Salford City FC vs Curzon Ashton FC
FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Saturday 26th September 2015
Moor Lane, Salford, Greater Manchester
We’re 3-1 up. There’s ten minutes to go. The ball breaks to the diminutive number 6 on the edge of the box who controls it and…drags his shot just wide of the post. It was close to being the greatest moment for the Jones family since the first-half brace I scored on my Primary School team debut two decades ago.
Since a baptism of fire a fortnight back, my son’s U7s team led 2-1 at half-time before losing 3-2 last weekend before spurning that chance to make it 4-1 this morning. It turned out to be crucial as the opposition found two late goals to draw 3-3. We’re basically following the plotline of every great sporting underdog story ever told.
Undeterred, and rightfully proud of his performance, my son had other engagements after he’d washed the mud from his legs and chocolate from his mouth. I’d be making the trip north with the second of three important games on 5 Live for company. Having sat through every minute of Tottenham’s recent capitulations against Manchester City, (and seen more than a few 3-1 leads surrendered down the Lane, too) that one was pretty sweet.
More than a few fans are enjoying the early televised kick-off as I arrive in the Moor Lane clubhouse to catch the second half. A handful of Curzon Ashton fans with head in hands appear to be from the Blue half of Manchester in more ways than one, while two United fans aged no older than seven discuss the likelihood of the Red Devils going top of the league later. It’s endearing to see how unaccustomed they seem to the prospect.
It’s been a successful 12 months for Salford City since our visit at the First Qualifying stage last season. 30 wins and 92 goals were just enough to pip Darlington 1883 to the title and secure promotion to the seventh tier at the first time of asking since their high profile takeover.
Standing in their way today would be Curzon Ashton. Struggling towards the foot of National League North following two consecutive promotions, the visitors offer an opportunity for the Ammies to test themselves against beatable opposition from the division they hope to be a part of next season.
As the final whistle blows at White Hart Lane, I head outside to meet Salford City Chairman Karen Baird. We grab a quick chat outside the Clubhouse.
“I got involved a couple of years ago,” she tells me. “I knew the old chairman and he asked me to help out with the accounts. I’ve got five accounting practices so that’s what I do in my ‘spare time’! They then asked me if I’d become treasurer which I’d only been doing a few months. The Chairman had to step down due to his business and being so busy and that was at the end of that season. And now we’re here.”
It’s a familiar story at this level, where a passionate and committed individual is promoted to the top job in reward for their skills. It’s fair to say it’s been an exciting couple of years for Karen, too, incorporating a takeover from the Class of ’92 and promotion as champions last season. The rollercoaster ride of the last 12 months in particular isn’t lost on her.
She continues: “It’s mad. There’s a proper buzz around the place. It’s really good. The plan was always to hopefully get promoted. With us and Darlington it was back and forth, back and forth. I really didn’t want play-offs because anything can happen in the play-offs. Luckily, we won it.”
The League title came as a result of Darlington’s failure to beat Warrington Town in April – a result that meant there was no catching Salford at the top of the league.
“I thought it might be an anti-climax because it was a Tuesday night and we didn’t play,” Karen says. “But we all got together in the local Indian and it was brilliant. I was on the phone to the Warrington chairman and he was giving me the results and it just erupted when we found out.
“We took over the whole place and then Ryan (Giggs) and Gary and Phil (Neville) came down. Scholesy couldn’t because he was in Barcelona. It was a really good night.”
And how has the involvement of the Manchester United legends affected things down at Moor Lane?:
“Phil got involved an awful lot so it’s a shame he went to Valencia. Scholesy comes down and does stuff with them. Gary and Scholes come to the most games. Gary’s had to go to United today so he’s devastated; he’s always liked Curzon as well so he would’ve liked to see how we play against them.
“It should be a good game although we’ve not won at home and they’ve not won away! We’re like a different team away but hopefully it’ll come at home. The thing is, when you’ve lost a couple and drawn a couple the fans can get on your back a little bit more and you get it in your head: ‘we can’t win at home’. There’s no reason why we can’t though and it’s a massive game in the FA Cup.”
