Volume Two – Out Now!

After a slight (!) delay, I’m finally delighted to bring you Volume Two of PLAYING OFFSIDE. The second part of a doing the 92 book adventure, written by an average match-going supporter. ‘Average’ being the operative word.

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Part Two of Playing Offside: a ‘doing the 92’ groundhopping adventure, that sees a regular football supporter travel the length and breadth of England on public transport, despite having no sense of direction whatsoever. Containing many tales about the different clubs, players, towns and people that the author interacts with; Playing Offside is a must-read for any football supporter.

In this edition, I see games at the likes of Everton, Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers, Birmingham City, Gillingham, West Bromwich Albion and many more!

You can purchase Volume Two for just £1.99 from Amazon’s Kindle site by following this link.

You don’t necessarily need a Kindle device to read ebooks from Amazon – you can read them on your Smartphone or your desktop computer. On your Smartphone, simply search for the ‘Amazon Kindle’ app, download and install. You will then be able to purchase and read any Kindle book from Amazon’s store. For desktop computers (PC/laptop) you can download an Amazon Kindle reader here, which works in the same way as the Smartphone app mentioned above.

If you do purchase the book, thank-you very much and I hope you enjoy reading. If you do enjoy reading, please take the time to leave a review on the book’s Amazon page, as it’s only through this that the book will be noticed by a larger crowd of people browsing Amazon’s vast football book section!

If you’re new to this series and want to see what I got up to last season, you can download Volume One for just 99p

Playing Offside Volume Two – doing the 92 book out now!

If you need further information on this, the entire doing the 92 book series or anything else, don’t hesitate to drop me a tweet @playingoffisideb or alternatively send an e-mail to danielgee@ymail.com

Playing Offside – Match #16: Sunderland

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I’m on the coach for today and despite there being crisps scattered all over the floor and the waft of whatever it was in the toilet reaching my nostrils periodically, the journey was pretty uneventful and I arrived in Sunderland in good time. The Stadium of Light is just outside the city centre and if you’re walking then you’ve got the opportunity to go over the Wearmouth Bridge, which as the final bridge that the River Wear flows under, offers a impressive view as it flows into the mouth of the North Sea. If you walk down to the stadium via this route and under the Metro bridge and through the industrial park, then you’ll come across, what I can only describe as a red (and white) light district for food, as the amount of burger vans that line the route is abundant. I’ve never seen as many burger vans before – they’re like metallic prostitutes touting for business as people pass by, taking in the scent of their meaty perfume. A boy of about 4 is getting stuck into a burger that is five times the size of his mitt that it’s clutched in, as his other hand holds that of his father’s, as they walk closer to the stadium. This image contrasts well with the surroundings, as the industrial units provide a backdrop to the magnificent Stadium of Light as it looms over everything – and everyone, as we make our way to this Cathedral-like structure, like flies attracted to light. If L.S. Lowry were alive and wanted to paint an alternative Going To The Match, then Sunderland would be a prime candidate.

Completed in 1997, The Stadium of Light originally had a capacity of 42,000, before an extension of the North Stand in 2000 brought it up to its current capacity of 49,000. Originally, it was on the shortlist to be one of the host stadiums for Euro 96, but it quickly became clear that the stadium wouldn’t be built in time. The name is a reference to the city’s mining heritage, as the stadium itself was built on the former Monkweathermouth Colliery site; closed in 1993 the mine was the largest in Sunderland and the last to close in the whole of County Durham. I’m sat in the south-west corner, 3 rows up from the pitch, with the stand to my right seemingly being where most of the vociferous Sunderland support was. I’m not really sure what it is with food here, but a few minutes after I took my seat, a dad and his daughter sit next to me – the dad delves into his drawstring bag and produces a wrapped package. I’m intrigued as he struggles to open the mysterious package – what could it be? I hope it wasn’t a dirty protest or anything – I had only ironed my jeans this morning. Turns out it was some fish and chips he had snuck in and after unwrapping it for his daughter, she demolished it in an example of a ruthless style that the Sunderland team have been so badly lacking in front of goal this season, mopping up the remnants of the salt and vinegar with it and everything. You don’t see that on Come Dine With Me. The cod was massive too – seemed like Jaws’ baby had been caught somewhere off the North East coast and battered up. I didn’t know anything about this man, but I liked the cut of his jib – and his parenting skills were spot on.

