50 before I’m 50 – Watching a cricket match in a foreign country

I’ve been spending the last 2 weeks at the T20 Cricket World Cup.

I saw three matches in this year’s tournament – Namibia vs Oman in Barbados, USA vs Pakistan in Dallas, and South Africa vs Netherlands in New York.

Since getting really into cricket in my mid life crisis, I’d been wanting to watch a match in the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown. It looked good fun: drinking, pools by the ground, people eating mangos and fruit in the stands. Just a chilled vibe that I – a fat pasty white guy – wanted in.

Sure, the game I got in Bridgetown wasn’t the best on paper, but sure enough it was exciting, a couple of chances of a hat trick, and after a cracking final over which saw Oman bowl beautifully, the game went to a Super Over – think of it like a penalty shootout. Eventually Namibia – through David Wiese – got enough runs to win. Bucket list ticked. The game finished past midnight so towards the end I was flagging and ready to head back (not least because I was up at 8am to go for a tour of Barbados), but it was excellent.

Then came Dallas.

A few days later I was in the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium. It was hot. I never knew my knees could sweat. I must have drank about three litres of water and a couple of beers and went to the bathroom once. It was worth it mind, seeing one of the biggest upsets at the cricket World Cup history, as the USA beat Pakistan with another super over. A result, I’ll have you know, I called on the BBC Live Chat a few days before.

So if you’re keeping score, there have been 4 super overs in the Cricket World Cup history.

I’ve seen 2 of them.

The final game – South Africa vs Netherlands – was probably the weakest. Netherlands did okay, but South Africa was too strong. As you read it the Nassau Cricket Stadium is once again a parkland in Long Island. Nothing on New York itself which was a great host with travel and everything being so well organised, but I would have liked to have seen a legacy. Plus my goodness the outfield was slow.

I’m not sure what the legacy post T20 World Cup is for Cricket in the USA is. I feel it may have something there, but for me, I ticked off one item from my list of 50 before I’m 50, and had a cracking holiday. A genuine holiday of a lifetime.

49 to go!

Waka Waka, Not Sure About Qatar

I am Welsh. Yep, that’s a shock.

I went to France when we qualified for Euro 2016. My first game was away against Switzerland where we lost dropping us below the Faroe Islands in the Fifa World Rankings. I supported throughout the 90’s, the false dawn of Euro 2004, Speed and every high and low through it. One of my earliest memories was seeing Wales crash out to Romania in the World Cup 94 qualification. I thought we would be back, but was unaware of just how long.

In my house I have 3 photos of my time in France, and 4 photos or artwork of Hal Robson Kanu’s goal against Belgium. I have 2 of my family. I came close to quitting my job in 2016 as I was wanting to stay as long in France as possible.

I don’t identify as English or support the English football team. We don’t expect to qualify for tournaments. This is our first World Cup since the 1950’s. This is only my third tournament I have seen Wales perform in within my lifetime (I am pushing 40). This is the first with teams like the South American teams, African teams and their respective continent heavyweights. We rarely play them. The last time we played a non-European team in a friendly was in 2020 (ironically, against our next opponents, the USA), the last time we played outside of Europe was in 2018, also the last time we had an actual competitive fixture against a non European team (hello China Cup). Moments like the World Cup don’t come around to a nation like ours much.

The World Cup kicks off in Qatar in a few days, this should be the peak of my Welsh fandom, and I’m so non-plussed. And I don’t know why.

Positive Patriotism

I know who isn’t responsible. The Welsh team and the players themselves. The FAW rarely puts a foot wrong. We saw relatively close up this in France when shoots were being formed. The synergy between the fans, players and the FA is just so on point that even though the “Together Stronger” mantra hasn’t been used for over 6 years, it’s still there. It’s something that rugby – our supposed national sport – look on with envy, with opinion pieces on how crap rugby’s setup is compared commonplace on Welsh news sites. Hell it shed its stuffy image before even then, as even when I was privvy to some of the backroom goings on with Colwyn Bay, it felt like even though we were in the English system, the FAW worked with us.

