A sad, deluded Wanderers fan expressed the fear, in a comment to the last posting here, that Bolton had a habit of losing to “rubbish teams”. He probably thought he was insulting us; little did he know plenty of Sunderland fans would regard that as a relatively kind description of what they’ve been watching since the back end of November.
Pete Sixsmithchooses a non-League warm-up to what he hopes will not be another heap of rubbish…
Another Saturday afternoon and I ain’t got no football, as Sam Cooke might have sung had he been a Sunderland fan.
This is the second of three successive Saturdays without a game and with another one coming up at the end of the month, that give us four out of five blanks on the day we associate with watching our beloved red and white striped shirts struggling to avoid relegation.
Of course, the way we are playing at the moment, it’s almost a relief not to have to watch the turgid fare on offer at the Stadium of Light and it gives me the opportunity to do a bit more delving into the nether regions of the Football Family.
Last Saturday, before enduring that awful game with Fulham (at least I was home by 6.30pm, rather than being stuck on a static train like poor Colin), I had squirmed as Shildon’s involvement in the FA Vase was terminated by holders Whitley Bay. The 1-5 scoreline flattered the visitors and the game had turned on the sending off of Phil Brumwell (a former Sunderland trainee) just past the half hour. At least Bay’s manager Ian Chandler is a dyed in the wool Mackem so it is better than being knocked out by a Mag – but not much.
For this blank weekend, I decided that a little R&R was needed away from Sixsmith Towers. A glance at the weekends fixtures threw up a pair of possibilities: a Friday night at Barton Town Old Boys and a Saturday afternoon at Barwell.
Barton play in a small town called Barton-upon-Humber, at the foot of the Lincolnshire side of the Humber Bridge. It’s a small and attractive market town with a reputation for plants brought over by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, and is the birthplace of Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans – a service that has been a boon to Sunderland fans over the years.
They played Tadcaster Albion in a very entertaining North Eastern Counties Division One (Two) game in front of a crowd swelled by groundhoppers (me included), attracted to the open plains of Humberside by a Saturday of three games in East Yorkshire and Lincs.
Some familiar faces from Northern League groundhops in the 1990’s and some friends from Liverpool made it a most pleasant evening. Barton went two goals up as Taddy did a very passable imitation of our back four, but they fought back, eventually to level with a goal that bore a resemblance to the ones we could score if Reid and co could put centres on Jones’s head and if Kenwyne could hit the net on a more regular basis.
I spent the night in Scunthorpe, quaffed several pints of good ale and met the most boring man in Lincolnshire, before an early breakfast and a drive to Barwell on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border for their FA Vase 6th round tie against Norton and Stockton Ancients of the Northern League.
The AA Routefinder suggested using the motorway system, but I decided to see a little bit of England and use the A roads.
My route took me through Gainsborough, past Trinity’s Northolme ground (a proper non-league ground with a wall around it) where I saw something uniquely English: a huddle of (mostly) middle aged men, waiting outside the Supporters’ Club for their coach to take them to the other side of the country to watch THEIR team play at Southport. It would not happen anywhere else, believe me.
Eventually I arrived near Barwell to meet my Salut! Sunderland co-contributor Malcolm Dawson for a decent lunch and a convivial chat, during which he told me he had recently seen the final of the FA Vegetarian Cup – Quorn v Leek (look it up in Unibond League South). No doubt the half time draw prize was a packet of veggie sausages and a bag of apples.
Barwell is a small town on the edge of Hinckley, infamous for the incident where Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter after a campaign of violence against her family by a group of youths.
On a sunny March Saturday with the houses bathed in sun, it looked as far away from the image of a hate-filled town as you could get.
There was a decent crowd, most wearing the green and gold colours of The Canaries, although a couple of guys in the Social Club said they were Manchester United fans and had been given them on the bus to Old Trafford.
The ground was tidy, bordered by a cricket field and an indoor bowling club; the home team were big and well organised and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, with a centre forward called Cunnington scoring two of them. The fact that he could trap a ball, pass accurately and shoot disabused me of the notion that he could have been related to one time Grimsby Town superstar Shaun.
So, two new grounds ticked off, two decent games, two enjoyable match periods spent with amusing and entertaining people – all in all a good weekend away.
Then it was all spoiled as I returned to the car to hear that Bolton had not only won at West Ham but had played really well to break their away duck.
Writing in this mornings Observer, Simon Burnton uses words like “supercharged”, “brio” and “brilliance” and phrases like “they created chances with a regularity that had the home crowd howling in frustration” and “they blew the Hammers away with an unrelenting, irresistible barrage of pressure”.
It was Bolton who did for Keane last season; could it be the same for his former colleague Bruce this year? We will see on Tuesday.