Saturday, 15 September 2007

Chester-le-Street Town 1 Harrogate Railway Athletic 1

Attendance: 100
FA Cup, First Qualifying Round

I wasn't the only Reading fan travelling up the A1 in Co Durham this afternoon. I didn't turn right to Sunderland, though, but left to Moor Park, home of Chester-le-Street Town.

Had it not been for the website directions referring to how the ground was behind a pub I'd still be searching for it now. It was actually behind the pub and hidden by some allotments down a stoney track. This is a long way from Wembley Way in more ways than one. A sign beside the pay hut said "Keep dogs off the pitch" which seemed a little churlish. Surely, a dog on the pitch makes a match.

Surrounded by trees, the ground is decrepit. A wall behind one side is made from sheets of corrugated iron roughly attached to a home-made metal frame and the one stand rusts. A shelter behind one of the goals looks like it came from a railway platform and has weeds growing out of the roof and, above it, is a derelict Portacabin. Executive boxes of the future, perhaps. (Perhaps not).

The PA crackles into life (all that's missing is a
"one, two" test) and then The Eye of the Tiger comes out of the speaker as the teams trot out. No tittering now, please. The Cestrians are sporting blue and white hoops! Did Reading turn left too, I wonder. Things become all the more confusing as I watch some of the match listening to the commentary from the Stadium of Light from the radio in the burger van. My loyalties are divided: should I support the hoops or the team from just down the road from where I live?

The match starts dramatically with a converted penalty for Railway in the second minute. No-one knows what it's for but the ref tells us afterwards (you get that sort of personal service at these games) that it was for shirt-pulling. Then, five mins later, Chester burst through to equalise. We're now starting to wonder if we're in for a repeat of the 19-goal FA Cup Second Qualifying Round tie between the two sides from 2002. The first match ended 5-5 and, in the replay, Railway came from two goals down to win 7-2 and so unknowingly pave the way to the fabled Bristol City tie four rounds later. I was one of the hoards of fair weather supporters at that match so it felt like I was really earning my spurs this time by watching Rail at such an early stage of the Cup and away to boot.

Chester has little Cup pedigree. The programme describes the club's success in the competition as "limited" and, in the absence of victories to report, includes in its round-up of "memorable" matches a "draw at Ossett Albion on a beautiful summer's afternoon in 1987" and "5-0 trouncing at Gretna in 1988". Whatever happened to them, eh?

Surprisingly, there were no further goals in today's match but it remained a tight, keenly fought encounter and a draw was the right result. So we'll do it all again on Tuesday at our place. (I can talk like that now that I've been howay with the lads).

Programme notes: The programme includes a full six pages of pen pictures of Chester players. Andy Armstrong is a "no nonsense defender who takes no prisoners" (a dirty bastard, then) and Shaun Sager is "blessed with two good feet and an abundance of tricks" (in other words often trips over the ball and irritates the hell out of his team-mates). As for Rail, Chris Howarth is "as fit as a butcher's dog ... and a real pain in the backside for any defence to cope with" while Lyle Hillier "knows where the goal is". Always a useful skill for a footballer, that.

Celebrity footnote: Chester-le-Street is the hometown of the king of the comb-over, HRH Ralph Coates.


John said...

Great article - particularly the "personal service" you got from the ref. I doubt you could be any further literally or figuratively from the new Wembley. Loved the pics too - the one of the team sheet is priceless and the 150 looks optimisitic if you ask me. Keep 'em coming.


Groundhoppa said...

Great article. Watch it with the remarks about Chesta's cup pedigree though! We (I'm from Chester-le-Street) may never have amounted to much in the FA Cup but we once got to the fifth (count 'em) round of the FA Vase. AND - this one is actually proper impressive - in 2004 our youth team got to the last 32 of the FA Youth Cup. That's the proper one, the one that Arsenal and Manchester United enter. We lost 2-0 to a West Ham side containing, among others, Chris Cohen, after holding them 0-0 through the first half. Respect!

p.s. great blog - check out mine if you fancy reading some more wittering about groundhopping...