Saturday, 31 October 2015

Rochdale Town 2 1874 Northwich 4

FA Vase, first round
Attendance: 142

For the first time in 11 years I don’t have an FA Cup first round tie to go to. No ties within striking distance tickled my fancy. In fact I’ve pretty much done all the clubs that are ever likely to reach the proper rounds which led me to look further down the pyramid for an alternative fixture a week in advance. Today’s Vase tie caught the eye even though it was at a stage of the competition that’s so premature it’s hardly ejaculated. Why? I’ve long wanted to visit Rochdale Town having seen pics and 1874 Northwich are well supported (as I found out at Nelson two years ago) which meant the match would have the semblance of an occasion.

As soon as I arrived at the Mayfield Sports Centre I knew I was going to enjoy myself more than, frankly, as a neutral I ought. This is a cracking little ground, oozing character, and right up there with the manifold delights of its league rivals from other Lancashire mill towns, Nelson, Padiham, Bacup and Colne.

The ramshackle main stand, with painted wooden benches and an assortment of individual backs, is a gem. It comes in two parts that are held together in a linked arms sort of way by an uncovered new steel frame. Perched precariously on top and looking decidedly decommissioned is what looks like the upper saloon deck of a steamer and a static caravan. (There was one of those overlooking a corner). The stand is flanked on either side by giant dugouts easily mistaken for further spectator accommodation.

The smaller stand opposite follows suite being surmounted by a sort of bird hide shed, similarly unpopulated. The fragility of the structure is belied by the grandeur of its name: the Rochdale Fusiliers Association Galipoli (sic) Stand. Marvellous. Town used to have an equally fabulous monicker: Castleton Gabriels, which dates back to when players had to belong to the nearby St Gabriels Catholic church.

Behind the stand stretch the Pennine hills, today shrouded in a mist penetrated by a church spire and electricity pylons. The sole colour in the backdrop belonged to the red coat of a grazing horse which had been dulled by a very damp week. Later a sub warming up squelched with every step. One of the ends is covered and the other has three open terraces, hinting, as they always do, at bigger crowds in bygone days.

The khazi at the terraced end has a smirksome slogan inside and a great view to boot meaning you need not miss a moment of the action as you widdle. Judging from the stench and leaves clogging the drain this isn’t one of those conveniences that is inspected on the hour with the results recorded on a log.

“Problems with the lights?” I asked a geezer in an orange tabard in the gathering gloom as he investigated the interior of a steel cabinet immediately to my right. “Yes,” he replied, before explaining that the rugby league side that shares the ground hadn’t left the gadget that’s needed to open the cabinet to access the floodlight switch. “All they’re thinking about is their big semi-final today,” he griped. He found a solution a little later, though, although the lights behind one goal remained off throughout. As my gaze returned to the action, I put my hand onto a barrier and into contact with the remains of a meat pie merging with the rust.

What about the action? Well, “’74” (as the away fans addressed them) went in deservedly two up at the interval, in keeping with their status a step higher than their hosts in the North West Counties League. Town rallied earlier the second half and got one back only for ’74 to reinstate their leading margin soon after and seal victory with the best goal of the lot, a mazy run and drive from the edge of the box. Town got a consolation with the last but two kick of the match. (Click here for 25 mins of highlights).

Last season ’74 reached the third round of the Vase and this time I can see them sticking around until after Christmas when the competition really hots up and I hope to return for the main course. As for today I can’t think how I could’ve got better value from a fiver. Loved it.

