"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Monday 22 December 2014

Season's Greetings!

If MUSA can find the time ...

Then so should we ...

"Google me"

Back online after a recent house move (sooo relieved that's over with!) and catching up on the non league football grapevine (I didn't even realise, until the following day, that Bristol Rovers had played Gateshead on the Friday night), I was intrigued to read about a 'series of tweets on the official Farnborough timeline which lacked class' (following Maidenhead's draw at Cherrywood Road).

I can only assume that they've since been removed, unless these are the 'offending' articles …

Drax berating officials and swearing?

Not like him! 

And certainly not as remarkable as Elvijs - MoM apparently - having a decent game!

I, for one, found this tweet much more interesting …

PS. Some quick observations re. the recent Educated Left Foot blog posts: (1) For 'stalwart', read 'sweary one-season wonder'. (2) I can only imagine what Steve J would make of Div 4, compared to the (relatively) rarefied atmosphere of the SPL!

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Drax: "I take maybe a bit of the blame"

"Billy Bricknell scored the spot-kick despite the best efforts of skipper Mark Nisbet who had donned the gloves because their [sic] was no substitute keeper on the sidelines."

A Maidenhead fan who was at the game - and whom I was drinking with in a town centre pub on Saturday night - said, and I quote, 'my mother would've saved that penalty'.

"Two more goals added to the Magpies' misery in what was their heaviest defeat of the season."

Three consecutive league defeats (the last two being heavy ones; 4-0 at Bath and 0-4 against Ebbsfleet). No league win since 25th October; at home to relegation fodder Staines Town. Still, don't panic!

"I take maybe a bit of the blame for maybe not having young Sam [Gray] on the bench, but it wouldn't have made much difference as we would probably have been 2-0 down" 

MAYBE a BIT of the blame?? 

Bristol Rovers found themselves in a similar situation, vs Wrexham, the other week; No 1 Steve Mildenhall having to go off injured, before halftime, without a direct replacement among the subs. Here's what Darrell Clarke, the Gas manager, subsequently said:

"I'll hold my hands up and say we should have had a keeper on the bench"


Drax might as well have done the usual and blamed bad luck/injuries/referees/financial constraints!

"But you can't go down to 10 men against good opposition like that."

The aforementioned Magpies fan - who, I reiterate, was at the game - remarked that Ebbsfleet were 'average'; not once making a concerted effort to attack Bobby Behzadi, out-of-position at left back, for example. And as for 'going down to 10 men' ... shouldn't we be used to that by now?!

"In Will's defence, he has played maybe 10 games for us and been absolutely outstanding."

A Bath City fan, writing on the Conference Forum the other week, mentioned that Britt was 'hopeless' against them, recently, at Twerton Park.

"Will was at fault for the first goal and his decision-making for the second one was poor, but I can't criticise him as he's been excellent."

"Last week Hippolyte pubically [sic] criticised the performance of keeper Elvis [sic] Putnins who made a mistake between the sticks which led to a goal in the 2-1 victory over Met Police in the FA Trophy. According to Hippolyte, Putnins was not on the bench for the Ebbsfleet clash because they had 'a bit of a problem' with him."

Bit of a problem? Yeah, he's not up to scratch; regularly throws them in.

It continues to bewilder me that Drax has never seemed to place much/any importance on the goalkeeper position; preferring to opt for the relatively useless (Delroy Preddie; Louis Wells; Elvijs Putnins) or the 'presumably cheap, unproven youngster on loan' (currently Britt; countless others including Jesse 'refused to be named as a substitute for Cambridge' Joronen and Jonathan 'recently benched by Welling' Henly) rather than a decent No 1 who might cost a bit but won't let you down (Chris Tardif; Steve Williams). Is it coincidence that the likes of Tardif and Williams - also Shane Gore and Billy Lumley - didn't last, at York Road, for much more than one season each?

Bring back Chico!

Saturday 22 November 2014

Torquay, or not Torquay

Not Torquay to be, unfortunately. :-(

In the build-up to this much anticipated tie it was noted that Maidenhead United had only reached the 2nd Round Proper of the FA Youth Cup on two previous occasions: losing heavily at Chelsea in 1989 and at Luton Town in 1999. It transpires, therefore, that our defeat at Bristol Rovers in 2011 was a round earlier than I remembered. Regardless, a congested Grove Road car park on Wednesday night was testament to the general excitement; the Magpies hosting a higher league side, with a trip to West Bromwich Albion a mouth-watering reward for the victor. I was late to arrive and the score was already 1-1. Maidenhead’s equaliser - a 30 yard volley from the highly-rated David Rogalski - was, apparently, a thing of rare beauty; one supporter describing the goal on twitter as the ‘best I’ve seen at York Road all season’.

