6 countries, 108 games, 50 new grounds, 353 goals and 3 pitch invasions. Boiled down into numbers, this is what my 2013/2014 season looks like. Of course, like many areas of football, statistics do not tell the whole story at all. My season began at Northwich Victoria’s current abode in Flixton’s Valley Road ground and would finish with a mid-May pitch invasion at Bangor City, as they secured European football after defeating local rivals Rhyl. In the middle of all that I have watched two former Champions League teams play each other on a pitch next to a 5 star resort and golf course in the middle of Cheshire; won a fan penalty shootout at a ground in the middle of Anglesey; paid a visit to the oldest football ground in the world; met up with the ‘Class of 92’ at my local club Salford City; I’ve seen possibly the best team performance I’ve ever seen live; visited my 100th football ground (and a suitably named one at that) and reached my target of a 100 games in a season at one of the North-East’s most famous non-league names.
One of the big winners on my travels this year has to be my homeland: Wales. I vowed at the start of the season that I would make more of an effort to see some more of the Land of the Fathers. I still feel I could have done a bit more, but I am content with my efforts having visited grounds in the South Wales Valleys (Taffs Well, Porth, Ton Pentre, Llantwit Fardre and Aberdare Town), North Wales (Prestatyn and Bangor), Swansea (Port Talbot), Anglesey (Llanfairpwll and Glantraeth) and the nation’s now favourite seaside town, thanks to a certain BBC sitcom, Barry. Anyone that tells me that Wales is entirely a ‘rugby nation’ hasn’t seen the passion and dedication that goes into running and maintaining these football clubs.
Much fun has been had within the borders of the UK, but certainly the most fun I have had this season has come outside of these shores. In February, I spent a rather boozy weekend in Berlin and became an adopted Hertha fan. Plus the Olympiastadion has to go down as one of the most magnificent stadiums I have ever stepped inside.
However, the highlight of my season has to be my Scandinavian adventure in August. It was joyous to watch my beloved Swansea City play on the continent and the day we had out in Malmö will live long in the memory (just about, as the sheer amount we all drunk out there probably came close to erasing any memories). Unlike many Swans fans though, this was just the start of my trip into Scandinavia, as I decided to hang around Copenhagen (what a city by the way) to take in some Danish football. I had a belter of a day in the Copenhagen suburbs watching First Division club Brønshøj BK, before possibly witnessing the best thing I saw on a football pitch all season at FC Nordsjaelland – but you’ll have to read on to find out what that was. By the time we departed Copenhagen 5 days after arriving, we left Copenhagen having enjoyed plenty of Tuborg, watched some excellent football, seen some great goals and made a lot of good friends.
Once again, in the same cheesy way I finished last season’s review, I’m going to save the end of this little spiel to show some love for all the people who have joined me or met up with me on my travels this season. These people are what make the trips so fun, so thank you for whatever part you have played this season – even if you are one of those mentalists that I seem to attract, who help add to the whole randomness of proceedings at times.
In honour of everyone, here’s a big thumbs up to everyone that has read the site or joined me on my adventure with a series of…you guessed it thumbs up; in fact, every thumbs up (well, at least most of them) from this season soundtracked to the great 90s band Cast, purely because I’m going to see them in a couple of days time from typing this. Plus a little dedication to my first boss and good pal Keryl, the landlord of my local, who sadly passed away this year and used to read the blog regularly- he makes an appearance in halfway through this (the part with me looking like a dick with my flat cap on back to front and with the label hanging out the front).
Now for some of the best and worst) parts of my 2013/2014 Lost Boyos travels. Enjoy.
The Stuff on the Pitch
(Click on the goal for a link to each goal)
I’ve seen quite a bit of U21 football this season and along with Fulham, City have impressed me a lot, especially their young Yaya-clone, Seko Fofana. Similar in style, position and bulk to Yaya Toure, the young Frenchman also possesses a ferocious shot like his hero –as I witnessed on this Friday night. With not much ahead of him, Fofana took one touch before launching a rocket of a shot, which flew and dipped into the top corner. Unstoppable.
