Saturday, 27 September 2008

Stocksbridge Park Steels 1 Curzon Ashton 2

FA Cup, Second Qualifying Round
Attendance: 150

I’ve wanted to visit Bracken Moor, home of Stocksbridge Park Steels, ever since I read a description that said that the main stand looked like Inspector Clouseau’s gendarme hat (the overhang looking like a peak). I had to wait a while for the opportunity, though, since the Steels have been drawn away from home for five out of the last seven times.

What a great name for a club too. If I told you they play in Yorkshire you’d guess the nearest city in one. Yes: Sheffield. “Corus –the future in metal” proclaims the Clouseau stand, itself made of the product as is the players tunnel, the most formidable structure of its type this side of Galatasaray. I can’t think such enclosure is necessary. In contrast, the stand has quaint wooden tip-up seats from Hillsborough that would look more at home around a bandstand in a park on sunny afternoon which, as it happens, would have a similar appeal to today’s occasion. Sheffield Wednesday’s reserves play here too. The turnstiles bring you out beside the clubhouse on top of several steep tiers of corner terracing. One side of the ground adjoins a cricket pitch and is even more eye-catching despite being empty on account of the superb view it gives to the other side of the Don valley. This is a ground that’s really embedded in its locality.

Amidst this Yorkshire footballing idyll an FA Cup tie was taking place although you’d hardly have guessed it from the size of the crowd (150) or its noisiness. In fact, the only chanting came from a couple of lads standing behind a feeding baby. There was one pretty big cup cue, though: a replica of the grand old pot itself. I deplore the way the real trophy is passed around between every Tom, Dick and Harry these days but sidling up to a copy isn’t too hypocritical I told myself as I had my picture taken with it. Juvenile, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.

The opposition, Curzon Ashton, came from the other flank of the Pennines and, for the most part, the contest lived up to a War of the Roses billing. After just two minutes Anelka-like Edghill burst through the Steels defence to score. The Steels deservedly levelled following an error by a Curzon defender. Curzon were marginally the stronger, though, and got the winner mid-way through the second-half. So the Steels go tumbling out of the competition once again. Good job I made it today, then.
Coaching tip of the day: From Gary Lowe, Curzon gaffer, when his team was time-wasting in injury time: “Stop taking the piss and get the ball!”

Programme notes: Among the pen pictures is the line: “Chris Worsley often arrives unannounced in the box”. What does he expect? A butler-type calling out his name and the opposition forming a wedding line? Nippy Gambia international James Ogoo has a name just made for chanting in a “Roo-ney, Roo-ney”-type refrain.

Royals reunited: Curiously each of my matches this season has featured an ex-Reading player. Ricky Newman coached Aldershot; Tony Barras played for Halifax; and today 37-year-old Martyn Booty – who had 70 games for the Royals in the late nineties – popped up for Curzon.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ryton 0 FC Halifax Town 4

FA Cup, First Qualifying Round
Attendance: 384

The last time I saw Halifax play there was a man in the bottom legs of a pantomime horse passing around a bucket for donations. That was back in 1994 and the occasion was Halifax’s final game before folding – or so it appeared at the time. Last season Halifax did die – to be re-born as FC Halifax Town and plonked in the Unibond League First Division. I was there at the “death” and I was there today soon after the “birth” – at a cup-tie against Ryton (near Newcastle).

The first task was finding the entrance. There was just one – beside a shed named Danny’s Den and without so much as a turnstile. The first you thing you notice in the ground is a row of seven bus shelters forming a stand of sorts. It’s one of those idiosyncrasies that the FA Cup trail is all about. If you don’t understand why then groundhopping’s not for you. Above the two small stands on the far touchline the view extends to the other side the Tyne valley. Even though the ground was built just 10 years ago it has bags of character and a great rural setting. The two coaches that brought the away fans were parked – or rather stuffed down – a country lane.
The programme was a hoot. Parts of it read like sequences from Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns. Ryton replaced Prudoe & Wylam Co-op in the Northern Combination League; they progressed with a loan of £12 10s from the Ryton Social Club; and used to change on matchdays at Crookhill Labour Rooms or the Crookhill Store Room.

Four seasons ago Ryton weren’t even in the non-league pyramid and only six months ago Halifax competed in the Conference. You don’t get many minnows/giants clashes in the First Qualifying Round but this was one of them. Where Ryton can compete with Halifax is sponsorship. The Shayman’s plain yellow shirts were as notably bereft of sponsors as West Ham’s today. Two of the Ryton lads, meanwhile, are sponsored by a plasterer and Sleepy Dreams quality beds (because the player’s always caught napping a the back?)

The Shaymen brought a fair few fans with them. “My garden shed is bigger than this” they sung (to the tune of “When the saints go marching in”). In the second half they were singing so loudly they were told by a steward to quieten down as the players couldn’t concentrate.
They had plenty to cheer about. Halifax took the lead on the half-hour then got another before half-time (see pic, below). The third goal went in almost immediately after the re-start and it was game over. Ryton had their chances, though, and rallied well in the middle of the second half showing more passion that I expect King Kev’s ex-charges could muster a few miles down the road in that other Yorkshire/Tyneside derby of the day.
With a place in the next round secure Halifax made
a couple of veteran celebrity substitutions. First on came skipper Tony Barras, pictured right, (ex-York and Reading donkey) then assistant player-manager 17-club journeyman Nigel Jemson left, now 39 (who’s “fine cup pedigree” as Motty would describe it includes scoring the winner for Nottingham Forest in the 1990 League Cup Final). Today, he is blonde and tubby and, all in yellow, reminded me of Tomas Brolin playing away for Leeds.

Mention should also be made of the king of the international groundhoppers, Leo Hoenig, who I spotted in the crowd. This man has been to more grounds than I’ve had hot dinners.

So. A great ground, a rib-tickling programme, a couple of celebrity cameos and four goals into the bargain. My FA Cup trail is off to a fine – if belated – start.

Caption: No purchase required. (You can see this unofficial spectator in the shot of the goal).

Website of the moment: Check out this site for some outstanding pics of minor football grounds in Europe in their settings. Something to aspire to: