Monday, 24 April 2017

City fail to fly me to the Blue Moon as they are shot down by the Gunners

Sunday the 23rd April 2017

FA Cup Semi Final (Wembley Stadium)

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 1 (after extra time)

Yesterday afternoon at the world famous Wembley Stadium a well organised, technically gifted and very slightly fortunate Arsenal outlasted the footballing superstars representing Man City. Arsene Wenger’s Gunners will now play Chelsea in the FA Cup Final next month and Pep Guardiola’s City slickers will now concentrate on finishing in the top four places in the Premier League. I was there to see it all with my old mucker Anne Donkin and my old pal John Rees.

Fly me to the Blue Moon
It was an early start to take in the match, getting up at 0430 for a 0700 flight and a late finish, getting back home at midnight. This is how the day panned out.

Pre Match Communications: In the early stages of this ‘Road’ journey I was keen to find out more about the competing clubs by contacting the clubs directly. When you are dealing with Penrith, Dunston UTS, Spennymoor, Skelmersdale and the like this is both relatively easy and great fun. Now I am among the big boys it has not been so straightforward. I have however had some very helpful support from a couple of Scots based twitter feeds. The City fan @thegingerwigmcfc and the Scots Arsenal feed @ArsenalScotland have been great in answering questions relating to their Scots heritage. 6/10

Pre Match Pint: The pre match pint was a real highlight of the day yesterday. The Weatherspoon pub ‘JJ Moon’ on Wembley High Street was made available for the exclusive use of Man City fans. Good beer available in here too. I really enjoyed the singing of the Man City fans – especially the homage to Zabaleta to the tune of my old man’s a dustman:
“Ohhh ….. Pablo Zab-a-lett-ahh
He is the fucking man
He is an Agentinian
He’s harder than Jaap Stam
He plays in blue and white
For Guardiola’s men
And when we win the league
We’ll sing this song again
Ohhh ….. Pablo Zab-a-lett-ahh”
etc etc

I was trying to take a photo of Mrs Donkin and John Rees enjoying a pre match libation when they were photo bombed by a couple of very exuberant City fans 10/10

Pre match optimism. City fans with JR and Mrs D at the JJ (Blue) Moon
Programme: The programme is good but like everything associated with a day out at Wembley it was over priced. At £5.00 it is the most expensive matchday mag that I have picked up on the ‘The Road’. It does contain some good stuff and I particularly liked the ‘he played for both teams’ feature on Niall Quinn and the retro coverage of the 1932 FA Cup semi final between City and Arsenal

I also like the programme cover design but compared to the ‘books’ produced by Burnley and Arsenal in the previous two rounds this publication is a bit light on content 7/10

Ground: Wembley Stadium is iconic. It is one of the most famous Sports Stadia in the world.  Emirates is a 90000 all seater stadium where every seat offers a great view of the action. We were on the half way line high in the upper tier

The view from my seat. Wembley looking good
The pitch looked great. It was liking watching a snooker game from this vantage point 10/10

Atmosphere: The atmosphere in the ground among the City fans was slightly muted. City were expected to win and the bookmakers made them odds-on favourites. The first half was dominated by the men from Manchester and when they did not score there was a palpable unease among the faithful. A couple of lusty choruses of ‘blue moon’ were essayed to give their favourites encouragement but in truth the singing never really caught on … not in the way it did in the pub before the match.

Halifax Blues: L-R Mrs D, Adrian Furness, Matt Bowler and David Ellis
I had the pleasure of being introduced to a few members of the Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club before the game and they were in high spirits and in good voice. It was great to meet up with David Ellis the Chair of the club who, along with John Rees, sorted out my ticket. It was great to chat about City and about football in general with David. He advised me that sky blue is the most beautiful colour in the world. Funny that, I always thought it was maroon.

Unusually, in my experience for such a big match, the segregation in force in the ground did not seem to be applied after the game. The atmosphere after the game was surprisingly convivial as the fans from both clubs mingled and headed for the various stations. A half hearted triumphalist Arsenal chant was met with the self effacing City song delivered with disappointment tinged with regret:
“We never win at home and we never win away
We lost last week and we lost today
We don't give a fuck cause we're all pissed up
M – C – F - C - OK!”
Oh well, there is always next season 5/10

Scottishness: As has been reported on this blog, Arsenal do not have any Scots in their squad and have not selected a Scot to play for their team for 19 years. Hence not much Scottishness in their ranks. Manchester City also do not have any jocks in their squad at the moment either and indeed they have not had a Scotsman in their team for over 10 years. I did meet a guy in the JJ Moon pub from the borders who described himself as the ‘Selkirk Blue, but I guess that is a bit spurious 2/10


A slow burner of a football match that started relatively quietly and got better and better as the afternoon progressed.

