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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

POV-FS - On the Road - England - Day Five & Six: "Oh, Gary Gary!"

Home End
    Quiet day of rest and reflection on Monday; Manchester is a cool town. Staying right near the city centre, by Picadilly Gardens, very busy all day long.

    The Christmas season is upon us and in full effect over here, shoppers are scurrying here and there, armed with impossibly numerous bags. The Xmas market near the city hall is pretty interesting too, stalls of all types - from chocolate to cheese, decorations to clothing, arranged in a labryinthine cube dotted with holiday drinks dispensers and the obligatory German sausages and beer.

    I had a quite wonderful hamburger the other day, I know not exactly stretching myself culinarily, but the foodie in me was impressed with it's measured complexity. I'm the sort who usually drowns everything in ketchup - a throwback to my youth, where fish sticks were merely red sauce delivery vehicles - but this required no such addition.

    Aberdeen beef, some strong English cheddar, a healthy crispy portion of bacon, on a rosemary foccocia roll. The fries - or chips - though small in portion were delivered in a fancy wire basket, which served the dual roles of fanciful presentation and preventing moisture accumulation, ensuring their crispness to the last. The garnish, a simple dollop of jellied salsa - sweet, with a hint of kick, that paired well with both burger and fries. Enough food talk; sorry.

    As the journey began, the first real rain of the trip ensued - surprised it took so long to be honest - and the sky grew impossibly dark for early afternoon. By 5 it was completely pitch black and we'd arrived in Nottingham.

    The quick roll across the Pennines was pleasant and scenic, though to call these trains is a tad of overstatement - the Mighty GO puts them to shame in scale and power with few exceptions - but the system as a whole is a marvel.

    A major disappointment however, is their frequency at night and the inability to get a straight answer. Everything shuts down here around 9 pm; to get anything done afterwards - other than get a drink - is nigh impossible.

    The late night bus that had been foretold in Manchester, simply did not exist, nor did the milk run train, which meant the match must be left early, lest the return to the hotel not be made.

    I have a strict policy of never leaving a sporting event early, it drives me crazy when others do, but that was my lot for the evening, it turns out we were not the only ones driven away from the ground by circumstance.

A mix of the old and the new
    Arrived at the ground two hours prematch, if Gigg Lane was a nod to the past, then the City Ground was a time capsule. Tucked neatly between the river, the motorway and a residential section on the fringes of the city centre, it looked as through time had not dared to touch it in the last thirty years - perhaps by intention - since the glory days of Clough and Taylor.

Right out of the past
    Turnstiles 28-30 were located around the ground from the ticket collection point. And a chilly walk alongside the Trent River and it's plethora of ducks, under the home stand, and out the other end.

    Upon purchasing a program from a lovely, cheery lady, a conversation ensued with her and a nearby chap. It has been odd how few people have been curious of from whence we've come - I suppose travelers are such a regular part of the daily existence that it is no longer of interest - but in Nottingham, they took some joy in a Canadian in town to watch Forest.

    It turns out the man was a baseball fan, the Mets oddly enough; he asked about the Blue Jays, lamented the passing of Shea Stadium, and remarked how he enjoyed the hassle -free sunny afternoon at the ball park with a cold beer in hand. He said it was a much more enjoyable occasion than the vile-filled evening that we were there to watch, and I didn't have the heart to inform him of the tragic incident at the Dodgers game - when a fan was beaten by his rival supporters.

    Mentions of the oldest pub in the world, the Jerusalem Bar, and the unimpressive nature of their rebuilt castle were made, as well as an acknowledgement of their cross-river rival's - Notts County - Meadow Lane home in the distance, before the march continued.

    The turnstiles were ancient, the walls adorned with the accoutrements of the past - see attached image of prohibited items - the passageways were narrow and the fresh paint did little to disguise the antiquity of the place. I do have a fierce love of all things old, and this ground suited that fancy. Despite several renovations and some major facelifts to individual stands the majority was as it had been for years.

Concerning
    Our seats, in turned out, we're much closer to the pitch than I had intended. Buying online and with no physical knowledge of the layout is always a risk, and with the empty mass of the ground before us, it felt surreal to be so close to the pitch. The second row, not the proper second row, but the second of three rows crammed at the front of the stand in an attempt to squeeze in more seats, closer to the concrete wall, a mere foot or two from the advertising boards. I feared my reflexes would be insufficient to prevent being drilled with a hurried clearance, a concern reinforced when the warming up Forest players bounced passes to themselves off the hoardings ominously.

Too close for comfort
    Nottingham Forest versus Leeds United, a classic match raised a notch by the tragic passing of former Leeds Star Gary Speed over the weekend.

    Fittingly a brief passage of Prokofiev's 'Dance of the Knights' from Romeo and Juliet welcomed the two teams to the pitch.

    The sold-out traveling support section was in full voice following a minutes applause for Mr. Speed, "Oh Gary Gary, Gary Gary Gary Gary Speed" rang out continuously for the first twenty minutes.

    An emotional tribute to their fallen hero was the tag-line of the evening. The Forest supporter, either in reverence to the loss, or due to the troublesome nature of their campaign - the hiring and firing of Steve McClaren, and a worrisome slide down the table into the relegation places after several years of knocking on the door of promotion under wee Billy Davies - were markedly subdued on the night, neither giving nor receiving much encouragement on the night.

    Leeds took an early lead, and Forest never threatened to mount a comeback. Snodgrass, who was immense in the United midfield, opened the scoring with a long-range blast, then almost doubled the score stripping the Forest keeper only to see his strike at the unguarded cage deflected onto the top netting.

    Howson doubled their advantage a in the dying moments of the first half with a marvelous volley to suck any remaining wind out of the Forest sails.

    Robbie Findley, the American formerly of Salt Lake, was unviable (edit: invisible) in the first half and subbed out before the start of the second. Andy Reid was his usually pudgy provider, but the attacks he began always broke down as Forest retreated, playing it safe rather than pushing forward.

    They did have a chance before halftime, a free kick to the far post was nervously dealt with, popping up in the air before finally being cleared behind from the goalmouth. And another came on the other side of half, a cross from the right flank to the near post area was headed right at the keeper, who did well to grab it from such close range.

    A Becchio header across the keeper into the far netting sealed the night shortly afterwards, and the despair of the home side was palpable.

    Preferring to not make a scene by sneaking out from the centre stage seats of the first half, a steward had been kind enough to point out some seats at the end of a row nearer to the exit. But upon having to leave, we were not the only ones seeking an escape, as many home fans had had enough; many more emerged on the walk to the station, as Leeds grabbed a fourth shortly thereafter.

Second half kicks off
    The steward, apologetic for having come so far to witness such a disappointing - a less-kind individual would say pathetic - display. And the gate that opened to allow passage was as old school as the turnstiles that provided entry; wonderfully historic.

    A hurried searching bustle to the train station, and a connecting ride back to Manchester via a changeover in Sheffield progressed. I almost fell asleep on the second leg of that journey - I had been up for some 20 hours at that point, having gotten up at 3 am - but thankfully somebody cracked a window open and the cool night air kept me from slipping from consciousness.

    A fitting return for a night of celebration and mourning for the Leeds United fans, a few on our train sprinted to catch it and only heard of the final result while breathlessly panting. Simin Grayson's side paid tribute to their fallen friend admirably. One must feel for the Forest fans, but this match's result was predetermined by the emotional circumstances.

    Next up Manchester United versus Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup on Wednesday Night, then back to London for the duration of the trip.

The ticket offices from afar

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