A Country of Crybabies


I still haven’t fully processed last month’s unbelievable Cricket World Cup Final success by England. There are so many emotions tangled up in those events, and not merely that last hour of play when absolutely every indication there could be was of the inexorable sliding of the trophy into New Zealand’s deserving but ever-so-frustrating hands.
And then something unbelievable upon any level except the least likely one, that it happened. Boult treading on the boundary, Stokes’ accidental deflection of the ball for four overthrows, two run outs, a super over, and the final decision going on the one factor that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed could be brought into play.
Nothing like that could ever happen again. Nothing weirder than that could ever happen at all. Or should we not be so sure about that?
So many different streams of thought run into that conclusive moment when Joss Butler ran out Martin Guptill. I’m old enough to have watched the first Cricket World Cup, in that long ago hot summer of 1975, the final between Australia and West Indies. I watched the end of that at my mate Alan’s. We went out on Saturday night to the Oaks, a big pub on the edge of Chorlton with a Saturday night disco, but we refused to leave until the final was over, that determined last wicket stand between Lillee and Thompson, the great fast bowling pair, crazily threatening to keep the Ozzies in contention and getting far closer than any sane man would have dreamed.
Forty-four years ago, and forty-four years of waiting to see if England could ever do that, through three finals of defeat that looked like becoming four. I’ve no vivid memories of 1979 or 1992, but in 1989, at my girlfriend’s, I remember coming downstairs on Sunday morning to see England doing well, looking good, until Gatting threw his wicket away to Alan Border and England died in that instant (and I don’t care what bloody excuses you keep coming up with to justify that god awful, stupid shot, Gatting, it was a colossal fuck-up and you carry that on your shoulders. Own up for once, will you?)
Forty-four years and Sunday. Hunting round for ages to find a workable livestream. Finally getting one. Having it, Cricinfo’s Live Score and the Guardian’s Over-by-Over (going to Ball-by-Ball) open simultaneously and flicking from one to another. The stream starting to go a bit shonky. Buffering delays, until the pictures were a delivery behind, until they gave way altogether, with two balls left. Knowing already that NZ had got one, and needed two off the last delivery to win, one was not enough. And the plain, flat entry: England have won the World Cup! Who? How? What? What happened? The crucial last ball and I missed it. Many of you may say it serves me right.
So already I had a personal pall on the moment, a distance from the instance, that I didn’t see it, didn’t feel it, didn’t experience it like everybody else, and had to be told about it.
But we had won the Cup. By the narrowest of all possible margins. We had tied the 50 over game. We had tied the Super Over. We had won because, over our respective 50 overs, England had scored more boundaries than New Zealand. I hadn’t known that about the conditions of the Super Over. I hadn’t known anything about the conditions of the Super Over until we had to play one, but I knew before it began that if that were tied (hah-hah, fat chance of that), England would win.
Almost immediately the game was over, it began, and it’s just got more persistent ever since. So far as I can tell, it’s come from Englanders mostly. The New Zealanders were as gracious and uncomplaining in their acceptance of defeat as their skipper, Kane Williamson, as admirable a man as is on this Earth now.
There was a welter of disagreement, of denigration, of denial that England have legitimately won the World Cup. Some point to the luck going England’s way: Trent Boult, a solid and reliable boundary fielder, catches Ben Stokes but makes the one mistake of his tournament, stepping back and standing on the rope. No catch, no new batsman in the final over, but six runs and a colossal step towards England maybe doing it.
The next ball, Stokes again, desperate to run two, hurls himself full-length towards his ground, no idea where the ball is, only that it’s hurtling in… and incredibly Guptill’s throw strikes Stokes’ out-stretched bat. How the hell could that happen, what possibility fraction had to be overcome that in Lords, two objects travelling in different directions, at different speeds, should for a fraction of a second occupy the same physical space? And the ball skids off and runs to the boundary. Four overthrows, six more, Stokes still on strike. Completely unintentional on the batsman’s part, or else it would be out, Obstructing the Field. These are the margins.
How can all this be happening? Then a Super Over that ends up tied, and England win on a technicality.
And people start demanding that it not be as it is. That the four overthrows shouldn’t be counted (they were completely legal). That the umpires cheated to help England. It should be a New Zealand win, or it should be a tie, or it should be replayed, or there should be an asterisk placed against it in the record books to permanently denote it wasn’t legitimate, it shouldn’t be recognised. The England team shouldn’t celebrate, their ‘win’ is dirty, they should hang their heads in shame.
A day later, TV footage confirms there was indeed an Umpire error over Stokes’ four overthrows. The Law stipulates that the overthrows should be added to the completed runs on the field. At the time Guptill launched his throw, Stokes and Rashid had not crossed. The score should have been 1 + 4 = 5, not 6, and it should have been Rashid facing the next delivery.
A mistake, an honest to goodness mistake. The Umpires assumed the batsmen had crossed. New Zealand assumed the batsmen had crossed. And if there had been an objection raised at the time, there was no provision for DRS to investigate something like that anyway.
But the naysayers eizsed on that. England didn’t win after all. The result should be overturned retrospectively, the Cup given to New Zealand, despite the fact that no Umpire’s decision has ever been retrospectively overturned.
This tide of negativity, this demand to tear down the result, depresses me. Like I say, it’s not the New Zealanders, who have every right to feel aggrieved, who are calling for this, it’s the English.