It feels like now with us, there’s an air of positive patriotism. You saw it at the qualification match against Ukraine. You had two sets of supporters who have been on very different journeys but were proud of what was achieved, and wanted to sing about ourselves with a confidence that people will want to be a part of what we are. Hell, even our World Cup anthem is in Welsh. Brave, but unsurprising from a organisation that doesn’t lack confidence at the moment.

Soulless

No, unfortunately, like most things it lands with the human rights. LGBTQ+ friends would be treated like second class citizens, thousands of workers have died in the construction of the tournament.

There’s also the reeking of corruption. Qatar have every right to apply to host the World Cup but it doesn’t exactly strike as a footballing powerhouse (my only Qatari footballing memory is they were the team I edited out on Striker for the SNES to replace with me and my school mates). Sure there have been World Cups in places that don’t love the beautiful game before, but at least there was a case for infrastructure being largely there. This tournament seems like it was largely sold with huge piles of money, and the infrastructure was built on blood.

Finally, and here’s a minor point. It doesn’t seem like a fun tournament, and not the celebratory atmosphere that existed in other tournaments like the one I attended in France. I know people who have been to all World Cups and Euros since 2002 and they’re skipping this one. It seems like forced fun. Like your uncle trying to act cool in front of you and your pals but doing it in a cringeworthy way. But the uncle has 6,000 slaves and would execute your gay mate Dave if given half the chance.

Hypocracy

My Facebook profile, ladies and gents. Just call me Nostradamus

I’ve looked on with envy at some of my friends taking strong stances against the LGBT rights of Qatar, the shocking human rights records and just how corrupt it seems to be, and are boycotting the World Cup. I’d feel it’s a lot easier to boycott when you’re German, or support a team like Real Madrid, and qualification & going far in major tournaments is practically a birth right. Us Welsh don’t have such a luxury. Or maybe I’m just a bit weak willed.

So forgive my hypocrisy in so much that I’ll be watching, tweeting and talking about the Wales matches at the World Cup. If waiting 38 years to break my proverbial World Cup cherry, you may as well try to watch bits of it. I’ve even bought a box of stickers to try and catch up with my Qatar album (the first panini World Cup album with pages dedicated to Cymru). Hit me up for swaps.

But I cannot say I’ll watch outside of those matches, or even enjoy it. Not in the usual “oh god heart in my mouth Wales are gonna fuck this up” way of me watching Wales, but just the feeling of supporting a corrupt regime putting on what is lining up to be a shitshow that means I have sacrificed my morals to watch Wales play in the one tournament I have dreamed of since Bodin knocking a penalty against the crossbar. It puts a knot in my stomach and makes me feel absolutely filthy. I don’t think any amount of showers, scrubbing or donations to Amnesty International will change it.

I may put a flag or two up. We need some colour in my dull cul-de-sac.

3 Favourite Wrestling Matches (I Saw Live) in 2019

So another year in the books, another year watching a decent amount of graps. Not as much as previous years though, as I’ve had a slightly less love for wrestling this year than previous years. Sure I’ve done a lot, probably more than your average sane member of society should do, but it feels slightly less. This is reflected in the list, which has dropped two matches, as I couldn’t quite justify making this a top 5 list. There’s some quality shows that should be checked out (alas, a number of the Tuesday Night Graps shows have been lost in the ether), but actual stand out matches are slightly down on last year.

I’m not sure why, maybe I’m just being a picky wrestling fan. Who knows?

Anyway, as the same as last year, the honourable mentions are listed below. Here are my matches of 2019.

3. Jordan Devlin vs. Kyle Fletcher – Super Strong Style 16, Night 2

Man. This was close.

Two matches were fighting it out for spot 3 of the list – this match, and WALTER vs Fenix from wXw Day 2. Something about day 2’s of tournaments being particularly strong. In the end I gave the nod to this match.

