the real fa cup

The Thoughts Of Chairman Pete

Bridligton Town 3-0 Northallerton Town
FA Cup Preliminary Round 30 August 2014

For self-confessed bag of nerves Pete Smurthwaite things didn’t start at all well. Lively striker Ombeni “Duka” Ruhanduka, scorer of Bridlington Town’s winning goal in a replay at Whitley Bay in the last round, escaped from the Northallerton Town defence, found himself one on one with the keeper… and lifted his shot over the bar.

Much later Town’s Eddy Birch put his shot on target only for Mathew Calvert to save bravely. “This is purgatory! We should be 3–0 up,” sighed Peter, Chairman of Town, only to watch Chris Adams pull another good chance wide.

By then the Seasiders of Bridlington Town were 1–0 up courtesy of a thumping 30-yeard drive from captain Tom Fleming. Chris Jenkinson doubled the lead with a dominant header from Ash Allanson’s floated corner and Adams atoned for his earlier miss with a stylish finish to a composed move which again stretched the Northallerton defence.

“I’ll relax when we’re 6–0 up,” insisted the ever-anxious Chairman. Pete’s reasoning is simple enough. If you drop three league points then more often than not there’s time to rectify the damage. But the FA Cup means a one-off pay-day, and Pete was adamant that he didn’t want to know how much was at stake until after the final whistle.

Having been quick throughout the match to dispatch members of his backroom team to collect balls whenever they flew over the perimeter fence – “That’s £25 worth of football there!” – his tension was palpable as the seconds ticked away and passage to the First Qualifying Round was secured.

“How much? £1,925? And an away tie next?” Pete was delighted. Away at Kendal Town or Newcastle Benfield means a tougher challenge but also lower match day expenditure and the chance to swell the club’s coffers further.

An attendance of 203 was encouraging, topped up by revenue the following day as Scarborough Athletic, who share Town’s Queensgate ground, attracted 381 spectators for their 1–1 draw with North Shields. A visit to Ashington awaits the winners of that replay.

Just as at the higher levels of football, it’s all about the money. Pete says the safety certificate for Queensgate allows a capacity of 3,500, but he’s realistic about hitting such a target: “If we ever get 3,500 in here I’ll hand in the keys, sell up and try to get some of my £200,000 back!”

Prudent management helps, as does the fact that the Seasiders’ social club now operates as a local pub and is run by people who moved from another hostelry in the resort. “They brought the darts and dominoes teams with them and they bring in a lot of functions,” said Pete, adding that the previous afternoon’s wedding became a race against time to clear out the stragglers before setting up for the Cup!

The club is in a better position financially than for a long time, but after 55 years in the game Pete knows the situation can change in the most bizarre fashion. He reveals that in the replay at Whitley Bay the home side looked to have won the game in the 90th minute when a shot flew towards the goal only to bounce back again – Pete suspects having hit a bracket which supports the wheels on the mobile goalposts!

He said: “It’s entirely possible the ball was over the line but no one could be sure, and while Whitley Bay were claiming a goal we broke to the other end and Duka scored the winner. But we’ve been robbed many a time ourselves.”

In the close quarters of Queensgate, Pete can’t resist chipping away at the match officials as old habits die hard. He said: “I got sent off twice as a physio and seven times as a player. Two of those were for fighting. I’m just too passionate, or maybe stupid. I didn’t even win the fights!”

One visitor to Queensgate who will be taking a break from Cup action on the date of the next round is 74-year-old Joe Quest. He says he’s now visited 956 football grounds around the country in a “walk and hitch” campaign which began in 1999 and has raised nearly £250,000 for cancer research.

He plans to make the trek from his home in Barrow to watch Gloucester City v Fylde on 13 September, but hopefully he’ll do his homework rather more diligently than for his latest trip. Joe said: “I came to watch Scarborough and hitched all the way from Barrow only to find they now play in Bridlington. I arrived in plenty of time for the Saturday kick-off but Scarborough’s match was moved to the Sunday so I watched Bridlington Town instead. I can’t stay to watch the second game but I still see it as killing two birds with one stone.”

Words & Pictures: Phil Ascough whose new book, ‘Never Mind The Tigers – The Ultimate Hull City Quiz Book’, is published by The History Press and available now.

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