The first half was a fascinating football contest. Man City dominated proceedings and Arsenal competed by employing a more physical approach than we are used to seeing from the Gunners. The Citizens did however dominate possession and were rewarded with a good goal which, unfortunately for them, was ruled out by the linesman. The German wonder boy Sane played the ball in from the left and his curled cross was adjudged to have gone in and out of play before the ball broke to Aguero to score from close range.

Sane's cross did not go out of play. The disallowed Man City 'goal' should have counted
The TV footage has subsequently proved that the whole of the ball did not cross the whole of the line hence Sane’s pass was legal and the goal should have stood. Half time 0-0

The second half was a lot more comfortable for the mighty Arsenal. They are now employing a three-at-the-back system and the players are still getting used to this new formation. In the second period they settled in to their work and were having their best spell when Man City scored. The men in sky blue scored a breakaway goal in the 62nd minute that was both simple and beautiful in its execution. Sergio Aguero used blistering pace to race from his own half to spring beyond the Arsenal defence and bear down on goal. As the keeper came out a deft flick of the outside of his right boot sent the ball over him and into the net. The Gunners were not shot down yet though. Arsenal’s back three formation had freed the two wing backs to allow them to express themselves in wide forward positions.  They combined in the 71st minute to fashion an exquisite equaliser. Oxlade-Chamberlain foraged down the right flank and sent over a delightful cross for his left sided peer Monreal to meet on the volley and belt the ball past Bravo in the City goal. Despite Arsenal improving in the second half Man City continued to carve out the best chances and both Toure and Fernandino struck the frame of the goal. Full time 1-1

So, for the first time since the MK Dons v Charlton Athletic replay in December a match on the Road to Wembley from Scotland was going to extra time. The momentum was with Arsenal who had looked more relaxed in the second half and had ridden their luck. Towards the end of the first period of extra time the Arsenal talisman Sanchez forced the ball over the line following a goal mouth scramble. Final Score Arsenal 2 Man City 1.

Would the match have panned out differently if the disallowed Man City goal in the first half had stood? Were Man City unlucky to lose? The answer to both of these questions is probably yes. However, the beleaguered Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be unconcerned about these hypothetical debating points. The Professor is now one win away from winning the FA Cup for Arsenal for an incredible seventh time. See you again on the 27th May Prof! 9/10

Match Day Catering: The pie stall in the Man City section of the ground was miles away from where we were seating so I went for a hot dog instead. Big mistake. This £5.20 item was dodgy processed meat inside a dry bit of bread roll. In another part of the ground Mrs Donkin went for the pie and described it as ‘good but messy’ claiming that it should have been served with a spoon. 5/10

Value for Money: Regular readers will know that my wife’s ticket was £159 from an on-line tout. Ridiculous when you get there and see that some seats were empty. More fool me for paying this and engaging with the murky world of the so-called ticket exchanges. The admission price of my seat was £40. This was the most expensive ticket on ‘The Road’ so far. However, this was Wembley, this was The FA Cup semi final and this was two of the best teams in world football going at it hammer and tongs. So the price can be considered reasonable 8/10

The je ne sais quoi factor: A recurring theme in this category is meeting up with old friends. Yesterday it was the turn of John Rees. John is an ex colleague whose friendship I value massively and it was great to catch up with him again not having seen him for several years.

Your blogger and John Rees enjoying a pre-match refreshment
It was also great fun to spend a day on ‘The Road’ with my long suffering old mucker Anne Donkin. This is the 16th match on this journey and Anne has not been to any of the previous 15 despite being something of a football fan herself these days. With the Wembley jaunt being completed by plains and trains (i.e. no driving) we both indulged in some alcohol abuse during the course of the day as the pints and the G&Ts flowed. Always good to make sure that a football watching experience is suitably oiled.