And beyond the Cup? Is consecutive promotions the goal?:
“Definitely,” she says, without hesitation. “I know it’s going to be a lot tougher and all the teams are a lot more organised. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed at this level. We’ve not won at home but we’re only three points off the top. If we get our home form right, anything can happen.”
And, thinking ahead, is there anyone she’d like in the next round?: “You’d normally say anyone at home but it’s funny really; I don’t mind if it’s home or away at the minute!” she laughs.
Finally, I ask her about the under-representation of women in football and how refreshing it is to see a woman at the forefront of such an exciting Club on the up:
“I’m not sure everybody would agree!” she laughs. “It can be hard at non-league level. There are a lot of men who are maybe stuck in their ways. I just get on with it. I’m an Accountant so I’ve always been surrounded by men all my life. It doesn’t faze me! I’m used to it.”
We wrap up our chat and she confirms Gareth Seddon (who scored on our last visit here on his way to becoming top goalscorer for the season) is out injured today and would be up for a chat. I catch up with him just before kick-off after somewhat embarrassingly introducing myself to his fellow injured team mate Scott Burton.
Sporting a bandaged knee, the 35-year-old striker is chatting in the Clubhouse. I ask him what the problem is and the differences between nursing an injury at Pro and semi-pro level.
He says: “I landed funny about three weeks ago and think I opened of my medial (ligament) a little bit. It’s not too painful anymore, it just feels a bit weird. I’m gutted not to be playing today. I’ve just got to build it up this week but the physio thinks I’ll be ready next Saturday.
On combining an injury with a day job, he says: “You’ve just got to deal with it yourself! Get down to Morrisons and get your bag of ice!
“It was different obviously when I was full-time, you’d go in every day and the physio would look after you, tell you what to do when. Here, I did it three weeks ago and I’ve seen the physio twice. If something was serious then obviously I’d get a bit more attention but it’s just one of those injuries where it’s just time more than anything.”
And how has the decision to take a couple of steps down the league ladder been for the former Bury, Fleetwood and Rushden man?:
“I’ve loved it. It was a big step for me to drop down and come here but I wanted one last challenge in my football career. I didn’t want to just dwindle away. I made the decision to come here and, to be honest, I shocked myself last year. I wouldn’t have thought I’d score 30 goals. I mean, flippin’ ‘eck, I even scored an overhead kick at my age!
“Little things like that, I shocked myself, and then winning the league was amazing. And especially when you’ve got the Class of ’92 there watching and sending you messages of support. That just makes it a bit more special, doesn’t it?” he says, with boyish enthusiasm. I ask him what it’s been like mixing with Old Trafford legends:
“Scholesy always asking me for advice,” he laughs. “It’s inspiring. I’ve always been a United fan so growing up those guys were my heroes. I admired Gary Neville because of his passion for Man United and even his passion now with Salford is exactly the same. I find it weird that he’s played at such a high level for such a big team and he’s got the same passion now for little Salford. For us as players, though, it’s brilliant to see that and it makes us try that little bit more.”
And that extra effort, according to Gareth, will take them places this season:
“Everyone says let’s keep our feet on the ground but I think we’re the best team in the league. Results haven’t gone for us yet. I’ve been out for three weeks, we’ve had two central midfielders out, we’ve had a defender out and we’ve ended up losing three games that we should have never lost anyway. I think once we start getting all our players back, we’re to sort of team that can go on a 10 or 15-game unbeaten run.
“Even though we’ve had such a bad start by our standards, we’re still only three points off the top and we haven’t won a game at home yet. As soon as we get two or three wins on the bounce we’ll be top of the league and we’ve every chance of getting promoted again.”
He confesses it’s difficult to enjoy the game from the sidelines – but he’s already got an eye on the First Round proper:
“I don’t like watching football when I’m not playing! Whether it’s on telly or it’s even worse when it’s live like this and you can’t do anything about it. I’ve got quite a good history with the FA Cup so I’m gutted because we’ve got a good chance of progressing and you never know, we might even end up in the First Round.
He continues: “I’m just hoping they can win today without me and then I can play in the next round! I think it’d be good to get someone like Bury and go back to my old club. It’s local as well so there’d be great support. That’d be good.”
