Saturday, 9 June 2012

He who laughs last...

The 2012 South Holderness Cup
Part 2 - The Final
Thursday 31st May
Easington United ‘B’ 5 Withernsea ‘A’ 4
A week is a long time in local football.  Or rather, nine days is, as the players of Withernsea ‘A’ team have just learnt to their cost.  From ecstasy to agony is a painful journey and as I stood before the two participants in the immediate wake of the finest South Holderness Cup Final that I can remember, part of me wanted to eke out the formalities for as long as I possibly could.  Revenge certainly tasted sweet in the damp Low Farm air this particular evening.
From the moment the two finalists had been decided by the previous week’s semis, it was apparent that to most people outside our club there was to be one outcome – Withernsea would complete their first South Holderness Cup win for nineteen years.  The only question appeared to be by what winning margin.
Since that 1993 victory (a 6-3 win over our First Team at Hull Road) the Seasiders have appeared in five finals – and lost the lot.  We accounted for them in 1997 (our first win), 2002, 2003 and 2006, while Keyingham (now Hedon Rangers) beat them in 2001.
Our Reserves had appeared in one previous final.  In 2009, represented by members of the club’s third-string, the ‘B’-squad had succumbed 6-1 to Kenny Harrison’s all-conquering Hedon Rangers side.  Many feared a repeat of such a scoreline this time around.
There's a few in tonight
As with the semi-final, Facebook played a big part in proceedings.  Having had the brass-neck to accuse our camp of using the tool to excess in advance of the semi-final, some members of the “favourites” were all over the site in the days leading up to the final. 
“Best in Holderness? Not anymore!” 
“Move over Easington, the new boys are in town.”
You get the gist.  It didn’t make pleasant reading.
In addition, I fielded a request from the Seasiders secretary asking if the post-match venue (competition sponsors The White Horse Inn) would be big enough given the large turnout expected to make the short trip down the coast.  I told him I was confident we would cope.
Meanwhile, Cup Referee’s Secretary Steve Spruce was subject to several conversations that left him feeling Withernsea’s confidence was beginning to border on arrogance.  “I hope the final doesn’t become embarrassing; y’know, not too one-sided?” was one typical comment.
In some respects such material was like manna from Heaven ahead of my forthcoming appearance at our annual presentation evening.
With most of the players present, the night acted as a rallying call for the forthcoming game – as well as a great celebration of the Casuals’ Division 5 title-winning campaign of course.
The local paper, The Holderness Gazette, did us proud on the day of the game with almost a full page turned over to the Final.  Local websites and Seaside Radio also did their bit to draw in the crowds.  And as an afternoon of heavy showers made way for some welcome tea-time sunshine, all seemed set for a fitting finale to the local football season.
The Underdogs
The Favourites
They began arriving slowly but as I prepared to offload the last half-dozen match programmes on the gate, the final band of Withernsea supporters to come down Beck Street helped confirm that this would be the biggest Cup Final attendance in several years.
It was also the most dramatic start to a Final I’d seen in several years…or sort of seen.  I managed to turn around from my gate duties just in time to catch Big Stumo meet Fozzy’s free-kick to head past Withernsea keeper Richardson; 1-0 after just 38 seconds.
As I completed the last couple of programme transactions – to Seasiders fans not knowing whether to believe my early score update or not – I missed Andy Milbank pass up a glorious chance to make it two.  Sod this, I wasn’t going to miss any more.
"One Nil!"
I’d taken my usual place in front of the Hospitality Area just in time to see Withernsea player/manager John Dunn curl home an exquisite free-kick while the home defence was still organising its wall.  1-1 and only 7mins played.  This had the makings of a classic.
There are fewer more pleasurable sights for me than Low Farm on match day, lined on all four sides by spectators (even if on one of these – the top end goal – this “lining” actually amounted to barely a handful of people).  And those forming part of a crowd totalling 180 according to the official head-count were getting some excellent entertainment.
On 14mins Milbank was on hand to slide home after Withernsea’s Sammo had inadvertently diverted a cross into his path.  2-1 and moments later it could have been three; Milbank this time beating Richardson all ends up with a stunning effort but the ball bounced down off the underside of the bar and away.  Was it over the line?  Many said it was; others not.  I couldn’t tell but more importantly, the referee’s assistant was not in a position to confirm either way.  Play on then.
2-1 thanks to Handy Andy
The dark clouds that had formed a spectacular backdrop at kick-off time were starting to unload their contents as we approached half-time.  Our lead didn’t look comfortable and the lively Luke Smith went close to levelling.  But, as referee Pharaoh blew his whistle, the advantage was still ours.
During the interval we told ourselves that whatever happened in the next 45 minutes, the Stiffs had done themselves proud.  But, if being honest, I think we knew we'd all be bitterly disappointed not to go on and win it from here.
This feeling increased nine minutes into the second half when Josh Price converted Wilky’s cross at the second attempt to make it 3-1.
The same player then squandered a great chance to make it four, before Richardson got down well to deny Wilky.  We could have been 5-1 up.  It could have turned into that “one-sided final” predicted by our opponents beforehand!
Josh makes it 3-1
Withernsea had made a double-switch at half-time but with twenty to go were looking devoid of ideas.  Then, a throw-in to the box saw Jordan Hart and Jimmy Neilson come together.  “Handball” was the initial shout but when Mr Pharaoh pointed to the spot, he signalled it was for a push by the Easington midfielder.  Up stepped skipper Nige Newton to send Ben the wrong way.  Withernsea had a lifeline.
