Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Gillian Jenkins

Gillian in 1993, ahead of the 
FA Cup Final against Arsenal.
With much sadness, I write following the untimely passing of my friend and London Owls legend Gillian Jenkins who died, quite unexpectedly, last Thursday 17 April. I don't pretend to have known her better than others amongst the London Owls membership over the years but she and I went back a long way -  to the early eighties in fact - which probably means that I knew her for longer than most. We would travel together from Southend to meet up with our fellow Wednesdayites at Kings Cross for our executive coach travel to games all around the country.

Gillian was tiny - teeny tiny in fact - but she was a feisty little thing and could more than stand her ground when it came to holding her beer and delivering mickey-take to her predominantly male travelling companions. She was funny and loud, sometimes mouthy, always loyal and reliable and she had a heart of gold. 

If memory serves me correctly, Gillian had no historic connections with Sheffield and I think I am right in saying that whilst growing up as a youngster in Norfolk, her Dad took her to watch the Owls play at Norwich and that is how her love affair with Sheffield Wednesday began. 

The early to mid eighties was a great time to be following the Owls as the club progressed steadily, season by season, culminating in promotion back to Division 1 in the 1983/84 season. Promotion (pipped to the Champions spot by Chelsea) was secured on the final day of the season with a 2-0 away win at Cardiff City which was a particularly memorable day including the party on the coach as we travelled back to London, albeit Gillian had to remain circumspect on the alcohol front as she was heavily pregnant with daughter Toni at the time.

Other memorable trips, once back in the First division, included matches at Manchester United and Manchester City where the Manchester police, on both occasions, mistook our executive coach for the team coach. On the first of these two occasions, the coach was escorted right to the players entrance at Old Trafford where the senior officer then boarded the coach to welcome the team, only to be confronted by Gillian sitting in the front seat, decked out in blue and white ribbons. "She's the centre forward" came a cry from the back.

These were heady times, travelling in style and supporting a successful football team with the London Owls - a great crowd of people - and Gillian was very much a central character in all this.     

I disappeared off the London Owls scene towards the end of that decade, my tending to drive to matches before moving abroad for three years and hence my meet-ups with Gillian became fewer and further between. However I was back in Southend in time for the 1993 cup runs and together with Gillian and Darren Reynolds (another Southend-based Wednesdayite), we drove to Hillsborough for the FA Cup 5th round tie against Southend United which took on extra significance for us because (obviously) it was our home town team we were up against. Having won the match 2-0, we were back in Southend for 8.00 pm and headed to The Railway pub for celebratory beers. The pub started to fill with Southend supporters now also having returned from Sheffield. Gillian went to the duke box, selected Singing the Blues, and proceeded to dance through the pub - Wednesday scarf aloft - like a mad thing. She took a bit of stick but she gave it back and more.

I last saw her at Wembley for last year's play-off final when we met up, together with Darren, to enjoy what turned out to be one of those rare, truly memorable days in the life of a football supporter. It would have been incomprehensible to imagine that I would be writing these words less than a year later.

The Wednesday family has lost a good friend. Gillian's partner Graham and daughter Toni have lost much more and my heart goes out to them. Fly high Gillian Jenkins, my diminutive friend. You will be sadly missed but the laughs we enjoyed will live forever.   

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Football Away Days - CD Leganés v CD Mirandés

No self-respecting football fan could have a weekend in Madrid - home to six teams across Spain's top two divisions - and not go to a match. Surely? This was my unanimous verdict and after taking into account dates, times, bar opening hours and budgets, Mrs C and I along with friends Mick and Andrea plumped for a trip to top of the (LaLiga 2) table CD Leganés for a two o'clock, Sunday afternoon kick-off versus CD Mirandés.  

Leganés is part of the Community of Madrid, situated to the south east of the city centre. As the crow flies it was only around six miles from our accommodation in the Las Acacias neighborhood of the city but as we're not crows we chose to take a slightly more convoluted route via the metro system, a forty minute journey briefly enlivened by a group of Peruvian buskers doing their Fast Show routine.

