Sunday, 27 December 2009

Firhill Stadium (Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh Rugby)

Yesterday, Boxing Day, I had planned to see St Mirren take on Aberdeen at St Mirren Park but unfortunately the game was cancelled because Strathclyde Police had concerns about the safety of the area surrounding the ground. There was nothing wrong with the pitch, mind, and the game was not called off until 12:30. I was glad I did not have to travel all the way from Aberdeen but after having phoned the club at noon to be told that the game was definitely on I was still pretty annoyed.

I decided to go to Firhill today instead to see the Magners League rugby game between Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, which was not only an important league game but also doubled as the first leg of the 1872 Cup, the trophy that is contested annually by the inter-city rivals. I consider myself a supporter of Glasgow, although I had not attended a game for four years, the last one a Heineken Cup pool game against Bath, also at Firhill. Let us just say I am the type of 'supporter' who always looks for their results in the paper! For some reason the only two professional Scottish teams do not attract the same support as their Magners League counterparts in Wales and Ireland. Leinster has an average attendance of 15,000, a figure that dwarfs the 2-3,000 that show up at Firhill every other Friday night.

With both Edinburgh and Glasgow sitting at the top of the Magners League table and with the help of an extensive marketing campaign in the past few weeks, the general expectation was that Glasgow's home attendance record (6,665 in last season's 1872 Cup derby) would be broken today. 8,830 Glasgow and Edinburgh fans showed up, thus setting a new record. Glasgow's Dan Parks set another record by becoming the first player to score 1,000 points in the Magners League. Parks, who is expected to complete a move to Cardiff Blues soon, only needed five points to reach the milestone. The Australian-born fly-half did not leave anything to chance however and scored an impressive 20 points this afternoon.

Glasgow were the dominant team today but they conceded more penalties than necessary. In the second half the Warriors were able to pull away and man-of-the-match Richie Vernon scored the only try of the match. The return-leg of the 1872 Cup will be played at Murrayfield on 2nd January. Interestingly, Edinburgh have never been able to beat Glasgow at Firhill but Glasgow rarely win in Edinburgh so the contest is still wide open, although I think the league is more important for both teams at the moment.

You will find pictures of a Partick Thistle football match at Firhill here.

Approaching Firhill Stadium.

The North Stand before the game. You could only purchase a ticket for this stand today.

The Main Stand.

The South Terrace, or what is left of it.

Chris Paterson scoring his first of four penalties for Edinburgh.

The Jackie Husband Stand.

Celebrations after Glasgow scored the only try of the match. Note the hideous Edinburgh shirts...

The Main Stand after the game.

The Jackie Husband Stand after the game.

The North Stand after the game.

Sunday 27th December 2009
Magners League
Glasgow (15) 25
Try: Vernon; cons: Parks; pens: Parks 5; drop-goal: Parks
Edinburgh (12) 12
Pens: Paterson 4
Att: 8,830

Saturday, 19 December 2009

McDiarmid Park (St Johnstone v St Mirren)

Today it was off to Perth for the 'Battle of the Saints'. St Johnstone were taking on St Mirren in McDiarmid Park, the only one of the current SPL grounds I had not visited yet. Perth is an hour on the train from Glasgow Queen Street. The stadium is quite far from the train station and city centre, it took me about 40-45 minutes to walk to the ground.

McDiarmid Park, which opened in 1989, was one of the first of the modern all-seater stadiums in Britain. It has four stands with a total capacity of 10,673. Today both ends were closed and the St Mirren fans were given the northern end of the Main (West) Stand. The attendance of 2,993 must have been one of the lowest of the season for the Perth Saints but it had probably more to do with the adverse winter weather and some belated Christmas shopping than the importance of this game. The Buddies lost 1-0 and are now only two points above bottom team Falkirk who won 2-1 at Rugby Park today. They could have moved to seventh place but instead St Johnstone leapfrogged them in the league table.

It was a cold day in Perth but I could not really complain as twelve of today's 20 SPL and SFL games were postponed due to either a frozen pitch or heavy snowfall. When I left the house at 10am only the game at Forfar showed up as 'postponed' on Ceefax whilst many English games were already postponed. It later turned out that, apart from Queen's Park's home game at Hampden, all games in the Second and Third Divsion were off. Surely a 'frozen pitch' would have been noticed by 10 o'clock?

Chris Millar's 19th minute shot was the only goal however there were several chances on both sides. After Michael Higdon was sent off after picking up a second booking midway through the second half however, it never looked liked the Buddies were going to take even a single point back to Paisley.

Approaching McDiarmid Park.

The fan shop under the Ormond Stand.

The Main (West) Stand.

The North Stand remained closed today.

The Ormond Stand was not open either.

The Main (West) Stand.

The East Stand.

