Ground Nº 108 – Eastlands
Saturday 23 Sep 2006
The Premiership Manchester City 2 West Ham 0 HT 0-0
In September my Dad came up for the weekend, and as is the norm these days, we took in a new football ground. It was his suggestion to do Man City. It was a new one for both of us and would complete my Manchester set of league grounds. I was thinking more along the lines of Stafford Rangers or Tamworth but The City of Manchester Stadium was fine, it looked a bit different from the usual boxes that are erected nowadays – it was designed by the same architects that did the Kirkless Stadium in Huddersfield and Bolton’s Reebok, so I knew it was worth seeing. My hunger to ‘clean up’ the non-league grounds of Staffordshire would have to remain unsatiated for today.
Trying to buy a ticket for a Man City game turned out to be unimaginably complicated. By the Thursday of the week before the game, and after me and my Dad had both registered against our will with the Man City website, it went into Monty Python territory. We gave up, having been told (finally) that they sell tickets on match days at the ticket office at the ground and there would be some available.
My Dad and I got the train up from Stoke to Manchester Piccadilly. It was standing room only. It occurred to me on the train that this was going to be a bit of a nostalgia trip for my Dad as he studied French at Manchester University in the mid fifties and hadn’t been back since. I guessed that maybe this was the reason he had chosen Man City for the venue today, even if it was only subconscious on his part.
My Dad was in Manchester in the Busby Babes era, he used to watch Mans Utd and City every week. He told me on the train about being at Maine Road for a local derby with 82,000 others. Apparently in those days Man City were extremely erratic and their matches often high-scoring. Man Utd were a bit more predictable. He lived on the edge off Rusholme and remembers the first Indian restaurant opening in the area which is now renowned for it. All these memories brought to mind a better era in football, and maybe in life too. Or did my Dad have a spare pair of rose tinted specs? Who knows?
We alighted at Piccadilly (when did trains patent the word alight?) and wandered out of the station. My dad looks around and recognises nothing from his student days. As I, too, look around it dawns on me that I remember little from coming here just 5 years ago! Manchester appears to be turning into London from what I can see. The relentless noise of buses, the background chatter of too many people, pneumatic drills and east european accents. It must be heaven if you own a scaffolding company. As we walk down from the station I was heartened to see that the Blood Donor centre was still there in all it’s bland glory.
We lunched near a plaza-type area near the Bus Station before getting a bus to Ashton via Eastlands, situated in an area called Sports City, which was home to the Commonwealth Games. Sports City had a good atmosphere about it and I even liked the peculiar piece of sculpture entitled ‘B of the Bang’, a rusty looking spiky ball on a pole. We get to the ground which reminds me from a distance of the Mexican Hat ride you get on fairgrounds. Closer inspection reveals a very aesthetically pleasing piece of architecture, even reminding me a bit of Gaudi. If Gaudi designed football stadia then this would be the closest approximate of what you’d get.
I was particularly intrigued by the four walkways at each end of the ground which looked like walnut whips, spirals of smooth access to the middle and upper tiers of the ground. They teetered on the precipice of being eyesores but they just stayed the right side of it and actually worked. You can see three of them in the above picture, although I have to say the picture does not do them justice.
Oh, I wish I’d gone to Droylsden, yes I do
Having suffered the embarrassment of wasting time trying to give a premiership club money in the week, by means of buying a ticket, we had a contingency plan in case of any more needless red tape and bureaucrasy in the name of watching a bleeding football match – and that was to hotfoot it to nearby Droylsden for their Conference North game. I think we both wished we’d chosen Droylden from the beginning anyway by this point
Well, we joined a queue for tickets on the day…then had to join another (of course) for tickets for non-something-or-other-members (jeez – they were pernickety bastards) and by 2.45 realised that it was probably too late for Droylsden but that we were really pissed off by now. The speed of the queue suggested that they were fingerprinting everyone, photocopying their passport and birth certificate and then running a check on previous convictions and any leanings toward extremist terrorist groups. I don’t exaggerate – it was a ludicrous situation and made me angry, kind of sapping all the fun out of a fun day out.
As I neared the ticket booth I vowed that this would be my last dalliance with the Premiership. Within seconds though, Villa Park and Goodison Park had appeared in my mind looking indignant at my thought. If they were people rather than stadia they would be chastising me for my lack of faith, eschewing their Archibald Leitch stands just because of a bit of over-zealousness in the organisation of modern football. The thought made me smile. They were right. I couldn’t miss out on the beauty of these grounds just because of what the premiership had done to football. I should rise above it – after all none of it was Archibald Leitch’s fault.
The ground was nice, impressive even. It looked smaller than from the outside. It was difficult to imagine 48,000 in here. It was a much sexier stadium for having the curves and the disparity of three tiers on two sides and two on the others.
The match was OK. It wasn’t great though, certainly not £30 worth of great, but the individual performance of Georgios Samaras was almost worth it in itself. He was outstanding from start to finish and certainly shined in a first half of extreme lack of self confidence from both sides. He scored both goals in a 2-0 win too. He was the only one I saw who was of an obviously better class than the usual dross I’m used to with Brighton.
The day was good and topped off by alighting (there’s that word again) at Longport and walking to Burslem’s finest alehouse for a couple of pints of Titanic and then on to the Elms for a curry. Man City’s stadium is a beauty but the difficulty with which to watch them is a serious problem and probably explains their 8,000 shortfall on capacity at most home games to some extent.
I can’t wait now for Market Drayton vs Oadby in the Midland Alliance – back to proper football and none of this sitting down nonsense!