Thursday, October 19, 2023

Catch That Buzz - Football is the Drug


Outside of family and friends, the three great joys in my life are football, walking and beer - not necessarily in that order - and I endeavour to participate in plentiful enjoyment of each within the bounds of appropriate moderation (obviously). Thus, my recent discovery of Padiham FC (see Bury Alive - And Kicking) on my doorstep afforded opportunity to indulge in all three this last August bank holiday Monday. With no plans for the day, no Premier League or EFL fixtures and no TV football, I scanned the non-league fixtures to discover that The Storks had a 3.00 p.m. home fixture against Longridge Town FC in the North West Counties Football League (NWCFL) Premier Division. Mrs C didn't fancy it but oldest daughter did so off we set on the picturesque four and a half miles via Ightenhill Lane, across the River Calder and along Grove Lane, past Burnley FC's Gawthorpe training ground on the other side of the river, and into Padiham.

In an age of excessive government overreach, football clubs and their like are fantastic examples of what society is capable of doing without undue political interference. Of course government has to provide the societal framework within which individual and community enterprise is fostered but, beyond that, society produces clubs like Padiham FC. Football clubs are important. They play a vital role in the health and general well-being of the community.

Over the years, by virtue of where I happen to be living at the time, I have enjoyed flirtations variously with Colchester United, Ipswich Town, Southend United, Great Yarmouth Town FC, FC Cartagena (Spain) and Accrington Stanley but always secondary to my one true footballing love that is Sheffield Wednesday. Maybe Padiham FC could become another such relationship? It's Mrs C's town of birth after all. They play in blue. They sell Reedley Hallows' New Zealand Pale Ale in the club house and my ripe old age qualifies me for concession admission pricing. What's not to like?

I find football club histories intriguing, particularly when looking at non-league clubs many of whom I am now discovering for the first time. Padiham FC was established in 1878, only eleven years after Sheffield Wednesday were formed, albeit with a thirty three year sabbatical between 1916 and 1949. Opponents Longridge Town have only twenty seven years of history behind them although with an honours board not that far short of Padiham's. 

We arrived at the ground thirty five minutes before kick-off, in good time for a pre-match pint at the club bar. Plenty of Burnley FC badges and shirts on display. Production of a season ticket for any Premier League or EFL club qualifies the holder for half-price admission - recognition that clubs such as Padiham often have to survive in the shadow of much bigger football club neighbours. Also a decent turnout of Longridge fans contributing to an attendance of two hundred and thirty eight. 

Both clubs have endured poor starts to the league season with Padiham's one win to date being one more than Longridge have achieved. So, what to expect in terms of football quality? Plenty as it turned out. Neither team looked particularly short on capability, endeavour or confidence as the match started although I felt that Longridge looked the brighter of the two in the opening ten minutes. Padiham began to assert themselves, prompted by the excellent Joel Melia whose hard work down the left wing was causing the visitors' defence plenty of problems. He then switched to the right hand side to take a free kick which the goalkeeper did well to reach, partially clear and then block the follow-up shot. Almost immediately however, the visitors' Morgan Homson-Smith found himself one on one with Harry Moss in the Padiham goal but the goalkeeper saved the effort with his left foot and the clearest chance of the first half was squandered. All in all, a fairly even first half which had been highly competitive but never dirty. 

There is a noticeable intimacy to football at this level in that the absence of several thousand fans making lots of noise leaves you in no doubt as to what is being said on the pitch. This works both ways in that the anonymity usually enjoyed by the loud mouth fan in a big crowd is absent. In the three games I have watched over the last month (see also Darwen FC and The Theory of Evolution), I have been pleasantly surprised at the standard of officiating. I'm quite sure that this won't always be the case although it is of course much easier to offer a balanced view of the refereeing team when it's not your club that's playing. Today's referee was ably assisted by two experienced (looking) assistant referees running the line, often akin to running the gauntlet although today's "bantz" was never worse than juvenile coming, as it did, from a juvenile. Sadly, a recent match at Darwen FC (one league below the NWCFL Premier) was abandoned following verbal abuse of the young, female assistant referee. There are always idiots.

I am used to watching football on a slope as the pitch at Hillsborough - Sheffield Wednesday's home - slopes nearly two metres beween opposite corners. I suspect that Padiham's pitch can beat that. Given their winless run to date, Longridge should have taken plenty of confidence into the second half but they obviously couldn't cope with the slope because it all went horribly wrong very quickly. Joel Melia continued where he left off, sending a warning shot across the bows (well, over the bar really) with just three minutes on the second half clock. And three minutes later Jamie Ramwell fired the Storks in front having been given the freedom of the slope by the Longridge defence. Four minutes later and Joel Melia scored from a free kick, from around twenty five yards out, with an absolute rip-snorter which would have done for any goalkeeper, anywhere. The game was effectively over in the sixty ninth minute when Jamie Ramwell scored his second and Padiham's third when consciously deflecting Jack Gooden's powerful shot into the net. 

Having failed to contain the home side during this twenty five minute, second-half period the Longridge players belatedly upped their tempo and effort. Morgan Homson-Smith played well throughout - easily Longridge’s best player on the day - and it was he that scored a consolation goal with eighty minutes on the clock, tucking the ball past an advancing Harry Moss. Until then I had been thinking I might actually be Padiham’s lucky charm with my not having seen them concede a goal in nearly two matches although, thinking about it, that was only because I was in the clubhouse bar when Bury scored their two goals either side of half-time.

Late on, Padiham substitute Charlie Disney-Ridge fluffed his lines when clean through against Kier Barry in the Longridge goal, thus coming second in the battle of the rather splendid double-barrel surnames with the Longridge goal scorer. The match finished with the final score of 3-1 to the home team for a well deserved victory and three points.

Football. I bloody love it. Whether it’s twenty thousand plus fans at Hillsborough or two hundred and thirty eight fans at Padiham I love the passion, the partisanship and the buzz of just being there at a live match. I watch plenty of TV footie too but it doesn’t come close to the real thing. I’m off to Spain soon so I might not be back at the Arbories for a few weeks but I will be back. Football is my drug. Well, one of ‘em.

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