But that seems to be part of things today in this godawful country. I first saw this, in virulent force, ten years ago, and it seems only to have proliferated. Much of the attack on England’s win is an attack on the rules of the World Cup itself. For most of One-Day Cricket’s history, a tied game has been decided in favour of the team losing fewer wickets. On that basis, New Zealand would clearly have won, no Super Over necessary. They finished on 241 for 8, England were 241 all out. Simple, logical.
Except that those were not the rules of the competition. The Super Over rules were decided o before the tournament began, they were accepted by all the participating Countries, they were the same for everyone and no-one gave a damn, until they were needed. But since England won under a new system, the naysayers argued that the rule is stupid (maybe it is), unnecessary (possibly so) and introduces a new and unfair criterion for victory overthrowing longstanding and sensible methods (which it does). So the rule should be chucked out now and the Cup should be awarded to New Zealand.
To which the only possible answer is, Bollocks. This was the rule under which the tournament was played. You cannot go back and change it just because you don’t like the outcome.
I mentioned something ten years ago. I’m talking about the 2009 series of University Challenge. The final that year was contested between Corpus Christi, Oxford and the University of Manchester. Corpus Christi were the overwhelming favourites, having steamrollered all opposition, largely due to their captain, Gail Trimble, who seemed to know everything about everything. Trimble had become a social phenomenon.
But Manchester knocked Corpus Christi out of their stride, getting off to a flying start, running up 95 points without reply, until Trimble’s team-mate Sam Kay intervened to answer a tricky question, and get them off zero. You could see Corpus Christi visibly relax. The inevitable happened, Trimble got going, Corpus Christi ran out comfortable winners.
And were then disqualified and the trophy awarded to a much-embarrassed Manchester, who didn’t want it in those circumstances.
Corpus Christi were disqualified for fielding an ineligible team member, as it happened the same Sam Kay who had changed the course of the final. University Challenge rules require every participant to be a student of their University or College at all times up to and including the final. Kay had graduated and left Corpus Christi between the second and third rounds.
There was no two ways about it: Corpus Christi had cheated. Whether they had deliberately set out to pull the wool over the BBC’s eyes, or whether it was an innocent mistake was irrelevant.
I had quite recent experience of that, when it came to Droylsden FC. This was in the infamous FA Cup Second Round tie with Chesterfield in 2008 that took four games, two of them abandoned incomplete, to settle.
The sequence was an away tie abandoned at half-time due to fog, a new game drawn 2-2, during which Droylsden defender Sean Newton got a yellow card, a home replay abandoned after 70 minutes due to floodlight failure after 70 minutes and a final game won by Droylsden, 2-1, both goals scored by Newton.
The problem was that Newton was ineligible to play in the winning game. His yellow card at Chesterfield took him to five, invoking a one-game suspension. Droylsden received notification of the same on the day of the replay, consulted their fixture list and confirmed that the suspension – for the first game played after seven days from the FA notice, would be the Boxing Day notice.
That night’s game was abandoned and the next match rescheduled for the following Tuesday. As such, that game became the one to which Newton’s suspension must apply. By an understandable but devastating oversight, no-one realised this. Newton played, scored both goals and Droylsden were expelled.
There were protests, heartfelt pleas, an unsuccessful appeal to the FA but, as I had known from the moment the news broke, nothing to be done. However innocent the mistake, Droylsden had played an ineligible player and there was only one punishment: expulsion. That this was the first (and only) time Droylsden qualified for the Third Round only made it more painful.
But the Rules are the Rules, as my lawyer background insists. Whatever you think of them, they must be applied. As with Droylsden, so too with Corpus Christi. The outrage was instant. Gail Trimble had become a media darling and everyone was insistent that her story end according to the pre-determined script. Some way had to be demanded to let her win.
That Corpus Christi had broken the rules was undeniable. What therefore had to be denied was the validity of the rule. It was stupid. It was idiotic. It was nonsense. The rule should be stricken out. Or if it stood, it shouldn’t mean Corpus Christi should actually be punished for breaking it. Or not punished that way. Over and over again, until I watched open-mouthed in astonishment. Everything had to be undone so that Trimble should win.
What was so astonishing to me was that not one person seemed to consider the situation more than molecule deep. The rule was that a competition for University students should only be open to those who were students throughout: that seemed to me to be not merely fair, nor reasonable, but the whole bloody point to begin with.
And what of the other Colleges and Universities who had entered? All had agreed to abide by the rules, on pain of expulsion and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, every one of them had observed the rule, except Corpus Christi. What is that a textbook description of if not cheating?
By keeping to the rules, Manchester University had crippled themselves. Everybody had crippled themselves. How many Trimble-like candidates had been turned away because they did not qualify? How many more didn’t even apply because they knew they didn’t qualify? But these considerations were irrelevant to those who had had their expectations overturned.
Put in its least polite form, it was a mass exercise in stamping ones feet, holding ones breath and screaming, “Waaah! It’s not fair!”
Exercises of that nature accompany almost every decisive moment. England’s win at Lords is just the latest. “It’s not fair!” Tear it down, don’t allow it, I don’t like it, and if the rules say so, then the rules are an ass and should be thrown out the window so I can have my way.
It’s just one more way in which my once-beloved country is turning into a joke, a mess, an embarrassment. And it’s throwing a shadow over that astomishing game to see so many people whining about it, asking for any other outcome than an England win, anything but that. Forty four years of waiting, from an extended sunny Saturday evening to an extended sunny Sunday evening, and the sound of babies crying.

