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Cup Finals and Curtain Call

 

First and foremost, if you were reading my last post “April Showers’, you will know that I was less than pleased with Chorley’s defeat in the Northern Premier League Premier Division Play-Off Semi-final to FC United of Manchester! It almost made up for the disaster of not achieving Blue Square Bet North status to hear that FC United of Manchester travelled to Bradford Park Avenue for the Play-Off Final and lost by 1-0 and the only goal was scored in the final minute of extra time………………How sweet! Congratulations to Bradford Park Avenue and good luck in Blue Square Bet North next season!

I did go to another play off match at Bedworth on Tuesday evening and it turned out to be a real cracker! It was a wet muddy night and parking the car was a tricky manoeuvre, as was the walk across the sodden sward to pay at the gate and at last gain solid footing inside the ground! There was a healthy queue at the bar too, so a couple of pints seemed the economical option and I repaired to a distant table to enjoy them in the company of Jonathan Kellerman’s latest thriller. Uxbridge, the visitors were the form team and arrived with confidence in natty red and black track suits and took an early lead in the match and could easily have increased it were it not for the calm assurance of Tom Cross, the home custodian. In the second half, with Bedworth playing on a slight upward slope, they poured forward relentlessly, but it seemed that everything that they flung at Uxbridge was calmly swatted away, with the clinical efficiency of a Boycott forward defensive manoeuvre. That was until, with only fifteen minutes left, a low shot from a very tight angle somehow squeezed past a surprised and embarrassed Uxbridge keeper and the sides were level and extra time looked a certainty! With five minutes to go, however, Uxbridge were finally undone when Mark Bellingham, who had scored the earlier goal burst through to thump in a second and decisive strike and to send Bedworth, to the delight of a large crowd, into the play off final.

Bedworth United FC

 

Tuesday 1st May 2012 Evo-Stik Southern League Division 1 Central Play-Off Semi-Final

Bedworth United               2                     Uxbridge                 1

Mark Bellingham 75, 85                              Michael Murray (pen) 13

referee:- Chris Pollard

(Stowmarket, Suffolk)                                  attendance:- 451

Bedworth United FC

 

 

Bedworth United FC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following evening was wet, windy and pretty cold! Jubilee Park, Huntingdon was the destination for a Hinchingbrooke Cup Semi-Final tie where St Neots Town were the visitors. There was a chasm between the sides, the only similarity being that both were champions of their respective leagues. However, whilst St Neots were champions in their first season of The Evo-Stik Southern League Division 1 Central, Huntingdon Town, two steps lower were champions of The United Counties League Division 1. On a cold blustery evening, the gulf in class told as plucky Huntingdon were outplayed and outclassed by a ruthless away team who ran out worthy winners by 3-0.

 

 

 

Wednesday 2nd May 2012 Hinchingbrooke Cup Semi-Final

Huntingdon Town              0                      St Neots Town                    3

                                                                               Lewis Hilliard 22, Dan Jacob 59

                                                                              Stefan Moore (pen) 60

referee:- Will Hardie                                       attendance:- 125

 

On Friday, I pottered over to The Hunts Post Community Stadium in St Neots for the first of a series of cup finals in May, a month which used to be famous for the FA Cup Final, but that trophy has been relegated to a late afternoon kick-off  and, far from being the only match played that day, has to compete with premiership matches, too! Sky TV runs the first class game! The heavy and unremitting precipitation which has epitomised the end of this season had a drastic outcome when I tried to drive into St Neots and found the road CLOSED due to flooding! I had to get back on the A1 and drive down to the next exit and spent a good twenty minutes in heavy traffic negotiating St Neots Town Centre! Patience not being a virtue that I am well acquainted with, I consequently arrived at the stadium fed up, peeved and cross!  This particular final pitted Godmanchester Rovers, Champions of The Ridgeons Eastern League Division 1 and fresh from their Division 1 Cup Final success against Whitton United, against the solid respectable St Ives Town of the premier division of the United Counties League. The last time I had seen St Ives Town, they had been tanked 6-0 by Newport Pagnell Town, but tonight, they were too strong for their Eastern League opponents and although the “Goddy” faithful were in full voice (and full of lager), they were no match for the powerful UCL side. The ground was slippery and the rain beat down, but St Ives comfortably took the match by 3-1. Nobody made mention of the referees interesting surname!

