Fleetwood Town v Chesterfield
Highbury Stadium / League Two / 20th April 2013
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside. I really do. Amazingly, for what seemed like the first time in months, it was sunny in the North-West of England. Actually sunny! It was the perfect day to go visit the seaside and also to add a new club in my attempt to do “the 92”. It was decided midweek that I would head to Fleetwood Town for their Saturday League Two fixture against Chesterfield, which was also the club’s last home game of the season.
I set off from Manchester Piccadilly at 9:15am on the train heading to Blackpool North. An irritating factor of getting to Fleetwood is the fact that the town does not have its own train station. I had read that the most convenient way to get to the town of Fleetwood was to alight at Poulton-le-Fylde train station and complete the rest of the journey by bus. However, my research seemed to suggest that it might be easier to head to Blackpool and then get the tram from the North Pier all the way to the Fleetwood Ferry tram stop. I may have convinced myself that going via Blackpool was the easier option though, as I genuinely love Blackpool. I’d only visited Blackpool once before when I went to watch Blackpool smash Bristol City 5-0 last season in the pre-Lost Boyos days. Before I headed to Blackpool last year, many people more accustomed with the town warned me of its ‘tackiness’, but I fell in love with the infamous seaside resort that day. Clearly the place is ‘tacky’ but I loved my day at Blackpool last year and was really looking forward to a much delayed return to the seaside town.
My train journey to Blackpool was made slightly more entertaining listening to two Cardiff City supporters (wearing blue of course) talking about their upcoming Premier League voyages next season as they made their through Lancashire to the Bluebirds’ fixture at Burnley that Saturday afternoon. In fairness to them, they kept anti-Swansea comments to a low and they seemed generally thrilled to meet a Swansea fan once I unveiled myself to them. I cheekily wished them luck for the coming season (I think they might need it), before we went our separate ways.
On arriving at Blackpool North, I made the short 5 minute walk down to the seafront and located the North Pier tram stop. I refrained from exploring Blackpool for now and instead I decided to return following the Fleetwood game. The Blackpool trams run frequently throughout the day, so there was very little waiting until the tram destined for Fleetwood Ferry arrived and for £4.50 I had the freedom of travelling on the tram around the whole Blackpool area all day.
Ten minutes into my journey, I began thinking what a brilliantly scenic journey I was on as the tram made its way up the Blackpool coastline; however, soon the tram cut inland slightly and we were soon going through the much duller and bleaker suburbs of Blackpool (not to say that these were slums, just the places seemed a bit character-less). The places became far less ‘scenic’ as the tram made its way up towards Fleetwood and I began to speculate what sort of place awaited me on my arrival. In my head, I imagined Fleetwood to be a Blackpool-lite, but that image was slowly diminishing in my head.
After 40 minutes on the tram, I arrived at Fleetwood Ferry and was once again confronted by the sea. This time there was no sign of piers, amusement arcades and countless arcades; instead there was a little cafe, a Lifeboat shop, a sole amusement arcade, which was completely empty, and a sad looking dock – perhaps the last remnants of the town’s once thriving deep sea fishing port which served the community served well during the 1970s, before the industry’s decline. Despite their geographical closeness, Fleetwood is certainly not Blackpool.
The time was only 11.30am so I thought I’d give the place more of a chance and have a wander before finding a pub. As I walked along the seafront and Fleetwood’s beach, I noticed that the town was very fond of lighthouses as I had already spotted three, although none of them appeared like your stereotypical lighthouse. Despite the weather, Fleetwood was very quiet this Saturday morning, but the more I wandered, the more I kind of liked the place. Of course, it had none of the ‘glitz’ of Blackpool, but the town was much, much more humble than its bigger brother and as a celebratory monument stated “Fleetwood – A Town with a Heart”. I particularly liked the Mount – a small building, surrounded by a small park, looking out onto Morecambe Bay; the building is also Fleetwood’s highest point. Conveniently situated next to the park was The Mount Hotel, which featured a large pub inside it. This was to be my first stop of the day. However, the pub was devoid of punters and after drinking my rather horrible, cheap pint of Carlsberg, I decided to head into the town itself and towards the highly recommended Strawberry Gardens pub.
Soon after jinking my way through the literary inspired streets of Tennyson Street and Chaucer Street, I found the Strawberry Gardens pub – a large red building on Poulton Road. On entering I was greeted with a bar that did not have your usual array of lagers and instead I was offered the choice of ‘organic lagers’ from a brewery called ‘Freedom’. The lager was superb and the Chesterfield supporting couple at the bar next to me seemed to agree. Throughout the day so far, all I had seen was Chesterfield Town shirts with not a Fleetwood badge in sight and on quizzing the Chesterfield fans at the bar, it turned out that the Spireites were bringing a hefty away support of 2,500 to Fleetwood today. Soon enough, the pub was overcome with Chesterfield fans and the kind couple I had met at the bar invited me to join them and their Derbyshire-based pals in the front beer garden to bask in the ‘Freedom’ lager and the glorious Fleetwood sunshine. It took a long time to explain why a Welsh, Swansea supporter was in Fleetwood, but eventually after some confusion about what I actually did (I mentioned both the blogging and my scouting, which led to the confusion) I was welcomed with open arms by the Chesterfield faithful. I had to ask the Chesterfield fans were they renowned for their trouble making as a whole host of police cars and riot vans had circled the area constantly for about an hour, stopping every once in a while to eye up the growing away support outside of the Strawberry Gardens. Some of the vans were even packing police dogs!
