Saturday, 31 January 2015

Salford City 2 Darlington 1883 0

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 902

Approaching from the M60 the only sign for Salford City is about 18 x 4 inches and attached apologetically to the traffic lights for the right turn. It’s not much more than you might get for Bob’s 40th birthday party. At 3.20pm a Darlo fan burst through the turnstile f-ing and blinding because his taxi driver had taken him to Salford rugby ground by mistake. No tip there. The football club may be low profile in some respects, then, but there are signs of change within the ground, quite literally.

On the turnstiles a paper notice warned that there was filming (for a BBC) documentary) taking place inside the ground which included a drone buzzing around before the match and during the interval. Inside an old sign stating “This is Moor Lane. Home of Salford City FC” has been replaced by a new sign with stylish logo and simple slogan “Integrity and industry.” Thankfully, that – apart from a lick of paint to denote the club’s colour change from orange to red – is about as far as the ground improvements appear to have got since the club’s acquisition by the Class of ’92 last summer. I saw the Class and friends playing Salford in a pre-season friendly at the city’s rugby ground (I’d nearly gone to Moor Lane) and was glad of the opportunity to visit Salford’s regular home. I parked on Nevile (sic) Road: they’ve already started naming roads after two of the club’s new benefactors (not)!

Moor Lane is a basic, open ground with large grassed areas, some banked, on three sides which give a partial bowl and, as such, is vaguely reminiscent of Consett’s old stadium. That, combined with the origin of the visitors and the Arctic cold (I was in full 80s ski wear) gave the occasion a Northern League feel which is no bad thing. Steps made from railway sleepers lead gently down one corner of the bank in a manner that Diarmuid Gavin would be proud of. Another quirky feature is a small boat named HMS Scrooge inexplicably at pitchside. These are the things I love about non-league.

The main stand is fabricated from concrete, six sturdy pillars doing their best to obscure the view (see pic, below). The ground’s builder must have had shares in Readymix as the fences around the pitch and outer perimeter are made of concrete too. Steel also abounds in the form of the obligatory shipping containers which include three for changing rooms.

Today’s match pitched second place against third but the main reason for the swollen crowd was the support brought Darlington. Every away match feels like a cup tie if the Quakers are involved as I found out at Harrogate Railway and Padiham last season. Programmes were sold out by 2.30pm (it always surprises me how clubs don’t print more for predictably large gates) and the pressure on facilities was such that the PA announcer had to plea for fans to use the toilets, “you filthy animals.” The food ran out by half-time so the gates were opened for spectators to get to the shops.

The match was a tense, tight, niggly affair with few clear cut chances. The Ammies (Salford was called Salford Amateurs until 1989) took the lead on 32 mins when a striker burst through in the inside left channel and squared (or was it a cross?) to Webber for an unmarked tap in. The second goal in injury time was a similarly simple, incisive strike from Madeley, also from a cross from the left. By that stage it had all kicked off. White of Darlo was sent off for a second booking and teammate Mitchell joined him for a foul and abusive language. Players squared up to each other following a contentious tackle and the ref entered a 12th and final name into his by now bulging book. He was showing more cards than Paul Daniels (old joke, I know, but I like it). At the final whistle there was more pushing and shoving.

Enraged by the ref’s performance, Darlo fans massed at the gate which secures a compound outside the changing rooms and hurled abuse in the direction of the officials (clip here). One of Darlo’s backroom staff was similarly incensed, bellowing at the lino and jabbing his finger at him like an apopleptic Arthur Scargill. “Still gonna win the league!”, the away fans chanted defiantly as they scowled towards the exit. Salford go top and Darlo lose only their third league match of the season. If these two meet in the play-offs expect a sparky encounter.

Postscript: There was more trouble at the game among the fans than I was aware of. See here for report from the Northern Echo.

Star turn: Well, I’d have been disappointed if there hadn’t been one to report. Performing Class of ’92 duty today was HRH Nicky Butt, discreet under the hood of a black jacket in the directors’ box.

FA Cup extra-time: A mention in dispatches to Cambridge’s sub against Man U, the wonderfully named Harrison Dunk. I also like this story from the Northern League magazine about a fella who’s written a book about the FA Cup exploits of clubs from south-west Durham. A good fireside read, I bet.

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.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Huddersfield Town 0 Reading 1

FA Cup, third round
Attendance: 7,980

This blog is supposed to be about great or quirky little cup ties but today’s game didn’t fit either description. From an outstanding third round draw packed to the gunnels with intriguing David/Goliath encounters I chose a humdrum tie between two sides floundering in the mid-table of the second division. Why? I try to see my hometown team at least once a season and their visit to my adoptive county in the Cup presented an ideal opportunity for 2014-15. Huddersfield and Reading have met only once in the FA Cup. That’s as interesting as the back story gets.

The John Smith’s Stadium is one of the more stylish of the new builds although it’s hardly new any more, having marked its 20th anniversary last month. Practically constructed within the side of a steep, wooded bank, it has four elegant, bowed stands anchored in each corner by floodlights with four stout legs. It reminds me of Bolton’s ground. I had plenty of time to admire the architecture during an utterly dire first half. The highlight was when the ref got out his magic foam for a free kick. I was glad I’d only paid a tenner and had travelled less than an hour to get there.

Thankfully, things picked up a little after the hour when just about the first clear chance came – to Huddersfield with a header. Reading took the lead when a one-two through ball from Robson-Kanu reached half-time sub Blackman as two Terriers defenders bore down on him. Showing the prowess of a master marksman and with only a split second to think about it he arrowed the ball in to the net. It was the only shot on target of the whole match. Hogg of Huddersfield was subsequently sent off for argy-bargy as the contest finally reached boiling – well, let’s call it simmering – point.

Within BBC TV’s exhaustively comprehensive Cup coverage is the new FA Cup Rewind series which showcases classic ties of the past. No-one will want to rewind this one. “Three seconds in 90 minutes,” is how one fan summed up the match as we shuffled out. I was reminded of a remark by Desmond Lynam immediately after one of England’s tight World Cup squeaks in the 90s: “Never mind the quality; feel the qualification”. Indeed: we’re through. (And, for once, when I say “we” I’m referring to my team by birth rather than the one I’ve latched onto for a taste of cup glory).

Programme notes: Tabloid newspaper format and also covering the previous match against Bolton, the Huddersfield programme was packed with ads and included about the same amount of editorial as you could get from three scrolls of your smartphone. It made me wonder about the future of the programme. Credit to the hosts, though, for reducing ticket prices although today’s attendance was still about half a typical League gate. I paid the same as I did for Rammy United last month.

Chant of the day: As the game wore on the Reading fans sung: “Let’s pretend that we have scored” (sung to Bread of Heaven) followed by a little cheer.

Truce match: Here is a great, blogtastic report from The Guardian on the match staged to commemorate the game supposedly played between British and German soliders during the Christmas truce in the First World War.

Redcar Athletic: While walking from Saltburn to Redcar with the family yesterday I couldn’t resist a minor diversion to Green Lane, home of step 7 Northern League aspirants, Redcar Athletic. It consists of a railed and fenced pitch with one small stand with club name on the fascia and benches within plus a smart, new Football Foundation-funded clubhouse with trophies on display in the windows. Worth a look for some action in between ice creams on the beach if you’re in the area on a Saturday afternoon.