Sunday, 8 January 2012

Harrogate Railway Athletic 2 Salford City 0

It may have been FA Cup third round weekend - commonly held as one of the most magical in the football year - but none of the ties round my way inspired the imagination. So, a quick scan of the football fixtures not provided by Budweiser took me up to Harrogate Railway, a team who made waves in the competition a few years ago, but seem to have fallen upon hard times lately. 
My time up in Yorkshire is slipping away a little too quickly for my liking, and the beautiful 40-minute train ride up through leafy north Leeds, Horsforth and onwards to Harrogate confirmed the stunning country panoramas I’ll be missing in the city. I’m sure the view from Crimple Viaduct is best admired not through the filthy window of a Northern Rail carriage though. 
Harrogate’s ground is called Station View and, while technically it doesn’t have views of Starbeck station (only the long-abandoned LNER depot that gave birth to the club back in the thirties), it did make it a quick walk to and fro. 
It wasn’t so long ago that the ground hosted the television cameras of Sky and the BBC at the culmination of two swashbuckling FA Cup runs, but there was little evidence of those past glories on this bitterly cold January afternoon. In 2002, Railway battled through to the second round of the competition - at that time, the lowest ranked side to have got that far - and gave Bristol City a real scare, before succumbing 3-1. In the distant, dusty vestiges of my memory, I remember watching that game on Sky and that it had a ridiculously early kick-off time, like 11.30am or something. 
And in December 2007, in a match screened live by the Beeb, they put the wind up Mansfield Town in a 3-2 defeat with two Danny Davidson (no, not that one) strikes, having beaten cross-town neighbours Harrogate Town en route. 
It may have been an FA Cup weekend, but Railway’s interest had long since expired - whacked 8-0 by Bradford Park Avenue back in September - and attentions were firmly on the league, where they were anxiously looking over their shoulder in 19th place after winning just once in ten. Visitors Salford were faring slightly better in Evo-Stik Division One North, sitting ninth after getting their act together in the last two months.
A combination of the vicious weather - which did create some spectacular, fast-moving skies - and Town being at home to Histon two miles away meant the crowd was only in double figures - bolstered to 78 by me and about a dozen travelling fans with a large, colourful flag. 
Unfortunately, the ground looked a little unloved - in one corner, the gales had taken out a couple of fence panels, behind one end was an ugly construction site and one side was a collection of grim portakabins for the press, club officials and snack bar. The pitch, which was consistent with Town’s ground in that it sloped from one side to another, was in a dreadful state. 
But the handsome stand I sat in behind one of the goals looked smart and offered ample protection from the whistling wind, the programme was a lovingly-produced, full-colour publication and everyone I encountered through the afternoon was friendly and took the effort to say ‘Hello.‘ 
With my eyes welling up through the bitterness of the wind, it almost, with a bit of imagination, looked like Portugal playing against Holland. In-form Salford, in tangerine, started well and made full use of the slope to flash two inviting balls across the face of goal from their right flank in the opening ten minutes, both of which should have been converted.
They would live to regret the misses. Railway, in red and green, played agricultural football to suit the playing surface. One of their many long balls won a corner and, with a little assistance from the elements, Ben Parkes’s delivery deceived the Salford goalkeeper Rigby, who saw the ball sail hopelessly over his head for 1-0. 
The odd moment aside, Railway controlled the rest of the game and just needed that ‘killer’ second goal to wrap things up. Shooting towards my end, we saw them create plenty of openings in the second half. Just after the hour mark, Dan Thirkell spied the dart of Luke Durham from deep and, undeterred by the advancing Rigby, he kept his composure to lob him for 2-0. 
James Ogoo did strike the post for Salford but their excellent run of form had firmly hit the buffers by this point and, but for the keeper, Railway captain Liam Gray could easily have added to the scoreline late on. I was very glad to have brought Railway some good fortune and, after a very enjoyable trip, I hope it continues.
Next Match: An eagerly-awaited trip to Conference South Dartford with BUFC for the FA Trophy second round tie on Saturday