2013/14: Budweiser FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round – Frickley Athletic v Sheffield FC

Just another Saturday at the football? No. This was the last Saturday before my son went off to University. He’s been my footballing companion over the last few years, but now what I’ve taken for granted as our weekend chance to catch-up is about to disappear. Suddenly the reality of him moving on to his next phase of life hits me.  I know this won’t be the last time we get the chance to go to football together, but without being too sentimental, today was significant and I tried to take in more of the day than I normally would have.

facupGiven that he is about to study at the University of Sheffield it seemed appropriate that there was a connection to the game attended today. Therefore it was a short journey and first visit to Westfield Lane home of Frickley Athletic to take in their FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round game against Sheffield FC.  Frickley play in the Evo-Stik Premier Division with Sheffield a league lower plying their trade in the Evo-Stik Division One South. Prior to this Cup match, Frickley had lost in midweek at home 2-1 to FC United of Manchester which left Athletic third from bottom with only one victory from their opening eight league games. Sheffield sat in eighth in their division having ten points from six league encounters. These two sides had recent FA Cup history as in the 2010/11 season they met in the 3rd Qualifying Round. In the game at Sheffield, the tie ended 1-1; however Frickley couldn’t make home advantage count as Club won the replay 2-1.

I’ve no car and so travel to games is by train. Today was no different and it was a straightforward journey from Leeds to South Elmsall and half a mile walk to the ground in mid-September sunshine. As in recent weeks discussion centred on preparation for University as we made our way to the stadium. However, the topic of conversation changed as we neared the streets and surrounding area where the Frickley Colliery used to be. It was a strange sight to take in streets with pavements without buildings and with roads leading to dead-ends. Even twenty years on from the closure of the pit this was a very physical reminder of the scars still left on the community and area. The fact is that by the time my son was born in 1995, the British Coal Mining Industry had all been virtually wiped out. Where the Frickley Colliery once stood is now a country park with the football ground (of what was founded as Frickley Colliery FC) the remaining link to the mining heritage of the area.

Having arrived about fifty minutes before kick-off we took in the clubhouse for a pint and with others watching the racing from the St Leger meeting at Doncaster on the television, my son and I read our programmes and talked about the game to come. With kick-off approaching, we made our way out to the pitch and eventually settled for a spot near the edge of the Frank Hill Stand. The main stand opposite is an impressive structure, but it is evident that the terraced ends within the ground have been reduced in size. Yes the stadium is a little rough round the edges, but it has bundles of character.

Just before kick-off we have our usual ‘guess the crowd’ competition, the closest earning ‘a doughnut’. On the day I was leading 11-0, mainly thanks to a spot-on prediction earlier in the season at Garforth Town which earned a six doughnut bonus. Looking round the ground I plumped for a figure of 275, with my son going for 220. He did well as we discovered post-game that the crowd figure was 222! The first-half turned out to be a corking forty five minutes with end to end action and three fantastic goals. Frickley could have been ahead as early as the first minute when from a Joe Fox cross, Gavin Allott’s header hit the post. However, it wasn’t long before the home side went ahead. On twelve minutes Jake Picton was afforded too much space by the Sheffield defence and he clinically finished from the edge of the box. Visitors Sheffield were quickly on level terms though when Ben Algar sent a long-range volley past Tom Woodhead on fourteen minutes. The status quo didn’t last long as four minutes later Frickley were back ahead again, this time another stunning volume flew in from Luke Hinsley with keeper Jamie Annerson rooted to the spot. Although there were no further goals in the first half, there were good chances for both teams before the break. Woodhead in the Frickley goal was called upon to make excellent saves from James Gregory and Jamie Hadfield, whilst Joe Fox and Gavin Allott had the best chances on the Sheffield goal. At the break it was 2-1 to the home team in what had been an entertaining half.