Kyle Fletcher, along with Jordan Devlin & David Starr, have been the standout performers of 2019 in my opinion. Although Starr & Devlin have been getting plaudits, some of Fletcher’s work has been excellent, and this was the best match I saw him in this year. A hard hitting 20 minute that woke up the fairly lackluster Super Strong Style 16 after a weakish day 1. This was the tonic that the tournament needed, as you felt it improved tenfold after this match. A hard hitting, good, solid match between two youngsters that saw believable near falls and a cracking finishing stretch that saw The Irish Ace win. Well worth checking out.

This match is available on Demand PROGRESS.

2. Schadenfreude & Friends 1 – Gene Munny vs. Chief Deputy Dunne: Bandersmatch

One of the highlights of 2019 has been the rise of the Schadenfreude shows. And Schadenfreude in general. A Fight Club Pro concept, starting as a nWo style faction, this year they’ve appeared in wXw amongst others, and started their own shows.

Taking over the Tuesday Night Graps spot in the Frog & Bucket, the first show did eventually sell out, but didn’t do it too quick. Tuesday Night Graps was not for everybody – they were quite expensive shows, boutique comedy wrestling – and on a school night. I must admit I missed a fair few shows of TNG this year. Eventually IPW pulled out of the booking, and in it’s place was the Schadenfreude group.

I attended the first show with a bit of trepidation. It was familiar names, of course, but in unfamiliar situations. Often leaning heavily into comedy. Going into the main event the first Schadenfreude show was fun, an evening well spent but you didn’t quite get it.

And then Bandersmatch happened.

You see, Schadenfreude shows rely on everybody being in on the joke. And when everybody knows how wrestling works (yes, I don’t want to say the ‘F’-word, but yes, it’s predetermined), you can have fun with it. People die on these shows, and then are brought back to life either with explanations or not (which lead to one of the laugh out loud moments from a blown-up-with-a-grenade Dani Luna who demanded a match with Chris Brookes “as he murdered me yesterday!”). And when everybody is in on the joke, it means these shows have become must see.

And so, onto Bandersmatch.

I always like things that have never been done before, as a jaded fan. This match was based on the Black Mirror episode “Bansdersnatch”, where the crowd – through a series of 1 minute twitter polls, booked the match. The match stopped at some point and then determined what happened. The ending happened when Chief Deputy Dunne – the heel in the match – ignored the poll and won with a roll up. Because of course he did.

Since then, Schadenfreude shows are under-two minute sell outs. They’ve never done another Bandersmatch since then (they’ve been doing other fun stipulations) since. This match probably goes a long way to make Schadenfreude & Friends the must see promotion of 2020.

Schadenfreude don’t put their shows online because they cannot be arsed, but occasionally they stream them on Twitch.

1. WWE NXT UK TakeOver Cardiff – Gallus vs. Grizzled Young Veterans vs. South Wales Subculture

I hate nationalism in wrestling.

From the Sgt. Slaughter storyline, to Muhammad Hassan, the whole “we’re from here, you’re from there, that’s why I don’t like you!” irks me a little bit. Primarily because hearing chants of “USA, USA, USA!” doesn’t really connect with a mid 30’s bloke from Wales.

However, I understand why people do it, it fucking works. And no such time have I felt it work more than in this match.

South Wales Subculture – Mark Andrews & Flash Morgan Webster – were going into The Metro Arena in Cardiff against two teams: the long time champions of the Grizzled Young Veterans & the team Gallus. The match was excellent, a three way tag that was better than it had any right to be, but the crowd, oh the crowd.

You see, this crowd was hot. Imagine Wales in Euro 2016 hot. An acceptable face of nationalism that wasn’t about shooting anybody down, but instead lifting people up. Cardiff was buzzing (read: more than slightly inebriated) that day as well – 2pm saw Wales play Ireland in their final warm up match before the Rugby World Cup. That match saw a loss to Ireland. I’m not sure how Wales would have coped if Webster & Andrews had not picked up the win here. After 20 or so minutes of near falls, some hard looking bumps, and singing of “Don’t Take Me Home”, South Wales Subculture won, becoming the first Welsh born WWE champions. Cardiff went loud, very loud.

