It all seems to be getting a bit wearisome. This long, long season is taking its toll. Maybe it's when you get a warmer afternoon, or maybe it's when the floodlights don’t go on at half time, but there always comes a time in every season when thoughts drift away from the game in front of you and turn to a summer in the sun and plans for next season. There is of course a certain type of football fan who says that they can’t stand the close season and think only of August when it all starts again. That's not me. Apart from tennis fortnight, my views on the Wimbledon shenanigans being well known - see below - I look forward to summer sport. Cricket, golf, the Derby and Royal Ascot, what's not to like is my view. I used to love it when football had a full four month close season and footballers could go off and ply their summer trade. Steve Ogrizovic the Coventry and elsewhere goalkeeper was probably the last in a long line of real double professionals, following the likes of Chis Balderstone, Willie Watson and Denis Compton, but many a cricket club had a pro footballer as their professional, and the local football clubs were always turning out sides to play in charity and challenge matches over the summer. Raich Carter was a dab hand by all accounts. Could our lads field a cricket team do you think? Jon Wightman is a noted bowler but I don’t know of any others. I may be wrong. And none of them would make a jockey....
View from the Cemetery
Fresh from the battle of Washington your correspondent rejoins the fray, exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure. Fifteen minutes of injury time, fantastic, hardly an unblacked eye on the pitch. Goals, bookings, sendings off, accidental, ahem, clashes, incidents galore and at the end a victory, super duper.
It felt a bit like the current squad versus the old boys with no less than eight former RCA players starting for Washy, and a few of us were apprehensive, but in the end the judgement of your management team was upheld, although personally it was a pleasure to be reminded what a footballing one off Joe Walton is. A force of nature, enraged with the opposition, his own team and the world in equal measure. We were clearly the better side, or so I hear, although a failure to convert opportunities made it closer than it should have been. Football in fairly short supply, but plenty of effort and endeavour. A proper derby match in fact, a real good curtain raiser for the event next week, complete with the obligatory annoying kid in the mag shirt shouting stupidities throughout. Where do they get them from?
In Europe or out? I don’t know, and I don’t give political advice, other than to always look for the ulterior motive and beware of the very confident. I suppose that is giving political advice. Anyway, Europe is not something which is likely to worry us in a football sense, unless we ever get round to this end of season tour abroad that is sometimes mooted. I will give my apologies. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the odd football tour in my time. Very odd in a couple of cases.
We once took our Sunday side to play a couple of games down in Leicestershire, one in a pretty little village, just outside the town where we were staying. Late on the first evening, while seeking some sustenance of an oriental variety, we spotted a headline on the back page of the local evening paper which said that the Cossacks, our boldy named opponents the following morning, were hosting, and I quote, “a crack northern outfit.” This came as something of a surprise to the northern outfit in question, as most of us were nine or ten pints in by this time and choosing between the chow mein and the curry to complete the evening, the local young ladies having proved not as accommodating as we had fondly hoped. And we had just finished second bottom of the Sunday league third division.
Are we trapped in a weather pocket of our own? And is it anticipating our movements? Looks like it after the postponement of another two games last week. North and South at that. Morpeth understandably keen to protect their pitch with the Vase game against our nemesis from Bristol in mind, so no great surprise there, and they haven’t played at home for months anyway. Not that it did them any good, the Vase game was off as well. And then Norton, caught in a Teesside swamp attack. So the season goes into May now, and we face two games a week every week. As does just about everybody else for that matter. Could lead to some funny results come the last few weeks, in fact I take that back, it will lead to some funny results come the last few weeks. Footballers are creatures of habit, and for most the summer is May and June, time to get the holidays out of the way before pre season comes round. So a few people will go missing no doubt, some unfamiliar teams will take to the pitch, and a few end of season boys trips might have to be rescheduled. Still, some nice warm evenings too enjoy a game, and with the rain presumably finally abating.