We’re on our way to Wembley… the wrong way


Good news and bad about FC United’s FA Cup 1st Round Proper at home to Chesterfield. The good news is purely personal, however.

FC United have been advised by the FA that the game will be played on Monday 9 November at 7.45pm to enable it to be broadcast live on TV (can someone remind me who’s got the rights this year?). Unlike the Saturday, I will be free to go to the game, ticket availability willing, or at least watch it on live TV.

Unfortunately, the move has been made against the Club’s wishes. The full story is here, but for those who want the short version, FC’s stance has always been about putting the supporter back at the centre of the game. This includes NOT moving games from the traditional Saturday 3.00pm kick-off unless there is very good reason for doing so – and TV money does not count as a good reason.

So the club refused, and was ordered to comply by the FA. Then they requested any date but Monday which, being a work day, followed by a work day, causes the most inconvenience and disruption to the supporter: think of Chesterfield’s following, getting to Manchester and back for work Tuesday morning. And the FA insisted: fuck the fans, TV is god.

One thing FC can control, however, is the price. FC also supports keeping ticket prices in line with fans’ means. The entrance fee at Broadhurst Park is £9 but the FA are insisting on £10 – the First Round’s ‘minimum’ price. FC must comply, but out of their own resources, every entrant to the ground, away fans included, will receive a £1 voucher redeemable for food, drink or merchandise inside the ground.

Ever since they formed, I’ve been very proud of FC United of Manchester. Do you see why?

We’re on our way to Wembley…


Broadhurst Park, Moston

Well, here’s a thing.