So, whilst this is probably not on many people’s match of the year, it is on mine. Top work.

This match is available on the WWE Network.

Honourable Mentions

FutureShock UnderGround #31

Big & Brave, JJ Webb & Thomas Wolfe vs Callum Corrie, Joe Bailey & The Young Guns

Soner Durson vs Pac

wXw 16 Carat Gold Night 1

Fenix vs. Rey Horus

Ilja Dragunov vs. Daisuke Sekimoto

WALTER vs. David Starr

wXw 16 Carat Gold Night 2

The entire Day 2. Seriously. But in particular these matches:-

Ilja Dragunov vs. Pentagon Jr.

WALTER vs. Fenix

Lucky Kid vs. Axel Dieter Jr.

wXw 16 Carat Gold Night 3

Hot n Spicy vs. Jay FK

Lucky Kid vs. Ilja Dragunov

Shadenfraude vs. Lucha Bros

Tuesday Night Graps – 16th April 2019

“The Aussie Experience” vs. Addicted to Adrenaline

Kip Sabian vs Joe Nelson

The Invisible Man, El Phantasmo & Drew Parker vs. Chris Brookes, Kid Lykos & Inflatable Kid Lykos

The Anti-Fun Police vs Hallowicked & Frightmare (if Anti Fun Police win, they are reborn)

Super Strong Style 16 – Night 1

Kyle O’Reilly vs. Chris Ridgeway

Super Strong Style 16 – Night 2

Aerostar vs. Daga

WALTER vs. Trent Seven

Super Strong Style 16 – Night 3

Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson

PROGRESS Chapter 92 – Entertaining Friends

Jordan Devlin vs Connor Mills

WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov

Futureshock Tapped VI

Chris Ridgeway vs Luke Jacobs

Schadenfreude & Friends 1

Dani Luna vs Chris Brookes – 1 Count Bout

WWE NXT UK Takeover Cardiff

WALTER vs. Tyler Bate

PROGRESS Wrestling – Natural Progression Series

Cara Noir vs. Dan Moloney

PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 95: Still Chasing

Proteus Rumble Match

Schadenfreude & Friends 2

Kyle Fletcher vs. Joe Nelson

Dean Allmark vs. Tyler Bate

Schadenfreude & Friends 4

David Starr vs Joe Nelson

“Inflatable” Kurtis Champman vs Dan Moloney

Tetsujin Is Fucking Dead

Apparently this whole card was amazing. Unfortunately, I was so twatted for the event I cannot remember any of this show. It’s on YouTube, check it out though.

PROGRESS Chapter 99 – With a Flake, Please

Cara Noir vs. Ilja Dragunov

PROGRESS Chapter 100 – Unboxing Live

Ilja Dragunov vs. Kyle Fletcher

Previous Years: 2018, 2017

Race to 100 err…103 grounds complete

Bloody England.

And Bloody Wales.

And Bloody Worcester City.

So I have been embarking on a trip to see as many football teams play in as many stadiums as possible. I had hoped to reach 100 by the end of the season, and I did! I thought I’d did it on a Tuesday in mid April when I went through the turnstiles at Deepdale (home of Preston North End), ticking off my 100th ground.

Or so I thought.

Turns out, like all brilliant minds do every now and again, I had miscalculated. I had seen 100 different teams playing at various stadiums. However, I’d actually ticked off a fair few already.

Let me explain using my beloved Wales.

Ask me if I seen Wales play at home, then I would say “Yes”. I had. However I’d seen them play in two different venues that they call “Home”: The Millenium Stadium & Cardiff City Stadium. Same applies to England (Old Trafford & Wembley) and Worcester City (St George’s Lane & Aggborough). Like Phileas Fogg, I’d well and truly screwed up my calculations and actually achieved more than I thought.

So in actual fact, my 100th ground – Ramsbottom United vs Colwyn Bay – was completed on a cold Spring evening in Late March, making Preston, Blackpool, and my trip to bloody Genoa rather redundant.

Oh well.

