Pride Park, Derby
England v Mexico, May 2001
By Lee Roberts
My only previous visit to Pride
Park saw over-zealous stewards and police eject almost 100 Evertonians for
crimes such as standing up and vociferously backing their team. As it was,
I wasn't really looking to return to Derby's new home but the lure of England
saw me head towards the Midlands.
Mark, who had accompanied me to Stockport v Crystal Palace on the final day of the league season, again joined me so I first had to get to my accommodation outside of Wolverhampton before we grabbed a few bottles and got the train to Birmingham. This is where the problems started. Firstly, I'd been in hospital for (nasty!) nasal surgery only a fortnight earlier and this was the first time I'd been out of the house since then. As such, my nose was still swollen, sore and oozing all kinds of stuff and I looked a right state throughout the entire evening with tissues, pills and ointment being used at regular intervals. With hindsight, I shouldn't have traveled. My nose was put under severe pressure as the train from Birmingham New Street to Derby was delayed and then cancelled, leaving us to stand on an overcrowded commuter service in searing heat.
A sweaty and uncomfortable
hour-or-so later we arrived in Derby to be met by the usual heavy police
presence. It felt like I was back watching England on foreign soil, with
tooled-up police lining the station and taking names and addresses of
nearly everyone who looked like a fan. The strange feeling of it all was
perhaps due to the match not being played at Wembley, although I have to
admit that I am very fond of the 'England Road show' as it has been labeled.
We trooped-off searching for a bar and found some quite decent ones that weren't
too full. An hour's drinking outside in the warm sunshine was adding to
the feeling of watching England away again (warm evenings not being too common, especially
as we'd only just entered summer), and we then headed towards Pride Park
via the local Burger King.
The stadium is one of those identikit new ones, very much akin to
Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium. It's nothing special or unique to
look at but I never really enjoyed my visits to the Baseball Ground as the view
from the away terracing was sometimes limited. However, the noise and
passion within the old home of the Rams was always notable and that had been
lacking during my initial experience at Pride Park. But the England v
Mexico game was exciting enough to ensure that the atmosphere was a hot as the
temperature, and the style in which we gave the central Americans a
drubbing was a breath of fresh air. Even though we were sat quite
low and close to the pitch, our view of proceedings was perfect and the absence
of any pillars throughout the stadium would ensure an unobstructed wherever you
are sitting. The acoustics were another design feature that was
pleasing as the constant din of the England Supporters Band - not amongst my
favourite aspects of today's football - thumped around the stands and the
national anthem was roared out loudly by us all.
Perhaps it was the quality of England's performance. Perhaps it was the onset of the coming summer. Perhaps it was the novelty of watching England at home in a provincial setting. But I thoroughly enjoyed the night at Pride Park, and couldn't wait for the next England game. The same could not be said for my next visit to Pride Park. It doesn't really appeal that much to me, and the atmosphere when Derby are playing is a million miles away from what I'd just witnessed. During the league season, it is just another of those bland, concrete structures that are still to establish their own charm and character.
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Copyright © Lee Roberts 2001. All rights reserved.