Three matches in the last week in South, West and North Yorkshire.
First to Bramall Lane, Sheffield for England v Czech Republic U21. It was only a friendly match but attracted about 20,000 fans to The Lane' as Stuart Pearce's young men won 2-0 and are looking forward to the UEFA U21 Finals in Southern Sweden June 15-30. Only 8 teams but some tough opposition such as hosts Sweden, Finland, Spain, Germany, Serbia, Belarus, Italy, www.uefa.com
The final in Malmo will be at the new Swedbank Stadion - 24,000 capacity, next door to the 'old' stadium built in 1958 for the World Cup. The new Gothenburg Nya Gamla Ullevi (new-old)is also about to open, built on the site of the old Gamla Ullevi, a goal kick away from Nya Ullevi-too big for most Swedish Allsvenka matches. GAIS, IFK Goteborg and Orgryte IS will share the new facility along with the Swedish Women's national team,while newly promoted BK Hacken, host club of the Gothia Cup, will stay at their own stadium. Helsingborg and Halmstad, which also staged World Cup matches in 1958 will also host matches.
On Saturday I was at Elland Road for the first time this season. The club, now coached by former player Gary McAllister, had a mini slump, with a suspect defence, but scored 5 past Northampton Town in an F.A. Cup 1st round replay earlier in the week and scored 4 past Hartlepool while I watched from the John Charles Stand with a bunch of Norwegian fans who come over to home matches. Charles was the 'gentle giant' who played for Leeds and Wales and took them to the 1958 World Cup Q.F. in Sweden 50 years ago. His then record transfer fee to Juventus paid for the new stand. He returned to play for Leeds United and retired here. About 30 odd years ago I was going to pick up tickets for a reserve team match at Elland Road left by my friend Jim Armfield, then the manager. Watching the youth team play beforehand on the ajacent training pitches I remarked about how 25% of free-kicks resulted in goals.
"More than that" came the reply from behind me in a Welsh lilt. It was my hero John Charles. We chatted for a while and then the 2nd team match was about to start, I offered one of my complementary tickets but he had some beef with the club at the time and insisted on paying for both of us at the turnstiles in HIS STAND!!!THE JOHN CHARLES STAND. We watched the match-he from an end seat because of the size of his thighs, and he signed lots of autographs. I will NEVER FORGET the occasion.
Anyway, this weekend I was waiting for my Norwegian friends Morten and others(they all go to Peter Lorimer's pub, 'THE COMMERCIAL' before and after matches),near the Billy Bremner statue when someone gave a roll of POLO MINTS-the mint with a hole, to a mounted policewoman. I asked the names of the 'greys' -"LATIN and STORM" -came the reply from above, and the woman PC asked me to feed a mint to each of the horses. I was delighted to get a licking and a tickling on my palm as I offered up the mints.
Leeds who play in all white, chosen by legendary ex manager Don Revie so they could emulate Real Madrid, have a great youth academy and some exciting players. Six years ago they were playing Valencia in the Champions League semi-final but it all went wrong, both on an off the pitch.I had seen 19 year old midfielder Fabian Delph make his England U21 debut earlier in the week. Lots of Premier clubs would love to sign him. He scored, as did Argentinian import Luciano Becchio and a couple from goal machine Jermaine Beckford who had scored a 'hat-trick' earlier in the week in the F.A. Cup.
Sunday we went to Kit Kat Crescent home of York City of the Blue Square Premier League. Nestle, the Swiss confectionary giant took over Rowntrees and they make two of my favorites, Kit Kat and Smarties. The Minstermen had just fired their manager Colin Walker, after recent losses, and we were entertained to some attacking soccer the first half on a bitterly cold day. We walked from the station, along the medieval wall, past York Minster and through the Bootham Gate and to Bootham Crescent. Cheered on by the Yorvik Reds behind the goal, a brace from Nigerian born Onome Sodje looked as if the Reds had banished the blues, but visitors Crawley Town managed to come from behind and score twice and share the points.