Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Queueing for a Tiger Tweet-up!

Tuesday 28th December - Hull City 1 Reading 1
Monday 3rd January - Portsmouth 2 Hull City 3

All's well that ends well

"Buzzing".  That's what I am, positively "buzzing".  And that's not a term I've used many times over the past few seasons when describing attendance at Hull City matches.  But, buoyed by my last three outings to watch the Tigers, I can safely say I'm currently anticipating future trips with the same sort of excitement I had when first entering Boothferry Park as a youngster over thirty years ago.
Although the sub-heading refers to the last two matches I attended, in reality the Reading one acts merely as the hors-d'oeuvre to the main course that was my first visit to Portsmouth in over twenty years.
Not that the home game against another of the Championship's "form teams" was instantly forgettable - far from it given some superb passing football from City of the sort I wouldn't have thought possible when witnessing the shambles at home to Sheff Utd earlier this term; and a performance of refereeing by Mr. D. Foster that must rank as one of the most inconsistent I can recall at any level of football. 
I'd again "treated" the Elder Slushette to a trip to the KC for the visit of "The Royals", along with Easington United stalwart (& fellow long-term City sufferer) "Biff".  At one point on the morning of the match I wondered whether or not we'd actually get to see any action at all.  From 10am my attempts to purchase tickets over the phone failed to even get past the engaged tone.  And having seen the queue for "pay on the gate" at the recent Bristol City match, I had visions of a frustrating and possibly fruitless afternoon ahead.

In the event my fears proved groundless.  We arrived at the Ticket Office for half-one and walked past two bored-looking stewards ("Ooh, you've timed it just right - we've just got rid of a massive queue".  Yeah, right) and had no problems in obtaining three tickets for the Upper West. (Incidentally, when I informed said stewards about my earlier problems in trying to get through on the phone, I was told, "Well, it's been bedlam mate."  Nowt to do with a lack of staff manning the phones then?  A crowd of just under 22,000 might suggest City's preparations weren't all they could have been - especially given the first win at Bramall Lane in 39 years that had immediately preceded the Reading encounter).
Anyway, enough of the whingeing, once safely ensconced in the ground we were treated to a decent match.  The first half was particularly encouraging with a stunning goal courtesy of James Harper, two stonking efforts against the woodwork (from Koren & Stewart) and some more scintillating wing/forward play from the Man Utd loanee who'd already impressed me so much just a week or so before.
Of course, during the interval, I had the stupidity to come out with the dreaded cliche about "half time's perhaps the worst thing that could've happened to City".  Sure enough, Reading, who'd been far from poor opponents in the first 45 minutes despite City's ascendancy, looked even better after the break and suddenly put their hosts on the back foot.  Still, when on-loan keeper Vito Mannone produced a fine penalty save to deny Shane Long, the Tigers' luck appeared in...only for Reading to grab a point courtesy of a farcical goal described thus by City scorer Harper in his post-match radio interview: "(the ball) hit McShane on the 'arris before falling to the geezer at the far post who's stuck it in!"  Quite.
Harper's interviews are becoming quite legendary on Radio Humberside and he capped this latest one off by observing that the aforementioned Mr Foster had "pooed himself" over the (correct as it happens) non-award of a second half City penalty following a challenge on Jay Simpson and a prolonged negotiation with his lino.

Harper clinches another Radio Humberside interview!
If I'd thought the pre-match organisation at the KC had left a little to be desired, it was nothing compared to what awaited me at Portsmouth's Fratton Park.
Having already decided - wisely as it turns out - that it wasn't worth the hassle of trying to fit the Leicester home game on New Year's Day into already busy social plans, I'd gained a surprisingly easy "pass out" from Mrs Slush for the Bank Holiday jaunt to the south coast.
Looking back I'm almost certain my only previous visit to "Pompey" had come in  February 1987.  In time-honoured fashion I can't really remember much about the actual game (a 0-1 defeat)  but I must have been single as it was played on Valentine's Day and  somehow I struggle to see the attraction to many young ladies at that time of a twelve-hour round-trip on a Simon Gray coach.  Especially when considering the refreshments consisted of cardboard crisps and Tigercola, the entertainment was a freezing cold two hours spent on a windswept open terrace that at that time formed the away end, and there was a more than evens chance of breaking down either en route or on the way home!   Come to think of it, my weekends away spent following the Tigers hampered many of my attempts at forging lasting relationships with the opposite sex back in the mid-Eighties.  Not that I probably minded too much; I was young(ish), devoted and...well, yeah, daft!
Still, at least my memories have had time to fade.  They're not half as painful as the recent ones held by those City fans (such as Marcus Dysch) who were re-visiting Fratton Park less than a year since Iain Dowie's side had surrendered a 2-1 lead in the dying moments to effectively consign themselves to relegation from the Premier League.  "Scarred" is probably the most appropriate term to use.
Having jested some two weeks' previously about "fanzine legend and media slag" Andy Medcalf's offer to drive to Pompey, it appeared come Sunday evening that the trip was a no-go.  According to his own Twitter entries, Andy was having trouble accumulating the necessary "brownie points".  Not to mention acquiring a sizeable band of volunteers to accompany him on his "jaunt".
Still, at 8.45pm came the official announcement.  "Trip on".  Excellent.  The first day of the Fifth Ashes Test at Sydney could wait - Hull City's need was greater than England's.
Hence, just after seven the following morning, Mr Medcalf's Kia 4x4 rolled down Westfield Close and I stepped aboard for my first "proper" away game since the memorable Barmby-inspired win at Sheffield Wednesday in December 2004  (and yes I know, THAT'S a shameful fact).
"Who else is going then?" I asked.
Ah, from Twitter.  "I didn't know you knew her?" 
"I don't".
This was surreal.  A sort of slimmed-down "#hcafc tweet-up" with @AndyMedcalf in the chair!
Inside the hour we were outside the home of our third passenger and soon we were making fantastic time en route to the south.
Indeed, barely five hours after leaving the mouth of the Humber we were at the mouth of the Solent.  And a few minutes later found me enjoying a fine lunchtime pint of St Austell Tribute in the cosy Florence Arms, in the company of several members of the Hull City Southern Supporters Club (including seminal Tigers match reporter Steve Weatherill) and fellow Tiger tweeter Paul "Pieman" Robinson (or @Tigerfan11 in the case of this ongoing "#hcafc tweet-up"!).
A second pint, this time of Adnams Broadside and all was set fair...until the power of Twitter alerted our party to potential admission problems at the ground.  Thus, still some eighty minutes ahead of kick-off, we wrapped up and set off for the fairly lengthy walk to Fratton Park, confident of being in our seats in plenty of time to welcome new boy Matty Fryatt and his new team-mates onto the pitch.  Hmm.

