Monday, 20 September 2010

Alfreton Town 0 Boston United 1

There have been many quirky experiences on the road following Boston United, but in terms of all-out, all-day fun and frolics, Saturday’s trip to Alfreton will take a fair bit of beating. And I wasn’t even there for the most part. The 1-0 victory, which ended the Derbyshire side’s perfect start to the season, was merely the icing on the cake during a brilliant day which never stopped kicking.

In my spare time, when not following Boston, I’m a student and this day already assumed huge significance for me, being the day I moved into new digs to start my postgraduate Journalism degree at the University of Sheffield. The mission was clear: get to Sheffield, get rid of the parents (after a good feed of course in some random local restaurant) and hot-foot it to Alfreton which, in the context of Sheffield, was mercifully one of the closer away days in this league.

Everything ran like clockwork – the car was rammed with a life’s collection of clutter and we were on country roads by nine, reaching the Steel City in record time. Keys were collected, tentative introductions with flatmates exchanged, stuff unloaded into draws, cupboards and wardrobes, celebratory beers imbibed and a gorgeous plate of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (what else?) scoffed in what can only be described as the north’s answer to the Gastropub (alles with gravy). Mum and Dad dispatched, the break for the border was on!

Running the gauntlet of charity busy-bodies and street entertainers on stilts and long poles, I weaved through Sheffield’s handsomely regenerated core and down to the station, legging it onto the Norwich cross-country service just before the doors snapped shut. Thanks to a short-sighted conductor I made it to the Peak District ex-colliery town as the clock struck two, making for The Station pub to meet the usual suspects, who had trained it from Boston with their beer crates.

As I crossed the precipice, most of the group dashed out into the rear beer garden. In a state of bemusement, I had checked my face was still in place, armpits were dry and I wasn’t inadvertently wearing red and white. Then I realised the reason for the escape. One member of our party, let’s call him SW, had unleashed a vomcano of dried hops and barley across the pub carpet. Oh dear, it’s fair to say we might avoid The Station public house, Alfreton in future – the memories are frankly too embarrassing.

The train crew was impressive – six or seven regular faces – plus a neat Yoof firm in various shades of Adidas. Together, we made the short, though utterly perplexing, walk to the Impact Arena taking especial care to preserve the peace and quiet of the residential streets and definitely not concocting songs about permitting Ryan Semple to shag our wives. Alfreton had decided segregation was necessary with this being a top-of-the-table clash but weren’t very well versed in it – the 500 travelling fans had to summon all their intellectual power to find the right street, then they had to negotiate a cross-country trail to find a crumbling turnstile suitable only for demolition, and then find they were housed in a tiny corner of the, ahem, Arena. Poor show Alfreton – we’re obviously too Billy Big Time. They’ll need to improve their game if they reach the Conference.

Before claustrophobic conditions in the away end, a fairly entertaining opening half unfolded with it quickly becoming apparent why Alfreton had won eight from eight. In everything from their passing to their closing down in defence, they were superior to any side we had hitherto encountered and, worryingly, they looked capable of opening our defence at will. Nathan Arnold was their outstanding player and he struck the inside of James McKeown’s post, before Anthony Wilson squandered a gilt-edged chance from no more than six yards out, shooting tamely into the keeper’s clutches.

United took a firmer grip in the second-half, playing more expansively and adventurously. The fans, too, had more room in which to breathe – with the Alfreton ‘Ultras’ herded to the other side of the ground, the available space was expanded and United filled their run-down shed with pleasure and great noise. The game was won on two magnificent moments – first, Shaun Pearson fouled Anton Brown. Even from 100 yards away, it looked generous but penalty it was. Arnold opted for the cool approach, hitting his spot-kick tamely into the arms of McKeown, who was able to delay a second and then guess correctly. We went bonkers.

Minutes later, it got even better. Danny Sleath strode purposefully towards the angle of the box, cut inside past a challenge and rifled the ball home. We went even more bonkers – what a smash and grab. It turned out to be our only shot on target all game, but it was enough. Alfreton released wave after wave of late pressure and how United survived I’m not entirely sure. It was a classic, battling Boston performance and underlined how far we’ve come under Rob Scott and Paul Hurst.

Unable to resist, we rejected the invitation of sharing our post-match pints with brooding Alfreton fans and returned to The Station. Surprisingly, we were allowed in though SW had long since legged it to the station. Delighted by the result, I concluded it was only right to get a few more drinks down. After all, I was a student again!

Next Match: FA Cup Second Qualification Round – I might go to Sheffield FC vs. Northwich Victoria or New Mills vs. Harrogate Town, haven’t decided yet.   

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