The small village of Copmanthorpe – affectionately know as Cop – is located just outside York and consists of two pubs, a Co-op and some of the finest manicured lawns in all of England. At the centre of it all you’ll find Patrick Solich, a resident since birth and holder of the most important position in the whole village; left-back for Copmanthorpe F.C. Reserve team. In a regular column, he’ll chronicle what it is like being a footballer on the smallest stage possible. In this edition, he details the desperate fight for relegation for both village teams and the time a future Rangers interim manager came to the house.
The first Saturday in May down at the Copmanthorpe Recreation Centre has always been a big day in the village’s sporting calendar; the goalposts are packed away for the summer, to be replaced by the freshly mowed cricket square, left dormant under covers through winter months. Sporting entertainment now turns to the 45 over game, cricket whites and tea taken at 4pm.
The goalmouth scrambles and midfield battles of the football season is replaced by quick singles and old stories of cricketing success in summers past. Boundary markings replaced football lines and spectators enjoying a cold ale in the late summer afternoons. The only sign of football left is the topsoil covering the warn out goal mouths, reseeded and marked off for a well earned break.
Just a month earlier and the scene down here on this gentile battlefield was very different, with the football players from the 1st and 2nd teams nervously looking at the league tables and fixtures still to come. Relegation threatened for both team and it is was far too early to be looking forward to those ales and relaxing cricket afternoon.
The 1st team had toiled and grafted all season, with varying degrees of success. The usual excuses had been doing the rounds; the players from outside the village don’t have the commitment, why don’t they stay for a drink after the game, and how come the same players are always ‘working’ or ‘injured’ when we play the top sides?!
With five games left to play left to play the first team was second from bottom. Brooklyn had already been relegated with bitter rivals Tadcaster Magnets and unpopular Riccall (pitch is too big) on the same amount of points. With the bottom two being relegated, it was a time of high tension.
The first mid week game of the spring came against Osbaldwick, a team safe and with nothing to play for. This didn’t stop them from putting four past us, with no reply from the lads.
Apparently their keeper had a ‘worldy’ and pulled off a string of saves, but the reports about our performance were pretty positive, and with the quirky fixture list of village football we were up against the same opposition the upcoming Saturday. A windy, nasty afternoon at the Recreation Centre provided less than ideal conditions and the first half was a scrappy affair, with balls over the top hit far too firmly and going out for goal kicks. Going the other way goal kicks barely reached the halfway line.
Heading into the last 20 minutes we finally got some play going, and Portuguese playmaker Pedras started to pull the strings, even winning some free kicks in ever more theatrical fashion, to the disbelief of old Yorkshire defenders not used to – or impressed by – the ‘continental’ way.
From a free kick out wide the ball dropped to Oli, a late addition in from the reserves; he volleyed the loose ball into the ground and up into the top corner. Relief all round; an important 3 points, with more difficult games to come.
The following Wednesday the long trip out to Malton with a few reserves (including myself) brought in to fill the bench. With five minutes left to kick off we got the call that Moysey was stuck in traffic and would miss kick off. The three subs looked at each other to see who would get the nod; but in an unprecedented move Brooker decided to start the game with 10 men instead. Would the gamble pay off? At what point would Moysey turn up? 10 minutes into the game we were two down while Moysey’s mini was seen hurtling into the car park. 3-0 down at half time, subs still firmly warming the bench. After 70 minutes Stu Auton got the call, and with two minutes left I got some game time, playing a vital role in our consolation goal in the 4-2 defeat.
Two games left and all to play for the following Saturday against the other Malton side in the league. I was at work, and eagerly awaited news from the ground. By 5pm the lads started piling in for cash and a celebratory drink in the Oak, as they had taken all three points in a comfortable 3-0 victory. Cop stalwarts Mark Featherstone and Robin Bedford with the goals,: players to rely on when it comes down to the big games.
The final Saturday in April, and the final day of the season, in what had been described as Cop’s biggest game in years. The patio end was full to bursting, with old players and reserve teamers alongside parents and friends already drinking and getting the atmosphere going. Visitors Huntington had finished sscond, but were always going to be tough opponents. Relegation rivals Riccall would require a win, with Cop needing a point to stay up.
In an end to end game full of tension and drama a late equaliser from Robin secured the vital point, and Riccall losing 4-1 meant that Premiership football next year was secured. The post-match celebrations in the Oak going on long into the small hours. The future of the club, players and management could be put to one side for a couple of weeks, with everyone enjoying a welcome break from all the end of season drama.
The reserves had finished their league season at the start of the month and we were also faced with a nervy last few weeks with the rearranged game following the lost kit bag episode of our last fixture. I was travelling back from New Zealand that weekend and arriving back on home soil I was nervously waiting for the What’s App messages to start to come through. With great relief the 4-0 win came up on the screen and barring some miraculous results elsewhere meant we would be safe too. In the end we finished 8th, in a season of great wins and last minute equalisers, forgotten kits, scraps on the pitch and scraping together 11 men when the 1st team players had gone awol again.
We still had a cup to play for, and a way to enjoy the last few games of a long season. First up Taddy, and with me still jetlagged having landed 24 hours before happily took my place on the bench. Soon after the start Andy ‘sicknote’ Turver realised he couldn’t keep up with the nippy winger, came off holding his knee and I was thrown into the action at left back.
With 5 minutes to go we were 3-2 up, and I could barely walk, let alone run. At one point three of us were playing left back, but it did the trick and a quarter final against Hemingbrough was our reward. This would turn out to be our last game of the campaign, as on a rock hard pitch the away side just had a little too much for us on the night.
They adopted a 4-3-3 formation, and as I find it hard enough to position myself against a traditional winger was thrown into all sorts of difficulty by the movement. Amazingly I lasted the 90 minutes, but would soon be hanging the boots up for the summer and may only have one or two more seasons left in me.
Roll on cricket I thought, with pleasant afternoons in the field and nice cakes and teas to look forward to at Stillington.
With Graeme Murty hitting the headlines for Rangers and hitting the floor attempting his handstand I was reminded of the time he came for tea at my house. Back in the late 90’s when I could last 90 minutes on the pitch without batting an eyelid I also fancied myself as a future Gary Rhodes, attempting intricate meals from his cookbooks. One summer evening we had a few more round the table.
My sister was back from University and had her friend Karen round to visit. During the evening Karen’s new boyfriend rang and said he was coming through to Cop, after having finished training with his then club York City. My sister Anna, Karen and Graeme all sat outside by the house, with me of course very excited by the prospect of having an lower-league professional footballer sitting on my kerbside. Enquiring on what we’d had for tea Anna called to me to see if we had any leftovers, so I quickly rustled up enough for a meal for the man himself and was pleased to see the empty plate returned. My culinary career never really took off, a bit like Graeme’s attempts at pulling off headstands.