Malcolm Dawson writes……The recent inclement weather may have caused difficulties for many across the country, but for Pete Sixsmith it was a godsend. Last weekend the heavy snow meant the cancellation of the non league programme and allowed him to see the Lads win at Wigan, a game he had expected to miss. The cup defeat to the mighty Bolton spared him the agony of hoping for a win against Everton and afforded him the opportunity to take in the rearranged FA Vase game between Bitton and his home town team Shildon, which is why he had originally expected not to be in the Land of Pies. I have confidently predicted all season that should the draw keep them apart, I fully expect a Spennymoor v Shildon Wembley final. To my mind it is no surprise that the Northern League has dominated this competition in recent years. Having watched non league football in the Midlands for many years, once I returned to the North East it was obvious that the Northern League is of a standard far superior to its equivalents further south with most teams having the ability to compete at least two steps higher in the pyramid. Much of this obviously has to do with the fact that any team moving up finds themselves with much higher transport costs and time commitments with the nearest teams often being further away than any they face in the Northern League. Durham City struggled to make ends meet in the Evo Stik and others including Whitley Bay have unsurprisingly chosen to stick with the devil they know. Still for North East based fans of the non league game a trip to Wembley has become something of an annual ritual.
Sunday saw Pete glued to the visual and audio media, whilst practising his DIY surgery skills and as is his way found a Sunderland angle in the fourth round of a competition in which over half of the Premier League teams no longer have an interest.
We’ll let Pete tell his story.
BLANK SATURDAY; 1 OF 2
While listening to the Brentford v Chelsea game on Talksport this lunchtime, the commentator, a 12 year old called Sam Matterface, said that the last time the Bees knocked out a Premier League club was when they defeated Sunderland in 2006.
Admittedly, we were but barely a Premier League club as we gathered in a megre 15 points that season, but he went on to astound me when he said that should Brentford prevail and overcome Chelsea, that would be almost as good as putting Mick McCarthy’s team out of the Old Tin Pot.
Granted, I was chopping onions at the time (which accounts for the typing errors as part of a finger ended up in the mix), but it did get me listening carefully for any more SAFC mentions in the day’s other two ties.
I then tuned into 5Live for the Leeds United v Tottenham game and kept a careful ear out for the commentary team mentioning a certain day in May 40 years ago, when the gallant underdogs of the second level took on the bloated plutocrats of the top one, but I must have missed it.
It sounded a good show by Leeds with Ian Dennis describing it as a “typical Neil Warnock performance”, making me think it would have been more suited to Headingley than Elland Road, but it is nice to see the small clubs overcome the big boys once in a while.
On to Oldham Athletic’s home tie with Liverpool with the TV on in the living room and the radio on in the kitchen, I prepared and ate a rather fine chicken breast with peppers and spinach (and a bit of forefinger) from a recipe taken from the Guardian. Very tasty it was too, washed down by a glass of Soave and finished off with a plum and apple oaty crumble.
But enough of my menus. It was the dichotomy of three players in this game that attracted me. On The Liverpool side, Jordan Henderson, a talented player and rich young man, already an established Premier League player. On the Oldham Athletic side, Cliff Byrne and Jean Yves M’Voto, two lower league players who shared the Academy experience with Jordan and whose careers have not been quite as dynamic.
Cliff Byrne was very unfortunate not to break into the first team. He came to the club in 2002 and played very well for the Reserves in the days when Monday night at New Ferens Park was the place to be. He was strong and brave and looked as if he might make it.
But the breakthrough to the big time never came and he headed off to Scunthorpe United where he became captain, worked under Nigel Adkins and got a couple of promotions under his belt before being released and joining Oldham last summer.
He had a tremendous game today although Borrini, the player he was marking, was about as effective as Jon Stead on an off day. Cliff was always a brave player and some of his blocks were what one would expect to see from a Green Bay Packer.
M’Voto was a Roy Keane signing from PSG and when we first saw him at Hetton, we thought the club had signed a real monster. He was a big lad with dreadlocks and he tackled like a combined harvester.
His finest moment came in the Durham Challenge Cup Final against Gateshead , where he was almost sent off after 10 minutes for persistent fouling. He never really looked first team material and he was loaned out to Southend United and then to Oldham Athletic.
Steve Bruce released him in 2011 and he has had two decent seasons with the Latics, scoring a few goals – and heading for the odd early bath.
Like Cliff Byrne, he had a tremendous game against Liverpool and showed that what he may lack in pace and skill he makes up for in determination. Both were mentioned by Andy Townsend as having done well, but despite that, they should be proud of their contribution in what was the biggest upset for years – even bigger than Brentford beating the might of Andy Gray, Tommy Miller and Gary Breen.
I got my Football Fix at Bitton Sports and Social Club, a village between Keynsham (spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M ) and Bath . I was watching Shildon play there in the last 32 of the FA Vase and I am delighted to report that they came out 2-0 winners and now play Brantham Athletic from Suffolk in the next round.
The journey started in thick snow in County Durham and ended in warm sunshine in South Gloucestershire as we travelled the length and breadth of the country. The hosts were friendly and welcoming and the game was always interesting. A free kick from Robbie Briggs and a penalty from Mark Hudson settled it, although the winning margin could and should have been greater.
Brantham Athletic put out Whitley Bay so they will be difficult opponents as The Railwaymen traverse the railroad to Wembley. The game is on February 9th – same date as Arsenal at home. I see a dilemma looming. What would you do?