Non League Daily

BLOG: Grace in defeat at Cheshire FA Amateur Cup Final

Pete Aidley stood next to a door marked ‘Visitors’, watching players from a rival team flex their muscles during a warm-up out on the pitch writes NLD’s Cheshire writer Andrew Simpson.

He had been there a while, clad in Rudheath Social’s distinctive green tracksuit top, before I realised he was alone.

With less than 40 minutes before kick off in Friday’s Cheshire FA Amateur Cup final, there was no sign of the rest of his side.

The Northwich-based club, only eligible to enter the annual competition since 2010 when their successful Mid Cheshire Sunday League side decided to try Saturday football instead, were due to play in its showpiece for the first time.

A trip to Ellesmere Port, specifically the home of former Football Conference outfit Vauxhall Motors, isn’t far from their home on Middlewich Road.

So they couldn’t be lost.

The absence of their opponents unsettled West Kirby, whose three previous final victories had all been recorded in the past six seasons.

“We haven’t got any tape,” shouted a member of their coaching staff.

“Have you got a pump? These balls are flat,” replied another.

A third, filling in a team-sheet, simply scribbled ‘Gibbo’ next to the number 12 on a list of their substitutes.

Then, with less than half an hour to spare, Rudheath’s players scuttled in to join Aidley.
The bus company hired to transport them the 30-odd miles to west Cheshire had written May 10, and not April, in their diary.

Luckily they had scrambled a spare, and found a driver too.

Sadly for Rudheath, the first Cheshire League team to play in the final in more than a decade, lateness would become a theme of their evening.

That, and goalkeeping gaffes.

After a slow start – West Kirby hit the woodwork within 120 seconds of the start – they trailed 1-0 at the break.

Their custodian Chris Jones, who headed a last-minute equaliser before saving a kick in the subsequent penalty shoot-out during a third-round success against Dukinfield, misjudged a bouncing ball to gift Joe Heath the goal.

Rudheath roared back, scoring through Scott Taylor, Ryan Jackson and skipper Paul Alcock to lead 3-1, only to blow that advantage in a mad minute.

Ian Brunt smuggled Liam Simon’s free kick over the line at the other end, then stand-in goalkeeper Matthew Heath – sent on as cover for injured Jones – dropped the ball at a substitute’s feet.

‘Gibbo’ – it had to be him – could scarcely believe his luck, making it 3-3.

Rudheath visibly wilted, resisting until the second minute of injury time when Davva Bowe’s thumping header was too strong for Heath to halt.

It was a cruel blow.

“Can you play in goal?” quipped Mike Alcock, stood next to me watching West Kirby’s jubilant players pass the enormous silver trophy from one pair of outstretched hands to another.

Mike, whose sons Shaun and Paul form a barrier of brothers at the heart of Rudheath’s defence, is the club’s secretary and treasurer.

Until Christmas, he was assistant manager too.

He smiles, no hint of bitterness.

“Football is harsh sometimes though isn’t it?” he adds.

Meanwhile Rudheath returned to Cheshire League action on Wednesday, beating Sandbach.

“Back to winning ways,” read a tweet from the club’s account.

They may not reach the final again, but few can question their character.

Nor their grace in defeat.

Andrew Simpson Cheshire writer
Twitter: @simmo_on_sport

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