Friday, 6 May 2011

Broken Dreams...on Noddle Hill Way

Tuesday 19th April - ER County League President's Trophy Round 4 - Wawne Ferry 2 Easington United Reserves 2 (Wawne won 5-4 on penalties)
Wednesday 20th April - Hutton Cranswick United (away) Lost 1-2

I currently have four books on the go.  In my drawer at work is "The Frontline", which as its sub-title ("Battling For the Boro") would suggest, is the Middlesbrough FC contribution to hooli-lit by John Theone.  It has been loaned me by a workmate who hails from Smoggie Land and it currently helps pass the time at lunch.
Of the remaining trio, two are of the military history genre - Barry Turner's "Suez 1956" and "To The Last Round" by Andrew Salmond.  The latter, which is the story of the "Epic British Stand On The Imjin River" during the Korean War, is a title I've had for some time but only got round to picking up following this piece in the Daily Telegraph.
Completing the quartet and currently occupying pride of place on my bedside is "Broken Dreams".  It's the 2010 debut novel (or "first urban thriller" as stated in the product description) by Hull writer Nick Quantrill.  The author gives a decent introduction to it on this video but I stumbled across him when the Hull Daily Mail ran a piece about a regular feature Nick was planning for this season's Hull KR match programme.  It was from this that I learnt that "Broken Dreams" was a crime thriller set in his home city (winning start) and whose hero, fictional private eye Joe Geraghty, was a one-time player with The Robins (sold!).
How ironic then that having first picked up this tale of Broken Dreams set in some of Hull's more seedier districts, I should find myself on the, er, distinctive setting of Noddle Hill Playing Fields watching our Reserves' own "dreams" of retaining the County League President's Cup "broken" in the cruellest of fashion.

Look at what you could have won...again
The ER County League President's Trophy, or H. E. Dean Cup, is often referred to as the most prestigious piece of silverware in the League's locker.  This is mainly due to the fact that it is the only cup on offer to every member club (although participation is optional).
Therefore, unlike the respective league cup competitions - which are usually split across two divisions (Senior - Premier/Div 1, Junior - Divs 2/3, Harold Robinson - Divs 4/5 etc) the President's Trophy allows an ambitious high-flier from the League's basement chance to have a pop at some of the "big boys".
For the past few years, fixture backlog has prompted the League Committee to move the competition to April/May with ties played in midweek.  To help with the logistics, the competition was split into East & West sections.
And last year we won it!
The memories of that red-hot afternoon at Bridlington Town's Queensgate ground are among some of my finest in over twenty years involvement with The Eastenders.  Particularly as it offered some of the club's "lesser lights" chance to share in the sort of limelight normally reserved for the First Team squad.

It's not Queensgate
The manner of the win was similar to that in the 1999 East Riding County FA Intermediate Cup Final.  On both occasions we'd turned up very much the underdogs, withstood plenty of early pressure, taken the lead slightly against the run of play then gone on to complete a pretty imperious victory.
Two survivors of the 1999 ERCFA Cup win - 'Nige' Rutter and Craig Foster - had shared in last season's League Cup success and were also on duty as the Stiffs faced the toughest test yet of their cup defence, at Premier Division leaders Wawne Ferry.
I almost didn't make the game.  With apathy high on the agenda and many other would-be travellers opting for the following night's CML derby at Hutton Cranswick, I was resigned to following the game by mobile phone...
That is until 'Biff' McNaught came to the rescue.  In truth I'd thought he'd been left out of the squad but on hearing otherwise, arrangements were made and at 5.45pm we met at Ottringham and set off for the delights of Noddle Hill Way.
My chauffeur's late arrival due to "some pigs having come in at just before half-past" lent a slightly surreal air to proceedings and I allowed myself a smile while wondering how many of Wawne's players had ever seen a pig, let alone handle one!
On arrival at the ground, both squads were going through their paces ahead of a game that the hosts and their large home following obviously felt they would win comfortably.  Indeed, given the margin of victory for them in both recent league meetings (5-0 and 6-1) most of the sizeable Holderness contingent also thought the game could turn out to be a touch one-sided!
The early passages of play lent themselves to this view as the United rearguard, marshalled by the aforementioned Rutter, was put under immediate pressure; this despite manager Appleyard having opted for a 4-5-1 formation that was expected to stifle the hosts' creativity from midfield.

