Manchester United U21 v Tottenham Hotspur U21
Salford City Stadium / U21 Premier League / 15th April 2013
Last Monday, I decided to dismiss the original plan of going to the pub to watch the Manchester derby and instead I headed to Anfield to watch Liverpool U21s v Arsenal U21s. I was partly persuaded by Harry, who was staying with me for a couple of days as he begun his work experience at Liverpool FC HQ. I went along with several people behind the excellent Liverpool website, The Bib Theorists, a site created by Harry, and an excellent evening was had sitting on the Kop. This was the first U21 fixture I had attended since the newly formed U21 league came into place and I have to say the quality of football on show was excellent, as Liverpool’s U21 team ran out 3-2 winners. I had no real plan to attend another U21 fixture so soon after my first encounter with the league, but on travelling through Irlam, after a long day at work, I noticed an electronic sign advertising “Manchester United U21 v Tottenham Hotspur U21 at the Salford City Stadium”. More eye-catching was the fact that the sign also informed of “Free Entry”. I was all for attending my 2nd U21 game in 7 days..
On my first days living in the North West of England, as a South Walian I was amazed to see so many rugby league fans roaming the streets like it was the most normal thing in the world. I’ve lived up north for three years now and I’m now accustomed to the fact that rugby league is a huge part of life up here. For years I’ve said that I will eventually attend a rugby league fixture, but I’m still yet to take the plunge. The ideal team for me to visit would be my local league team, Salford City Reds. The appeal of going to watch the team should have been made all the more appealing with the club moving from their old Willows ground to their new Salford City Stadium in 2012, but my rugby league virginity is still yet to be taken.
Conveniently, the Salford City Stadium stands very close to the school I work at and after hopping on the number 67 bus in Irlam at 17:45, I found myself outside the ground by 18:00.
The surrounding area around the stadium is still rather bleak and it is still basically a dug up building site with a stadium plonked in the middle of it. There are plans to redevelop the area around the ground and the people behind the building of the stadium take great pride in the fact that the stadium is an environmentally friendly venue. It is hoped that the stadium will become the hub of the local community with its host of outdoor playing pitches, a gym and the usual array of function rooms that can be used for a number of purposes.
As I approached the stadium I realised it wasn’t as plush looking from the outside as I first thought and to be honest with you, I found it quite bland. Weirdly, my favourite feature of the stadium was the fact that towering over it was the M60 flyover, which I felt made for interesting backdrop to the place. After enjoying a cheeseburger from one of the outdoor catering vans, one of the most surreal and memorable moments in ‘Lost in…’ history occurred.
Over the past year or so since I’ve been documenting my travels on Lost Boyos, I have happened to meet a number of football managers. There’s been (then) Bolton manager Owen Coyle making an appearance on Lost Boyos at Radcliffe Borough; Morecambe’s Jim Bentley popping into the club’s bar to come say hello to me especially; I’ve bumped into Curzon Ashton’s manager, John Flanagan (who is also the Dad of my friend Aaron) on a couple of occasions and of course, I spent a very enjoyable post match drink at Cantilever Park with Warrington’s manager Shaun Reid. All were great company and very nice people. Which brings me onto the latest manager to bump into Lost Boyos: Sir Alex Ferguson.
I have always been a huge fan of all things Fergie-related and I have no doubts that he will be the greatest manager I will ever witness in my lifetime. So, unsurprisingly whilst taking some photos of the Salford City Stadium and on spotting Sir Alex alight from his very plush looking 4×4, I was excited. Aside from a few other young lads about the same age as myself, no-one had seemed to notice Fergie as he made his way across the car park to the entrance of the stadium. The other lads had just finished their snaps with him and without hesitation I went to cut him off before I lost my own opportunity to meet the great Sir Alex. “Sir Alex!” He turned around and I was face-to-face with the United legend. I realised I didn’t know what I was doing and uttered some gibberish before asking for a photo. The great man was clearly not too chuffed with the request but reluctantly agreed to it. I threw my camera into the hands of the nearest G4S steward and we were ready to go – that was until without thinking I said “It is for my football website”.
“Football website?!” declared Sir Alex. “Stuff that.” And like that, he walked off towards the reception without another word or photo. I looked at the steward incredulously and my only response was to burst out laughing. As soon as I started laughing, Fergie turned around and gave me the evils and for a second I thought I was in for the dreaded ‘hairdryer’. For that split second when he looked back at me, I was terrified, but fortunately he stormed off into the reception area of the stadium.
“You’ve blown that mate. He’s the boss you know?” stated the steward. Cheers for that mate.
I’m sure Fergie has certain reasons why he can’t be snapped for a football website (I really should have said “blog” but in such company I opted for the grander use of “website”) but to be perfectly honest, the way he spoke to me and acted towards me, he came across as a bit of a knob. Nevermind though. I’m sure he has more important things to do than do than pose for photos for Lost Boyos, but a bit less arrogance and a bit more politeness might have been nice. Anyway, the man is still a legend and in hindsight it is perhaps a better story to be snubbed by Fergie rather than just having a photo with him.
