Sunday, August 26, 2012

Last gasp equaliser earns Priorymen a replay

Shildon 1 – 1 Guisborough
It is a curiosity of modern Britain that however many shops are being boarded up or however light people’s pockets are in the financial crisis, two types of shop appear to be thriving – tanning studios and nail bars. Newton Aycliffe is home to Tanz in ere and as I drove through Shildon to take in yesterday’s FA Cup tie with Shildon, I was faced with Browned up. By the end of the ninety minutes, an apt description for Shildon manager Gary Forrest’s mood might have been browned off. Having failed to take their chances, Shildon were punished by a fighting Guisborough side who never gave in and were rewarded with an injury time goal to force a midweek replay.

I recently attended the Northern League Managers’ talk in at Bishop Auckland. Included on the panel was Gary Forrest and I have to say that I was impressed as he spoke eloquently and honestly about management and its’ challenges. Last season had been a disappointing one for Shildon, but he was at pains to point out that for two thirds of the season he was without a full strength squad due to injury. In the final ten games of last season, Shildon’s form was vastly improved and with summer signings added to boost an already good squad, Shildon have hit the ground running.  They thumped Whitehaven 6-0,  beat Dunston (away) 3-1 and followed this with a 2-0 win against Newcastle Benfield. Naturally, they will have been brimming with confidence going into this game.

Against Spennymoor on Wednesday, on several occasions Guisborough shot themselves in the foot. After ten minutes today the Priorymen once again gifted their opposition the initiative. A ball was played back to ‘keeper Ben Escritt, but the pass was underhit and left Escritt in no-man’s land. As the ball was taken around him, Escritt clipped the striker. There was no doubting the fact that it was a penalty. Collective Guisborough hearts were in mouths as the referee reached in his pocket. It could have been red. It was yellow. The referee’s rationale must have been that a covering defender may have got back with the striker taking the ball slightly wider. Escritt remained on the field, but could do nothing about Johnston’s well struck penalty. After a 6-0 drubbing against Spennymoor, to be a goal down in an important FA Cup tie was a true test of character and for fifteen minutes Guisborough had to pull together, batten down the hatches and weather a storm. At this point, Shildon’s Chris Hughes appeared to be everywhere on the pitch. He seemed to cover every blade of grass. He would skip past tackles, try his luck from distance, feed players into space and latch on to through balls himself. He must have touched the ball twice as much as any other player. For all this, Shildon could not score another goal. With half-time approaching, Johnston went though on goal. His goalbound shot was superbly deflected by Escritt, but the ball looped onwards. It was an agonising moment where I fully expected the ball to ripple against the back of the net and for the home side to celebrate. Miraculously, the ball bounced the other side of the upright. I hardly dared to think it, never mind articulate it, but I just started to sense that maybe this was our day.

The visitors came back in to the game in the closing stages of the half and whilst clear chances on goal were few and far between, Guisborough enjoyed a spell of possession which gave their defence some much needed respite. As ever, the bullish Austin Johnson was at the forefront of whatever was done well. He harried, pressed, pushed forward and played men into space. He and opposition player Hughes were the eyecatching players and it felt that whichever man won the battle would win the war.

The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tragore once noted that age considers, youth ventures. Perhaps this was the gist of Chris Hardy’s teamtalk, along with the important instruction to keep the ball and value it when they had it and to pressure Shildon into giving it back when possession had been surrendered. Guisborough’s young side, with an average age of not much more than twenty, came more and more into the game and looked to have equalised with twenty minutes left when McPhillips rose to head goalwards. Home keeper Finch threw out a hand to pull off a miraculous one-handed save. This came in a spell of Guisborough dominance and had they scored, the visitors might have gone on to win. But minutes later, Adam Johnston appeared to have sealed the game for Shildon when he finally beat keeper Escritt in open play but saw his driven shot strike the base of the post before being cleared to safety. As Guisborough manager Chris Hardy noted afterwards, had Shildon taken their chances they could have won by a two or three goal margin. They didn’t. With their never-say-die attitude, Guisborough threw all but the kitchen sink forward. A ball was whipped in by Blackford from the right and as Austin Johnson leapt to head goalwards, a home defender only succeeded in diverting the ball past his own goalkeeper.

It is a long time since I have been so pleased with a draw. A midweek replay now beckons and despite Shildon vastly outnumbering Guisborough in terms of efforts on goal, even one or two home fans admired Guisborough’s fighting spirit. “I couldn’t begrudge you that goal” said one. “Your lads never gave in. There’s a lot to admire in that”.

I wasn’t about to disagree. Wednesday’s replay will be just as tough, but who knows what will happen? That is the beauty of the FA Cup.  On this same day in 1768, Captain James Cook began his first voyage. Both sides will be hoping that their journey continues beyond Wednesday and that their respective ship does not suddenly and abruptly come in to land.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Spennymoor ease to an East Cleveland win

Guisborough Town 0 – 6 Spennymoor

In a Guisborough line up that featured two Woods – Gary and Lewis – Spennymoor can perhaps lay claim to a Wood of greater fame in Anne Wood. Whilst the name may not immediately ring any bells, we’ve all heard of the Teletubbies and anyone who is a parent of very young children will have heard of In the night garden. Spennymoor born Wood was the creative mind behind both international hits. Whilst it is claimed that Ridley Scott found inspiration in the Billingham skyline for his Bladerunner movie, we can only speculate over what Anne Wood found in Spennymoor to inspire her Teletubby creations.
After one minute of tonight’s match, it was Guisborough suppporters – not the Tellytubbies – that were emitting sounds of Ey oh as the visitors virtually walked the ball into the net from close range. It must have left Guisborough manager Chris Hardy clenching his fists in frustration as Anthony Peacock was given all the time in the world to stroke the ball home. You can ill afford to give a side of Spennymoor’s calibre a goal start. Last season the Priorymen were the only side in the division to take four points off Spennymoor. Yes, you did read that correctly. We were officially Spennymoor’s bogey side, a fact that was met with great hilarity from my three year old son as I readied myself to head to the match. In each of last year’s encounters Guisborough pressed the ball and tracked back wonderfully to limit Spennymoor’s chances on goal.  In turn, as Moors pressed forward themselves Guisborough, with several speedy players, were able to run from deep and exploit the gaps that developed over the course of ninety minutes. Perhaps this was intended to be Chris Hardy’s tactic tonight, but it was cut to shreds after barely a minute and totally changed the dynamic of the game before it had ever really begun.

Spennymoor are a class act. They move the ball around brilliantly and are totally committed to playing proper football. Lots of teams try to play football, but often cannot build up the pace and momentum required to open up sides. In Anthony Peacock, Spennymoor have a player that is perfectly suited to his side being a goal up. He was lethal on the break and at his wriggling, tricky best. With such a low centre of gravity, Peacock is able turn on a sixpence and switch play in an instant. This was the best I had seen him play tonight and it was easy to see why he had graced the professional game and difficult to understand why he is not still playing at a higher level.
Of course, Spennymoor have so many standout players and if some are below par, they have the wonderful luxury of bringing another one off the bench. Having had such a terrible start to the game, Guisborough did well to hold the score to 1-0 at half-time and there was a hope that perhaps with a more forceful second half showing they could pinch something from the game. These hopes were dashed immediately when substitute Cogden saw his speculative effort go low into the corner.

