Saturday, 1 December 2012

Harrogate Town 1 Hastings United 1

FA Cup, second round
Attendance: 2,986
Second round proper? Well, yes, but on paper this tie had much more of a whiff of the second qualifying round about it and was played in bitterly cold weather more associated with the third round proper. Extraordinary that two of the lowest ranked sides left in the competition should be paired at this advanced stage. Harrogate couldn’t have imagined they’d be such hot favourites in a second round tie and what an absolute stinker of a draw for poor old Hastings made even worse when the kick-off was brought forward to 1pm since the floodlights were inadequate for the ITV cameras. Three coaches set off from the Sussex coast at 5am.

The PA announcer did his best to whip the home fans into a frenzy. (Never an easy task). The remix of The Boys are Back in Town with clips from a Radio York commentary on a Town 6-1 victory only served to deafen everyone courtesy of an overloud tinny tannoy. The announcer then read out the team changes as though he was intoning Shakespeare. The speech – for it was that rather than announcement – ended with a well rehearsed “so bring on the battle of Hastings!” in the style of “Cry ‘God for Harry, England and St George!’” but elicited no more than a few quiet groans. The visiting fans must be so tired of that line – like Tamworth supporters are no doubt bored of the “slaughter of The Lambs” headlines every time they lose.

The kick off was bizarrely delayed for a minute or so while an old boy in flat cap whom I assumed to be a member of the groundstaff spread some sand from a wheelbarrow onto a particularly muddy patch of the pitch. “Typical George”, said someone beside me. “Anything to get on the telly”.  As George walked past the away dugout I half expected him to clock one of the Hastings subs with the unwieldy rusty rake resting on his shoulder. The pitch was, indeed, a pudding – no better than some of the park pitches I played on – ­­but the club had done well to get the match played at all. The feat had made possible partly by pitch covers which, rolled up behind the touchline, looked like cleared snow.

As keen as George for some TV exposure were three Hastings fans dressed as Santa and some lads who spectated standing on a tractor while waving a silver foiled, cardboard cut out of the Cup suspended on the end of a cane. The vehicle was parked just along from the catering which, being Harrogate, came in the form of vans dispensing hot roast sandwiches and posh coffee which could’ve migrated from the Great Yorkshire Show ground just over the road. Even though this was the second round there was no sensibly no segregation and neither was there a jobsworth to object to the folding step stool I’d bought for my son to stand on. (Indispensible for small boys at football matches, incidentally. Available on eBay at £10 incl. delivery.)

A house overlooks the ground in one corner but, surprisingly, its net curtains remained untwitched throughout the game robbing ITV of a gift of an opening sequence. (You know: tight in shot of spectators in the window to start with then panning back to take in the full stadium). The commentator squinted into the sun from within a scaffolded gantry perched on top of the stand. The plywood structure was so rudimentary I wandered if it had been adapted from a Blue Peter design involving a shoebox with a hole cut out of the lid. (Great potential ‘Spot the Ball’ below).

Harrogate started brightly and should’ve put the tie to bed in the opening quarter. As it was, they allowed Hastings into the game. Harrogate, nevertheless, took a timely lead just five minutes before the break with a close-range header (see pic at the top). The second half was another nervy, error strewn, disjointed affair with very little quality football from either side. Hastings deservedly levelled the tie on the hour when a shot hit the post and bounced back for an easy follow-up. Soon after an even easier strike – literally a tap into an open net from a few yards out – was not converted to everyone’s astonishment. Miss of the season. At the other end Harrogate had a similary near thing when Chilaka’s header struck the post.

Towards the end of the game I started to have that England feeling (most recently felt against Italy in the Euros) of almost not wanting your side to win because they’re playing so poorly and don’t deserve to. In the end it was desperately, crushingly anti-climactic in all respects – except for the Hastings lads, of course.
Four of the six FA Cup ties I’ve seen this season have gone to replays, the original home side eventually going out. Despite Harrogate’s woeful performance I still fancy them to stumble into another round probably on penalties. (It’s that England psyche again). If they don’t then the homecoming fixture against Hinckley on Dec 15 for which 2,700 free tickets have already gone will be as flat as a pancake. Moreover, the players will rue defeat forever. Opportunities as good as this only come along once in a non-league lifetime. I shall follow the winners to Middlesbrough.

