Posted: 9/17/2013
Title: THE HIGHBURY EXPERIENCE

Blog:                                                                                                                         

      What a great day for football! I am strolling the newly laid promenade by the Fleetwood ferry and lighthouse on a bright sunny day. Off the beach in the Wyre Estuary they are water skiing and having some sort of light plane contest from the sandbanks.

      I used to work as a tram conductor as a summer student job and we had 10 minutes break here to drink from a flask of tea and eat my ham and egg sandwiches. Now they have brand new Bombadier Flexity trams in purple and cream livery.

      I was off off watch The Cod Army, Fleetwood Town in their rebuilt Highbury Stadium in only their second ever Football League campaign. This summer I watched them play pre-season in Bad Ischl where the walloped the amateurs and at Wacker Burghausen where they struggled. Wacker now have only 1 point from nine matches and are rock bottom of Germany Bundesliga 3.

      Bury FC, the Shakers, from Manchester are todays visitors and arrive with over 1,000 fans. I am greeted by Matt Hilton the Community and Education Officer and led upto the Boardroom to meet Chairman and owner Andy Pilley, who has transformed the club in a few short years.

       He gives me the Grand Tour of the communications centre, and next the huge office where his day to day operations for his day job, selling electricity, are held, then to the splendid restaurant, The Parkside Suite, catered by Twelve Restaurant, where the well heeled fans of this port town wine and dine before the match and at half time, and enjoy VIP Balcony Seating.

       Scott Walker leads me to Jim's Bar and to on going work on the new restaurant above that will be open in a week. Before kick-off I can watch Man Utd v Crystal Palace on more flat screen plasma TV's than a casino on the Las Vegas strip. Its packed with both sets of fans with Happy Hour Carslberg only 2.00 and lots of fun for the kids at the Junior Cod Army sign up desk, with Captain Cod in attendance.

       Blackpool Rangers youth team from Bispham are there, a reminder of the very first club that I played for ages ago. Before I forget- applause for groundsman Dale Frith and his team. The pitch is in superb shape-and he even has his own page in the programme. www.fleetwoodtownfc.com.

       Up in the Board Room I am made most welcome by VP Phil Brown and I chat and sit and watch the match with George.. the club chaplain from The Trinity Baptist Church down Highbury Avenue. George Ayana was brought up in Kenya and educated at Glasgow University and knows about the sport. I scold him for gambling his pocket money on a Golden Goal ticket, instead of spending the 1 at Poundland, or fresh food at the market.

      This may be Sky Bet League Two but it turns out to be a premier football afternoon. Highbury is a long way from where The Gunners used to play and the only thing French is the mustard on the hot dogs. Its A CRACKER OF A MATCH with thrills, spills, honest tackling and lots of skill and well thought out interplay. The teams are led out by Junior Cod Army mascots for the day. Harrison Stephenson age 5 and Felix Ellis age 7,

      Andy is pictured on page 5 of the excellent 76 page official programme, but the elegant chairman could surely grace the cover of GQ Magazine, unlike other chairman such as that Newcastle United bloke! The programme is chock full of news, views, photos and memories.  England's great goalkeeper Frank Swift started here before fame at Manchester City, but left before he made the first team. There's a two page spread about the win over Worksop Town in 1968-69 including my old mates Kenny Cooper and Derek Armstrong. Also nice to see all the club's hard working officials mentioned on page 3.

      Both sets of fans were in great voice with banners such as Ultras de Cod, One Way in-One Way Out, Schumachers Junior Cod Army (they sponsor Steven No. 8), and Papua New Guinea? Maybe The Headhunters? The local seagulls are flying above and around, not wanting to miss any action.

      The Shakers, managed by Kevin Blackwell take the lead in the 19th minute from Tom Soares, and the Cod Army is in for a match. It's not until the 51st minute that Antoni Sarcevic equalizes and its GAME ON!  Twelve minutes later Gareth Evans gets what is to be the winner in front of 3,500 fans. 2-1 to The Cod Army.

      It's an exciting finish and the added time of 5 minutes even has a sponsor. Warburtons Chemists "Keeping the High Street Open" is flashed on the giant screen in one corner. Third place on goal difference and promotion candidates already for this most ambitious of clubs.

     The fans may well be dancing in Lord Street tonight....when the pubs close! 

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