For the 3rd year running Jonjo features in my top 3 goals of the season. Sadly, I was not there for his 47 yard wonder goal against Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium, but I was in the away end at Anfield for this corker. Although not as bombastic as his 47 yard volley, this goal was technically brilliant with the young midfielder hitting a rolling ball first time with his right foot and curling it into the top corner via the crossbar to launch a Swansea fightback when 2-0 down. Plus, it’s always nice to score against your old club and in front of the Kop.
Undoubtedly, the best thing I saw on a football pitch all season. Maybe even just the best thing I saw all season. With FC Nordsjaelland trailing Copenhagen 2-1, a long ball was pumped towards the box in the 82nd minute. As we stood behind the goal we wondered would Nordstrand reach the ball – it looked like it was going to just about go over his head. Nordstrand had other ideas. The striker turned his body, threw himself into the air and delivered a beautiful bicycle kick that crashed into the goal. Cue me going absolutely mental and running around as if I had supported Nordsjaelland all my life (I was pretty drunk so perhaps I had convinced myself that I did).
Best Young Player
3. Jamie Paterson (Nottingham Forest v Yeovil – 2nd February 2014 )
I’ve not seen much Championship football on my wanderings this year and I hadn’t exactly planned to be at Nottingham Forest on this day; it was worth it though to see the excellent Jamie Paterson, who caused Yeovil all sorts of problems all game. Having already scored a hatrick against West Ham in the FA Cup this season, he is definitely a player who I feel will have more of an impact on the second tier next year.
2. Ronny Minkwitz (Manchester United U21 v Fulham U21 – 28th October 2013)
Whilst Fulham’s Premier League stars struggled in the top flight, Fulham’s U21 team had to be the most impressive U21 team I witnessed this season. I could have picked one of many names from their squad to go here, but on the day I was most impressed with the brilliantly named German Ronny Minkwitz, just ahead of Muamer Tankovic and Moussa Dembele. Minkwitz, short in stature and slightly rotund looking, patrolled the centre midfield like a German incarnation of Jan Molby and absolutely ran the show from the centre of the pitch.
1. James Wilson (Manchester United U21 v Aston Villa U21 – 7th April 2014)
I’ve seen a lot of United U21s over the past 18 months and I was fortunate enough to see the rise of Adnan Januzaj last season, before he made the step up to the senior team. I’m regularly asked by my United-supporting pals, ‘who is going to be the next ‘Januzaj’ to breakthrough? My answer was always none of them. That was until the start of April when I saw James Wilson play for the first time. After seeing him a 2nd time I was convinced that United had a gem on their hands. A real all-action striker, who reminded me a bit of a young Alan Shearer. Capped off his performance against Aston Villa with a wonderful long range strike. I was unsurprised to see him make his first team debut weeks later and score 2 against Hull. Big future ahead of him.
Best Player Performance
3. Chris Turner (Dumbarton v Cowdenbeath – 26th October 2013)
Unlike last year where 2 non-league players made the Top 3, this year features a Northern Irish player from the Scottish Leagues instead. A rather poor game between Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath was lightened up by a brilliant showing in the middle of the park. Every touch, every pass and every decision was spot on from the Dumbarton captain, who I later learned had once played and scored in the Champions League for Shamrock Rovers. Looked head and shoulders above everyone else on the day.
2. Wilfried Bony (take your pick of what game)
Since Swansea got promoted to the Premier League, I’ve not seen many better strikers…scrap that… players in the top flight than Wilfried Bony. Michael Laudrup’s failure to get the best out of him has to be one of the biggest blemishes on his Swansea record, but at the turn of the year, Bony morphed into an absolute monster. Stronger than any player I have ever seen; the tricks and flicks; the hold up play and most importantly all those goals. Bony is the ultimate fan favourite amongst the Swans with his cool demeanour and ultimately, his talent. An absolutely imperious 2014 so far and just could not pick one game to demonstrate his greatness.
1. Phillip Lahm (Manchester City v Bayern Munich – 2nd October 2013)
Best team performance I’ve seen this season: easily, Bayern tearing apart Man City apart in a 3-1 thumping in my first ever Champions League game (the score doesn’t do the showing justice). The orchestrator of the win was Phillip Lahm, a player who I would probably now put on my list of the best elite players I’ve seen live. Everything went through him that night and equally nothing got past him. A Guardiola masterstroke converting him from a full-back to a Xavi-esque centre midfielder.
