Tuesday, 14 December 2010

York City 0 Boston United 1

The involuntary gurgle of delight half-way through the Ethics lecture probably gave it away. Three words was all it took to generate great palpitations of excitement: York City (Away). This was the tie that was meant to happen during the three years I actually lived in York, but didn’t.

At worst, if, as expected, United lost and exited the FA Trophy at the second hurdle, I could console myself by catching up with a load of friends from university over coffee, curry and beer in a kind of bringing together of lives old and new. Best case scenario, United upset their Conference National opponents and the weekend would go down in awayday legend.

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. Britain has been having its annual tiff with the Snow Lords, which has been fine when the university decides it’s in everyone’s “best interests” to stay tucked up in bed and suspends the day’s teaching, but gets pretty irksome when you can’t get out of your flat without looking like you have severe temporary balance issues, you can’t get to Rotherham to do some reporting and the football’s cancelled. I even had to watch Soccer Saturday. The shame!

There had been doubts about this one but I know the public of York are reliable sorts and thanks to their superlative shovelling efforts (only plastic spades were allowed. Not sure why, it isn’t Skeggie beach) the match was a goer. And I would like to express my gratitude to them for getting up at the crack of dawn in order to assist Boston’s progression towards Wembley Way with such good-natured charm and epic ignorance  of what was about to unfold.

I digress. I love York and wanted to make the most of every minute, hence my mid-morning arrival to meet an old friend for coffee, the first of several pre-arranged catch-up the details of which would be out of place here. What I don’t love is the people who cram its every street, road, alley and medieval Gate this time of year. The slow crawl of the coach trip tourist - snapping away on disposable cameras at every hint of Roman heritage, dragging surly kids in tow and being fobbed off with false historical facts by flustered tour guides - is a given but the place had been invaded by a breed of ultra-slow Christmas shopper, designed only to piss off the tiny minority of people who weren’t searching for gaudy sweaters for Auntie Pat and Uncle Cecil.

I fought my way through this interminable street-clogger race and made Bootham for about 2.30, giving sufficient time to catch up with Boston connections in the Burton Stone pub, whose clientele seemed pretty oblivious the football match going on round the corner. I’d never been in the Burton Stone because I’d never had cause to. They say York has a different pub for every day of the year but I learnt pretty quickly that you wouldn’t go within a long punt downfield of the majority of them. The pleasant Burton Stone wasn’t one of them, however.

On to the matter at hand. I’d never stood on the sweeping away terrace at York before but the view really does show the age of Bootham (sorry, KitKat) Crescent. The sooner they get that new ground, the better I think. Boston had travelled in decent numbers (164 according to the local press) in a crowd of 1300-odd and made all of the atmosphere. Evidently, the Ultras (in true Ultras fashion) only turn up for ‘big’ games, which was a shame because a bit of verbal sparring would have completed the afternoon.

Before the big freeze paralysed the football schedule, the Minstermen had been on a seven-match unbeaten run, guided by former Pilgrim Gary Mills, and we knew this was a tough assignment. After all, City have a taste for Wembley, having visited twice in two years. But going forward they offered little in the first-half and James McKeown wasn’t unduly troubled. The back four, including York-born Shaun Pearson, were as solid as the mounds of compacted ice bordering the pitch.

Scottie and Hurst had drawn on old Rotherham contacts for pre-game intel and studied York’s 3-0 win over the Millers in the FA Cup last month as prep. And their research paid off when ‘football fwiend’ Spencer Weir-Daley headed in James Yates’s corner on 30 minutes. The reaction was surreal – absolute silence from three quarters of the ground and the faintest of roars from the away section as voiced drifted off into the cold, open skies above.

The second-half was one-way traffic and I would imagine City had 80% of the possession. But, for all that, they created very few actual attempts on goal and McKeown only made one save of note from Andre Boucard’s Exocet. As more and more red and blue waves crashed against our defensive line, the mood amongst the Boston fans grew from content with a replay at York Street on Tuesday night to cautiously optimistic to downright boisterous. It was a chilly afternoon, ripe for bouncing.

The win was narrow and satisfying. A wholesome performance of defensive grit and steel, all the more impressive given the team hadn’t played for three weeks. And perhaps the Wembley arch is moving onto the horizon – we’ve a home tie with either Cirencester Town or Gloucester City in round two.

I must mention a couple of sour points on an otherwise brilliant afternoon. Firstly, one of our number was booked by the police and accused of chanting racist obscenities. I think twisting Michael Rankine’s name to ‘Wankine’ is more a comment on his off-beat performance than the colour of skin and if we’re the first set of away supporters to think up that particular moniker then I’d be very surprised.

Secondly, I had the misfortune of encountering a rather aggressive City fan in the Hansom Cab in town after the game. Now, when I’m having a drink with some old mates, I don’t want to hear about how the referee missed five definite handballs by our defenders and how I’m going to be involved in fisticuffs because SEVEN years ago a few Boston fans made light of York’s financial problems by waving around some five pound notes.  Sour grapes, perhaps, or are we just that hated? Needless to say, after the turbulence we’ve been through in the last few years, I think he’d agree we’ve been affected much more than they ever were.

Next Match: Boston United vs. Hyde United at York Street. Yes, at YORK STREET. I’m back for Christmas.




Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 3 Northampton Town 2

This was a very ‘Wednesday’ progression into the third round of the FA Cup – sensational in parts but with just enough nervy moments to ensure it wasn’t comfortable. League Two Northampton Town had famously dumped Liverpool out of the Carling Cup not so long ago, but they showed precious little cup spirit at a snowy Hillsborough and should have been blown away by a free-scoring Wednesday. The key word is ‘should.’

I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind for this one. Leaving our newsroom workshop at five on Friday night, I’d not moved from my comfy seat in Wetherspoons for the best part of six hours and was fucked enough to go Latin American dancing. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to confirm that my stupid uncoordinated lanky body isn’t the right shape for salsa and to compound matters I had to use my beer-addled brain to negotiate a route home through Sheffield’s first blizzard of the season.

Saturday morning broke uncomfortably and I was probably one of the few students who didn’t like looking at the snowy scenes outside. The light, it burns. In the absence of Anadin, I tried tea, coffee, bacon, ice cold water and, God help me, herbal remedies to shift the pain in order to look remotely professional in the Wednesday press box. The herbal brew, I swear, just made me look stoned. Don’t worry, I’ve stocked up.

