My Matchday - 294 Highbury Stadium

Fleetwood Town 3v1 Gateshead
Blue Sq.Bet Premier
Saturday 10th September 2011

Fleetwood Town’s Highbury is a ground I’ve put off visiting until now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’m anaphylactic to fish or anything, it’s just I’ve waited until the redevelopment of the stadium was completed, so I can capture the ground in all its glory.

The 5,663 capacity stadium has been totally revamped since 2007, with the finishing touch being the smart looking £4.5m Parkside Stand which was opened to spectators in April. The stand has a 2,000 all- seated single tier with a shelf-like executive area at the back, having two rows of seats in front of seven hospitality boxes. The stand is completed by a semi-circular wrap around roof with large glassed walls at each side.

Opposite is The Highbury Stand which opened in 2008, with 550 red seats divided into six rows and runs half the length of the pitch, the other half has the building that was used as dressing rooms with a video screen scoreboard and there’s also a TV gantry box on top of the roof.

There is covered terracing behind each goal, the Percy Ronson Stand was the first stand built in the revamped ground in 2007 and is usually set aside for away supporters with room for over 600 fans.

The Memorial Stand replaced the old Scratching Shed at the Park end, named in honour to those who lost their lives in service and in memory of the trawlermen lost at sea from the port of Fleetwood. The stand holds 1473 and opened in August 2008 and unlike the Percy Ronson stand the roof covers the whole end.

A rare treat of a bit of a lie in for this trip, as it’s usually an early start and a canny hike when travelling away with the Heed. Our coach left Gateshead at 10.15pm and after being millimetres away from dunshing a car on the A685, we arrived safely at 1.30pm

Fleetwood is a town on the Lancashire coast in the Wyre district in North West Fylde, an eight mile tram ride north of the bright lights of Blackpool.

The town is built on a Peninsula and was once a productive deep sea fishing port until fishing restrictions were made after the Icelandic Cod wars in the 1970's. The port is now a tourist attraction with a retail shopping park and the picturesque seaside resort is a quieter alternative to the noisy neighbourhood down the road.

We drove past the old fishing docks and the local McDonalds, with Squad #26 Alan Price suggesting we should stop off for a Fleetwood Big Mac! Thankfully we didn’t, the coach driver dropped us off at the JDW pub - The Thomas Drummond instead.

Drinking in Fleetwood is a very cheap day out. I had 2 pints in the ‘Spoons; Northern ‘Casino’(3.8%) cost £1 and Franklin EXP(4.2%)£1.99. On route to the ground I went to seek out the Strawberry Garden which is owned by the local Fuzzy Duck Brewery, where I had a pint of ‘Feathers’(4.0%) priced at £2.30 with 50p off a pint for CAMRA members. So overall I had three pre-match pints for under a fiver.(That’s 1994 prices…Eddy)

Similar to the visitors for today’s Blue Sq.Bet Premier game - Gateshead F.C., Fleetwood too has a history of disbanded and reincarnated clubs.

The first of many were Fleetwood Rangers back in 1887 playing at the Corpse Ground for 10 years before Fleetwood Amateurs formed. The club dropped their surname in 1908 joining the professional ranks, playing at Warrenhurst Park before a moving to a pitch on land at the rear of the North Euston hotel in September 1909, joining the Lancashire Combination League.

The North Euston ground was limited with little room for expansion so after one year the club relocated one mile out of town to a piece of land opposite the Queens Hotel. After the club folded in 1927 Fleetwood later returned to North Euston until the local Council purchased four acres of land on Highbury Avenue adjacent to the Memorial Park in 1936.

The first match at Highbury Stadium took place on 26th August 1938, but due to the outbreak of World War 2 another ball wasn’t kicked until 31st August 1946, equipped with a freshly built covered terrace opposite the Main Stand.

The majority of the club’s history was spent in the Lancashire Combination, winning the title once in 1923-24, until becoming founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. In 1971 they lifted the League Cup but struggled in the division and after consecutive years at the foot of the table they folded in 1976.

The club reformed the following year in the Cheshire League and progressed to the North West Counties League in 1982. There was also a trip to Wembley in the FA Vase in 1985(lost 3-1 to Halesowen Town) but again the club folded in 1996.

The present and most successful rebirth formed in 1997 as Fleetwood Wanderers in the North West Counties 2nd Division. Due to a sponsorship deal the club were immediately renamed Fleetwood Freeport until the current and traditional Town suffix came in 2002.

Town rapid progress has seen promotion through both North West Counties and Northern Premier leagues, reaching the Conference North in 2008. In the 2009-10 after finishing runners-up to Southport, the Cod Army celebrated reaching the Conference beating Alfreton Town 2-1 in the play-off final at Highbury Stadium.

A Record Attendance of 4,112 was set last season against AFC Wimbledon as The Fishermen reached the play-offs, finishing the regular season in 5th spot but lost the two-legged semi-finals to the eventual promotion winners.

The Tynesiders unbeaten since the start to the season faced the biggest test so far, with Fleetwood producing their best display with a 3-2 win at Kettering last Saturday

The first half was a tight affair, the best opportunity falling to Jamie Vardy just after the half hour mark, his close ranger effort produced a great save from Farman.

The second half was more entertaining. The deadlock broken on 51 minutes with a magnificent strike from Andrew Mangan, who unleashed an unstoppable drive from over 30 yards which crashed in off the underside of the bar.

Viera went close to doubling the lead with a close range header before man of the match Robert Atkinson saw his headed effort cleared off the line.

James Curtis had a shot blocked as Gateshead put on the pressure in search of an equaliser, but were undone on the break. Substitute Brodie played a good ball into the path of Vardy, who ran on to round the defender and finish well.

In the final minute Gateshead halved the deficit with a 25 yard Beckham-eque free-kick from Odubade, but again the home side caught the visitors on the breakaway, Brodie again combined with Vardy, the striker grabbing a brace with another neat finish which had the Captain Pugwash tune blasting over the PA for a third time.

So Gateshead’s unbeaten start comes to an end, while Fleetwood will be buoyant after back-to-back wins and six goals after a stuttering start to the season in front of goal.

The Blue Sq.Bet Premier league looks pretty open this season which should see plenty of highs and a only a few lows for the Heed this campaign.

There doesn’t seem to be a stand out team that’s going to run away with the title this season, which makes for a competitive league and a thrilling eight months ahead.

Matchday stats
FTFC 3(Mangan 51 Vardy 80 90+4)GFC 1(Odubade 90)

1 comment:

Dan said...

Coach left at 10.15pm? Blimey. That really was some lie in!!!

Cant believe how much that ground has improved since I was there!