Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Some you win, some you lose...

County League lows, Holderness Cup highs & Grounds for concern...

Our season ended on something of a high at First Team level - thanks to an excellent win over outgoing champions Sculcoates Amateurs - but for our County League teams it was a disappointing finale; both finishing bottom of their respective divisions.
I went to watch the Reserves in their last game of the season at Howden Amateurs, a side that can go on to win the title should they continue the impressive run they're currently on. Since finally getting back on to their Ashes Park pitch after drainage problems had left them with over half their fixtures to play in the space of two months, Howden have won nine out of ten games and at kick-off time on Saturday required just three more victories to clinch a first Premier Division championship.
As it was their "dream" should have been over inside the opening quarter. Our Reserves belied their lowly positon to completely dominate the early stages and only the brilliance of the home keeper (plus the post and fortunate goal-line block) kept us out.
Sure enough our failure to convert this superiority into goals was duly punished at the other end - twice - before half-time and despite Jim Hollingsworth's second half strike the Stiffs were bound for defeat and with it a bottom place finish.
So both our County League squads will prepare for relegation over the summer. Although the Reserves may well be saved by the current shortage of clubs in the top-flight and possible promotion of the champions to the Humber Premier League.
As to who those champions might be, it's the best finish to a Premier Division campaign in years. Current leaders Beverley Town finished their campaign three weeks ago and can do nothing but wait and see whether their 38pts will be enough.
So far it has proved good enough to see off the challenge of Wawne Ferry - despite the Hull side going into their last three games requiring just 6pts from three matches. They managed just one. Therefore we are left with Howden and Goole side Viking Raiders, with the potential of a winner takes all clash this weekend.Of course neither Howden or Viking currently play on grounds that meet the entry criteria of the HPL. In Howden's case this is particularly sad as The Ashes Cricket Ground & Playing Fields - particularly on a gorgeouos Spring day like last Saturday - is one of the more aesthetically pleasing venues in the East Riding (pictured above). Unfortunately its facilities are among the most basic; we even had to send out to a nearby garage last weekend just to fill the water bottles!
According to the Howden Online web site: "Originally part of the grounds of the manor and known as The Ashes from the 17th century, the playing fields were given to the people of Howden in 1925." It would appear the changing rooms have not been upgraded since!
The subject of grounds and ground criteria is set to be a hot topic with us over the summer as we still deliberate over the direction our First Team take next season. With rumours circulating that the Humber Premier League is to be given Step 7 status from 2010/11, we are in something of a quandry with regards to our proposed move to the Central Midlands League (CML). With only the Supreme Division therein currently graded at Step 7, we could face the strange scenario of joining the CML and then having to gain promotion simply to compete at the same level as the competition we've left. Of course summing things up thus doesn't tell the full story. It has been one of the main gripes of those involved with our Club that there has been no real advance in ground improvements at HPL level since the first three seasons. And from the comments we've had back from the two East Riding clubs who joined the CML last season, the grounds therein are - overall - of a much higher standard. With a meeting of the relevant bodies in Yorkshire to discuss the Step 7 proposals set for 28th May, June promises to be a pivotal month in the history of our Club.
Having mentioned the two "local" clubs to have dipped their toe into the Central Midlands League this season, they've enjoyed somewhat contrasting fortunes. Westella & Willerby have had a fantastic debut, securing promotion at the first attempt and making it to the League Cup Final where they lost out to Supreme Division side Sutton Town. It's been a marvellous campaign for Dave Anderson and his side and we'll have chance to gauge just how strong their current squad is when they come to Low Farm for a pre-season game on 18th July. Not that everybody has been impressed with Westella - read Andy Gallon's review of the recent "six-pointer" against Louth Town at Brough from the Football Grounds In Focus site.
As for Hutton Cranswick, it pretty much depends on who you talk to as to whether they've had an okay kind of season both on and off the field or are looking to return home to the HPL having had their fingers well and truly burnt! No doubt my old mucker Denis will be in touch soon but a sixth place finish would appear creditable enough to me and good enough to inspire hopes of challenging for promotion themselves next time.

The climax of the league campaigns locally have been accompanied by the annual South Holderness Cup competition. One of the longest-running such competitions in the East Riding, it is one I've been closely involved with since 1997 and although not the draw it once was it still proves a competitive affair. For the second year running we tasted disappointment in it, losing to holders Hedon Rangers in the first round. Hedon must now be strong favourites to retain their crown alhough I know Iain McNaught is keen for our 'B' squad to have a real go this year.
Getting the reserves to the final would be another fine achievement for "Maccer" who on Saturday celebrated his 650th appearance for Easington United. He is the second player to reach such a milestone and is one of four who boast over 600 games - all of who are still members of the Club. Such loyalty can only be applauded.
And so another season draws to a close - earlier than I can remember for some years. Still, the absence of anything local gives me a chance to enjoy / endure Hull City's nail-biting end to their first season in the Premiership. Having witnessed another fruitless outing on Monday, via defeat at Aston Villa, I'm not sure the tickets in my possession for Saturday's visit of Stoke will be worth the health risk!
Trawling the various Message Board in recent weeks it's quite astounding how the attitude of fans of other teams towards City appear to have changed in recent weeks; particularly since the "Gobin Hood" / "Cesc Spit" incident at The Emirates. From everybody's second favourite team to the one most would like to see go down appears to be the shift - mainly due to what they see as Phil Brown's constant whinging at decisions that have gone against his team.
Now I'm not Browny's biggest fan but the way he's stood up for the unfashionable members of the "best league in the world" has really pleased me and I just hope he still has the chance to get up the likes of Arsene's not inconsiderable conk next season.
Here comes the summer...

(PHOTOS from top: Luke Smith scores the first against Sculcoates Amateurs (Colin Brammer); Howden Amateurs Ashes Park home (Howden Online); Chris Frost scores against Hedon Rangers in the South Holderness Cup (Colin Brammer))

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