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 à 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.