Where's The Tea Hut reflects upon local football South West style with a few trips further afield. Keep the faith & stay safe.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Mossley 0 Bootle 3

Saturday 25th August 2012
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Attendance: 132
Admission: £8
Tea Hut Stuff: Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy £2
Weather: Cloud, rain, odd sunny spell, all sorts really
Parking: Opposite the Highland Laddie pub next to the ground
Some classic FA Cup ties involving North West Counties sides today. I reckoned the game featuring Bootle the NWCL Premier League early season leaders away at Northern Premier League Division 1 North club Mossley had the potential to be the pick of the bunch? I think I was right! Despite Mossley playing in a league at a higher level, Bootle did the NWCL proud with an excellent performance to cause one of the biggest upsets of this seasons FA Cup (so far). My pre match build up to the game hadn't seen me in prime condition, too much ale the night before followed up by a massive Corned Beef hash supper had provided me with a thick head and an even thicker waste line. It was all Anadin Extras and gentle sips of water as I boarded the Match Shed for the valleys east of Oldham. Dropping down from the hills the Match Shed quickly encountered some massive storms accompanied by thunder, lightening and 4 inches of rain. Thoughts turned to the fears of a waterlogged pitch, it looked even blacker where I was heading? Despite encountering some road closures for a washed out Rush Bearing Festival near Uppermill my eventual arrival at Mossley hadn't been quite as bad as I had earlier envisaged. Dark skies were starting to head further east and an odd glimpse of blue sky tempted me to leave the Match Shed and make my way down the lane to the ground. Seel Park is a great little place to watch football, full of character with sweeping views of the Pennine hills.
You can sit in the old stand or get just as good a view from the decent terracing which resides around the ground, if it rains (which it did again later today) there is a big covered end behind the nets and a nice little paddock down the opposite touchline. Tremendous venue for non league, if you haven't been yet, make sure you do, you won't regret it. Due to the self abuse of the previous evening I'd only managed half a bowl of cornflakes all day, now the Anadins had kicked in a bit I had started to feel a bit peckish. Time for the Tea Hut, I marched up the terrace to join the queue. I went for the pie, chips and gravy special offer, you got a big tray full of the stuff for only 2 quid, wonderful value and a very nice pie. I had scuttled away to a quite spot near the corner flag to greedily devour the proceeds. Enjoyed it at the time (immensely). Ten minutes later it was a different prognosis, I was packed out, good job I had the pants on with the elasticated waist. As the terraces filled up one couldn't help notice the antics of the Mossley raffle ticket seller. I'd been caught by him 3 times in 10 minutes already, he was now continually lapping the terraces around the pitch good humouredly pestering people to buy his tickets. He really did apply himself to the task and he did it such a comical way he didn't get on your nerves. On the fourth lap he swopped raffle tickets for drugs as he asked old timers and anyone in earshot if they wanted to buy any marijuana or cocaine. He seemed a great sport and was doing a fine job for the clubs coffers. 
Bootle had brought some supporters on the big yellow coach parked down the road and they had placed a big blue banner up behind the away end. As the teams came out I couldn't help think that this would be a tough task for the Merseyside club today as the Mossley side seemed to ooze presence and confidence. The slightly sloping pitch was in excellent condition and both sides were soon zipping the passes around as the game ebbed and flowed from the start. Mossley almost scored but Bootle shot straight up the other end and Jak Gray slotted home a 7th minute goal after his first effort hit the bar, Bootle were in dreamland! Mossley players looked at each other in disbelief, this wasn't in the script, an old timer next to me muttered that classic matchday phrase...'bugger'.
The Mossley player manager Steve Halford was having another fine game as he pushed his side forwards from the rear, unfortunately their big name striker (Ex Salford City and lots of other clubs) Gavin Salmon was having trouble getting the radar to work. Halford hardly put a foot wrong, it says something that the Bootle player manager Neil Prince played even better! His quality and composure on the ball was faultless, he picked out the openings and wasn't afraid to carry the ball forward himself, something which brought fantastic reward in the 21st minute when he drove forwards unopposed before unleashing a long range missile into the top right hand corner of the net, 2-0 to Bootle!
