Hyde United 0 Tamworth 3 (25th Jan 2014)
“Welcome to sunny Ewan Fields” was the PA announcer’s opening line before this Skrill Premier match, in reference to the angry clouds rolling overhead, making the idea of the match finishing enough of a gamble to necessitate each spectator being handed a ticket in case it got abandoned.
As it happened the rain had actually eased by then, and thankfully the appalling storm we’d driven through on the motorways south of Manchester seemed to have missed Hyde. It was a full-on forked-lightning, hail, rain falling sideways soaking, like driving through an industrial jet washer, that even wipers on double-speed could not remotely cope with. Hyde’s game had already had one pitch inspection, and on the assumption the storm might hit Ewan Fields, we’d already started planning where to go instead.
Surprisingly Hyde’s pitch didn’t look that bad. OK, it was lacking grass in places, and full of enough muddy ruts to be reminiscent of unpleasant wintry PE lessons of my youth, but other than that it looked perfectly playable.
In any case, one huge appeal of a Hyde’s ground on a day like this, was that it is almost fully covered. Upon going in you see the main stand to your left and “The famous shed end” (so proclaims a sign) on the right. While some might question just how famous this particular end is, you also wouldn’t need to be that much of a pedant to point out that it’s not an end either, being located down the corner of one side. It’s tall enough to offer a good view, and is the stand of choice for the noisy Hyde fans when kicking towards that end, even if the view is ruined a fair bit by numerous pillars and the base of a floodlight.
Normally you’d probably expect Hyde’s fans to use the end behind the goal round the corner, but for some reason it has been decided that this clash, which would pull all of 369 people, was high risk enough for it to require the 50 or so Tamworth fans to be segregated.
They got a pretty good end too, if you discount the high number of pillars here as well. Fully covered with the same style dark blue pitched roof as at the shed end, it’s most unusual feature was that for some reason it didn’t line up with pitch. The first step of terrace was hard up against the perimeter wall in one corner, yet angled so that it was a good 15 yards away from it at the other end.
Thin but surprisingly steep covered terraces more or less filled two other sides. A little less interesting, for sure, but the modern flat blue roofs here means a lack of pillars, which is certainly welcome.
In the middle of the side containing the shed end is the main stand. Eight rows of sky blue seats make for a smart if modest stand. The blue roof fascia here partially climbs up the roof mounted floodlights, angling up the steelwork to resemble the teeth of Richard Kiel’s “Jaws” character from the James Bond films.
Next to this stand is the only open part of the ground. Mainly flat and empty apart from a large water tank (I presume), it wasn’t a popular vantage point. A biting and very blustery wind buffeted anyone foolhardy enough to linger there, and unsurprisingly few chose to.
To anyone who didn’t know, perhaps one of the most surprising things on the day would have been the emergence of Hyde in their red home shirts in this blue stadium. The stadium did used to be red as well, until a deal with Manchester City to see the ground used for City’s reserve and youth games saw the place “rebranded”. However insensitive such an act was, it has had the consolation of making Ewan Fields a smart venue. The decent views and amount of cover, not to mention the views of the Coronation Street style houses visible through the gaps, gave the place some all important character. If only they could get the crowds.
It’s hardly a surprise it’s a struggle for clubs such as Hyde to get fans through the doors. Not only do they have Manchester United and Manchester City on their doorstep, but several other league clubs are within half an hour’s drive, although there probably aren’t too many Hyde youngsters dismissing Hyde United in favour of the bright lights of Gigg Lane.
It doesn’t help also when any club is having the nightmare season Hyde are having in 2013/14. Bottom of the league with just 7 points from 29 games, hope has long since been abandoned, and it’s all about salvaging some pride for the season. Their season started with an 0-8 thrashing by Forest Green on the opening day, kind of hinting that this wouldn’t be “their year” rather earlier than usual, and the home fans have seen no better than two draws on home turf all season. The visit of 3rd from bottom Tamworth, the division’s lowest scorers, would at least have given them hope of if not actually notching a win, at least a chance not to add to their 13 home league defeats so far. With the home team, nicknamed The Tigers, warming up to “Tiger Feet” by (appropriately enough considering the conditions) Mud, only time would tell how much the locals would “love those tiger feet” today.
It’d be lazily easy to make references to a Jekyll and Hyde performance with regards to the hosts, but in truth there was good and bad about their display. It’s just that the bad was a lot worse. They were definitely spirited throughout, as were their supporters, so it was perhaps a shame that they went a goal down after just 10 minutes. A cross wasn’t cleared, and it was tapped in to give the home side a very familiar feeling.
Hyde had conceded six in their previous home game a week earlier, and for a spell Tamworth dominated and something similar looked on the cards. Hyde steadied the ship though and came back into the game, but kept showing glaring examples of why they were struggling so badly. The first was probably an awful missed chance to equalise towards the end of the first half. An inaccurate shot from the left found its way through to a Hyde player unmarked eight yards out from the back post. From this glorious chance, which a confident player would have knocked in without thinking, the hosts weren’t even able to muster a clean shot. I can only assume the views of the hills beyond that end of the ground had a calming effect, as the grumbles were more muted than you’d expect.
The second example came an hour into the game. Hyde had really come out fired up after the break, and while they still looked “weak” up front, you did feel if they nicked one, it’d be a very different game. Alas a rather simple ball over the top result in a chase between Tamworth strike and Hyde keeper, which the keeper should have won easily. In fact he did get there first. He just completely failed to kick the ball away, leaving a surprised striker with the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net to all but seal the game.
Full credit to Hyde. Many might have expected them to crumble at that point, but in fact they just redoubled their efforts and pushed on stronger. A free kick from outside the box, only just missing the target, almost got them some reward for their efforts, but the scoring was ended by another moment the keeper will be disappointed about.
While nowhere near as bad an error as the 2nd goal, a weak-wristed attempted save allowed a long range shot to flick up into the top corner, and give the score a very harsh look. Tamworth weren’t three goals better on the balance of play by any stretch, but when you are rock bottom then when it rains it pours, and there’d been more than enough pouring rain for this day.