Star turn: Local resident Gareth Southgate walked past us. Last saw him in the M&S café in town. He has to be a shoe-in as a pundit if Harrogate play Middlesbrough in the next round.

Home-knit of the season: This gent brazenly sported a fine woolly hat in the green and red livery of Harrogate Railway. No surprise to see a flask in his pocket.

On the telly: No shortage of puns for the Met Police’s first round tie. But my favourite commentary line of the round was the observation on ITV4 that Braintree’s goalie once cleaned the boots of Ravenelli while an apprentice at Middlesbrough. “Not fit to lace his boots” perhaps but good at wiping them. My nomination for goal of the second round is a arcing scorcher by James Beattie (remember him?) for Accrington.

Pic of the season: A match to mark the 140th anniversary of the first FA Cup final was staged between the original opponents, Royal Engineers and Wanderers, at the original venue, The Oval last month. Above is a truly stunning pic by Stuart Tree. Click here for a report and here for a piece on the original final. I should also credit Paul Thomas and Harrogate News with some of the pics for this post (including the great lead shot).

Into the big league: Up for the Cup is reaching far and wide. Following the inclusion of pic of a Great Dane in the Guiseley post my blog has been mentioned at and I privately bemoan the lack of profile my jottings get but now, heh!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Guiseley 2 Barrow 2

Attendance: 1,605
FA Cup, first round

On paper this tie wasn’t very exciting:  a Conference North side against a Conference National side. But there wasn’t much else that tickled my fancy, Guiseley (near Bradford) is only 19 miles from home, I hadn’t been there for 10 years and they were seeking to reach the second round for the first time in six attempts.

Moments within stepping inside Nethermoor I was glad I’d come. Fully 20 mins before kick-off and the ground was busy and buzzing with Cup tie atmosphere while low shafts of golden autumn sunshine spread across the pitch.

The ground’s Northern Premier League roots were showing, I’m pleased to say. The sponsors lounge is Portakabins (the closest thing to executive boxes is a step for their exclusive use outside the said cabins), the lone TV camera was perched on scaffolding and, yes, there was even a hound in the ground!
I felt as revved up as Meatloaf and Cher singing “Deadringer for Love” on the PA. The announcer, by the way, blew into the microphone in a “testing, testing” sort of way everytime before he spoke, another nice non-league touch. The tidy set-up reminded me a bit of Alfreton.

The biggest change to the ground since my previous visit on one of my first FA Cup trails is that the historic wooden stand which was arsoned four years ago has been replaced by two steel constructions. Opposite them and with much more character is an ancient-looking shed (below) and, beside it, a tower (with Union Jack) which houses scorers at the adjacent cricket ground. Two plods kept watch on the cricket side of the fence but their only duty was to collect the ball.

Guiseley have had their fare share of big matches in the last decade including an FA Trophy quarter-final against Luton, two FA Cup first round appearances, and a Conference North semi final and final. Barrow, a League club until 1972, have enjoyed the spotlight in FA Cup ties at Middlesbrough and Sunderland and won the FA Trophy two years ago. Still hungry for success, both sides were clearly very keen to make their mark in this season’s Cup.

The home side started strongly opening up a two-goal lead within 35 mins. The visitors aka The Ziggers (the fine nickname derives from a 60s terrace chant of "Zigger-zagger, zigger-zagger. Oi, Oi, Oi!") quickly came into the game, though, and their superior fitness and sharpness gave them a dangerous edge.

Guiseley had a golden one-on-one opportunity to extend a three goal lead but the chance went begging. It was one of those classic “they’re going to rue that” moments and so it proved. Barrow got a goal back with a snappy shot from the edge of the box just before half-time and equalised straight after the re-start. After that it was pretty much level pegging, Guiseley perhaps coming closer to winning with a header against the upright and shot cleared off the line. Cracking, crackling cup-tie.

“At least we’re in the hat,” one Guiseley fan muttered to another as we shuffled out. Indeed – but, like Crook five rounds ago, I fancy that a replay in Barrow will be their undoing.

