It should have been the day Tadcaster Albion showcased itself to the masses. But instead, Saturday’s match put a stain on the club that travelled across the country and throughout non league football.
With a record crowd, and one that didn’t just edge ahead of the previous best, all had been set up for the improvements at Ings Lane to shine.
The sun warmed the contest up, too, and with Leeds United and York City both playing fixtures away from home, everything played in Tadcaster’s favour.
Friendly banter between the two sets of supporters also warmed up the clubhouse before kick-off.
“You’ve only got one song,” retorted against “You’ve only brought one bus.” It was all pleasant, harmless, and enjoyable.
The tensions of football make it the great game it is. It riles the fans, and players, and keeps the relationships on and off the pitch frosty. There is nothing wrong with that. But what followed the match was a disgrace to both clubs.
It was quite clear after 210 minutes of battling against each other, relations between the two teams were reaching breaking point, especially with the game so finely-poised and what was at stake.
With two minutes left, Highworth Town’s captain TJ Bohane was booked for diving, and as he feigned injury, the referee allowed Tadcaster goalkeeper Peter Lawrie and striker Carl Stewart to drag him from play.
The bizarre event, something I have never witnessed on a football field, acted only as a catalyst to the following violence.
Then, as the referee’s whistle pierced through the hearts of Tadcaster’s players, more than 50 visiting supporters invaded the pitch to celebrate their team’s triumph.
On their big day, on the big stage, everything turned so wrong.”Ed White
Should they have been allowed onto the field? Of course. This was a historic moment for a town with only 8,000 inhabitants. Their greatest achievement in their 121 years.
However, the problem stuck firmly with the lack of stewarding, and the home club have admitted so in the aftermath.
This was a Conference crowd. With 1,307 supporters packed in, there needed to be more than a few men in yellow coats.
It has been suggested that a beer tent erected at the far end of the ground was to blame for the ensuing violence.
Having been to Albion on many occasions with the crowd reaching 500, it was necessary to avert trouble from inside the packed clubhouse.
While the violence was beer-fuelled, the club, ironically known as the Brewers, was not at fault for trying to maximise profit and use the full facilities of the ground to shepherd spectators around. But it should have had more support in handling the situation.
The violence was absurd, but it had a spark.
As Albion boss Paul Marshall has alluded to, this was not a case of sour grapes following a devastating cup exit. It was beer-fuelled anger against a teenage fan goading home fans during his celebrations.
However, what started it has almost become irrelevant following the actions of certain players from both clubs.
The footballing authorities and the clubs will deal with both, and as well as fines, video evidence could lead to lengthy bans for certain individuals involved.
But what could be more damaging to Tadcaster’s aims is the stigma of such events.
This is a club striving so hard to go about their business the correct way. But on their big day, on the big stage, everything turned so wrong.