Last Saturday afternoon, Buxton FC were attempting to reach the 3rd round of the FA Cup – the stage at which the big boys join in – for the first time in 70 years. The club from the spa town in the Peak District (the locally iconic folly of Solomon’s Temple is shown the home page) play in the Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football, and they were praying for victory and then, as acknowledged by the chairman David Hopkins, next up a match away to Manchester United – Old Trafford is about 20 miles from Buxton’s Silverlands ground – in order to settle their finances for several years ahead. But first they had to beat League One Morecambe and, valiant an effort as they made of it, they couldn’t.
In weather which the commentators on BBC1 routinely described as “bitterly cold”, albeit for the natives it felt like a pretty standard December day in this part of Derbyshire, and playing with a wind which at times seemed to bestow the ball with a mind of its own, the hosts were undone by a 29th-minute strike from Cole Stockton, which itself arrived some 16 minutes after Buxton’s ‘star striker’, the somewhat exotically named Diego de Girolamo, had hit a post.
On the BBC, Leon Osman, the former Everton player, commented: “Morecambe will know they’ve been in a game today. They’re four divisions above Buxton but you haven’t been able to tell that. Buxton have controlled the game at times this afternoon.” On reflection, Buxton would perhaps feel the game had got away from them in the first 45 minutes. Not only was that when Morecambe scored their goal, that was the half in which Buxton were playing with the powerful wind at their backs and they were playing downhill. (Did I mention the pitch has a slope?)
“I think it was a professional performance,” said the Morecambe manager, Stephen Robinson. “It was set up for a cup upset today, with the wind, rain, sleet and playing on top of a mountain.” Although this was indeed the Peak District, I do think “mountain” is over-egging it. Robinson might have added the fact that Buxton’s pitch is an astroturf one, which may have been expected to give them a slight edge. Having said that, Buxton may have had even more of an advantage had their pitch been made of grass: a match in winter in those conditions would have been bound to have ended up being a mud-fest, which isn’t a situation any fully professional team would be accustomed to encountering.
Echoing the sentiments expressed by David Hopkins, Robinson added: “I’m hoping for a big team in the next round as it will hopefully secure our financial future.” In the draw for the 3rd round of the FA Cup, made last night, Morecambe were drawn away to Tottenham Hotspur. Geographically not so close, but one of the big boys for sure.