Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Hot-shot Shaun Pearson split the teams on the half-hour, but Eastwood were unfortunate not to get back on the A52 without a point. I suppose we mustn’t grumble: life in the Conference North isn’t all nine-goal thrillers and five wins from six have proven conclusively that we can compete in this company. Just as well that the defence and midfield are supplying goals as the strikeforce – popular scapegoat Danny Davidson in particular – look pretty rusty at times here.
Pre-match topics of discussion included the forthcoming Boston United Gentlemen’s Evening which, for the fiver admission, presumably includes a pint of Batemans XB and some kind of meat pie dish for the trauma of receiving a lap dance from Luscious Linda of Lincolnshire or Big Booty Brenda of Boston. I just found out I’m busy that evening...
The occasion wasn’t helped by an atrocious referee, who wasn’t so much pedantic but purely shite. He failed to spot a couple of handballs the average punter could see from 80 yards, at one point refused to allow the Boston physio on to the field to treat Spencer Weir-Daley and conjured seven minutes of stoppage time. If Eastwood had equalised in those dying moments, the home reaction would have made the riots of 2004 look like a pub car park bitch fight. He clearly didn’t trust his assistant either, endangering their friendship by overruling on a number of occasions despite blatantly being wrong himself. It’s fair to assume he didn’t make many new friends in Boston and when he stood facing a Town End bellowing ‘W**ker” at him in unison it must have crossed his mind that he could have been watching Bond on ITV.
But the performance of Mr. Newbold produced one wonderful moment – the return of the mad Cockney Controller who featured once or twice in my former blog on the brink of cardiac arrest in sheer exasperation at the standard of non-league officiating. The timing was perfect: as the crowd momentarily silenced, he launched another tirade – “Facking Hell, weferee, you’re ‘aving a facking laugh” he squealed, left arm waving about frantically to emphasise his ire. Everyone laughed. His crusade to improve the standard of step two refereeing is admirable but he really shouldn’t be getting so animated at his age.
Get us back on the road, please, we need more excitement in our lives.
Next Match: Corby Town vs. Boston United (Saturday 4th September)
Sunday, 29 August 2010
Last Saturday’s 9-0 win at Redditch was a fine performance (how could be anything else, it was 9-0) but the edge was taken off by Tuesday night’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to Nuneaton. So we’d be content with a solid display and a point from Harrogate then? Hell no. This was one of the most bizarre games I have ever parted with hard-earned cash to watch – how often do you score six goals away from home and come away feeling flat and negative?
It was nice to be heading north again. The previous couple of trips had taken us into unfamiliar hinterland territory known mysteriously as The Midlands, forcing latitudinal nose bleeds, navigational malfunctions caused by unfamiliar motorways and a requirement to speak properly. So it was pleasant to step out of the WonderCorsa at the CNG Stadium (I mis-read it as the CND but then remembered this was, of course, Yorkshire) and hear people omitting the definitive article, watching rugby league in the bar and actually understanding what was going on, and seeing a nice slope to the playing surface in the general direction of Wetherby. As Monsieur Pickwell pointed out, the touchline had been neatly trimmed, edged and hoed for the local twilight activity of ferret racing – clearly an example that commercialism in football has got out of control.
But with this being a new, superior division we had arrived in posh Yorkshire – an area of cream cakes, afternoon tea and country pursuits, not slag heaps, Bovril and grounds sponsored by the GMB. Harrogate had looked nice from the train on my sole previous visit and when I have more time, I would like to return and have a proper look. Maybe have a civilised cup of tea and a scone, instead of lager and a packet of KP nuts.
It’s worth dwelling on the action because it was an extraordinary first-half. Clearly being affiliated with Boston leaves a lasting, affectionate impression to judge by Harrogate’s defending. Matt Bloomer is an ex-Pilgrim, a name to forget from the last time we were in this league, unceremoniously dumped there by the FA, in 2007-2008. His nickname of Captain Clean doesn’t derive from an extra part in that Hollyoaks-style Daz advert but his refusal, game-after-game, to muddy his shirt by making a tackle for the cause. He didn’t last long at York Street and clearly hasn’t done any better for himself since. His ability was neatly summed up when, in the second-half, the Harrogate goalkeeper, whose sideline banter was well-practised, rolled out the ball to Bloomer and then buried his head in his hands in instant regret at what he had done. Captain Clean spooned the ball out of play, vindicating the general lack of faith in him. Alongside Daz-man was Richard Pell, a player born in Boston who went to my school, and Dominic Roma, a name from our Football League past who probably got a ten-minute run-out away at Chester on Tuesday night and little more but sticks in the mind because of his semi-continental name. Their generosity was quite befitting of Yorkshire.
