Sunday, 9 November 2014

Blyth Spartans 4 Altrincham 1

FA Cup, first round
Attendance: 1,763

Clash of the giantkillers, I suppose you’d call this one. Between them Spartans and Altrincham have knocked out more League clubs from the Cup than I’ve had hot dinners. Most famously Spartans came within a dodgy corner and replay of reaching the quarter-final in 1977/78 and the following season Alty took Tottenham to a replay in the third round among other Cup exploits. Heady days, indeed.

Stewards spot two dubious-looking youths in the queue for the turnstile. “Get ah-we-ah ho-arm with you!” instructs a steward before the lads skulk off, one of them later gaining admission nonetheless. The steward opens a gate to increase the rate of admission, taking tenners as spectators enter. “Chee-uzz,” we all say as the note changes hands. (Love the Northumbrian accent.)

Inside the place is buzzing. Awards are made to a fella who’s watched 1,500 Spartans matches and the club for winning last month’s fair play award. The occasion and ground have a Conference feel although the hosts play in the step 3 Northern Premier League. A turbine and cranes from the Port of Blyth poke above the stands. Reassuringly fans change ends to be behind the goals their side is attacking and an old gent wearing a home-knit, plain green and white scarf sells raffle tickets.

Green and white engenders a strength of pride that you don’t get for other, more common team colours. One of the few other clubs to play in such stripes (as opposed to hoops), Real Betis, is twinned with the Spartans as indicated by one of the banners (above). The roof of the main stand – which looks like the lid of a toolbox – is green as is the retro picket fence that fully encloses the pitch. Spartans have one of the great names of world football too – and some fans make the most of it by sporting ancient Greek headgear. The noseplate on what looks like a papier-mâché creation (below) is so large it must have obscured the view as much as the TV scaffold tower within the main terraced stand.

Spartans come flying out of the traps, putting the gimmicky pink FA Cup ball into the net with a penalty on three mins and, in so doing, become the first side to get a live goal flash on the BBC’s new Final Score programme. A little piece of history for Blyth, not that they really need any ...

Altrincham hit the post with a bending, long range effort just before half-time but Spartans extend their lead on the hour mins when nippy little Maguire (reminiscent of Robbie Keane) somehow squeezes the ball inside the left post after a neat one-two with Dale. Altrincham get one back when an up and under is walloped home with feeling by Perry and for a few minutes Spartans fans feel edgy. Nerves are soon eased when Dale (like Peter Crouch in height and playing style) calmly evades Alty tackles in the box to stroke home a third for the hosts. Man of the match Dale has now scored in each of the Spartans’ five FA Cup ties this season. Maguire completes the rout with a brave flick over the onrushing Alty goalie. It all becomes a bit too easy; I almost want an Alty fight back to make for an edge of the seat finale.

When I got back to the beach (always seem to park miles away) the lighthouse on the end of the pier was blinking and the tide was in. I have a feeling that this year’s FA Cup trail may have reached its high water mark but what a trail it’s been. #getcarriedaway? In the words of The Four Tops: I can’t help myself.
TV highlights: Wasn’t the Warrington/Exeter tie thrilling? I can scarcely remember a match that’s atmosphere has come over so strongly on the telly. Loved all the interviews on the pitch especially at the end when all the fans were bouncing and chanting away behind the presenters. Warrington manager Shaun Reid is a great Scouse FA Cup character. Whenever he’s asked a question he pauses for a moment, takes a sharp intake of breath, makes a brief ironic or jokey remark, addressing the interviewer as “mate”, and then gives a fuller response. The BBC highlights of today’s game are here.

1 comment:

The Onion Bag said...

Great report as usual Mr K ! wish i had made the effort to go myself now.Bet Croft park was excellent with a full house ? you picked the perfect game to visit.

I agree with you the Beeb's FA Cup coverage was most enjoyable. A live game on the Sunday would have capped of a great weekend.