 Fashion notes: Tintin-quiffed Louis Almond (or Armstrong, as the announcer called him) sported orange boots to go – or not go, as the case may be – with his yellow socks and sky blue shirt and shorts.

Demise of the minnows: One of the results of the introduction of direct promotion between Conference and Football League in 1987 is that there could be only five clubs out of the 40 in the second round that have never played in the Football League. Only one of them is lower than the Conference North/South. Out and out minnows are in increasingly short supply which makes those post-Christmas rounds of the Vase all the more enticing.

The late late show: Harrogate staggered into the first round on Wednesday like those runners who complete the London marathon a week after the finish line’s been taken down. Picking up the story after we left off, the replay against Hyde was twice postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. (The new drainage system installed over the summer has yet to bed down apparently). Anyway, in desperation off they all went to Harrogate Railway the following night, Hallowe’en. Kick-off was delayed 15 mins because Hyde got stuck in traffic. “Dismal game in dismal conditions” reported their Twitter feed as the rain poured down. It was goalless after normal time but, against the odds, Town blasted in the winner with four mins to go of extra-time. So the gallant but predictably paltry attendance of 247 was spared more drip torture. And what happened next? They won at Torquay today, the greatest win in club history. Harrogate would still have been on the way home when the goals were shown on ITV at 11.40pm.

The beauty of hoops: Don’t shirts especially hooped look better without sponsors’ logos? The thought occurred to me viewing this pic of Celtic at Barcelona. Talking of Scottish hoops congratulations to the red and white banded and splendidly named Bonnyrigg Rose who drew against Brechin in the Scottish Cup today. And finally on the subject of hoops how about this superb action pic from Reading v. Huddersfield in 1975? I couldn’t do what the goalie’s doing even if I was lying on the lounge carpet.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Hyde FC 1 Harrogate Town 1

FA Cup, fourth qualifying round
Attendance: 395

There’s nothing like a little local interest to spice up an FA Cup trail. Two years ago I found myself swept along (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration) by the York Cup bandwagon for three rounds. Show me a team from North Yorkshire I’ll happily wave a scarf for them which is how I came to purchase some black and yellow neckwear and head over the Pennines for today’s visit by Harrogate Town to Hyde. Despite being a division lower than their hosts Harrogate went into the tie brimming with confidence after panning Conference North leaders, Brackley, 6-1 the previous Saturday. Hyde, bottom of the Conference National in their maiden season at that level, had other matters on their mind.
Two rounds on from West Auckland and just one from the big time and still the mood was distinctly low key as I arrived at Ewen Fields. In terms of excitement, this FA Cup trial is going in reverse. I got the impression that Hyde are rather like Harrogate: a club that struggles to drum up much support not helped by being in the shadow on much bigger clubs – although Man City and United are a considerably bigger and more local alternative attraction than Leeds. If Harrogate were to get promotion then I suspect their experience of the Conference National would be similar to Hyde’s in more ways than one.
The lowest home gate of the season and the second lowest of the round watched what looked and definitely sounded like a reserve match – which was fitting in a way since the ground is where Man City’s second string play. Logos for Etihad and ‘City in the Community’ adorn the roof of one stand. The City badge is even displayed proudly on one of the two sort of camel humps on the grandstand on which two floodlight pylons are mounted, a very striking feature in what is otherwise a plain, albeit it, very trim venue. A fancy pop-up in-turf sprinkler system, a City-funded investment one imagines, seems a little extravagent in Manchester but was, nevertheless, in action before kick-off. Refreshingly, the tea hut is still a shipping container.

Hyde took an early lead with a penalty (above) and thereafter the game entered a long stalemate. The sides have met at the same level on 16 occasions in the last decade and the evenness of the contest reflected that statistic. Chilaka had Harrogate’s only clear chance on the stroke of half-time. The second half was a similar story. As the game entered it’s final quarter the tie flickered into life and I took up my position among the few Harrogate fans behind the away dugout. They were predominantly docile, greying middle class blokes so I immediately felt at home. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed egging on an unfashionable, low profile club so much since watching Reading in the seventies and eighties. I felt like I was sympathetically siding with the kid without any friends. There’s a lot to be said for the allure of the under achiever especially when achievement appears on the horizon.

