With my team Preston North End away at Walsall this weekend, I was keen to take in some local football and Lancaster City v FC Halifax Town in the FA Cup stuck out like a sore thumb. My return train ticket (£7.50) and match ticket at Lancaster (£7.00) combined actually came in cheaper than a match ticket at the Bescot alone. So I knew I was doing the right thing.
Lancaster was granted city status in 1937 and is the settlement that gives Lancashire its name. It has a population of roughly 45,000 although the government district of the City of Lancaster has around 130,000 which includes neighbouring towns such as Morecambe. One of its most iconic buildings is Lancaster Castle which was damaged by invading Scots in the fourteenth century. Today it has a quieter life and sits close to the train station, overlooking Lancaster’s football ground, The Giant Axe.
With the weather playing ball and advice from many that Lancaster was a haven for quality drinking establishments, I decided to make a full day of it and left Preston shortly after half eleven, arriving at my destination just fifteen minutes later.
Upon leaving the train station I double checked my pre-printed directions (Yeah I’m not one of those that likes to wing it!), and found the ground about 300 yards around the corner. Safe in the knowledge I now knew exactly where the ground was, I headed off into the centre to have a nose around.
As part of my pre-matchday planning, I’d researched a quiet bar that I could grab some lunch in and watch a bit of the Liverpool v United game whilst I was there. However I couldn’t find this place for love nor money so either my navigation skills were off or this place no longer existed [Ed – Should have printed off a map! Sorry]. Against all my better judgement, and with the “biggest game in world football” about to start, I panicked and went into Yates’ to watch it.
What greeted my eyesight would have been enough to bring any half decent human being to tears. In the middle of Lancaster, which I would guess is well over an hour’s drive to either Anfield or Old Trafford, this bar was absolutely rammed, packed with hundreds upon hundreds of football’s biggest freak shows. I made my way past the shirt-wearing abominations and arrived at the bar. Whilst waiting roughly 25 minutes to be served, I couldn’t help but notice the entire place was decorated in cobwebs, skeletons and pumpkins, still more than 2 weeks before Halloween. I’m a grumpy bastard at the best of times but this on top of the rest was really making me want to vomit on the bloke next to me, who I can only assume was called “Stevie G” due to the writing across the back of his shirt.
For those of you sensible enough not to watch the game, it was absolute dross and I don’t know why I didn’t just walk out. I’d hate to work out what the collective wage was on display, but the entertainment level served up was woefully lacking. It almost made me feel sorry for the poor sods in Kuala Lumpur who’d stayed up till 3am to watch it.
But you haven’t come here to read about that, like me you’re here for the FA cup and off I went through the cobbled old streets and fantastic historical buildings till I was back at the ground. There was minimal queuing at the turnstile. Nobody patted me down from head to toe, asked me to turn my pockets out or told me if I was taking that bottle of water in, I’d have to give the lid up here and now, which made a refreshing change.
The ground was bathed in sunshine and a healthy crowd that I would later find out to be 646 was in good spirits. A sizeable following from Halifax had travelled across and they probably outnumbered the home support that had turned up looking for a cup upset. A few seasons ago these two sides had provided an enthralling promotion chase with Lancaster seemingly destined for promotion as runaway league leaders, only to fall away at the end of the season and see Halifax come steaming past them to secure top spot. With Lancaster’s morale suffering they couldn’t recover and lost out in the playoffs.
Lancaster had hit a bad patch of form recently and lost their unbeaten home record with defeat the previous Tuesday night to Durham. Halifax meanwhile were bobbing along in mid-table and were perhaps suffering from the loss of star striker Jamie Vardy who had been snapped up by Fleetwood a few months back. Vardy was a player I’d heard quite a bit about as my own side Preston had been linked with him over the summer, with Phil Brown himself watching Vardy once or twice. But it was Fleetwood that had met the asking price and Vardy seems to have stepped up to Conference level with some aplomb and could well still make the Football League, with or without Fleetwood in the coming seasons. But Halifax didn’t seem to be missing Vardy as, after only 3 minutes, with the ball bouncing around in the Lancaster box, Brett Renshaw swivelled and gave Halifax the lead with a nice finish.
Unfortunately only a few minutes later, an incident on the open terrace diverted everyone’s attention as around 30 fans were locked in a full on fight. I’ve no idea who started it or why, but with no Police presence at the game, and at best about four stewards, the fighting went on unabated. Eventually the referee spotted what was happening and stopped the game. It actually took the players and staff from both dugouts going across to quiet things down. Although once the referee had ordered the players back to the dressing rooms, it started up again with nobody there to stop it.
After about three rounds of this, sirens could be heard approaching and most of the offenders slunk off either out the ground or to mingle back in with the crowd. Whilst the Police took control of the situation, the PA man announced he’d put some music on until the game restarted and whether by chance or not chose to open with Elton John’s “I’m still standing” to much amusement.
When the match resumed the atmosphere was notably subdued. Halifax continued to dominate whilst Lancaster struggled to impose themselves against opponent’s two divisions higher than themselves. For my money Lancaster had a couple of tricky footballers, especially Lee Dodgson, but all too often they chose to go long and struggled to trouble the Halifax defence. Eventually Simon Garner added a second for Halifax and nobody in the ground could argue it wasn’t deserved.
In the second half, after I’d had the customary dodgy looking cheeseburger, Lancaster finally started to do themselves justice and had long spells of possession, with Halifax looking for the occasional quick counter attack. As is perhaps expected when there are two divisions between the sides, where Halifax had took their chances in the first half, the ones Lancaster were now creating were being fired off target or the final ball was just astray. Inevitably with time ticking away, Halifax broke up the other end and Lee Gregory had the simple task of knocking in a third from directly in front of goal to seal his side’s passage into the next round with a fairly routine 3-0 win.
Having beaten FC United in the previous round, Lancaster will probably feel they let themselves down slightly, but that so often happens in football. They can at least be pleased to have made a decent sum of money from reaching the third qualifying round, whilst Halifax can look forward to a potentially winnable away tie at Solihull Moors in the next round.
As for me, well I was off to sample some of those highly recommended drinking establishments mentioned at the start. With a list of real ale stocked pubs in my back pocket, and numerous places taking part in Lancaster’s music festival, there was plenty to do before the last train back.
Words: C Madak, AKA Twitter’s Cruyff_Des for the match report.