Summer is officially over, and the football is back. And so am I. I will recall some of my summer wanderings in coming editions. Cricket will take a back seat now, although I am a fan; tennis, I’m not a fan, same for athletics and the like, overall let's get back to the real thing I say. It seems more than a bit ridiculous to me, but here we go with the FA Cup of all things, first Saturday in August and only thirteen games from Wembley. A cracking tie to start though, Garforth have had some great times not so long ago, so they will be keen. Best game on in the North East on the day I reckon, so maybe a few extra in. Will the pies last? And how do we look? A few new faces and not many missing from last season, so things are quite hopeful, or so the lad in charge says. We certainly have a very busy August with the Northern League not helping much with a rash of home games in the first few weeks of the season; think the fixture computer needs a reboot, or maybe just a boot.
View from the cemetery
Football in July, an interesting thought. My sporting instincts are normally focused on golf, cricket and horse racing in the height of summer, but there is no doubting that tonight’s game is enough to get your mind on the winter game straight away. A strong and young Sunderland side will be a big test for RCA. Our best performances are usually against the best sides; I notice South Shields are speaking of their comeback point against us at their place as the most important result of their league season, so pro opposition should incentivise our lads tonight.
Feels like it might be a bit of a slog from now to the end of the season, a good few still to play and most of them away, and nothing to play for except pride and league position. And what does pride come before? Correct at the back. This sounds a bit pessimistic, which is not really fair. I think our form has been reasonably decent since we slipped out of the Vase, a few good wins and some close defeats, including the obligatory couple of three two losses. Up at Morpeth the other night our old friend the shaven headed Irishman notched his usual goal against us, and the Tasmanian devil from Pennywell known as Joe Walton got another. Although he was remarkably quiet on the night was Joe, no ranting and raving at all, he must have been right off colour. Always been one of my favourites has Joseph. Him and Scotty Richards. Anyway what is it with our old boys? Rasher does it every time, and Closey usually scores his only goals of the season against us. Thankfully he has moved on from today's opponents, otherwise I would fear the worst. And Sparky was banned on Wednesday which was probably just as well. My spies though tell me it was a good game, good possession by Morpeth versus excellent attacking on the break from our bold lads. Missed a few chances I hear which could have made a difference, and suffered from the old last minute of the half problem for Morpeth’s equaliser. In this case the 49th minute of the first half, which makes it feel worse. But a good show against a top side, well done boys.
At least the Vase hangover was a bit shorter this season. A very decent win up at West Allotment means that the non-winning run only lasted for three games, unlike what felt like a lifetime last season. Still it would be nice to win a few more through to the end of the season and get up the table a bit. Looks to me like the three or four just above us are well within reach, which means a top ten finish is a possibility, which is decent. Mind, the last few weeks of every season are notorious for strange results, for a number of reasons. Fixture congestion catches up with some, some teams have their thoughts on bigger prizes, managers are trying out new players, and some are just on early holidays, or at least look like it. To be fair they don’t come much stranger than our bold lads managed in the last game of the season last year over in Cumbria against today's opponents. Twelve players could be found for the trip, not including a goalkeeper or a centre half, or for that matter a manager, but three wingers turned out, always handy. The versatile Mr Larkin was in charge and promptly picked himself in goal. He may well be a canny keeper, but there is no way of knowing, as Penrith were even more out of sorts than us. A two-nil win with barely a tremor of concern throughout the afternoon ensued. Young Callen played centre half and looked the part, and all of the wingers ran about and caused havoc. At the top of the table Morpeth had a boatload of games in hand, partly because of the their Vase run and partly their awful pitch, but it did them no good, as they succumbed to injury, fatigue and the need to rest players before the Vase final, as their challenge for the title fizzled out. And a few seasons ago Benfield crept through the pack at the end to clinch an unlikely title triumph. In less exalted circumstances I used to regularly make my annual seasonal debut for Colliery Tavern FC in the Sunderland Sunday League Third Division sometime in March or April, as to be fair did my old work mate Ralph, which was particularly impressive as he had been dead a good few years by then. Ah, the jiggery pokery of wrong 'uns in Sunday football. Happy days.
