Estádio do Dragão roars under Sérgio Conceição

A recent trip to the Estádio do Dragão got us thinking about Porto and their devastating start to the season under Sérgio Conceição..

By Danny Wyn Griffith

Off the metro at the last stop, out into the blistering October sunshine. At first, it’s hard to see it, as it stands elevated above your initial eyesight. As you cross the road, journey up the stairs, you’re suddenly welcomed by the Estádio do Dragão. This wonderful, yet modern stadium, stands like a giant overseeing the city of Porto. Futebol Clube do Porto’s guardian.

From your elevated position, you’re able to see the iconic Douro River run through the length and breadth of the city, with stand-out colourful architecture all along the banks. The stadium’s grey outer-base isn’t in keeping with the city’s, that much is true. But the fact that it stands out like a sore-thumb, perhaps adds to that cauldron-like intimidation visiting players and fans alike, feel upon arrival. You sense that once at full capacity, the Estádio do Dragão – Stadium of the Dragon once translated – roars like no other.

Inaugurated against Barcelona on 16 November 2003, the stadia’s capacity holds just over 50,000. This match also saw a then lesser-known Lionel Messi making his first-team debut for Barça at 16 years old.

Unfortunately, the day I visited wasn’t a match day. Porto were playing the previous night in a Portuguese Cup third round tie at lesser-known Lusitano GC Évora in the city of Évora. Their hosts from the III Divisão were no match for the Primeira Liga giants as they were dispatched 0-6.

Nevertheless, whilst walking through the Estádio do Dragão, you sense it was purposefully built for a club of real stature. Images of Porto’s recent successes welcomes visiting sides all along the tunnel and inside the dressing room. From José Mourinho’s all-conquering side of 2002-04, Andre Villas-Boas’ unbeaten league and Europa League winners of 2010-11 and Vitor Pereira’s dramatic late-win against Benfica, thanks to a pot-shot by Kelvin, to more or less seal their 27th title. All of these triumphant scenes must create a sense of general awe amongst some sides, and fear amongst others.

Porto’s UEFA Europa League win in 2011 along with Brazilian cult-figure, Jardel.

Porto is a club rooted in football history. Founded in September 1893, FC Porto came to being from a secret ambition that became a reality. António Nicolau d´Almeida, a fine sportsman and an expert Oporto Wine trader, was invited by the F.C. Porto president to a game against Club Lisbonense. The president, José Monteiro da Costa, went on to unite the efforts of the local community that included a strong English expat community in Oporto. This led to the extinction of a club called Grupo Recreativo “O Destino” in favour of F.C. Porto. It was the beginning of a structure built on a strong foundation –  that became the team we now see today.

Nowadays, Porto are experiencing something of a rebound following a dismal spell under the guidance of now Spain national team coach, Julien Lopetegui. Former Porto and Portugal winger, Sergio Conceicao, has them playing in a dynamically flamboyant style. He has overseen an unbeaten start to the season – having won 10 of their 13 competitive matches, only drawing away at Sporting Lisbon, and losing twice in the UEFA Champions League to RB Leipzig and Beşiktaş. They sit atop the Primeira Liga, having scored 25 goals whilst conceding the mere four. Sérgio Conceição has Porto well and truly back on the domestic march.

Porto manager, Sérgio Conceição.

The former Nantes manager, who turned down Leicester City’s advances following Claudio Ranieri’s sacking in early 2017, has turned Porto’s fortunes on its head. Although never a club for real struggles in the modern day, under Julien Lopetegui they became a one dimensional and dismal side to watch.

A stadium operator told me: “It was awful under Lopetegui and I’m amazed how he somehow managed to land the Spain national side’s manager role.”

Yet, it seems that Conceição’s vigour is the perfect remedy. Usually known for his technical ability as a player, it also needs remembering that this was the player who was once sent-off, then decided to spit in the face of an opponent, before taking his shirt off and throwing it towards the referee. He was also at the centre of a melee when playing for PAOK at Aris, when plastic was thrown towards him from the crowd and he somehow got red-carded for it.

His career took him from a humble beginning at Penafiel to Porto, on a journey through Italy with Inter Milan, Parma and two spells at Lazio –  where he’s still revered today – before another spell at Porto, and then some late form with Standard Liège and PAOK – via Kuwait’s Al Qadisia. The full-circle manner of his career says a lot about the link he has with the Porto faithful.

