Today's opponents were Tow Law, first club of Chris Waddle and from a town a defeated Mansfield manager once likened to "playing at the North Pole". Down on the edge of the North York Moors, Broughton Park was thankfully more autumnal than arctic, the chill in the air redolent of the one in my relationship the only other time I'd visited the town. It was as peaceful as I remembered it: a farmers' market was packing up in the main square; there were signs for the Stokesley Agricultural Society, ducks crossing a river, and the thwack of cricket bat on leather just before I arrived at the ground.
The teams came out through a gate in the fence, Kirsty MacColl playing over the applause of the 40 or so people who were already inside. "Graft for it!" shouted a Stokesley defender, but Tow Law were up within five minutes - the keeper only able to palm a shot backwards into his own net - and could have added another three or four before they'd played ten. "We've got to get organised 'ere," screamed a voice from midfield. "Together!"
The second goal came after quarter of an hour, the manager dispossessed while trying to play out from defence. "Come on Stokesley, we're flat," someone clapped. "We go again," announced Tow Law's captain to no-one in particular. A few away fans were doing a slow lap of the touchline; another kept up a commentary in the monotone imperatives of a man auctioning sheep. "Go back, go back. Turn. Behind. Who wants it? That's good, that's good." The home players started stringing passes together but then placed one straight at the feet of a Tow Law forward, who poked in a third at the keeper's near post. "Piss poor," said the manager. "It's hard enough as it is without doing that." It soon got harder, Tow Law's fourth going in by way of the crossbar, a post and two appeals for offside. "They're not going to come back from this," a spectator said to his mate. And as hard as Stokesley kept battling, they never did.
Date: Saturday September 5th 2015 (Northern League ground 44/44)