A bit of a feature on the local telly news the other night, about the lad down at Darlington RA who broke his leg and waited a long time for an ambulance, stuck on the pitch in the rain. Much the same happened to Browny for us through at North Shields earlier this season. And elsewhere as well or so they say. The League Chairman is concerned I hear and raising it in higher places, and I somehow don’t think it was a coincidence that Look North featured the story. Journalistic contacts have their uses. Though I may be entirely wrong in this case of course.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again: we will miss him when he is gone. And his farewell walking malarkey seems to be going well, good effort and no question. Over seventeen grand raised so far and quite a way still to shuffle before it all ends. No doubt he spends his time humming that great tune by the much underrated and lamented Edwin Starr, "Feet don’t fail me now”.
All good things as they say, all good things... It was so close it felt like we were touching the quarter finals, but it wasn't to be. Didn't quite get the rub of the green in a tight game, and the Bristol boys hung on gamely to snatch it in the last quarter. Mustn't grumble though, that's why it's the best game in the world, it ain't always fair and you don't always get what you deserve. But what a great adventure it has been. Great away days at Silsden and Hemsworth, or so I am told, with some great moments to recall. A sign at the entrance to Silsden's ground announcing 'Sunderland' were in town; and a raucous crowd at Hemsworth silenced by Larks’ 12 second opener, good memories indeed. The result against a very well fancied Tadcaster that made a few take notice, probably the best performance of the season to date. And great goals, James Armstrong's superb extra time free kick as it looked as if we were bound for Bridlington on a Tuesday night, he was a popular boy after that, and of course Michael Charlton's worldly from about a quarter of a mile to beat Sleaford. Two effortless hat tricks from coach Larkin, and finally Wayne Buchanan gets two in a game and we still manage to get beat, an unlikely combination if ever there was. Not to be missed any of it, it's put our little club on the map, made us new friends across the country, and hopefully given us a taste for more of the same in years to come. Well done to all concerned.
And still a long way to go in this season. Where can we finish? What's the betting? Top six? Be very good, but maybe we are starting to feel a long season a bit. So will everybody else though, and it's a pleasure to be looking up not down for a change. And off the pitch? Just got to sort the pitch out for starters, find a cheap groundsman, fix the stands, check the floodlights, improve the power supply, find some more volunteers, raise some money and everything will look hunky dory. Easy peasy....
The problems of success, eh? Irate neighbours complaining about the vast crowds flocking to Meadow Park, and more to the point, parking their jalopies without due care and attention. The vast crowds that is, not the irate neighbours. Ryhope police turned out in force, both of them, had soothing words with the most annoyed gentleman in question, and then enjoyed the match. It's a tough life in the thin blue line alright. And all this with barely three figures in attendance. Still, at least the big game was on, despite much concern in the previous couple of weeks as the old precipitation looked like it was going to precipitate a heart attack or two, or at least a punch up among the ground staff, which would probably amount to the same thing. Not a pretty sight in parts, the pitch not the ground staff, but overall it seemed to play OK. Quite a lot of cursing and head shaking on Monday morning though. But the game was won! Fifth round, can you credit it? I thought the boys from Sleaford gave our lads quite a shock early on, came at us hard, and it took a while for our passing to swing into action. They were strong and effective and no mistake were the Lincolnshire lads. However we gave ourselves a shake and just about deserved the win, and certainly the winning goal did. A thing of beauty.
Fourth Round of the Vase eh, well who would have thought it? Not many this time last year, that's for sure, when we were sitting not so proudly at the bottom of the heap. A few club knockers were out and about. True we were playing a bit better by then, but it still looked a long way to safety, and we certainly weren’t worrying about any cup ties, I do know. But this season? A different kettle of fish indeed. Slow start admittedly, but since September solid, very solid I reckon. And this Vase run is fairy tale stuff. Most exciting thing to happen in Ryhope since the chip shop caught fire. So bring it on. Don’t know much about Sleaford except they must be very decent, but hopefully we can do the trick. If and when the rain stops that is.