Discipline has been the formula under Sérgio Conceição. He is renowned from his time at Nantes to have subjected players to double training sessions and a stricter, more precise style of management. When hiring Conceição, you also buy into a culture and vision – a way of life.

Veteran Spain icon, Iker Casillas, is enjoying something of a renaissance in goal. Fellow Spaniard, Ivan Marcano, is playing better than he ever did under Lopetegui. Danilo has become a real force in the centre of midfield – and seems destined for a big-money move one day. Conceição’s biggest success story, however, is Vincent Aboubakar. The Cameroonian is enjoying a second-chance in Porto, having been discarded on-loan to Beşiktaş by Lopetegui. He seems full of confidence, fulfilling potential that was all so often obviously there, romping the domestic scene with seven goals in nine games.

Falcao, Moutinho, Rodriguez and González – Porto’s recent glories.

Up next for Conceição’s side is a local derby against Boavista. They are also high-flying compared to previous years, and will undoubtedly pose a threat to Porto as they look to keep the momentum going in their march on the league. But you sense that Conceição’s Dragões are destined for domestic success this year.

As the stadium operator said: “It’s all different under him. He understands the club. His focus, concentration and pure desire to win. That’s what Porto is all about.”


Remembering an Él Colchonero

A visit to the Vicente Calderon in 2016 gave quite the unexpected insight into football fandom as an Él Colchonero was remembered.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

Considerable amounts of time and effort goes into following a football team. Weekends are swallowed, despite the game only lasting for 90mins. You also spend vast amounts of money supporting your beloved over the years, without taking any extra-curricular activities into account. You experience highs and lows, perhaps one more-so than the other dependant on where your loyalties lie. Furthermore, you go through life supporting a team, only to pass away with the men in power hardly ever noticing the time, money and energy you devoted to the cause.

Actually, all of this depends on who you class as the men in power. Do you believe these to be the Middle Eastern sheikhs, Russian oligarchs, American debt-loaders or numerous low-profile shareholders? They might hold the power at club level, but do they hold the power at fan level? Some owners might say they do, but deep down they’d reluctantly accept not. The ones that hold power over the fans are other fans. These might be battle-hardened individuals or someone that hasn’t missed a game in donkey’s years. They might not command respect, but they certainly deserve it. They’ve been there, seen it and done it – no matter what level your team plays at.

This leads me to being outside the Vicente Calderon in September for a La Liga match. Atleti were playing Sporting Gijon on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. Around an hour before kick-off, many had gathered outside a bar opposite the grand stadium. Chanting could be heard, smiles could be seen. Atleti had started the season in decent fashion, immediately picking themselves up from a second Champions League final defeat in three years to their cross-town rivals, Real Madrid.


Atleti fan with a Diego Simeone printed home shirt.


Diego Simeone’s name echoed around the Madrid streets. That previous day he announced the 2016/17 season would be his last with the team, meaning Atleti would head into the new 70,000 Estadio la Peneita with a new manager. The news spelled disaster to an outsider like me, but the Atleti fans seemed proud to have had Diego Simeone lead their team since 2011.

It is no coincidence that Atleti have seen improved fortunes with El Cholo at the helm. He’s a true warrior and wears his heart on his sleeve in every meaning of the phrase. He’ll be remembered in the same breath as other Los Colchoneros managerial greats like Ricardo Zamora, Helenio Herrera and former Atleti player and four-time coach, Luis Aragonés. They are part of the Atleti history and so will Diego be.

Nevertheless, a sudden spell of silence engulfed the previously joyful fans. Something wasn’t right. The street opened like the Red Sea being parted by Moses. Around 40 fans took centre-stage, standing still with flares lit above their heads. Tears were shedding down some of the faces. They began chanting but not like previously heard. This was actually a remembrance.



I normally despise the modern society element of taking your phone out to film everything a tad out of the ordinary, but that is exactly what I did. Despite the back-tingling atmosphere which struck each and every one in the surrounding area, this was actually a moment to behold in a rather sinister way. It showed what fan culture truly meant.