Woe, woe and thrice woe, as the old soothsayer in Up Pompeii! used to say. A much underrated show in my opinion, not least because of the range of partially clothed and attractive young women who used to grace the screen in every episode. Bit like Game of Thrones, no need to worry about the plot, just look out for the highlights as you might say. But proper woe and thrice woe round Meadow Park at the moment, three very hurtful defeats in the last three games, including being knocked out of two cups, despite scoring twice in each match. Good deal of bad luck involved, which you can’t do much about, but no doubt also a few things to look at for improvement next season. Not my pay grade to be considering these things and asking the hard questions, but hopefully those in the know will have their thinking caps on. Great efforts and good football for most of the season, but you have to keep trying to improve all the time. "If you snooze you lose" as Lance Armstrong used to say, though I don’t think the bosses at Meadow Park will be reaching for the keys to the pharmacy cabinet and the large needles, as Lance used to; allegedly. To be fair he also said “It's not about the bike” which is certainly spot on as far as football is concerned, so maybe he wasn’t the villain he has been painted, although I think he was.
Anyway a lot of football still to play, got to try and finish well and go again in good shape next season. The last couple of seasons, especially this one, have got the club more publicity than ever before, and we need to build on it. A couple of signs would be a good start by the way, most people have no idea where Meadow Park is.
Well, a long ride home from Hanky Panky Pagnell I bet. And I guess not so boisterous an hour or so in Wetherby as on previous trips out. A tough way to lose, and hard to take, especially given the draw for the next round, but you have to hold your hands up. When it is not your day and all that. And a South Shields V RCA Vase Quarter Final would have generated the biggest gate money in a long time between two Northern League sides. Which to be fair won't be cheering our committee up much.
Anyway let's hope we don't have the long post-Vase hangover we had last year, though Saturday was a bit ominous, losing to a side on a long run of defeats. Got to look for the positives though, good run again, good exemption secured for next season again, and much improved profile and publicity for the club. I think I said that last year as well.
Good luck to Shields anyway, though I don't think they will need it to get past Newport Pagnell. Strong lads, fit and determined and kept going all the way to the end is what I hear, but I doubt that will be enough at a packed Mariners Park.
Seven wins on the bounce, what is going on here? Didn’t look very likely earlier this season, when instead of winning we were contriving to lose games that we controlled from the start, and usually in extra time. Four points dropped against Guisborough? Canny lads and a good club and all that, but really? Getting done 1-0 by Jarrow Roofing when, with nine men for virtually the whole of the second half including an heroic goalkeeper with a broken ankle, we still managed to look much the better side? And there were others. It's a funny old game alright. Still, we seem to be getting our rewards now, and well deserved. The team has gradually gelled over the last two or three months and the spirit and determination is impressive, as is our attacking style, very nice to watch. Too late to do anything too much in the league now except to have a real good finish and get as far up as we can, which is an important target anyway, but the Vase and the League Cup provide a nice distraction. The Mansfield trip was a good laugh I hear, although maybe not for the sophisticated locals of a Wetherby bar. Famous dart player called Gary Anderson was in the bar, or maybe it was mistaken identity, but anyway our lads sang his praises. Until they were asked to vacate the premises anyway.
Our last home match, against Whitley Bay, was a busy one here at Meadow Park, on and off the pitch, with a couple of medical emergencies resulting in the unusual sight of two ambulances sitting behind the bottom goal deep in the second half. Hopefully both the Whitley Bay player who looked to have a nasty leg injury, though maybe not the break that was many people's first reaction, and the elderly spectator who took ill are both well, fingers crossed. Many thanks due to the doctor in the crowd, a Whitley Bay fan, who stepped in to help and advise with care of the spectator, no doubt an occupational hazard for doctors to be called on when they are near an incident, must get a bit trying for them, but a great comfort to the rest of us; anyway, very well done that man!