Saturday, 25 September 2010

Norton & Stockton Ancients 2 Leigh Genesis 1

FA Cup, Second Qualifying Round
Attendance: 127

Sometimes deciding which cup tie to go to is a bit like choosing a winner for the Grand National. Just pick a good name or two - which is partly how I came to head for this encounter. In addition, the Ancients were already further than they’d ever gone in the Cup. They rarely make it through the preliminary rounds. In fact, these are heady days all round for the lads. They achieved their first promotion from the Northern League second division two seasons ago and, last season, made the quarter-final of the FA Vase.

For a man permanently infected by cup fever, though, Norton (on Teesside) felt like entering a quarantine zone. There was certainly no throng guiding me to the ground. First I turned into the cricket club and then into a car park which had signs for tennis, squash and bowls. “Is this the right place for the Ancients?” I asked a fella. “Dunno,” he said. “Come here for the rugby”. Then, 50 yards away, I spotted a small sign for the football club. For reference, head towards the garden shed (the entrance) below the tree. Parking was free and admission for the two kids and I (who contributed 2½% of the crowd) plus a programme cost a tenner. You’d barely get a couple of rounds of prawn sandwiches for that in the foreign millionnaire’s league.

The ground is diddy to say the least. It consists simply of one small grandstand and one equally trim, modern shelter around an immaculate pitch. The toilets are outside the gate while the new clubhouse - which currently  looks like a modern art installation - is under construction. Houses surround the pitch and one even has a garden with arched gate that leads to the pitchside. A season ticket comes with the property, in effect. Bedrooms could easily double-up as boxes if the need arises in later rounds. I soon spotted some familiar faces from the previous round: Father Christmas among the spectators and a lino.

I hadn’t been to such a small venue since Knaresborough Town and hadn’t encountered such a muted cup mood since Newcastle Benfield. When the players trotted out I clapped but stopped after three claps feeling a bit embarrassed as I was the only one applauding. The atmosphere reminded me of playing than watching – and playing was what a group of boys was doing behind the dug-outs. Always a nice feature of the early rounds, that. Next to them was a microphone and ISDN kit of the BBC Radio Tees reporter plugged into a transmitter attached to a floodlight as far as I could tell.

There was little for him to report Рor to take our minds off the hat and gloves weather Рin the first half-hour but as half-time approached it all flared up. The Ancients were awarded a penalty but it was saved. Moments afterwards there was a mass brawl. I think it was all handbags (love that football clich̩) but it resulted in the dismissal of a player from each side.
Leigh – who play one level higher than Norton – looked the more solid team but the Ancients gradually grew in confidence and had most chances even if they kept fluffing them. Finally, on 67 mins, they went ahead with a thumping header by Bishop from a corner. Two mins later Leigh struck back when Gleave burst through and the keeper deflected but couldn’t keep out his shot. The home side was crest-fallen but, to their credit kept at it, and were rewarded four mins from time when a cross from the right was headed in by Clarke. He stripped his shirt off but thankfully and sensibly didn’t get booked.

That was about the only exuberance of the afternoon. At the final whistle the crowd clapped for literally five seconds (I participated, gingerly) and swiftly cleared off. Perhaps they’re saving themselves for the next round: FC United of Manchester at home. I arrived a round too early.

Pre-match entertainment: I highly recommend Hardwick Park near Sedgefield. It’s a recently restored Georgian pleasure park with lots of follies. We loved it.

Sing when you’re winning: If the Ancients need a chant in a later round then what better than the refrain from Justified and Ancient by The KLF? “Alll-llll bound for Wember-ley, Wember-ley”?

Programme notes: Leigh’s no 4 was Kieran Molyneux. With a name like that shouldn’t he have been playing in the gold and black (of the Ancients). Some good pen pictures of the Ancients. David Alderson: “By his own admission is the thickest man at the club”. Richard Gaston: “Cuts his own hair to save money”. Nathan Mulligan: “Has a great engine and is a set piece expert”.

West Auckland postscript: Auckland proudly announced that they were to travel to today’s tie at Workington “in style” … on the Darlington team coach. To rekindle the spirit of their world cup wins a hundred years ago perhaps they should’ve gone in a charabanc. Sadly, they lost 2-1. Mossley are still hanging on in there, though.

For some match action click here.


Ollers said...

Another good report Paul; this makes me long for some 'northern' games. I think I've been down south too long now. I also know what you mean about how you choose a tie to go to. I'm tempted by Chipsted v Needham Market tonight in the FA Cup, only because Needham have had a good Vase record in recent years & I've always wanted to see them...flawed logic, I know...

Michael said...

Looks like you went a round too early. Hopefully, the locals will bring their voices along when they play FC.

Pliny Harris said...

Good to see Santa made the short trip from Finland to the north-east again.

They had the same pen pics last year when the Shaymen came to visit. Very funny, but a bit recycled now.

Paul Kirkwood said...

I'm at the Shay for the next round - among the Harrogate Town lads. Watch this space!

el Queso Grande said...

The guy you describe as Father Christmas is a regular at Northern League matches, his name is Ian Stephenson but is better known as "Salty" following his career at sea. He is gunning for you! I think he was secretly chuffed at being mentioned, though.

Paul Kirkwood said...

I'm always a bit wary of snapping people in the crowd. Bit intrusive, I know. But I hope Salty takes it the right way!