Bloomer was left standing, as expected, for the opener as Shaun Pearson soared to send a header into the top corner before Pell, evidently daydreaming about a happy childhood in south Lincolnshire, gave something back with a bullet header own goal. Danny Davidson, who was meant to win the aerial duel with Pell but didn’t bother to jump, or indeed any centre forward, would have been very proud of the finish. Jamie Yates turned in the third before hot-shot Anthony Church added a fourth. Well, I assume these events occurred. I have had to rely on hearsay and various excitable and jumbled soundbites because I couldn’t see the goal line from where I was standing. It could have been one giant charade for all I know. I looked at my watch, attuned to Yorkshire time. Only 23 minutes had been played.
Before thoughts of eclipsing the nine scored last week could take root, Harrogate pulled one back through Liam Hardy. A posh-looking lady wearing a bonnet in the executive seating started got to her feet and started swaying like Delia. A steward with water retention told us she was wearing the hat to support a breast cancer charity. We felt instant remorse for loudly taking the piss out of her.
Spencer Weir-Daley’s gangsta walk looked a little laboured when forced to compensate for the right-wing incline but he had enough energy to notch the fifth and Semple, who had the freedom of the county on his flank, scored a sixth on the other side of Adam Nowakowski’s reply for Yorkshire. It was only just half-time, what a thriller. It was 6-2 if you’ve lost count.
Some quite improbably scorelines were being bandied about at the interval (10-2, 10-3, 7-6, 8-8) and you wouldn’t have been surprised with any of them. In the end, it was 45 minutes of absolute garbage. Boston found attacking uphill a bit too much and only made two chances, giving the 200+ travelling fans who had conquered some kind of car park (sorry, stand), very little to shout about. The game fell into monotony, highlighted only by chit-chat with the home goalkeeper and picking some chipped white paint off a fence, and it was little surprise when Hardy scored again to make it 6-3. Nine goals for the second Saturday in succession then, but it felt nowhere near as good this time.
Next Match: Boston United vs. Eastwood Town (Monday 30st August)
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Nuneaton Town (they seem to have lost their Borough status – bit embarrassing for them) had the kind of negative tactics last seen on Sunday afternoons on Channel Four circa 1998 but how effective it proved. Time wasting and petulance were the order of the day, like Lecce or Chievo defending an early lead in the San Siro back in those good old Football Italia days, and how it riled us up.
Assuming our accustomed vantage point at the back of the Town End at Mecca, you couldn’t escape a feeling of being a little bit old. There were kids everywhere, like a local scout group had booked out the terrace for a jamboree or the youth centres of all the surrounding villages had been emptied for the night or the Pied Piper has started supporting Boston. It was like the scene from The Inbetweeners when Jay, Will and the others walk into the under-16s disco. I would like to believe it was a well-merited treat after gaining their five A*-C GCSEs but you could tell just by looking at some of the faces it simply wasn’t.
And then they emerged. Sheepishly at first until they could hide their shame no longer, lining up in the requisite Champions League-style line for the Fair Play handshakes (we’re still waiting for the official Conference North anthem). Nuneaton were sporting the most unashamedly pink kit you will ever see. Not a pastel shade, not fuchsia, not even Dulux salmon. Not like that Juventus away kit or Palermo who can pull it off because they’re Italian and innately stylish. This was full-on fluorescent, high-vis, road safety pink as though the manager’s highlighter pen had got into the club’s laundry. The substitutes refused to wear it. There were howls of laughter from the tolerant Boston public. It was bloody hilarious.
Sadly, Nuneaton’s weak grasp of all things sartorial just made it all the more humiliating when they did a job on us. United had dominated the first-half but, aside from a few glimpses (notably when Jamie Yates dispatched a daisy-cutter a couple of inches past the upright) they struggled against a well-drilled visiting defence. And when Lee Moore headed home from close range on 12 minutes, you sensed it would be one of those nights for the majority of the healthy 1681 crowd.
United huffed and puffed, occasionally blowing their top when the pink shirts would shepherd the ball into the corner or just lash it into the car park to eek away another few precious seconds. Goalkeeper Danny Alcock had an indecisive strain and his lengthy deliberations about where to aim goal kicks became a real focus of anger for the home fans (I mean just close your eyes and aim). Their second was dead jammy; a cross from the left pinballed in front of James McKeown’s goal before ricocheting off Guy Hadland’s arse into the net. Miles Hunter’s late reply was just too little, too late.