We opted for a change of view for the second half and walked round to the main stand, first purchasing a tasty burger and pie and peas. With the weather still fine, we took in the September sun, munched and idly discussed the game so far. Soon the teams were back out on the pitch, and it was another highly enjoyable half of football. Sheffield started the more positive of the teams, dominating the possession and creating the better chances, with Andy Gascoigne firing an excellent opportunity over the bar. Frickley were having to play on the break and on fifty seven minutes made the most of the chance. Luke Hinsley had time and space to run at the Sheffield defence and fired a shot on target which Annerson failed to hold, allowing an easy tap-in for Picton. Despite being 3-1 down the visitors continued to press, but it was just not their day as when Sheffield were able to get in on goal, Woodhead came to the rescue for Frickley. The visitors huffed and puffed, but Athletic continued to be dangerous and clinical on the break and progress to the next round was secured on seventy eight minutes. Allott was the outlet on the right for Frickley and his cross was poorly dealt with by Annerson who could only finger-tip the ball which fell to Picton, who had a simple finish to complete his hat-trick and seal a 4-1 win.

As we left the ground and walked back to the station my son and I agreed that Sheffield had more than contributed to the game and the final score was harsh on them. Soon though the conversation turned away from the football and returned to the subject of his new life in Sheffield. Men aren’t traditionally the best communicators but on that walk back I just wanted to reassure him that I was always there for him, that I was excited for him, that I was scared for him, that I proud of him, that I loved him. Just another Saturday at the football? No. A Saturday that will be remembered for more than just the football. Thanks son. Good luck and can’t wait for the next time we are at a game together.

2011/12: FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round – FC Halifax Town v Tadcaster Albion

Back in August I started my FA Cup adventure at Hemsworth Miners Welfare and their Preliminary Qualifying tie against Tadcaster Albion. Whilst in the next two rounds I was watching Garforth Town beat Sheffield FC and then lose to Frickley Athletic, Tadcaster progressed with victories over Pontefract Collieries and Scarborough Athletic. The draw for the 2nd Qualifying Round had Albion make the trip to The Shay Stadium to take on FC Halifax Town, so I decided to take up my Cup trail with The Brewers once more.

Along with Staveley Miners Welfare, Tadcaster Albion were the last of the (Baris) Northern Counties East League (NCEL) representatives in the Cup. In terms of League form, Albion lost their opening two fixtures, but have been unbeaten in their other five games to date. Their last League game saw three points snatched away in the dying minutes of the game as Parkgate scored to grab a 3-3 draw.

For The Shaymen, it has been a bit of a bumpy ride since their promotion to the (Blue Square) Conference North Division. On the opening day of the season Town suffered a 3-1 home loss to Corby Town and their last home fixture was an even more emphatic home defeat as they lost 5-1 to ten-man Vauxhall FC. However, in their last couple of fixtures Halifax have shown what they are capable of when coming back from 3-1 at half-time to beat Guiseley 4-3 at Nethermoor and then securing a 0-0 draw at Harrogate Town.

It was hard to believe as I entered the ground that it was the first day of October. With blue skies and high temperatures, the unseasonal weather gave the stadium a feel of a venue about to host a preseason friendly rather than a Cup tie. Indeed, despite a crowd of 1,002, there was very little atmosphere. This may have been due to the apprehension of the home crowd at the prospect of a giant-killing act by the visitors, combined with memories of the mauling by Vauxhall in the last fixture here.

Tadcaster were certainly not over-awed in the opening exchanges and as early as the third minute forced a good save from Town keeper Simon Eastwood. Halifax began to settle into the game as they dominated possession, however, this was not really turned into chances that worked Albion custodian Arran Reid apart from one excellent double-save from the young keeper. With frustration evident in the crowd as The Shaymen failed to break down the visitors, the home fans were stunned on the half hour mark when from an Albion corner was headed home by Carl Stewart to put Tadcaster ahead. The remainder of the half saw Halifax continue their domination of possession without really stretching The Brewers defence. Half-time came and Town returned to the dressing room with a real air of discontent amongst the Shay faithful.

