Pete Sixsmith‘s passion for non-league football meant that he missed what Martin O’Neill called a ‘fantastic’ match as Sunderland’s second-half onslaught, punctuated by a good few scary moments when Arsenal counter-attacked, narrowly failed to secure a deserved point. Instead, he saw Billy Greulich Smith, another SAFC supporter, grab two goals in a fine cup win for Shildon in an unknown village. It is not recorded whether, on an overnight stop near Grantham, he offered his thoughts on the should-we-shouldn’t-we? Thatcher statue debate …
Brantham Athletic or Arsenal? Eastern Counties League leaders or perennial Champions League qualifiers, 530 mile-round trip or leave home at 1pm and home by 6?
I chose the first option this weekend and passed my season ticket on to Monsieur Salut, venturing to the frozen north for the third home Saturday in succession. The text messages that I got from him suggested that it was a frustrating and ultimately disappointing football part of the trip.
Meanwhile on the Suffolk/Essex border, Shildon were looking to make progress in the FA Vase against a Brantham Athletic side who, in the last two weeks, had put Whitley Bay out of the competition and gone top of the Eastern Counties League, indicating that they were a more than half decent team.
My solo journey started on Friday evening with a drive to Wetherby for a sit down fish and chips at the Wetherby Whaler (almost as good as The Frying Pan at the other end of town) and then on to the Travelodge at Colsterworth, near Grantham.
A bargain at £15 for a typical Travelodge room and a good night’s sleep, aided by a grand pint of Sharp’s Doom Bar at the White Lion in Colsterworth village. I declined the opportunity to stay in the Lincolnshire town, despite my well known love of, er Lincolnshire towns.
What Malcolm Dawson made of SAFC v Arsenal: https://safc.blog/2013/02/sixers-soapbox-what-have-we-learned-from-the-arsenal-game-martin/
Grantham is a fine town and has produced many notable people – Issac Newton and his falling apples for one and it was the place where Martin 0’Neill took his early steps in management. It is also responsible for inflicting Margaret Thatcher on us – a name that still sends shivers down my spine and, I imagine, those of many millions of others who saw their jobs and prospects vanish as she decimated the traditional industries of the UK.
The next day dawned bright and crisp and the trip to Brantham took little more than two hours. It’s a long village without a centre, equidistant from Ipswich and Colchester with the nearest railway at Manningtree, which claims to be “the smallest town in England”. Fascinating.
It was also the home of a company called British Xylonite, who produced cellulose for a variety of products as diverse as dolls, telephones and billiard balls. They employed a young chemistry graduate called Margaret Hilda Roberts in the early 50s. If only they had kept her in gainful employment …
Brantham’s ground reflects their rise from village football to the Nunn Thurlow Eastern Counties league, a Step 5 competition of equal status to the Ebac Northern League. They went top of the Premier League last week, are very much a village based club and, in Tony Hall, have a manager who originates from Jarrow, but, unfortunately, is of the black and white persuasion.
The beauty of these games is that folk turn up from all over. Pete Horan arrived from Bedford, bringing daughter Clare with him. Geoff Mangan, from the more familiar Essex of TV fame, pitched up with distinguished goatee beard and some medical contraption on his arm after an accident sustained while paragliding in Bermuda – or was it falling off a step ladder.
There were usual Shildon faces, some flushed with pints from Hadleigh where the bus had stopped and where the landlord of the Red Lion is desperately hoping that Hadleigh draw Shildon in the next round. Mike Amos, chairman of the Northern League, an Arsenal supporter but a good egg despite that, arrived via Peterborough, Stowmarket and Manningtree. All in all,at least half of the crowd of 360 were following the Railwaymen.
What we got was as fine a performance as I have seen from a Northern League side in the Vase. The team had travelled down on Friday, stayed in Ipswich and focused completely on the task in hand. A 4-1 win by no means flattered them and with better refereeing, better finishing and poorer goalkeeping a much wider margin would have been the outcome.
No need for details other than to say that Sunderland-born and supporting Billy Greulich Smith hit two and looked as good as Steven Fletcher, Sam Garvie got a cheeky one a la Sess and Mark Hudson hit a penalty into the same place that Craig Gardner puts them. Unfortunately, Sunderland could not replicate the Shildon score.
And Monsieur Salut does battle with Arsenal fans at ESPN: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739#
The game was almost spoiled by a linesman who was very keen to tell players not to foul, to keep their arms down and to be careful, but not quite as keen to keep up with the play in order to give offside decisions or assist the referee with penalties. Mr Horan reminded him of his responsibilities at every available opportunity.
At the end of the game, the Brantham players and management applauded Shildon from the field and the trusty Mazda was pointed north, passing road signs warning of adverse weather conditions for Sunday and informing drivers that the roads had been salted. Sixsmith Towers was reached just in time to catch MOTD and the detailed analysis of Sunderland’s performance , which took about as long as it took me to read one of the overhead signs.
The draw for the next round (last eight) is today (Monday). The betting is that Shildon and Spennymoor will be drawn together. The FA will be warming the balls up as we speak.