The teams enter the field to the opening of Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance Of The Knights (no, I don’t know as the theme tune to The Apprentice – I do know it from watching a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet though) and the roar from the stand to my right makes me wonder why these players can ever think about getting away with the type of performance I saw at Bradford – it’s just a wall of sound that must sound frightening when they’re swearing at you. The game begins and isn’t fantastic, it’s not even good – it’s your typical end-of-season-we’ll-keep-it-tight-so-we-don’t-lose game. Sunderland’s best chance of the opening exchanges was a free-kick from Sebastian Larsson, which Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel saved at his near post. Beyond that, it was all set pieces and Leicester must have had about 75 corners without threatening much. I was more interested in observing my surroundings, as some Sunderland supporters looked as nervous as their team. This lad (I say ‘lad’, he’s about 25 – shows that I’m getting on now!) is having a go at any Leicester players that dare to take a throw-in near us. His tirades are slightly amusing, but he looks (and sounds) like a lunatic if I’m being honest and I can’t decide if he’s being serious with his insults, or just letting go of some nervous energy. Sat in front of us are a group of young girls (aged about 21) who are giggling at Sunderland’s Danny Dyer as he launches another into another tirade when Marc Albrighton takes a corner for the away side. Maybe that explains him.

The Sunderland supporters continue to be extremely vocal and perform an impressive array of songs – sadly most of them murder classic pop songs, with questionable lyrics and poor timing. I felt like I was sitting with 40,000 Michael Bolton’s – which is doubly bad for me as I have a vendetta against Michael Bolton. A year ago I purchased what I thought was a bargain – the 1993 New Order album Republic from Poundland. I got it home, opened it and there was a Very Best of Michael Bolton CD inside. Regret, is exactly what I felt. Thankfully, the Mackems around me don’t have time to make me cry by covering ‘Give It Up’, replacing the lyrics with the name of a duff player as half-time swiftly arrives. I continued to find the atmosphere very intriguing and having never really been inclined to sit near the front before – I noticed that the atmosphere was better sat here, as it was able to filter down the stand, carried by the many voices from above.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon FOR JUST 99p!!!

Playing Offside – Match #15: Hull City

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The Kingston Communications Stadium (or KC – not the previously-praised Sunshine Band, or KFC, just KC) is the smartest ground I’ve been so far on this journey. Everything seems to be accessible, well-planned and the stadium itself looks massive, even though it holds just over 25,000. You even have to walk through a park to get to one half of the stadium, which must be marvellous to do on a warm day. Beyond all of that, the club’s nickname (due to their amber-and-black colours) is ‘Tigers’ – and there is Tigers branding absolutely everywhere. The club shop sells tiger-branded polo shirts for £45 a pop, or the girls can rock a Tigers Babe tote bag, that will remove £35 from your purse – and there are even signs on the concourse toilets saying Tiger and Tigress (they missed a trick not calling the baby changing facilities ‘cub’ though). The rank commercialism doesn’t just stop there though – the club have recently been criticised by supporter groups for their ticket prices as recent visits by Liverpool and Arsenal have cost all supporters a whopping £50 – in comparison to today’s game which was £16! With the match today being against Burnley, I think this will be a more entertaining game for the general public, what with the current predicament of both teams and the chances of actually winning the match will be realistically higher than one against a top club. I’ve used this as an argument whenever someone tries to justify ridiculous ticket prices for the football – my FA Cup Final ticket cost me £45. There is simply no excuse for any club, especially clubs that receive hundreds of millions from television deals, to charge the normal person in the street so much for a regular game of football. How much of this exploitation (which is what it is) is about Hull City raising money to finance themselves or is it purely about fleecing supporters and keeping the money, because they’re in the Premier League and playing against a big side?

