Fawdon v Heaton Stannington A, Saturday 13th November 2021, 1.30pm

This game featured one of the oddest things I’ve seen happen during a match. It wasn’t quite as good as the occasion when I played for Hartburn Villa in the Stockton Sunday League and an opposition player who had been sent off returned in his car and drove across the pitch in an attempt to run over the ref. It wasn’t far short though.

Anyway, I’ll set the scene. Jen and I had gone to see a game in the Northumberland FA Minor Cup. I’ve no real idea what the Minor Cup is or whether the Northumberland FA have a more Major Cup, but the location, Druid Park, was somewhere that I’d not been to before.

The game was hosted by Fawdon, who are in the third division of the Northern Alliance League. The visitors were Heaton Stannington A, who are one division above them in the same league. That meant that we were seeing a contest between clubs from the thirteenth and fourteenth tiers of the English pyramid.

Fawdon were in a Newcastle style kit and this confused me for a while as I’d understood that those were Heaton’s colours. On this occasion though, Heaton were dressed up as Barcelona. There wasn’t much of a crowd. I counted twenty people watching on the dugout side but some of them may have been subs or passers-by. Jen and I had the other three sides of the ground to ourselves and we watched from an empty covered stand that was probably sufficient for another two hundred and fifty others.

The ref had been strict early on, warning someone that “more chat and you’ll spend the rest of the game watching from the bench”. Refs get a lot of stick at this level, at all levels in fact, and it was good to see him laying down the law. His job wasn’t made any easier by the fact that his linesmen were drawn from the ranks of the subs and couldn’t be relied upon to be either impartial or attentive. When they weren’t flagging for bogus offsides one lino was keen to practice his keepy-uppies whilst the other spent more time checking his phone than following the game.

With fifteen minutes gone one of the Heaton central defenders said something that the ref took exception to and was shown a straight red. This caused one or two of his team mates to critically comment on the decision and at that point the ref decided that enough was enough. He strode away towards the dressing room waving his arms as if stood over a stricken boxer who was in no condition to carry on.

It seemed as if the game had been abandoned. One player removed his shirt, another had a fag and the remainder either joined the lino in checking their phones or wandered around aimlessly whilst miserably contemplating whether the now-free afternoon might have to be spent at the likes of IKEA instead.

A player was sent indoors to negotiate and after about five minutes the ref returned and the game resumed. The players were extremely polite thereafter, with a few comments of “well done ref” and even one of “you’re the boss”.  The missing five minutes were then ignored for the purposes of adding time with only a single minute extra played in the first half. Presumably the pitch was booked for afterwards by someone else and there wasn’t time for it.

Whilst the new respectful manner was impressive the play wasn’t with passes frequently miss-hit and balls often mis-controlled. Fawdon had a few chances in the closing minutes but the away keeper was on form and it finished goalless.

The Heaton keeper then had a chance to be a hero in the subsequent penalty shoot-out after making the first save. However, his own penalty was saved by his opposite number who up until that point had only looked likely to save a goal bound shot if it were to inadvertently smack him in the chops. Fawdon took the win and a place in the next round.

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