Thursday, 28 October 2010

There is a light that sometimes goes out

Saturday 25th September - Moorlands Railway (home)
Won 5-1
Saturday 2nd October - Bentley Colliery (away) 
Lost 1-4
Saturday 9th October - Malet Lambert YC (home)

Lost 1-2
Saturday 16th October - South Normanton Athletic
(away) Lost 0-7

First I must apologise for the time it has taken me to post this.  The fact that I managed to knock-up an account of Hull City's midweek horror show against Sheffield United so quickly by comparison might give you some idea of how difficult it's been to get my thoughts down on what exactly is currently happening closer to home.
In fact, so much time has elapsed since the first of the four games covered herein - the win over Moorlands - that it hardly seems relevant.  Yet it is.  Because despite the result that afternoon, the cracks that would lead to the scenario at South Normanton three weeks later were already starting to appear.
Not that the Normanton performance was by any means as bad as the scoreline would suggest.  In truth we produced some of our best football in weeks at the impressive Exchem Arena - Moorlands win included!
No, the reason why the trip to Lees Lane (to give it its traditional title) signalled such a downer for me was that as the club's General Manager I felt it my responsibility that my First Team manager was unable to take at least 13 regular players for a game in the CML.  And that's a worry.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

A man who's just received a vote of confidence

Looking back at Dave Mack's programme notes for the Moorlands match, it's almost as if he knew what was coming.  Therein he wrote, "Anybody who thought it was going to be a stroll for us this year will have been rudely awoken from that mindset...we are still trying to find form and consistency...we are still below where we need to be...we cannot afford to take any team lightly".  These notes give just a hint of what was being said behind closed doors in the changing room where Dave was making it quite clear he felt that the team has been performing nowhere near the levels it reached last season.  Perhaps some players are losing the appetite for the fight?

Any First Teamers?

Moorlands arrived having experienced a tough start to life in the league.  Amusingly the programme notes they forwarded to us talked of a "newly-formed" team that had entered the CML "after three fruitless years in the Lincolnshire League as a reserves team".  They had decided to go it alone with their own group of players, albeit with a revised name to reflect the merging of the Railway and Moorlands Social Clubs.
I'd have been quite happy to accept this - had one of the first players to arrive at Low Farm not then told me how peeved he was at the fact that "no First Teamers were willing to travel today, despite them not having a game"!

"The aftermath of Farny's thunderbolt!"
That'll be three then
As it was the Lincoln side had no answer to three goals inside the opening half-hour. - Gav's casual finish, Farny's thunderbolt and Mozzer's threep'ny bit header.  Gav went on to grab a deserved hat-trick as we eventually strolled home 5-1.
Indeed it could have been more but for several gilt-edged chances going begging - none more so than the two that Moz missed!

Moz can't miss...oh, hang on...!
The result should have put us in good heart for the following week's trip to Bentley Colliery, opponents who we felt we "owed one" given our first half capitulation there last year.
While a repeat of that day's 3-0 reverse was not on our order list, a repeat of the quality pies on offer at The Avenue certainly was.  And I was not to be disappointed, thanks to a superb meat & tatie number.  Unfortunately, it proved to be the highlight of the day.
Bentley, who were showing signs of living up to their pre-season billing of "dark horses" following a shaky start, again ensured they went in at half-time three goals to the good following a United defensive display every bit as bad as that the previous April.

Kick-off at Bentley: the one time we're guaranteed to be on level terms
Similar to that game we made a better fist of things after the break but Smalls' stylish finish late on proved mere consolation.
The final moments of the game were marred when Farny, who'd been the target of much abuse from the home contingent throughout the second half (despite the referee adjudging that most of his "shocking" tackles were in fact within the laws of the game) arrived late on an opponent right in front of both dugouts.  I still maintain that the "tackle" looked worse than it actually was - and again the referee concurred, deeming it worthy of a free-kick only.  In truth I also felt the home player actually aggravated any potential injury due to his impact on landing.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of airing this opinion, which resulted in my being lambasted on the hosts' official website via their subsequent match report.  Ah well, we live and learn!