Saturday 19th December 2009
Scottish Premier League
St Johnstone 1 St Mirren 0
Goal: Millar 19.
Att: 2,993

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees)

On 22 November 2009 my wife and I took part in a tour of Yankee Stadium, home of the famous New York Yankees baseball team. The five-day trip to the Big Apple was an extension of our honeymoon, which we had spent in Spain (see also my posts on grounds in Benidorm, Alicante, and Valencia). I had booked the tour one month in advance over the internet. Tickets were $20 each and I think it was well worth it. Although I do not really know anything about baseball, the Yankees are one of those big teams in world sports that transcend the traditional fanbase of the sport they compete in, similar to Manchester United in football or the All Blacks in rugby.

The Yankees have won the World Series 27 times, making them the most successful 'franchise' (I hate that word) in North American professional sports. The last time they lifted the championship trophy had only been 18 days ago when we visited Yankee Stadium. The 2009 season was the first season in the new ballpark, which opened on 2nd April of this year.

161st Street-Yankee Stadium subway station in the Bronx is adjacent to both the old and the new Yankee Stadium. It is only about 15 minutes on the number 4 subway from Grand Central Terminal, which was almost right next door to our hotel. The first thing we saw when we climbed these stairs was the old Yankee Stadium.

The old park is being demolished at the moment. It was opened on 18 April 1923 and was the Yankees's home until 1973 when it closed for renovations. It then reopened on 15th April 1976. The final game here was played on 21st September 2008. Unfortunately I was unable to get a better view of the inside of the old ballpark than this.

I walked round the whole stadium but no open gates unfortunately! I probably should count myself lucky that part of the park was still here however I had hoped to see more.

Another picture of the old stadium taken from just outside the new one. We had booked the tour at noon which was the earliest available on Sundays at the time of booking. I had initially planned to start the day with visiting Citi Field, the stadium of New York's other MLB team, the New York Mets, which is situated in Flushing, Queens. However breakfast took us longer than I had expected so I decided to see this park after we had completed the tour of Yankee Stadium.

We then walked up to the adjacent new stadium to pick up our tickets at the box office near Gate 4. This all went without any problems, I only had to show my printed receipt of the internet booking. We still had about 45 minutes left which we killed by walking around the ground and visiting the team store.

I had set my sights earlier on a Yankees jacket and a replica baseball shirt but prices in the stadium shop were high and I have to say that I found the shop quite small compared to massive stores I have seen at football clubs like Man City, Barcelona and Liverpool. Right next door to the shop is the Hard Rock Cafe which we did not visit.

As stated above, the tour started at noon but it was organised with military precision and we were asked to wait in the Great Hall about 20 minutes before the actual tour started.

We were asked if anyone needed to go to the 'bathroom' before the tour started as it would last about 60 minutes. I did not really need to but I decided to go to the loo anyway, I did not want to miss out on the chance to visit the toilets at Yankee Stadium...I did not take any pictures as I was not alone(!) however the modern facilities did not disappoint.

Finally the tour proper started at noon. First stop was the museum. The picture above shows six of the seven 'Commissioner's Trophies' the Yankees have won. Although the 'Bronx Bombers' have won the World Series 27 times, this trophy was not awarded until 1967. The 2009 trophy had not yet been added to the museum when we visited.

The 'Ball Wall' is the centrepiece in the museum and features a few hundred balls autographed by past and present Yankees players and the idea is to eventually add autographs for every player who has ever played for the Yankees.

Although I am by no means a baseball expert, I recognised names like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and present star player Alex Rodriguez. A maquette of the new park was also on display in the museum and the perfect opportunity to take the 'aerial photograph' at the top of this post! After the museum, the next stop was Monument Park.

Monument Park is a bit of a bizarre concept to someone like myself who is not familiar with ballparks. It is an open-air museum containing a collection of monuments, plaques, and retired numbers honouring distinguished members of the Yankees, as well as other events that took place at the stadium and in the city. I had initially thought this was a small park outside the stadium, however it is actually inside the ground, in an area behind the fence in straightaway centre field.

Some of the Yankees legends in Monument Park: Lou Gehrig (1903-1941), Miller Huggins (1879-1929), and Babe Ruth (1895-1948). If you want to grow old do not become a baseball legend!

Also in Monument Park, the retired numbers of former Yankees players.

This guy I knew as well, was wondering where he had gone...At least one Yankees legend who reached a respectable age!

This picture was taken from Monument Park, which shows that it is situated right behind the centre field fence. The new stadium has a capacity of 52,325, which is actually less than the 56,936 capacity of the old park when it closed its doors in 2008. This was explained by the more comfortable, and wider, new seats and the many amenities that take up a lot of space. I wonder if they have just raised the ticket prices to maintain the revenues of the old stadium?

We then went to the dug-out, which is actually air-conditioned so it was nice and warm on this November day. Here you can see the infield. Note the frieze that lines the roof, this was also a trademark of the old ballpark.

Another picture of the infield I had taken earlier during the tour. You can see the party before us in the dug-out as well.

The outfield, again seen from the dug-out. Monument Park is situated right under the large video screen.

Another view from the dug-out, this time looking behind our shoulders. I assume these are executive boxes and/or press boxes.

