Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dunkirk FC 1 Oldbury United 2

I’m laying in the bath, it’s 6pm. I can hear the wind whipping up and the rain battering the window. It’s Mrs P’s soap night. I don’t care that I might get a soaking this evening; it can’t be as depressing as watching Holby City or D**by County. I have a close scare, pre-match, when I can’t find my thermals. I’m informed by the good lady of the house that they’re in the washing machine. They are quickly transferred to the spin dryer. I’m going to need them tonight, Dunkirk’s ground is unforgiving.

It’s a no-show from The Taxman tonight; he’s too busy pilfering mail from post boxes, looking for the two computer discs containing 25 million child benefit records, which HM Revenue and Customs have mislaid. White Van Man claims he is down the gym. It’s more likely he’ll be propping the bar up or be at the food counter.

Barthez makes his debut with groundhopper this evening. I pick him up in Ruddington en-route. As you might gather, he’s eccentric and mad cap like the French stopper.

Dunkirk is just outside Nottingham City Centre, on Lenton Lane. Three clubs play in a 500 metre stretch; Greenwood Meadows and Bilborough Pelican being the other two. Restaurant, Sat Bains, is situated on this lane. It has a Michelin star.

Tonight’s game is a FA Vase second round replay between Dunkirk FC and Oldbury United. We’ve had heavy rain in these parts of late. I ring the ground at 7pm, and Dunkirk confirm the game is on.

The Boatmen (it’s on the banks of the River Trent) were formed in 1946. They played in the old Notts Alliance but have kicked on and performed well in the Central Midland Supreme Division last season. Nottingham Forest stole Wes Morgan from Dunkirk and haven’t done too badly out of him. He’s played over 150 games for The Reds. Jake Sheridan is another from these parts. Gary Mills signed him for Notts County in 2005. He’s now back with Mills at Tamworth.

Oldbury are from the West Midlands and play two leagues above Dunkirk in the non-league pyramid at Step Five level. They have an ongoing legal dispute with their landlord and have been thrown off their own ground. They celebrate their 50th anniversary playing their home games at Pelsall Villa’s ground. The two teams played out a stalemate last Saturday. Reports suggest that Dunkirk were a tad unfortunate.

Oldbury has a population of 10,000. The comedian Frank Skinner and boxer Pat Cowdell were both born in the town.

We’ve time for a drink int the refurbished bar and sit on one of the comfy leather sofas. I only have half a bitter, I don’t like drinking on a school night. EastEnders is on the television set in the corner of the bar. That programme haunts me. Ian Beale whinges and complains to anybody who’s prepared to listen to him.

The whole ground has had a lick of paint. Entry is £4 plus a £1 for the information packed programme. The pitch is heavy but in excellent condition. The huge poplar trees sway in the evening breeze. We choose to stand in a covered section on the opposite side to the dug outs. In the distance, above all the power pylons, are the high-rise flats on the Clifton Estate.

Dunkirk are managed by ex-pie David Harbottle, who is a legend on the Notts non-league circuit and a bit of a character. He has an eye for a player and has assembled a strong, young, mobile unit. The Meadows area of inner-city Nottingham is close by, and is a happy hunting ground for recruitment for clubs like Dunkirk. At junior level this club is respected and feared, I bought my U9’s here last season, we grabbed a 1-0 win, we rode our luck that day. I see their manager here tonight; we have a chat at half-time. Last night Dunkirk U19s travelled to Alfreton and beat them handsomely. Apparently the natives were restless.

The rain has relented and the wind has dropped. It’s a perfect night for football. I saw Dunkirk earlier in the season; they swept aside a very poor Blackwell Miners’ Welfare. They played that night with gusto, courage and passion. But they have lost their big cheese: Marquin Smith has gone to pastures new at Carlton Town. That night I saw him play, a few months ago, he was a cut above the rest. Another youngster from the engine room that night, Jack Reid, has since joined Heanor Town.
Former Forest striker David Johnson has signed for Dunkirk but his appearances have been fleeting. He doesn’t make the squad tonight but still makes the effort to turn up and support his team. He’s no Big Time Charlie.

It’s not a game for the feint-hearted. Oldbury players and supporters are surprised by the physical presence of the hosts. I’m not. Harbottle has his team well and truly wound up. Oldbury don’t like it up em.

Oldbury are more comfortable on the ball, but Dunkirk give them little time or space. The game springs to life towards the end of the first period with referee Kemsley awarding a hotly disputed penalty, after a foul on Boatman forward Joel Wilson. The Oldbury keeper is controversially sent off and Wilson coolly converts the spot-kick. Oldbury are livid and seek vengeance. The referee can’t blow quick enough for half-time.

The visitors’ ten men settle well in the second half and begin to pass the ball. Dunkirk give away an unnecessary free-kick, deep in their own half. From the resulting free-kick, The Cricketts grab an equaliser through Anton Johns, who heads home a wicked ball sent in from diminutive winger Danny Yearwood. Dunkirk have their chances but are crying out for a left sided player. Thompson’s deliveries from set-pieces are spot on.

Dunkirk are rattled, the game turns sour; there are off-the-ball offences all over the park. Oldbury begin to find gaps down the Dunkirk right flank. Danny Yearwood scores the winner following great work by Oldbury left back Dimmock.

The Boatmen get the ball into good areas but there’s no-one on the end of them. They lack that little bit of composure and quality. The game ends in pandemonium with Dunkirk’s Mark Nangle sent off for an off-the-ball offence. He incurs the wrath of the travelling support and for once, has to bite his tongue.

The visitors have that extra bit of class but you can not fault the honesty and endeavour of the home side.

Dunkirk FC 1 Wilson (pen) Oldbury United 2 Johns and Yearwood

Attendance: 50 (Including 8 from Oldbury, 7 of which moaned and groaned all night)

Man of the Match: Oldbury’s Lee Dimmock

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