Today we embark on another Emirates FA Cup adventure and our opponents are Hallam from the NCEL. We've met before!
Doing my research I was shocked to learn that the previous meeting was in 2010 and not 2011 as I thought. Time flies etc... Anyway back to 2010! The actual date of the game was 21st August and like this weekend's match up it was also played on a Sunday. This is because Hallam CC also use the pitch and they take precedent on a Saturday. Well the coach was full for the early start to Hallam. What the mixed of players and fans didn't want was an early dart from the FA Cup. Hallam is a district in the City of Sheffield and at that time Nick Clegg was it's MP. He was the leader of the Liberal Party and was also Deputy Prime Minister as his party propped up Dave Cameron's Conservatives. His popularity was riding along on the crest of a wave at the time. Unfortunately (for Nick) he is no longer Mr Popular and in the 2017 General Election lost out to the Labour candidate by over 2000 votes.The players looked in tip-top condition while the majority of speccie's were not as sprightly. Some had been over served the night before and it was a minor miracle that they actually got to Alder Street on time to board the coach. It was a flaming hot summer's day like the one's we used to get and the trip to Yorkshire was a pleasant one. When we reached the Sheffield conurbation the Maltese Falcon started reminiscing about visits to the city watching Manchester United. He rhymed off the dates, scorelines, scorers and which particular Cliff Richard song was in the pop charts at the time. It did get a tad tedious but you have to acknowledge he knew his stuff although nobody present had the inclination to check the internet to corroborate what he said. Thankfully we eventually got to the ground and it wasn't just any ground. Sandygate holds a Guinness World Records Certificate as being the oldest football ground in the world. The first competitive game was played on Boxing Day 1860 when Hallam hosted local rivals Sheffield FC.The fans split themselves into two factions. Faction one went straight into the picturesque Sandygate ground while faction two went straight to the Plough pub which is immediately opposite the ground. I initially went into the ground to introduce myself to the Hallam officials before doing the teamsheet for Steve Pilling before decanting to the pub for a much needed hand pumped ale. While in the ground I noticed the ex Premier League whistler Uriah Rennie was there and he turned out to be a Hallam official. I didn't introduce myself to Uriah as I had forgotten my autograph book but I wouldn't have had a chance anyway as Big Billy Fearick had collared him. That conversation was lengthy. I don't know whether they are friends on Facebook. The Plough was a nice boozer and trade was going great guns up to kick off time. It was a shame to leave really especially as the hosts took a early lead. They were favourites as they were the Step 5 team while we were Step 6 but the early goal didn't deter us. Ace striker Paul Atherton equalised before pulling up lame following a challenge on the halfway line and he had to be replaced. The first half was even but there was a whiff of controversy in the air. We looked smart in our black n white, black and black kit but a couple of killer passes had gone to the referee who also looked resplendent in his all black uniform. To alleviate the problem the ref put a coloured bib on. Kitgate ensued, word got back to the NWCFL and the poor jersey was never donned competitively again. It was also at half time that five our our fans left the ground following a discussion on the veranda of the clubhouse. They were in firmly ensconced in The Plough when the second half commenced. Facts about the discussion are still sketchy but the legend of the Hallam 5 was born. What we do know is that they won the raffle for a bottle of whisky in the hostelry.The teams were evenly matched and a replay looked odds on until we got a goal from a very unlikely source with fifteen minutes remaining. Andy Walker is a bonafide Colls treasure but his goals were as rare as hens teeth. His shot was from out wide and somehow went through a packed Hallam penalty box and into the far bottom corner. He whipped the black jumper off instinctively and wafted it round his head in celebration while running around like a madman. Even I didn't complain about the needless and the letter of the law caution. Minutes later Phil Williams made it 3-1 and we looked set to reach the Preliminary Round. I was stood with chairman Paul Gregory and when we conceded a goal with minutes remaining the pressure even got to him. I was my usual 'emotional self' but Paul is usually as calm as a lilypond but he was glad when the ref blew for full time as his stress levels had gone off the Richter scale. A fine away victory against a team from higher up the pyramid in front of an excellent shirt sleeved crowd of 195.
Hallam were magnanimous in defeat and their hospitality was bob on. I can't remember the trip home really after a couple more in the clubhouse and The Plough but would imagine it to have been a happy 'charra'.
We look forward to Sunday's visit although were disappointed to learn that The Plough is no more. Will Michael end up more popular than Nick in Hallamshire? Will it be When Billy Met Uriah 2? And will the Hallam 2 (the other 3 are unlikely attendees) behave themselves?Let's get behind the lads!!!