A last stop on Matt Bass' Road to Wembley before FA Cup trail heads to its final spot

Tuesday 19 Mar 2024
Matt Bass made the journey north for the quarter-final

When I began this challenge last summer, the bright lights of last season’s treble winners seemed light years away.

Arriving at Vale Farm for the extra preliminary round tie between Wembley FC and Bearsted along with barely 100 other like-minded football fans – and one dog if my memory serves me correctly – I knew the latter stages and – perhaps inevitably – the giants of the English game were my ultimate goal but it was difficult to comprehend they would be featuring in the same competition.

That is the beauty of the Emirates FA Cup I guess.

With this being the final round before Wembley Stadium takes on the mantle of exclusive host venue, this was my last opportunity to make my own choice about where to go. With a prior commitment for Sunday, I was left with the option of Wolves welcoming Coventry City or a trip to see treble-winning Manchester City hosting Newcastle United.

In earlier musings, I have alluded to my desire to spread myself around the country as much as possible unless a particular tie has been too good to refuse. As such, I wanted to go north, beyond the midlands.

Manchester City v Newcastle United

Emirates FA Cup 2023-24
Saturday 16 March 2024

This would be my first visit to the Etihad Stadium and, indeed, my first visit to Manchester for longer than I would care to remember. It’s a city that is easy to fall for and there is just so much going on.

I wanted to maximise my time there and so, bravely, opted for the overnight coach again. Fortune was clearly with me.

As I boarded in London, I was greeted with a seat with an embarrassment of legroom. Being on the taller side myself, I cannot begin to express just how happy this made me feel. Making myself comfortable, I settled in for the night, stirring only briefly at each stop before disembarking on the outskirts of the Northern Quarter around 6am.

After the early start, a cooked breakfast was a must

My plan had been to visit the National Football Museum before navigating my way to the stadium. With four hours to spare before opening, I warmed myself up with a hot chocolate, found a delightful Irish breakfast at the Piccadilly Tavern and then, sensibly, bought myself a new jacket – I had planned to pack light but maybe underestimated the weather forecast for the weekend. My hoodie and waterproof were not going to suffice.

The National Football Museum is housed in a hugely impressive building in the city centre and I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you are following your team to the North West on a matchday. 

Naturally, my attention was immediately drawn to the FA Cup exhibits but it was a wonderful immersion into the history of the Beautiful Game. The stories of some of the giant-killers from years gone by particularly called to me as I am sure you can imagine.

I would highly recommend a visit to the National Football Museum

I took the tram out to the stadium and enjoyed a walk around, soaking up the atmosphere and taking everything in. Perching in front of the statue of City greats, Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee while hundreds secured photographs of the trio, it became clear what a family-friendly club this is. Supporters of all ages and allegiances were mingling and joking with each other.

On the other side of the stadium, I encountered three additional City heroes, albeit a trio from more recent history. Statues of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva line the perimeter of the east side of the stadium and, when combined with the artwork on the outer walls behind them, make for truly exceptional creations in my opinion.

I love a statue. There’s something mesmerising about a moment in time being captured and immortalised. The Aguero one, in particular, is iconic, his shirt raised as it is twirled in celebration of the dramatic strike that secured the Premier League title.

I like to think I may one day achieve something of such note that I could be captured in statue form…Guess I just need to work out what my relevant achievement could be and make sure I’m actually good at it. I suspect I have a way to go to achieve this particular dream!

I was blessed with a great view of the game

When visiting a stadium for the first time there is nothing quite like catching your first glimpse of the pitch. I was treated to a phenomenal view from my seat, located in the second tier in the north-west corner. It was at this end of the pitch where the impressive Bernardo Silva struck twice to ensure City would advance.

Newcastle’s fans had travelled in vast numbers, dominating two tiers of the impressive south stand in which they created a fine atmosphere. Sadly, they had little to cheer about in a contest that was always likely to be a tall order for them.

We all know about City’s strengths. They’re all over the pitch in truth!

It seemed effortless for them as they pressed forward. Jérémy Doku was a lively presence in ensuring his marker had a torrid evening while Phil Foden was as impressive as ever.

For all of City’s prowess moving forward though, Newcastle can feel a little disappointed in the manner of both of their hosts’ goals.

Silva struck twice inside the opening half but it was a hefty deflection on both occasions which saw Martin Dúbravka beaten – Dan Burn and Sven Botman the unfortunate pair with the decisive touches. 

As I took my leave of the stadium, I hadn’t realised quite how much the heavens had opened during the second half. I was soon doing my best to avoid the puddles but opted not to join the queue for the trams. Already soaked through, I took a stroll back into the city to await my coach home.

Travelling to unfamiliar destinations and making logistical plans has been a huge part of the fun of this challenge. I will certainly miss this element of the adventure as all eyes now focus on Wembley – an easily-reached venue for me living in Kent.

But this is where everybody wants to be and I count myself incredibly fortunate and privileged to still be in the competition, standing together with City, Chelsea, Coventry and Manchester United.

Not long left until we find out who will be the last team standing.

Matt's Road to Wembley so far....

Fifth round proper: Coventry City 5-0 Maidstone 

Fourth round proper: Ipswich Town 2-3 Maidstone 

Third round proper: Middlesbrough 1-2 Aston Villa 

Second round proper: Maidstone 2-1 Barrow 

First round proper: Ramsgate 2-1 Woking & Sheppey United 1-4 Walsall 

Fourth round qualifying: AFC Totton 0-1 Ramsgate 

Third round qualifying: Gorleston 0-1 Hemel Hempstead Town

Second round qualifying: Ascot United 1-2 Lewes

First round qualifying: Flackwell Heath v Farnham Town

Preliminary round: Lordswood 1-1 Cray Valley (PM)

Extra preliminary round: Wembley 1-1 Bearsted

By Matt Bass