Saturday, 7 March 2015

Wembley ways: cup-ties at North Ferriby and Bradford City


How important is getting to Wembley these days? Ahead of a Vase quarter-final last week Paul Marshall, manager of my local lads, Tadcaster Albion, was asked whether he’d prefer to win the Vase or promotion. Promotion, he replied. I’d have thought that leading your side out at Wembley would top anything especially for a club at step five of the pyramid.

“One of the biggest matches in our history,” is how the North Ferriby website billed their Trophy semi-final second leg against Bath last week for which the prize was also a final at the national stadium. OK: they’ve been to Wembley before (in the ’97 Vase final) but perhaps the Conference North play-off final last season was a bigger deal. Triumphant Ferriby’s opponents in the Trophy final will be Wrexham who will be making their third trip to Wembley in just a year. You could hardly blame their fans for letting this one pass them by. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, literally. Nowadays it’s more a matter of who hasn’t played there (any League sides?) rather than who has ...

The Ferriby match ended 1-1 after extra time and 3-3 on aggregate, the hosts winning 4-2 on penalties. The attendance was a 1,871. A gripping cup-tie at one of my favourite non-league venues but I haven’t blogged in full about it as I’ve written about a visit to Ferriby before. Here are three pics, though.

This weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals also, of course, lead to Wembley and present victorious fans with the poser about whether to go to the semi-final or keep their fingers crossed (and wallet closed) and hope for a visit to the final. A competition with three finals: what a nonesense.

For the first time this year it was warm enough today not to need scarves but my son and I still donned them (and had them flapping from the car windows) in the colours of my home-town team, Reading, for their quarter-final against Bradford. There was a 24,000 full house at Valley Parade, a complete contrast to my previous visit in the Northern Counties East League Cup final last May. I like the ground. It’s not without its quirks such as a higgledy-piggledy corner featuring traffic lights on the legs of the floodlights above the tunnel. Equally singular are the club songs blasted out in the build-up to kick-off: Take me Home Country Roads and Depeche Mode’s Just can’t get Enough. Bradford has a genuine, old fashioned community feel to it. Even the ticket office manager and company accountant are asked for the their FA memories in the (superb smelling) programme.

Reading have hardly blazed a trail to the quarter-finals. I saw them at the start of the run at Huddersfield. Least said about that snooze fest the better. They were then drawn away to similarly distant, unglamorous second division opponents in Cardiff and Derby and, thus, have sneaked almost unnoticed into the latter stages, a stowaway on the great ship FA Cup. With promotion hopes and relegation fears banished Reading have never had a better opportunity to focus on and reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1927 especially given that today’s opponents were a division below. The Bantams’ run couldn’t have contrasted more including those defeats of Chelsea and Sunderland.

Pity the game didn’t live up to the pre-match buzz. The contest was as unsatisfactory as any goalless cup-tie is bound to be and very scrappy with it. There was only one shot on target throughout and pass completion was just 50%, reported Match of the Day. And what about Taddy Albion? They lost today’s Vase quarter final replay 0-1 to Highworth Town (from Swindon). It all ended in tears with a scuffle between players and spectators after the final whistle. Oh, well. Losers in the Vase, Trophy and Cup are probably happy to concentrate on the league. Wembley? Pah!

Faces in the crowd: My son and I were featured momentarily in the TV coverage (top right of still, below) as spotted by my brother watching at home in the US. I later texted him to ask him about an injury that had stopped the game for ages right at the end. “Bloody nose,” he responded. Tele-technology still amazes me ...

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Aberford Albion and American Samoa


Today I watched two teams beginning with ‘a’. First up: step 8 Aberford Albion from a village south of Wetherby who were playing Kippax in the Leeds & District Cup (5-1, attendance 17). The appeal of the game was that it was on the route of bike ride I was doing with my son and, moreover, the club play at the railed off Bunkers Hill pitch beside some Gothic mid-19th century almshouses.

I’d often wondered if it was possible to photograph  some action with the almshouses as a scenic backdrop. Assisted by leafless trees and sunshine it is – as these pics show. I had to wait an age for the ball to come down to the right end for a close-up, though as Aberford dominated and they were kicking in the other direction. Ain’t that always the way? Later we called in on Bardsey from the same league hoping to see the end of their match but I must’ve read the fixtures wrong as there was no-one there. Still, at least I didn’t end up at a bowling green like I did on a previous West Yorkshire League outing ...

