Saturday, 17 January 2015

Tadcaster Albion 3 Brocton 2

FA Vase, fourth round
Attendance: 637

Steely grey skies, dripping, bare trees and a repeat of Bridgit Jones’s Diary on the telly instead of talent shows. Welcome to a January Saturday - and welcome to the Vase. Now that raises the spirits. Just as the FA Cup disappears in the rear view mirror (I didn’t bother watching the highlights of last week’s third round replays) the signs start appearing for the latter rounds of my other favourite FA competition.

I’d need signs for Brocton too. I’d never heard of the place but it’s a village in Staffordshire and The Badgers, as they’re known, currently lie in 17th place of the step 5 Midland League following promotion last season. A reporter from their local paper explained how until recently they’d essentially been the youth side for Stafford Rangers, having to bolster their ranks this season for the higher division. Their best player – and manager – is David Berks, an ex-Aston Villa youth.

It’s not just the geography that challenges in the Vase. I overheard fans seeking to clarify what stage we are at (the last 32) and which divisions the respective teams were in. Getting your bearings in the Vase is all part of the competition’s novelty and charm. Regardless of exactly where we all were in space and time after an outing to Huddersfield it was a joy to be back in non-league where the Taddy scarf I bought for £8 cost £3 more than the admission.

The logo these days is everywhere, part of the improved marketing and overall rejuvenation of the club that has taken place under the current and previous owner. After decades in the doldrums you really get the impression this club is going somewhere which, judging from The Brewers’ six-point lead at the top of the NCEL, is the Northern Premier League, all being well come May. Since my last visit 2½ years ago, the ground has been improved. Jerry-built dug-outs have been replaced with shelters in a continental style and the clubhouse is very smart too. The wonderfully ramshackle seated stand (and I use the term loosely) remains, however. It looks like it could collapse easier than a child’s buggy.

Taddy boast the support to go with their lofty status. Today’s season’s best gate was 177 more than Harrogate Town’s home Conference North fixture and the fans are vocal too. In fact I’ve seldom heard such singing from supporters at this level. A choir of around 40 boisterous youngsters was led in choruses of ‘Tad all Over’ and other ditties by two older fellas. One sported a stetson and comedy Elvis sideburns attached to sunglasses and the other, known to his friends as Captain Chickers, was dressed as a sea captain in a white jacket and trousers with gold braid and matching white cap. Fantastic.

The start didn’t go according to the script. Brocton took the lead after four minutes when a slip by a Taddy defender gave a striker a one-on-one with the keeper. Taddy levelled it soon after when a cross was headed back into the six-yard box and stroked home and went ahead on the stroke of half-term with a header from a cross. Not to be out-done, Brocton started the second half as the started the first by scoring against the run of play. I struggle to remember another clear chance for the visitors in a match which Taddy continued to dominate. Fisticuffs saw a player from each side sent off and two booked. Soon after Taddy got what turned out to be the winner when Ward followed up a rasping drive from the edge of the box that was palmed away by the goalie.

They didn’t half make hard work of their victory, though. Credit must go to the Brocton keeper who made five fine saves in the second half, single-handedly repelling wave after wave of Taddy attacks. It says a lot about his performance that the hosts were reduced to playing keep ball by the corner flag in the closing stages. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The contest reminded me of Shildon v. Norton in the FA Cup in October but in this case, the more strongly fancied northern side prevailed against their Staffordshire opponents and reached the fifth round for the first since 1978. My scarf will be out again for the next round.

Star turn: Jonathan Greening, ex-Man U, Middlesbrough and West Brom, played four times for the Brewers earlier in the season. He wasn’t in evidence today but his much younger brother and top scorer, Josh, was. Among the crowd I spotted Harrogate Railway legend, Steve “’ugger” Davey, who scored in Rail’s famous FA Cup tie against Bristol City in 2002. (I know: how would I recognise him?).

Programme notes: The Badgers’ origins are described thus: “Brocton was formed in 1937 when Arthur Mayer, the then owner of Chetwynd Arms, gave a football to the boys of Brocton and asked them to form a football club.” Can’t get simpler than that. Among the advertisers is local MP Nigel Adams who also has a pitchside hoarding. That’s what I call nailing your colours to the mast.

Ray of sunshine: Yesterday Palestine lost 1-5 to Jordan in the Asian Cup being staged in Australia. What a ding-dong derby! Jordan are bossed by Ray ‘Butch’ (love that nickname) Wilkins assisted by ex-Man U teammate Frank Stapleton (all together now: “Wo-ah! Frankie, Frankie; Frankie, Frankie, Frankie, Frankie Sta-ple-ton!”. Looks like the gents are loving their time in the sun. I don’t know why Five Live bothers reporting the Africa Cup of Nations. I would’ve drifted off to sleep quite happily on Saturday night not knowing that Equatorial Guinea drew 1-1 with Congo.

Further reading: I haven’t described Taddy’s ground much as I’ve done that twice before – for their biggest FA Cup tie and a thrilling promotion decider. Finally, here’s a pic from my maiden visit in August 2003 which shows how things have changed. I should also credit Ian Parker of the club for the pic of the brawl in this post.

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