Thursday 2nd May 2013
West Counties League Challenge Cup Final
FORMBY 0 RUNCORN
Admission: £4 (courtesy of a £1 NWCL
Hut Stuff: No chance, packed out with punters
Mild sunny evening
Car park at the ground
This is the 7th season running that the NWCL Challenge Cup Final has been held at Curzon Ashton FC's Tameside Stadium. Curzon Ashton play in the Evo Stik Northern Premier League and it is fair to say the ground provides a suitable location for such a prestigious Final. There is plenty of decent terracing affording fine views of a well kept (if a little battle scarred) pitch, this is accompanied by an excellent Main Stand and hospitality suites. The two finalists both have a reputation for playing football the right way, particularly Division 1 Formby.
'The Squirrels' include a large base of younger players who have previously witnessed rewards at Youth Team level, I caught them in an early round of the FA Vase tournament at Yorkshire based Nostell Miners Welfare and they impressed me with some fine passing football on the way to a 2-1 away win. Linnets are a hardy bunch with the biggest following of supporters in the NWCL, they've struggled to contend a top six league placing for long spells of the season and the Cup has remained their only chance for silverware.
The Challenge Cup obviously means a lot to the two protaginists, the Formby Secretary had even posted a picture of his brand new Cup Final tie on Twitter (I managed to catch the tie in-action pre kick off in the Main Stand).
Whilst Formby couldn't match Linnets for travelling support there were enough of them to cheer on their heroes around the stadium and they seemed well up for the event. As for the Linnets mobile 'Impi' they arrived on 4 coaches, planes, trains and automobiles. Most seemed to be wearing the garish bright green and yellow colours which clearly identify them in any kind of crowd. I overheard a good few of them moaning about a lack of Cup Final programmes? Apparently the well put together glossy publication had completely sold out 20 minutes before kick off (glad I got mine early doors then).
It appeared that Linnets fans had two other gripes as well, the long queues for the Tea Hut (or should I say Snack Bar counter) and the fact that the stewards wouldn't let people take pints of Ale onto the terraces from the Bar area, bearing in mind this was a Cup Final I think the complaints are a touch harsh really, If you want food & drink, get it before arriving or at least enter the ground at a reasonable time before kick off.
It had been a wonderful days weather in the North West, a rarity I'm afraid, it seemed people were out to make the most of the mild sunny evening and it provided a superb backdrop to the proceedings. The officials had placed the Challenge Cup Trophy on a bit of a canteen table in front of the tunnel for the teams to march past as they came onto the pitch, unfortunately I do have to say its probably the worst looking Cup I've ever seen, dont know who designed it but I bet they've moved on in employment since, it looked bloody awful. I sat on the back row of the Main Stand for the first half and once the match was underway it quickly became evident that Formby looked very nervous and inhibited by the status of the event.
Passes quickly went astray and players struggled to keep tactical formation, Linnets immediately exploited the situation and drove forward with confidence and aggression, cheered on by the massed ranks of green and yellow behind the goals one has to verify that they fully deserved a 2-0 half time lead. Formby looked like rabbits in the headlights (or should I say sunshine) as critical mistakes gave the side from the 'Premier Division' all the bullets they needed.
It looked like two thirds of the 580 crowd were trying to get into the Bar area at half time, I got a sense that the green & yellow Linnets army were chasing a pre celebration 'taster' with a full 45 minutes still to play?
For the second half I stood on the far terrace near the halfway line, it provided a really good view of the action. With the Tea Hut full to over-flowing I had to open up emergency rations from my inside coat pocket, a generic bag of salt & vinegar crisps (not really Cup Final fodder is it). The hordes of Linnets fans had switched ends and began the almost non stop chanting and singing that they'd kept up with since the start of the match. I found it slightly puzzling that most of the songs were derogatory insults based at their local rivals Runcorn Town who finished above them in the NWCL Premier League, what greater respect to Runcorn Town could you pay than to sing your scorn for them at your own Cup Final? Certainly not the smartest trick in the box.
I was genuinely pleased that Formby played a different standard of football in the second half. They started stringing passes together and out pacing the Linnets midfield, a number of cross field moves finally resulted in some growing pressure which had the resolute Linnets defenders making some last ditch tackles. This was more like the Formby side who had gained so many accolades for good quality football, Linnets were definitely hanging on to maintain a clean sheet when a rare jaunt upfield witnessed an attacker go down under slightly dubious circumstances for a hotly disputed Linnets penalty, the net burster spot kick sealed victory for the Premier Division side but the second half belonged to their younger competitors 'The First Division Champions Formby FC'. All credit and due respect to Linnets, their experience and know-how, particularly in the opening stages of the first half had set the foundation for victory, their large following of supporters finally had the silverware they wanted so badly, up went the cheers and up went the volume, shame it was a Linnets song about a NWCL 3 point 'technicality' deduction forced upon their progressive rivals... you guessed it... Runcorn Town.