Saturday, 28 October 2006

Newcastle Benfield (Bay Plastics) 0 York City 1

Attendance: 971 (far from the 2,000 sell-out predicted)
FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round

Bit of a peculiar FA Cup occasion, this one. The mighty York City taking out some minnows with a funny name from that hotbed of football, Newcastle, in the final qualifying round. Should be a cracker, I thought. But it was actually a muted affair largely on account of the hosts having no tradition, no real fans and, well, next to no ground. It was like watching a training match.
Benfield were only formed in 1988 and, before this season, had never won an FA Cup tie. They don't have a website and their modern ground consists of one corrugated steel stand [the press and directors' accommodation is the back row] and a cow-shed next door. There's the rail that goes round the pitch and, err, that's about it. The team also clearly has very few regular fans. Those home supporters that did turn up just looked like neighbours who were curious to know what the noise over the garden fence was all about. At the final whistle they gave a brief round of applause, shrugged and departed.

Bertie and I went in with the hoards of York lads for the first half. I recognised lots of familiar faces - and became aquainted with a new character called Stumpy, a one-legged, bare-chested, stubbled wino with a holler like a pirate. Lovely fella, really. We joined the home fans for the second half walkabout.

City went 1-0 up early on and you expected them to get a hatful but that never happened and they made a bit of meal of it. Had Benfield had more luck they could've earned a replay.

We returned to the city centre on the Metro with the Newcastle fans going to the Charlton match. Newcastle will get closer to the Cup than York, of course, but probably not as close as we were in the morning. Bertie and I were a panel of glass away from the oldest surving FA Cup an an exhibition at The Discovery Museum.

And so, after three rounds in the north-east, we bid a sad farewell to the region. For the climax of the competition, the first round proper, we shall head south to Lincolnshire. Next up: Gainsborough Trinity v. Barnet ...


Great quote from the ex-York coach of Benfield. Speaking about York's game against a low-ranked team some years ago, he said: "The fans were within touching distance at Hednesford and it was very intimidating. I got spat on and a meat pie landed on my head at one point. The gravy was actually dribbling down my face." Mmmm.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Whitley Bay 2 Blyth Spartans 2

Attendance: 2,023

FA Cup Third Qualifying Round

I have to admit that a 180-mile round trip for a non-league FA Cup tie borders on insanity but I just couldn't resist it. The lure? Whitley Bay v. Blyth Spartans. Bay have won the last nine on the bounce while Spartans are romping away at the top of the Conference North and have a legendary Cup pedigree. On top of that the two sides are only seven miles apart. Now how's that for a ding-dong Tyneside derby?

The fog rather dominated the afternoon. Because of it Bertie and I weren't too sad we didn't have long for our now traditional pre-match sandwiches on the beach and the photography was difficult - but that did mean I could concentrate the game and what a cracker it was. Spartans went 1-0 early on but Bay battled back to level it and the interval. They then deservedly went ahead in the second half before the visitors scrambled an equaliser in injury time.

I suppose the fog did make the occasion all the more northern and grim - which, of course, is a plus. [The pics look like something from the days of long shorts]. The only thing sexy about this football was the name of the programme: Bay Watch. Being in north-east is like being in another, strange country. Bertie has never grasped for my hand as keenly while we were waiting in the queue at the turnstiles amidst all the Geordie lads saying "beer" not "bay". A flag draped over the Spartans end rather sums up the region and its football. Across the horizontal bar of the cross of St George was 'Blyth Spartans' and, in each quarter, were the initials N, U, F and C. One club, three loyalties.

The big - and sad - cup news is that Skem are out (see previous posting). Oh, well, Tommy. There's always next year ...