Saturday, 28 March 2015

Robin Hood Athletic 2 Boroughbridge 2

West Yorkshire League, Premier Division
Attendance: circa 50+.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to have been like this. For weeks I’d been keenly anticipating an FA Vase semi-final at North Shields but then couldn’t get a ticket, dammit. Plan ‘b’ was going to see Tadcaster at Garforth, a match for which I’d won a hospitality ticket via a competition on Twitter. That game had been re-scheduled and, since my win, the wheels have come off the Taddy wagon so the match wasn’t quite such an attraction. And so to plan ‘c’ ... another pleasant paddle down the backwaters of the West Yorkshire League following similar trips to Shelley and Aberford earlier in the season. This time I followed by local lads, Boroughbridge, to south Leeds for their match against Robin Hood Athletic within the rumble of the M1.

The ground occupies a large, square field bound by traditional terraced houses on one side and new apartment blocks opposite. I soon found it but struggled to gain access. At one point I thought about parking on Middleton Lane and crawling through the hedge. Entry, it transpires, is via the car park of the Coach & Horses pub. I then approached the rail around the pitch and ventured towards what I thought was an official entrance but was actually boarding and fencing protection around the floodlights.

The Coach Ground is a ground rather than just a pitch thanks to its fine stand. It has 10 terraces with four red painted benches at the top and solar panels on the fascia. (Bear with me: I know this bit sounds nerdy). A sign declares it to be the Andy Parker Stand and below the names of club benefactors are displayed. Adjacent is the welcoming tea room (“come in and smell the coffee”) and changing block. All in all it’s a cracking little set-up worthy of higher than step 7 in the pyramid. So clearly embedded in the community, the club has a Northern League feel and I can’t pay a higher compliment than that. Last season Robin Hood won the first division title and they will surely be knocking on the door of the Northern Counties East League before long.

For now they occupy mid-table in comparison to Boroughbridge who have been propping up the league having won only three matches all season. Robin Hood went two up in 20 mins but Boroughbridge, sporting fuschia, levelled it and hung on for a point. An enjoyable afternoon out at a club that’s as appealing as its name. Surprisingly large crowd too. Highly recommended whatever the other options.

Some history: Founded in 1952, Robin Hood Athletic took over a fallow field behind the Coach & Horses hotel in 1968. The stand dates from the late 70s. In 2003 the club purchased the whole site under the proviso it was always retained for recreation. Onsite changing facilities were added in 2010 to replace those at the back of the pub and the tea room was extended last December. Further reading about Robin Hood here.

Star connection: Robin Hood’s greatest former player is Huddersfield legend Roy Ellam. Mention of his name instantly brought to mind his pic in my coveted 1970-71 Soccer Star gala collection stamp album. And here he is ...

Starter for 10: I began the afternoon with a visit to step 8 Whitkirk Wanderers who play near Temple Newsam. To my surprise there was entrance fee but at just £1 including programme I could hardly complain. Sadly what I thought from Google Earth may have been two quaint stands were vandalised shipping containers on a bank. After 10 minutes I made my excuses (almost personally as there were only about a dozen others there) and left.

Mention in dispatches: Three cheers for North Ferriby who beat Wrexham on penalties in the FA Trophy final this weekend. Sounds like a hell of a game.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Wembley ways: cup-ties at North Ferriby and Bradford City

How important is getting to Wembley these days? Ahead of a Vase quarter-final last week Paul Marshall, manager of my local lads, Tadcaster Albion, was asked whether he’d prefer to win the Vase or promotion. Promotion, he replied. I’d have thought that leading your side out at Wembley would top anything especially for a club at step five of the pyramid.

“One of the biggest matches in our history,” is how the North Ferriby website billed their Trophy semi-final second leg against Bath last week for which the prize was also a final at the national stadium. OK: they’ve been to Wembley before (in the ’97 Vase final) but perhaps the Conference North play-off final last season was a bigger deal. Triumphant Ferriby’s opponents in the Trophy final will be Wrexham who will be making their third trip to Wembley in just a year. You could hardly blame their fans for letting this one pass them by. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, literally. Nowadays it’s more a matter of who hasn’t played there (any League sides?) rather than who has ...

The Ferriby match ended 1-1 after extra time and 3-3 on aggregate, the hosts winning 4-2 on penalties. The attendance was a 1,871. A gripping cup-tie at one of my favourite non-league venues but I haven’t blogged in full about it as I’ve written about a visit to Ferriby before. Here are three pics, though.

This weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals also, of course, lead to Wembley and present victorious fans with the poser about whether to go to the semi-final or keep their fingers crossed (and wallet closed) and hope for a visit to the final. A competition with three finals: what a nonesense.

For the first time this year it was warm enough today not to need scarves but my son and I still donned them (and had them flapping from the car windows) in the colours of my home-town team, Reading, for their quarter-final against Bradford. There was a 24,000 full house at Valley Parade, a complete contrast to my previous visit in the Northern Counties East League Cup final last May. I like the ground. It’s not without its quirks such as a higgledy-piggledy corner featuring traffic lights on the legs of the floodlights above the tunnel. Equally singular are the club songs blasted out in the build-up to kick-off: Take me Home Country Roads and Depeche Mode’s Just can’t get Enough. Bradford has a genuine, old fashioned community feel to it. Even the ticket office manager and company accountant are asked for the their FA memories in the (superb smelling) programme.

Reading have hardly blazed a trail to the quarter-finals. I saw them at the start of the run at Huddersfield. Least said about that snooze fest the better. They were then drawn away to similarly distant, unglamorous second division opponents in Cardiff and Derby and, thus, have sneaked almost unnoticed into the latter stages, a stowaway on the great ship FA Cup. With promotion hopes and relegation fears banished Reading have never had a better opportunity to focus on and reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1927 especially given that today’s opponents were a division below. The Bantams’ run couldn’t have contrasted more including those defeats of Chelsea and Sunderland.

Pity the game didn’t live up to the pre-match buzz. The contest was as unsatisfactory as any goalless cup-tie is bound to be and very scrappy with it. There was only one shot on target throughout and pass completion was just 50%, reported Match of the Day. And what about Taddy Albion? They lost today’s Vase quarter final replay 0-1 to Highworth Town (from Swindon). It all ended in tears with a scuffle between players and spectators after the final whistle. Oh, well. Losers in the Vase, Trophy and Cup are probably happy to concentrate on the league. Wembley? Pah!

Faces in the crowd: My son and I were featured momentarily in the TV coverage (top right of still, below) as spotted by my brother watching at home in the US. I later texted him to ask him about an injury that had stopped the game for ages right at the end. “Bloody nose,” he responded. Tele-technology still amazes me ...

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.