Not up for the cup: Had I waited to see Rochdale Town in the FA Cup I may have been waiting a long time. They’ve qualified for the competition just once in the last 14 years and lost that tie, last season, 0-6 to Runcorn Linnets. (I had planned to go to the match before it was switched). They lost all six preceding ties between 1994 and 2001. Northwich Victoria, 1874’s parent club, contest the first round proper of the FA Cup against Boreham Wood on Saturday. For more about the internecine recent history of clubs from Northwich see this feature from When Saturday Comes.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Harrogate Town 1 Grimsby Town 4

FA Cup, fourth qualifying round
Attendance: 1,920

Harrogate Town’s home can seldom seemed more inviting. The autumn sun was glinting across a pristine pitch, a band of home fans chanted and drummed non-stop unlike anything I’d heard here before and the stands were very full. (Harrogate had allocated the main, new stand to the 800+ Grimsby fans like hosts surrendering the master bedroom to house guests). The pre-match atmosphere was crackling; this felt like a big match in a proper stadium and a million miles away from the FA Cup replay that I saw on a very wet October evening just three years ago.

Sitting third in the National League North, Town have the feel of a club on the up. They took an early lead when the ball was checked back from the byline and Daniels woofed it into the top corner. The joint was jumping. Relegated from the Football League five years ago, the Mariners were much quicker and more dangerous than lowly Burscough, Harrogate’s visitors in the previous round, and predictably equalised on 34 mins.

Soon after the re-start a Harrogate defender lunged recklessly at a Grimsby attacker and the ref awarded a penalty. It was saved but the rebound headed in. Two minutes later Grimsby broke through to score a third. Game over. The inflatable cod were flying and Harrogate had had their chips. The scoring was complete with a fourth goal for the visitors on 73 mins by which time everything had long gone flat, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and an autumn nip was in the air. The stage deserved a better final scene.

Ah, well. My nephew and son companions and I always have the number of our other local lads, York, to anticipate in Monday’s draw. (It’s being staged at Thackley where I went in the first qualifying round).

Photo credits: I didn’t take any pics today since I covered the ground in the previous round. Pics are pinched from the websites of Harrogate Town, Advertiser and Informer and the Grimsby Telegraph.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Harrogate Town 3 Burscough 0

FA Cup, third qualifying round
Attendance: 513

I’d been holding out for a home draw for Burscough as I’m really want an excuse to visit but it was not to be. Instead the step 4 side from near Wigan were drawn to play just down the road from me – against Harrogate, two divisions higher up. Tardily I hadn’t seen them since the big Hastings tie and several subsequent ground developments so I guessed it was high time I got down there anyway.

The CNG Stadium is an object lesson in how to make the most of where you are and remove the need to relocate. Inevitably plain though they are, two new stands, one with a crest proudly on either end (see below) improve the ground tremendously. The southern end still needs attention but I rather like its higgledy-piggledlyness. The changing room block is decidedly Sunday league while a new outdoor hospitality area (see above) looks very chic with its bistro-style chairs and a floral display that wouldn’t be out of place at the town’s renowned autumn flower show. In the old stand (still with its scaffolded video gantry) a woman held her newborn baby next to a pram. Silver Cross, of course. This is Harrogate after all.

Town took the lead with a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner by Swain. A Burscough player was sent off for a bad tackle just before half-time and, from that point onwards, we kinda knew where this tie has heading. That said the visitors rallied for the third quarter of the contest before The Sulphurites (great nickname that no-one actually uses although The Sulphurite is the name of the programme) ended it when Knowles lobbed the keeper following an up and under (got to get at least one rugger reference in here for topicality). Harrogate sealed the win when a cross was headed into his own goal by Devine of Burscough.

“A good day’s work,” was how Harrogate gaffer Simon Weaver summed up the match on BBC Radio York. Indeed. Job done. The tie turned out exactly as you’d have expected from the clubs league rankings and form.

The Sergio Ag├╝ero of Mansfield: Hats off to AFC Mansfield of the Northern Counties East League. They banged in six with no reply against Grimsby Borough on Sept 26 and doubled their tally four days later in a 12-2 caning of Lincoln Moorlands Railway. Dean Rick bagged seven goals, five in the first half.

Hopping mad: Here is an interesting blog post (and pic, below) about a match in the local Bucharest league in Romania featuring a goalkeeper with one arm, a pitchside kennel and rusty, post-industrial setting. The piece is well written and the blogger certainly gets around a bit.