Is that a Noddle Hill behind the home "throng"?
However, after surviving the odd scare and a host of needlessly conceded free-kicks, we had the first sniff of goal when Frosty put Thommo through.  He shot straight at goalkeeper Paul Drayton (brother of prolific Sculcoates Amateurs striker Danny).  I looked at Fozzy's dad John - we both wondered whether we'd get another opportunity as good.
Left back Adam Metcalf produced one goal-line block as Wawne got on the front foot.  We'd be happy to get to the break goalless.
But what's this?  We only went and scored.  Fine work by The Stumo, a cross with the outside of his left peg and a neat finish from Frosty.  We led 1-0.
"Get in there!" I shouted - much to the amusement of the home touchline.
The cry was soon to be returned with interest - although not before Frosty should have doubled our lead.  This time it was Adam M and the Stumo combining to set him free but the shot was off target.
You just knew we would pay for that miss.  And we did, the otherwise rock-like Rutter being brushed aside by the powerful home number 9 who fired past Jonny Pindar.  "Get in there!" indeed.
That came on 42 minutes.  Amazingly, though, we were back in front before the break.  Fitzy whipped in a delightful free-kick that Fozzy swept home on the half-volley.  I didn't shout quite so loud this time.

'Biff' smiles at the HT instructions to "Hit it in the corners & pray like f__K!"
When a Wawne forward missed a great chance early in the second half I finally began to believe this might just be our night.  But the pressure eventually told and on 65mins it was 2-2.
All talk along our touchline was of whether we would now be swept aside and possibly embarrassed.  Or could we hit back again?  We should have done.
Three times Frosty got himself into great positions - cutting in to be denied by Drayton on the first, popping the ball up into the keeper's arms when caught in two minds on the second and thwarted by a defender's covering tackle on the third.
Meanwhile, supported well by the promising Jammer at centre-half, the Stiffs were limiting Wawne to few real openings of their own and it was the hosts who were more relieved to hear Referee Sprangle blow for full time.  And penalties.
Easington sides traditionally have good records in penalty shoot-outs.  I should have been confident.  I wasn't.

"What pens are we on Grandad? Don't fancy first one in sudden death..."
Up stepped Gav Thurkettle (included in the fifteen-man squad as sub and on for the hard-working Thommo).  A good striker of a flew high and wide.  Shit!
Both sides then scored excellent penalties, with Fitzy, Fozzy and Nige maintaining interest at 3-3.  But Wawne had the pen in hand...until Pindar guessed correctly and saved their fourth.
Stumo stepped up to put us in the box seat.  And scored.  4-3.
The final Wawne taker had to score to take it to sudden death.  Oh and for a glorious split-second it appeared he hadn't as the ball pinged againt the underside of the bar in the top corner, bounced bown...and back into the net.
And so to sudden death where, somewhat surprisingly, youngster Luke Nettleship stepped forward for us.  His penalty was saved and the Wawnester after him made no mistake with his.  We'd lost 5-4.  Our reign as East Riding County League President's Trophy winners was over.  For now.
There was little time to dwell on the night's misfortunes.  The following day I jumped in with Shotgun Burt and headed off to Rotsea Lane, home of Hutton Cranswick United...

If it's Wednesday, it must be Rotsea
Conversation en route to Hutton was dominated by speculation surrounding the First Team and any fallout from the "clear the air" session prior to the draw with Phoenix.  Of course we also found room for reminiscing about Shotgun's days on the school buses...but enough of that now.
We arrived at Rotsea Lane in reasonable time and I was pleased to see the full squad there and looking keen.  It's quite ironic that this fixture now constitutes our "local derby" having been one of the longer trips in the old Humber Premier League days.
At least the ill-fitting tag ensured that the lads appeared to have a new-found sense of purpose about them; at least according to Mack that is.  I think several of them still felt they'd let themselves down in our first meeting back in August (I rather fancy that several of them may have let themselves down quite regularly since).