Of course with it being Chesterfield’s last away day of the season the away fans had adopted the customary away day tradition of dressing up in fancy dress and soon we were joined by the Smurfs who were more than happy to make an appearance on Lost Boyos. After discussing Chesterfield Town with the Smurfs, a surreal experience, I decided to make my way towards the ground. The Chesterfield fans were great fun on this sunny afternoon and a big thanks to all for their company. Tops fans!
I had been told that Fleetwood’s ground was roughly a ten minute walk away from the pub and I was joined on my hunt for the ground by two other Spireites who were in search of Highbury (Fleetwood’s ground, not the old Arsenal ground of the same name). We soon caught up with a crowd of fans who appeared to be heading towards the match, but I still couldn’t see the ground. Suddenly, the crowd turned down an alley between a couple of houses and there was the ground hidden away between a residential area and Memorial Park. The thing that made this moment so strange was the fact that Fleetwoood’s ground, especially the club’s main stand, is fairly big, so I wondered how we had not spotted it sooner.
As well as exploring Fleetwood, drinking with Chesterfield fans and just generally having a good all round fun day at the seaside, I was also doing some scouting work today. The club I scout for had agreed to put a ticket on the gate for me, so my first port of call was to head to the small white ticket booth behind the large Parkside Stand. Soon enough I was in possession of an envelope with “Matt Harrison x1 (scouts)” scribed onto it which contained my ticket, as well as a team sheet provided by the club. There was still just over 30 minutes until kick off and I decided I did not want to miss the chance to visit the club bar, Jim’s Bar. The bar was housed at the back of the Memorial Stand and just like the rest of Highbury Stadium (named due to the club’s location on Highbury Avenue), the bar has clearly been redeveloped and is very plush for a League Two clubhouse. The facilities really were excellent and put a lot of Premier League bars to shame. I had a quick pint of reasonably priced San Miguel, watched Cardiff City clinch the Championship title in the early Sky Sports kick off before heading back towards the Parkside Stand turnstiles ready for kick off.
You regularly hear of club’s making ‘meteoric rises’ up the leagues, but Fleetwood Town’s ascent really has been on a different scale to many other league climbs. As recently as 2005, Fleetwood were playing in the North West Counties Premier Division; by the 2011-12 season, Fleetwood were flying to the Conference title for their fifth promotion in seven seasons and thus heading towards Football League football for the first time in their history. Fleetwood’ incredible success has coincided with the appointment of Andy Pilley as club chairman – a local businessman behind the company Business Energy Solutions (BES), the club sponsors. Under the tenure of Pilley the club has undergone a renaissance with the club going professional and full time in 2010-11 alongside the mass redevelopment of Highbury Stadium. The club have played at the ground since 1934, but it’s safe to say that the ground is a completely different beast to the one the club played at in the 1930s.
Over the past 5 years the stadium has undergone a complete facelift. The most recent addition to the ground is the very impressive Parkside Stand which opened in March 2011. The stand is a single tiered seating stand with an elevated top row housing executive boxes and hospitality suites. My favourite feature of this stand is the curving roof, which certainly gives the stand a unique feel compared to the usual bog standard, modern stands built these days.. This was to be the stand I would be sitting in for today’s game in great seats right behind the Chesterfield dugout. Opposite the Parkside Stand stands the Highbury Stand, a stand consisting of 6 rows of seats which only runs for half the pitch with the other half of the pitch consisting of some small anonymous buildings. Behind the goal to the right of the Parkside Stand is the Memorial Stand, a sheltered standing terrace which contained Fleetwood’s more vocal support. Finally, behind the opposite goal, housing the away fans, is the Percy Ronson Stand which opened in 2007; this is also a sheltered standing terrace. In the corner next to the Percy Ronson Stand is a large electronic screen displaying the two team’s lineups, another reminder of the modern feel to this ground.
Shortly after taking my seat, the two teams came out of the tunnels, Fleetwood in their usual red kit and Chesterfield in a gold away kit, and soon the game was underway. Within minutes, myself and the friendly lady next to me were laughing at the all action Chesterfield manager Paul Cook. He really did not sit/stand still for the whole 90 minutes and thanks to his continuous shouting, his voice was gone within minutes. Cook’s voice began to resemble that of a young girl cheering at a One Direction concert. I had been at Cook’s first game in charge at Accrington Stanley last season, but I could not recall being so entertained by him on that occasion.