A random trip to Prestatyn and a Welsh Premier clash was not the place I expected to find such a thrilling game of football. Admittedly, the second half wasn’t as gripping as Prestatyn went on to steam roller ten man Newtown, but the first half, particularly the first 25 minutes was a showing of epic proportions with the game tied 2-2 with some glorious goals scored too. A superb advert for the Welsh Premier.
2. Liverpool 4 – 3 Swansea City (Premier League – 22nd February 2014)
Probably the most entertaining game of football I witnessed all year. At that point in the season, Liverpool were tearing sides apart for fun and it looked to be same fate for Swansea, as the Swans went 2-0 down very early on. Cue a Wilfried Bony-inspired comeback and a Jonjo wonder-goal and it was very much game on. With just over ten minutes left, the game was poised at 3-3, but Swansea’s hopes were shattered by a late goal from Man of the Match Jordan Henderson. Despite the loss, every Swans fan I spoke to that day agreed that this had been some game and a pleasure to witness live.
Okay, so it probably wasn’t the all singing, all dancing game that Swansea v Liverpool game was but…actually yes it was, as all we did was sing and dance and generally make the Liberty Stadium a beautiful carnival of drunken fun. Strangely, the derby was not to kick-off until 5.15pm, so the Jack Army had plenty of time to fuel themselves with beer. The result of this seemed to be one of the best atmospheres the Liberty has experienced. Throw in the fact that this was the game where club legend Super Garry Monk would make his managerial debut and there was another excuse to party. Oh, and the fact that we absolutely decimated our big rivals from down the road with a 3-0 win. A truly beautiful day.
At The Grounds
3. “So come on Wilfried Bony, score some goals for Swansea. We’ll go wild, wild, wild! We’ll go wild, wild, wild!”
So maybe not the most imaginative of chants this season, but this was ultimately the soundtrack to a large portion of my season with Swansea City. As Bony scored more and more goals, the chant was sung more and more. Bony would also clearly get quite agitated if he did something of brilliance (which he did a lot) and the song wasn’t sung and the sight of Bony encouraging the fans to sing became a regular feature of Swansea games. I get the impression that we were singing at times in an almost plea for him not to leave us next season. Please don’t go Big Wilf!
2. “Viva Gareth Bale! Viva Gareth Baaaaale!! He said he had a bad back! Fuck the Union Jack! Viva Gareth Bale!”
The most important player for the Welsh national team, and will probably be so for the next decade and beyond, deserves a good chant. This catchy and humorous celebrates the great Bale, whilst also paying homage to the fact that he ruled himself out of playing for Team GB with a supposed bad back. Expect to hear this one for years to come in ode of the most expensive player in the world and current Champions League holder. Viva Gareth Bale!
1. “Nur Nach Hause!”
Sod your You’ll Never Walk Alone, sod your Blue Moon and sod your Forever Blowing Bubbles – the only club anthem for me this season was to be rousing Hertha anthem of Nur Nach Hause. A truly spine-tingling moment developed as we stood behind the famous Ostkurze of the Olympiastadion amongst the more vociferous of Hertha fans with scarves lifted to into the air, as the club anthem was sung passionately as both Hertha and Wolfsburg emerged onto the pitch. Glorious stuff.
One of non-league football’s most iconic grounds. I had heard nothing but good things about Chorley’s ground, but Victory Park far surpassed my expectations. It is a place that oozes character from the large clubhouse in the corner to the brilliant food hut housing all sorts of joyous pies and stews. However, the show-stealer is definitely the main stand, which has to be a groundhopper’s wet dream. Throw in the fact that the fans and staff at the club were top draw and you can’t ask for much more. I’m not sure I’ll be welcome back though, as they blew a long undefeaten streak on my visit by losing to Barwell.
A simply magnificent place to watch football. I didn’t even notice the running track which was supposedly going to slightly hinder my viewing of the game. Perhaps one of the best parts of this stadium is walking around it and seeing the various monuments celebrating the stadium’s history, which hosted the 1936 Olympics hosted by the Nazis and also not forgetting that this stadium was the scene of Zidane’s infamous headbutt in 2006. Plus, you can’t really beat drinking in the stands and having a good old bounce around with some German football fans. A mighty impressive structure.
