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St Mary's Stadium
Stoke City
Sunday May 19th 2013, 4pm
Premier League
Philip Green
(Stoke City fan)

I was looking forward to going to St. Mary's for quite a few reasons. Firstly, when I originally booked tickets, the match was still potentially a relegation decider for both clubs. In the end both teams were safe from the drop and instead this a meaningless end-of-season fixture. Still, I quite like the party atmosphere of end-of-season games. It's quite nice to go and watch your team play when the outcome doesn't really matter (give or take a couple of million quid in prize money related to where we finished in the table!). Thirdly, I wanted to say goodbye to a number of Stoke players. The big publicity before the game was for the retirement of Michael Owen, but I was really there to (potentially) bid farewell to Asmir Begovic as I am pretty certain he will have left for pastures new at the start of the season. Of course, it also happened to be Tony Pulis' last game in charge. Finally, it was a stadium I had never been to before and I liked the look of it.
I travelled from Hertfordshire via London and left Waterloo 3.5 hours before kick off. This gave me plenty of time, as I was on crutches due to a knee injury. The train was pretty full once we got to Southampton, despite it being 2 hours before kick off when we arrived. There was quite a heavy police presence at the station, which surprised me. I elected to take the shuttle bus up to the ground and this took a bit of finding. (Ignore the "way out" signs in the station if you are coming from London and head for the other platforms. Use the exit on that side. Note to self: write down the good advice contained on this website when next visiting an unfamiliar ground!) I was about the only one who paid 2 for a ticket up to the ground, as everyone else was a senior citizen. The bus journey took about 10 minutes, and it was clear that there were plenty of Stokies and Saints fans enjoying a beverage or two in the city centre pubs. Again, the police presence was notable. I was quite surprised that the bus dropped us a good way (5-10 minutes' walk) from the ground, but it was easy to find due to the crowds.
I love walking around the outside of a ground, and St Mary's in a very tidy shape despite being surrounded by industrial premises. One really nice touch was that a player (I couldn't tell who) was signing autographs just outside the ground. This was very popular with the Saints fans and there were dozens queuing up. It really gave me the impression that this was a club which cared about its fans.
I entered the ground an hour or so before kick off and was very impressed with the stewards. They could not have been more helpful in getting me in via a side gate (due to being on crutches) and seemed really concerned about me having to climb so high up. (Going up steps is not a problem; it just takes me a while to get back down them!) I had a coffee but didn't avail myself of a pie and a pint. Despite the crowds building up, the concourse was not full and the queues were almost non-existent due to having plenty of staff to hand.
I had chosen my seat carefully so that I could put my leg out straight into a gangway and was very impressed with the view. I was just on the start of the corner, which gave me a good perspective over all the pitch. The 2500 Stokies were in fine singing voice and easily drowned out the home support, who were frankly disappointing. The bowl-like nature of the stadium might be a bit identikit but reminds us Stokies of what we might have had (and what we might have one day!) if our corners were filled in. The screens were very clear, but the PA was almost inaudible, despite me being very close to a speaker.
The game itself was a bit of a let-down. With virtually nothing to play for, I can understand why. Stupidly, there were several flares let off by Stokies, one of which landed dangerously close to Begovic. The stewarding in the ground was so laid back that all standing (even in the aisles) was allowed. This was a bit of a pain as I had to keep sitting down and asking the Stokies in front of me to move so that I could see. I am a big fan of standing areas, (and usually stand all of a match) but not being able to stand gave me a better idea of how inconvenient it is to do so if the person behind you wants, or needs, to sit down.
When Stoke went ahead in the 47th minute, it was party-time up the away end with plenty of taunts about how bad the Saints must be if we were winning away. Sadly that didn't last long and a deserved equaliser came along 10 minutes later. Of course, the main event in the game was when Michael Owen came on. He was given a rousing reception by all four sides of the ground - a nice touch. It would have been even better had he connected with a cross and scored the winning goal! At the end of the game, the entire Stoke team and manager came to acknowledge the support of their fans and were given a good send-off. Did Begovic's second bow mean that we won't see him again in a Stoke shirt? It certainly looked that way.
Compared with the end of season games at the Britannia, it seemed like a bit of a damp squib at St Mary's. The players came back on to the pitch but were so far away from the fans that it seemed a bit pointless. The ground certainly emptied very quickly after this.
I made my way back to the shuttle bus and was on my way soon afterwards. Unfortunately, we had to pass through some serious trouble in the town centre. It looked as though it had been pre-orchestrated but even being on a bus passing through the very heavy police presence was quite frightening.
The station was pretty full, as was the first train back to London, but I was generously given a seat by a Saints fan. This sparked up a cracking conversation with him, and it was a nice antidote to the trouble I had seen earlier.
Overall, this was a great day out. I loved the stadium, the stewards were incredibly helpful and polite (although could have done more to keep the aisles free!) and the away fans very welcoming. It's just sad that quite a few fans' experiences of the day was marred by the trouble in the city centre afterwards.

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