A few days I go I was talking to the 20-something son of one of my customers and I casually enquired if he had an interest in football. ‘No,’ he assured me, going on to explain that his flat overlooked the Police’s Away supporter transportation route from Nottingham rail station to the City Ground and that if the game caused that much trouble, it should just be confined to TV.
Having lived through the ‘Aggro’ days of the 1970s and early 80s, I reckon what occasionally happens today is pretty tame compared to the rituals prevalent back then, but apparently the perception that watching football is a dangerous game still exists – at least amongst the under-informed.
My rail journey today takes me through Direby where one of the platforms is thronged with people of all ages waiting to be cattle-trucked and herded through the streets of Leicester. I doubt it will be like that, but it was in 1975 when the Shaggers were about to win the league and the local ‘yoaths’ wanted to leave their mark on their East Midlands cousins. I can remember witnessing war-painted faces for the first time (a glam-rock spin-off) with opposing crocodiles on each side of the terraced streets, both spitting venom and fury. I found it fascinating although of course while observing from a safe distance.
Post-Hillsborough, watching footy is a much more civilised pastime. Sure, there’s still an element of tribalism, but the days when this descended into pitched post-match battles have long passed, unless you live in some parts of London. Today I’m re-completing my 92 by making the short hop to the new B2Net Stadium of Chesterfield. I’ve chosen this game – against Burton Albion – because the Brewers are one of my ‘soft-spot’ teams and I can justifiably stand in the Away End. I say ‘stand’ but actually this stadium is all-seater, doubtless in preparation for a higher level of football. More about standing later.
I am endeared to Burton due to once having run a pub there. On a Saturday we’d inevitably shut up shop at around 2pm before racing down to Eton Park and getting stuck into the hand-pumped Pedigree in the club bar as the Clough-inspired Albion pushed their way up through the pyramid structure. I was as disappointed as everyone when young Nigel decamped to the Shaggers, as I felt his Football League-seeking mission at Burton was just about to be fulfilled.
I start my day by making a 20-minute walk to a pub in the western suburb of Brampton, home to the eponymous-named brewery. My route takes me past the rusting hulk of the former Chesterfield ground on Saltergate. There’s the sound of angle-grinders at work but from where I stand the stadium looks intact, floodlight pylons et al. The Grouse Inn is opening as I arrive and is preparing for a day of live sport with numerous screens fired up. I sample a couple of the beers from the Brampton range, both quite palatable despite one being gold!
Then the slog back into town and out to the north in the direction of Whittington Moor, when the new ground is located. It’s a 25-minute walk to the ground, passing numerous ‘Home Fan Only’ pubs before I call at the ground to buy my ticket and then push on to the Castle Rock-owned Derby Tup where landlord Brendan probably can’t believe his financial luck as every other Saturday has become a till-clinking day. At 1.20pm he is rammed and is dispensing his fine range of ten real ales as fast as his chunky, ex-Rugby League playing arms will permit. I pause for a quickie before moving even further away from the stadium to the Red Lion, owned by the Yorkshire-based Old Mill brewery. The pub is pleasant enough, showing differing sport on two screens, and a four-strong range of Old Mill beers, but I find that the Bitter and Mild are nothing to write home about. Bland is the word that springs to mind.
I get into the ground at five to three – a little early methinks – and partake of a cheese & onion pasty before selecting a seat halfway up behind the goal. There’s a fair few Brewers fans amongst a decent crowd as table-topping Chesterfield look for three more easy points against a Burton side which hasn’t won away all season. The Spirites prolific striker Craig Davies has seemingly eschewed his singing career and is trying to justify his current ‘on-fire’ tag but Albion fans have long memories and continually remind the Burton-born No.9 of his earlier career at lowly Stapenhill. He responds with a hand gesture, fortunately for him unseen by the referee.
For the first 25-minutes Burton are the better team and are a goal up as a home defender is mugged and any one of three Burton men can score. Collins does. A wickedly-deflected shot puts the Spirites level and Whitaker is booked as he launches the ball into the Burton fans. Davies continues his gesturing. But after the break Burton come back out with all guns blazing. Home keeper Lee keeps his side in it with two point-blank saves but his team’s cause is not helped when goalscorer Niven is red-carded for a seemingly innocuous challenge. Burton take advantage of their one-extra-man status and a sweet turn and strike by sub Harrod clinches it.
In the row in front of me a middle-aged man has stood up and continues to stand. He is the only one standing but unfortunately he’s right in my line-of-sight. My verbal requests for him to sit down are ignored so I tap him on the shoulder and repeat my request. He is not happy and mouths off some profanities, repeated with a pointed gesture when the final whistle goes a minute or two later. I reply with gestures and oaths of my own.
As we leave the ground the one-man crocodile on his side of the street spits venom and fury, as does the one-man crocodile on my side of the street. The Police keep their distance. Watching football can be a dangerous game…..
Programme: £3.00 from numerous sellers outside and inside the ground. Excellently researched and produced.
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: Not this far north
Toilets: Spacious, built under the concourse
Club Shop: Outside the ground’s main entrance
Tannoy music: That annoying song – as used by the Blunts – when the home team score
Player with the quirkiest name: Northing without scaping the barrel