Thanks to the nickname, the owner of the club, Assem Allam, wants to change the name of the club to ‘Hull Tigers’, in order to increase the brand of the club overseas (more specifically, Asia). Allam already applied to change the name last summer, but the Football Association rejected the notion, but the club are applying again this summer after appealing to the Court of Arbitration For Sport. My understanding is that Allam wanted to buy the stadium outright, in order to expand and redevelop the area further, but the Council (who own it) have refused, so he is seeking alternative revenue streams to try and push the club on. The question I have here is; would changing the name to Hull Tigers really raise them up to be challenging for a Premier League title? A Champions League place? A top 8 finish? I’m not sure it would – having a long-term strategy in regards to improving the infrastructure of the club, using money garnered from the television deal, season tickets and sponsors to invest in training and youth facilities and running them well, is the way to do it. The club have already spent £10m on misfiring striker Abel Hernandez this season, so is gathering more money to spend on foreign players who tend to struggle early on, really the answer to pushing the club up the league?

This proposed move hasn’t gone down well with the vast majority of football supporters in the country, so you can imagine how some Hull supporters feel!  Apart from the proposed name sounding like a faceless American Football franchise, it just doesn’t sound right for a locally-supported football club to be whoring itself out by changing its identity to sound edgy.  Supporters have voiced their dissatisfaction, “City Till We Die” they sing. Allam, let’s not forget here – a very successful businessman, publicly responded with “They can die as soon as they want” and even branded the name Hull City Association Football Club as ‘irrelevant’ – not really intelligent comments from a successful, local businessman, are they? Let’s get this right though – Allam has been very successful with Hull. He’s led them from possible liquidation to the Premier League in just a couple of years, not to mention a FA Cup Final last year – he deserves huge credit for the way he has progressed the club. For some Hull supporters though, this issue has undone most of the work he’s undertaken, especially considering his comments about the supporters. Back to that question again – would calling the club Tigers make it a more popular, a more marketable name in an area of the world that is already obsessed with the top teams in the Premier League and La Liga? As some Allam-supporters have said ‘Hull City’ is just a name, it doesn’t matter if it gets changed. Following that same stream of thought then – ‘Hull Tigers’ is just a name, so why change it anyway if it’s ‘just a name’ and it ‘doesn’t matter’? It isn’t just a name though, City that is, it’s over 110 years of history and tradition that will be ended just to bring in those overseas £££’s that probably won’t make much difference to the club’s standing in the Premier League anyway.

People will say that he ‘owns the club and he should be able to do what he wants’ – but despite that, it still isn’t his club – it’s for the people of Kingston-Upon-Hull. The Allam family are ultimately just one in a long line of custodians who will run the club, but the supporters will always be there, paying their money to keep the club going – there would simply be no football club without the supporters. Yes, Allam arguably saved the club from going bust, but let’s just say it did go under – the supporters would have got together and formed a new club. So what was the point of Allam saving the club in that case then? It was to preserve its league position and history. That’s the point. If you bought a listed building, you wouldn’t be able to knock it down or change how it looks – but that’s what he’ll be doing to the club if he just dumps their name and dismisses it and their history as ‘irrelevant’.

The issue becomes all the more baffling when you consider that Allam, who has lived in Hull for over 40 years and has been a great philanthropist towards the city, doesn’t understand the historical elements of the football club, the feelings of supporters and its position in the local community. If he manages to convince the Football Association that the name change is a good idea, he’s in danger of alienating the local people from their own club, the very group whose ancestors set up the club a hundred and odd years ago, just so he can change a name just to bring in extra money from abroad to be able to finish mid-table in the Premier League. Tigers is already the club’s nickname, it’s bloody plastered everywhere in and around the council-owned stadium, so why not just use that in his Asian markets, instead of upsetting the very people who have kept the club alive for all of these years? I’ll leave this issue, with this comment I saw on a Hull newspaper’s website – football clubs were built (and maintained) on the working man’s shilling. And just because we live in an ‘I’m alright Jack’ society nowadays – that history should never be wiped out and forgotten.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon FOR JUST 99p!!!

