Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ossett Albion 0 Droylsden 4

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 116

Wakefield must be the biggest settlement in Yorkshire never to have had a club at steps 1 or 2. What’s more the city’s club folded at the end of last season after a somewhat chequered and nomadic history. A few miles to the west is Dewsbury which isn’t much smaller and doesn’t have a side. All of which makes it curious that the small town between them, Ossett, has two clubs both well established in the Northern Premier League. I saw Town in 2005 but have never had the opportunity to visit Albion until today.

The attraction of Albion’s ground begins with its name, Dimple Wells, which sounds like a location from the Vicar of Dibley. You approach it via a narrow lane from a residential area and pass car parks for the bowling green and cricket pitch (busier than that for the football club). The ground reminded me of Tow Law in some respects. Facilities are clustered around the corner entry point, the pitch is sloped and there’s a good view past one of the touchlines across a valley, in this case of the River Calder. Directors’ accommodation (see lead pic) consists of the uppermost of a pair of shipping containers. The lower storey is a programme and souvenir shop, issues meticulously arranged with dividers according to the opposition like racks in a record shop.

The club history is on sale – in 10 volumes priced at £1.50 each and written by the club historian and shopkeeper. He wore one scarf and displayed another proudly above the counter. I should add that today’s full colour programme as every bit as immaculate as his premises.

The shop and a disused turnstile block (pictured below) each has a domestic front door and the press box (empty, above) has similarly house-like glazing, all features which add to the ground’s quirky, jerry-built appeal. The director’s box (also empty) consists of dirty old bucket seats with ‘director’ stencilled on them. Love it. The dugouts are substantial brick-built affairs. The brickwork extends to the surround to a pair of giant steel doors which seem out of place in a ground where there’s seldom need to provide rapid egress for a large crowd.

Droylsden have had a torrid time since I last saw them on that unforgettable pre-Christmas night in 2008. Two successive relegations partly caused by debt problems now see them plying their trade at step 4 and just six years after a season in the Conference National. In 2013/14 they shipped 182 goals. Things are looking up, though: last week they won their first back to back league matches for 2½ years.
Their small knot of fans provided the welcome and entertaining first chants of this season’s FA Cup trail.

Their version of Anarchy in the UK is a cracker: “I am a Droylsden fan/I am a Mancunian/I know what I want and I know how to get it/I wanna destroy [Stalybridge] Celtic and Hyde/’Cause IIII wanna beeee Droylsden FC”. Then there’s the old classic about Dave ‘Mr Droylsden’ Pace, the sort of hard nut northern manager you wouldn’t want a bollocking from: “You’ve got Mourinho/We’ve got Dave Pacio”. The Okey Cokey has been adapted to suit Fernando Moke. Apparently, Fernando asked the manager if he could tell the fans to stop singing this song as it was irritating him so much. Perhaps they could switch to that Abba number … Completing the repertoire is the inevitable: “Wemberley, Wemberley/We’re the famous Droylsden FC and we’re going to Wemberley”. Part of me admires these sorts of fans for their dedication and part of me feels sorry for them.

The Bloods, to give Droylsden their great nickname, scored twice with short range shots from low crosses and then ended the contest with another similar effort immediately after the re-start. Albion improved but it was far too little, too late. The visitors extended the lead at the end and should’ve made it five when a forward missed a sitter. Had it not been for several fine saves from the Albion goalie the margin of victory would’ve been much greater.

“I'll come to yours later,” said an Albion player to his girlfriend over the barrier at the final whistle. “Are you having tea at mine?” she asks. “Yes,” he replies. They kiss and he’s off to the changing room while I exit via the boundary of the cricket pitch.

Programme notes: Albion president Neville Wrigglesworth strikes a plaintive note and underlines the importance of the Cup to non-league sides when he writes: “My second major aim when taking over as chairman [in 1979] was to be at the helm when Ossett Albion reached the first round proper of the FA Cup. I remained chairman for a period just short of 30 years but never actually managed to fulfill that ambition though we have come agonisingly close of a few occasions.” Ah, well. Maybe next time, Neville …

Beard of the day: No sign of Father Christmas this time but there were still some fine in vogue Edwardian whiskers in evidence courtesy of Albion’s Ben Grech-Brooksbank.

Match of the day:
Not often you get minnows versus Cup legends in the first qualifying round but that was the case today when the wonderfully named Ellistown & Ibstock United (from Leicestershire and today playing at Coalville Town) took on Hereford United. The hosts, who play at step 5, were formed through a merger a year ago while the visitors were demoted from the Conference last season for debt reasons and now compete in the Southern League. Ellistown & Ibstock came from two goals behind to win 3-2 with Hereford missing an injury time penalty. Lancaster (aka The Dolly Blues) are on fire. They won 5-0 at West Allotment Celtic today having beaten Washington 7-0 away in the previous round. A mention in dispatches too to Maidstone United who pasted Littlehampton 10-0. Best sounding fixture of the round: London Tigers v. Brightlingsea Regent.