It was also pretty special to meet up with some of the guys from the Halifax and District Branch of Manchester City Supporters Club. Once again thanks to David Ellis and his pals for sorting out the ticket for this match 9/10

Overall Road to Wembley from Scotland Rating 71/100

At this point I have to bid farewell to Manchester City. My time with them was simply too short. I enjoyed the craic yesterday and enjoyed the email dialogue over the last few weeks with David Ellis. Before the draw for the semi finals was made I had a view of Man City based on a prejudice that they were a ‘money club’. It is true that they have benefited from significant investment but that is not the fans fault. The Man City fans are, as far as I can gather, loyal supporters who followed the team through thin and thin before the club was transformed by the Arab money. Good luck to them. They are clearly enjoying seeing a team of world class footballers representing their club every week and I will retain a soft spot for City in the future. I loved the City fans sense of humour and their songs are both unique and genuinely funny. City may have lost yesterday but I do think there are good times ahead under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola.

So, Arsenal survive to play in the FA Cup Final. Arsene Wenger survives as a consequence and he could be putting the cup back on the mantelpiece at the Emirates soon. A seventh FA Cup would be quite an achievement for a coach who according to some Arsenal fans does not know what he is doing.

Chelsea won the other semi final and I will be exploring their historical links to Scotland soon in a future post. Keep visiting this blog for that and for news of how Arsenal prepare for the big day in five weeks time … and …. oh … anyone got a spare ticket for the FA Cup Final?

Miles on the clock for this match (inc airport transfers, trains and planes) 1020

Total Miles on the Road to Wembley from Scotland so far 8753

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Prof and the Pep ready for the big match .. and I was not scammed after all !

It is semi-final eve on the Road to Wembley from Scotland. I am agog with anticipation and looking forward to flying down to London for the FA Cup semi final tomorrow between the mighty Arsenal and the City Slickers. Both teams are in relaxed mood ahead of the big game and have been preparing well over the last few days. Up here in Scotland a surprise delivery from the Royal Mail on Thursday means that I have (probably) not been scammed after all and that my old mucker, Anne Donkin, will also be flying to London tomorrow.

In with a shout of making the FA Cup Final: The Prof and The Pep go head to head
Arsenal have a few players missing through injury, most notably the centre back Mustafi and the centre forward Danny Welbeck. Their absence will not, in my opinion, weaken their team. There is a strong argument that the starting 11 the Professor fielded at Middlesbrough on Monday is currently his strongest team. I hope that he is going to repeat his three at the back tactic as this dictates that the play will have width and when Arsenal use the whole of the pitch with their quick passing game they play some pretty neat stuff. The Prof is in buoyant mood ahead of the big game and has declared that going to Wembley ‘is always a special experience and that his squad are focussed and highly motivated’.

Up in the North West the ‘Maestro Manager’ Pep Guardiola has overseen a good week in preparation for the shoot out with The Gunners. Pep might also consider naming an unchanged team as centre back John Stones is still not fit and Gabriel Jesus has recovered from his metatarsal injury but is probably not quite ready for this match. Maybe he will bring Jesus on as a sub if needs a miracle.

Both teams can claim that history is in their favour. Man City have won all of their last 8 FA Cup semi final ties. The last time City lost at this stage was in 1932. Arsenal have been victorious on each of their last six visits to Wembley. The bookmakers have Man City as odds-on favourites but I am not so sure. I think this is going to be a very close game and could go to extra time and penalties.

While the two protagonists were preparing for the clash of the titans I was away from my home in the heart of Midlothian working in the East Midlands of England. While I was away a card came through the letterbox from the Royal Mail. It advised that I needed to go to the sorting office to sign for a special delivery. On Friday morning I signed and received a letter containing a ticket for the match on Sunday. Those who have been following this blog for a few weeks will know that I posted twice on Tuesday 4th April. Firstly to state that I had purchased a ticket from an on-line tout trading as ‘Pro Time Tours’ and that I did not feel good about it. My second post later the same day announced that I had been scammed. This announcement was based on the fact that had a number of references from people who had handed over their money to Pro Time Tours, not got tickets and in one case been subsequently defrauded out of £1000. Samadviser also flagged Pro Time Tours as ‘suspicious’. I cancelled my debit card and the bank advised me to proceed with fraud allegations when it was 100% cast iron that they had not met their commitment. Hence I was waiting until after the event before making the allegation formally … and then a ticket arrived!

