About this time of year, I like to go and search for the romance of the FA Cup. Just take a check on the pulse of the World’s Greatest Cup Competition™ and ensure it’s still alive and kicking in the post-halcyon age of sponsorship by Budweiser, second string sides, empty stadiums and coverage on ITV.
Last year, I was rewarded with a good old-fashioned, pulsating cup tie between Sheffield FC and Northwich Victoria, which ended two-apiece. Romance found in Dronfield. With Boston again drawn at home, I decided the cheapest and most accessible tie in my area was at The Shay, so headed there. This one wasn’t quite up to the entertainment standards of 12 months ago, but was still a good watch and, in the end, a little soul-crushing.
There’s probably a boffin somewhere with the statistical evidence to back this up, but while once in a while there is a genuine cupset to remind us just how good football can be, most of the time the bigger boys will prevail. This was awful for Tadcaster Albion - the side from the nice little village just outside York where John Smiths is brewed who play in the Northern Counties East League Premier, three steps below Halifax - who will doubtless be described as ‘plucky’ in the press tomorrow. They were more than ‘plucky’ - they were simply brilliant. They battled like Trojans right until the end and deserved at least a replay. Which made their stoppage time defeat all the harder to stomach.
Boston are scheduled to travel to The Shay on Easter Monday next year and since I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be at that time, I decided to tick the place off the list now. I suspect it will be a bezerk day out when April 9th finally rolls round. What’s more, the unexpected Indian Summer just begged you to get outside and on a train to some football. I most certainly didn’t expect to be watching match in October wearing shorts and shades, with the scent of Ambre Solaire in my nostrils.
Sun bronzing my face in the impressive and very new main stand, the romance of the cup seemed very much alive as Taddy made a confident start. I noted that Kevin Holsgrove was making his debut for Halifax, barely two weeks after he left York Street saying that the long drives from Merseyside were affecting his performances. The bloke behind me kept calling him Kevin Holster for some reason. But then this was the guy who wondered why Tadcaster were taking their time over goal kicks and set-pieces - “are they playing for the draw?” Well, obviously yes my friend - did you expect them to play a 4-2-4, attack flat-out and lose 6-0? What’s more, a replay would probably keep them in the black for the next five years.
Taddy scored on the half-hour as Carl Stewart headed in from a corner and their small pocket of supporters at the far end of the stand went ballistic as though they had, well not won the cup, but sniffed a giantkilling. The players were naturally delighted - they’d probably been promised a lifetime’s supply of bitter or something. It was 1-0 at the break but miraculous that Halifax hadn’t scored. They created chance after chance - a dark blue wave - but Taddy goalkeeper Arran Reid was inspired, saving not only from Halifax attackers but also the defenders who often seemed determined to put the ball past him.
The natives were angry at the turnaround. One took it upon himself to bellow his thoughts down a megaphone from the centre of the main stand which was pretty hilarious. Would hate to have a season ticket in front of him. At one point, the megaphone started playing pre-recorded chants like a ringtone on a nineties mobile phone. The atmosphere was pretty subdued throughout but that was a bit extreme.
The second-half wasn’t much better for Halifax and, with every scuffed shot or cross hacked clear by Taddy’s heroic defence, you sensed that they might hold on to the slender advantage. I had visions of the Emirates-inspired ‘We Believe in Neil’ (Aspin, the manager) banner in front of me, obviously the manager’s personal barometer of fan sentiment positioned as it was right behind the home dugout, being unceremoniously ripped down as the cup dream fizzled out.
Sadly, it wasn’t necessary. With nine to play, and the brilliant sunshine finally fading, sub James Dean soared above some leaden-legged Taddy defenders to equalise. Still, a replay seemed the likely, and fairest, result until the hosts won another corner, their 22nd of the game, in the 93rd minute. It unfolded in torturous slow motion - Holsgrove for once got the ball out of his feet and crossed, Scott McManus steamed in, connected sweetly with his noggin and killed the Tadcaster dream.
I couldn’t even summon the energy to applaud. Unlucky Taddy.
Next Match: Boston had a similarly frustrating afternoon, being held 0-0 at home by Kidsgrove Athletic, so the replay on Tuesday night is the next target.