Sunday, 17 August 2014

Pickering Town 0 Washington 6

FA Cup extra-preliminary round
Attendance: 173

What’s up with the Cup? My first choice tie was switched from Rochdale Town to the home of the side drawn away, Runcorn Linnets, nullifying the interest for me then my second choice at Pickering was moved from Saturday to Sunday. I thought these sorts of shenanigans only happened in the proper rounds!

Actually, the 24-hour delay to today’s match was unavoidable since the cricket club who share Pickering Town’s three-sided ground and pavilion (above) had a game booked for the Saturday. The scorer’s tower is one of a pleasing jumble of buildings behind one of the goals, the others being a redundant turnstile block, two lock-ups and an old stone house. All are overlooked by a church tower. A new main stand (below) has been added opposite the cricket square since my previous visit for the big second qualifying round tie against Accrington Stanley in 2001.

You could almost tell you were and the level of football by sound alone. The murmur of conversation was typical step 5/6; the talk was all about the latest score from the Yorkshire county cricket match taking place nearby at Scarborough; and the occasional distant toots belonged to the North York Moors Railway which starts in Pickering. “No skateboards or roller skates allowed inside the ground” read a sign at the turnstile which I entered after a dog clad in his blue Pickering coat. All in all Mill Lane presented a much more cosy scene than Salford City 10 days ago despite the unseasonal cool, blustery conditions. It was nice to be home.

I was surprised the match wasn’t more even. Despite being a step lower in the pyramid, Northern League Washington went two up early on and after there was only ever going to be one winner. Fickle as ever, my son and I went from supporting the Yorkshire team to hoping for a hatful against without return.

Things were looking good mid-way through the second half when a Washington player spotted an increasingly dodgy Pikes keeper off his line and successfully lobbed him and the visitors further extended their lead as a Pickering defender sliced a cross into his own net. Washington missed a sitter to make is seven and only then took their foot of the gas. A cricket score was averted and the Pikes’ interest in the cup came to a somewhat ignominious and premature conclusion.

35 years of hurt: Washington last won an FA Cup tie when they beat Garforth in 1995 but the defeated club progressed to the next round. The last time Washington reached a second round was in 1979.

Star turn: The Pikes’ assistant manager is ex-Leeds United reserve and North Yorkshire journeyman Tony Hackworth who I last spotted playing for Whitby.

Further reading: Well researched article here from BBC online about some of the quirks of the extra-preliminary round.

Father Christmas puts in an early appearance in the Cup

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Salford City 5 Class of ’92 1

Pre-season friendly
Attendance: 12,000 (sell-out)

Well, I’m glad I checked the ticket carefully. Tonight’s game sadly wasn’t at Salford’s own ground but at the city’s new rugby league stadium which reduced its novelty appeal considerably although you could understand the commercial rationale behind the switch. I’d been expecting something closer to the kickabout that the Class of ’92 had with construction workers on the roof of their Old Trafford hotel; suddenly everything had gone a bit too Premier League – and I’m talking about the Barclays rather than step four Northern version where Salford competes. Ho-hum. I had tickets and my boy was keen to see some stars so over the Pennines we went …

I may have been disappointed with venue selection but had no qualms about the Class’s stellar line-up. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt (who have bought Salford City which is how this fixture came about) were all on show along with Raimond Van Der Gouw, Tomasz Kuszczak, David May, Mikael Silvestre, Robbie Savage (“booh!”), Quenton Fortune, cricketers Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison and comedian Jack Whitehall.

Salford were by far the more spritely and eager side, keen to impress the club’s new owners and motivated by the occasion. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare this season. They scored twice in the first half but could’ve got four of five had it not been for Van Der Gouw’s saves. Each goal was greeted by a tune over the PA which was a necessary prompt since they were scored at the far end, I wasn’t paying much attention and there was no cheering. In contrast to Salford the Class were decidedly sluggish (with the exception of Giggs) and clearly demonstrated the extent to which age takes its toll on ability. Their only shot on goal was a penalty cheekily dinked in by Giggs on the stroke of half-time.

The game had a decidedly dozy feel to it, feeling more like a testimonial for the Class at a lower league ground with Salford as guests at the party they were actually hosting. I struggled to get into it. That’s friendlies for you, I guess. The best feature of the first half was that it was only 40 mins long and the interval was 10 mins which made up for the delay to the kick-off by 25 mins because of traffic congestion outside the ground. Thankfully, the second period was much more entertaining because Salford were attacking our end, the floodlights added some atmosphere and, moreover, the crowd livened things up.

The highlight of the night was when a fella in a baseball cap ran onto the pitch then acrobatically swung himself up onto the cross bar, sat in the top netting and bounced up and down, raising the rear stanchion of the turf. (See here for LOL clip). Four yellow jackets tried to get him down but he got his feet caught in the netting and ended up being dragged out of it, losing his shoes (and nearly ankles) in the process. Twice later two small groups of lads also ran onto the pitch to embrace or shake hands with the stars. The invasions were like looting: for once you probably won’t get apprehended so why not do it?

