Saturday, 26 October 2013

Stamford 0 Hednesford Town 2

FA Cup, fourth qualifying round
Attendance: 668

The journey to Stamford is something of a pilgrimage for groundhoppers but not for much longer. One of the best loved non-league grounds in the country in a stunning but little known Georgian stone town closes at the end of the season when the club moves to a new out of town stadium. I’d tried to avoid viewing pics of the existing ground online as I wanted to see it for real first and today’s tie ­­- with Stamford bidding to reach the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time ever - was the ideal opportunity.

Cameras are usually focused on three features: a church tower, row of almshouses (just the other side of a fence), and century old wooden main stand with red dogtooth fascia bearing the letters SAFC which you imagine would tumble to the ground if struck by an errant pass. The ‘A’ stands for association. The club is not called ‘Stamford Town’ either; the extra syllable just works better for chants not that there were many today. In fact – and for my third round running – the away fans were more vocal than their hosts.

Hailing from a Black Country former mining community, Hednesford are nicknamed the Pitmen. One of their fans sported a white miner’s hard hat with the initials HT painted in black on the sides and ‘The Pitmen’ on the front. Stamford have a great nickname too: the Daniels which is derived from Daniel Lambert, England’s heaviest man (at the time), who died in the town in 1809 weighing 52 stone.  The nickname is everywhere; the locals clearly cherish it.

For what was billed as Stamford’s biggest cup tie for 40 years the atmosphere was a little low key. The mature crowd was modest both in number and demeanor and typified by the mayor in this chains.

Rather like at my previous tie at Guisborough the hosts won the first half on points but had no goals to show for it and you always felt the visitors would make their higher status tell. (Conference North leaders Hednesford came into the match having lost only one League match all season while Stamford had only won two and lie close to the foot of the division below). Hednesford scored twice in the second half, both from soft penalties (the first pictured, below). They were the stronger side overall and deserved to win but, for the Daniels, this must have been a galling way to go out particularly at such an advanced stage.

“The men who could make history” was how a montage of Daniels’ pics was headed in the programme. Sadly not today. This season’s history is likely to be limited to the final match at the grand old ground next April with an appetiser against a potentially promotion chasing FC United of Manchester on Easter Saturday. Put at least one of them in your diary.

Programme notes: The Hednesford squad included Cameroonian Charlie Anagho-Ntamark. His surname reads like a couple of sets of Scrabble tiles. The Pitmen have two players with European experience: Nathan Woolfe with Bolton in the UEFA Cup in 2007 and Wayne Riley with Airbus in the Europa League qualifiers last July. Neil Harvey is a Barbadian international. An ‘in the hot seat’ feature reveals that Richard Jones of The Daniels has a phobia of worms and doesn’t like swedes either. Outstanding publication, by the way.

North/south divide: Distinct lack of teams from the north in the fourth qualifying round draw: just 14 out of 66.

Audio connections: I’ve made my debut as a 5 Live reporter. Responding to a tweet, I filed a 30-second report for The Non League Radio Show, as below. At the game I met the two lads behind the Cup Runnings audio blog too.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Guisborough Town 1 Workington 4

FA Cup, third qualifying round
Attendance: 524

Many teenage girls would’ve checked Twitter on their mobiles on the evening of Oct 2 but very few, like my daughter, awaited score updates from the Cup replay between Guisborough and Jarrow Roofing. She was doing me a favour, of course. I have to admit I really wanted The Roofing to win just for an excuse to visit such a fantastically named club (OK, then, let’s have it in full: Jarrow Roofing Boldon Community Association) but it was not to be. 

Still, Guisborough – which I visited previously in 2007 – is closer to home and, being in my adoptive home county, I was happy to support them today. Remarkably, this was their eighth match in the competition this season having entered in the extra-preliminary round and required replays in each of the subsequent rounds. Entrants in the third round proper can win the competition with less effort. Workington are three divisions higher but bottom of the Conference North.

For the arboreally inclined the grandly named King George V Stadium is a treat. It feels like you’re in a forest with tall trees on three sides of the ground. The fourth side consists of the obligatory shipping container, four pollarded trees that look like giant Matchmakers and the back of a swimming pool (below). My nephew and occasional Cup companion Toby must have been the only person in the ground to have compared the ground to Bala Town which he visited while a student in Wales. “Is this the club shop?” he enquired. “Or is it the toilet?” Actually, it was the dressing room.

The KGV is probably best saved for a crisp autumn day when the leaves are golden. We were two or three weeks early for that and, besides, the weather could not have been more dank and gloomy.What a contrast to the previous round. The programme editor started his notes with: “Tonight we extend a warm welcome to…” It could, indeed, have been evening.

Guisborough came storming out of the blocks and dominated the first quarter having five good chances and deservedly taking the lead from one of them. They struck the bar on 38 mins then immediately the visitors equalised. I’d felt that Guisborough should’ve made more hay while the sun shone (figuratively speaking) and so it proved.

“How are Marske getting on?” a spectator asked us at half-time. I was confused, thinking he was asking about the mascot for the Great North Air Ambulance which was lumbering towards us. He was referring to rivals Marske United who were playing a third qualifying round tie just five miles away on the coast. The PA had earlier announced that Marske were 0-1 down to a lone jeer/cheer (it was hard to tell which).

I’d deferred my photography to the second half in the hope that the conditions would improve. They deteriorated and sea fret-like drizzle descended, causing one of the two FATV camcorder men (above) on the touchline to shield his lens with his jacket. No fancy gantries here. Things weren’t getting any better for The Priorymen either (great nickname, incidentally, coined from the town’s famous – and highly recommended – ruins).
Workington took the lead on 55 mins and, when they got the third soon after, it was all over bar the shouting. There was a lot of that towards the end from their fans, the self-styled “Carlisle ’aters” and “Barrow ’aters” (they are their nearest rivals, 50 miles away), enjoying their side’s first away victory of the season. Earlier they’d chanted “USA, USA!” to encourage their American goalie, Alex Wimmer, much like Reading fans used to support Shaka Hislop.

For the neutral a far better contest was by now reaching its climax at the seaside. Marske got the winner in injury time. What a pity that the draw sends them to Southport. Ho, hum.

Fashion notes: Workington’s away strip is a fetching combination of lime green, black and red. Talking of hideous strips have a look at this lot from last week’s Guardian online.

Programme notes: Today’s match was in the FA Cup and Guisborough’s left back has sticky-out ears. Insert joke here. Gavin Skelton of Workington played in the Scottish Cup Final for Gretna in 2006 and in the subsequent UEFA Cup qualifier against Derry City.

Seventies albatrosses around their necks: Much as Nottingham Forest will forever be known in the media as “former European champions Nottingham Forest” so Workington will always have the “ex-League club” prefix. They hosted a pre-Munich Man United in front of 21,000 and twice reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup in the sixties. Here’s an extract of an evocative amateur film about their final home league match in 1977.

Football in the back garden: This backdrop takes some beating. It’s Buckingham Palace which last week provided the venue for an amateur match staged as part of the FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations.