|Season 1, Leg 24 - Leicester|
|Written by Terry|
|Sunday, 08 February 2009 17:32|
Leicester City v Oldham Athletic – League One
Walkers Stadium, Leicester
Saturday 7 February 2009, 17:20 K.O.
Watching Latics involves much travelling all over the country. Home games at Boundary Park necessitates a 140 mile round trip, but today, at last, Margaret and I could attend a match only 25 miles from our Burton-on-Trent home. We picked up Matt and Emma, and our 45 minute drive was interrupted only briefly when a detour through Woodville was necessary to avoid a half-mile queue of traffic.
I dropped the three of them in the city centre and then drove to park in an advantageous position for a trouble-free getaway after the match. As I had time to kill before we were to meet up for lunch in O’Neill’s, I followed the scenic route back into the centre, walking along the bank of the River Soar and through Castle Gardens, escorted by an inquisitive squirrel.
A statue of King Richard III is a reminder of the old Bow Bridge, claimed to be haunted by a hooded monk who stood marking the spot from which the exhumed bones of the King were thrown into the River Soar, following the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Leicester is claimed to be the birthplace of tourism, because Thomas Cook, who lived in the city for over 50 years, introduced the world to tourism when he organised an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough in 1841. This is illustrated in the stonework of the building from where Thomas Cook & Son first operated its business.
Little did he know that today the ‘Beardy Bus’, full of supporters from Oldham, would be making the journey from Loughborough to Leicester, after refreshing themselves at a J D Wetherspoon’s hostelry.
I wonder if Thomas Cook is turning in his grave in nearby Welford Cemetery, at the thought of his successors sponsoring the world’s wealthiest football club and facilitating excursions from Teneriffe to Brazil.
Anyway, I digress, but it seemed appropriate to act like a tourist, by going on a walkabout and taking in many of the city’s sights before the match - when in Rome…..! Leicester is also the birthplace of Joseph (not John as misnamed in the film) Merrick, aka the Victorian oddity ‘The Elephant Man’. The site of the theatre on Wharf Street, where he was first exhibited to the public, is now occupied by a ten-storey residential project named Merrick House.
I walked past the Jewry Wall Museum which is the setting for the remains of the Roman town's public baths, the second largest surviving piece of Roman civil masonry in the country.
En route to the pub, I passed the stall from which Gary Lineker’s family runs a fruit and vegetable business on Leicester Market, which was named last week named as the country's most popular by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
I also passed the ‘Sporting Success’ statue comprising a group of three sportsmen in action: a cricketer, a footballer and a rugby player, commissioned following success for all three local teams in the 1996-97 seasons.
The public appeal to provide the finance for the statue had been organised and contributed to by the local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury. That newspaper had also organised a ‘local promotion’ for today’s match, whereby readers could collect two tokens and exchange them for a match ticket costing a mere £8 per adult. Despite my representations made to Leicester City Football Club, the offer was not available for Latics supporters, who had to pay £23, and even pensioners, such as Margaret and myself, had to pay £21. It was not surprising therefore that, with that perceived injustice, the economic crisis and the fact that the match was being televised live by Sky, the Latics fans attending the match later in the afternoon would be reduced in numbers.
We all met up again for lunch in O’Neill’s and took advantage of the bargain Irish food promotion, while watching the Thomas Cook sponsored team take on Middlesbrough on a large screen.
In order to meet up with Mark, Mike, Neil, Paul and other Latics supporters nearer to the Stadium, we walked to the Leicester Gateway pub, housed in a converted hosiery factory, situated right in the heart of the De Montfort University buildings.
I introduced myself to the pub’s employee who had used the Internet to invite Latics supporters to spend their time (and money) in the pub. He expressed his gratitude for the numbers in attendance and I told him that I thought they would be well-behaved. With a large screen showing Sky Sports, we spent almost two hours in a friendly mix of home and away fans. It was busy but not overcrowded. Latics supporters were singing and there was a good atmosphere. Then, outside in the street, there was a confrontation between groups of Leicester and Oldham supporters. The Police soon arrived and any potential trouble was prevented.
Some in our group felt it advisable to leave at this stage to find a pub more suited to a quiet drink, en route to which they spotted a fox among the University buildings and the ‘Pride of Leicester’ pub, the appearance of which could not have made the city proud.