The team in red and white (Salford) continued to dominate the team that used to play in red and white, knocking in the last couple of goals with an almost arrogant nonchalance. I was surprised the match hadn’t been more of a contest.
The PA announcer implored spectators not to invade the pitch saying that such incursion might curtail interviews with the players and other post-match entertainment. Bollocks to that! At the final whistle on the fans all went – and had a mass kickabout too until a steward wrestled the ball away. Spoil sport.

Our route back to the car along a public footpath between a sewage works and the Manchester Ship Canal and under the M60 wasn’t very appealing by day and even less so after dark. What’s more, we were the only people using it. The path had been blocked off half way along by Herras fencing. The night watchman from the sewage works couldn’t open it up so two youths with scooters (who I was quick to befriend with an account of the match) lifted it up for us and we slid underneath. A couple of hundred yards and several glances over our shoulders later and we were back to what had originally looked like a nifty parking spot down a cul-de-sac. I was reminded of my escape from Droylsden as, with a sigh of relief, we joined the motorway. The only time I like to see signs to Leeds is when I’m getting away from an edgy part of

White wash out: My season started unofficially with Knaresborough Town v. Blackburn Rovers U21s on July 18. Still digesting the World Cup, I didn’t fancy the whole match so watched 15 mins through the fence on the way back from swimming with my son. The towel came in handy; it bucketed down. We saw the first goal. Town then went 4-1 up before losing 5-4, three of the Blackburn goals coming in the last five minutes. Should’ve watched the whole thing!

Perfect pitch: As a sequel to my previous post about football grounds spotted on holiday here’s a beautifully sited and maintained pitch with new pavilion in the village of Scourie where I stayed in the north-west Scottish Highlands.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The other St-Étienne and the real cod army

 I love the holiday snaps pages of the esteemed Groundtastic. “Sun, sea, sand? Where are the stadiums?”, asks the sub-headline of the feature. Previously it ran: “Why go to the beach when there are stadiums to be seen?” Why, indeed? There then follows photographic studies of such footballing outposts as the Cape Verde Islands (in the current edition) and, most memorably, a group of men packing into a two-tiered tiny rickety hut beside a dust bowl in Ethiopia looking more like they’re seeking to set an obscure world record than watch a football match. This is what we want.

I don’t prioritise stadium visits on holiday but I’m certainly not averse to a little diversion while on my travels especially if I’m travelling solo by bike which is often the way. While cycling in Provence in May you can only begin to imagine when my excitement when I found myself unwittingly on ‘Av Du Stade’ in the village of St-Étienne.
It led to the idyllic, Stade Municipal Joseph Veran, home of Football Club Saint-Étienne-du-Grès. A pumping station appeared to be part of the ground which also included a changing block and was surrounded by a rail and plane trees. The club competes in the Rhone-Durance Deuxieme Division pool D which I believe is the 14th level of French football.

The following month I pedalled down the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Arctic Circle and was even more surprised to come across two more football grounds. The first of them is in old fishing village of Henningsvær. It was completed only last year and has a pristine 3G playing surface. On top of the rocks surrounding the pitch are numerous racks for drying cod – or ‘stockfish’ as it’s known in this form (see lead pic and below). Heads and bodies are dried separately making for a slightly macabre sight to say nothing of the pong that practically pervades Lofoten.

Further down the archipelago I scrambled up the 448m Reinebringen peak for the spectacular view (below), probably the finest I’ve ever seen – and not just because of the football pitch that I spotted in Reine. A closer inspection was in order. Again the pitch is surrounding by stockfish racks. Built in 2008, it also boasts a substantial clubhouse with the club badge and ‘REINE IL 1939’ adorning one end of it.

Spectator accommodation is provided by two small wooden shelters and benches like those ordinarily used by subs et al, their backboards mimicking rorbu, the traditional fishermen’s cabins synonymous with the region. Throughout Lofoten the
mountains are extraordinary.

Just when I was about to declare the most spectacular mountain backdrop in European football I spotted this pic – taken at the first ever UEFA competition qualifying tie to take place in Gibraltar between Lincoln Red Imps and HB Tórshavn of the Faroe Islands. Possibly worth going on holiday to ‘The Rock’ for this alone. Whoops: nearly became a nerd again …
I finish with a pic of a quirky announcer’s box at an obscure non-league ground near Gothenburg. Paint a couple of eyes on the front window and I expect it would come alive. Blogger Peter Miles likes his grounds on holiday too.

Holiday reading: Here are a couple of Guardian articles left over from last season that I like because they reflect my point of view. One is about the manufactured rah-rah of places like Wembley and the other is about how the top Premier League clubs buy success rather than develop young players.

PS I wish that Blogger displayed pics to a larger size. To see them in their full glory click on any pic or alternatively click here for the full album.