Playing Offside – Match #14: AFC Wimbledon

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Hidden in the middle of a leafy Surrey suburbia, Kingsmeadow is a fine ground that has undergone various modifications in recent years to bring it up to Football League-standard. The ground, built in 1989, is shared with non-league side Kingstonian, who formally owned the leasehold of the ground but had to sell it to raise funds, which AFC Wimbledon eventually purchased back, allowing both clubs to be able to play at the ground for the foreseeable future. An arch, displaying the ground’s name, covers the street entrance, welcoming you to the area and everything just seems nice and friendly. So I’m naturally suspicious. Due to me spending the morning pissing around in Central London, I just about made the ground with 10 minutes in hand. People are still buzzing around the ground, many standing about and chatting around the open doors of the supporters club with pints in hand. I notice two more ‘tourists’ asking a steward ‘where the Golf Stand is’ – I’m supposed to be in there too and I’m not sure where to go, so I follow them. After my two pilot fish find the entrance for me, I get my ticket clipped, enter and immediately see that the ground is packed – just a hundred or so below capacity, so you can see why the club is desperate to move to a bigger facility. There’s a good mix of people in the terraced (and correctly-named) ‘Your Golf Travel Stand’ – men, women, children, families – even couples (an alarming number of them) all stood on the barriers, waiting for the match to start. Despite the ground being packed, there was plenty of room to stand in – which was a good job as I’ve recently developed a lower back injury (on my arse – don’t ask) so standing up in relative comfort was much-needed after a day on the train.

Today’s opponents are Wycombe Wanderers, who have brought around 800 supporters with them and they’re in great voice somewhere in the ground. I say ‘somewhere’, because I can’t see them from my spot in the left of the Your Golf Travel Stand, I can only hear them, like a horde of disembodied voices shouting words of war such as ‘shithole’ and ‘I want to go home’ – it’s like the Spartans never existed. Like their hosts, Wycombe too are owned by the supporters – the Wycombe Wanderers Trust taking ownership of the club in 2012. The Wimbledon supporters around me seem laid-back and friendly but the volume suddenly grows when the teams come onto the pitch. Wimbledon’s mascot, Haydon (a Womble, of course) was dancing about, trying to whip up a frenzy as the teams crossed the pitch towards the dugouts. Wycombe’s manager, Gareth Ainsworth, made 36 league appearances for Wimbledon FC in an injury-hit 5 years at the club and left the summer before the club was moved to Milton Keynes, so is naturally given a decent reception by the Wimbledon faithful. The game begins with both sides taking turns to dominate the ball, without any clear-cut chances for us on the terraces to get excited about.

Up front for Wimbledon, is 16 stone Adebayo ‘Bayo’ Akinfenwa, who’s worth the admission price alone just to see how he battles with opposing centre-backs. As someone who likes to indulge in a gym session a few times a week, he’s all muscle and as you’d imagine, holds up the ball really well. I suppose if you’re a defender, you don’t know whether to try and beat him to the ball – or just let him have it. Both are the wrong choices – challenge him and he’ll just roll you off, let him have it and you allow him to be able to knock it off to someone else as they build an attack. He must be an utter nightmare to mark – and to get changed next to. I like Bayo though – he’s something different and he doesn’t have to grow a ridiculous beard and dye it to be so. He’s had quite the career so far – released by Watford as a youngster, he started his professional career in Lithuania playing for FK Atlantas. He pitched up at Welsh side, Barry Town next, before making his way back into the English league. Prior joining Wimbledon last summer, he scored 124 goals in 364 League appearances in English football, so he’s not just a physical specimen that batters opposing defenders like he’s generally portrayed to being. Recently, he’s gained international attention by being rated as the ‘strongest player’ in the FIFA computer game, and earlier this year, popped up with the equaliser for Wimbledon against Liverpool in the FA Cup, a game which his side ultimately lost 2-1. It’s easy to see why he’s such a ‘cult figure’ in the game.

