Match 31: Droylsden v Hyde

The Butchers Arms hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Tigers recently, with three defeats coming at the hands of Dastardly Dave Pace’s unit of crack footballing commandos here last season alone. The axis of power is shifting in Tameside, though, and while Droylsden have already thrown their proverbial towel on their usual in-and-around-the-play-offs poolside recliner, Hyde are absolutely romping the Conference North after picking up 8 wins from 8, something which was unthinkable just a couple of months back.

In fact, with S****b****e now definitely feeling the effects of the full-time training they took up in the summer of 2010 with 7 wins from 8 goal-packed games, things could get very interesting on the fringes of East Manchester come the end of April, not to mention the festive derbies.

A full moon hovers above, as keen to catch the action as any of the 625 punters, and despite being a quarter of a million miles away somehow makes more noise than the assembled Droylsden fans who remain resolutely silent – not even a cough – as though Pacey has asked them all to put their fingers on their lips for speaking too loudly on the way in.

The combined masses of Leigh Street and The Shed are in full voice behind Paul Phillips’ goal, though, and it takes a sturdy midfield tussle for one irked home fan to finally break his monastic vow and grumble through dry, cracked lips at the visiting team in general “They’re cynical, they can’t play football”, before going on a tirade about what a hovel Hyde is.

“Well, there’s always one nobhead at a football match” one Shed regular chirps, “and I’m having the day off.”

In truth, neither side are playing with much fluidity, with Droylsden just about having the slight edge when ex-Tiger, Carlos Logan, takes a pot-shot at David Carnell’s goal from the left of the penalty area, only for it to dribble through the keeper’s claws and over the line for first blood to The Bloo….oh, I’ve said this before, haven’t I?

It’s 1-0 to Droyslden on 25 minutes at any rate, and the first away goal conceded by Hyde in 5 games on the road.

Speaking of Carlos Logan, he’s filling the left-back void left by Liam Brownhill, who joined Chester in the summer. We had Dave Pace on the show a few weeks back, and when I asked him why he’d let an England ‘C’ international join a club in a lower league, he said (or words very close to it) “Look Burkey, when you’ve got a lump of cheese in the fridge, sooner or later it’s gonna go moldy so you have to chuck it out, and that’s what happened.”

Say what you like about the guy, but he’s gold dust on the wireless.

With a tip of the hat to Harry Pearson’s seminal ‘The Far Corner…’ (a book I’d been unknowingly and inferiorly ripping off for the best part of a year until I read it), the gent to my left appears to be one of his famed ‘hindsight commentators’, groaning in anguish with lines like “too fancy!”, “he’s got too much to do!” and ”that’ll never work!” a second or two after Hyde give the ball away.

The roars drown out his undoubted “he’s gonna score here” as Callum Byrne gets his 1st goal of the campaign to level the scores on 40 minutes. In fact, it’s Hyde’s first shot and comes when a clearance lands at the slight playmaker’s feet just outside the ‘D’. He somehow half lobs/half blasts a right-footed effort onto the underside of Phillips’ crossbar which bounces six inches behind the line and nestles into the side-netting with a satisfying touch of spin.

You know that Cantona goal? The one where he just turns around, astonished at his own brilliance? It was honestly just like that, except that Callum goes running off into the distance pursued by his team mates like a bunch of girls playing kiss-chase in the playground. An incredible goal, simple as that.

Hyde finish the half on the up, finally getting a few more sighters off at the Droylsden goal, but it remains 1-1.

This is normally where I’d break off for to talk about pies, but there aren’t any to be had at the Traditional Carvery food van which has apparently usurped 1Leg’s Nigella Sisters and their little kiosk. I’ll leave The Rhino to tell this story:

“So, I says, “can I have a Bovril?”, and she goes “no, sorry love, we’re just waiting for the hot water”. So, I says, “well, if you had any hot water, could I have had a Bovril?”, and she goes “no, we don’t have any.” They’re mental.”

The Tigers are straight on the assault from kick-off in the second half, and Ryan Crowther smashes a 20 yarder against the bar a few minutes in, although sadly not the underside, and it rebounds to safety.

Byrne then has an almighty clash of boots with Droyslden’s Dan Gardner, such was both players’ commitment to the challenge that the soundwave from it knocks a passing starling straight out of the sky and next to the home dugout where the beastly Aeon Lattie crushes it to death with his feet.

Gardner is carried off, replaced by David Poole, and moments later Scott Spencer scores his 11th of the season, when his shot takes an improbably angled deflection off John Hardiker and out of the grasp of Phillips, who isn’t in possession of the requisite Go-Go-Gadget arm extensions. 2-1 to Hyde.

Ciaran ‘Killer’ Kilheeney is soon up the other end, and lobs a shot against the visitor’s bar on the hour, but it’s the last real threat from The Bloods for almost half an hour with Carnell plucking crosses out of the air with squirrel-like agility. Indeed, it’s Hyde who take a decisive 3-1 lead on 77 minutes when a Mike Aspin free-kick from the right twice finds the flailing right arm of a falling Nat Kerr, who bundles home a tremendous own goal.