The flares eventually died out but the embracing continued. An emotional fan by the name of Alby approaches having seen me video what had just taken place. He asks if I could send it over to him, given the person was an Atleti ultra and one of his best friends who had died a fortnight earlier. He mentions that the crowd included the deceased’s girlfriend and sister.

He emphasises: “He was taken too early and this is how we celebrate his name.”


Fans gathered outside the Vicente Calderon stadium.


At times during the football season, you spend more of the week with your friends and fellow fans than you do at home with your family. Perhaps you go from watching your team at home on a Saturday, to seeing them play a midweek European fixture and play a domestic away the following weekend. You might not have handpicked the individuals you spend this vast amount of time with, but you share more highs and lows with them than any outsider could care to imagine. You look out for each and every one because you all believe in the same thing. Together you celebrate or anguish, sing and shout, laugh or cry.

The match played out a 5-0 victory for Atleti against an awe-struck Sporting Gijon side. This was an appropriate celebration of a lost life. From what my limited Spanish gathered, the deceased wasn’t mentioned once by the stadium operator. His family, friends and fellow fans wouldn’t have been bothered in the slightest though – they had just given him a better send off than anyone could hope for and his team had also delivered.

That day, an El Colchonero was remembered.

Groundhopper: Deutschland/Holland ’16

Here is Ian Bradshaw’s account of his Groundhopping weekend in Germany and Holland, where he managed to fit in three matches, in three days.

By Ian Bradshaw.

Since my two live quite a distance away with their mum and only spend every-other weekend with their dad, I get the chance to follow football pretty much when and where I please these days – albeit, I’d rather that wasn’t the case.

As a Liverpool season ticket holder since 1984, my allegiances are obvious, but I don’t mind taking in other fixtures to chalk off a few grounds in the process.

My birthday weekend in early February 2016 was throwing up some promising opportunities for a weekend away in Europe – although the Bundesliga fixture generator had still to spit out the most opportune of weekends that suited my needs best.

Düsseldorf looked the place to best locate myself, and with home fixtures at Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and Fortuna Düsseldorf up for grabs, it seemed a sensible choice to consider booking flights prior to the games being announced.

I also chanced a look at the Dutch fixtures. They threw up the prospect of Ajax v Feyenoord – already confirmed as Sunday 7th February.

Then came the German fixture confirmation – it read:

  • Friday 5th February – Borussia Monchengladbach v Werder Bremen
  • Saturday 6th February – Schalke 04 v Wolfsburg.

My weekend was well and truly made.

Outward flights were booked from Manchester to Düsseldorf and inward back from Amsterdam to Manchester, with 2-nights accommodation in the Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof Ibis to facilitate an early start to Amsterdam on the Sunday morning.

Match tickets were eventually secured for all three, with fantastic value for money compared to the current pricing strategies of English top tier football.


Goal Frenzy Greens

Borussia Monchengaldbach 5 – 1 Werder Bremen
Borussia Park, Friday 5th February 2016 k.o. 20.30
att. 51,144
Ticket: €44,50 (circa. £34)


Monchengladbach ticket


This was to be a new ground for me and I jumped a train from Düsseldorf Hbf over to Monchengladbach Hbf, and then buses are laid on up to Borussia Park.

Borussia Park is quite the sight as you approach in the dark, with the modern concrete structure and roof under lit with the green of BMG.


Monchengladbach Stadium 2


Memories came flooding back of being allowed to stay up as an eight year old to watch the 1977 European Cup Final in Rome on the telly, as I watched my idol Kevin Keegan and the rest of the mighty reds pit their wits against the strength of the Bundesliga in the form of Bertie Vogts, Rainer Bonhof and Wolfgang Knieb among others.

Having purchased a bratwurst outside the ground for €2,90, I had a mooch round the fan shop. I’d already purchased a memento scarf and pin badge online, however, to save lugging it around Europe.

bier in the ground was €4,10, and it went down well given the wind’s occasional icy slap in the face.


Monchengladbach Stadium


The game finished 5-1 to the home side as they produced some scintillating form to record their first points following the Bundesliga winter break, following a 3-1 home defeat by Borussia Dortmund and a 1-0 loss away at Mainz.