As the game continues to meander, the most notable event of the first half (for me at least) occurs when the ball is up in the air and Akinfenwa becomes (the rather large) meat in a Wycombe butty, but he wins the ball, brushes both defenders to the floor and turns away with the ball as his team-mates stream up the pitch – one pass and they’re through on goal. The ref then blows for a head injury to one of the Wycombe defenders! Akinfenwa’s been robbed there and as you’d imagine – the supporters around me let the referee know exactly what they think about him. Wycombe have already seen one player limp off with an injury after 8 minutes and just before half-time – they lose another one, which, pardon the pun, adds further insult to injury as they could only fill 5 of the 7 substitute quota anyway. Mercifully, half-time arrives and I’m able to have a quick sit down on the slightly-warm concrete terrace, which must be doing wonders for my lower back injury.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon FOR JUST 99p!!!

Playing Offside – Match #13: Sheffield United

“The Greasiest Chip Butty”

Saturday 28th March 2015
Football League Two
Sheffield United vs. Crewe Alexandra

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The view from inside Bramall Lane is impressive, despite being all-seated since 1991 the ground has gone through numerous renovations since 1994 and now has a capacity of over 32,000 seats. Facing me is the Jessica Ennis Stand, named after Sheffield’s most-famous athlete (United supporters will love that by the way – Seb Coe, educated in Sheffield, is a Wednesday supporter. And an inferior athlete). Nicknamed ‘The Blades’, due to Sheffield’s steel-making history, the club are the biggest (in terms of supporter numbers) in the league and spending time in League One may have helped them to restructure the club, ridding itself of the high-earners and bringing in younger, hunger players as they seek to win promotion back to the second tier – so relegation doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing for clubs (this from a man whose club is staring League One in the face for next season!)

I had forgotten how close to the pitch I had booked my ticket – I ended up four rows up from the pitch, meaning I had to walk all the way down the steep stand, blinding sunlight growing larger which each step. The roof of the stand doesn’t cover all of the seats, so the sun would play havoc with my view of the game later. Both sides eventually emerge from the tunnel and I’m serenaded with United’s ‘Greasy Chip Butty Song’ – a summing up of life in Sheffield to the tune of John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’. Any song that can replace the original lyrics with ‘woodbines’, ‘snuff’ and ‘greasy chip butty’ is an instant improvement in my opinion, sorry John Denver fans. The match starts and with the home side looking to cement their place in the League One play-offs and their opponents struggling in the relegation zone, there’s an air of expectancy from the home support that they’ll win. Early on though, it’s Crewe who are looking the more dangerous, as they keep the ball and try to get behind the United defence. On 12 minutes and after a good interchange of passes on the edge of the box, Crewe’s Lauri Dalla Valle is through on goal and rifles it past Mark Howard in the United goal. A good finish by the Finnish striker. Sorry.

United try to respond straight from the kick-off, but lacked any creativity. They’re overplaying around the box, passing the ball around, looking for gaps as Crewe press them. SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTE is the cry from the frustrated Blades around me, which in my opinion, is the best word for a Sheffield accent to pronounce.  It’s such a beautiful sound, so finely tuned, so perfectly harmonised that I half-expected it to unlock a metaphysical gateway that leads to another universe, perplexing all known sciences and hopefully getting rid of that bloody sun for a few minutes. As it happened, they didn’t shoot and Crewe, always looking dangerous on the break, nearly scored again, but shot straight at the keeper. And the sun continued to shine, laughing at all, but mainly at me.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon

Playing Offside – Match #12: Accrington Stanley

“An Accidental Partridge”

Saturday 7th March 2015
Football League Two
Accrington Stanley vs. Portsmouth

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I don’t always sound like broadcasting legend Alan Partridge, but whenever I hear anyone bring up that awful milk advert starring those two scruffy Liverpudlian boys, whenever Accrington is mentioned – I can’t help but think ‘There’s more to Accrington dan dis’. There’s the Nori bricks for a start – the bricks made in the local area that built the base of Blackpool Tower and the Empire State Building and doubtless thousands upon thousands of homes in the North, that are widely-believed to be accidently embossed with words that are the wrong way round (IRON). The Accrington Pals, perhaps the most well-known of all First World War ‘Pal’ battalions, who suffered extremely heavy losses in a matter of minutes in Serre, on the opening day of Battle of the Somme and became an example of the devastation of the First World War. Then there’s Accrington Football Club – who were founder members of the first Football League in 1888, along with 11 other clubs. Mystic Meg is from here too, for god’s sake.