Meanwhile, back in the Gateway pub, P.C. Cooke, the Greater Manchester Police ‘spotter’ and his Leicester Police opposite number came in for their routine tour of observation, to the sound of the Latics supporters’ chant of “Cookey is our leader!”. After about ten minutes Paul, Margaret and I left to get some extra layers of clothing from the car parked across the road. The Police were only allowing exit through one doorway, which necessitated us squeezing through the bulk of the pub’s customers before we could reach that exit. Outside the Police presence resembled security at a G8 Leaders' Summit Conference, with at least six vans, six cars and about a hundred police officers surrounding the pub. From what had been a peaceful afternoon, suddenly we were under siege from the Police.
With our movements being filmed by one officer, we reached the car and the car park attendant was upset because the Police blocking of Gateway Street was preventing anyone from parking there and thereby reducing his income. He said that apparently the Leicester hooligan ‘firm’ based, as usual, in the Robert Peel pub at the end of Gateway Street had planned their confrontation with the Oldham ‘firm’, and that windows had been smashed in the Robert Peel. Since the match I have read on a Leicester City fans’ message board an allegation that Oldham supporters “smashed in a load of the windows in the Robert Peel, some by throwing bottles and some by punching the windows in“.
On examining the outside of the Robert Peel pub as we walked past before and after the match, I saw no evidence of any broken windows. As we met female Latics supporters who had been in the Robert Peel during the time of the alleged trouble, they were amazed at what had been alleged and said they were unaware of any such things happening.
From there it was about a 15 minute walk to the Stadium, during which we passed close to the ‘Statue of Liberty’ on the Swan Gyratory roundabout - just a stone’s throw from the site where it stood originally on top of the former Liberty Shoe Factory overlooking the River Soar. Any of the owners of Oldham Athletic, fondly referred to as ‘The Three Amigos’, who operate a business in New York, would have felt at home at its sight as they drove through Leicester on the approach to the Stadium.
The Stadium is built on a former power station site, 200 yards from Leicester City’s old ground at Filbert Street, from which the club relocated in 2002 after 111 years. The Stadium, on Filbert Way, is currently sponsored by Walkers, the Company synonymous with crisps, 10 million bags of which are made locally every day. Walkers was a local company, but it is now owned by Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of the American Pepsico company. Originally the Stadium was to have been called the Walkers Bowl, but that name was dropped after fans petitioned against it, saying they thought it was ridiculous and too "American". Some fans are still unhappy with the name, and refer to it as the "crisp bowl". The capacity and record attendance for the Stadium is 32,500, set when the Leicester Tigers rugby team played a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Bath. This is unlikely to be equalled for a football match, unless the stadium is expanded, because of crowd segregation requirements.
After heavy snowfalls during the week, the Club had done an excellent job of clearing the snow from both inside and outside the Stadium.
The customary picture of the Flag was taken.
In addition to the usual commemorative bricks positioned in the walls of most new stadia, a Leicester City Supporters’ Remembrance Garden has been created between the River and the Stadium car park, and it contains commemorative plaques and floral tributes. It was the first of its kind I had seen and I thought it was an excellent idea.
On entering the concourse beneath the stand, Latics supporters were in fine voice as usual, and I hoped that they had not peaked too early, as had often happened in the past with lost voices when needed during the match. On this occasion, I need not have worried. Margaret and I occupied our allocated seats and the atmosphere within the Stadium was good, with the home fans singing on both sides of the away section, housed in a corner of the Stadium, as part of a crowd of 22,328. The stewarding was very relaxed enabling many Latics supporters towards the rear of our section to stand unhindered. The teams came out to the ‘Post Horn Gallop’ fox-hunting tune.
This was the first time Latics had appeared live on TV since the Play-off games against Blackpool in May 2007, both of which were lost. It was also the first time the team had played in Leicester since April 1996 when Latics lost 2-0 at Filbert Street. So the omens were not good as the teams took to the pitch, except that the fox on the run observed earlier might prove to be good omen. The Ernie Flag was in place and Sky Sports had been informed of its significance and requested to feature it during the match, but I understand that the request seemed to have fallen on deaf ears to our great disappointment.
We were eager to find out which Latics team would take the field against the runaway League-leading Foxes. Would it be A. - The one which performed brilliantly and won at Elland Road, Leeds in August; or B - The one which surrendered meekly to relegation contenders Hereford United three weeks ago? Luckily it was the A-Team, led by Sean (‘Mr. T’) Gregan, and we were in for a very memorable early evening’s entertainment.
Lee Hughes had been doubtful after missing training until the previous day with an Achilles problem, but the good news was that he had been passed fit to play. Neal Eardley replaced Kelvin Lomax and Kevin Maher replaced Danny Whittaker from the team which had struggled in last week’s goalless draw against Swindon. The first half was pretty even with Latics playing much more passing football than we had seen in recent weeks. Latics enjoyed the better start with the Foxes on the back foot for a quarter of an hour, but no clear cut chances were created.
