Run and football 9 Coronation Weekend 7-8 May 2023

As a republican I usually avoid anything to do with the Royal Family but on this occasion we are making the most of the additional Bank Holiday with a run and football double header. With the number of available games rapidly decreasing ticking off new grounds in 2022-23 is becoming more difficult. This weekend we settled for two new grounds for Jacob and one new, one repeat for me. Sunday is the National League Play Off Semi Final Notts County V Boreham Wood followed by Preston North End V Sunderland in The Championship on Monday. The oldest professional club in the world followed by the inaugural football league winners. A couple of days of nostalgia awaits.

Statue outside Meadow Lane honouring County management team Jimmy Sirrel and Jack Wheeler

Notts County V Boreham Wood 7th May 2023

Good news: Nottingham train station has a multi storey car park, a mile away from Meadow Lane. Jacob’s train comes into the station. Bad news: It has taken a long time to drive through the City, including a few mishaps, and I’m not going to get my run in before the game. We meet up outside the car park and have a walk over to the ground. While Jacob queues for a burger I have watch a bit of the action going on in the padel sports arena.

Padel sports and football side by side

About the teams

Notts County have been in tremendous form all season winning 32 of their 46 games and finishing with 107 points. Unfortunately for the Magpies Wrexham claimed a record 111 points during 2022-23 and condemned County to the playoffs. Macaulay Langstaff has scored 42 goals in 46 games this season for Notts County without taking any penalties. The ex Gateshead and Wearside League striker is the hottest prospect in non-league and many Football League clubs have been keeping an eye on his development this season.

As the oldest professional football club in the world Notts County predate the Football Association and were pioneers of the game. Founder members of the Football League in 1888 the club moved to their current home Meadow Lane in 1910. County’s highest league position was third in both 1891 and 1901. After 100 years of moving between the divisions the team hit the headlines in 2009 when they were bought by Munto Finance and started spending ridiculous amounts of money. By November 2009 they were gone and a series of managers and chairman came and went before relegation to the conference was confirmed in May 2019. In each completed season since then the club has finished in the playoffs but has yet to escape the conference.

In contrast Boreham Wood were formed in 1948 and rose through the divisions from local football to enter the National League in 2015. Over the last few seasons the club have finished in the play offs but have yet to play in the Football League. This season has been another good one for Wood with a 6th place finish and defeat of Barnett in the Quarter Finals. Their reward is a tie with Notts County who finished 35 points ahead of them in the table.

Meadow Lane Ground Map

Notts County V Boreham Wood

The ground fills up quickly and there is a good atmosphere amongst the County fans. Our seats are near the front behind one of the goals and the view is excellent. Boreham Wood have a home average of about 1,100 fans and it looks like they have brought that number today a white block in a sea of stripes.

The game

For the first half hour all of the action is at the opposite end to us as Notts County retain possession and move the ball quickly across the pitch. Chances are created and missed but the Boreham Wood defenders throw their bodies in the way of everything and repel most attacks. They have strength and pace up front and cause problems on the break. After 37 minutes Wood broke through with the home team looking for offside and squared the ball to Ilaeanmi who poked it over the line.

In first half stoppage time Ndlovu robbed a home defender and doubled the away team’s lead much to the disappointment of the fans around us.

|Ndlovu celebrates the second goal for Boreham Wood

Second half

Goalkeeper Joe McDonnell is making his debut on loan for Boreham Wood. Jacob and I have already seen him in action this season for Eastleigh conceding 5 goals against Gateshead. In the first half he was unflappable but Baldwin the central defensive pivot for County came close a couple of times from long range. Within a couple of minutes of the restart he fires home an excellent shot from outside the box to the keepers right. Game on!

Goalscorer and tightest shorts competition winner Ndlovu had continued to cause Notts County problems and the home fans were pleased to see him depart on the hour. They were less happy with the amount of time he wasted holding up play, leaving the pitch. Almost instantly a penalty was awarded to the home side and with a chance to make it 2-2 Rodrigues saw his well struck penalty saved by McDonnell.

McDonnell saves the penalty

After this it continued to be mostly County with pressure on the players increasing for an equaliser. Fyfield at the heart of the Boreham Wood defence continues to head, tackle and scramble back each time. I’ve already picked him for man of the match when Baldwin appears again in the 6th minute of stoppage time to equalise and send the crowd crazy. The Wood fans who have been singing Que Sera Sera for the last fifteen minutes are silenced and extra time is upon us.

Extra time

Both sets of supporters continue to try and inspire their teams. The game has been played on a warm day and despite the introduction of substitutes the pace begins to slow. County remain the side with the most possession and Wood’s powerful and fast forward players have been replaced by inferior models. Just when it looks like penalties are inevitable County substitute Jones tries his luck from the edge of the box in the 120th minute and the ball flies past the unsighted keeper into the net. Unbridled joy in the stands and on the pitch.

Celebrations after the 120th minute winner

Notts have been saved the lottery of penalties and will be at Wembley for the final. A couple of minutes injury time later the game is over and a friendly pitch invasion from the home fans occurs. There must be a few thousand on the pitch celebrating with their heroes.

