But first, an apology. Like the rank amateur I am, I neglected to recharge my camera before heading off to the game, which lead to the bloody thing dying on me half way thru the first half. Therefore, the award-winning photo hournalism you have already come to know and love as the trademark of this football blog will be sadly absent from this thrilling installment. So for this issue only, the role of "action shots" will be played by BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth.
Having been burnt over the course of the last few games, I opted for safety over glamour. This game is the localest of local derbies, the two clubs being seperated by little over a mile. Further to that, Welbeck are truly my local team, with their Elkesley Road ground being a minute's walk from BTFM Towers. Although, for my sins, I am yet to make a home game there. I hereby vow to change that by the season's end.
Down the road, Mansfield Town had offered "pay what you want" admission for their BSP game against Gateshead, and over 7000 took advantage of this. Doubtless a few of them would have been at The Alley had The Stags stuck with their usual pricing policy. And come 5pm, Gateshead heading home 2-0 winners, no doubt a few of them were wishing they had been. On the other side of town, Kirkby Town and Sutton Town were indulging themselves in another derby, with some grudges bubbling under the surface. I await to see the tales resulting in a 6-0 win for the visitors.
But back to Wood Lane.Church are having a great season, and have been near the top of the Central Mids Premier for most of the season. Welbeck on the other hand, aren't. It has been a season of struggle, and one which looks ever harder as the weeks go by. That said, spirits in the camp seemed high, although given the events of the afternoon, that may well have been gallows humour.
Things started out alright. Church in a blue and yellow kit reminiscent of AFC Wimbledon, and Welbeck in their change kit of yell... Hang on, aren't those Worksop Town shirts? Sponsored by Greencore, Unibond league badge on the sleeve. "Tigers" at the base of the shirt. This would be a perfect moment for a photo, I know.
Look, she's in the bath!!
Local derbies are supposed to have some niggle. But in the main that niggle tends to be between fans, rather than players. At this level, the scene is so incestuous that whilst there are always scores o be settled, players hop from club to club so readily that it is impossible to build up any long-term on-feild animosity. This certainly seemed the case here, with both sets of players chatting comfortably with each other, and taking the piss as and when it was called. Wildly errant shots were jeered from both sides, and tackles, whilst whole-hearted, were not really nasty.
The one player who seemed to struggle with concept was the visiting skipper. A hard centre half from the old school, he was actually the stand out player for the first twenty minutes or so, marshalling his troops effectively, and leading by example. But then, once Church had broken through one too many times and finally got their noses in front, he seemed overcome by a crushing sense of inevitability. Decisions were moaned about, expletives used freely (not that I care, but the difference was noticeable) and tackles got a little bit, shall we say firmer.
He eventually got himself booked for mouthing off one too many times. By which point Church were 2 up, and the game was pretty much a done deal. Welbeck weren't shocking, but their hosts certainly knew how to stop them. And the two up front, Simon Johnson and "Maggot" score goals for fun.
This image came from an image search, and not as a result of a bookmarked site, I swear (check source)
It all got too much for Welbeck, and with five minutes to go before half time, another foiled attack saw the ball break towards the Church left. Tirelessly, the Welbeck right winger tracked back, and managed to stop the break away with a foul. From here, the gates of hell opened. The afronted Church player jumped up and headbutted the Welbeck player, thus invoking the free-for-all brawl so beloved of ice hockey fans. Substitutes, goalkeepers, bandana-bedecked assistant managers all lept on to the pitch, and punches and kicks flew in from all sides.
For fully two minutes the officals tried to untangle the mess, which, like a nest of snakes, rolled across the pitch. From my vantage point, I saw at least three deliberate kicks to players prone on the floor, and frankly the whole thing was embaressing. I won't call it a disgrace because it's all good fun, and football has become sanitised enough at the top level. These guys aren't roll models or figureheads. They're just playing football, and sometimes tempers boil over. Whether in support of their mates on the pitch, or a vent for frustrations off it, shit happens.
The end result was that the aforementioned number 5 was sent off. As was his keeper. And a guy who had already been substituted. Leaving Welbeck with only nine players, and an outfield keeper. Obviously, the original offender who had started it all with his headbutt, was also off, leaving us with 9 v 10, and a spot-keeper. The second half was going to be fun.
And so it was. Although it threatened not to take place. Quite what caused the delay in Welbeck coming out I am not sure, but specualtion was rife amongst
the masses two old boys stood next to me. Whether they were thinking about abandoning the game, or whether it was a sophisticated tactic to get Church Warsop out in the cold for ten minutes is anyone's guess. But whatever, they eventually took to the field, complete with Peter Crocuh in goal.
What followed was 45minutes of attack against defence, with Welbeckinsisting on playing some ill-conceived off-side paln, Church breaking through it at will, and the stand-in keeper being variously heroic, awful, and comedic. He was worth the admission money alone. When a ball was knocked through, only for strikers to fail to run on to it, he would come hareing off his line, screaming "KEEEEEPAAAAAHH!!!" He would lambast his defence for not being more robust. He would try to psyche out on-rushing attackers. And, as the half wore on, he became more and more effective. Or Church got sloppy.
Seven goals went past the hapless chap in the 45 minutes, one of which was a penalty. He stopped at least three or four others. And whilst Church Warsop were guilty of some horrendous misses (I'm looking at you Jordan Johnson!), there is little doubt that the score would have been double figures were it not for him.
Perversely, for all that had gone before, the second half was played out in remarkable good humour. Maybe both sides figured there was no point continuing fighting over such a lame duck, I don't know. But my memory of the game won't be the brawl. It will be the laughter from both sides, the good-natured ribbing when a shot was saved. And the sense of anticipation when Welbeck did finally muster an attack. It came to nought, of course. But, whether 9 men or eleven, it was always going to end like that.
Next up, some East Midlands Counties action on Tuesday night, as Gedling host Graham St Pimms, whoever they may be.