I’d expected a little more from Bremen, who’d recently impressed me on TV with a 3-1 away win at Schalke 04. Nevertheless, the entire game was played out in the usual entertaining atmosphere of German football, chants and fans bouncing up and down for a ninety-minutes solid.

Post-match, I caught the bus back into Monchengladbach and the connecting return train to Düsseldorf saw me arrive the hotel bar for 23.30.

Highlight: Apart from the game with 6 goals? A drunken German with more than a 90% passing resemblance to Joe Jordan, entertaining passengers with an impressive stumble and fall flat onto his face on the platform at Neuss on the return journey to Düsseldorf.


Taming of the Wolf

FC Schalke 04 3 – 0 Wolfsburg
Veltins Arena, Saturday 6th February 2016 k.o. 15.30
att. 61,481
Ticket: €41,50 (circa. £32)


Schalke ticket


It was a mid-morning start on Saturday, as I jumped the train to Heinrich Halle Strasse. A brisk walk through the Aldstadt down to the Rhein, and a walk along one of the main water arteries of Central Europe followed it.

I made the journey back to Düsseldorf Hbf for a train to Gelsenkirchen, which is free with a match ticket, if you travel on a regional train.

Having already attended a game at Schalke, the prospect of going again was a real attraction for me. As a stadium, from the outside it resembles an out of town office building, clad in reflected glass, which actually belies the fact that a truly magnificent football stadium is housed inside.

The concourse outside offers bratwurst at €2,95, though concessions inside the turnstiles – unlike BMG – require the purchase of a fan card.


Schalke Stadium


My seat was up with the Gods, back row of Block 55 – which seems to be the area of the ground set aside for day visitors, having sat in the vicinity previously.

An entertaining start saw Julian Draxler roundly booed following his recent defection to Wolfsburg and not before long business as usual was restored as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar notched the hosts ahead. A second was added ten minutes later from a sweetly hit direct free-kick by their industrious midfielder, Jonathan Geis.

I’ll own up now, given Schalke was a pig to get away from last time, I chose to leave with five minutes still on the clock. And, without knowing the German for Sods Law – Schalke netted a third before I’d got down the steps through Alessandro Schopf strike.

To compound matters, back at Gelsenkirchen I foolishly boarded an Inter City train to Düsseldorf and was clobbered for a €23,00 for a single ticket.

Once back at the hotel, I had a few biers, quick wash and set out into the Aldstadt for a few of the local altbiers. 

Highlight: seeing glimpses of the old 1973 built Parkstadion behind the hotel complex between that and the new stadium – with an immaculate pitch it is still used for training matches nd then watching the Nordkurve in full cry before and during the game.


De Klassieker

Ajax 2 – 1 Feyenoord
Amsterdam ArenA, Sunday 7th February k.o. 12.30
att. 51,875
Ticket: €59,00 (circa. £45)


Ajax Stadium


Early start for this as I caught the 06.56 ICE train to Amsterdam Centraal, which was €19 in advance on the DB website.

Arriving in Amsterdam, I threw my bag in a day locker for €10 and had a brief walk around, before jumping the train up to Biljmer for the ArenA. I had to collect the ticket I purchased in advance from the main entrance adjacent to Gate E – with which I received a complimentary Ajax scarf.

Once in my seat, there was a pre-match presentation to Johnny Heitinga who’d recently retired. He received a silver club platter and an F-Side baseball jacket before making the walk around the pitch with his two children.

The notorious F-Side, located behind the goal, showed their appreciation by lighting fireworks to honour the former Everton player.


Ajax Heitinga


Whilst away fans are prohibited for this fixture, this didn’t translate onto the pitch with the early exchanges a real blood and thunder affair, the type associated with a fierce derby where commitment to the cause takes precedent over footballing competencies.

When Feyenoord scored first through Jens Toornstra, an eerie silence fell around the ground. Ajax quickly restored the balance with a fine move concluded by some deft footwork by Amin Younes who slipped two defenders in shimmies to slot the ball into the far corner, out of reach of the keeper, and in off the base of the post.

The second half saw Ajax take, and ultimately retain the lead, through a fine long-range strike by their highly rated box-to-box midfielder, Riechedly Bazoer.

