Sunday, 26 February 2012

Boston United 2 Gloucester City 0

When I woke up just after eight on this Saturday morning, my immediate thought was the joyous realisation that Boston United were playing at York Street today, for the first time in some five weeks.
This was then quickly tempered by the realisation I was in Glasgow - which was 305 miles away. Drat, I never do things the easy way. 
I was coming back to Boston that day - there was no issue there, I had done everything possible for the moment to kit out my new flat and could do no more - but getting back for the game was out of my hands. My Dad was driving and my football fate for the day rested with him. He was oblivious to the game and cared even less. He was also visibly knackered from staying in a hotel and would most likely want to have at least two stops to break up the journey. 
There was a delicate balance - the slightest delay or stoppage, an accident or general congestion, and the whole scheme bubbling away in my mind would be blown to pieces. I could only bury my head in the newspaper in the back seat and hope for the best. It was made worse by the certainty that this Boston game would probably be my last of the season. 
The estimated time of arrival clock on the sat nav was devious, mocking me by jumping backwards and forwards every time we braked or stopped at traffic lights. Everything was going swimmingly when it read 2.20pm, but suddenly that would leap forward to 3.15 and I’d gasp, only for it to revert to a pre kick-off ETA once the speedo topped 70mph again. 
In the end, there was no need to worry. My Dad, bless him, wasn’t hanging around and kept the accelerator anchored to the floor. At 1pm, after the last of our comfort stops, we were just 78 miles away from Boston and soon, in one smooth movement, I strolled into the Sports Bar, saluted my mates and ordered a cool, refreshing pint of lager to celebrate victory over the miles. It was twenty past two. Boom. 
My working week in my new placement - which is with the Scottish Mail on Sunday - will be Tuesday to Saturday, meaning that the weekly tradition of getting up on a Saturday morning - most likely still pissed from the night before - and swanning off to watch United will be consigned to the past. I’m going to visit as many Scottish grounds as possible - and you’ll hear about it here first, rest assured - but the Boston aways will have to wait until next season now.
So it was great to see a commanding performance on my final visit to York Street. I’d been travelling back from London on Tuesday night, and so missed out on our majestic 4-0 win at Vauxhall Motors, but the recent reasons to be cheerful continued here. Unsurprisingly, Gaffers Lee and Lee stuck with the same XI that dicked on the Merseyside mechanics and they were again handsomely rewarded. 
Gloucester, who are still inexplicably in this northern division, started with intent and must have forced eight corners in the opening 20 minutes. But United’s rearguard, particularly the centre-half pairing of Tom Ward and programme cover star Nathan Stainsfield, were rock solid. Kev ‘Keith‘ Austin is now available after injury, but he might be looking at a lengthy wait on the bench if the young pair maintain this form.
United created the first chance - Danny Sleath, who once again was quietly brilliant in the centre of the park, rattled the post, the ball flying out to Marc Newsham, whose rebound smacked the crossbar. A goal was coming and when Ward met Ian Ross’s corner and saw his header blocked, the ball fell kindly for Ben ‘Whippet‘ Fairclough to slam the ball home via a couple of small deflections. 
I’d barely swallowed my half-time curry and chips when the second period sparked into life. First, the referee, who didn’t help himself by being fat and ginger, lost control of things and started flashing yellow cards around for anything resembling a meaty challenge. Having set a precedent, he had little option but to caution everyone who slid in as temperatures started to rise. 
Then, Spencer Weir-Daley forced a good save from Tigers keeper Lewis Carey, before Sleath’s follow-up was hacked off the line. But it wasn’t long before the points - and a positive goal difference for the first time in bloody ages - were secured. Ross and Ward combined from a corner and the ball, as it is wont to do from such situations, ended up in the top corner. Game over. 
Gloucester, who felt aggrieved in last season’s FA Trophy tie here when Rory Coleman’s hilariously obvious handball on the line wasn’t spotted, were denied a clear penalty when Ward clipped Darren Edwards. 

