Monday, 10 August 2015

Highbury Stadium

Fleetwood Town 1-1 Southend United

8th August 2015

The impressively steady rise of Fleetwood Town up through the pyramid had before today, I have to admit a touch sheepishly, somehow passed me by.  I had perhaps raised an eyebrow or three when I noted they had gained access the Football League back in 2012, but it was only when doing a bit of digging for this entry did I realise the club has actually enjoyed a promotion on average every two years since 2004.

All of which suggested to me that in all likelihood somebody somewhere was choosing to squander their kids’ inheritance to bankroll the club’s progress.  Step forward one Andrew Pilley - a self-made multi-millionaire who, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, has shoveled in excess of £10M of his hard-earned in the direction of the Fleetwood Town FC. 

But unlike many other individuals who have gone down this route, Mr P has not simply filled the pockets of players and agents, but has instead invested in the ground itself, the training facilities and all manner of community based projects.  And I have to say, the more I have learned about the chap, the more I like him.

Main entrance to Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.

The Highbury Social Club is accessed up this little lane - tattoos also available.

Surrounded by trees on the edge of Fleetwood's Memorial Park, it was
difficult to get a decent pic of Highbury Stadium

Panorama of Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.

Panorama of Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.

The Parkside Stand, Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.

Panorama of Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.

The club’s Highbury Stadium presently boasts covered terracing at both ends, and a really rather neat main stand – the Parkside Stand – which was opened in 2011.  Facing this latter construction is the truncated Highbury Stand and the buildings of the social club.

I chose a ticket in the Memorial Stand (covered terrace behind the north end) where the self-styled Fleetwood Ultras hole out.  But there was little real Ultra behaviour going on there, beyond a chap who would occasionally beat a drum to attempt to whip up some frenzy into the mostly middle-aged folks in the stand.  I did spot a Mohican haircut in there, and another person dressed as a cod, but that was as threatening as things got. 

I did note both of the rear corners of the stand appeared to have been taken over by small groups of what looked to be kids of little more than primary school age.  In one such the boys in their pre-pubescent voices attempted to set up a chant of "Can you hear the Southend sing?  Can you hear a fucking thing?"  But they invariably faltered with the f-word, suffering a crisis of confidence at the vital second. When they finally plucked up the courage, the result was they lost the pair of girls in the group who skulked off embarrassed.  The Fleetwood Ultras clearly still have a lot to learn from the Fedelissimi Granata.

This is most intriguing - hopefully there is a wonderful story behind this banner.

Highbury Stadium scoreboard

The homesters’ Little & Large act of Declan McManus and Jamille Matt got the new season underway.  McManus I remembered from his Aberdeen days and knew he could play a bit, but his partner this afternoon appeared to be that oddest of things: a beanpole of a man seemingly unable to jump.  I barely recall him winning a header against his marker. 

However, what he clearly was, was a bit of a handful, and on 33 minutes he harried visiting defender Cian Bolger into heading the ball into the path of McMANUS.  The Scot, making his competitive debut, barely broke stride before bashing in a twenty-five yarder.  If the goal was a thing of rare beauty, his celebration was less so, as he discovered that the Highbury turf in early August was no use for doing the sliding-along-on-the-knees thing.  Cue hilarious undignified face plant.

This goal was all a bit hard on the Southend lot who had looked the better side up until this point, I felt.  But their neat footwork, much of it going through the hard-working Myles Weston, often came to naught as forwards drifted offside with depressing regularity.

Fleetwood improved after the break, and really should have put the match to bed: substitute Vamara Sonogo failing to hit the target when put through one-on-one, then McManus whah-dumping an attempt off the crossbar when scoring looked far simpler.

As the home midfield appeared to wilt, the visitors began to camp out in the Fleetwood half.  “Can we have the ball up this end?  Please!” came the plaintive request from the Cod Army infantryman to my right.

The goal when it did come with just six minutes remaining was, I felt its own way as impressive as McManus' in the first half; David WORRALL coolly curling in a lob with the keeper stranded.  I noted later that the BBC referred to it as a “freak goal”, with Southend’s own website, perhaps predictably, reporting upon a “late Worrall wonder goal”.  My opinion leant more to the latter I have to say – a fine piece of quick thinking perfectly executed.

Fleetwood v Southend - August 2015

Declan McManus and Jamille Matt get the 2015-16 season underway.

Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander (right)

Former Hearts defender Eggert Jonsson was another Fleetwood player making his debut.

Noel Hunt, whom I recall fondly from his days at East End Park, where he
was a team-mate of Current Fleetwood Development Squad Coach Barry Nicholson

Matt does get off the ground here, but it was McManus who won this header.

Someone has a fly tug at Southend's Adam Barrett's arm.

Ben Coker (Southend United)

Fleetwood v Southend - August 2015

Fleetwood v Southend - August 2015

Upon arriving at the ground I had came across a black and white cat relaxing on a garden wall, and being a cat-lover (isn’t everyone?), I went across to say hello.  Generally cats, being sensibly wary creatures, scurry off at the approach of strangers but this one sat where it was, delighted to have its head scratched.  And I felt rather honored that the little critter trusted me enough to let me close.

But later on, both before and after the match I saw the same cat snuggling up to various groups of supporters, and I thought: "you promiscuous little slut".  She (it must have been a she) was clearly indiscriminatingly free with her favours.

"Come here often, Big Boy?"

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