I spent the rest of the half, alongside Steve H, on the Shelf. The great and good - Johnson Hippolyte, Dereck Brown, CWKHF, Mark Steward, Educated Left Foot, Bobby P - were watching further down the touchline. First team players Harry Pritchard and Jonathan Hippolyte were also in attendance. Lionel Strides, meanwhile, had been working the York Road turnstile upon my belated arrival. We would all witness a high tempo and exuberant first half display from the Magpies. Bayley Brown (any relation to Dereck/ Danny?) was head and shoulders above everyone else in midfield - literally - while our wide men were causing Torquay problems. It was little or no surprise when Rogalski put us deservedly ahead with a(nother) well-taken finish. The away side had barely made it outta their half since my arrival when, minutes before the break, they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. The dead ball was curled, superbly, onto the bar and their imposing captain - O’Neil Odofin - smartly headed home the rebound. Maidenhead had dominated certain stats - possession, territory, shots - but the most important would be all-square at the half. That said, Torquay could - remarkably - have lead at the interval; a prolonged goalmouth scramble, just before the whistle, featured a goal line clearance and also a decent save from the home keeper (Sam ‘son of Peter’ Gray).

Steve H and I moved to the Puna Stand for the second period. Still looking good, IMO, although others would comment that it has clearly been built ‘on the cheap’. No sponsorship plaques on the floor - as Macleod (M) had noticed, on his most recent visit - but not all of them were properly secured to their seats (whilst I’d also like to note, at this point, that - contrary to what is stated on the Mothership - it wasn’t just Macleod (M) who contributed to the seat ‘in remembrance of Trevor Kingham’). Anyway, this half was more evenly balanced than the first. It was also increasingly niggly, not helped by another next-to-useless referee (Neil Davies). Maidenhead again showed the greater creativity and attacking intent - hitting the bar twice - but tired noticeably as the game wore on. They were also not helped by a nasty looking injury to number 7 - Olly McCoy - who was stretchered off after a crunching tackle. It was the other side of the pitch to where we were sat, so I’ll defer to the opinions of those who were much closer, but it looked like a strong and full-blooded challenge - rather than an ‘appalling’ one – to me. McCoy was in obvious pain and that was distressing to see. The referee was poor, as already indicated, so I think he should take his fair share of responsibility for the way the match disintegrated, somewhat, into needle. Maidenhead, it should perhaps be noted, were no shrinking violets; indeed several of their players were jawing - needlessly - with the opposition and the officials, throughout the game, whilst on numerous occasions they threw or kicked dead balls away (taking lessons from Ashley Nicholls?). No one - apart from Roy Keane - wants to see a player get hurt, though, and I sincerely hope that McCoy’s injury is not as serious as it looked (and if it is, then I hope that he recovers fully and swiftly).

Both teams, perhaps understandably, struggled with cramp (and nerves?) during extra time. Maidenhead dropped a little too deep, I thought, and - as Torquay (finally) began to exert pressure - required a couple of last ditch tackles to maintain the deadlock. The away side also hit the post with a hopeful shot from distance. No goals, though, during the additional half hour. Penalties. Down the Bell End. I was instantly reminded of another midweek, under-the-lights shoot-out at York Road: an eccentric performance from legendary former AFC Bournemouth custodian John Smeulders unable to prevent the Magpies losing on penalties to Basingstoke Town, after another 2-2 draw, in the 1991/92 Full Members Cup (the atmosphere, during that shoot-out, was electric and hugely entertaining; a formative experience for yours truly). Unfortunately, the result was no different this time around: Maidenhead missing two penalties, Torquay just the one. The away side celebrated as if they had won the cup; the scorer of the winning spot kick, plus their captain, running around the pitch with hands cupped to ears. More than a little classless, but hey ho. One suspects that the Gulls’ OTT reaction was borne out of a sense of relief, mainly, and so essentially a back-handed compliment. And, as aforementioned, Maidenhead had been rather chippy - both on and off the pitch - so little wonder that the Torquay youngsters felt obliged to give it the big ‘un (their coach, in their local rag, has since described the atmosphere as being ‘pretty hostile’). Credit, here, to the ‘Bell End Youth’; nine or ten in number, they were noisy throughout. It was VERY cold but a couple of them were bare chested, at one point, whilst belting out a ‘Shirts off, if you love Maidenhead’ chant! They also sang the Harry Pritchard ditty, ‘Come on, you black and whites’, ‘Shall we sing a song for you?’, ‘Wem-ber-ley, Wem-ber-ley, we’re the famous Maidenhead … ’ plus others. Some of the repertoire needs refinement, some needs dropping altogether (‘Oh Maidenhead, is wonderful … ), but their enthusiasm was impressive; certainly Macleod (M) - absent, at a Jesus & Mary Chain gig - would be justifiably proud.