Recommended viewing: Couple of websites with some very arty pics of football grounds for you to enjoy. Firstly, a selection of floodlit grounds, mainly non-league and in the south, photographed from outside and, secondly, some pics of the old Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh. To finish here’s a gratuitous pic of Georgie Best turning out for Cork Celtic in 1975.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Knaresborough Town 0 West Allotment Celtic 1

FA Cup, preliminary round
Attendance: 268

Every cloud has a silver lining. The cloud in question was the bloody big one that hung over North Wales yesterday and today and which caused my family and I to return home in the morning rather than evening of a holiday. The silver lining was the opportunity this afforded to watch Knaresborough host an FA Cup tie for the first ever time.

Manse Lane is the nearest ground in the non-league pyramid to where I live. By my own admission I’ve been somewhat tardy in getting down there to catch up with the greatest period in the club’s 100 year plus history (although I did see them in the Northern Counties East League Cup final at Valley Parade in May.) I missed Knaresborough’s first ever match in the pyramid two years ago as well as the friendly against Leeds which marked the switch-on of the new floodlights.
These were among several ground upgrades that enabled the club to join NCEL (at step 6). Others included the addition of two very basic, small stands and a turnstile block. The ground is very smart and well cared for throughout even though it has absolutely nothing to remark about.

The visitors were from a village near Newcastle. Despite their name – one of the greatest in the game – and green and white hoops, they have few if any links to Celtic groups and there are apparently no allotments in West Allotment either. Bit disappointing, really. Following an appearance at Pickering in the previous round, Father Christmas featured among the small band of travelling supporters. I last saw this one aka Salty at Norton & Stockton Ancients four years ago. The attendance was the largest ever at Knaresborough for a competitive fixture.

Celtic took the lead from the penalty spot, reflecting an opening period of superiority. They were awarded a second spot kick when a Knaresborough player deliberately pushed the ball away from the goal as he tumbled following a collision. He was sent off and I thought there was no chance of the goalie – somewhat dodgy to that point – pulling off a save. Of course, he did. Reduced to 10 men galvanised Town and they were a match for Celtic for the remainder of the game but rarely threatened the visitor’s goal.

A tense, passionate encounter came to a head in the last quarter. Firstly, the veteran, hard-as-nails Celtic centre-half (see Star Turns, below) gashed his head in a clash and left the field with a bandage à la Terry Butcher. (A word here for the Celtic physio who sported a black fleece and faded blue and pink track suit bottoms that she may wear in bed. You could almost have mistaken her for one of the young mums you see pushing their bairns around the perimeter during non-league matches.) Then the sides were evened up when a Celtic defender was sent off for headbutting following  an earlier booking. The ref waited patiently as the player walked along the pitch rather than beside it to the dressing room in the far corner.

In the final minutes of Fergie-time the towering Knaresborough goalie (he can hold onto the cross bar with his feet on the ground) came up for a free kick and two corners. From the second of them Knaresborough scored but the goalie had previously pushed a Celtic defender so it was disallowed. Argh! Previously so dominant, Celtic were reduced to playing keep-ball beside a Knaresborough corner flag. Celtic had a strong penalty appeal turned down sparking an outburst of invective towards the officials before time finally ran out for the gallant hosts. Gripping finale.

The final whistle didn’t blow until 4.59pm but I still reached the car in time for Sports Report and was home 10 mins later. (I was on the radio with my report too today. See below). There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local and non-league.

Star turns: Playing for Celtic was Marc Dummett, brother of Paul who was sub for Newcastle today against Crystal Palace. The veteran Celtic player referred to above was Paul Stoneman, 41, who played for Halifax and Blackpool. Knaresborough’s star, Seb Carole, ex-Leeds and Monaco and pictured below, was injured. The only Carole in action today was his lad playing in the kids game behind one of the goals.

Reversal of fortunes: In the last round I saw Washington hit six in at Pickering without reply. All change in this round: Washington lost 0-7 at home to Lancaster who are coached by Darren Peacock (ex-QPR).

Welsh grounds:  There was a Welsh groundhop over the Bank Holiday weekend. The outstanding pic above shows Blaenau Ffestiniog’s ground and appears on the highly recommended Onion Bag blog. My footballing serendipity on holiday continued in North Wales last week. I happened by Menai Bridge Tigers v. Aberffraw (7-3) in the Gwynedd League. Tightly enclosed on two sides by woods, one side by flats and another by a library and changing rooms, the pitch had the vague feel of a ground to it. Have a look - and enjoy the seagulls ...

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