It was not apparent which team was the runaway League-leader, although Leicester’s class showed intermittently. In one break striker Steve Howard hit a post and the ball rolled across the face of the goal to safety. Then a pass prodded backwards by Mark Allott went under Sean Gregan’s foot to let in Tom Cleverly. He rounded keeper Fleming, but was not clever enough to get the ball past Scott Golbourne guarding the goal-line near the post.
During the half-time interval the Latics supporters were still in fine voice on the concourse below the stand, watched by Police strength in numbers not seen since the Miners’ Strike. It was a good opportunity to catch up with many members of the Club’s Oh When The Blues Fans’ Forum, and Andy treated me to a solo rendition of the song about local hero Gary Lineker, with Police hanging onto his every word. As Andy was not arrested, I concluded that the song was not slanderous.
For the second half, Margaret and I moved our position to sit nearer the back of our section, to add our voices to the already impressive singing. The half opened like the first and then the game took a dramatic turn in the 50th minute, Kevin Maher’s poor back-pass was latched onto by Leicester striker Matty Fryatt and, as he attempted to take the ball round Latics keeper Greg Fleming, he was brought down. The referee had no option but to award Leicester a penalty and he sent off Fleming for a professional foul. With no substitute goalkeeper on the bench, Fleming’s shirt, shorts and gloves were handed to Dean Windass, one of the smallest men on the pitch, who relished the opportunity to show off his tattooed body and his underwear, amid some uncomplimentary comments about his weight from the home support.
The country’s leading scorer Matty Fryatt took the penalty and Windass guessed the direction correctly, but the ball went wide of the goal, to prompt wild celebration amongst the visiting supporters. For the remainder of a dramatic second half, the Latics defence threw a protective cordon around Windass, reminiscent of that seen outside the Gateway during the afternoon, to keep Leicester at bay. On the occasions when the stuttering League leaders’ attempts were on target, Windass was equal to the task, making three excellent saves, including palming an Andy King shot against a post and then blocking Fryatt's follow-up shot.
We were distracted momentarily by a long line of Police officers climbing the steps to the back of our section, to the sound of Latics supporters’ singing “ ‘The Bill’, it’s just like watching ‘The Bill’!” Not long afterwards the officers left us to concentrate on the match.
By this stage of the match, the Leicester supporters were silent and the Latics supporters, so often missing as the ‘twelfth man’ this season, continued to rise to the occasion and became the team’s ‘eleventh man’ in this time of crisis. The injustice to Taylor resulted in the supporters adopting a siege mentality, to which the Leicester supporters could not muster a response. Josh, who was standing behind me, started the “One Ernie Cooksey” chant which was taken up by the Latics supporters, followed by the “Ernie for England” chant and an appreciative respectful round of applause. It was a reminder of the great man, at a time during the match when we needed all the help we could get, and the thought of Ernie looking down and joining in with us willing the team on, seemed to give the Latics supporters extra vigour to raise the volume another notch.
Leicester could not find a way through, even after manager Nigel Pearson changed things round by bringing on Gradel, Berner and Dickov for Gilbert, Dyer and Mattock respectively. Latics continued to withstand the Leicester pressure as the ten men did the work of eleven with dogged determination. It was not all one-way traffic and in fact Latics could easily have won the game with Lee Hughes bringing David Martin to a fine save in the 71st minute, and the Leicester goalkeeper again blocked a close-range header from Rueben Hazell in the 85th minute. Lee Hughes was substituted after putting in tremendous effort throughout the match, and Lewis Alessandra replaced him. On the eve of his birthday, Alessandra was put through with a golden opportunity to score the winning goal but, possibly with momentary thoughts of being the hero live on TV, he hesitated too long and was unable to get in his shot.
The Latics supporters had chanted “Deano for England” and in his post-match interview he offered his services, in the event of England boss Fabio Capello needing a goalkeeper in the upcoming friendly international match against Spain.
At the end, Latics manager John Sheridan admitted that he had feared the worst as his policy of not including a keeper on the bench looked as though it was about to catch him out, but he said he was very proud of the defending and the great effort put in by his players.
Once again the team had risen to the occasion and set the benchmark needed if the promotion target is to be seen as realistic. We have had many excellent days out watching Latics, only to be let down on the pitch, but this time our team had done us proud, and there was a warm glow around the visiting supporters leaving the stadium. In spite of not being able to take advantage of the reduced admission prices for home supporters, they had received value for money from a match which will be talked about for years.
|Last Updated on Saturday, 11 June 2011 21:02|