Likewise, I’m sure that Sam Lock and his coaching staff will be very proud of their team’s performance. The Gulls can count themselves rather fortunate to have progressed; an alien visitor would have struggled to identity which was the higher-level side (at least until the one containing part-time players rather ran outta puff). There really wasn’t much between the teams - so headlines claiming Torquay had been ‘outclassed’ are, IMO, wide of the mark - but the Magpies certainly dominated the first half and their overall play was easier on the eye, compared to that of their more functional opponents. Indeed, I think the standout performers all wore black and white (standout, though, for reasons both good and bad). It is perhaps unfair to single out individuals for praise, but Rogalski’s performance was certainly notable: decent first touch and hold-up play, two excellent finishes, quicker and stronger than he looks. A real shame, then, that he missed his penalty in the shoot-out.

Will we ever see any of these players in the Magpies first team, though? Rogalski has, encouragingly, signed first team forms - and, as aforementioned, Drax was in attendance - but I was particularly impressed by Maidenhead’s tough tackling left back: Isaac Olorunfemi. In the aforementioned game at Bristol Rovers, coincidentally, the standout player (certainly from the Rovers fans perspective) was also ‘Maidenhead’s tough tackling left back’: Zac Martin, on that occasion. Where is Martin now? Holmer Green? He might still be (dual registered?) at York Road, for all I know; he might have been affected by injury, changing circumstance, a lack of ability and/ or application. Who knows? What I do know is that, whilst Martin was excelling at the Mem, the first team had the likes of Bobby ‘The Daddy’ Behzadi and Max Worsfold, playing out of position, at left back (Harry Pritchard has, on occasions, also played there this season). Indeed, Maidenhead United - despite a Youth setup of enviable quality, esp. recently - have, for more than a decade now, seen very few (if any?) home grown players establish themselves in the first team. (Brandon Baker-Timms, Ryan Debattista and Jason Belgrave were the standout performers in the last Youth team game that I attended; where are they now?)

My hope is this: fast forward a few years - to a midweek, first team league game at York Road - and several of the Maidenhead youngsters from Wednesday night, both on the field and on the Bell End, will again be actively involved in proceedings. Sadly, though, past experience would suggest that we shouldn’t hold our collective breath.

Hey ho. Let us end on a positive note: in excess of 225 were in attendance, more than the 171 that had witnessed the aforementioned Full Members Cup tie in January 1992. Well done all. Result aside, I enjoyed it. 

Click here for match highlights.


Monday 10 November 2014

Away Day Diary: Wealdstone 1-1 Maidenhead United (01/11/14)

^^^ Opponent-specific match tickets. And they didn't write 'Maidstone'. Massive respect.

^^^ I would also post the above message on Facebook. A couple of friends - both armchair fans of Premier League teams (nothing wrong with that, per se, BTW) - mentioned, in reply, the infamous Wealdstone Raider. I liked Will H's response that the Raider is 'almost as embarrassing as the MMS'. ;-)

09:30 meet in the Greyhound for breakfast. Macleods (M) and (P), Craig (who was missing Chelsea vs QPR for this) and Brian McK would join me (Nb. I was the only one on the beers). Incidentally, my parents were also there, although they had better things to do than catch the 10:42 to Ealing Broadway. After a couple of changes - as aforementioned, in at least one of the blog posts linked above, it takes almost as long to get from Ealing Broadway to Ruislip Manor as it does from Maidenhead to Ealing Broadway! - we were, - as planned, supping pints in J.J. Moon's shortly after midday (Moorhouse Brewery's Black Cat, BTW, was excellent). Here we would soon be joined by Les, Stef and friend(s), plus others. Also, Whitley Bay fan Northwood Mark South Ruislip Mark; Macleod (M) has bumped into Mark at some recent Snuff gigs. But I'd not seen him since, I think, the Battle of the Bays at Herne Bay in January 2011. All this made for a buzzing pre-match atmosphere. Indeed, as Educated Left Foot mentions on his blog, 'it made a change to enter a pub on a match day containing a dozen or more Maidenhead United fans'.

^^^ There was time for a quick pint in Ruislip Manor's Wealdstone's excellent clubhouse before, shortly after kick-off, we entered the ground.

^^^ Spot the ball (CLUE: NOT on the deck!)

^^^ First-half match action. Most of it took place down this end, as Maidenhead dominated (albeit with only a series of corners, the odd goalmouth scramble, and a goal-line clearance to show). It wasn't a great spectacle, indeed much of the first period was spent basking in the November sunshine, chatting to a couple of friendly stewards about what they think might happen to the vast playing fields behind the goal - and Grosvenor Vale itself, when the lease runs out (CLUE: Michael Shanly) - and admiring the impressive improvements to the ground (both covered ends extended) since the KSG's last visit. The half ended with a painful-looking injury to Danny Green. Thankfully, he was OK.

