On Monday I knew that I could wake up and forget about work for at least another 24 hours as it was a public holiday. Therefore I decided that I would go to a football ground in my home city that I’d been meaning to go to for quite some time.
The Arriva Stadium, at one time known as Rossett Park before the ground was sponsored by the Arriva bus company, is the home of Marine AFC and lies in the outer Liverpool suburb of Crosby. On quite a few occasions already this season I had sacrificed a visit to this particular stadium in order to watch Waterloo RFC, a rugby union team just ten minutes up the road, and who I’ve never seen lose whenever I have gone to see them play. The reason why I always had to choose is that, for some peculiar reason, both Marine AFC and Waterloo RFC’s home games always seem to kick-off at exactly the same time. This time though, on a cold and windy Monday afternoon, Waterloo had no game to play and Marine were able to fill the void.
Marine AFC, fifth in the league, played host to fourth placed Chorley FC, a team based in a town of the same name just 35 miles away, in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division, effectively the seventh tier of English football, with the two teams separated by just three points before the game kicked off. I took my seat in the only seated stand in the stadium, located behind one of the goals, and found myself sitting next to a Roberto Mancini look-a-like. Just in case I was actually lucky enough to be sitting next to the Manchester City coach himself I asked him if he knew the time but his accent was more Scouse than Italian. “Roberto” did prove useful in one area; his knowledge of the English non-league football scene was encyclopaedic and he came in useful in pointing out players whose identities remain as anonymous with me now as they were before I entered the stadium.
The game started with Chorley enjoying most of the possession and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 20 minutes thanks to a Tom Ince shot from an acute angle beating Marine keeper Ryan McMahon. This spurred the home side into life and it wasn’t too long before the game’s major flashpoint flared up. A midfield battle, culminating with some flying tackles from both sides, ended up in a needless mêlée in which Marine’s Thomas Moore was given a straight red card after seemingly throwing a punch at an opposition player. Despite the numerical disadvantage Marine were able to pull level just three minutes before the break with Neil Harvey scoring from the penalty spot following what looked to me to be a soft foul on Aaron Rey.
For the second half I left the confines of the seated area and was able to stand on the side lines in what looked like a glorified garden shed. In a game which had been largely devoid of atmosphere throughout the first half both sets of supporters amongst the crowd of 575 suddenly began to make some noise and made it worthwhile standing in the bitterly cold weather. Chorley re-took the lead eight minutes into the second half with another penalty converted, scored by Steve Foster. But Marine wouldn’t lie down and came back to level things again with Aaron Rey able to tap the ball home from a couple of yards out in the 68th minute to set up a grandstand finish between two teams who both have genuine hopes of gaining a spot in the top five and being in the end-of-season play-offs this season. However the home side were not able to enjoy parity for too long as Chorley wrapped up the game in the last twenty minutes; a Mark Ross free-kick from the halfway line somehow lobbed over McMahon in the Marine goal in the 71st minute before a glorious strike from the edge of the box by Steve Denham sent the visiting fans wild, knowing that the three points would be theirs unless the home side had some luck in the dying minutes.
Chorley’s reward following the victory was to see their advantage in the table double over Marine from three points to six and cement fourth spot with 48 points, five behind league leaders Chester FC who have two games in hand. Despite defeat Marine should not be too disheartened but they will have to fight it out with the likes of Bradford Park Avenue and FC United of Manchester who lie just below them in the table. Whether I will get to see Marine again anytime soon is anybody’s guess. After all, with my record amongst the Crosby sporting scene, something tells me that the oval ball merchants of Waterloo RFC will welcome me back a lot sooner than the round ball practitioners of Marine.
