Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Sobering Game

The Festive Season

Sponsors provided free mulled wine and mince pies for Sheffield FC's pre-Xmas game against Shirebrook Town. As a result, the Coach and Houses pub next to the ground did less trade than usual for this match. This was fine for those of us who prefer to select from the pub's five real ales, as we avoided the usual crush at the bar.

Our family are home for Xmas, so our son came with me for the game. The three bits of local knowledge I gave him instructions upon were all blown apart.

First, I claimed that it was inevitable that the ball would repeatedly be kicked out of the ground - into the car park, the main road, the field from which a horse normally overlooks the proceedings and the wooded area behind one of the goals. It looked like I was completely wrong, until a clearance finally made it towards the main road.

Secondly, I was adament that Dave McCarthy (the Sheffield FC Manager) would do what he always does and use all his three possible substitutions. For he likes to use as many of his squad as he can in order to keep them happy and on the books. But this also did not happen.

Finally, I said that we should slip out of a side gate to the pub for a half-time drink. The gate was sure to have been opened, as the Club now owns the pub. But when we made our way to the gate just before the half-time whistle, we found that it was still locked. We had to go the long way round. Perhaps we were expected to stay and make sure that all the mince pies were eaten up.

It was, however, a chatty Xmas atmosphere when we finally made it to the pub. I discovered a Shirebrook Town supporter who was a fellow refugee from the North East and had played for my father's old team, Stanley United.

Next I talked to a Sheffield FC supporter from Nottingham, who was on our side because his son (Jon Boulter) is our left back. Earlier Jon was a worthwhile utility player, then he started to be selected for his best spot.

Before and after the match, my son and I also met up with Tom and his wife Janet who are from Chesterfield. I had met Tom intitially at out last home game against Broddy (see my last posted item), but I didn't recognise him immediately this time, as he was wearing an Irish Football shirt. It turns out that his mother is from Dublin. My own links with Ireland are legion.

Tom is a newcomer to Sheffield FC games, but he has already chalked up three matches in a row, including a visit to the away game at Sutton. He claimed that we were lucky to win 2-1 at Sutton. They dominated the game and could have scored a few. But Sheffield moved in to steal the game with two late strikes.

I have now arranged for him to give me a lift to the Boxing Day fixture at Hallam. It is being held on the 146th Anniversary of the teams' first clash at Hallam on Boxing Day 1860. It is the oldest derby in the world and is played on their original ground , which is the oldest existing ground in the world. All of this is something that money can't buy - as long as no-one tells Abramovich.

Top Versus Bottom

Shirebrook Town are bottom of the League, having only won one match out of the previous 16. So when the game started to take on the characteristics of our last 5-0 home win over Broddy, I expected the inevitable. But I was wrong again.

Sheffield FC had the same 1-0 lead at half-time, as against Broddy. We then rushed into continuous attacking from the start of the second half and awaited the goal rush.

But Shirebrook hadn't read the script and got back into the game. Perhaps the effect of their half time mince pies had worn off, whilst Sheffield FC's mulled wine finally took its toll.

Shirebrook could well have snatched a result as the game went on. It was, however, Sheffield who settled matters with a second goal in added time and ended up 2-0 winners.

Furthermore, it was Chris Dolby who scored. I had been expecting him to be substituted by Matt Roney to fulfil my pre-match prediction. It would have been a straight positional swap. Dave McCarthy probably held onto Dolby as he had particularly impressed everyone with his first half performance. It was his cross which put David Wilkins in a position to snatch that first half lead.

The strangest thing about the game was that the crowd which I estimated was around 230 in the first half, seemed to shrink by a third or so for the second half. Had some of the spectators been attracted by the mulled wine and mince pies and then left when these were comsumed? Or was the real ale having an impact on my own perceptions of what was happening?

Whatever it was, Stephen ushered me safely home after the match - but only after the inevitable post-match celebratory drink.

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