7th May 2011 we travelled down to Stevenage for Burys final match of the 2010/2011 season. Stevenage needed a result to reach the League 2 play offs.
363 days later on, and we were travelling down to Stevenage again for Bury’s final match of the season. Stevenage again needed a result to reach the League 1 play offs.
Things never change! One stark contrast however between the two matches was the weather! Last May we were basking in sunshine, it was t-shirts and shorts for the day. This May… it was jackets, trousers and shivering Northerners.
Friday night I was at Wigan Warriors v Hull KR with Danny when he mentioned that he was going to Stevenage the following morning. He asked me if I wanted to come along, and after much deliberation I seized the opportunity to go back to one of my favourite football league grounds.
We weren’t sure whether tickets would be available on the day, but being the seasoned groundhoppers we are; we went down anyway and hoped for the best. Gary picked me up from my house at 09:05 and we had an enjoyable journey which involved listening to Boltons finest Radio DJ Vernon Kay for a couple of hours. During his show, we learnt that England adopted the white strip of Bolton Wanderers after they won the first FA Cup Final at Wembley… apparently so anyway. We also learnt that Vernon was a caretaker at a school in Westhoughton; which isn’t too far from my house.
The motorway was full of Liverpool fans travelling down to Wembley for The FA Cup Final. Normally, all of these supporters would have been travelling by train, but with The FA controversially switching the kick off time to 17:15 – driving was the only option. Car after car drove past with Liverpool scarves draped out of the back windows. For good measure, there was even a Walsall fan dressed up as Scooby Doo.
We also passed Andy Carroll on his way to Wembley which was a bit of a bizarre experience. He’d obviously decided that he didn’t want to travel with his team.
After the Tom Tom opted for a somewhat scenic route, opposed to the beautiful drive through Luton – we arrived at Broadhall Way around 12:35. We took full advantage of the free parking; which can be found over the dual carriageway, next to the ground. The free parking is on a field basically, but it is surprisingly easy to get out of at the end.
Despite big signs instructing football fans to use the underpass, we risked our lives and ventured over the road to the ground. I noticed that since last year they had cut down vast amounts of trees from outside the Main Stand; which I wasn’t happy about! I felt the trees gave the ground a feel which can’t be replicated at any other football league ground these days.
I had arranged to meet up with Stevenage fan Matt. I know Matt through Facebook, and it was nice to finally meet him. Walking along the main road I noticed Matt outside the club shop. It was only a very quick chat, but I’m sure I’ll meet him on my travels again sometime!
Finding a matchday programme seemed somewhat easier this season. Straight into the club shop to purchase one! None of this walking around a social club trying to find a teenage boy selling a few this time around!
Gary asked a female steward if tickets were available from anywhere, to which she replied “Have you booked online?” – Yes, because Gary definitely sounds like a home supporter doesn’t he? Not to mention the fact we were plastered in Bury FC apparel. We finally got down to the bottom of it, and as away fans we had no problem whatsoever getting in; it was pay on the turnstiles.
With that sorted, we had our photos outside and decided to re-visit the Burger King which we went to last season. Congratulations Stevenage! You are home to the worst Burger King I have ever visited – bar the outlet they have at Orlando Airport, Florida. The service was ridiculously slow, even with hardly any people in there. Oh, and they gave me the wrong burger. I stormed back to the counter (burger in hand) and demanded a swap.
After we had enjoyed our meal we ventured back through the now familiar underpass and arrived back at the car. We sat in there for around half an hour whilst we listened to Arsenal v Norwich. Danny had also brought a couple of Budweisers for the journey to celebrate the final of The FA Cup Sponsored by Budweiser. Good thinking!
It was soon time to walk back under the underpass, over to the away end. It was £14 for me to get in as an under 18 which I wasn’t happy about. Who do they think they are? It’s cheaper to watch Manchester United in a Champions League semi final! I handed my money to the turnstile operator who questioned me on my age, asking if I had ID in the process. Come on, do I seriously look 18? I wouldn’t have minded, but the lad looked the same age as me!
After getting through the turnstiles, we were then subjected to a woman who tried selling us half time draw tickets. She seemed nice enough, but she was too nice, which makes her annoying in my books. Normally if you decline the opportunity to purchase a ticket once, they leave you alone. Not this woman, she asked four times before we managed to escape.
