Tuesday Night and the Gates are Low
By Dave Wiggins
And it’s raining. Certainly in St Helens anyway, and, whilst the Rafa-lution limps into the group stages of the Champions League, and hordes of optimistic blues set off for Villareal, I find myself in a not particularly green, nor particularly pleasant, part of this green and pleasant land. Home of Johnny Vegas (and 3,000 look-alikes), a Pizza Hut, a Cineworld, and some rugby team or other.
St Helens Town play in the 1st Division of the North West Counties League, three rungs beneath the Conference, and tonight is the big local derby against table-topping Skelmersdale United. Living only a 15 minute drive from Town’s ground (Knowsley Road, which they share with the rugby team), I say every close season that I’m gonna start watching their night matches (my second most local club, Premier League “Everton”, take priority of a weekend), but never do. Finally, though, last night, I took the plunge.
In best ground-hopper tradition, I planned on taking sandwiches in a Kwik Save bag, and jumping public transport. But the thought of sitting on the People’s Bus, the 10A, rapidly changed my mind. Engaging with loads of Vicky Pollards and assorted ASBO males, in trackies, saying “lad” every other word, was just too much to bear. So I had me tea, and drove. Not that I had any trouble parking, mind – 15 minutes to kick off and I was the only one there. It was clear that, local derby or not, they weren’t expecting much of a gate, as there were only 90 “golden goal” tickets printed (one for each minute, obv). Indeed, the match programme indicated that the attendance for Town’s first home game of the season, against Alsager, had been – wait for it – 82. Hardly FC United of Manchester.
Having paid a quite reasonable bluey to gain admission, I was able to digest the aforementioned proey. The cover had “Season 2002/03” rather crudely crossed out (“in biro, Mike, in biro”), and the team line-ups threw up few familiar names (although I suppose there was some comedy potential with Skem midfielder ‘Michael Douglas’). In best non-league traditions, the editor welcomed tonight’s visitors and hoped that they would have an enjoyable evening (“apart from the result”, ho, ho). Bizarrely, supporters were also invited to “join the players for a pint in the Black Bull after the game” – a lesson in customer service that Everton and Liverpool would do well to heed.
By kick off, there were probably about 70 spectators dotted around the stand and terraces. The ground looks like a 70’s throwback, in a romantic way, with quite a large home end with kop-style crush barriers. I would imagine somewhere like, say, Sincil Bank (Lincoln City and their Transit Elite, teds) being very similar a number of years ago before all these plazzy stands went up. The visitors outnumbered the home “support”, and there were pockets of what ‘The End’ may have described as “scallies”, clearly there simply to mock their buddies on the pitch. As well as the no-mates, like me, there were also the classic old blokes who had clearly been watching amateur football for years, and who regularly interjected with, “C’mon Sernts, sort it oot”, or, “C’mon referee, sort it oot”, or “C’mon, liner, sort it oot”. And there was a solitary trog, hair down to here, and a satin tour jacket (with, doubtless, detachable sleeves). Happily, there wasn’t a single beaut wearing a Brazil number 10 shirt, swigging from a bottle of lager and talking about the beautiful game.
Anyway, the match. Both sides were clearly full of scousers, and the first half was nip and tuck until the 38th minute when Skem took the lead through one of their lively forwards (“Rogers”, according to the programme). St Helens, despite their own strike force of Obong and Jensen working hard, got little change out of the massive Skem back four. Half time was notable only for tannoy man announcing the scores from around the grounds, including, “St Helens 0 Skelmersdale 1”. Thanks mate, we’d never have known.
The second period, though, turned into a goal fest, as the game became stretched. Rogers made it 2-0, before Lee Madin pulled one back for St Helens. The much vaunted Stuart Rudd then rifled home a cracking volley to make it 3-1 to Skem, but Billy off ‘One Summer’, Darren Byers, scored to make it 2-3 shortly after. Cruelly for Town, though, Skem were then awarded a penalty in highly controversial circumstances following one of those ‘passive / active, is he / isn’t he’ offsides, and Carl Osman (yes, his brother) converted with ease. Rudd, again, completed the rout in the 88th minute.
The final score was probably St Helens 2 Skelmersdale 5, but I sloped off deep into stoppage time, ‘cos I thought that it would be Punk Rock to do so. And so that I could get home in time for ‘Forensic Detectives and Serial Killers’ on Discovery.
St Helens v Skem things
· The World’s smallest linesman
· Strangely, no fisticuffs
· Passing a pub called ‘T’Bird ‘I Th’and’
· Skem scarves
· ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ at Half Time
· Not really – some Country ‘n Western, I’m afraid
· Very little abuse to the match officials from players or fans
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