Saturday, 26 September 2015

Newton Aycliffe 0 North Ferriby United 0

FA Cup, second qualifying round
Attendance: 254

While walking around the cricket pitch that adjoins Newton Aycliffe’s ground I passed two boys tossing sticks into a horse chestnut tree to knock down conkers. (The game seems rather quaint in this iPod age). I hadn’t been able to park inside the ground because of the crowd. Ah, yes: we’ve reached the second qualifying round.

For Newton Aycliffe (in Co Durham) this was their first time at this lofty stage and, even though, they were still three wins from the first round proper the match still heart-warmingly qualified as the biggest in their 50-year history according to their chairman and ex-manager writing in the programme. Today’s visitors, step 2 North Ferriby, know a fair bit about big matches having won the FA Trophy at Wembley just four months ago. Newton’s managerial duo – the Brian Clough and Peter Taylor of the Northern League, Peter Dixon and Paul Foster – have twice recently been at Wembley too with West Auckland in FA Vase. (Seven of their starting line-up today had followed the duo from West Auckland since their appointment a year ago).

The match was of note to me in that it was the fourth time I’ve happened to see North Ferriby in 12 months. I first saw them at the same stage of the Cup last season at Cleethorpes, then away to Warrington  (they just keep getting Cup draws away to small teams I’m interested in) and finally in the Trophy semi-final against Bath. Any more of this and I’ll have to join the supporters’ club.

There isn’t much more to say about the match than about Newton’s tidy but very basic ground. (It consists of two small, modern stands and some cabins but I suppose you can’t have a grand old ground in a new town). It was a tight, tense encounter with relatively few clear cut chances but some good saves from the home goalie. The closest we came to a score was just after the three cheers on the rugby pitch over the fence when a header from Denton of North Ferriby hit the base of the post.

Soon afterwards Northern League legend Matty Moffat (“Matty Moff”) of Newton found himself alone against four yellow shirts on the edge of the Ferriby box. Was he about to go on a mazey run to grab a dramatic late winner, cause the upset of the round and give me a little more to write about? Sadly not. Unfortunately, in the final reckoning this Cup occasion didn’t have much to get excited about. (It was the only goalless tie in 80 matches in this round).

Face in the crowd: Father Christmas, aka Salty, and a great peripatetic Northern League supporter, put in an appearance. I lost spotted him at Norton & Stockton five years ago.

Quote of the day: “You definitely got bullied at school!” shouted at the ref by a fan.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Thackley 2 Abbey Hey 2

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 86

I don’t like to overgoogle grounds before I visit them so when I went down to the woods today I was sure of a big surprise and what a pleasant one it was. Thackley’s Dennyfields – named after a long-serving groundsman George Denny and located in northern Bradford – is a gem and one of the most appealing grounds in Yorkshire.

The wooded, rural setting with grazing horses just visible between trees on the far side along with a main stand with wooden bench seating were reminiscent of Esh Winning. A tower on a slight hill catches the eye. It’s the top of a ventilation shaft for the Skipton to Leeds railway line. While nipping out to get a panorama pic (and missing the third goal, damn it) I came across an old turnstile in the bushes which I guess must provided access to the ground in a previous configuration.

The sound of church bells drifted over the arena for much of the match. The noticeboard beside the tea bar had just two notices: one about the half-time draw and the other reading: “Honey for sale. See Geoff (gateman).” It’s that kind of of place, dearly cherished and with a strong sense of community. “I’ve been looking after Andy’s ferrets all week ...” I overheard a fella saying on his phone.

The Lancashire versus Yorkshire angle to the game was part of its appeal. Both sides came into the match having achieved good wins in the previous round: Thackley away to Northern Leaguers Ashington and Abbey Hey (from Manchester and step 5 like Thackley) knocking out last season’s top Cup giantkillers, Warrington Town.

Abbey Hey took the lead following a goalkeeping slip and went two up just before half-time when a winger jinked his way skilfully to the byline and checked the ball back for Hardy to whack in from close range. Two Abbey fans whirred their rattles. Yes: rattles at a football match albeit apologetically small ones. The retro, Northern League-like feel of the occasion got better and better. The pair later unfurled a banner. Always good to see the first one on the FA Cup trail: ‘Abbey Hey: Isle of Man 2015’, it read with reference to the club’s pre-season match.

To their credit Thackley stuck at it and were rewarded with a headed goal by Garrod on 69 mins. The Dennyboys equalised eight minutes later when the Abbey keeper spilt a cross and Bentham stroked home. Thereafter both sides went hell for leather for the winner but it didn’t come. A string of fine saves by the Thackley goalie kept them in the tie. Great game, great ground, great afternoon. (Abbey Hey won the replay 1-0).

Famous old boy: Thackley's star alumni is ex-Bradford City beanpole, Ian Ormondroyd.

New kids in town: I heard on the radio that none of the players in todays Man U/Liverpool match came from the city they were representing. Football without tribalism is barely football at all.

Dennyfields is very photogenic and the weather was superb today so the pics were very good, though I say it myself. Too many to display within the text, though. Click here go to the full album.

The nappy pin that’s part of football history

Before the Thackley match today I checked out the remains of the former home of Bradford Park Avenue. The club dropped out of the Football League in 1970 and the structures were demolished 10 years later. Unlike the sites of most other former grounds it hasn’t been built over since there’s a covenant that specifies that it should always be use for sporting purposes.  Today one half the old pitch is currently occupied by a gym and the other, open half is used by the University of Bradford Archery Club. There are clearly no limits to construction on the opposite side of the road where today a giant mosque stands.

