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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Newmarket Town 1 Cammell Laird 2

FA Vase Quarter-Final
Cricket Field Road, Newmarket, Suffolk

THE form-book was certainly thrown out of the window by Newmarket Town, “The Jockeys”, in round five of the Vase to set-up today’s quarter final match up with the highly fancied Cammell Laird. The Birkenhead side had been installed as new cup favourites after Winchester City where dispatched 4-3 after extra time by Newmarket on the same day that four times finalists AFC Sudbury where ousted by local rivals Bury Town. Just two weeks prior to their epic win at Winchester’s Denplan Stadium (visited earlier his season by yours truly), Newmarket had been knocked-out of the competition by Welwyn Garden City, but Welwyn had fielded an ineligible player and the Jockeys were reinstated, at City’s expense, on appeal.

The Winchester-Newmarket clash was a classic by all accounts. Within ten minutes Newmarket, strugglers this season in the Ridgeons Premier, were two goals up against the Wessex League leaders, who fought back to draw level by the half. Newmarket went ahead again in the second period with Winchester again pulling level to force extra time in which the visitors struck the winner through Paul Shaw in the 108th minute. Newmarket rightly won the Carlsberg “Team of the Round” award for their endeavoirs. Meanwhile up in Birkenhead Cammell had beated Kent League side VCD Athletic 1-0 courtesy of a Jamie McGuire five minutes short of the regulation ninety to set-up today’s tie.

Various branches of the Extreme Groundhopping clan live in and around the town of Newmarket (including, rather embarrassingly, three Norwich City supporter’s, two of whom are season ticket holders at the Temple of Doom) so I am a reasonably frequent visitor there, although never previously to Cricket Field Road. This end of Suffolk is a bit of an oddity as its hangs on for dear life through an umbilical like narrow strip of land to the rest of the county. The good people of Newmarket put up a bit of stink when the Boundaries Commission attempted to make them part of Cambridgeshire as part of their county line straightening policy in the 1960’s. A drive along the A14 to the north of the Town, in an easterly direction, takes you past two welcome to Suffolk signs, with one for Cambridgeshire wedged in between, in the space of a mile or two. And its not because we’re over friendly in these here parts.

Newmarket is of course reknowned for its links with horse racing which date back to the early part of 12th century. The National Stud, a breeding centre for Thoroughbred horses is here, as is the famous bloodstock auctioneers Tattersalls, the Horse Racing Museum, and two race courses - the Rowley Mile and the July Course. The area around the town is also dominated by all things equine, with studs occupying large tracts of land to the north, south, east and west.

Considering the sporting history boasted by the town the football club have had a quite unremarkable run since their foundation in 1877 – incidentally making them one of the oldest club’s in the country. The Jockeys joined the (Ridgeons) Eastern Counties League in 1937, opted out of the league for the seven seasons between 1952 and 1959, and enjoyed their best finish ever as runner’s-up in 1967. Their previous best in the Vase coming back in 1992 when they reached round four, losing 3-2 at home to the old Sudbury Town club. Their Cricket Field Road ground, just to the south of the town centre and a short walk from the railway station, is a neat affair with some great oak trees behind one goal. The main stand has seating for around 100 spectators, and there is also a small covered area adjacent to the clubhouse, but the rest of the ground is open to the elements although underfoot all four sides do have hard standing.

Despite having a rather distinctive badge, featuring a blue Camel, Cammell Laird are officially nicknamed “The Battleships” (although Laird’s seems to be the moniker favoured by their supporters) due to their links with the famous Cammell Laird shipyard near Liverpool. The original Cammell Laird company closed it doors as a shipbuilder thirteen years ago. Impressively, between 1829 and 1947 some 1,100 vessels slid into the Mersey from the Laird shipyard, which has produced such notable vessels as the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, the liner Mauretania and the infamous Confederate raider Alabama. The club started life as the shipyards works team back in 1907. In more recent times they have dominated local football, nineteen West Cheshire League titles in the last thirty-five years attest to that, but promotion into the North West Counties League and hence the non-league pyramid was achieved as recently as the 2004-05 season. They entered the FA Cup for only the first time last year but have already shone in the FA Vase, reaching the last sixteen on four occasions and the quarter-finals twice (including today).

A 750 strong crowd turned out for the game, bolstered in part by a good number of Ipswich fans who would have been up at Deepdale for Town’s clash with Preston had that game not succumbed to the weather. And that’s some 700 more than Newmarket’s average, and I would imagine it’s been a while since the main stand was last filled to capacity. The Laird’s were reasonably well supported, two coach loads having made the trip south from Birkenhead.

There had been some doubt towards the later part of the week as to whether the recent cold-snap would cause this game’s postponement but things began warming up midday Friday and a warmish start to the morning in West Suffolk meant the ground was firm rather than frozen underfoot - although we were treated to some snow showers, that blew blizzard-like across the pitch, midway through the first half and again at the start of the second.

As they had at Winchester, Newmarket where at their opponents from the off, creating the games first goal scoring chances. A Sam Reed header was blocked on the line, but the clearest chance fell to Paul Shaw who beat goalkeeper John Gilles to the ball, and was just about to turn and fire home into an empty net, when the referee pulled play back for a foul on the Laird’s number one. James McGuire went close with a header for the visitors shortly before the opener arrived at the end of the half. The fourth official had just signalled that two minutes of additional time would be played when the Jockey’s deservedly went ahead. Paul Shaw out jumping the Laird’s backline to head home a corner from Thomas Crawford.

The Laird’s belied the tag of favourites in the first half, looking well off the pace and creating very few chances, although you always suspected that they could up their game and that fitness would perhaps be a deciding factor in the later stages of the game. And that’s the way the second period panned out, albeit with the help of three substitutions by Laird’s manager Ian Doran, made in rapid succession shortly after the restart. This gave the visitors greater pace enabling them to take a hold in midfield and to be more creative up front. The equaliser though was pure Route One stuff. A long clearance found Ronnie Morgan who out ran the Newmarket defence and rounded ‘keeper Lee Hulyer to slot home his 39th goal of the season. A pretty decent tally at any level.

Other chances came and went for both sides and just as extra-time looked likely Laird scored in almost identical circumstances to the home sides opener, as John Collins out leapt the Newmarket defence to head home a corner from the left with just five minutes left to play.

The closing minutes threatened to turn nasty, and with the Laird’s annoyingly playing keep ball at the far left-hand corner flag, the Newmarket players were doing well to keep to their tempers in check. As was the Laird’s keeper John Gilles down the other end who had been taunted for most of the game by a group of “larger-ed up” lads behind his goal. But he took it all with a smile and wasn’t even phased by a streaker, who emerged from their number in the dying minutes, and made a vital save seconds later turning a strike from Tommy Crawford away from goal with his legs.

So the Jockeys dreams of a first ever Vase semi are dashed while the Laird’s justified the bookies favourites tag with a solid second half performance and can now look forward to Monday’s semi-final draw with some confidence.

Match: 53 (2005/06) 1,297 (Lifetime)

posted by chevblue at 8:30 pm






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extreme groundhopping

a (mainly) pictorial account of one man's obsession with football stadia, floodlight pylon's and ipswich town football club

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