Mossley tried to rally but Bootle more than matched them, they seemed so clinical and confident in their ability to play their football. The big Bootle centre forward Daniel O'Connor was proving to be a real handful, he held the ball up superbly and his off loads put the home side under an ever present threat. You could tell the Mossley defenders didn't fancy his gung-ho approach, only Halford managed to calm the storm. Mossley were late coming out for the second half, I could imagine a few choice words being expressed in the changing rooms. Surely Bootle would reap the whirlwind... not a bit of it, Bootle kept calm, played it tight, soaked up what little threat Mossley managed and hit them on the break. Prince played a deft free kick into an exposed wide channel and Jak Gray got his second goal as he smacked home Bootles third from a very tight angle. We still had over half an hour to play but Bootle simply out smarted the team from the higher league, Steve Halford did his utmost to get Mossley back in it but Bootle were too clever and too well organised.
The rains came down as that second half wore on, a dark cloud of despair gripped the home support, you can always tell when things have gone belly-up, the referee gets it in the neck, the flat cappers were giving Mr Hodgkinson a torrid time, personally I thought he had a bloody good game and kept the game flowing. 3-0 at the final whistle and what a fantastic result for Bootle Football Club, they were utter class for the whole 90 minutes. A tremendous advert for the North West Counties League. I bet it was a pleasant journey back down the M62 to Liverpool.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Winsford United 8 AFC Liverpool 1

Saturday 18th August 2012
North West Counties Leaugue Premier Division
Attendance: 127
Admission: £6
Tea Hut Stuff: Can of coke and some crisps £1.70
Weather: Mostly warm sunshine throughout the game
Parking: Club car park
The 'Wheres The Tea Hut' camera was at the Barton Stadium for an enticing looking clash between a couple of sides with respected reputations for attractive football and plenty of goals. Well we certainly got that today. Pity most of it came from one side. Despite the away side taking an early lead Winsford ripped the 'unplugged' version of AFC Liverpool apart with some exceptional passing and clinical finishing. Apart from the quality performance of Liverpools Johnny Lawless, not a lot went right for the reds, they looked weak at the back, characterless in midfield and indecisive up front. There was a 15 minute period in the second half when Winsford were in such complete command I feared we may have been in for a cricket score. Credit to the Liverpool lads they never threw in the towel and they still tried to play decent football right to the end.
The fact is Winsford looked exceptional for long sections of this game, a first half hat trick for the impressive Brian Matthews and some wonderful forward play from Wayne Welbeck in the second half set the standard for a sensational team performance that sends a clear warning to other title contenders in this high quality Premier Division. The locals were in raptures, the misery of 'season long' supermarket pies and greasy economy sausages from the avant-garde retro Tea Hut was washed away by gourmet style champagne football and how the supporters loved it! A stark contrast to the decent number of travelling reds supporters, it was all soggy chips and lumpy gravy as they threw their bob hats to the ground in disgust. I witnessed one poor chap (who had a big camera for a big away win) getting more and more frustrated in the second half as he stamped and stropped whilst gesticulating frantically to his two-timing heroes on the pitch (how could they do this to him)?
The fact I managed to catch a thumping 8-1 goal-fest took some of my bitterness away from having to pay £6 to get in when most people agree that 5 quid is the correct admission price for this level of the non league structure, my cash chest was looking mighty barren when they also fleeced me £1.70 at half time for a luke warm tin of coke and some ready salted crisps, its not like down town Winsford is Monte Carlo (or even worse.. Arsenal). Its not the amount of over-charging (I realise its not much in money terms)... its the bloody principle of it that bugs me, especially in what are hard times for most people trying to afford football matches. Don't know about you but I've started adding up how much it costs getting to games and its now down to what I can sensibly afford to pay for the day out. Shame really but every little bit counts, thats the way of the world these days.
I thought the ground looked especially nice in the warm sunshine and despite the old dog track set up, you can still get a good view of the action down the touchlines. The main stand has a lot of character about it, something which deepens when you take a walk inside the back rooms housing the tea hut, the bar and a club shop. There is a long stretch of well covered terracing on the opposite side of the pitch (which will doubtless come in handy once the winter arrives). Both ends are set back from the pitch due to the curve of the old dog track (now just grass), you can still walk around the railed hard standing to complete a circular jaunt of the pitch.
