Saturday, 20 August 2011

Barnoldswick Town 0 Ramsbottom Utd 2

FA Cup extra preliminary round
Attendance: 177

As I’ve noted before, selecting a tie in the ultra-early rounds of the Cup is like picking a winner for the Grand National: just go for a funny name. There were some splendid ones to chose from this time including Greenwood Meadows, Thurnby Nirvana, Wolverhampton Casuals, Dunkirk, Bustleholme, Continental Star, Bugbrooke St Michaels and Bemerton Heath Harlequins.

No tie was more quintessentially northern-sounding than this one, though. The match had a certain symmetry for me in that my final match of last season involved Barnoldswick. The lads began the season (only their third in the non-league pyramid) at a gallop with three wins out of four and, particularly adding to the attraction, this was their first ever match in the FA Cup. Barlick, as the town’s known locally, were absolute beginners in the outer space of the competition.

Some 671 non-league clubs enter the Cup in the qualifying rounds and there are only 32 places available for them in the first round proper. The slender prospect of significant progress didn’t put off the supporters. A healthy 177 turned out for the occasion. I’m not a fan of sponsored stadia names but the Silentnight Stadium is a cracker. What a gift for journalists when it’s a boring game. (Silentnight are have been based in Barnoldswick since acquiring a mill-powered mattress factory in the 50s). It was, indeed, a pretty silent afternoon, the calls of the players much louder than the murmer of the crowd except for the spasmodic and bizarre bawl of “Sew-er!” from the clubhouse steps. Why?

Fittingly, the ground includes some old barn cues. You half expect to see a cow through a window at the end of the main stand and behind one goal is what looks like a pair of barn conversions. The view from the clubhouse end includes a rugby pitch on the top of a bank to the right (see pic, above) and a cricket scoring tower peeping over the left touchline.
These features together with the concentric rings of freshly mown grass on the football pitch really sums up how August marks the blurring of the sporting seasons. Victory Park, as the whole complex is called, is a most convivial spot for an afternoon’s sport, whether playing or spectating.

Kids on scooters and mum’s with bairns in pushchairs dawdled around the pitch. The set-up was so casual that my son, Bertie, and I were able to leave the ground at half-time for the playground and return without having so much to ask the gateman. He wasn’t there! It only cost £4 to get in – and under 16s were free.

Barnoldswick’s debut didn’t go well. They were second best from the start. They nearly went behind when the goalie dropped a ball on the line but the lino waved play on. Ramsbottom predictably took the lead on 18 mins when a free kick was pushed by the goalie onto the bar then bundled into the net. I caught it all in a mini-movie, as below. The tie was effectively ended shortly before half-time when Robinson of Rammy burst through from midfield and beat the keeper in a one-on-one.

A bright first-half gave way to heavy rain throughout the second. “Surve watterin' bass-kits,” mused the old fella behind me in an accent reminiscent of Fred Dibnah – or perhaps Geoff Boycott. It’s hard to tell in this hinterland between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The club crest bears both the white and red roses. Barnoldswick improved but it was too little, too late. The main action was the sending off of their sub, Smith, after just six minutes on the pitch for an over-the-top tackle. It all ended in tears, as my Dad would’ve said. How beat does this lad look as he leaves the pitch? The X-Factor’s back on the telly tonight and the Cup is up and running once more. Autumn is on its way.

Programme notes: Michael Saunders of Rammy is a “pocket exocet” while Phil Dean is “five foot next to nothing but has pace to burn”. Best name? Barry Shuttleworth who has “more clubs than Jack Nicklaus”.

Make a day of it: Get to Barnoldswick early and do the excellent Stream and Steam Heritage Trail then cycle for three miles south along the canal towpath to The Wharf at Foulridge for a spot of lunch. That’s what we did.

Tale of woe: Spare a thought for poor old Brodsworth Welfare. I saw them in April at the end of what was to be a winless season. Last month, in their centenary year, their clubhouse was arsoned, Featherstone Rovers declined to ground share and, as a result, Broddy has dropped out of the non-league pyramid. How sad: the local yobs see their club as more fun to torch than play for.

Close season appearance: The company I work for is carrying out extensive flood alleviation works in Banbury. My tour of the scheme included the new concrete walls we’ve built to protect Banbury United FC from the River Cherwell. Never mind the 3km bund upstream, treading the turf was the undoubted highlight for me.