Saturday, 12 November 2011

Alfreton Town 0 Carlisle United 4

FA Cup, first round
Attendance: 1,488

“There are some things that tell you that you’re at a non-league ground” said my nephew and occasional Cup-anion Toby as he rejoined his brother Duncan and I on the terraces. “Dog footprints in the toilets”. Indeed. Welcome to the Impact Arena. Anything less arena-like it would be hard to imagine. This is a higgledy-piggledy, jerry-built ground but all the more endearing as a result of it. Only 10 years ago Alfreton were languishing in the Northern Counties League and it still shows. The narrow main stand – with three roofs at different levels – now barely has room for standard supporter accommodation. To walk the length of it is to weave in and out of the press box, Tommie Bradley terracing area and Lottie Bradley hospitality area – all shoehorned into what I imagine was previously terracing or seating. Along the way you also have to negotiate entrances to the changing rooms, bar, two hospitality suites and a sponsors’ lounge.

The opposite stand consists of thin metal poles supporting an equally flimsy roof. Behind one goal is uncovered seats plonked onto terracing and at the other end is a single, short cover that today demarked the exclusion zone between rival fans (not that it was needed). The fence badly obscured the view. Not surprisingly, the TV gantry took the form of scaffolding and plastic sheeting perched on top of one stand. Yards of multi-coloured cable festooned the terraces. Take away the breeze blocks enclosures, corrugated steel facias and hastily built brick kazis and this is a small ground inferior to most in the Conference to which Alfreton were promoted for the first time this season.

The arena (sic) is discreet within the outskirts of this north Derbyshire town (even the floodlights don’t stand out) and the muted mood matched. The Alfreton chairman described this tie as a “nice little diversion” from the fight to avoid relegation and the home fans seemed similarly unawed about the prospect of a visit by Carlisle, lying 10th in the third division. Perhaps that also had something to do with the fact that Alfreton were today appearing in the first round for the third time in seven years.

The Reds started promisingly but then conceded four goals in the second quarter of the contest as befitting the side with the worst defensive record in the top six divisions of English football. The pick of the bunch was a bicycle kick from a cross which, when I passed right in front of him, I heard the Radio Cumbria commentator liken to Rooney’s strike against Man City last season. (First goal pictured, below).

By half-time, then, it was all over bar the shouting but there wasn’t any. While understandable to a degree, this was the most astonishingly quiet match I’ve ever been to. It was as if the minute’s silence for Remembrance Day before kick-off had been extended to cover the full ninety of the match. You could almost hear a poppy pin drop. Without exaggeration the players made more noise than the fans. In fact, there were more vocals at Barnoldswick back in August.

To their credit Alfreton put up a good fight in the second half. A penalty rattled the bar and the Reds tested the Carlisle goalie but it was all, inevitably, too little, too late. They deserved at least a consolation goal, though. In true non-league fashion, a woman with a peroxide beehive pushed her child around the pitch and we too were soon perambulating to the exit.

Streete map: Turning out for Alfreton was Theo Street, son of Floyd, who played for Wolves and Reading among others. Originally, I thought that it was Floyd on the pitch but he’s 52 now, as Duncan revealed from a quick Wiki. (Funny how iPhones have now completely replaced tiny, tinny trannies from Tandy on the terraces). Remie Streete, Theo’s brother, plays for Newcastle.

Stocking filler: You can buy a DVD of Alfreton’s pre-season 14-0 thrashing of a Sheffield Wednesday XI from the club shop. Now that would warm the cockles on a cold winter’s night …

Good thrashings: AFC Totton’s 8-1 win over Bradford Park Avenue was the biggest win for a non-league side in the proper rounds of the Cup for 66 years. Stranraer, meanwhile, bagged nine without return against Wigtown & Bladnoch in the Scottish Cup last month. The match was also notable not for being a rare Wigtownshire derby. Good blogtastic write-up by The Scotsman here.

My Cup doesn’t overfloweth: Faced with no suitable tie to go to in the final qualifying round, I made do with listening to commentary on Wrexham v. York. York lost having fielded a weakened team. “No matter: we can concentrate on the league” was the tenor of the post-match Tweets to the radio station. Oh, for goodness sake! Is the prospect of trips to Accrington and Torquay next season really more exciting than the potential of taking on a Premier League side (albeit their reserves) as, indeed, the Minstermen did last season? It’s a sad day for football if it is. At this rate the only knockout competition anyone will be serious about winning is the good old FA Vase.

And then there were eight: Another sign of the times is how few clubs below Conference North/South level made the first round this season: only eight (including just two from the north) out of 603 starters. Only sperm set off on a journey with less chance of reaching their goal.

Ex-pro in the news: Steve Claridge has signed for Gosport. Interesting little film about his debut here. And what a winner he scores too.