Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A week is a long time...

Saturday 1st May - Thoresby CW (away) Won 2-1
Easington Utd Reserves 0 Viking Raiders 3
Easington Utd Casuals 7 Eastrington Village Reserves 1
Monday 3rd May - Dronfield Town (away) Lost 0-1
Tuesday 4 May – Easington Utd Reserves 1 Hedon Rangers Reserves 0
Saturday 8 May – Bentley Colliery (away) Lost 0-3
 "The best thing about Bentley? 
Meat 'n' tatie pie for a pound. Lovely."
I type this opening paragraph as Britain ushers in its first Conservative Prime Minister in thirteen years.  David Cameron finally got to enter No.10 Downing Street some five days after his Party had polled most votes at the General Election.  Well they do say that a week is a long time in politics.
It’s a bloody long time in football too.  On May Day Bank Holiday Monday we boarded a minibus bound for north Derbyshire full of hope that a superb run of form was set to take us to a runners-up finish in the CML Premier Division.  Five days later – Saturday just gone – our final placing was actually confirmed as fifth.
This time of the year is frenetic for those of us involved with local football, especially when there’s the added bonus of a run to a cup final.
And so while my thoughts this past week or so have primarily been concerned with the First Team’s attempts at chasing down Parkhouse and Dronfield in the race for second, the Reserves’ H. E. Dean Cup run has provided a welcome distraction.
As posted last time the Stiffs reached the final courtesy of their abandoned game against Highland Laddie.  Their opponents at Bridlington Town’s Queensgate home will be Viking Raiders and by virtue of the ER County League Premier Division fixture list, the Goole side were scheduled to visit Low Farm for a kind of “dress rehearsal” the following weekend.  And I would be there.
By rights of course I should have been with the First Team at Thoresby Colliery Welfare.  However, for the first time this season I was set to miss a CML fixture involving the Eastenders; the reason being that most major of footballers’ bugbears – a wedding!
If I’m honest I quite like a good wedding bash (to be fair, I’m now in the age bracket that renders such invitations a rarity).  The chance to down a few pints before trying to recreate my dancefloor moves to The Specials et al whilst at the same time forgetting that my body is no longer as flexible as it once was, is not to be missed (even if it ALWAYS leaves Mrs Slush less than impressed).  But when such an invitation involves missing my footy, well…
One of the rare times the Casuals didn't score
Thus it was to Low Farm I ventured.  Here, along with the aforementioned raid by the Vikings, the Casuals were wrapping up their Division 5 campaign at home to wooden spoonists Eastrington Village Reserves.  One for the purists this.
Despite the latter concluding things in style, courtesy of a resounding 7-1 win over their visitors, my attention remained almost exclusively with the Reserves.
"Right, so who put the wrong kit out for the Reserves?"
Unfortunately neither my support (nor an unusual kit combination of home shirts with away shorts & socks!) could yield a win.  Kev’s lads slumped to their first defeat in eleven matches, courtesy of a 3-0 scoreline in which all three Viking goals came from glaring defensive errors.  One for the manager to work on there before the 22nd of May!
Not as nice as a wedding marquee - I'll get me coat!
With an hour’s difference in kick-off times the Stiffs were already bound for defeat when I established phone contact with Photgrapher Burt at the Lido Ground, home to Clipstone Welfare and host venue for Thoresby whose Edwinstowe ground had been given over to cricket.
“How we doing?”
“One-nil up, Gavin early on.  Charlie hasn’t touched the ball yet”
“Fost rate.  Keep me posted.”
Twenty minutes in and all was going well.  But just as the final chairs were being put away following the Reserves reverse, my phone rang.
“Bloody hell, is that their first shot?”
Get in there!
Now I’ve spent many anxious moments on the touchline during my twenty years involvement with Easington United.  Most of these have come during derby games against Withernsea – rarely enjoyable occasions despite our excellent record in them.  But I’ve got to say the half-hour spent waiting for Burt to update me with news from Nottinghamshire that Saturday afternoon was the most excruciating football experience I’ve had in a long time.
He rang again just before I left the ground.
“2-1. Andy special from thirty yards”
“Get in there!”
Then nothing.  Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty – I couldn’t stand it.
“What’s happening?”
“Well, nothing really”
“What d’you mean “nothing”. Is it still 2-1?”
