Saturday, 27 November 2010

Darlington 0 York City 2

FA Cup, Second Round
Attendance: 3,481

Unusually for me this round I primarily supported one of the teams and not the competition. Ordinarily I just have a curiosity for York City, my local club; following their fortunes adds a bit of interest towards the end of the football results. But I’d witnessed York’s win in the previous round and the (sort of) derby at Darlington in this round was the obvious one to pick so suddenly I found myself caught up in a mini-cup run.

It’s all rather exciting. I even bought my son a York scarf to look the part for today’s match. Nephew Toby (below) wore his York away shirt c. 1993 and I donned my repro York Y-front shirt c. 1974 – albeit it buried near the bottom of multiple layers of clothing for such polar conditions. Fair weather supporter? Well, yes and no …

The Northern Echo Arena (to give the ground it’s sixth name in seven years) is the biggest white elephant in football. It holds 25,000 but Darlo’s crowd seldoms exceeds 10% of this and the capacity is ordinarily set at 10,000 due to planning restrictions. The stadium isn’t even shared with another sport. Adding to this woe is that Darlo’s previous home, Feethams, now demolished, was one of the most characterful grounds in the north (as I discovered on a vintage FA Cup trip to see the Farnborough upset in 2003).

Construction of a new stand at Feethams almost bankrupted the club. In stepped the notorious villain George Reynolds (right) to buy the club, build the new ground and promise the Premiership. It all then went horribly wrong. In 2004, the year after the stadium’s completion, Reynolds was declared bankrupt and arrested on charges of money laundering which precipitated his departure from the club. Darlo were left with a pair of trousers frankly several sizes too big and without the receipt to take them back.

The ground may have been largely empty but the impressive 1,447 York fans still had to queue up in a snow flurry for 10 mins to buy a ticket which ‘we’ could’ve done without. The atmosphere inside seemed almost surreal. Snow which had been cleared from the pitch by fans at 5.30am this morning (thanks so much, lads) was heaped up behind some touchlines while covers, easily mistaken for more snow, were folded back behind others. The pitch still had a residual white dusting and the fading, low sunshine gave the whole scene an unusual crisp, white light. For this tie the new orange FA Cup ball wasn’t just a gimmick but very necessary. The lines on the pitch had been painted light blue too.
Oddest of all, though, was the emptiness. The home supporters were just a smear across the main stand. The closest they came to a chant was “Come on Darlo” (which didn’t even have an exclamation mark) spelt out in yet more vacant seats in another stand. In contrast, the York fans filled the away end and made a great noise from start to finish. What must it be like here for a humdrum league match when only a handful of away fans make the trip? I feel so sorry for the Quakers (at least they still have their superb nickname). They used to have a football club and now they have an out-of-town conference and banqueting facility that also runs a team. The programme plugs an endless variety of events – Burns Night, a Valentine’s Ball and car boot sales – in a seemingly frantic effort to make ends meet. (The stadium has undersoil heating but it’s not used due to cost). How I bet that the fans would swap all this for a meat pie and a Bovril on the terraces of Feethams, now merely the name for their panda mascot. The utterly sterile and identikit Northern Echo Arena (‘echo’ being the operative word) sums up the downside of the gentrification of football.

It was a pretty entertaining game. Coming into the match on three straight wins without conceding, York took the lead on the stroke of half-time when Rankine nodded on a goalkick for Sangare to leather the ball into the net on the half-volley. Darlo had the lion’s share of the second half and deserved a draw. Having been hanging on at times, York sealed the tie in injury time when, following a break, Rankine squared the ball from the right for Chambers to stroke in. He then leapt onto the heap of snow and his team-mates leapt on him. Brrrrr! I wasn’t quite so cavalier on the slow and slippery drive back to North Yorkshire.

Strangely perhaps, all things considered, this was the best outing of my FA Cup trail so far. No prizes for guessing where I’m off to for my eighth tie …

Star turns: Turning out for Darlo today was 35-year-old Keith Gillespie (ex-Man United and Northern Ireland). Paul Terry, brother of John, is also on the Quakers’ books.

