days.

Making sure all the little kids are hopped up on sugar ready for the game by carrying around a copious bucket of sweets and occasionally hurling them at force into the crowd.

Geeing up the crowd, like Newport County's optimistic Spytty the Dog here.

Dancing on the halfway line to entertain everyone during the warm up, like Gilbert the Gull from Torquay United.

High-fiving the fans.

Posing for selfies.

Contemplating the inevitability of one's own eventual non-existence, like the Moping Giant from Yeovil.

Making sure the visiting team are welcomed, and possibly confused about whether you are actually the home side's goalkeeper.

Joining in a minute's applause. Or a minute's silence. Because nothing honours the greats of the game or our glorious war dead then someone in a giant grinning furry animal head, trying to look suitably sad.

Interesting side note. In that picture you can see Lenny the Lion's colleague, possibly partner, we aren't sure. 'She' is imaginatively called Mrs Lenny. (I am not making this up.)

The problem is that Mrs Lenny, while clearly identifying as female, hence the giant pink bow, first appeared with a full mane, not unlike Lenny himself. Given that Shrewsbury played at Gay Meadow at the time, it seemed like this was a very progressive stance towards coupledom for a fairly staid club.

Now though it appears Mrs Lenny has less of a mane, as seen in this photo, which makes me wonder if there is some kind of process being undergone here. I'm not sure whether it's as progressive to have a couple where one half is transgender as having an openly gay mascot partnership. But it's interesting, and a good model for the kids in terms of acceptance and tolerance.

And finally, mascots must always, always, always, keep their spirits up. Like Bartley Bluebird here, from Cardiff City, who is depicted waiting longingly for a goal that just wasn't going to come.

And then gave up.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

25 years of football - some Shrewsbury highs and lows

I've blogged recently about 25 years of watching football, with most of the games being Shrewsbury Town games. I've seen a few highs and plenty of lows in that time, or, as the joke goes, I've stuck with them through thin and thinner.

I've already mentioned a couple of Shrewsbury FA Cup triumphs in my blog post about memorable matches, and a couple of Shrewsbury programmes slipped into my blog post about random games, but here are a few more that mark special moments.

The second season of my record-keeping (1993-94) was a promotion year. Which is why I'm beginning this round up in the sunny glamour of Rochdale.

My friend Jim was the reason I went to Rochdale. He convinced me it would be a good idea for us to go on a supporter's coach for a regular Saturday away game. I'm not sure if we were a couple of miles from the ground, while we were mired in the traffic you get mired in when you visit Northern urban sprawls, that we heard that the game had been called off, or whether we had actually arrived at the ground. Anyway, after three hours on a bus, we basically got back on the bus for a three hour ride home. I don't remember much about Rochdale, except that it seemed like the biggest post-war council estate I had ever seen. The only other memory is when the bus pulled over next to a canal for a large contingent of men to cheerfully relieve themselves straight from the bank, oblivious to the cars trundling past behind them.

We had paid for the coach seats, so got to go to the rearranged fixture for free, on a Tuesday night.  Rochdale away in 1994, is a legendary game amongst a certain generation of Town fans, however. Because Rochdale away is the game we went top of the league for the first time that season. And I was there.

Thanks to my habit of the time of defacing programmes, you can see that Dave Walton scored the winner right at the end of the match. I remember having a restricted view from the terrace and not really seeing the goal. But everyone went nuts so I joined in.

This is the programme from the final game of the season. It's a promotion special, not that you'd know from the cover! We played Wigan Athletic, one of those perennial minnows that have never really done very much.

And the table. confirming we were champions. This was a time when programmes included average attendances for all the teams in the league, and even ordered them in the table. You can see how Shrewsbury had the 5th highest gates in the league, while the day's visitors, Wigan were second from bottom. That must be why they've never really done anything.

In all seriousness though, whatever you think of Dave Whelan, this is where he started from. Lots of people throw money at football, but to take a club from this level and into the Premier League requires a certain bit of nous.

In another aside, four teams in the table, including promoted Chester, have since gone bust and had to reform way down the pyramid.

Of course, Shrewsbury built on that success to establish the club as a formidable force in football. Why only less than 10 years later, they were relegated out of the league altogether.

