Saturday, 12 April 2008

Pontefract Collieries 1 Scarborough Athletic 2

Northern Counties East League, First Division
Attendance: 270.

Pontefract Collieries are not having a good season. They are the lowest ranked club in non-league football in Yorkshire, have garnered a mere nine points and haven’t won in the League since the opening day. If ever the season needed a highlight this was it and the final home fixture against Scarborough Athletic – or the continental-sounding “Scarbourgh” as the programme insisted on called them – provided the opportunity.

As FC United of Manchester are to the likes of Wakefield and Leeds are to Cheltenham so are Athletic to Collieries: unsually celebrated visitors. Athletic were formed at the start of the season following the folding of Scarborough of Football League fame. The original club’s passing was a low-key affair, media-wise, at least. I recall that the Yorkshire Post ran a picture of a young lad supposedly playing his drum outside the chained gates for the last time. He looked far from distraught though; as if he was in the paper for finding a lost dog than illustrating the demise of a football club.

Stewards were on hand at Pontefract to wave me to a free parking place and when I tendered a £20 to the sole turnstile man he commented on “how they’re rich in Scarborough” before giving me £16 change. After that it seemed churlish not to buy a raffle ticket to add to that which served as match ticket. The turnstile man naturally assumed I was from the seaside since Collieries average home attendance is seldom more than double the number of players on the pitch and Scarborough usually bring 300 or so with them.

The ‘hospitality room’ looked anything but hospitable ­– more like a torture chamber, in fact (see pic). The heavy steel door spoke volumes of the security problems encountered by the Colls. Their ground has a history of theft, arson and vandalism. It can only be a matter of time before the seats in the main stand (which came from Maine Road) are lifted. To add to the problem, subsidence from a colliery causes one of the perimeter walls to lean outwards. The club’s roots are more obvious in other ways. There’s a spoil heap behind the main stand and, high above the opposite touchline, long, eeriely creaking freight trains pass by periodically. In the old days they would’ve transported coal to the power stations at Ferrybridge, the cooling towers of which you can see in the far distance behind one of the goals.

As for the game, Athletic scored two early goals and I expected a cricket score but it never happened. Colls got one goals back and could’ve levelled it had they taken two guilt-edged chances. Meanwhile, at the other end, their goalie made three great saves. Two sendings off, one for each side, added to a first class afternoon’s entertainment. Colls went down yet again – but they went down fighting. Still, at least they don’t have relegation to worry about. Scarborough, meanwhile, can look to Aldershot – after today just one point from a return to the League – as a role model.

Top hats: “Whitby are one down if anyone’s interested,” announced a Seadog to his mates. I wasn’t – but was interested in a score update from Reading (also 1-0 down - to Fulham) offered to me by a man with a radio who had spotted my Reading wooly hat. “What are you doing down here?”, he then asked. Difficult to sum up, really, without sounding like a complete nerd (I already looked like one). I thought I had the most unlikely headgear in the ground until I saw the Colls coach sporting a Miami Dolphins pom-pom hat. Macho and unmacho at the same time.
For video clip plus three large pics click here.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Wakefield FC 3 FC United of Manchester 2

Unibond League Division One North
Attendance: 1,378

In retrospect, the origins of FC United of Manchester look a bit peculiar. The club was founded three years ago by supporters in protest over Malcolm Glazer’s acquisition of Man United and all that would entail. In fact, it turned out not to entail very much, outwardly at least. For Man U it was a case of more big business as usual and the supporters of FC, I imagine, soon became united not by a hatred of Glazer but a new-found love of the beautiful non-league game as summed up in four words by one of the banners.

While FC have downsized Wakefield – surely the biggest city (population: 76,000) in England without a club in the top seven divisions – are desperately trying to go in the other direction. The programme decried the poor support and recalled the FA Cup tie between Emley (which Wakefield took over) and West Ham 10 years ago in the manner of the MK Dons getting misty-eyed over Cup final victories over Liverpool.
Ludicrously for such a small match (relatively speaking) parking was a nightmare largely on account of the ground being near the Pinderfields hospital. FC fans are no doubt used to this from the old days and are now probably getting used to changing ends when the ref signals which side is kicking in which direction. But they certainly can’t be used to heaving themselves over the fence to get into the ground like some did – to the amusing strains of “We can see you sneaking in.” Someone commented on how “they would’ve been paying £50 at Chelsea a few years ago”. The official admission was a mere £7.50 and a bloke who’s garden overlooked the ground was charging £3 with presumably extra for a place leaning on his wheely bins.

In a hailstorm many of us transferred to terraces covered by a plastic tarpaulin and scaffolding to join five fellas in big headphones (see pic), one of whom was commentating on the match for the FC website with a stack of hardware beside him on the terraces. “What are you lot doing in here?” he said, on air. “Get back in the rain!”

FC (strange abbreviation, that – just “Football Club” – but then it’s a strange name) had most possession and opportunities but Wakefield took their chances to win the game. FC faltered – much like, after two successive promotions, they are faltering in the Unibond First Division. When I first earmarked this fixture I expected that it would come at a time when they were just passing through the division but now any promotion will be via the play-offs.

The closing stages had the feel of a cup-tie about them as FC pumped up the pressure seeking to make it 2-2. When Wakefield took a 3-1 lead no doubt the home fans could’ve sung “We can see you sneaking out!” but there were hardly any of them. In fact, I only realised that there were any home fans at all when I spotted a group of about 30 jigging up and down between the main stand and the row of Portaloos to celebrate that third goal. FC came back to 2-3 in the about the fourth minute of injury time. “Have you got Fergie’s watch, ref?” called a fan. Then the whistle blew. It was a sheepish victory.

On the way back to the car I passed a metal figure depicting The Jolly Pinder, a beefeater-like chap who in the olden days rounded up loose cattle and later joined Robin Hood’s merry men, the plaque explained. Now there’s a gift of a mascot for Wakefield, if ever there was one. But it’s FC that merited – and could’ve done with – a mascot today.

Programme note: Pen pictures often raise a chuckle and this description of FC’s David Chadwick had me laughing out loud: “Upon signing Chadwick, manager Karl Marginson said he was the sort of player who would put his head through a brick wall if you asked him to. Although he’s not had to prove that boast so far the club captain has certainly lived up to his reputation and is a true leader on the pitch.”

For video highlights of the second half (containing all but one of the goals) see here. The site also has highlights of the first half if you're really keen. Note the barn noises from the main stand and the crackly PA sound like something from a country show. Finally, click here for larger versions of the best two pics from above.