Saturday 11th July 2009

Bradley 1 Coach Rangers 3
Summer League Cup Final
At: Mappleton Playing Field
Kick-off: 7-30 pm
Attendance: 120 (headcount)
Weather: Cloudy, rain during second half
Duration: first half: 47:30; second half 48:02

I think I’ve mentioned this before. Prior to this year the month of June and early-July have always been a time of football hibernation for me. For the past few seasons, the second Saturday of July (or sometimes the midweek before) would normally mark the start of consecutive Saturdays of football that would continue until early- or mid-May. Often it would be to watch and report a Stafford Rangers friendly, though last season it was a trip to Hednesford to see The Pitmen entertain Walsall. This year has been different, however.

I’ve really caught the Summer League bug, so content not to watch an afternoon friendly, the only place I wanted to visit today was Mappleton Playing Field to watch the prestigious Summer League Cup Final between the two teams – Coach Rangers and Bradley – who contested last season’s final which Coach won 4-0.

The excellent booklet ‘Fifty Years of Summer Football’ tells that the Summer League Cup has been going since 1935 when Sir Ian Walker of Osmaston Manor presented a trophy to the league. Roston were the first winners, defeating Church Broughton 3-2 in the final at Osmaston Polo Ground. In more recent times, Bradley have lifted the League Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2006 while in addition to last year, Coach, under the previous name of Swan, also won it in 2004.

Having not spotted the left turn on the way up the hill out of Ashbourne on the Buxton road, I went a bit round the houses to get to Mappleton though still arrived in plenty of time. In fact I was the first car into the ground at 6-28 pm with just an official there completing preparations for one of Summer League’s great occasions. No sooner had I parked up, another car arrived – a red Kia – and the place quickly filled up with cars, players, spectators in the hour leading up to kick-off – and became a complete contrast to the quiet rural scene that had greeted me. Several familiar faces arrived having all travelled from games elsewhere.

The Mappleton Playing Field, home ground of finalists Bradley and also Coach & Horses, had a pitch (orientated east-west) in the middle of a larger expanse of grass, though not as big as the Osmaston Polo Ground. A gate led into the ground from the road and the pitch ran widthways to the left. For the final, it was roped off down each touchline. Over on the far side were a clubhouse, separate changing rooms and a marquee erected for tomorrow’s Mappleton village fete.

Rob Hornby was programme compiler for this one and he produced a decent 12-pager which I obtained from League Secretary John Brailford. Thanks also for the tea, Rob!

For this one I was well prepared with my fold-up chair which I ‘erected’ on half-way, behind the rope, next to those of Aggador and Over the Top. Coach also erected their red three-seater ‘stand’ complete with a roof as they had at Holly Bush last month. But my chair saw little use as I had to stand up to avoid having my view partly obscured by the fans stood next to me. That didn’t matter as I’ve stood at every Summer League game I’d attended (apart from using a park bench at Doveridge last year). Anyway the rope looked like getting in the way of my photos.

Bradley went into the game on top of the table and unbeaten in the league with 50 points from 18 games. Four places below with three games in hand were fifth-placed Coach Rangers on 34 points from 15 games and just one league defeat.

After a cup of tea from the marquee, served in a proper cup by Mrs Duckmanton, match time soon arrived and Coach Rangers (wearing yellow shirts, black shorts and black socks) got the game underway attacking the road end of the ground.

Both sides won an early corner and also created several chances each during the opening quarter hour.

Coach skipper Callum Woolley sent a low left-foot shot wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the area. Bradley (wearing grey shirts, black shorts and black socks) won a throw on the left which was quickly taken and propelled towards goal. The ball was picked up by Jez Oborn who fired straight at keeper Sean ‘Horny’ Jones as Dan Frith challenged.

The first lot of drizzle had started when Dan Frith got forward to send a well-struck shot straight at Lee Jones, the Bradley keeper. Karl Grocott got into a good position inside the area on the left and fired past Sean Jones, only to see the ball narrowly miss the opposite right-hand corner of the net.

It was certainly a high-quality encounter and the chances continued. Lee Jones got down well at the base of the near left-hand post to hold Mike Tremlow’s shot before disaster almost struck for Bradley. Mark Sellers’ headed back pass fell short of Lee Jones allowing Woolley to nip in and fire wide of an unguarded goal.

Just before the half-hour mark, Lee Jones did well to prevent Coach from taking the lead. From Adrian Roberts’ corner, he turned round a far post goal bound header from Martin Taylor that was heading for the top-left corner.

Richard Gage got into a good position inside the area after latching on to Jez Oborn’s deep cross and sent a first-time shot over the bar.

Coach won a free-kick near the left corner of the area which Roberts hit against the wall and Lee Jones was well positioned to get behind Simon Wint’s curling right footer.