With 10 mins to go Allan of Harrogate was waved onside when he looked clearly offside but then just blasted the ball straight at the keeper. Oh, well, that’s “our” chance gone, I thought. But, no. In the penultimate minute Allan atoned by heading a deep Harrogate corner goalwards. Osbourne got a flick on which was deemed to have crossed the line. The thoroughly deserved equivaliser caused pandemonium on the away terraces. Well, OK, quite a lot of clapping. And the prize for the winner of the replay? A visit to Torquay, a potential repeat of Harrogate’s last first round appearance in 2005 which ended in defeat after a replay. “We” don’t really do unfinished business and it’s prohibitively far way for the fans. Crap draw.

Star turn: Hyde’s president (not present today, I hasten to add) is HRH Sir Geoff Hurst. Surprisingly, given his London accent and strong association with West Ham, he was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and lived in Denton as a youngster. His father played for Hyde during the Second World War.

Programme notes: Hyde’s great claim to infamy is being on the wrong end of the biggest thrashing in FA Cup history: 0-26, against Preston in 1887. (Hyde’s matchday radio station calls itself An account of the game includes this quote from the Preston Guardian. Describing the Hyde goalie, who is reputed to have saved 76 shots and been winded three times, the correspondent writes: “Had he been a less able man there is no telling what the score may have been. Times innumerable he stopped shots and was repeatedly cheered right lustily.” By jove! Talking of retro football, here is a great BBC clip about how the football spectating experience has changed. Loved the first 1:08.

Another blogger’s view: As I arrived I spotted a chap from, getting a close-up pic of the teamsheet.

Craigwatch: The football coach at my son’s school, Craig MacGillivray, whom I mentioned in the West Auckland post, played today and did himself proud.

Life at the top table: Great simile by Barney Ronay writing in The Guardian about St George’s Park: “As a cure for English football’s ingrained ills the Snazzadrome brings to mind a fat man deciding to lose weight by buying himself a really expensive tracksuit”. I also liked a Tweet from a 5 Live listener who asked if, among all its swanky facilities, the Park had a “manners and self-control suite”. The FA? I agree with Ashley Cole on that one.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Tadcaster Albion 0 Boston United 2

FA Cup, third qualifying round
Attendance: 368

Tadcaster’s first ever appearance in the third qualifying round; managed by Paul Marshall who bossed Harrogate Railway for its folkloric Cup tie against Bristol City 10 years ago; lowest ranked side still in the competition; drawn against Conference North big boys and Football League side until 2007, Boston United; and all taking place just 20 mins down the road. This tie is what’s known in footballing parlance as a little bit tasty.

Taddy came into today’s match on the back of a winning streak of seven matches. Their previous Cup victory against Northern Premier Leaguers, Skelmersdale, was followed by severe flooding of the pitch and clubhouse by the River Wharfe which runs beside the ground (see pic, above). The home supporters had their work cut out getting the ground ready for today. Remarkably, this tie was the fifth consecutive time they’ve been drawn at home in the Cup this season and the first of six home matches in October.

There can be no doubting the pertinence of their nickname: The Brewers. The town is dominated by three breweries viz Coors, Samuel  Smiths and John Smiths. The ground lies in the shadow of the latter; you can practically smell your way there. Entry is via a turnstile next to a garden shed. There is another redundant turnstile in one corner. Other than the few terraces in front of the clubhouse the only spectator accommodation is within the Ken Gilbertson stand (which seems too insignificant to be named after someone) and a somewhat rickety temporary affair next to it which included some taped off seats at the top constituting the press box. The sign on the stand said that it was mobile and you somehow expected a ropey motor to splutter into action to send the ironwork chugging and creeking around the pitch like a Heath Robinson steam engine-type contraption, puffing out smoke as it went. Distinctly home-made looking dugouts too.

The atmosphere was as hushed as the Harrogate replay on Tuesday and, indeed, as when I was last here for Taddy’s other biggest match of recent times, a promotion decider two years ago. After the kick-off the junior team who had been on the pitch found greater entertainment from a rope swing on a maple tree than watching the action. The reaction to an early Taddy chance was an “ooh!” in a sort of “ooh, well I never!” sort of way. The blind away fan would probably have struggled to track the ebb and flow of game and, for the sighted, the only thing that told us that we were in the advanced qualifying stages was the number of replica Boston shirts in the crowd.

