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.
Given 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.