Suddenly the noise coming from the “Ryvita Stand” – now well-populated due to the rain - was that of a Withernsea persuasion.  And on 74mins they had further cause to cheer; Smith’s cross took a deflection of Foz and looped up nicely for Danny Frazer – one of the half-time arrivals – to volley sweetly home.  3-3 and there now looked to be only one winner…
Withernsea back in it; 3-2
We required some steadying of the ship but it was still all hands to the deck as the final whistle approached.  Neilson headed one chance wide and was then denied by Blanny’s excellent block.  Tom Finn poked wide when he should have found the target and in the final moments, Newton’s radar was also awry when presented with a great chance to snatch it.  We were going to extra-time.
Only five minutes had elapsed before the Seasiders made the next breakthrough; Fitzy’s handball inviting Newton score his second penalty of the night.  The visitors were exultant.  Had we any response?
Packing The Ryvita Stand
Oh yes, although there was a kind of comedy caper element about our equaliser; Wilky, Shane and keeper Richardson all chasing a ball that fairly zipped across the wet surface before escaping them all…and settling perfectly in time for Tony Everitt, his little legs going ten to the dozen, to get there and coolly slot past the covering defender into the unguarded net before being mobbed by his team-mates.
And Tony must score...
He the delight of th kit sponsor...
And his team-mates!
At 4-4 the game would turn decisively on two incidents inside as many minutes.  First, Ben Akam produced a wonderful double-save to keep the Seasiders out.  Then Foz – majestic at the back all night – picked up the ball to stride Beckenbauer-like upfield before off-loading to the willing Wilks out wide.  Continuing his run into the box to meet Wilks’ return pass, Foz’s attempted header was impeded by the high boot of Finn.  Down went the Easington man to be followed by the shrill bleep of the referee’s whistle; penalty to Easington.
Fitzy was the man to be entrusted with the penalty.  Now was the time to step in and ensure the ball he would strike would be worthy of such a moment – loss of matchballs all evening had resulted in a curious array of training balls being used at various times.  This was no time for a £1.99 Proton, this was a Mitre Ultimax moment.  And so it proved, Fitzy striking true and hard beyond the despairing Richardson’s outstretched hand.  DC’s boys were 5-4 up and fifteen minutes away from becoming the first Reserves side ever to lift the South Holderness Cup.
Up goes Finno's boot, down goes Fozzy...
Down goes Fitzy, in goes the penalty
In fact it was nearer twenty minutes before Mr Pharaoh finally decided to give the last blasts on his whistle (“Well there were quite a few cautions”).  But when he did, the celebrations could begin.
Although I now had to switch hats back to South Holderness Cup Committee mode, it was impossible to turn down the smile that was threatening to envelop my whole face.  It really did feel like 1997 again.  The excitement that accompanied our first ever win in the competition was back.
I must admit I found it slightly strange knowing that Meddy – the man who, inadvertently or not, had had a hand in ensuring a season of discomfort between the First and Second Team camps – would soon be stepping up to receive the cup…just two months after resigning his post as manager of that same team.
Recognition for the Man of the Match
It was sad to see the vast bulk of Seasiders supporters depart before I actually got round to saying just how important for the competition it is to have a “strong” Withernsea therein.  It was also somewhat disrespectful, given their team’s part in a truly memorable occasion.  But I suppose, having arrived in high spirits and sunshine only to then see all hopes vanquished in the pouring rain, there can be some understanding of the decision to get off home quick.
However, no such excuse stands up for the losing team.  Having warned us beforehand to expect an invasion of The ‘Oss, not one member of the official Withernsea AFC party saw fit to accept the invitation to retire to the post-match venue, home of the competition’s main sponsors.  Shame on them.
Redemption for the former Manager!
Setting aside my obvious club bias, this was undoubtedly the best South Holderness Cup competition and final I’ve been directly associated with.  Many of the more senior spectators at the Final agreed with the view that it was a throwback to the glorious days of old.  Indeed, it was just the shot in the arm the competition needs at a time when grassroots football struggles to provide an attractive alternative to its over-exposed professional counterpart.
The South Holderness Cup’s northern equivalent, The Tanton Cup (or "Hornsea & District Hospital War Memorial Cup presented by P. C. Tanton Esq" to give it its full correct title) has just celebrated its 90th anniversary.  The 2012 winners were also something of a surprise – Brandesburton ending Hornsea Town’s recent monopoly on the competition.  They will now travel south in August to meet our Reserves for the annual Holderness Cup Winners Cup fixture.  
Taking its North Holderness counterpart's longevity as inspiration and with the Holderness Cup Winners Cup as an extra incentive, we should be fairly confident that "Easington United Reserves" is not the last name to be engraved on a trophy that has been in existence over sixty years and played for in its current format since 1956.
Putting my club colours back on, the Final provided a very upbeat end to a very mixed 2011/12 season.  It was great to see the smiles on the faces of so many lads who would otherwise have had little by way of consolation from a very disappointing campaign.  And if I’m being totally honest it was also good to see this success come at the expense of some – not all – people who had refused to give their opponents the respect they deserved.  It was noticeable that several Facebook statuses remained strangely inactive over the next couple of days.
He who laughs last…

Thanks to Colin Brammer & Burt Graham for the photographs

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