The scenes at the end left you in no doubt that Ajax thoroughly revelled in finally beating the staunchest rivals for the first time in four meetings – following two draws and a defeat in the preceding fixtures.

Highlight: an impressive pyro / smoke bomb display by Block 404 Check, saw black smoke hang over the pitch for a good 10 minutes, despite the roof being wide open.


Ajax Stadium 2


All in all, a great trip and one that will live in the memory for a good while. Work took some doing on the Monday, though.

Groundhopper: Eastleigh F.C’s Silverlake Stadium

Here is Tommie Collins with a review of his latest groundhopping outing to Easleigh FC’s Silverlake Stadium.

By Tommie Collins.

As far as groundhoppping goes, certain grounds are on the radar, but Eastleigh F.C’s Silverlake Stadium definitely wasn’t one of them. Nevertheless, Wrexham were due to play there and plans were made to make the long trek to deepest Hampshire.

I’ll be honest, I’d never really taken notice of where, or even who they were, until their excellent FA Cup run this season.

Eastleigh F.C. are riding high in the National Conference and they recently lost out to Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup 3rd round after a replay.

Another passing interest is a distinct Welsh connection with former Swansea City and Newport County defender Chris Todd at the helm, former Welsh U21 captain Joe Partington [who’s mother hails from Flint] and the Nomad Kaid Mohamed who started this season at Port Talbot.

They were facing a Wrexham side who were enduring another poor run having lost to Braintree four days earlier on what many commented was a very poor pitch.

The Silverlake Stadium, otherwise known as Ten Acres, has a very impressive shallow all-seated stand behind one goal – where the away fans were situated. Running the length of the pitch was a relatively new terrace and this was also behind the other goal where the home fans congregated in an attempt to create an atmosphere.

Running along the other side of the pitch was a tall stand situated mainly in the centre, similar to Bristol Rovers’ Memorial ground. The boardroom and manager’s office was situated by the stand, whilst the executive lounge was in the corner – both housed in matching portakabins.

Upon discussions with some of the fans, I understand that they have plans to upgrade the stadium and garner ambitions to gain promotion to the Football League in the near future.

The match was in doubt until nearly kick off time; despite the presence of my mate Dermot Gallagher the ex Premier League referee. I’d previously met Dermot at a Barnet  – Wrexham match, and the young looking referee seemed hesitant to give the game the go-ahead.

Both managers wanted the game to start and Gary Mills, the Wrexham manager, insisted that the Braintree pitch from the previous game was in worse condition. The Eastleigh officials agreed and were adamant that the pitch was in a worst state when they played Bolton in the FA Cup.

The fresh faced official wanted more sand on the boggy areas so that the players could turn and not get injured. I agree that player safety is paramount; all present were surprised that he left it so late to give the green light for the match to go ahead.

The match itself was enlivened by Eastleigh’s Andy Drury who scored with a spectacular strike from outside the box. Wrexham then drew level through Sean Newton’s shot, also from long range.

Over the course of the game, the standard of play deteriorated just like the pitch did, but Wrexham blew a great late opportunity to claim three valuable points when captain Connor Jennings failed to convert a penalty.

Overall, the draw was a fair result.

I made the long drive back to North Wales in 4hours 20 minutes, with my usual pin badge purchased.

Upon reflection on the drive home, I realised that ticking Eastleigh F.C’s Silverlake Stadium off my groundhopping list was an unexpected, but delightful treat.

Admission £15 on the day – £12 in advance

Badge – £2.50

Programme – £3

Tea – £1.50 hot

See more Groundhopper reports here –

Burton Albion’s Prielli Stadium Scouts

The Final Frontier, Carlisle United’s Brunton Park

Groundhopper: Pirelli Stadium Scouts

Here we have Tommie Collins’ account of his recent groundhopping outing to Burtion Albion’s Pirelli Stadium – as a scout.

By Tommie Collins.

Groundhopping is a growing sensation that involves attending matches at as many different stadiums or grounds as possible. Participants are known as groundhoppers, hoppers or travellers. The craze has seen a sharp rise in popularity of late due to the rising costs of watching Premier League football.

Personally, one ground stuck out like a sore thumb in my quest to visit as many grounds as possible: Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium.