My favourite ground I visited all year. It may not have the bright shiny lights and the glamour of the huge stadium in Berlin, but this is my sort of ground. Mossley is a wonderfully beautiful, little town, cosily placed alongside the Peak District east of Manchester. The ground embodies this quaint feel with its position at the top of a hill looking down on the valley below. Seel Park itself is a rickety, old place, but as charming a ground as you are ever going to come across. The brilliant, little stand that looks over the ground; the tasty food; the excellent clubhouse; friendly locals and, best of all, the stunning views – there is plenty to take pleasure in at Seel Park. Can’t wait to return at some point in the new season.
This started as probably the worst trip of the season, but would prove to be one of the best. Following a trip to Cammell Laird on Merseyside, I fell asleep on a late evening train back to Manchester from Liverpool. Unfortunately, I woke up in Nottingham at 11pm leaving me stranded in the city, but fortunately…well, I woke up in Nottingham – a brilliant city. Conveniently, Nottingham Forest were at home the next day and so ensued an inevitable trip to the City Ground. What a day! Plenty of pubs, a trip to Hooters, met some great people, watched a very entertaining 3-1 win to Forest and amazingly met one of the club’s youth coaches who got me into the game for free. Top day!
2. Whitley Bay/ Newcastle United (18th-19th April 2014)
You just cannot beat a weekend on Tyneside. First of all, Whitley Bay would be the scene of my landmark 100th game of the season and a fitting scene it was too. A brilliant club and a great turnout at their ground, thanks to all the groundhoppers on a Northern League Groundhop. Newcastle is probably my favourite city in the UK and the night out was as good as ever, but left me slightly ‘groggy’ the next day for Swansea City’s game at St. James Park. The weekend was capped off perfectly with Wilfried Bony scoring a last-minute penalty to secure 3 points for Swansea and to ultimately ensure Premier League would be returning to SA1 for the next season.
I just couldn’t pick one of these days, but undoubtedly my best trip of the whole season was the voyage to Copenhagen with a pop over to Malmo for a spot of Swansea in Europa League action for good measure. That day in Malmö, which ended with me getting thrown off a train just before the bridge crossing over into Copenhagen, was followed by a day at the wonderful Brønshøj BK, before the 5 day trip was capped with an eventful day in Farum watching FC Nordsjaelland take on FC Copenhagen (plus, can’t forget THAT Nordstrand overhead kick to equalise). Plenty of football, plenty of beer and plenty of friends made. The best.
I couldn’t separate two here, so going to call this a tie…maybe, even a ‘pie-tie’.
First big shoutout to the amazing Lawton Pies in Leek. I made a bold claim that day, where I visited Leek Town’s Harrison Park – my 100th ground, that the Lawton’s Pies I had that day even trumped the famous Galloways’ Pies in Wigan (HUGE claim!) The pie I had really was superb and even more amazing that it cost 98p!
And joint first is Partick Thistle’s Macaroni Pie. From a weekend in Glasgow, I learned that macaroni pie seemed to be a bit of a Scottish delicasy, but the concept of macaroni and pastry didn’t really do anything for me. However, on trying it at Firhill, I was converted. The Scots have won me over with that fine piece of local cuisine – I’ll keep dodging the battered Mars Bars though.
And the Rest
Tom Bradley (for Aberdare v Ton Pentre – 21st August 2013)
I claimed in my blog at the time, that I probably wouldn’t see a better save all season and I didn’t. A brilliant, low one-handed save to deny Ton Pentre what looked to be a certain equaliser in the dying seconds at Ynys Park.
Matt Harrison (for Atherton Collieries fan team v Glantraeth FC fan team – 20th July 2013)
An unbelievable finish from Harrison to send the Colls fans team on their way to victory in this crucial penalty shootout. The keeper was left utterly routed to the spot as the ball rocketed into the far corner. More impressively, Harrison had drunk the best part of a crate before taking it. (DISCLAIMER: Matt Harrison may well be the author of this blog and he may well be being slightly self-indulgent here).