Hillsborough was a sorry sight once I’d bumbled my way out of the bowels of the stadium and into the chilly air to the overspill bit of the press box (student media, you see). Only the south stand and the away end were open and while the piled up snow looked quaint, the endless empty seats were a bit of an indictment on the world’s greatest cup competition™. You also had the scenario where boisterous Kop regulars were forced to sit alongside old moaners, which made for a surreal atmosphere of belted-out staples and a chorus of tuts and groans.

Mark Beevers scored his second goal in two matches to set Wednesday’s course to the third round after six minutes. He’s getting quite prolific. A fair number of chances went begging before Tommy Miller dispatched a penalty towards the end of the first-half, awarded when Neil Mellor was tugged down. It’s almost a given that supporters are on their best form for the Cup but the few hundred from Northampton were either freezing to death or treating the game as an inconvenience against their plight in League Two. The first-half gave them absolutely no reason to change their minds.

Everyone of an Owls persuasion was already dreaming of a plum tie in early January (they got Bristol City away, which is a very mouldy piece of fruit) and the defence certainly switched off when Billy McKay, who had a good game, halved the deficit ten minutes after the break. The row of supporters behind the hack zone sighed – a win without a hiccup of some kind is not familiar round here. And on the day Milan Mandaric’s takeover finally resolved the off-field troubles, wouldn’t it be typical if some bloody cobblers ruined everything.

Thankfully, they didn’t. Their second-half was more enterprising but, for all the extra possession and the odd half-chance, an equalising goal and a ball in the velvet bag wasn’t forthcoming. In the second minute of stoppage time, Mellor’s wizardry caused more problems and, after Paul Rodgers chopped him down, Miller slotted home his second penalty of the afternoon. The majority could now go and de-ice their cars.

Northampton’s second goal was baffling – Nicky Weaver, I think, came out and handled the ball outside the box, gifting a free-kick which was allowed to be taken quickly and Kevin Thornton curled it in. Frankly, I didn’t see the incident, just the ball flying in. Nobody in the press box saw it, or had any idea who had scored. Total confusion. Quite funny really.

Next Match: Worcester City vs. Boston United on Saturday  

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 3 Walsall 0

Not a great deal to report here other than a routine win for a Wednesday side resurgent in recent weeks. The difference between them and Walsall was only in that the home side took their chances while the visitors, who remain wired to the bottom of the table, squandered theirs.

While matters off the field remain unresolved, with an number of consortiums hoping to take over the club joined this week by a fans initiative, Wednesday continue to progress serenely on it. The three goals here, from Darren Potter, Mark Beevers and Clinton Morrison, takes the tally to 18 in five matches across all competitions and fired The Owls back up to fourth in League One.  

Their attack is razor sharp, with Gary Teale looking dangerous every time he touched the ball and the forward partnership of Morrison and Neil Mellor linking well, but serious questions must be asked of the defence. Towards the end of the first-half, your proverbial Martian wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was the promotion contender and which the basement dweller. Walsall were granted far too much freedom and, had they come forward with a little more confidence, might have scored at least once. Darren Purse had an awful game, for one.

Wednesday had opened the scoring seven minutes in when Potter drilled the ball home from 20 yards, aided by goalkeeper Jimmy Walker, who should have done better. The early goal should have spurred the Owls but instead they relaxed and Walsall, like many other sides before them this year, found room to manoeuvre when coming forward.

It wasn’t until the 75th minute that the points were made safe – Beevers headed in his first league goal, before Morrison rose at the near post to meet a viciously inswinging Teale corner with seven minutes to play. The goals were ample reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Watching football in Sheffield proving very enjoyable at the moment.

Next Match: I would imagine Sheffield Wednesday vs. Northampton Town in the FA Cup second round on Saturday, assuming we are not blanketed by snow towards the weekend. After that, a couple of Boston away matches, at Worcester City in the League and York City in the FA Trophy, which I’m certainly looking forward to.  

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sheffield United 3 Crystal Palace 2

Another extraordinary afternoon at Bramall Lane. Every time I part with money to watch Sheffield United, they produce a performance bereft of flair, imagination and confidence, usually get caught on the counter-attack, lose by the odd goal and get jeered off the park. Every time I get a press ticket for free, they find some lost never-say-die attitude, fight back when all seemed lost, salvage a result and are treated like infallible heroes.

Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace was the closest you will get to a relegation six-pointer at this stage of the season and, for manager Gary Speed in particular, it was a ‘must-win.’ Thankfully for him, the Blades delivered, although they didn’t exactly make it easy for themselves. Trailing 2-1 to 10- man Palace with five minutes remaining, I genuinely believed that, upon my return to the press lounge, there would be a statement saying that Speed had been relieved of his duties. But two goals in a crazy three minutes flipped this game on its head and Speed was saved.

It had been a surreal day – part of our coursework this term is to be allocated an area of South Yorkshire and find four stories there. I had been given Rotherham and, in the knowledge that my football this week was an evening kick-off, I duly set off there to have a nosy round. I didn’t find much in the way of leads, but I did out of curiosity have a wonder up to the old Millmoor ground, Rotherham United’s home until just a few years ago.

Its demise is sad. Though the ground is most definitely showing signs of age, it is a real old-fashioned arena with a certain charm and character preserved. The tall floodlight pylons stand out for miles and, although the place is under lock and key now, you could get occasional glimpses inside to see the rows of creaking wooden seats in the main stand. They didn’t look too different to the day they were first bolted in, all of which just adds to the allure of the place. Apparently the groundsman continued to religiously cut the grass for the first few months after the club re-located to the Don Valley Stadium – perhaps through force of habit or routine, perhaps through the hope, fading fast, that one day its terraces might be in full cry once again.

The place is so skewed in the home side’s favour. It must be one of the most intimidating places in the country for an away supporter. From the station, you must first walk through a never-ending sprawl of industrial estates, with every unit seemingly a budget version of Kwik-Fit complete with puddles of engine grease and stacks of balding tyres. The away turnstiles are situated at the bottom of a long, undulating alleyway enclosed by rusty steel walls and barbed wire on one side and vast scrap metal yards on the other. With a number of pubs at the top of the alley, it must have been the perfect place for an ambush in the bad old days. I strolled down, finding only a dead-end and a scary-looking man who appeared to have gained squatter’s rights to a Portakabin. At this point I decided to leave Rotherham.

