Sunday, 28 October 2012

Durham City 0-1 Marske United

Friday was the coldest day I'd had here. For a sports science student, three hours of contact was considered busy and I therefore had perfect reason to feel tired after my long day. Mum was up visiting before she jetted away to Tenerife and so I enjoyed a hearty Italian in town before saying goodbye and having an early night.

I was due to play for my college first team on the Saturday but snow had fallen over-night and the game was pending a pitch inspection at 11. Eleven came and past and at ten past I received confirmation that the game was off, a shame after the morning sun had done its best to thaw out the pitches. Embarrassment had been delayed for the opposition; the magic of the Durham University Inter-Collegiate Cup had drawn us, Hild Bede A, against Collingwood college G. Yes G. That's Collingwood's 7th team.

The cancellation meant that I wasn't to miss Saturday brunch; the finest meal in college which allows you to choose seven items of a full English fry-up. Its actually six items and a croissant or a crumpet and I made the huge mistake of attempting to choose seven normal items. Beans were sacrificed for a hash brown and ultimately, my breakfast was ruined. Can't win them all.

Today was Durham City day, the first time we were to attend a Saturday fixture and so this meant one thing; pub. At home, the pre-match pub trip completes my footballing experience and so at 1.30, the eight of us piled into the Queen's Head, a pub we'd found was en route to the ground. The lunchtime kick off was on and Jack Pepper a.ka. Sergeant Pep, Doctor Pep, Pep Guardiola etc. wasn't happy; his beloved Norwich were 1-0 down to the Villa. Ben and his brother, who was visiting for the weekend, both support Reading, both wanted a draw to keep Reading away from the Premier League summit and along with Pep Guardiola, were delighted to see Michael Turner flick in a late equaliser. The rest of us weren't bothered, it was all about the Citizens for us.

Somehow we made it into the ground ten minutes before kick-off which gave Toby the chance to try fulfil his life-time ambition of owning a Durham City scarf. We were instructed that there wasn't a club shop, but items were for sale behind the bar. The bar itself was large and cheap, but sadly they had no scarves in stock. Toby was gutted and so I bought him a programme, price £1.50, to cheer him up. The glossy non-league programme also came with a classy photocopied handwritten team sheet, which was great in helping us learn the names of our non-league heroes.

The team was a lot different to the one we'd seen two weeks ago against Penrith. In two weeks, new manager Adam Furness had brought in nine new faces and released three. Six of the new signings were unknown to us but we knew three. Both Spencer Brown and Johnny Giles are university students, with Furness managing our university side. Johnny is actually a fresher in our college, but was out through injury. Spencer also wasn't to feature. The final name I recognised would be wearing number eight; the name of Olly Hotchkiss was one I knew, potentially because he's a Leeds academy product or potentially because I'm the world's biggest Football Manager player.

Pale blue socks, green jersey and ridiculous side-burns. He must be non-league.
Since our last visit, Durham had picked up a point from two games, hardly revolutionary. But they started brightly, stroking the ball about with real purpose. Number four, who I identified after a quick look at the photo-copy as Craig Ellison, was the stand-out, playing the simple game that non-league football requires so much. Our Twitter hero Scott Fenwick was looking lively and rattled the bar early on before being adjudged offside. To our despair, he was to go off injured, replaced by Jack Pounder and the excitement for the rest of the half was over. Durham looked in control, but lacked quality in the final third and never created an out and out scoring chance. Marske's goalkeeper clearly felt confident, he was sporting pale blue socks alongside a green goalkeeping jersey.  He also had tights on and after a confident "do you like my tights lads?" he was swiftly dismissed by Preston's one-line-wonder George who remarked "yeah but you've mixed your colours and your whites with your socks". Non-league banter. We also found great amusement in the keeper's side-burns, which made him look like Wolverine.

The half-time meal was dismissed in favour of an agreed post-match KFC and so we settled behind the other goal for the second half. It continued in the same fashion, Durham attacking, but with moves breaking down in the final third. Wolverine was on good form, collecting crosses with ease and distributing the ball quickly and as the game wore on, Marske looked to threaten on the break. For non-league, the crowd started to get a little rowdy; the Durham fans frustrated that they weren't ahead and a large group of Marske fans frustrated with the performance of the linesman on the far side. Mine and Dem's betting skills on the accumulator front were frankly shambolic, Leeds were losing 1-0 and as Durham's Connor Winter accidentally cleared his own midfielder's goal-bound shot off the wrong line, we started to realise it wasn't going to be our day. And, after dominating for eighty-nine minutes, it was Marske who stole the points. Un-impressed with the outcome yes, but we had to be wholly impressed with the goal, which was an outstanding strike. We learned that there were more away fans than expected, as half of the people in the seating area chanted "Sea Sea Seasiders". More disappointment for the Citizens.

Both Leeds and Durham had lost which made for a pretty sad day. The KFC went down a treat though; we tucked into our Boneless Banquets and Big Daddy meals whilst discussing the football, university and the things we'd like to do to Katie, the girl who served us our food. We'll be going back there again if the food is as good and the service as beautiful.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Durham City 4-4 Penrith

Nine days into my time at university and there were two things I wasn't so happy about. The first was physical; fresher's flu had kicked in and wasn't easing up despite two quiet nights in. Secondly, I was missing football. Attending every game for a number of years is all well and good until the opportunity to watch your home-town club is no longer there. I'd missed Bolton away and a win in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley. Every day my Leeds United poster stares back at me from my university room wall and it makes me miss football. Something had to give and it did. In the first week I'd been lucky enough to get friendly with a couple of football mad lads like myself, one proudly supporting his local Chesterfield and the other, sadly, supporting Manchester United. Even so, football fans stick together and so it was decided that with an army of fellow football loving students, we would go and support our local Durham City in their Tuesday night fixture against Penrith.

