Saturday 11th August 2012
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
HEMSWORTH MINERS WELFARE 1 RUNCORN LINNETS 1
Tea Hut Stuff: Cheeseburger £1.80, Tea 60p
Weather: Warm afternoon, partly cloudy, odd sunny spell
Parking: Adjacent cricket club car park next to the main road
Hemsworth are a respected Northern Counties East Division 1 club that have been on the Tea Hut radar for a while now, this early season FA Cup clash provided the ideal opportunity for a visit, especially as they were taking on the classy Runcorn Linnets side from the Premier Division of the North West Counties League. I picked Frugal Glenn up at around 12.30pm, upon my arrival he was wrestling with a big dog in the front room. His objective was to get the hound in the kitchen so he could go to the match without it chewing up his living room carpet. I left him to it to wait in the Match Shed (as I'd left the windows open). All I could hear was a lot of loud barking coming from the partially opened front door and Frugal yelping and swearing, the dog had bitten him and in the grappling match his new glasses got broken. He was fuming once he eventually got in the car "The ungrateful b*stard" he spat "I'd given the f*cker extra biscuits as well"! It was a quite journey for the next half hour, Frugal had his pant leg pulled up as he dabbed the teeth marks with some 'past the sell by date' Dettol. I'd decided to take the route eastwards through Huddersfield and Wakefield rather than stay on the M62 via Leeds, the mega long roadworks on the M62 in Yorkshire can make it a really drawn-out trip. Fortunately the Match Shed got through the A-Road route without any problems and we were soon the other side of Wakefield heading through the scenic countryside around Foulby as we approached the small dwelling of Fitzwilliam where Hemsworths ground is located. I'd heard that the best opening batsman in the world ever, Geoff Boycott, came from Fitzwilliam, how fitting to find a nice little cricket club slap bang next to the football ground. Upon parking the Match Shed in the cricket club car park across from a row of shops we soon realised the place was in the grips of FA Cup fever. Not only did we come across a bloke in half mast action-slacks with a Millets home brand rucksack eating a bag of chips, there were also two pensioners propped up against each other on a bench watching the cricket. The place was rocking! As Frugal was limping quite a bit following his altercation with his pet guard dog we decided to sit down and watch a bit of the cricket, it was only 2pm. Some kid that looked no older than 12 was slogging some pretty crap full tosses from a selection of bloater type bowlers to all parts of the ground. We guessed this was perhaps a lower league game we may have stumbled across? After his 5th straight boundary I thought about moving the Match Shed a bit further back?
At 2.20pm there was a commotion at the entrance gate, it was the late arrival of the Runcorn Linnets team coach. All the players (some in Everton shirts) and a large number of others (supporters or officials) disembarked and made their way to the football gate down beside the cricket pitch."Bloody ell" smirked one of the pensioners to his mate "these fancy buggers have got a f*cking coach"! The old timers would have been really impressed if they'd stuck around for the arrival of the Linnets Travel Club coach a short time later. The Runcorn Linnets side have a good support both home and away and today was no exception, they made up a good part of the decent crowd of almost 200. As Runcorn Linnets play in a snazzy looking yellow and green hooped kit it brings a bit of unusual vibrant colour to the proceedings and it was great to see a selection of flags being positioned around the ground from both of the respective clubs today. When me and Frugal entered the ground about a half hour before kick off the place was getting a lot more busy than when we first turned up. The ground has a plush large clubhouse down one of the touchlines and the bar area was doing a good steady trade.
