It’s fair to say the fixture list has been good to us this season. We’ve not had any long-distance midweek games yet, and our fixtures over the festive period are all local with only one scheduled away game in January and that’s in the North too! The corresponding fixture last season was a goalless draw at Dover, so a two-hour trip to Gateshead up a surprisingly quiet A1 was most welcome.
“Do you want any salt, vinegar or batter with that?” It seemed such an odd question that the Ripponden Shayman asked the lady behind the counter to repeat herself. This time it sounded like “salt, vinegar or butter” … We all looked at each other in the queue and decided that chips and curry sauce would be fine thank you without any of the exciting accoutrements on offer. It got us thinking though, do they really batter chips in the Northeast, we didn’t dare ask for clarification but if they don’t, should they?
Gateshead’s International Stadium is a real paradox with some great aspects. There’s free parking right outside the ground, a café where you can sit comfortably with a cup of tea and a view of the pitch, friendly turnstile operators who wished us a good afternoon (whilst only charging us £15 for adult admission) and a seat with a panoramic view of industrial Gateshead and the city of Newcastle. They even say that on a clear day you can see the far side football pitch too! The ground has a capacity of nearly 12,000 but its main function is as an international athletics stadium. The home fans are accommodated in the main stand whilst the 187 travelling Shaymen had the freedom of a similar sized covered stand alongside the pitch.
The weather people promised us a mild 12 degrees, the Clayton Shayman even turned down the opportunity to borrow his wife’s favourite sparkly thermal leggings. That was a big mistake, and he must have told us 20 times about this error throughout the afternoon. It was fine when the wind dropped but that was rare. Even the Man in Shorts spent the afternoon trying to cover his legs with an old newspaper he found; it was proper bite your legs cold with a strong northern wind. We were like blocks of ice and the game hadn’t even started.
The first half was great, the Shaymen scored directly from the kick off – pass, pass, pass, pass, cross, header, goal! It only took 18 seconds. “We should start like that more often!” said the Greetland Shayman as his teeth rattled in the cold. We almost scored a second when the ball touched onto the crossbar, drawing a cracking save from the Gateshead goalkeeper. The team were competitive but also aided by the wind.
The second half was equally entertaining. Gateshead equalised but the Shaymen created chances too. It was one of those games where we never thought we’d lose. The referee and linesman kept us warm by making a whole host of interesting decisions, and the ball boys performed miracles in keeping the game flowing. With vast open spaces beyond the pitch, every wayward ball was abandoned and replaced in an instant by the alert youngsters, making the game seem faster that it usually does. In the end the final whistle blew with the scores level but chatter amongst the travelling Shaymen was very positive, the team had battled hard and earned at least a draw. Everyone reflected on a wonderful cross near the end that seemed to wipe the brow of Jonathan Edwards, even the slightest nod would have flown into the net we thought.
Driving back, we defrosted slowly and carefully reviewed the other results and league tables; it had been an unexpectedly exciting Christmas with four points gained on our travels. Matty Brown was unanimous as our Man of the Match with some heroic clearances during the afternoon, in contrast we could only score the referee 5 out of 10. The team have really improved over recent weeks, and we’re now starting to keep an eye on those play-off places once again.
Next up we’re off to Barrow and it only seems like a few weeks since we were up there last time. Let’s hope the Clayton Shayman remembers the wife’s sparkly leggings this time. It’s cold up there too…!
Happy New Year!
Total miles on the road this season: 5137, total league goals on the road: 12
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