Despite living for 20 years within 10 miles of Highbury Stadium, I had never visited until Saturday afternoon - and there wasn't a French accent within hearing distance.
This in fact was the stadium on Highbury Avenue in Fleetwood, not North London, less than a mile from the port where I use to arrive on the train or the tram and take the boat to Douglas in the Isle of Man, about 5 hours of choppy seas, and then watch the motor cycle races around the island.
Alas, the ferry no longer sets sail and the train station is closed. In fact there are no trams from Blackpool at the moment as they work on the track. In my university summer vacations I used to be a tram conductor on that route, and stop for my break on the promenade with the tram driver and eat my sandwiches and drink tea from a flask, and throw my crusts to the seagulls.
So, I took the No. 14 bus from Blackpool North to watch Fleetwood Town v Altrincham in the Blue Square Bet Premier League, with the home side trying to make the Football League for the first time and Alty hoping to stay in the Premier Division-a hard task for a part time squad of players. www.fleetwoodtownfc.com Town have had 4 promotions in the last six seasons under manager Micky Mellor and another 2,000 fans showed up for this match.
The occasion was the opening of the Parkside Hospitality Suite and executive boxes in the superb new all seater stand, and worthy of Football League status. You can rent a whole box for £300 a match so I hear. Chairman Andy Pilley named all the 7 boxes after Fleetwood trawlers which bring us our cod if not our chips. His own box is named after The Red Falcon, which sank with all 19 hands off Iceland in December 1969, on its way home from the fishing grounds, just a week before Christmas. Vice President Barry McLoughlin lost his father that day.
The other suites are named Boston Typhoon, Criscilla, Ella Hewett, Evelyn Rose, Jacinta and Wyre Mariner. A very nice touch indeed. There is a model of The Red Falcon in Jim's Bar. They have a splendid and growing youth and academy system. In fact the girl's team showed off a recently won trophy at half-time.
There is also an only seating stand opposite where I sat in the press box, while at each end the COD ARMY, the very vocal Town fans chanted throughout. There was also a sizeable contingent of Robin fans. Unlike many stadium home fans are allowed to move from one end to the other at half-time to stand behind the goal their team is attacking.
Before kick-off I went into the supporters club JIM'S BAR, which takes up the entire length under the end stand. WHAT A BAR INDEED, probably the best I have seen of its kind in all of Europe. Well designed, spacious with alcoves with flat screen televisions, and a small supporters souvenir store. More like a night club.
The mystery is why are they allowed to show all Blackpool FC Premier League matches LIVE at 3.00pm?? The same goes for a sign that I saw outside a nearby local pub. SURELY the league must question and investigate? I don't give a toss about the loss of income to the Barclay's EPL, but I do care about the obviously not observed rule that there should be no live football between the hours of 3.00pm-5.00pm to encourage fans to go to their local stadium. Probably poached from some East European live feed.
It's also one of the very few clubs that I have visited in about 70 countries where the press are asked to fork out for a programme. I refused to pay the £2.50 on principle, and there were not enough team sheets to go around, so I ought to report than A.N.OTHER passed to S.O.ELSE for the first goal!!
Apart from that it was an enjoyable sunny afternoon on the Fylde Coast. It was an even more pleasurable day when I chatted with my next door neighbour in the press box who was reporting for the Press Association. His name was Terry Cochran, 26 caps for Northern Ireland, who played at Derry City, Burnley, Middlesborough, Gillingham. Millwall, Eastern AA in Hong Kong with Bobby Moore, and even indoor for the Dallas Sidekicks. In 1980 he scored the equalizing goal to tie England 1-1 at Wembley and win the now defunct Home Championships for the Ulstermen, for only the 2nd time in 96 years. He missed out on the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico when he was injured playing against France in the Parc des Princes in Paris.
Alty fluffed it after 10 minutes when a deserved PK was kicked straight at the Cod goalie Steve McNulty by Damien Reeves. After that there was only going to be one winner, with exciting attacking play from Town. They play in Arsenal colours of red jerseys with white sleeves and scored after 37 minutes and 44 minutes with long looping shots. First Sean Clancy and then Gareth Seddon. In the last minute of 3 minutes added time in the second half first Alty through Dale Johnson then George Donnelly for Town each added a goal for a 3-1 result.
By then it was getting chilly and seagulls were circling the pitch-perhaps waiting to get autographs. For Alty fans they probably looked like albatross. Thankfully my stand had a roof on it so no need to be wary and look up for poo.