Despite some rather negative comments about this ground from various groundhoppers, I personally liked it quite a lot! It was a good afternoons football at a decent ground. It will be interesting to see if Winsford can kick-on from this morale boosting victory, they've got Runcorn Town down here next Tuesday night, that should be quite a game. As for AFC Liverpool their home game against Ashton Athletic on Wednesday night will be crucial. They really need a good performance ASAP after a drubbing like todays, I think they are capable of a lot better, lets not forget, it was only the other day they themselves enjoyed a 6 goal away win over at AFC Blackpool, lets hope they bounce back stronger for the experience.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hemsworth Miners Welfare 1 Runcorn Linnets 1

Saturday 11th August 2012
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
Attendance: 197
Admission: £4
Tea Hut Stuff: Cheeseburger £1.80, Tea 60p
Weather: Warm afternoon, partly cloudy, odd sunny spell
Parking: Adjacent cricket club car park next to the main road
Hemsworth are a respected Northern Counties East Division 1 club that have been on the Tea Hut radar for a while now, this early season FA Cup clash provided the ideal opportunity for a visit, especially as they were taking on the classy Runcorn Linnets side from the Premier Division of the North West Counties League. I picked Frugal Glenn up at around 12.30pm, upon my arrival he was wrestling with a big dog in the front room. His objective was to get the hound in the kitchen so he could go to the match without it chewing up his living room carpet. I left him to it to wait in the Match Shed (as I'd left the windows open). All I could hear was a lot of loud barking coming from the partially opened front door and Frugal yelping and swearing, the dog had bitten him and in the grappling match his new glasses got broken. He was fuming once he eventually got in the car "The ungrateful b*stard" he spat "I'd given the f*cker extra biscuits as well"! It was a quite journey for the next half hour, Frugal had his pant leg pulled up as he dabbed the teeth marks with some 'past the sell by date' Dettol. I'd decided to take the route eastwards through Huddersfield and Wakefield rather than stay on the M62 via Leeds, the mega long roadworks on the M62 in Yorkshire can make it a really drawn-out trip. Fortunately the Match Shed got through the A-Road route without any problems and we were soon the other side of Wakefield heading through the scenic countryside around Foulby as we approached the small dwelling of Fitzwilliam where Hemsworths ground is located. I'd heard that the best opening batsman in the world ever, Geoff Boycott, came from Fitzwilliam, how fitting to find a nice little cricket club slap bang next to the football ground. Upon parking the Match Shed in the cricket club car park across from a row of shops we soon realised the place was in the grips of FA Cup fever. Not only did we come across a bloke in half mast action-slacks with a Millets home brand rucksack eating a bag of chips, there were also two pensioners propped up against each other on a bench watching the cricket. The place was rocking! As Frugal was limping quite a bit following his altercation with his pet guard dog we decided to sit down and watch a bit of the cricket, it was only 2pm. Some kid that looked no older than 12 was slogging some pretty crap full tosses from a selection of bloater type bowlers to all parts of the ground. We guessed this was perhaps a lower league game we may have stumbled across? After his 5th straight boundary I thought about moving the Match Shed a bit further back?
At 2.20pm there was a commotion at the entrance gate, it was the late arrival of the Runcorn Linnets team coach. All the players (some in Everton shirts) and a large number of others (supporters or officials) disembarked and made their way to the football gate down beside the cricket pitch."Bloody ell" smirked one of the pensioners to his mate "these fancy buggers have got a f*cking coach"! The old timers would have been really impressed if they'd stuck around for the arrival of the Linnets Travel Club coach a short time later. The Runcorn Linnets side have a good support both home and away and today was no exception, they made up a good part of the decent crowd of almost 200. As Runcorn Linnets play in a snazzy looking yellow and green hooped kit it brings a bit of unusual vibrant colour to the proceedings and it was great to see a selection of flags being positioned around the ground from both of the respective clubs today. When me and Frugal entered the ground about a half hour before kick off the place was getting a lot more busy than when we first turned up. The ground has a plush large clubhouse down one of the touchlines and the bar area was doing a good steady trade.