Football Hipster of the Year
We invented this award whilst watching Dinamo Bucharest v Hearts at Leigh Sports Village (yes, we didn’t understand either) and is awarded to the most ‘hip’ football personality we saw on display throughout the season.
3. Bo Henriksen (Brønshøj BK manager) (Brønshøj BK v Hvidore – 10th August 2013)
The larger than life Brønshøj BK manager cut a remarkably slick figure on the touchline with his long hair and suit. His actions were far from cool though, as Henriksen is from the Paolo Di Canio school of management of not standing still for one second and shouting a hell of a lot – and I mean a lot. I did get to meet him in the bar after the game though and he’s a proper cool guy. Plus, hipster points for once playing for Kidderminster Harriers.
2. Nelson Mota (Numerous Salford games and one FC United game)
I suppose my adopted non-league club is Salford City thanks to them being situated about a mile from my house. I do love the club and their ground, but it is safe to say that they do not play the most ‘pure’ of football. Cue the Spaniard Nelson Mota (solely referred to as Nelson by the Ammies faithful) to bring a touch of Spanish showboating to some of the drudgery on show. Unpredictable but always a joy to watch, I also happened to be at Gigg Lane for his debut at FC United after they snapped him up midseason. Non-league football’s most hip player (up North at least). (Note: just as I go to publish this, I learn he’s been released by FCUM – sign him back up Salford!)
1. Cosmin Matei (Dinamo Bucharest v Hearts – 8th July 2013)
The original hipster from the Dinamo Bucharest v Hearts game when we invented this award. Played a large role in tearing Hearts apart in a 5-1 preseason thumping, leading us to dub him the ‘Romanian Messi’ (this may have been slightly hyperbolic). An ultra-cool winger/attacking midfielder, who was a joy to watch with his dribbling and tricks. Devastated after the game to find out that a few of the lads had actually met him by the team bus, as I made my way home from Leigh.
Best Celebrity/ Football Personality I met on my travels
A running theme this year seemed to be bumping into random footballing personalities – here are the best ones.
3. Jake Humphreys (Outside the Etihad Stadium before Manchester City v Wigan – 9th March 2014)
After Gibbo almost tripped Steve McManaman up with his bag outside the Etihad Stadium, we bumped into BT Sports’ Jake, complete with trademark IPad. Proper nice guy, who chatted us for a minute or two despite his colleagues clearly waiting for him impatiently.
2. The Class of 92 – Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville (At Salford City v Curzon Ashton – 1st March 2014)
As I had been working that morning, I decided not to venture far and go up to Moor Lane to watch Salford City having not seen them play for a few weeks. I found the same usual faces at the club, but there was one strange one in the clubhouse – that of Nicky Butt. Then, behind the far goal were his fellow ‘classmates’ Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. All were good enough to pose for every inevitable photo with the crowd that day (although G-Nev and Giggsy were too shy to do the trademark double thumbs up). Days later, the United legends had invested in the club.
1. Jim Bentley (In the club bar after Morecambe v Newcastle – 28th August 2013)
Once again, there has been a fair bit of love for Morecambe on this blog this season for the club I still vociferously state are not my ‘second team’ (as I don’t believe in such a thing). Morecambe are a classy club and one of key components in making them such a likable club for me is their manager, Jim Bentley. We enjoyed a good drink and chat with Jimbo following Morecambe’s narrow defeat to Newcastle in the League Cup and, unlike Neville and Giggs, he was well up for a bit of Lost Boyos thumbs posing. The man showed his class once again a few days later after I ended up in hospital overnight (another story) and he passed on his best wishes to me through a text from Shrimps fan Paul. Top guy!
3. The Navigation (Located just outside Notts County’s Meadow Lane home)
The home of ‘football fan speed dating’ this season. On walking out into the pub’s beer garden, it seemed like there was some sort of impromptu gathering of football fans from social media who all seemed to know each other. A classic case of ‘I know you!’ followed by ‘I know him over there’. It led to a very friendly and happy atmosphere on my sunny day in Nottingham (I’d actually intended to visit this time). More importantly, the pub is a top notch matchday boozer with good company and a stone throw away from Meadow Lane itself (if you have a decent arm on you at least).