Kerr then reverts to nasty type, launching into a vicious two-footed, calf-high lunge from behind on Matty Berkeley just after the restart which thankfully doesn’t lead to any serious injury, yet Kerr somehow is only shown a yellow card for what is the most blatant red I’ve seen while writing this blog.

With injury time upon us, Poole does nab one back for Droylsden to make it 3-2, but rather than a frantic onslaught from the hosts, it’s Hyde who ease the clock down for what is ultimately a well deserved victory. Chuffed. To. Bits.

And finally, just for Tony 1Leg, here’s a picture of me having a big cuddle with Zippy and Beans, as I know he loves reading about me and my feline companions. Not sure how I managed to get such a perfect Manga fringe, but there you go…

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Match 30: Mossley v Runcorn Linnets

“Who have Mossley got today, anyway?” Effin’ Nicholls asks with an almost-interested tone in his voice.
“Runcorn Linnets.” I reply
“Runcorn Linux?” he shoots back incredulously. “Have they got a penguin as their mascot? Do they let everyone in for free?”
“Linnets.”
“Oh right. What’s a Linnet?”
“No idea. Probably a bird.”
“Like a penguin?”

Thus concludes the geekiest intro I’ve ever written, but that’s what happens when you go to a game with someone who is more interested in open-source operating systems than the machinations of a fluid 4-3-3.

In an attempt to avoid anything approaching exercise, we opt to get the bus from Ashton rather than the train, thus swerving the cardiac-inducing hill we endured the last time we visited Seel Park. Not only that, but we’re joined by Ginger/”Legend” John for a wholesome family day out. Oh, and it’s only the ruddy FA Cup Preliminary Round. Jings!

It turns out that a Linnet is indeed a bird, a type of finch in fact, with light brown feathers and a red flash on its chest and head, which fully explains why Runcorn play in a luminous lemon-and-lime hoopy concoction of a kit. Must be something to do with all the chemical plants.

They’ve got a strong travelling contingent with them, too, most with replica tops with the number 82 printed on the back (the actual number, not a picture of a bus), denoting the year when they were the top non-league side in the land, winning the Conference title at the first attempt when it was still known as the Alliance. Well, the current club’s forerunners as the old one went bump in 2006, but I’m not splitting hairs over their lineage.

Mossley are radically different from the side we saw lose 4-2 to Lancaster last year, so different that they’re skulking at the foot of the Evo-Stik North instead of their customary mid-table slot. Pretty much all their players buggered off to either Curzon or Woodley in the summer with the exception of England Schools international, Fabio Abreu, who in a fish-out-of-water sitcom waiting to happen magically snagged a 3 year deal at Maritimo in the Portuguese Premier League.

The game starts lethargically, the first chance of any kind coming after quarter of an hour to Runcorn’s Rob Whyte, who heads badly wide after slipping his marker. Just prior to this, Mossley centre-back, Steve Halford (briefly Hyde’s co-caretaker manager at the end of last season), has the ball hit squarely into his hand in the area, while shortly after, Sean Pearson goes flying over his outstretched right leg – both appeals are turned down.

The Linnets look the better side, but they aren’t a patch on the Pennines which rise dramatically away behind the far stand.

The normally hapless Cavell Coo has been pressed into action in the centre of the park rather than his usual full-back berth and look all the better for it, forcing a good save out of Richard Mottram on 35 minutes before slamming one over from a Peter Band lay-off. All of a sudden, it lseems as though both teams have the potential to score but probably won’t.

Away from the ‘action’, we get talking to Stanley, a man who has been watching the Lilywhites for decades and followed them on their journey down to Wembley for the FA Trophy Final in 1980. According to Nicholls – who as we’ve discussed previously, is from good Mossley stock – he’s a distant relation of his and used to parade in front of the brass bands during the town’s famous Whit Walk competitions, holding up some kind of scoreboard while gurning contentedly.

It’s half time, and practically nothing has happened. It’s alright for us, we’ve only travelled for about an hour to get here, but please spare a thought for the 16 Glaswegians who have the misfortune to have picked this particular game for their stag-do. The good news for them is that they’ll have swapped deep-fried confectionery and boiled offal for Mossley’s tremendous pie, chips, peas and gravy which would shame any chippy you care to mention. Um-num-num.

Both sides continue with their strictly functional football after the break, pummelling the channels to the extent that Halford goes off midway through with what is presumably a sore neck after heading away the billionth lofted pass of the afternoon. It’s like they’ve got their fingers jammed on L1 + Triangle.

Despite the lack of creativity or guile on show, the Linnets fans do at least chirp up with the occasional song, yet even when Mossley hit the post from a deflected freekick it barely causes a murmur.

