the real fa cup

I Can’t Help The Way I Feel

Newport Pagnell Town 2-0 Hatfield Town
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, 17/10/13

I CAN’T HELP THE WAY I FEEL
I CAN’T HELP THE WAY I FEEL
I CAN’T HELP THE WAY I FEEL
(I lost my bag in Newport Pagnell)

…and so goes ‘Is It Really So Strange?’ by The Smiths – as ignominious a claim to fame as one could imagine if it were not for association with one of England’s tattier service stations.

In actual fact, Newport Pagnell isn’t all that bad at all. Of the original communities partly swallowed up by the monstrous Milton Keynes conurbation, it rivals Stony Stratford as the most toothsome while its pleasant high street contains pubs and curry houses aplenty as well as just a glimpse of the odd half-timbered frame beneath the plasterwork and a treasure trove of a poster and souvenir shop where you can purchase a signed image of Montgomery Clift for £150 and a 1964 FA Cup final programme for three tenners.

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The local footballing heroes were founded as recently as 1963 as Newport Pagnell Wanderers and have lifted their nickname and badge from Swansea City – although who’s to say that the South Welshmen weren’t the pilferers? The ground is functional and contains two unremarkable stands facing one another as well as a clubhouse positioned the wrong side of the turnstiles behind a gap in a huge hedge.

We started our day in town with a Thai meal – the car owning democracy of Milton Keynes and lack of train station in Newport conspiring against too much investigation of the local pubdom, although from experience I know that a mighty fine crawl can be had and we did drop into the excellent Cannon alehouse after the match was done.

Those who debate the relative merits of the South Midlands and United Counties Leagues will have been intrigued by a match up that saw the local favourites welcome Hatfield Town. The UCL encompasses a wider geographical area including a couple of teams from as far north as Lincolnshire while the former competition is a solidly home counties affair with a fierce Hertfordshire bias – so one suspected that Newport might prove to be the stronger – their league is currently led by phoenix club AFC Rushden & Diamonds after all.

So it proved. The Celtic style shirts of the local team were soon asserting their dominance, belying a winless start to the current campaign; still very much in its infancy of course. Occasional breakaways  failed to offset the impression that Newport were the taller, more physical side, in possession of more bite in the tackle and generally making a better fist of coping with a wind that raged diagonally across the pitch.

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Attacking midfield Sam Maude angled in a beauty to open the scoring after 28 minutes and it was his intelligent prompting that assisted the dangerous Lee Jones who completed the victory with a cool finish having forced an excellent save from the Hatfield keeper from an almost identical attempt minutes earlier. Jones only joined from Stony Stratford earlier in the summer and looks strong and purposeful.

Afterwards, the Hatfield left back tarried near the corner flag to drown his sorrows while we decamped to a clubhouse festooned with various artefacts – pennants from Canvey Island and MK Dons (boo!) failed to raise an eyebrow while scarves from Thai Premier League outfit Buriram United certainly did. The availability of Theakstons and Church End brews emphasize that care is being taken and who is to say that the Swans cannot match their best recent FA Cup performance which saw them reach the Second Qualifying Round in 2008?

Words and Pictures courtesy and copyright of Rob Langham, who primarily writes and edits the Football League website, The Two Unfortunates.

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