Warrington Town AFC vs Colwyn Bay FC
FA Cup Third Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday 14th October 2014
Cantilever Park, Warrington, Cheshire
When Chris Gahgan fired home a 94th minute equaliser for eighth tier Warrington Town at Colwyn Bay to take their tight Third Qualifying round tie to a reply, it’s unlikely that he gave a blog about footballing underdogs much thought.
As teammates, substitutes and coaching staff mobbed him until he was barely visible under an ecstatic pile of bodies, it’s more likely that the elation of the extension of their FA Cup run against a side two divisions and 44 places above them was paramount in his mind.
I, on the other hand, could have happily joined the pile-on out of sheer relief. Combining this blog with a full-time day job and part-time night job hasn’t been too tricky so far; Saturday night gigs have been easily combined with trips to Salford and Ilkeston. The Third round posed a quite different dilemma.
On Saturday 11th October 2014, I would be at a swimming pool in Matlock watching my five-year-old son take part in a charity swimathon. As he climbed out of the pool after an unprecedented 16 lengths, Gahgan’s teammates were climbing off of him and towards a celebratory dressing room.
Knowing that I’d need a replay that fitted the blog’s strict criteria, that goal saved me a 300-mile round trip to Shortwood United of Gloucestershire; the only other replay where the underdog would be at home. So it was with some relief that I set off across the Pennines with my friend, and fellow comedy comrade, James Billington.
James rose to what can only be described as international fame when he ‘opened’ Alton Towers as his alter ego, the unofficial Mayor of Stafford. It’s a very funny story that was even picked up by Time magazine and he’s a very funny man.
Resting his mayoral robes for the evening, James joined me for our visit to Cantilever Park, which also goes by the name of the HG Driver Recruitment Stadium. Hidden away slightly just off a corner of a busy main road, the ground holds 3500, with two sheltered stands offering seating and one terrace behind the far goal.
As we queue to get in, two men behind me discuss how recently they last visited. One man hasn’t been for four years while his friend is making his first appearance of the season. It’s clear, then, that the appeal of an FA Cup tie remains.
For the second round in a row, we’ve arrived too late to buy a programme, so we make our way around the pitch to the far side touchline. In the corner of the ground is a 5-a-side football area with large fences around it and two fiercely competitive sides playing a match. It’s effectively the family stand.
The yellow shirts of Warrington emerge alongside their rivals and the management teams make their way to the dugouts. For Warrington Town, Shaun Reid, the younger brother of Peter Reid, takes his place on the bench. Fiery and no-nonsense, his similarities with his sibling have followed him from a career in the lower leagues through to his relatively fledgling managerial career.
For Colwyn Bay, former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair was looking to move a step closer to the First Round proper of a competition he won in 1997. Given that the draw for Fourth Qualifying had been made already, both sides had reason to feel relatively confident over their chances at home to Conference North side North Ferriby United for a place in the hat with the likes of Sheffield United, Coventry City and Preston North End.
Within 40 seconds of kick-off, James has spotted his player to keep an eye on. Seemingly playing right wing back in a 5-3-2, Phillip Davies looks quick with a neat touch and is full of energy, pushing Colwyn Bay back to support his forwards while tracking back impressively.
The back three of Field, McCarten and Robinson look well organised, and they need to be, as Colwyn start well and attack in waves, looking to find gaps to run in behind. Obi Anoruo finds one three minutes in and lobs over when through on goal.
Warrington, nicknamed The Wire in reference to the wire-pulling history of the town rather than the Baltimore-based crime drama, begin to impose themselves on the game after 20 minutes. The best chance falls to Steve Foster who puts the ball just wide after some neat build-up. James frantically searches the four corners of the ground for a big screen to watch the replay.
A second ball enters the field of play shortly afterwards. One of the five-a-side players has impressively breached the fence. He eventually jogs on, sheepishly, while the match is in-play, experiencing the magic of the FA Cup for approximately four seconds.
Davies jogs past where we’re stood and, I think, catches a glimpse of me making notes. It’s the first time I’ve realised that I could probably just about be mistaken for an unlikely looking scout at this level.
“More like you’re in the Scouts”, James retorts. “If he starts doing Cruyff turns though, we’ll know for sure.”
Yellows striker Ben Wharton has a bit of afters with his defensive counterpart Chris Noone after a mid-air tussle and referee Michael Salisbury steps in; it’s his first real involvement and he quickly restores order.
There’s a short delay soon after as a third ball is lost over the stands. A group of Colwyn fans near us begin to chant: “One ball! They’ve only got one ball!”
Others shout over to the lads playing five-a-side to ask if they have a spare. One does appear, eventually, and the game continues with a great move from Warrington to carve open Colwyn before a reverse header lays the ball off for Foster who fires over.
With barely a save for the home side against several sharp stops from Colwyn ‘keeper Josh Ollerenshaw, spirits are high as half-time arrives. We join the queue for a beer in an impressive bar area that feels like a real pub and get chatting to three blokes in front of us. They list themselves as Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool fans but it’s clear that Warrington holds a special place for all of them.
“They’ve got big ambitions, I think,” says one. “Trouble is, it’s a rugby town.”
The second half is just kicking off as we’re served two Coors Light and make our way to the bar entrance to watch the match through PVC windows. We’re not allowed outside with alcohol while the FA Cup action, formerly sponsored by Budweiser, is actually taking place.