Five years ago, FC United of Manchester, in only their third season in the FA Cup, reached the First Round Proper for the first time. As I have written elsewhere, the Red Rebels were drawn away to Rochdale, a tie that was an eerie echo of my previous FA Cup experiences with Droylsden who, on only their second foray into the Cup proper, had played – and won – at Rochdale in the First Round.

FC United won that tie, but were knocked out in a Second Round replay by Brighton & Hove Albion, the then League One leaders and the highest ranking team in the competition. But they couldn’t beat us at home.

At the weekend, FC played away in the Fourth Qualifying Round to Sporting Khalsa of the West Midland League, three levels down. They win, 3-1, to reach the First Round Proper for the first time since Rochdale.

Once again, the eerie hand of coincidence strikes, for who should they have drawn that once again looms large in Droylsden’s FA Cup history but Chesterfield (read here).

The bastard of it is, from my point of view, that the tie is to be played on Saturday November 7, at home. November 7 is a working weekend for me. I’m not even back in work for another two days to see if there’s a faint chance of there being enough capacity to get that Saturday off.

But, bloody hell, how many times is my personal history going to shadow FC United in the Cup?

One Rule for All


Readers of this blog who follow the sports posts may remember the excessively long one I posted here about the crazy events of the 2008/9 FA Cup Second Round tie between Droylsden and Chesterfield, which went to four games, two of them abandoned, before Droylsden beat their League One/Two opponents to qualify for the Third Round proper for the first time ever, only to be expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player.

History has now repeated – or rather reversed – itself as Chesterfield, who won this season’s Second Round Proper tie against MK Dons have been proved to have fielded an ineligible player.

Just as with Droylsden, six years ago, there’s no suggestion that the player was played deliberately, and that his inclusion in the team was purely an accident. And, just as with Droylsden, Chesterfield have been expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player, and MK Dons have been reinstated, to go into the Third Round tie against Scunthorpe United or Worcester City.

Unfortunately, that’s where the parallels end. Chesterfield have NOT been expelled from the FA Cup. Instead, they have been ordered to replay the tie as soon as possible.

So, let’s just pause to check what that means. It means that a non-League club who field an ineligible player whilst beating a Football League club get expelled, whilst a Football League club who do exactly the same thing get the chance to win the game anyway, this time legally (oh, yes, and to pull in another gate for the replayed home game). Where’s the consistency in that? Where’s the fairness in that?

The circumstances do differ: Sean Newton played for Droylsden due to an oversight about his one-game suspension, whilst George Magreitter, an on-loan player, did not get written permission from Wolves to play in the FA Cup (and therefore become cup-tied). And Sean Newton scored both goals by which Droylsden beat Chesterfield and I have no information as to whether George Magreitter played any decisive role in aiding Chesterfield to their 1-0 victory, other than being a part of their eleven.

But when it comes to ineligible players, it is and always has been an absolute offence. They don’t need to have affected the result, they just need to have stepped out onto the field of play, and the club loses all benefit they take from the game: points, qualification, the lot. Teams have been expelled from Europe for having brought on an ineligible player as a sub with eight minutes to go and a winning margin already.

I imagine there’s some pretty pissed off people around Droylsden right now, and I don’t blame them one little bit. The salt in the wound is that this isn’t just inconsistency, but that it benefits Chesterfield, who benefited from Droylsden’s offence in the most direct way.

One rule for all, or not it seems.