Lino Dave Cupit plays "hide the ball" with the mascot. Oh...
Our association with Hutton Cranswick United is not that old, given that we both came together during the first season of the HPL in 2000/01.  However, it has easily become one of the most amicable and hospitable of any we enjoy.
And sure enough, the usual suspects - Denis, Jim and club secretary Paul - were on hand to ensure we were made to feel very welcome on what was a bright but bitingly cool evening.

The looks on our lads' faces are somehwat worrying in this shot!
The pitch looked in tremendous nick and, after our hosts had enjoyed a promising start, we began to take a grip on proceedings, forcing our hosts on to the back foot.  Indeed, there appeared to be a general consensus from those around the ground that we were a tad unfortunate to not to come off a goal or two to the good at the break.
Set-pieces in particular appeared to cause problems for home keeper Ryan Ramsden, while Andy M - playing against his former team-mates - should perhaps have done better when promising balls came his way.

The net bulges...but not in the way we'd hoped
Frosty forced a good early save out of the keeper and was also unlucky to be denied a penalty when he appeared to be clipped when outstripping the full-back.  Meanwhile, there were 43 minutes on my watch before Hutton Cranswick ("Cranny") had their first meaningful attempt on goal - and it wasn't far off either.
Although enjoying my half-time cuppa in the genial company of the home committee members, I had the nagging feeling that the lack of cutting edge would come back to haunt us.
"You watch, we'll lose this two-nil", I said.
Worryingly, nobody disagreed.

Dodge the ball time!
Joining the sizeable away contingent on the far side for the start of the second half, my sense of foreboding was frowned upon by those aroound me.  And a similarly positive start to the second half managed to persuade me - temporarily at least - that my fears were misplaced.  Then " Cranny scored.
Poor marking at a throw-in was punished when Kris Walmsley was given time and room to slot home.
Suddenly the home side were confident.  They knocked the ball around well, their movement went up a gear.  We were hanging on.  Then it was 2-0.
Fine work down the right from Danny Cousins culminated in a superb cross that one-time Withernsea man Ash Marriott met with a thumping header.  All my half-time predictions were coming true.
Some light relief for our predicament was to be found in the banter between some members of our support (Farny's dad mainly!) and referee's assistant Dave Cupit.  Every "correct" (as we deemed it) raise of the flag for a "Cranny" offside was greeted by compliments and hints that his mark for the night was on the rise.
"If onny you'd given that penalty fost 'arf, thoo'd be on 'undred for toneet!"

Different goalmouth, same result
Jamie Cousins had entered the fray for the first time in several months when replacing Ricky Kemp just prior to the second goal and he began to have a major influence on the game.
Within two minutes of Marriott's goal, we should have replied; JC linking well with Man Mountain but the latter pulled his shot wide when it looked easier to score.
Suddenly, though, we were back in the game. Chav and Man Mountain had switched with Owen beginning to cause havoc down home side's left.  And five minutes after his earlier miss, he capped a flying run with a crisp finish inside Ramsden's left-hand post.  2-1, game back on.

Game on...for now
Gav replaced Andy M and with ten minutes to go looked to have finally netted his 100th First Team goal (and our equaliser) only for a defender to bundle his header from Farny's deep cross off the line.
Then as the gathering gloom threatened to curtail the injury-time prompted by two lengthy stoppages, Man Mountain again burst clear.  But Ramsden came to the rescue.  Close.  But no cigar.  More "broken dreams".
For once there were few recriminations back in the changing room.  We knew our efforts had deserved more and aside from Charlie having his usual thirty-seconds worth of nonsensical ranting - well, he is a goalkeeper - the mood was one of positivity.  We had been beaten but, unlike the game at the Farm, perhaps not by a better team.
Post-match hospitality was to be found at The White Horse, where unfortunately there was to be no Everards Sunchaser as when I'd last visited.  Still, the Deuchars IPA was on sterling form as was the chilli.  Throw in some intelligent post-match conversation and it all added up to a night that whilst not being the most productive, was still among the more enjoyable I've had this season. 

Pics courtesy of Burt Graham and my little 'Point & Press'

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