I had brought along last seasons matchday ticket so we could find where we were sat. It was a day of reminiscing really. I don’t think anybody was expecting this match to surpass the fantastic occasion we all witnessed last season. Well, I say all, there were quite a few fake Stevenage fans in attendance for this important fixture.
We sat in the South Stand, behind the net. Incredibly, it was only built in 2001 and already looks past its best. It is claimed the stand can hold 1,400, but in all fairness it struggles housing 400. The toilets are insufficient. The space at the back of the stand is non existant. The food van isn’t big enough, resulting in vast queues. To walk to your seat you have to clamber you way across an aisle at the front of the stand. This often gets blocked. Oh, and the seats snap easily, as we all found out – More on that later on.
To the left was The Main Stand. Running the length of the pitch it houses executive areas and player facilities. Again built in the same way as the South Stand, it looks to struggle when faced with a big crowd.
To the right was the East Terrace, which in my opinion is one of the most spectacular sights in the lower reaches of the football league. Holding around 2,500 standing spectators it looks fantastic when full. What annoys me with the Stevenage fans in this stand is the fact they have the basis to create a great atmosphere, but fail to do so.
Opposite was the North Terrace. Holding just 700 fans its days are looking numbered. Only 7 steps deep, it could be likened to a cow shed. With the Football League demanding that all Championship teams replace terracing within two years, and the fact there is room for expansion, it doesn’t look like it will be standing much longer. Despite the terrace lacking on the inside, I actually really like it on the outside. Backing on to a main road, the turnstiles are somewhat different and are covered with leaves.
Back to the pre match antics! Stevenage, for the second year in the row, has won my award for the “worst entertainment and announcer”. Who is this man? He struts up and down the pitch like a failed Butlins entertainer. He owns just the one suit, which looks like it was bought in the 1980’s. He says embarrassing things, which you shouldn’t hear at the football! Words such as “footballing feast” – Okay, maybe I am being a bit too critical, he does the job… eventually!
It was time for the annual “lets present the children with awards to fill some time” presentation. Last years event was thrilling, so I think I speak on behalf of all Bury fans when I say… I could hardly contain my excitement.
The poor children were marched on one by one to pick up their certificate and medal. It was Gary who made a very good point – Surely it should be the parents getting the presentation on the pitch? They’ve dragged their children to each match!
“Lets give it up for Sophie! Sophie has watched 12 matches here at The Lamex this season!”
Now, to picture this, you need to have watched Peter Kays Phoenix Nights. You know the scene where they are having a Cowboy and Western evening at the club, and they have the bucking bronco? You then have Ray Von on the microphone when he introduces the next contestant:
“Lets give it up for Albert! Albert is a registered diabetic!”
Well yeah, it sounded exactly like that.
To add to the entertainment, the Bury players thought it would be good to play a game of “smash the seats”. This involved pretending to fire a ball at the net, with the aim of smashing one of the shoddy white seats behind the net. You can often find them playing this game at Gigg Lane in the Cemetery End.
The most I had ever seen them break was 2. Well we were certainly in for a treat down in Stevenage! The team managed to break 5 between them… and when I say break, I mean smash to pieces.
With it being the last match of the season, the young lads dressed up for the occasion. We had Spiderman, Batman and Robin… along with all the usual suspects. All was going swimmingly until the stewards asked Spiderman to remove his mask for security reasons. The lad replied:
“But why? Batman still has his mask on!”
It was soon time for the match! With the home side needing to win to reach the play-offs, it was no shock that they came straight out of the blocks. They pressured Bury on every opportunity, to great effect. As a result, the away side found it hard to settle on the ball, and never really became involved in the game.
The first chance of the match fell to Stevenage. A great run from Luke Freeman took him past four Bury defenders before former Stevenage favourite Efe Sodje intervened. The Nigerian stalwart had a busy afternoon, and in a game when most Bury players switched off, he stood out.
Shakers captain Steven Schumacher was unlucky to see his free kick go just wide of the right hand post on 13 minutes. You sensed that if Bury were going to get something from this match, it would have to be from a set piece.
