Saturday, 30 August 2014

Knaresborough Town 0 West Allotment Celtic 1

FA Cup, preliminary round
Attendance: 268

Every cloud has a silver lining. The cloud in question was the bloody big one that hung over North Wales yesterday and today and which caused my family and I to return home in the morning rather than evening of a holiday. The silver lining was the opportunity this afforded to watch Knaresborough host an FA Cup tie for the first ever time.

Manse Lane is the nearest ground in the non-league pyramid to where I live. By my own admission I’ve been somewhat tardy in getting down there to catch up with the greatest period in the club’s 100 year plus history (although I did see them in the Northern Counties East League Cup final at Valley Parade in May.) I missed Knaresborough’s first ever match in the pyramid two years ago as well as the friendly against Leeds which marked the switch-on of the new floodlights.
These were among several ground upgrades that enabled the club to join NCEL (at step 6). Others included the addition of two very basic, small stands and a turnstile block. The ground is very smart and well cared for throughout even though it has absolutely nothing to remark about.

The visitors were from a village near Newcastle. Despite their name – one of the greatest in the game – and green and white hoops, they have few if any links to Celtic groups and there are apparently no allotments in West Allotment either. Bit disappointing, really. Following an appearance at Pickering in the previous round, Father Christmas featured among the small band of travelling supporters. I last saw this one aka Salty at Norton & Stockton Ancients four years ago. The attendance was the largest ever at Knaresborough for a competitive fixture.

Celtic took the lead from the penalty spot, reflecting an opening period of superiority. They were awarded a second spot kick when a Knaresborough player deliberately pushed the ball away from the goal as he tumbled following a collision. He was sent off and I thought there was no chance of the goalie – somewhat dodgy to that point – pulling off a save. Of course, he did. Reduced to 10 men galvanised Town and they were a match for Celtic for the remainder of the game but rarely threatened the visitor’s goal.

A tense, passionate encounter came to a head in the last quarter. Firstly, the veteran, hard-as-nails Celtic centre-half (see Star Turns, below) gashed his head in a clash and left the field with a bandage à la Terry Butcher. (A word here for the Celtic physio who sported a black fleece and faded blue and pink track suit bottoms that she may wear in bed. You could almost have mistaken her for one of the young mums you see pushing their bairns around the perimeter during non-league matches.) Then the sides were evened up when a Celtic defender was sent off for headbutting following  an earlier booking. The ref waited patiently as the player walked along the pitch rather than beside it to the dressing room in the far corner.

In the final minutes of Fergie-time the towering Knaresborough goalie (he can hold onto the cross bar with his feet on the ground) came up for a free kick and two corners. From the second of them Knaresborough scored but the goalie had previously pushed a Celtic defender so it was disallowed. Argh! Previously so dominant, Celtic were reduced to playing keep-ball beside a Knaresborough corner flag. Celtic had a strong penalty appeal turned down sparking an outburst of invective towards the officials before time finally ran out for the gallant hosts. Gripping finale.

The final whistle didn’t blow until 4.59pm but I still reached the car in time for Sports Report and was home 10 mins later. (I was on the radio with my report too today. See below). There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local and non-league.

Star turns: Playing for Celtic was Marc Dummett, brother of Paul who was sub for Newcastle today against Crystal Palace. The veteran Celtic player referred to above was Paul Stoneman, 41, who played for Halifax and Blackpool. Knaresborough’s star, Seb Carole, ex-Leeds and Monaco and pictured below, was injured. The only Carole in action today was his lad playing in the kids game behind one of the goals.

Reversal of fortunes: In the last round I saw Washington hit six in at Pickering without reply. All change in this round: Washington lost 0-7 at home to Lancaster who are coached by Darren Peacock (ex-QPR).

Welsh grounds:  There was a Welsh groundhop over the Bank Holiday weekend. The outstanding pic above shows Blaenau Ffestiniog’s ground and appears on the highly recommended Onion Bag blog. My footballing serendipity on holiday continued in North Wales last week. I happened by Menai Bridge Tigers v. Aberffraw (7-3) in the Gwynedd League. Tightly enclosed on two sides by woods, one side by flats and another by a library and changing rooms, the pitch had the vague feel of a ground to it. Have a look - and enjoy the seagulls ...

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Pickering Town 0 Washington 6

FA Cup extra-preliminary round
Attendance: 173

What’s up with the Cup? My first choice tie was switched from Rochdale Town to the home of the side drawn away, Runcorn Linnets, nullifying the interest for me then my second choice at Pickering was moved from Saturday to Sunday. I thought these sorts of shenanigans only happened in the proper rounds!

Actually, the 24-hour delay to today’s match was unavoidable since the cricket club who share Pickering Town’s three-sided ground and pavilion (above) had a game booked for the Saturday. The scorer’s tower is one of a pleasing jumble of buildings behind one of the goals, the others being a redundant turnstile block, two lock-ups and an old stone house. All are overlooked by a church tower. A new main stand (below) has been added opposite the cricket square since my previous visit for the big second qualifying round tie against Accrington Stanley in 2001.

You could almost tell you were and the level of football by sound alone. The murmur of conversation was typical step 5/6; the talk was all about the latest score from the Yorkshire county cricket match taking place nearby at Scarborough; and the occasional distant toots belonged to the North York Moors Railway which starts in Pickering. “No skateboards or roller skates allowed inside the ground” read a sign at the turnstile which I entered after a dog clad in his blue Pickering coat. All in all Mill Lane presented a much more cosy scene than Salford City 10 days ago despite the unseasonal cool, blustery conditions. It was nice to be home.