From Leganés Central metro station it is a near twenty minute walk to the Estadio Municipal Butarque which obviously necessitated a refreshment stop at the half-way mark at Cervecería La Posada, a splendid little bar where complementary tapas accompanied the drinks. As a Sheffield Wednesday fan, it was reassuringly familiar to be enjoying a pre-match beer with supporters clad in their blue and white striped home kits. Less familiar to be doing so with the home team top of the league and even less so with the match ticket in my back pocket having set me back all of nineteen euros. And instead of having a big girl's blouse at the helm, CD Leganés have a real woman in charge in the shape of Victoria Pavón who, along with husband Felipe Moreno, acquired a majority stake in the club back in 2008 when the club was floundering in the third tier of Spanish football. Even then, the club had never played at a higher level than second tier football but that particular eleven year stint had come to end four years earlier. However, under Pavón's leadership the club started moving, slowly but surely, in an upwardly mobile direction culminating in promotion to the top division in 2017 clinched, coincidentally, with a 1-0 away victory over today's opponents CD Mirandés. Whilst the club lost it's top tier status four seasons later, they are currently looking good for a return to Spanish football's top table, sitting three points clear of second placed Elche ahead of this weekend's fixtures.

Opponents CD Mirandés don't have a woman at the helm, big blousy or otherwise, but they are based in the city of Miranda de Ebro (northern Spain) which sounds a bit like a girl's name. The club has a modest footballing pedigree having spent most of its time in the lower reaches of the Spanish football pyramid although their current Tier 2 status, first achieved just eleven years ago, represents the club's high watermark. This season sees the club in the bottom half of LaLiga 2 thus representing a legitimate target for our local club FC Cartagena to catch up as they seek to haul themselves away from the relegation bottom four. All this, plus the fact that CD Mirandés play in red, meant that we would definitely be rooting for the home team. Football tourists or what eh?

We arrived at the Estadio Municipal Butarque half an hour before kick-off and in time for a beer. Cerveza mixta, tostada or sin (without) alcohol, all available at €2.50. No sin alcohol for me but each to their own eh? Well, apparently not as it turns out because all three options were alcohol-free which left me distinctly unimpressed. It must be forty years since, when on Sunday night driver duties, I first tasted Clausthaler non-alcoholic beer. Now, Clausthaler can kid themselves all they like that their story of "inspiration, innovation and determination" really did lead to the world's "first great tasting non-alcoholic beer" but let me assure you that it tasted shite back then and these Spanish equivalents, forty years on, still taste just as shite. Plus it gives you wind. Honestly, surely a woman wouldn’t have decided upon an alcohol-free stadium? 

To be fair, that was the only one disappointment of the day. The Estadio Municipal Butarque was exactly as one might expect a municipal stadium to be, minus a running track around the pitch. Our nineteen euro tickets got us seats in the Fondo Sur behind the goal at the end opposite to that which housed the home team Ultras who, it must be said, kept up a barrage of chants throughout the game, often coaxing the home fans on the other three sides of the stadium to join in. One got the feel very much of a community club in harmony with its family-orientated fan-base including lots of young kids noisily and colourfully affirming their allegiance. Similarly colourful was the club mascot, a giant cucumber resembling a blue and white striped phallic version of Zorro, ribbed for extra pleasure. Women owners eh? 

Disappointingly perhaps, it transpires that the club's nickname is that of Los Pepineros (the cucumbers/ cucumber growers) as a nod to the area's historic market town relationship with Madrid. CD Mirandés however are known as Los Rojillos (the Reds) or, far more excitingly, Jabatos being the name for the young wild boars which are native to their particular part of Spain. Hmm, the cucumbers versus the wild boars. CD Mirandés definitely win in the club nickname stakes. 

The game kicked off in warm, hazy conditions. The home team Ultras made certain of a good atmosphere, aided early on by a small but enthusiastic following of away fans housed at the corner of the Fondo Sur. And the away fans nearly had something to shout about on ten minutes when winger Illyas Chaira put a left footed shot wide of the post when he really should have hit the target. However, that was about as good as it got for Mirandés who fell behind in the twentieth minute when some tricky work on the right by Juan Cruz saw him cross for centre-forward Diego García to head in at the near post. Worse was to follow fifteen minutes later when a break down the left hand side saw left-back Enric Franquesa square the ball for García to side-foot in for his second goal of the match. The game was effectively over by half time when Juan Cruz struck a low hard shot past the keeper from twenty five yards in the forty second minute. The wild boars had been tamed by the cucumbers - something I never thought I would end up writing.

The Leganés ultras giving it some.

Not wanting to mix my metaphors but the cherry was placed on the top of the cucumber in the sixty sixth minute when a clever turn and pass by García put centre-forward Miguel through to round the goalkeeper and slot the ball into the net for a 4-0 victory. The linesman initially tried to spoil the fun by flagging for offside but it was VAR to the rescue on this occasion. 

