Saturday, 22 September 2012

Post and pitch hopping in extreme and scenic locations

Couldn’t make it to a Cup tie today so, instead, here’s a tale about the most northerly goalposts in Britain (above) which I read about while on holiday in Shetland. They are sited off the north coast of Britain’s most northerly island, Unst, on an islet called Muckle Flugga, crowned by a lighthouse (below).

Formed of steel, the posts were erected by contractors’ workmen on the rock called Tipta Skerry for a lark one Sunday in the 1960s when they were building accommodation on Da Rock. The last man to play there was assistant light keeper Sandy Wyllie who visited the posts on a swimming tour of the islets which he did stark naked. Sadly it’s not possible to land on Muckle Flugga so I admired it from the nearest headland. 

While in Shetland I also passed possibly the most northerly football ground in Britain - depending on what qualifies as a ground. This enclosed pitch with shelter and clubhouse is in Shetland’s ancient capital, Scalloway, and named Fraser Park after benefactors Robert, Elsie and Frances Fraser. In the opening fixture in 1950 Scalloway played Stromness from Orkney, a tradition that’s remained a highlight of the season. Also contested to this day is the Madrid Cup which was donated in 1908 by Spanish fishworker Perfecto de la Fuente who was working in Scalloway and local businessman Lewis Garriock. Cup holders are Spurs nicknamed the Milktops, another addition to the pantheon of feeble monickers
The town’s new museum explains that the first Scalloway team took to the pitch in 1899 wearing a yellow and black striped kit donated by Aberdeen, colours that are worn to this day. I imagine the pic below was taken during the club's centenary celebrations. Between 1960 and 1977 Scalloway won 91 trophies, the most in the history of Shetland football.
The football club in Lerwick, Shetland’s capital, just have a modern, unenclosed pitch and clubhouse as I discovered on a soggy walk back to the youth hostel with fish and chips. An anorak twice over.

And, finally and much nearer to home, how about this for an idyllic footballing vista? The ground is Earl’s Orchard, home of Richmond Town, newcomers to the step 7 Wearside League. The Earl is question is the first Earl of Richmond, founder of the Norman castle from which the pic was taken today. Must return to get the pic in the other direction.
Great lingo: Loved a line used by the Berkhamstead manager when urging his side on in their tie against Uxbridge as covered by FATV. “Let the ball do the work. The ball doesn’t get tired.”
The magic 10: Notable score in the Northern Counties East League last Saturday. Lincoln Moorlands Railway 0 Scarborough Athletic 10.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Matlock Town 2 Belper Town 2

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 460
I’ve wanted to visit Matlock Town ever since seeing a shot over the town and ground taken from Riber Castle. No prizes for guessing, then, where I went for my apertif. It is, indeed, a fine vantage point. Surely one of the finest over a northern ground and one that surpasses the Pennine view of Mossley. As I snapped away a couple had a picnic behind me which very much set the social tone for what was to follow. 

Matlock on a blazing late summer’s afternoon presented a lovely scene. Opposite a gorgeous row of almshouses is a park with a packed boating lake. The town’s summer festival was also in full flow. All this – and the little matter of an FA Cup tie. The visitors were Belper Town from just 10 miles up the river. The ding-dong Derwent derby, I called it. The sides haven’t met for nine years in the league and 49 years in the FA Cup. As I soon found out, the rivalry on the terraces is very much of a Brownlee brothers variety without a hint of animosity.

The whole club was as lovingly tended as the sign (above) inside the ground. Blue chalk for home matches, yellow for away and red for cup ties with sincere ‘thank you for your support’ message. The family atmosphere was very much in evidence – as if it the bonhomie had been batted over the boundary from the cricket club that shares the turf (below).
It was all t-shirts, push-chairs and sun dresses today. “Not now. I’m warming up. Go somewhere that mummy can see you,” a sub instructed his offspring. The pitch was pristine, the sort of surface that makes you long to play yourself. All Premier League supporters should be advised to visit a solid step 3 club like Matlock before they renew their season tickets. This is what community football is all about.

The eye is, of course, drawn to Riber Castle (above). The former spa and now county council HQ over one corner and church over another provide equally pleasing vistas and there’s another semi-aerial view available from a hillside behind the new stand opened only in 2010. The letters of the club name are boldly painted on corrugated iron at the back of each section of a 1920s wooden stand opposite (below). Seats are planks on breeze blocks.

Matlock, aka the Gladiators, took an early lead with a thumping header (below) but then Belper, aka the Nailers (great nickname pertaining to the town's nail making past), hit back quickly  with two goals. Matlock then levelled the scores just before half-time with a first goal for Tuton. He had replaced Leesley who’d been stretchered off having scored the opening goal. The second half was a tense stalemate with chances at both ends and little to choose between the two sides who are just a division apart in the Northern Premier League. Brotherly rivalry, yes, but it was fierce too. In the final seconds the Nailers had a penalty claim turned down and a final crunching goalmouth scramble left players lying injured in the penalty area like after the gunfight at the OK Corall. Pulsating contest. Gladiators all.

Star turn: OK: this one’s pretty tenuous. Matlock skipper James Lukic is – yes, you’ve guessed it – nephew of Arsenal and Leeds goalie John.

Happy snappers: Enjoyed meeting fellow ground enthusiasts (we’re not groundhoppers!) David Bauckham and Andy Nunn at the match. Click on their names to see their pics. And click here for the highlights.

Alternative to MOTD: Just discovered The Big Match Revisited early on Saturday mornings on ITV4. Great viewing. Last week we had Ipswich v. Orient in the FA Cup in 1979, snow, orange ball, Arnold Muhren and all. Wonder if Brian Moore ever used the phone on his desk …

Freelance footballers: Players of 45 different nationalities signed for Premiership clubs prior to this season’s transfer deadline or more for clubs in the Championship. For instance, Blackburn have signed Pole Grzegorz Sandomierski and Portuguese Diogo Rosado and Nuno Henriqueive. Who are these lads? No sooner have the fans learn how to say their names and they’ve cleared off to somewhere else to tout their wares. Teams have about the same continuity as an NHS staffing rota. Hmph.