Thankfully, Bramall Lane is still in tip-top condition and even the press box catering had improved. The meagre selection of sandwiches remained but was augmented by half-time pea soup and chicken curry, which was obviously greatly enjoyed by one of the Sky Sports commentators who looked familiar even if I couldn’t remember his name.

And those who tuned in were certainly rewarded. As is tradition, United gifted their opponents a head-start when Jean Calve nudged Neil Danns in the back and referee Anthony Taylor, unnecessarily, awarded a penalty, which Danns smashed home. Taylor recognised his error and quickly made amends, giving United a penalty of their own when Ched Evans was blocked off by Nathaniel Clyne. Richard Cresswell did the business. And things got even better for the home side when Owen Garvan was sent off for dissent. Garvan must have excelled himself because the official initially booked him, only to return seconds later and flash the red. It was a moment of stupidity and the game looked very much United’s for the taking.

But regulars at the Lane know full well this never happens and Palace re-took the lead in the second-half. Wilfried Zaha, who was a menace all game and had missed a good opening in the first-half, crossed for the excellent James Vaughan to head in. Palace then went into siege mentality and their Argentine goalkeeper Julian Speroni made a number of first-class saves, notably turning Mark Yeates’ half-volley onto the post. Eventually he was beaten though as Evans reacted quickest to turn in the rebound after his initial effort had come back off the bar. And just a minute later, Claude Davis, whose match had been hitherto faultless, clumsily fouled Adam Bogdanovic. The Maltese player fired home the game’s third penalty. And there was still time for the same player to be sent off in injury time. A remarkable game and a real boost for United.

Next Match: Likely to be at Hillsborough, either against Walsall in League One on Tuesday night or Northampton Town in the FA Cup second round on Saturday.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Droylsden 4 Boston United 0

We weren’t expecting this. Like a lightning bolt splitting the sky on a crystal clear summer’s day, nothing had prepared us for this trouncing in Tameside. I suppose we’ve been rather spoilt of late – I hadn’t seen the Pilgrims lose on the road since my 21st birthday in March, when we succumbed at Whitby. Before that, it had been another two months since a single-goal defeat at Kendal in late January and another six weeks to a loss at Matlock. Furthermore, I hadn’t seen us concede on the road since the second half at Harrogate, by which time we were 6-2 up. Of course, this day had to come.

Credit to Droylsden, who were excellent. Slow starters this season, they showed plenty of examples of why they reached the Conference North play-offs last year and I wouldn’t bet against them being back in the mix in a few months’ time. United underestimated them, got their tactics wrong and had a few underlying frailties exposed.

The beauty of following a team with a small-ish group of regulars is that, however hopeless the situation, you see the funny side of it. Hence the title of my blog, I suppose. When the third goal went in with about ten minutes remaining, there was nothing else for it. We found our voices, picked up the drum stick and tossed confetti about. When JB started bashing his head against the corrugated iron at the back of the stand, in a bizarre mix of defiance and bemusement, there were shades of the 5-0 defeat at Nantwich two years ago or the general Football League era when sometimes anything less than humiliation was a bonus. The stiff upper lip stood proud and I was delighted to see manager Rob Scott give us a mention in his post-match remarks.

In the same interview, Scott criticised a number of older supporters who rounded on the team towards the final whistle. We live in a democracy and they’re entitled to their opinion just as much as I am, but the justifications for the abuse are very hollow. Maybe I wouldn’t have aimed my remarks at “those old codgers” but the manager has a point. You must take the thick with the thin and, for the last 18 months, we have had a lot of thick. We probably haven’t had this much success, or had such defensive resolve, since the Conference promotion campaign and that’s getting on for a decade ago. There are going to be off days, like Saturday, but let’s take a glance at the stats (nearly 1,000 minutes without conceding – that probably more than some of these people can remember) and the league table before we resort to throwing insults.

My two-penneth over, on to the day itself. We had negotiated confused Wednesday supporters (I wonder how near they got to Rochdale before realising the match was actually at Hillsborough), Northern Rail, toxic canals and the general Manchester suburban environment to reach one of the most intimidatingly-named grounds in the country – the Butcher’s Arms. The ground itself was decaying in parts, but the set-up clearly had enjoyed some investment with a very pleasant social club and a couple of new-ish stands. In one corner was a rather strange building with a balcony and a number of (unoccupied) patio tables and chairs. I assume it was the director’s box unless penthouse living and al fresco bistro dining are big in Tameside.

With JB, who wasn’t going to come to the match at midday, cruising at a steady 95mph down the M62 and arriving in the nick of time, the usual suspects gathered behind the goal and got the atmosphere going. United started with a decent tempo, though delivery from the wings was poor all afternoon. Semps might have permission to shag all our wives, but he had a bit of an off day here. Mikel Suarez looked a little short of match fitness and generally isolated up front on his own, leaving Spencer W-D to do most of the running. Having not conceded for so long, you felt it would require something special to end the run and, sadly for us, Droylsden provided it. Steve Connors seemed too far out to pose any danger but he lashed in a shot from a good 30 yards to open the scoring.

United had come close through SWD and Shaun Pearson, both denied brilliantly by Paul Phillips, and there was an encouraging debut for Josh Burge, but when Mike Byron doubled the Bloods’ lead shortly after the break that was that. With the introduction of Miles Hunter, whose goal had beaten Corby in midweek, Jamie Yates and, later, Danny Davidson, the managers did, to be fair, try everything to get us back in the game. Many chances came and went before Droylsden scored with a couple of counter-attacks in the last ten minutes to turn a routine win into something more eye-catching. David McNiven and then Ciaran Kilheeney made it a day to forget.

But spirits were high on the journey home. Already looking forward to the next one (a Lincolnshire derby against Gainsborough in the FA Trophy on Saturday), laughing at the day’s events and feeling proud at our noisy, defiant antics. I then went and got slaughtered but that was in no way related!

Next Match: Sheffield United vs. Crystal Palace on Saturday – hob-nobbing in the press box with those Sky Sports types hopefully.  


