Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guiseley V Garforth (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round) & The ITV Local Experience

The Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) is one of the best known and most respected football competitions in the world. It is also the oldest football competition in the world tracing its origins back to the 1871-72 football season. The majority of football fans world-wide become aware of the FA Cup when it reaches it’s first round proper when football league teams become involved, but the story begins several months before this with four qualifying rounds participated in by teams that are not from the top four divisions of English football (commonly referred to as non-league clubs). Teams from Coca Cola League one and two are then involved for the next round, with Championship and Premier League teams becoming involved in the following round. Four more rounds then follow before a semi-final and a final played at Wembley Stadium. For the 2008-09 season there are a record 731 clubs involved in the competition, and the ‘romance’ of the FA Cup is that one or more of the smaller teams will progress within the competition beating opposition from higher divisions.

My mission on this particular occasion was to visit Nethermoor Park the home of Guiseley AFC for their second qualifying round fixture against Garforth Town AFC and cover the experience for ITV Local. This is no ordinary fixture, Guiseley V Garforth is a Leeds derby game, in essence West Leeds V East Leeds, that was sure to generate passionate support from both sides. Both teams were present due to beating their previous first round opposition, Guiseley hammering Selby Town by four goals to nil, and Garforth beating Ossett Town by one goal to nil. In terms of league position, Guiseley currently occupy a third place spot in the Unibond Premier League, and are currently on an eight game unbeaten run. Whereas as Garforth occupy a somewhat less salubrious position three places from the bottom in the Unibond First Division North – a division below Guiseley.

I was accompanied by level one BA (Hons) Entertainment Management student Aidan England, but we were not the only representatives of Leeds Met, Garforth number 9, Mark Piper is also a student studying at the university. The connection doesn’t end their, as Socrates (ex-Brazilian international) has an Honorary Doctorate from Leeds Met and is an ex-player / coach for Garforth Town AFC, thanks to owner Simon Clifford’s influences via his Brazilian Soccer Schools.

I have to applaud ITV for covering the local FA Cup games at such an early stage and inviting myself and other bloggers Luke Beaumont and David Poole along to cover it from the spectator’s viewpoint. Most of the audio-visual content that we have generated is intended to be used on the ITV local website - ITV Local is an online service provided by ITV plc. Our remit was simple – show it as it is, no PR, no gimmicks, just proper footie where you stand right up to the pitch, banter with the players and officials, have a realistic chance of being smacked by a football, and can get a marvellous steak pie and mushy peas for just £2.00. Throughout the game I had the opportunity to interview several supporters from both sides, whilst Aidan skilfully operated the camera and microphone (without dropping either once!).

The game kicked off in glorious September sunshine, with the home side playing in their strip of white shirts and shorts, and the visitors in their yellow and blue ‘Brazil’ style strip, amongst the crowd of 447 there was a good away following from Garforth, with plenty of Brazil strips on display and loud chants of ‘GARFORTH!’ throughout. The home support on the other hand seemed a little more muted, although this was possibly due to fewer hours in the pub pre-match, and an on pitch performance that at times inspired the phrase ‘took their foot off the gas a little’. Several shirtless supporters were topping up their holiday tans, including one Guiseley fan who proudly showed off his Guiseley AFC tattoo.

What seemed a common theme from both sets of supporters was disillusionment at the performance and politics of local ‘fallen giants’ Leeds United, currently in 3rd place in the third tier of English football, and a need to rediscover their passion for the game, which they were now doing at a much more local level. The phrase ‘grass roots’ support carries something of a cliché, but it is evident that people who come and watch a fixture like this are not here to see overpaid prima donnas with spray tans and highlights in their hair. They are here to see athletes who represent their home-town in good sporting competition – and that’s exactly what they got. From my own neutral standpoint, I found the encounter to be a passionate, humorous and good natured affair, a million miles from the money, money, money of the revolting English Premier League where sportsmanship has been replaced with bought success, and local support has been replaced by television mega bucks. That trend doesn’t end in the Premier League either, already in the Championship teams such as Queens Park Rangers and Blackpool FC seem to think that charging upwards of £30 for match day tickets is acceptable… the average fan it isn’t, and these clubs are likely to alienate their ‘grass roots’ support whom they tend to rely upon during leaner periods of success.

The encounter at Guiseley today was £7 on the gate, which still seemed steep to some, but this is most likely Guiseley’s main source of income, and only £1 more than for a Garforth home game. Whilst the ITV cameras were in attendance, they are not a regular income generating feature, and Guiseley’s shirt sales are more likely to be in the hundreds than the hundreds of thousands.

The game itself was pretty much an end-to-end affair, and there certainly did not look to be a division between both teams in terms of playing ability. Guiseley went ahead after half an hour with a Dave Merris goal that resulted from a well aimed Anthony Lloyd cross. Six minutes later the home side scored again when Adam Muller knocked the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal beyond the reach of Garforth keeper Gavin Phillips. Just before the half-time whistle Garforth spirits were lifted with a goal from Leeds Met student Mark Piper. At half-time the Guiseley support were nervous and not convinced that the team were making their best playing efforts. The Garforth fans were not beaten and could see that their team were ‘up for it’, however thoughts that their FA Cup curse (never going beyond the 2nd qualifying round) must have been at the back of some minds. The second half saw some physical challenges, one of which resulted in Garforth Captain Brett Renshaw being knocked to the ground, and then loudly accused of being a cheat by the home fans for ‘making a meal of it’. Yellow cards were dished out to both sides (including a comedy handball), and Guiseley scorer Adam Muller saw red for his second bookable offence. James Hanson almost put the home side even further ahead with a stunning overhead kick that struck the underside of the bar before being cleared by Garforth’s keeper. However, Garforth’s fighting spirit finally paid off with a goal from substitute Andy Hayward, which made honours even at 2-2 and will result in a Tuesday night replay at the Genix Healthcare Stadium in East Leeds - may the best team win!

Garforth in yellow and blue, and Guiseley in white and black

A Guiseley fanatic

Aidan and me with fellow bloggers and the ITV news team.