FA Cup, Extra Preliminary Round
This season I decided to start right at the beginning. Here you’re as many wins from the first round proper as teams in that round are from the semi-finals. Not so much at Everest base camp, then, as hoping to get through customs at Kathmandu airport. Five Live requests texts from players (there are more than 3,600 of them) on their way to these matches rather than fans. For ‘minnows’ read ‘plankton’.
In fact, so many teams enter the Cup that reading the draw takes about as long as driving to a match. In common with picking a winner at the Grand National, I made my selection largely on the basis of name. Oxhey Jeys, Concord Rangers, Coventry Sphinx, Sporting Bengal United, Lincoln Moorlands Railway and, the very silly, Nuneaton Griff, tickled my fancy but were playing too far away. Norton & Stockton Ancients, though, were drawn away to Guisborough Town (near Middlesbrough) which would also allow for sandwiches on the beach beforehand, something of a tradition on these jaunts. So Guisborough – preceded by an hour with Bertie at Salturn-by-the-Sea – it was.
The crowd was surprisingly large. Three figures, in fact. The noise wasn’t exactly deafening but there was a hubbub of conversation in the main stand that was as loud as the wind rustling in the trees. They surround the pitch on all four sides and make for a most attractive enclosure. The occasion was as understated as the ‘Guisborough Town’ sign on the stand, which is formed of seventies-style lettering attached to a beam and all but hidden from view. All those professional teams that emblazon their name across the seats take note. (Actually, Guisborough would barely have enough seats to do that and the Ancients, I daresay, would struggle even more so).
The home side went into the fixture on the back of an 8-1 opening day victory but the confidence that will have given them gradually ebbed away. The Ancients took the lead against the run of play and, as the game progressed, so the tide turned and they ended up worthy winners. For Guisborough, it really had ended before it began.