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 4 Hartlepool United 1

As winter’s icy grip began to take a hold on Sheffield, it was time to dig the big coat out and see if Wednesday could continue their progress to Wembley. With the high drama of the last round epic against Chesterfield still fresh in the memory and the promise of bargain basement £2.50 football marginally more attractive than a dour Manchester derby, I’d managed to coax a little group together to brave the elements and watch this quarter-final, northern section tie.

I think this is the cheapest live match I’ve ever watched and at 50p a goal certainly represented excellent value for money. Hartlepool seem to be Wednesday’s bitch this season, having been spanked 5-0 at Victoria Park in the League encounter back in August, and, although they briefly offered resistance at 2-1, never had the offensive quality to win the game. Meanwhile, a couple of cup matches have offered a very welcome break from league travails for the Owls and the nine goals should spur them on to reassert their promotion credentials.

Perhaps it’s a sign of how far Wednesday have fallen that a comparatively irrelevant match such as this attracted a near-11,000 crowd but, on the other hand, this competition does represent an excellent chance of silverware and the atmosphere was again superb. Sadly there was no scope for verbal jousting with the travelling fans - unlike the last round, when Chesterfield brought 4,000; the Pools probably numbered a hundredth of this – but the band played on regardless and the empty seats in the Kop only amplified the tootling. It made my night when they played the Wallace and Gromit theme music – for reasons unknown – in the second-half.  

On the pitch, Wednesday dominated the first 40 minutes and established what appeared to be a solid two-goal lead through Neil Mellor. His first was a peach, bent home from the left-hand side of the box, and his second was opportunistic, converting Gary Teale’s deep cross. But old habits remain and five nightmare minutes at the end of the half almost overturned all Wednesday’s good work. The defence, as happens all-too-frequently went missing in action and Fabian Yantorno curled home a lovely goal to give the away support something to get excited about. They also missed a sitter in injury time with the home defence pretty much dead to the world.

So cheap, even a student could afford it...
Thankfully, Alan Irvine’s coarse tones knocked some sense into them and, within moments of the restart, Mellor’s swashbuckling run was ended prematurely by Gary Liddle in the penalty area. Mellor snatched the ball from Clinton Morrison and slotted it home for the hat-trick. The red-booted Teale, who never seems to have a bad game, made absolutely sure by racing goalkeeper Jake Kean to a loose, bouncing ball and producing a lovely lob into the unguarded net.

Sterner tests, not least Huddersfield Town, who played Wednesday off the park last week, await in the area semi-finals but, on this bitterly cold night in November, the warming prospect of a stroll down Wembley Way in the sunshine of spring remains a distinct possibility.

Next Match: Droylsden vs. Boston United on Saturday

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Blyth Spartans 0 Boston United 0

I hadn’t even fastened my seatbelt. “Whey aye ye gan te Blyth like?” said the cabbie in his best tourist-friendly Geordie. “It’s the heroin capital of t’north.” I evidently look like a junkie. “Yous not from these parts like, are ya?”

I tried to explain – I’m a Boston United supporter trying to get to Blyth Spartans. FOR FOOTBALL. Two minutes later: “All these foreigners, like, coming an’ playing in the Premier League. They’s ruining the game like. That Arsene Wenger...”  I nodded in fake agreement and glimpsed anxiously at the fare counter.

This was the furthest north I’d ever been on terra firma (I was on a transatlantic jet once which got re-routed over Scotland for some reason, but that doesn’t really count) and it showed in the climate and the general impenetrability of the language. And I thought Blyth looked quite nice, unless the quaint weekend beach huts are actually full of gange.

I always imagined this away day would be a mission but, with the autumn sun shining and a good week behind me, the journey flew by. Sheffield was comparatively easy – Andy P had rode the BUSA wagon from Boston, while Adam H had got up at some ungodly hour to trek from Basingstoke. That I admire.

Croft Park was a pleasant enough ground, with reasonably sized stands on all four sides and a nice little social club next door. Apparently the Spartan Ale was very good, according to Pickwell. Shame about the catering, although since this was definitely connected to a towbar and a car I’m not going to be blaming the club for that. My ‘burger’ was 95% bread roll and 5% meat trace, which was some achievement. I would have gone back but the evidence mysteriously disappeared into my all-too-greedy gullet.

Armed with a good selection of jokes about Sparta and 300, all of which became pretty tiresome pretty quickly, the hundred or so Boston followers took up station behind the goal for the first-half. And United had the better of the first-half, with Jamie Yates forcing the home goalkeeper into a decent save from the edge of the box after some silky interplay with Lee Canoville, Anthony Church and Danny Sleath.

The second-half followed a similar pattern and, like Guiseley, there was precious little to report. McKeown extended his clean sheet record but, a dipping effort from our very own ‘football fwiend’ Spencer Weir-Daley (every time he does something good, we sing his name and he unfailingly responds by putting his thumb up like that bit in The Inbetweeners. Legend) aside, Boston didn’t look much like scoring. I’m starting to think that the two-week break was the worst thing that could have happened to us, as the cutting edge seems to have gone.

Much hilarity came from the Blyth goalkeeper in the second-half which, when you hear it, will indicate just how bored we were. We were adamant he was yelling “Fuck off” and had some kind of unfortunate and very loud Tourette’s problem. In fact he was shouting “No cross” and was just Geordie and indecipherable.

Anyway, as Rob Scott said afterwards, feeling as though a draw at a tricky place like Blyth is two points dropped underlines how far we’ve come.

Shame it’s also tricky to get back from. We ended up stranded in chilly Cramlington for far longer than advisable, roaming around what was essentially a ghost time in search of a pub and then seeking warmth in a Sainsbury’s. Bought four on-the-turn sausage rolls. It was my tea. Fuck my life.

I stepped off the train at Sheffield just after nine which, to be fair, was still some five hours before Hallgarth. Will pray to the goal Gods next week.

Next Match: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hartlepool United in the Quarter-final, Northern Section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Wednesday, then Droylsden vs. Boston United on Saturday.

Guiseley 0 Boston United 0

With Yorkshire being lashed by the heaviest rains since Noah caved in to pressure from above and popped into B&Q for some 6-by-4 and a shit load of nails, me and Andy A did what any sane individual would do. We went to Guiseley on the train.