All in all, I feel a weird sense of pride with my achievement. It’s means nothing, didn’t make me healthier, didn’t raise money for a charity or even do something for somebody. It was selfish, it was selfish bloody minded stubbornness for something that impressed only me and a few other people. I don’t think I’d even put it on my Tinder bio.

But I don’t care, as for this journey, there has been a weird solace for me within a WhatsApp group. Two of my friends from university heard about the challenge and decided to go for their own challenge related to it. One of which was to hit 100, another was to hit 50. If absolutely nothing else, as I hurtle to my mid 30’s, I’m glad that I’ve managed to reclaim and spend some quality time with two great friends. That has been what has made the last 6 or so month’s special.

I’ve not decided if I’m continuing to 200, or 250, or whatever. This isn’t swimming: the next 100 will probably be harder, but I’ve paired with one of my friends and we’ve started a little instagram account for groundhopping. You can see it here at @ystbah. Please give us a follow!

Anyway, now onto some stats!

  • Most Northerly ground – Firhill, Glasgow (Partick Thistle)
  • Most Easterly & Southerly ground – GSP Stadium, Nicosia (Cyprus)
  • Most Westerly ground – Giants Stadium, New York (New York Red Bulls)
  • I’ve watched football matches in 13 different countries: Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, United States and Wales.
  • I’ve watched football at 59% of the teams in the Evostik Divison 1 North, my most populous league.
  • I’ve seen football played in 23 competitions: European Championships, World Cup Qualifications, European Championship Qualifications, Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, Championship, League 1, League 2, Conference North, Evostik Premiership, Evostik Division 1 North, Evostik Division 1 South, North West Counties Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, FA Trophy, League of Wales, Cymru Alliance, League of Ireland, Scottish Premiership, Bundesliga & Serie A.

Anyway, here’s a map!

Anyway, if you have any questions or anything, I’m opening the comments up to an unofficial AMA, if you have any questions for my escapades, leave them in the comments!

3 Favourite Wrestling Matches (I Saw Live) in 2017

So last Sunday (at the time of writing) I saw my last wrestling card of 2017 – with PROGRESS Chapter 59: Whatever People Say We Are, That’s What We’re Not in Sheffield crowning off a year in which I’ve seen 14 shows over 6 companies (though, to be fair, technically was 13, as one show I was a roster member for). It seems a lot less than I thought I’d seen, but turns out I didn’t do much at the beginning of the year.

Interestingly, as a year for a whole, it’s been – strange. First off, the most shocking moment was when “The Word” Rudy Wynne made his long await, chubby bearded arse comeback at Britannia Wrestling’s Against the Odds 2. Considering the length of time since I last stepped foot in a ring, I didn’t embarrass myself I don’t think, and I was welcomed back with open arms by the very friendly and talented roster. I hope I didn’t stink up the joint!

Also, looking back, the match quality has been good. Great in fact. Better than last year. But I feel that to actually pick 3 matches that made me go crazy or jump out of a seat, with a few notable exceptions. The matches I list below are matches that I – as a jaded wrestling fan – enjoyed and became unglued to at certain points during 2017. My goal is to actually become a fan again, rather than rate on workrate or some sort of points scoring for artistic impression, the top 3 matches listed below are matches that all had me smiling, cheering and generally going crazy over at certain points during the match.

First off the Honourable Mentions though. These are matches that I thought that were good, and stood out on their respective cards. I’d highly recommend checking these out: South Pacific Power Trip vs. British Strong Style (PROGRESS Chapter 45: Galvanize), Soner Durson vs. Marc Morgan (BWP: Against The Odds), Mike Bird vs. WALTER (PROGRESS: Cologne), Laura Di Matteo vs. Toni Storm (PROGRESS Chapter 52: Vote Pies), The Band vs. Dan Evans & Natalie Wild (BWP: Summer Break) and literally the entire of PROGRESS Chapter 57: Enter Smiling.

