Saturday 23rd February
FA Vase 5th Round
RUNCORN TOWN 1 WALSALL WOOD 2
Tea Hut Stuff: A bit too crowded (clubhouse packed)
Weather: Grim! Cold and bleak with occasional snow flurries
Parking: On the Pavilions pub car park adjacent to the ground
I've been to this Mecca of North West non league football before so there wont be any art-study photographs of frost bitten pensioners sat in a stand over shadowed by a half-built massive waste reprocessing plant. I'm going through one of my mood swings at the moment and it seems I have temporarily fell out of favour of doing the groundhopping thing. As an alternative I've started taking more of an interest in one of the more entertaining football teams that I have seen whilst slogging around the Northern circuit, the mighty Runcorn Town.
Town were pipped at the post in last seasons North West Counties League Premier Division, just losing out to the classy Ramsbottom United. This season they have just gone top of the league but they are hotly pursued by Padiham, Maine Road and Bootle. With 15 league games to go Runcorn Town will again be tested to the max to shake off the pack. I went along to see them kill off a stubborn Colne side last Saturday 5-3 away from home, first half they were all over the place as Colne took the initiative, second half Runcorn simply blew them away with a total-football performance that completely decimated the home side. The big question was whether Town could summon up that second half Colne performance for todays big FA Vase 5th round clash with Walsall Wood?
Wood are apparently big tree shakers in the Midlands Combination. They'd already done for a fellow North West Counties Premier League side, Wigan Robin Park in a previous round, although it was on a plastic pitch at Sutton Coldfield due to their own surface not being fit for play. The rumour was they were crafty, physical and had some decent players who could quickly turn a tight game. It was good to see them bring along a decent sized support as they thronged around the clubhouse griddle plate. Perhaps Walsall's regular burger outlets have been hit harder than most by the horsemeat scandle? The Runcorn committee appeared like wild west traders giving mirrors & whisky to a bunch of red indians (well they did have red and white scarves on).
A crowd of 233 braved the chilly elements which inspired Town to open a snazzy looking second tea hut for the game on the main stand side of the ground. It had its own generator (but I'm unsure about which substance was running it). There seemed to be quite a few hoppers and various FA dignitaries in attendance in the stand, it was all notebooks, sandwich boxes and compact camera's.
I'm not going to drone on about what happened in this match blow by blow, there are enough good quality reports doing that in detail already. I just want to record my reaction that Runcorn Town really put up a good fight in this game and with a bit more luck could easily have made it through to the quarter finals. They created the goal scoring chances and even had a second 'good' goal strangely disallowed. Everybody played their part and nobody let the side down, Scott Burton ran his socks off in midfield, Paul Shanley was looking ever-dangerous down the flank and James McShane never ceases to amaze me what a skillful striker he is. Alas it was not to be. What they did do was continue to play good open football throughout the game and never once did they resort to dirty tricks and diving. Unfortunately I cannot state the same case for Walsall Wood. Why the visitors resorted to niggling, bumping, nudging and continual shirt tugging is beyond reason. How their captain stayed on the pitch after 2 clearly bookable offences early in the first half is also a complete mystery, Walsall Wood should have been down to 10 men without any doubt whatsoever. In spite of this they genuinely have some very good players, why a lot of them spent most of the match trying to con the referee by blatant diving is a sad reflection on how they approached this game. They had a small striker playing solo up front who must have spent more game-time lying in the mud than he did on his feet, terrible to see such tricks, especially in a last 16 FA Vase tie.
I got the impression that the referee may have been slightly influenced by a very boisterous section of abusive Walsall Wood followers outside the clubhouse, some of the offensive bile this bunch came out with during the afternoon has no place in non league football. To taunt decent Runcorn supporters with comments such as 'Benefit Cheats' is completely out of order, I doubt the low brained idiot who came out with this will know his slur was picked up by me and other passers by, disgraceful!
To sum up the game as a neutral, I thought Runcorn Town were the better side over the 120 minutes although they did get stretched as extra time wore on. Walsall got a breakaway and took the opportunity for a fluked winning goal, they then spent the remainder of the game time wasting and hanging about near the corner flag, which they seemed very good at. Their supporters were ecstatic at their heroes winning a game they probably thought was beyond them, not many sides come away with a win from Runcorn Town, I wonder if they spent all their luck up on this game? The next rounds of the Vase will tell.
As for Runcorn Town the battle for the North West Counties League is about to be notched up a couple of gears, can the rest of the bunch keep up?