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.


John said...

Nice review as always (particularly the bit about the coach putting his ciggy out), but surprised you didn't mention W Auckland's cup pedigree - didn't they win the World Cup twice? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Auckland_Town_F.C.

Paul Kirkwood said...

Oh, yes. Know all about that. Have read the book and seen the film [literally] and even sought to view the [replica] cup. I'd previously mentioned their World Cup pedigree in a post from Sept 2010 which includes a link to the history. The team bus parked outside Harrogate had the West Auckland name and, below it, "1st World Cup winners". As non-league claims to fame go it takes some topping.