I love the qualifying and early rounds of the FA Cup. I don't support a club; I support a competition. If you're disillusioned with the Premiership and all that then this is the place to come to rediscover what I call real football. OK, so the standard of play is inferior but that's to miss the point. The attraction of these little games is the atmosphere, the people, the sense of occasion and community, and the feeling that you're really part of it. Following the early rounds of the Cup is like tracing the source of a great river. It's extraordinary to think that what begins with a trickle in grounds not much more notable than public parks can end in the torrent of the FA Cup Final at Wembley. By that stage, of course, the millionnaires and TV moguls have long since entered the fray - and taken my ball away. I leave them to it.
One final thing. I seldom describe the actual match in detail; you'll find better reports elsewhere. This blog is all about the spectating experience, the 'what it was like to be there' of the occasion.
An ad from Football League Review 1970-71 which sums up what we've lost - and what we've gained. Click on pic for full size version
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Ilkeston Town 1 Eastwood Town 1
FA Cup third qualifying round
Ilkeston and Eastwood do things together. The towns are just five miles apart, separated by a railway line, the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border and the Erewash river and canal. They were both promoted from the Northern Premier League to Conference North last season and today found themselves up against one another in the cup. The Erewash derby, I suppose they call it.
The first – and only – thing you notice on entering the New Manor Ground is the new stand in the corner. It's immaculate: the finest piece of modern, non-league stadium architecture I've encountered. A short elevated, single-tiered stand leads to a double-faced clock tower, the clocks mounted on the sides of a sort of Checkpoint Charlie-type tower with open viewing area. On its tidy little roof is a weather vane with the silhouette of a 50s footballer and the initials ITFC above the NSEW. A lovely touch.
The match kicked off at noon kick-off to avoid a repeat of the crowd trouble at last Easter’s promotion clash but the early start didn't catch Ilkeston napping. They created – but missed – five good chances in the first 20 mins. Ricketts of Ilkeston was then sent off for raising an arm and dissent and, as we were all kind of expecting, Eastwood then took the lead with their first shot on goal from Ndwike. The match entered the doldrums until Robinson of Eastwood was sent off with 20 mins remaining for scything down Ilkeston's man-of-the-match, Morgan-Smith, as he was turning his way and that in the box. The penalty was duly converted (see clip below) and Ilkeston nearly took the lead with a shot minutes later.
At last the home crowd burst into life. This match didn't have the "electric" atmosphere predicted by Eastwood’s manager and the gate was half the size of the Easter match. The mood was almost cordial in a way that reminded me of the Harrogate derby three years ago. "You're not singing any more," sang Eastwood's Badger Boys when their team took the lead but the Robins fans hadn't even started at that point. Disappointingly, the Badgers didn’t boing either as they had done so gleefully in that vintage cup clash with Wycombe last season.
Full marks, though, to one Ilkeston fan who turned out with a fantastic home-made sort of FA Cup teddy. In fact, his upholstered trophy looked more like a floppy sausage with long loopy handles, a nipple at the top and a sort of tumour coming out of its bottom. I love the idea of this guy ritualistically dusting off his cup every September then putting it away for another season – or perhaps tucking it up in bed – as the evenings draw in. That’s what the FA Cup is really all about. A draw is never a satisfactory outcome for a cup-tie (and this was my first in 13 ties) but a further outing for the sausage was well warranted. The mothballs can wait until Tuesday at least.
Faces in the crowd: At half-time I spotted Ilkeston-born actor Robert 'Wolfie Smith' Lindsay. He posed for pics as he made his way over to the kiosk for chips. Ilkeston's coach is ex-Tottenham and Reading midfielder Darren Caskey. The third notable was actually a look-a-like: Eastwood's unused sub, Dion Chambers, has an afro that is surpassed only by Everton's Fellaini. Cushion-headers come naturally to this fella.