I hereby retract the statement that I have been scammed. Does this however mean that Pro Time Tours are good guys? Absolutely not. The organisation lied to and misled me from my very first interaction with them. Here are a few examples: (i) They said on the phone they had been in business 9 years and their website (based in Canada) has only been live for 9 months; (ii) they added £20 for carriage onto the declared fee and this was not transparently flagged on their web page; (iii) they said in email that due to the ‘printing from the event promoters that they could not send the tickets until 7 days before the event’ – this is not true; (iv) they said in email that they would send the ticket 7 days before the event – it arrived three days before the event; (v) they said in email that all tracking details relating to delivery would be emailed to me – they were not.

Additionally, the letter was addressed to Mr C Sinkings (I have no idea how they came up with that) making it difficult to use my ID as Mr C Donkin to pick up the ticket and the actual cost of the carriage was £5.20 for an unmarked envelope with no compliments slip or anything like that. There is still no guarantee that the ticket is genuine or will get my old mucker in to the match.

My dealings with this on-line tout company have been very unpleasant. I remain very very grateful to the good people from the Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club for sorting me out with a bona fide ticket. I am looking forward to meeting up with some of these guys tomorrow at Wembley. In fact, despite the sour taste left by my dealings with and on line tout, I am looking forward to the whole Wembley experience.

Tomorrow the The Road to Wembley from Scotland will finally reach Wembley. Will Guardiola’s Pep talk get City psyched? Will the Arsenal students carry out the Professor’s instructions. Come back here on Monday to find out!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Arsenal win and City prepare. The countdown to the big match continues and some Scots found hiding at the Emirates and the Eithad

Only four days to go before Arsenal meet Man City head on in the clash of the titans on The Road to Wembley from Scotland. The tickets have now arrived and once again many thanks to my good friend and colleague John Rees and the wonderful people at the Halifax and District Manchester City Supporters Club for sorting me out for the big match

Just the ticket: Thanks again to the Halifax Blues
The Halifax and District Branch of the Man City Supporters Club: Great Guys!
On Monday night Arsenal completed their preparations for the big match with an impressive win in Middlesbrough while Man City also ready themselves for Sunday’s showdown. Also over the last couple of days I have unearthed a couple of very tenuous links between the two protagonists and Bella Caledonia.

The ‘Wenger Out’ campaigners were temporarily silenced on Monday when the Professor pulled off a master stroke in his team selection for the do-or-die game against the Boro on Teesside. For the first time in twenty years he chose a back three rather than his usual back four. Not only did the triple centre half move thwart the Boro offence the two wing backs (Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal) got up and down the touch lines with panache and boundless energy and gave the Gunners width and additional options. The Boro too played their part in what was a very entertaining game. The Arsenal goals were scored by their two world-renowned mega stars, the mercurial Alexis Sanchez and World Cup winner Mesut Ozil.

An elixir from Alexis: Sanchez scores a great goal direct from a free kick on Monday
It is rumoured that Alexis Sanchez has been offered a new extended contract worth £250000 per week by Arsenal (yep, no typos here – a quarter of a million smackers every week). The recently seen to be grumpy and disgruntled Sanchez looked like a man on a mission to prove his love for the Gunners on Monday night and celebrated in extravagant fashion when the final whistle sounded. I think I might even be able to fall in love with Dot Cotton for £250k a week! During the last week the other Arsenal world football celeb Mesut Ozil has been loyally stating his admiration for the Prof and on Teesside he backed up his fine words with action scoring a well taken winning goal to ease the pressure on his manager. All is well at the Emirates and they are now looking forward to Sunday with optimism and confidence.

Man City are also in relaxed mood ahead of the big match. It is reported that the squad were in high spirits in training yesterday.

A Pep talk from the boss. City players relaxed and happy at training yesterday
City have won their last two league games in great style, scoring six goals in the process. They sit proudly in fourth position in the Premier league and are odds-on to qualify for the Champions League next season. They too will be confident of reaching the FA Cup final.

Regular readers will know that the unique feature of this ‘Road to Wembley’ is that for every match I try to find a link between the two competing teams and Bonny Scotland. Both Man City and Arsenal have a rich Scots heritage but it is over a decade since either team has fielded a Scot in a competitive match. However, I have unearthed a Scots connection in the current Arsenal playing staff. Last September they signed a Scots goalie Alex Crean, then aged 16, from Celtic to join their youth academy. They also have an 18 year old striker Charlie Gilmour who uniquely has played for both the England and Scotland youth teams.

