Leicester City v Crewe Alexandra
Saturday, December 17th 2005, 3pm
By Tim Sansom
1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground?
On the weekend before Christmas 2005, I felt that a visit to the Walkers Stadium would be a suitable anecdote to the Christmas mania and reality television hype that had taken over the UK and was reaching a climax before that evening’s televised finals. With due respect to Leicester City or Crewe Alexandra, this was a match between two out of form teams with as much pre- Christmas sparkle as room temperature Lambrini. However, I wanted to visit a stadium to try and give it another chance, and forget about whether a 16-year-old Justin Timberlake looking Manc would win that night’s talent contest. Previously, I had been to the Walkers Stadium as an away fan, and felt that the arena had beautiful sight lines but was generally soulless and lacking in any sort of character, in comparison to Leicester’s former home of Filbert Street.
2. How easy was your journey/ finding the ground/ car parking?
I am a Leicester University student, who lives in the city, so I did not need to travel far to the Walkers Stadium. However I recognise that Leicester has been previously listed as the eighth most difficult city for navigation in the car, and the stadium is positioned next to one of the many difficult road junctions within this city at Freeman’s Common. There is limited official and unofficial parking near to the stadium, but security guards patrol the car parks at the nearby supermarket and entertainment complex. The KGB looking parking attendants will track your car and your movements. You can also not park in the hospital car park. I would suggest that parking should be undertaken around the Welford Road and Leicester University arenas, which are a ten-minute walk away from the stadium.
Leicester railway station is about fifteen minutes walk away, and is directly accessible from a variety of destinations throughout the UK including Birmingham, London, Sheffield, Derby and Norwich. Having been to the Walkers Stadium as an away fan, you will find the stadium well signposted, but the mass ranks of Leicester’s police force providing a welcoming line of command to corral you down Waterloo Way towards the Leicester Tiger’s rugby ground. The Walkers Stadium appears beside a series of glass fronted car showrooms being a load of local terrace housing after a short walk along Aylstone Road to the right of the rugby ground. There are a few places to eat and drink along this route although most of the pubs including The Victory are really pubs for the home fans although The Counting House pub is an ideal venue for away fans. There are a number of additional pubs and cafes around Welford Road, London Road and around the Leicester University area which are suitable eating and drinking outlets
3. What you thought on seeing the ground/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?
The Walkers Stadium is a magnificent structure that sits beside the Grand Union Canal, but do not think that this ground sits in the same characteristic surroundings like Fulham’s Craven Cottage or even Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow. The canal is not the key feature and there is not much to do if you are killing time before the game, unless you want to look at the latest range of small four door hatchbacks, buy some stationery from a nearby outlet or go to a gym. A monolithic hotel complex and shopping trolley-strewn wasteland immediately surround the ground. Most of the Leicester faithful and some away fans seem to emotionally prepare for the game in the café, in the toilets and also in the news and mags section in the local supermarket.
After beginning to read a local newspaper article about why obese turkeys could not reproduce before Christmas, I realised that I had to get across to the stadium. I visited the club shop, which is at the north west corner of the stadium and sells the usual range of club merchandise with an extensive and attractive range of Leicester City clothing. The shop even had a Santa’s grotto, which was bizarrely not open on this match day. I brought a programme (£3 ) which, like previous Leicester programmes, is full of interesting and readable articles, and not just the usual corporate marketing brochure.
4. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies and toilets.
Despite the prime positioning of my seats, my previous negative attitude towards the Walkers Stadium became evident after I entered the complex. The PA system managed to mangle up some classic Christmas hits, and the only entertainment for fans appeared to be to smash the strategically placed inflatable footballs into the faces of fellow fans. Nothing happened on the pitch that was interesting to watch, apart from the Crewe team warming up. I began to think that I should have done some Christmas shopping whilst I sat feeling cold and miserable whilst devouring a salty and tasteless chicken and bacon sandwich. There had been some issues associated with the Walkers stadium attendance so far during the 2005- 2006 season, and there were some special offers for tickets. It would have been helpful for the team to put in a winning and attractive performance but I thought that the club’s background staff could have done much more to get the crowd buzzing.
Gradually, things began to happen, when a festively dressed Filbert Fox rushed on to the pitch, and the players soon followed. Leicester had most of the pressure during the first half with Elvis Hammond and Joey Gudjonsson particularly impressing. City seemed to have a huge problem in amassing enough confidence to actually take a shot on goal, but Elvis Hammond did appear to be a master at turning his opposition, which was pleasing to see because that does not happen that frequently in the Premiership. However, some of Leicester’s approach play was painfully slow and lacking in direction. Despite the lowly position that Crewe occupied in the table, the Railwaymen did attempt to play some attractive football, and their goal came from a pin point cross from Steve Jones which was met by Michael Higdon.
The half time entertainment of Santa and Filbert Fox handing out sweet and presents as well as a penalty shoot out competition was fun and entertaining. It was only then for the first time, I began to get a sense of Leicester City being a family outfit with a soul. This club was not just a footballing franchise in an impressive but soulless arena. Leicester seemed to bizarrely perform better with ten men after the dismissal of Alan Sheehan for a completely self- induced yellow card. Ian Hulme scored for Leicester in the second half, and the Leicester faithful tried to stir their team to a winning goal in a genuinely exciting although error- strewn second half. However if I was a Leicester or a Crewe fan I would have been disappointed with the result. How could Crewe appear to loose what meagre control they had on the game, when they had one more player on the park? Why were Leicester able to play at a passionate tempo for no more than 45 minutes?
5. Comment on getting away from the ground.
If you are leaving on foot, there is no problem regarding leaving the ground. After you have negotiated the Raw Dykes Road, you can find your way back to the car, bus, or railway station without much hassle. The Walkers Stadium is no different to other modern grounds in the sense that it is easy to access and leave, without having to scale walls, or negotiate iron clad tunnels which has to be undertaken at some of the older arenas. As a result of the vagaries of public transport you will have real problems returning home from Leicester by train following a midfield evening match unless you want to head north to Nottingham or Sheffield. If you are in a car, it is likely that you will be caught in the traffic chaos around Freeman’s Common. You will probably be able to spend an hour watching families scream at each other in the car park after a unsatisfactory shopping experience at the aforesaid local supermarkets
6. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out.
Although this match will never be regarded as the greatest match that I have ever watched in my life, I did enjoy my afternoon at the Walkers Stadium. It was important for me to discover that Leicester is a family club with a friendly soul. There are some quality players within the Leicester City side, but I had never seen a Championship side who would frequently be in the middle of a promising move up the pitch which would be destroyed by mindless cross field passes, and a genuine lack of pace. It is easy to patronise Crewe, as a “small little Northern club” who still appear to operate in the pre- £50 replica shirt, pre £60 admission price, and pre high salaried foreign player era but they do play some positive football. Crewe have some decent players including Steve Jones and Luke Rogers but as we approached Christmas, it was difficult to be definite that Crewe would maintain their Championship status at the end of this season.
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