Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sheffield FC 2 Northwich Victoria 2

Nah, the title isn’t some almighty typo; I did attend a game not involving Boston United this Saturday. Also, I have not suffered any debilitating withdrawal symptoms, so the blog shall continue. My first full Saturday at the University of Sheffield and, with the Pilgrims hosting Worcester City in the FA Cup, I was forced to choose from a decent selection of local games for my football fix. Sheffield Wednesday were at home to Southampton and Rotherham were hosting Chesterfield in a League Two local skirmish but, as someone who still has a rose-tinted perception of the world’s oldest cup competition and who had spent the week indulging his penchant for expensive continental lager served in funky glasses, I decided to reject the bright lights and instead go hunting for the romance of the cup in Dronfield.

As the majority of football supporters know, and as they never tire of telling us, Sheffield FC are the world’s oldest football club. They were founded in the reign of Henry VIII or thereabouts and boast the world’s longest unbeaten run by several decades because they were forced to play amongst themselves in the absence of any other teams. They have survived two world wars unscathed, not to mention the Crimean War, the Boer War and the English Civil War. In addition to this, they have a signed shirt by Pele, a certificate from Sepp Blatter and Def Leppard once watched them play Shepshed Dynamo or something.

Upon landing at Dronfield station, the first thing encountered was a group of German gentlemen jabbering excitedly, scratching heads and looking at a map in a very inefficient way. A group of backpackers, no doubt, hiking around the peaks. Or perhaps some orienteerers consulting Ordnance Survey to locate Das Jugendherberge. Alas, no, they too were searching for football’s soul and the magic of the cup. The St. Pauli patches and “Und so, wo ist de football stadium?” gave it away I suppose. I’d been here just once before – when United won 3-2 here in pre-season – but over-confident in my sense of direction and obviously carrying the comportment of someone who dines on Bovril on a regular basis, I strode on up the hill and they followed without hesitation.

The BT Local Business Stadium is, despite the hideous name, a pleasant enough venue and is adjoined by a fine pub in the Coaches and Horses, which even serves at half-time. Behind one end, nearest the turnstiles, is a small seated stand, while a small, covered terrace runs along half of one side. There is a nice and traditional scoreboard in one corner, which is updated manually, though they had struggled to find the staff to work it during the summer. It’s a big enough venue for the club’s needs, regardless of their immense heritage, and I could only hope my German friends knew beforehand what to expect and hadn’t tragically mixed up their United from their Wednesday from their non-league.

Personally, however, I find the place rather hazardous. In pre-season, we had been sat in the pub beer garden when a hoofed ball from the warm-up cleared the roof and smashed into our table, only a miracle preventing an orgy of smashed glass, spilt lager and cut legs. This time, the bastards got me. Sat in the seated bit with about ten minutes until kick-off, innocently absorbing the unique aroma of mint imperials and 50,000 varieties of pie that comes with the Cup in South Yorkshire, my face was picked out by a 40-yard howitzer. Not blessed with the most attractive visage and not entirely keen on nursing a fat lip through swarms of early evening Sheffield revellers, I used my phone as protection. It flew about three rows forward and landed with a sickening crunch. Retrieving it seconds before an opportunistic northern scaly, I was relieved to see it had survived without so much as a scratch. Another miracle. Better watch my teeth next time I go down there.

Northwich had travelled in decent numbers, as you would expect from a table-topping side playing someone in the league below (Evo-Stick Premier and Evo-Stick Division One South for the record) though vocally they were uninspired, alternating lamely between ‘C’mon Northwich’ and the slightly more elaborate ‘Come on you yellows.’ They had probably expected a comfortable afternoon against a Sheffield side not exactly setting their league alight but soon found themselves bogged down in a good old-fashioned cup tie. Callum Harrison put the hosts into a 29th-minute lead with a volley which would have graced any round of this old competition, only for Andy Fowler to equalise with a composed finish into the bottom right-hand corner shortly before the break.  

Sheffield had battled well, but when John McAliskey capitalised on a defensive error from Scott Lowe to put the visitors into a 2-1 lead, you sensed their fighting spirit might have been exhausted. Far from it: Northwich’s keeper James Spencer had already saved brilliantly from David Graham, before the striker did find the net to force a replay on Tuesday night. The smattering of hardcore – average age probably 70 – applauded with all the vigour of twenty-somethings, a few shouts of “Sheffield” went up from proud Yorkshiremen and others even turned down their radio commentaries of United and Wednesday to rejoice. Sheffield go into the famous velvet bag then, and I wish them well in their replay. Refreshed by that inexplicable ‘ol Cup magic, I’ll definitely make another trip to Dronfield soon.     

Next Match: Possibly Sheffield Wednesday vs. Oldham Athletic on Tuesday. If not, Vauxhall Motors vs. Boston United on Saturday

p.s. In the unlikely event that anyone reading this blog has suddently transformed into a passionate Boston United supporter and has started hurling objects at their computer screen because this post does not mention their score, there is valid reason for this. United were beaten 3-2 at home by fellow Conference North side Worcester City and have, therefore, been dumped out of the FA Cup at the second qualification round stage for the second successive season. By all accounts, the performance was dreadful - perhaps I'm actually a lucky charm.  


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