Centre Midfield John Bostock celebrates with the fans

Going for a run

Back at the car in the city centre I’ve got a dilemma. Jacob wants to sleep (staying up until 3.30 watching basketball will do that) but I’m going to get my run in. The choice is simple, run in Nottingham or wait until we get to Salford. After a bite to eat and a drink I decide now is the time and get ready to run. We had already seen Nottingham Forrest’s City Ground on the other side of the river. Now was the time to visit it.

Barge on the Nottingham and Beeston Canal with City Ground in the rear

In perfect weather for running and with most of the football crowd dissipated it was an enjoyable run. The River Trent was looking good and it wasn’t long before the city became a series of sports fields and woodlands. After a couple of miles it was back towards the centre for a couple of quick visits. Firstly Nottingham Forrest’s City Ground which was originally opened in 1898. The City Ground and Notts County’s County Ground are the closest professional football stadiums in England only separated by a few rows of industrial buildings and the river.

Images of club legends on the windows of the City Ground’s Legends Lounge

Next it was off to find the most distinctive floodlights in the UK. Trent Bridge the home of Nottinghamshire Cricket Club and a host of international matches has floodlights like flying saucers which must look surreal lit up in the night sky above the ground. First used for cricket in the 1830’s the ground predates both the neighbouring football stadiums.

Trent Bridge floodlights in use image by Andy Price Andy Price | Flickr

Today the ground is in use with Nottinghamshire taking on Lancashire in the County Championship Division One. For a match which features the two leading wicket takers in England Test History James Anderson and Stuart Broad the crowd is a little sparse. With three sports grounds within a mile completed I run back to the car and drive to Salford for the next leg of our double header.

Trent Bridge with Nottinghamshire V Lancashire underway

Review of the day

Entry Fee Β£14 U21, Β£24 adult

Programme Β£3 32 pages

Attendance 15,617

Run fun 8/10

Match entertainment 9/10

Parking availability 10/10

Adrian’s pastry index not in attendance

Notts County FC website

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Preston North End V Sunderland 8th May

Yesterday’s match had been a simple win and you’re in, lose and you’re out affair. Today’s is a much more complicated situation with 5 teams still in the hunt for the two remaining playoff spaces. Luton and Middlesbrough are already guaranteed to be extending their season but will Coventry, Millwall, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion or Blackburn Rovers join them? Coventry and Millwall need to drop points to give the others a chance. From Sunderland’s point of view it is a win and then hope. Anything other than 3 points and the season finishes today.

View from Jacob’s room of the electricity substation and builders yard in the setting sun

About the teams

Preston North End were founder members of the Football League and won the first ever league season. “The Invincibles” were undefeated in both the league and FA Cup. They brought the trophy back to Deepdale which is still their home ground 135 years later. In the early 20th Century Preston couldn’t regain their former glories and a solitary FA Cup win in 1938 was the only silverware won before WWII. Despite enjoying the services of one of the greatest English players of all time, Tom Finney, for 14 years from 1946 to 1960 the club were unsuccessful in the top flight. They were relegated in 1961 after Finney retired and have yet gain promotion.

In the current season Preston started with a strange run of results with 5 of their games ending 0-0 before the end of August. After a strong season in and around the playoffs the club’s chance of extending their season ended on 29th April with a defeat by Sheffield United. Preston are playing to finish the season strongly in front of their own fans.

Sunderland were promoted from League One via the Playoffs last season and have enjoyed a better than expected season back in The Championship. Despite playing without a recognised centre forward in their squad for most of the season the club are 4th highest scorers. The Black Cats also have the youngest squad in the league with an average age of around 22 for this game. Playing away seems to suit this team who have an impressive record away from the Stadium Of Light.

Joining the Football League in 1890 Sunderland earned their own nickname in the late Nineteenth Century. “The Team Of All The Talents”. A perennial force in Division One prior to the Second World War Sunderland have become a yo yo club in the last 70 years mostly between the top and second flight of English Football. A recent 4 year spell in the third tier was the longest they have spent at that level. 2023 is the 50th Anniversary of Sunderland’s 1-0 win over Leeds in the F.A. Cup Final their last major honour and one of the greatest F.A. Cup shocks.

Welcome To Deepdale

Going for a run

According to Jacob I asked the wrong question. I’m not sure about that, I wanted to know if everyone else had gone home from the student flats (especially the trainee DJ in the next room). Jacob hadn’t seen anyone so I was happy. “OK lets stay there.” I didn’t see anyone either but I heard Rage Against The Machine start at 11.30 on full volume shaking the foundations with the music not going off until after 2. I wouldn’t have lasted a week. As an old man with set bedtimes and a nice quiet house it was a bit of a shock. Jacob slept on the next morning, I was fragile but determined to get a run in.

Swan on the River Irwell

I’d been promised a run to Salford Quays but without my tour guide made up my own run instead. Peel Park was nice with the River Irwell running alongside the leisure facilities. A sightseeing pace 5K with plenty of photos completed there was the small obstacle of running up the stairwell to the 8th floor. This was made much easier by the fact I didn’t see any students on the stairs on any of my visits to Delaney 2.

