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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shrimps hope for a fond farewell

As Morecambe prepare for the second leg of their League Two play-off semi final - their last ever match at Christie Park - Nobes looks at how other clubs have waved farewell to their former grounds.

Christie Park has been Morecambe's home since the club was founded in 1920

It was supposed to be a celebration - Morecambe's last hurrah as they waved goodbye to Christie Park. Unfortunately for them, their party has been pooped before it ever had the chance to begin.

A crushing 6-0 defeat to the Dagenham & Redbridge in their League Two play-off first leg means, barring the most sensational comeback, their final game at their home of 90 years this evening is really a non-event.

Any hopes a fitting send off would seal a place at Wembley and a shot at playing in League One were emphatically ended with their capitulation in East London.

It's simply a matter of pride now for the Lancashire club - restoring some after that defeat, and making sure they at least send their fans away knowing they ended on a winning note at Christie Park.

With more clubs choosing to move to new grounds suited for 21st century football, the final game at a ground for a club has become an area of focus for the game's historians.

Fortunately for the Shrimps, history proves that even teams with little to play have been able to raise their game to ensure they win their final match at their ground before moving.

For instance, it was no coincidence that, in their final game at Highfield Road in 2005, Coventry pulled out all the stops to record a 6-2 win - their biggest of the season.

Over 22,000 saw them crush a Derby side who finished 4th that season. In contrast, the Sky Blues ended up just a couple of points above the drop zone.

It's the power of fans who, desperate to see a fitting finale for their beloved home, can inspire a team to raise their game and give it their all - even if there's nothing tangible to play for.

Just a few weeks ago, Chesterfield came from behind to score a stoppage time winner against Bournemouth. It was a 2-1 victory that brought to a close 139 years at their Saltergate home.

It wasn't enough to secure them a spot in the League Two play-offs - something which looked unlikely before the start of play and that scorelines elsewhere confirmed during the game. However, that didn't stop them endeavouring to get three points.

Finishing the season bottom of the Premier League didn't even prevent Leicester from ending their tenure at Filbert Street in 2002 with a 2-1 victory against Tottenham.

They had struggled throughout the campaign - finishing 12 points adrift of safety - and had only won twice at home all season before their final match.

Perhaps the less pressure on a club the better? Take Burton, whose final season at Eton Park saw them only finish mid-table but beat Northwich in their last home match.

Cardiff supporters endured a miserable final game at Ninian Park last season

Southampton, too, had an uncharacteristically comfortable campaign in the top flight in 2000/1 - their last at The Dell - and recorded a fine 3-2 win over Arsenal in the ground's last match.

Compare that though with the high-stakes of Cardiff City last term. Chasing the result which would secure them a play-off place, they were comprehensively defeated 3-0 by Ipswich at Ninian Park.

Never mind, the Welsh club's fans thought - believing a top six place to be certain. They'd have another chance in the home leg of the play-offs to say goodbye to their old ground. They didn't.

They're not the only ones to go out on a low note. Colchester's miserable relegation from the Championship in 2008 was compounded by losing their finale at Layer Road to Stoke.

Darlington waved goodbye to their Feethams Ground in 2003 with a 2-2 draw against Leyton Orient. Oxford's last match at the Manor Ground in 2001 ended all square with Port Vale - the Oxen conceding a last gasp equaliser.

Inevitably, however a side has performed during the season, there is always an expectation, a hope, that they will be able to provide the dream ending every fan hopes for.

Some clubs, as Morecambe had hoped for, played their final matches at their respective grounds with promotion in the balance.

A tense and nervy 0-0 draw in their play-off first leg against Milton Keynes was how Shrewsbury brought the final curtain down on Gay Meadow in 2007.

Shrewsbury also featured in Swansea's last match at the Vetch in 2005 - a 1-0 win for the Welsh side to keep their promotion hopes alive into the final week of the season.

Some clubs have avoided any potential last game at their ground coinciding with an important promotion or relegation match by moving to a new stadium midway through a season.

Doncaster's transition from Belle Vue to the Keepmoat took place in December 2006. Perhaps it helped, with the Yorkshire side managing a 1-0 win over big guns Nottingham Forest in their last game at their old home.

Not that the same principle worked for Hull City who moved from Boothferry Park to the KC Stadium midway through the 2002/3 season.
A disappointing 1-0 defeat to Darlington ensured it wasn't a fond farewell.

After their defeat at the weekend, that's all Morecambe can now hope

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