The ref then dismissed forward Scott Wilson for stamping on Stainsfield as the ball dribbled tamelessly through to Paul Bastock. I haven’t seen Bazza so irate for many years - he turned beetroot and then shoved Wilson as Stainsfield lay stricken on the floor. It looked for all the world as though he would throttle him! Sadly he didn't.
Hopefully we’ll keep up the excellent results of late - whisper it, but it’s play-off form! 
Next Match: ...will be in Scotland       

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Boston United Reserves 0 Grimsby Borough Reserves 1

Two empty Saturdays, interminable ice and snow, and the gloomy home atmosphere left behind by a family bereavement left me ravenous for some football this weekend, if only to get some fresh air for a couple of hours. 
The usual source failed me - United weren’t in action for reasons which baffled everyone from the faithful to the press pack to the club hierarchy. As I’d pointed out in my pulped programme column for last Saturday’s postponed fixture with Worcester City, the beautiful neat blocks of Conference North fixtures calculated at the season’s start had long since been torn to shreds by postponements and the stupid rule that says County Cup games take precedence over league ones. 
So why an arrangement with Hyde FC, the only other side not in action on this afternoon, could not have been made to bring forward April’s trip to Ewen Fields and give me a nice day out in Manchester, i’m not sure but since I don’t possess the mental capacity to understand the Conference’s rules and regulations I won’t moan on any more. 
Luckily, there was Saturday afternoon football at York Street and I was spared another round of watching final score while listening to funeral arrangements. I do religiously read the reserves’ match reports and previews on the official website, but have never been down to watch them. Typically because they play at home when the first team are away. But since their re-inception, the team, under the firm hand of coach Glen Maddison, swept to Lincolnshire League success last season at the first attempt and are still in with a sniff this year, sitting fifth with a number of games in hand. 
In bright late winter sunshine, it was a very pleasant afternoon after a slightly uncertain start. You see, when I took up my seat with 70 others in the Fantasy Island Stand (that’s a theme park near Skegness, not some kind of seedy brothel archipelago) I noticed there was only one team warming up. There was a load of sports bags dumped at one end of the Spayne Road terrace in a scene reminiscent of the many university sports fixtures I covered in a previous life, but no people with them. 
Worryingly, Boston then also disappeared into the tunnel, leaving myself, Duncan Browne from the Standard and Mark Whiley from the Lincolnshire Echo (us press types have to sit together, mainly for safety in numbers and to share crude jokes) scratching our heads wondering what the hell was going on. Eventually, about 20 minutes late, the blue-shirted Grimsby Borough side emerged, followed closely by United, and battle was belatedly joined. 
In the absence of a teamsheet or programme (only so many columns I can bash out each week...) I had to identify the players through those who had made first team debuts and those I’d heard snippets about on the grapevine. 
There was my old neighbour and school chum Liam ‘Oggy’ Ogden on the right flank creating a nuisance for the visiting defenders, another old school mate Ricky Drury in the Boston net, Stuart Whitaker, who is Maureen’s son, and Lewis Sturman, who is wanted by Premier League Norwich City if recent press reports are to be believed. The rest were anonymous to my eyes, though I’m sure they’re all terrific lads. 
The first half seemed to go on forever, with United making all the running against a team just one place above them in the standings. Most of the enterprise came down the right, but forward Tom Sergeant was denied by a steadfast Grimsby rearguard, and Oggy, when he took it upon himself to drive into the box, was thwarted by the keepers’ legs. 
There had been plenty of meaty challenges on a boggy pitch, but things became really fractious after the break. Against the general theme of play, Grimsby took the lead - number ten Daniel Beecham struck speculatively from 30 yards, his effort swerving in the air and Drury couldn’t get enough behind it to keep it out. 
Then Tony Edwards was charged by the Grimsby number four in the penalty area. The referee, who possessed a phenomenal broad Lincolnshire accent, decided to dismiss number four but, instead of doing the logical thing and awarding a penalty, gave a throw-in on half-way! Number four, who looked a bit of a dick in his lime green boots, called the Boston fans a “bunch of fuckwits” before he trooped off. How rude. 
Ten minutes later, he re-emerged from the dressing room in his normal clothes and, after walking all the way round to the dug-outs to sit down, was told by the ‘local‘ ref to go and sit in the stand with the people he had called fuckwits. A glorious moment. 
United had 25 minutes to turn it around but couldn’t do it. They continued to pour forward - wave after wave - but every time there was a cut-back or decent cross, the ball would bobble or hold up, allowing the opposition to whack it away. It just wasn’t United’s afternoon, but it was great to see that the kids are alright. 
Next Match: Potentially Boston United’s home fixture with Gloucester City next Saturday, otherwise it’ll most likely be a Scottish fixture in the near future!   