Required on prescription after a day at The Avenue

I was still miffed by these comments when the Slush Family departed for Blackpool the following Monday morning.  It was what Mrs Slush delightfully described as "our second tacky holiday of the year", following April's trip to Butlins at Skegness.  But, as with that jaunt, the Slushettes loved it.  

The crowds flock to Blackpool in October...

So did I - although much of the reason for that was down to being able to "switch off" from football for four whole days (which also pleased Mrs Slush I can tell you!).
Having been forewarned of poor weather for the week, we arrived at our hotel on Blackpool's North Promenade with the town bathed in the glow of a beautiful Indian summer's day as well as basking in the glory of the previous day's magnificent win for the Tangerines at Anfield.  It augered well.
I love this time of year.  I love watching the dying embers of summer turn into the glorious array of colour that is the arrival of autumn.  What I'm not so fond of is the fact that, before you know it, the countdown to Christmas is on.
I was therefore doubly determined to make the most of what sunshine the Lancastrian coastline had to offer.  For once we were back home it would be Halloween, Bonfire Night and you-know-what...and the bloody ads on the TV had already started!  Time to enjoy the last days of summer.  And we did.
Having managed to savour the delights of the Tower (including the superb Circus), Golden Mile, Illuminations, Water World, over a dozen trams and the impressive Zoo, we returned home on the Friday...just in time for the start of Hull Fair. 

You're lucky to see this photo...the person who offered to take it was a Scouser!

I got out of going "to Fair" this year.  Mrs Slush and the Elder Slushette dragged "Gran" round Walton Street instead, while I stayed at home with The Younger.  She wouldn't like the rides anyway, we said.  Like her dad then.  I'm not a big fan.   Simply looking at some of them is enough to have me bringing up the previous day's breakfast!
Hull Fair also has the unhappy coincidence of turning up in East Riding County Cup week - which in recent years means it is invariably accompanied by an Easington defeat.  Come to think of it, the whole of October is usually accompanied by Easington defeats.  For some reason, it is a month in which we habitually appear to be quite shit on the football field!

Crowds flock to watch our traditional early County FA Cup exit!

I'm not sure when the term "Black October" was first assigned to the first team at Easington United.  But certainly during the mid-Noughties it became  the month in which our good start to the season suddenly started to count for nowt!
The term possibly stems from our most successful season to date - 2003/04 - in which we finished runners-up in the Humber Premier League and league cup winners.  How much better could things have been had not a run of four defeats in six games between 27th September and 1st November punctuated an otherwise almost faultless league record.
The following season also saw us arrive at October well-placed; third in the table and  unbeaten in seven matches.  Four weeks later we had dropped to seventh, following defeats at the hands of Reckitts and Hider Foods.  A trend was being set.
Looking back through the stats, the next few years brought a mixed bag of October results (indeed 2005 saw us win all three league games) but no matter, all it needed was that first defeat  - as often happened to a side that traditionally started tcampaigns well - and October became "Black".
Thus with hindsight, we should have known that the Bentley setback would be just the start...

About the nearest we came!

The trip to South Yorkshire had been hampered by enforced team changes and the following week's home game against Malet Lambert YC in the East Riding Senior Cup would be accompanied by more.
Still, there was no excuse for the quality of performance put in that day.  Of course, given our opponents' position in the bottom third of the Humber Premier League, their deserved 2-1 win at Low Farm was further evidence to some of the superiority of the competition we'd left over the one we're now in.  Bollocks I know but defeats by Reckitts and Malet in successive years are not the ideal way to try and disprove this theory.
Many players were at a real low in the immediate wake of the Cup exit.  Thankfully the annual "Race Night" held later that same date in The Granby went some way towards restoring morale.  Not that it did much for marital relations in the Slush household, thanks to me attempting to use the wardrobe as, erm, a bathroom in the early hours of Sunday morning!  (I'll blame it on the Ploughman's Pride - it took me two bacon butties at the following day's Welwick Heritage event to even start to bring me round!)
Unfortunately some of the comments about all being in this together could be seen to be a little vacuous given the fact that by Friday morning, Mack only had 12 players for the trip to the leaders.

