Northern Counties East League, Premier Division
Boy, I’d be waiting a long time for this one. My last proper football match was nine weeks ago at Spennymoor. Amidst a quagmire of postponements I got tickets for Berwick v. Rangers but was unable to use them and also saw the unblogworthy Man U v. Reading (see below). So bring on Brighouse, home of The Floral Dance, for this tasty top of the table clash against Scarborough Athletic.
League leaders Scarborough had won nine of their last 10 league matches (and hadn’t lost since October) while second placed Brighouse had won 10 out of the last 11. Only the champions are promoted to the Northern Premier League subject to ground grading. Match of the day in the Northern Counties East League? More like match of the season.
The Seadogs’ progress since their formation from the ashes of the town’s League club in 2007 has been slow. They’ve now been stuck in the NCEL for six seasons. (AFC Liverpool, formed a year later, have similarly stalled in the North West Counties League.) Scarborough still have no shortage of support, though, as I discovered on my previous visit to see them – at Pontefract in 2008 – and today their fans swelled the attendance to exactly 10 times Brighouse’s average.
Parking at the ground was like arriving at an agricultural show. I paid admission through the car window and was stewarded into a row on a large field beside the pitch. At Old Trafford last month my son, Bertie, and I had to neck our bottle of water at the turnstiles as fluids were not permitted inside and were then frisked by phalanx of orange jackets. No such security at Brighouse, thankfully: we simply stepped up from car park to pitchside – with our bottle.The pedestrian entrance was a sort of sentry box with turnstiles either side like you get in urinals at stations with a bar stool positioned alongside. I liked the PA set-up too: a hi-fi stack inside the clubhouse connected to a pair of speakers on the roof via cables trailing from the window. The rest of the modest ground consists of basic scaffolded cover along one side, one Portacabin as a clubhouse, one as the sponsors lounge and distant changing rooms accessed not by a tunnel but a railed run. That’s it – but, heh, we were here for the occasion more than anything else.
During the first half the sides pretty much cancelled each other out. I had the feeling that this was going to an anti-climactic goalless affair. At half-time we edged our way down the front row of the stand against the flow of Seadogs fans changing ends and careful not to send the flasks flying, jolt the elbow of the elderly pork pie eaters or tread on trailing edges of rugs. The spattering rain was getting heavier and the whole occasion becoming a bit grim if I’m going to be honest. Empty chairs and tables on a patch of astroturf outside the sponsors’ lounge looked forlorn.
The second half perked us up, though. Scarborough continued to shade it in terms of possession and finally broke the deadlock on 62 mins. Victory was secured with a second goal on 78 mins. Both sides played some good football throughout. The away fans were in full voice in the final minutes and greeted the final whistle with backslapping, air punching and a minor pitch invasion usually reserved for the promotion clincher – but that’s only two matches away now.
“Save them creosoting it before next season!” said another fan, like us widdling onto the perimeter fence before getting into the car. Fifteen minutes of queuing later (not a regular occurrence at Brighouse, I suspect) followed by a push through the mud and a cheery “all the best” from a couple of stewards and we were on our way.
Still to come … the final match at Consett’s ground, a play-off perhaps and, to finish, a visit to Richmond Town on a sunny day for the magnificent castle backdrop. I’m more than happy for this season to run into extra-time.
Star turn: A genuine one, this time. Spotted holding court in the clubhouse before kick-off … Mr Dean ‘Hull City’ Windass, a keen advocate of non-league football.
Name of the season: The novelty of his name will have been commented on often before but let’s hear it one more time for Rudy Funk, Romanian manager of Scarborough. Other names that have caught my eye lately are Jesus who plays for Harrogate Railway (surname: Samuel Martin-Farija) and Igor Djalmo Sequeira Van Dunen who signed for Garforth Town from Angolan side Atlético Sport Aviação in February. Try saying that lot after a few pints …
More than a match: Few clubs have been harder hit by postponements and match rearrangements than Guernsey. In the 37 days between March 30 and the end of the season on May 5 the Green Lions will play 20 times including three Fri/Sat/Sun runs of home games.
FA Cup footnote: David Lacey writes in today’s Guardian: “The semi-finals are not what they were. Those nerve-racked, tensed-up occasions when players barely dared put one foot in front of the other for fear of making a mistake that would cost their team the place at Wembley which every footballer treasured have become just another set of cup-ties hidden awkwardly among the TV schedules”. Indeed. Ian Payne on Five Live initially referred to Man City v. Wigan as “the second of the finals”. Easy to get disorientated in the latter stages of the competition.