Putting a brave face on things...ten minutes before kick-off! 

The sight that met our arrival at the ground quickly dispelled such hopes.  It was obvious that things were not going according to plan.  Queues of supporters wearing both clubs' favours snaked back for some distance from the Frogmore Road ticket office.  And as we joined the back of one of them, worse was to follow.
A steward suddenly broke the line with his arm and announced, "We've just been informed that we will not be selling tickets to anyone behind this point".
Just ahead of us were a City-supporting couple who'd spent the previous night in a Portsmouth hotel, on the promise - as stated on the official website - that the game was "pay on the gate".  Their voices were just two of many as dissent steadily grew.
Having seen a familiar face further up the queue I quickly passed on enough money to secure three more tickets and was pleased that my actions not only failed to arouse the ire of those in close attendance, particularly the home contingent, but indeed attracted much sympathy from them.
All sorts of reports were circulating about the reasons for the farce, the main one being that Pompey had been forced out of their main ticket office by the previous owner, resulting in just two kiosks being forced to deal with increasingly agitated punters.
Meanwhile, living up to his @Mike_Scott-inspired Twitter tag, our man-in-charge Andrew did what he apparently does best - went live on Radio Humberside to "paint pictures" to Sports Editor David Burns of the scene outside the gates.  It was now 2.45pm.  We were not going to see kick-off.

Not a bad Tiger turnout

Thankfully, things finally speeded up to such an extent that we had tickets in hand and were around the Milton End some ten minutes into the game.  We were in our seats just in time to see latest on-loan keeper Brad Guzan make the first of several fine stops. 
Having taken time to assess the Tiger turnout (a very impressive 600 was the figure finally given to it the following day) and wolfed down a not-so impressively priced cheeseburger (I should have bought the "hub-cap size" versions being sold outside as recommended by yet another Tiger tweeter @philascough) I settled down for what would prove the most exciting and indeed nail-biting ninety, nay, eighty minutes I've seen live in a long while.
There's no doubting that for every City chance - such as Bullard smacking the underside of the bar with a superb free-kick before firing home from the spot for the only goal of the first half - the hosts had at least three!  But thanks to Guzan and some wayward finishing, we somehow held a lead into the break.

City come out in sympathy with their hosts re. use of subs!
Whilst trying to work out whether only six subs warming up on the pitch at HT meant that one was inside getting changed, observations were also made about the Tigers' lead being a far from secure one!  The consensus was that "another four" goals might see us okay.
In the event, two in a "Tigertastic" five-minute spell during the second half would prove enough, although not before Pompey levelled from the spot themselves and then put us under further serious examination.
But the previously oft-criticised NP made two astute changes.  On came new signing Matty Fryatt to cap things with a quality first goal, followed by our very own St Nick to put us 3-1 up with a typical Barmbyesque finish.
Of course this being City we wouldn't be allowed to air our songs of triumph with complete conviction; the hosts pegging us back to 2-3 and then creating - and missing - three great late opportunities to snatch a point.  Step forward and take a bow, one Brad Guzan.

"Do-Do-Do-Super Matty Fryatt"

Eventually the final whistle blew and victory could be savoured.  Memories of last year were suitably eclipsed, while all talk immediately afterwards and indeed for a few days "on the boards" was of a bright, new outlook on the rest of the campaign. 
This positivity was further reinforced by post-match news of the probable capture of highly-rated Man Utd youngster James Chester and rumoured continued interest in Swindon hotshot Charlie Austin.  And as we drove home to the accompaniment of ex-boss Phil Brown bringing his usual brand of "entertainment" to a footy talk-in on 5Live, I was actually quite disappointed that my next appointment with The Tigers isn't likely to come for another month, when those "lovely" chaps in white from West Yorkshire come calling at the KC. 
Ah, supporting Hull City isn't meant to be like it?

Thanks to Andy Medcalf for most of the above photos


Wayne Tudor said...

Hello mate,yet again you mention the mighty whites in another of your'e bloggs.We may be a SMALL Yorkshire club but the league do'es not lie,we are always on the the back of the minds of our less fortunate fellow yorkshiremen(be it Barnsley,Sheff Utd,Huddersfield or Yourselves.I will be in Hull around 4PM on 1st Feb for a few beers before match,maybe we can catch up over a pint or two,whatever the outcome footballs the winner.The futures bright, the futures WHITE!!

Richard Lusmore ("Slush") said...

Eh up Wayne! The mention of your "lovely" club is purely because it's likely to be the next game I get to. If you read my account of the Sheff Utd game you'll see that it is they who I still regard as HCAFC's biggest rivals :-)
Anyway, I'll bear it in mind about a drink matey - will depend on what time I can get away from work. All the best!