^^^ Why not? And who decides what is and isn't 'offensive'?

^^^ I love a good pin badge. Who doesn't? I own a few, although wouldn't class myself as a collector ... at least not yet! I was rocking the classic, IMO, Maidenhead United 1950s club emblem (with an incorrect formation date of 1869) at Wealdstone. As I'd noticed on previous visits, they have a guy who sells an impressive range of enamel badges. Nothing took my fancy on this occasion, although I did buy Macleod (P) an Atlético Madrid one; massive fan, as she is, of Los Colchoneros (The Mattress Makers).

^^^ Decent turnout from Maidenhead incl. Stuart with son and father-in-law; Will H, Dave M, and Sanjay from the LCG; John G and Diamond Lights; plus plenty of youngsters. A new flag as well; as small as its owners were youthful, but still fair play. And as you can hopefully tell from this photo, the latest part of this stand makes an almighty din when bashed!

^^^ Second-half match action. The Stones were more of an attacking force and took the lead around 70 mins. I didn't witness it live, as I had my back to the play trying to kick-start a 'Jonathan/ Johnson Hippolyte' chant à la 'Yaya/ Kolo Toure' (hands up for Jonathan/ Yaya, hands down for Johnson/ Kolo). The match highlights show it to be a decent strike, with Shaun Lucien (the scorer) increasingly problematic to Bobby 'The Daddy' Behzadi as the match continued (and before Behzadi was substituted). That said, the highlights package would also indicate that the game was a real good'un; end-to-end stuff. However, it certainly didn't seem as action-packed in the flesh, so it was 'make your own fun' time for much of the second half. And we made some NOISE. Dereck 'Grandad' Brown and Jon Urry were loudly serenaded, as usual, whilst I hope that Northwood Mark South Ruislip Mark enjoyed the 'We're the famous Maidenhead and we went to Whitley Bay'/ 'Oh Logic pulled, in Whitley Bay' medley. The Magpies' new physio, incidentally, is about as physically different to Jon Urry as you can get! 'Give Steve his hat back!' :-)

Maidenhead more than deserved their equaliser (Dave Tarpey tap-in, '86). It had been coming for a while. So much so that I'd instinctively made my way down the terrace; I was at the very front when the ball hit the net. I turned to jump on/ hug the person next to me, just about managing to hold back after realising that it was Ryan D - a recent recoveree from a broken knee! Wealdstone had one or two decent shouts for penalties in a frantic finish, but the Magpies looked the more likely winners as 'Johnson/ Jonathan Hippolyte's Black & Army' was belted out. The final whistle prompted a blast of 'We love you Maidenhead'. Meanwhile, the earlier attendance announcement as 722 met with disbelieving guffaws and 'You're only here cos it's Maidenhead'.  

'Nothing better than a point on the road' ~ Dennis Greene

^^^ Daniel Brown seemingly signed for Wealdstone, at the end of September, shortly after his release by Maidenhead. I've been a 'Brownman' fan since he caught the eye in a pre-season friendly at Holyport in July 2009. I was his kit sponsor for several seasons, and - whilst not the most technically gifted of footballers - I appreciated his physical presence and 100% commitment in the middle of the park for the Magpies. He came on as a second-half substitute for his new team at Grosvenor Vale and made an outstanding block to save a near-certain goal. He then applauded the travelling fans at the final whistle. We responded in kind: 'Brownman is a Magpie'. I would then chat with him, albeit briefly, in the clubhouse. Top lad. I wish him all the best. (P.S. You ain't gonna win any arm wrestling contests with Brownman!)

^^^ Ale o'clock. Arsenal and Bristol Rovers had both won. So yours truly was in an excitable mood as I supped on the first of many Piledrivers (which, I would later learn, have much to do with Status Quo and - sadly, but unsurprisingly - nothing to do with Brian Connor). Hillsy wasn't present (however, he WAS apparently at the match), but Sudhir and - as per the above photos - Megaphone Mick, Dave P, and Grim most certainly were. Heart of Midlothian came up in conversation - Dave P is a fan - and, lead by Brian, we would serenade the bar with a (near full-length) version of the truly excellent Hearts Song. I was reminded ('I remember the time') of Stones Aid II when we got our guests' anti- Harrow Borough juices flowing with a lusty rendition of 'A group of blokes from Marlow went to Rome to see the Pope' (which also had an airing, earlier this afternoon, during the second half). 'You lot are exactly as I expected,' said Grim, 'loud and boozy'. Compliment accepted!