“Mossley’s fans are loyal, but not very vocal” intones Nicholls while gesturing at a steeple to our right, “It’s all because of the town’s history of dour methodism.” And yes, he really does speak like that.

In truth, even the happiest-clappiest of happy-clappy God-botherers would be sent spiralling into the pits of despair watching this, a game which looked like a 0-0 from the moment the draw was made. I honestly don’t know why I bothered.

The much needed flash of inspiration never comes, and while a slapstick chain of mistakes causes Mossley’s defence to essentially perform harakiri on itself with around 15 minutes to go, the Runcorn player who picks his way through all the guts and finds himself clear on Martin Pearson’s goal (possibly Whyte again, it’s hard to tell through the murk) drags the ball agaonisingly wide. By 25 yards.

An abysmal game of football, and as this report is a few days late, I can tell you that Mossley didn’t bother scoring in the replay on Tuesday night either, losing emphatically 4-0. The Linnets will make a very winnable trip to Blackpool to play Squires Gate in the next round, although based on their performance in this game, I don’t see them winning the FA Cup this season.

In other news, we’ve gone and got a couple of kittens. Zippy is on the left and Beans the right. Aaaaaaw.

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Match 29: Hyde v Altrincham

The rumour that Walker Lane may be closed off due to roadworks sends shivers cascading down my spine. It threatens – horror of horrors – to disrupt my increasingly superstitious pre-match ritual when I go to see Hyde in a 3 o’clock kick off.

These days, I leave the house promptly at 1:30pm, jump on the bus to Stockport, then catch the 330 to Hyde. However, I’ve taken to getting off a stop early, alighting at the Shell Garage on Dowson Road instead of the more obvious setting down point on Market Street, before making my way up past the site of the former North’s factory (where PVC gloves were patented, fact fans), down Lumb Road then turning right into…DUN-DUN-DERRRRR! Walker Lane. From there, it’s across the grass behind the swimming pool and onto Ewen Fields.

Failure to follow these precise instructions will, of course, lead to Hyde losing, and it’s only by me and other fans indulging in their own personal nonsenses which enables cosmic energy to build in sufficient quantities for the players to access their powers, y’see. It’s obvious.

Thankfully, Walker Lane is free of diggers, hi-vis jackets and pneumatic drills, so the Tigers are all but guaranteed a convincing victory.

I salute magpies, I say “salt” whenever I split a lamppost, and I won’t put my shoes on a table (not that I would, anyway, I’m not a scruff), but despite these admittedly demented pecadilloes, I don’t stand on any one particularly lucky spot at the ground. That’d be illogical.

With this in mind, it’s off to the Leigh Street end on the far side of the pitch to stand directly behind the dugouts for the first time ever, where the looming Werneth Low dominates the view to the right.

It’s hugs and kisses all round for the management of both sides, Gary Lowe and the former incumbent of the Hyde hotseat, Neil Tolson (now Lee Sinnott’s assistant at Alty), locking in a warm embrace on the touchline as they whisper sweet nothings tenderly into each others ears, probably giving them a little nibble as they part.

As well as our former gaffer, Altrincham’s team has a whole swathe of ex-Tigers, including Chris Lynch, who the smart money in the clubhouse is on him picking up a couple of yellow cards this afternoon.

Hyde have had a perfect start to the season, winning all four opening games for the first time in 31 years and top the table on goal difference from that lot over the hill. Right from the off, though, there’s a sneaky suspicion – in fact, no, it’s obvious – that Scott Spencer, Callum Byrne, and to a lesser degree, Ryan Crowther, aren’t just too good to be playing for Hyde, but far too good for the Conference North.

Indeed, all three are involved in the opening goal after 10 minutes, the mercurial Byrne tapping a freekick to his right only for Crowther to dummy it outrageously into the path of the onrushing Spencer, who thrashes the ball into Stuart Coburn’s net from 25 yards at a velocity more associated with spaceships re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Alty’s position looks precipitous as it starts to precipitate, but they weedle their way back into proceedings, and the equaliser comes after 26 minutes. Mark Lees, another recently departed Hydonian, thunders a header in at the far stick from a corner before charging off to the edge of the pitch, culminating in an exuberant knee slide. He never bloody scored for us.

A quartet of young lads take their place on the terrace in front of us and proceed to practice for future careers as dockers, navvies or Effin’ Nicholls impersonators by swearing gallantly through ’til half time, casually throwing out more shits and bastards than [censored on the advice of the missus].

The interval cometh, and I make the heinous error of getting a pie without any peas. They do a good pie here, but the pastry is as dry as a chicken cooked in a furnace. Also, and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to spot this, the tiger on Hyde’s new badge is rubbish. It looks more like a tabby licking its left paw after landing awkwardly than a ferocious beast that’ll tear you limb from limb.

The second half starts with Hyde assistant, Martyn Booty, gesticulating like the entire population of Italy before a downpour of genuinely biblical proportions sends him hurriedly to the safety of the ark, ie, the dugout.

