Saturday, 26 September 2009

North Ferriby Utd 0 FC United of Manchester 1

FA Cup second qualifying round
Attendance: 838
Talk about Groundhog day. Another Cup tie, another beautifully sunny day (so much for the last round marking the end of summer) and another trip to the East Riding. I was again close to water too: not the sea but the River Humber. The Humber Bridge looms behind one of the goals at North Ferriby United’s trim little ground near Hull. Surprising, then, that the structure doesn't feature in the club's nickname. They are known simply as the Villagers but, as I came to realise, the monicker couldn't be more fitting.

You approach the ground down a lane beside allotments which extend right up to back of the terraces. There's a gap in the terrace wall, today manned by a security guard, presumably to provide a short-cut to retrieve the ball. Great looking pumpkins, by the way. An arable field lies immediately behind one of the corner flags and a church steeple pokes above the main stand. The players emerge from beneath a lean to which gives the stand a cricket pavilion appearance. "The pitch could be the village green," my nephew and occasional FA Cup companion Toby observed. The ground isn't in a particularly scenic or remarkable location but somehow the ambience of its immediate environment creeps over the stands and onto the pitch especially on a sunny day. North Ferriby began life in the East Riding Church League in the 1930s and, in spirit, it's as if they never left.

Into this idyll come the boisterous hoards from the big city. Four coach loads of away supporters is unusual to see at this level of football as was the large police presence. The FC fans outnumbered the home fans by about 5 to 1. I like the way they bring a sense of occasion to every match they play especially a cup-tie like this and I'm sympathetic to their ethos. "Our club, our rules" was the slogan on t-shirts while the banner attached to the scaffolded FC radio commentary gantry on the main stand read "New Order". Sadly no sign of the "Dad and Lad Together" banner from the Wakefield game, though. Classic, that one.

North Ferriby start at a heck of a pace, nearly scoring in the fourth minute and having a goal disallowed shortly afterwards. FC have plenty of chances too. The match disintegrates as half-time nears and, to be honest, becomes a pretty scrappy encounter. FC dominates in the second-half and scores what turns out to be the winner when a cross from the left is bundled in at the near-post. A messy goal that reflects the match. North Ferriby's cup campaign goes up in smoke rather like the bonfires on the allotments behind the goal they defend as swallows swoop and a plane lazily burs by.

At the final whistle the FC fans and players roundly applaud each other in a corner of the pitch. In itself this is hardly a momentous victory but – and despite FC’s poor league form – you do get the feeling that they are marching inexorably towards the first round proper for the first time in their short history.

Toby and I returned to the car via the Humber footpath, the evening sun at its most golden. Three lads were having a barbecue on the shore and pointed out a seal.

Common grounds: Stuart Pearson, Man United star of the 70s, opened the main stand at North Ferriby in 1985. He originally played for Hull who use the ground for reserve matches. Phil Brown lives in the village. He can keep an eye on the new lads and have a pint at his local all in the same evening.

Programme notes: This (right) is Nick Swirad of FCUM. Now if his nickname isn't Babyface it should be. The lad’s practically embryonic.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Bridlington Town 0 Whitby Town 1

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 370
Guaranteed fine weather, the kids to entertain and the FA Cup qualifiers. There was only one thing for it. Bursting with anticipation we slung our cozzies in the car, put on "Here comes the Sun" (what an uplifting song that is) and headed for the great Yorkshire coast ding-dong derby between Bridlington Town and Whitby Town. An hour and a half later the kids were playing in the sand and I was in a deckchair reading the latest edition of Groundtastic. Bliss.

We continued to bask in the glorious 72-degree sunshine for the main event at the Queensgate Stadium. A seagull called as it dipped over a crossbar and, as the teams trotted out, the tinny tannoy played that really kitsch version of the Match of the Day theme tune. Boy, it felt so good to be back on the FA Cup trail. My season starts here ...
Brid is a relatively sizeable regional centre so should really have a football club in a division higher than Step 5. As it happens it's remarkable in a way that Brid has a club at all. In 1993, under the ownership of new moneybags chairman Ken Richardson, they won the FA Vase and had lofty ambitions. A year later Richardson had disbanded the team and the club folded. It returned in the form of a pub side using the stadium and quickly climbed up the rankings only to plummet back down again with two recent consecutive relegations and another exodus of players along the way. Ironic, then, that they are now landlords to similarly afflicted, reformed and resurgent Scarborough Athletic.
The ground is very well appointed for this level. The main stand – a positive legacy of the Richardson era – includes a players' balcony, tidy little announcer's box, sections for the visiting directors and, most remarkably, a hospitality suite. Even more remarkably it was in use. Now that's how to really impress a client. As I passed at half-time I could see through the glass eight blokes, heads bowed presumably in silence, as they troughed pie and mushy peas that looked suspiciously like the fare served up at the snack bar. For the really keen the hospitality possibly extends to a caravan sited behind one of the goals. I daresay the sponsors,, have something to do with it. The ground's most distinguishing features, though, are a short section of cover which looks like a an old railway platform canopy and, looming behind it, a giant gas tank.
Brid have vocal fans too. "Seaside mafia, I said a seaside mafia", was one of their chants. 'Seaside' and 'mafia' somehow don't seem to go together and, with both clubs nicknamed the Seasiders, the chant seemed less menacing still. "Super, super Brid; super, super Brid; super, super Brid; super Bridlington Town" didn't really work either. Sorry, lads. My favourite remark from the crowd followed confusion between the lino and the bench about a substitute's shirt number. "Come on, referee," one fella shouted. "This is a football match, not a fashion show!"

It was a lively, tight game, full of chances. Brid had the edge over their near neighbours two divisions higher up and should've gone in at the interval a goal or two up. The second half followed a similar pattern. The stuffing was knocked out of the home side, though, when on 73 mins Gildea of Whitby burst through a square defence to beat the goalie in a one-on-one. With that Brid went out of the Cup - and we went back to the harbour for an ice cream and a quick go on the dodgems before driving back towards the setting sun. We never really said hello to the summer this year but the kids and I made a fine job of saying goodbye.

Star turn: The Whitby no 8 was Tony Hackworth. His claim to fame is that he came on as a sub for Leeds in a Champions League group match against Barcelona in the Nou Camp in 2000, the first of just three appearances. He was also implicated but acquitted in the infamous Lee Bowyer punch-up outside a nightclub in Leeds. A career defined by two periods of less than 20 mins.