November 11 2017: soft option

If ever a blog tempted fate, it was yesterday’s. Not a single Northern League fixture had been lost to the weather this season, we said – as it happens, inaccurately – and then prepared to head for Winsford, Cheshire, for the FA Vase tie between 1874 Northwich and Tow Law.

At 7 35am Lawyers’ secretary Steve Moralee rings to report an 8 30 pitch inspection. A local referee discovers a “soft” patch and asks for a second opinion.

Gentle readers must imagine the Lawyers’ reaction for themselves. Suffice that the simile is not “Soft as clarts”, but something scatalogically similar.

Still, it’s a lovely late autumn morning, it can surely only be a precaution and at 9am the Tow Law team coach heads south. Perhaps they are encouraged by the famous line in The Wind in the Willows: “What’s a little wet to a water rat?”

They’re on the A1 somewhere near Boroughbridge when word arrives that the match has been postponed after the inspecting referee had sought advice from the FA – the slight consolation that a day out in Leeds suggests itself.

Our train’s just arriving in Manchester when Steve rings, angry and incredulous. On the sort of day which prompted someone or other to write Ode to Autumn – John Keats? I forget – the station PA announces that due to the day’s inclement weather, passengers should take particular care.

It’s an automatic reaction down there.

More happily, Sunderland RCA are at Runcorn Linnets, two or three stations past Winsford, and we’re able to switch to an impromptu Plan B. The RCA lads have met a group of Tow Law supporters at Ferrybridge services. “They weren’t happy,” reports Owen Haley, perhaps by way of understatement.

The RCA game may best be described as full-blooded – sometimes too full-blooded for the ref who dispatches a player from each side in the first half and the home goalie at the end of extra-time for an offence it’s hard to see but which may have been a last-man foul outside the box.

At least it’s a man’s game, a proper cup tie in front of a noisy 387 crowd on a perfect November afternoon. It ends 1-1, some of the RCA lads off for a night out in Liverpool.

Somewhere in Leeds, meanwhile, Steve Moralee’s further seething because the FA, supporteded by 1874 Northwich, who have recent history in such matters, insist that the second attempt must be in midweek.

It’s the culture, not the referees, which should be questioned. The southern softies, the namby-pambies, the ambulance chasers, the health and safety brigade and the FA have much for which to answer. Sometimes only the cliche seems apposite: they really will have the game done away with.

*In the matter of Northern League postponements, Heaton Stannington fan Kevin Carling points out that they became the season’s first when their match against Durham City was a late victim way back in August. Perhaps  there was a soft patch at Hall Lane, too. “Consett and Tow Law,” adds Kev, “were outraged at being pipped at the post.”