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In Search of Relegation
By: Chris Smith
FRICKLEY Athletic are struggling to stay in Level Three of the pyramid. This club had actually finished runners up in an ancestor to the Blue Square Premier in the mid 1980s but is now a shadow of that on the field. Off the field, Frickley is a friendly club and whilst the ground has seen better days, I always enjoy a visit here.
I must have been secretly hankering for some relegation misery that has been withheld from me this season with Town settling instead for midtable mediocrity. The opponents were Kendal Town (managed by previous old boy Lee Ashcroft) and safely ensconced above half way in the league but with the play-off positions too distant.
Having purchased quite a bit of home merchandise over the years, I got a knocked down non-league magazine instead and got chatting to the Luton-supporting official in the club shop and a steward who were both sampling the delights of the club bar. This must be the only club I've visited where the shop doubles as a drinking area and I have to say the beer does look good. That is more than can be said for the home team's prospects though financially they are fine, something of a miracle in an economically depressed area. In parallels to our experience, they may be paying the price for prudence where other clubs at this level have overspent and prospered on the field, but with their long term existence in doubt. The only saving grace is that, at this level, the cost of administration or liquidation is multiple relegations.
The game against Kendal last season was fogged off after about 55 minutes which most were thankful for on a bitter night. This evening was comparatively balmy although there always seems to be a chill wind ready to catch you out here.
Whilst the tea bar was late opening, the pie and peas were worth waiting for though I was glad it opened when it did as my change kept falling between the wooden slats on which it stands. The considerable amount of money that must fall out of hands here must provide a nice financial bonus at the end of the season when they have a look under these boards.
As kick off approached, the cobwebs from my second team's (Brentford) no show at Wembley were finally dusted off. F*** me what a weekend, losing to Newport and then knowing after ten minutes of the JPT final that another 90 minutes of misery was to follow.
As is usual, I stood next to John, a Bladesman, and a few of the more vociferous and critical home fans that stand in at the bar end of the ground. It didn't take long for waves of rather forthright disapproval to roll from the terrace in the direction of the officials who, it has to be said, made a few strange calls during the game.
As the popular Pontoon ditty of my youth would say "You couldn't score in a brothel". Sadly, this is applicable by and large to Frickley, who have never been the most prolific of scorers in the time I've watched them and are currently short of confidence. The programme notes suggested bottle as well. I think it is the curse of innate Grimsby crapness again which I've mentioned before. I've absorbed that much of it that it taints every football team I watch. I'm taking a friend's lad to Sheffield United tomorrow night. I rest my case.
It took ten minutes for Kendal to take the lead with a strike from the edge of the area. This was the cue for a tinny sounding "Ole Ole Ole Ole Kendal Town" whether from a recording or a saddoe with a megaphone I don't know, but it made me hate the away fans just a little. I hated them a lot when it came to the chant of "This is the worst trip..." You can't get away from these s*** chants even further down the pyramid. Get an imagination for chuff's sake.
After twenty odd minutes, Frickley did manage to play a lovely ball down the left of the pitch, but instead of crossing straightaway, the ball was played back and the move petered out. This was a recurring theme tonight whenever the home team began to fashion anything promising.
Meantime, Kendal banjoed a few shots well over the crossbar and were doing all the positive stuff. My comrades were loudly suggesting the referee was being conned by the away team who didn't seem to hesitate to go down. Gary sings "Das Boot, it's just like watching Das Boot" when he sees antics like this at BP. I prefer "Swan Lake, It's just like watching Swan Lake" when they do it particularly gracefully. Perhaps I'm being unfair to the away team on the basis of the dire chanting earlier.
Kendal's number two put a free kick just wide, one of several chances he had. The Frickley keeper then had to pull off a great save from a close range shot from Kendal's nine. He was one of the few home players to do well in this game. As the first half drew to a close, they hadn't had a shot on target.
Half time Frickley 0 Kendal 1
I had a word with a couple of the home officials during the interval. Having decided that Barrow away could go take a p*** off pill, I thought I'd use the money I'll save to sponsor a half page in the programme next season. And my name will live on in print for eternity in someone's programme collection. Like I say, Frickley might be struggling on the field but I like them and at least the money will be appreciated.
They also like to do things above board here. The officials are all unpaid and all buy season tickets so they can't be accused of impropriety. I wouldn't be surprised if they all drank too much on matchdays in a selfless attempt to keep the bar takings up.
The start of the second half could have produced an instant equaliser when a through ball went straight through Kendal's defence but Longstaff wasn't quick enough to beat the keeper. Longstaff had another chance to pressure the keeper but again wasn't quick enough to react.
A defensive error then allowed Kendal to tee up a chance which was wasted.
Then, Frickley won what we all believed to be their first corner. Wasted. The corner that is, not me. The second corner a minute later met the same fate. A minute later, a home shot was always going over but it was a rare attempt to score. Unfortunately, Frickley were caught offside time and again and this was an isolated golden period.
With about five minutes remaining, Longstaff, who tried hard but was on his own for much of the time, turned well in the area and shot just wide. The ball was cleared upfield and as you have guessed, the ball was slotted home from the subsequent cross. It was all so predictable.
Full time Frickley 0 Kendal 2
Four go down in this division and the home team were third bottom before this game, three points behind Hucknall and safety and with a game in hand. It wasn't very nice then for those rotters to go and win six one at Ossett Town. The attendance was a poor 178 though times are hard and in recognition of this, Frickley are allowing under-16s in for free for the rest of the season.
Mind you, on the following Saturday, Frickley did what we couldn't and beat Chasetown two one avenging their two nil defeat there a few weeks earlier. I wonder if some of their players had a pint or two before the game in Staffordshire as they did before beating Town....
I hope they stay up. It is a well run club but unable to compete with the resources of FCUM and Halifax. It has also been tough with postponements causing a fixture pile up and forcing the FCUM game to midweek with a big loss in revenue. I would have come more often as well had it not been for Town's plethora of Tuesday night games.
There's always next year...
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