Monday, December 26, 2011

Points shared in East Cleveland clash

Guisborough Town 1 - 1 Marske United

Queues and Boxing Day have become synonymous when discussing the fortunes of High street Retailers. Queues and the Northern league are perhaps less closely associated, so it was heartening to see a crowd just short of 400 for this local derby between Guisborough and Marske. This is the first time in four years that the two clubs have clashed in the traditional Boxing Day fixture and the first time for even more that the two clubs have shared First Division status. These factors, combined with expected temperatures of an unseasonable ten degrees, drew locals for the late morning clash. Although there was only one place separating the two sides in the league table, the form table told a different story. Marske have hit a purple patch and came into the game on the back of a six game unbeaten run. Guisborough's performances of late have been impressive, even if results suggest otherwise. Profligacy in front of goal and festive generosity towards opposition forwards has cost the side points when conceivably they too could have hit the thirty point mark. As supporters funneled into the ground, a strong wind funneled the length of the ground. It made good football difficult and much of the first forty five minutes was attritional, with Marske pressing hard to maximise the advantage of the wind at their backs and Guisborough largely content to contain the visitors and spring at them on the break with the pace of Johnson, Roberts and McPhillips. The best chances of the first half fell to Marske and undoubtedly the clearest opportunity came to Karl Charlton. Playing against a former side seems to have different effects on different players. There is no doubting the fact that Charlton is a good player at this level, as his record demonstrates both this season and last in the yellow of Marske. But the King George V ground does not appear to be a happy hunting ground for Charlton. On several occasions he carved out openings only to be thwarted by good saves. He had the chance to set the tone in the sixth minute but having beaten Jack Norton his underhit shot allowed Wood to clear superbly off the line.

A few eyebrows were raised when the in-form Decosemo made way for Willie Boland in the starting line up. But the Irishman enjoyed an excellent hour on the pitch as he used every ounce of experience to control the pace and tempo of midfield and to bring other men into play. As Boland was replaced by Decosomo, this signalled a clear intent from Chris Hardy to take the game to the visitors. Yet it was Marske who should have gone ahead as Bradley burst clear. As he flicked the ball past the onrushing Norton the crowd expectantly waited for the ball to nestle in the corner of the net. Yet somehow, the ball dribbled past the post. Sport is all about chances taken and chances missed. Having been given a reprieve at one end of the pitch Guisborough surged forwards and Wood fired a shot/cross into the box. Austin Johnson, as tenacious, mobile and aware as ever, met the ball and cleverly flicked it over the visiting keeper to give the home side the lead. A goal so often gives a side momentum and when momentum is created, sides must capitalise upon it. Decosomo showed great vision to put McPhillips in the clear but with the home supporters expecting the lead to be doubled, he rashly blazed the ball over the bar. Following Decosomo's example, Roberts cut infield towards the centre circle and played a replica ball to McPhillips. Sadly for Guisborough supporters and to the relief of traveling fans, the outcome was the same as McPhillips failed to properly test the goalkeeper.

When Marske equalised it was perhaps inevitable but undoubtedly merited. Substitute Jones proved his credentials as a goal poacher as he tapped home from close range. There were chances at either end and Marske always looked dangerous from set plays, but a draw seemed fair as both sides were left to reflect on chances not taken.

As 2011 comes to a close, both sides will leave the year with fond memories of what has gone. Both sides promoted, both teams drawing good crowds and both sides making decent strides in a tough new division. By Easter we will know a lot more about how the two teams have fared in Division One. For now, they can look back on a year of fulfilled hopes and the realisation of a lot of hard work, both on and of the field.

This is what derby days should be about. A good crowd, a positive atmosphere, a lively but sensible local rivalry and an evenly contested and even tempered contest on the field. May 2012 bring more of the same.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Should I stay or should I go?

Geographically peripheral, a potential financial burden and an ongoing headache which divides opinion at every turn. You could be forgiven for thinking that I was talking about Britain’s present relationship with its neighbours in the Eurozone. Instead I am referring to the Northern League’s position in the football pyramid. It all sounds very sensible – promotion to a higher level, progression through different leagues and part of a meritocracy that rewards success with promotion and failure with relegation. Yet it has not panned out like that and over recent seasons no Northern League club has opted for promotion, despite domination of the FA Vase since the turn of the millennium. Should teams be forced to take promotion or are Northern League clubs understandably reluctant to take a leap of faith?