In the evening we watched Next Goal Wins. Released last spring, the DVD tells the story of American Samoa’s attempt to qualify for the last World Cup, 10 years on from being beaten 31-0 by Australia in the biggest international drubbing of all-time. Coming into the pre-qualification tournament Samoa had lost all 30 games in the preceding 17 years and scored just twice. Seeing highlights of games against the likes of the Cook Islands is intriguing in itself but the film is about much more than that. It’s about the universal themes of self-belief, inspiration, and progress. There are two sub-plots: one about the need for Samoa’s Dutch manager to come to terms with the death of his daughter eight years previously and another about the experience of Samoa’s transgender player.

As the credits roll and captions pop up explaining what happened next to the protagonists you have to remind yourself that you’ve been watching a documentary rather than a reconstruction. Next Goals Wins gives you a warm glow and puts a smile on your face. It’s the ultimate real feel-good sports film and should be mandatory clubhouse viewing for teams the world over – from Real Madrid to, well, Aberford Albion and beyond.

Taking on the badgers: Aberford had huge problems at the start of the season. They spent £2,000 improving the pitch then burrowing badgers came along and ruined it causing multiple postponements. You can see where all the holes have been filled in.

Groundhopping by bike: To follow my bike ride see my other blog. I’m planning to mark the end of the Northern League season by cycling along disused railway lines to four clubs in Co Durham ending up by watching one of them, Esh Winning, against champions elect, Seaham Red Star. What a treat. To finish here is a pic of the front of those almshouses.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

AFC Mansfield 0 Tadcaster Albion 3

FA Vase, fifth round
Attendance: 604

Well, I’m glad I had an interest in this game and that my local lads (Tadcaster) won. There was little about this occasion to appeal to the neutral; it was a one-sided contest at a very plain ground.

To give credit where it’s due, AFC Mansfield have done exceptionally well to get to this stage. The step 6 NCEL side have battled through six rounds without needing a replay to get here and are in only their third season. They were founded by three ex-directors of Mansfield Town who fell out with the rest of the boardroom. The Bulls then are, unusually, a directors’ rather than fans’ breakaway club. The reason for another community club in the region isn’t obvious since Shirebrook, Teversal and Rainworth are within a five-mile radius and Clipstone is just 1½ miles away. Cowering below the town’s two striking disused pit wheels, I’d past the latter’s ground on the way to AFC.

AFC are based at the former home of now defunct Forest Town Welfare. The pitch is surrounded by a gently shelved, narrow cycle track (I needed the zoom lens) and there’s a scoring tower in one corner, left over from its days as a cricket ground. Facilities include a pavilion behind one goal, clubhouse with conservatory, nine partly seated terraces and a flatpack stand acquired from Eastwood Town. Spectators are only permitted access around half of the pitch. Wembley could not have felt further away yet actually been so near in a competition sense.

Taddy nearly got off to a nightmare start when a sloppy and forceful back pass sent the keeper scurrying to and clashing with a post. That was as hairy as it got for the visitors who took the lead on 15 mins. Soon after a Mansfield player was sent off for dissent to the fury of manager and ex-Scarborough boss Rudi Funk (still, for me, the best name in football). He was banished from the pitch too. Taddy extended their lead just before half-time when they burst through the offside trap and the ball was squared to Blissett to stroke home. The killer goal came after 70 mins.

When Taddy missed a sitter soon after the away fans could afford to laugh about it. Events off the pitch then became more interesting than those on it when a fan had fluid thrown over him from the conservatory terrace. Beergate ensured led by the cops. Taddy fans, comprising about half the attendance, had been superb throughout but even they finally stopped singing “Tad all over” for the last 10 minutes and the drummer unyoked his instrument. Job done: we’re through. One way or another the quarter-final will be much more memorable, I’m sure.

The sweet smell of success: Previewing today’s match the Harrogate Advertiser sports writer said: “Progress [for Tadcaster] would shift the smell of the extraordinarily-priced Wembley hotdogs further up the M1.” Well, if I’m not mistaken the whiff has reached South Yorkshire and I’m getting peckish. Extra onions for me, please.

Weather news: It made a nice change not to have to check for a postponement nor don five layers before today’s game. Barney Ronay wrote an amusing piece about cold football matches in today’s Guardian. He says that Graeme Souness “did seem to be at his best when grimacing with shin-barking agony on some frosty cart track of a pitch, eyes narrowed, moustache writhing, the emperor of tiny-shorted midwinter pain-football.”

Mentions in dispatches: A fella dancing around among the Taddy fans is a yellow football shirt looked like Socrates reincarnated. No Captain Chickers today, sadly. Spare a thought for Colwyn Bay who today made one of the longest west-east journeys in non-league football to play Lowestoft. Six hours each way. Further scrutiny of the NLP reveals the wonderfully named Karl-Mike Fondop-Talun of Vase fifth rounders, Stanway Rovers.


vs Mansfield 07Feb2015 from PhotosbyDavid on Vimeo.