Match Of The Day
Pre-Match Build Up: In the week that Brian McDermott took over at crisis-hit Leeds United, and with Dave Jones’ fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday the opponents for his first game in charge at Elland Road, there was only one place to be in West Yorkshire today: Brighouse Town’s Duel Seal Stadium at St.Giles Road, for the visit of Scarborough Athletic and what was to all intents and purposes the potential title-deciding game in this year’s Northern Counties East League Premier Division. Bring it on, Brighouse…
Destination: Dual Seal Stadium, St Giles Road, Hove Edge, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, HD6 2PL.
Directions: Nearest rail station = Brighouse, 2.5 miles from the ground (around a 40-minute walk including a bit of an incline, or else the 548/549 bus stops outside the pub, a couple of hundred yards away).
Off The Pitch: Saturday afternoon, two hours before kick-off time and we’re a stones throw from Clog Sole Lane, just past the Enchanted Cafe, in a pub five minutes walk from the ground. They have three good real ales on tap, and the beer is flowing fast. Mid-pint, across the room I spot Scarborough’s gaffer Rudy Funk. Even in rural West Yorkshire, that moustache is unmissable. I go over to wish him well for this afternoon’s game, but something isn’t right. I cotton on once I see the stockings and suspenders he’s wearing, up close. It’s not Rudy Funk, but infact a bloke in a dress on his way to see the Rocky Horror Show. There’s also some similarly burlesque-attired women in the party, but one old timer who’s just popped to his local for a few afternoon scoops is mightily confused. “You can’t tell the men from the women” he bemoans, and returns to his silver tankard.
Brighouse Town started out in the 1960s as works side Blakeboroughs FC, and have come via the Huddersfield Works League and the West Riding County Amatueur League to their current home of the Northern Counties East League. Although they’ve been steadily progressing, its fair to say that they have been the surprise team of the season, coming into the final furlong neck-and-neck at the top of the Premier Division with Scarborough Athletic.
Scarborough fans have been proclaiming this as the biggest game in their history to date, and from a slighly different perspective you could say the same for Brighouse. For them, it’s a bit of an unexpected bonus; a shot at the big time they maybe weren’t expecting, but want to grab with both hands now it’s here. A reward for all the hard work that has been put in this season. On opposing teams, today’s game pitches the division’s two top goalscorers against each other too: Scarborough’s Ryan Blott has 36 league goals to his name, while Brighouse’s Tom Matthews has scored 30. Team-wise, Brighouse have won all of their last five games, while Scarborough have won four and drawn one. Brighouse Town’s official capacity is listed on the NCEL website as 1,000. Today there are a whopping 1,059 spectators inside the ground. The 150 programmes they’ve printed are like golden wonka bars, and all have sold out by two o’clock. Meanwhile, the 100th car enters the car park, and the Brighouse team of stewards and volunteers are doing a sterling job keeping everything ticking along while mainitaining a warm and relaxed atmosphere. Inside the clubhouse it is still possible to shuffle sideways and order food, and the pie and peas goes down a treat.
The travelling Seadogs have an air somewhere between joyous anticipation and bricking their keks, while for the locals its more akin to an arms folded and a ‘thou shalt not pass on thy way to promotion if our boys have any say in the matter’ stance. Despite what’s at stake, the opposing fans stand side-by-side on the terraces as orange mingles with red all around. Brighouse have done themselves proud today as hosts, and as the teams take to the field, attention turns to the small matter of a chance to move up to the Northern Premier League this summer.
On The Pitch: The weather is fine and not too hot, with the pitch looking perfect for a decent game of football. For the first quarter of the game there’s really nothing to chose between the sides. Scarborough force a couple of decent chances but can’t convert them, while Brighouse look ever-dangerous on the break. Defences are on top though, with the real battle going on in midfield. Scarborough have an added air of steel to them since the last time I saw them play, while for Brighouse it’s the first occasion I’ve caught them in the flesh this season. Home fans’ favourite Leon Henry is a familar face to me as an ex-Frickley winger, today turning out at left-back and looking dangerous every time he breaks forward. Brighouse can’t seem to get a real clear site of goal though, and the Boro defence is keeping danger man Tom Matthews quiet. Things continue in the same manner thereafter, nip and tuck as the referee blows for half-time with the scores remaining at nil-nil. During the break, many fans muse over weather the occasion is going to point towards a goal-less game – something virtually unheard of in the NCEL in games involving any of the top teams.
The interval also sees the rain begin to lash it down though, and it feels like the elements have decided it’s time to up their game too. Ten minutes after the restart, Scarborough have a corner, and from the resulting mellee Ryan Blott cushions the ball on his chest before volleying home from six yards out. He’s scored many harder goals in his Boro careeer so far, but none more important. Delirium ensues and Brighouse regroup. Still though, there’s a lack of decisive edge in the home attack toady – although to give credit where due, Scarborough’s back four and goalkeeper have performed admirably all afternoon. Check-mate ensues 12 minutes from time when Boro’s Jimmy Beadle is played through in the inside-right channel, and with only the Brighouse keeper to beat, finsihes confidently. The away fans can now all but relax, and although Brighouse throw all they’ve got into a last-ditch attempt at going forward, they can’t break through the Scarbough rear guard today. After four minutes of added time, the final whistle blows, Rudy Funk throws his arms into the air in delight and Scarbough go home knowing they’ve got one foot in the NPL. It’s been a day their fans and players alike will remember for a long time to come. Now, with two games left, all they have to do is finish the job. Luckily, the road back into Brighouse is downhill most of the way.