Sunday, 31 July 2011

Boston United 1 Mansfield Town 4

While it is true I spend most of my matches screaming and shouting, singing and chanting, hopping and bouncing, there is still time to observe. Observe not only what is happening out on the pitch, but also the mentality and dynamic of the football crowd. You have to be a special breed of person to religiously follow a football team the length and breadth of the country, especially at non-league level, but within this there are any number of sub-species. Here are a few of them:
  • The Hardcorer (ultrarius loonarius raverium): found reliably at the back of terrace, usually with mouth gaping wide screaming invective at the unfortunate left-back. Has not missed a game since 1994. Was there on that freezing Tuesday night in December at Radcliffe Borough when no other fucker bothered. Heart beats in sync with the drum. Usually devoid of his River Island, Hackett or Aqua shirt, which has probably been lost or if they are wearing it, stained in Stella, sweat, gravy and other anonymous fluids. Has an account with Barmy flags. Will be there no matter what. “You goin’ to Whitby for the weekender next week, then?”
  • The civilised regular (loyalis intellectum): found elsewhere in the terrace, usually with friends or family. Has also been going for years on the season ticket and makes the local aways. Will probably wear the replica shirt bought without fail every season. Optional flat cap. Good banter, occasional moan when the striker boots it over from six yards. Referee the usually target of abuse - “We’ve had ‘im before, fackin‘ rubbish.” Follows what’s happening in the league. Actually knows a bit about the opposition. 
  • The Sit-down fan (moanus groanus): habitat is the seated stand surrounded by familiar faces. In fact, it’s been the same seat since 1985. Probably getting on a bit. Big sense of entitlement to opinion. Spends the game complaining about everything as though Boston should play like Brazil 1970, even when they’re 5-0 up. Never satisfied. Doesn’t travel away - “not wasting my bleeding money on that rubbish.” 
  • The Part-timer (loud mouthus inbecillium): dips in and out. Checks the result on the vidiprinter and reads about it in the paper but never actually goes to the match, except for once a season which inevitably coincides with the worst performance. Moans incessantly to anyone who is willing to listen about how depressingly awful the experience was and vows never to waste his time or money again. Until the same point the following season when the whole experience is repeated. 
I was annoyed by someone in the latter category yesterday, which probably explains why I’ve decided to do some kind of category thing. Standing in the Spayne Road terrace for the Mansfield game, I had the misfortune to be standing behind the very epitome of the part-time fan. I don’t know why he boiled my blood so much, but he has and that’s why it’s taken my nearly 500 words to get to mentioning the game itself. 
Admittedly, United were outplayed by Mansfield and the 4-1 result was an accurate reflection. While the two goals scored by Adam Murray for the Conference side would have graced any game, and one of their goals was a penalty, this was a team flexing their muscles and reasserting precisely why they are considered one of the favourites to return to the Football League this season. There was nothing you could say, United’s slightly experimental side were no match for the Stags and the regulars around me accepted that and instead chose to remember the many positives that could be taken from last week’s win over Wigan and the easy midweek success at Lincoln United. After all, it is best to get these blips out of the system in pre-season, before the real business begins, and other, associated, football maxims. 
Not this bloke. From about the time Murray slammed in his second on 81 minutes, through the remainder of the match and then on his walk out of the ground down the entire length of the Spayne Road terrace, out into the car park and doubtless through the remainder of this weekend in his sad little life, he would not cease to loudly criticise every aspect of United’s performance. The stream of abuse was especially blue and nobody was spared. I must have counted the f-word over one hundred times during his enraged walk from the ground. “F-ing rubbish, was an f-ing waste of my f-ing time. Not going to waste any more f-ing money on this f-ing crap this season. Not going to do any f-ing good.” You get the picture. 
I’m not making a high and mighty moralistic stand against swearing at football matches because I’m equally as guilty but the point is this man, who had clearly not been at any of the previous friendlies and seen any of the good performances, believes that on the evidence of one afternoon’s football the season has already been condemned. No doubt he will tell everyone he meets over the next week that: “I went to York Street on Saturday and it was f-ing rubbish. You don’t want to waste your f-ing time going down there. They’re no f-ing good.” And no doubt his mates will be gullible enough to believe him and, indeed, not bother. 
I have a few words for him, and his kind, and I’m pretty sure they’ll understand them - f**k off then! 
Next Match: More Lincolnshire Senior Shield action and another night on JB’s comfortable sofa - Gainsborough Trinity at the Northolme on Tuesday night.         

