Saturday, 21 February 2015

Aberford Albion and American Samoa

Today I watched two teams beginning with ‘a’. First up: step 8 Aberford Albion from a village south of Wetherby who were playing Kippax in the Leeds & District Cup (5-1, attendance 17). The appeal of the game was that it was on the route of bike ride I was doing with my son and, moreover, the club play at the railed off Bunkers Hill pitch beside some Gothic mid-19th century almshouses.

I’d often wondered if it was possible to photograph  some action with the almshouses as a scenic backdrop. Assisted by leafless trees and sunshine it is – as these pics show. I had to wait an age for the ball to come down to the right end for a close-up, though as Aberford dominated and they were kicking in the other direction. Ain’t that always the way? Later we called in on Bardsey from the same league hoping to see the end of their match but I must’ve read the fixtures wrong as there was no-one there. Still, at least I didn’t end up at a bowling green like I did on a previous West Yorkshire League outing ...

In the evening we watched Next Goal Wins. Released last spring, the DVD tells the story of American Samoa’s attempt to qualify for the last World Cup, 10 years on from being beaten 31-0 by Australia in the biggest international drubbing of all-time. Coming into the pre-qualification tournament Samoa had lost all 30 games in the preceding 17 years and scored just twice. Seeing highlights of games against the likes of the Cook Islands is intriguing in itself but the film is about much more than that. It’s about the universal themes of self-belief, inspiration, and progress. There are two sub-plots: one about the need for Samoa’s Dutch manager to come to terms with the death of his daughter eight years previously and another about the experience of Samoa’s transgender player.

As the credits roll and captions pop up explaining what happened next to the protagonists you have to remind yourself that you’ve been watching a documentary rather than a reconstruction. Next Goals Wins gives you a warm glow and puts a smile on your face. It’s the ultimate real feel-good sports film and should be mandatory clubhouse viewing for teams the world over – from Real Madrid to, well, Aberford Albion and beyond.

Taking on the badgers: Aberford had huge problems at the start of the season. They spent £2,000 improving the pitch then burrowing badgers came along and ruined it causing multiple postponements. You can see where all the holes have been filled in.

Groundhopping by bike: To follow my bike ride see my other blog. I’m planning to mark the end of the Northern League season by cycling along disused railway lines to four clubs in Co Durham ending up by watching one of them, Esh Winning, against champions elect, Seaham Red Star. What a treat. To finish here is a pic of the front of those almshouses.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

AFC Mansfield 0 Tadcaster Albion 3

FA Vase, fifth round
Attendance: 604

Well, I’m glad I had an interest in this game and that my local lads (Tadcaster) won. There was little about this occasion to appeal to the neutral; it was a one-sided contest at a very plain ground.

To give credit where it’s due, AFC Mansfield have done exceptionally well to get to this stage. The step 6 NCEL side have battled through six rounds without needing a replay to get here and are in only their third season. They were founded by three ex-directors of Mansfield Town who fell out with the rest of the boardroom. The Bulls then are, unusually, a directors’ rather than fans’ breakaway club. The reason for another community club in the region isn’t obvious since Shirebrook, Teversal and Rainworth are within a five-mile radius and Clipstone is just 1½ miles away. Cowering below the town’s two striking disused pit wheels, I’d past the latter’s ground on the way to AFC.

AFC are based at the former home of now defunct Forest Town Welfare. The pitch is surrounded by a gently shelved, narrow cycle track (I needed the zoom lens) and there’s a scoring tower in one corner, left over from its days as a cricket ground. Facilities include a pavilion behind one goal, clubhouse with conservatory, nine partly seated terraces and a flatpack stand acquired from Eastwood Town. Spectators are only permitted access around half of the pitch. Wembley could not have felt further away yet actually been so near in a competition sense.

Taddy nearly got off to a nightmare start when a sloppy and forceful back pass sent the keeper scurrying to and clashing with a post. That was as hairy as it got for the visitors who took the lead on 15 mins. Soon after a Mansfield player was sent off for dissent to the fury of manager and ex-Scarborough boss Rudi Funk (still, for me, the best name in football). He was banished from the pitch too. Taddy extended their lead just before half-time when they burst through the offside trap and the ball was squared to Blissett to stroke home. The killer goal came after 70 mins.

When Taddy missed a sitter soon after the away fans could afford to laugh about it. Events off the pitch then became more interesting than those on it when a fan had fluid thrown over him from the conservatory terrace. Beergate ensured led by the cops. Taddy fans, comprising about half the attendance, had been superb throughout but even they finally stopped singing “Tad all over” for the last 10 minutes and the drummer unyoked his instrument. Job done: we’re through. One way or another the quarter-final will be much more memorable, I’m sure.

The sweet smell of success: Previewing today’s match the Harrogate Advertiser sports writer said: “Progress [for Tadcaster] would shift the smell of the extraordinarily-priced Wembley hotdogs further up the M1.” Well, if I’m not mistaken the whiff has reached South Yorkshire and I’m getting peckish. Extra onions for me, please.

