Sunday, 16 December 2007

A view from a (posh) terrace...

The team that currently has the misfortune of my company in this season's FA Cup is Cambridge United. I say misfortune, as I'm not sure if I bring much luck. I have only seen one team (Dartford) progress further than two rounds. The law of averages suggests that my trip to Wolverhampton in January may witness Cambridge United's exit from the competition. If this proves to be the case, then I apologise now to the supporters from Cambridgeshire.

As for Cambridgeshire, things are looking rather rosy for the county as far as football is concerned. United are riding high in the Blue Square Premier. They have also been joined in that league this season by Histon, for the first time in their history; the highest level that Histon have ever played football at. Cambridge City are one level lower, holding their own in the Blue Square South. Before United's new year trip to the Black Country they have a very important league double header against Histon over the Christmas period. It is going to be an exciting festive period for football fans in the city and bragging rights for the remainder of the season will be there for the taking.

However, Cambridge United's biggest rivals are county neighbours Peterborough United. "The Posh" are also having a good season; they are challenging for automatic promotion from League Two. Along with Cambridge United, they are also through to the Third Round of the FA Cup and face an away game against Championship opposition (Colchester United). To say that Cambridge United and Peterborough United are rivals is like saying that Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson don't get on much. The word "intense" springs to mind.

So on Saturday I took another trip to Cambridgeshire, this time to see the rivals across the fens. Having been to Arsenal midweek, I knew that this was going to be an experience of our beautiful game from yet another, quite different, perspective.

The Posh were hosting Milton Keynes Dons.

At the start of the day the visitors were top of the league with Peterborough four points behind in second. The game had been greatly anticipated for a number of weeks, and the Peterborough club had pulled out all stops to promote the clash. This paid off; an impressive 10,351 turned out for the game, more than double their season's average. And with it, they brought an absolutely cracking, almost electric, atmosphere. Outside the ground long before kick-off, one could sense that the atmosphere had been charged and cranked up over a number of days to the point that it was starting to crackle before turnstiles began to turn. Expectations in the city were high.

The game itself was a very good advert for football in League Two. For the neutral, it had just about everything; three good goals, two teams at the top of their game, numerous chances for both sides, plenty of goalmouth action, some bizarre referring decisions, a sending off, and a partridge in a pear tree (not really).

The home side just about edged the first half, with a glorious effort from Charlie Lee striking the bar after fifteen minutes. The three goals arrived in the second half. In a bizarre ten minute period the Peterborough defence went totally absent, conceding two goals which could quite easily have been five or six; Gallen (47) and Andrews (57) making the most of gaping holes at the back. The home team should have been dead and buried.

But in an almost cup-like contest, Peterborough threw everything at the visitors in an attempt to purloin something from the game. Mclean pulled one back with a quarter of an hour remaining and an unlikely comeback looked feasible when Diallo was dismissed for the Dons on 78 minutes. In a barn-storming finish, MK Dons did just about enough to hang on for a deserved 2-1 victory. A delighted Paul Ince (Dons) and a dejected Darren Ferguson (Posh).

What a great game. And without any hesitation I can say that this was a much better game than the one at the Emirates on Wednesday. But even more notably, the atmosphere at London Road eclipsed that I experienced at the impressive new stadium in North London.

Here were two teams that had everything to play for. Here were two teams whose levels of expectations (compared to Arsenal) are relatively lower. The battle for League Two supremacy for these two teams means just as much as Champion's League success means for Arsenal. And here were two teams that ran themselves into the ground and in doing so served up a highly entertaining game for a crowd who had been wound up to the point of bursting.

But the best bit? I witnessed all of this from the steps of a terrace. Grand.


CUFCtheParrot said...

You must be a really lucky person. First you get the luck of the draw and your chance to watch the Mighty United in the Cup.

Then, a virtual miracle, you get to watch a decent match at Peterborough. The last time a decent match was seen there by anyone was in January 1990 when we taught Peterboring a footballing lesson in our 5-1 away win. (There not know as Peterboring for nothing you know; you only have to listen to their supporters on Radio Cambridgeshire on a saturday evening to realise you get better entertainment watching tortoise racing).

Zinedine Fleming said...

Well done on surviving P*sh. A trip there so soon after your visit to the Abbey must have been like enjoying a fine meal at the Savoy then getting pudding from MacDonalds ;)