Fake FA Cup, Preliminary Round – Pontefract Collieries FC v Blaby & Whetstone Athletic FC
Saturday, 4th August 2012, 3pm
White Rose Stadium
Distance 194 miles, Attendance 79
“Measure twice cut once”, nags my father-in-law on an all too regular basis. Of course his aim is perfect DIY, but mine is the perfect Cup match. So there I sat, white school shatterproof rule in hand, scanning the screen of my laptop again, squinting at the measurements. It can’t be? I measured twice, and just to be sure thrice (this’ll make him proud to have me in the family I thought).
Since the draw I’d browsed the fixture list daily wondering where to go. There were so many great options but, when in doubt I thought, follow the rules. It was a big problem, needing a big answer, so literally measuring the ties I plumped for the biggest game: Pontefract Collieries v Blaby & Whetstone Athletic. Of course I had no idea where or what Pontefract was but that hadn’t stopped me before. This time though I might need help….
I stood in front of them. “Get out the way!!!” insisted my nine year old son from the sofa as he tried to peer round me at Horrible Histories. “DA-AAAD!” screamed my daughter in support. “I need an atlas. Where’s yours?” “Why?” “I’ll move if you tell me where it is.” I now pleaded. This really wasn’t going well; I needed bribery “You can have this ruler if you tell me. It’s great, and shatterproof, and-er, white.” I continued hopefully. In the silence there was a sigh, and rolling his eyes, he uttered despairingly “Dad that IS my ruler.” “Look this is important. I’m lost, and need an atlas.” “You need to get out the way” butted in the little princess. I was beginning to doubt the three of us were actually related. As if interrogating, staring me in the eye the princess asked “Is it for football?”. There was a protracted pause as I thought… “No, of course not.” I lied feebly (God I must be getting predictable). Without a further word from either of them, a small finger pointed at the book case behind me then returned to dissecting an Oreo Cookie as the Tudors were dissected on screen. I dropped the ruler on the coffee table and walked out with my prize.
Three weeks later I set off from Kings Cross for the long haul north, thankfully without the children. I had a map, my camera, money, plenty of time, and two changes to navigate in the Rugby League hotbeds of Wakefield and Castleford. Nothing was going to stop me on this one. I settled back into my first class seat, with my first class trolley service, and my first class club research to read. Clearly if recent fixtures were anything to go by this one would be high-scoring. In the final month of last season alone these two sides’ games had amassed a whopping 32 goals, involving four wins, four defeats, an…..
Waking with a jolt as the train pulled out of Wakefield Kirkgate I knew I was in trouble. In a similar situation I once jumped from a departing train in Eastern Thailand’s “City of Happiness” Buriram. Thanks to modern ‘elf and safety, this option was no longer available and I was anything but happy as the platform disappeared from view. Thirty-five minutes later I was back, camera in hand, and a sour look on my face. Eventually, meeting my (new) connections – with twenty minutes to kick-off – the train pulled into Pontefract Monkhill station. If I followed the planned route, and ran, very fast, I could still make it surely. Seconds later my map – still sitting on the train seat – pulled out of the station.
Staring skyward whilst swearing under my breath, it was clear the footballing Gods were laughing at me. I set off. Jogging (I don’t do running anymore) down Mill Dam Lane, bag in one hand; inhaler in the other, passing a mix of pretty front gardens and industrial units. I’d say thank goodness the sun was out, but I feared the sweat would be fairly unsightly when I arrived at my destination. Up a hill, right into North Bailygate keeping what’s left of Pontefract Castle on my left and Peter Smith on my right, it was taking longer than I’d hoped. I was late but still I made time to stop chuckling – completely for puerile reasons – to photograph a road called “The Butts” en route. Continuing I strode purposefully into Northgate, and then left on to Skinner Lane and under the small stone railway bridge. Coming out the other side a cheer went up in the distance. I slumped against the wall, chest screaming for air. Looking at my phone it was gone three. No longer was I concerned that both teams played in blue… So near yet so far.