I’d planned to go there numerous times but, but it just never materialised. Then, I kindly asked one of my numerous contacts for some complimentary tickets a few weeks back and two tickets with a parking space were reserved for me for the home game against Shrewsbury Town.

Nevertheless, there was a slight catch. Officially, we were classed as scouts.

Believe it or not, I do know a half-decent footballer when I see one. I visited Aldershot in the early 90’s for a match against Blackpool and one player stood out that night: Trevor Sinclair. On another groundhopping outing, I visited Crewe’s Gresty Road for a match against Swansea City and former Juventus and Arsenal midfielder David Platt shined that night. So, who would be the one to make an impression today?

Burton is synonymous as a town known for producing beer; I remembered the days when I used to drink Double Diamond which was actually brewed in Burton upon Trent – leading to its football team being nicknamed the Brewers.

The ground was neat and tidy, or as per usual for the ubiquitous new stadia [opened 2005] – a four-sided concrete breeze-block building. Nevertheless, the reception area which housed the main stand was nice and extremely modern. The other three sides were terraced.

We were allowed into the Albion Suite where the sponsors and their guests were tucking into their fine looking meals and downing pint after pint.

There was certainly no dry January here.

After a quick mingle, we entered the stadium and received our official team-sheets.  The pre-match refreshments was a let-down, however, and not a patch on some Welsh Premier League sides hospitality. There was a tea and coffee area but no one was serving – although this was rectified half time.

We sat with our pretend-lot for the night. One scout was representing Sheffield United and he was kitted out in official club clobber. We chatted briefly and we seemed to be fitting in well.

We were missing a few essential things compared to the rest, though – a pen and note pad.

The match itself was seemingly a home banker, with Burton Albion flying high in the upper echelons of League One, whilst the visitors had recently received a 7-1 battering at Chesterfield.

Given I cover many a Welsh Premier League match in a season, I immediately noticed that the pace of a League One match was much quicker and to use an old cliché; both teams tried to play football.

Up front for Shrewsbury Town was Andy Mangan, who is known as the rascal in the eye of many a Wrexham F.C. fan having never forgiven Mangan for upping sticks and leaving for Fleetwood Town in 2011.

There was a decent atmosphere in the ground with approximately 400-500 fans having made the journey. The visitors only seemed to have the single chant in their armoury and took every opportunity to emphasise they are from Salop. The Burton fans behind the other goal had plenty of flags to make for a colourful afternoon.

Sitting next to us whilst scouting for an unnamed agency was former Leicester City and most recently manager of Irish side Sligo Rovers: Mickey Adams.

We left on 80 minutes – as scouts do – with the score at 1-1 and to ruin many a betting man’s afternoon, Shrewsbury Town scored at the death to record a 2-1 away win – a real coupon buster.

One thing that drew my attention in the official programme was the price of tickets in League One. Burton Albion are away to Peterborough next with the price of admission set at £23. Watching football at any level is an expensive business nowadays, it seems.

Unless you’re a scout.

Admission -£0
Programme – £2.50
Obligatory pin badge – £2.50
Chips – £1.80
Tea (very hot) – £1.30

See more Groundhopper reports here –

Eastleigh F.C’s Silverlake Stadium

The Final Frontier, Carlisle United’s Brunton Park

GroundHopper: The Final Frontier, Brunton Park

Here is Football Foyer’s first GroundHopper feature courtesy of Ian Bradshaw as he recalls his recent visit to Carlisle United’s Brunton Park.

By Ian Bradshaw.

For many English football fans, Carlisle United’s Brunton Park is amongst the furthest domestic away game you could anticipate.

Simon Inglis in his book ‘The Football Grounds of Great Britain’ quotes Daily Mail football writer Brian James in ‘Journey to Wembley’ in a fitting assessment of Brunton Park:

A frontier post of football indeed, guarded only by sheep. Nothing moves out there. And the notion that a ball kicked over the wall would go bouncing until it dropped off the end of the world is hard to shake off.’

They are the last of Cumbria’s three football league clubs with Barrow still being in Lancashire when they failed a re-election to the league in 1972 and Workington Town giving way to Wimbledon in 1977.

The Brunton Park pitch is perilously close to the River Eden and Petteril, which are susceptible to flooding on an annual basis.

