A Night At The Masters
In my profession, I get to entertain a number of customers, so it always helps when they turn out to be football fans. Therefore, I took the opportunity at the weekend to take three dedicated Liverpool fans to the Masters Football finals at the Liverpool Echo Arena. I`d already booked the tickets for the finals and I guess they were assuming that Liverpool would be there, but they ended up having to settle for Liverpool`s third team (after Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves) in Tranmere Rovers. From my point of view of course, my beloved QPR were playing.
I set out on the 250-mile drive on Saturday morning and headed for Warrington where I was staying, with a master plan to watch the England v Slovenia match with the scousers in a local club. We arrived at 5pm and the place was packed, but we still found a seat with a great view of the big TV screens. However, 5:20pm arrived and there was still no sign of the football. It then dawned on me that everybody was there to watch the Hull KR v Warrington Wolves rugby match. Fortunately, there was another screen available, and a total of four people duly sat down to watch it.
Needless to say, I missed all the goals due to nature calling, which may have been something to do with the cheap lager on offer. Still, at least it wetted the appetite for the day ahead.
We all trudged off at midday on Sunday and headed for Albert Docks where the Echo Arena is located. If you haven`t spent any real time in Liverpool, I can strongly recommend it. It really is a super place now and the amount of work that`s gone on over the years is quite staggering. I was there just over two years ago, and even in that time, the place has been transformed with plenty of work still going on. Yes, this is a plug for Liverpool and it deserves it.
With the doors to the arena not opening until 4:30pm, it was time to head off for some much needed lunch and with three Liverpool fans in tow, there was only one place we were ever going to eat which was the Café Sports England bar and restaurant owned by Liverpool`s Jamie Carragher. Needless to say, the place was heaving with TV`s all showing snippets from past Liverpool games and walls plastered with Liverpool memorabilia. I ordered a homemade Scouse, which was lumps of tender meat with gravy, potatoes and carrots in a bowl, with beetroot and pickled red cabbage. Strange combination I thought, but it was very tasty and made for watching of the England v Australia one dayer more enjoyable, while the scousers watched fifty re-runs of Liverpool`s comeback in Istanbul against AC Milan.
After a brief tourist walk around the city, we went into the Echo Arena and what a super arena it is too, even if the food outlet prices were on par with Wembley.
The night kicked off with a couple of charity matches, one of which contained footballing look-alikes. If you`ve not seen the Sven Goran Eriksson or Steven Gerrard look-alikes before, they really are quite amazing. The Fabio Capello look-alike was pretty good too.
In preparation for the main event, we were treated to some ball skills by three guys, one of which recently took part in the 24-hour stint. I can only dream at performing such skills!
The main event kicked off with Leicester v Wolves, with Don Goodman causing most of the damage as Leicester were trounced and then of course the main event for me, Middlesbrough v QPR. My beloved QPR started really slowly and quickly found themselves two goals down, before a brief comeback in the second half with goals from Michael Meaker and Tony Thorpe gave me some hope. This was short-lived though as we got thumped 5-2, despite some excellent saves from Tony Roberts, who still plays regularly for Dagenham & Redbridge and is an Arsenal goalkeeper coach!
The funny thing was, I didn`t notice that Danny Maddix and Steve Palmer had been replaced by Maurice Doyle and Richard Edghill and it was only when I read a message board on Monday morning that I knew they were playing! It`s quite hard to keep track of who`s on the playing surface at any one time. This wasn`t helped by the appalling sound system in the arena.
The QPR match was quickly followed by a hotheaded encounter between Celtic and the "home" team, Tranmere Rovers who ran out winners and Barnsley v Bolton, with the latter proving victorious by the huge margin of 8-3. This ended the first round of matches, with QPR turning out to be the only "away" team as shown in the programme, failing to win away. Sound familiar?
Wolves and Middlesbrough disappeared in the semi-finals and we prepared ourselves for a Tranmere v Bolton final, which much to my surprise, started very soon after Bolton`s semi-final victory.
Bolton, who I thought were the best team throughout, went in at half-time 3-1 to the good and frankly, I thought they were cruising, especially with the excellent Richard Sneekes and David Lee in the side. It was then that unfortunately, the referees decided the outcome.
With Bolton 3-2 ahead, Tranmere had a penalty claim turned down by the referee on the playing surface and Bolton raced up the other end to make it 4-2, with the referee awarding a goal. The Tranmere players then kicked up a fuss and the referee went and viewed the video evidence (handled by Dermot Gallagher) who promptly ruled out the Bolton goal and awarded Tranmere a penalty for handball. Kenny Irons converted to make it 3-3 with a couple of minutes remaining.
The turnaround was complete a minute or so from time when former QPR front man Ian Muir scored the winning goal and Tranmere claimed the trophy, much to the annoyance of the Bolton players who felt they were robbed.
If this is what video evidence does, I hope it`s never introduced into the professional game, because it kind of took the gloss of what was an excellent nights entertainment, even if the decision as it turns out, was right.
Despite the 250-mile drive home I had to encounter after the event finished, I`ll certainly look out for the Masters football next year. It really is well worth a visit, if only to view some of our past heroes like Andy Sinton and at fifteen quid, was very good value. The atmosphere is terrific too.