He's a Scot now - belt and braces! Charlie Gilmour - young Gunner
Born and bred in Brighton Charlie Gilmour represented England at U-17 level and then wisely turned his back on the country of his birth to represent Scotland at U-18 level. Charlie qualifies to play for Scotland because his dad is from Lanarkshire and once played for Motherwell. It may take a few years but if Alex and Charlie maintain their progress the famous red Arsenal shirt may once again have a tartan trim in the future.

As far as I can gather neither the full Man City squad nor their development squad have any Scots in their ranks. They do however have one of their first team squad on loan at Celtic. Two years ago City signed the then precocious teenager Patrick Roberts from Fulham for a fee believed to be £12million. In January last year they sent him out on an 18 month loan to Celtic to gain some valuable first team experience.

Not a hat-trick for Patrick but City's Roberts celebrates another goal for Celtic
Thus far the talented 20 year old has played for the Bhoys 38 times scoring 11 goals, many of them spectacular. He will return to the Etihad in the summer but with De Bruyne and Sane in the current Man City team it is hard to see the winger getting much first team action for a few years yet.

Before closing today congratulations to my last team on ‘The Road’ Lincoln City for notching up yet another come from behind victory in the National League on Monday. The Imps were 1-0 down at Gateshead when 90 minutes had elapsed. However two goals in injury time saw them snatch a 2-1 win that moves them within one victory of promotion.

Finally today, the pie pics have been well received. So much so that people are now sending me selfies of pie eating action. Joe Black, who I caught up with when I was on’The Road’ with Brighton in January, was at the Brighton and Hove Albion promotion match / party at the Amex Stadium on Monday and emailed me this tasty morsel.

Better than Brighton Rock. Pie eating mayhem at the Amex on Monday
Will there be any complications in the preparations for Man City or Arsenal as they gear up for the clash of the titans on Sunday? Will anyone else send me pie eating mayhem? Comeback here on Saturday to find out as the countdown to the big match continues … and … keep reading.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Looking forward to the Man City v Arsenal semi final - I will be in good Kompany!

It is less than a week to go until I make my way to Wembley for Arsenal v Man City on the Road to Wembley from Scotland. Over the weekend City thrashed Southampton while Arsenal prepared for their Premier League match in Middlesbrough on ‘Monday Night Football’ to be shown on Sky TV.

Over the weekend I watched two football matches. One on the telly (Southampton v Man City) and one live (Kilmarnock v Hearts). The contrast between the two matches could not have been greater. On Saturday Man City played with breathtaking skill and athleticism and they exemplified all that is good about the Premier League. On a freezing cold Friday night in Ayrshire Kilmarnock and Hearts played out a dour 0-0 draw where both teams were lucky to get nil. A match that unfortunately epitomises the current state of Scottish football. Regular readers will know that I am always looking for a link between my ‘Road’ teams and Bonny Scotland. I have long since given up on City fielding a Scotsman in their team (the last Scot to play for City was Paul Dickov 10 years ago) but on Saturday they did not even have an Englishman in their starting line up. Manager Guardiola selected 3 Argentineans, 2 Belgians, 2 Spaniards, 1 Brazilian, 1 Frenchman, 1 German and 1 Ivorian. Some of the very best players from all corners of the globe were wearing the famous sky blue shirt. City won 3-0 and won with some style.

When Kompany heads the ball towards you be afraid - be very afraid!
All of the goals were picture goals. A powerful header by Vincent Kompany  from a corner for the first goal. A neat finish by German wonder boy Sane following a scintillating counter attack for the second. The final goal was headed in powerfully by the prolific Aguero. The City faithful were particularly pleased with the opening goal from their talisman and captain Vincent Kompany who has spent a lot of time recently sitting out games while injured.

Kompany ho! Vincent celebrates in some style
Meanwhile on a cold night in Ayrshire at least the pies were hot.

The world famous 'Killie Pie'. It warmed the heart of my cockles!
Things have been quiet at The Emirates over the weekend as The Professor prepares his shot shy Gunners for their ‘last chance saloon game’ at Middlesbrough tonight. Wenger has declared that his team ‘face a massive challenge to finish in the top four’. A massive challenge indeed but he has clearly not given up on it yet. A win tonight would shorten the odds on the top four finish and with it a coveted place in the Champions League next season.