Home manager Neil Aspin responded by replacing Anton Foster with Scott Hogan at the start of the second half as Town continued to toil away in the Yorkshire sun. Further substitutions came on the hour as James Dean replaced Danny Holland up front. However, the visitors looked relatively untroubled and with seventy five minutes gone, Aspin threw on recent signing Jason St Juste. His introduction gave Halifax a real threat of pace, but with ten minutes remaining it looked like the visitors would still hang on to their lead. Then on 81 minutes St Juste got down the wing and his cross was headed home by fellow substitute James Dean, which at last brought some noise from the home crowd. This changed the whole complexion of the game and suddenly the home players and fans could sense that perhaps a winner was still possible. However, as the ninety minutes ticked away the visitors had a good shout for a penalty turned down and it seemed that Albion had done enough to earn a replay. Four minutes of added time were indicated and these were all but up when Town were awarded a corner. From it Scott McManus headed home and cue celebrations from relieved home fans and bench. As the Albion plays slumped in exhaustion and disbelief, keeper Reid remonstrated with the Assistant referee, claiming that the corner award was incorrect, but merely earned a booking for his troubles. The Brewers kicked-off and launched one final ball into the Halifax penalty area, but it was game over and their brave Cup adventure was over.

It was a fantastic effort by Tadcaster and certainly Halifax knew that they had been in a game. Tadcaster have the FA Vase to look forward to in November and will relish it after their FA Cup campaign. For Halifax, they go into the draw for the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round on Monday (3rd October), knowing that it was a last gasp victory, but hoping that this might be the start of something special.

Postscript: At the Tech5 Stadium, Frickley Athletic were up against Harrogate Town. Visitors Town started brightly and took the lead through Will Turl. Frickley worked their way back into the game and just before half-time equalised through Grant Darley. The replay takes place at the CNG Stadium in Harrogate on Tuesday 4th October (kick-off 7.45pm).

2011/12: FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round – Garforth Town v Sheffield FC

The first Saturday of September and with an International Break for the Premier League and Championship, the second Non League Day and 2011/12 FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round take centre stage. I start the day with a dilemma. Do I go and watch Tadcaster Albion (who I saw emerge victorious at Hemsworth Miners Welfare in the last Round) at Pontefract Collieries or do I go to Garforth Town the nearest club to home? My decision is clinched by the fact that in going to the Genix Healthcare Stadium, I’ll be able to watch the Oldest Club in the World play in the Oldest Cup Competition in the World. So Garforth Town v Sheffield FC it is.

Both teams play in the Evo-Stik League structure, with Garforth in Division One North and Sheffield in Division One South. Prior to this game, both sides have played six League games, with Garforth in 17th position  and a total of 6 points with a solitary victory against Durham City so far. Sheffield have started more strongly sitting in 6th place with 10 points. This has been due to their excellent home form which has seen three wins against, Carlton Town, Grantham Town and Sutton Coldfield Town. Are the defeats of three “Town’s” a positive omen for Sheffield?

Last season these teams had very different experiences in the FA Cup. The Miners went out at the Preliminary Qualifying Round losing 1-0 to Tadcaster Albion. Whilst Garforth were exiting the competition, Club beat Colne 3-1 at home to progress. In the 1st Qualifying Round, Sheffield were drawn away at Woodley Sports and emerged 3-1 winners in a replay after drawing 2-2 in the game at Woodley. The 2nd Qualifying Round draw brought Northwich Victoria to Sheffield’s ground in Dronfield. Club must have thought their chance of progressing were over when they could only draw, but a 2-1 victory away at the Vics saw Sheffield through to the 3rd Qualifying Round and a home tie with Frickley Athletic. Once again Sheffield were unable to win the fixture at home, but as in the last Round again triumphed 2-1 in the replay. The 4th Qualifying Round draw brought Tipton Town of the Midland Alliance Division One to Dronfield. A bumper crowd of 1,026 attended a game that would see history made, as neither Sheffield or Tipton had ever reached the 1st Round Proper. The home side looked to be heading into the draw with the professionals of League One and League Two, but a Tipton equaliser left the game all square at 2-2. With Sheffield having emerged in Replays away from home in the previous Rounds, the game was by no means a formality for Tipton. However, in front of 1,420 Town emerged 2-0 winners. Their reward was a 1st Round tie at Brunton Park, where Carlisle United were ruthless in dispatching Tipton 6-0. Does a long run await either of these team today?