Apt choice of colour for our hosts' warm-up tops at Lees Lane

How it had quite got to this stage I'm not quite sure.  A management meeting arranged for next week will possibly help me find out.  All I know is that in twenty years' involvement with my local village club I have rarely felt as low as I did the night before we travelled to Lees Lane.
My emotions were a mixture of disappointment, anger and frustration.  I've known for some time that there are people in the village and also loosely connected with the club itself who would like nothing more than to see us fall flat on our faces.  Quite why I'm not sure.  The football club is the only asset that the local Recreation & Sports Association (of which I am also a member) has on its land and as such you'd have thought it would be held up as a flagship for what can be achieved in a small rural community.
But, no, for like many other similar areas, petty jealousies and village politics intertwine to ensure that there are always people who are only too keen to knock you down.  The fact that they seem to have spread some of this bitterness within the ranks of the club itself is very worrying...but it won't stop us.
We may not be the biggest club in Holderness in terms of membership and teams - our catchment area dictates that this will never be the case.  But I doubt that anyone could disagree that in recent years we have easily become the most progressive.  And I for one will not be allowing this progress to be halted by people with their own anti-football agenda.
Of course, scenarios like that ahead of the South Normanton game don't help.  Was it really  only eighteen months since the vast majority of players had sat at one of several pre-CML meetings and pledged their commitment to the cause?  Of more relevance, it was only six months since we'd hosted a Welbeck team that mustered just nine players for the trip to the East Riding.  The comment, "hope that never happens to us" suddenly appeared somehow prescient. 
Making our shortfall harder to take was that both the Reserve and Third Team managers had full squads to choose from the following day.  The Stiffs had 15 while the Casuals could have used almost 20 players.  And yet we were going with twelve regulars  (from some 22 registered first teamers) plus our 37-year-old manager and his 37-year-old assistant pressed into service.  Ridiculous...mind you, the latter had dubbed his boots up especially for the occasion!  For a short time that Friday, it felt like our CML adventure was on the verge of a very unhappy premature ending.
Then I heard Simple Minds' "Alive & Kicking" on the radio and was overcome by a sudden burst of positivity.  Indeed I was angry for getting so angry in the first place.  I had simply not taken into account the fact that those twelve who were travelling were not only very committed to the cause but also a bloody talented bunch of footballers.  And hadn't Easington United always been a club which thrived in times of adversity?  Yes.  I awoke on the Saturday morning with renewed hope and a spring in my step ahead of a trip to one of my favourite away grounds of 2009/10.
All would be well...

 Dark clouds on the horizon

We lost seven-nil at Lees Lane.  Seven-bloody-nil.  And yet, titter ye not, but we weren't that bad.  In fact, we played as well at the newly named Exchem Arena as we had done in any of our three previous matches.
The tone for an at times surreal day was set by the pre-match two minutes' silence in memory of a local footballer, Ashley Wakelin, who had been killed in a  tragic accident earlier that week.  Setting aside my personal view that two minutes' silences should only ever be observed on Armistice Day and at all other times a minute should suffice, as a member of a club that has experienced two such tragedies in my years with it, I was determined to ensure our party observed it in impeccable manner.  Therefore it was with horror and cringeworthy embarrassment that as I stood alongside Smalls behind the far end goal, with only the sound of the regular raindrops hitting our jackets to break the calm, the sudden interjection of jovial whistling emanating from the opposite end of the ground was quickly followed by realisation that the tunesmith in question was our very own Pistol.   "Fucking hell, Pete, for chrissakes shuddup" I thought.  But he didn't.  At least not for several seconds until on taking his seat in the stand he suddenly realised that everyone else was absolutely motionless in both movement and sound.  Suffice to say, he was very apologetic afterwards.

Before the whistling...

And things were to get much worse.
We started well enough and had the ball in the net on 24mins, only for the referee to see a push that nobody else had as AG got up early to head home.
Normanton then took the lead...with our defence, management and support all united in the belief that both strikers were about "two yards off" in the build-up.  It was little consolation that the Normanton officials near us felt the same.
One down would have been harsh given our first half efforts...but we were to come off at 0-2 thanks to what also appeared a "soft" penalty given against Blounty and dispatched with aplomb past Chaz whose reaction earned him a yellow.  (Credit to the ref this time - I later found out it could easily have been red).