The Professor Presiding at the Presser in advance of the Boro game 
The Middlesbrough v Arsenal match will be a good watch on the telly tonight as the Boro also desperately need a win to kick start their probably doomed campaign against relegation. In a sense they too are drinking in the last chance saloon. If Boro lose they are surely down. Before the Monday Night football I will be watching Gateshead v Lincoln City on BT Sport this afternoon. I had hoped to go to this game but other Easter Monday priorities got in the way. Good luck to the wonderful Imps – if results go their way this afternoon they could be promoted with 3 games to spare. If not they will no doubt secure the elevation on Saturday. As a Hearts supporter I have got used to exciting football tales ending in tears. It looks like the Lincoln City 2016-17 fairy story is going to finish with a happy ending.

Will the Gunners get to order one more round after tonight? Will the Imps secure promotion? Will I ever manage to unearth a link between the current Arsenal and Man City squads to Bella Caledonia? Come back here on Wednesday to find out. The anticipation to the Man City v Arsenal semi final in six days time is now tingleworthy. I will be in good Kompany at Wembley on Sunday!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Egg-stra special Happy Easter greetings!

It has been a quiet week on The Road to Wembley from Scotland. The two giants of the game, Arsenal and Man City, who I will see soon on the next stop on ‘The Road’ have both had a midweek sans-fitba. When it is a slow news week the silly-season stories start to emerge in the media and more about these later. However, firstly dear reader may I wish you a Happy Easter with some egg-stra special messages from my darling daughter Morag.

The branding of the Road to Wembley from Scotland has been great fun and it has all been Morag’s work. First there was the logo.

Then there was the T-shirt

Me and ma laddie Brian at Dunston UTS in the FA Cup qualifying rounds
… and now we have Easter Egg artefacts

Egg-cellent !!

I am cracking up !

Thanks very much for this wonderful gift Mo … and Happy Easter to all my readers!

Back to football and the voracious football media are always hungry for a story and if they can’t find one they make one up. The silly-season tale that was doing the rounds in midweek was for Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez to move to Man City in the summer. This is just not going to happen. Firstly Sanchez is contracted to the Gunners until the summer of 2018 and secondly Man City do not need him. They already have Aguerro arguably the best goal scoring centre forward in world football. I am looking forward to seeing the battle of the super strikers Sanchez and Aguerro at Wembley in 9 days time. Also in midweek Wenger once again denied the rumours that his departure from the Emirates was imminent. Good on you pal – keep going Professor.

Today is Good Friday and it is a good Friday for football. I will be heading to Ayrshire later to see my beloved Hearts in SPFL action. I am looking forward to it albeit with some trepidation. Later over the Easter weekend Man City will take on Southampton at St Marys and on Easter Monday Arsenal will be in the smog to take on the Boro. Will Man City win on the South Coast? Will Wenger stay calm as Arsenal prepare for their ‘last chance saloon’ fixture on Teesside? Will Hearts finally win an away game? Come back here on Sunday to find out … and  … keep reading … and Happy Easter!  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Gunners under fire, City bite Tigers and pies devoured in Coatbridge

After the excitement, frustrations and ultimately jubilation concerned with ‘ticketgate’ it is back to the football. Over the weekend the two Wembley bound gladiators both played important Premier League fixtures. Man City played host to the dangerous Hull and Arsenal travelled across London to visit the Palace. Meanwhile, on Saturday, up in Bonny Scotland I gave my beloved Hearts a break from my angst and headed to Coatbridge.

At a sun drenched Etihad Stadium on Saturday a rampant Manchester City team comprehensively outplayed Hull City and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. One of the main talking points among the City faithful currently is who plays in goal for the team. For the game against Hull, Claudio Bravo was preferred to ‘Calamity Caballero’ and his performance has split opinion. The fact is that it was a relatively weak shot that beat him for the visitor’s only goal but after the match City manager Pep Guardiola hailed the 33 year old from Viluco in Chile as one of the world’s top keepers when it comes to build up play. Some fans are also impressed but my new pal at the Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club, like many City aficionados, is not a fan of the South American. David Ellis is hoping that Claudio will be left on the bench for the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal in a fortnight. David notes that Caballero is a better penalty stopper and of course the semi final could be decided by kicks from the penalty mark.

David Ellis of the Halifax Blues: prefers Caballero to Bravo
Last night in South London Arsenal were hammered 3-0 by relegation threatened Crystal Palace. The game was shown live on ‘Monday Night Football’ on Sky so I was able to watch the latest episode of the Arsene Wenger soap opera. It was a very poor performance from the Gunners and beleagured manager Wenger must feel very let down by his highly paid players who are not doing it for him at the moment. As is always the case Arsenal dominated the ball. When a team enjoys 72% of the possession it usually means that they win with something to spare. Last night however the direct style from Palace was far more effective that the ‘lets walk the ball into the net’ approach from Arsenal. At least the Gunners fans shared the blame out last night. In addition to the by now inevitable ‘Wenger Out’ banners there were chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” directed at the players. The Professor has signed some of the best players in the world (e.g. Ozil and Sanchez) and he has developed some promising youngsters and turned them into highly sought after internationalists. Collectively, last night they were just not at it. 