There is a big TV on the wall and one of those internal Tea Hut 'snack bar' counters just across the way. A gent was on the griddle and informed me he'd just finished a fresh made batch of burgers. I handed over my £1.80 and got myself a cheeseburger, I decided to back it up with a 60p cup of tea on the side. It was basic stuff but ok, the non frills processed cheese slice came without the choice of onions but what the hell, it was tasty enough. Frugal went for a Bovril, the gent in the kitchen had to use fresh boiling water to make it, unfortunately Frugal added to his injury listing for the day with a burn to his hand as he spilled the salty liquid trying to land the frail paper cup on the nearby condiment table (boiling water in a thin paper cup is not a good idea). We both thought that Hemsworth had a nice little ground, I'd read hopper reports from The Dribbling Code and Reynards Hunting Grounds before coming here (both NCEL experts) and it matched their assessments. The touchline opposite the Clubhouse side offers a good little stand with around a 100 seats, almost adjoining it is what at first appears to be another stand, in fact it is simply a very large dug-out facility for the Management teams and subs. Both structures offer a charismatic appearance in front of perimeter planted conifers. As regards both ends of the ground there is tidy hard standing, again, conifers offer some nice greenery at one of the ends, the other has the complimenting presence of the cricket ground scoreboard just to one side of the corner flag, along with a view of the upper flat above the cricket clubhouse which today had a full washing line of underpants, vests and other items of clothing (hoping for a breeze). Now and again a cricketer in whites would appear up there for a crafty fag, often in pads. There did appear to be a good few groundhopper types here today, wearing giveaway camera bags and whatever, its obviously a bonus when the early cup competitions bring teams together from different leagues.
Onto the match..... Firstly I'll start with Hemsworth (or Wels) as the locals call em. Frugal in particular was mighty impressed with their 100% workrate throughout the entire match. They look a big abrasive bunch and their style of play is whole hearted and robust without becoming purely long ball, they can play a bit too and often put some clinical passing movements together. They lost team captain Dean Foley just around 25 minutes into the first half when he was sent off for a reckless and dangerous challenge. Personally I didn't see it full on and thought it was just a hard tackle, Frugal however had no doubts, in his opinion he had to go and the referee was right to send him off. This was a massive set back to the gallant home side, especially as Runcorn Linnets were creating numerous goalscoring opportunities and seemed destined to score a hat full of goals. They were already 1-0 up from a 7th minute Neil Black shot from the right edge of the 18 yard area. It wasn't cleanly struck but somehow the ball got through Dale Walstows grip to find the corner of the net. To make up for this, the Hemsworth keeper went onto to make some fantastic saves and definitely deserves a lot of credit for keeping Hemsworth in the match, despite the goal, Dale had a great game.
Runcorn kept coming and coming down the pitch creating chance after chance but couldn't make it count, either the ball hit the woodwork, the keeper kept it out or the referee disallowed the goal. By half time there were a few rumbles and grumbles from the travelling Linnets supporters that this game was there for the taking in the first 20 minutes. Hemsworth regrouped in the dressing rooms. The second half wasn't refined total football but it was certainly enthralling. Again Linnets pushed forward, again Hemsworth 'just-about' held the line. What Frugal suggested seemed a long shot, that Hemsworth could free themselves of the pressure and create just one or two chances on goal? At 0-1 down they only needed one hit, they would surely take a draw and face Runcorn in a replay with 11 against 11 men (even away). Well they did it! Lee Swift hit a low bullet like equaliser with around 15 minutes left to play to send the Hemsworth supporters into absolute raptures. It appears the cricket match over the wall was temporarily suspended as players and spectators tried to get a view over the wall to witness perhaps the first bit of FA Cup drama of this seasons competition? A great comeback from Hemsworth and they held firm for the remainder of the match despite a few wobbles. How Runcorn Linnets did not win this match is unbelievable (and that is not being disrespectful to a fine Hemsworth performance) they had so many chances! The Linnets should have won this game by 5 or 6 clear goals, especially when Hemsworth went down to 10 men.
Surely they will apply the whirlwind when they get Hemsworth on their own patch on Tuesday night. Or will Hemsworth prove us all wrong once again, they're good enough footballers if they get the chances falling their way? Thats the mystery and the suspense of FA Cup football. By the way... its not on Sky (but perhaps it should be).

Saturday, 11 August 2012

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Action

Another trek into deepest Yorkshire for the trusty Match Shed.