In truth, the opening 15 minutes were pretty scrappy. In windy conditions, neither side kept the ball on the ground and so it was a somewhat disappointing start to the Cup-tie. However, Garforth did take the lead on 19 minutes, when Matt Mathers put The Miners ahead. Further chances fell to the dangerous Paul Walker to increase the home lead, but Sheffield were coming more into the second period of the first half, with Garforth keeper Ben Higginson keeping Club at bay. However, on 37 minutes a Sheffield free kick was not dealt with by the home defence and Tom Burgin levelled the scores from close range. The visitors were now dominating the game, but couldn’t make a further breakthrough before half-time.

Sheffield started the second half as they had finished the first and continued to create chances. Matt Varley, Andy Gascoigne and Steve Woolley went close, before the visitors took a deserved lead. Having been awarded a free-kick and Garforth seemingly still sorting out their wall, Callum Higginson took the kick quickly to score on 64 minutes. This brought protests from the Garforth players, which the referee waved away. There followed a tetchy five minutes or so, as the home team showed their frustrations by committing a number of fouls which killed the flow of the game and brought a number of bookings. However, once they settled down again, The Miners worked their way back into the game. On 72 minutes Chris Howarth’s cross was headed goal-ward by Ben Thornton, only to be denied by a fine save by Dan Whatsize. However substitute Adam Priestly was first to the rebound to put Garforth back on level terms at 2-2. The Miners comeback was complete when just two minutes later, Chris Fisher drove in a free-kick to give Garforth a 3-2 lead. Rather than sit back on their lead the home team continued to press and Sheffield were grateful to Dan Whatsize for a couple of excellent saves that kept the visitors in the game. Even with five minutes of added time, Sheffield couldn’t forge a real chance of an equaliser as Garforth ran out 3-2 winners.

It was a really topsy-turvy affair and both sides had periods of domination and therefore could equally make a case for winning the Cup-tie. However, Garforth showed their spirit to come back from 2-1 down in the last quarter of the game and rather than hanging on to their lead, created further chances and therefore finished the stronger. So no repeat for Sheffield of last seasons Cup adventure, whilst Garforth have a home fixture against Frickley Athletic to look forward in the 1st Qualifying Round in two weeks.

Postscript: Elsewhere in the Preliminary Qualifying Round, Tadcaster Albion came through away from home 3-2 against Pontefract Collieries. Albion held a lead 1-0 at half-time after an early Karl Stewart goal. However, the game exploded into life in a seven minute second half spell in which four goals were scored. Ryan Poskitt levelled the game at 1-1 on 74 minutes, but goals from Graeme Whitehead (78 mins) and Jamie Hopcutt (80 mins), gave the visitors a two goal cushion. Back came The Colls to reduce the deficit as Ryan Poskitt scored his second and set up a tense last nine minutes. Albion held on and will have a home tie against Scarborough Athletic or Barton Town Old Boys in the next Round.

2010/11: Evo-Stik First Division South – Sheffield FC v Stamford FC

If I was to ask, who is the World’s First and Oldest Football Club, what would you say? Notts County? Well I’d give you half a point as they are the World’s Oldest Football League Club, formed in 1862. For your full mark I’d be looking for the answer Sheffield FC, who were formed in 1857 and have been officially recognised by both the FA and FIFA as being the oldest club in the World. Quite simply Sheffield FC provided the focus and influence to do much in producing the game that we recognise as football as spectators in the 21st Century. For example, the club was instrumental in providing laws which gave the foundations to the current rules and were influential in the formation of the FA.