Thumbs down to Stevenage: If I was the sort who started Facebook groups I’d have started one urging Stevenage to gracefully withdraw from the Cup after the first round having knocked out MK Dons and denying neutral supporters the length and breadth of the land – as well as the ITV audience – the prospect of the ultimate grudge match: Wimbledon v. MK Dons. Ah, well, perhaps in the League in a couple of seasons …

Recommended viewing: Click here for the brief ITV highlights of today’s match. And below is some cracking footage of a tie between York and Southampton in 1971. Favourite bits: the quaint picket fence all round the pitch, the marvellous lamb chop sideboards of the Southampton goalie and the classic Mick Channon hip swerve for the Saints’s second goal. Interesting cameo too from Albert Johanneson, a pioneering black winger who played for Leeds in the 1965 FA Cup final and joined York for one season at the end of his career. He died, penniless, in a high-rise Leeds flat in 1995.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

York City 3 Rotherham United 0

FA Cup, First Round replay
Attendance: 2,644

For a man who’s football life revolves around the FA Cup it was a distressing error. I’d set my son’s birthday party for the same day as the first round. My experience of Guiseley v. Crawley (my intended tie) was limited to a few score flashes courtesy of Jeff Stelling at a ten-pin bowling alley. It was not a happy birthday. Later, while preparing the party pizzas, I listened anxiously to the second half of Rotherham v. York. I got the result I wanted: a draw and, moreover, a replay at my local club. Second chances all round – and three cheers for the Minstermen!

The Merry Millers (sound more like a pub than a football club) come from just down the road in the South Riding, of course, but this was hardly a feisty Yorkshire derby. In fact, York haven’t had arch rivals to play on a regular basis for some years. The chants about little Scarborough seemed redundant – like when Reading sing about Aldershot.

Rotherham currently occupy a play-off berth (love that lingo) in the Fourth Division, one tier higher than York. They also boast the highest scorer in England in Le Fondre (or ‘fondue’ as we called him, notable this evening only for this orange boots) but you could hardly say that a home win would be a giant-killing.

The contest had the smell of a League match from the 80s or 90s and the tidy Boot ’Em Crescent (as my Dad used to call it) belongs in that era too. The TV gantry is a scaffold and plastic sheeting affair on the roof of one stand and you transfer to the seating below it from the home end terrace by tendering £1 to a man in a little shed with wire mesh front. The ground reminds me of Elm Park which is perhaps why I like going there and hope York doesn’t relocate, as planned, for a long time.

York’s first chance fell to Parslow (right). He went on a mazy run from the half-way line √† la Maradona ’86 but fluffled the final shot. Rotherham then had three first-rate chances, the best of them a shot following a superb cushion header one-two. As the teams went in at half-time my Cup companion Toby and I wondered if Rotherham had had their moment and so it proved.

The game was going to sleep we were beginning to fear the nightmare scenario of 0-0 after extra time and York going out on penalties. But then Smith gave York the lead with a hanging header from a cross (below). Within 13 mins York were three up and it was game-over. Fyfield (or just “Jamal” as ‘we’ call him) crumpled in the box under a challenge and the Heskey-like Rankine (or rather “Ranks”: must get that into my head for the next round too) converted the penalty, celebrating with a somersault in mid-air. Ranks settled the tie when he checked back from the byline after a run and guilefully slotted the ball inside the far post from a tight angle. He then disappeared beneath his team-mates in what caption-writers describe as a “scrum of joy”. The Millers weren't so merry now.

The last occasions I’d visited Bootham Crescent for night matches were for the two-leg League Cup victories over Man United – post-kung fun kick Cantona and all – and Everton in the mid-90s. Tonight’s upset was hardly in that category but I’d enjoyed a nostalgic evening at a great family club and a game far better than the rubbish served up for the TV audience tonight by the “prat in a hat” (as the red-tops called Capello).

As planned at the draw, I shall follow the winners to Darlo in the next round on Nov 27. Now, let me double-check that. Yes: Nov 27. Definitely. Now where did I put my red and blue scarf?

Balls up?: What’s with the orange ball – dubbed the pumpkin ball – being introduced from the first round this year (although not used tonight)? I struggled to see the thing on some of the televised matches although it does bring a commendably retro feel to proceedings. Doesn’t Sir Bobby look immaculate in this pic? It’s taken from an excellent book, “1966 Uncovered” I’ve been reading.

Best name in the Cup: Swindon Supermarine are almost as notable for reaching the second round this year as their splendid name. It resulted from the club’s formation in 1992 by a merger between Swindon Athletic and Supermarine. The latter was originally the works football club for the company of the same name that built Spitfires in the Second World War.