The Hunts Post Community Stadium, Cambridge Road, St Neots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 4th May, Huntingdonshire FA Senior Challenge Cup FINAL

Godmanchester Rovers             1                      St Ives Town                   3

Nicky Hurst 29                                                      Junior McDougald 17, 73(pen)

referee:- Mr Andy Bent                                      Conor Washington 90+2

(Eaton Socon)                                                       attendance:- 450

 

I went back to St Neots for my next match on the following Sunday. There was still severe flooding on the way into town and the road remained closed! Once again I made the long detour through the congested (?) town centre. There was a jolly carnival atmosphere to this game and St Neots were playing hosts in a cup final on their own ground to North Bedfordshire side, Stotfold. These two used to play in the same league – The United Counties League – but both have moved, with St Neots graduating per ardua ad astra to The Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division and Stotfold making the sideways move into The Molten Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division.

The Hinchingbrooke Cup

 

 

 

 

Stotfold is renowned for having as its ground, the “other” Roker Park! St Neots won in a canter sticking six on their erstwhile league colleagues who nonetheless kept plugging gamely away without success! As is usual with these amateur run cup finals, the officials of the Hunts FA had absolutely no idea of how many people had turned up and absolutely no intention of publishing an official attendance! Eventually, they agreed that 350 should be the “official” attendance! If St Neots can post an attendance for every home league game, surely it is not beyond the whit of the Hunts FA to utilise that expertise for their own cup FINAL!!

 

 

 

 

Sunday 6th May 2012 Hinchingbrooke Cup FINAL Kick-off:- 3.00pm

St Neots Town                     6                   Stotfold                   0

Rashid Kamara 27

Stefan Moore (pen) 30

Ben Mackey 40, 66                                 referee:- Will Hardie

Chris Manangu 80, 90+1                     attendance:- 350

 

The following evening, I travelled up to Nottingham for my fifth “cup” tie and third final of the month. It rained pretty heavily as I drove northward but the film I had seen that afternoon had made a powerful impression on me! It was called “Babycall”, a Swedish film with English subtitles and weird in the extreme. It was about a mother in hiding with her eight year old son in a block of flats. Social Services were hiding them from the father who had abused the child, but nothing was as it appeared. One day, whilst her child was at school, Mum went out for a walk and found a beautiful lake with swans and flowers. She told her son all about it when he came home from school and he insisted on seeing it too. However, when she took him there…………it was no lake, but a car park! That was only the start! Nothing you saw in the film could be believed! If you ever get the chance, it is a film well worth seeing! Anyway, enough of “Film 2012”, the match was the Floodlit Cup Final of Finals as the CML North Division Floodlit cup winners, Ollerton Town were playing the CML South Division Floodlit cup winners, Basford United. I’d already seen Basford United defeat Newark Town in the South final last month when I found myself stranded at Nottingham Railway Station on a filthy night, so I felt pretty well acquainted with the competition!

The Phoenix Trophies Floodlit Cup

Newark Town, tenants of Collingham FC organised the final and laid on pork curry with rice and naan bread for the spectators, very reasonably priced at £2.00 a portion and very welcome as I can testify from first hand experience! The match as a contest lasted about five minutes. Basford were the stronger, more determined team and clocked up three goals in each half. Ollerton huffed and puffed but only had two second half goals to show for their efforts!

Monday 7th May 2012 Windsor Foods Central Midlands League Phoenix Trophies Floodlit Cup FINAL kick-off:- 7.30pm

Basford United                     6                                   Ollerton Town                      2

Carl Westcarr (2), Darren Garmston                        Lewis English

Aaron Hooton (2), Cashell Walters                          Oliver Woodhead

referee:- Rob Townsend (Collingham)                     attendance:- 102

 

Cup finals were coming thick and fast and on the following evening, Chris and I met up at The King Power Stadium, home to Leicester City FC for the final of The Leicestershire FA Senior Westerby Cup. This particular cup is for Leicestershire football clubs at step four and above. Those below step four have an alternative Senior Cup, sponsored by Jelson, of which more later! We met up at Freemans Wharf which is the site of a huge weir on The River Soar and is immediately behind the stadium. Now “Freemans Wharf” would be a class name for the stadium! Sadly, money is more important than class and so we get the somewhat meaningless King Power Stadium, which, apparently is something to do with a Far Eastern duty free merchants!