Weather news: It made a nice change not to have to check for a postponement nor don five layers before today’s game. Barney Ronay wrote an amusing piece about cold football matches in today’s Guardian. He says that Graeme Souness “did seem to be at his best when grimacing with shin-barking agony on some frosty cart track of a pitch, eyes narrowed, moustache writhing, the emperor of tiny-shorted midwinter pain-football.”

Mentions in dispatches: A fella dancing around among the Taddy fans is a yellow football shirt looked like Socrates reincarnated. No Captain Chickers today, sadly. Spare a thought for Colwyn Bay who today made one of the longest west-east journeys in non-league football to play Lowestoft. Six hours each way. Further scrutiny of the NLP reveals the wonderfully named Karl-Mike Fondop-Talun of Vase fifth rounders, Stanway Rovers.

vs Mansfield 07Feb2015 from PhotosbyDavid on Vimeo.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Salford City 2 Darlington 1883 0

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 902

Approaching from the M60 the only sign for Salford City is about 18 x 4 inches and attached apologetically to the traffic lights for the right turn. It’s not much more than you might get for Bob’s 40th birthday party. At 3.20pm a Darlo fan burst through the turnstile f-ing and blinding because his taxi driver had taken him to Salford rugby ground by mistake. No tip there. The football club may be low profile in some respects, then, but there are signs of change within the ground, quite literally.

On the turnstiles a paper notice warned that there was filming (for a BBC) documentary) taking place inside the ground which included a drone buzzing around before the match and during the interval. Inside an old sign stating “This is Moor Lane. Home of Salford City FC” has been replaced by a new sign with stylish logo and simple slogan “Integrity and industry.” Thankfully, that – apart from a lick of paint to denote the club’s colour change from orange to red – is about as far as the ground improvements appear to have got since the club’s acquisition by the Class of ’92 last summer. I saw the Class and friends playing Salford in a pre-season friendly at the city’s rugby ground (I’d nearly gone to Moor Lane) and was glad of the opportunity to visit Salford’s regular home. I parked on Nevile (sic) Road: they’ve already started naming roads after two of the club’s new benefactors (not)!

Moor Lane is a basic, open ground with large grassed areas, some banked, on three sides which give a partial bowl and, as such, is vaguely reminiscent of Consett’s old stadium. That, combined with the origin of the visitors and the Arctic cold (I was in full 80s ski wear) gave the occasion a Northern League feel which is no bad thing. Steps made from railway sleepers lead gently down one corner of the bank in a manner that Diarmuid Gavin would be proud of. Another quirky feature is a small boat named HMS Scrooge inexplicably at pitchside. These are the things I love about non-league.

The main stand is fabricated from concrete, six sturdy pillars doing their best to obscure the view (see pic, below). The ground’s builder must have had shares in Readymix as the fences around the pitch and outer perimeter are made of concrete too. Steel also abounds in the form of the obligatory shipping containers which include three for changing rooms.

Today’s match pitched second place against third but the main reason for the swollen crowd was the support brought Darlington. Every away match feels like a cup tie if the Quakers are involved as I found out at Harrogate Railway and Padiham last season. Programmes were sold out by 2.30pm (it always surprises me how clubs don’t print more for predictably large gates) and the pressure on facilities was such that the PA announcer had to plea for fans to use the toilets, “you filthy animals.” The food ran out by half-time so the gates were opened for spectators to get to the shops.

The match was a tense, tight, niggly affair with few clear cut chances. The Ammies (Salford was called Salford Amateurs until 1989) took the lead on 32 mins when a striker burst through in the inside left channel and squared (or was it a cross?) to Webber for an unmarked tap in. The second goal in injury time was a similarly simple, incisive strike from Madeley, also from a cross from the left. By that stage it had all kicked off. White of Darlo was sent off for a second booking and teammate Mitchell joined him for a foul and abusive language. Players squared up to each other following a contentious tackle and the ref entered a 12th and final name into his by now bulging book. He was showing more cards than Paul Daniels (old joke, I know, but I like it). At the final whistle there was more pushing and shoving.

Enraged by the ref’s performance, Darlo fans massed at the gate which secures a compound outside the changing rooms and hurled abuse in the direction of the officials (clip here). One of Darlo’s backroom staff was similarly incensed, bellowing at the lino and jabbing his finger at him like an apopleptic Arthur Scargill. “Still gonna win the league!”, the away fans chanted defiantly as they scowled towards the exit. Salford go top and Darlo lose only their third league match of the season. If these two meet in the play-offs expect a sparky encounter.

Postscript: There was more trouble at the game among the fans than I was aware of. See here for report from the Northern Echo.

Star turn: Well, I’d have been disappointed if there hadn’t been one to report. Performing Class of ’92 duty today was HRH Nicky Butt, discreet under the hood of a black jacket in the directors’ box.

FA Cup extra-time: A mention in dispatches to Cambridge’s sub against Man U, the wonderfully named Harrison Dunk. I also like this story from the Northern League magazine about a fella who’s written a book about the FA Cup exploits of clubs from south-west Durham. A good fireside read, I bet.