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Lincoln United 1 Boston United 3

Pre-season preparations were whacked up another notch on Thursday with the start of the Lincolnshire Senior Shield. Boston still aren’t allowed to compete in the ‘big boys’ playground - the Lincolnshire Senior Trophy - so another tour of the county’s football backwaters awaited. Lincoln United were chosen as this year’s quarter-final cannon fodder, with the tantalising (sarcasm) prospect of a trip to Gainsborough in the last four on offer. 
When the draw was made, it didn’t take long to figure out the logistics. JB might not have yet found the nerve to check his final degree mark - “I owe them fifty quid in library fines, so I can’t graduate anyway” - but he has, most conveniently for this occasion, decided to live in Lincoln this year. His new abode is very pleasant, despite the low bathroom ceiling which gave me acute concussion when I clobbered into it in the dark on Friday morning and it’s proximity to Sincil Bank. A sofa for the night was offered and I hopped on the train. 
The whole trip proved quite the bargain. Admission prices were listed as £6 for adults and £4 concessions but both me and JB gained access to the ground for just £3 after he scrambled the mind of the poor, short-sighted old boy on the turnstile by asking for student discount. A ten pound note was offered to cover the £8 we expected this to cost, but £7 was returned in change! This was the cheapest football I’ve seen since the Boston Standard printed ‘Kids for a Quid’ vouchers back in the day. Naturally, in the spirit of cross-county friendship, the excess money was swiftly put behind the (burger) bar, which was quite overwhelmed by the number of ravenous Boston fans. Emergency burgers were called upon, probably thawing out in the back room from our last visit in 2009. 
Paul Bastock and Kevin Austin were given an early night, replaced by Ricky Drury and Jason Field slotting in at the back. Liam Parker started alongside trialists Ben Wilkinson and Ben Milnes in midfield, after the pair impressed against Wigan. I assume they’re going to be signed, otherwise they’d have fucked off by now. Can’t have them cup tied in this prestigious competition, drives their value right down. 
United breezed through the first-half and sat navs were being re-tuned to Gainsborough by half-time. Milnes crossed from the right and Lee Canoville, with a header which can only be described as seismic, put United on their way after half an hour. The thud could be heard in Grantham but Canners doesn’t worry about little things like neurological conditions. 
Five minutes later, Wilkinson, son of Howard, crossed from the same side and Mickey Stones popped up at the back post to double the lead. Marc Newsham, looking more on the pace than he did on his return from injury on Saturday, niftily slotted in a third just before the break after Stones turned provider. It was even enough to finally silence the annoying squawky woman stood near us who knew all the team by their first name as though she had mothered them all in a large council property. 
The second half was pretty dull, with Lincoln pulling back a late consolation through Kallum Smith. The same player had earlier been denied by a terrific goalline block from Canoville, who clearly doesn’t subscribe to the philosophy that at 3-0 up in pre-season you don’t have to risk breaking all your bones. 
Good night all round. Even the sofa was comfy. 
Next Match: Boston United v Mansfield Town at York Street on Saturday  

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Boston United 2 Wigan Athletic XI 1

