During the summer months football fans can’t wait for the release of the new season’s fixtures. We wait expectantly until they are released and then scan them endlessly armed with questions such as, where is the opening game? When is the local derby? What’s the final game of the campaign?
For the 2014/15 season I did exactly that, but my attention was also drawn to a passage of games in March for my team Fulham.
Given that I’m a Fulham fan living in Leeds it was identified as a rare chance to get to three consecutive Fulham games something I’ve not done for well over twenty years. Of course it would be a bit of a topsy-turvy experience as in travel terms, the away games would be home games and the home game an away game.
Back in the summer what I labelled as A Yorkshire Trilogy seemed months away, but inevitably time has ticked away and now I find myself about to embark on the three game adventure.
They will be very different experiences, as the game at Hillsborough today will be followed from the press box, the game at Craven Cottage on Wednesday will be in the company of a Leeds fans and at the John Smith’s Stadium next Saturday I will be amongst the Fulham fans in the away end.
First up then is the trip to Sheffield, a city I’ve grown more familiar with since starting studying at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in September 2013. The course has been great in building up contacts with both of the club’s in the Steel City and today enables me and a fellow student (who happens to a Wednesdayite) to take our place in the press box.
For anyone not familiar with Sheffield, Hillsborough is situated about three miles from the city centre, but can be quickly reached by tram to the Leppings Lane stop which is five minutes away from the ground.
Ed (currently sporting a Damien Lewis look) and I arrive about 13.30 to collect our passes and match programme from the main reception and make our way to the press room. Despite there being 90 minutes before kick-off the room is already busy with journalists from a range of media outlets. Amongst them is the familiar face of Alan Biggs, who lectures at SHU, but who is here today working for Sky Sports.
The early kick-off between Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town is coming towards its conclusion on the screens in the room as food arrives. On the menu today is a fantastic meat and potato pie, mushy peas and chips, with Sheffield’s renowned Henderson’s Relish as an accompaniment.
As the pre-match meal is consumed, the teams are announced and written on a whiteboard. The two talking points revolve around Chris Maguire coming back into the side for The Owls and Fulham giving a debut to Norwich City loan signing Michael Turner.
With kick-off just fifteen minutes away and now in possession of a team sheet, we venture to our seats in the press box high in the main stand and with a view to the left of the halfway line. Once logged onto the internet, there is just time to have a flick through Wednesday’s very good programme before the start of the game. What is also evident is that the pitch is in a poor state with large parts of the pitch without grass.
The playing surface certainly has an effect on the quality of the opening half, as both sides struggle to create any meaningful chances. The only real incidents of note are the two substitutions that Wednesday are forced into after injuries to Liam Palmer and Will Keane, who are replaced by Marnick Vermijl and Stevie May respectively.
Half-time and a chance to grab a cup of tea and catch-up on the scores around the country. Returning to our seats we hope that the second-half to come has something to cheer for supporters of both teams.
The Fulham fans sat in the upper part of the Lepping Lane end applaud the team as the players return to the pitch and soon the game is underway again.
Wednesday start brightly and are rewarded ten minutes into the second-half. A half-cleared corner presents Lewis McGugan with the chance to cross once more into the box, where substitute Stevie May heads home to put Wednesday in front.
Fulham are now on the back foot and Marcus Bettinelli is called into action keeping out a Chris McGuire shot down by the left hand post.
With twenty minutes remaining two substations by the Fulham boss Kit Symon’s change the course of the game. Hoogland and Kavanagh are replaced by Woodrow and Fofana, which allows Ross McCormack to drop deeper into a midfield role.
Fulham are rewarded with fifteen minutes to go, as substitute Woodrow crosses for Matt Smith to score. Wednesday aren’t happy with the visitors’ leveller, as they believe the referee should have awarded Wednesday a free-kick, protesting that Woodrow had dived in the box.
Suddenly the game springs to life as Fulham are now causing The Owls problems, and Kieran Westwood has to be at his best to stop efforts from Smith and McCormack. Even in the four minutes of time added on, Fulham continue to press for a winner and they finish the stronger of the two teams.
Overall though, a point is a fair outcome and sends the Fulham faithful back down the M1 in a positive mood for the midweek encounter with Leeds United.
What of my experience today? The hardest aspect about watching the game from the press box was trying to remain neutral and not react in the normal way a fan would during a game. It has been managed, although when Fulham were looking for a winner in the closing stages it was not an easy task. Of course the other part of being in the press box is actually detailing the major events during the game, so you have to pay more attention to the opposition that you probably would as a fan.
Thankfully the next part of my journey on Wednesday will just be as a fan, so the laptop, notepad and pen can be packed away for now.