Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Leek Town 1 Hinckley United 2 (aet)

FA Cup, third qualifying round replay
Attendance: 488
Leek isn’t the most obvious destination for a night out but for an FA Cupaholic in the Midlands on business on Cup replay day it was the only place to be. I was actually working near Hinckley so this was nearly an ‘howay the lads’ trip. The route wasn’t exactly aflutter with orange and white scarves, though, as I plied my way across the endless dark expanses of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. By the time I reached the turnstiles I was starting to question my sanity. My attendance at this tie was borne out of expedience rather than simple desire.

Harrison Park is a very substantial ground for this level with cover on all three sides plus large grandstand with paddock. The Conference-type set-up a hark back to Leek’s glory days in the nineties when they enjoyed two seasons at the top level, were runners-up in the FA Trophy and twice progressed to the proper rounds of the FA Cup. Today, languishing in the first division south of the Northern Premier League, two steps lower than Hinckley, Leek is a sleeping giant. But, attracting the division’s second highest average league gate of 371, you feel that the club could easily follow in the footsteps of Chorley, another ex-Conference side with a rowdy, resilient hardcore of youthful support you often get for one-horse town teams. I never know whether to admire these lads or take pity. The crowd was practically all male under 21s and old men and the majority of the few women I spotted were over 60 and had car rugs over their knees.

Most of the key action took place in the first quarter of the match. Leek started very positively and took the lead with a header off the post by Matty (footballers aren’t called Matthew) Haddrell. The “hurly burly striker” as the local paper call him then ran behind the goal stroking the outstretched hands of the fans (see lead pic). Love a bit of showmanship. Leek then nearly doubled the lead with a similar effort (video here). Within a minute of the re-start Hinckley had broken away at the other end and equalised through Gray. Thomas of Leek was then sent-off for lunging foul and, after that, the Lockmen – as Leek are called account of the town’s most famous resident, canal builder James Brindley – were always going to struggle much like the similarly reduced Welsh rugger side on Saturday.

I had the obligatoy leak in Leek at half-time (the bogs are of the breeze block, unroofed variety) really, really, really hoping that we weren’t heading for extra-time and penalties, mindful of my two-hour journey home. I haven’t wanted a 90-minute conclusion so much since the Harrogate/Torquay replay (goalless and Harrogate lost on penalties) when I had to be up at six the next day to catch a flight.

The rest of the contest was pretty much one-way traffic in favour of Hinckley and, but for some poor finishing, they would have put the tie out of sight. Leek had their moments – hitting the post again, for instance (video here) – but they were few and far between. Right at the start of, yes, extra-time a cross from the right was flicked in at the near post by Byrne. I was half-wanting Leek to draw level but equally wanting to put an end to what was an increasingly cold night. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees since the previous round. As it was The Knitters retained their lead and go through to face Darlo in the final qualifying round.

I left the ground to the sounds of “the referee’s a wanker”. And so to the Silk Road (the one named just that in Macclesfield), around Manchester and over the Pennines at midnight. “Was it worth it?” the missus asked, as I stumbled down to breakfast. In truth – and in the absence of an upset – probably not but a night tie at a new venue was a novel experience.

Programme notes: Devon Gibson of Leek “appeared in the final of the Australian reality television series Football Superstar”. Umm, err. I take it he didn’t win. In the dubious crudentials stakes Devon rivals Tunji Moses of Hyde (see previous post).

Photography note: I inevitably struggled with the photography tonight and pinched the Matty and sending off pics from the local paper. No such problems for a  photographer at a recent Histon match who took this cracking, atmospheric shot.

Those were days, part 203: I’ve been enjoying Sounds of the Century on Radio 2. It’s a skilful blend of archive recordings and pop from each year. Here’s a great clip of two Liverpool commentaries from 1977. In an instant you will be reminded of how tremendously exciting the FA Cup final used to be and the irreplaceable thrill of a cracky football commentary on the radio (even when the commentator misidentifies the scorer). Back then a British team in Europe was genuinely that and we were all behind it.

