Saturday, 27 October 2007

Harrogate Railway Athletic 2 Harrogate Town 1

FA Cup, Fourth Qualifying Round
Attendance: 1,286

This was a home fixture in more ways than one. Home for me since I only live nine miles away, home for Town since their ground is a a mile away and most definitely home for Railway who hosted the occasion. In fact, it was all a bit too homely. The local paper tried to bull up the match as "The Battle of Harrogate" but it was more like a cordial meeting of two old friends at the famous Betty's Tea Rooms down the road. I've seen greater passion displayed by a Betty's diner complaining about the late arrival of a Fat Rascal. The fact was that most supporters of whichever team was to lose were going to be back to cheer on their vanquishers in the First Round proper in the event of a home draw. We're like that in Harrogate. This wasn't City v. United.

A few things had changed from my last visit to Station View. The ground has a couple of flags, a tiny new stand (easily mistaken for a large dugout, see pic above) and a "media centre" (that will be the cabin with the phone, then). Town have changed too. Their shirts now have names on their backs. "That Danwood is all over the place", said my nephew before we realised than Danwood was the sponsor. The Town fans also have a new identity, TITS, which stands for Town Independent Travelling Supporters. Ha, ha, ha. Standing in shredded Yellow Pages (handy tickertape substitute when your team ordinarily plays in yellow and black), they hung their banner over the advertising hoardings. At Premiership grounds these days the hoardings are electronic; at Station View some need another lick of paint just to make them visible.

The match started with Town hitting the bar and Railway narrowly heading over. Railway took the lead against the run of play with a header from a corner. Soon after Town replied with a goal from a free kick (see above). They had bossed the game (to use pundit speak) but had also played cultured football to the point of being arrogant and profligate, taking pot shots when they should have worked the ball closer to the target.

Just as we all thought it was back to our place (or was it 'their 'place?) for a replay a Town defender shinned in an own goal from a cross. The 10-men of Railway (someone had been sent off) were in front with minutes to go. Deep into injury time Town equalised only for it to be disallowed. And so it was that Railway knocked out the team 53 sides above them and became the lowest ranked side still in the competition.

The Railway lads clenched their fists and shook hands with the younger fans from the opened windows of their Portacabin changing room (not a scene you're likely to see at Old Trafford two rounds hence). Their delight will have been tempered by the draw made minutes later. Railway are at home ... to Droylesden. Should they and we cheer or not? It was a feeling that had persisted throughout the afternoon.

Men of the match: My nephews and ertswhile FA Cup Trail companions, Toby and Duncan Stirke. They came back from the game from the university in Aberystywyth and Oxford respectively. Commendable insanity, I call it. It was like old times: we were all together for the Bristol City match at Railway five years ago.

Two mentions in dispatches: Firstly, to the red nosed, holdall-carrying and Railway-baseball-cap-wearing old boy who I recognised from the Railway tie at Chester-le-Street in the First Qualifying. It wasn't difficult: there were only 1oo of us there. Secondly, to the lino who I recognised from the Dinnington tie in the previous round. I really felt among old friends at this one.

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