I’ve been on many trains with Andy and this wasn’t a nice one, one of those Northern Rail buses on rails which steams up with commuter condensation and stops everywhere. Nonetheless, it drove on doggedly through the monsoon conditions, with a few hairy moments, and soon we were in the all-too-familiar town of Guiseley. I worked out this was my third visit to Nethermoor in three seasons, some kind of record for a yo-yo side like Boston.

In the end, we were thankful we took the train – thanks to a self-combusting car on the A1, many away supporters didn’t arrive until half-time and many turned back in exasperation and didn’t make it at all. Frankly, they were the lucky ones as they missed fuck all in this bore draw. They were almost certainly warmer and drier too.

Having said that, this was a useful point against a side, like us, enjoying the afterburn of last season’s winning momentum. The hosts, who obviously used some of their Unibond prize money to rebuild their fire-damaged main stand (and very nice it looked too, being the only dry place in the ground), bossed the first period and weren’t afraid to test James McKeown with low shots which skidded off the saturated surface. The keeper stood firm, extending his clean sheet record to 657 days or something, but there was little cutting edge at the other end with any Boston chances lofted spectacularly into the adjacent Astroturf pitch.

I’ve been to Guiseley so many times lately that I’ve started recognising local faces and there was a certain heart-warming moment when I found myself standing next to the old bloke (think generic proud Yorkshireman with flat cap, impenetrable dialect and, probably, a fine collection of ferrets at home) who complained so vociferously when Jambo Jr started banging his drum last season. The expression of joy on his face when I told him this noisy little hoodlum was car-bound somewhere near Blyth services was priceless. I’ll be like that one day, once I take in my 20,000th match.

Having refuelled with the mandatory anaemic half-time hot dog (where were the pies? Where was the Bovril? Is this not Yorkshire?) we reluctantly returned outside for the game’s conclusion. Last time I was here, it was a quintessential Yorkshire scene as the village cricket side played in glorious sunshine next door; tonight it was suitable only for swamp creatures. We huddled together in a stand with no sides and hoped we could nick the win.  

The best chance went to Ryan Semple with ten minutes left, but Guiseley keeper Steven Drench (who wins the award for the most apt surname in relation to match conditions... ever) stuck out a palm and pushed the spinning ball wide. There were some hearts-in-mouth moments as Shaun Pearson and Kieran Murphy blocked shots with all manner of body parts, but, eventually, both sides were content to play out the draw and just get inside. You couldn’t blame them.

Thanks Guiseley, ‘til next year.

Next Match: Blyth Spartans vs. Boston United on Saturday.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sheffield United 0 Coventry City 1

There’s just no way I can make this match sound interesting. Even with all the tricks of the trade taught on this Masters of mine. Following another gruelling week trying to become a journalist, there was absolutely no way I was going to break an unbroken sequence of Saturday afternoon football going back to mid-July, but this was £16 and two hours I’ll never get back.

“I saw six goals last time I went to Bramall Lane. United fought back twice and equalised in the 94th minute. It was SOOOO exciting,” I kept repeating to Mr. Huw Harrow, who was visiting for the weekend, as he reluctantly swapped plans to have a boozy afternoon watching Soccer Saturday for a seat on the freezing cold Kop.

United hit the crossbar no less than three times so you might think they'd just been unlucky. Not really, they still didn’t deserve a point and Gary Speed continues to wonder when things will start looking up. It isn’t hard to see why the Blades have been so goal-shy this season – aside for ten minutes at the start of the second-half, they did literally nothing in attack. This spell was their only period of sustained pressure, during which loanee Andy Reid hit the woodwork with a curling free-kick. Other than that, nothing.

Inevitably, Coventry, who hadn’t exactly inspired us either, nicked the win through Gary McSheffrey’s salmon-like header in the first-half. McSheffrey is only 28, but seems to have been on the scene forever, but then he did make his debut at 16, the start of an eight-year initial spell with the Sky Blues.  

I’d brought my voice and even learnt the words to the non-Boston version of Annie’s Song but the atmosphere in the home end was dead. The legroom was also shite – is Sheffield a town of midgets? I’m getting my calves checked for signs of DVT on Monday. They didn’t even have the decency to score, so I could ease the crippling pain by getting up. Bring back the terraces...

Told you there wasn’t much to report. Sorry Huw.

Next Match: Guiseley vs. Boston United on Tuesday. Will be nice to actually watch my team again!  

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 1 AFC Bournemouth 1

Another Saturday, another Sheffield press box. Having successfully produced my first sports section for the Forge Press, and after having endured another week of shorthand training plus a law test that obviously went terribly, my reward was this third vs. fourth clash in League One at Hillsborough.

Following my last visit for the Chesterfield match (see below) I again had high expectations of this grand old stadium, but the day as whole was a bit of a let-down. The press facilities were far superior to those at Bramall Lane, yes, but the performance of the home side was very disappointing and they were fortunate in my view to gain the point which keeps them fourth in the table.

It would be a travesty, on this evidence, if the Cherries don’t earn their second successive promotion. Eddie Howe, one of the youngest managers in the Football League, has them playing the right way and their fluid, passing style, as well as being pleasing on the eye, caused Wednesday endless problems. It took a stern half-time chat from Alan Irvine, plus the introduction of Gary Teale and Neil Mellor, to change the game but even the most optimistic Owls supporter will admit there is a lot of work still to be done.

Having walked past a number of plush executive suites serving Yorkshire takes on a banquet dinner, my hopes for the press lounge were growing. Could the rumours of complimentary pie and chips be true? Or would it be a repeat of the sole stone cold egg and cress sandwich offering of last week, served in a shed tacked precariously onto the end of the south stand? The first signs were positive – Dean Windass, who was doing the cushy number for ex-pros that is Soccer Saturday (me and Jon, the guy with me had hoped for Chris Kamara, but you can’t be too choosy), was in there and he was clearly waiting expectantly for something.

Then a steaming hot dollop of mushy peas was plonked on the table. Well, interesting take on dinner but encouraging. Followed by a great big tray of chunky, golden brown chips. That would have been more than sufficient to be honest–chips and mushy peas – much better than last week already. Then a dish of steaming gravy arrived. Nice to have a choice with your chips, thanks very much. Oh my God, wait, there’s more. A slab of the most delicious-looking steak pie – crisp pastry surface with the suggestion, at the caught edges, of thick northern gravy oozing out and tender cuts of steak sizzling underneath – made its grand entrance. And another slab. And another slab. I’ve never seen a group of people so readily drop everything they were doing and form a crude queue.