2. City Bar (Copenhagen city centre)
Not necessarily a true matchday pub as it sits right in the heart of Copenhagen city centre, but this pub was to become our homebase during our Copenhagen stay after we befriended the cool barman Kaj and some of the locals. Kept us suitably watered for the duration of our stay in Copenhagen along with beer at a decent price (for Copenhagen standards at least) and good company. Look forward to returning someday in the future when I return to Copenhagen.
1. The Corner Shop (near Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium)
An unorthodox choice for number one, but this is a bit of a hidden gem, which has deserved more of a shoutout on this blog in the past. Having visited the Etihad Stadium quite a few times this season, a trip there isn’t complete without a visit to the Corner Shop. The pub sits in the middle of a housing estate just 5 minutes away from the Etihad and despite looking a little ‘shady’ from the outside, the place is perfectly welcoming. Always a good atmosphere on matchday and you can’t beat a pub that has streetlamps still standing in the middle of it. Definitely worth heading to before any Manchester City game if you are a home or away fan (unless you support United maybe).
The ‘Never Again’ Award
I’m not too keen on Milton Keynes’ football club for their past crimes, but at least they have a fairly impressive stadium (although sadly situated outside the city centre). However, the city itself…well, I said it all on the blog about my visit to Milton Keynes, but basically…never again.
Bury 0 – 0 Cambridge (FA Cup – 19th November 2013)
Thanks to Aaron’s journalistic links, we blagged our way into the press area of Gigg Lane for this FA Cup tie on a freezing Tuesday November night. We found ourselves sitting behind ex-Premier League ref Mark Halsey and we even met City legend Shaun Goater inside at half-time; however, if you were to ask me about the game, there was genuinely nothing to talk about. One of those dull games, where the cold weather seems to bite you more than usual.
The ‘Aguerrrrroooooooooo!!!’ Moment of the Season
120th minute. Altrincham 1 – 1 Guiseley. A penalty shootout is moments away. Conference North Playoff final at Alty’s Moss Lane ground. The winner will clinch promotion to the top tier of non-league football. With seconds left, Alty are making a sub. To the shock to the bumper 4,500 crowd at Moss Lane, Alty are subbing their star striker Damian Reeves for Greg Wilkinson. “He must be good at penalties,” someone mumbles near us. By the time he is on the pitch the ball is hurled upfield for Alty’s big striker to challenge the Guiseley keeper for the ball. The keeper just about blocks the ball, but it lands at the edge of the box with practically an unguarded goal. Straight to Wilkinson. First touch. Goal. Hero. Promotion. Seconds later, final whistle and pitch invasion. Most definitely the greatest substitution I’ve ever seen (intentional or not) and probably the clumsiest pitch invasion ever, as jubilant Alty fans struggle to hurdle over the wide fencing and land in a heap of bodies against the advertising hoardings. They don’t care though.
Donkey of the Year
This year, this wooden spoon-esque prize goes to…me and trains. Getting thrown off one in between Malmo and Copenhagen after losing my ticket, falling asleep on one and waking up in Nottingham one and half hours after my stop and the train failing to stop at the famous Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch train station on Anglesey and instead taking me to Holyhead. Yes, me and trains have not got on well at times this year.
Random Moment of the Season
I’ll finish by mentioning this trip. Certainly one of the best and most bizarre chain of events that unfolded for us this season. Club Brugge had randomly arranged to play Romania club Otelul Galati at Radcliffe Borough’s Stainton Park ground (we were confused too). Club Brugge arrived at the ground, decided they didn’t like the length of the grass, hopped on their bus and headed away leaving us without a game. Just as we were trying to come up with a contingency plan, we found out that Brugge would be taking on Otelul at their 5 star hotel base in the middle of Cheshire. A pursuit of the Brugge team bus ensued into the heart of lovely, leafy Cheshire until we arrived in the amazing surroundings of Mottram Hall. 45 minutes later we were watching two former Champions League clubs play each other on a training pitch next to a golf course, whilst bemused golfers looked on and Eidur Gudjohnsen sat on a water cooler in front of us, using it as a makeshift substitutes’ bench. A very surreal experience.
Cheers for reading. It would be great to hear from other fans on the best/worst experiences they’ve had at football this year. Just drop a comment below or send me a tweet @mophead_88.