Anybody familiar with the German football magazine “11 Freunde” will have noticed a monthly section called “Auswärtsspiel” (lit. “away game”) whereby various reporters and contributors will report on random matches, anywhere in the world, which they have been to in a particular month. Whether it be a high pressure, top quality English Premier League match, a bottom of the table six-pointer in the South Korean second division or a fifth-league mid-table clash in Peru, football has the unique ability to be so universal and yet project different cultures and atmospheres to the wider world. “Stoppage Time” has, shamelessly, copied this idea and is hoping that our readers can enjoy a similar experience to which German readers are accustomed. In the first of an irregular series, “Away Days” focuses on the FA Cup, third round match played between Tranmere Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, January 3rd:
I arrived in O’Neill’s Irish Bar in Liverpool just before midday ready to sample two interesting matches on television. The Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers kicked-off at 12:30 followed by the Manchester United v Leeds United match at 12:45. Me and my four German friends Jörg, Simon, Markus and Matthias, all of whom taking the opportunity to indulge in a bit of Groundhopping during the Bundesliga winter break having been to Everton’s Goodison Park stadium the day before, had already sampled many beers before the shock at the events at Old Trafford were confirmed before our soon to be blurry eyes; a 1-0 victory for Leeds United. The locals were buzzing with the result as, in theory, the chances of local giants Liverpool and Everton going to Wembley had increased slightly thanks to their near neighbours misfortune. It was on the back of this result that we got into a taxi to go ‘over the water’ (i.e. ‘across the river’ in local parlance) and to get ready for a less glamourous, but no less important, cup match taking place at Prenton Park (pictured).
Tranmere Rovers are very much the third force in Merseyside football currently residing in England’s Coca-Cola League One (i.e. third league). The glory days of the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s when Tranmere rose from from the then Third Division to the second tier of English football as well as playing in a string of Wembley Play-Off and cup finals (most famously the 2000 League Cup final which they lost 2-1 to Leicester City), are increasingly a distant memory. Since then the club have suffered demotion back to the third tier and, like many clubs in England, are facing great financial difficulty. Having sacked their previous coach John Barnes after only four months in charge, former club physio Les Parry has slowly got the team playing as a unit and have risen from bottom of the table to third bottom, just four points from the safety zone. Their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers are experiencing something of a renaissance since their promotion back to the Premier League in 2008-09. Under the leadership of Mick McCarthy “Wolves” have steadily built into a team that are finding their feet in the top flight again (they currently lie 15th in the Premier League) and recently faced criticism for playing a severely weakened side in a league game against Manchester United, choosing to save the bulk of the players for other games they thought it easier to win. Despite this McCarthy has been pragmatic in his approach and he still has the fans on his side after what has been, thus far, a difficult season.
Another friend of ours, Liam, belatedly joined us in the Prenton Park pub just outside the stadium before the game kicked-off. After another couple of beers were enjoyed the six of us set out to take our seats in the Johnny King Stand (named after Tranmere’s most successful coach) and, on a bitterly cold evening, the last game of the FA Cup third round got under way. After what was a largely uneventful first twenty minutes news came through the stadium that the draw for the fourth round had just been made. A voice some rows behind me shouted “Crystal Palace at home, next round”. Maybe one of the players close to the touchline heard the news as it was from this point that the game began to improve with a few half chances, Wolves’ Sylvain Ebanks-Blake having the best opportunity after his close range header was stopped by Rovers’ keeper Luke Daniels. The second half started at a good old pace and it was the home side who looked the most dangerous. The best chance fell to Tranmere striker Terry Gornell who, after he’d beaten Wolves ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey to the ball in the eighteen yard box, stabbed his effort just wide and it was from then that things looked like they wouldn’t go for Tranmere. This was to be proved in the 78th minute after a killer through ball from Wolves’ midfielder Nenad Milijas was driven home from just outside the penalty area by Matt Jarvis. This was particulary harsh on Tranmere who had put a lot of effort into a game which, according to a steward at half-time, might not have gone ahead due to the extreme temperatures making the pitch very tough. Despite this though the crowd of 7,500 gave both teams a standing ovation in what was a competitive game played in a good spirit. Wolves may have won but they were certainly made to work for it from a club who are two divisions down the English football ladder.
From there it was back to the Prenton Park pub for a couple more beers to round off what had been a good day. Now I can look forward to my next away day: 1. FC Nürnberg v Eintracht Frankfurt on January 23rd. Until then, and to my Groundhopping friends from Germany, “auf wiedersehen!”