Clive Hayward discusses an evening at Newton Abbot Spurs
Clive Hayward – @Byehorse
“SPURS ARE ON THEIR WAY TO WEMBLEY”- FA CUP EXTRA PRELIMINARY ROUND
NEWTON ABBOT SPURS V ST AUSTELL, 01/09/20
I had been looking forward to this for a long time, ever since I was tipped off that: “Spurs have got a game on Tuesday” on my last visit to the Rec. My informant- a fellow cricket umpire- was 7 days out with the date and this was Newton Spurs we were talking about rather than Jose’s Aces, but that made little difference.
Tonight, the FA Cup came to Newton Abbot and my goodness it felt great to watch a real game of football again.
This was Newton Spurs’ first tilt at the FA Cup since the 1960s, and they were drawn at home to St Austell. On a still night, under the lights, and with a full moon rising over the Lemon, the home team played out of their skins to despatch their Cornish visitors 3-0. Mao Zedong knew a few things about long marches and clearly this particular quest for an appearance under the Arch will soon fizzle, but they made themselves a little bit of history tonight and it was very enjoyable to be a part of it.
The first task was to get in, and a fiver bought Matty and I a free squirt of sanitiser, a half time draw ticket and an opportunity to scan a QR code on our phones for track & trace purposes.
Almost needless to say, the code thingy didn’t work, so pen & paper was employed to leave our details. The draw tickets very nearly did: we came heartbreakingly close to the life-changing jackpot of £25, but in yet another Torquay hard luck story it was the bloke standing next to us who trousered the cash.
The crowd was limited to 300 and, being cautious souls desperate for a game, Matty & I had arrived an hour before kick-off. We needn’t really have worried because the final attendance didn’t threaten that. Many of the crowd were, like us, clearly “neutrals” who were delighted to be there, and it was great to meet & chat to TorquayTalk’s very own Andy Charles before kick off.
Every time I go to a ground like this (think Lymington, think Exmouth, think Plymouth Parkway..) I find myself really enjoying it, and I do wonder if I might finish up watching local football- it might only take one or two more dodgy seasons at Plainmoor to push me over the edge!
The players were committed, vocal and for the most part played the game in the right way. The referee helped this, being happy to let quite a lot go and on a couple of occasions actually waving play on when many might have blown up and got out a yellow card or worse. The Spurs goalie looked solid throughout and kept up a stream of constructive encouragement for his team-mates that would have put a Pakistani wicket-keeper to shame.
I had thought Spurs might struggle: St Austell are a club big enough to have briefly appointed our very own Lee Hodges & Chris Todd as managers in 2019 and they reached the FA Vase semi-final in 2014/15. They opened brightly, with a left winger having Spurs’ right back on toast, but the home team didn’t panic, and soon took the lead with a dipping, swirling, 30 yard worldy of an opening goal. Intelligent upfront, they doubled their lead before half time with another fine finish.
During half time Spurs formed a circle on the pitch for a chat and perhaps an orange. The ref & his assistants repaired to the clubhouse, whilst the Cornishmen made their own arrangements in a shed-cum- bus shelter affair under the trees at the far end.
They seemed confident as Matty & I ambled past. One of the more vocal lads was confidently asserting that they could get back into the tie: “They’re f*****g s**t at set-pieces. They’re winning nothing in the air”.
At times this looked a prescient prediction, but St Austell’s centre backs missed a couple of really good heading chances at corners and as the second half went on Spurs grew in belief and confidence. It was no surprise when “CJ”, a lively number 10 operating down the right hand side ghosted in on a through ball and slipped the ball past the keeper to put the seal on a really good display from the hosts. They celebrated like they had just lifted the Cup, and why shouldn’t they?
I’ve always loved the Rec: from colts cricket and Herald Cup Finals in the 1980s to watching Nicho play in a James Hildreth benefit match a couple of years ago, it’s a venue which holds lots of happy memories. I’ve been there wearing a white umpire’s coat this summer. That was about 3 weeks ago. It was about 25 degrees hotter and we nearly melted that afternoon! There was no danger of overheating tonight and I will definitely put some trousers on for my next visit, but watching a proper game of football again has left me with a warm feeling as I contemplate whatever 2020/21 may have in store.
COYY – Clive