Somehow we managed to convince ten others that it would be a good thing to do and at 7pm we met in our college bar, The Vernon Arms. I'd been put in charge of organising taxis to the ground but by ten past had realised that taxi firms in Durham are fucking useless. They're like Danny Shittu. But worse than Danny Shittu; try a Danny Shittu with no legs. Taxi firm after taxi firm took pride in announcing that there were "none available" and it was hastily decided that we were going to have to make the two mile journey on foot. My iPhone was the leader; tracking your progress on Maps still excites me to this day.

The Citizens play at New Ferens Park which as mentioned previously is approximately two miles outside Durham city centre. We approached the ground's version of "Wembley Way" just as the referee blew his whistle to begin proceedings. After picking our way through the muddy, grassy "Wembley Way" we pay our admission of £3 and settle behind the far goal. First observation. There's barely anyone here. Second observation. The pitch is astro-turf! Its not great. But we're here to enjoy it all the same. Chesterfield supporting Demetri is loving it; he's been talking to the Citizens' star man Scott Fenwick all week on Twitter and is clearly enjoying the fact he can see Old Fenners in the flesh. He's a big lad and shows early ability in holding the ball up in the face of Penrith's giant centre half.

Durham haven't won in five and have recently appointed Adam Furness as their new manager; this being the new man's first game in charge. And with us egging them on from behind the goal, the unbelievable happens. City take the lead. For non-league football, its a fine goal; an excellent move completed by a fine finish from Gary Shaw. As well as putting the Citizens ahead, there's also another positive to be taken from the goal; we've learnt the name of another player. Our tally stands at two.

Toby and myself get chatting to one of the locals; an elderly gent with a Durham City scarf on. True fan. He tells us tales of the problematic managerial reign of Dickie Ord, as well as explaining about the club's voluntary relegation last season. Ironically, this was the act that saved my local club, Wakefield FC, from playing in the division Durham are in now. The man's continued cries of "Come on Elliott" lead me to ask whether he's a father or grand-father, but he's not; he's just a die-hard fan, but even so, Elliott Cutts is now added to the list of players we know.

In amongst our tale-telling with said gentleman, Durham concede twice. The first is a soft penalty, very soft, one in a long line of questionable decisions by the referee. The second is appalling, bog-standard non-league defending, something which we see a lot more of as the game wears on. But spurred on by ourselves, City equalise again. Another excellent move this time finished off by Number 9. The tannoy announces the goal-scorer to be Connor Winter - its only half-time and we already know four members of the team. Two-two is a fair reflection.

Half-time is spent experimenting with Durham's food kitchen; my late night snack of a cheeseburger, chips and a Diet Coke costs £4.50. Although this is more than the admission to the game, its well worth it. The chips are especially excellent. I attempt to book a taxi to pick us up an hour later; once again my attempts are in vain and when the last firm hangs up I concede defeat, believing that my number has been blocked by every taxi company in Durham. How I miss Ace Taxis of Wakefield.

Penrith re-take the lead instantly at the start of the second half; more suspect defending allowing Martyn Coleman to turn and shoot from a corner. The goal wakes Durham up and here begins their best spell of the game. Our hero Fenwick comes close twice, firing once into the side-netting before finding the roof of the net with an ambitious chip. Finally the pressure gives; the referee awarding a second penalty after a foul on Craig Ellison. Dan Madden makes no mistake; Durham are level at 3-3.

Our one and only chant of "ohhhhhh Durham Cityyy" isn't catching on amongst the locals, but we feel our thirteen man show is working wonders. And with 78 minutes on the non-existent clock, Durham take the lead. After been sent through by Fenwick, Connor Winter shows excellent composure, rounding the goalkeeper before rolling the ball into an empty goal. We erupt. Its such a huge moment that even the fifty or so sat in the seated area are off their feet for the first time since their first game in 1984. Durham lead 4-3.

So far, our Fenners isn't living up to his pre-match Twitter promise that he will "bag a hat-trick". But the self pronounced "top bagger" has the ball in the goal on 83 minutes. After planting his header in the far corner, he actually storms over to us, running down our thirteen man line for high-fives. We can't believe it, we're touching our non-league hero. The referee's assistant has alternative ideas; adjudging Fenwick to be offside. And a minute later, the should be 5-3, turns into 4-4. One final act of poor defending from the Citizens ensures that Penrith would be heading back to Cumbria with a share of the spoils.

It wasn't ever going to make any news headlines, but the 109 that attended were thoroughly entertained. In my life I've paid £35 to watch Leeds lose 2-1 to Walsall, 5-0 to Blackpool and 3-0 to Swindon to name a few. So to pay £3, see eight goals and have a quiet-ish night with some new university friends was a perfectly acceptable way to spend my Tuesday night.

No matter what level, football is football. Tonight's game proved why its the best game in the world.