No respite for The Professor: Arsenal thrashed and the protests continue
I am beginning to feel that I am very much in a minority of those who feel Arsene should be given an extension to his current contract. Unless Arsenal win 7 of their last 8 league games and sneak into the top four and win the FA Cup I fear that the great man will be hounded out in the summer. If that does happen it will, in my opinion, be a sad day for Arsenal and a sad day for the beautiful game. 

Another team struggling at the moment is my beloved Hearts. On Saturday I unusually missed a game at my spiritual home Tynecastle. Some time ago a group of my pals from Stirling University in the 1970s decided that we would meet up on the 8th April and go to see Albion Rovers versus Stranraer in downtown Coatbridge. Our party lacked Kevin ‘Big Hig The Slovenly Pig’ Higgins but Duich McKay, Dave Ivens and Stranraer fan Dougie Ritchie all made it.

Music fans heading to the fitba: Dave Ivens, Dougie Ritchie and Duich McKay
With Kev missing we all toasted absent friends at lunchtime – several times. Then headed for Clitonhill which has to be the worst and most uncared for football ‘stadium’ I have been to for many a long year.

The derelict and overgrown grass bank 'terracing' at Cliftonhill Coatbridge
Every cloud has a silver lining however and the pies were pretty decent.

Oh ya beauty! Dave Ivens looks on salivating jealously
Hearts won while I was in the wild west so maybe I should stay away more often.

Neither Man City nor the Gunners have a midweek game. Their next matches are their final games before they clash on the 23rd April in the next game on the Road to Wembley from Scotland. On Saturday Man City will travel to the south coast to cross swords with Southampton. Next Monday the Arsenal will be on Teesside to play Middlesbrough. Come back here later in the week to find out how the two protagonists are preparing for these two games and for the latest on the 'Wenger Out' soap opera and keep reading.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Halifax Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club - just the ticket!!

The Road to Wembley from Scotland will reach the penultimate stop in a fortnight when Manchester City take on Arsenal. Regular readers will know that I have had a devil of a job getting a ticket for this match but thanks to assistance from my good friend John Rees and a load of much appreciated help from the Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club I am now sorted. Special thanks to David Ellis the Chairman of the Club and also to Martin Duddridge the Club Ticket Secretary who pulled a few strings to sort out these tickets. A great gesture by David and Martin and very much appreciated. Also in midweek the two protagonists were in Premier League action with mixed fortunes.

About twenty years ago when I was working as a senior manager at Boston College I was part of an interview panel that appointed a young ambitious, energetic likeable lad called John Rees as a Sports Science lecturer so that he could take up his first job in further education. Twenty years later I am a clapped out old blogger whose body has been ravaged by years of alcohol and tobacco abuse and he is the Principal of Calderdale College in Halifax.

The Rees-Meister General: All round good guy and ace problem solver

 In addition to being colleagues in the 1990s we became good friends. Despite experiencing very different life and career paths we have kept in touch and when John noted my ticket-less situation he made some enquiries. Working in Halifax he is surrounded by Man City fans and some of his colleagues are members of the Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club. Step forward my new heros David Ellis and Martin Duddridge. The Club get an allocation of tickets for big matches and after hearing of my plight and my project Martin was able to use his influence to ensure that I would receive a brief for the semi final. The Halifax and District Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club are now officially the best supporters club in the entire world.

Halifax Blues Committee celebrating: L-R Dave Toal, David Ellis and Martin Duddridge
Readers who followed the post on this blog on Tuesday noted that I had been scammed. The whole episode has still not been resolved. The dodgy on-line touts company Pro Time Tours have taken the debit card sale £159 for a £30 ticket from my account. So at the moment I am £159 out of pocket. The ticket (if indeed it does exist) has unsurprisingly not arrived. My bank has cancelled my debit card so that they can’t get at any further monies. The bank advice is that once I am sure that the ticket is never going to arrive (i.e. when I can prove fraud) get back in touch and they will act. They already have details of the case including references from the scamadviser web site detailing previous similar transactions where individuals paid hundreds of pounds for tickets that did not exist. A very unsavoury incident and four days later I still feel like a complete fool for falling for this. This sale though is part of a wider issue.

