Morecambe 1 Ipswich Town 1

Saturday 26th February 2022 3pm – English Football League One – The Mazuma Stadium, Morecambe

The 92 is a genuine club – the ‘most exclusive club’ in football if you believe the website, which I do. It has rules, it has members who enforce the rules, it has a committee who create new rules and deep down most football fans want to be part of an exclusive club of football fans who have seen a match* at every one of the 92 Premier and Football League venues.

Before the days of the Internet the club operated under very strict rules. A ground could only be counted if you saw a competitive match – no friendlies allowed, unless they were international friendlies but only if England (or Wales) were playing. If a club dropped out of the league and returned, sorry but you had to revisit – which proved a nightmare for many when this fate fell on Carlisle United. But despite the rules, to qualify you simply had to provide a list (written on a photocopied sheet) of your qualifying games and you were in. A small membership fee, a pin badge and some optional cufflinks for £15.

I first qualified back in 1995, my final ground being Anfield watching Liverpool destroy West Ham. But in 1999 it all went to hell in a handcart as new grounds opened and promotion from the Conference began. All of a sudden I was missing 2, then 3 and 4 grounds. Fortunately the club had gone digital and with so many high profile games being scheduled the rules relaxed. A ICC cup game at Spurs new stadium versus Inter and AFC Wimbledon playing a Liverpool XI both counted in the new world but wouldn’t have in the old days despite both grounds being full.

At the start of this seasons I had two still to revisit – I’d been to Newport County when they played at Somerton Park and then the appalling International Stadium but I’d never seen football at Rodney Parade (rugby yes). A very wet night in September last years saw that one ticked off leaving just Morecambe.

I’d been to Christie Park before, watching Luton Town in their season where they almost pulled off the miracle of the 30 point penalty. A perfectly good ground that was sold in a land deal and the club moved a mile south to a new build stadium. There’s been false dawns in terms of planned visits cancelled but here I was finally about to rejoin not only the 92 club but also become a member of the 116 (including the National League). A work trip to Glasgow meant missing Lewes’ trip to Corinthian-Casuals but I could detour, via Lancaster on the way home to, for the third time, rejoin the club. There would be no fanfare, no presentation on the pitch and no champagne and that was no problem.

There’s not much life around the new stadium, unless you love your static caravan weekend breaks. The pubs along the sea front have all seen better days, and reading some of the Google reviews on the short 10 minute train shuttle from Lancaster doesn’t fill you with joy of a good pre-match. Thankfully, I’d done as most of the Ipswich, and a fair amount of Morecambe fans had done and frequented the excellent pubs close to Lancaster station.

“Lovely staff, reasonable beer…or was it vice-versa?” – The Lord Nelson

“OK, but a bit too chavvy for me” – Smokey O’Connors

“Highlight: beer” – The Palatine

It has been awhile since I’ve been to a game at this level. Fun fact – Morecambe are just one of two clubs in the 92 that have never been relegated at the professional level, with AFC Wimbledon being the other. That may change for one, or even both this season as they are fighting at the wrong end of the table.

However, one look at the League One table and you can understand how difficult the step up from the fourth tier is. Six of the top half of the table have played in the Premier League in the last ten years, with undoubted “sleeping giants” of Sunderland, Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday and even today’s visitors Ipswich Town having the fanbase that could match some of the existing top flight sides.

The visitors had arrived in big numbers, looking forward to their first visit to Morecambe. That being said, the atmosphere created by the home fans would have put some of those Premier League clubs to shame.

Having been spoilt the previous evening at Alloa with their superb food, it was disappointing that I marked my 92nd ground with an average pie. The chap in front of me took the last Chicken, Leek and Ham one, so I had a Meat and Potato pie, which someone had forgot to put any meat in. One saving grace was the gravy – thick, meaty and a pleasing shade of brown.

The Mazuma is a mix of old and new. A decent big main stand, two covered terraces with low roofs at each end then a three step terrace opposite. Being League one the relatively low terrace wall meant balls were regularly flying out of the ground, especially from the “cultured” Ipswich number 5.

It wasn’t the best first half I had seen. Ipswich tried to pass their way through the home defence, constantly looking to play the ball behind the Morecambe full-backs but the back line held firm.

One old guy behind me didn’t have a good word to say about anything Morecambe did in the first half. “Bloody rubbish”, “Amateur” “Bloody cowards” were some phrases he shouted at the Shrimpers struggled to control the midfield. But, despite his clinical assessment of the state of play, the home side went in square at the break.

The halftime team talk must have been good as Morecambe came out all guns blazing and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 59th minute when Aaron Wildig reacted fastest to a poorly cleared attack. Even the old chap behind me begrudging gave them praise “’bout bloody time” he scoffed, hands in pockets as the terrace went well.

Morecambe defended resolutely but couldn’t quite hold out with the impressive Wes Burns equalising with three minutes to go. The dilemma now facing me was leave now and make the 17:04, or stay for the grandstand finish and get the 17:31 back to Lancaster. I went for the former, just making the train, hoping into a carriage with a group of young girls, who seemed dressed for the summer at the beach.

“We go out in Lancaster and the girls from Lancaster go out in Preston. Simple, innit?” I politely decline a drink from the half drunk litre bottle of Blue WKD, put on my headphones and basked in the glory of once again being in the 92.

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