And another view from the dug-out. We were then shown the players' clubhouse and the indoor batting cages however we were not allowed to take any pictures here, supposedly because players did not like it if any of their personal belongings were photographed, however I did not see what all the fuss was about.

After the tour I went on the look-out for my Yankees jacket and I finally found the one I liked in the 3rd or 4th shop I tried. I also bought a replica baseball shirt with Alex Rodriguez's name on the back for a total of $135, whereas I had seen just the jacket in a Footlocker store on Times Square the previous day for $120. This was all genuine merchandise and should you ever be in New York, I would recommend one of the shops outside the ground for Yankees souvenirs. The proximity of these shops to the ground is probably also the reason why the stadium shop is relatively small.

After Yankee Stadium I wanted to see the ballpark of the other New York team, the Mets. Citi Field, which has a capacity of 41,800. The stadium opened only a few days before the new Yankee Stadium on 29th March of this year. Of course the Mets are not as celebrated as their Bronx counterparts, having won the World Series only twice, in 1969 and 1986. This picture shows the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Brooklyn Dodgers legend Robinson was the first African-American MLB player of the modern era. To Europeans it is of course strange that part of the stadium is named after a player who played for a different team. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and became the L.A. Dodgers. The Mets were established four years later to fill the gap that was left by the relocation of the Dodgers.

Citi Field replaced the adjacent Shea Stadium, which unlike the old Yankee Stadium, had already been demolished when I took these pictures. It took about 45 minutes to travel from the Yankees park in the Bronx to the Mets ground in Queens. As soon as the subway arrives in Queens it becomes an overground elevated train. This gave us a bit of an impression of the 'real' America after spending three days in the bubble that is Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

Even though the subway was busy considering it was a Sunday there was hardly a living soul to be found near the stadium. Even the Mets Team Store was closed and according to the opening hours on the window it is even closed on Saturdays!

This picture shows the gates to Right Field. Curiously just like the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, which cost $900 million to build, has a smaller capacity than the old ground. The new park has 6,000 seats less than Shea Stadium.

Another picture of the outside of Right Field. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures from the inside so I had to make do with walking around the stadium and taking pictures of the exterior. I have to say Citi Field looked like a very impressive baseball park, a shame they were not doing any tours!

I left Flushing again slightly disappointed. When we walked back to the ground I noticed that the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is located near Citi Field as well. However I did not want to annoy my wife any more by suggesting to walk up to the home of the US Open as enough valuable shopping time had already been wasted by taking her to a deserted baseball ground!

Unfortunately this was as close as I got to the tennis complex!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Reebok Stadium (Bolton Wanderers v Man City)

Yesterday Martijn and I went to Bolton to see Bolton Wanderers take on Manchester City in the Reebok Stadium. We took the 10:00 Virgin train at Glasgow Central and arrived in Preston at 12:15. From Preston it was only a 20-minute train journey to Horwich Parkway station which is adjacent to Reebok Stadium. The ground is nowhere near the town centre so we decided to head for the ground first and then look for a watering hole upon arrival at the stadium. We were at the ground over two hours before kick-off so we had plenty of time.

Reebok Stadium, as with many new stadiums, is built near a retail park. There are however a few pubs nearby. We opted for the Greenwood Arms on Chorley New Road. This was a friendly place with City and Bolton supporters watching Stoke v Wigan together. The match commentary was in Italian but no-one seemed to mind.

After a couple of pints we headed for the ground. As Martijn is a City fan our seats were in the South Stand, along with 5,000 other City supporters. Despite this being a local derby and the Citizens bringing as many fans as they did the ground was by no means sold out with around 6,000 empty seats. Although the ground, which opened in 1997, is small by Premiership standards it is a top-class stadium. We saw an attractive game as well with Bolton taking the lead three times and City equalising three times as well. Craig Bellamy was sent off for picking up his second yellow card for diving. This was a bad call by referee Mark Clattenburg as Bellamy was clearly fouled. City were 3-2 down at this point so Carlos Tevez's equaliser in the 77th minute was celebrated wildly.

After the game I took a few more snaps of the empty stadium before jumping on the train back to Preston. From there our train only went as far as Carlisle as there was construction work being carried out between Carlisle and Glasgow. We already knew this beforehand and the replacement bus arrived in Glasgow as scheduled. I finally arrived back home in Paisley at around 11pm.

Approaching Reebok Stadium.

First a few pre-match pints in the Greenwood Arms.

Approaching the ground again ten minutes before kick-off.

The club store outside the ground.

The East Stand.

The North Stand.

The West Stand.

City were reduced to ten men after Craig Bellamy received a second booking for diving.

An empty North Stand after the game.

The East Stand after the game.

The West Stand after the game.

Saturday 12th December 2009
English Premier League
Bolton Wanderers 3 Manchester City 3
Bolton: Klasnic 11, Cahill 43, Klasnic 53
Man City: Tevez 28, Richards 45+2, Tevez 77
Att: 22,735
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