As you may have guessed I have been I touch with the FA to (i) try to secure a ticket from them and (ii) to tell them of this on-line ticket touting scandal. With regard to (i) I was unsuccessful and with regard to (ii) they claim to be concerned but as my old Mam used to say ‘judge a person not by what they say but by what they do’. The FA emailed me on Thursday as follows:

Hi Chris,

In regards to allocations for the upcoming FA Cup semi-finals approximately 64,000 tickets go to the two competing teams. There are also a number of seats that are not put on sale which act as appropriate levels of segregation over the weekend. Additionally a certain number of seats are located in the Club Wembley areas of the stadium on Level Two. The remaining tickets are issued to the ‘Football Family’.  The Football Family is made up of all the clubs who participated in this seasons FA Cup, FA Partners, official charities and the local County Football Associations who organise football throughout England. However, anything not taken up by the ‘Football Family’ is made available to the two competing clubs.

We do appreciate the frustrations involved when supporters miss out on obtaining tickets for big matches. However, with matches of this importance involving two such big clubs it is impossible to satisfy the demand for tickets.

I have also attached a link to our FAQ's which may answer any further questions you may have; 

If you do click the link then you will find a very complacent statement that states:

It’s a big priority that the tickets get in the hands of the genuine supporters. Tickets are sold directly by the clubs to their fan-base. Clubs supply us with a ticket-selling policy in advance, which is approved by The FA. At the stadium there will be enhanced ticket checks outside, prior to supporters entering the turnstiles. We also operate a very robust system to detect fraudulent tickets. That should act as a big deterrent to anyone considering buying from an illegal source. We strongly advise people not to buy tickets from touts as they are at risk of not getting into the stadium. 

All sounds good in theory but as I found out at about this time last week several thousand tickets for this match are not in the hands of genuine supporters but are in the hands of on-line touts. So how big a priority is it for you Mr FA? Returning to the arithmetic that I described in an earlier post the capacity of Wembley (90,000) minus the club allocations (64,000) equals 26,000 tickets sloshing about in the ether. The FA is simply not doing enough get tickets in to the hands of genuine supporters. Since Thursday I have emailed the FA again to flag that I was disappointed that, despite this project advertising the joys of the FA Cup to hundreds of readers with each post, that they don’t consider me eligible to be classed as part of the ‘football family’. I do feel that some tickets for matches such as this one should be made available to neutral fans who could be asked to pay a higher tarrif, but not the sums requested by the on-line touts, directly from the FA. Then at least the FA would be doing a bit more to get the tickets into the hands of genuine supporters. Rant over … back to football.

There was a full programme of Premier League matches on in midweek and as I was working in the East Midlands I managed to head up to Hull on Wednesday night to see a bit of the action. I was at the Hull City v Middlesbrough game with my old sparring partner Howard ‘Howie Baby’ Nimmo. Hull City are a very good side and will provide a stern test for Man City later today.

Howie Baby: Sporting the colours of his adopted home town
On the same night Arsenal were in fine form demolishing West Ham 3-0 at a packed Emirates Stadium. Mezut Ozil in particular was in great form apparently. Despite all the media ‘Arsenal in Crisis’ and ‘Wenger Must Go’ hysteria Arsenal are now in 5th position in the Premier League and of course have the FA Cup semi final to look forward to. Also on Wednesday evening, and also in London, Man City were at Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea. Chelsea won 2-1 but reports suggest that Man City were by far the better side. Certainly they enjoyed more possession, had more shots on target and more corners. The first goal that City conceded was a goalkeeping error from Caballero. Man City have such a great team of skilled outfield players it is strange that they have to choose each week which of two mediocre goalkeepers (Caballero or Bravo) they select – especially when they employ Joe Hart the England goalie but have chosen to loan him out for the whole of the 2016-17 season to Torino. I can’t quite work that one out.

Today City take on a resurgent Hull City team while Arsenal have to wait until Monday night to play their weekend Premier League fixture. Will City and the Gunners improve their Premier League positions? Will the City Manager field Caballero or Bravo in goal later today? Will the FA reply to my most recent email? Do Pro Time Tours actually have tickets for the semi finals? Come back here on Tuesday for the answers to these questions and more … and … keep reading.