Wot? No decent pics?: Well, no (although I’ve pinched some close-ups from the local paper). Night games are obviously difficult to get snaps at  (as demonstrated, left), you can’t walk around the pitch for different vantage points and, among a crowd, I feel like a right nerd getting the camera out. So, instead, here to finish is a gratuitous pic I took of sporting action elsewhere in North Yorkshire - at Wensleydale rugby club in September.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Basingstoke Town 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

FA Cup, Fourth Qualifying Round
Attendance: 1,726

Basingstoke park and ride is an unlikely spot to rendezvous with your extended family for a half-term treat but that’s how the complex arrangements for this round ended up. The girls went to a National Trust house while the boys went to the soccer.

As regular readers of this blog (if there are any) will know I love seeing reformed clubs play away – and was glad of the opportunity while down south to see the grandaddy of them all, AFC Wimbledon. About all I knew about Basingstoke was its Milton Keynes-like reputation and that it was once home to 80s songstress Tinita Tikaram (“Good tradition of love and hate”). Practically the only other luminary attached to the town is the football club’s current manager, Frank Gray. (You wonder how a Scotland 1982 World Cup veteran who forged his career at Leeds came to end up in this insignificant corner of the home counties).

As we approached the ground 20 mins before kick-off and with so few people around I wondered if I’d taken my three fellow spectators to the wrong place. “This could just be the queue for the toilets”, my brother-in-law mused as we joined a straggle of fellas shuffling towards a shed that housed a turnstile (which didn’t turn).

The only thing imposing aspect of the ground is its name: The Camrose. Like that. There’s one substantial grandstand that looks like it was made from Meccano and is beaten in stature – and almost architectural grandeur – by Toys R Us over the road. The rest of the perimeter consists of haphazard corrugated iron fencing and small stands. The gap between the long covered terrace and pitchside is broad enough to drive the team bus down. For Frank, this tatty, unappealing enclosure must seem a long way away from Hampden.

Soon after we’d taken our place behind the goal the turnstile operator appeared with a big drum and proceeded to pound it as though his life depended on it – or as if he was playing the explosive finale of the 1812 Overture. Good singing from The Stoke lads too especially given the challenges of adapting popular terrace ditties to their team’s name. “We all follow the Bay’stoke over land and sea,” then “We love you Bay’stoke, we do ...” Mmm. Try it. Just doesn’t work.

Three mascots were on parade: one for Kestrel FM and two others of contrasting credibility. The Stoke fielded a dragon by virtue of the fact that the club had nicknamed itself The Dragons “to add a bit more fire power to the squad”, so said the programme. Bit weak, honestly. And Wimbledon? What else but a Womble, the most merited mascot in the land.

The first half was scrappy, with few clear chances and evenly balanced. Low sun burst through the clouds in the second half and the tie brightened up a little too. Harris of Wimbledon scored the only game of the match on 71 mins when Basingstoke failed to clear a corner and he woofed in the loose ball. The home side missed two good chances to level and deserved a replay.

The majority of the crowd came from Wimbledon but they didn’t make the match quite as much of an occasion as fans of FCUM and other reformed clubs I’ve seen on their travels. Likewise, at the final whistle there was no wave of euphoria or much punching the air. I guess the Wimbledon fans are used to this sort of occasion by now. For them it was just another step in a decade of steps towards their real goal of a place back in the Football League – or, today, the small matter of a potential tie against the MK Dons.

Men of the match: Here’s my nomination for best Father Christmas of the round (following on from the Northern League santa previously covered on this blog). Ricky Wellard of Wimbledon also has to be worth a mention purely for his great name. Talking of smirksome names I recommend Midfield Dynamo, a football culture website full of the sort of funny things about football that Danny Baker likes. It has more top 10s than Pick of the Pops.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

FC Halifax Town 4 Harrogate Town 0

FA Cup, Third Qualifying Round
Attendance: 1,835

When Simon Weaver was appointed manager of Harrogate (my local club) in the summer of ’09 the first question he asked was: “How many players do we have?” Three,” the chairman replied. “The rest have gone to Halifax.” They’d followed the previous manager, ex-Leeds hard man defender Neil Aspin, who had quit after a successful spell due to the club’s lack of ambition and funds. So: a needle match today, then? Well, not really. Harrogate doesn’t do rivalry as I’ve noted before in this blog and certainly didn’t put up much of a fight today.