North West Counties League Premier Division Runcorn Linnets provided the classy opposition for Northern Counties East League Division 1 Hemsworth MW.
A full visit report and pictures will be posted on the 'Tea Hut' site during Sunday evening. Without giving too much of the story away, Hemsworth never gave up, despite going down to 10 men, they provided a truly spirited performance for the whole 90 minutes. Despite the home sides grit and determination, Runcorn Linnets should really have had this game done and dusted by half time. Don't reckon they'll be happy about the multiple missed chances on goal?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

AFC Blackpool 0 Padiham 1

Tuesday 7th August 2012
North West Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 55
Admission: £6
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea 60p
Weather: Gloriously sunny evening on the Fylde coast
Parking: Sports field car park around the corner
Decided to take advantage of freak sunshine and get over to the Fylde coast again. I was only at nearby Squires Gate FC on Saturday, tonight I had the pleasure of a couple of hours by the sea before sampling AFC Blackpool taking on Padiham from over Burnley way. Arriving in Blackpool around 5.15pm I drove the Match Shed northwards up the promenade to the nice little setting of Cleveleys, it looked a picture in the sunshine, the tide was going out and so were all the day trippers. Feeling a tad peckish I headed straight for Kays Award Winning Fish and Chip Restaurant & Takeaway. It appears there are a lot of award winning chippy's in this part of the world, every other one you come across has won something or other? Kays is adjacent to the small bus station just off the main street. I couldn't resist another big wrap up of freshly cooked fish and chips (twice in 4 days I've done this in Blackpool, oh dear). I took it to the sea front and sat at a charismatically designed  stone table and chairs which had been introduced as part of the recently upgraded promenade. It was quiet by now and I had a great 'next to the sea' setting for my big tea. 
It was good grub but I was bloody full afterwards, time for another explicit edition of pant-busters. After a bit of a stroll it was back in the Match Shed for tonights big game. I wasn't thrilled to find AFC Blackpool charging a quid extra than normal for the NWCL, £6... I hope this doesn't become a trend at other grounds but at least they were only charging 60p for a tea, not the usual quid a tea bag rip-off you get at a lot of grounds these days. It took me ages to get served at the Tea Hut counter (which is inside the clubhouse), some bloke from Padiham was ordering multiple trays of pie, mushy peas and gravy, and I thought I was a greedy b*stard! It appeared that the lady dishing it out wasn't that familiar with bulk volume orders of this magnitude. Is there some kind of food shortage in Padiham at the moment?  I've been to the ground before and it boasts a stand on all four sides, there is seating down both touchlines, firstly outside the clubhouse and secondly across the pitch in the stand that separates the two dug outs. Both ends have a decent sized covered terrace, one of which tonight had 3 old timers sprawled out in fancy garden armchairs! The pitch looked in very good order and complimented a ground that looked a credit to the league on such a fine warm evening. I took my tea for a stroll around the ground and was surprised to come across a chap in the dug out stand seats making calls on his phone to some club official about people he could see sneaking in by pushing aside one of the gates next to the adjoining industrial estate. He gave a full photo-fit description.... I half expected a swat team in a helicopter soaring over the horizon. I suppose its in the best interests of the club, or perhaps they should fix the dodgy gate?
I decided to sit in the dug out stand seats for the first half of the game, it was just me, the spotter and one other bloke when the teams came out. I realised I was sitting nearest to the Blackpool dug out. Within 5 minutes I was surrounded by various members of the Management crew, some subs and a host of other characters who all seemed to arrive from the changing room side of the opposite clubhouse. This wasn't Manager, Assistant plus one or two others.... it was a bloody coach party! Within seconds the Blackpool management team were off and running on what was to be an 'Olympic Standard' exhibition of non stop moaning, groaning, insults and intimidation. Some of it was extremely amusing, even comical but there was another edge to it which was sometimes distasteful and a little bit out of order. Their primary focus of attention for long periods of the match was the female referee, the Assistant Manager was moaning about her to everyone in earshot before we'd even kicked off!
