My own Non-League Day was less than perfect. After being awake from 2:30 am, I was already tired and irritable by the time it came to head out to the game. It was about to get worse.
For reasons that I won't go into on this blog, I had decided that my best option for a game was going to be Headngton Amateurs v Finchamstead in the Hellenic Challenge Cup. I had never been to The A's ground before, so I could combine some rare Saturday football with a new ground and still be done in time to spend time with my family. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I had already committed what can only be described as a schoolboy error. I have never really considered my self to be a groundhopper but I have been watching non-league for quite a while and know that websites are not always to be trusted so, seasoned hoppers look away now. When planning the day I had looked on the Headington website for details of the ground. The match reports on the site were all up to date so I, incorrectly, assumed that all other details were also current. Never assume. After leaving my wife and daughter in Headington, I walked to where I thought the ground was situated. Not a long walk but at least half a mile or so. Upon arriving, five minutes before scheduled kick-off, it was very apparent that this was not the correct address. It was at this point that I checked the Hellenic League website and realised that there was a subtle difference between the address here and the address on the club website. The ground name was the same, Barton Recreation Ground, but the post codes were very different. So, with no car and less than 5 minutes to kick-off, I was scuppered and facing the prospect of no football on Non-League Day. Couple that with the fact that I had now been up for 12 hours, I was less than happy and tweeted my displeasure.
The response from the Headington Twitter account was almost immediate and, in it's content, demonstrated all that is good about the non-league game. The first response was to apologise for the web site content error. The second, which I got quite a bit later because I was on the phone to my wife, was to offer to drive to the old ground and pick me up. This goes way beyond the remit of a twitter account adminstrator. As I said though, I was already well on my way back to find my wife and daughter and, by the time I saw the tweet, the game had already started. There was no way that I could expect someone to drive around Oxford looking for me whilst their team were already in action. I take my hat off to them though, what a thoroughly superb response. They even tweeted after the game had finished to apologise once more. I will have to make a trip to Headington at some point in the future.
One slice of luck was that the Headington game was due to kick-off half an hour before most games and, as we had decided to head home, I asked my wife to drop me at Ardley so that I could catch the second half of the Bicester v North Leigh game. As it happened, we made it there 20 minutes before half-time.
I was informed by the turnstile operator that the score was 1-0 to North Leigh United, who are the development squad of the Southern League side North Leigh, who were themselves in FA Cup action at Corinthian Casuals.
It became clear very quickly that Bicester had their work cut out if they were going to get back on level terms. North Leigh looked the more assured of the two sides and were knocking the ball around well. Ten minutes after I arrived Bicester's task got even harder when they were reduced to ten men and fell 2-0 behind. North Leigh mounted another attack on the Bicester goal, forcing the keeper to make a good save but when the rebound fell straight to a North Leigh striker, his shot was acrobatically turned away by a Bicester defender's hand. The referee had no choice but to show the red card and award a penalty, which was duly put away for 0-2.
The away side took less than five minutes to make it three. A beautifully flighted free-kick from their left was superbly headed beyond the home keeper to make it 0-3.
The players trudged off at half-time with the home side needing a miracle. Three-nil and a player down, things were looking about as bleak as the weather which has progressively worsened as the game went on.
Bicester came out for the second half with all guns blazing though. Kicking down the slope and with a bit of wind at their backs, they clearly had decided to give it everything they had at the start of the second half. They came veyr close to pulling one back too, hitting the post just two minutes in. North Leigh, however, were too well organised and too experienced to panic under a little bit of pressure. They quickly re-established their dominance and took the sting out of the home side's onslaught.
It did, however, take them another 12 minutes to get a fourth goal but it was worth waiting for. A bit of panic in the Bicester back line caused a hurried half clearance which fell kindly to North Leigh's number 7 just outside the box. Before anyone could react he smashed a lovely twenty yard shot past the Bicester keeper and into the net.
North Leigh, unsurprisingly, took their foot off the gas a little at this point keeping control of the game whilst not really threatening too much themsleves.
Almost on the half-hour mark of the second half they did make it five and once again it was a great finish. Once againthe ball came to a North Leigh striker just outside the Bicester box. A little shimmy made some space and then another fine finish was dispatched past the keeper from 18 yards.
There was still enough time for Bicester to get one back though. A penalty was awarded by the referee. It was at the opposite end of the ground and I coudln't see any clear offence but the defenders offered very little argument either because it was a clear penalty or because they were five up with a minute to go. Either way, it was struck home and the final score read Bicester Town 1 North Leigh United 5.
All in all, an eventful day out but I got to see some football, I got to take my family out for dinner afterwards and Stourbridge made it through to the next round of the FA Cup. All's well that ends well.