Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whickham 1 West Auckland 3 (aet)

FA Vase, fourth round
Attendance: 341
I'd wanted to visit Whickham FC (in a small town near Gateshead) ever since seeing a pic of a rainbow over their stand in When Saturday Comes. Their big Vase tie today was a golden opportunity. They’ve passed this way before, though, and well beyond. Whickham won the competition in 1981 and were twice semi-finalists in the same era. It's always a bit disappointing when a Vase draw pairs teams from the same League but, in West Auckland - bookies’ favourites for the Vase, 2012 finalists and beaten once only in the League this season - I was guaranteed a passionate contest and a relatively big crowd.

I was a bit confused on arrival at what looked like a municipal sports ground. Furthermore, a sign referred to Hebburn, “FA Vase QR” and “6/9” which, on subsequent investigation, proved to refer to the qualifying round when this cup run started four months ago. Spotting some gold and black West Auckland scarves, I confidentally strode to the garden shed that it is the entry to the ground. The fella within called pounds “punds”. I love the north-east accent. Later, when the linesman called out to the players to explain a decision, the man next to me said: “Can tell he’s not from round here”. I felt foreign.

First impressions of The Glebe? Ah. Well. It’s essentially  a railed pitch, open on three sides, one of them bordering a cricket pitch (see above). There is, of course, that one stand, sited curiously behind a goal, but the quaint home-made sign on the fascia has been upgraded since the pic I’d seen was taken and there was about as much chance of a rainbow today as the two teams about to play in black and white stripes and all white representing Newcastle and Real Madrid.  Cold, grey and drizzly too. I was so glad I hadn’t brought my young son with me. The programme revealed that extra-time would follow if the teams were level at 90 mins and, even before kick-off, I had a feeling what fate had in store …

The first major chance of the match didn’t come until 30 mins. Campbell of West Auckland beat the offside trip but blasted wide despite having plenty of time. A similar burst through by the same player just before half-time gave the visitors the lead. Whickham, one division below West Auckland, battled on valiantly, though, very much stayed in the match and got a deserved equaliser on 75 mins when a cross from the right was jabbed in from close range.

Full time: 1-1. I wasn’t the only neutral in the ground not wanting extra-time. The fourth official wanted to pee. Amazing what you find out standing between the dugouts. Too much information, in some respects. It was a family affair for the Whickham manager. His wife and kids stood right behind him and the barrier, one of them asking why “that man has a flag”. A Whickham player appeared to be elbowed in the face and all sorts of remonstrations followed from the bench. In the professional leagues all you get is a sanitised, media trained account of the game from the manager after the final whistle; at this level, providing you’re standing in the right place, you get it as a live stream.

By now darkness had long descended, the drizzle had stopped and spectators had ventured from the stand and were strung out pitchside. The atmosphere was building. West Auckland restored their lead when a cross cruelly bobbled below a Whickham defender’s foot and, one pass later, the ball was in the net.
Soon afterwards the home defence was sliced open down the right and it was game over. Whickham did get a penalty when one of their lads was upended but it was blasted over the bar. No upset then but worth staying until the end.

Programme notes: Whickham’s Liam Barnett “made his debut against Brandon and took four minutes to open his account”. Remarkable how efficient online banking is these days.

Photographic notes: I always feel a dreadful nerd taking pics at football matches. My camera goes straight back into my pocket after each pic. Clearly this geezer isn't so self-conscious.

 Son of Whickham: The Whickham club crests includes a bust of Lang Jack, a giant (more Geordie speak: “lang” as in long) 19th century local character renowned for humping boulders for long distances. A monument to him which used to stand next to his (demolished) house is today positioned on the town’s high street.

Not a son of Whickham: The club cheekily expressed interest in signing Pierre van Hooijdonk on loan from Nottingham Forest in 1998. Dave Bassett, Forest manager, sent back a fax saying that the ‘want away’ striker would “prefer a move to Eastbourne Town where it would be a little warmer for him”.

Making a stand: Nice story on BBC Online about the purchase of a stand through eBay by Vase fourth rounders and wonderfully named Brightlingsea Regent. Fairly humble affair, as you'd imagine.
My video highlights are here but, for the goals, view below.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Harrogate Railway Athletic 0 Darlington 1883 2

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 1,026

The name Harrogate Railway will forever be associated with the club’s momentous FA Cup runs in the 2000s, both climaxing with second round ties. Since then the biggest matches have been those involving the visits of reformed ex-League clubs paddling their way back up the divisions. Previously Railway had hosted Halifax and Chester and today Darlington (who I saw in September at Clitheroe) came calling.

The ground has been further improved since my last visit for the Mansfield FA Cup tie in December 2007 (since when Railway has only won twice in the Cup, incidentally). The club sold the land occupied by its old clubhouse to developers of a care home and, with the proceeds, built a very smart new clubhouse closer to the pitch. Pleasingly, the old wrought iron gates bearing the club’s name have been incorporated into the new perimeter fence.

Access to the pitch is via a 10-yard fenced tunnel. Pity that the clubhouse couldn’t have been closer still to the pitch ideally along the touchline with a viewing balcony like they have at Ilkley rugby club (although I suspect they have a few more pennies to rub together).
The closest you get to an elevated view at Railway comes courtesy of the pitch’s pronounced slope or, if you’re lucky, a spot in a tiny stand on the half-way line (above) or on timber steps pushed up against a dugout. Despite the improvements Station View remains a ground that Darlo fans would more associate with where they came from last season (step five) rather than where they may well be going (step three).
We queued briefly to get in (not something that Railway’s average crowd of around 100 will be used to) as the PA announcer addressed the “lay-deez and gentlemen, boys and girls!” in the style of Bruce Forsyth and a bingo caller. Fully in his element announcing the crowd number, he clearly relished his role on the club’s big day as did a group of about 20 ragamuffins cheering on Railway from the seats designated for the home and away directors. All power to the lads! They were far outnumbered but weren’t out-sang.

The opposition (in natty pink) were the stronger side throughout in all respects. They took an early lead and put the match to bed just before half-time when a good move ended with a cross, chest down, and half-volley into the net. In contrast, Railway were woeful, final passes nearly always going astray and rarely threating the Quakers’ goal. The game lacked ebb and flow which made for a poor contest.

The sun had soon set and the subsequent gloomy chill did little to perk up my son, nephew and I. As the final whistle blew I turned to my boy and saw a drip hanging on the end of his nose. He left without seeing the “close up” goal he’d hoped for by standing beside the Darlo posts. The PA announcer recommended a visit to the clubhouse “for a glass of your favourite tipple with Lisa and Katie”. Um, not today, thanks. Home, Jeeves.
For all the pics from the match click here.

Programme notes: The editor recalls the Bristol City cup-tie: “Temporary stands adorned Station View, Sky TV beamed the game around the globe and the club was the focus of the football world for a couple of hours”. My eyes moisten at the memory.

Footballers’ haircuts: I witnessed a great battle of the barnets at Middlesbrough v. Reading over Christmas. Boro’s Marvin Emnes, dreadlocks bunched, tussled with Chris Guthrie of Reading who boasts a magnificent mohican. Meanwhile, here’s a report about Tom Huddlestone’s new hairdo. All seems a far cry from when Reading goalie, Steve Francis, boldly sported a new tache on the opening day of the season c. 1988.