FA Cup, Third Qualifying Round
As I entered the ground I wondered if I'd entered a timewarp too and and was heading backwards on my FA Cup trail. Just a round after being among a bumper crowd at the splendid Stalybridge Celtic stadium I had arrived at diddy Dinnington Town in South Yorkshire. They're from the lowest division that affords entry to the competition and it showed. The modern ground was more of just a pitch enclosed by a concrete fence with three small corrugated iron sheds as stands. The only thing that made me think of Celtic were the green and white hoops of the opposition.
If, by some miracle Dinnington (let's call them The Dinners) were to win two more matches and reach the first round proper to play Leeds at home then the match would have to be switched. It's a miracle, in fact, that they were at the third qualifying round given their lowly status. Their FA Cup journey started a day before everyone else - at a Friday evening kick-off in the Extra Preliminary Round against Maltby Main. It was broadcast live on Sky partly because of the local rivalry but also, I presume, because it was the Dinners' first ever FA Cup tie. Now this was the biggest game in their short history.
Avenue, in contrast, have a rich heritage, their shorts proudly proclaiming their centenary. They were a League side until 1970 and peaked in the Cup with a quarter-final replay against Birmingham in 1946, reaching the later rounds many times in subsequent years. Current day riches stretch to a pair of liveried minibuses with "Mark 'em tighter!" on the side and "Ahhhh!" on the back.
Avenue are only two divisions higher than Dinnington but it seemed like much more. They soon exerted their superiority. "England are three up," said the girl next to me to her friend. "Same as here". With 10 mins until half-time I was starting to wish I was at home watching the international and the photographer from the Dinnington Times was already editing his pics on the laptop (see below).
The Dinners team half-time team talk didn't work. Straight from the kick-off the nippy Avenue No 7 curled in a corker to make it 0-5. Worse was to come when a second Dinner was sent off in a baffling Graham Poll-ian card trick. The home side got a deserved consolation before Avenue concluded with a seventh. "Bradford Park Sevenue!" was the headline in the Non League Paper.
So: 7-1. Not bad for an afternoon's entertainment, you might think. But, given the totally unremarkable ground, only the magic 10 or, better still, a single goal victory for the underdogs would've made this a vintage FA Cup experience.
One for the boys: What makes a moderately attractive young woman want to spend an afternoon jigging up and down, pony-tail swinging this way and that, in front of a bunch of wolf-whistling reprobates in a former mining village on a drizzly Saturday afternoon? A lino was a lady.
Programme note: The Avenue goalie "has been at Huddersfield". Probably just passed through there on the train.