Freemans Wharf at Leicester City FC

I hadn’t exactly enjoyed a trouble free journey to Leicester, which in normal circumstances is about forty minutes drive away. I gave myself an hour and a quarter to be on the safe side, and just as I left the far side of the Market Harborough bypass, all traffic ground to a halt. There was some slow movement forward and I considered my options for twenty long minutes during which time we moved half a mile up the road into Kibworth Beauchamp. There, I swung a left and darted through Smeeton Westerby, Saddington and Shearsby at formula one speeds to the A5199 Northampton to Leicester road. Once there, I had a reasonable chance of getting to  the ground in time and having wiped the beads of sweat from my brow, was able to park in full view of Freemans Wharf!  Chris and I went to sit amongst the Loughborough Dynamo supporters, for no other reason than that they were the underdogs from step four (Northern Premier League Division 1 South), playing opposition from step two (Hinckley United from The Blue Square Bet North). It was a good choice! Loughborough claimed an interval lead and were good value for it. Hinckley United struggled for cohesion but managed to drag themselves level in the 70th minute and that was the score at 90 minutes. Extra time produced a winner and it went deservedly to the underdogs who were understandably overjoyed at their success!

Tuesday 8th May 2012 Leicestershire FA Senior Westerby Cup FINAL – kick-off:- 7.45pm

Hinckley United             1                Loughborough Dynamo                    2  

(aet, score at 90 minutes – 1-1)

Craig Farrell 70                                      Shawn Richards 40, Dom Brennan 107

referee:- Andy Newbold                        attendance:- 724

 

I’d been to Newark Town’s ground at Collingham two nights previously and here I was back again, but this time for a home league match against the division’s strugglers, Kimberley Town. Suffice it to say that it was the home side who struggled and Kimberley who had garnered a mere five points all season who looked the likelier team and who will feel hard done by to come away with only a draw! Once again, a substantial precipitation (it always seems to rain in Newark!) accompanied the entertainment, but there was no curry this evening!

Wednesday 9th May 2012 Windsor Foods Central Midlands League Black Dragon South Division – kick-off 7.45pm

Newark Town            2                                  Kimberley Town                2

L. Cree (pen) 67                                                    Fox 9

I. Hillier 90                                                            Sinclair 78

referee:- Kevin Guise                                           attendance:- 41

 

The following evening, it was back to the cup finals for my fifth final in ten days. This time I was going to the flood plains of Barrow-on-Soar, where it always seems to rain and wherever I park, I have to wade through mud to get to the turnstile! It was the final of The Everards Breweries Leicestershire Senior League, Beacon Bitter Cup and if that wasn’t a mouthful, then the competing finalists were Rothley Imperial from just down the road and Lutterworth Athletic who had carried all before them this season and the former had won the league with the latter runners-up, some six points behind.  For the first hour, the most likely result was a 0-0 draw so strong was each defence. Then there was a goal apiece to force extra time and a further goal apiece during extra time but the two protagonists were still all square and it would go to penalties! After three penalties each, Rothley Imperial were leading 3-1 and it all seemed to be over bar the shouting. However, inexplicably, Rothley failed with their next two penalties and Lutterworth scored with both of theirs so that after five penalties each it was 3-3. The dream comeback was shattered when Rothley scored with the first sudden death penalty and Lutterworth blew their hopes as their sixth penalty flew high wide and handsome and a great comeback had been dashed away. It was compulsive and very exciting viewing!

Thursday 10th May 2012 Leicestershire Senior League Beacon Bitter Cup FINAL – kick-off 7.30pm

Lutterworth Athletic                 2                      Rothley Imperial                    2     (after extra time, score at 90mins – 1-1)

Tony Brown, Cam Laywood                             Stephen Hart, Ash Warner

referee:- Vernon Taylor                                      attendance:- 166

(Rothley Imperial won 4-3 on penalties)

 

