Friday, 16 January 2009

Whisper It Quietly

I was born in Glossop, Derbyshire. Many people think that I come from Yorkshire or my accent defines me as a Lancastrian or a Mancunian, even friends who have known me for years. Glossop is a small market town, tucked away on the edge of the High Peak in the Derbyshire Dales. With a history defined by the woollen and cotton industries, there remains evidence of its past; as you drive down off the Peak on the Snake Pass from Buxton and Sheffield, it is the large old mills that still frame the town and provides clues to its origins. Generations of my family have grown up in Glossop, and although I only spent a few years of my early life there, I harbour an unexplained affinity for the place.

The FA Vase went to Glossop this week. The trophy travels the country as part of the FA's media campaign to promote the competition, and it was on show at the town's football club ahead of their Fourth Round tie tomorrow. Glossop North End FC has a rich history; they are former members of the Football League (1898 to 1915) and have reached the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup (1909). At the time the club's chairman and benefactor was Sir Samuel Hill-Wood who would eventually become chairman of Arsenal. You may recognise the family name and its present day association with the famous North London club.

For Glossop, the arrival of the trophy heightened the levels of excitement surrounding tomorrow's match and has shone the spotlight, for a short while, on the old mill town. Glossop North End welcomes Stewarts & Lloyds Corby to their Surrey Street ground and the club is confident of progressing further in the competition. I'm sure that their Northamptonshire visitors will have a say and will be fuelled by their own, comparable, hopes and expectations.

And that goes for each and every club still in the competition. Up and down the country tomorrow, 32 non League teams will be battling it out on their quest to take one step closer to Wembley. Not that it has made headline news mind. The FA Vase rarely pricks the national conscience, certainly not until the Semis or the Final, and even then a paragraph or two deep within the sports pages is just about all the coverage that the competition gets. Big games for small clubs, and while the football media will be honing in on the events at the Premier League grounds of Stamford Bridge, the KC Stadium and the Reebok, and on Kaka's 'will he, won't he' drama, there will be plenty of grassroots FA Vase tension and excitement in small communities across the land, from Bideford to Bootle and Coalville to Christchurch.

Whilst Stewarts & Lloyds Corby will be flying the Northamptonshire flag up in my town of birth, my current FA Vase team, Cogenhoe Untied, also from Northamptonshire, will be doing likewise in a small village just outside Bristol. Bitton awaits and I'm really looking forward to it. I am reliably informed that the locals are well and truly up for the game. A large crowd is expected at The Recreation Ground and I am told that supporters from some of the bigger local teams are passing up going to watch their own team in favour of coming along to support Bitton. This really is the business end of the competition; four more wins (including a two-legged Semi-Final) and the doors to Wembley open. The prize money on offer for winners of this round is £1,500 and pouring that amount of money into the club coffers will put a smile on many a chairman's face. As Saturday afternoon fades into Saturday evening, there will be joy and celebration for many, but heartache for others.

Neither Bitton AFC nor Cogenhoe United have played many games of late, what with the British weather having its say. Bitton's last League game was on Boxing Day, but they have managed to fit in a Gloucestershire County Cup game this week (a 3-0 win at Harrow Hill) which has given the team a well-needed run out. Likewise, Cogenhoe's last League game was at the end of December and they arranged a friendly midweek as preparation, a 0-0 home draw with Rushden & Higham. Although you may not read it on the back pages of the nationals, nor will it get a mention on BBC, SKY or Setanta, mark my words; this competition means a lot to these clubs and preparations have been meticulous. The Cup tie in South Gloucestershire promises to be a mouth-watering affair.

A source at Bitton explained this to me this week:

"The club directors and fans are seeing this game as possibly the biggest in the club's short history".

I'm sure this sentiment is echoed around the country, but please whisper it quietly. This can be our own little secret.


cris said...

Hi Andy,
George and I are really looking forward to the big match tomorrow; hope you haven't put the kiss of death on our usual goal fest!! Hope to hook up with at some point down there. Have a safe journey.
Cris and George Jackson

Ollers said...

Hi Cris - great to hear from you, I was hoping you were both going down to the game. My son Joe remembers George from the Hassocks game! Have a good journey as well, hope the rain doesn't cause any problems. Hope to be at the ground about 2:15. Cheers! Andy

by Paul Kirkwood said...

There's a chapter about Glossop North End in "The Beautiful Game?", a book by Guardian football writer David Conn. Highly recommended - for this and the other chapters, each of which focus on a different club's recent rise/fall. I expect you will share many of the author's sentiments about the demise and greed of the professional game.