Very, Very, VERY Honourable Mention Trent Seven vs. Wolfgang: ICW Fight Club on Tour – Manchester

If I was to be asked who my favourite wrestler is in 2017, I’d probably say Trent Seven. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him had a bad match, and probably PROGRESS Trent Seven is my favourite wrestler – the beard, the dad bod, he just seems – so achievable. Plus he’s older than me too so it gives me hope that there’s still a run left in me. His “Yeah, I’m basically WWE, deal with it” is brilliantly played, especially as a good guy, has me in stitches.

Up until recently, the main event of the first show of the year (and first ICW show) was in the top 3. The reason I enjoyed it? The match was so much different to what we are used to seeing in Manchester – a kind of Hybrid British Strong Style (no pun intended) of people being hit hard and dropped on their heads. This was more of a hardcore match, that was brutal for what was effectively a house show taping in Manchester in front of a smallish crowd on a Sunday night. This was very watchable and I suppose also being front row and having two big bastards fighting above you was an incredible sight. It was a very good match and an end to a decent show.

3. Adam Chase vs. Chris Ridgeway – PROGRESS Chapter 59:Whatever People Say We Are, That’s What We’re Not

Last year, I picked James Drake vs. Fabien Aichner as my third favourite match of the year, beating Adam Cole vs. Will Ospreay at PROGRESS Chapter 40: Intercepted Angel. The reason being is that it was so unexpected. A match that comes out of nowhere to impress me kind of engrosses me more than when two seasoned veterans put on a match.

So fast forward to PROGRESS Sheffield, and some background. First off, Britain was in the middle of a snowstorm that engulfed pretty much half the country. This meant that people couldn’t get to Sheffield, including some of the wrestlers. This included the entire of British Strong Style, Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster. 4 WWE UK guys and a participant in PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles. So quite a few heavy hitters.

A few wrestlers though stepped up, and one that did was a Spanish wrestler by the name of Adam Chase. He stepped in against Chris Ridgeway at such short notice and had an incredible match. To go from a lukewarm polite applause to having the entire of the o2 Academy in Sheffield on their feet in 5 minutes was very impressive, and after 10 or so minutes of cracking action Ridgeway won. This match was so unexpected, but announced that Adam Chase belonged in PROGRESS. It was great, and I enjoyed it immensely.

You can see this match on Demand Progress.

2. Travis Banks vs. Matt Riddle – PROGRESS Chapter 52: Vote Pies

A lot of PROGRESS has been the Travis Banks show this year, his rise to the World Championship has (for right or wrong reasons) dominated a large amount of the stories surrounding PROGRESS. This was after his Super Strong Style 16 victory for Banks and the story was Banks and PROGRESS Champion Pete Dunne putting together each others matches. Whilst Banks gave opportunities to Dunne’s opponents, Pete Dunne usually put Banks in difficult matches. This I believe was the first or second match for this.

What followed was two of PROGRESS’ brightest stars of the year that weren’t in British Strong Style legitimately beating the living bejesus out of each other. This was simple, and even though it had a screwy finish the first 10 minutes of the match which had me jumping and screaming made it my favourite singles match of 2017.

You can see this match on Demand Progress.

1. wXw – Shortcut To the Top Match

It is hard to do Royal Rumbles. I should know, I bloody agented one not a million years ago. Having 30 men queued up, keeping an eye on cues and generally making sure everything goes well (clue: it usually doesn’t) is hard work. So I have a lot of respect even for the terrible Rumbles WWE put on occasionally.

But when it goes right, oh does it go right.

I travelled to Cologne for the PROGRESS/wXw double header, but whilst I went for the PROGRESS, the better show was the wXw one. The weekend culminated with a cracking rumble that had 30 top stars from all over Europe, a few surprises, a few fun eliminations, and a genuinely brilliant story told from #1 all the way through to the end. Furthermore, it was the culmination of a great weekend, where I met some great people, and whilst it may not be at the top of many lists, everything about that weekend was perfect. After all, wrestling is meant to be fun.

wXw Shortcut To the Top is available on wXwNOW.de.

Those are my three top matches for 2017, what are yours? Please leave them in the comments below!