Sixer’s Sunderland-free Travels: West Auckland comeback peeves the Pitmen of Hednesford

Sixer welcomes the international break
Sixer welcomes the international break

With the deepest of apologies to Mr Poyet, Mr O’Shea, Mr Johnson et al, Pete Sixsmith snatched with glee at a weekend without the need to fret about how badly Sunderland would perform. And off he went in search of some non-league inspiration, eventually finding it once the half-time break was over and the card-happy referee had calmed down ..

Another international weekend, another chance for a break from the travails of the Stadium of Light. The longer this season goes on, the more I welcome the internationals. There’s another one due in November as well.

I did watch the England game on Friday night and found it mildly enjoyable. Roy Hodgson always comes across as a decent cove and I particularly remember an interview he did after we had beaten Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage, where he refused to criticise his players and praised ours, Kenwyne Jones in particular, saying Roy Keane was building a good side and should be given the time to complete his job. He was gone a few months later.

Keane was one of the pundits, complete with beard which made him look like a trainee George Bernard Shaw. They agreed that this was a competent performance, that the second half was good and that the possibilities of a difficult playoff were still there. The name Tomaszewski may even have been mentioned.

My Saturday game was an inaugural visit to Keys Park, Hednesford for their FA Cup tie against Ebac Northern League hopefuls, West Auckland Town. This was the Third Qualifying Round and constituted West’s seventh game in the competition this season, the run having earned them in excess of £12,000. It was the hardest game they could have had, with the Pitmen (Hednesford was at the centre of the long closed down Staffordshire coalfield) sitting proudly at the top of Conference North.

At this level, the referees are usually on the verge of becoming Football League appointees, so you usually get a youngish one who is keen to impress. We got a young one all right, but he failed to impress. By 3.14pm the score was Hednesford 4, West Auckland 2. Not in goals, but in bookings. He made the fatal error of producing a yellow for the first challenge by a home team player.

By doing do, he set out his stall and every challenge seemed to produce a booking. After 28 minutes (Pitmen 5, Auckland 2) of absolutely no football being played, the players decided to referee the game themselves, cut out the wild challenges and give the ref no opportunity to send anyone off.

It worked, because the second half was an absolute cracker, the complete antithesis of the first. That Hednesford were the more proficient team was easy to see and they’d had chances in the opening round, sorry, half. West Auckland’s keeper Joel Nixon had done well and his defenders had been solid, but little had been seen of the West attackers.

Robbie Briggs put an end to that with a stunning goal in the 50th minute. Briggs had been prominent in Shildon’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Vase last season before going to Gateshead to try to resurrect his professional career. When he was not offered terms on Tyneside, he signed for West and has been quietly influential for them.

His 20-yarder was of such quality that even the vociferous Hednesford supporters stood nearby stopped berating the ref and applauded.

A giant-killing act looked likely, but the Pitmen didn’t panic and with the referee (let’s name him – Mr P Dermott) seemingly having had a common sense sandwich at half time, the game settled into a rhythm that had been lacking in the opening half.

They hit the bar twice and Nixon made two fine saves before substitute Nathan Woolfe levelled with a header that bobbled over the line. When Bermudan international Neil Harvey put his team ahead with a great header from a fine Elliott Durrell cross, it looked as if West were out.

Forget England. This is the important one, says Jake
Forget England. This is the important one, says Jake

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Mr Dermott still had one trick up his sleeve by booking Nixon for time wasting (remember, his team were losing 2-1) and West produced an even bigger one, a David Blaine size illusion, when central defender Lewis Galpin drove home the equaliser in the third minute of added time.

It was a case of peeved Pitmen as the Staffordshire hordes complained and twisted about West’s tactics and accused them of cheating, feigning injury and attempting to kidnap the heir to the throne. There was an element of truth in the first two and I quite understand that Hednesford would not perform in a similar way if they were playing Arsenal away – which is the equivalent of what West were doing.

The town is reminiscent of somewhere like Hetton, with a street of shops just about hanging on and a huge Tesco strangling the life out of everywhere. The spelling skills of the local business community need to be reported to Mr Gove – an Estate Agent’s description of a house said you would be dissapointed if you missed out on it, while an elaborate sign for the Hen House proclaimed it as “The Frendliest Irish Pub in the West Midlands”. I blame the teachers.

The replay is on Tuesday, same night as the England v Poland game. No choice is there? Darlington Road for me, with a Bovril and a Taylor’s Pork Pie. Watch this space for a report.

* I have just seen that West have been drawn away to Stamford, of the Northern Premier League Premier Division if they get through. The Northern League’s other representatives, Marske United are at Southport, a difficult game for the Seasiders.

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1 thought on “Sixer’s Sunderland-free Travels: West Auckland comeback peeves the Pitmen of Hednesford”

  1. If the players decided to referee the game themselves and give the ref no opportunity to send anyone off, might that not suggest his pedantic carding was effective?

    I see there was crowd bother at Atherstone who were playing Barrow and the game was held up for twenty minutes. Last season there was bother at Gresley when the Warwickshire club went there too.

    Nowt like a bit of non league footy to spice up a wet Saturday afternoon.

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