^^^ As we prepared to head back into town - and after I had purchased a 'Magpies on Tour' t-shirt from Mr Logic (late as usual, BTW) - Les and I indulged in a game of 'headers and volleys' with some Stones Youth. Les went 'between the sticks' - as is his want - and, after one of the youngsters had nailed an absolute peach of a volley, took the ball full in the face as it rebounded off the fence-cum-goal. His glasses were smashed to smithereens, and his face cut (perilously close to his left eye). The youngsters were very apologetic but, in any case, it was a complete accident. The cut - as helpfully pointed out by me, above, back in J.J. Moon's - looked nasty but not too painful. That, though, probably had much to do with our not-insignificant alcohol intake (e.g. I would somehow lose the aforementioned t-shirt en route to the pub from the ground). Regardless, I am happy to report that Les subsequently found a replacement pair of glasses, and no long-term physical damage was done. A hard lesson, though, for all of us: never - EVER - voluntarily go in goal.

^^^ Further pints of Black Cat before the relatively tortuous journey home. A case, for me, of 'memory kinda hazy'. 'How was your head the next day?' several people would later ask. Well, nowhere near bad enough to prevent me from attending the second half of HAYU vs Sutton United at York Road, then accompanying the Gandermonium boys for a few post-match drinkies in the Greyhound. Dr Taz would diagnose 'stand-banging thumb', as I struggled to clasp pints of Devil's Backbone and Bingham's Space Hoppy, whilst Dukey would subsequently - and perhaps accurately - describe the general conversation as a 'dick comparing argument'. The Stones deserve the same treatment when they visit York Road in springtime (for their away fixture with us; they've already played 'at' HAYU). That will be the Saturday before Fancy Dresslemania XV; back at Sutton, where it all began. Without wanting to wish my life away, I cannot wait for April!


Away The Gas

Ever wished that you could buy GMOSC's Bristol Rovers related away day blog posts (up to the end of last season) in book form? Well, your prayers have been answered! Seriously.

Worth the £9.99 price alone for your own, hard copy of Macleod (M) photographed with Stewart Lee (the 'comedian's comedian') an unwell looking Eric Cantona photographed with a tramp at Oxford train station; you'll also be enlightened and entertained, in equal measure, by the many other tales covering '50 years of away game memories of Bristol Rovers fans'. 

As well as being a really good read - and don't take my word for it; see various testimonials on Gas Guzzler and Gas Works - purchasing a copy of the book will also help out a very worthwhile cause, with 10% of all profits donated to The Brain Tumour Charity. 

More details here. 

Willie ordered one and his copy arrived promptly, accompanied by a hand-written note from the man who put it all together (having correctly surmised that William from Maidenhead was Jenny from the block Willie from the blog). Such a gesture is typical of the man, if my dealings with him are anything to go by; it was certainly a real pleasure to contribute to his book and I sincerely hope that it is a success.


Wednesday 29 October 2014

Away Day Diary: Arbroath 4-0 East Stirlingshire (18/10/14)

^^^ After recent KSG visits to see East Stirlingshire play at Berwick Rangers, Glasgow Rangers, Elgin City and Stenhousemuir (Shire vs Clyde), there was some excitement when Arbroath - the Red Lichties - were relegated from Scottish League Div One in May 2014. A new, potentially enticing away day! Further excitement, later that month, when former Maidenhead United keeper Richard Barnard signed for the Shire! Aberdeen was suggested as our base, for a weekend away, in the hope that it would tempt Craig to join us and re-visit his old stomping ground. After the fixtures had been released - and an October date earmarked - the hotel and flights were sorted before the end of June.

^^^ A ridiculously early flight meant that we were shaking hands with Macleod (C) - whom we hadn't seen since Let's Rock the Moor, on FA Cup Final day, in May - at Aberdeen airport, shortly after 9am. A short bus ride into town (to Union Independence Street) and then photos of Craig, outside the entrance building to his alma mater, en route to the hotel. As well as being very reasonably priced and ideally located, we were able to check-in early to our sizeable and well-presented rooms at the relatively new Hilton Garden. #recommend

^^^ Time to explore. The initial plethora of tattoo parlours, hairdressers and weirdly named businesses reminded me of Falkirk (Fair Deal Food City vs AFC Fast Food, anyone?). Not good. But we weren't wandering aimlessly. Oh no, Craig had a plan. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, we were headed to Old Aberdeen and the city's historic university campus.

^^^ #yeracksualculturebytheway. I commented that I was reminded of Harvard Yard, MA. Craig was quick to point out that King's College - top left; the third oldest university in Scotland and fifth oldest in Britain - predates it's American counterpart by nearly 150 years.

^^^ The Powis Gates, with stickers on adjacent lamppost. 'The sheep are on fire', BTW, apparently refers to a popular Aberdeen FC chant.

^^^ Into the Pittodrie Bar, just after midday, and our first Tennents of the weekend. I, for one, liked the Aberdeen FC caricatures on display. Apparently there is an old photo of Craig, sat in exactly the same spot as above, celebrating the passing - or, at least, the taking - of an exam.

