I’d been looking forward to this match immensely all week - Saturday could not come soon enough - but when I rounded that last corner in the shadow of the mighty John Smith’s brewery, the nauseating whiff of boiling hops and barley in my nostrils, and caught a first glimpse of the ground, my body shivered in fear.
Tadcaster Albion haven’t struck terror into many high-profile opponents during their 120-year history, and they play their football three non-league steps below us, but there were many anxious faces among the Boston travelling support on Saturday in light of recent, nightmarish memories.
For we have turned up at other places like this in the last few years - places like Lowestoft, Quorn and Kidsgrove - and have suffered the most ignominious of defeats. Boston, a side that one dished out ‘giantkillings’ for fun, have become the slain.
Those places were mentioned in hushed dispatches in the clubhouse, accompanied by a brief flicker of anguish, a whispered curse and a solemn nod to the floor. Each time, the memories were suffixed by a semi-confident - ‘But it won’t happen again today, right?’
The build-up to this match, labelled grandiosely as the ‘biggest in the club’s history’ by their manager Paul Marshall, had been eventful for Taddy. The area is low-lying and massively susceptible to flooding when the River Ouse, surging downstream into the city of York behind one side of the pitch, becomes swollen after torrential rain.
The waters, stinking with effluent, had breached the river banks and the small fences that surround the ground. The playing surface had been submerged and water reached the rooves of the two mini-stands behind one of the goals. It had lapped up against the wooden clubhouse on the other touchline and risen pump-deep behind the bar and flooded the cellar, according to the bar staff.
|The Boston United press pack check out the 'facilities' at Tadcaster|
The local newspapers had carried heart-breaking pictures and the match was in severe jeopardy. Adam Hallgarth and I, travelling to the game from London, had looked exhaustively at alternatives. But the town had pulled together and the rain had abated, the flood had drained away and the staff had swept up well.
Having steered his side through four rounds to reach this stage, the manager perhaps got a little carried away when predicting a crowd of 1,000 including 300-400 from Lincolnshire. The second part was closer, with I’d say 250-300 Pilgrims in a crowd of 368, an onslaught which caused a few flustered faces when the Taddy Lager, imported from all of 200 yards away, ran out before kick-off.
The John Smith’s, as you would expect, was a good pint and the delicious pork baps a timely reminder of the homely Northern hospitality I’ve left behind. Taddy weren’t helped by both York City and Leeds United being at home, and their support seemed to be mainly students from my alma mater at the University of York and those who’d come in the genuine hope of a seismic Cupset.
|Another glorious view of FA Cup action|
And the first-half would have given them plenty to believe in. Boston were an onmishambles and made no impression on the occasion whatsoever. The sodden playing surface was not suitable for any attempt at decent football and so our lofted balls were easily mopped up by a tall and physical Tadcaster defence.
Going forward, the Yorkshire side’s dipping efforts from long range only added to the jangling nerves and silence infected the away fans spread on three sides of the ground. At one point, Tom Ward had to be razor sharp to divert away a goalbound effort from Chris Kamara (no, sadly it wasn’t that one...)
United tried to work the ball around, and Kallum Smith on the left side was especially active, but there wasn’t a single shot of note until Jason Stokes rattled the outside of the post from an optimistic angle. Stokes hadn’t started, but replaced Ben Fairclough after half an hour in unedifying circumstances.
Fairclough had received an early booking for an agricultural challenge and it seemed to affect him. Lunges were going in and Gaffer Lee, who almost certainly regretted his decision to wear a sharp suit and smart but inappropriate footwear when he traipsed across the quagmire of a pitch, hauled him off for Stokes. Again, it didn’t soothe the anxiety.
United were a different proposition after the break, as though reminded that this competition was worth being in, and they scored the early goal that would have been handy in the first-half.
It required a hefty slice of fortune - Nathan Stainsfield’s searching ball wasn’t gathered by home goalkeeper Scott Pallister and the youngster dropped the ball at the feet of Mark Jones for the easiest goal of his career. I was right in Jonah’s trajectory of celebration and managed to give him a well-deserved pat (smack) on the back, which I’m sure he appreciated greatly.
|Reaching out a hand to Mark Jones after he opened|
the scoring (Ken Fox)
A few minutes later and Jones won a penalty as Pallister clumsily brought him down. A yellow card was the right decision as Jones was on course to crash into the perimeter fence about ten yards wide of goal. Marc Newsham, unlike at Bradford last week, made no mistake and we could fill our lungs with relief. And fermenting beer.
There was even time for a few chants and a bit of fun with the footballs sent behind the goal by United’s constant attacking in the final half-hour. One member of our Yoof booted a ball towards the Ouse and was called a ‘Fat Twat’ by one of the Taddy coaches before being ordered to fetch it.
It then dawned on me that I’m going to be in Germany for the next round and so I’ve downgraded my wish of a local blood and thunder battle with Lincoln or Grimsby to a non-descript, winnable tie that I won’t mind missing. All will be revealed on Monday morning. And at least we’re still in the hat having side-stepped this banana skin.
Next Match: There’s midweek Johnstone’s Paint Trophy action, otherwise England v San Marino at Wembley on Friday in which there better be goals, goals, goals!