Friday, 30 September 2011

Derby County - Pride Park

27th September 2011

Derby County 1-1 Barnsley

My profession’s biennial congress in Birmingham offers an opportunity to keep up to date with the latest developments; professional, technological and political within the prickly bed of nails that is NHS Healthcare, through a series of seminars, lectures and presentations.  The evenings are given over to social events where one can, in the parlance of management-wank-speak, indulge in “networking”.  But for a social inadequate like myself, with all the interpersonal skills of Norman Bates on a bad-hair day, it presents the perfect opportunity to fuck-off and take in a football match.

I had initially pencilled in the visit to Birmingham of Big Bad Leeds, but with the Blues competing in the Europa League, I had to look elsewhere.  A swift glance at a map showed me Derby County hosting Barnsley to be the only obvious alternative.  I have to say though, having seen pics of Pride Park, I had no great desire to visit it in the flesh, as it were.  It just looked like another of those oval concrete and steel turds shat out in profusion into the middle of nowhere at the likes of Middlesbrough, Darlington and Reading amongst others.  The arrival of each resulting in Archibald Leach spinning even more furiously in his grave, no doubt.

My first view of the ground approaching from Derwent Parade was equally uninspiring, but inside I had to say I was pleasantly impressed.  Pride Park, be it by accident or design, seemed a perfectly formed acoustic bowl, with the crowd of just under 24,000 making a crashing din – particularly the excitable lot to my right who slapped the metal cladding at every opportunity.  And the collection of what looked like corporate boxes in one corner put me in mind of that neat Italian ground whose name escapes me just now.  But you know the one I mean.   

The main entrance to Pride Park, Derby.

The view from Royal Way.

Corporate Fat-Cats neatly shoe-horned into a corner.

Perusing the match programme, I was surprised by just how many names I recognised.  The home squad boasted Steven Pearson (still growing into his looks), and a brace of former Aberdeen lads in Chris Maguire and Russell Anderson.  Also Kevin Kilbane, who seems to have been playing forever, plus one Nathan Tyson – the gangly lad having developed into a quite effective striker apparently, since I saw him miss a sitter at Carlisle 9 years earlier.  He had been given a poster broadsheet all to himself in the programme, but had somewhat missed his own party by being injured.

The visitors brought along ex -Dunfermline winger Jim O’Brien, whom I recall watching in frustration performing a million step-overs whilst singularly failing to get a decent cross in, plus the porcelain fragile Ricardo Vaz Te, who had endured a brief unhappy spell at Hibs.  Add to those, Scottish Internationalists Jay McEveley and Andy Gray, and I almost felt I was amongst friends.

One chap who very clearly was not amongst friends (at least in the visitors’ end, where I had chosen to sit) was Derby central defender Jason Shakell, who having upped sticks from Barnsley in the summer, was soundly booed at every touch.  “There’s only one Greedy Bastard”, the more unstable individuals around me chanted.  I wanted to suggest to them, there were probably 22 of them out there on the pitch.

The first half was a fairly even affair, with Derby maybe just shading possession, but with Barnsley grabbing the only goal on 35 minutes when 21-year old Jacob BUTTERFIELD scored from a few yards out.  Very clearly Rams’ manager Nigel Clough had a few well-chosen words to say to his side at half-time, for they pinned the visitors back pretty much continuously, following the break.  Shot after shot whizzed across the front of Luke Steele’s goal, each seemingly inviting a Derby toe to divert it in, but with no takers.  A Barnsley supporter in the row in front of me had brought his two daughters down to the match (they looked around 10 and 14), and as their stress levels increased as the Derby pressure mounted, I could not help but wonder if this was not some particularly insidious form of child cruelty he was inflicting upon his offspring.  Not just this evening, but by condemning them to a lifetime of watching Barnsley!?

Pretty crappy picture of Derby's penalty equaliser.

Barnsley did occasionally get out of their own half, during a torrid second period.

The equaliser eventually came after around 15 minutes of relentless second-half pressure, and a slightly soft penalty award it looked to me, although to be fair, I was up the other end of the ground.  Steven DAVIES it was who did the needful.  Smelling blood the Rams’ began to kitchen-sink it: Shakell whadumphed a header off the crossbar, Robinson headed another just over, then saw a strike ruled out for offside.  As the girls morphed into nervous wrecks, I began to think a call to Childline may be appropriate.

Barnsley did occasionally get the ball out of their own half, but they were hampered both by O’Brien’s inability to keep a hold of it for more than a few seconds, and by Vaz Te’s proneness for crumpling in a heap whenever challenged – the poor wee lamb had to be helped off on a stretcher eventually.  But as we entered the final 10 minutes it became clear the visitors had weathered the storm, and they had a decent shout for a penalty right at the death, but I think O’Brien’s shot on the turn did in fact hit (perhaps inevitably) Shackell’s chest. 

But 1-1 it finished, and as entertaining a game as I have seen for some time, I have to say.

A wee word of warning to folks unfamiliar with the ground – finding your way leaving it at night can be a rather disorientating experience, surrounded as it is by seemingly dozens of identical looking car showrooms.  I was fine following the herd back to the train station, but I could imagine searching for a carelessly parked car in the dark could provide endless hours of fun.

Ricardo Vaz Te doesn't want to play this rough-boys' game anymore.......

........take up golf, my son.

Jim 'O'Brien's shot strikes Jason Shakell's chest or arm -
depending upon which stand you were sitting in.

Panorama of Pride Park, Derby.

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