Friday, 14 January 2011

Casually returning to the fold

Saturday 8th January - 
Thorngumbald Trinity 3 Easington Utd Casuals 1

Wardie is amazed to still see his feet ater a fortnight's Festive feasting!

Plumtree Road, Thorngumbald has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for me.  From memory (and without the aid of the official records stacked up here in what constitutes a study in our house) I can recall only one win of any real note in the time I've been involved with the club.
That came in the early Nineties when then hosts Thorngumbald AFC, then a County League Premier Division side under legendary Holderness one-man-band Arthur Brummitt, saw their superior league status brushed aside; beaten in a memorable South Holderness Cup semi-final win by the young upstarts of the East End.  It goes without saying that we were then unable to repeat the feat in the Final...but that's another story!
Other than this most memories of playing and/or managing at Plumtree, both at junior and senior level, are shadowed by defeat.
In short, it's not at the top of my list of favourite away grounds.

Dawson perfects a kicking technique straight out of the game of 'Striker'
And it remains so following this latest visit, in which the Casuals (aka our Third XI) extended their run without a win to three months, courtesy of a 3-1 defeat at the County League's newest members, Thorngumbald Trinity.
In fairness, thanks to blank weeks and postponed fixtures, the barren run only amounts to six games.  Even so, it's a somewhat depressing sequence given the Casuals' blistering start to the campaign.  Three wins out of three had them top of the tree in early October...admittedly, the "tree" in question is Division 5 of the East Riding County League, the sixth of six divisions therein.  Still we all have to start somewhere.
As I've no doubt mused in the past, there's something about watching our third-string in action that takes me back to the "good old days" of Easington football.
In other words to an era when we'd do well to scrape eleven blokes together at kick-off time, especially at away games where - pre-mobile phones - it would almost be a miracle if at least one player hadn't got lost en route.  Our ambitions for the season were no loftier than to avoid the wooden spoon in our respective division (usually the basement one or next one up) and to enjoy a run in the Holmpton Invitation Cup (the Holderness equivalent of the Johnson Paint Trophy...but without the Wembley final).

"Build it...and they will come!"
Several survivors of those days are still involved.  Indeed Player/Manager Iain McNaught - known in proper football tradition as "Maccer" - is in the fortunate position of picking a team each week in which he can include himself, thus extending his current club record of appearances towards the 700 mark.  Today's was number 680.
At the start of the season, "Maccer" stood level with fellow veteran John Clarke on 672 and there are many who suspected foul play when the latter's campaign was curtailed by injury during the pre-season friendlies.  Clarke remains on 672 and unlikely to add to this in the forseeable future.
In fairness, perhaps McNaught ought to be out in front on his own.  Older than his closest rival and having made his debut earlier, the current boss would have already been looking at a healthy lead had he not spent a season on the touchline early on in his Eastenders career.  This was as the the result of an ERCFA ban after he'd naively called into question the parentage of a match official...and then lost the subsequent appeal.
A reformed character in terms of discipline, the current Casuals boss is still definitely "old school" when it comes to pre-match preparations.  And I don't just mean the Friday night session down his local, "Blackies" in Preston.  
While our senior squad and to a lesser extent the Reserves are put through a rigorous warm-up schedule that is dependent on prompt arrival and good time-keeping, the Casuals' approach is, er, somewhat more laid back.  Still, it's quite amusing to see said manager round his players up beforehand for a pep talk, urging good shape, discipline and an intensity from the start...before squeezing in another crafty smoke just prior to kick-off.

