Saturday, 28 September 2013

Trafford 2 Altrincham 1

FA Cup, second qualifying round
Attendance: 829

Ask for a word association for Trafford and you’ll get only two answers. Thankfully, the first of them actually play some distance from where I was heading and it’s too far ahead of Christmas for the other to complicate my journey. I was bound for Trafford FC who were hosting Altrincham. The clubs are only eight miles apart but what can you call the match? The Manchester derby? Hardly – and Altrincham isn’t quite within the city but in Cheshire. How about the Merseyside derby since that’s the river that separates them. Think that’s taken too. Hmmm …

These days Trafford and Altrincham are about as close heirarchically as they are geographically. Last season today’s hosts won promotion to the the Northern Premier League premier division (step 3) for the first time while Altrincham – the non-league club with the greatest number of league scalps in the FA Cup – are one step higher in the Conference North but boast a Conference National pedigree.

Apart from Man U and the Trafford Centre I associate Trafford with an area of heavy industry that was bombed in the Second World War. That image is a far cry from the ambience of their trim ground located in leafy Urmston. The playing surface is pristine too. That said, I was glad that it was a sunny afternoon and a tasty tie since, in terms of character, Shawe View isn’t a lot to write a blog about.

There are three modern, functional corrugated steel shelters and grassy banks that you’re not allowed to stand on (FA rules, so the stewards maintained) and that’s it – if you exclude the vintage iron and wood tip up seats (above) and I’m not quite nerdy enough (yet) to wax lyrical about them. I also quite liked the standing room only press box (below) wedged into the main stand and next to a blazer-packed VIP area.

The home side took the lead on 11 mins when the ball was walloped in from the edge of the box. Only then, on noticing where the cheers were coming from, did I realise that Alty fans outnumbered Trafford fans by probably three to one. (It was like Clitheroe/Darlo again). Very vocal bunch too and lots of young lads among them which is good to see. Today’s crowd was, I believe, the second biggest in Trafford’s history (after the visit of FCUM last month).

Alty struck back within three minutes with a penalty (above). They had a good deal of possession but never really asserted their authority on the match and were poor in the final third rather like England usually are. “All right, Lee?” a couple of fans beside the dugouts asked the Alty manager, ex-Bradford player Lee Sinnott. He paused for a moment and then, unable to ignore them scowled: “Not really,” before turning back toward the pitch and berating his players with lots of f-words. I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong end of a bollocking from him which is what I suspect his players got at half-time.

Trafford got the winner when Oates scored after 64 mins (above) after a previous attempt had been repelled. I didn’t quite know who to support. I usually side with the underdog but, equally, have had a soft spot for the visitors ever since I watched them in my student days, a feeling that had been rekindled by the warmth of their support. In the end, I joined the away fans to watch the last quarter. It didn’t get any better for them and, at the end, the Alty skipper came over to the visiting fans to respond to claims about lack of passion. No need for post-match interviews here. You can ask the questions immediately, face to face.

So the giant killers were giantkilled. Well, perhaps but that’s an exaggeration but, United and City having lost, Trafford can justly claim to have been Manchester’s team of the day today. Trafford says the win was the greatest in its history.

Hopping mad: Four lads are planning to visit all 92 league grounds plus Wembley in the space of 92 hours next month in aid of Help for Heroes. Trust they’ll get a big West Country welcome at Bristol Rovers at 3.25 on the Tuesday morning. Their fingers will be raw after all that sat nav setting. Here is the site.

Colourful character: I read about ‘Mr Bilston’ in this blog post about a match at Bilston Town in the West Midlands. Frankly the fella is frightening. Handy that his team play in the same colour as hi-viz workwear.

Silly footballers’ names no. 109: André André. Saw this chap scoring for Guimarães of Portugal in the Europa League highlights on ITV4 last week. (I don’t get out much). His parents could’ve been a bit more imaginative.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Clitheroe 2 Darlington 1883 3

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 575

I feel like joining Darlington away supporters’ club this season. Like Halifax and Chester before them, reformed Darlo are paddling their way back up the divisions, bringing a cup-tie like atmosphere to lots of appealing northern grounds which I haven’t yet visited. First up (for me): Clitheroe, which I’d heard likened to a less rural Bacup.
Shawbridge certainly has plenty of quirks to say nothing of the pronounced slope. I particularly like the way that one of the goal nets is supported: by blue string tied to the fascia of the shelter behind. The main stand has some retro wooden tip-up seats and a sealed in press box (empty) formed of double glazing panels that could double-up as an escapologist’s water tank.Then comes the obligatory Portacabin and shipping container tea bar (the ‘Blues grub tub’) and a small stand, lovingly crafted from corrugated steel and plywood with wire mesh between the top row of bench seats like an unfinished priest’s confession box. Everywhere the paint peels. Finally, we have a stand made from more corrugated steel supported by a lattice of scaffolding and with a crazy paving base.

Again like Bacup, the backdrops are impressive too. The town’s castle (which I visited earlier for the view towards Shawbridge, below) looms behind one corner and the spire of a church pokes above the main stand with Pennine moors beyond while some rustic stone properties à la Barnoldswick loom over one corner. I like a ground which reminds you where you are.

Writing from at length in the programme and perhaps taking after his namesake, Clitheroe skipper Jack Higgins apologised profusely for his side’s capitulation in the two previous matches – a league defeat at Bamber Bridge and FA Cup elimination at the hands of other arch local rivals, Padiham –  and promised an improvement. The home fans got one: Clitheroe were two up at half-time (first goal pictured, below). You always felt that the eager visitors had a lot left in the tank, though, and so it proved.

Sadly, I’m missing a couple of qualifying rounds of the FA Cup but this match more than made up for it. Darlo got one back early in the second half, levelled it with nine minutes to go and grabbed the winner in injury time to send their 300 or supporters wild. The attendance was so big the bogs were blocked by half-time – so I was told by a Burnley fan at Shawbridge for Non League  Day. That’s the big time for you.

The programme recalled Clitheroe’s 2001 Vase semi-final against Taunton. “The game only just surviving an absolute deluge, the Blues went in at half-time 5-0 down and reduced to 10 men. There was not much good humour among the 150 travelling fans over that cup of Bovril”. I can’t imagine the mood was any merrier among Jack and his team mates after this one.

Easy listening: Here is a novelty: a new FA Cup trail blog in the form of podcasts. Meanwhile, the Northern Premier League has launched a podcast (starring Swampy and recorded at a pub in Stockport) and I also read in the Clitheroe programme that Whitby Town now has its own “codcast”. Love it!

Changing places: While going to and returning from the match I passed the Lancaster City lads en route to and from Harrogate Railway. The coach party won 3-1.

Let’s hear it for Harry: Among all the names (mainly of foreigners you’ve never heard of) in the list of transfer deadline day deals one stood out like a sore thumb: Harry Bunn who has been loaned to Sheff United by Man City. Sounds like he belongs in the 1930s.

Perfect pitch: A junior football pitch is set up within a square of former slate miners’ cottages at Easdale Island near Oban which I visited on holiday last month.

PS Got a lot of strong pics today, too many for the write-up.  For the complete set click here.