With ‘Fergie-gate’ ended, I headed for the “Fans Bar” (awful grammar on the sign) for a prematch drink. The “Fans’ Bar” (correct use of grammar) consisted of a long grey-carpeted room with a small littering of chairs and a small bar at either side of the room serving Guinness, Strongbow and Fosters. I opted for a pint of Fosters (priced £3.30) and headed to one of the many TVs showing the prematch coverage on MUTV. When they informed me that the bar wouldn’t be open after kick off, I got one more drink in before heading into the ground just before the 19:00 kick off.
The stadium consists of four stands all imaginatively named the North, East, South and, you guessed it, West Stand, although, unsurprisingly some have attached sponsored names. The main stand is the large West Stand which houses the changing rooms, boxes, the “Fans Bar”, function rooms, media centre and the gym as well as being able to hold 4,500 of the stadium’s 12,000 capacity. The stand is actually quite impressive, but the other three are slightly mundane. The North and South Stand, both sheltered standing terraces behind each goal, appear identical, whilst the East Stand is a small single tiered, all seated stand with space for 2,500 fans.
On entering, the West Stand was closed off to the majority of the public as people piled into the ground. I was slightly worried as I walked into the ground to see loads of pupils from the school I work at and I thought I might be in for some bother; fortunately many did not spot me (thanks to my beloved flat cap) and the ones that did just gave me a friendly hello and left me unhindered. I took my seat in the East Stand, in an area I thought was pupil-free, only to find a whole row of them behind me. As the game kicked off the stewards had rightly decided to open the West Stand as the crowd had clearly surpassed their expected figure, so I decided I would head there for the second half.
Conveniently, the stewards had handed out teamsheets on entering through the turnstiles and within moments of the two teams assembling onto the pitch I had pretty much learnt the name of all 22 players. The names that had been recurringly hyped to me over the previous weeks were Ryan Tunnicliffe and Adnan Januzaj, and it was these two that I decided to keep a close eye on as I was unofficially on scouting duties for an unnamed Football League team that evening.
There was very little to report in the early exchanges as both teams eyed each other up and the only really notable piece of action was when Frederic Veseli pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be stretchered off. Shortly after Jesse Lingard fired a 18 yard half volley just wide of the post, before Januzaj almost curled a shot into the bottom corner only to be denied by the Spurs keeper Vigouroux.
Just after Spurs’ experienced centre back Younes Kaboul (you are allowed to name three overage players in the U21 matchday squads) made Ben Amos awkwardly deal with a powerful free kick, the stadium descended into darkness. A local power cut had also affected the stadium’s floodlights and there was a brief pause in play. The referee decided to play the closing minutes of the first half with the backup lights of the stands being the only things illuminating the field and hoped that the power would be restored by the second half.
Half-time was spent on the predictably grey and dull concourse in the East Stand, but I was happy to see that the bar was open after fearing that it may well have been closed just like the bar in the “Fans Bar”. After finishing my pint, I headed around to the West Stand for the second half, to claim a higher vantage point to survey the action.
I have to say, the view from this stand was great, especially with the nearby flyover in clear view and acting as a real backdrop to the ground. It was a bit strange, but I found the view of the flyover in the background a quite nice one – I’ve never really been one for finding busy roads that pretty.
Shortly after the restart Kaboul limped off the pitch, moments before Spurs almost scored from a freekick through the impressive Cristian Ceballos who struck the woodwork. I found Ceballos very entertaining to watch, yet he was also infuriating. Moments of brilliance were coupled with moments of bemusement, and his style of play slightly reminded me of Jordi Gomez.
Eventually, in the 56th minute, some neat passing by Lingard and James opened things up for Tunnicliffe who neatly poked the ball past Vigouroux to make it 1-0 to United.
United began to assert some authority on the game now and it was to take a great stop from Vigouroux to keep it at 1-0 as Lingard looked to have taken the ball around the keeper to score. Soon Vigouroux found himself well beaten, only for Larnell Cole’s powerful drive to cannon back off the inside of the post.
United held on comfortably to secure a good win over the team that currently sits on top of their section of the U21 Premier League. However, I felt that I had not really seen any future stars for either team, besides the clearly very talented Januzaj (although he probably didn’t have as much of the ball as I would have liked) and Spurs’ marauding right back Ryan Fredericks.
Despite the result, the Salford City Stadium had made a good debut as a United U21 venue with a very impressive crowd of 2,183, compared to the usual 300-400 United U21’s usually get at Altrincham’s Moss Lane.
There were certain things I liked about the ground, but generally I found the place a bit soulless. This was probably due to the usual unimaginative look of the ground coupled with the ground’s poor location – I did not exactly find it the easiest ground to get to and from either using public transport. Or maybe I just could not get around to the idea of enjoying football at a rugby league ground.
Highlights: free entry, West Stand was good, love the flyover backdrop (for some reason), remember the name Januzaj for the future, meeting Sir Alex Ferguson.
Low Points: Poor location, nothing of interest around the ground, dull game, quite bland stadium, meeting Sir Alex Ferguson.