The Most Surreal F A Cup Tie Ever


Third Time Round… and More to Come

I’ve been to three Cup Finals with United at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, winning the Double on each occasion and, whilst I was never blind to the manifest flaws of the decrepit old pile, I am thankful for the experience of taking part in such an historic occasion.
But some of my most memorable FA Cup experiences have been at the other end of the competition, with the non-Leaguer’s Cup Final, the Fourth Qualifying Round and, occasionally, their prize of a place in the early rounds of the Cup proper.
There have been two spells in my life when I’ve been an active, avid fan of Droylsden FC, a long-standing semi-professional club lying to the east of Manchester. From 1969 to 1980, and again from 1995 to 2003, I was a regular at The Butchers Arms ground on Market Street, and for the last five years of that second spell I was the editor and main contributor for the match-day programme. But I’d given up that role, and stopped going regularly (after a bust-up with owner/chairman/manager Dave Pace) by 2008, when the club finally emulated its late seventies success and got through to the FA Cup proper.
It was only the eighth time ever that the Bloods had even reached the Fourth Qualifying Round, four of those occasions coming in a five year spell in the late Seventies, two more in 1998 and 1999, and the most recent the previous season, when Droylsden had been humiliatingly knocked out by a non-League team two levels below them. I’d seen three of those ties, defeats all: on the three previous occasions we’d gotten through to the First Round, I’d been missing (the first time because the game clashed with my 21st birthday, and I wasn’t allowed to miss the party).
I’d been to the five games we’d played in the Cup Proper, and it was saddening that, with the Bloods drawn to play away at Darlington, I was forced to break my record because of the cost of petrol for the trip. But Droylsden achieved a creditable 0-0 draw, and my wife and I were at the replay, which we won 1-0 (though I missed the goal, the Bloods having the bad grace to score it whilst I was at the tea bar, getting refreshments for us). The reward, as we already knew, was an away trip to Chesterfield in the Second Round, the barrier before the opportunity of the highest in the land, the tie to be played on Saturday 29 November.
We set off from Manchester on a cold, misty afternoon, but found cool, clear skies once we had gotten onto the moors between Manchester and Derbyshire. But as soon as we began to descend towards Chesterfield, it was clear that the ground fog was thick in the valley, and we grew increasingly concerned that the fog would be to thick, and the game postponed. By the time we reached the centre of Chesterfield, and were struggling through Saturday afternoon traffic to find Saltergate, it seemed impossible for the match to go on. But once we’d found parking, and walked back, then walked round three-quarters of the ground to find the Away end entrances, the game had started. We found our old mates behind the goal.
The Bloods were defending the Away end. The scene was amazing: we could only see to the half-way line, and if the action was in the Chesterfield half, we could neither see nor hear anything of what was going on. Presumably the referee could see the goalposts at either end from the halfway line, which is, as I understand it, the criterion for starting a game, but it was absurd and surreal that the match should have been played in those conditions at all. Only those supporters sat or stood on the halfway line could have seen any kind of play developing: supporters at either end could only see what went on in their half of the field.
I’ve never seen anything like it when at the football. The only comparable situation, to which my mind flashed back instantly, was an early Seventies midweek European game featuring Leeds, which had been played in conditions of thick fog, during which play had been suspended for 25 minutes in the (realised) hope that the fog would lighten. Before this, the fog was so bad that the TV cameras could not pick up anything beyond a line about ten yards in from the further touchline, leading in turn to the surreal moment when the commentator had to announce, “And the ball’s gone out to Eddie Gray on the Leeds left, at least we assume it’s Gray, we cannot see the player but that’s where he should be…”
The proof of the abnormality of the situation came after 35 minutes, when Droylsden took the lead, and the first we (and our goalkeeper) knew of it was when celebrating players crossed the halfway line on their way back for the kick-off (the goal itself was barely visible on the BBC cameras for that tiny flash on MOTD that night).
At half-time we were still ahead, the Bloods’ goal having been in no real danger yet. The interval was, understandably, quiet, marooned in our little segment of visibility, but initial enthusiasm started to turn to concern when the interval carried on longer than it should have, and talk started to turn to the fear that the match was being abandoned. Then players and coaches appeared out of the mist to tell us that that was indeed the case. Just about visible, in front of the Main Stand in our half, a raging argument was going on between Pacey, the referee and their Chairman, but to no avail. Pacey accused the referee of giving in to pressure to abandon because Droylsden were ahead, that the game would have gone on if Chesterfield were leading. I’ve no doubt but that he was right. The honest truth was that that game should never have been started, that it was being played in conditions that were impossible, especially for the spectators who had paid £10 a head to ‘watch’ the match, but that as the situation had not deteriorated one bit during half-time, if the game was fit to play in the first half, it should have continued.
