SPARE a thought for Ashington AFC, dumped out of the FA Vase last Saturday after an ultimately unsuccessful 702 mile round-trip to the Cornish moors.
On a weekend when so many gargantuan efforts by fans and club officials came to bugger all, this was the fixture that stood out as the obvious example of ‘all that way for nothing’.
After all that snow on Friday, most of the country’s non-league pitches were deemed unplayable – and many of those scheduled games were called off a day early to avoid ‘unnecessary’ travel.
Some kept us wondering for at least another day, and – not so far from my own backyard – spare a thought for all those volunteers at AFC Fylde’s Kellamergh Park, who cleared the surface snow only to find what lay beneath was eminently unplayable.
And in one of those quirks of geography, surely you’d have got a good price on Lancaster City’s being the only fixture that went ahead in the whole of the Evo-Stik League and North West Counties League – not least after snowdrifts over the Cumbrian border and all those hours motorists sat on the M6 further south the previous night.
I wonder just how many phone calls were made between club officials regarding Ashington’s crucial fourth-round cup tie at Bodmin Town’s Priory Park on Saturday, especially after reports of heavy rain in Cornwall.
Only a few days earlier, poor old Truro – who have had more than their fair share of footballing pain this season – had to turn back after being stuck in a blizzard in Taunton, leading to the late cancellation of their midweek Conference South clash at Eastleigh.
Yet there was no respite for the Colliers’ fans and officials heading west days later, and the few words about the match on Ashington’s official website on Monday morning spoke volumes about the experience for the visitors.
“Goals from Glen Taylor and Matthew Grieve were not enough to prevent the Colliers from dropping out of the FA Vase at the hands of Bodmin Town. Full report to follow.”
Needless to say, two days after the experience, there was still no report, which makes me wonder if there was still a Colliers fan in a darkened room somewhere trying to find the right words to put the sorry experience down on paper.
Gary Middleton’s side had to brush themselves down from the experience and think about a Tuesday night trip to Billingham Town in the Ebac Northern League Division One, a comparative breeze at 49 miles each way. And I can report here that they went on to win that encounter 4-2.
Meanwhile, Bodmin, top of the South West Peninsula League and enjoying a free-scoring season so far, can sit back and wait to see who’s next down the A30 for a last 16 fixture.
This weekend, Wisbech Town are set to leave the Fens and head 120 miles for Dudley in the West Midlands to face Gornal Athletic. If successful, they’ll then need to embark on a 650-mile round trip to find Priory Park the following weekend.
I’m guessing at that point there’ll be a few questions asked by loving partners of Fenmen players and fans, wondering if they really are heading off to footie matches rather than embarking on long-distance affairs or stag weekends.
However, on a weekend when a few precious FA Cup moments helped re-define the perception of modern football after that pathetic League Cup fiasco at Swansea City v Chelsea in midweek, there seems to be plenty of old magic still in the FA Vase.
Just ask the AFC Fylde fans who saw their side – then in their Kirkham & Wesham guise – at the new Wembley in 2008 (a year after Truro fans triumphed in that same stadium), or the Colne Dynamoes supporters who enjoyed success at the old Twin Towers 20 years before in the same competition.
But always bear in mind Robert Louis Stevenson’s words that – as Ashington fans will probably admit – sometimes ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’.
This is a copy of a Malcolm Wyatt article that first appeared on the http://www.sportnw.co.uk website on January 28th, 2013 (hence the North-West bias), and is reproduced here with the permission of the author and the original website creator. So there.