the real fa cup

The Angry & Imperfect

Great Yarmouth Town 0-3 Norwich United
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, 15th August 2015

“It was 9/2 favourite, I had to do it”, said a man, desperately trying to justify to his other half how tonight’s dinner had been donated to a lame nag that had just trailed in mid-field. Not exactly the kind of holiday tribulation you’d expect to greet you on Great Yarmouth’s sea-front parade. What you want to see is excited toddlers pleading for a go on the donkeys, half-drunk teenagers pre-loading for a night out at the [sadly closed] “Empi..” or some yellow and black scarfs glinting in the summer sun as their wearers chat excitedly about the coming of the NEW and shiny FA Cup.

But, well, this is the faded (sorry Yarmouth but you do now fit that bill since my last visit) seaside of England past, albeit one with some grand Victorian architecture.

You will, I’m sure, know that Great Yarmouth Town boasts the oldest football stadium stand in England, dating back to 1892. Redolent of past era’s glamorous holiday industry and those evocative train stations with static wooden seats, gabled ends and large prominent clocks stowed primly in what are quite probably known as ‘the eaves’. Stone cold classic.

Great Yarmouth Town’s stadium record attendance, as with many non league sides, dates back to such a time. The 50s. An FA Cup match in the propers against a much higher placed league side. In this instance, Great Yarmouth Town’s glory was a 1-0 win over Crystal Place (then in Division 3 South) in the 1st Round. Unfortunately, the game after that, a 5-2 loss to Barrow, was the last time the Bloaters made the FA Cup propers.

It’s only five years since the Bloaters previously hosted Norwich United in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round and lost 0-4 but, since then, Yarmouth’s downward spiral has been halted and turned round. Finishing 4th in the Eastern Counties Division 1 last season it was their second successive season of improvement after relegation in 2012. This upturn hasn’t necessarily been reflected in their FA Cup performance, they’ve won only 4 of their 18 cup games in the last 10 seasons, included in that an 8-1 home gubbing by Witham Town shortly after that relegation.

But Norwich United were not going to be any easier foe to overcome this time. Runaway winners of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties league last season, the Planters shouldn’t even be playing in this round of the FA Cup. But, their hierarchy decided that the Ryman 1 North league “isn’t a particularly nice league” and so declined the opportunity to take promotion. Of course, the genuine reason is more likely to be the cost of upgrading their ground when they, perhaps wisely, think evolving their U19 team into a reserve side is more beneficial. Either way, you’d think it was more sage to just say that instead of raising eyebrows at a league you will presumably one day play in. Odd. But funny.

The game took about 15 minutes to get going. United had the bulk of posession without creating a great deal but after 18 minutes the catalyst for the rest of the game. After some niggly little fouls The Bloaters’ Declan McAvoy and Pete Oldham found themselves in the book and Norwich United’s Matthew Blake got angry. The Norwich free-kick in a promising position came to nothing but the touch-paper was lit and Pete Oldham lost his head.

Six minutes later, with Yarmouth all over the place, Blake, channelling his anger productively on this occasion, was slipped through  and tucked the ball past the keeper from around the six yard box and with a whiff of offside floating in the air. 1-0.

Three minutes later and Oldham appeared to raise an elbow and got his second card. Great Yarmouth were 1-0 down and down to 10 men with barely half an hour gone.

Before the game, the Bloater’s winger Sean Perfect had tantalised with the promise of a performance illustrating his surname. He was, disappointingly, a peripheral figure, a very wide, isolated player of some luxury when your foe is a better side. When playing a better side with a man advantage it was as if Great Yarmouth had bought a hundred weight of flakes but forgot to buy any ice cream. Or an ice cream van.

And yet in the 36th minute, against the run of play, Great Yarmouth’s flake was suddenly through on goal and slashed at a volley when all he had to do was pour the monkey’s blood on top and hand the ice cream to a grubby-faced urchin. It was a shame, we were rooting for him.

At half time, the Bloaters clearly received the Wurlitzer treatment and burst out of the blocks with a goal that seemed to have been harshly chalked off for an earlier infringement. But the vigour and certainty with which the Scottish referee (brilliantly) explained the decision to the Yarmouth manager left no one in doubt it was just.

Five minutes later and the increasingly angry Blake bundled a shot past the Yarmouth keeper and the game was effectively over. But, Yarmouth were much improved in the second half and created a few chances along with getting the raw end of several of the referees decisions. Not that Blake agreed, with every foul, both for and against, he was getting more irate.

15 minutes later and Norwich’s no.9 Paul Cook got hold of a loose ball and curled a beautiful and powerful shot in off the far post. A pleasant thud split shot from goal and pretty much the whole crowd applauded. A few minutes later and Blake finally boiled over. After a seemingly innocuous altercation he stormed over to the touchline and asked to be removed from the action for everyone’s sanity and safety [paraphrased here]. He was. Never seen that before. He was moan of the match but also clearly man of the match.

Sanity also prevents me from going into great detail about my last game at the Wellesley, a 4-1 Norfolk Schools cup final defeat in 1988. Bad times playing against monsters who *claimed* to be under 16. But, at least I had dinner to look forward to and I depart from Norfolk with the memory of a very entertaining second half and the best seat cushions ever.

FA Cup facts courtesy of Phil Annets @FACupFactfile

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