Gainsborough Trinity 1 Vauxhall Motors 1 (14th Dec 2013)
Such was that lack of entertainment on offer up until half time in this match, I was beginning to think the quick pre-match shufty round Gainsborough Old Hall, the well-preserved Tudor mansion nearly Trinity’s Northolme home, was going to be the main event rather than the appestiser.
Even the cold and draughtiness of the Hall was mild compared to the weather rolling over the ground, enveloping the unfortunate in chilling embraces. This part of the afternoon wasn’t going well, and thoughts did turn to how matters at the other options, Chorley, Leek, Buxton were going.
I had opted for Gainsborough partly because of the chance to wander round the classically wonky-beamed Old Hall as a way to eke out some more value from a seven and a half hour round trip, but although Northolme isn’t quite as old, or wonky, it does have some history of its own.
You need to be exceptionally old to have seen them there, but Gainsborough Trinity were a football league club between 1896 and 1912. And unlike some very old ex-members, they still play at the same ground that welcomed the likes of Glossop, Darwen and Loughborough to Northolme, along with other 2nd division minnows of the day such as Manchester United and Liverpool.
Unless it’s all aged remarkably well, nothing exists from those days of course, although I couldn’t help but to look out onto the pitch and imagine a sepia-tinted match taking place between slightly jerky slightly too fast footballers with moustaches and woolen shirts, to a plinky-plonk piano silent movie soundtrack.
A very different soundtrack greeted our arrival into the ground, as “Fairytale of New York” blasted out from the PA. And I really do mean blasted out. No tinny tannoy here. Instead someone looked to have borrowed two large speakers from a home hi-fi system and wired them up and stuck them on the terraces. It’s easy to imagine one football widow wife phoning angrily demanding he brings the speakers back, with all the tenderness of Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s lyrics on the previously mentioned song.
The end with the speakers in was surprisingly not that popular, despite it being big enough to offer a reasonably view, and be covered (and sheltered from the wind). Perhaps the prospect of temporary deafness from the speakers’ volume put some off. Most fans seemed to opt for another covered terrace that ran down one side. Despite being not all that big, perhaps about seven steps deep, it still necessitated the most sturdy of crush barriers at the front, looking strong enough to prevent the movement of shipping, let alone a few rows of supporters.
From here to the right, had you been able to pass the closed segregation gate, is the biggest terrace in the ground. A lack of cover, not to mention being a bit awkward to get to, meant virtually nobody used it. A total of 39 did stand there in the 2nd half, when the home side were attacking that end, but a grand total of four, which might have also been the grand total of Vauxhall Motors’ support, stood there in the first.
The remaining side, if you don’t count the converted shipping container that was the club shop, and brick building which was the directors’ bar, was dominated by the main stand. This barrel-roofed structure is as nearly as tall as it is wide, and unusually for a stand of its size, split into two tiers. We had planned to sit in this stand for the 2nd half, but abandoned the idea after finding we were quite unable to sit down, such was the size of the ridiculously narrow rows. I’m not exactly Peter Crouch, yet had someone sat in front of me, they’d have been using my knees as ear-muffs. Not wishing to have back-of-seat shaped dents in my shins or to sit watching the game side-saddle, we moved behind the goal.
With the music stopped, it’s hard not to like the ground from this end. The amount of cover, as well as the size of the terrace opposite, does make it feel like a proper ground, one that you can imagine going to regularly, although perhaps not of you live nearly 200 miles away.
At least the 2nd half was better than the first, which had, to borrow a quote from Blackadder, started badly, tailed off towards the middle, and the less said about the end the better. Gainsborough did manage a shot which went not too far wide, but by 3.45 the most exciting thing so far had been finding I could get a cheeseburger and chips for just £3. Lots of cheese too, with a large mound of Red Leicester replacing the usual disappointing processed slice of pretend cheese, so it was quite exciting.
The second half began and it did get considerably better, at least for Vauxhall Motors fans or neutrals (probably about six of the 334 present), as the away side began to dominate. Playing the better football, they started to carve out enough chances to make the home fans irate. Boredom was bad enough, but boredom and being outplayed was hard to take for a few.
On the hour Vauxhall Motors went in front. A set piece wasn’t cleared well, and from the edge of the box a shot was thumped in, bouncing over the line after coming down off the underside of the crossbar.
From there, there was only one team in, and it looked a case of when Vauxhall Motors would get their second, and how many it’d be after that. It wouldn’t come though, and teams often get punished for being so wasteful, and that was to be the case here too. You just couldn’t see Gainsborough scoring as they were creating so little, but a no-nonsense pile-driver of shot from outside the area arrowed into the far top corner, still rising as it hit the net. It was completely out of the blue, and completely changed the game.
For the remaining ten minutes or so, Gainsborough just got stronger and stronger. Had there been 15 or 20 minutes left, you’d have backed them to have got a 2nd and won the game, but even the new-found enthusiasm couldn’t mask a lack of creativity, and the clear chances just wouldn’t come.
With the ref adding perhaps the minimum time he could have done in a half that had a few stoppages, the points were shared, and the fans filed out round the corner into the supporters’ bar next door, thinking about what might have been.