With Guisborough pressing forward and Spennymoor hungry for further goals, the Guisborough defence began to look more exposed than Prince Harry on a Las Vegas jaunt. Guisborough never expected to win, but the quantity of second half goals was a touch disappointing. The excellent Mark Davison bagged a second half hat-trick and I can foresee him scoring a lot of goals this term if he is given this level of service. In truth, with Spennymoor if you snuff out one threat another seems to pop up. It rather reminded me of playing Whack a mole.
If you had told me after three games that we would have won two of them and lost to Spennymoor, I would have taken that. Tomorrow sees us travel to Shildon – a side in red hot form. Victory will be difficult, but this is the FA Cup so let’s hope for a little magic. As for Spennymoor, well – they remain the side to beat.  As a final point it is perhaps worth noting that as well as the Teletubbies, Anne Wood also produced a programme called The blips. Guisborough fans will hope that this was all this was tonight after an otherwise encouraging start to the season.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Golden moments given a first class celebration

Golden moments given a first class celebration

The sight of somebody doing a spot of Sunday morning painting is hardly unusual in the British Isles and the average person would barely register a glance as they pass a fence being creosoted or a wall being given a second coat. Never before though have I been driving around my local estate to see a postbox being painted and certainly not painted gold. Yet that was the sight that met me this morning as bound for the local park we saw the early morning sun gleaming off the colour gold and not the usual Royal Mail Red. Yesterday Kat Copeland (of Ingleby Barwick, Stockton) and Sophie Hosking (of Wimbledon) paired up in the double sculls at Eton Dorney and clinched Olympic Gold. The look of astonishment and sheer unadulterated joy on the face of 21 year old Copeland epitomised everything that is great about the Olympic Games. I’m not someone who will claim that they know Kat Copeland, or that I’ve seen her walking her dog or glimpsed her powering down the Tees in early morning practice. I won’t even pretend that before the Olympics I was really fully aware of her, despite the fact that she lives but a stone’s throw away. Yet the early morning practice, attention to detail, technique and scrupulous attention to diet and nutrition will of course have gone on. Kat Copeland will have geared all of her attention towards the Olympic Games for four years, aware that the dream of an Olympic medal could be realised, but equally aware that the dream could be shattered in the mere blink of an eye. Of course, all that we see is the outcome of all of the practice and never the Winter Dawn starts when the rain lashes down and the wind chills to the bone.

On the topic of paint, whilst not wishing to draw too close a comparison between an Olympic Gold Medal winner and a non-league football ground (as the two are not quite measurable on the same scale), the transformation of Guisborough Town’s football ground when I arrived there yesterday was marked and testimony to the countless hours people spend toiling – often in the dark and gloom at the end of a day, or even in occasional sunshine – all for the club they support. It didn’t even require entry into the ground to see a difference, as a new plush welcome sign adorned the front of the ground above the turnstiles. The pitch – which seems to get better every season – had been worked on tirelessly by our groundstaff and a new wall had been built on the far side of the ground, upon which were new sponsor boards. Paths were free of weeds and aside from the electrical storm which crackled across the ground in the second half, being in attendance was a genuine pleasure.

Guisborough will not be unique. At Marske United they have been beavering away to build a new stand and at other clubs wonderful servants will have been working countless hours to do their bit for their clubs.

All of the close season football talk is dominated with who will win the league, who patently won’t, who will be struggling at the foot of the table and which team is splashing the cash to mount a challenge. But for me, these are side issues. Of course we want our teams to do well, but surely our involvement is more than just that? We’re involved because we are part of a community. This is the very reason why Darlington fans become (perhaps understandably) prickly when their club’s predicament is joked about. It is the reason why people do spend countless hours doing what they can for something they genuinely care about and frequently with hardly any recognition.

The sense of community is also why I will feel proud every time I post a letter at my local post box; proud that Kat Copeland’s hard work and focus has been rewarded. What a first class idea by the Royal Mail to leave a lasting legacy of these games in the communities that helped to shape these athletes.

Whoever you support, I hope the season is kind to you. Above all though (and however cheesy this sounds), let’s all remember that our involvement and love of sport must surely transcend the results on the field, even in the dark moments when travelling back from West Auckland or Spennymoor in midwinter having been given a drubbing.  In the spine-tingling moment when Jessica Ennis won her gold medal, what struck me most was that the other athletes joined her in her lap of honour and were forthcoming in their praise and congratulations. I reckon football can learn a lot from this. I certainly know that I can.

For now, I’m looking for a good excuse to send somebody a letter.