The fare didn’t disappoint, though Windass was behind me in the line and, well, he was obviously hungry. The established order was chips-mushy peas-pie but I went chips-pie-mushy peas. It was a schoolboy error, meaning I had to cut back across Windass. He didn’t look pleased and muttered something in northern. I skulked off and tried not to catch his eye after that...

Restaurant review over, what else to report? Well, Hillsborough’s Wi-Fi is dreadful and I had to do the Forge Twitter updates on my phone which is tricky with such fiddly, frozen fingers. The pros around us just shrugged – it’s a common problem apparently here – and got out their dongles. A dongle being a gadget that gets wireless internet anywhere, not what you thought.

Irvine went with Clinton Morrison up front and the big target man was frankly awful, unceremoniously hauled off at half-time after misplacing pretty much every pass. 3/10 was Jon’s rating. Couldn’t really disagree. Bournemouth, backed by a decent following who had probably been on the road since before dawn, were fluid and confident going forward and created all the openings before the break. They also scored when defender Ryan Garry, left scandalously unmarked eight yards out, turned the ball in from a corner. The locals weren’t happy and the loud boos at the half-time whistle said it all. The atmosphere had been flat throughout: there was no band and the Kop seemed content to sit in polite silence until their team did something. I was disappointed by this, especially given how brilliant the atmosphere was for the Chesterfield game.

Irvine clearly had a stern word at the turnaround and Wednesday were a different proposition afterwards. With Teale rampant down the left, they finally gained an equaliser, having seen a considerable number of chances go begging, with five minutes left – Mellor finishing well from about six yards.

Entering the post-match conference, I turned to Jon and said: “Alan Irvine will use the phrase ‘It was a game of two halves.’” After Howe’s pointless 55-second cameo, Irvine walked in, sat down and, with his first words: “It was a genuine game of two halves.” CRINGE.

Next Match: Sheffield United or Sheffield FC on Saturday I would imagine as Boston aren’t in action again.  

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sheffield United 3 Burnley 3

This is what it’s all about. For the first time in over two years, I managed to blag my way into a press box. And for a decent game as well, not the York City-Leeds United pre-season love-in I covered from the hack seats for the Non-League Paper last time round. Sure, it meant returning to a Sports Editor position for a campus newspaper – meaning an endless cycle of moving apostrophes, cropping pictures and stalking sporty people on Facebook to find out the correct spelling of their impossibly convoluted surnames – but regular free football isn’t something to be sniffed at. At York, I ran the sports section of the mighty, multi-award winning Nouse. Now, it’s the slightly more modest Forge Press at Sheffield but, although there’s work to be done, I hope we’ll get near Nouse standards by the end of the year.

I’d been to Bramall Lane plenty of times before but, with Boston at home (and going top of the league!) I faced a blank afternoon that had to be filled. The chap with me, Pulasta (whose match report is a brilliant effort), was experiencing his first taste of English football and this six-goal thriller was a great place to start. By the end, he had broken just about every rule of press box etiquette – jumping around in disgust at the flying challenges, leaping in delight when United scored and generally trying to blend in with the moaning locals in the rows beneath us – but you had to admire the enthusiasm, which was infectious. Though I did draw the line at papping Gary Speed on my shitty iPhone camera during the post-match conference. We’re journalists, not tourists!

I obviously had a glorified view of such press areas, God knows where from, and expecting some sort of sumptuous banquet or Michelin star รก la carte cuisine I had skipped breakfast and lunch. The cups of tea were copious, but by the time we arrived, the sole complimentary tray of egg and cress sarnies had been decimated by the regulars and a sizeable and obviously gluttonous travelling press contingent from Lancashire. I made the mental note to get there earlier next time – perhaps half twelve should do it.

While Pulasta, with his football personality homing device, networked with Iain Dowie (he did get some advice and his e-mail address, so fair play) I puzzled with the local reporters over Gary Speed’s selection and tactics, which were just the complete opposite from everyone’s expectations. Dowie was there for that Jeff Stelling Show (not Countdown) and no doubt described all six goals in classic full-facial, eyes-bulging, high octave, High Definition glory.   

We had a great view from our seats, plus a television feed, though you know you’re not more than a student reporter when you’re allocated what can only be described as the press overflow area. When you can tell the filling of the bloke-in-front’s pie from the smell wafting back at you, you might as well be sitting with the fans. Last time I was here, for the single-goal defeat by Newcastle United last season, the atmosphere was electric but it was reflective of United’s poor start that splodges of empty red seats were visible in all four stands, even the Kop, which was very subdued. With the gusto of a gaggle of old folks at a funeral, they rabbled through Annie’s Song (I sang the Boston version) but then slumped back into indignant silence.

The game was gripping, even during a scoreless first-half. Burnley, backed by a sizeable and vocal contingent from across the Pennines, missed two golden chances through Andre Bikey, their commanding beast of a defender and striker Chris Iwelumo, whose slide and miss of a low Chris Eagles cross was reminiscent of that sitter he missed for Scotland last year. Man. United should have thought twice about parting company with Eagles, who was omnipresent and infinitely skilful here. In other words, easily as good as Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson or that Bebe guy.

But the real drama would follow in the second period: the Clarets built a two goal lead thanks to Dean Marney’s flick-header and Eagles’ penalty. On both occasions, the scorer rushed towards the delirious away support. Pulasta turned to me, taking in the scenes: ‘Wow, is that football hooliganism?’ Nah, nothing of the sort - that’s just a few pepped-up hoodies being squashed against an advertising hoarding.

There looked to be no route back for United, but they seemed to take heed of the sniping in the stands and bossed the remainder of the match. Daniel Bogdanovic robbed Tyrone Mears of possession for a gift of a goal and then sub Matt Lowton equalised. Those around us – you know, bona fide professional journalists with final whistle deadlines - started ripping up their copy, praying there wouldn’t be more twists.

They were mistaken. Jay Rodriguez restored Burnley’s lead in the 90th minute and the ground started to evacuate. The journos cursed and ripped up their copy again, re-writing leads with frenetic fingers. There was more. Mark Yeates, who was outstanding throughout, equalised in the 94th. More cursing, and with steam visibly wafting from their ears, those high pressure articles were re-drafted again. The bloke behind me bawled amendments down the phone. And this is the profession I want to enter... Course it is!