Of course, in the home dugout was a footballing legend: Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander. I had been present at Turf Moor, whilst watching Swansea take on Burnley, for Alexander’s 1000th professional appearance as a player – only the 2nd outfield player to achieve such a feat in English football. I always liked Alexander purely because he regularly scored worldly free kicks and penalties for both Preston and Burnley. Apart from a spell as caretaker manager of Preston, this was Alexander’s first steps into management and his Fleetwood team were having the better of the early exchanges in today’s fixtures.
I have always been a big fan of the central midfielder Paul McKenna, but I had no idea he was on loan at Fleetwood from Hull City. He was excellent throughout the first half, breaking up play and spraying passes across field to his team mates. Everything good was beginning with McKenna and there was plenty of good football from Fleetwood. A series of wasted chances and a string of good saves from Chesterfield’s Tommy Lee was all that was keeping Fleetwood from taking the lead. Of course, such wastefulness would come back to haunt Fleetwood and 2 minutes before half time Chesterfield went 1-0 up thanks to a close range header from Armand Gnanduillet. Gnanduillet had come on as a substitute in the 34th minute and was excellent for the duration of his time on the pitch.
Chesterfield would compound more misery on Fleetwood by scoring once more before half time, this time a brilliant 25 yard volley from Marc Richards that flew past Fleetwood keeper Scott Davies. Fleetwood did not deserve to go in at half time behind, let alone two goals down, and Alexander had a lot to do to gear his players ready for a 2nd half fightback.
I decided to head to the concourse bar at half time, but with the small area being crowded with a winding queue I decided to give it a miss (although brilliantly one of the TVs on the concourse was showing the classic Arnold Schwarznegger film Kindergarten Cop). Whilst wandering the stand at half-time, I had the opportunity to attain the now semi-traditional Lost Boyo ‘photo with a club mascot’ moment, as well as bumping into the PA guy who kindly gave Lost Boyos a shout out – the second time the site has had a shout out at a Football League club this season. However, the best part of half time was to come on arriving back at my seat. I’m not sure if I had just missed him in the first half, but now sitting in the row in front of me was Colin Hendry! The legendary Scottish defender Colin Hendry who was imperious in Blackburn’s 1995 Premier League triumph, as well as captaining his country at the 1998 World Cup. Colin was a top guy and even asked me my views on the ground and the club, as well as being more than willing to pose for a photo for me (he was certainly much more friendly than the other Scottish legend I met on the previous Monday at the Salford City Stadium). Of course, I avoided mentioning Gazza’s in 1996 to him!
The second half kicked off and Paul Cook’s voice was now almost non-existent, yet fairplay to the guy he continued to bark orders to his players. The friendly lady returned to her seat next to me and tapped me on the shoulder and whispered:
“I’m sure that’s Colin Hendry in front of us.”
I informed her it was. As well as the lady next to me, the guy sitting next to me began to talk to me about the club in detail, although I was a little confused that he appeared to be a Fleetwood fan but told me he was from Huddersfield. He informed me that he was brilliantly named Granville – “Like Danny Granville?” was my only response to that.
Fleetwood were nowhere near as expansive as they were in the first half and they generally looked worn out. It was unsurprising then to see Chesterfield take a 3-0 lead thanks to Marc Richards again, who scooped the ball into the net left footed after a scramble in the box.
With the game effectively over, Granville went onto question me asking “When do your studies finish?” I informed him 4 years ago and that I was a teacher. He then complimented my youthful appearance before asking:
“So is there a lady in your life?”
“Well, I’m at Fleetwood Town v Chesterfield Town so I doubt it” I replied.
The woman next to me chirped up with, “Ah! I thought I was doing so well with you!” before informing me that she was a grandmother. I clearly seemed to be having an impact on my two neighbours!
Flirting in the stands aside, Chesterfield were taking their foot off the pedal and soon Fleetwood were fighting back as substitute Andrew Mangan went 0ne-on-one with Lee to make it 3-1. There was still over 20 minutes to go and the home crowd tried to encourage their team to get a 2nd and to hopefully ignite an unlikely comeback. There were a series of half chances for Fleetwood, but it just did not seem to be their day today. The wind went from the Fleetwood sails and the game slowly ebbed to is conclusion.
Final score: Fleetwood 1 – 3 Chesterfield.
I said goodbye to my two pals either side of me and Colin Hendry, before making my way around to the other side of the ground to take some photos. I had planned to go back to Jim’s Bar for a drink after the game, but instead I had a change of heart and headed straight to the nearby tram stop, Stanley Road, to head back to Blackpool to enjoy a few drinks by the sea before heading home.
Highlights: a visit to Blackpool, Strawberry Gardens, friendly Chesterfield fans, excellent facilities at the ground and the clubhouse, good seats, Pal Cook’s shouting, meeting Colin Hendry, good game of football.
Low Points: Not too much going on in Fleetwood, quite arduous getting to Fleetwood by public transport.