Who remembers playing rush goalie? Usually a hasty compromise, hopefully enough to persuade somebody to accept the unwelcome responsibility of standing there awaiting the inevitable blootering of the ball in his direction. Not a tactic for a serious game.
Except in extreme circumstances. And for the Wearside League Select XI, Saturday’s situation was extreme. Down to 10 men after the goalie was sent off midway through the second half, they battled on with a full-back taking over between the posts. And held on at 1-1 until deep into extra time before finally conceding to their opponents from the West Cheshire League. Another attack broke down, the stand-in goalie held the ball on the edge of the box … then dropped it and ran with it up the field.
He reached halfway almost before anyone cottoned on, but there was no Jimmy Glass style fairy-tale finish. The attack broke down, the game ended soon after and West Cheshire advanced to Round Two of the FA Inter-League Cup to play something of a local derby against Liverpool County FA.
The Inter-League What? A fair question. The Wearside League hosted this game, but info about it was scarce. No programme, no team-sheets, only the barest of details on league websites and social media. The rest of the league’s games went on as planned. Before the game, even the players admitted they knew little about the opposition and merely hoped that the football would be of a good standard. It was frustrating for host club Boldon CA, unable to promote a game that might have attracted plenty of hoppers looking for something unusual. Even the FA’s own website failed to list the fixtures in advance. There’s a danger that this will turn into a secret cup.
In fact, it’s a relatively new event designed to choose England’s representative in the UEFA Regions’ Cup. That’s a continental amateur tournament, a kind of non-league Europa league played every other year. The rules are strict: in England, it’s strictly leagues at Step 7 (plus invited guests from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, at the FA’s discretion, to make up 32 entrants). No player can take part if he has ever had a ‘written professional contract’, ruling out swathes of non-league players who arrived at this level via a spell further up the pyramid. And, apparently, nobody can talk about it before it happens.
If the game had attracted more attention and a bigger crowd, though, it would have been a fine showcase for football at this level. After some early uncertainty as two representative teams got used to playing without their usual team-mates, it settled into a highly watchable game. West Cheshire opened the scoring with a well-worked breakaway, Wearside had a goal disallowed for offside before equalizing when a misplaced clearance cannoned off the visitors’ bar and a home forward thumped home the rebound. The second half was evenly-poised until the goalie was sent off – correctly – for a mistimed challenge on an on-rushing forward and the closing stages generated palpable tension as Wearside looked to hold on against the odds.
So why not make more of it? Maybe suspend the league schedule for the day so that players and fans from other clubs can come and support their mates? Emphasize the prize on offer: two years ago, in the most recent edition, the North Riding League ended up winning the cup at Bramall Lane and heading to Romania for a four-team group stage tournament. Three draws weren’t enough to progress further but added up to more European football than most players get to enjoy.
Perhaps it’s time to promote the tournament a bit more enthusiastically?
Boldon Community Association Sports Ground, Boldon, England
Sep. 28, 2019. FA Inter-League Cup
Wearside League 1 West Cheshire League 2 aet