20th February 2018 - Irlam FC 1 v 1 City of Liverpool - Man, tonight's match was highly anticipated by yours truly and promised to be one of the biggest toss-ups since Shirley Crabtree had that fling with Tony 'The Rubber' Gubba - I can still see the holes in his leotard now! Last year Irlam could have been accused of over-achieving, this year they have done the opposite and not done themselves justice in a very competitive league. City of Liverpool on the other hand were irresistible during the previous campaign and this year have more than held their own in this testing division. Tonight I felt as though we had a real conundrum on our hands with Irlam getting their act together and City of Liverpool trying to bounce back after a slip up and more cancellations than the NHS urine department. Me and my good lady had done our days work, met up, had a bite to eat and set out to beat the Purple hordes and the Irlam faithful. We arrived after a shitty drive with traffic too plentiful to be comfortable, we were met with darkness, an electricity problem meant the game was on hold and we had to have our cuppa in semi-darkness surrounded by scousers - now there's a situation to test one's nerves. We supped up and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Luckily for all concerned Irlam's assistant Manager, the centre-back and an ex-forward are all sparks, they eventually got things sorted (albeit 1 hour later than planned) and to those three wired-up-right buggers all our thanks must go. So to the match, and before we start a few points to ponder. Remember folks, Irlam was a great steel-producing town in the 20th century and I wondered if the home lads would be using their own tough brand to defy the Purple Army and bring about a much needed win. On the other hand would the scouse machine take on the form of a sexually worked-up Cilla Black and devour all the perspiring players in their path - history says this can happen, hopefully this time without the mess. I pondered, shuddered and just hoped there would be a 'lorra, lorra' excitement and that both teams would play to their full potential - this is my take on matters.
No sooner had the game settled down and COL's No 3 (Francis Foy) played, what I deemed at first to be, an average ball. How wrong I was and when No 9 (Jack Kelleher) raced through and clattered home a quite concrete shot it was a start made in Heaven for those tattooed through with Purple. The tempo from here was noticeably hectic with the visiting team dictating early pace and passing quicker than a boss-eyed cretin in the Mastermind chair. To Irlam's credit, they stuck at their task, maintained discipline and resisted the woodpecker mither the Liverpool lads are renowned for. The home No 4 (Charlie Doyle) was like a Frenchman on a mission, leading a resistance and cultivating a worthy attack. He laid the ball off and watched a cross get nutted goalward into the keeper's mitts. The save was easy but that didn't detract from the promise of the preceding move. Both teams continued to play with pace and impressive slick passing, The Purps pressed and appeared to be turning the screw of pressure - the question was, would Irlam have reliable nuts to deny the squeeze?
A corner went in from the visiting team, the home mittman missed it, much to the joy of the traveling supporters, Irlam stayed stout and cleared and made sure this was a contest there for the taking. No 2 (Macauley Harewood) and No 7 (Liam Morrison) for the Mitchells were particularly arresting as they worked with purpose and emitted a certain authority! A few shabby tackles followed and then a COL free kick was had, nutted forth and saved with ease. From a relatively quiet spell Irlam hustled with intent, won the ball after a COL mistake and went on the prowl. Several chances to shoot were had but when the ball dropped to the eager feet of No 7 (Liam Morrison) he looked up, curled one and levelled the scores with aplomb. A delightful strike and if you ask me, ruddy well deserved. Irlam now had a zippy zest, Harewood, Morrison and No 8 (Isaac Illidge) linked up with creamed ease and duly won an angled punt. The ball flew in with pace, all bonses were missed, the visiting squad looked like a skeleton on a horse - rattled. The arse end of the half was upon us, Illidge of Irlam tried to bag the lead with a sizzler. The ball flew, an over-enthusiastic nut from the other side of the pitch screamed, hopes soared, the ball went agonisingly wide and half-time was upon us.
A shake of the carcass, a cuddle with the good lady and a couple of lemon biscuits - we know how to live.
The teams reappeared, a fresh and highly animated start was needed and that is what we got. The tonsils on the touchline were getting vibrated with venom as both sets of players looked to earn the upperhand. For me, Irlam were now outworking their guests and excellent labour from their No 5 (Steven Mills) epitomised this belief and duly won a corner. The ball in was easily defended and The Purps came on, put a great ball into the box after a free-kick was earned only to be denied by Illidge of Irlam who executed some quality, albeit unorthodox, defending. The home heads forced themselves forward, Mills crossing and winning an angled kick. Ball in, the mittman indulged in a terrible punch, luckily for him the danger was dealt with and he breathed a sigh of relief. Irlam soon threatened again, No 9 (Connor Martin) put the spherical object onto the nugget of Illidge who tupped only inches wide. The tempo was building but then got halted after No 4 (Charlie Doyle) of Irlam got clobbered in the middle of the park. A scuffle ensued, a booking came and for me, the referee did mighty well to calm the storm and not get 'card happy'. The free kick that followed was razor sharp and Mills was unlucky to see his header miss the target. It should really have been the killer touch! More mistimed tackles came, Martin of Irlam blasted the side netting whilst No 11 (Dean Shacklock) of COL had a close in header that was wonderfully saved. The Purple Perspirers now leaked blood has they tried to test the home team's mettle. A low ball entered the perilous zone, No 6 (Craig Robinson) turned and unloaded, a deflection saw the ball fly millimeters wide. The corner was like the arse of a recently rogered chicken, it produced nowt!
The back stretch, Irlam were playing well from back to front but at 1 goal apiece anything could still happen, the COL set-up is never easily toppled. End to end stuff followed, many guts were bust in pursuit of victory, not bad for Non-League football hey, tis par for the course don't ya know. In the last moments Irlam's No 11 (Marcus Perry) had a chance to seal matters, struck and was denied by a cracking save. It was a golden chance and looked to have confirmed that the hosts would get no more than a hard-fought point. City of Liverpool though didn't even want to give this away as, in the dregs of injury time, the No 8 (Francis Smith) let loose a skin-searing shot that looked destined for a last gasp winner that would be only equalled by the exploits of Roy Race. The bar was thundered, the ball slammed down, claims were had that it had crossed the line, a clearance came and soon after the game was up. Phew, what a finish and despite many biased and rose-tinted onlookers believing the ball went in from where we were stood (which was in a very good spot) the ball certainly didn't cross the line and a 'no-goal' was very much the right decision. We left the ground later than expected, it was worth the effort and Man of the Match tonight goes to Irlam's No 7 (Liam Morrison) who was outstanding throughout, covered much ground, led many charges and just looked a controlled and very talented player on a pitch of high quality.
FINAL THOUGHT - So a delay, a dither, and determination paid off. This was a darn good match tonight that exposed two teams that were well matched and who gave their all in an attempt to gain the 3 point glory. Overall I thought Irlam deserved the win, they played with gusto, swift endeavour and refused to be bowled over by a City of Liverpool team who are certainly no push-overs. Prior to the game, I suspect the away side were slight favourites but Irlam are getting their act together and when things slot into place they are a match for anyone. City of Liverpool are simmering at the moment rather than boiling over, these things happen to the best of sides and I have no doubt they will be back soon scalding a few unwary nadgers and making great waves on their march forward. It is all interesting stuff this lower league malarkey, hence the reason so many are immersed. For punters like myself, who abhor the capitalist bullshit of the Premier League as well as the mass market acceptance of things gone wank, this is a decent escape and if the game is played fairly and squarely, with respectful attitudes then so much the better.