Saturday, 1 December 2012

Harrogate Town 1 Hastings United 1

FA Cup, second round
Attendance: 2,986
Second round proper? Well, yes, but on paper this tie had much more of a whiff of the second qualifying round about it and was played in bitterly cold weather more associated with the third round proper. Extraordinary that two of the lowest ranked sides left in the competition should be paired at this advanced stage. Harrogate couldn’t have imagined they’d be such hot favourites in a second round tie and what an absolute stinker of a draw for poor old Hastings made even worse when the kick-off was brought forward to 1pm since the floodlights were inadequate for the ITV cameras. Three coaches set off from the Sussex coast at 5am.

The PA announcer did his best to whip the home fans into a frenzy. (Never an easy task). The remix of The Boys are Back in Town with clips from a Radio York commentary on a Town 6-1 victory only served to deafen everyone courtesy of an overloud tinny tannoy. The announcer then read out the team changes as though he was intoning Shakespeare. The speech – for it was that rather than announcement – ended with a well rehearsed “so bring on the battle of Hastings!” in the style of “Cry ‘God for Harry, England and St George!’” but elicited no more than a few quiet groans. The visiting fans must be so tired of that line – like Tamworth supporters are no doubt bored of the “slaughter of The Lambs” headlines every time they lose.

The kick off was bizarrely delayed for a minute or so while an old boy in flat cap whom I assumed to be a member of the groundstaff spread some sand from a wheelbarrow onto a particularly muddy patch of the pitch. “Typical George”, said someone beside me. “Anything to get on the telly”.  As George walked past the away dugout I half expected him to clock one of the Hastings subs with the unwieldy rusty rake resting on his shoulder. The pitch was, indeed, a pudding – no better than some of the park pitches I played on – ­­but the club had done well to get the match played at all. The feat had made possible partly by pitch covers which, rolled up behind the touchline, looked like cleared snow.

As keen as George for some TV exposure were three Hastings fans dressed as Santa and some lads who spectated standing on a tractor while waving a silver foiled, cardboard cut out of the Cup suspended on the end of a cane. The vehicle was parked just along from the catering which, being Harrogate, came in the form of vans dispensing hot roast sandwiches and posh coffee which could’ve migrated from the Great Yorkshire Show ground just over the road. Even though this was the second round there was no sensibly no segregation and neither was there a jobsworth to object to the folding step stool I’d bought for my son to stand on. (Indispensible for small boys at football matches, incidentally. Available on eBay at £10 incl. delivery.)

A house overlooks the ground in one corner but, surprisingly, its net curtains remained untwitched throughout the game robbing ITV of a gift of an opening sequence. (You know: tight in shot of spectators in the window to start with then panning back to take in the full stadium). The commentator squinted into the sun from within a scaffolded gantry perched on top of the stand. The plywood structure was so rudimentary I wandered if it had been adapted from a Blue Peter design involving a shoebox with a hole cut out of the lid. (Great potential ‘Spot the Ball’ below).

Harrogate started brightly and should’ve put the tie to bed in the opening quarter. As it was, they allowed Hastings into the game. Harrogate, nevertheless, took a timely lead just five minutes before the break with a close-range header (see pic at the top). The second half was another nervy, error strewn, disjointed affair with very little quality football from either side. Hastings deservedly levelled the tie on the hour when a shot hit the post and bounced back for an easy follow-up. Soon after an even easier strike – literally a tap into an open net from a few yards out – was not converted to everyone’s astonishment. Miss of the season. At the other end Harrogate had a similary near thing when Chilaka’s header struck the post.

Towards the end of the game I started to have that England feeling (most recently felt against Italy in the Euros) of almost not wanting your side to win because they’re playing so poorly and don’t deserve to. In the end it was desperately, crushingly anti-climactic in all respects – except for the Hastings lads, of course.
Four of the six FA Cup ties I’ve seen this season have gone to replays, the original home side eventually going out. Despite Harrogate’s woeful performance I still fancy them to stumble into another round probably on penalties. (It’s that England psyche again). If they don’t then the homecoming fixture against Hinckley on Dec 15 for which 2,700 free tickets have already gone will be as flat as a pancake. Moreover, the players will rue defeat forever. Opportunities as good as this only come along once in a non-league lifetime. I shall follow the winners to Middlesbrough.

Star turn: Local resident Gareth Southgate walked past us. Last saw him in the M&S café in town. He has to be a shoe-in as a pundit if Harrogate play Middlesbrough in the next round.

Home-knit of the season: This gent brazenly sported a fine woolly hat in the green and red livery of Harrogate Railway. No surprise to see a flask in his pocket.

On the telly: No shortage of puns for the Met Police’s first round tie. But my favourite commentary line of the round was the observation on ITV4 that Braintree’s goalie once cleaned the boots of Ravenelli while an apprentice at Middlesbrough. “Not fit to lace his boots” perhaps but good at wiping them. My nomination for goal of the second round is a arcing scorcher by James Beattie (remember him?) for Accrington.

Pic of the season: A match to mark the 140th anniversary of the first FA Cup final was staged between the original opponents, Royal Engineers and Wanderers, at the original venue, The Oval last month. Above is a truly stunning pic by Stuart Tree. Click here for a report and here for a piece on the original final. I should also credit Paul Thomas and Harrogate News with some of the pics for this post (including the great lead shot).

Into the big league: Up for the Cup is reaching far and wide. Following the inclusion of pic of a Great Dane in the Guiseley post my blog has been mentioned at and I privately bemoan the lack of profile my jottings get but now, heh!