I was surprised the match wasn’t more even. Despite being a step lower in the pyramid, Northern League Washington went two up early on and after there was only ever going to be one winner. Fickle as ever, my son and I went from supporting the Yorkshire team to hoping for a hatful against without return.

Things were looking good mid-way through the second half when a Washington player spotted an increasingly dodgy Pikes keeper off his line and successfully lobbed him and the visitors further extended their lead as a Pickering defender sliced a cross into his own net. Washington missed a sitter to make is seven and only then took their foot of the gas. A cricket score was averted and the Pikes’ interest in the cup came to a somewhat ignominious and premature conclusion.

35 years of hurt: Washington last won an FA Cup tie when they beat Garforth in 1995 but the defeated club progressed to the next round. The last time Washington reached a second round was in 1979.

Star turn: The Pikes’ assistant manager is ex-Leeds United reserve and North Yorkshire journeyman Tony Hackworth who I last spotted playing for Whitby.

Further reading: Well researched article here from BBC online about some of the quirks of the extra-preliminary round.

Father Christmas puts in an early appearance in the Cup

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Salford City 5 Class of ’92 1

Pre-season friendly
Attendance: 12,000 (sell-out)

Well, I’m glad I checked the ticket carefully. Tonight’s game sadly wasn’t at Salford’s own ground but at the city’s new rugby league stadium which reduced its novelty appeal considerably although you could understand the commercial rationale behind the switch. I’d been expecting something closer to the kickabout that the Class of ’92 had with construction workers on the roof of their Old Trafford hotel; suddenly everything had gone a bit too Premier League – and I’m talking about the Barclays rather than step four Northern version where Salford competes. Ho-hum. I had tickets and my boy was keen to see some stars so over the Pennines we went …

I may have been disappointed with venue selection but had no qualms about the Class’s stellar line-up. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt (who have bought Salford City which is how this fixture came about) were all on show along with Raimond Van Der Gouw, Tomasz Kuszczak, David May, Mikael Silvestre, Robbie Savage (“booh!”), Quenton Fortune, cricketers Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison and comedian Jack Whitehall.

Salford were by far the more spritely and eager side, keen to impress the club’s new owners and motivated by the occasion. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare this season. They scored twice in the first half but could’ve got four of five had it not been for Van Der Gouw’s saves. Each goal was greeted by a tune over the PA which was a necessary prompt since they were scored at the far end, I wasn’t paying much attention and there was no cheering. In contrast to Salford the Class were decidedly sluggish (with the exception of Giggs) and clearly demonstrated the extent to which age takes its toll on ability. Their only shot on goal was a penalty cheekily dinked in by Giggs on the stroke of half-time.

The game had a decidedly dozy feel to it, feeling more like a testimonial for the Class at a lower league ground with Salford as guests at the party they were actually hosting. I struggled to get into it. That’s friendlies for you, I guess. The best feature of the first half was that it was only 40 mins long and the interval was 10 mins which made up for the delay to the kick-off by 25 mins because of traffic congestion outside the ground. Thankfully, the second period was much more entertaining because Salford were attacking our end, the floodlights added some atmosphere and, moreover, the crowd livened things up.

The highlight of the night was when a fella in a baseball cap ran onto the pitch then acrobatically swung himself up onto the cross bar, sat in the top netting and bounced up and down, raising the rear stanchion of the turf. (See here for LOL clip). Four yellow jackets tried to get him down but he got his feet caught in the netting and ended up being dragged out of it, losing his shoes (and nearly ankles) in the process. Twice later two small groups of lads also ran onto the pitch to embrace or shake hands with the stars. The invasions were like looting: for once you probably won’t get apprehended so why not do it?

The team in red and white (Salford) continued to dominate the team that used to play in red and white, knocking in the last couple of goals with an almost arrogant nonchalance. I was surprised the match hadn’t been more of a contest.

The PA announcer implored spectators not to invade the pitch saying that such incursion might curtail interviews with the players and other post-match entertainment. Bollocks to that! At the final whistle on the fans all went – and had a mass kickabout too until a steward wrestled the ball away. Spoil sport.

Our route back to the car along a public footpath between a sewage works and the Manchester Ship Canal and under the M60 wasn’t very appealing by day and even less so after dark. What’s more, we were the only people using it. The path had been blocked off half way along by Herras fencing. The night watchman from the sewage works couldn’t open it up so two youths with scooters (who I was quick to befriend with an account of the match) lifted it up for us and we slid underneath. A couple of hundred yards and several glances over our shoulders later and we were back to what had originally looked like a nifty parking spot down a cul-de-sac. I was reminded of my escape from Droylsden as, with a sigh of relief, we joined the motorway. The only time I like to see signs to Leeds is when I’m getting away from an edgy part of Manchester.

White wash out: My season started unofficially with Knaresborough Town v. Blackburn Rovers U21s on July 18. Still digesting the World Cup, I didn’t fancy the whole match so watched 15 mins through the fence on the way back from swimming with my son. The towel came in handy; it bucketed down. We saw the first goal. Town then went 4-1 up before losing 5-4, three of the Blackburn goals coming in the last five minutes. Should’ve watched the whole thing!

Perfect pitch: As a sequel to my previous post about football grounds spotted on holiday here’s a beautifully sited and maintained pitch with new pavilion in the village of Scourie where I stayed in the north-west Scottish Highlands.