There is a big TV on the wall and one of those internal Tea Hut 'snack bar' counters just across the way. A gent was on the griddle and informed me he'd just finished a fresh made batch of burgers. I handed over my £1.80 and got myself a cheeseburger, I decided to back it up with a 60p cup of tea on the side. It was basic stuff but ok, the non frills processed cheese slice came without the choice of onions but what the hell, it was tasty enough. Frugal went for a Bovril, the gent in the kitchen had to use fresh boiling water to make it, unfortunately Frugal added to his injury listing for the day with a burn to his hand as he spilled the salty liquid trying to land the frail paper cup on the nearby condiment table (boiling water in a thin paper cup is not a good idea). We both thought that Hemsworth had a nice little ground, I'd read hopper reports from The Dribbling Code and Reynards Hunting Grounds before coming here (both NCEL experts) and it matched their assessments. The touchline opposite the Clubhouse side offers a good little stand with around a 100 seats, almost adjoining it is what at first appears to be another stand, in fact it is simply a very large dug-out facility for the Management teams and subs. Both structures offer a charismatic appearance in front of perimeter planted conifers. As regards both ends of the ground there is tidy hard standing, again, conifers offer some nice greenery at one of the ends, the other has the complimenting presence of the cricket ground scoreboard just to one side of the corner flag, along with a view of the upper flat above the cricket clubhouse which today had a full washing line of underpants, vests and other items of clothing (hoping for a breeze). Now and again a cricketer in whites would appear up there for a crafty fag, often in pads. There did appear to be a good few groundhopper types here today, wearing giveaway camera bags and whatever, its obviously a bonus when the early cup competitions bring teams together from different leagues.
Onto the match..... Firstly I'll start with Hemsworth (or Wels) as the locals call em. Frugal in particular was mighty impressed with their 100% workrate throughout the entire match. They look a big abrasive bunch and their style of play is whole hearted and robust without becoming purely long ball, they can play a bit too and often put some clinical passing movements together. They lost team captain Dean Foley just around 25 minutes into the first half when he was sent off for a reckless and dangerous challenge. Personally I didn't see it full on and thought it was just a hard tackle, Frugal however had no doubts, in his opinion he had to go and the referee was right to send him off. This was a massive set back to the gallant home side, especially as Runcorn Linnets were creating numerous goalscoring opportunities and seemed destined to score a hat full of goals. They were already 1-0 up from a 7th minute Neil Black shot from the right edge of the 18 yard area. It wasn't cleanly struck but somehow the ball got through Dale Walstows grip to find the corner of the net. To make up for this, the Hemsworth keeper went onto to make some fantastic saves and definitely deserves a lot of credit for keeping Hemsworth in the match, despite the goal, Dale had a great game.
Runcorn kept coming and coming down the pitch creating chance after chance but couldn't make it count, either the ball hit the woodwork, the keeper kept it out or the referee disallowed the goal. By half time there were a few rumbles and grumbles from the travelling Linnets supporters that this game was there for the taking in the first 20 minutes. Hemsworth regrouped in the dressing rooms. The second half wasn't refined total football but it was certainly enthralling. Again Linnets pushed forward, again Hemsworth 'just-about' held the line. What Frugal suggested seemed a long shot, that Hemsworth could free themselves of the pressure and create just one or two chances on goal? At 0-1 down they only needed one hit, they would surely take a draw and face Runcorn in a replay with 11 against 11 men (even away). Well they did it! Lee Swift hit a low bullet like equaliser with around 15 minutes left to play to send the Hemsworth supporters into absolute raptures. It appears the cricket match over the wall was temporarily suspended as players and spectators tried to get a view over the wall to witness perhaps the first bit of FA Cup drama of this seasons competition? A great comeback from Hemsworth and they held firm for the remainder of the match despite a few wobbles. How Runcorn Linnets did not win this match is unbelievable (and that is not being disrespectful to a fine Hemsworth performance) they had so many chances! The Linnets should have won this game by 5 or 6 clear goals, especially when Hemsworth went down to 10 men.
Surely they will apply the whirlwind when they get Hemsworth on their own patch on Tuesday night. Or will Hemsworth prove us all wrong once again, they're good enough footballers if they get the chances falling their way? Thats the mystery and the suspense of FA Cup football. By the way... its not on Sky (but perhaps it should be).