Nature.org reckon that “Every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football pitch is mowed down.” Mother Nature is obviously keen to redress the balance today, though, as Ewen Fields has been reclaimed as a rainforest.  There’s some amateur anthropologist bullshit on there, too, but you don’t need me waffling on about people massaging figures to meet their own ends.

Besides, who mows down a rainforest? You’d be better of with an axe and a box of matches.

Where was I? Oh yeah, football, and guess what? Hyde go 2-1 up on the hour mark when Spencer leathers another spectacular shot from outside the area that ends up in the top corner, this time with his left peg, and shows yet again why Everton paid Oldham Athletic just shy of a quarter million for his services when he was 17. That’s his 9th goal in 5 games, y’know.

The match ball has pleasing Mexico ’70 hexagonal pattern on it, and an equally cheery rainbow pops over the main stand as Alty’s Damien Reeves skims a layer of paint off one of the home posts with a rushed volley.

Astley Mulholland, last seen banging them in for Flixton in another game I couldn’t be arsed to write up last season, is brought on for the visitors and is destined to be erroneously announced as “Ashley” for the rest of his days, as Hyde’s stadium announcer, Mike ‘Pav’ Pavasovic, does on 68 minutes.

The Robins have the majority of possession in the latter stages, but what pressure they do apply is dealt with in relative comfort, and David Carnell in the home goal is rarely called into action by time the refs parps for full time.

A great win for Hyde against their toughest opponents so far, and with S****b****e being held 2-2 at Halifax, that puts us clear at the top of the table. Five wins from five? We only won ten all last season.

Arise, Sir Gary.

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Match 28: Chadderton v Cheadle Town

What’s time is it? It’s FA Cup time! Paaaaaar-tay!

Or not. We’re off to Chadderton, y’see, whose Andrew Street ground fits neatly into the unkempt dump category. That’s not to say it isn’t without its charms – a cherry picker with smashed windows being chief among them – but you wouldn’t bring someone here on a first date unless you didn’t really want to go out with them in the first place.

I’m here with Tony 1Leg and Johnny The Rhino for the start of their own FA Cup odyssey which they hope will see them through all 14 rounds of the competition, including the unenviable task of getting hold of tickets for a Semi and the Final.

They’re following the winners of each tie, but will be “supporting the Cup” rather than any particular team, and are faced with the terrifying prospect of the draw throwing up encounters like Truro City v Blyth Spartans in the First Round Proper, not to mention the thought of far-flung replays. The nutters.

The usual tell-tale sign of punters getting their pies pre-game alerts us that the tea-hut’s stash will likely be exhausted by half-time, so it’s Holland’s meat & potato all round for a safe, if unspectacular, culinary belly-filler.

We’ve only just tucked in, in fact, when the game kicks off. The ball finds its way to Chadderton winger, Matthew Chadwick, who gallops up the right, carving an easy path through the Cheadle back line and cracking a shot against Steve McDonagh’s left post, the echo of which thunders around the pitch like a sonic boom.

15 seconds in, and it’s all the home side.

The two teams have already met in the NWCFL this season, the match at Cheadle 10 days ago being abandoned with 20 minutes to go because a sudden downpour meant that one of the linesmen couldn’t see the far side of the pitch, much to the bewilderment of the players and spectators who were having no such trouble.

It really is a cabbage patch of a pitch. Generous clumps of vividly green clover protrude out of the lengthy grass, all but crying out to be munched away by a wandering herd of ruminants. The bumpy and rutted surface isn’t conducive to pretty play, so much so that an already stupefied 1 Leg chimes “C’mon, I don’t wanna replay of this shit” after barely 10 minutes.

With neither side getting into any kind of rhythm, it’s a blessed relief when Cheadle’s Ben Brookes takes a shot from 25 yards out which takes a slight deflection and flies into the top-left corner, despite Chaddy’s No.1, Nathan Pennington getting the very tips of his gloves to it. Belting goal, though. 18 minutes, 0-1.

Five minutes later, the visitors have a freekick down their left. The cross lands inside a maelstrom of legs, one of which lets fly with a snapshot that bounces awkwardly in front of Pennington, rebounds off his chest and lands at Paul Walley’s feet, who taps home for 0-2, clicking his right wrist like Ali G in naff celebration.

Eeeeeeh, the action doesn’t stop there, though, as two minutes later, Walley grabs his second when he flings himself at a Brookes cross with a 70’s-style diving header for 0-3.

Make that 1-3, as the home side pile forward straight from the restart and Keith Melvin pulls one back, although I can’t tell you what happened because I was busy buying my half time draw ticket. I’ve still never won one, but the law of averages must be coming into my favour by now.