And that was that. The vast majority of the nine thousand four hundred fans in the ground carried on making lots of noise, bounced up and down a lot and joined in mexican waves until the referee's final whistle brought proceedings to an end. The home team ended Matchday 31 still three points clear of Elche at the top of the table whilst FC Cartagena's point in a nil-nil draw away to Eldense sees them now only one point and one place behind Mirandés in seventeenth place. 

So, match finished by four o'clock and we headed back towards downtown Madrid where we took in several bars, including a secret bar called Bad Company and another place that sold mugs of Caldo (chicken stock) at two euros a time. Caldo is surprisingly tasty but drinking more than one guarantees that you will wake up the next morning with a mouth tasting like lard. Drinking more than one drink in Bad Company guarantees that you will wake up bankrupt.

Futuristic? Call that a football ground?

As a football-related postscript, we passed Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu stadium the following morning. The stadium is undergoing significant upgrade works. Disappointingly, the once impressive facade has been covered with cladding to create a supposedly "futuristic" design which serves only - as far as I am concerned - to make it look like a supposedly futuristic design as opposed to a football stadium. Hey ho. Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder. This week I am very much taken with the beauty that is CD Leganés. However, in two weeks time they will be hosting FC Cartagena so by then they can stick their cucumbers where the sun don't shine. I will be back in Burnley. Actually, the sun doesn't shine there very much.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Thirst For Adventure On The Way To Santiago - A Tale of Three Caminos


“Just read your book and loved it. It was as if you were telling me about your journey over a beer”. Walking five hundred miles along the Camino Frances route from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela was certainly a journey worth talking about. And Graeme Cook can talk. Particularly when there's a beer involved.

Having learnt of the Camino de Santiago during the dark days of the Covid19-related lockdowns in early 2020, once sprung from captivity he was a man on a mission. The Camino Frances had his name on it and nothing could stop him. Except possibly his knees. Or gout. Or Mrs C even? Fortunately, Mrs C became equally captivated and they planned, prepared and waited impatiently for the world to pull itself together before they could set out on this noble quest. Come June 2022 and their Camino was behind them. But Graeme wasn't finished. The daily blog he published during the walk formed the basis of his book El Camino De Santiago - Beers On The Way which, as we can see above, at least one person liked. The following year they walked the Portuguese Camino from Porto and, five months later, they were back in Santiago to walk to Finisterre. More adventures. More blogs. More beer.

A Thirst For Adventure - On The Way To Santiago consists of three parts, the first part Beers On The Way (i.e. the original book) now augmented by Another Round (Portuguese) and One For The Road (Finisterre).

As with most Camino-related memoirs, this book takes the form of a daily record; towns, people, terrain, myths, accommodation etc. But not many of the others start with a daily song. Or cover more than one Camino. Or proffer opinion on cravats. Or advice on when not to accept the offer of a candle in deepest, darkest Galicia. Bottom line, life is for living and if you can't have a bit of a laugh when you're alive, well ................................enough said.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is a truly life-affirming experience. This book will convince you. Sit down, pour yourself a drink and let Graeme tell you all about his journey. Available, via the link below, at the princely cost of £2.99 for the e-book (free on Kindle Unlimited). A tale of three Caminos for just £2.99. It's like a Camino miracle.

A Thirst For Adventure On The Way To Santiago

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Perfect Football Away Day - For Him and Her


This time last week, Mrs C and I found ourselves in the Spanish city of Santander on the northern coast of Spain. Not by accident obviously. Together with intrepid pals Mick and Andrea, we had decided that we needed to escape the snow and ice of Burnley in favour of a European football match and determined upon the game between Real Racing Club de Santander, SAD (usually referred to simply as Racing) and our adopted Spanish team FC Cartagena. A sixty two pounds Ryanair return fare per couple, flying Manchester to Santander, helped cement that decision.

Racing are one of the ten founding members of La Liga in Spain. Yet despite having operated in Spain's top footballing division for the greater part of its history this famous club has found itself of late yo-yoing between the second and third tiers of Spanish football with a near miss on bankruptcy thrown in for good measure. As a Sheffield Wednesday fan, this scenario seemed reassuringly familiar. Racing have made a decent start to the season, lying in eighth place in La Liga 2 whereas Cartagena had a terrible start and were rock bottom for the first few weeks of the season. However the appointment of new manager Julián Calero in late September led to a gradual improvement in results and the dizzy heights now of second bottom. Again, reassuringly familiar.