As for Halifax, the previous club folded in 2008 and the phoenix club is now busy paddling its way back up the leagues – very successfully, in fact, as they currently top the Northern Premier League and look odds on to swap places with Harrogate come the spring. “A Conference team for a conference town” may not be the snappy Harrogate slogan for much longer. They’ve only won two out of nine league games this season.

The Shay has changed radically since my previous visit 17 years ago and is unrecognisable from the ground that hosted the Cup giantkilling of Man City in 1980. (The YouTube footage is brilliant, by the way). Three of the four stands have been replaced and a further stand currently under construction noses into one corner. Few reformed clubs can boast such fine facilities (although they’re shared with the rugby league club).The bigger the ground, though, the bigger the crowd you need to give it some atmosphere and, even though Halifax recorded their biggest gate of the season today, there were echoes of Gateshead – literally. The vocal Shaymen in the south stand did their best but there’s only so much you can do to offset the effect on the atmosphere of two unused stands and a less than 20% capacity. There was also no opportunity to walk around the pitch, much to the dismay of my occasional FA Cup companion and nephew, Toby, and I.

The problem with this match, then, was that it didn’t feel like an FA Cup tie let alone a quirky qualifier like I’d encountered just one round previously. If you’d teleported me to the game I’d have guessed I was at a pre-season friendly for a Third Division side. I may not have known where exactly since the only reference to the town outside or inside the ground is an an advertising hoarding for MacDonalds in Halifax.

The respective plights of the two teams were reflected by the action. Halifax were superior right from the off and only several fine saves by the Harrogate ’keeper kept the away side in the match. Halifax took the lead from the spot on 31 mins either side of which Pell and Naylor of Harrogate were sent off. The word ‘floodgates’ sprung immediately to mind. Remarkably, Harrogate kept the scored at just 1-0 until just after half-time and didn’t have a single shot on target themselves throughout. Further Halifax goals duly followed, the last by Harrogate old boy Danny Holland as captured on film by yours truly (see below). There are 12 passes from one end to the other – just count ’em – preceded by a very rare Harrogate attack. (No goal, incidentally, for another ex-Harrogatian, the fabulously named ‘James Dean, goal machine’ as a banner read). You felt by the end Halifax could score as many as they fancied.

This was a pitiful and spineless performance by Harrogate that brought to mind England in the World Cup. The pink colour of their shirts (in support of a breast cancer charity) was wholly appropriate. The small huddle of away fans – whom we joined in the second half out of sympathy and local allegiance – hardly did the club proud either. They looked like a bunch of bored kids on a school outing. The only emotion they expressed was daubed on the t-shirt of one lad in marker pen: “Taxi for Weaver”. I’d just point him to the bus stop.

Chant of the match: “You’re just a small town in Knaresborough!” Commendable geography from the Shaymen. Great nickname, by the way. Harrogate desperately need one. A 1994 non-league directory describes them as The Sulphurites, a reference to the town’s spa heritage. Mmm. Think the editor made that up. How about The Waterboys?

Three cheers for Uncle Bill: Indefatigable and ever the optimist, chairman Bill Fotherby is the life and soul of Harrogate Town. He’s an old fashioned, tinted specs, wavy-haired sort of gent as summed up by this great retro-postcard-type pic from the club website.

And a boo for the Premiership: I read two stories about Manchester football clubs this weekend. One was about the debt of Man United and other was an account in the NLP of FCUM’s win at Norton & Stockton Ancients. What a great pic too (below). Now that’s what it’s all about!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Norton & Stockton Ancients 2 Leigh Genesis 1

FA Cup, Second Qualifying Round
Attendance: 127

Sometimes deciding which cup tie to go to is a bit like choosing a winner for the Grand National. Just pick a good name or two - which is partly how I came to head for this encounter. In addition, the Ancients were already further than they’d ever gone in the Cup. They rarely make it through the preliminary rounds. In fact, these are heady days all round for the lads. They achieved their first promotion from the Northern League second division two seasons ago and, last season, made the quarter-final of the FA Vase.