Sean Nolan is waspish and full of heart in Chadderton’s midfield, but even he can’t stop his team going further behind, when James McDonagh toe-pokes himself into the scoresheet, prodding a scuffed Walley shot past a wrong-footed Pennington. There’s a picture of it happening just over there —–>

The tackles are getting a bit too feisty from both sides as frustration creeps into the hosts and a hint of retaliation seeps into Cheadle’s psyche, culminating in a needless scything down of Chaddy’s Mark Campbell as he ushers a through-ball out for a goal kick.

With cobalt clouds encroaching above us, it’s looking very gloomy over – and for – Chadderton. 4-1 down at half time = not very good, and to be fair, they aren’t.

The pies had indeed all sold out, so it’s off to the clubhouse looks, which looks well kitted out with pristine pumps promising beverages from all corners of the planet, but none of them work, and we have to make do with either a tin of Foster’s or John Smith’s. Boo!

The downpour which was threatening before the interval finally arrives five minutes into the second half and sends us scuttling towards the tiny, dilapidated stand on the far side. While in tranist, Cheadle score again through the outfield McDonagh, but as I was busy trying not to trip over the moorings for the floodlight on the halfway line, I’m not even going to pretend that I saw it.

We park ourselves across two rows of wooden benches, and after another 10 minutes notice an almost quarriable amount of guano right next to us. Trying to fathom out where it had come from, I look up to see a gaping hole in the stand’s canopy with a dense thicket of bird-bearing branches directly above, which would definitely explain it.

“I did wonder why you’d walked all this way only to sit under a hole” a lady to our left says with a friendly chuckle.
“It’s because he’s a ginger.” 1Leg replies, pointing at me and my flaxon locks, which definitely aren’t in any way ginger.

Andy Lindon bags the goal of the game on 65 minutes for the visitors, rifling an absolutely Howitzer of a shot in from just over 20 yards which pings of the underside of the crossbar for a spectacular piece of Tony Yeboah-ness. 1-6.

Poor Pennington. Silent apart from the odd “fuck off!” and “keepers!” (before invariably dropping the ball), he’s having a terrible game, and even though he hasn’t exactly been protected by his well-intentioned but slackly-positioned defence, he’s hardly been blameless in his team’s downfall. He does, however, add a new string to his vocabulary bow with around 10 minutes left, claiming “I saved it!” just after he tips a Malbon shot over the bar. He did indeed, the only problem being that he’d clattered the striker first and the ref had blown for a penalty. 1-7, Lindon again. Good grief.

The Chadderton comeback starts in earnest on 87 minutes when Chadwick gets the goal his endeavour deserves for 2-7, but ridiculously, they concede again with seconds to go, Ben Brookes rounding off the scoring to make it 2-8 after home right-back, Ben Fletcher had busted a gut to stop a wayward pass going out for a throw-in, only to see his interception cruelly set up another Cheadle break.

More importantly, and downright bizarrely, the last FA Cup game that Tony and Johnny went to was when Droylsden lost 8-2 to Leyton Orient last season. A coincidence of gigantic proportions, let’s see if they can make it three out of three when Cheadle visit Trafford in the next round.

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Match 27: Hyde v Worcester City

Talking Turkey is missing a game already this season, and not for the usual ‘I can’t be arsed writing it up’ reasons which happened about a dozen times last time, either.  No, me and Ginger/”Legend” John were all set to hotfoot it over to the other side of town to watch Irlam take on Wigan Robin Park on Tuesday, but the small matter of a bunch of pricks trashing the city centre put paid to all trans-Manchester travel.

Well done, lads, I hope you’re happy with your new trainers and packets of Haribo.

So, we’re off to Ewen Fields for the first of many times this season, where Hyde have a new manager – former Curzon Ashton gaffer, Gary Lowe – a new team and a new kit. Actually, it’s just going back to our traditional red strip after the white shirts from last season’s 125th anniversary ‘celebrations’, festivities which were more like a drunken punch-up at a scally wedding than anything worth getting giddy about.

It’d be fair to say that Lowe’s appointment wasn’t met with whoops of delirium in SK14, especially as most fans were clamouring for caretaker duo, Steve Halford and Scott McNiven, to continue the good work which kept the club in the Conference North by the skin of their teeth. After a slightly sticky start, however, he’s managed to charm the locals over the summer and has assembled a squad of eager whippersnappers with a point to prove.

The pitch is absolutely pristine, making a mockery of the post-apocalyptic wasteland which greeted Droylsden at the final home game of 2010/11. It really is like a bowling green, a lawn green one at that, as flat as a half-empty bottle of cider which has been hidden behind a wheelie bin for a fortnight, with none of the gulleys and humps you’d expect on a well-trodden crown green surface.

I appreciate the nuances between various forms of al fresco bowls may be lost on you, but trust me, it makes sense.

The unfamiliar-looking home side get off to a rickety start, Matt Birley heading just wide from six yards for Worcester in the opening few moments. Gigantic No. 9, Mike Symons, makes a cumbersome handful of himself, while cartoon squirrel body double, Danny Edwards, gets the better of Joel Richardson in the early knockings and serves up a few tantalising crosses from the left.

