This weekend saw me take in a League One game between two former Premier League teams at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United and Charlton Athletic, who were both relegated from the top flight in 2006-07. That was the infamous season when Carlos Tevez scored at Old Trafford on the final day of the season to keep West Ham up and sink Sheffield United, condemning them to the Championship. The controversy surrounding the Tevez deal, and the registration rules it broke, still rankles with the Blades faithful. Four years after the that the club dropped into the third tier where they have competed ever since. Fortunately for them, things appear to be looking up this season, with the club eight points clear at the top of the League One table going into the game. Only a major capitulation between now and the end of the season would prevent an almost certain promotion.
Despite having spent three years living in Liverpool I’d never made it over the water to watch the Wirrall-based Tranmere Rovers. Then, the opportunity arose at the weekend to visit Prenton Park for the first time. Not only did we have complimentary tickets in the Platinum Suite, but the game would also see the visit of Chester, fierce local rivals.
As a lifelong City fan, who had yet to travel away in Europe and with a long overdue holiday needed, I’d planned to take a trip to see the Champions League play-off game should it be a place worth visiting. I had my fingers crossed for Rome or Monaco. Bucharest was far from my mind.
As Giorgio Marchetti unfolded the UEFA branded paper with Steaua Bucharest the pragmatist in me realised that it would be draw worth taking, even if I couldn’t attend. Alas, City were next out of the bowl. With the draw and the date set in stone I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t quite the glamour tie I wished for. If there could be such a thing as a glamorous qualification game!
Within a few minutes I received a text which simply said “Bucharest?” – it was a call to arms. I did a little research and booked the flights and hotel knowing that a ticket for the game wouldn’t be too difficult to source given the time of year, venue and ten days turnaround time. This was a game for hardcore away fans.
In June 2016 Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 in Chicago’s Soldier Field to advance to the final of the Copa America Centenario. The game, which was stopped for over two hours due to a severe storm, was settled with goals by Fuenzalida and Aranguiz. Mike O’Neill was there to watch the action.
New York Cosmos, famous for fielding Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s under a previous incarnation, now ply their trade in the North American Soccer League (NASL), classed as the second tier of soccer in the United States. Cosmos beat Jacksonville Armada 3-0 in front of a crowd just under 4,000 to maintain their perfect start to the season. Mike O’Neill went along with his camera.
On Saturday 23rd July, Penang played host to Selangor in a Malaysian Super League encounter, the top tier of Malaysian football. The setting was the 20,000 capacity Penang City stadium which is situated in Georgetown, Penang state. Georgetown is famed for the range of food they have to offer as well as the street art which brings the city to life. However, the art of football in Penang perhaps needs resurrecting.
In Part Two of Mike O’Neill’s tour of U.S. domestic “soccer” he headed to Canada to see Toronto FC host Chicago Fire in the MLS Eastern Conference on Saturday 9 July. In front of a healthy 27,934 crowd, Toronto won 1-0 to edge back into play-off contention.
On Friday 1 July Detroit City FC and fellow Michigan side Grand Rapids FC played out a 0-0 draw in front of 5,024 fans. In the first of three domestic games watching during his trip to the states, Mike O’Neill went along to the Keyworth Stadium to watch the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) action.
I’ve not followed England, or been too bothered about their results, for well over a decade. But when, on Friday afternoon, my girlfriend won free tickets at work and suggested taking my little brother I thought “why not?” He’s only ten-years-old and too young to be bitter and cynical about football like his older brother and he was to thoroughly enjoy the day.
Salford City gained notoriety thanks to the BBC documentary “Out of their League” following the Class of ’92 takeover. Televised FA Cup ties against league opposition Notts County and Hartlepool garnered further press attention, meaning that Salford became one of the most talked-about non-league clubs in the country.