At the turnstile a friendly face stared me up and down and took my money whilst apologising for the lack of programmes and team sheets… “You’re a bit late!” “What’s the score? Have I missed much?” “Two-Nil, but don’t worry we’ll probably concede a few now”. Leaning on the barrier, mug of tea in hand as the game slowed to walking pace, I was gutted. The girl at the tea bar had been happy to point out how good they’d been in the first ten minutes, scoring with two fine headers. Now however the players were slugging it out in midfield, some almost literally. “Where are you from?” came a voice to my left. “London” I replied. “You know you’ve missed two goals.” He added matter-of-factly. I sighed deeply, watching unknown players, in this unknown land, as the “helpful” words swept over me.
It was clear my arrival had signalled both the downturn in both the weather and the game, and some caused some amusement amongst the locals. This was only their third FA Cup match in over a decade and they were intent on making a fuss of it. As I focussed on the boys in blue, out of the corner of my eye I could feel someone staring back at me. “What are you doing?” inquired a ball boy, no longer watching the action. “Pardon?” I stuttered. “Well Frank Worthington’s doing the halftime draw. What about you?” “Er, watching football.” What else could I say? I hardly thought my goal for Scott House in my final year at school qualified me for anything else. “My Granddad wanted Dave Penney. He played for The Colls. Granddad said he was better that Worthington. But he’s in Bristol now. That’s down south… do you know Bristol?” “Yes” I replied staring over his head intent on not missing any more of the game. “Is that where you’re from?” “What? I mean where?” I was now getting flustered. “Bristol. They’ve got seven rivers there you know.” “I think you’ll find it’s the River Severn.” I added authoritatively, but the young boy was already on to his next point. “My Dad says Romans bathed near Bristol… It was probably in one of those rivers. Can anyone wash there or just Dave Penney? …in the seven rivers? You’d need a soap dish that floats… My Aunt’s got one that floats… but not one that floats away. Rivers have got currents you know. They go downhill… but in canals they sometimes go up.” He added thoughtfully. “IT’S BATH!!!” I retorted as I tried vainly to ignore the boy, “The City of Bath.” Taking a breath and eventually gaining my composure. “Yes, bath, that’s what I said… in one of the seven rivers…” It was pointless. “Oh there’s Frank. Granddad won’t be pleased. Dave Penney was a much better brickie.” continued the boy turning his attention away from me at last. Sure enough the 70s maverick was by the stand, sticking his hand in a bucket, as the tannoy screeched out something inaudible. It was incredible I’d missed the first ten minutes of the half and now the last ten minutes too. Taking my chance I made for the tea bar once more, and made a mental note not to return to the same spot in the second half.
As the teams emerged again – shaking hands enthusiastically with Big Frank as he left the pitch – all seemed refreshed and raring to go, but the sound of the whistle – like a hypnotist’s prop – sent lethargy through them all. Without prompting the game returned to the same standard I witnessed in the first forty-five. Pontefract were intent on preserving their lead so prioritised defence, whilst Blaby & Whetstone tried in vain to break through it. It was all too easy for the home side. With minutes remaining, and the away keeper trying to become the next Jimmy Glass, The Colls broke clear. As Duncan Bray crossed the halfway line only one defender stood in his path, some 15 yards away. Bray teed the ball up, took two paces forward and launched it goalwards. The keeper was out of position, the defender stuck in no-man’s land. One bounce later the net rippled. The crowd applauded as the home team launched themselves onto the Assistant Manager who’d come on as a second half sub. Blaby & Whetstone were well and truly beaten, and despite the two minutes of injury time, had no time no to recover. Before the final whistle had gone The Colls even managed a fourth, from the penalty spot, after Gary Lumley was nudged over in the box. Rewarding the fans for turning up, Bray and Steve Lyons re-enacted the Cruyff-Olsen penalty routine they’d been practising during the week.
Strolling gently back towards Pontefract Monkhill the clouds opened once more, but still this time I had time to take in the surroundings. In my mind I savoured the two great goals I’d witnessed, and wondered of the two I’d missed. Sure Pontefract was a long way away from home, but it didn’t seem too bad as historic market towns go, even without Dave Penney. It’s also easy enough to find too if your kids have an atlas. Just go to where the men speak Seanbean, then continue until they speak something else.
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