This was much more like it. After the disappointment of defeat at Boston Town seven days earlier, a United side which looked infinitely more settled and generally team-like batted aside a youthful XI from Premier League Wigan to earn a first pre-season win. 
Ooooh, Premier League, eh? Well technically, yes, but absolutely no need to get carried away - this doesn’t mean Boston would be able to compete in the top flight. In their programme notes, Jason Lee and Lee Canoville took great pleasure in welcoming Roberto Martinez to the Stade Jakemans, but unfortunately for them, the suave Spaniard had taken the first team squad to dastardly Dave Whelan’s top secret Alpine training lab, leaving us with Graeme Jones and his ‘Development Squad’. Presumably, this is football’s equivalent of a year nine chemistry practical. 
I vaguely remember Jones moping around up front for United during the early Football League years and seem to recall him scoring against Macclesfield. Then again, I could have just made that up because Jones wasn’t exactly the most prolific centre forward to grace the York Street turf. Andy Pickwell contributed a nicely complimentary story about Jones scoring once and unceremoniously whipping his shirt off in celebration to reveal a thick, matted rug of body hair coating an unflatteringly bloated stomach. Lovely.
Anyway, Jones was the reason the Latics were here to provide the first home opposition of the close-season. It wasn’t some very overdue compensation for them stealing our Football League place in 1977. His experimentals offered a stern test and were assured in the touch, with a decent passing radar apiece. 
I stood with Pickwell in the Spayne Road terrace - when he types ‘Spayne‘ into his phone when texting, the predictive text function helpfully changes it to ‘apathetic’. This was pretty appropriate to be honest, with neither of us relishing the prospect of paying £12 with memories of last week at Boston Town fresh in the memory. In the end, we were pleased we made the effort. 
Goals from Kevin Holsgrove, who was brilliant on the left wing, and Ryan Semple, brilliant on the right and apparently immune from a bad review in either mine of Pickwell’s blog, turned round an early Wigan strike from Ryan Watson. More encouraging was the performance in general, and the margin of victory could have been much greater. 
Andy A was due to attend but was grappling with grief following the death of his car. I have written a tribute here:
THE ROVER (date of birth unknown - July 21st 2011)
Sometimes known as The Rover Sauna and once as the Rover Cooler - by me

A trusted and reliable steed, the Rover was only with us for a short time and yet shall leave an indelible memory on all those privileged to ride with her. The car was bequeathed in the spirit of kindness and friendship, but though it cost us nothing it repaid us time after time with a courage and stout-heartedness which consistently defied those armchair critics who condemned it as in the autumn of its years and, well, an unreliable Rover. 

The passenger window was lame and refused to unwind, the wheel trims bore damagingly into the tyres  (causing Andy considerable expense and Boston Tyre considerable profit) and, for a number of unbearable journeys, the heater would just not be tamed. Yet these idiosyncrasies only added to the charm and appeal of a vehicle which let us down seldom, if ever. And if it did, it ensured by the wise, kindly old head it carried, that we were within 100 yards of a petrol station and that passengers were on board to push.    

The Rover was with us for one campaign, but completed many noteworthy conquests through its tremendous spirit and refusal to succumb to the ‘wisdom’ of the Top Gear brigade who quickly wrote it off as junk. It negotiated the great labyrinthine road to Gainsborough even when its weary headlights could barely light the way, it set a spectacular record time on the well-trodden Boston to Sheffield course of one hour 17 minutes following the draw with Solihull Moors (and even had the experience to evade the speed camera at the end) and it outsprinted a train between Walsall and Stafford to ensure that Shergie’s ticket was NOT invalidated.  