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Colwyn Bay 3 Boston United 2

There’s an affliction to which all genuine football fans can relate. You won’t find it in any medical dictionary, but this neurological condition has been proven to wreck lives, relationships and bank balances. I’m going to call it Mid-Winter Midweek Cross-Country Football Trek Syndrome, or if you understand Latin Blindus loyaltis flippin’ mentalistmus. 
I came down with an acute case this week. All the warning signs were there - so, Boston United have got a midweek fixture against Colwyn Bay. First, where is Colwyn Bay? Oh look, it’s only 189 miles away - right over there in North Wales on the other page of the map. Ah well, just the 378 mile round-trip then. No problem at all, I’m sure the miles will just zip painlessly by. 
Second, when is it? It’s on a Tuesday night in early February. Ah well, might be a bit nippy up on the Irish Sea coast but I’m a hardened football fan, I’ve watched the team in all weathers. A bracing wind is good for the soul, will blow the cobwebs away.
Thirdly, and more specifically, what’s the weather actually going to be like? Well we’ve only had the one week of Siberian temperatures and major snowfall. Of course I have taken into account that all the fixtures in our league - including the one at Colwyn - were postponed at the weekend and there’s a very high probability the same thing will happen tonight, most likely when we’ve been on our way for three hours leaving us no option but to turn around and drive back for another three hours... At this point, most would have said “enough” and got out the TV listings. I decided to take my chances.
Finally, how am I going to get there? I don’t have a car and the one my friend’s uncle is running is full. It’s six hours there and back by train and seventy fucking quid, plus an overnight stay in a Travelodge or a Travel Tavern or the one Lenny Henry endorses. Oh look, the supporters‘ bus is running. Well, being a bus it will likely add at least an extra hour to the journey time on both legs, meaning I’ll probably pass the milkman on my walk home. But it’s not as though I have a choice...
There are many very good and valid reasons in the last four paragraphs not to even leave the house, let alone contemplate stepping on to the bus. But when you have Mid-Winter Midweek Cross-Country Football Trek Syndrome you just don’t see things in a sensible or logical way. You make excuses, you create reasons just to convince yourself that going to Colwyn Bay is the right and proper thing to do. 
And so, after a series of pitying looks from friends, family and knowing members of the public - plus a number of sympathetic messages from fellow fans - I boarded the bus and went to Colwyn Bay. 
Like any coach journey, the first couple of hours are fine. You chat with your fellow passengers, the atmosphere is jovial. You perhaps have some nice snacks and a newspaper to read, so the time flies by. Before you know it you’re on the A1 and actually getting somewhere quickly. 
And then slowly the cramp creeps in to your legs, your stomach rumbles, the conversation dries up, the paper is exhausted, the snacks become just wrappers and you glare out the window at the dusky, icy landscapes for mile after monotonous mile, minute after minute and grinding hour after hour until arriving at your destination - even if it is a seaside resort in North Wales - seems like the most heavenly thing in the world. 
I hadn’t set foot in Wales since we were relegated at Wrexham in 2007, so the novelty of visiting another country was quite nice. Although, in reality, the only flavour of Wales we got in the pitch darkness were the ludicrously complicated place names on the bilingual road signs. I’m sure Colwyn Bay - a place United hadn’t visited since 1997 - is very nice, but we had neither the time or the inclination to see it. 
