Saturday, 11 January 2014

Harrogate Railway Athletic 0 Darlington 1883 2

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 1,026

The name Harrogate Railway will forever be associated with the club’s momentous FA Cup runs in the 2000s, both climaxing with second round ties. Since then the biggest matches have been those involving the visits of reformed ex-League clubs paddling their way back up the divisions. Previously Railway had hosted Halifax and Chester and today Darlington (who I saw in September at Clitheroe) came calling.

The ground has been further improved since my last visit for the Mansfield FA Cup tie in December 2007 (since when Railway has only won twice in the Cup, incidentally). The club sold the land occupied by its old clubhouse to developers of a care home and, with the proceeds, built a very smart new clubhouse closer to the pitch. Pleasingly, the old wrought iron gates bearing the club’s name have been incorporated into the new perimeter fence.

Access to the pitch is via a 10-yard fenced tunnel. Pity that the clubhouse couldn’t have been closer still to the pitch ideally along the touchline with a viewing balcony like they have at Ilkley rugby club (although I suspect they have a few more pennies to rub together).
The closest you get to an elevated view at Railway comes courtesy of the pitch’s pronounced slope or, if you’re lucky, a spot in a tiny stand on the half-way line (above) or on timber steps pushed up against a dugout. Despite the improvements Station View remains a ground that Darlo fans would more associate with where they came from last season (step five) rather than where they may well be going (step three).
We queued briefly to get in (not something that Railway’s average crowd of around 100 will be used to) as the PA announcer addressed the “lay-deez and gentlemen, boys and girls!” in the style of Bruce Forsyth and a bingo caller. Fully in his element announcing the crowd number, he clearly relished his role on the club’s big day as did a group of about 20 ragamuffins cheering on Railway from the seats designated for the home and away directors. All power to the lads! They were far outnumbered but weren’t out-sang.

The opposition (in natty pink) were the stronger side throughout in all respects. They took an early lead and put the match to bed just before half-time when a good move ended with a cross, chest down, and half-volley into the net. In contrast, Railway were woeful, final passes nearly always going astray and rarely threating the Quakers’ goal. The game lacked ebb and flow which made for a poor contest.

The sun had soon set and the subsequent gloomy chill did little to perk up my son, nephew and I. As the final whistle blew I turned to my boy and saw a drip hanging on the end of his nose. He left without seeing the “close up” goal he’d hoped for by standing beside the Darlo posts. The PA announcer recommended a visit to the clubhouse “for a glass of your favourite tipple with Lisa and Katie”. Um, not today, thanks. Home, Jeeves.
For all the pics from the match click here.

Programme notes: The editor recalls the Bristol City cup-tie: “Temporary stands adorned Station View, Sky TV beamed the game around the globe and the club was the focus of the football world for a couple of hours”. My eyes moisten at the memory.

Footballers’ haircuts: I witnessed a great battle of the barnets at Middlesbrough v. Reading over Christmas. Boro’s Marvin Emnes, dreadlocks bunched, tussled with Chris Guthrie of Reading who boasts a magnificent mohican. Meanwhile, here’s a report about Tom Huddlestone’s new hairdo. All seems a far cry from when Reading goalie, Steve Francis, boldly sported a new tache on the opening day of the season c. 1988. 

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