But its finest hour came on that foggy February night when it cleared the Snake Pass en route to Stalybridge without missing a beat on that deadly, serpentine road, ensuring the lads missed only one of Stalybridge’s three goals. Huzzah! The Rover was also imbued with the virtue of great patience - it did not mind if Shergie wanted a second Burger King, nor if the boys wanted to play One bounce for an hour in the Welcome Break car park. It didn’t even muster a complaint when parked in the goal at Boston Town, despite being savagely pelted with a ball by three oafish brutes 

Inevitably, there will be comparisons with the legendary Honda Logo but history shall not judge the Rover harshly. This was, quite literally, a gift from the motoring gods who decreed that: ‘The lads shalt not miss an away match and they shalt arrive there in a modicum of style and comfort. They’ll have to put up with the sauna conditions and the poor fuel consumption, but they shalt be there!‘ 

The Rover, Andy’s mechanical steed in British racing green, died of a broken head gasket, knackered water pump and snapped cam belt, in most inconvenient circumstances on the way to Andy’s graduation ceremony on July 21st. It will be scrapped somewhere on the route between Boston and Sheffield it knew so well and traversed so effortlessly until the very last. Floral tributes highly inappropriate. RIP. 

Next Match: Lincoln United v Boston United in the Lincolnshire Senior Shield quarter-final on Thursday night

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Boston Town 2 Boston United 0

Season’s Greetings. Having subsisted on a watery diet of cricket and tennis for the best part of six weeks, it was wonderful to have the football back. Even if it was a ragged assortment of survivors from the brutal pre-season cull and young hopefuls promoted from the reserves to replace those who had left, lumbering around and struggling to resemble a team in the pouring English summer rain, it still represented the start of another season. 
Usually, this time of year is full of optimism. Hope springs afresh at every club from Truro City to Wick Academy that this could be the season - that long-awaited promotion, the play-off challenge or simply finishing one place above the drop zone. I hate to say it - we’re in just the second match of pre-season preparations after all - but this could be a long season at York Street. The consensus post-match at Tattershall Road on Saturday was as gloomy as the weather. 
The players who powered the team in exceeding expectations in the Conference North last season have migrated either north to Grimsby Town or Gainsborough Trinity, or west to Eastwood Town, and seem, to date, to have just been replaced by familiar faces from the past or reserves more accustomed to the pace of the Lincolnshire League than the second tier of non-league football. 
In the absence of Shaun Pearson, Anthony Church and Spencer Weir-Daley, United looked rudderless against our cross-town neighbours, who compete in the United Counties League, and were soundly beaten. How we’ll fare against Lincoln City, Mansfield Town and the Wigan Athletic XI that’s popping across from Lancashire next week for some reason remains to be seen, but when you start to fear a beating from Stamford, next up on Tuesday, it’s a bit worrying. 
Julian Joachim, who played for the Pilgrims at the height of the Football League years, has returned, at the age of 36, but he looked laboured and worryingly off the pace. I don’t recall him touching the ball in a meaningful way at any point, though hopefully he’ll weigh in with seven or eight goals over the course of this season. But with Mikel Suarez, Marc Newsham and reserve graduate Mickey Stones the other options, I’m not sure where the 100-plus goals required to sustain a promotion challenge are going to come from. Get the chequebook out, chairman, and buy some goals.  
Danny Sleath tried his best to provide some momentum, carving out a few second-half chances, and was one of the few players who completed the 90 minutes. Unfortunate he’ll be away for the first four games of the season - the acid test - at the World Student Games. I guess they take part in strawpedoing, Facebooking, pizza munching and extreme procrastination, that kind of thing...
The only other player to offer any optimism was Kevin Holsgrove, an acquisition from Hyde after impressing in their spirited 2-2 at York Street towards the back end of last season. Nimble and sprightly, he worked plenty of space down the left flank during the opening half, though it will obviously take a little longer for the strikers to get on his wavelength when it comes to crosses. I feel we might be relying on him one hell of a lot in the absence of Yates and Weir-Daley. 
Town, who fielded a selection of ex-Pilgrims including Alex Beck, who scored both the goals, looked up for it and sharper, despite this being their opening pre-season match. They thoroughly deserved this, their second win over United in their 47 years of existence. I do have a soft spot for them, having watched the team regularly under veteran manager Bob Don-Duncan while in Sixth Form, and wish them a good season. On this evidence, it may be rather more successful than United’s.
Next Match: Boston United v Wigan Athletic XI this Saturday at York Street.