Sunday, 2 December 2007

Harrogate Railway Athletic 2 Mansfield Town 3

FA Cup, Second Round proper
Attendance: 1,486
Talk about déjà vu. Not many once in a lifetime experiences actually happen twice but watching Harrogate Railway in the second round of the FA Cup is one of them. Five years ago I saw them against Bristol City and today they were up against Mansfield. These days Rail are a division higher and Mansfield languish a level lower than Bristol were at the time - at the foot of the Fourth Division (can’t stand that ‘League Two’ nonesense). Played on a sloping pitch in great slide-tackle weather, the tie had upset written all over it.

I paddled in the quagmire between the Portacabins in my walking boots and overtrousers. The bird next to me insisted on keeping her umbrella up for the first 20 mins of the match. “Mary Poppins” she was dubbed by someone stuck behind her. Good gag. The best waterproofs were sported by the cameramen on scaffold towers around the pitch. Yes – again just like last time – the match was on telly but this time BBC rather than Sky. Commentator Jonathan Pearce and Mark Bright were accommodated in a bird hide-type cabin which sadly obscured Rail’s smart new stand while the pundits – “Lawro”, Ray Stubbs and Carlton Palmer – shelted under a blue gazebo (see top pic).

Rail had a storming opening 15 mins creating several chances and hitting the bar. Mansfield gradually got into the game, though, and took the lead shortly before half-time. When they added to it after the re-start we expected a Rail collapse but it didn’t happen. In fact the lads twice came from two goals down to narrow the gap showing tremendous resilience and stamina. How we bayed for a last minute equaliser.

At the end a bare-chested Rail player flung his arms round his girlfriend standing behind the advertising hoardings as if he was a returning soldier, muddied but unbowed (and from “’Arrogate Railway's barmy army …”, I guess). Neither she, I suspect, nor we will be back for the next match: a West Riding County Cup tie against Tadcaster Albion on Wednesday night. The same probably goes for Barmy, the Beaver, Rail’s mascot, who was making what will surely be his only appearance before going back to the costume hire shop.

And so, my FA Cup trail sadly comes to an end for another year. It practically started with Rail back in the sunshine in September and finishes with them in the rain in December. “There aren’t any interesting teams left now,” mused my nephew Toby (over again from uni in west Wales for the match). My thoughts entirely.

Now that’s what I call a “journeyman":. The 39-year-old Mansfield goalie, Carl ‘Mugs’ Muggleton, clearly can’t settle. He has turned out for 16 different clubs. Just count ‘em by clicking on his name.