Personally I thought the Referee had a very good game in difficult circumstances, as Padihams Management team had a very vocal and abrasive nature as well (although not to the levels that the home side went to), even one of those full time TV Premiership showboating refs would have been seeking shelter and sanctuary tonight. The Lady official got the decisions more or less bang on (but thats from a neutrals perspective). What made the game so difficult to watch, never mind officiate was the niggling, gritty nature of the football. It wasn't a dirty game but to be perfectly honest I considered this to be an ugly, brute force type of a match. Quality didn't turn up to the party I'm afraid, it was a room full of hoofers, chargers and shouters. Passing appeared difficult, attempts on goal infrequent, anything on target could be deemed very minimal indeed. Both sides will doubtless play a lot better than this during the season but for tonights summing up... I'm afraid it was bloody awful. Padiham looked the more cohesive of the two sides and had around a 60-40% possession rate. The only goal of the game came on the hour mark from a well hit Andrew Tinker strike. The chances of a Blackpool comeback appeared a bit thin on the ground and despite a lot of huffing and puffing, alongside abusive comments to the Referee which resulted in the Blackpool Assistant being reprimanded on the touchline, Padiham clinically saw out the last half hour.
Despite the warning there were still random ongoing loud shouts from the vicinity of those gathered around the home team bench that the Referee was a "stupid cow", and... "its not fu*king netball love", both of which were completely unfair and totally out of order, also.. on a slightly separate footing, one of the Padiham members of the Management team was called a "short arsed baldy b*stard". As the football on the pitch died a slow death, things got even more heated on the touchline, when a Padiham player was sent off in the last minute, something must have been said between dug outs, it looked like one of the Padiham bench was trying to get at their opposite numbers up the touchline (I may be wrong, it was a bit gloomy at that stage but something was going on, the chap had to be held back by his colleagues). At least it kept most of the crowd there until the final whistle (all 55 of us). Surely teams like AFC Blackpool and Squires Gate FC deserve more local support than they get on the Fylde coast. Its worth the admission charge just to see the Blackpool bench in full flow, never mind what you get on the pitch! Anyway, a big cheer went up when the Referee finally blew up, a good 3 points for Padiham and it looked like half the crowd were away fans anyway. Blackpool will be hurting for getting beaten so early at home, especially after a good away win at the weekend at newcomers Norton. They can do a lot better than this I reckon?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Squires Gate 3 Alsager Town 3

Saturday 4th August 2012
North West Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 35
Admission: £5
Tea Hut Stuff: Diet Coke £1 (gagging after fish & chips)
Weather: Fading shower followed by continual sunshine
Parking: Very well maintained club car park
I'd promised the wife a special birthday treat and boy did she get it! What more could a woman want than a magical mystery tour in the Match Shed? I cannot understand how ungrateful somebody could be once they realise they're only going to Blackpool? Her mood worsened when the slap up restaurant lunch I'd publicised turned out to be fish and chips, her anger doubled when I bundled her out of the Match Shed at 2pm in Blackpool town centre... for goodness sake I thought women liked shopping? As regards football business I personally considered Blackpool to be the ideal location to catch the first league game of the new North West Counties Premier Division season. The Match Shed hit the coast at around 11.30am, as predicted it was all Fried Onions, Bingo and Beer Bellys. There are some wonderful sights to behold on the Golden Mile. The fish and chips I mentioned came courtesy of the award winning Bispham Kitchen Restaurant (posh cafe really), bloody good stuff it was too. I was packed out and had to unfasten my pants. Bispham is a couple of miles north of Blackpools main drag and it took the Match Shed almost three quarters of an hour to crawl through the promenade traffic to the School Road ground of Squires Gate FC which is just behind Blackpool Airport. The tidy little stadium is slap bang next to Blackpool Wren Rovers FC and their North West Counties League rivals AFC Blackpool are only across the nearby main road. An isolated shower was falling as I arrived so I sat in the Match Shed until just before kick off. Once inside the ground the first thing I noticed was the superb looking pitch, it was in top condition and almost seems to have a crown on it.
The stands and structures around the ground are all low level but they have a certain appeal and the sharp all-white clubhouse looks nice. A few 'seasoned' old timers had already taken up some of the bench seating in the tiny St Annes Fish Restaurant Stand which is positioned next to the notorious South Bank grassy mound behind the nets. As Alsager didn't appear to have brought any old timer ultra's of their own today, there was no need for the Pensioners to arouse the attentions of the Riot-Response police vans in nearby Blackpool town centre.