Boston don’t take defeat well - perhaps we’ve been spoilt too much lately - and promises were aired to ‘take a big mob to their place on Easter Monday and show ‘em what a proper following looks like.’ I bet they’re bricking it already, building up their fences, locking up their daughters. When the initial disappointment subsides, however, we must realise that is our first home defeat since last December (you could say it has been a fortress here at York Street but that’s probably hyperbole when you’re playing Ossett, Durham and generic shit northern FC) and that’s a half-decent record in anyone’s book.
Next Match: Harrogate Town vs. Boston United (Saturday 28th August)
Monday, 23 August 2010
The 9-0 win gave new definition to the terrace favourite ‘It’s so f**king easy.’ It was apparently United’s record away league victory (surpassing even the days spent in the local leagues during the sixties) and it was certainly a record away win in the Conference North (although this is a bit of a misnomer because the league has only existed a few years). It was an afternoon when any one of our eleven, our bench, our management, our directors and, in all likelihood, our supporters could have scored. It might be clichéd, but I genuinely would have put money on my Nan (with her 90% titanium hips) grabbing a goal against a defence so generous they should be immediately shipped off to the South Pacific on a missionary errand.
The road trip to this particular Birmingham satellite town required a good three hours (including the inevitable Burger King – national free onion ring day = result! - and other, miscellaneous comfort breaks) with the WonderCorsa motoring along at a steady 60, the greatest hits of Oasis on a constant loop. By the time Liam Gallagher was wailing Champagne Supernova for the sixth time, we were picking our way between the monotonous landscape of multi-storey car parks and high-rise flats, both gloomily pebble-dashed in the sixties style, that consist the place of Redditch.
It’s fair to say The Valley Stadium needs some love and after the pleasant surprise of Hinckley’s ground the other night, this was a bit of a return to non-league reality. The covered terrace behind one goal (a smaller replica of the David Longhurst at York City) stood opposite a peculiar temporary all-seater stand last seen at the Henley Royal Regatta, Crufts or the sheep herding pen at a generic county show. It had quite a dangerous lean and I imagine in the gale-force winds of mid-December spectators might want to seriously think twice about using it. Behind it was a grass bank which had been horticulturally neglected long enough to be thick with brambles and nettles – bit of a throwback to Stocksbridge last season, though at least Redditch didn’t consider it part of the accommodation.
To be honest, the hospitality was excellent. A spread of sandwiches, sausage rolls and other savoury items was provided for the ravenous travelling supporters in the cosy clubhouse, while the home support, despite being pretty small, was superb. They continued to sing even after Ryan Semple had scored our ninth with their Ultras’ Greatest Hits repertoire spliced with a handful of FC United songs. I stick by my belief that Ultras staple Dale Cavese can only be performed when you have a full stand, however, though Redditch gave it a commendable go. Frankly, with such loyal support, you would have thought the players might have tried a little harder.
Nouse Sports love child Henry Cowen joined the Pilgrims support for the afternoon, having come round the mountain from Bromsgrove and I’m tempted to finance his travel to a few more matches, such was the good fortune he brought. When dug-out couple Rob Scott and Paul Hurst said in pre-season there would be no repeats of last season’s trouncings, I think we all believed them but here we are, forced to reconsider. Slavedriver Scott might have even cracked the briefest hint of a smile at the final whistle for the cameras before, no doubt, going into the changing rooms and lambasting his players for not reaching double figures or misplacing a through ball in the second minute or muddying their shorts.
Four minutes in and United were gifted the opening goal – Miles Hunter harassed home goalkeeper and general liability James Meredith into a spooned clearance and Danny ‘The Unit’ Davidson produced a quite sublime chip into the unguarded goal from 30 yards. There was a palpable pause before the celebrations from the 200-odd away fans as we mentally verified whether the scorer was someone other than Anthony Church and from that kind of distance, indeed Davidson.
A brace from Shaun Pearson and a header from free-scoring Church settled the game as a contest before the half-hour, before Hunter didn’t let a small thing like a twisted ankle hinder him, making it five on the stroke of half-time. I’ve seen Boston take some hidings in the past, but never in this class, and you really have to wonder what words of encouragement even the most happy-go-lucky manager could muster in this situation. Your goalkeeper is struggling to grasp the objective of the sport, let alone the round thing bouncing around, your back four have the aerial command of Bilbo Baggins, your midfield are taking industrial action and the strike partnership are playing like they haven’t been introduced.