We landed at Aeropuerto de Sevy Ballesteros, Santander on the Saturday evening with time sufficient to check in to our city centre hotel and thereafter take in a few local bars ahead of the following day's match.

There is much more to Santander than its ferry port and well known multinational bank of the same name. The city stands on the beautiful Bay of Santander looking across to Pedreña, birthplace of its most famous sporting son. The centre is crammed with beautiful bars and beautiful people. Santander has it’s very own palace Palacio de la Magdalena, an arts centre Centro Botín (which resembles a giant, old fashioned domestic fan heater) and a cathedral which, whilst dating back to the twelfth century, is an ecclesiastical version of Trigger’s Broom having emerged not unscathed from a massive dynamite explosion at the nearby port in 1893 and an equally devastating fire in 1941 which laid waste to much of the city’s old town.

Generally speaking, sporting activity and keeping fit appears to play a huge part in the lives of the local population which is probably why they’re all slim and beautiful. But once you’re past it in terms of being slim and beautiful, they helpfully provide escalators and travelators - even a funicular - around the city to help you with all the uphills. Civilisation personified.

Despite its long history, Racing haven’t actually ever won anything to speak of. A sixth placed finish in 2008 saw the club rub shoulders with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the following season’s EUFA Cup but their highest ever league finish was way back in 1931 as runners-up under English coach Robert Firth.

With a two o’clock kick-off time to aim for, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before strolling the scenic, three mile coastal walk from the city centre to Racing’s stadium Campos de Sport de El Sardinero. We Brits may not be nearly so civilised as the Spanish but it was of course the Brits that first brought football to Spain and the good people of Santander have generously acknowledged this fact with the erection of statues of famous British footballing icons along the route to the ground, amongst them world cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme and ex-Leeds and England manager Don Revie. We also found a sheet metal sculpture of the "bald eagle" Jim Smith. Probably.

Statues of British football icons Sir Bobby Charlton, commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, ex-Leeds and England manager Don Revie and a sheet metal sculpture of "bald eagle" Jim Smith scribbling in his note book on the touchline at Birmingham City (or Newcastle United, or Derby County?). Despite these managerial postings, Jim was always a Wednesdayite. UTO. WAWAW.

Here in the UK, peak urban planning sophistication might be considered the siting of a new football ground as part of, or adjacent, to a retail shopping park at an out-of-town venue so that he gets his football and she gets her retail therapy which just strikes me as being a bit lazy and sexist. Opened in 1988, the Campos de Sport de El Sardinero however is sited not more than a couple of Ederson (Man City) drop-kicks from the soft sands of beach Playa de El Sardinero. I told you this city was civilised. Blimey, I might be tempted to choose the beach option myself on a slightly hotter day.

We arrived at the stadium an hour before kick-off, purchased a bottle of beer each and walked around the outside perimeter of the stadium whilst enjoying said beer (imagine the likely fate of a glass beer bottle in the near vicinity of a UK football stadium). It was warm and sunny, around twenty degrees, and all very relaxed. Match tickets were purchased at the stadium for twenty five euros apiece and we took our seats in the upper tier of the south stand, behind the goal, around a quarter of an hour before kick-off. A programme (of sorts) is handed out, to those who want one, free of charge upon entry.

From my limited experience of Spanish football (total ten home matches at Cartagena plus this one), crowds at Spanish games tend to be more family orientated than in the UK and everyone brings a packed lunch. Notwithstanding the absence of quite so many “lads”, the vocal participation throughout a match is consistent across all sections of the ground, led by an “ultras” section who maintain a seriously impressive ninety-minutes of singing, chanting and flag waving. Away followings though are not really a thing in Spanish football, much to do with the distances involved. Aside from the four of us, the Cartagena contingent didn’t appear to extend into double figures but, there again, any Cartagena-based crow would have been looking at a return trip of around nine hundred miles to get to this match.

The Campos de Sport de El Sardinero is a neat and tidy bowl of a stadium with a capacity of just over twenty two thousand. The combination of early kick-off, warm afternoon and absence of away fans might easily have resulted in a flat atmosphere but far from it. The fourteen thousand largely beautiful, fit and civilised home fans created a cracking atmosphere led by their “ultras” at the north end of the ground. And it all felt very safe. All the harder to believe therefore that, eleven years ago, some of these same fans attempted to storm the directors’ box, throwing bottles and other projectiles at club president Ángel Lavín, in protest at the financial mismanagement of the club at the time. The club’s financial problems were eventually rectified, two years later, with the raising of new funds via share issue by which time Lavín and his board had been ousted and Lavín was later to be jailed for his part in the mismanagement of the club.