But there was no arguing: the game was abandoned, and was re-scheduled for Tuesday week, December 9, at 7.30pm. Chesterfield, to their credit, announced that entry to the second game would only be £1.
So, on a cold Tuesday night, we left Manchester as soon as I got home from work, drove through a cold, frosty night, parked in the same car park, walked the same long walk and were inside and joining our mates a couple of minutes after kick-off.
There was no fog tonight, everything was cold, crisp and clear. Unfortunately, as we had suspected would be the case, it was Chesterfield who got on top, and were 1-0 up at half-time. However, a short cross from the left and a superb glancing header put us level early in the second half. Then, with twenty minutes to go, the tie descended into the bizarre again.
Chesterfield player was down inside our half, and our defence, obligingly, put the ball out for a throw-in about thirty yards from goal. Treatment over, play resumed. The ball was thrown to Chesterfield’s no. 9, who I shall not name (but he knows who he is), who took one step with the ball, shaped to knock it to our keeper, then dug his foot under the ball and lofted it over his head into the net.
There was instant fury. We were howling with anger and rage, but our fury was mild and restrained compared to the Droylsden bench, who instantly charged Chesterfield’s bench. It was a mini-riot, and how the entire bench – especially Pacey – escaped being red-carded, I don’t know. I can only assume that the referee took account of the unusual provocation and made allowances.
The problem was, the goal was perfectly legal. It stood. Chesterfield have always maintained it was an accident on their striker’s part but, I’m sorry, there were no visibility problems that night, and I’ve watched enough football to know when someone means something, and that guy meant it.
It was a full five minutes before the game resumed, during which there was much discussion as to what should and would happen. But, credit again to Chesterfield, when the game kicked-off once more in an atmosphere of not-very muted tension and resentment, the ball was rolled forward, Droylsden’s skipper, Steve Halford, collected it and, with the Chesterfield team standing around casually, he jogged down the pitch with it, walked it past the keeper and knocked it into the net. It was only justice, but to actually watch that happen only heightened the surreality of the whole event. No matter how justified it might be, seeing an entire side step back like that felt curiously wrong, as if the very spirit of the game was being overturned.
It ended 2-2, and a replay was duly arranged at the Butcher’s Arms the following Tuesday night, December 16. Sean Newton, the Droylsden left back, received a yellow card during the game. This may seem irrelevant, but bear that in mind.
Surely the game would be completed at the third attempt, and one or other of the two sides would go through to meet Ipswich Town away in the Third Round. The Third Round: that’s what everyone was playing for.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be the Bloods. This time the gulf in quality between Blue Square North and League Two counted. Chesterfield were 2-0 with eighteen minutes to play, and looking far more likely to extend their lead than Droylsden were to cut into it. Then the floodlights failed.
This was the fourth time this had happened to me, although the previous examples included one set of floodlights failing to come on at half-time, and one side of Old Trafford losing all its electricity literally seconds after the final whistle. It’s weird. Your first instinct, strangely enough, is to laugh. one moment, the game is in progress under lights, the next, in utter silence, the world changes abruptly and you can’t see a thing. It had happened once, a few years earlier, away to Ashton United, when we were 2-0 up with thirteen minutes left to play (the game was abandoned and we lost when it was played again).
A fuse had blown, affecting not just the floodlights, but the whole ground: the Social Club were stuffed, the electric beerpumps wouldn’t work! And the game had to be abandoned, with the Chesterfield fans furious, and throwing around accusations that we’d switched the power off to avoid being beaten. Exactly as we’d said about Ashton when the lights went out at Hurst Fold, though it was clear that the entire area had been hit with a power cut.
So a fourth game was now required, to be played at the Butchers Arms, the following Tuesday night, 23 December. It could have been arranged for Monday night. If it had, maybe the strangeness of this whole tie might have ended there.