^^^ Pittodrie Stadium. One of the first all-seater stadia in the UK, or so I'm told. Rather strange, in the sense that it had four very distinct stands. Superb granite facade, ruined somewhat by the view of open-air seats. The opposite end - the Dick Donald Stand - was large and imposing, but looked somewhat dated.

^^^ Interesting surroundings - high rise tower blocks in the distance; a huge cemetery with a road meandering through it; a (deserted) links golf course … and the North Sea - as we climbed up and over a grassy hill towards an amusement park and, ultimately, the city centre. Craig would regale us with a story of one memorable midweek match with Rangers, when he navigated this very pathway - in thick snow - towards the away supporters coaches ... despite the fact that he ideally should've been heading, in the opposite direction, back to his student digs! #mcbubble

^^^ Macleod (M) and I auditioning for a Scottish remake of Get Carter. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am often partial to an inappropriate paddle - sounds wrong! - when the opportunity presents itself. Not this time!

^^^ Soon after this photo - of an Inverness Caledonian Thistle sticker - was taken, we were back in the city centre. The architecture was, as Macleod (M) remarked, rather higgledy-piggledy. Much to my dismay, we passed by a massive Wetherspoons – now Archibald Simpsons, formerly the grandiose HQ of Clydesdale bank - as Craig had been recommended somewhere for lunch. The rather swish Cafe 52 initially appeared an inappropriate choice, to me, but the food subsequently served up more than justified the venue's popularity (we just about managed to get a table). Being a big fan of soups, generally, and encouraged by the fact that Craig was also going to order it, I tried the Cullen skink. And I'm glad that I did. Scrumptious.

^^^ Sight-seeing and lunch done, it was time for a pub crawl of Craig's old haunts. First up was the Prince of Wales (a bit dark and dingy, these days, although apparently the bar used to be one of the longest in the country or something), then Ma Cameron's (where the above photo was taken; my favourite pub on the crawl; cracking pints of Inveralmond Brewery's Lia Fail and Belhaven IPA).

^^^ Triple Kirks next. It seems that Craig spent most of his university career in this place! Not surprising, seeing as it was directly opposite the main entrance building (pictured towards the top of this post). We somehow got onto the topic of the 1986 World Cup. 'Where were you when Maradona handballed against England?' asked Macleod (M). 'Over there!' replied Craig, pointing just to our left. Cue a Phoenix from the Flames with Macleod (C) as Peter Shilton and Craig as the fat-arsed, drug-addled, curly-haired, cheating dwarf. Play Barry Davies ...

^^^ More culture (Aberdeen is right up there, with Edinburgh, in the 'statue-on-nearly-every-corner' stakes). Brief, one drink, visits to the Grill (busy, but not great) and the Justice Mill (Lloyds Bar) before Craig met with some mates in the College. It was (supposedly) a sports bar but would only be showing the Hamilton vs Aberdeen game, not Rotherham vs Leeds. The Macleods and I left Craig and his mates to it, if only because Macleod (M) wanted to watch Yorkshire's finest (and Leeds!). 

^^^ After a brief stop-off for lard at a supermarket, then an abortive visit to McGinty's (another Leeds no-show), we settled in McNasty's. Leeds were 1-0 up when Macleod (C) and I left for the hotel, to get changed, but were a goal down upon our return. Macleod (M) headed back, following the final whistle (Leeds had lost), while Macleod (C) and I spurned the karaoke and returned to Triple Kirks to try our luck on the quiz machine. The club, upstairs, ultimately beckoned. As pictured, I was alone on the dance floor to begin with. We would lose each other, as the student population filled the place up, and I would eventually be thrown out for falling asleep whilst propped up against a pillar next to the DJ booth! TBF, it had been a very long day (5.20am taxi to the airport, following a late one at the Pondie pub quiz the night before). It was absolutely pouring with rain as I walked swam back to the hotel. The miserable weather not indicative, though, of an enjoyable day/ night.

^^^ Macleod (C) and I were up first. Remarkable! Time to watch the 'Russia' episode of the Real Football Factories International (comic gold!), on Macleod (C)'s iPad, before breakfast in the Justice Mill and then a ten min or so walk to the station. We would pass a whole host of lap dancing clubs on the approach (all those oil men gotta spend their money on summat, I suppose!). Our train to Arbroath was busier, more expensive (£22 each) and would take longer (approx. 50 mins) than I was expecting. The sun was shining, though, and the coastal views were spectacular. Stonehaven, in particular, looked delightful. A mural at our destination depicted the Declaration of Arbroath (I hadn't heard of it either!). We were then overlooked by the ruins of Arbroath Abbey as we left the station and headed to the nearest pub (ignoring the thrice photographed sign!).

