Sheffield 1 Leek Town 1 – abandoned 55 mins (28th Nov 2015)
Some might think a three hour drive up north to see a game called off 10 minutes into the second half would be a disappointing day out, but I’m sure other people had worse afternoons. The poor pheasant, struck by a car next to us going up the A34, probably didn’t have a great day, and nor would the car’s driver, who would have to peel off the carcass of the stricken bird, found to be wedged almost cartoon-style, from the grille of his car. I doubt any of the foolhardy souls who chose to not watch yesterday’s game from under cover would have enjoyed it either, as they probably won’t be dry until about Wednesday.
It didn’t look that bad when we arrived. It was definitely soggy, but a pre-match beer and meal in the excellent Coach & Horses pub next door to the ground had no talk of possible alternative arrangements. Indeed, the pub not only gives the ground its name, but serves as a de facto club bar. The odd Sheffield FC poster or two can be seen around the pub, but the link is less historic than might be thought. The Coach & Horses ground was, until the turn of the century, the home of amateur club Norton Woodseats, until they folded. Sheffield FC moved in a couple of years later.
Sheffield, despite being the oldest existing football club in the world – a fact complicated by them predating the codified splits into association football, rugby etc – had never had a permanent ground of their own until then. And even now that they have a ground, they want to move again, wanting to actually be back within Sheffield itself, rather than in Dronfield, just south of Sheffield, where they currently find themselves.
Hanging baskets by the turnstiles and an excellent full-colour programme add a welcoming touch upon admission, as does the liberal use of red and black paint around the place. The club offices might well just be portakabins, but done up in black, they looked almost smart.
Behind one goal are the only seats in the ground. A newish stand for about 300 people catered for a range of fans willing to trade less than perfect views through a goal net from its four rows of seats, for a close-up view, and a stand shielding them from the wind and rain.
The only other cover, not surprisingly quite popular on this day, was a covered terrace round the corner from the club offices. With this stand being a bit more “cosy” than normal, the fact that the three steps of terracing were actually high enough to be genuine steps was very welcome.
This terrace extended to the halfway line, from where the back wall of the Coach & Horses formed the rest of the side. A pub patio table sat between here and the pitch, but with it not exactly being beer garden weather, there were no takers.
Past the seated end and down the opposite side was a grass embankment topped with trees. For some reason the whole length of the embankment was covered in blue tarpaulin, with the FIFA logo at one end. A large manual scoreboard filled the far corner, which is just as well, as no spectators were mad enough to watch from round there.
I opted for the side terrace, which offered shelter from the rain, and all but the most persistent of the gusts of wind, as the crowd, including a decent smattering of fans from Leek, did their best to enjoy an inclement afternoon.
The game wasn’t bad for most of the first half. Plenty of commitment and attacking intent. Maybe the first real warning sign came with the opening goal though. A move down the right wing on the far side of the pitch, at a time when moving the ball quickly down that side was still an option, saw Sheffield offered a chance to score from an angle. The ball was slid past the Leek keeper, but slowed up alarming as it hit water near the goal line, but just had enough for it to carry over to give the hosts an 11th minute lead.
Leek levelled after half an hour, with a well-hit low shot from near the edge of the box beating the keeper. Superb photographic timing and positioning allowed a celebrating Leek fan’s arm to photobomb my picture of the goal, smack in the middle – cheers mate.
While it had been raining all afternoon, it was about at this stage that it got distinctly heavier, and the pitch looked to be nearing saturation point. The areas on the pitch that looked a little dodgy were clearly growing.
Half time came and went with no let up in the deluge. It was clear the game wouldn’t have started if it had been like this before kick off, but there did seem to be a determination all round to see if they could finish the game if at all possible.
Everyone gave it their best shot, but it was much harder to find spots where the ball would roll than were it wouldn’t. Anyone trying to dribble the ball would find themselves running forwards and the ball stuck behind them, and nearly ever step saw water splash up. With no hint of the rain easing, and the realisation that attempting another 35 minutes on that surface would only make sense for comedy value, the ref called the game to a premature end. On a day when even people with umbrellas were taking shelter, I can’t really blame him.