Until the Police first insisted, in 1992, on having ten days notice before providing the statutory cover for football matches, FA Cup ties had to be replayed to a result. At least every other year, there would be one tie in which three, sometimes four replays were required before one of two exhausted teams, now playing every other night, caved in and lost. In the Seventies and before, all replays after the First had to be on neutral grounds. This tie had assumed the proportions of one of those fabulous dinosaurs, and I don’t know what it was like for fans in that era, who knew this was on the cards, but in the Noughties this was unreal. We seemed to be doing nothing except play Chesterfield, and it was now only days before Christmas, with the Third Round on the first Saturday in January. It had to be settled tonight, extra-time and penalties of needed, but given the history of the tie so far, what else might happen?
The Chesterfield fans turned up super-disgruntled, their complaints abut the probable fraud over the floodlights exacerbated by the fact we were charging £5 for entry at the gate after they’d charged only £1 when it was their turn. You can’t blame them, really, although our economics were different to theirs.
However, they were jubilant about half an hour in when our keeper dallied over a back-pass, allowed that **** of a number 9 to charge the kick down, the ball rebounding into the net. Our despair was short-lived because, within ten minutes, Sean Newton, advancing into their half, drilled home a brilliant thirty-yard daisy cutter into the bottom corner.
I’d taken my wife’s mobile phone along to update her as to developments, so this called for a loud, jubilant call to roar about the equaliser, but it was nothing to the incident in the second half, abut an hour into the game, when there was a foul in the area and we were awarded a penalty. I was on the phone immediately, to give live commentary, with an exultant roar as Sean Newton blasted the ball into the net to give us the lead. And for all Chesterfield’s efforts, we refused to give way, and the final whistle, the very very very long overdue final whistle, we were through to the third Round Proper, for the first time ever in the club’s 100 plus years history. “Are you ready for a trip to Ipswich?” I husked down the phone to my wife, who came from East Anglia in the first place.
At last it was over, after four games or almost-games over 24 days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
We went to bed not that long after I got home. If we’d sat up, and had been on the Droylsden Message Board at about 12.30am, we’d have had the first inklings that this tie was continuing to wreak havoc with everyone’s lives.
Sean Newton’s yellow card, collected a fortnight earlier at Saltergate, in a game that was only being played because of the fog abandonment, was his fifth of the season. Once this was reported, the FA notified Droylsden that Newton was suspended for one match taking place after Monday 22 December, in accordance with standard rules. The Club received this fax on Monday 15 December, checked the first list, acknowledged the suspension and confirmed that this would be applied to the Club’s match on 26 December, away to Vauxhall Motors. The following night, the floodlights had failed and the Club suddenly had an extra match pitchforked into its schedule. Like I said, it could have been played on Monday 22nd or Tuesday 23rd, and, presumably in the interests of extra recovery time from the weekend’s league game, the Club went for Tuesday. The day Newton’s suspension came into effect. In the fuss and bother of arranging yet another meeting, no-one noticed. Until after the match on Tuesday night.
Droylsden had played an ineligible player. What’s worse, he’d only gone and scored both the bloody goals we’d won by.
It was an accident, a calamitous accident, an all-too-easy oversight, but intentions are irrelevant in that kind of situation. The moment I learned of this blunder, I knew that we would be expelled from the Cup, and that Chesterfield would be reinstated and would play Ipswich in the Third Round. Any other outcome was impossible.
A lot of people refused to accept that. It was an accident, we could have played Monday night and he’d have been eligible, we’d already agreed with the FA which match he was going to be suspended for, Chesterfield were trying to cheat us after we’d beaten them fair and square. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair.They were all deluding themselves, unable to accept that, through our own fault, we had disqualified ourselves from this magical, once-in-a-lifetime achievement. One of those was Dave Pace, appealing against the FA’s decision and, of course, losing.
Chesterfield played Ipswich Town at Portman Road on Saturday 3 January 2009, and lost 3-0.
It was the final touch of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot insanity that, given everything that had happend in that tie, we should have seen coming. Winning the tie, in the end, was never going to be the end. It would have been a complete anti-climax if it had been.
I’ve drifted completely away from Droylsden since then. In 2010, they made it to the Second Round Proper again, forcing a replay away to Leyton Orient, and leading 2-0 only to be overrun and lose 8-2, the last six goals coming in extra-time. Currently, they’re second bottom of Blue Square North, have lost their last two home games by an aggregate of 0-12, are nine points from safety having played more games, and being kept off the bottom only by a club under financial restrictions, unable to play anyone other than Juniors. A return to the Evo-Stik (Northern Premier) League is all but guaranteed. It’s a far cry from the year the Bloods technically made it into the Third Round, but when they did, I was there.