The climax of the month was undoubtedly The FA Vase Final at Wembley on Sunday 13th May and suitably, the weather was benevolent and the sun shone on both teams! Chris picked me up  at junction 20 on the M1 at Lutterworth and we drove sedately down to Stanmore Tube Station where the party increased to five and we paid an extortionate £8.50 for a return ticket on the underground four stops down to Wembley! The tickets for the final were complimentary, something which Chris had arranged with The Baris Northern Counties East League and having gratefully received our tickets and conveyed our appreciation, we repaired to a local Indian hostelry for refuelling. Naturally, my repast (chicken Jalfrezi) was accompanied by a bottle of house red, whilst the rest – abstemious lot – endured non-alcoholic beverages of some indeterminate description! Afterwards, we made our way – a little gingerly in my case – to Wembley Stadium where we had seats on the half-way line and the use of an exclusive lounge! The game itself was somewhat of an anti-climax. West Auckland Town were never at the races and two regulation goals, one in each half from top scorer Andrew Bulford sealed a comfortable victory for Dunston UTS. We stayed for the celebrations, but the nearest we got to finding out what UTS stood for, was Laurence who suggested a transport firm might be sponsoring them! None of their own fans seemed to know why the suffix “UTS” had been appended! It was left to Martin Howarth to explain in his “Northern Wisdom – Review of The Season”. “UTS” stands for “Utilities Technologies Services” which is an engineering company based in Jarrow. Finally, a word about the attendance. Only 5,126 supporters were there in Wembley’s vast reaches. Some said that the match should have been played at St. James’ Park in Newcastle, as both teams were from the North East. I appreciate that the average attendance at Northern League matches is around the 100 mark and it was in that context that over 5,000 people attending the final at Wembley was pretty impressive. However, I can still remember an FA Amateur Cup Final replay on 29th April 1967 at Maine Road, Manchester, when I was part of a huge crowd of 55,000 to see Skelmersdale United beat Enfield 3-0! Those were the days!

Wembley Stadium

 

The club flags of the finalists and The Carlsberg FA Vase flag

Ecstatic Dunston UTS players with The FA Carlsberg Vase

Dunston UTS manager Billy Irwin with The FA Carlsberg Vase

Our plush, padded seats at Wembley

 

Wembley can be a cavernous catacomb when there are only 5,126 fans in the stadium

 

Sunday 13th May 2012 FA Vase FINAL – kick-off 3.00pm

Dunston UTS                           2                             West Auckland Town                    0

Andrew Bulford 29, 79

referee:- Roger East                                                 attendance:- 5,126

 

The Central Midlands League teams seemed to have a lot of fixture catching up to do and none more so than Newark Town. I was back there on Wednesday 16th May for the third time in a month! This was Newark Town’s final fixture of the season and it mirrored their opening fixture when they lost away at Clifton by 2-1. This was a very special football match. It wasn’t a cup final and it wasn’t a title decider and only Liam, the youngest of my sons sensed the significance of the occasion when he sent me a text which simply said “How many matches, Dad?”. It was my two hundredth match of this season and a milestone I had never before reached! Sadly, the game itself was a let down for the home team, hoping to end their season on a high note. They stood in fourth place with their rivals but one point and two places below them. At the end of the encounter, however, they had been overtaken by their opponents after tamely subsiding to a 0-2 defeat.

Wednesday 16th May 2012 Windsor foods Central Midlands League Black Dragon South Division – kick-off 7.45pm

Newark Town                                  0                           Clifton                               2

                                                                                              Chris Atkins 55, Rob Gill 65

referee:- Duncan Robertson                                          attendance:- 47

 

As the season ground its way inexorably to an eschatological  conclusion, games were getting thinner on the ground and I found myself dipping into the lower reaches of step seven and eight in order to eke the season out! One such was a Peterborough & District League match on that Friday at Moulton, near Spalding. Almost half of the attendance this evening was made up of hoppers doing exactly what I was doing. Indeed, some of them were hoping to make a weekend of it by taking in the match at Pinchbeck United the following day. (I hope they weren’t too disappointed to find, when they arrived at Pinchbeck, that opponents Oundle Town had decided not to turn up. It appeared that they had decided to curtail their season before completing their fixtures!). It was a dull evening with a persistent drizzle, but it was good to find programmes being issued free of charge and a very welcoming bar! The home side, Moulton Harrox were in fourth place whilst their opponents were mid-table. There was nothing to play for, but that didn’t stop both sides playing at full tilt and the home side completing an emphatic victory!

Friday 18th May 2012 Peterborough & District League Premier Division – kick-off 7.00pm

Moulton Harrox                     5                            Coates Athletic                 0

Joshua Ford (2), Billy King

Ashley Coddington, Paul Shake-Newcombe 

referee:- Mr Reg. Parker                                            attendance:- 38

(Market Deeping)

 

Cricket occupied the weekend. My school team staggered to 113 all out in 45 overs and were then humiliated by their opponents who knocked off 116 without loss in 23 overs! The following day in the Rutland League Division 1, I was umpiring a much more closely fought contest at Bourne in Lincolnshire. They put their newly promoted opponents, Nassington,  in to bat and allowed them to score 220 all out off exactly 45 overs with young Danny Bandranaike scoring 54. Bourne were up for it, but Nassington squeezed the runs out of the game and strangled every scoring opportunity with Bandranaike taking 4 for 36 and Bourne were left high and dry on 201 for 9 off their allotted 45 overs. It was a good win for the young newcomers.