With ... and without
The visitor’s manager was ex-Nottingham Forest player Jason Lee, best known for having the hairstyle that inspired the Baddiel & Skinner chant: “He’s got a pineapple on his head”. (The style has also been voted fourth worst footballer hairdo of all time). I was hoping for an airing of the ditty but there was no chance of that and, power dressed in a country-style green quilted jacket, smart slacks and a tie and equally formidable in stature, Jason didn’t look like he was in the mood for a solo and neither was I. A chant would’ve sounded pretty stupid anyway. The pineapple is, of course, long gone. Today, defiantly, Jason is bald. His assistant is Graham Hyde (tracksuited, below) who played in the FA and League Cup finals for Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

Boston started brightly but Taddy had three very good chances in the first quarter of the match. The sides went in goalless at the interval with everything to play for. Boston exerted their supremacy thereafter though. In fact, I can barely recall at Taddy shot on goal. Boston took the lead straight after the re-start when the Taddy keeper fumbled a cross and then secured victory when the keeper hauled down a Boston striker in a one-on-one and was lucky not to get sent-off. The penalty was duly converted. (Click here for that clip and two others). There will be no John Smiths special brew for the first round proper. In truth, there was never much fizz in this one from the start.

Programme notes: The chairman of Tadcaster writes: “There is no doubt in our 120 year history [being a community club] has got to be one of the greatest achievement, if not the greatest achievement. However, we must not forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants before us and we would not be here today if it wasn’t for the efforts of the people that are no longer with us.” Blimey. You can tell his fellow heads up an business specialising in “inspirational leadership”. He should be speech writing for the party conferences too. Listed among the merchandise at the club shop are Tadcaster Albion air fresheners at a pound a piece.
Fashion notes: Splendid, retro red and white hooped socks worn by The Pilgrims (great nickname too) from Boston. All a bit confusing sartorially, though: Boston usually play in yellow and black – which are also the home colours of Taddy. I had to double-check which team “we” were to start with. The Mayor of Tadcaster wore the mayoral chain over a beige duffle coat and sported a pair of green wellies.

Cup specialists: Yate Town have won all four of their FA Cup ties to make it through to the fourth qualifying round but lost all four games in the Southern Premier League first division.
Brownie’s postscript: I’m always careful how I describe some grounds, teams, etc on this blog for fear of getting a stream of abuse. Following my Harrogate/West Auckland post I received an email from a 'Brownie', the West sub who threatened to rip off the moustache off a dissenting Harrogate fan in an incident I’d described. “Embarrassed by it really but passion gets a hold of us sometimes,” he wrote. “Keep up the blogs and come to our ground. We aren’t scary and we will look after you.” Love it! (And, yes, West were scary. Thanks so much for not sending the boys round).
Circus comes to town: I’m enjoying following the fortunes of Rangers this season. Bet their fans are secretly having a whale of a time on their tour of small town Scotland too – in an FCUM sort of way. Think I may nip up to the border for the Berwick game in Feb. Great set of pics here (particularly the first eight and the hay wagon shot) from their Scottish Cup tie at Forres Mechanics of the Highland League last weekend, also pictured below.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Harrogate Town 5 West Auckland 1

FA Cup, second qualifying round replay
Attendance: 151
The last time I saw Harrogate in the Cup was a spineless performance at Halifax. Two years of under-performance later and manager Simon Weaver is still in post helped in no small measure by being the chairman’s son. On the final day of last season he avoided the ignomy of relegation to the Northern Premier League – and a week without pocket money, no doubt – with victory at Corby (in style, 5-0). Plans to go full-time were abandoned as the season unravelled but, to Harrogate’s credit, their other ambitions of levelling the pitch and building a hospitality suite were fulfilled over the summer.

Today’s postponed Cup replay had banana skin written all over it (excuse the mixed metaphor). The visitors from West Auckland were finalists in the Vase in May and currently lie fifth in the Northern League, three divisions lower than the hosts. Town (they tragically don’t have a nickname) really shouldn’t be messing about with a reply. They were two up in the first game then conceded two goals in the last 10 mins, one a dubious penalty.

