August 5 2018: Cat among the pigeons

Not the anticipated start to the season, yesterday’s blog recorded new Sunderland RCA goalie coach Lenny French’s heart scare shortly before kick-off against Benfield and the much better news that he should be fine.

Shildon fan and Grass Routes reader Paul Mulley empathised more than most. His dad suffered two heart attacks a few weeks back, was rushed to the James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough, underwent surgery and two hours later was sitting up watching the World Cup on telev ision.

After two days he went home. “I hope that Lenny has as speedy a recovery as my dad had,” says Paul, among very many well wishers.

The blog also tried to recall a Chester-le-Street match in which Chester had inadvertently scored a “fluke” goal and then deliberately put one in at the other end, but was wrong in supposing that Lenny was the Chester goalie.

It was Ian Aitken, September 28 2002 in a home FA Cup tie against Harrogate RA  and with £7,500 at stake. Both Paul Wilson and Chester-le-Street stats guru Keith Greener recall that Chester were winning 1-0 when the referee awarded a drop ball on the halfway line and asked Chester’s Steven Leadbitter to hit it back to the visiting keeper.

The “back pass” was struck too hard, the keeper was off his line, the goal had to stand. “Harrogate went mad,” long serving former Northern League secretary and Chester fan Tony Golightly observed at the time.

After the re-start, says Keith, Colin Wake got the ball and played it back to Aitken who, from six yards, turned and whacked it into his own net. Thereafter a remarkable match changed quickly. 2-0 up, Chester were 5-2 down at half-time but fought back to 5-5.

The replay was 2-2 after 90 minutes, but then the RA hit five in extra-time. “Despite the loss and the possibility of winning £7,500 the majority of us thought then, and still do, that the team made the correct decision,” says Keith.

Paul admits that he had to refresh his memory via google – “but I can recall without assistance the longevity, the loyalty and the goalkeeping expertise of Lenny “the Cat” French”.

*Elsewhere in the Cup on that late September day 16 years ago, the best Northern League result was Dunston’s 2-0 win against Burscough – who’d conceded just two Unibond League goals all season. Guisborough drew 3-3 with Guiseley (wasn’t there a story around the replay?), Billy Town lost 2-0 at Accrington Stanley and Tow Law’s 7-3 home defeat to Hyde United prompted team manager “Doc” Graeme Forster to brand his team “gutless and spineless.”  He was good at pyrotechnics, was the Doc.

*Yesterday’s blog was also aghast at the state of the litter-choked verges of the approach road – Saint-Nazaire Way, no less – into Ryhope from the Co Durham end. The post has now appeared on the Ryhope Community Facebook page and caused ructions, as they say in those parts – hence today’s header. More of that next time.

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