Five Hundred Go To Doncaster

The last leg of Stalybridge Celtic’s F.A. Cup Run

By 4.50pm on Saturday 07 November 2015, it was third time lucky for Doncaster Rovers as they beat Stalybridge Celtic by two clear goals, in the F.A. Cup First Round. The hosts had previously lost to the ‘Bridge when both sides met in the Football Conference during the 2001 – 02 season.

Back then, Doncaster Rovers was in turmoil, having recovered from an arson attack by its former chairman. Its Belle Vue ground was tired compared with other nearby venues. Stalybridge Celtic, gained promotion to the Football Conference after a treble of the Northern Premier League title, the Cheshire Senior Cup and the N.P.L. Presidents’ Cup. This would be the only season of their second stint in non-league’s top flight.

By 2015, the Reds gained a superb fully enclosed stadium. They even had a stint in the Championship (which many old timers refer to as Football League Division Two). Yesterday, myself, my old man, and 496 other Stalybridge Celtic fans made the trip to South Yorkshire. Though the possibility of a ‘Bridge giant killing seemed likely, it wasn’t to be.

In the end, a clinical performance by the Reds led to their passage to the Second Round Proper. Andy Williams scored both their goals,  but Stalybridge Celtic’s limitations were more apparent by the second half. A chance from Jack Higgins, if successfully converted, could have seen a different picture to yesterday’s proceedings. One that could have seen the Reds going to Bower Fold or – aping Salford City on Friday night – a potential shock.

Overall, it was a great day, from the pre-match breakfast to the pint of Poppy Otter in The Lodge Hotel.

*                  *                  *

Pre-Match

1100, L’s Kitchen, Concord Way, Dukinfield: my turn for the breakfasts. Beans, no; black pudding, yes. Plus a big mug of Yorkshire Tea.

1143, aboard the 343 to Stalybridge: on the dot thanks to Mr Stott, and a sound connection with The White House.

1152, The White House, Stalybridge: unofficial base for the flotilla of buses from Stalybridge bus station up to the Keepmoat Stadium. Beers: one pint of Piffle, a beer brewed by Conwy Brewery for Hydes’ Welsh pubco; and a quick half of Giggle and Titter.

1230, Stalybridge bus station: stated time for match buses’ departure.

1250, still at Stalybridge bus station: double decker arrives, our carriage for the day. A couple of minibuses carrying some fans left King Street (beside the bus station) at 1235. Later found that The Mother of All Dumps from a previous journey held up the driver (who, unfortunately, had to clean the chemical toilet).

1255 – 1420: our journey to Doncaster was trouble-free. Apart from a semi-permanent 50 mph speed limit on the M1, there was no traffic along the way. In the same time it has taken us to get from Stalybridge to Junction 23 of the M60 motorway, we were in Woodhead!

1425, Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster: ticket purchased from office at back of North Stand (the away end of the ground).

1430, the Harry Gregg Bar (underneath) North Stand: S.V. round, two bottles of Kingstone Press cider. Counter assistant asked whether I wanted apple, pear or blackcurrant flavour. For me I thought “Cider is apple; pear is perry; blackcurrant cider is alcoholic Vimto”. Apple it was, and £7.00 for two bottles (reasonable compared with bog standard pub prices).

The Matchday Experience

On entering the stand, we found a good vantage point of modest distance from the goal. Our first impressions of the Keepmoat Stadium was a tidy ground with unrestricted views all round. As well as the absolute hardcore (yours truly, my father, Bish who organised the coach, and Martin and Debbie Pollitt), there was a number of fans who had only gone to the big games.

Disabled accommodation was integrated with the ground proper, with our away stand’s wheelchair bays at the front row. The main stand’s equivalent, halfway up the structure. Stewards were friendly and cooperative as was the counter staff at the Harry Gregg Bar refreshment point.

The programme (£2.00) was a pound less than the usual price. Though it was probably cut down from the usual edition (no league and cup statistics), it was still a good read and well designed.

Some of the ‘Bridge faithful took to wearing fancy dress. One was dressed as Batman; another as an Elvis Presley lookalike; plus there was two fans dressed as Budweiser bottles!

1450: team changes: using both the Jumbotron screen and public address system. Though novel, yet grating after repeated listening, each player’s sponsor was advertised.

1455: Donny Dog and Bower Badger run on to the pitch. (Both would be seen at the start of Stalybridge Celtic’s highlights clip on BBC Two’s Match of the Day, at about 1945).

1459: a minute’s silence for Remembrance.

1500: kick-off. Referee for the game, Martin Coy (whom we have had before against Guiseley in an F.A. Trophy game on January 2012).

