This weekend, myself and three friends, who are not supporters of Premier League clubs, decided to do a road trip taking in the Everton vs. Aston Villa match at Goodison Park and the Birmingham City vs. Manchester City game at St Andrews.
Would the best league in the world live up to expectations? Would the tickets be value for money? Would the pies be up to scratch? These were some of the questions on our minds as we left Glasgow on Saturday morning.
Goodison was a great place to start our Premier League adventure. Like White Hart Lane it is a traditional English football stadium. Unlike the modern stadia such as the Emirates and Eastlands, the stadium looks like and feels like it has not changed in many years ensuring that the tradition of one of England’s most famous clubs has been maintained. Last season, the match between the teams that finished fifth and sixth in the Premier League finished 3-2 to Villa. Alas, this encounter did not live up to the level of that dramatic encounter. What can be said though is that the pace and movement of the two teams is frightening compared to the football that my friends and I watch in Scotland on a regular basis.
Gabriel Agbonlahor showed why he is destined to be on the plane to South Africa next summer, tormenting the Everton defence at every opportunity. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov for Everton looked like a class act, controlling the midfield and scoring a smashing goal. His red card near the end of the match was justified, and added to the drama of the closing 15 minutes. One point that stuck out, was the number of English players on show. Whilst the top four tend to spend what money they have on continental talent, Everton had the likes of Leighton Bains and Jack Rodwell in their starting line-ups and Villa Ashley Young and James Milner among their starting XI. The talent at the disposal of Fabio Capello was quite evident to see.Whilst there was a lack of attacking play, the midfield battle was intriguing and the defensive qualities of both teams was evident throughout the match. For £32, there were no complaints.
And so to St Andrews on Sunday. At first, the four of us were amazed at the size of the stadium. Unlike Goodison which can hold just over 40 000, the capacity of St Andrews is around 30 000, and was far from full on Sunday. The match itself was very entertaining despite finishing goalless. To see world-class players like Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez in the flesh is worth the admission money in itself. Whilst Manchester City did not function as we expected, with the exception of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has a quite brilliant first touch and wonderful ability to control the ball falling out of the sky, Birmingham were tremendous. It is very common to hear of fight and spirit being used to describe promoted sides, for Birmingham the word to describe the performance was class. Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson controlled the midfield and Christian Benitez looks like when he scores one goal, he could go on a scoring spree.
It was worth the journey south just to see Shay Given perform so well. He commands his penalty box as if he is playing a sweeper role, and showed with his shop stopping ability why he is the best keeper in the country. Whatever Birmingham threw at him, from penalty kicks to long range shots, he was more than equal to the task, and won his team a point. How crucial that may prove to be come May, time will tell.
In total, our weekend of watching Premier League football cost just over £60, and although we did not see as much drama as we would have at Craven Cottage or Turf Moor on Saturday, the Premier League experience lived up to all expectations and reinforced the widely held view that it is the most exciting league in the world.
And to the most crucial question of all, how were the pies? The Everton one was decent, maybe a bit too much pastry. The Birmingham one was lacking in meat, but was tasty and essential on a freezing cold afternoon. Between them, they would probably get a top four position, seperately, mid-table safety.