Tuesday, 2 May 2006

reTread: Runcorn FC Halton 0 Farsley Celtic 7

Northern Premier League Premier Division
Valerie Park, Prescot
att. 101

This past weekend has not been the best I’ve ever experienced. Havant & Waterlooville, despite being in the play-off spots for virtually the whole of the season, dropped out of it with 4 days to go, meaning our final game needed to be won with Histon losing at already relegated Maidenhead. Our side did their bit, making the most of an injury to famously rotund goalkeeper, ice-cream salesman and eater of company profits Wayne Shaw, to thrash Eastleigh 6-2 away from home. Histon, though, gubbed Maidenhead for 3 goals without reply.

The promotion dream is over for another year, a single point being the difference less than a week after our appeal against a 3 point deduction was dismissed. However, you can also identify a number of lacklustre performances against those in the relegation mix as being equally important. You could point the finger at any number of things but it won’t change a thing. My thought is that we focus on by-passing these play-off things next year. I believe we have the manager in place that could achieve that, particularly as it is looking unlikely that any full-time pro sides will be in our midst next season, as was the case this term with champions Weymouth.

Despite this positive thinking guff, I have to admit I feel pretty low today. Even trying to cheer myself up by sending congratulatory texts to my Portsmouth supporting chums couldn’t gee me up sufficiently. With this cloud hanging over, it is probably just as well that I made the very short bus journey back to Valerie Park in Prescot to once again catch up with struggling tenants Runcorn FC Halton. When your team wins by 6 away from home and you feel utterly miserable, it is perhaps good to have recent memory of watching a set of supporters applauding their team off after a seven goal home defeat to retain a sense of perspective.

Factor in that Runcorn’s previous five games finished 0-5, 0-5, 0-7, 1-8 and 0-8 and their warm ovation only makes you more aware that your team not achieving a play-off place isn’t the end of the world. A team in long-term isolation from their ‘home’, haemorrhaging money, support and playing staff, already relegated and facing the potential of liquidation would have a much better claim for the whinging rights. That said, a number of supporters, both lapsed and loyal, are certainly wondering whether starting again in the North West Counties League wouldn’t be the best all round.

A Supporters Trust has been re-awakened to try and explore all the potential avenues, with a return to Runcorn a priority. The current regime believes staying in the Unibond, albeit in the second tier after this relegation, is best for the long-term future for the club. Some might say it is merely delaying the inevitable, particularly when there are plenty of fans who consider the club to have ‘died’ when they left Runcorn to share with Widnes Vikings in 2000. After their 80’s Conference glory years, to be exiled in this way is too much for some to take.

Really speaking, my visit back in September when they thrashed their landlords on their own patch, was probably the highlight of a very long season. Manager Steve Carragher has shown incredible loyalty in the face of all the financial problems which has seen an endless procession of players leave the club in the process of cutting costs. Essentially, he has had to assemble three different playing sides this season, only goalkeeper Robbie Holcroft sticking with the cause until the bitter end, and winning the Player of the Year award for his commendable trouble (as well as keeping recent scores merely embarrassing rather than devastating). The side that has seen the season to a close has contained a number of fresh-faced teenagers and players Carragher has gathered on favours called in, no doubt. Indeed, it was only a week ago this fixture against Farsley was postponed as he was unable to raise a side provoking fears that a similar situation to that which Spennymoor United’s demise caused in the last few weeks of last season would occur.

Farsley have seemed to be a constant thorn in Runcorn’s side all season, beating them in the FA Trophy and Unibond League Cup, and the league games have caused no end of problems. Indeed, the other league game between the sides, at Farsley, only took place two days before this. In total, the arranged dates between the sides this season have seen 3 postponements and one abandonment. In addition to his, quite bizarrely, Farsley’s final league game of the season, two days after this thrashing, was away to Prescot. Familiar surroundings by now.

The first half of this game saw some unexpected fighting spirit from the Runcorn scratch XI, even though the ball hardly ever left their half, and to go into the break only one goal down was probably seen as a decent effort. Farsley could not hide how easy they were finding it though, with a number of wide shots met with indifference and, in the case of one of their strikers, sustained Dr. Hibbert style chuckling. A more jovial footballer I have never seen.

However, it is in the second half where things totally unravel, Ahmed Iqbal scoring a second in the 46th minute, and while Runcorn stayed firm for a little while longer afterward, their determination eventually slipped, as did any sense of formation. Holcroft asking of one of his team-mates “You’re playing right back, yeah?” was hardly a good sign, but for Farsley it was like birthday and Christmas and for a quarter hour period from just prior to the hour mark, it was a procession, Farsley’s giddy attackers ambling through the Mersey tunnel size gaps in the hapless Runcorn defence. Damien Reeves added a 3rd after 57 minutes, Holcroft screaming “I can see it’s not offside from here” in response to his team-mates blame-game finger-pointing. In the 8 minutes between the 64th and 72nd, Dominic Krief helped himself to 4 goals.

In this atmosphere, I felt like a bit of a ghoul, particularly after the final goal when a punch-drunk Holcroft turned to those behind the goal and asked “How many is it? 6?” Enough to break your heart, but there’s a dignity in it, as there is in the fact that a group of around 10 Runcorn fans stood gamely behind the Farsley goal for the entire 90 minutes before venturing round to clap their side off.

This past Saturday they finished their season at Ashton United.

They lost 6-0.

Runcorn FC Halton website
Farsley Celtic website

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