For a man permanently infected by cup fever, though, Norton (on Teesside) felt like entering a quarantine zone. There was certainly no throng guiding me to the ground. First I turned into the cricket club and then into a car park which had signs for tennis, squash and bowls. “Is this the right place for the Ancients?” I asked a fella. “Dunno,” he said. “Come here for the rugby”. Then, 50 yards away, I spotted a small sign for the football club. For reference, head towards the garden shed (the entrance) below the tree. Parking was free and admission for the two kids and I (who contributed 2½% of the crowd) plus a programme cost a tenner. You’d barely get a couple of rounds of prawn sandwiches for that in the foreign millionnaire’s league.

The ground is diddy to say the least. It consists simply of one small grandstand and one equally trim, modern shelter around an immaculate pitch. The toilets are outside the gate while the new clubhouse - which currently  looks like a modern art installation - is under construction. Houses surround the pitch and one even has a garden with arched gate that leads to the pitchside. A season ticket comes with the property, in effect. Bedrooms could easily double-up as boxes if the need arises in later rounds. I soon spotted some familiar faces from the previous round: Father Christmas among the spectators and a lino.

I hadn’t been to such a small venue since Knaresborough Town and hadn’t encountered such a muted cup mood since Newcastle Benfield. When the players trotted out I clapped but stopped after three claps feeling a bit embarrassed as I was the only one applauding. The atmosphere reminded me of playing than watching – and playing was what a group of boys was doing behind the dug-outs. Always a nice feature of the early rounds, that. Next to them was a microphone and ISDN kit of the BBC Radio Tees reporter plugged into a transmitter attached to a floodlight as far as I could tell.

There was little for him to report Рor to take our minds off the hat and gloves weather Рin the first half-hour but as half-time approached it all flared up. The Ancients were awarded a penalty but it was saved. Moments afterwards there was a mass brawl. I think it was all handbags (love that football cliché) but it resulted in the dismissal of a player from each side.
Leigh – who play one level higher than Norton – looked the more solid team but the Ancients gradually grew in confidence and had most chances even if they kept fluffing them. Finally, on 67 mins, they went ahead with a thumping header by Bishop from a corner. Two mins later Leigh struck back when Gleave burst through and the keeper deflected but couldn’t keep out his shot. The home side was crest-fallen but, to their credit kept at it, and were rewarded four mins from time when a cross from the right was headed in by Clarke. He stripped his shirt off but thankfully and sensibly didn’t get booked.

That was about the only exuberance of the afternoon. At the final whistle the crowd clapped for literally five seconds (I participated, gingerly) and swiftly cleared off. Perhaps they’re saving themselves for the next round: FC United of Manchester at home. I arrived a round too early.

Pre-match entertainment: I highly recommend Hardwick Park near Sedgefield. It’s a recently restored Georgian pleasure park with lots of follies. We loved it.

Sing when you’re winning: If the Ancients need a chant in a later round then what better than the refrain from Justified and Ancient by The KLF? “Alll-llll bound for Wember-ley, Wember-ley”?

Programme notes: Leigh’s no 4 was Kieran Molyneux. With a name like that shouldn’t he have been playing in the gold and black (of the Ancients). Some good pen pictures of the Ancients. David Alderson: “By his own admission is the thickest man at the club”. Richard Gaston: “Cuts his own hair to save money”. Nathan Mulligan: “Has a great engine and is a set piece expert”.

West Auckland postscript: Auckland proudly announced that they were to travel to today’s tie at Workington “in style” … on the Darlington team coach. To rekindle the spirit of their world cup wins a hundred years ago perhaps they should’ve gone in a charabanc. Sadly, they lost 2-1. Mossley are still hanging on in there, though.

For some match action click here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

West Auckland Town 3 Bradford (Park Avenue) 1

FA Cup, First Qualifying Round
Attendance: 180
I love the claims to fame of small towns. As you enter Horbury near Wakefield a sign proclaims “home to the Onward Christian Soldiers” (the chap who wrote the hymn came from there) and I recently stayed in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, where government red tape was made. But those claims cannot compare with that of West Auckland. “Home of football’s first world cup” it declares on the signs that welcome you to this corner of Co Durham.

To cut a long and extraordinary story short West Auckland won the aforementioned cup representing England in 1909 and 1911. Along the way they beat Juventus 6-1. (Click here for the full story). Ahead of today’s tie a little investigation was called for.

