JUST SIXTY-SIX days after watching the FA Cup final at Wembley, I headed for Peterborough for the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round tie between Peterborough Northern Star against Deeping Rangers.
After being positively manhandled at Wembley by an over-enthusiastic (and extremely pickled) Chelsea fan, who wanted to celebrate Diego Costa’s goal by jumping on my back, I was expecting a far more sedate afternoon in Chestnut Avenue.
“Football ground? Just down there, you will see the lights,” said a women precariously perched on a bicycle as she came out of the grocery store. “I’ve lived here all my life, so I should know where it is.”
She looked at me as if I was slightly mad and it was clear she had no idea that on this first weekend of August, the world’s oldest knockout competition was starting in the humble home of Northern Star. There’s something “source of the Nile” about the FA Cup in these tentative early rounds, an air of discovering that, behind the housing estate, or at the end of an unmade road, there might be a football club that could, just could, make some headlines. Just consider that the club that gained the most publicity last season, aside from teams like Chelsea, was Lincoln City – a non-league outfit, and it was thanks to the “old Tin Pot”.
Admittedly, you have to dream a little to imagine a club like Northern Star, or their opponents, Deeping Rangers, commanding many column inches, but football still has a little bit of fantasy in it. After a week in which Neymar was sold for £200m, £6 to get into Northern Star is a reminder that football is not all about glitz and glamour – it is also about club stalwarts, people like Northern Star’s Jimmy Owen (1921-2013), who is remembered at the ground in various places. A nice touch.
Judging by the match programme, Northern Star endured a hectic summer. They have a new manager in Rob Ward and there’s been some behind-the-scenes changing of the deck-chairs that has created a director of football in “Raff” Mazzarella and more emphasis on bringing youngsters through.
Last season, Northern Star finished 15th in the United Counties League, 13 places below Deeping, an ambitious outfit some 16 miles out of Peterborough. It’s a local derby, but Deeping are the clear favourites. The crowd was as sleepy as the afternoon. Northern Star’s average last season was barely 50 and Deeping’s was just below 100, so expectations were for a modest crowd. The prize? A cash amount of £1,500 and a Preliminary Round tie at Barton Rovers.
The game started with Deeping looking the more accomplished team. Their passing was better and they dominated the midfield quite comfortably. Northern Star lacked nothing in endeavour and I was impressed with defender Dan Smith and midfielder Jake Sansby.
“They’ve not got any better,” the Deeping goalkeeper joked as I walked behind his area. There was plenty of banter during the game, some of it funny, some a bit aggressive, as the contest heated-up. For a time, though, it looked like Deeping would win by a healthy score.
They netted twice in the space of six minutes. The first, on 31 was a belter from former St. Neots midfielder Daniel Schiavi that went in off the crossbar. Four minutes later, it was 2-0 as Johnny Clay got on the end of a corner and although a defender tried to hook it away, it was already over the line.
Northern Star looked a little crestfallen, but they came out fighting in the second half. Deeping still had the upper hand, with Schiavi seeing a shot cleared off the line and Jason Kilbride hitting the outside of the post. Kilbride limped off with a hamstring injury and from this point, the game seemed to swing in Northern Star’s favour.
They pulled a goal back on the hour when Zak Munton, who was making his debut for the club, bundled the ball home from a corner. Deeping, who had been cruising, seemed a little fractious. With nine minutes to go, Deeping substitute Bradley Hocklin brought the ball down and sent a deflected shot past Simon Dalton – 3-1, surely Northern Star were finished now?
But a glimmer of hope in the 87TH minute, a shot from home Star substitute Jezz Goldson-Williams spun out of the hands of Deeping keeper Stainsby and the ball rolled into the net. The keeper wasn’t happy, especially as he received some gentle ribbing from the Northern Star players.
And that’s how it ended. Peterborough Northern Star 2 Deeping Rangers 3. An entertaining start to the season and the first FA Cup hurdle successfully negotiated.
“If they’re the favourites for the UCL this season, then I’m a monkey’s uncle,” I heard one local comment as I exited the ground. Ah, football fans in defeat, the same the world over!
We’ll be at Barton on August 19 to check on Deeping’s progress.