Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Leek Town 1 Hinckley United 2 (aet)

FA Cup, third qualifying round replay
Attendance: 488
Leek isn’t the most obvious destination for a night out but for an FA Cupaholic in the Midlands on business on Cup replay day it was the only place to be. I was actually working near Hinckley so this was nearly an ‘howay the lads’ trip. The route wasn’t exactly aflutter with orange and white scarves, though, as I plied my way across the endless dark expanses of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. By the time I reached the turnstiles I was starting to question my sanity. My attendance at this tie was borne out of expedience rather than simple desire.

Harrison Park is a very substantial ground for this level with cover on all three sides plus large grandstand with paddock. The Conference-type set-up a hark back to Leek’s glory days in the nineties when they enjoyed two seasons at the top level, were runners-up in the FA Trophy and twice progressed to the proper rounds of the FA Cup. Today, languishing in the first division south of the Northern Premier League, two steps lower than Hinckley, Leek is a sleeping giant. But, attracting the division’s second highest average league gate of 371, you feel that the club could easily follow in the footsteps of Chorley, another ex-Conference side with a rowdy, resilient hardcore of youthful support you often get for one-horse town teams. I never know whether to admire these lads or take pity. The crowd was practically all male under 21s and old men and the majority of the few women I spotted were over 60 and had car rugs over their knees.

Most of the key action took place in the first quarter of the match. Leek started very positively and took the lead with a header off the post by Matty (footballers aren’t called Matthew) Haddrell. The “hurly burly striker” as the local paper call him then ran behind the goal stroking the outstretched hands of the fans (see lead pic). Love a bit of showmanship. Leek then nearly doubled the lead with a similar effort (video here). Within a minute of the re-start Hinckley had broken away at the other end and equalised through Gray. Thomas of Leek was then sent-off for lunging foul and, after that, the Lockmen – as Leek are called account of the town’s most famous resident, canal builder James Brindley – were always going to struggle much like the similarly reduced Welsh rugger side on Saturday.

I had the obligatoy leak in Leek at half-time (the bogs are of the breeze block, unroofed variety) really, really, really hoping that we weren’t heading for extra-time and penalties, mindful of my two-hour journey home. I haven’t wanted a 90-minute conclusion so much since the Harrogate/Torquay replay (goalless and Harrogate lost on penalties) when I had to be up at six the next day to catch a flight.

The rest of the contest was pretty much one-way traffic in favour of Hinckley and, but for some poor finishing, they would have put the tie out of sight. Leek had their moments – hitting the post again, for instance (video here) – but they were few and far between. Right at the start of, yes, extra-time a cross from the right was flicked in at the near post by Byrne. I was half-wanting Leek to draw level but equally wanting to put an end to what was an increasingly cold night. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees since the previous round. As it was The Knitters retained their lead and go through to face Darlo in the final qualifying round.

I left the ground to the sounds of “the referee’s a wanker”. And so to the Silk Road (the one named just that in Macclesfield), around Manchester and over the Pennines at midnight. “Was it worth it?” the missus asked, as I stumbled down to breakfast. In truth – and in the absence of an upset – probably not but a night tie at a new venue was a novel experience.

Programme notes: Devon Gibson of Leek “appeared in the final of the Australian reality television series Football Superstar”. Umm, err. I take it he didn’t win. In the dubious crudentials stakes Devon rivals Tunji Moses of Hyde (see previous post).

Photography note: I inevitably struggled with the photography tonight and pinched the Matty and sending off pics from the local paper. No such problems for a  photographer at a recent Histon match who took this cracking, atmospheric shot.

Those were days, part 203: I’ve been enjoying Sounds of the Century on Radio 2. It’s a skilful blend of archive recordings and pop from each year. Here’s a great clip of two Liverpool commentaries from 1977. In an instant you will be reminded of how tremendously exciting the FA Cup final used to be and the irreplaceable thrill of a cracky football commentary on the radio (even when the commentator misidentifies the scorer). Back then a British team in Europe was genuinely that and we were all behind it.

Liverpool commentaries 1977 (mp3)


Positively MAD Mark said...

Thanks again Paul, I so enjoy reading your blog.

As a follower of Northampton Town, a small club in the lower reaches, I am always nostalgic about football as it should be.

Keep up the great work.

Paul Kirkwood said...


Thanks for the compliment. Glad someone is reading my labour of love! And trust you've seen the post of Rochdale v. Northampton from last year.


the groundhog said...

Hi Paul,
I too was at the Leek game. Spoilt by the sending off. As soon as it happened I resigned myself to a slow Leek death and it inevitably panned out that way.
I watch Leek a lot, being only 6 miles away. First time I went to Leek Town was in 1997, their first season in the 'top flight'. They were playing just relegated Hereford. Away fans (about 300) were segregated in the long terrace. The crowd was around 1,400 and the atmosphere was superb behind the goal. Leek town the lead twice but Hereford equalised right on the whistle. Second time I went to Leek I was delayed leaving the Dyers Arms up the road, turned up about 90 seconds late by which time I'd missed 2 goals - it was 1-1 at 3.01!
Good write up.