The ground is also renowned for the downward slope it possesses towards the River Eden. This recently threatened the staging of an FA Youth Cup game against Doncaster Rovers.

Nevertheless, the ground staff – given their vast experience in dealing with such weather – managed to pump the pitch clear of floodwater and mow it in the intervening twenty-four hours prior to the game.


Personally, Carlisle United’s Brunton Park is a real favourite of mine.

It holds a quirky charm, exacerbated only by the odd-looking additional wings to the main stand. These were hastily added in preparation for the club’s promotion to the old Division 1 in 1974.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the ground, think of how you added additional terracing to the Subbuteo stand system by raiding your Lego box.

Having first stood with the locals in 1988 to watch games in the then 4th Division, you can’t help but warm affectionately to their outlook on life, football and their beloved Carlisle United.

During that period, I regularly visited the city due to my girlfriend being in attendance at the Cumbria Art College. These weekend visits presented me with the perfect opportunity to attend the odd match at Brunton Park.

That season saw Carlisle United play Liverpool in an FA Cup 3rd Round tie during which I stood in the away section since I was a season ticket holder at Anfield.

The match ticket cost me a mere £4.00.


The following week however, saw a standing ticket for a home game with York City reduced from the usual £3 to £2 so that regular match goers weren’t out of pocket over both games. This further emphasised their close affiliation with the local community.

I’ve got to admit, I was mawkishly drawn to a few games last season as the Blues flirted seriously – nigh on conducted a full-blown affair – with relegation.

I chalked off Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground in my ground-hopping diary for a fixture on Easter Monday, which saw black humour aplenty amongst a travelling mass in excess of 1,000 in a total crowd of 2,100.

The match ended in an abject 3-1 defeat.

The next fixture I made it to was a home tie with Plymouth Argyle that concluded in a 2-0 victory that saw Carlisle United stave off relegation.

Thankfully, there was no need for a late Jimmy Glass volley this time around.

A few weeks back, I spotted a free weekend for myself at the end of November. A quick check of the fixtures saw an entrance fee reduction to a £10 standing ticket for the Football League Two game against Crawley Town – if bought in advance. This would be under the covered Warwick Road End terrace.


With a 180-mile round-trip journey, diabolical weather saw me plump for the car as opposed to a Virgin Train from Preston.

This service has a nasty habit of falling prey to the Westmoreland wilds of Shap Fell – the highest point of the English railway network – with slow running or even cancelled trains aplenty.

Brunton Park is situated very close to Junction 43 of the M6 and having parked the car readily positioned for a swift post-match exit, I made the brisk half-mile walk to the ground.

Along the way, I consumed the obligatory burger – priced at £3.40 – and leaned on a barrier for the perfect vantage point.

No finer way to watch a match, may I add.

A great game ensued as Carlisle took the lead within the first two minutes following tidy wing play by a talented young player called Alex Gilliead. The Newcastle United loanee produced a fine cross for Charlie Wyke, whose header nestled in the back of the net.

Further wing-wizardry from Gilliead on 28mins saw a low cross reach Jason Kennedy, who flicked it into the path of the oncoming Wyke for his and Carlisle’s second.

Crawley Town – in their black Puma kit quite akin to the away strip of Fortuna Dusseldorf – clawed a goal back on 33mins as the game opened up in intermittently rainy conditions.

However, Carlisle put the game out of sight just three minutes into the second-half through their striker, Jabo Ibehre, who slotted into the top left hand corner of the net.

Numerous chances occurred for Carlisle beyond that, but neither team were able to add to the score line as the game finished at 3-1.

It turned out to be a productive week for the club as they pushed on from the 4-3 midweek victory at Luton Town. This sees the Cumbrian Fox sitting healthily in 6th place and looking upwards at possible promotion.


Highlight – For me, the heckling of referees at lower level games is brilliantly audible. Following a free-kick award to the visitors, the referee offered his whistle to the local who had vocalised his discontent with the decision.

Half-time result:

Carlisle United 2 – 1 Crawley Town

Full time result:

Carlisle United 3 – 1 Crawley Town

Official attendance:



Typically Cumbrian

See more Groundhopper reports here –

Eastleigh F.C’s Silverlake Stadium

Pirelli Stadium Scouts 

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