8-1 Maiden Voyage for South Stand!
Wasn't it Victor Meldrew who once coined the iconic phrase; "I don't believe it!"? Last night, at the test run of the South Stand before it's official opening this Saturday against Crystal Palace, I think that was the over-riding thought in the minds of the 1600 fans who entered Bloomfield Road in search of their first taste of the new eight million pound structure. I, like many other people, have said for the last few years - when rumours, or promises of progress from the club, on the empty South Stand site were made - that I would only believe it when I was sat in the stand for the first time.
- Insert sound-bite of The Monkees' iconic hit, "I'm a Believer" here.... no? OK -
Some nine years in the making, it finally opened to the public for the Reserves fixture against Rochdale as Blackpool put out a strong side and, ultimately, reaped the rewards in a very one-sided affair in which a number of players showed their hand and gave Mr. Holloway a few decisions to make for Saturday's game against Crystal Palace.
More on the game shortly, but the main point of last night's game was to ensure that the South Stand would be able to be opened on Saturday - after satisfying the H&S people and letting the stewards familiarise themselves with the new safety exits and procedures.
As you walk underneath the West Stand to the South-West corner, the footpath and tarmac continue around the corner past a massive void underneath the stand in the South-West corner. Personally, I'm not sure whether that's where the Supporter's Bar is going, or whether it's something to do with the hotel or something else, but it's certainly a huge space that is pretty much the entire depth of the South-West corner.
Carrying on just past this void is the first of what I saw to be four turnstiles on the outside of the South. Unlike the Kop, the turnstiles are actually on the front (or back, whichever way you look at it) of the stand, facing the Travelodge, as opposed to on the side of the stand like in the Kop - because of the space taken up by the nursery and the other unit closer to the club shop.
Don't expect to have any futuristic barcode system on your tickets for the future, the turnstiles are still operated by a steward, but as you walk through, the turnstile itself is full-height, instead of the turnstiles we have at the moment. From there, there is a boarded off area to the left - which I assume is covering up the entrance to that empty area in the corner - and then you get your first look at the concourse area.
Karl Oyston has previously stated that the concourse underneath the South Stand was going to be a much bigger space than there is currently under the North Stand. Something that was a major factor in the decision to move home fans into it, rather than visiting fans. I don't think I could quite do justice to the size of the space, so here's a photo;
- The picture was taken from the opposite side of the concourse to what I was describing above -
From the picture (click a couple of times to see it in full-size), you can see the sheer size of the South compared to the concourse underneath the Kop. Plenty of space for standing around and having a beer before the game without blocking anyone wanting to walk through to get to their seat, a number of toilets across the right hand side wall and two bars for serving food & alcohol. The bars do appear to be slightly smaller than under the Kop, but we'll see whether that has an effect come Saturday.
Leading off from the concourse is a tunnel onto the stand from the middle and a further two from the main walkways from the two sets of turnstiles on either side of the stand. The first thing that strikes you when you stand at the base of the stand and look up at the seating area is how much smaller the seating area feels compared to the Kop. The lack of a couple of rows of seats is noticeable, whereas the South isn't as steep as the Kop which also has an effect. Those used to the West, however, won't notice a difference because the seating is at the same level as the seats in the last few blocks in that stand;
- From that picture, you can also see how many people were in attendance last night! Unprecedented for a reserves game! -
Finally, onto the game. It was a strong side that lined up against what seemed to be a number of Rochdale's Youth Team - they arrived in a mini bus reminiscent of a trip to Reading with FCS last year! - with the likes of Paul Rachubka, Ian Evatt, Joe Martin, Ishmel, Al Bangura, Barry Bannan, Billy Clarke and Stephen Dobbie lining up in the familiar 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation that we're used to from the first team.Young prospect Stephen Husband lined up in central midfield alongside Barry Bannan and Al Bangura and captained the side, as he has done since his arrival from Hearts in January.
Rod McDonald - on trial from Stoke after being made surplus to requirements at the Britannia Stadium - lined up at centre back alongside Ian Evatt who played 70 minutes on his comeback from injury. McDonald had a solid performance, although he did struggle on occasions with the poor pitch making the ball tough to get under control.
Ishmel opened the scoring not long after the kick-off after cutting inside from the right wing, beating a couple of defenders and drilling the ball into the back of the net left footed. Similar to his Wigan goal from earlier in the season, but from a bit closer in to the edge of the area. The first goal scored in front of an occupied South Stand!
Barry Bannan had a wonderful chip over the 'keeper ruled out for offside before Billy Clarke got in on the act, this time from outside the area, lobbing the 'keeper from 20 yards with a delightfully weighted chip.
Stephen Dobbie was feeding off balls over the top of the defenders all night from Barry Bannan in particular and he had three chances on the volley as the ball bounced up in front of him - two of which brushed the far post, one was brilliantly saved by the 'keeper - before he finally netted his first of the evening after slotting the ball under the 'keeper's body and tapping into an empty net. The relief was clear to see and 'Pool were running riot, although it ended just 3-0 at the break.
Dobbie scored his second of the evening before Ian Evatt scored from a corner in front of the Kop - yes, we scored from a corner! - with a bullet header as Bannan took the kick. Bannan then finally got onto the scoresheet after a fantastic game in central midfield before Bangura slotted home after some dodgy defending from a corner - drilled in low from the edge of the area - and Dobbie scored his hat-trick with another little chip over an on-rushing 'keeper after Rochdale had pulled one goal back to their delight.
A great way to welcome in a new era at Bloomfield Road, although I'm sure every one of the 1600 fans that turned up would've given both their legs for the same result the night before at Sheffield United! With their performances last night, Barry Bannan and Stephen Dobbie in particular must have played themselves into contention for a starting place come Saturday. Stephen Husband looked like a decent player - it was the first time I had seen him play - and with a few more games under his belt and some more experience, he looks like he will become a good first team player for us. Here's hoping.
I'll leave you with a view of the current stands from the second to back row in the South Stand. Hopefully we'll have Bloomfield Road packed for Saturday's game and create a fantastic atmosphere to open the stand officially and cheer on the team to an important victory!
Mark the date; 17/03/10. South Stand opens for it's test run... and we scored from a corner at Bloomfield Road!
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