Worcester’s green-and-white hooped socks (or stockings, if we’re going to be all official about it) are uneasy on the eye, and perhaps buoyed by their sartorial supremacy, the Tigers work their way into the game after quarter of an hour, the dinky Callum Byrne – signed permanently from Rochdale after his impressive cameo loan period last term – being a cut above in the middle of the park and somehow always managing to create space from nothing….like the Universe.

Prof. Brian Cox will be doubtless be making his next series about him.

24 minutes in and Hyde striker, Matthew Berkeley (in his 2nd spell at the club after a fleeting tenure a couple of years back), sends a ball into the area from the right which goes behind everyone bar Ryan Crowther who thuds home for 1-0.

Now dominant, the hosts pile forward, and the increasingly dangerous Scott Spencer has his ankles taken away in the box by tardy Worcester ‘keeper, James Dormond, for a penalty. This prompts Lowe, normally a blur of profanity, to face away from the action, arms folded, until Spencer himself places the spot-kick in the back of the net for 2-0, and the new boss’s fists pump as though he’s at a Metallica gig circa 1987.

The comfortable lead doesn’t stop Richardson from frequent bollockings for what look like minor infractions, probably because he’s generally closest to the dugouts, but Luca Havern is a commanding, vocal presence at the heart of the home defence.

Just prior to the break, City are awarded a dubious penalty when a ferocious Danny Carey-Bertram shot hits Brett Renshaw’s hand from about two yards away, a hand which was tucked in to his body. Handball my arse, as it were, and he gets a totally unjust booking. Instead of facing away this time, Lowe sits on his bench as David Carnell saves Symons’ well-placed but ultimately tame shot, and we can all go and happily get our pies.

All, that is, apart from John, because I snaffle up the last one. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though, he’s picked up the final pie a couple of times, not to mention the last of the peas and Bovril.

Hyde are still in the ascendency after the break despite the best being brought out of Carnell from an Edwards shot early on, but a clod-footed challenge from Renshaw around the hour means he’s off after a 2nd yellow. Crowther gets the shepherd’s crook moments later while Worcester have a set piece – a cardinal footballing sin, of course – and wouldn’t you just know it, they go and make it 2-1 via big bad Symons and his big bad bonce.

The visitors find a new lease of life and stretch the home back line beyond all recognition, and after fending off a few attacks, the Tigers get the ball to Berkeley just outside the Worcester box, but his curling effort clangs away off the post.

The tiger mascot roaming the ground, obviously called Rory, approaches us and stops five yards away in thoughtful riposte. He’s not stalking us though. Nor is he stalking a small-to-medium sized mammal, or even a paddy field worker. No, he’s pulling his shorts up because they’ve fallen down. That’d never happen in the wild, let me tell you.

With ten minutes left, long balls creep into play from both teams, City in pure ‘get it up to the big man’ mode, while Hyde bang them away in a hurried desperation. It’s a merciless assault, but the home side hold firm, surviving an offside ‘goal’, a couple of unmarked back post headers and an ocean of injury time due to a couple of bouts of handbags.

The “We’re goin’ up!” chant at the final whistle may have been a little optimistic, but a battling 2-1 victory is a good marker for the start of the season. 

Finally, I’m gonna go all soft on you and dedicate this blog to my cat, Bungee, who got ran over this week, and I won’t lie, I’ve been in bits since it happened. She looked a little bit like a very small tiger if you squinted, but she was definitely the bestsest moggy in the whole of Levenshulme. R.I.P, little ‘un.

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Match 26: Atherton Collieries v Northwich Villa

Shanley baffling the Villa defence. As usual.August 6th 2011 will forever go down as one of the most seismic days in history. It’ll be up there in significance with the Gettysburg Address, the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot and the moon landing. Yes, it’s the day Northwich Villa made their début in senior non-league football. Alright it’s only the North West Counties Division One, aka, Division 10, but it’s a start.

There has been some conjecture about the status of the club; namely that they’re the feeder team or even the reserves of Northwich Victoria, but any such links have been refuted by the new board, so they’ll just have to make do with playing at the same ground and wearing practically the same green-and-white kit as the Vics.

They’re making their bow at Alder Street, home of uniformly very short-haired men and the evocatively named Atherton Collieries, who are still being put through a series of exhausting looking pre-match training drills five minutes prior to kick-off, while the visitors seem content with a bit of jogging and a cross-field pass or two.

A football-starved Jack Russell yelps his approval as the ref gets the season underway, and the débutantes still haven’t been out of their own half by the time they’re 1-0 down. Paul Shanley is scythed down mercilessly in the box in the 4th minutes, and Colls captain, Andy Walker, sends Niikai Sonne in the Villa goal the wrong way for what is already a well-deserved lead.