As we watch from afar, two men behind us do their very best to prove our new friend’s point about Warrington by having a fairly heated discussion about rugby and the merits of the Challenge Cup. One actually announces that he’s “not into football”, describing himself as “a rugby man”, begging the question of what he’s doing joining the other 283 of us at the game.
After finishing our pints, James tries to grab some food in the next hut along. They’ve run out of pies but offer a Pot Noodle when pressed on hot foods. James declines, presumably on the grounds of wanting a warming snack rather than a reassessment of his life choices.
We take a different spot on the opposite touchline for the second half and it’s much busier than our previous vantage point. The crowd is largely gathered behind the dugouts so we stand a little further towards the corner flag, beneath a first floor balcony with the letters WTFC proudly displayed on the railings. We decide that headline writers will jump on “WTFC happened there” if Warrington do progress and beat League opposition.
Colwyn look to be growing more and more into the game as the second half progresses, creating a couple of chances that force Karl Wills into good saves. Play breaks up after a strong challenge from Warrington and Michael Salisbury takes time out to have a word.
“Why are we watching you instead of the match, ref? Are you a retired headmaster and couldn’t handle that either?” screams one man near us. We’re about to find out that’s not the case at all.
Minutes later, one whole quarter of the opposite end of the pitch is plunged into near darkness as three floodlights fail. I immediately spot the reaction of Reid, who puts his head in his hands. Having watched his side match a team two divisions above them for almost three hours, it’s clear he seems to think their work has been undone.
Salisbury makes his way over to where we’re stood to communicate with several men stood on the balcony behind us. Far from being the retired school headmaster, he seems no older than his mid-twenties and fields the questions fired at him admirably.
“You know as much as I do at this stage,” is his response as fans fire questions at him. “Surely we can play on ref? It’s not even dark!” suggests one man, optimistically.
“Shall we just move the goal to the halfway line?” is his response. It’s an overused word, but we’re impressed with his banter.
I listen in to fans around us. Some lads to our right suggest this is the fourth time this has happened this season, the second for the First Team. They don’t seem confident it will continue, suggesting it will be “just like Curzon”, when, presumably, the game was abandoned.
Frank Sinclair leads his team back to their dressing room. He looks fairly unimpressed, especially when he immediately has to come back out of the changing rooms to request a roll of toilet paper.
Aged 42, he’s still player/manager and is actually named as a substitute tonight. A popular defender at Stamford Bridge and then Leicester, he’s best remembered for a number of unfortunate own goals around the same time Akinbiyi was going through a much-publicised goal drought.
One fan persistently harasses Salisbury on what is going to happen, basking in the opportunity to get his voice heard by a referee. Mr Salisbury calmly informs him that a reasonable amount of time will be given to sort the problem, and faces yet more questions. It’s clear there’s a few lights out at our end of the stadium, too.
James suggests we all get the flashlights out on our phones, effectively turning that quarter of the ground into a One Direction concert. Kudos goes to whoever is controlling the PA system as Mr Brightside blares out across the semi-lit pitch. An inspired choice.
“Baby, When The Lights Go Out, next,” says James, inventing a new game which he instantly wins by coming up with the funniest song title first.
“The previous chairman was an electrician. He’d have sorted this himself”, spouts our friend behind us. That’s non-league for you. If the pie oven broke down at Chelsea, you wouldn’t find anyone claiming Roman Abramovich was CORGI registered.
After a 20-minute stoppage, against the odds, the lights come back on. There’s a panic from Colwyn as Sinclair gets his players out on the pitch for the five-minute grace period to warm back up. Warrington remained on the pitch for much of the stoppage and it will perhaps prove decisive.
We hear two ladies behind us having a hushed conversation about two kettles boiling at the same time being a possible cause. It’s probably not true, but it’s a wonderful to think that they had a rush on Pot Noodles and blew half the circuit board.
Not long after the restart comes the breakthrough. Wharton pulled the ball back for Burke and the former Liverpool Academy player slotted home to the delight of the fans. Chants of ‘Wem-ber-lee’ ring out as the referee blows the final whistle. Reid is ecstatic as he celebrates with his players and the assorted staff stood around us.
Sinclair is magnanimous in defeat, later claiming that the enforced stoppage had to be dealt with by both teams, but their haste to get to the dressing room rather than staying warm on the pitch could well have been the deciding factor in a tight tie that they were beginning to get to grips with before the lights went out (TM 5ive).
James and I make our way out of the ground and onto a nearby chip shop. It’s been a slightly longer night than anticipated but it’s a third win for The Underdog Blog, and a third clean sheet.
On a night when a 300-mile round trip to Shortwood would have seen a 3-1 defeat, Warrington Town moved a step closer to reaching the FA Cup First Round proper for only the second time in their history. Can the lucky run continue into Fourth Qualifying?
The Underdog Blog Record 2014/15
P 3 W 3 D 0 L 0 F 4 A 0 GD +4
|Warrington Town||1||–||0||Colwyn Bay|
|Nathan Burke (81)|
Warrington: Wills, Davies, Field, Mannix, McCarten, Robinson, Doughty (Booth), Burke, Wharton, Foster (Ruane), Roberts. Unused subs: West, Corrigan, Gahgan, Collins.
Colwyn Bay: Ollerenshaw, Bembo-Leta, Buckley (Hodgson), Royle, Stevens, Noone, Mendez (Haywood), Anoruo, Hopley, Williams, Baynes. Unused subs: Sharpe, Pilliner, Moss, Sinclair.