The old ground is being excavated by archaeologists from the University of Bradford prior to its acquisition and likely alteration by the neighbouring cricket club and will subsequently be interpreted by artists for an exhibition next year at the National Football Museum in an initiative also part-funded by the Arts Council. It was open to the public this weekend as part of the annual Heritage Open Days programme.

Man with his arm down a goalpost hole.
Along with three other curious visitors I sheltered from a downpour under a gazebo on what would’ve been the edge of the old penalty area while our guide explained what the archaeologists had found. I love this sort of thing but, in truth, there wasn’t a vast amount to see. (I felt like a mother struggling to be impressed when her eager son shows her an unusual bug he’s found in the garden). There were the goalpost holes (one of which has had a plastercast made of it), some net pegs, red cinders indicative of the running track that once surrounded the pitch and coins. Apparently, fans would toss coins into sheets behind carried around behind the goal to raise funds for the club. The first coin archaeologists found was a 1966 penny.

The dig took place in front of the covered stand in the lower middle of this pic.
One visiting fan this week told of how during a match the elastic snapped in the shorts of the Bradford goalie and, to the amusement, of the crowd, he had to use a nappy pin to affect a repair. The following match the fans threw nappy pins at him in jest. To the archaeologists’ delight within hours of being told the story they found one of the pins. No doubt it will be the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Excavation of the dug-out areas hadn’t revealed anything. The terraces, now largely overgrown with trees but partly cleared as part of the current project, were clear to see and walk up, though. I passed a bent over crush barrier on my way to photograph the urinals (not normally something I’m in the habit of doing, I assure you). I also checked out the old turnstile entrances with a five shillings sign still painted above one of them. I’m sad I missed the old turnstile itself but you can see pics of it and read more about this initiative on this recommended blog.

What about the art? Well, a “mad Italian” called Giorgio has been visiting the site at 3.30am to make recordings as part of the art initiative. “What? Of birds and other animals?”, our guide had asked him. Oh, no. The fella had put his microphone down the old goalpost hole! He intends to create a montage starting with this sound, then leading into the sound of a coin being tossed and finally into the recollections of supporters. Simply barking – or have I had some sort of weird dream?!

Another artist has collected leaves from the nine species of tree that grow around the pitch (in daylight, I assume). Other creative endeavours included photographing a group of Park Avenue supporters chanting on the terrace (above) and a recreation of the final goal at the League ground, a match in which a youthful Kevin Keegan played for Scunthorpe. Watch this space – and goalpost hole. For more information on the dig see this recommended blog.

Salts FC, Saltaire (see below).
Another ripping yarn: Also on my way to Thackley I checked out the ground of Salts FC which forms part of the sports complex originally built for the workers at the Victorian Salts Mill in Saltaire. It’s claim to fame is that it was a location for one of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns TV comedy dramas in the 80s. The ramshackle old stands that were presumably the reason for its selection are still there but have been considerably shored up. Earlier this month the club opened new changing facilities in a formidable, windowless concrete building on the opposite side of the pitch. Never mind being vandal proof; it looks like it could survive a sustained nuclear attack.

Michael Palin at Salts for filming in 1979.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Rugby Town 0 Romulus 2

Northern Premier League, First Division (South)
Attendance: 157

I hadn’t got my fixtures mixed up and realised that this match wasn’t an FA Cup tie. Further potential confusion was provided by signs going into Rugby promoting the forthcoming  Rugby World Cup which takes place elsewhere although the town is, of course, the home of the sport. Lodging overnight in Warwickshire for work I’d come to see Rugby play football.  The sign for the ground just says ‘Football Ground’ so I wasn’t quite sure until I’d got to the end of it if I had found the correct sport.

Butlin Road is a very large, well appointed ground with a particularly impressive cantilever grandstand (see clip, below, which also includes the first goal). In most respects the set-up wouldn’t look out of place in the League rather than lowly step 4. Are Rugby a sleeping giant (or number eight, at the very least)? The highest level at which they’ve played has been the step 2 Southern League Premier Division in the late 80s and early 90s as VS Rugby when they also reached the proper rounds of the FA Cup on several occasions. The club switched to the Northern Premier League for the first time this season and currently languish towards the bottom one place below tonight’s visitors Romulus (from Sutton Coldfield).

Nicknamed Valley after Valley Sports (the club’s original name and the ‘v’ in VS Rugby), the home side trotted out to the tune of The Skids’ Into the Valley. Later players’ and coaches’ calls echoed around the arena while trains on the West Coast Mainline rumbled past unseen behind the far stand. It’s remarkable and somehow refreshing that such a relatively large crowd – many of them solo, middle-aged blokes, hands stuffed in pockets – turned out on a cold evening when England/Switzerland was on the telly (not much of an attraction, I know) to watch a run-of-the-mill fixture.

Pics extra: It's always a struggle to get decent pics at night with my camera. For daytime pics of Rugby check this recommended blog. To make up for the lack of stills here are pics from the summer courtesy of my brother - of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and a pitch in the village of Sint Willibrordus (Williwood to locals) just outside Willemstad on the island of Curacao in the Caribbean.