Friday, 8 November 2019

a derby of sorts

And then there was pie.

Considering that I named this website in the belief that I'd be sampling some of non-league's finest pastry-based produce while at the same time reigniting my flaccid footballing mojo, the rough-puff's been in regrettably scant supply. And while today’s sustenance wasn’t purchased at the ground itself, I’m allowing myself this small victory partly because the subject of pie makes good copy but primarily because it’s less faff then renaming the blog. 

There was a rumble of dissent when I posted this picture on Twitter, suggesting that my Victoria Tearoom swag is more canape than pie. All I can I say is that this is Saltaire: they do things quaintly here.

I’m not sure if there is any history between Salts FC and Ilkley Town AFC, but given that Saltaire - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - probably sees itself as a bit fancy, and Ilkley, up the road, definitely does, I’m classing today’s West Riding Challenge Cup fixture as a local-ish derby even if nobody else is. 

In dreich conditions it’s Ilkley, a tier above Salts in the West Yorkshire League, who set the pace; a thwack of a free-kick from the left-back putting them a goal up after ten minutes. Soon after, their Number 10, who if I was writing for a tabloid in the 1980s I might refer to as ‘leggy’, shimmies through the Salts rear-guard and dinks in to make it 0-2. 

This second galvanises Salts who nick one back, and although we’re not quite into the realms of Rocky versus Dolph, they dig in rather than roll over, and the next hour makes for an entertaining joust in the rain between a well-drilled Ilkley side and a dogged Salts unit. 

Half-time conversation turns to how Ilkley might get those shirts whiter than white again after this deluge of wet and muck. A handful of brave supporters scuttle round the pitch to the tea-bar. Most remain, wisely, huddles in the compact stand under the roof’s protection.

After the break, a keeper’s firm hand denies Ilkley’s ever-prowling Number 9, and there are similar scenes at the opposite end when the snappy Salts Number 9 is foiled by another display of determined ‘keeping.

Fightback very much still on, Salts make it 2-2 with a drilled finish from a committed Number 8 who’s in and amongst it all. “You’re killing yerself”, warns a team-mate, as he chases down another ball.

Legs get heavy. Rain gets heavier. Not too far away, trains trudge along the Airedale line but there’s little action on the canal running alongside the ground. Like I said: quaint.

The leggy one picks it up on the halfway line and lollops towards goal, shrugging off Salts attempts to nick it back, but pokes wide. Another Ilkley effort ends up closer to the Mill than the goal. But then that languid Number 9, who’s been well-managed up to now by a rugged Salts defence, is set up by two lively subs and finishes – I knew he could finish – to bag the winner and put his side into the next round of the Cup.

Salts FC 2

Ilkley Town AFC 3

Football in the rain, under a tin roof.

Admission: free.

Pie notes: good things come in small packages.

Here’s why I’m having a year watching non-league football.

And this is me on the Twitter.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

there will be goals

There’s nothing wrong with a hard-fought, backs-to-the-wall, 1-0 win, of course; and I’ve seen many a knife-edge nil-nil job that’s kept me engaged and entertained for the duration. Football - proper football - is about more than just goals. Isn’t it? 

That said, I’m sure that we’ll all take a 5-5 end to end goal-fest once in a while, and here it was, on the back pitch of a rugby club just off the main road to Halifax.

The game I’m meant to be at, over at Eccleshill United, has been rained off, but a quick scour of the local fixtures reveals that “the Rammers”, aka Northowram AFC, are at home to Sowerby “Bridge” Bridge in the Halifax and District League. And, like an actual football fan, as I may once have been but recently have not, I cast an eye over the table before venturing down. (Side note: the FA’s website for local football is rubbish.) 

Northowram: Played 4, Lost 4
Sowerby Bridge: Played 4, Won 4

There’s only one way this game can go.

Except that here isn’t, is there, because as per the mantra anything can happen in football, today it does. 

I might be geekily flasked up - the weather’s turning, lads - but a handful of Halifax stalwarts who are made of sterner stuff make steady progress through a crate of Budweiser and pint cans of Kronenbourg. And why not.

I doubt that anybody reading this other than, potentially, the scorers themselves, would appreciate a forensic rundown of each of the ten goals that the sizeable gathering witnesses (one of the more depressing aspects to Big Football being, of course, the endless be-suited drone of the how and the why); and besides, I miss at least one due to being on coffee-pouring duty.

But there are long-range goals and keeper-getting-megged goals, and there’s a double sin-bin and have two spectators been sent away? And there’s touchline controversy and there’s a rogue dog on the pitch. And how yellow is that kit? And there’s no pies but there are ten goals.

Sowerby Bridge, well-drilled and efficient, may see this as a point dropped. Northowram, spirited, a point they perhaps weren’t expecting.

Me, gripped, engrossed - might just be getting back into this.

Northowram 5
Sowerby Bridge 5

Here's why I'm having a season watching non-league football

I'm on the Twitter

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Campion for Champions?

The bar takes some finding. 

As directed by the friendly fella on the gate, we follow the path behind the goals, cut past the carpark and then turn back round on ourselves to a door that doesn’t want to open but eventually, through thirsty perseverance, gives. 

Up the stairs next to the changing rooms - the hum of wintergreen, the tinny echo of tunez - and here we are, in a room overlooking the pitch. At £2.80 for a pint of Saltaire Brewery’s session-able “Topaz”, the mission to the bar is one worth making. Over packets of prawn cocktail we catch the last twenty minutes of England’s women loss to Brazil.

Campion are on a good run in Division One of the Northern Counties East League, winning 4 on the bounce, including a 1-2 away win in the last meeting between these two sides just three weeks ago. There’s been a deluge of rain in these parts, but the pitch passes the inspection. Hardcore, this lower league malarkey.

The home side are slowest out of the traps. “Who are we marking? What are we doing?” asks a frustrated/existential Campion bench in an opening twenty minutes dominated by Armthorpe Welfare, who could already be a couple of goals up. “Smash him next time”, recommends a vocal Campion supporter regarding Welfare’s lively number 8. 

And then, on half an hour, come the Campion goals. The first, a deflected shot from the right-back who’s amongst all of Campion’s best play, and who goes on to bag a second soon after. Goal-scoring full-back: Fantasy Football gold.     A third follows, but The Welfare - rueing those missed chances from earlier - pull one back before half-time. Remonstrations that the ball was nicked from the keeper follow, but the ref - I haven’t seen a bad one all season - is having none of it.

Hopes of a Welfare comeback diminish soon after the restart when a contested corner results in a booming header from Campion’s Foley. There’s no rolling over from Armthorpe Welfare though, with plenty of back-and-forth, but neither side nicks another. 

In the stand, over steaming cups of Maxwell House, talk turns to Strictly as the minutes tick down.

Campion 4
Armthorpe Welfare 1

My Proper Team, with their big stadium and warm, overpriced lager - the team who, through inertia, I haven’t been to see for a couple of years - are playing down the road today. “I’ve seen more in 90 seconds than I’d have seen in 90 minutes down there”, observes the brother-in-law.

It's Non-League Day next weekend, and the big team are away at the seaside, a jaunt that for a few years was an annual boozy beano for me. It’s a sell-out, and supporters unable to get tickets might want to note that up Scotchman Road Campion’s game against Retford on October 12th will be free entry.

You’ll be entertained. Just remember how to find the bar.

Admission: £5

Pie notes: there’s nowt pastry-based to be had, but the niece and brother-in-law show generosity with their chips.

More football waffle on Twitter here.