Andy Walker with the first or second of his penalties. They were both the same.Northwich are conspicuously silent on the pitch apart from when they vent their frustrations at each other, while the hosts are constantly chattering like water cooler gossip-mongers. They’re by far the more fluid of the sides and look like scoring with each attack, of which there are plenty. Indeed, they double their advantage on the quarter hour, when Shanley – an absolute menace on the right – swivels himself into the penalty area, powers past a couple of defenders, and slots beautifully past Sonne for 2-0. I’m claiming an assist for giving the ball to the throw-in taker, too.

Atherton (whose pitch is surrounded by shipping containers that have been converted into tea-huts and ‘suites’) have won 9-3 and 10-0 (twice) in pre-season and look set to at least go close again today. While Villa’s midfield looks fairly comfortable on the rare occasions they have possession, the defence is in a constant state of flux and hurriedly hoof the ball away instead of looking to play a more obvious pass when put under even a modicum of stress.

The Colls, however, soon find themselves guilty of over-confidence, opting for a series of fancy free-kicks which all fall on their faces, and a rare foray into Atherton territory from one on 39 minutes sees Northwich’s Gary Burnett break clear. Despite forcing the forward wide, home ‘keeper, Phil Pantlin, clatters his ankles at the edge of the box and concedes a needless penalty. Burnett himself steps up and places a perfect spot-kick into the bottom-left corner for the club’s first ever goal in the NWCFL.

Two minutes later and the two goal cushion is restored by another calm Andy Walker penalty for 3-1 at half time. The players jog/trudge off down a Fly Emirates plastic ‘tunnel’ which has presumably been somehow procured from Arsenal, but Villa have been so poor that they would’ve been lucky to have nil.

Speaking of half time, it’s off to the refreshments shipping container…

Pie shipping container“Is it ‘pie one get one free?’” one wag enquires, only to be met with the Most Withering Look Of All Time by the saintly tea-lady who is doubtless met with the same question at every home game. The meat & potato pie is exceptional, as it happens. At least two inches deep and filled to the brim with unctuous slop, it’s easily an 8.5, but as the service is great and there’s also a meat raffle, let’s give it a 9/10.

The second period picks up where the first one left off, with Northwich being pressed into their own half like pilchards being forced into barrels, although they’re doing a good job of holding out. With impeccable timing, an ice cream van rolls up on a street behind the far stand chiming out the strains Match Of The Day. The local one when I was a kid used to play The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, but I’d have definitely bought more Screwballs and Funny Feet if they’d have played a sporting theme tune. The ones from Formula One or Ski Sunday would’ve done, or even Snooker Loopy at a push.

Just past the hour, the Colls get a free kick about ten yards in their own half:

“Level with me, please” shouts the linesman, holding his flag at shoulder height.
“It was,” the inevitably big home No.5, Steve Rothwell hollers back, “you’ve just moved back.”
“Oh, erm, move it back a bit anyway, then” chuckles the liner, “that’ll do, ta.” before laughing his way up and down the touchline for the next two minutes.

Shanley, now operating more centrally, is having an excellent game and unleashes one of the most terrifying 25 yard blasts I’ve ever seen on 76 minutes. It misses the top-right corner by inches, but it’s just a sighter for what’s to come.

The Laughing Linesman - thankfully BO free.A very welcome call from my phone provider (“Do you want an HD box?”, “Will it cost me anything?” “No, just £6.50 extra a month.” beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep) means that I’m distracted when Shanley grabs his second of the game on 81 minutes to make it 4-1, but I’m free of telecommunication troubles to see him round off the scoring when he curls in a millimetre-perfect free kick from just outside the D with 5 minutes left for an opening day hat-trick.

The Villa players bicker their way off the field at the final whistle, but in something rarely seen at this level, the Colls players are kept on the field for a warm-down. It’s a level of (semi) professionalism which will serve them well, and they’ll surely be in with a shout for promotion, or at least improve on last season’s 5th place finish.

Northwich, however, look like they face an arduous début season, although fellow new boys, Nelson, lost 9-1 at home against Irlam, so, every cloud and all that…

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Match 25: Buxton v FC United

The first thing of note you see when pulling into Buxton train station is the bottling plant for the town’s eponymous mineral water, which is housed in a typically boxy industrial unit rather than trickling freely into waiting containers from the verdant, luscious hillside of my crushed dreams.

The disappointment is short lived, however, as Buxton is a handsome place, alright. As my architectural knowledge doesn’t extend much further than having a rough idea of what art-deco looks like and being vaguely aware that Sir Norman Foster grew up just around the corner, let’s just say that it’s flecked with buildings that definitely fall into the ‘fancy’ category, and has an overall appearance of Victorian grandeur.

The tree-lined hike to Buxton’s Silverlands ground feels like a Sunday morning stroll such is the easy charm of the spa town, but with the game being segregated and with over 1,000 FC United fans corralled into the far side of the stadium, pie and peas are snaffled up pre-match in case of lack of provisions at half time. A good choice as it happens, because they’re just down to sausage rolls by then, and they ming.