There were about 40 Pilgrims supporters at the game, all, in some way, afflicted with the aforementioned Syndrome. However, some of the symptoms are more extreme than other. There were the two fans who had come by train on the Monday, stayed and gone out in Chester, made their way to the game, seen us lose in the last minute, stayed overnight again and got the train back on the Wednesday. It says it all when one of them saw it necessary to book the entire week off - just in case of delay. 
Then there was Mr Broughton, who was here only because of his girlfriend’s shaky grasp of geography. Had she realised Colwyn Bay was actually where it was, and not in the East Midlands like he told her, there is absolutely no way he would have been allowed out the front door. In fairness, he is probably one of the few people with MWMWCCFTS in a steady relationship. For the moment. 
Buoyed by a recent upturn in fortunes and refreshed by a week’s rest brought on by Saturday’s postponement at Hinckley, Boston were superb in the first-half, rubbishing fears they would be a bit “leggy” following the epic journey here. They shifted the ball around with panache, caused all manner of problems down the flanks and engineered some great chances. 
Danny Sleath, who was again excellent throughout, wasn’t afraid to shoot from range and an early 20-yarder had us cocked ready to celebrate, only to whistle fractionally wide of the post. Undaunted and with great faith in his sweet right foot, he struck another one a few minutes later. The ball found a path through a forest of legs and nestled in the bottom corner, the perfect way to warm the cockles of the visiting fans bunched on the open terrace (they’re raising money to build a roof on it, we’re told). 
Campus hero Sleath then teased a ball through to Marc Newsham who chipped the home goalkeeper Chris Sanna only to be denied by a linesman’s flag. Our vantage point was perfect and the decision was marginal to say the least. Boston were running riot but Bazza shook the frostbite off his gloves to see Rob Hopley’s downward header on to his right-hand post just before the break. 
We moved behind the far goal in the second half, in a claustrophobic corrugated iron stand with no headroom but at least some banter from the local Chav-elry. Unfortunately, they immediately had something to cheer as Karl Noon capitalised on some sloppy Boston defending to lash the ball past Bazza to equalise on 50 minutes.    
But there was plenty in the tank and, within three minutes, United were back in the lead. Ian Ross chipped a set-piece into a dangerous area and Newsham, as he does exceedingly often, got on the end of it and guided the ball into the roof of the net. Of course, everyone went bonkers and all the outfield players rushed into the away fans to celebrate. 
Lee Canoville had re-tweeted me earlier in the day as I contemplated whether being here was loyal or mental. That goal answered the question and, in accordance of our history of heavy petting during celebrations, I twatted him on the back several times with my leather gloves during the melee to show my appreciation. 
Unsurprisingly, Boston started to look a little fatigued in the last quarter and invited Colwyn on to them. There were some sprightly players in the opposition ranks and they weren’t afraid to run at the defence. Conor Marshall and Tom Ward were also excellent, but there was only so long they could hold out for. A corner was only partially cleared and Shelton Payne inflicted a measure of, erm, pain by finding the top corner. 2-2. 
But even then there were chances to snatch it. Gareth Jellyman scorched down the left and lofted a great cross into the middle which evaded Sanna. Leon Constantine, who had replaced Ben Fairclough, was unmarked at the back post but, unable to adjust his feet, found only the side-netting with the goal gaping. 
And we paid for it. Last time at Corby, we experienced the joys of victory in the last moments. Now it was time to feel the exact opposite - Colwyn countered and Noon thrashed the ball home for the winner. We deserved at least a point, but such is football. I slumped over the hoardings, head in hands. It wasn’t the performance, it was the prospect of the five hours home. I must be wrong in the head. 
Next Match: United are at home to Worcester City on Saturday