The scoring was opened on 23 minutes when Luke Freeman worked the ball well down the line. His cross took a deflection off Efe Sodje, and threw the Bury defence. As the ball came back down, Stevenage striker Craig Reid was on hand to control well with his chest, before volleying into the back of the net. The Lamex went wild… and for the first time we heard a home fan!
A few real Stevenage fans had informed me that the atmosphere was dead due to the vast amount of Glory Hunters who had turned out for the match. We noticed many Tottenham and Arsenal fans during the afternoon… and there was even a toddler in a Peterborough United kit!
Vince Grella nearly equalised for Bury just moments later. He found space out wide, and cut inside well before launching a curling effort towards the Stevenage goal. The ball curled just wide of the post, but it was a warning to the Stevenage defence.
The remainder of the first half was played out in the Shakers defensive third. On such a small pitch, there was no room for respite, and the Bury players were beginning to show end of season fatigue. Half time arrived, and it was an opportunity for Bury to regroup and perhaps change their tactics.
Halftime was a complete nightmare. I nipped to the toilets, which I later regretted. They were cosy to say the least and I was sprayed by everybody else. It was time to make a quick escape! I dodged a condiments table which had found its way outside the door, before I then wrestled my way through a queue which had formed for food and drinks.
After much effort to get back to my seat, it was time for the second half to begin, and again, it was all Stevenage. Despite relentless pressure, the nearest the home side came to a second was on 60 minutes when Joel Byroms’ cross curled towards the goal and hit the crossbar.
Two minutes later and Bury keeper Bond denied Lawrie Wilson what would have been a fantastic goal. Joe Skarz failed to track Wilson, and the Stevenage player found himself in space on the right before he smashed the ball towards goal.
76 minutes, and the match was settled. Stevenages Robin Shroot darted into the area after being fed through brilliantly. Shroot cut inside Andrai Jones and Efe Sodje, before he blatantly chucked himself. There was no contact whatsoever, which is exactly what the referee thought when he told Shroot to get up. However, the linesman viewed the incident differently and flagged for a penalty.
The Bury players surrounded the referee and linesman, and rightly so. After a minute of discussion between the officials, it was decided that a penalty should be awarded. Possibly one of the worst decisions I have ever seen! Even worse than my decision to renew my Bolton season ticket every year.
Byrom stepped up and sent Bond the wrong way. That goal secured Stevenages place in the play-offs ahead of Notts County.
By this stage we were all getting bored of the match. So we decided to break a few more seats. Well, Danny did anyway. He added one more broken seat, bringing the grand total for the afternoon up to 6. Obviously he did it accidentally; everybody in the stand could see that. However, the steward behind the net didn’t think it was an accident, and he went straight for his walky-talky.
Suddenly a policeman came charging over, obviously responding to the stewards hysterical call. The police informed both Danny and the steward that it was an accident and he had seen it. Problem over? Surely? Oh no. Queue the Head Steward!
“Take your feet off the seats please. We will be sending Bury a full invoice for all of the damaged seats from this afternoon. You don’t want to add to the costs do you?”
I’ve heard it all now.
This steward who wanted to get Danny in trouble for breaking a seat was the same steward who said, and I quote:
“If you all decide to come down here, and misbehave like you always do, then you will be chucked out. Simple”
Anyway, Bury midfielder Lenell John-Lewis attempted to pull a goal back on 82 minutes. Steven Scumacher passed out wide to West Brom loannee Lateef Elford-Alliyu, and after some good work he set up John-Lewis around 25 yards from goal. Hitting it on the half volley; his dipping effort fell just over the crossbar.
Two minutes later and Bury were punished again. Bury captain Schumacher was caught in possession enabling Robin Shroot to charge forward with the ball. A fine cross resulted and Chris Beardsley was on hand to smash the ball past Bond in the Bury net.
The match finished, and so did the season.
The walk back to the car was quite funny as all the Stevenage fans were talking about their trip to Wembley. This baffled me somewhat, as first of all they had to beat Sheffield United over two legs!
In conclusion, the ground is a must visit in its current condition. That terracing looks sublime, and I would love to one day watch a match from it. Also, I have decided that I prefer the League 2 Stevenage. Not League 1 Stevenage.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 183 miles
- ADMISSION – £14 as Under 18
- PROGRAMME PRICE – £3
- PIE – N/A