Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ryton 0 FC Halifax Town 4

FA Cup, First Qualifying Round
Attendance: 384

The last time I saw Halifax play there was a man in the bottom legs of a pantomime horse passing around a bucket for donations. That was back in 1994 and the occasion was Halifax’s final game before folding – or so it appeared at the time. Last season Halifax did die – to be re-born as FC Halifax Town and plonked in the Unibond League First Division. I was there at the “death” and I was there today soon after the “birth” – at a cup-tie against Ryton (near Newcastle).

The first task was finding the entrance. There was just one – beside a shed named Danny’s Den and without so much as a turnstile. The first you thing you notice in the ground is a row of seven bus shelters forming a stand of sorts. It’s one of those idiosyncrasies that the FA Cup trail is all about. If you don’t understand why then groundhopping’s not for you. Above the two small stands on the far touchline the view extends to the other side the Tyne valley. Even though the ground was built just 10 years ago it has bags of character and a great rural setting. The two coaches that brought the away fans were parked – or rather stuffed down – a country lane.
The programme was a hoot. Parts of it read like sequences from Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns. Ryton replaced Prudoe & Wylam Co-op in the Northern Combination League; they progressed with a loan of £12 10s from the Ryton Social Club; and used to change on matchdays at Crookhill Labour Rooms or the Crookhill Store Room.

Four seasons ago Ryton weren’t even in the non-league pyramid and only six months ago Halifax competed in the Conference. You don’t get many minnows/giants clashes in the First Qualifying Round but this was one of them. Where Ryton can compete with Halifax is sponsorship. The Shayman’s plain yellow shirts were as notably bereft of sponsors as West Ham’s today. Two of the Ryton lads, meanwhile, are sponsored by a plasterer and Sleepy Dreams quality beds (because the player’s always caught napping a the back?)

The Shaymen brought a fair few fans with them. “My garden shed is bigger than this” they sung (to the tune of “When the saints go marching in”). In the second half they were singing so loudly they were told by a steward to quieten down as the players couldn’t concentrate.
They had plenty to cheer about. Halifax took the lead on the half-hour then got another before half-time (see pic, below). The third goal went in almost immediately after the re-start and it was game over. Ryton had their chances, though, and rallied well in the middle of the second half showing more passion that I expect King Kev’s ex-charges could muster a few miles down the road in that other Yorkshire/Tyneside derby of the day.
With a place in the next round secure Halifax made
a couple of veteran celebrity substitutions. First on came skipper Tony Barras, pictured right, (ex-York and Reading donkey) then assistant player-manager 17-club journeyman Nigel Jemson left, now 39 (who’s “fine cup pedigree” as Motty would describe it includes scoring the winner for Nottingham Forest in the 1990 League Cup Final). Today, he is blonde and tubby and, all in yellow, reminded me of Tomas Brolin playing away for Leeds.

Mention should also be made of the king of the international groundhoppers, Leo Hoenig, who I spotted in the crowd. This man has been to more grounds than I’ve had hot dinners.

So. A great ground, a rib-tickling programme, a couple of celebrity cameos and four goals into the bargain. My FA Cup trail is off to a fine – if belated – start.

Caption: No purchase required. (You can see this unofficial spectator in the shot of the goal).

Website of the moment: Check out this site for some outstanding pics of minor football grounds in Europe in their settings. Something to aspire to:


el Queso Grande said...

Great report! It describes the Northern League in a nutshell and that is exactly why I love the league and it's member clubs.

Anonymous said...

Great report - great blog!
Good to see someone who "get's it"