'The Scunthorpe connection' was a nice bit of book-ending. Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe were both elected to the football league in 1950 and played each other on the opening day of the Division 3 (North) season that year. It was kind of fitting that they played each other on Shrewsbury's last day in the league as well. We didn't have time to miss each other, though, as the clubs were drawn against each other in the first round of the FA Cup the following season.

Rochdale make another appearance in this blog post. Town bounced back into the league at the first time of asking, and had a new star in the making to boot. I saw Joe Hart play twice for Town - away at Cheltenham, and against Rochdale on 6 August 2005 - the opening day of the season

Team line up. He was our Number One.

And there he is in the team poster as well!

There is a nine month gap in my football-going during that season, from a Wales game in early September to a summer England friendly the following June. In the November I was signed off work with depression and spent the next few months getting my head back. I didn't see Joe play for Shrewsbury again and when the next season rolled round he had transferred to Manchester City. (I have seen him play in Shrewsbury since, in goal for West Ham United in the FA Cup third round this season.)

Shortly after Joe left Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury also left, for a new stadium. I found these in my box of programmes.

You don't have to be a silly sod to support Shrewsbury Town, but you could have bought one.

The final season at Gay Meadow ended with a trip to the new Wembley stadium in the play offs. I actually watched the last game at Gay Meadow in a pub round the corner from my house.

Shrewsbury earned some firsts that day. First goal scored in a football league play off final at the new Wembley. First player sent off at the new Wembley. First team beaten in a play off final at the new Wembley.

Two years later we were back.

Yes, that is Grant Holt on the cover. One of the best strikers I have ever seen in Shrewsbury colours.

Unlike the previous play off final, when we were chasing the game for most of it, this time it was nil-nil until the very last minute. Then Gillingham scored. Town kicked off and the referee blew for full time.

I said at the time it was like a punch to the gut. I can still feel the visceral emptiness as if someone had reached in and torn all my emotions out through my bowels. I'd never felt like that before at a football match.

I remember looking at my mum and dad, shrugging, turning away and trudging up the steps to leave. Just numb.

On a lighter note. Some fun league cup games that we lost but it didn't feel like we lost.

Arsenal was where I bought my first half-and-half scarf.  I MAKE NO APOLOGIES FOR THIS.

Town took the lead through James Collins. At this point, the Town fans started singing 'You're Getting Sacked in the Morning' at Arsene Wenger. Spoiler: he wasn't.

The Emirates is by far and away the best football stadium I've been to. And, hilariously, the crowd there is the biggest crowd Shrewsbury have ever played in front of, and I think it's possibly still the lowest attendance ever at the Emirates.

A few years later, Jose Mourinho came to the New Meadow with Chelsea. I've yet to see a proper Shrewsbury giant-killing in the league cup. This was close.

Chelsea led early on, but then Shrewsbury got into gear and grabbed an equaliser. The momentum was with the Town, so Mourinho brought on his real players like Willian. A few minutes later a Shrewsbury defender slipped under pressure and spooned the ball off his knee past his own keeper.

Fun fact, Mo Salah, this year's goalscoring dynamo, was playing for Chelsea. He was shocking. At one point he had a shot at goal from the edge of the eighteen yard box that went out for a throw in nearer to the halfway line than the corner flag. He got subbed and very soon after this game was sold.

Fun Fact 2, in a media interview afterwards Eden Hazard forgot who he had been playing and called the team 'Strawberry'. It was quite funny, really.

So, that's a round up of some of the highs and some of the lows. I didn't mention the conference play off final that Shrewsbury won on penalties to get back into the league. Because I didn't go. It was on a Sunday and I was scheduled to preach in the church that Cathy and I went to at the time. I also haven't mentioned the Auto Windscreens Shield final against Rotherham in 1996, because I didn't buy a programme so had nothing to scan. And they lost anyway. My Dad still rants on about how the manager, Fred Davies, picked the wrong team that day.

But that's the reality of following a team like Shrewsbury. The triumphs are hard fought. The disasters are one bloot off a defender's knee away. The line between glory and muddled obscurity is a mighty fine one.

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