Pride Park -
Saturday 3rd December 2005
Vs Norwich City, Championship, 3pm
By Tim Sansom
1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground?
Derby’s Pride Park Stadium is rapidly starting to turn into my “second” ground, behind my “beloved” Portman Road whilst I am living in the East Midlands. I always enjoy my visits to this stadium, which has actually managed to create a vibrant and passionate atmosphere in contrast to the offerings at other “new” stadiums, which I have recently visited.
I was offered some complimentary tickets for this match between two teams whose fan bases wanted more than what they were being served on the park as 2005 neared its end. I will never pass up the opportunity to watch football, and I felt that a break in study might be just what I needed. I had also had some prior warning about the perilous state of Norwich City, so I wanted to see them play and I hoped that their tragic run of form would make me feel better about Ipswich Town who had not exactly taken the Championship by storm in 2005- 2006. I wanted to take a particular look at Marcus Tudgay for Derby, and Dean Ashton for Norwich.
The pre- match hype suggested that Phil Brown was close to receiving his last rites as Derby manager. Derby fans were accusing Brown of instructing Derby to play a long ball game, in a similar style to his former team, Bolton Wanderers. Norwich had dramatically failed to meet the pre season predictions that they would be automatic promotion candidates and they were languishing at sixteenth in the table before this fixture with an unstable squad and fractious fan base. Both teams desperately needed a win. I desperately wanted to be an objective observer of this game!
2. How easy was your journey/ finding the ground/ car parking?
Pride Park is one of the more accessible grounds in the UK and can be relatively easily reached from the train station. However, if you arrive early and decide to discover Derby City Centre, you will find it more difficult to find the way (or even someone who knows the way) to the stadium. I felt Derby resembled “Shopping Mall Hell” with long underground tunnels crammed with scarily hyperactive Christmas Shoppers who were bellowing at each other to a back ground soundtrack of “Mistletoe and Wine.” As I trudged around the rain sodden “Derby Continental Christmas Market,” I could observe the many shopping families whose parents were arguing over which £99 plastic contraption would be best to buy their screaming child. I was pleased to escape this stressful shopping prison, and find my way eventually back to the station. I did not go to any pubs before the game, although there are a few around the station and on London Road opposite Derby General Hospital. Some of the pubs had “Away Fan’s Only” signs on London Road. Nearer to Pride Park is a “Harvester” pub and restaurant complex. The stadium is about ten minutes away from the station. As a result of prior knowledge, I knew how to get there, but first time visitors would find it difficult to navigate their way with the help of the minimal signage through the car showrooms that surround the Stadium. I do not think that you need to worry about finding car park spaces around the stadium because there seems to plenty of car park provision. I did not see any evidence of a Park and Ride bus service from the City Centre.
3. What you thought on seeing the ground/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?
Pride Park continued to exhibit an aura of magnificence. There was a gentle family atmosphere outside the ground. A local brass band was ratcheting up the Christmas Spirit by playing a selection of Christmas tunes outside the Club Shop. The Club Shop sells the usual range of club merchandise, and there seemed to be a particularly large range of “grunge style.” baby wear too. The atmosphere began to build as the PA began to churn out a cultured selection of early 1980s power ballad classics including Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer,” and Europa’s “Final Countdown.”
The amount of Norwich fans did not fill up the away end at the South East End. Although I was not in the away end for this game, I do know that there is the same standard and availability of facilities in the away end, and these facilities are impressive in comparison with some other stadiums.
4. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies and toilets.
I found this match exciting, and enjoyable. The atmosphere grew as Derby took control of the game. Norwich looked disorganised without any sense of self belief. It was difficult to appreciate the fact that Norwich were the team who enjoyed Premiership status in the 2004- 2005 season. The Canaries missed the suspended Darren Huckerby, and offered no real forward looking vision. Their first real shot on goal occurred at 15 minutes and the Canaries generally played a surprisingly large amount of long ball, which is not the usual way that Norwich play. Their defence had as much steel and durability as a melted ice cream, and for an Ipswich fan to hear Norwich fans calling for the sacking of their manager was like listening to a dawn chorus on a warm summers morning. Derby played well with their loan signings, Dexter Blackstock and Andrew Davies, particularly excelling. Derby frequently switched play across the flanks, which created a more dynamic attack. Norwich just could not cope.
The catering service was quick and friendly although the food and drink is expensive and not particularly tasty. The burger was £2:60 and a portion of fries is £1:60. A Pint of room temperature Bitter is £2:80. Bottles of water are £1:60! To be honest, I do not get particularly excited about a stadium’s toilets but I can report that Pride Park does have clean and available toilets, and the urinals are silver in colour. Pride Park does have women’s toilets but I did not check these out! Due to the nature of the game, it is probably not surprising that I can report there was not much evident stewarding or policing. However the away end stewards did eject Norwich fans, for reasons which were unclear.
5. Comment on getting away from the ground.
I had no problem leaving Pride Park after the game. Train services are usually frequent from Derby to a range of destinations across the UK. The station departure board showed trains to Hereford, Plymouth, London, Crewe and Newcastle The situation is different for evening games, when the last train back to London is at the ludicrously early time of 9:16pm. It was only when I boarded the train that the day began to fall apart, when a twenty-minute journey back to Leicester took four and a half hours due to a “track circuit and signal failure” north of Loughborough. Suddenly I got the weary familiar feeling of being treated like a second class citizen by a train company who just wanted to get rid of football followers from their main stations as quickly as possible. My Saturday night was spent watching the street lights of Long Eaton on a Saturday night. My depressing feelings were only saved by the on- train football discussion amongst a group of Derby and Norwich fans. I felt that public transport in a developed country such as Britain should not have such a chaotic transport system like this.
6. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out.
In general, despite my depressing hour that I spent jostling with the Christmas bargain hunters in Derby City Centre, and the morale sapping train journey home, the day was a good one, and a nice break from the normal Saturday routine. Derby looked like a team who wanted to play some constructive football and, in the most part, succeeded in their objectives against a Norwich side who were a shadow of their former Premiership selves. However, Derby are in financial turmoil, and it is difficult to see how they can progress from the vicious circle of financial poverty in which the club has to sell its best players. For Norwich, it is easy to suggest that Worthington needed to go, but that is a gambling measure to install some self belief into a side in which even their prize asset, Robert Green, seemed surprisingly off key.
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