Next Match: More press box blagging at Sheffield Wednesday vs. AFC Bournemouth on Saturday      

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hyde FC 0 Boston United 3

This matchday panned out thus...

8.52 Hang on a minute, where the fuck am I? I don’t have a pink duvet. Haha lads, very funny. Hilarious prank. Oh, wait a minute, this is York. The birthday party. Ah right. Ah fuck, my head is still rocking. Have I got tinnitus? That music must have been loud. Where did I stash the Alka-Seltzer? Need to get out, must make the station or the whole day will come crashing down. Bye Charlotte. Take care.

9.56 Made the train. Loads of time. Massive York nostalgia wave. Miss the place. Miss the faces. Even time to gel my hair in the station toilets. Grim. Sheffield bound, then Manchester. Football calls again. Hyde against Boston. Hopefully be better than last week with no cross-country walks or rottweilers or Scousers.

10.01 Sat behind some Geordies. Standard mandatory noisy Saturday football train Geordies. On the Stella. Blocking the aisle. The refreshment trolley lady is getting peeved. God they’re loud. Wall of indecipherable words. Wait, there’s no top flight football today. Should I tell them? Where the hell are they going?

10.50 Sheffield. Coated in fog and gloom. It has a raw beauty this morning. Meet the first of the Andys: Mr. Acheson is in M&S. Scoff a Turkish delight.

11.12 Andy Pickwell makes a lung-busting run for the train. Makes it as the door snaps shut. Standing room only. Saturday morning shoppers. Matchday banter. Gossip. Team news. Something to do with lead.

12.15 Manchester. The sun is out, gonna be a beautiful afternoon. Train chaos – there’s a bull in the tunnel at Stalybridge. Chortle. More fast food. Into the bar. Pitchers of Stella. Sod it, hair of the dog. Hustle some pool.

13.48 Time to go to Hyde. Heard bad rumours. A sea of council estates. Dangerous. Inspired Shameless apparently. Can’t go. Train is cancelled. Driver hasn’t turned up. A Leeds fans regales us with tales of the bad old days. Real violence. Boston boot boys. Long gone.

14.35 Hyde. Not that bad. No bother. Short walk to the ground, handsome little venue is Ewen Fields. My first visit. Had to negotiate another motorway. Thankfully they had thought to put in a bridge this time.

14.55 Lots of familiar faces. Hank is here. On leave. He tries to hump me. JB and Jambo in the WonderCorsa. The Yoof. Plenty of noise. We seem up for it.

15.26 We’ve played well but not got the breakthrough. Hyde, second bottom at kick-off, have given a good account of themselves. That means Gainsborough are bottom. Chortle. Jason Lee looks sharp again. Good for a 39-year-old. Not missed a trick. Let’s get some noise going lads.

15.41 Yes!!! Newsham had opened the scoring. It’s been coming, we’ve had loads of corners. Slid the ball under the keeper. Beauty. Weir-Daley with the assist. Gives us the thumbs up.

15.57 Change ends. It’s too obvious. Manchester City have taken over. Their reserves play here. Sorry, scratch that – it’s their Elite Development Squad. Worth £200m no doubt. Advertising hoardings for Abu Dhabi and Etihad airlines. In the Conference North? Looks out of place.

16.24 God, their defence is carrying some weight. Number four is fridge. Number five is freezer. In fact, it’s like a line of white appliances. Still just the one goal, could do with another.

16.32 GOAL!!! Another stunner. Weir-Daley has deserved a goal. Liquid football. Points in the bag, nothing to fear now.

16.50 Another one! Icing on the cake. Danny Sleath from close range. Full voice now. 3-0. Right Hyde-ing. Too easy. I'll get my coat.

Next Match: Saturday – haven’t decided yet but Boston are at home to Stalybridge so will probably be either Sheffield United or Sheffield FC

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Chesterfield 2

(Wednesday win 8-7 on penalties)

And so my Sheffield stadium tour led inevitably to Hillsborough, which remains a striking monument to the game even in its 111th year and is surely one of the most atmospheric venues in England. The Wednesday Tango band, with its tootling brass instruments and deep, ominous drum, might be as divisive as Marmite but on nights like this, when every beat echoed off the patches of empty blue seats on the Kop, their worth in creating a booming atmosphere for what seems a mundane occasion is obvious.

Since previous visits to Bramall Lane far outnumbered trips to Hillsborough, I tried to redress the balance by joining a gaggle of friends made so far at university in attending the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round ‘derby’ with Chesterfield. Johnstone’s Paint Trophy? Chesterfield? Derby? Many people would turn their noses up at the mere suggestion but it turned out to be one of the most gripping matches I’ve ever seen. I also have a new hero in Nicky Weaver – who would have thought that?

Ducking and diving between a hectic schedule of lectures and seminars, we found a quiet couple of hours and darted up to the stadium in the morning, optimistic that the well-publicised concessionary seats of £2.50 and £5 would be abundantly available. Sadly, we were mistaken. “Prices went up to £10 for all tickets yesterday at 5pm, so your student card won’t be any use,” we were told by a dry-tongued Megastore employee. What a bizarre way of operating. Like they were ever going to sell out. You would think they were in some kind of financial difficulty or something. Well, we destitute students thought, we’ve come this far so let’s take a punt. Thank goodness we did.

The JP Trophy is much-maligned, usually seen as little more than a nuisance for managers already trying to juggle threadbare squads in a marathon 46-game league. It changes sponsor every two years and has weird early kick-off times so fans can get away from the scene as soon as possible. If the carrot of a Wembley appearance at the season’s end wasn’t in place, it would be a glorified reserve team cup. Boston used to field a second string in this competition, which just about says it all. Even Sky were embarrassed to be there, having noticed at short notice the small print in their Football League contrast required live coverage of a match from both regions each round.

I believe the Trophy could be spiced up by adding a Europa League place for the winners. Imagine the irrepressible smiles on the faces of folk from Macclesfield or *insert any generic lower league outpost* waiting to see which Eastern Bloc country they will be travelling to on a balmy evening in late July. Macc in Moldova, Rotherham drawn away in Riga, Stockport travelling to Skopje. Ok, ok, it was a stupid idea...