Come Monday, I was ready to hit the football trail once more and, assisted by Lee West’s web page, I found myself travelling 58 miles down to Bassingbourn in deepest darkest Cambridgshire. All went well until I came off the A14 at Godmanchester and took the A1198 Royston road. I found myself several cars behind a slow moving fuel tanker on a road where overtaking is at a premium! The comet’s tail of following vehicles grew and lengthened and I arrived in Bassingbourn with a mere five minutes to spare in a fairly frazzled state and had I been blessed with a baseball bat, I can assure you, neither the tanker driver nor his wagon would have survived! It was the semi-final of The Kershaws Cambridgeshire County League Fosters Cup and the home team were up against higher league opposition in Sawston United. Again, there was a goodly turnout of hoppers, there was a tea bar at half-time and everyone was helpful – especially with the scorers! The game went according to form and Sawston saw (sic) off their opponents quite decisively!

 

Monday 21st May 2012 Kershaws Cambridgeshire County League Fosters Cup Semi-Final – kick-off 6.15pm

Bassingbourn                    0                          Sawston United                      4

                                                                                Luke Shaw 10, 70

                                                                                Matt Bell 48, Dan Coulbeck 81

referee:-                                                                 attendance:- 40

 

I was squeezing the dregs out now! On Thursday, I drove down to Aylesbury, or to be more precise, to Oakley United who play in a small village just outside Aylesbury. This was an away fixture for the “home” team, whose ground was already in use for the cricket season. It was a lovely evening, real shirtsleeves weather and at least half of the very small attendance were hoppers! I had a pretty good chat with most of them and enjoyed a very competitive match in which the “home” team, playing away were soundly and deservedly trounced by the “away” team playing at home!

Thursday 24th May 2012 Oxfordshire Senior League Division 1 – kick-off:- 6.40pm

Broughton & North Newington               1                Oakley United                    4

Aaron Lowe 44                                                                         Danny Bailey 20

                                                                                                      Alex Woodfine 22,43

                                                                                                      Rob Simai 82

referee:-                                                                                       attendance:- 16

match played at Oakley United

 

Tuesday 29th May Proved to be the swan song, my final match of the season. I can remember forty odd years ago when I was a student in Liverpool, trying to get 100 games in in a season and only managing eighty-three  and thinking I hadn’t done really well (I had done really well, considering the student grant I had!). This season the total was 204, a very presentable total, but I know many other hoppers who could comfortably top that total! The final game was at Holmes Park in Whetstone in Leicester. Holmes Park is the headquarters of The Leicestershire & Rutland Football Association and is used for representative games and for some of the county’s cup finals…as it was this evening! There was a healthy crowd for this cup final, but, as usual, the administration and the organisation were pretty poor! First things first, there was no ale!!!! There was plenty of lager but no beer. I really couldn’t believe that a bar could be too busy to remember to order more beer! The car parking at the ground was disorganised. There were no team sheets and the programme (admittedly it was free!) was the same one as was issued for the Westerby Cup final back on the 8th May. There were some lovely baguettes priced at £2.00 in the club house and I took advantage of one of those and then I sat in the stand with Les, from Pinner, whom I’d met the previous week at Oakley United. The match pitted East Midlands County side, Ibstock United from step 6 against Ashby Ivanhoe from The Leicestershire Senior League at step seven and on a sunny shirtsleeves evening, the result went to form, although each side had a player dismissed in the second half! 

Tuesday 29th May 2012 Leicestershire FA Senior Jelson Cup FINAL – kick-off:- 7.00pm

Ashby Ivanhoe                          1                              Ibstock United                        3

Phil Gibson 78                                                              James Brown 16, Jack Kyte 53

                                                                                          Jack Murray 83

referee:- Ryan O’Mahoney                                         attendance:- 307

 

Thus, without too much ceremony, the curtain came down on the 2011/2012 season. Two hundred and four matches and seventy four new grounds visited. Two trips abroad, one to Holland and one to Spain. Four “hops” one each in August and September and two in March. Seven Cup Finals in May and ………………….. a lot of fun. Now is not the time for nostalgic reflection, I’m too busy with cricket, but I’m sure, that, later, when the rose coloured spectacles come out, 2011/12 will be recalled with a great deal of affection and very fond memories!  Here’s to 2012/13!

 

 

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