Bradley took the lead in 39th minute. Mark Sellers hit a low 15-yard drive that flew out of reach of the diving Sean Jones into the bottom-right corner of the net.

Before the interval Coach created a couple of chances to level things up. Dan Frith, on the left inside the area, sent a well-struck shot flashing across the face of the Bradley goal. Mark Maznenko won the ball inside the Bradley half and it flew towards goal where Lee Jones gathered up.

With the sky getting darker, I sensed a hefty rain shower was imminent and so, at the interval, took the chair back to the car in exchange for my raincoat. After sampling the view behind the roadside goal, I reclaimed my position on halfway alongside the other travellers.

Coach got back on level terms in the 49th minute. Dec Bacon on the left inside the area hooked the ball home past Lee Jones from 10 yards out.

Bradley responded. Stuart Coates sent a 25-yard left footer over the bar and Gage also fired over from well outside the area.

The drizzle returned though unlike the brief first-half shower, it became a bit persistent.

Coach took a 64th-minute lead when Woolley forced the ball home at close range during a scramble inside the Bradley area. They went close again with a well-struck shot across the face of goal and wide of the far right post by Dan Frith.

Coach’s bid to retain the League Cup took another turn for the better as they opened up a two-goal lead with a third scored in the 69th minute. James Carter crossed from the left into the area, Dan Frith’s initial shot was blocked and ‘Dobbo’ Roberts fired home the loose ball.

It was now raining heavily and many of the spectators hurried into the marquee to keep themselves dry. Coach’s roofed three seater was no match for the downpour either.

With 19 minutes left, there was still time for Bradley to at least force extra time, especially when Mark Sellers fired low against the outside of the post. The league leaders weren’t done and looking to narrow their deficit. Bradley won a corner on the left which was played deep and Jay Twemlow rose at the far post to head wide.

In between those two Bradley chances, Dan Frith again got forward down the left and fired into the side netting.

Bradley kept up the attack. Jay Tremlow’s long throw fell to Woolley who forced a diving save out of Sean Jones at the expense of a corner.

Of course without a trusty see-through bag and a couple of pens rendered temporarily inoperable with the rain, my notebook was getting wetter and wetter with every attempt on goal, corner and substitution. Mr Fowler even got his yellow card out late on to punish a hefty challenge by Craig Frith.

With every substitution, it was a trip for OTT to the respective ‘benches’ to obtain the name of the fresh pair of legs. For the last ten minutes, Coach brought on ‘16’ and this time it my turn to find out that Peter Shemelt was the player coming on.

And then there was a missed penalty to note down… In the 84th-minute, Coach wasted a great opportunity to put the outcome beyond doubt. Substitute Clem Mellor brought down Craig Frith inside the area but Woolley hit the resulting penalty so far over the bar and also a nearby tree that a new ball was required! The worst penalty ever taken?

With full time approaching (thankfully I suppose because even though the football was superb, the rain was still falling so heavily), Maznenko won the ball in a tackle with Simon Oborn and Lee Jones saved the resulting goalbound shot. Jones, the Bradley keeper, produced a fine save in stoppage time to tip over a rising drive from Carter.

After the final whistle, the presentation party and guest of honour Sheila Woolliscroft assembled in the dry at the entrance to the marquee while the teams and several spectators waited in the rain. The winning skipper Callum Woolley stepped forward out of the rain to gratefully receive the League Cup.

Before setting off, Coach got together for a winning team celebratory photo and I got chatting to John Scott, the assistant manager. Thanks ‘Scottie’ for the pictures you emailed including the one outside the Coach and Horses.

Can Coach complete a hat-trick of wins this time next year? Their next aim is to try and wrestle the league title from Bradley by making good use of their games in hand.

Bradley (grey/black/black): 1. Lee Jones, 3. Jay Tremlow, 4. Steve Coates, 5. Simon Oborn, 6. Mike Tremlow, 8. Jez Oborn, 9. Mark Sellers (capt), 10. Stuart Coates, 15. Richard Gage, 16. Karl Grocott. Subs: 14. Clem Mellor (for Steve Coates, 71), 11. Richard Coates (for Stuart Coates, 74), x. Nick Stubbs (not used).

Coach Rangers (yellow/black/black): 13. Sean Jones, 2. Adrian Roberts, 4. Martin Taylor, 5. Mark Maznenko, 6. James Carter, 8. Callum Woolley (capt), 9. Dec Bacon, 10. Simon Wint, 11. Dan Frith, 15. Ian McConichie, 17. Craig Frith. Subs: 7. Darren Handley (for Wint, 65), 14. Paul Godfrey (for Bacon, 77), 16. Peter Shemilt (for Handley, 81).

Referee: Harry Fowler (Church Broughton).
Assistants: Will Maskery (red flag) and Jim Conway (yellow flag).

(Thank you to John 'Scottie' Scott for the last photo)