But you would have thought a place in group stages of the Champions League was at stake by the approach of these two sides to this contest. High octane and often gung-ho, the first-half was played out with a rhythm almost in tandem with the incessant Kop drumming. Wednesday’s season was all here, in a neat little vignette: confident when in possession, zipping the ball around and beyond their League Two opponents on the bowling green surface, but then looking dangerously susceptible to direct runs from midfield and all-too-often guilty of leaving acres of room for Chesterfield’s greedy attack to exploit.

Inevitably then, the visitors took the lead through Dean Morgan after ten minutes, only for Neil Mellor to restore parity with a tap-in almost instantly. Chesterfield, roared on by 4,000 fans who packed the upper tier of the away end, tested Weaver, the former Manchester City and Charlton Athletic stopper, on a couple of occasions and also reduced Wednesday to half-chances.

Remarkably, the second period continued at the same pace, with chances continuing to flow and the atmosphere, by now happily resorting to vitriol against the ‘swine’ on the other side of the city, grew and grew. The decisive action, however, didn’t arrive until the last ten: nerves had risen with the noise and when Craig Davies, who had a brilliant game, restored Chesterfield’s lead there was a palpable attitude of resignation. But Alan Irvine has introduced some measure of Scottish substance and the local hero Marcus Tudgay snatched an equaliser in the nick of time – following up his own penalty, which had been blocked by Tommy Lee.

And so to penalties. I racked my brain to see if I had ever seen a live penalty shoot-out. Certainly not at United, though I did vaguely recall a United Counties League Cup match at Boston Town when I was told off by an official for pulling distracting faces at the opposition penalty takers and forced to move to one side of the goal. It seems daft now. The shoot-out was a marathon in itself, with both teams going through their entire teams. It wasn’t exactly a masterclass in the art either, with Wednesday missing no less than three times, only to be rescued by the redoubtable Weaver. Even from 30 rows back, you could see him puffing out his cheeks after seeing his team-mate miss. ‘Oh, fine then. Leave it to me. AS USUAL. Tsk tsk.’ To cap a fine display, he then converted the decisive kick, sparking delirious scenes and that very Wednesday habit of the mini pitch invasion. Ace.

What a night. I’ll certainly be back.

Next Match: Hyde FC vs. Boston United (Saturday)       

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Vauxhall Motors 0 Boston United 0

Having negotiated snaking queues for the ticket machines, stressed southerners with whiney accents trying to escape THAT miserable north, red-faced and heavy-panting station staff, and general all-round British Rail incompetence, merely getting to the train was half the battle won on this awayday at Vauxhall Motors. Or so I imagined. It turned out to be one of the more intrepid, if not inspiring, trips of the season to date.

Vauxhall Motors, who must have the most flagrantly commercial name of any football club in the country, can also pitch a good claim to having one of the most inaccessible grounds. Perhaps if I’d asked, they would have done me a good deal on a second-hand Vectra, but for now I’m a travelling supporter at the mercy of the railways and reaching Rivacre Park is a bit of an adventure to say the least.

Alighting at Hooton station after mingling with legions of Tranmere-supporting scallies on Merseyrail’s tram-cum-underground-cum-light rail, initial impressions were positive. One moment, this part of the Wirral seemed quaint and friendly, with expensive-looking properties and homely pubs at regular intervals. The next, I was attracting the attention of some vicious-looking Rottweilers in a derelict farmer’s yard, squelching through ankle-deep mud in my hasty retreat back to the country lane from which I had mistakenly strayed. Not the ground, then.

Nike trainers caked in mud, I soldiered on down narrow roads, trying to recall the pedestrian section of the Highway Code. Suddenly confronted with the thundering traffic of the M53, I was convinced I had gone badly off course. Not quite on the hard shoulder, though I might as well have been, I spied the entrance to the ground about 200 yards ahead. Weary from my adventure, I hugged the grass verge and trekked expectantly towards the white welcome sign, which shone like a beacon in the October Merseyside gloom.

Watching Wigan Athletic against Wolves on a dodgy Albanian satellite hook-up (this is Merseyside, after all) in the, ahem, Astra Lounge, our valiant band compared stories. Adam Hallgarth, who had set off pre-dawn from Basingstoke, had landed at another nearby station and was wandering around on a local golf course in great danger of missing kick-off when he was mercifully rescued by a passing group of Pilgrims fans sensible enough to have travelled by car. Not for the faint-hearted is Vauxhall Motors away.

Rivacre Park was, as anticipated, nothing special. This was my third jaunt onto Merseyside to watch football and, with the previous two visits being rather contrasting experiences at Anfield and The Arriva Stadium, Marine, I was safe in my assumption that this would be more similar to the latter than the former. With decent-looking stands along most of each side, the ground is more than adequate for Vauxhall’s current needs though. Boston provided probably just over 100 of the 277 crowd, with the remainder being spotty local scallies clothed in Adidas designs from the mid-1990s hen-picked by dysfunctional mothers from local charity shops.

United welcomed Jason Lee back into the starting eleven for the first time in five years and, although the pineapple locks have long since disappeared – as befitting a man about to enter his fourth decade – his aerial prowess remains. I observed Lee win all but one of the headers he went for but he does have a tendency to lean in vigorously to challenges and, on this evidence, I predict he will score 15 goals and be booked 49 times this season. He will also be caught offside 657 times, which is impressive for his age.

Trouble is, there is now an overwhelming temptation to lump the ball forward to him without forethought. The fluid football witnessed last season and fleetingly in the early stages of this campaign might as well now be extinct. Lee shouldn’t be the only focal point of United’s attack and he shouldn’t keep Spencer Weir-Daley out of the side. We need to retain pace down the flanks and strive to keep possession, not hoof the ball forward repetitively.  

United should have come away with three points, despite an uninspiring display. The official, who either re-defined the compliment baby-faced or is genuinely revising for his Key Stage Three SATs at the moment, failed to spot a couple of handballs in the second-half and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. Perhaps the Motors Massive had taken his hub caps hostage. The best chance came right at the death: Lee slipped in Danny Sleath, who was clean through, but Vauxhall keeper Scott Tynan, who I believe fits window wipers on the production line, spread himself to ensure stalemate.

Next Match: Most likely Sheffield Wednesday vs. Chesterfield in the world-renowned knockout competition that is the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, or Hyde FC vs. Boston United on Saturday