We're looking good at this stage

If our keeper deserved his card, he certainly didn't deserve what followed, which came by way of an extraordinary outburst by home chairman/manager Phil Bailey.  The latter lived up to his mobster-style attire by marching around the pitch - while the game was in progress - and re-attaching the net from where his player's penalty had just dislodged it, while at the same time assaulting our keeper's eardrums with a wide array of insults.
He then barely had time to clamber back over an advertising board before he so nearly got caught up in the action as the hosts passed up a great opportunity to make it three-nil.  On retrieving the ball, Mr Bailey then launched it at the target of his previous abuse before storming back round the pitch and deliberately barging into Mack along the way.
The referee duly dispatched him from the technical area...only for him to immediately take up position directly behind the dugout from where he could continue to direct operations.  I'd like to think that in retrospect he was slightly embarrassed by his actions but somehow I doubt it.

Sartorial elegance in the away dugout

I stayed out of the changing rooms at HT, opting instead to gather the views of both sets of supporters near the Shiners' tea bar.  Reassuringly many thought we were a tad unlucky to be two goals in arrears.  Interestingly, none of the home support had any opinions on the actions of Mr Bailey.  Perhaps they daren't!
I allowed myself a moment of light relief during the break when I saw a board advertising for any players who wish to play "Central Midlands League Supreme Division football next season" to get in touch with the aforementioned South Normanton main man.  I didn't know promotion was guaranteed in October but, by gad, it didn't half help stoke the conspiracy theorists...especially given what was to follow second half!

Bowler bypasses the Mountain for 4-0

As with the first 45 minutes, we more than held our own after the break.  Even allowing for the loss of Farny who'd played from about the 10th minute with a dead leg, we were still in the hunt with fifteen to go.  Then came another possible match-turning incident.
Fitzy had his legs swept from under him at one end, just inside the box; no pen.  The ball was swept upfield to where Normanton's Adam Nicholls was again stood yards offside...even before the ball came to him via Bezza's inadvertent touch.  Arriving just before him, Chaz jumped to punch the bouncing ball clear before landing on Nicholls and both fell in a heap.  The ball had gone out of touch for a throw-in.  But what's this - the assistant suddenly signals a penalty.  Chaz is off.  Owen goes in goal and the hosts go three up.  The game has been decided.
I know this account must read as if the grapes couldn't get any more sour.  But honestly, this really was a case of "you had to be there"!
The home side scored four more in the remaining time to put something of a ridiculously one-sided slant on what in fairness was a decent contest.  Disappointingly their subsequent accounts of the game, both on their own site and via the CMFL, would make no mention of the goalkeeper's sending off.  Shame.

And Owen's bright boots can't prevent another

Dave had the traditional (but always pointless) post-match "chat" with the three officials in the bar afterwards, while the lads struggled to gather up what scraps of food the somewhat ungentlemanly home side had deemed worth leaving (whatever happened to "visitors first"?).  Could the day get any worse?
News of a useful point for The Tigers at NP's old Leicester stamping-ground failed to lift the mood.  However, the spirit of the players did, as typified by young Fitzy's reply to a team-mate's suggestion that he might not be the ideal person to collect the weekly subs: "I got a fucking B in maths actually, dickhead!"  Ah, they're over it, thought I (they'd hardly uttered a word to each other in the immediate wake of the final whistle - such "banter" was surely a sign that things were on the up again?!).
Helping restore morale was £45 worth of bevvy bought from a nearby beer-off.  I've enjoyed every away day since coming into the CML (even Bulwell last year) but I've got to say, the return journey from South Normanton was by far the best yet.  Not that I'm advocating we get beat seven zip every week you understand!
So, "Black October" continued.  Played three, lost three.  Up next a tricky visit to Kiveton Park, one place and only one goal behind us.  It would be nice to have fourteen available for this one...


Bottom two pictures courtesy of Gaz Dunnill at

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