"Who are these we're playing, like? Anyone kna owt about 'em?" asked one of the 12 Jarrow Roofing fans waiting in a social club carpark for their club's first game of the new season. "Wembley warriors," someone joked as the travelling squad packed their holdalls into the boot of the coach. "You still eating nowt but celery?" a teammate asked Lee Kerr, a scorer in three successive Wembley finals for Whitley Bay. "Will we be stopping off on the way back?" a player shouted from the back. "It's just I forgot to bring any bait."
The bus had leaflets for trips to Berlin and Great War battlefields but today we were bound for Barnoldswick Town and an extra-preliminary round tie in the 2017-18 FA Cup. "Two and a bit hours," a supporter announced, "according to my phone." Joint managers Richie McLoughlin and Mark Collingwood huddled at
the front scribbling their formation in a notebook. "They've already put
their team on their website as a 4-3-2-1," McLoughlin said. "Red
herring," thought first-team coach Mick Mulhern, who trained half a dozen of the current England women's squad during 15 years in charge at Sunderland Ladies. "They started that way when I saw them but they finished up 3-2-3-2." Richie's wife Janice collected lottery subs and the bus money. "Are you doing Twitter today?" she asked the student from Sunderland University doing work experience with the club.
Barnoldswick had gone big on their ninth appearance in the world's oldest football tournament. A replica FA Cup had pride of place on their clubhouse bar and balloons in the shape of the Champions League trophy had been tied to half the tables. The pie and mushy peas was served with proper cutlery and china bowls from a hatch in the corner and the toilet block outside had a choice of soap, hand sanitiser or waterproof suncream. "Bit posh this," a Roofing fan marvelled, "but I divvent think the factor 30 would do much to clean yer hands." The home side had never before won a game in the competition; Roofing had once played at Fleetwood Town and twice made it as far as the second round of qualifying. "It's winnable," a Roofing fan concluded, looking at the line-ups stuck neatly to a wall. "But at this stage of the season you never know what you're going to get."
The first 20 minutes promised an even contest, Dennis Knight, once of Newcastle United, reacting first when his free kick rebounded back from the wall to put Roofing ahead, but the home side responded swiftly, turning the score around with two goals in four minutes just after the half hour. "Too many slack balls," a Roofing fan bemoaned. "We gave the game away," Kerr rued later. You could hear the raised voices in the visitors dressing room at half-time. "I've told him to calm down," Janice McLoughlin said, cocking her head towards the door.
"Get the ball down, use your heads and play," McLoughlin urged his side in the minutes after half-time. "Got to make this pressure tell," a Barnoldswick fan muttered, the referee's whistle sounding almost simultaneously for a penalty kick. "I didn't know whether it was in or out of the box," Roofing keeper Shaun Newbrook reckoned back on the bus. "Definitely in," said Mulhern, who'd been watching from a gantry above the dugouts. "Wouldn't have made a difference," thought a despondent McLoughlin. "The better team won on the day."
Two goals behind, Roofing threw giant centre-back Dan Kirkup up alongside Knight but couldn't find a route past Connor King, an England schoolboy international signed on loan from Burnley's under-23s. The home side eased to victory, their first ever in the FA Cup. "They were lively in the first 10 minutes," lamented former Northern League chairman Mike Amos as he looped around the pitch. "History makers," tweeted the Barnoldswick account. For the victors, a preliminary round meeting with Northern League Dunston UTS. The losers made do with post-match pints, a sausage sandwich from the clubhouse and a whip-round for the driver on the journey back home.
Date: Saturday August 5th 2017