Liverpool commentaries 1977 (mp3)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Staveley Miners Welfare 0 Hyde FC 3

FA Cup, second qualifying round
Attendance: 320

What’s it like to see a crowd? Well, after three rounds of decreasing sub-200 crowds, very good. I’ve reached the stage in the Cup when I select a tie based more on what sounds like a good contest rather than a grand day out. Today I watched the equal highest ranked side in the competition at this stage, Hyde (top the Conference North) hosted by newly promoted Staveley (three steps lower at the top of the Northern Counties East Premier). Both sides are unbeaten. Something had to give …

Staveley love their stripes and logo. Two helpful chaps in polo shirts bearing the logo directed me to the last space in the car park then I made my way to the turnstiles past an ostentatiously parked four-wheel drive vehicle with striking Staveley livery (like the club’s minibus at Goole two rounds ago). The full length of the clubhouse and function room on both sides is immaculately painted in blue and white stripes. Inside every table has a logo as does the extendable vinyl tunnel. Even the bins around the ground (royal blue, of course) have the logo. There are almost as many Staveley logos at Inkersall Road than there will be five rings at the Olympic stadium.

First impressions of Staveley (in north Derbyshire) is that this is a club on the up – and rather flush with it. I’ve never seen such an exceptionally smart (if otherwise unremarkable) stadium at this low level. There’s a fancy electronic scoreboard and clock and fascias on all the stands positively gleam which is more than a little to do with the fact that they – and their league, the Northern Counties East – are sponsored by Baris Fascias and Linings. Company MD and, one assumes, Staveley benefactor, Terry Damms is pictured in the clubhouse pressing the flesh with England World Cup winners, Jimmy Greaves, HRH Bobby Robson, Harry Redknapp and numerous other football royalty. This fellow is well connected.

Peculiarly, given the standard of the ground, the PA announcer-cum-cameraman has to make do with a scaffold tower away from the clubhouse (wonder if he fell out with Terry) and supplies for the barbecue are stored in a shipping container. Pity that two of the three stands are set far back from pitchside too. With temperatures up to 82F, the crowd was all baseball caps, bare chests and beer cans today. The away fans – who came in a coach rather than minibus for the first time on this season’s FA Cup trail – chanted their hatred for “Celtic”. Not the Glasgow variety but Stalybridge Celtic, their bitter Tameside rivals (as I found out in 2007).

Hyde made their superior status tell immediately. It was no surprise when they took the lead on 20 mins when a cross from the right was knocked in at the far post. Thereafter a Hyde win – their first in the competition for six years – was always on the cards. FA Cup virgins this season, Staveley didn’t have their first goal chance until 30 mins were up. Hyde extended their lead with a shot that took a wicked deflection early in the second half. Thereafter Staveley rallied well but, after the third Hyde goal, everyone was just playing for time. This contest was actually a no contest. Still I had a super afternoon in the sunshine.

Star turns: First up we have Tunji Moses, formerly of the Macclesfield Meltdown roller hockey team and FC United of Manchester and, even more notably, son of Remi Moses of Man United in the early 80s. Secondly, Matty Berkeley, the only international on the pitch having played for St Kitts & Nevis under 20s. Thirdly, Martyn Booty, an ex-Reading pro and Hyde’s assistant manager, whom I last spotted playing for Curzon Ashton.
Tunji ... Remi ... and Martin
Programme notes: “As always as a club we wish to look, listen and learn and if anybody has any suggestion as to how we may better our facilities and arrangements for you, the supporters, then please let us know. You lot are the life blood of our business here so you are very much priority as to how we look after you”. So it said in the ‘introduction’. Love it. Another indication of what sort of club this is is the fact that the chairman’s work telephone number, mobile and email are printed in the programme.

FC means sweet FA: What’s with the ‘FC’ prefix or suffix that’s in vogue at the moment? Parkgate and Hyde have both changed their names in this respect recently. The new names have all the impact of a company switching from being called Marks & Spencer to Marks & Spencer Plc. If you want to re-name then why not create an albion or wanderers? And, more meaningful than FC would be DC as in ‘da capo’, the musical notation for play again from the beginning.

TV or not TV? So Fergie thinks that telly is too influential over football. Not from where I’m standing (as opposed to sitting with a prawn sandwich). There are 82 ties in the second qualifying round and all but two kicked off at 3pm on Saturday.

Ooh-err, missus! Following news of Harrogate Town’s “new brand spanking website” (see end of previous post), I read also in the local paper that, following a victory over Scarborough Athletic in the first qualifying round, Tadcaster Albion “deserve all the plaudits not only for beating ’Boro but giving their Seadog backsides a tanning”. Is their reporter kinky, or what? Still, nothing like partisan journalism. That sort of tribal passion is what the Cup’s all about.