1502: Doncaster Rovers’ first goal: the first of two by Andy Williams. Strains of Tom Hark by The Piranhas. (Your truly thought he was watching Stock Cars and Bangers at Owlerton or Belle Vue).

1526: a minute’s applause from both Donny and ‘Bridge fans to commemorate James Coppinger’s appearance record for the host team. By that point, he had broken the record, having started out with Doncaster Rovers in 2004.

1537: pie time.

1545: back to my seat, suitably refreshed after a Bovril and a Steak Pie courtesy of Lord Pukka of Syston. (S.V. Stat-In: second ‘Bridge match with Pukka Pie consumed and Mr. Coy officiating).

1600: second half.

1615: So close! Jack Higgins’ header eluded by Doncaster ‘keeper Stuckmann. Which, had it had gone in would have changed the game completely.

1623 – 1630: following a ‘Bridge sub, Andy Williams doubled Donny’s lead. After being equal to the hosts throughout the first half, Doncaster’s dominance increased. By then, the League One side’s superior fitness was apparent, and it seemed like another day in the office for Darren Ferguson’s men.

1650: All over. Doncaster Rovers proved to be the superior team, but Stalybridge Celtic (I was happy to find) didn’t disgrace themselves at all. Having seem the ‘Bridge done over or capitulating in previous games (Chester City in the F.A. Cup Second Round in 1999 – 2000, and Lincoln City in the F.A. Trophy First Round in 2013 – 2014 respectively), we was happy to leave the Keepmoat Stadium on a fairly positive note.

Our run:

  • F.A. Cup 2nd Qualifying Round: Kendal Town (A), W. 3-2;
  • F.A. Cup 3rd Qualifying Round: Chasetown (A), D. 1-1;
  • F.A. Cup 3rd Qualifying Round replay: Chasetown (H), W. 2-0;
  • F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying Round: North Ferriby United (H), D. 1-1;
  • F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying Round replay: North Ferriby United (A), D. 0-0 (A.E.T., won 8-7 on penalties);
  • F.A. Cup 1st Round Proper: Doncaster Rovers (A), L. 0-2.

Post-Match

1700: back on the coach. Obligatory New Ground With One Way In and One Way Out Syndrome leading to Park Parade on a Saturday lunchtime style journey times.

1715: towards the M18 motorway.

1720 – 1845: another trouble free journey along the Woodhead Pass, even in pitch darkness with the wind and rain lashing towards the double decker coach. Yours truly was slightly peeved at missing the 1843 journey of the 343 service. Our next stop was The White House.

1847, 389 bus to Hyde: a quick change of plan swayed us towards The Forester and The Lodge Hotel.

1855, The Forester: three cask pumps, no real ale. S.V and F.V leave pub and walk towards The Lodge Hotel.

1900, The Lodge Hotel: excellent pint of Poppy Otter by the Otter Brewing Company (their beers are always good!). Part of the proceeds went to the British Legion.

1930: back home.

*                  *                  *

Whatever you say about the ‘Bridge’s performance against Doncaster Rovers, one should look at where the ‘Bridge were this time last season.

This time last season (as I write), we had had been knocked out of the F.A. Cup in the Second Qualifying Round by Shildon (L. 0-1). We drew 1-1 to Oxford City in front of 201 fans. Yesterday, the ‘Bridge took 498 fans to the Keepmoat Stadium; a tenth of that, probably made the journey to Oxfordshire last year.

Back then, the ‘Bridge were placed in the bottom half of the Conference North table. In spite of having a fans’ favourite player behind the dugout, it was a bit of a struggle. The low point being a 5-1 home defeat by Brackley Town on the 14 February 2015 (the Saints scored all five goals in the first half).

This led to the arrival of Liam Watson shortly afterwards. Keith Briggs resigned a month after, following a 1-0 defeat at the Horsfall Stadium against Bradford Park Avenue. Liam’s arrival made an immediate impact, one which we should be grateful for, leading us to this season’s position. A ‘Bridge side with greater confidence whom at this moment are mid table in the National League North.

Stalybridge Celtic, at this time of writing are still in the Manchester Premier Cup and have yet to play their first fixtures in the F.A. Trophy and the Cheshire Senior Cup. There’s still a lot of the season left to go, so only time will tell.

Stats:

  • 2 Pukka Pies steak pies;
  • 2 Bovrils;
  • 7 pints of beer and cider;
  • 2 Full English Breakfasts;
  • 2 mugs of Yorkshire Tea;
  • £22 coach fare (two adults);
  • £15 admission (one adult, one concession);
  • One programme;
  • 498 Stalybridge Celtic fans;
  • 3,998 fans at the Keepmoat Stadium.

S.V., 08 November 2015.

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