I casually ambled up the touchline past the clubhouse and came across three little stands all snuggled together, the first was just hard standing with a bit of grass whilst the other two stands had a few rows of benches in them. Some Gents following Squires Gate were sat together near the halfway line with Blackpool AFC away shirts on. I have to say these chaps were the most sporting spectators I have ever seen. Not only did they clap everything the Squires Gate team did, they joined in just the same for Alsager Towns players, even when they'd come off the pitch injured during some of the heated challenges midway through the game, some of which witnessed the home sides players disciplined. With a low attendance of only 35 on what turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon, some of the crowd were muttering about the Olympics being a reason for football fans staying in to watch the games on TV. There seemed to be a consensus of opinion that the blanket over-hyped coverage from the BBC had brain washed gullible members of the public into not wanting to miss 'another crucial medal'. They may have a point? I'm personally getting a bit sick and tired of every single BBC News Bulletin being just about the Olympics and nothing else. A more balanced proportional approach would be better. Back to the football... Neither Squires Gate nor Alsager Town have been picked out to challenge for honours this season but in my view this was just the kind of traditional NWCL fixture to start the season off with. Both sides would be hoping to take something out of this game, the safe money was on a narrow Squires Gate victory but Alsager Town could not be under estimated.
What we got as a match was a bit like one of those 6 part mini drama's. You get to know the characters, a plot starts to form, theres more than a few twists, and just when you think its all over, the finale proves everyone wrong. This did turn out to be a 6 goal thriller, you cannot get any better (for a neutral) than a 3-3 draw on the opening game of the season. Mind you, it wasn't always pretty. This was a fiercely competitive match. Squires Gate had a player sent off and a string of bookings. Some may disagree but ironically I didn't think it was a dirty game, the referee had a task on his hands controlling all the action but generally I think it was a case that both of these sides really wanted a win today and they gave everything to try and get it. There were some classic outbursts from the players echoing around the ground, one in particular sticks in my memory, Russ McKenna had been (should we say) questioned about his weight by one of the Alsager centre backs, Russ, who I reckoned had a very good game, spat back the tactful and diplomatic response "F*ck off you big pr*ck... tell you what.. I'll keep eating the f*cking cheeseburgers, you just keep hoofing the ball over that f*cking stand"! It was that kind of an afternoon. The Alsager Town boss Andy Turner was shouting and balling at his players throughout the entire proceedings as he energetically passed on his instructions in the most frustrated animated way possible, he seemed to be kicking every ball and making every tackle. It was all good stuff for the admission money.
Gate went 1 up through Forbes early doors before Aspinall levelled midway through the half for Alsager. Then came the sending off of Squires Gate left back Andy Harvie, it was deemed to be an over the top two footed challenge? Being the closest spectator to the incident I have to say that a sending off was rather harsh. Both players went in fully committed and I do not think the player meant to maliciously hurt his opponent. To be honest, I wouldn't even have given a yellow card (but I'm not a referee). I think it was a full on 50/50 challenge and some slight misjudgement may have warranted a free kick, nothing more. The sending off caused a period of rugged attrition either side of half time. Gate defied the numbers on the pitch and took a surprising 2-1 lead in the 70th minute from a Shelmerdine strike which hit both posts before crossing the line. Dramatically Alsager surged back into contention when Aspinall got his second goal of the afternoon in the 83rd minute which was sensationally followed up by Rigby putting Alsager ahead 2-3 a minute later. The 10 men of Squires Gate would not conceed defeat! Next up we had a tremendous Benfield drive putting Gate level at 3-3 with just 5 minutes to play. What a finish!
A great start to the season. The old timers in the St Annes Fish Restaurant Stand were on oxygen. I was still re-living the action in the Match Shed when I went back into Blackpool town centre to pick the wife up. There she was waiting patiently (face like thunder) amongst mingling gangs of staggering drunken stag and hen parties already sloshed at 5.15. Blackpool was heaving at the end of a long sunny afternoon. 15 miles later as the Match Shed sped eastwards down the M55 the rain storms kicked in (and I was still full from my fish and chip dinner).

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Long Hard Road To Glory

North West Counties League starts Saturday 4th August 2012
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