I’d read that a replica of the cup was on display at the working men’s club. On arrival it looked closed down with nothing visible through the windows other than a “CCTV is in operation” sign. This is not a premises easily mistaken for FIFA HQ in Zurich. Phew, I thought. I can go straight to the match. Then I saw a woman enter. Oh, dear. I don’t have an excuse now – so in I go, feeling like I have the words “southern woos” tattooed on my forehead. “Excuse me. Can I see your world cup?” I ask a wrinkly old woman, the only person in an otherwise deserted reception area. “In the lounge,” she abruptly replies. I pace down a corridor and then take a right into what, thankfully, is the lounge. And there it isn’t. A chap having a drink tells me that the cup has gone to Sussex for some sort of promotional turn. What remains is an albeit impressive but notably empty glass cabinet with the words “The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy” (Lipton Tea sponsored the competition) beneath it. What a disappointment – even though it’s merely a replica cup, the original having been pinched in 1994. I buy a booklet about from it from behind the bar and make a hasty exit.

My quest for memorabilia inside the ground is equally interesting. I ask about a club shop from the programme seller and the chap next to him leads me into and through the club house and to a cupboard which doubles up as club shop and Christmas decorations store. I buy a mug. My very own world cup, I guess. The cup icon is understandably everywhere: on the gates to the club, on the badge on the shirt, programme, etc.

As I take my place on the terraces, I pass a chap announcing the team changes standing on the terraces with a microphone. I daresay that the two lads from Wear Radio (below, right) might let him use their facilities if he needed to. Their studio is more of a booth. They stand, mikes in hand and moving around a bit, behind a window. Entry is via a double-glazed door that looks like it ought to lead to a patio. I wonder if actually they’re practising some sort of Auckland remix of the John Barnes World Cup rap rather than commentating.

The visitors, Bradford (Park Avenue) have some history of their own as well, of course, as a former league club. They are also from three levels higher up the pyramid and only missed out on promotion to the Conference North in last season’s play-offs.

Bradford take the lead after five minutes with a looping header and then, soon after, are awarded a penalty after Facey is pulled down. (He’s brother of 13-club journeyman, Delroy, by the way). “Contest over”, we all think, but the Auckland keeper saves and then, in a remarkable turn of events, his side take the lead – initially after the Bradford keeper fluffs a kick from his hands letting in the lanky Moffat and then, a minute later, when the same player converts a penalty (below).
Still very much against the run of play, Auckland extend their lead early in the second half when Banks breaks through an beats the keeper on a one-on-one. That is the last home chance of the contest until the dying minutes as Bradford pile on unrelenting pressure.

A frustrated octogenarian supporter from Bradford twice suddenly calls out as if in pain. At first I think the old boy’s having a seizure but he’s actually trying to start one of those echo chants. Most obligingly, three of his fellow fans respond, smiling awkwardly like when your grandad farts at Christmas. Another elderly gent in the grandstand (left) looked like he was there at the Sir Thomas Lipton match. Facey clips the bar right at the end which rather sums up his – and Bradford’s – afternoon.

What a cracking little match this turned out to be. You can barely call it a giant-killing as Bradford aren’t exactly giants but the roaring coming from the Auckland dressing room is fully warranted – and underlines what the cup means to non-league players.

So after something of a false start in Mossley my FA Cup trail has now taken off in style and, two months after that tournament in South Africa, I have a world cup experience to savour.
Programme notes:
- “On this day” in 1895 the original FA Cup was stolen from a shop window in Birmingham. Clearly Sept 11 is not a good day for missing cups.
- Lipton, now part of Unilever, is among the shirt sponsors. Nice touch.
- Assistant manager ‘Foss’ penned the half-time quiz. Another nice touch.
- The Auckland goalie was in between the sticks for Blyth Spartans 2008 cup run which culminated in the tie against Blackburn Rovers.

First-rate programme, incidentally, reflective of a tidy little club in my favourite league (the Northern).

Unlikely double header: I overheard a groundhopper saying that the following morning he was catching the early morning flight to Belgium to watch Sporting Lokeren v. Westerlo.

Essential viewing:
The story of the first world cup is re-told in this 1982 film starring Denis Waterman and Nigel Hawthorne. It's a sort of cross between Auf Wiedersehn Pet and an Ealing Comedy. Click here to watch on YouTube (like I did on Saturday night).

Essential reading: Last year West Auckland played Juventus in a re-match to mark the centenary of their world cup win. The lads played the Juve under-19s 40 miles away from the San Siro. Click here for an account of the trip, a postscript to the original tale as sad as the theft of the trophy.