Saturday, 22 September 2012

A not so funny old game (part 2)

Saturday 1st September
CML North
Harworth Colliery Institute 1 Easington United 1

The men in the middle of it all
The Thursday after the Bank Holiday win over Westella, our third in three games thus far.  It’s tea-time and in time-honoured tradition I’m reliving the game through the pages of the Holderness Gazette (even though I write the reports, it’s always reassuring to see them appear in sent).  As soon as this is done, I’ll be strolling down to the Farm to catch the reserves latest friendly.  They’re playing a “Withernsea XI” and any match between teams from our two clubs is usually worth a watch.
The phone rings.  It’s First Team boss ‘Sumo’.  I listen to what he has to say before uttering the only reply that comes into my head: “You’re f______g joking!”
He wasn’t.
By the time I got down to the ground, it quickly became apparent that the subject of the phone call was also the topic of conversation among several people down there.  And my obvious surprise was being mirrored by plenty of others – on both sides of the Easington-Withernsea divide.
Cause of all this debate was 18-year-old Nige Newton, skipper and top scorer of the Seasiders’ first team last season, who had made “the move” down to us in the summer.  For reasons known only unto him – we’ve since had three or four offered our way – the player had decided to return to his former club.  He announced his decision in a tea-time text to his manager.  Hence the phone call I’d received.
The Sumo’s mood was further darkened by news of injuries affecting Jimmy Dawson and the Skipper, ruling both out of Saturday’s trip to leaders Harworth.
A comfortable 7-1 win for the Stiffs brightened the atmosphere a little, as did the Great Newsome Aleympic Gold being served for a pound a pint in The Granby.  I returned home in better form than I’d left.
A touch away

I turned down a place on The Pistol’s Express in favour of accompanying the manager for the trip down to Bircotes two days later.  And despite the loss of three hitherto key players, the Sumo was in positive frame of mind.  His mood on the way back would be in stark contrast.
Scrooby Road looked a much more pleasant venue this time round than it had done on our most recent visit in April.  On that occasion, a local cup final played six days earlier and a week of wet weather in-between had left the pitch looking fairly sorry for itself.  It’s amazing what a touch of September sunshine can do…even if it still wasn’t the greatest underfoot according to most of the lads.
Rob Waite, author of The 66 POW blog, is someone I hold in high regard for his undoubted love of the game at all levels (and the fact he’s a Jambo).  As he has already posted on the aforementioned site, it’s difficult to really write an account of this game without the events of the last five minutes rendering most of it irrelevant.
To summarise, after a bright opening spell we were second-best by some margin up to the break and lucky to come off at nil-nil.  Cue one of The Sumo’s legendary half-time “pep talks”, which this week included the memorable line “You’s all got heads full of mad dog shite”.  Well, it did prompt a better second half display.
We took the lead on 53mins, albeit in somewhat fortuitous fashion – Wilky’s knock-back of a Frosty cross being met by a diving Eli who, he later admitted, headed home via his outstretched arm.  This latter fact was missed by the referee’s assistant and the man in the middle but not by the goalkeeper and several defenders.  The goal was given. 
Getting away with it...
I'm not disputing we got lucky with this.  But where I would take issue with some of the comments I’ve since read is (a) the contact with Eli’s arm can in no way be likened to either Maradona’s “Hand of God” nor Henry’s winner against Ireland and (b) I certainly never saw Eli “gloating” in front of a Harworth Committee member.  And, as has been pointed out several times since, such incidents tend to even themselves out over the course of the season.  Doesn't make it right I know but...anyway.
A goal up, we increasingly took charge of proceedings.  Indeed, one of the most pleasing things about the current squad would appear to be our resilience – especially when we’ve got our noses in front.  As such, I remained quietly confident we’d see the game through.
And we were well on course to with just over five minutes left when Harworth’s Tom Walker was seemingly pole-axed by an attempted clearance from Tom McLaughlin.   I reported what followed on the club website:
“As he lay motionless, McLaughlin urged Fitzgerald to find touch.  With the ball launched downfield the referee blew so as to enable Walker to receive attention – which, as it happened, he didn’t require.
Restarting play with a drop ball just inside the Easington half, referee Rees ordered Thurkettle not to contest it and, in fairness, the Harworth management were heard to instruct sub Tom Padgett to “give the ball back”.  But, whether by intent or not, the youngster instead found the net, lobbing the waiting Holden perfectly from 40 yards.
Some of the home party celebrated while the visitors raged.  Everyone looked to the referee who, after consulting his assistant, awarded the goal – wrongly as it later transpired; play should have restarted with a goal kick.
It was now that the visiting management urged their counterparts to allow an unopposed goal to be scored at the other end to make amends for what they saw as a gross injustice.  For whatever reason, the hosts were not inclined to do so and the game ended a few minutes later amid scenes of acrimony.”

At the final whistle some of the players and The Sumo himself took some convincing to retire to the clubhouse for the post-match spread.  Thankfully, all did and Sean joined me in conversation with the aforementioned Mr Waite.
Unfortunately, the manager was in no mood to hang around and so having downed a pint quicker than would otherwise have been preferred (it was only Stones Smoothflow but cheers Rob anyway!) I was in his car heading for the M18 and home.  He wasn’t in the chattiest mood on that particular journey.
On leaving the clubhouse, the Harworth secretary Simon Stones had stopped me to apologise and express his manager’s disappointment at what had gone on.
This was followed in the early hours of Sunday morning (4.22am was the time on the email) by an official letter from Harworth Chairman (& asst-mgr) Jonathon Wilson.  I appreciated this.  It was a small gesture but also I feel a genuine attempt by our opponents to begin building bridges.  Perhaps it came a touch too soon.  Emotions were still raw.
Indeed a month on, some players’ feelings towards the incident have mellowed little.  I suspect the Sumo too still feels very aggrieved; not least in view of the fact that since the Harworth game his team’s form has dipped with successive defeats at the hands of Ollerton and Kiveton.  Rest assured it'll be some time yet before I venture to suggest to him that football’s a funny old game.

A full match report with more of Burt Graham's pictures can be found here.
Rob Waite's account of the game can be found here.

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