I arrive at the ground stupidly early (they were never going to be queueing around the block for this one) and in pouring rain. The players are warming up. With every big kick a spray of water spirals off the ball and the windows of the hospitality suite (still essentially a pair of Portacabins) are completely steamed up. The only remotely exciting thing for me about the build-up is the profile in the programme of Harrogate’s new reserve goalie, Craig MacGillivray, who does sports lessons at my son’s primary school (see programme notes, below). I have to remind myself that I really wanted this replay having been unable to take in a tie in the original second qualifying round.

Ten minutes to go and the joint is still hardly jumping. On a night like this the warmth of the welcome extends no further than the eccentric elderly supporter (there’s always one) who goes around insisting on shaking everyone’s hands and saying: “May the best team win”. All I can hear is the traffic sploshing past outside and the occasional crackling announcement on the PA. As the teams trot out our host greets the players and supporters of Frickley Athletic which is side that awaits tonight’s winners. Similarly challenged, the Radio York reporter refers to West Auckland as “Tynesiders” with a knowledge of geography that I’d usually only attribute to southerners. Actually, I’m now quite relishing the grimness and low key-ness of it all. At least I won’t have far to go home. Any more rain and the game would’ve been off. Initially, the ball either zips around the sodden turf or gets stuck in pools within it. Splashing slide tackles are the order of the day.

The two towns are only about an hour apart but the contrast between them could barely be greater. One is a gritty, former mining community in Co Durham and the other is like a genteel district of west London transplanted in North Yorkshire. The benches differ similarly. The Town subs sit, arms folded, quietly in their dug-out, while the manager and his assistant call out the occasional instruction. The West bench is considerably more lively, expressing the sort of passion and very colourful language I first witnessed at an FA Cup tie at their place two years ago. Every time the team get a good chance they’re all out of their seats gesticulating and berating and remain rampant for most of the game.

Shortly before the break Town take the lead with a penalty (clip here) as dubious as the one which was awarded to West in the first match. The visitors are incandescent. “We work hard for 40 minutes and you give them that. Cheap as fuck!” spits their assistant manager,  having recently stubbed out his cigarette. One of the subs, wearing a wooly hat and hands permanently stuffed down the front of his shorts, then reacts to a cheat allegation from a home fan by threatening to rip his moustache off. Thankfully, my only interaction with the West lads is when one of them ask me how long there is to go. I love the way that you don’t need to wait for after match interviews at non-league matches. Stand between the benches and you get all the reaction – and in this case, plenty of it – in real time.

West level the tie on 65 mins with a free kick from just outside the box which hits the bar and bounces down just over the line, in the style of the Lamps goal against Germany. I’m glad the ref gives it on this occasion as we could’ve had a bench riot on our hands otherwise. The lippy fan remains hirsute.
The goal gives Town the impetus they had been lacking. The last quarter of the contest contains all the best football. The home side hit back immediately with a firm header from a cross and they soon extend the lead in with a similar goal. Game over – along with the Northern League’s involvement in this season’s competition. The fourth goal is a burst through the defence and slot in. The West bench is finally silenced. The fifth comes from Nigerian number nine, Chib Chilaka (fantastic action hero type name, incidentally), pictured above, who wriggles his way around the six-yard box before shooting home. Town could’ve had another couple before the end. (In my first three ties this season I’ve seen 18 goals.) To complete a miserable evening for West one of their lads is sent off for a reckless tackle. In their rumbustious mood on this surface that was practically inevitable. This time the culture club beats the crazy gang. Lots of sliding but no banana skins.
Programme notes: Young Craig, the rookie goalie says: “I am so focused on the game I barely hear the cheering and the things being said from behind the goal. When I was playing for Railway Academy when a small child got trapped upside down in my net he was screaming and it took two adults to get him down and I didn’t notice anything”.

Some footage: Difficult to take pics tonight because of the darkness but this clip gives a good end to end ground view and shows the bogginess of the pitch and a few juicy sliders. By the way, the white thing in the pic above is the moon not the ball.