Capable of being the best fun ever or dead boring waste of an afternoon.
Where else are you going to see the captain of Benin, Hartlepool’s legend of the third millennium and the provider of one of the FA Cup finals’ most famous winning goals?
And, when else would you fancy watching Chesterfield – a side most neutrals wouldn’t go near.
Braintree, that’s where. For one day, the centre of the football universe.
It was time to see DH Lawrence’s favourite team in action.
Certainly not a-throb with delight at hosting an FA Cup first round game – I may have been the most over-excited fan there. Then again, Sunday morning in most places is a fairly quiet.
Did you know Braintree was the birthplace of the Bailey Bridge, the mobile, construct-on-site bridge which formed a vital part of efforts to subdue the Germans in the Second World War?
FA Cup pedigree came assured with Alan Devonshire as manager. He provided the cross for Trevor Brooking to net the winner when West Ham beat Arsenal in the 1980 final.
Braintree are even called the Iron, as if in his honour. But it turns out that dates back a lot longer then his heyday – the club was formed in 1898.
Despite its uninspiring new name – the Miles Smith Stadium – it ‘s good spot to watch old-school soccer but this fan is unlikely to return unless Wales pop by to play a friendly.
Only FA Cup pedigree is the 1997 semi-final loss to Middlesbrough, a disappointing defeat for me who was rooting for the Derbyshire side. I remembered only too vividly being chased near Ayresome Park after a famous Cardiff win in – you guessed it – the FA Cup. Boro lost the final to Chelsea and that defeat is probably still celebrated as a town-wide holiday in Chesterfield.
Currently 11th in the Third Division, in old money, Chesterfield won the Fourth last year.
Got my juices flowing. Only in the FA Cup will you get the chance of fun with a camel. Online entries have sadly ended.
And the loaded question on the sort of page I might have written:
“The FA Cup is the greatest competition in the world? – Yes or No” I nearly bit.
No, it’s third – after the World Cup and the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire Cricket League. For me, at any rate. Nothing beats getting a first ball quack at Monmouth. Stick your Prem and Championship.
For those who served
The observance of silence before kick-off while the Last Post was played was poignant. Lasted until the moment visiting fans broke the spell with the rousingly inappropriate chant of: “Braintree’s a shithole, I want to go home.”
The smallest fan at the game, a wee nine-year-old, turned to his pals at the cafe and chirruped: “I don’t think they like it here.” His pals then picked him up round the midriff to lift him high enough to pay the chip lady for his chips.
It was pretty in pink. The match ball, I mean. Like in cricket, an aid to spotting it in bad light. And the goal nets were vivid orange, like they’d been swiped from a trawlerman’s boat.
Chesterfield started like they had double chips and a gallon of pop for breakfast. Early on, home No 9 Sean Marks took too long to shoot and was robbed before he could pull the trigger. We might have had a good game on our hands if he’d been a bit sharper. His substitution at half time was no surprise.
Chesterfield scored against the run of play via Irishman Eoin Doyle, so popular one of two Chesterfield flags I spotted was the Irish tricolour.
A second followed on the half-hour via Jay O’Shea, prompting more Chesterfield chirping: “We want seven.”
You wouldn’t have thought the Spireites would be so cocky, so we’re-too-good-for-you-TOWIE-types. It was almost like they were the bling, flash Harrys swaggering around like they were heading to the final even if they come up against Middlesbrough.
That Fourth Division title has gone to their heads!
They got six and that was plenty.
Three down at the break after Sam Clucas scrambled home a third, Braintree were faced with a Sahara Desert of a second half.
Fair dos – two substitutions had to be made – one of the full-backs came off.
They forced a couple of good saves in the first five minutes and visiting keeper Lee was luck not to give away penalty for a foul right on the edge of the box, which was deemed outside the area. This was the only time Braintree fans got mildly riled – most of the game they spent chatting.
In that respect the occasion was a bit like a rugby union crowd – few home fans, despite this being only the club’s fourth appearance in the first round, could get themselves into gear.
The hoarse Chesterfield manager Paul Cook outshouted most of the home crowd himself. He’s gonna need a new larynx from Father Christmas the way he’s carrying on.
The brief flutter of resistance was over when ex-Bala and Rhyl player Gary Roberts – the Fourth Division player of the year last season, according to the programme – banged in the fourth from distance. He’s good.
Impressive left back Daniel Jones forced the fifth, an own goal, and Doyle made it six in injury time.
We even got the Benin bloke on. I was loco for Boco and Romuald Boco rose from the bench for the last 12 minutes. A bit of African spice to liven up the day.
The new PFA chairman Ritchie Humphreys also came on late. The man voted Hartlepool’s player of the decade is now about 37 and still going strong.
Chesterfield should make the third round whoever they draw – they’re a vibrant attacking force and full of beans (and, I reckon, chips and pop).
Alan Devonshire wouldn’t have liked the result but may have admired the wing play – reminiscent of his own trickery and guile – as Chesterfield’s width made it a horrible day for the home full-backs.
As FA Cup games, not the greatest contest, that’s for sure. It was a longish walk back to the oasis of the station.
Shame that camel ride draw couldn’t have been a week earlier.