If the situation could be summed up musically, it would have to be the Clash’s Should I stay or should I go? The financial costs of promotion are obvious with increased travel and the need for players to leave work early to get to games. A Saturday fixture might involve a 10.30a.m start for players with a return almost exactly twelve hours later. Midweek fixtures represent even more of a problem. Guisborough’s recent mid-week North Riding trip to play Scarborough Athletic at Bridlington proved the point exactly. Frantic calls were being made to enquire as to players’ whereabouts and players were stretched to get there. Players may want be recompensed for time lost from work and booking a coach almost every week would be a huge expense. Players would seriously consider whether this jump would be worthwhile and even whether they could commit to this extent when they could play for a Northern league side along the road, especially if the money they are receiving is of parity. Those against the notion of promotion may be nodding their heads wisely and recounting the line from the aforementioned song which states that ‘If I go there will be trouble’. But we should note that the following line was ‘If I stay it will be doubled’. The Northern League is currently very strong – perhaps falsely so – due in part to its isolation. It exists in the pyramid and has the advantage of FA sanctioned competitions but perhaps understandably there are elements of the non-league community who are irritated at the perceived reluctance of some of the more successful clubs to make the move.

There are some who argue that the costs of moving up are exaggerated and that you don’t need to pay the players so much. By paying players less some of the extra costs would be negated. Equally, some would argue that extra revenue could be created by playing in a higher division. Crowds could in theory be higher through interest from the local community that their side is playing ‘new’ teams each week and admission costs would be greater in a higher division, creating more revenue. There is also the sense of adventure associated with travelling to new places, new teams and new challenges for supporters.

These arguments are easily countered. For Northern League teams to be given a realistic carrot to encourage them to apply for promotion, I would argue that the FA needs to offer a helping hand. This could come in two forms. One, by redrawing the boundaries to make travel less of an obstacle – especially for the Tyneside teams. Two, by allowing four or five Northern league teams to make the jump at the same time. By giving Northern League teams a feeling of strength in numbers, they would feel reassured that eight local derbies would exist each season, cutting travel costs and guaranteeing large gates to recompense them their additional overheads. The following season other teams may join them. Within a two year period, even if Northern league sides achieved promotion, there would be a sizeable enough quantity to make it feel a more realistic proposition. Promotion would almost be normalised.

Blyth Spartans did it, Whitby Town managed it, Durham City have just about pulled it off and Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Whitley Bay have tried it and returned to the Northern league for a whole host of reasons. The suggestion that Dunston, Sunderland RCA, Whitley Bay and Bishop Auckland may be interested in promotion is clearly welcome news and it would be marvelous if they were able to fly the North-eastern flag effectively in higher divisions.

For now, the issue remains a clash of interests. Promotion from the Northern League is a Curate’s egg. It remains to be seen whether the egg turns out sunny side up or leaves an unpleasant taste. I’m not one to normally sit on the fence and am firmly of the view that to do so you end up with some unpleasant splinters, particularly if the issue is thorny one. But on this matter, I feel the decision very much has to be club-based and founded on clear financial principles. We all want to see our clubs progress, but not at the risk of a club’s long term existence. From Eurozone to nonleaguezone in one fell swoop. From Sarkosy to too cosy and from Channel Tunnel to tunnel vision. The debate is set to rumble on and on.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scoring draws, Christmas draws and drawing the crowds

Guisborough Town 2 – 2 Ashington

Two things have been central to Ashington as a settlement; coal and football. It was the football team who were forced to dig deep today in a keenly fought contest played in front of a crowd of more than two hundred.
A trip to Guisborough just about represents Ashington’s longest league trip this season. They have traveled further this season in the FA Cup, both in terms of distance and by navigating their way through each of the qualifying rounds to face Grimsby in the first round proper. Teams don’t get through to the First Round Proper through chance. Ashington are well drilled, well supported and well placed in the league table to move into the top half with games in hand over surrounding teams.

Christmas is a time for hangovers and on a cold day where the pitch just about shrugged off the effects of the morning frost, it was of interest to see whether Guisborough could overcome the disappointment of their midweek defeat at Shildon. The performance was excellent up in County Durham and we were left to rue missed chances in a game where we should have left with a least a point.

