Saturday, 5 January 2013

Middlesbrough 4 Hastings United 1

FA Cup, third round
Attendance: 12,579

 The opening bars of “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” played as I reached for the door out of the Harrogate Town clubhouse. Indeed. What a choke. I’d just watched on TV as my local lads were knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties at Hastings. Still, my love of the Cup and the prospect of seeing the only minnows left in the competition at Middlesbrough over-rode regional allegiances so I kept calm and carried on to The Riverside.

I arrived early to check out the site of Ayresome Park, demolished in 1997 and now a Wimpey housing estate with streets called The Midfield and The Turnstile. Down the latter – in the front garden of no. 18 to be exact (as above) – is a wonderfully quirky mini-monument to the old ground in the form of a metal football permanently fixed into the turf to mark the former penalty spot. Nothing else is there: just the ball. Love it. Nearby is a wall which was once the perimeter of the home Holgate end. A plaque explains the history.

The old main gates now take pride of place in front of the (admirably unsponsored) Riverside stadium where they look far grander than they ever did originally (see great archive pic here). The original plan was for the ground to be part of a redevelopment filling in the gap between the town centre and docks. Since my last visit some shiny new office blocks have sprung up but the stadium remains isolated. The view looking north is a bizarre mix of shapes and structures: Middlesbrough College (seemingly clad in tin foil), the splendid transporter bridge, the old dock clock tower and a modern artwork looking like of a condom made from netting with opening at both ends (not awfully useful). From the away end you can sometimes see the tops of ships moored in the dock and the west stand you can just see the chimneys of the recently reopened Redcar steelworks. I like a stadium that gives a real sense of place – even when you’re inside it.

The crowd was predictably modest – you could just about make out the MFC initials in the seats of the east stand – but only slightly down on Boro’s home league average. That said the admission had been more than halved and Hastings brought 1,068 fans with them (just two over a mystical 1066 coincidence), all housed in two and a half blocks of the upper tier of the otherwise empty away end (see below). Just seven years ago Boro attracted a crowd of 26,255 for the visit of non-leaguers Nuneaton Borough which underlines how attitudes have changed towards the Cup. Lower league teams often favour being drawn away at a big club but this tie never crackled like that second round replay at Hastings – and I base that judgement from the telly.

In contrast I was privileged to watch this match from the press box. To my right was a chap from Sky Sports and, on my left, a reporter who must have been from a Hastings media judging from first line of his notes written before a ball was kicked: “The Hastings fans are leaving the ground disappointed but far from distraught.” Bit pessimistic that.

We were practically the only reporters not feverishly tapping away on laptops. The only apple I had was the one I ate at half-time; I made my notes with a pencil on the back of the team sheet. My media may be low tech and small but at least I own it! The bloke in front, tweeting for Sporting Intelligence, spent more time checking facts on Wiki and getting score updates from the BBC than watching the action. In fact, you could practically file a match report without being there these days. Also nearby were Louise Taylor of The Guardian and a chap commentating into a microphone attached to a gadget no bigger than a large matchbox. 
Boro played their strongest team – which wasn’t that strong as 14 regulars were injured including skipper Jonathan Woodgate, now 32, who I stargawped as he arrived at the club. The kick-off was preceded by yet another cry by the announcer about “the battle of Hastings” … zzz … zzz. Heard that somewhere before … It was one-way traffic in Boro’s favour right from the off. They got a penalty on 20 mins only for it to be saved by Hastings’s debutant on loan goalie.  The hosts took the lead three minutes later, though, with a shot into the top corner by the wonderfully named Zemmama. The Arrows (another good monicker) didn’t get out of their own half until a corner on 35-minutes and enjoyed their only purple patch for the rest of the half.

Straight from the re-start the contest was over when Halliday of Boro tapped in a corner and Zemmama confirmed their passage into the fourth round with a third, wickedly deflected goal on 66 minutes. Hastings replied immediately with the goal of game when man of the match Goldberg (above) curled the ball with his instep into the top right corner from 30 yards. A spectacular consolation and golden moment. Miller made is 4-1.

At the final whistle there was the the sadly inevitable and inevitably sad Hastings curtain call beneath their fans. As the final player walked off two supporters stood above the tunnel, their scarves proudly held aloft. It was always going to end in tears. An upset was never on the cards but the visitors put up a good fight and left with their heads held high. That Hastings hack had it about right all along.

Vital statistics: The two clubs are separated by 131 places, the second greatest disparity in an FA Cup tie this century (after Chasetown/Cardiff). A round trip from Hastings to Middlesbrough measures 618 miles. Prior to this season Hastings lost all five previous FA Cup ties and today’s match was their ninth in this season’s competition.

Programme notes: Full marks to the editor for finding a player who’d turned out for both of today’s teams. Jamie Cade made a single sub appearance in the League Cup for Boro in 2002 and played 23 times for Hastings. The award for best hairdo of the season must go to Marvin Emnes who sports some fantastic dreadlocks (or are they extensions?) on the players’ sponsors page. Nice, neat little programme too: perfect bound and just 165mm square but bags of content.

Not such golden oldies: I went to the new National Football Museum in Manchester over Christmas. Bit disappointing: too many unold, unworthy artefacts. Scott Parker’s boots c 2005 should be put in the recycling not a display cabinet and a bottle of David Beckham aftershave is not part of football history. Exciting to see the 1966 World Cup ball, though, and there are lots of historic shirts. I loved this picture captioned: “Young child passed overhead to safety at Stamford Bridge 1947”.

1 comment:

Hostpph said...

In the first laptop, he is browsing facebook. Probably, it has something to do with the live commentaries.