^^^ One round in the Westport Bar (nondescript; Man City vs Spuds on TV) and a couple in the Millgate, either side of this photo being taken (shocking to think, really, that we didn't actually go in the McAnchor!). All of these pubs were within spitting distance of each other; it's safe to say that you won't die of thirst in Arbroath! A ten min or so walk to the ground, as kick off approached, down the gently sloping Millgate Loan/ B9114.

^^^ Scotch pie time. The general consensus was 'not as good as Elgin, but better than Stenhousemuir'. Steak won the vote over mincemeat, but both put the overpriced rubbish served at York Road etc. into some perspective.

^^^ Reading the following, on Wikipedia, had convinced Macleod (M) and I that Arbroath at Gayfield Park was the Shire away game we wanted to attend next: 

The stadium is situated on the sea front, to the west of Arbroath harbour, on the southern edge of the town. There is no other football stadium in Europe which is as close to the sea. Due to its position next to the North Sea, in winter fans can be exposed to severe cold and winds. On stormy winter days, waves beat on the walls surrounding the ground. Clearances in the teeth of the gale, let alone polished football, become impossible. Goalkeepers can find it hard to spot the ball to kick out and even then goalkicks occasionally fly out for corners. Players taking corner on the southern side were splashed by waves in February 2014. Visiting fans sometime fear hypothermia as a realistic risk attending games at Gayfield but home fans love the proximity to the action, the dramatic elemental backdrop and the natural air-conditioning – a far cry from the identical plastic boxes and pitches masquerading as 'football grounds' which are spreading like the plague.

^^^ The surroundings were actually far more compelling than the game. Shire were lacklustre from the off and two down just after the half hour mark. I don't know whether Ging Richard I (Ging Richard VI in Scotland?!) could see the Maidenhead United saltire. I doubt it; his eyesight isn't what it was, if his flap for the first Arbroath goal is anything to go by! TBF, Barnard was a decent keeper for Maidenhead; apparently recommended to Alan Devonshire by Phil Parkes, he joined us as a youngster from Millwall in 2000 and made 143 appearances before signing for Aldershot Town on a full time contract. It is testament to his popularity that, after just one season as a Magpie, the Macleods and Les - the only three brave mad enough to do it - went 'Ging for Richard' (Murdo, essentially, dyed his scalp red!) at Harrow Borough on the opening day of the 2001/02 campaign. We won 3-0; Steve 'Crocko' Croxford, Paul 'Male Model' Scott and Lee 'Porn' Channell among the goals. Those were the days! #mistyeyednostalgia

^^^ Halftime photos. The one, top left, taken in tribute to Ladderman from the Conf South forum. Craig had told me about an infamous Arbroath FC die hard who kept getting banned. It has been reported in the Sunday papers in Scotland that he would stand on a wall, to see games, and once climbed up a telegraph pole! Perhaps he now has his own ladder? That wouldn't be as weird, though, as the tannoy announcer having a strong West Country accent! Speaking of the West Country, I was frustrated to learn that the Gas were losing at home to Forest Green. Arsenal, meanwhile, were only drawing at home to Hull (and would soon be behind). The purchase of a decent Arbroath scarf, for a reasonable price of £9, would cheer me up. Somewhat.

^^^ Second half match 'action'. Arbroath - the league leaders - were in complete control, without ever having to get out of second (or even first?) gear. No-one particularly caught the eye - as Stefan McCluskey and Brian McQueen had done, for Clyde against the Shire, back in March - at least, not in a good way. One of the Shire subs had an absolute nightmare when he came on. TBF, he is likely a (very recent) graduate of a Shire youth team that has apparently excelled at their age group. The club also has plans for a new stadium, so I commend them for at least trying to go about things the 'right way' (how many times have I moaned, in the past, about Maidenhead prioritising high-priced journeymen over the progression of homegrown players and ground improvements?). The minimal Shire support were noticeably subdued throughout, however, not helped by two late-ish goals putting a gloss finish on the scoreline. Cajoled by Mad Bill - with Cars Fooked among those rolling, half-naked, up and down a grassy bank - they had been jaw-droppingly brilliant at Berwick. A case of 'ever decreasing circles', though, in the games we've been to since. I'm slowly coming to terms with the likelihood that - and Craig will say 'I told you so' - Berwick was a 'jolly boy's outing' for them and, like us at Dartford in 2011 (and, hopefully, Wealdstone this coming Saturday), far from a typical away day following. Anyway, 4-0 the final score. 614 saw it (yeah, right!).

^^^ The Gas had lost and a late Danny Welbeck goal had only just about saved Arsenal's blushes. Maidenhead, meanwhile, took the lead in stoppage time but then conceded a 92nd min equaliser at Concord, as we walked past a Signal Tower museum towards the harbour. We finally found a fish and chip shop serving the world famous - and EU protected - Arbroath smokie (or eventually serving it, at least; at one stage I began to think that they'd gone out to catch the thing only after we'd ordered it!). Macleod (C) and I tried the specialty - helped out by a scavenging Macleod (M) - sat on a bench, looking out to sea, at the ominously named Danger Point. It tasted better than I was perhaps expecting; flavourful - unsurprisingly smoky - albeit with plenty of bones. 