Well, whatever was said, it most certainly didn’t work as Church headed home the sixth within four minutes of the re-start. This was our cue to move from the temporary seating scaffold thing to a position adjacent to the Redditch Ultras, purely in the interests of atmosphere, not a ruckus. The stewards tried to stop us going further than the corner but it wasn’t our intended destination that was the problem, more our manner of getting there. Turns out several of our supporters had formed a conga line. Some had removed their shirts. Both of these things are obviously EVIL.
A few exposed nipples were getting hardened in the incessant rain by the time substitute Spencer Weir-Daley tapped in the seventh and further late strikes from Davidson and Semple left the Boston followers in a state of naked, hoarse, sweaty, wondrous disbelief. What an afternoon.
You could say we were on cloud nine. That’s awful, sorry.
Next Match: Boston United vs. Nuneaton Borough (Tuesday 24th August)
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
And so as I once more assumed the navigator role, clutching an on-the-turn can of Carlsberg Export and glaring blankly at a sheet of Google Map instructions, in JB’s blue Corsa as we scorched through the south Lincolnshire countryside with some Hardcore Trance blaring out of the stereo and yelling expletives at doddery drivers, it truly felt as though the season had begun. As usual Jamie Lawson (who will be a regular feature of this blog – on this occasion confidently predicting he could blag his way through the under-16s turnstile despite proudly sporting a full beard) was splayed across the back seat enjoying every hilarious moment.
The Corsa has been a trusty steed in the last few seasons despite some obvious flaws – the oil gauge hasn’t moved since about 2004, the fuel indicator is comfortably a quarter-tank away from accuracy and some days the red light simply doesn’t go out, it lurches scarily to the right on motorways, the speedo is just plain wrong and you can’t see the floors for all the accumulated crap from three season’s worth of road trips. We once gathered enough change from the depths of this five-gear dustbin to pay the Humber Bridge toll. And we can now add to the list tyres that are shredded to f**k after I deliberately ignored a panoply of Road Closed signs somewhere between Grantham and Melton Mowbray. Yet, it has never once failed us. We always get there.
|A challenge, not an instruction|
Advance Twitter Intel suggested the bar was ‘swanky’ and upon crossing the threshold we were greeted with a mammoth queue. Wow, this club is not only swanky and well-supported as well. Not quite, for the queue was actually all Boston supporters desperately seeking liquid refreshment from a sole, pretty flustered barman. When the line started troubling the car park outside, he must have slammed the panic alarm for a cavalry of three barmaids came running to save him. The travelling support was sizeable - probably the best part of 200 in a crowd of 615 - and there were many familiar faces along with others whom quite frankly I had never seen before in my Pilgrims-supporting life. Among them Andy Pickwell, who also blogs on here and, unlike me, actually bothers to talk about the game.
For the second time in 50-odd hours, Anthony Church was the match-winning hero, tapping in from close range after Miles Hunter, Davidson’s strike partner for the evening, had shown great persistence to square the ball across goal. It was more than enough to earn a second successive win and I racked my brains while waiting out the automobile mêlée in the car park after the final whistle as to the last time I had seen us lose. It was at Whitby on March 24th - my 21st birthday when I had travelled four hours there and four hours back to see us lose 2-0. As you do.
Six points from six. Easy this football lark, isn’t it?
Next match: Redditch United vs. Boston United (Saturday 21st August)
Monday, 16 August 2010
|Welcome to Mecca|
So where was I before being so rudely interrupted?
I did have another blog on here - The Pilgrim - which like a half-thought-out Christmas present from an elderly relative, I made a big token fuss of initially but quickly grew bored of having to think of something meaningful to contribute to it every few days. And in the intervening two years, it would seem BlogSpot has entered into an unholy civil partnership with Google and, not being one to easily remember password and e-mail combinations, it can rot in the online ether along with Bebo, Chinese search engines and American confidentiality. RIP. Fresh enthusiasm and a fresh start here, then.
I remember where I was now – wading through piles of Titertape, celebrating a barely-mentionable single-goal win against Cammell Laird at York Street, breathing a mammoth sigh of relief that we all still had a club to support. Northern Premier was just about tolerable, it wasn’t where we wanted to be but it would do for now, while we found our feet again, restoring the Good Ship Pilgrim to a healthier condition with a new rudder and a couple of coats of paint. Kendal, Guiseley, Ossett, Frickley, Matlock and the rest of the northern tinpots– they weren’t attractive grounds to visit, they weren’t attractive teams to play but it was a million times better than Mickleover, Woodley Sports, Emley and Spalding, and immeasurably better than Old Leake, Kirton, Butterwick and Wyberton. And how the Boxing Day derby with Hucknall or Stocksbridge was better than Stamford or Grantham. And where the f**k is Quorn anyway?