It was this sad state of affairs off the pitch that led to the inclusion of SAD as part of the club’s official title, i.e. Real Racing Club de Santander, SAD - a sort of public shaming if you will. That is, of course, absolute bollocks although I find the concept to be not without its appeal. SAD actually stands for Sociedad anónima deportiva being a special type of public limited company for sports clubs, introduced in 1990 to help improve financial management and transparency, not that it appears to have worked for Racing in 2013.

Anyway, the game kicked off and so did Cartagena’s Tomás Alarcón who was yellow-carded in the first minute. Despite this, Cartagena started much the better organised and dangerous of the two teams and they took the lead in the sixth minute. From a smart move down the right hand side, striker Ortuño tapped in Jairo Izuierdo’s low pull-back from the byline. Racing created a couple of shooting opportunities by way of response but Cartagena could easily have gone in at half time with the match out of sight. The second half saw Racing far more dominant but Cartagena defended well, content to soak up the pressure and await the occasional opportunity to break. One such opportunity saw Racing’s Iván Morante sent off for a cynical foul on seventy five minutes. Thirteen minutes later Andrés Martín made it two red cards for the home team although he had already been substituted twenty three minutes earlier so either the referee played the longest advantage ever or Andrés had a bit too much to say from the touchline. To rub salt into the wound, Cartagena’s Kiko Olivas scored a breakaway second goal for the away team in the sixth minute of injury time as the hosts threw everything and everyone in search of an equaliser.

So, an unexpected but deserved three points for FC Cartagena in their efforts to climb away from the relegation spots. Manager Calero has them playing much cuter than earlier in the season and they were able to frustrate the home team and boss the game as a consequence. 

We strolled back towards the city centre taking the more direct route from the stadium which included a half mile long traffic and pedestrian tunnel under the hills, escalators and travelators above. Once back in the heart of the city, we took it upon ourselves to research more of the bars on offer including the food and drink hall at Mercado del Este, three speakeasy styled bars and the more traditional pintxos type bars. And we had to do it all again on the Monday and Tuesday as the earliest flight back home wasn't until Wednesday morning.

Santander makes for a great football away day, irrespective of whether all participants actually like football or not. If you like your footie but your other half doesn't then this is the trip for you. Trust me. I'm an ex-bank manager.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Chairman’s Statement


I get lot of stick from fans who say it their club but it mine and I put gazillions in but no more. You say I custodian which sound rude but we all love Stanley Strollers and we all want best give me hundred pound each and I pay tax bill then buy new squad. Because you not treat me better I decide to make Graeme Cook manager again and he want four times money so make that two hundred pound each. I don’t stay if you no want me but it your fault if club go down toilet. Good luck Mr Graeme.

Deadpan Cooksiri, Chairman

Monday, November 27, 2023

Club Statement

Stanley Strollers are delighted to announce the appointment this morning of Steve Bruce as our new manager.

The experienced coach took over as Strollers’ boss with immediate effect, his extensive CV including previous management spells at Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic (twice), Crystal Palace, Birmingham City, Sunderland, Hull City, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.

In his first interview, Bruce spoke of his long held admiration for Stanley Strollers as a “massive” club and promised to give 110% effort, commitment, passion and loyalty to his new role. 

In breaking news, Bruce has now left the Strollers to take up the manager’s role at National League club AFC Fylde who currently sit second from bottom in the table. In his first interview, Bruce said “There was only one job that would have tempted me to leave Stanley Strollers and this was it - I went to Blackpool once on holiday which is quite close so I couldn’t turn it down”. Describing his new club as “massive”, he promised to give 110% effort, commitment, passion and loyalty to his new role, until a better offer turns up of course.

Strollers’ chairman Graeme Cook said “the club would like to thank Steve for his services and wish him well for the future, the flat-nosed, money-grabbing, disingenuous twat”.

The process to appoint a new manager is now underway and we will make no further comment at this time.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Club Statement


Stanley Strollers have parted company with manager Graeme Cook, who leaves the club with immediate effect. 

With the club currently bottom of the Watney Cup League, Cook’s departure followed an emergency board meeting after Sunday’s Gameweek 13 matches. Chairman Graeme Cook explained “I was unanimous that a change in the dugout is required, with someone who knows how to play the Strollers way. The club would like to thank Graeme for his services and wish him well for the future, the useless twat”.

The process to appoint a new manager is now underway and we will make no further comment at this time.