Saturday 9th November 2013
Staffs FA Vase Round Two
Tunstall Town 1 Leek County School Old Boys Reserves 7 ht: 1-2 att: 12
from Sandyford Cricket Club
Sandyford Cricket Club in Pictures
In recent years Tunstall Town have been suspected of being the worst team in the country, even attracting national media attention. In 2011 Barney Ronay, of the Guardian (a marvellous wordsmith, whose article on Roy Hodgson was the about the best sports article I’ve ever read) wrote a piece on them entitled Staffordshire is no county for very old men. In his inimitable and amusing style he marvelled at their geriatric defence, who in one match totalled over 300 years between the five of them. It was the club to play for if you were retired and longed for your playing days. Four registered players were over 60, with John Johnson, at 75, reckoned to be the oldest person in the UK playing 11-a-side league football. There’s a great line from the ex Port Vale (circa 1953) amateur :
“”Some of the 18-year-olds are a bit fast for me now,” he says, still quietly fuming at not making the starting XI this afternoon.”"
Their Secretary, John Rowley, was 70. He was also the player manager and right back. He said they loved playing and age was only a number. I guess conceding 19 in one game against MMU was only a number too, that season. The article was from 2011, at which point they’d played 17 matches, scoring three and conceding 173.
Since then, though, things have changed a bit. They have shaved a couple of hundred years off their back line and last season, just over mid-way through, recorded their first point in over five years. It ended a 143 match losing streak that went back to September 2007. Fellow strugglers Whittington had the ignominy of being the first team in five years not to beat them. Jordan Taylor made a bit of local history with his 65th minute equaliser, taking advantage of a poor back pass. There was dancing in the streets of Tunstall that night.
This year they’ve been unable to build on that epic point, but things are improving – their 10 defeats so far have only cost them 55 goals, roughly half their usual shipload. They have also scored 10. They have had narrow defeats at Betley (5-4) and home to today’s opponents Leek CSOB (2-3). The signs are there that a victory is just around the corner.
It hasn’t always been like that for the Potteries club that is one of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent. It was founded in 1949 as a works team for a local tile manufacturer. They have experienced successful seasons and the odd trophy or two at county level in their sixty odd years. Their spectacular and commonly occurring defeats are a recent and, I’m sure, passing legend.
Their Sandyford Cricket club home can be seen clearly from the Tunstall ring road, with access via Shelford Road. There is a 90 seater stand in front of the pavilion as you come in. Admittedly you’d need amazing eyesight to watch the football from here, but it makes a good backdrop. The football pitch lies lengthwise at the bottom of the cricket pitch, overlooked by an electricity pylon, which ugly as they are, add a certain je ne sais pas to a football ground, in a similar fashion to factories and cooling towers. Brieze block dugouts break up a gnarled, bent and paint-over-rust perimeter bar. Ropes suffice the cricket pitch side, with an interruption for the players ingress and egress. Bizarre triangles on the goals, with the two 45 degree angles both being on the stanchion – never seen their like before.
My 11 year old, Dylan, and I contributed a further 20% to the crowd as we wandered behind the goal where it was amusing to see a big advert for Comfort Stairlifts. Obviously a hangover from when their players were courting advertisers close to their hearts! The ground was framed by trees and shrubbery with occasional breaks where you could see the cars fly by on the bypass.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from watching the ‘worst team in britain’ and, strangely, was somewhat disappointed that the opening exchanges were not totally one sided. The quality wasn’t great by either team, but for a few deft exchanges. Leek started to show some superiority in attack eventually and opened the scoring with a header off a corner, captured beneath.
Despite Leek’s growing confidence, Tunstall did something that has been as rare as ball lightning in recent times. They equalised. A great run down the right and to the touchline, the ball was crossed over the keeper where David Farr was waiting with a diving header. 1-1.
As if affronted by such insolence, Leek immediately regained their lead, with an inevitability that goes hand in hand after a struggling team scores. It was a soft goal, an in-swinging cross hacked at in the area, with the trajectory fooling the keeper at agonisingly slow speed. 1-2 at half time.
In the second half, Leek’s superiority started to tell. After a sublime 25 yard free kick into the top corner to make it 3-1, it was one way traffic. Four more fish were shot in the barrel to fire Leek easily into the third round. In the end 7-1 was about right, but for about 35 minutes Tunstall were competitive.
The draw against Whittington maybe marked a turning point for the beleaguered Tunstall and, who knows, maybe soon they might be able to dick Whittington.
Goldenhill Wanderers, now defunct, used to play here and are still evident in the corner flags and signage.
Get down to Sandyford Cricket Club to experience this slice of footballing folklore. You could be part of the next chapter and see something that hasn’t happened in over six years now – a Tunstall victory.