But then it transpired that we were better than all this. We were better all along, we were big time after all in this company, we had just needed the right leadership – a spark. Suddenly we shunned kick and rush in favour of pass and move, we had players with pace, or speed enough for this standard at least. We travelled like we had always done, and in large numbers, but it was no longer in hope. Soon we EXPECTED to come away with three points, we expected good football. It was all happening too fast. We went to places where we had been soundly beaten just months earlier (Nantwich, Guiseley, Ashton) and won handsomely. We went to other places and played them off the park (Durham, Ossett, Hucknall, Worksop). We ate pies and pasties in every county of the north, with gravy, peas and sauce – the pastry was soggy and the fillings not exactly prime but when you’re pissed and winning, who cares? We dented the crap out of corrugated iron in every corner of this land, we tussled with gap-toothed local inbreds (Lowestoft, Stocksbridge), we played in rain, fog, snow and sun before handsome seated stands, bare terraces, eight-foot high fences and the odd grass bank. And we kept winning.
|You should have seen the webbed feet...|
I made 32 games in 2009-2010, the majority away from home. Every week I stretched my student budget to the last penny on train fares, admission prices, petrol money, Burger Kings, programmes and all the other paraphernalia associated with following your team. I missed just three away matches: Quorn because it was literally impossible to get back to York without checking in to the nearest Premier Inn, Durham (second time round) because my bank balance read just the pence column and, frustratingly, the Play-off final with Bradford Park Avenue because I was leading my student newspaper sports team over in Lancaster. It would have been a massive liberty, but I regret not being in those celebrations. In a few years, I’m certain I’ll look back fondly on a golden year in my life when everything seemed to come together, and I’m sorry I didn’t have the time to write about it all. Sadly, the pressures of a final year at university precluded the time.
But here we were again. A new season, a new hope. A new league with a new roster of places to visit. A few new faces to get the regulars excited, a new set of kits to model. Thankfully, some things don’t change and as I sat in Wetherspoons gazing out at God’s piss-poor impression of the Great British Summer with Mr. James Housam (reliably offending sensibilities since 1989, his ribald remarks now at British Army strength) and Mr. James Broughton (a man so excited about the new campaign that he has taken to referring to York Street stadium as Mecca and gets a tingle down the spine when Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are back in Town comes on the radio) it was hard to escape the warm glow of the football being back. They will be a regular part of my Dramatis Personae this season.
|I can confirm that the boys were, indeed, back in town|
A decade or so ago, Sky Sports ran a new season advert campaign which has stuck in my memory. It simply pictured an octogenarian standing on an anonymous terrace, a line pointing to each of the wrinkles and imperfections on his face. Each was labelled: relegations x 4, failed European campaign ’86, play-off failure x 5, last-day escapes, championship success ’95 etc. Why fight it, we’re all going that way following United!
The match with Stafford Rangers was hardly a classic, but the slender victory was deserved. The crowd, at a handful over 1600 was healthy and it was actually nice to be able to identify the phenomenon of travelling supporters in the York Street End from across the entire length of the pitch without resorting to bird-watchers’ binoculars or a powerful telescope. While reports of 150 odd from the West Midlands proved unfounded, they were at least vocal and the ‘Shedenders’ label on one of their flags spoke of loyalty and the distant promise of some more corrugated iron to smack when we swing by their place.
Anthony Church had enshrined his place in Pilgrims legend with the extra-time winner at Bradford and he picked up where he left off with the winning moment just after the half-hour, leaping like a salmon fresh from a close season break to meet a flick-on from Jamie Yates’ throw. Stafford showed little to suggest they will improve on last season’s 16th place finish and debutant United goalkeeper James McKeown had little to trouble him.
|A visual representation of the goal, as seen by David Attenborough|
The perfect start, then, and as I nodded off on the sofa in front of Match of the Day after the temporary balance issues (I was pissed) caught up with me, my last thought was simply how good it felt to have it all back again.
I’ll try and write something for every match I get to this season - and not just Boston - but then again I said that last time.
Next match: Hinckley United vs. Boston United (Monday 16th August)