“Oh, Mozzer just hit the post, free-kick, twenty yards…”
 This week's Spot The Ball competition
I couldn’t take much more of this.  It didn’t help that my background accompaniment to this was Mrs Slush warning me about my conduct at the aforementioned wedding bash we were about to attend and Radio Humberside’s fever-pitched commentary on Grimsby Town’s vital League 2 relegation battle against Barnet.
As the game at Blundell Park went into five minutes injury time I rang Burt for the umpteenth time.  I was greeted by a voice booming out, “Grrrreeeeeennnn  Arrrrrrrrrrrmmmyyy!”  Ah, all was well.
I didn’t find out until much later how tight a struggle the game had actually been and how poor Dave ranked our performance.  No matter; the win meant we were still on course for second.  A win at Dronfield two days later and another at Bentley would guarantee runners-up medals.
AG with that bloke from the Bonanza
At conclusion of the Thoresby match, CML Registrar Rob Hornby – yes, him again – was on hand to present members of our entourage with the trophy won for being voted best host club at the March Bonanza.  A nice touch.
Dronfield Town were formed in 1998, although their programme informs us that football in the town was played “as early as beginning of 1860’s”.  The current club started life as a junior side before the adult section reappeared via the dads of those youngsters deciding it was time to have a go themselves.  After four successful seasons in the Midland Regional Alliance, Town entered the Central Midlands League for the 2009/10 campaign.
Their success has been instant and but for a blip in form in March – losing three and drawing one of five matches – they would surely have challenged Church Warsop for the title.
Banksy's been at Stonelow
As it was the defeat at Low Farm had left the hosts needing to take at least a point off us in the return to ensure they remained in the driving seat for second spot.
In typical Bank Holiday manner, the weather en route to Derbyshire and on arrival at Coal Aston CC’s ground on Stonelow Road (to which Dronfield’s pitch is attached) comprised a mix of all four seasons – sun, wind, rain and hail.
A Bank Holiday and Pete takes Mrs. F. out for the day
There was a mood of quiet optimism among the players as we disembarked from Pistol Pete’s “Riding School Express”.  It was a similar story among the travelling contingent of supporters, which today included Mr & Mrs Farndale for the first time.  As we sat with several groundhoppers in the neat cricket pavilion before kick-off, with Sky Sports News informing us of City’s pursuit of the 19-0 win at Wigan that would take their relegation fight to the final Sunday of the Premier League season, there was a growing conviction that this would be our day…
The feeling was reinforced when a mistake by a nervous town defence allowed Thommo the first whiff of an opening inside the first thirty seconds.
Gradually, though, the hosts found their feet and put us on the back foot; Charlie going full length to keep out one effort while corners provided a constant threat.
Not this time...
 ...Nor this!
But as the half approached its conclusion, we created the better chances.  Thommo (twice) should have down better, Gav somehow failed to convert from close range and Chav fired just wide before Thommo just couldn’t quite get over his header in the final act of the half.
There was plenty to suggest that the second half would provide us with further chances for the winner that would make us favourites to clinch runners-up medals.  And as news filtered through of Mark Cullen’s goal at the DW stadium I was in good spirits as I took my place near the home dugout.
But on 55mins came the moment that shattered our dream.  A right-wing corner, near post flick and a free header for Brett Gibbons that Chav couldn’t quite keep from entering the net would prove the defining moment.
In fairness, we pressed to the bitter end for a point that would have at least taken things to the final game.  And AG, pressed into service as an emergency centre-forward, twice came close to achieving just that.  But it was not to be.
It was therefore a dejected group of players and supporters who retired to the nearby Pioneer Club where, awaiting us – in addition to a fine pint of Old Speckled Hen – was a plate of beef dripping sarnies! Fantastic. Despite feeling my arteries closing up with each mouthful, it was almost enough to make me forget the magnitude of what had just happened out on the field.
We bade our farewells and with the required “offies” on board, our spirits had improved considerably by the time we stopped off at The Country Park Inn overlooking the Humber Bridge.
 "Win or lose we'll have a booze..."
The reason for the stop-off was that Pistol Pete had been requested to pick up a young Italian lady from the train station (don’t ask) and she would not be there until some time later than that at which we would have originally hit Hull.  So as I slurped a fine pint of Black Sheep watching the sun set over the muddy old ‘Umber, thoughts already turned to the challenge still awaiting the lads – finish top four!
