A new season is upon us and that means an endless amount of largely uncompetitive pre-season friendlies. Not today. A Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough you say, press box you say. Yes please! Leeds United making the short journey south to take on Sheffield Wednesday in what was billed as a pre-season “friendly”. High hopes that niceties would be thrown out the window on the M1.
To bring everyone up to speed, gibfootballshow towers moved location two weeks ago and is now based in Sheffield. A number of reasons for the move but the main thing is GFS has a new base camp and there could be more stories emanating from South Yorkshire this season.
Sheffield has two big teams who are going through a bad patch, with both teams in League One it could be a great season for a neutral to enjoy some football. However telling Mrs GFS, a life-long Blade (Sheffield United fan), that I would be going to Hillsborough did raise an eyebrow.
Hoping to kick off the season with a bang I called upon the services of one of GFS’s well-connected friends with the hope of gaining access to the Press Area of Hillsborough. Access was granted and my first visit to the historic stadium would be a day to remember.
An early 1pm kick-off meant a slightly long lie, bit of breakfast and then the short journey from my new house to the excellent tram service just down the hill. I had been instructed to arrive at the reception for 11:45 prompt. 11:40 I walked past the Hillsborough disaster memorial, over the bridge and into the ground.
Inside I was met by a lovely lady who said I looked really excited. “First match of the season for me” I replied. Walking through the concourse I found the press room easily and took a seat trying not to look out of place. There were only four of us in the room, but somehow I managed to avoid the “Who do you write for?” question. Apparently “proper journos” don’t like to think outsiders are allowed in.
Time ticked by and I wasn’t sure when you made your way up to the seats, so I kept seated, waiting for someone else to make the first move. One of the journalists eventually packed his things and left the table. I started packing mine not wanting to look too keen. And then it happened –in came about 5 massive trays of food. Chicken and Ham pie, sautéed potatoes with optional mushy peas and gravy. JACKPOT!
I’ve never seen a room of journalists so quiet. The food was wolfed down and then it was time to go to the press box. Apparently Wednesday had gone and moved the facilities to the 4th floor, never having been before I had no idea where I was going. “Go down the corridor, you’ll see the Dooley restaurant, the door before that one…….” I was already lost.
Wandering past the Derek Dooley restaurant I knew I was already lost, enquiring at reception I was told to make my way up the service elevator. The Press liaison hadn’t mentioned a lift….did they know I wasn’t a reporter?
In defence of the receptionist she was spot-on, straight up in the lift to the 4th floor and I was up in the top-tier, the view of the pitch was excellent, great for checking tactics and the like. Time to set up my journalist bits…laptop = check, pen and pad = check…twitter = ….no wireless connection…great.
Downstairs in the press room we were given usernames and passwords for the “improved” wireless service; it worked great, 5 bars – no issues at all. Once on the press row there was nothing, details weren’t accepted. I flagged it up to the press people; there was a brief flurry of action, then nothing.
Eventually a really helpful man came armed with a DSL cable, plugged it in and as if by magic we were on the internet. Finally we could get down to some football. The game was fairly entertaining. David Prutton opened the scoring over his old club with only eight minutes on the clock. Wednesday spent most of the half in control and were much the better side.
Leeds did come back into it in the second half but lacked any sort of quality upfront. Max Gradel was by far their best player and Leeds fans should be praying to whatever god they follow so that he stays for another 12 months. If he goes I wouldn’t fancy their chances.
With only about 7 minutes to go it was the Ivorian winger that levelled the score. With the ball in the air 6 foot 3 defender Reda Johnson jumped to beat 5 foot 9 Gradel to the ball, instead of winning the ball he basically flattened the Leeds player, in my opinion there was no option but to point to the spot, although opinions seemed to differ after the match. Gradel put Nicky Weaver the wrong way, although I’m told Weaver can only dive one way. Maybe Gradel knew?
Both teams will have enjoyed the run out, the game was played at a good space, apart from only having 9,000 people in attendance it could have been a league game. Things flared up a few times and there were a few heated tackles, all in all it made it an excellent game to watch.
After the game I joined a few friends downstairs for a couple of drinks. It was interesting to see the contrast for a fan watching the game from the corporate box and a fan watching from the gantry. Apart from the access to alcohol it seems the difference is the press get some delicious pie. With food like that I will be back….I hope.