Wearside League Cup final
Attendance: c 250
The non-paying spectators get the best view at Earl’s Orchard. And what a view. Stand on Slee Gill road looking south are you are greeted by surely the finest and most ancient castle backdrop to any sports field in the land. The view from the ramparts of the Norman castle is pretty good too as I found out last September when I first espied the ground and promised myself a return visit the following spring.
The merits of the vantage point were not lost of the castle’s early inhabitants. A balcony was attached to the castle (you can easily still make out the joist holes on the right of the pic) so that the earl and his court could watch knights jousting way below. Football has been played in the former orchard for 85 years including a spell in the Sixties when the club was called Young Conservatives. (It’s that sort of place: William Hague is the sitting MP).
Jackie Charlton opened the pavillion in 1975. The rest of the ground as such consists of a rail around the pitch, a gazebo across an open gate in place of a turnstile and scaffold and corrugated steel dugouts less than 100 yards from the rushing River Swale. (The ball was kicked right over the trees and into the river at one point and will probably have been in York by the final whistle). From the river side you can spot Culloden Tower, a folly built in 1747 after the eponymous battle.
These days Richmond Town are faring well. They were promoted to the step 7 Wearside League, a feeder to the Northern League, for the first time last season. Given their ground’s historic location its development in the event of promotion can safely be ruled out but the club is considering options for the 1st XI next season including a place in Catterick.
That didn’t happen. Richmond finished in a very creditable third place but they did reach today’s league’s cup final which presented the perfect opportunity for a visit. Visitors Prudhoe (pronounced ‘proo-der’, from near Newcastle) have a Northern League pedigree and finished just four places below their hosts this term. A close encounter was anticipated – and so it proved.
Prudhoe took the lead against the run of play just before half-time with a looping half volley from the edge of the box. Richmond deservedly levelled it on the hour when a cross was headed back and knocked in from close range. A stalemate ensued right through until the end of extra-time. (Funny how whenever, as a neutral, you don’t want extra-time you nevertheless get it). Prudhoe won the penalty shoot-out 5-4. The scorer was buried in team mates’ bodies.
Crowds at this level don’t quite share the same passion and just watched on as if bemused without even offering a sporting round of applause. After a short delay to draw the raffle (let’s get our priorities right) the trophy was presented, the PA played the obligatory We are the Champions and the Prudhoe lads posed for a victorious team photo. In front of the castle, of course. Where else?
Star turn: Well, hardly … but talkSPORT reporter and QPR nut Tony Incenzo paid a visit to Earl’s Orchard last week. Didn’t realise he was also a very well travelled groundhopper. He’d done the 92 by the time he was 17 as described in this vintage clip from Swap Shop c 1981.
Extra-time: Students of sporting architecture will enjoy a trip to the ruins of grandstand of Richmond racecourse which was in use from 1775 to 1891. It was designed by renowned York architect John Carr.
From the once sublime to the ridiculous: On my way home I diverted via the R&R Ice Cream Stadium (sic), home to Bedale Town of the Teesside League to admire the equally grandly named Will Abbotson stand. (More of a converted birdhide, it appears). A match between local boy and Huddersfield manager Simon Grayson’s XI and Bedale Legends (‘sic’ again) on April 22 raised over £11k for charity.
Recommended viewing: Here is a link to some outstanding pics from the home of Lyme Regis, a ground as scenic as Richmond Town. And, in contrast, click here for an equally evocative film of the derelict ground of East Stirlingshire, finally demolished 18 months ago.
A spot of egg chasing: Another stunning ground I initially spotted from on high was Stacks Field, home of Ilkley RUFC (below). I visited last month and the pics and write-up are here.