 Spills & thrills in the SH Cup
Before the lads had chance to pursue this aim, the Stiffs began their South Holderness Cup campaign with a Preliminary Round tie at home to Hedon Rangers Reserves.
And on a fine spring evening they confirmed their passage courtesy of Stu Campbell’s exquisite first half finish.  Granted, Hedon can feel themselves slightly unfortunate, having created the bulk of the chances in a very entertaining affair.    

 Once more into the unknown...
And so to the final game of our debut season in the Central Midlands League, away at Bentley Colliery; it was almost a local derby given the mileage!
Our reasons for wanting to secure fourth (third was a non-starter once Parkhouse had gained the points from Welbeck’s inability to fulfil the fixture – their goal difference being vastly superior to ours) was that the FA’s lack of response on the North/South proposals for 2010/11 had set many people thinking that the current set-up would remain.  If so a top four place might just prove enough to get us up (given rumours of Forest Town’s defection at the season’s end and Louth Town’s promotion to the East Midlands).
Hosts Bentley Colliery were founded in 1926 and for a time played in their own Bentley League competition.  They progressed to the Doncaster & District League during the 1950s until 1965 when the football section was closed down by the Welfare.
Re-emerging to play Sunday football in 1976, four years later the club rejoined Saturday competition courtesy of a return to the Doncaster League.  After considerable success, Bentley were elected to the Central Midlands League in 2001, clinching promotion to the Supreme Division five years later.  They lasted therein one season before being relegated due to having no lights.  
Lack of lights was the least of the home club’s worries on our arrival.  According to Secretary Pete Tooth’s programme notes, the Club were likely to lose the use of their portacabin changing rooms following “problems” with owners Wyckham Estates.  This would result in them having to revert to shared use of the cricket facilities across the road – hardly an ideal scenario.  
A pre-match Dressing Room is a hive of activity
Having set the kit out I took advantage of the locals’ hot food facility; a tasty meat & potato pie setting me back just a quid.  I also passed a few moments with some groundhoppers from Scarborough, one of who announced his intention to visit Low Farm for the forthcoming South Holderness Cup Final.  
 Dooley & Pistol Pete discuss the feasibility of moving this Stand to Low Farm
Like Dronfield’s Stonelow home, The Avenue is tidy enough affair.  Neatly railed off on all four sides, it has the now familiar basic main stand along one side.  However, conversation with one of the locals informed me that this was a “new” stand which had replaced the original.  This perhaps explains why it stands a fair distance back from the touchline.  
 All they need is a paper bag and some liquor
 F-Troop arrive
Hard standing was present down just one side and this is where another sizeable travelling contingent took up position in tim to see the hosts carry out their “crack an egg” pre-match routine.
Whether this was a one-off to mark the end of the season or a regular jape I’m not sure (it’s an awful waste of eggs!) but they could afford to be in good spirits.  Bentley came into the game on the back of four straight wins, the most recent a 4-1 drubbing of newly-crowned champions Church Warsop.  They had every right to feel they would make it five this particular afternoon.  
 There's a clue as to the best place for those boots Gav
To be honest I’ve already tried to erase most of the ninety minutes from memory.  In particular I don’t wish to be reminded about the first half, which saw the hosts open up a match-winning three-goal lead.  And although the second period saw a marked improvement, it was never likely to yield the point that would have salvaged fourth.  
 Taking a tumble on the pitch...
...but still standing after it
Post-match hospitality was provided in The Jet, which adjoins the cricket ground (and is presumably the source of the “Jet Men” nickname on the programme).  No cask ale but a tasty enough cold buffet and spirits were further lifted by the free crates supplied by Dooley Cousins as an end of season present.
Yorkshire Main’s win confirmed our slip from second to fifth.  No matter; the beer was now doing its thing.  Having enjoyed our Monday sojourn at The Country Park, we again chose it as a stop-off and followed this up with one at The Crooked Billet (where bridges required building after misdemeanours on the recent “Bevy Bus” night).  A fine pint of Jennings Tom Fool helped lighten the mood further.  
 The fans favourite get's a last match love-in!
I arrived home some nine hours after setting off to Bentley and some nine months after boarding the “Riding School Express” for the first time, bound for Parkhouse on that gorgeous summer day back in August.  In the words of Phil Brown: this really has been “the best trip I’ve ever been on”!  Thanks again to Burt G for the photography

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