Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Heroes of Clit.


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The Unibond League could make matters so boring for me, that I'd ditch this project quickly and move onto something else. But when a league consists of a gang of vociferous (read: grumbly) Halifaxians gath'ring round a small pitch full of unpredictable bumpy nooks, twists, turns and thrills are all guaranteed, and these were what was brought out in Tuesday night's away clash to Clitheroe.

Seventh-placed and on decent form, it was going to be one of the wins-in-doubt for the Shaymen, with our away form still lacking a 50% win record that would be so helpful when pitched against the opposition we have.

We arrived about five minutes late, and ten or so of us Shaymen ran up to the turnstiles where the attendant moaned there was more of us, and we entered a lovely little ground. The side we were in had a few steps on one side where you could do chin-ups on the roof bars. One length had further area covering and a few steps to it, with the same affair at the centre of the goal at the other side. The other length end had a wooden seat stand near the end of it, another little boxed stand, the clubhouse, refreshments et al, and an interesting toilet. It was small enough for you to worry about dribbling on your shoes even if your back was leaning on the wall behind, and open air. If you weed high enough I suspect you'd be fertilising the plants in the gardens of the adjacent terrace. I'd've taken pictures, but I'm not weird.



The first half established the game to be a physical one, with neither side wanting to let the other keep possession at all. All men were marked and even the clearest wing break was only clear by a couple of yards, and this mutual gameplay allowed for pretty much no clear cut chances, and few interesting breaks. Clitheroe were holding up for now.

The pitch itself was tiny. The corner spots were so small that Baker would have to chip it rather than take more than one step. It was in exceptionally good condition, with short even grass and no mud to speak of, but to anyone who has visited, they'll realise one side of the ground is several feet higher than the other. So if chipping a corner is hard enough, the ball probably has to be placed on a tee too so it doesn't run off. I was told it was a 30ft raise, but that would mean one side was a house higher than the other.



In the second half the action came in. Town had stepped up their game a little and there seemed to be more momentum towards either far side. However, when Paul Sykes scythed down their player on the side of the box, a penalty was the only option even such an inept referee could give. It was powered home as Hedge fell to the side.

In the next proper lunge forth for Town, Richard Marshall was then felled deep into the box by the 'keeper, and it was an even quicker decision for the referee to send the guy off. With no substitute goalie on the bench, a gallant defender stepped up, shirts were swapped and after a few minutes' deliberation as the new goalie stood up to the task, Aaron Hardy powered the ball home into the bottom right.



Now, Clitheroe were making some noise. During the first half 40+ Clit Hero teenagers were stood behind Hedge, doing the whole "You! Fat! Bastard!" affair and trying to string together some chants (at the first half they seemed pretty unrehearsed but bless 'em, they tried). After the point of the Shaymen's equaliser, the lads remained nervous up front. Balls were fired but not aimed, and most were scruffy, play unsuited to sloping sides and almost always went to the industrious Clitheroe defense. It had got to the point where the Clitheroe Casuals had got a bit complacent, chiming "Whey!" at all of these slips.

Within a few minutes of changing the game around for us, Aaron Hardy made the teams 10 men apiece as he got the ball, the man fell and the referee made what was unanimously a bad decision to give him a "second yellow" after Marshall got booked for dissent for merely protesting. The sending off was nothing but controversial, unwarranted and probably a mental piece for the referee to balance out the game. A Unibond ref' tends to tell whether something's a foul or not by the "clunk" noise he hears or by the reaction of the felled player. Hardy walked off a respected Shayman, albeit under the "Sheep shagger!" calls from the Clitheroe youth bracket. Dire.



On another fairly interesting note, several teenage Clitheroe natives joined the Halifax crowd for the second half to shout on our team a little or at least join out of curiosity. I didn't mind that at all, though one lad wasn't courteous about where he blew his smoke.

And it carried on, and another draw seemed inevitable after a frustrating day for me, and an equally frustrating match to watch. For a quick getaway we walked to the other side from behind the ex-defender's goal, which was when the Clitheroe kids upped their game a little. As we passed them their chants and pointing turned on us, unprovoked, and the same "sheep shagger" routine. One of them tried to take off with my father's flat cap.



So we watched the final few minutes of added time on the other side of the ground, when Deano sprinted down the left in a half-promising run. The Clitheroe bracket whistled, chided and were mid-way through another "Whey!" again when Deano surprised them with the only composed strike of the match. From a decent distance, the first shot of the half was on target, and that one was enough to get past the inexperienced 'keeper and into the net of his first ever team. DEANO!

We stood for two seconds, waiting for a referee to give it offside and for the crowd to react, and then went mental. The team celebrated with the fans as several ran onto the pitch, one leaping into Deano's arms. And just as beautiful was this 2–1 lead, that the Clitheroe kids finally shut up. The final whistle blew half a minute later into the game and Town got a lengthy applause, all the team overjoyed with such a narrow win, after so many draws this season that seemed equally somehow unjustified. We then ran off to celebrate with the other fans and those kids started their chants again, this time all gathered right around me, a little close to comfort even though it was just a couple of classrooms' worth of 14/15-year-olds. I slowly walked off and applauded the littl'uns sarcastically.



But I must say. The sudden leap of your heart from a 1–1 shipwreck to a 1–2 steal from pretty much the first Town goal in the final minute is one of the most euphoric experiences of my life, especially when you're blissed out, surrounded by a large group of angry opposition kids trying to make something kick off. My thanks to those kids; I enjoyed every second of their abuse. We quickly got out of the place.

As we drove off, the kids stood in two gangs at either side of the road, shouting abuse at the leaving cars of Town fans. We rolled down the windows at them and chanted "We love you Shaymen." We got lost on the way out to find they were still doing it after several minutes of being there! Apparently such a performance from those kids was something straight from the seventies. As we drove off this time in the right direction, we passed a takeaway called Deano's. The man is everywhere.



So, one of the happiest wins I've ever known. I'd just like to make a comment in the way of these grassroots Unibond fans. A lot of talk gets around that it's family-friendly football. Much of the crowds consist of friends and family of the club. Much of the other fans are there for honest football with no pretensions, unswayed by money. Either way, they're fans of a great team spirit, and an honest fanbase with a dignifying sense of themselves and their opponents. I'd just like to dispel this myth with this recorded evidence. Give over forty kids looking for aggro on a Tuesday night a few quid each, and here they are. Were one of them to have brought it slightly above what they did, or have done it to someone else, something big would have kicked off, leading to the Unibond equivalent of an inquiry (a few old men in a port-a-cabin munching on Wagon Wheels, nursing lukewarm tea and deciding to deduct both teams 36 points or whatever).

Anyway, top, top night, and yet another reason that we mustn't entertain the off-chance that we spend another season down here. I'll be approaching AFC Fylde 12 hours from now, and with the new ex-Southport signing Bradley Barnes we'll expect a return to very cohesive, together and clinical football, on from the great run we've enjoyed in the last couple of weeks.



Clitheroe 1 – 2 FC Halifax Town; att. 654.

Ground: 7.5/10
Pitch: 5/10 (perfect condition, very imperfect slopes)
Programme: 5/10
Non-partisan entertainment: 5/10
Local kids: 0/10

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