"I Still Haven't Found My Best Fountain Pen"

Dunkirk 1
Ashington Colliery 2

FA Vase 3rd Round

*editors note: In the course of this post, I will endevour to ensure there are no lazy puns based around the home teams name, and that no regional stereotypes be played upon.

BTFM. Topical AND satirical.
Third round day. Up and down the country doe-eyed young boys look up at their fathers and say "really Father, must we watch Leeds on ITV again?" Christmas scarves are donned, coats buttoned up, and entire towns uprooted for the excitement of a day out in Huddersfield. Or, in this case, the arse end of Nottingham.

But don't be fooled, dear reader. For this is not the standard tale of Cup Third Round Day. Oh no. For that is the reserve of other blogs. Today, we are savouring the Third Round of the FA Vase. The Step 4 and lower competition that lets the cliched postmen and school teachers actually dream of Cup glory. It was, in quainter times, known as the Amateur Cup.

And that's just the wine list
Down a uninspiring dead end, backing on to Beeston train station, sits the Victoria Hotel. Quite what the proprietors were thinking when they bought the place is anyone's guess. But, as the saying may go, if you make it good enough, they will come. And come they do. For the Victoria Hotel is an absolute gem, and worth getting off your train to Nottingham one stop early for. Mine's a pint of Theakers Perry, since you ask.

Who Is Benson McGarvey?
Ten minutes down the road sits Lenton Lane, home of Dunkirk FC. And Greenwood Meadows. And Pegasus Juniors. Not clubs sharing a ground. Three grounds, next to each other. Look. (for those unfamiliar with football at this level, there are no cantilever stands, or centrally heated carparks. Sorry)

I caught the last five minutes of Dirty Leeds' battle with the Arse, before heading into the ground. And then out again when informed the toilets were in the clubhouse. Suitably releived, I made my way past some temporary seating behind one goal, and was hit by the realisation that I had been parked in direct trajectory to any and all high wide and handsome efforts. Still, not to worry, there are no recorded instances of errant shots in this competition. The BoneShaker would be fine.

The dugout side and the far end were standard pitch-and-rail fayre, but on "my" side I encountered firstly a corrugated shed under which the Ashington Army had congregated. And then there was a regulation four-deep seated section that could hold about 80 or so. Only, there was no walk way at the front of these seats, so people were constantly wandering through the seats like a low-budget toilet escape at the cinema. "scuse me! Sorry! Ta" Still, it was all homely enough.

Probably too small to be of any use to anyone, I know
It is an on-going debate as to the comparative standard of the Northern League. A couple of clubs have recently been fast-tracked out of the leagues and into the national pyramid. But I think it is fair to say that it wasn't an unmitigated success. Newcastle Blue Star went under in their first season in the Unibond, whilst Durham ended their first season playing kids when their sponsors withdrew due to a ridiculous ruling on their artificial pitch. In truth, it's only really Blyth Spartans and Gateshead who have managed to survive "in the real world". Although there is a chance for Bedlington Terriers now.

All that said, it was clear from the outset that Ashington were the better team. Set up as a 4-4-2, they were bigger and stronger than most of the home team. They had a Peter Crouch-alike upfront, who was equally ineffective, but served as enough of a distraction to allow the tricky wingers on both sides time to bamboozle the Dunkirk fullbacks. The leftback in particular was to have a torrid day. Left backs do tend to be the weak link in many teams at this level, I find. Interesting insight, no? But try as they might, they could not breach the home defence.

If one man can make such a difference, then today his name was Marquin Smith. The Dunkirk number 8  is only about 24, and was playing Unibond Premier football last season with Retford, before moving to London and seemingly drifting off the footballing map. So to see him in Dunkirk red was something of a shock. I can only assume he was turning out as a favour to someone, as he was palpably better than anything else on show. Retford fans nick-named him "Tank" and today it was obvious why. Impossible to knock off the ball, he ran up and down the centre of the park all day, breaking up play, spreading the ball out wide and generally being everywhere.

So it was fitting that when the deadlock was finally broken, it was Smith who scored. Having  stood toe to toe with Ashington in their own half, Dunkirk had started to believe they could be a match for their opponents, and started to play football. It paid almost immediate dividends, as the visitors struggled to clear their box, and Smith picked up on a bobbling ball to bustle his way through a couple of defenders before slamming home. It wasn't a fair reflection of the game, but Dunkirk had defended doggedly, and for all their nice approach play, Ashington were yet to really test the keeper.

Got a monkey heed
Ashington came out for the second half all guns blazing.  Running at the home defence, and eager to make the most of the difference in ability. Barely three minutes in to the half, Dunkirk failed to deal with a ball played into the box in hope more than expectation, and it was tucked away by the nattily-attired Scott Blanford. Although quite why a Geordie should be seen playing football in gloves I do not know. Perhaps this was mentioned to him during his "I scored, yay me" goal celelbrations, as a melee ensued, the root, and indeed result, of which was unclear.

The game was sparked in to life by this, and it became a corset-ripping end-to-ender. Both sides wanted to keep the ball ont he floor as much as they could, and run at the defences. It made for cracking viewing. Dunkirk stuck with their 4-3-3 which gave them more opportunities to use the speed on their flanks, but left their shaky full backs exposed to the finer skills of the visitors.

Eventually the class of Ashington was going to pay off, and inevitably it came from a full-back howler. Reeling from the constant onslaught (albeit a largley toothless one) Dunkirk began to visibly tire. A failure to track back left the right back exposed, and he panicked, bringing down the impressive Jonny Godsmark. Peter Crouch's stunt double to put the ensuing penalty away. Both wingers were enjoying their day out, but Godsmark especially stood out. All of this is not to say that Dunkirk were without their merits.  Alongside the aforementioned Smith, the pace of the front line was enough to keep Ashington on ther toes. But ultimately, this was a step too far for the Central Midlands side.

So Ashington march on, further than they have ever been in the competition in it's current guise. It wasn't all bad for the North East this weekend. Just, y'know, only as far as the media could be bothered to look.

For a more professional, albeit slightly biased, look at the game, nip over to the New Post Leader.
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