Accrington was seen as a town who didn’t care enough that they lost their Football League club (twice) and became a music hall joke, something which eventually seeped into popular culture through the advert and still today, people like to hold up Accrington Stanley as an example of something that shouldn’t exist in the Football League; the little club, a throwback to the past with their tiny ground surrounded by the misty East Lancashire hills and their odd name – and they’re patronised to high heaven for it. I’ll be honest here – being from Wigan, which also suffers from similar lazy stereotypes (which incidentally, has recently extended to ‘racists’ and ‘postbox shaggers’) is the reason why I can identify with the town, I suppose. I’m always inclined to jump to the defence of anyone or anything that still wears a label that was put upon them, something that has expired its sell-by date (like a rank bottle of milk) and in some way, is holding it back. Oh and my Girlfriend is from here too. So let’s face it – in reality, I want to show off to said Lady and show that I’m not the wastrel that I appear to be.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon

Playing Offside – Match #11: Bury

“I Am The Law”

Saturday 21st February 2015
Football League Two
Bury vs. Hartlepool United

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I made my way to Bury on the tram, via the reconstructed Metrolink station at Manchester Victoria (which isn’t fully operational yet – the Bury line to the station had only reopened today). Bury do have a train station, but this is ran as East Lancashire Railway which offers ‘heritage steam train rides’ to Heywood and Rawtenstall. As you exit the tram station, the ‘World Famous’ and ‘Really Huge’ Bury Market is on your left and despite it not really being world famous, it definitely is really huge and is notable in the North-West for being the best market around, so is well worth a look if you’re after some meat or handycrafts. I called into a pub (The Staff of Life) before the match and noticed that some chap had left his bags of meat unattended on a table. I had a bit of time as I approached the ground, so I had a further pint in the supporters club, which allowed away supporters in and everyone was chatting nicely to one another. The main entrance to Gigg Lane is enclosed inside a compound it seemed, the cold weather giving it a Soviet-era feel, but the guards here were friendly and packed smiles instead of automatic rifles. I’m usually sweating when I enter a ground because I fear that they’ll want to search me and take my bag of ‘monster fizzy chews’, but this one said hello and smiled at me, at everyone. I didn’t know what to make of it, was it a trap?

As I take my seat in the main stand, the PA tells us that a man at the game today is celebrating his 100th birthday (even he wasn’t born when they won the FA Cup) – in comparison, the (supporter) mascot is 5 years old. For me this is what some people who criticise the game don’t get about football – clubs like Bury are very-much rooted into their local communities, catering for all people, some of whom are 95 years apart. All we’ve heard in the last few weeks is about new television deals and high ticket prices, clubs like Bury show that football is for families, for everyone. People may say that the bigger clubs don’t need families, they’re all out for making profit, but surely this new this television deal (worth £5 billion at the time of writing) will give those bigger clubs the profits that they seek and they can now lower prices to encourage those who can’t always afford it, to go and see their team? How much profit do they need? They need more profit, is probably the correct answer. Speaking of families, Bury’s mascot is ‘Robbie The Bobbie’, complete with a furry helmet, and he’s patrolling the touchline, waving at everyone (I wonder if his services are included on the policing bill?) Robbie is named after Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police. Peel, who was born in the area, also founded the Conservative Party, so maybe Bury should pay further tribute and introduce another mascot, someone for Robbie to arrest? Thatcher The Snatcher would be a great name.

The full chapter (along with more reviews of clubs!) can be found in Playing Offside, which can be purchased now from Amazon