Guisborough were quick out of the blocks and in the early exchanges it became clear that I’Anson and Roberts would pose defensive headaches for the opposition. Roberts skipped past his marker on several occasions before sprinting clear of his marker in the mid-stages of the first half to sweep the ball into the bottom corner. Only minutes later the moment was almost replicated but as Roberts struck the ball towards the bottom corner the visiting keeper pulled off a stunning one-handed stop to keep the ball out and push it past the post. It was not all one way traffic and on two occasions Norton was required to pull off good saves with his hands and feet to deny Ashington an equalizer. However, the scores were soon level as Bell scored from close range to send the sides into the warmth of the dressing rooms as level as when they had departed them forty five minutes previously.

As the second half commenced it was almost as though the pattern of the first half was playing itself out again, just with the two sides shooting in the opposite direction. Much as in the first half it was the lively Roberts who proved to a thorn in the visitors’ sides. At times he appeared impossible to mark and was as slippery as the surface. Twice he peeled away from his marker and could have added two headed goals to his first half strike. Roberts did add to his tally and the goal he scored was perfectly worked as I’Anson cleverly fed the ball into his path and Roberts thumped the ball into the bottom corner.

At 2-1down and two thirds of the game having elapsed, Ashington began to press and prod the home defence in an attempt to prise open and fashion an opportunity. To add perfect symmetry to the first half, it was Bell once again who scored from close range to secure an Ashington point.

A crowd of 235 watched a closely fought, competitive game between two seemingly well matched sides. Ashington were well supported and I have to say that it was a pleasure to welcome them to the King George V ground. Their bench were fair-minded and their supporters were affable and pleasant. With a celebration of youth event in the clubhouse and the club's Christmas draw taking place today, the club was buzzing.

With their game at Dunston postponed, a number of Marske fans made the short journey to watch this game. They will no doubt make the same trip on Boxing Day. With the form that Marske are demonstrating there is every reason to think that we are in for a Christmas cracker.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

From Shallots to Shalom: Goodbye to Onions as both sides part on good terms

With a name like Onions, every headline writer wants a slice of the action. For four years, most of the headlines at Guisborough have focused on Onions’ goals. This was never truer than last season when David Onions embarked on a scoring spree which included three consecutive hat-tricks – a remarkable feat at any level of the game. His thirty-seven goals last season were instrumental in propelling the club to promotion. Onions’ goalscoring feats did not go unnoticed. His nickname – ‘DO’ - was a reference to his initials but the Wakefield Post took an interesting slant on this, referring to him as the ‘Dangerous One’ as he posed a constant threat in our cup clash with the West Yorkshire outfit.

Onions is a Guisborough lad and not just popular for his goals. As team captain he urged the side on and his never say die attitude spurred the team on to secure draws when defeat looked likely and to steal three points when many sides would have settled for just one.

All players thrive on confidence, but especially goalscorers. This is especially true of DO and with the anticipation and excitement of a new season in a different division approaching, it was crucial that last year’s top scorer hit the ground running. Onions certainly hit the ground but not in the way intended. In a pre-season game against Consett he twisted under a heavy challenge and injured knee ligaments, missing the first month of the season.

There was never any questioning DO’s commitment when he returned, but the sharpness of last year only seemed to be present in patches. His announcement that it was time to move on to pastures new was naturally disappointing, but perhaps understandable.
Perhaps the most poignant and refreshing aspect of DO’s departure was the manner in which he left. No fit of pique, no unnecessary slagging off of the club or players, no side swipes or stinging words aimed at individuals. In fact, quite the reverse. Onions praised a club he loves, stating that it has been the most enjoyable four years of his time playing the game. Some of the so-called professionals of the world – Joey Barton chief amongst them – might want to take a long hard look and learn something.

My abiding memory of DO will be his lion-like roar as he lifted the North Riding Senior Cup last year after his goal was enough to brush local rivals Marske aside. The goal itself was a collector’s item as Onions used his head to nod Guisborough into the lead. It is not so rare for Onions to use his head in a less literal sense; his intelligent, well-considered points upon leaving the club attracted even greater respect. I’m leaving with great memories and a list of true friends - which is why we play the game in the first place Onions noted. You can’t say fairer than that. Wise words from the old sage that is Onions.