A sight for the purists
Iain's Number Two, Danny Campbell, is known as "The Passionate One" with no explanation required.  What he lacks in natural ability he more than compensates for with the proverbial "heart the size of a dustbin lid".  And he's getting a chassis to match.
The manager's younger brother "Biff" (don't ask) provides further experience in the ranks as do skipper Darren Dawson, the returning Jodi Stow and Steve Ward (aka Ted Hankey).
However, the real bonus for the Casuals this term has been the emergence of a crop of keen and not unpromising youngsters, spearheaded by striker Kurt Johansson (still to score this term!), midfielder Ben Akam, defenders Lewis Green and Pat Tomlinson, and newest recruit Jordan Wray - whose appearances so far on the pitch have paled in comparison to those on a certain well-known social networking site.
Along with this welcome mix, for the first time since taking the reins of the third team, "Maccer" has got himself a goal scorer in Karl Hodgson.  A bit of an enigma, "Hodgy" arrived with a CV that numbered the ERCFA Juniors and NCEL side Winterton Rangers among his past clubs.  On this basis and a couple of training sessions, he was thrust into the First Team squad at Thorne Colliery in October 2009.  It's been all slightly downhill since.
No matter though as Karl is now the fulcrum around which all Casuals attacks pivot.  With five goals in as many games coming into this one (plus two in four for the Reserves) there was little wonder that his role - on the evidence of what I saw in this match - involves taking every free-kick, corner and throw-in awarded Easington's way.  He's even above wearing club issue shorts and socks...he's THAT good.  For Roy of the Rovers read Karl of the Casuals.
Tickets marked "Restricted View"
I must admit to not being in the best of moods as I made the short trip westwards across Holderness.  Not only had our game against Parkhouse once again fallen victim to the elements (see previous blog) but that morning I'd also found out that landlady Christine and family were set to leave our post-match watering hole, with almost immediate effect.  Another victim - indirectly - of Britain's changing drinking habits.
Of course the first Saturday of the New Year is traditionally accompanied by what was once regarded as one of the biggest days in the football calendar - the FA Cup Third Round.  But we all know what happened there.
And so, despite Hull City hosting "top flight" side Wigan at the KC in a tie that had potential shock written all over it, I forsook the chance to attend in favour of lending my support more locally.  (Of course the fact that a trip to Thorngumbald was cheaper and could yield much-needed Brownie Points on account of it being in close proximity to the in-laws had no bearing on my decision whatsoever.)
Accompanied to the game by the Younger Slushette, my chances of seeing an uninterrupted ninety minutes were always rated at no more than slim.  And barely fifteen minutes in, I was dragged off for the first of several visits to the adjoining play-park.  Not the best vantage point I've found at a ground.
At least the distraction of standing guard while my youngest proceeded to climb, jump and slide up, across and down every piece of apparatus there was allowed me a few moments to reflect on the venue itself and how little it has changed since I played there for Easington's under-14's...and lost of course.  Usually heavily.
Interestingly (or not) Plumtree Road was once also home to the current Mrs Slush.  Indeed many of my mother-in-law's Saturday afternoons were brightened up just before two o'clock by the sight of several grown men stood against her back garden fence, relieving themselves of some, er, pre-match tension. But I digress.
Despite the obstructed view, I still saw enough to know that the Casuals were unlucky to come off a goal down at the break; and this an unfortunate 'OG' by youngster Green following a fine save by keeper Duggie.
Bodies everywhere...uh-oh, it's Roy of the Rovers...

It's alright - he'd simply been dazzled by the referee's outfit

Into the second half and the Younger Slushette's request to return to her Gran's to finish the jigsaw she'd started before kick-off meant a ten-minute absence from the game.  As we headed down Plumtree back towards the current Cooper residence on Hooks Lane a muffled cheer could be heard from whence we'd come.  An equaliser perhaps?
On my return, to my disappointment, I learned the cheer was from the home contingent.  Two down and with the excesses of the recent Festive season starting to show, I feared the worst.
Moments later, young Kurt came off - having extended his goalless run by another game - to be greeted by sympathetic words from substitute Hankey.
"Another game without scoring Kurt?"
"Another game on the bench Wardie?" came the reply.  Like it Kurt, like it.  Good ol' fashioned piss-taking is still alive at Casuals level.

DC keeps alive his hopes of the Golden Boot
Wardie (looking even more Ted Hankey-like when eventually stripped of his warm-up layers) was on by the time the "killer" third went in, a speculative cross that somehow eluded Duggie to drop in at the far post.
By this time the cocky young home keeper was getting on my nerves a little.  Not least when he backed up his verbals with one superb stop from Hodgson and a flukey one from Green - the keeper sitting on the shot as the ball threatened to squirm under him.
In the dying moments, Hodgy went down with what he first feared was ankle ligament damage, only to eventually turn out to be a slightly askew shinpad.  "Maccer" could rest easy.
The Casuals then attained some measure of respectability thanks to a "DC" penalty; fired home - just - past my new best friend keeper and followed with the asst-boss's customary retrieval of the ball from the net and an urge to "Come on, we can still win this!" 
We couldn't.  And we didn't.
In conclusion, our hosts look well set to follow in their Plumtree Road predecessors' footsteps.  They've got some good youngsters in the ranks, as well as some fairly gobby ones, and similar to the aforementioned Mr Brummitt they have a dedicated man at the helm in Chris Jordan.  Perhaps not the right term but Jordan has "groomed" the team from very junior level and should be lauded for his efforts.
The day's high point
One of the prize pubs on April's End-of-Season Holderness Pub Crawl, post-match venue the Crooked Billet at Ryehill stocks a fine selection of hand-pulled ales, from which I opted for a Jennings "Soggy Bottom".  Coupled with a Carlsberg, it was my first experience of post-VAT rise beer buying - nearly six quid for two pints! 
Unfortunately, with many of the home side yet to attain legal drinking status the home turnout in the pub was somewhat on the low side.  Not that we minded - extra sarnies are always well received by a team with a Campbell in the ranks.
However, the absence of our hosts did make for a distinct lack of post-match analysis and the low-key atmosphere was compounded by news on the box of The Tigers' early exit from the FA Cup.  Oh well, at least my decision to opt for a day at Plumtree had been vindicated.  And we were calling at Patrington chippie for tea.  Post-match fish & chips?  Oh yes, back to the good old days.

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