The teams are already lining up as he heads for towards the sidelines for kick-off. Karen is taking her place up in the busy main stand behind me as I grab yet another excellent non-league peppered steak pie with peas and gravy for £2.50. Combined with my ticket, a programme and a cup of tea, I’ve spent just over a tenner.
Curzon start a little better than Salford in the opening minutes and they’re almost ahead following a defensive mistake in the 8th minute. Combined with a couple if misplaced passes, it draws the ire of the man I’m stood next to. I wouldn’t call him a ‘boo boy’ but clearly his patience is already thin.
The ball runs out of play on our flank but isn’t spotted by the ref as play continues. His Assistant running the line in front of us attempts to gain his attention to the flag:
“Billy! Billy! BILLY! Billy! Billy! BILLY!…” he bellows. Eventually, ‘Billy’ hears the combined shout of the linesman and the fans on the touchline, but not before everyone has the opportunity to reimagine the famous Alan Partridge ‘Dan’ scene.
Another mistake at the back is punished shortly afterwards. Captain Lynch’s short backpass is pounced on by Warburton who slots the ball in at Jay Lynch’s near post. The man beside me is beside himself. The pressure of Moor Lane that Karen mentioned is visible.
They don’t have long to wait before winning back the patience of the home support as neat play in the 22nd minute works the ball to the left where a whipped cross from O’Halloran left Danny Webber with an unmissable header to level things.
James Poole, the former Hartlepool striker, comes on for the injured Moses late in the first half. Scorer of a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Whitby in the First Qualifying replay, he looks to be playing a slightly deeper role today, albeit a little further upfield than the man he’s replaced.
He makes an impact almost straight away, bursting through into the box in another fluid move to square the ball for Webber who created space to finish well. The Curzon goal had seemed to rouse the home team after conceding so early, but the Ammies have dominated the game since the equaliser as the visitors wilted under pacey attacks.
I catch Karen on the way to the Clubhouse at half-time. “Going well so far!” she says. “Fingers crossed.”
I head for the stands to watch the second half. It’s a good vantage point to see the continued waves of attack from Salford as they continue to dominate the game. Danny Webber’s direct run is eventually thwarted by a good save, although the former Sheffield United man might have been better using his partner in attack rather than opting for glory himself.
Substitutions at the right times look key for Salford as they introduce fresh legs from the bench. Elliot Kebbie in particular offers pace and athleticism against tiring Curzon legs desperate to find a way back into the game.
The Ammies hold on for victory fairly comfortably in the end, although there remain a few shaky moments. A few half chances combined with the occasional scare are the best the remainder of the second half has to offer as the pressure of the result seems build. A great cheer goes up at the sound of the final whistle as Salford end their unusually long winless home run at last.
“Anyone at home now!” is Karen’s verdict at the end of the game. “I think we tend to play better against sides higher up. We raise our game more.”
It’s the second victory in as many seasons for me at Moor Lane as Salford are now guaranteed to equal their best ever FA Cup run with the First Round Proper slowly coming into view.
“You can come again!” she laughs. I won’t rule it out.
The Underdog Blog Record 2015/16
P 4 W 1 D 2 L 1 F 4 A 5 GD -1
Salford City FC vs Curzon Ashton FC
FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
Saturday 26th September 2015
Moor Lane, Salford, Greater Manchester
|Salford City FC 2 –||1 Curzon Ashton FC
|Webber (22, 39)||Warburton (16)|
Salford City FC: 1. J.Lynch, 2. Smalley, 3. O’Halloran, 4. Moses (12. Poole 34’), 5. Howson, 6. C.Lynch (c), 7. Hardcastle (14. Mwasile 78’), 8. Clark, 9. Webber (15. Kebbie 66’), 10. Hulme, 11. Allen.
Substitutes: 16. Itela, 17. Dootson.
Curzon Ashton FC: 1. Burton, 2. Atkinson (17. Hampson 70’), 3. Guest, 4. Hunt, 5. Flynn, 6. Eckersley, 7. Payne, 8. Brown (c), 9. Cummins (14. Wright 70’), 10. Warburton, 11. Tomsett.
Substitutes: 12. Grayson, 15. Shaw, 16. Watson, 18. Mason
Referee: William Smallwood