Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Tadcaster Albion 2 Hemsworth Miners Welfare 1

Northern Counties East League Division One
Attendance: 452

Tadcaster Albion is about as unfamiliar with promotion as Rochdale. Taddy have been the the lower of the two divisions of the Northern Counties East League since its formation in 1983. They last went up – from Yorkshire Division 2 to 1 in 1977 – and haven’t won anything of note since their formation in 1892 as the football team of the John Smith’s brewery. What better way to round off the season, then, than a trip to watch potential history in the making? A win tonight would see them not only promoted but also as champions. Anything less and it’s yet more of the same.

Taddy – aka The Brewers – are managed by Paul Marshall (PM, top pic) and with the backing of business coaching guru Rob Northfield. The pair was behind Harrogate Railway’s first great FA Cup run in 2002. I once hailed a taxi from York station to find PM behind the wheel. I was pathetically beside myself with excitement and felt like pretending I lived further away to prolong the conversation. I knew his brother when we both worked at Nestle Rowntree (he was a security man) and my nephew’s friend once played in goal for Taddy. If you get the impression this is a villagey level of football you’d be about right. Tadcaster (population 7,000) play in the sixth of the seven levels of the non-league pyramid. Two rungs lower and you’re in the park. PM remarked in the local paper that his skipper had been “immense on and off the field even going home and washing the kit after the games”.

Hemsworth is a town betwixt Barnsley and Pontefract and had something to play for in that win would secure a top six finish and a place on the starting grid for next season’s FA Cup.

The atmosphere inside the stadium before kick-off was, to say the least, muted. Middle-aged blokes murmured over their pints. “Thought I’d see you here” and “Me? Regular, mate!” They were nearly drowned out by the birdsong at dusk. The only clues that a big match was imminent were the fact that programmes were sold out long before kick-off (a familiar scenario at these big little matches) and the sight of an old man in a blazer and tie nursing a black bin-liner in which, one assumed, was the championship trophy.

The smoke from the barbecue rose to half the height of the chimneys of the brewery that looms over the main stand. The opposite touchline is backed by a perimeter fence which is actually a flood prevention wall. Waterlogging from the Wharfe has been been frequent.

The sprightly lady referee (Jane Simms, warming up to run the line at next week's FA Women’s Cup final) led the teams out. PM flicked on the floodlights, pulled the dressing room door to and we were off. Well, Hemsworth were certainly off. They scored a goal after 90 secs when Liddle lobbed the keeper on the break. “That’ll liven things up a bit,” the lino turned to say to us. The away side saw another shot curl over the bar and one of their strikers missed a half-volley from yards out. Taddy were living dangerously and – despite having the lion’s share of possession – not creating many chances.

The second half picked up where the first left-off. Taddy’s fortunes were fading as the sky turned inky blue and dew descended creating a pitchside smell like inside a marquee at an agricultural show. The squib was getting damp in more ways than one. Taddy had scored in every league game this season and tonight wasn’t a good time for a first duck. Then, on 65 mins, a Taddy cross from the left was headed in at the far post by Pitts. At the other end Hemsworth had a shot cleared off the line and then, with five minutes on the clock came salvation. The Hemsworth keeper flapped at a long range shot and sub Brathwaite hacked in the dropped ball. PM swung for joy on the dug-out and then said “I’ve got some defending to do” before sprinting off to behind the Taddy goal from where he watched the remainder of the contest alone leaning on the rail. Technical areas? Pah: you can’t stop a manager from mingling with the crowd even when one isn’t there.

After an endless four minutes of injury time it was all over. There wasn’t so much a pitch invasion as a few lads taking a leisurely short-cut to the bar. I took my place alongside the press photographer to get some snaps. I was so close to the action I could smell – and, if I’d opened my mouth ¬– taste the champagne. Sport doesn’t get much more inclusive than this. After some slightly sheepish “champee-oh-neh!” jigging (let’s face it – they haven’t had much practice) Taddy filed up to an occasional table placed on the turf to collect their medals and the trophy. (I was right about the bin bag man). No stage, no sponsors logos, no fireworks, no deafening “We are the Champions”. This is as far away as you can get from the foreign millionnaire’s league and that’s the way I like it. Completely Corinthian.

Thereafter players, friends and fans mingled on the pitch creating an atmosphere like a wedding reception. The whole evening was so cordial. The party was just beginning but for me – as I set off on the 20-minute drive home along dark country lanes – it felt like the party was over. Until next season, at least.

Wot? No Gary Mac? Last month Taddy announced that they’d “signed” Gary McAllister to make a possible star turn at the end of the season. PM had met him in the bar after a veterans game. “I’ve signed Gary Mac for a pint of John Smith’s and a bottle of Lucozade!” he quipped. Nothing came of it. “Since the stuff went in the paper he hasn't answered his phone to me,” said PM last week. Oh, well. We didn’t need a star in the end. From beer to Lucozade to champagne in the space of a month.

Pen pictures: The Qs & As with the Taddy players on their website are LOL funny. Pitts’s “favourite place visited” is his girlfriend’s knickers and Farthing’s favourite newspaper is “the one that keeps the fish and chips warm”. Also check out Elliker’s answers to the “most embarrassing” and “dislikes” questions ...

Click here for the BBC report on the match complete with interview with PM conducted by Barry Parker, Radio York football correspondent, whom I spotted sneaking in at half-time without paying and wearing a huge rucksack as if he'd just come off the hills.


Kev Child said...

Really enjoyed your post on Taddy, it must have been a fantastic night, I am a Scarborough Athletic fan and was really chuffed that they got their promotion. All the best-Kev.

Michael Husen said...

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