Sheffield FC is a club stepped in history but is also one with a future with visions and aspirations. The 21st Century has seen Sheffield FC move to their first owned home ground, in Dronfield and in 2007, celebrate their 150th Anniversary. Sheffield is a club with a presence both at home and abroad which ranges from its extensive involvement within the Sheffield area and community, through to its “Boots for Africa” campaign and countless invites from around the World to play in various fixtures.

With this in mind, I wanted to experience at first hand this extraordinary club with a unique history. Therefore on a misty March evening I travelled down to Dronfield for the Evo-Stik League Division One South fixture between Sheffield FC and Stamford FC. The ground itself sits behind the Coach & Horses Inn and so was an ideal place to grab a pre-match pint. The pub itself contains some Sheffield FC and football memorabilia, amongst them a signed and framed shirt signed by various referees, placed rather interestingly outside the gents toilets! Having sampled the rather fine real ale, I took the shortest ever walk from a pub to a ground. The first thing that struck me about the stadium and the ground was the pitch which looked a decent width – no bringing in the touchline here. The BT Local Business Stadium is a tidy arena with a capacity of around 2,000. The 163 present created a good atmosphere on the night which was enhanced by the wisps of swirling fog that were evident in the beams of the floodlights.

Of the game itself, well, two young sides looked to provide an open and attractive game that rewarded the crowd with five goals as Sheffield overcame Stamford 3-2. For balance I’ve provided the match reports from the respective teams and they making interesting reading and comparison!

My thanks to the Sheffield FC website (www.sheffieldfc.com/) for the following match report:

Caretaker-Manager Ian Whitehorne’s youthful side finally gained some just reward for several ‘near-miss’ performances, writes David Bell, with a pleasing victory over Stamford FC at the BT Local Business Stadium.

An evenly-matched first half saw both sides attempt to play decent football on a greasy surface. Sheffield laid down an early marker as a 2nd minute Steve Woolley header went just wide from a corner. Equally, Stamford were keen to play their part as a low Ryan Oliver cross was intercepted by Whatsize with Millson ready to pounce. A Matt Roney pile-driver smashed into the bar on 21 minutes after Roney himself had cut inside and made a neat interchange of passes with Jonah Gosling. Sheffield’s youthful defensive frailties again showed as Lewis failed to clear, allowing Dan Cotton to fire comfortably over the bar. On 27 minutes, Lewis slipped allowing Clarke a clear run on goal. He comfortably rounded Whatsize in the Sheffield goal but in scenes reminiscent of Saturday, he amazingly put his shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Both sides traded blows in a pleasing display of football but it was Sheffield who were to break the deadlock on 40 minutes. A concerted spell of pressure saw shots traded around the Stamford box. Roebuck’s 18 yard effort was parried by Wright in the Stamford goal, straight to Ant LYNAM who made no mistake from close range.

The second half began in much the same vein. Both sides made early substitutions but it was Stamford who profited on 57 minutes as a clearance ricocheted straight to Ryan OLIVER, who made no mistake in comfortably beating Whatsize. Buoyed by this way back into the game, Stamford produced a long range effort from full back Matt Evans, closely followed by a Dan Cotton header from an Oliver overhead kick. The two combined once more on the hour as Whatsize produced a good save from close range. Club gained some reward for their excellent attacking play when Cotton clipped the heels of skipper Chris Adam with referee Mr Miller awarding a penalty. Andy GASCOIGNE duly converted and it was Sheffield’s turn to take the upper hand. A mere two minutes later, a Jack Smith cross from the right saw Tom ROEBUCK stoop to head home from a matter of yards, to cap a fine battling display. The game continued in end-to-end fashion and on 81 minutes, Paul MALONE forced the ball home from close range after a header back across goal. Andy Gascoigne received his customary yellow card in a minor altercation afterwards along with Jamie Clarke for the visitors, much to the chagrin of the Stamford travelling faithful.