Peel Park

Preston North End V Sunderland

After a quick shower with the cubicle light repeatedly flashing like a poor quality 80’s disco it was time to leave for Preston. With almost 6,000 Sunderland fans expected we needed to get there early to find somewhere to park. Driving into the town it was obvious we weren’t early at all. Red and white everywhere, on the footpaths, in the shops and enjoying the day. We get the last parking space in the grounds of a social club with a pensioner cutting the adjacent bowling green. Jacob and I can’t tell if he walks really slowly all the time or is just meticulously trimming every blade of grass.

Outside the ground we see the Tom Finney statue “The Splash” that had yet to be unveiled the first time I visited in 2003 with my wife Tracy. That game was a more pressured occasion for Sunderland as they needed to avoid defeat to stop a run of 17 consecutive loses which was one away from the league record of 18 held by Darwin in 1898-99. First half goals from Sean Thornton and Marcus Stewart gave Sunderland a 2-0 win and set the club’s season on the way. Jacob claimed he had already visited the ground as a fetus and is back 19 years later. Twenty years later there is a different kind of pressure but expectation is low and everyone in the stands are here to enjoy themselves.

Players warm up while the stadium fills up

The Game

Preston start brightly and create early chances against the away team’s makeshift defence. Without any central defenders the Black Cats have a defensive midfielder and a right back in the middle of their defence. Neither are the biggest or physically imposing but they should be able to pass the ball. A couple of times the defence gives it away cheaply and Preston almost capitalise. Woodman in the Preston goal saves well from a curling Patrick Roberts shot and Liam Delap should score for Preston when through on the goalkeeper but puts it wide. Sunderland fans continue to sing and support their team despite the other results going against them. At halftime the score is still Preston 0 Sunderland 0. Millwall are 3-1 up against Blackburn and Coventry are drawing 1-1 with Middlesbrough. The playoffs look unlikely.

Sunderland fans in full voice

Second half

Sunderland start the second half strongly and retain possession well without breaking through. Blackburn score early in their game cutting Millwall’s lead to one goal. An away goal in both games would now see Sunderland qualify for the playoffs. Amad Diallo sometimes tries too hard and loses possession. At other times he makes the most difficult skills look easy. In the 54th minute a ball falls to him on the edge of the 18 yard box and with minimum effort it is in the net. Excitement and relief in the away end, game on. Within minutes second half substitute Alex Pritchard has reversed a clever shot into the bottom corner for 2-0 and at the same time Blackburn score at third to tie their game. Cue pandemonium in the Sunderland end with the volume increasing to deafening proportions. Belief spreads through the players and Preston look shell-shocked.

Alex Pritchard (centre of the goal) reverses his shot into the bottom corner of the net

Only minutes later Jack Clarke cuts in from the left and keeps the ball on his right foot shooting low into the goal. It is a trademark Jack Clarke goal, one which should get much more difficult to execute when the opposition know what’s coming. On this occasion they stand off and pay the price. The game is over as a contest and Sunderland enjoy passing the ball around amongst themselves for the last 25 minutes. Everything now rests of Blackburn holding out against Millwall.

Jack Clarke celebrates the third goal with the fans

The atmosphere in the away end is electric but tiring jumping up and down all the time especially after my lack of sleep. Everyone goes crazy again when Blackburn get a 4th against Millwall. They now need 2 late goals to make they play offs. In injury time the result is confirmed Millwall 3 Blackburn 4 what a turnaround from half time. Sunderland just need to hold on to play Luton in the playoffs. The final whistle goes, celebrations continue and the players enjoy themselves with the fans. No one is leaving, it’s pouring with rain outside and we all have work tomorrow. Best to stay in the fantasy land for a while longer.

Sunderland players celebrate making the playoffs

When the Preston players re emerge for their end of season lap of appreciation the Sunderland fans give them all a round of applause. By now there are more away fans in the stadium than PNE. Eventually we walk back to the car knowing we won’t get any tickets for Luton but having enjoyed the away games this season. A lovely attacking football team to watch and a threat especially away from home. Some fantastic games with an average age of 22. Looking forward to the playoffs ahead.

Everyone is happy to stay a while longer

Review of the day

One of those days that stick in the memory. Not just the match we watched but also Millwall v Blackburn was the archetypical game of two halves. From being behind by 4 points at the end of the 1st half to ahead by 1 at the end of the 2nd. What an experience, two loud crowds in successive days with an earthquake in between. I’m hoping not to hear Killing In The Name again but if you haven’t listened before give it a try on full volume with the bass turned up to 11.

Entry Fee Β£10 U21 Β£28 adult

Programme Β£3.50 34 pages

Attendance 21,177 (5,726 away fans)

Run fun 7/10

Parking availability 5/10

Match entertainment 6/10+-+-

Adrian’s pastry index not in attendance

Preston North End FC website

Run on Strava

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