Saturday 21st August
Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 South
Leek Town 2 Spalding United 2
Tea hut purchases: Steak & Kidney pie £1.70p, Tea 70p
Weather: Very humid, grey and cloudy
Parking: On the A523 directly outside the ground, easy exit
I should start having a go on the pools coupon again, out of the 11 games I have seen this season, this turned out to be the 8th draw! An amazing fact touched upon by Frugal Glenn the self proclaimed betting expert who was accompanying me today. Well, one of his eccentric lower league trebles did actually come up 3 seasons ago, as he points out proudly almost every time he comes along. It was a refreshing sunny day when the Match Shed chugged down the Pennine slopes. Frugal Glenn was in one of his Jackson Pollack home decorating t-shirts again, his uncharacteristic good mood was quickly negated as we entered the dark grey rain clouds over North Staffordshire. Leek was wet, miserable and very, very humid. We parked up in the town centre, as we were a bit early it was a good opportunity to take a look at the antiques and collectables market, I gave Frugal a spare coat I had in the boot, he complained it was too tight (how ironic). I thought the stalls were most enjoyable although most of the bargains would have been snaffled up early morning, we left for the ground at 2.30pm, Frugal had got into an argument with a Brummie sounding dealer about a 'best price' for what appeared to be an imitation Galle glass vase, it certainly wasn't a scene from the Antiques Road show, your average Frugal Glenn valuation is more 'Aldi' than Sotherby's.I eased the Match Shed to the side of the main road right outside the impressive Harrison Park stadium (pointed in the right direction for our return trip via Macclesfield and Stockport). The rain had stopped. I'd seen good reports about the Leek Town ground and one can understand why, it has that character and 'real football ground' feel to it. The large well appointed main stand and the cosy covered terracing on all the other sides of the stadium are complimented by glimpses of the Staffordshire hills amidst greenery, trees and ambient local housing. There is even an Art Deco styled red brick works behind one of the ends, very classical I must say. Yes, it has a nice feel to it this place. If it gets the thumbs up from Frugal Glenn... it must be good (by the way, Leek CSOB also play here in the North West Counties Division 1). There appear to be some friendly ground staff at the ground, right from the programme seller, the lottery man right through to the dry witted Tea Hut bloke serving up the grub. I purchased a nice looking steak and kidney pie from him which was sublime in pastry and gravy but just a little lacking on filling, one chap who was in the queue before me went back and had another one? Have to mention that the programme I bought was a very good publication for £1.20p, plenty of readable columns about the club, the visitors from Spalding and how other sides in the league are preparing for the new campaign.The beat from the street reckons Leek Town may struggle to replicate their form of last season when they did exceptionally well until tailing off towards the latter part of the run in. They haven't won any of their pre season friendlies this term and consistency in finishing off the opposition is a definite worry. As for Spalding United, they had a really tough time last season (as in 4 seasons previous to that), they finished next to bottom and are a lot of punters favourites for the whipping boys tag this time around as well. Imagine the shock and stunned silence around the ground when Spalding took a first minute lead with a superb headed goal from Andy White. To make it worse for the home fans the impressive Tony Onokah made it 2-0 with a calmly but clinically executed finish in the 12th minute. Spalding were in dream land! As the first half progressed Spalding continued to hit Leek on the break, they exploited some poor marking and really should have had at least 2 or 3 more. Leek simply failed to gel, it was all a bit predictable, the relentless urge to get it wide, hoof it into the box and simply 'see-what-happens'. There was no creativity through the middle, no quality balls to the strikers and no 'up-front-presence' to worry a solid looking Spalding defence.It didn't take long for the novelty of the first match of the 'Evo-Stik' new season to wear off. The Leek contingent were getting restless. The lads from the pub took it out on the Ref, the young kids started a game of tig and the old timers reckoned they must have finally flipped for paying to see this lot, oh dear. Spalding held the 2-0 lead at half time and I went for a cup of tea. Unfortunately, I have to report that this cup of tea was probably the worst I've wasted money on for many, many years, it was rancid, Frugal said they were probably recycling tea bags in the back, I'm not going along with that but they seriously need to check and improve the quality of a basic cup of tea, it truly was horrendous.I predicted that Leek would come out fighting and really have a go at turning the game around. It didn't happen. What did happen is that Spalding sat back and lost that dangerous threat of hurting Leek on the break. Tony Onokah was still a handful for the Leek defence and he was a main outsource for Spalding due to his excellent qualities in holding up the ball but they didn't support him enough and gradually Leek started to camp out in the visitors half. Tony received a truly unjust booking from a referee under constant pressure from the home fans and soon after he was taken off. Leon Ashman scrambled home a scrappy goal for Leek in the 77th minute and Spalding resorted to kicking it anywhere. The equaliser arrived in the 89th minute, to be honest it was what Leek deserved because Spalding stopped playing football at half time.
At the whistle, Leek got a rapturous show of support from the loyal supporters who never gave up hope (apart from the old timers having a good moan that is). The Match Shed kicked into life and we headed back north. A long and winding route on 'A' roads that got got utterly ridiculous whilst negotiating the major roadworks through Stockport, how clever to take down the signposts for the turn offs for the through traffic? We eventually got on the M60 to get us around Greater Manchester but you dont need the hassle when you're rushing home for your tea.