FA Cup, first round
A small cardboard box just outside the turnstile block containing aerosols and other items deemed to be potential weapons; a barcode reader rather than a craggy old man operating the turnstile; a sign saying ‘No alcohol beyond this point’; a loud PA system; and lots of yellow jackets. Welcome to the first round of the FA Cup and the big time, relatively speaking.
The three-year old Pro-Act stadium is smart and thoroughly fit for 21st century purpose but new grounds always make a died in the wool traditionalist like me think back to Staveley (which I past en route this afternoon) or Bacup. Feeling nostalgic I diverted to Saltergate, site of Chesterfield’s former ground. It’s now a near complete Barratt housing development. The name of the road is a nice touch, though: Spire Heights. (Chesterfield’s famous nickname is the Spireites. Geddit?) I also liked the name of the programme: Inspire. The atmosphere today was somewhat different to the last time I saw Chesterfield on that unforgettable pre-Christmas night in Droylsden five years ago which was no bad thing.
The appeal of today’s match was the visitors, Daventry Town from the fourth tier of the non-league pyramid. They are the lowest but one ranked club still in the competition (and one of three Southern League representatives) and this was the biggest game in their 127-year history having never previously made the first round proper. The size and noise of the away support befitted the occasion. There was more than six times the average home gate of around 122 and I was glad to ‘do a Motors’* and swell the numbers in the Purple Army by one.
For the first quarter Daventry seemed to be stumbling over themselves out of over-exuberance and nerves and barely got out of their own half. Then they settled down and - in what has to be called a purple patch - had two good chances when they broke through the Spireites’ back line.
The second half contained little to take my mind off the increasingly dank conditions, the sweeping rain pitter-pattering on the roof . There was a five minute delay while Beckley of Daventry received treatment on the pitch and was eventually stretchered off (although not seriously injured, it transpired). The visitors held out until 69 mins when a Chesterfield free-kick from the right was volleyed in at the far post. The chairman, in a suit and purple and white striped tie, came over to join us but we needed more than a talisman to get back into the contest. The hosts sealed victory on 89 mins when a 30-yard shot took a wicked deflection and went in off the underside of the bar.
Our goalie had played well and, in front of him Liam Dolman was immense too (in more ways than one). He looked more like a rugby prop forward, in fact. According to Wikipedia “during his time at Northampton Town, it has been alleged that he was the only obese player to be playing full-time in the Football League”. A goalmouth scramble and penalty claim in injury time failed to give Daventry the consolation they deserved. A minor pitch invasion greeted the final whistle after which the players come over for their farewells.
So for Daventry it’s back to the bread and butter of the league, a taste they haven’t had since Oct 8 since when they’ve played seven consecutive cup ties. Next up: Wellingborough at home on Tuesday. And for me? Back to basics at Nelson in three weeks. I’m longing for another Pennine backdrop.
* ‘Doing a Motors’ means to join the away fans of a non-league team at a big match even though you don’t ordinarily support them. The phrase was coined by a friend who, as a neutral, joined the Vauxhall Motors’ lads at their FA Cup tie at QPR in 2002.
Star turn: In the Chesterfield line-up today was Gary McSheffrey, ex-Coventry and Birmingham (pictured in previous action shot).
Mascot mayhem: I liked The Guardian’s preview of Grimsby v. Scunthorpe. “Yesterday the club mascots, Mighty Mariner and Scunny Bunny, took part in a competition of their own by spinning around on the spot 10 times before attempting to score in a virtually unguarded net. Such is the magic of the Cup.” The paper’s review of six classic first round ties is a good read. Gloucester played in the Cup today. Their abandoned ground is a tale of woe as BBC Online reported last week.
(Far) away the lads!: Spare a thought for the Wigan fans who ventured to Rubin Kazan (sounds like a magician’s exclamation), 500 miles east of Moscow, for their Europa League tie on Thursday. About 150 souls made the 5,000-mile round trip at a cost of about £1,600 each, some completing their journey on the sleeper train from the Russian capital. Admirable dedication or simply madness? Either way the fans are certainly putting the ‘adventure’ into “Wigan’s great European adventure”. Here’s a film that gives a frisson of what it was like out there.