Following the introduction to the DK FA Cup Challenge with my good friend Andy Kind, here’s the first match report.
Saturday 8th September – FA Cup First Qualifying Round
Dunstable Town vs. Ashford Town (Middlesex) played at Creasey Park, Dunstable.
For those who don’t know, there are a number of preliminary rounds that take place in the FA Cup before the First Round happens. As I read it, there was a round before this, which is a bit odd considering this is the First Qualifying Round, but evidently you need to qualify to be a qualifier in the hope of eventually qualifying, with some qualification I presume.
In any case, my friend Andy Kind, in his wisdom had a look at the ties taking place and plumped for the one that was taking place closest in geographical location to where I lived. Dunstable itself is a town that is only 25 minutes drive away from Bletchley, where I live. Seeing as though they faced Ashford Town, it appeared the logical case to go over and see them in action.
I had never previously had the pleasure of seeing Dunstable, so it was all new to me, and as we turned into the gravel area that passed for the car park of Creasey Park, I remember looking at the scene and wondering where the stadium was. Yet this was the lower leagues, so I should not have been expecting Old Trafford! What we saw, rather, was a decently homely little set-up that looked to be an off-shoot of a leisure centre. A neat football pitch with a lovely seated area under a stand and otherwise you could stand around the pitch and get a pleasant close-up view of all the action.
There was a delightful eatery near the pitch and next to the dressing rooms and other facilities. Apparently the ground is shared by both Dunstable Town FC and AFC Dunstable. I obviously thought this was a prelude to Creasey Park being Bedfordshire’s own San Siro and DTFC and AFCD (cool last initials) being fierce local rivals requiring the riot squad to keep them apart in local derby matches.
This was my own dalliance into the realms of fantasy, as the quaint, quiet and respectable layout of the whole affair gave the impression that the nearest to crowd hassle Dunstable ever faced was probably someone forgetting to say thanks to the good people at the eatery after being served the steak pie.
This neatly brings us to turnstile that let in the paying punters to watch the match. Outside there was a sign of welcome and also one that stated quite clearly that among the match day rules to be observed was that inappropriate language would not be tolerated. With the clientele likely to be present, I imagined ‘inappropriate language’ to consist of calling the assistant referee as the ‘linesman’. Or perhaps daring to disagree with a decision made by the referee and questioning it by saying,
“I say, my good man, that particular judgement might have been rather ill-conceived. I dare say, upon further reflection, you may discover you were somewhat mistaken in the decision. Though I fully appreciate that human frailties are only natural because of our given disposition.”
Of course that kind of chant isn’t going to quickly take off in the stands, but I reckon that kind of rebel/subversive talk could see you evicted from the premises.
Not that the active steward on our side seemed to be the type to evict anyone. His rather delicate frame and reluctance to meet across any physical contact whatsoever, lent itself t the feeling that if he was in charge of ‘crowd control’ then this lot must be as prone to violence as Mahatma Gandhi.
Sure enough, as we took our seats at the lovely seated area under the shade, as the area filled up the bonhomie was very sedate. Andy and myself were the rowdiest people there. That was not to say they didn’t have opinions, and such is the close proximity to the action, that a spectator could make a comment and someone on the pitch could take it on board.
This lead to quite a lot of spectator coaching from our vantage point as regulars told the players what to do from the traditional ‘Have a go!’ to ‘Play it wide!’ and of course the very familiar ‘Revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation with plenty of width and play a deep lying playmaker as well as a ball-winning midfielder to stifle the threat of their trequartista!’ (OK, there’s a good chance that last one wasn’t actually said, but they probably would have done it anyway … probably. Or not.)
Andy and I watched the pre-match practice and Ashford Town the away side, looked the more impressive. Known as the Tangerines – because of the colour of their strip (I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what it is, I’ll let you guess …), they seemed more rigorous and torough int heir preparation. Dunstable Town seemed a bit more relaxed in their warm up. On that basis – and that basis alone knowing absolutely nothing about either team – we both plumped for an away win.
As the match started, the home side made one or two intimations of making a game of it, and the right back for Ashford was ripe for the taking as the impressive forward for the home side did him for pace time and again. Yet slightly against the run of play it was Ashford who took the lead when a rare foray into opposition territory went unchallenged and from just inside the area a shot that the keeper should have really saved squirmed through his body and in the back of the net.
From there, however, Dunstable had by far the lion’s share of the game in terms of impressive chances and possession. It was by no means like watching Brazil (unless things have really got bad down in Rio), but the effort of the players on a whole couldn’t be questioned. The home side had a midfield maestro called Moses who certainly knew how to split the defence just like the Red Sea with some astute passing. Sussing that out, Ashford resorted to less than gentlemanly tactics to neutralise the threat he offered and for a time he slipped out of the match.
Despite these at times barbarian tactics, Dustable held their own and proving again that all good things come to those who wait, they nabbed a well deserved equaliser.
1-1 the scores stayed at half-time, where the delightful eatery lived up to being an eatery rather than a fast food establishment in taking the majority of the break to serve me chips. Not that I minded as the late summer heat made Dunstable a sun-kissed location to patiently wait for the fries to reach their peak.
The second half saw more of Dunstable and their constant badgering of the away side saw them take the lead. The goal looked to knock some of the stuffing out of the away side and the fans took some glee at the mishaps of some of the villains in the first half. The heat had evidently taken its toll on some of the players who tried to keep up the pace. Substitutions came in a flurry and it seemed to disturb the flow of the game somewhat.
Eventually this worked to the opposition’s advantage, and with barely seconds left of the match, a particular villain of the piece, the full-back who was causing grief to all the fans with his ponce looks and interesting interpretation of the concept of sportsmanship, took aim from outside the area and let fly an unstoppable shot in the right hand corner sinking home hearts and the hearts of Andy and I who was looking for Dunstable to hold on.
It was not to be, and so a replay is to take place on Tuesday (tomorrow) evening.
Despite no outright winner, the fans were treated to an action packed game and some of the challenges in the second half in particular brought the disapproval of the home support. On these occasions, though, rather than effin’ and blindin’ at the ref, it was the springboard for great humour. On one occasion the Dunstable player clattered into his opposite number in such a brutal fashion fans of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were seen to be referencing that move as a familiar one to their game playing games. The ref didn’t even have a word with the player, eliciting a witty viewer to suggest that if the kick had gone in a touch harder, the poor victim could have been converted over the gate!
It’s banter like this, and the feel of the crowd on occasions like this that makes the DK FA Cup challenge so enjoyable. It might not be the sort of stuff we’d see on Match of the Day, but nothing beats the type of crowd – which must have barely crept into three figures – that enjoys nothing better than a Saturday afternoon watching their team.
Dunstable Town 2 – 2 Ashford Town (Middlesex)
That’s game one on the challenge completed, but where will game two take us?