FEATURE: ‘FA Cup allows people to dream about glory’ says Baldock Town stalwart and funeral celebrant ‘Pinky’ ahead of their biggest game
PUBLISHED: 18:22 13 September 2017 | UPDATED: 21:39 13 September 2017
Baldock FC are set to face the biggest game in their short history when they take on the Ducks of Aylesbury United in the FA Cup second qualifying round on Saturday.
Club stalwart Lynn ‘Pinky’ Parker is excited at the prospect.
Baldock’s beating heart is Lynn. Or Pinky as she is known to all because of her shock of bright pink hair.
“My stomach is going up and down. I’m like a duck as I’m calm on the outside but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface” she jokes.
The Reds were formed 14 years ago from the ashes of the original club which dated back to 1905 but folded in 2001.
The team play in the tenth-tier of English football in the Spartan South Midlands League Division One.
In the dry parlance of the National League System they are step 6 in the Non-League Pyramid. In reality it means the Ducks are two divisions higher.
And that means Baldock are one of the lowest ranked teams left in the competition.
Pinky, a jocular 53-year-old grandmother of six, who looks ten years younger, became involved in the club five years ago.
She spent eight years working in mental health at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage before becoming a funeral celebrant.
She is also a carer for her husband Peter, who has a disease of the spine as well as emphysema.
She says Baldock Town is her respite.
Pinky initially went to the club to ‘help out with the teas’ but like so many became hooked on the life-affirming drug that is football.
“He’s really proud of me. He says he can tell if we’ve won just by hearing the way I turn my key in the door when I get home after a game.”
Her life changed the day she entered first team manager Luke Gregson’s lair to pick up teamsheets to give to the visiting officials and ‘it sort of went from there’ she says modestly.
Since then the hard-working Pinky has helped the club in all manner of ways including washing 20 kits every game, driving them to matches, greeting officials, welcoming an ever-growing number of young mascots and their families, putting the substitute boards up during the game (‘you have to be a mind reader’), helping out with the club website – as well as ‘smoothing all the edges’ between the players and club officials should any bumps in the road occur.
The good natured Pinky adds with a smile: “I’m very OCD about those kits. I have to get to a ground at least an hour and a half before kick-off with them, and won’t let anyone touch them. The players joke that I get to away games a day in advance to lay them out.”
The original club played at Bakers Close in Baldock until 1981, when they moved to the Norton Road ground – where due to bitter wrangling amid the legal minefields of judicial reviews they say they were forced out of their corner of valuable real estate.
The move precipitated what many thought was the end of the club, leaving fans to rue the loss of their beloved team, their place in the league and their home.
But they refused to die.
People who deeply loved their football team simply did not give up.
So the team nicknamed the Reds reformed 2003 – although with the number of grounds they had since their rebirth they should have been called the Nomads.
They started off at Knights Templar Sports Centre. Following their Herts County League Division One title in 2007–08, the club moved to the County Ground in Letchworth.
In 2011 they briefly returned to Norton Road in Baldock which had been renamed if not revamped enough to meet the more stringent demands set by the officials of Spartan South Midlands League and the club were denied promotion in 2012.
The reason given was their 3G pitch and perimeter fence not meeting grading requirements.
Failing to make the grade was not something the club would accept lightly so they agreed a ground-share with Hitchin Town to play at the Canaries’ evocative Top Field.
In May 2015 they were on the move once again after they announced a relocation to Stotfold’s Roker Park. After two years at Stotfold, they once again packed up, this time to Arlesey Town’s Hitchin Road ground – where they will play the Ducks of Aylesbury on Saturday in the second qualifying round of the 2017-18 FA Cup.
They have their heart set on returning to Baldock but for now play at the ground which has a capacity of 2,920, of which 150 is seated and 600 covered.
Pinky’s friendly nature belies her bravery in the face of life’s problems. She has suffered from Type 2 bipolar disorder. She explains it matter-of-factly by saying “I’m a naturally high person, but when I get low I get really low.”
It’s no surprise to learn she hasn’t suffered a bout since she got involved with Baldock.
The funeral celebrant explains: “Being involved Luke and the boys has given me my confidence back. I really love what I do.
“I went to seven funerals in a matter of months [as a mourner] and not once was the speech from the celebrant about the person in the box.
“I just thought I could do that job.
“I studied for two diplomas and now I’m the ‘go-to person’ if you like. I am there for families who have lost their loved ones and I do the best I can to ease their grief a little.
“My work sees me drive around the country. It’s a big responsibility if you think about it but football has given me the belief that I can do the job.
“I really have never been happier.”
For those Premier League fans who think the world’s oldest cup competition starts in the dank and gloom of early January when the big boys enter at the third round stage should think again. That is, if they think of the FA Cup at all, as they gorge on footballers and football clubs worth more than the entire GDP of small nations.
The early qualifying rounds are full of romantic stories and Baldock have never gone further.
But what makes teams like Baldock special are the battalions of unsung heroes quietly helping out their club for no other reason than a genuine love and a generosity of spirit.
Which in Baldock’s case means Pinky.
She says passionately: “If we win on Saturday the fee is £4,500. That would be a huge boost to our finances and allow us to do so much as a club in our community. It’s only a small amount but it’s a lifetime to a club like ours.”
Pinky has thrown herself into her roles and is well-loved in the club and beyond.
Due to her work with the club’s acclaimed youth set-up she is constantly stopped by well-wishers and their children.
She laughs, “I can’t go to Tesco without spotting someone I know who asks me about Baldock.”
Allowing herself to dream a little she adds: “Football comes before most things in my life and you always see the FA Cup throw-up quirky stories.
“Well, why shouldn’t it be little Baldock’s turn to be ‘that funny little club’ that grabs all the headlines.
“That’s what the FA Cup is about isn’t it? Allowing people to dream a little?”
She becomes serious for one moment. This wonderful football fanatic – who has taken everything life can throw at her and her club and channelled the positivity football can provide to better her life and the lives of countless others – unconsciously lowers her voice for a moment.
She then says with the genuine conviction of a true football fan and believer: “We’re definitely going back to Baldock with our own ground one day.”
She immediately lightens again adding with an infectious laugh: “They won’t be getting rid of me until we do.”
And if Baldock create FA Cup history on Saturday?
She lets the delicious thought linger in the air for a moment before replying: “We’re all getting hammered in the pub.”