The teams run onto the pitch to a ticker-tape and streams of bog roll welcome as though it’s an undocumented game from the Argentina ’78 World Cup, and with the first bee of the year bumbling above us and the sun threatening to redden our necks, it could almost be the summer.

FCUM get off to a lightning start, Jerome Wright whippeting down the left wing before a hip swivel dumbfounds the home defence and he’s brought down on the edge of the box with less than 60 seconds on the clock. The freekick comes to nothing, but Buxton soon rattle upfield, with Kieran Ludgsden biffing home a Michael Towey cross into an unusually shallow net (not that I take much notice of these things, but still) for 1-0 after just 3 minutes.

The noisier of The Bucks’ support behind their goal start up a “Who are ya?” chant, but the FC United contingent are unpeturbed, bouncing the full length of the touchline and singing with their life-affirming lustre, tainted slightly by some bell-end lobbing a few bangers onto the pitch and jumping over the barriers to retrieve one which doesn’t go off. The people around him don’t look best pleased.

Considering both sides are looking to sneak into the play-offs in the Evo-Stik Premier, neither look especially threatening, although with the thrusting Carlos Roca missing for FCUM down the right, practically everything they create comes down the opposite flank. It’s all too much for Buxton’s Neil Stevens, who wrestles Wright to the ground during his umpteenth jink down the line, and makes a meal, – a full 5-course banquet, in fact – of getting off him, cynically scraping his left knee and boot along any part of the winger’s body he can make contact with. The rum bugger.

Buxton’s ‘keeper, Scott Hartley is seriously iffy on crosses, but his defenders are doing sterling work in front of him, one United move resulting in two of them tacking each other as well as the ball, with the dandily-named Josh Wilde left twisted in a mangled heap.

The home side do have a couple of chances blocked before the interval, but for the most part, it’s a mediocre 45 minutes.

Half-time brings a very watery Oxo, but more importantly, an FC United dog with a coat saying “I am an FC dog. I am Mancunian” daubed on it. I love football, me.

The second period begins with a touch more gusto, Simon Carden spooning over for the visitors from around 12 yards, but 8 minutes in, a bouncing backpass flummoxes Sam Ashton in the FCUM goal and ricochets off his knees into the path of Lugsden, who chips it past the stranded ‘keeper and extravagantly heads home into the empty net for his 2nd goal. 2-0.

A few minutes later, while Ashton’s head is still in his hands, a half cheer/half urgh goes up, and the ref stops play while a grinning steward removes a pig’s head which has been thrown onto the pitch, presumably by a black metal-fixated Buxton fan. A fucking pig’s head. They’ll be burning churches next.

A double substitution perks FCUM up, with Ben Deegan making an instant nuisance of himself, and their increasing pressure pays off when Mike Norton volleys home from a corner, his left-footed stinger going through Hartley’s body for 2-1 on 65 mins.

The tempo rises further, but a convoy of corners brings nothing but more solid Buxton defending, and their manager, John Reed, scrimmaging around his technical area like a tethered bull being teased with a field-full of lonely heifers in full heat.

The Bucks look to have weathered the storm when the six minutes of injury time are announced, and they almost wrap up the three points with a 3rd goal when Ashton comes whistling out his box to meet a loose ball, only to clatter into Scott Maxfield 30 yards out a split second after he’d pinged it towards the net, an effort which is ultimately cleared. Not quite a Harald Schumacher moment, but definitely a touch wild.

At the other end, Hartley is booked for time-wasting by moving the ball from one side of the six-yard box to the other before taking a goal kick. He’s soon picking it out of his net, though, as one last FC United push sees the ball break to Norton, who snaps it home for a 95th minute equaliser. Cue more ticker-tape, cue more bog roll, cue delirium and a much-deserved point from a game they really should have won, but could so easily have lost. It’s a resilience which will serve them well in the run-in.

The fun doesn’t end there, though. Me and Ginger/”Legend” John go in search of post-game drinks, and stumble across somewhere called Miltons Head (no apostrophe), which I don’t think it’d be too controversial to suggest is a proper, proper dive. It’s full of friendly nutters, a lady with the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen on someone in their thirties, and a giant with a slapdash tattoo of a topless mermaid in stockings and suspenders on his arm that makes John cry with laughter.

After a while, a handful of fans from both teams are having a good-natured sing-off, but it’s upsetting one of the baby twins sat facing us (the other is bopping away), so her dad gives her a big glug of lager and she’s soon dancing with her sister. Again, John is in hysterics, the bad man.

One pillock, though, loses his head during the chanting, and with his eyes and neck bulging, starts on the entire pub. The Giant doesn’t take too kindly to this, and grabs the wrong person by the throat before the situation calms down and he ends up kissing the startled FCUM fan repeatedly on the cheek.

We even get asked for drugs (“”Are you from Manchester? It’s just that our mate’s just been sent down…”), but before things can get any weirder, we have to skedaddle to catch our train back.

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