^^^ A couple of rounds of T in the Pageant (much more welcoming than it looked; yours truly put Goldie Lookin Chain and Chas & Dave on the jukebox) between the photos top left and right. No time to stop in Danny DeVito's, unfortunately, but just enough for a (very) quick one in the Stag Inn. #whatwouldmerthrydo? Plenty of the 45 in here, BTW!

^^^  We went for a pint in Wilson's Sports Bar, upon our return to Aberdeen, before Craig called it a night (he had been in Warsaw for Poland vs Scotland, prior to this trip, so I think he was understandably knackered). The Macleods and I then headed to McGinty's - via the Justice Mill - where we would enjoy a rather pleasant and civil evening, drinking decent ale and chewin' the fat (as they would say in Aberdeen). When it was time for a nightclub we knew exactly where to go - unlike in Edinburgh - as Macleod (C) had done his homework; round the corner, down Chapel Street, to Club Tropicana. There was a massive queue outside, though, so we tried next door. The bouncer wouldn't let us in (trainers or summat). Third time lucky and into a karaoke bar called Sing City. It was winding down (thankfully). Still time, however, for me to rile a girl called Jessica (not a local, so her accent wasn't particularly impenetrable). After calling me a C-word (on more than one occasion?), she lead us down a corridor, then a flight of stairs, to a nightclub called Vogue. It transpired that all three places - the karaoke bar, the 90s club and the 80s club - were interlinked. Huzzah! We handed in our coats and promptly headed to the multi-coloured 80s dance floor, with bottles of Smirnoff Ice (Murdo's new favourite tipple) in hand. It was absolutely packed and, as Karma Chameleon - or something of similar quality - reverberated, I found myself chatting to a petite, dark-haired young lady wearing a red dress … seconds before she began trading punches with another smartly attired, good-looking female! I double-checked with Macleod (M) that they weren't fighting over me. Apparently not. As the scrap began to escalate - in intensity and in number - I intervened to act as peacemaker. About a gazillion iSpy points! Five minutes or so later, however, I was one of many open-mouthed bystanders - including the Eastern European bouncer, who shrugged his shoulders - as Lady In Red and her friends, seemingly as one and following some imperceptible signal, took off their stilettos and re-ignited the brawl (Round Two ended, in stalemate, with LIR and an opponent refusing to let go of one another's hair). Now, I've seen this type of girl-on-girl action before - notably a flying headbutt outside the Studio in Cleethorpes - but this was something else! Really rather unnerving. Anyhow, after (almost literally) drinking Club Tropicana out of Smirnoff Ice, we returned upstairs to collect our jackets and were preparing to leave as the place began to empty … when She's Electric by Oasis came on. Before I could ask, rhetorically, what Liam Gallagher would do (and before either one of the Macleods could answer 'get his teeth kicked in, probably'), I was bounding across the dry ice-covered dance floor. Another fight ensued - this time between two blokes - but, again, my role was that of peacemaker. As well as prompting photos with a bespectacled lassie - whose friend's boyfriend took (unnecessary) exception to some of the poses ('Dae ye want tae carry oan thes gab ootwith pal?'; 'No point, really, as I can't understand a word you're saying') - my new-fangled pacifist ways also inspired a short-lived game: Security-Generals of the UN as Scottish football teams. Macleod (C) kicked us off with Kofi Annan Athletic. I would counter with Ban Ki-Moontrose and, later, Boutros Boutros-Caley Thistle. Any more for any more?! Thought not. Earlier in the day - perhaps conscious that I'd missed out, due to illness, on our first night in Inverness - I theorised that we needed a bona fide classic night out, in Scotland, to fully justify the 'new Germany' label. This was it, or close enough.

^^^ Once again Macleod (C) and I were up first - wonders will never cease - and once again we lead the march to the Justice Mill for breakfast (I got the order right this time; LARGE). I nursed a hideous 7.5% Freak of Nature Dark IPA as Craig and Macleod (M) caught up on the Lorne sausage. A couple of rounds in the Illicit Still (reminded me a little of Waxy O'Connors in Glasgow; empty wine bottles hanging from the ceiling as part of an elaborate light fixture; QPR vs Liverpool on TV) before a photo with an SIA logo ('It's a recession proof industry,' whimpered a Dorchester Town jobsworth, one year, as we laughed at him) and a taxi, from the hotel, to the airport. One final T, then home. Montrose away, next season, staying in Dundee. After Arbroath/ Aberdeen, they have much to live up to. Unlike the Shire! Hey ho, who's in?!