On the road: Hastings battle for memories and magic as FA Cup run continues
22:41 GMT, 2 December 2012
Making predictions in football has turned into an industry and before a ball was kicked down Harrogate’s Wetherby Road on Saturday, a cold favourite was that the word ‘magic’ would at some stage be used.
So it was that at the end of a pulsating 1-1 draw, Dave Walters, chairman of Hastings United, stood shivering and talked warmly of ‘the magic of the FA Cup’.
Walters wasn’t just reaching for clichs, he was making the point that it is on days like this, at grounds like this, in rounds like this, when the old magic surfaces.
Still going strong: Harrogate celebrate during their draw with Hastings
Harrogate's journey so far
Aug 11: Nth Shields 1 Birtley T 1 (Birtley won replay). Aug 25: Birtley T 1 West Auckland 4.
Sep 8: Ashington 2 W Auckland 3.
Sep 22: W Auckland 2 Harrogate T 2 (Harrogate won replay).
Oct 6: Harrogate 3 Frickley Ath 2.
Oct 20: Hyde 1 Harrogate 1 (Harrogate won replay) Nov 3: Torquay 0 Harrogate 1.
Dec 1: Harrogate 1 Hastings Utd 1
‘It’ll not be like this when it gets to the semi-finals, will it’ Walters asked. ‘I’m from Carlisle,’ he added, ‘I remember Carlisle winning at Newcastle in 1968, it was completely magical and as a kid that’s what got me into football. There’s nothing like the FA Cup.’
Walter’s tone was a mixture of incredulity and passion. Hastings United are 18th in the Ryman Premier Division, that’s 66 places off Barnet at the bottom of the Football League. They are the lowest-ranked club left in the competition. Pleasingly, their nickname is ‘The Arrows’.
When Sunday’s draw for the third round came out and Middlesbrough away was the reward for the winners of the replay, Walters was again taken back to the Cup, this time to 1970. ‘I was at Brunton Park then when there were 27,500 to see Carlisle play Middlesbrough.
‘That was the FA Cup, too. I can’t remember the score.’ It was 2-0 to Middlesbrough, in the fifth round. What Walters could recall was that when Carlisle briefly topped the old First Division in 1974 ‘after beating Spurs on the Saturday, it was a defeat by Middlesbrough in midweek that started the rot’.
The nostalgia flows. Yet there is first a replay at Hastings’ Pilot Field on Tuesday week. ‘We’re not taking anything for granted,’ Walters said. ‘It’s just amazing for a club our size to even contemplate a game at Middlesbrough.’
In front: Tom Platt (left) opened the scoring for Harrogate against Hastings
For Harrogate, too, the incentive is great. Boro would amount to a local derby and be particularly special for one man at Saturday’s game, former Boro captain and manager, Gareth Southgate.
For Hastings there is now a third replay in their marathon. Tuesday week will be their eighth game in the FA Cup and a knock-on is that they have three other games to play before next Tuesday.
That the Yorkshiremen have not made it easy for themselves was encapsulated here. It was gripping stuff and captured much of this phase of the Cup. Normally Harrogate would have 300-400 for a Conference North game; there were 3,000 here, 300 alone from Hastings.
The travellers had to be impressed by the setting. Wetherby Road was like an oil painting impression of the Cup. A brilliant low sun threw long black shadows across a Ronnie Radford of a pitch. Pale faces glowed from dark clothes on packed terraces; the atmosphere had that happy Cup tingle that simply does not exist on league Saturdays.
But the ball still mattered. Even the fans shuddered after some of the 50-50s, but hands were shaken at the end. The Hastings players had lasagne laid on for them.
Up for the cup: Young Harrogate fans prepare for their side's latest match
At the beginning it had looked as if that is all Hastings would get.
Harrogate, winners at Torquay in the previous round, launched attack upon attack early on.
Yet it took nearly until half-time before Tom Platt scored and by then Hastings had shown they can play.
On the hour Bradley Goldberg — son of former Crystal Palace owner Mark — saw his shot hit a post. Jamie Crellin knocked in the rebound.
Goldberg, 19, was released by Charlton last year. He is on his way back up, one of so many stories the Cup spouts forth.
Goldberg’s colleague, Josh Jirbandey, is another. He is on his way elsewhere — or at least he was.
Jirbandey is due to fly to California to start a soccer scholarship in January. Early January.
Presumably, now, it is FA Cup permitting.
Mellon makes Fleet exit
The FA Cup still means enough for Fleetwood Town to dismiss manager Micky Mellon after their home defeat to Aldershot.
The magic was missing for ambitious, big-spending Fleetwood, who seem restless despite being in the same Conference North division as Harrogate as 2010 dawned. In four years Mellon won two promotions.
Over and out: Ambitious Fleetwood sacked manager Micky Mellon
In this, their first historic season in the Football League, Fleetwood are seventh, four points off an automatic promotion spot with 26 games to go. Mellon probably thought he and Fleetwood were a neat fit. Which brings us to another.
Eddie Howe returned to Bournemouth 11 games ago. Eight wins and three draws on, Bournemouth are motoring. They swept past Carlisle on Saturday and go to Wigan in the third round. Wigan cannot be complacent: at this stage last season, they lost to Swindon.