North Ferriby United 1-3 Alfreton Town
FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round 2013/14, Attendance: 745
The Queen went to North Ferriby in 1981 on her way to officially open the Humber Bridge. She arrived by Royal Train at Ferriby Station and left by limo after negotiating the usual scrum of toddlers offering posies, pensioners grinning excitedly and dignitaries shuffling officiously.
Her Majesty has never been back, but why would she go? The village is nice enough; well-kept, leafy and with an unremarkable pub and over-hyped restaurant. It’s quiet, and the locals are determined to keep it that way with their campaign against plans to build 500 houses on land at the western end.
The notices in the Post Office window advertise dog-walking services, a French supper at the village hall, and jazz and drama nights at the same venue. Someone wants to buy a VHS recorder, which is perhaps slightly more bizarre than someone expecting to sell one.
But what North Ferriby does have is the Royal British Legion club, which may still serve fine Stella Artois at ridiculously low prices – I honestly didn’t have time to check – and the football club.
North Ferriby United, The Villagers, had the chance to create their latest piece of history by reaching the First Round Proper of the FA Cup. They failed, but the scale of their achievements in the last 20 years is such that they will be better equipped next year.
The upturn for The Villagers coincided with the arrival about 20 years ago of Les Hare as Chairman. He won’t be more precise about the exact date of his appointment because he doesn’t want any fuss about big anniversaries detracting from the progress of the club itself.
Framed newspaper cuttings reveal that Les once did a bungee jump to raise £7,000 for the club. A fan called John Bonewell restored a motorcycle, a 1960 Bianchi Tonale 175cc, sold it for £2,000 and gave the money to the club. That sort of resourcefulness coupled with hard work has taken a club from a village with a population of less than 4,000 into the top three of Conference North in their first season at that level.
When Les arrived they were bottom of Northern Counties East. “We’ve never been relegated since I arrived here,” he said, taking his mind off the FA Cup for a few moments. “Within 12 months of my arrival we were in the FA Vase Final at Wembley. We have steadily moved the club forward, building the squad, the ground and the facilities. “The key has been a lot of hard work. I have always taken a hands-on approach and I am fortunate to work with like-minded people who have integrated and engaged with the local community.”
There are close links with Hull City, with a tradition of managers and players over the years living in North Ferriby and joining the ranks of The Villagers en route to retirement. Hull City’s reserves play at Ferriby’s ground in a deal which sees the Premier League club’s ground staff maintain the pitch.
It’s a good surface and The Villagers like to use it, keeping the ball down and playing a stylish game, embracing the work ethic that runs through the club. It worked for long spells of their tie against Alfreton Town, a side who sit in the middle of the Conference Premier table and who demonstrated a ruthlessness that should keep them clear of relegation even if their one-dimensional attacking strategy is not enough to trouble the promotion pack.
Alfreton were twice denied by home keeper Adam Nicklin in the first five minutes. Ferriby saw a shot headed off the Alfreton goal line but took the lead after 15 minutes when top scorer Nathan Jarman got his head to a cross from Jamie Yates and guided the ball over the defenders and into the net.
Ross Atkins prevented further damage when he flew full length to turn a low drive from Matt Wilson past the post, but Wilson was one of the Ferriby defenders caught out when a stray ball across the back fell for Jake Speight, who raced clear and found just enough power to force the ball through Nicklin’s fingertips and into the net.
Jarman’s second strike against his former club was denied by an offside flag, and they succumbed to a combination of bad luck and the sort of physical approach from Alfreton that some observers described as “experience.” Returning central defenders Nick Fenton and Chris Westwood were uncompromising and, on occasions, unpunished. John Akinde, archetypal “big unit” and the target for most of Alfreton’s forages forward, had the strength to hold up the ball and the pace to burst into any space, which Ferriby allowed too often.
One such sprint produced a thumping shot which was well saved again by Nicklin, but the resulting corner was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area and Akinde was there again to unleash a shot which crept under the keeper.
Ferriby forced the pace but couldn’t find the equaliser. In added time, John McGrath was given the time and the space to curl a shot into Nicklin’s top right hand corner and give a pulsating match a flattering scoreline.
The attendance of 745 was comfortably Ferriby’s biggest of the season for a competitive match, with the 2,000 for the traditional curtain-raiser against Hull City giving an idea of the current capacity and of what might have been. “Imagine North Ferriby United playing here against Wolverhampton Wanderers,” Les had ventured, misty-eyed, pre-match.
The sort of cash that might have been generated from TV coverage would have funded the ludicrous ground improvements necessary to remain in Conference North – chiefly the addition of a fourth row of seats in the main stand; not to increase the capacity but to make it look more like a football ground!
A ground-share with Hull Kingston Rovers was rejected by The Villagers as soon as it was suggested. Les and his team will find the cash from elsewhere, as they always have. From a sportsmen’s dinner which is one of the biggest in the region and which always secures the services of the legendary entertainer Vince Miller, a permanent fixture at the annual PFA Awards.
And from the large regional businesses and small local firms who make up the sponsors. Les will always find space for a bit of branding – at the gate, on the roof, round the perimeter and even on the pitch. A grid in the match day programme matches sections of grass with sponsors. They’re not allowed to paint their logos on the hallowed turf, and just in case the good people of Mike East Funeral Services were wondering the answer is an emphatic NO. They may sponsor a corner of the penalty area at one end, but Ferriby’s Eon Visual Media Stadium is in Church Road, not church yard.
Words & Pictures: Courtesy and copyright of Phil Ascough, whose new book, ‘Never Mind The Tigers – The Ultimate Hull City Quiz Book’, is published by The History Press and available from September 2.