Sheffield rode out the four minutes of stoppage time and must consider themselves rightly pleased with the three points. The seeds of this victory had been sown in previous fixtures. Tonight, however, it all came good and bodes well for the rest of the season and hopefully, the future.

My thanks to Stamford FC website (www.stamfordafc.net) for the following match report:

It was a low key start for both teams and nearly ten minutes had gone before there was any goalmouth incident.  A sharp turn and shot from Andrew Gascoigne hit a Stamford defender. Sheffield players appealed loudly for a penalty but the referee waved them away.

Midway through the half a good Sheffield move set up a well hit shot from Matt Roney but Chris Wright got finger tips to the ball to steer it onto the bar. 25 minutes had gone by before Stamford had their first chance when Ryan Oliver charged down a clearance but his shot from the edge of the box was always going wide.

Chris Wright had to be sharp again saving at the post when another shot from Roney was deflected. At the other end Jamie Clarke wasted a glorious chance to put Stamford ahead when he got behind a static Sheffield defence appealing for offside, rounded Sheffield keeper Dan Whatsize but then managed to drag his shot across an open goal and off the far post.

With five minutes of the half remaining, Sheffield took the lead and it was set up again by Jonah Gosling having a good game on the left wing. The first shot was blocked, Chris Wright saved the follow up but couldn’t hold the ball and finally Ant Lynam finished it off. Oliver was close to an equaliser as the half drew to a close but his shot crept past the far post with Whatsize beaten.

Harry Deane was brought on early in the second half and his first touch was a shot which flashed past the near post. Minutes later Stamford were level when a Sheffield clearance ricocheted off another defender to Oliver. He went round Whatsize and slotted the ball into the Sheffield goal.

Stamford then had a strong period which could have won the game but first Dan Cotton headed way over the bar from a yard out, then Whatsize saved well from Cotton before Miles Chamberlain headed the subsequent corner wide of an open goal from six yards.

At the other end Chamberlain completely missed a deep cross allowing the ball to go to an unmarked Chris Adam but he hurried his shot into the arms of Wright. Worse was to come when a woeful pass from Chamberlain went straight to a Sheffield player and immediately played wide to Roney.  He was fouled by Seth Burkett but stayed on his feet. The referee played advantage but didn’t hesitate awarding a penalty when the next tackle, this time by Cotton, brought Roney down in the box.  Andrew Gascoigne sent Wright the wrong way.

A minute later it was  3-1 to Sheffield when another deep cross from Roney was headed home by an unmarked Tom Roebuck.

Matt Evans tested Whatsize with a cross cum shot which was tipped over from under the bar. Andy Toyne flicked on another Evans cross which Whatsize had to tip over again. From the corner Chamberlain headed the ball forward and Paul Malone headed home.

As the players were running back, Malone was kicked by a Sheffield player.  After a long conference between all three officials it was clear that they weren’t sure who had offended. In the end they decided to book Gascoigne who wasn’t the player involved!

The game ended 3-2 to Sheffield but this was a game which Stamford could, and probably should, have won with better finishing and without the mistakes at the back.

Sheffield FC: Whatsize, Smith, Woolley, Lewis, Roebuck, Hadfield, Roney (Ward), Gascoigne, Lynam (O’Brien), Adam (Cpt), Gosling (Gregory). Subs Not Used: Purkiss, Ruddiforth.

Stamford FC: Wright, Evans, Burkett, Toyne, Chamberlain (Cpt), Malone, Mowbray (Deane), Millson, Oliver, Clarke, Cotton. Subs Not Used: Walton, Hill.

Attendance: 163

My overall impressions of the club are that they cherish their history and place in the game, but want to be around in the future. Sheffield is a club that values the community and a supports football across the spectrum from the first team, through the juniors, the ladies teams, disabled and futsol sides. However it is a club that is known world-wide and can boast amongst its members such luminaries as Sepp Blatter and has and still sits at football’s top-table.

Sheffield’s unique place in world football history can never be disputed, perhaps now is the time for the club to ensure that here in England more people recognise that we have on our door-step, The World’s First Football Club.