Saturday, 1 March 2014

Padiham 0 Darlington 1883 2

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 340

For once I neither needed to check for a postponement nor leave the house in full expedition gear. Crocuses were even peeping out in the strays of Harrogate. As I continued east past Skipton and into Lancashire almost every turn had a fond football memory: Barnoldswick, Clitheroe, Colne then dear old Nelson. At the roundabout from the motorway I briefly got caught up in match traffic - heading for Burnley/Derby rather than Padiham, I should add. My journey ended by turning right at an inviting, authentic neighbourhood pub and up a short, very narrow lane to The Arbories Memorial Sports Ground.

Its only structures are three basic covered terraces and modern, trim clubhouse. You get the best elevated view from a grassy bank. (Notices prohibiting standing here were commendably ignored by fans and officials). And what a view especially in today’s low sun: a peerless Pennine panorama, in fact. In the town below you can see a church tower, two church steeples, a picturesque chapel, the red and white Shuttleworth College and, beyond, the equally eye-catching and modern Park Hill Business Centre. Looming above the seated stand on the far side of the Calder valley are six wind turbines and, further in the distance, another windfarm then pylons marching over the horizon. The view must extend at least four miles in all. The northern touchline is backed by a row of tall trees and over one corner you can see the extended chimneys of a folly (see footnote). Absolute bliss. Bring your binoculars.

Just outside the ground is a large sign proclaiming Padiham’s treble last season, an achievement further commemorated by a stone plaque presented by the town council and positioned beside the clubhouse door. Having spent all their footballing history in county leagues Padiham won promotion to the Northern Premier League last season. Opposition from as far afield as Darlington is quite a novelty which is probably why the PA announcer twice introduced today’s visitors “from the north-east” as though it was another country.

Six years ago the chances of clubs from these two towns ever meeting one another even for an FA Cup tie were remote. Padiham were mid-table in the North West Counties League second division (step 6) while Darlington were heading for the Football League fourth division play-offs. Where once there were five divisions separating the clubs today, remarkably, Padiham and Darlington (albeit in reincarnated 1883 guise) are level. Well, almost level. There’s always bound to be a bit of slope at a ground hereabouts …

You have to feel sorry for Darlington given what they’ve gone through and, earlier this season, I’d previously enjoyed the sense of occasion they’d brought to matches at Clitheroe and Harrogate Railway. I’m almost becoming a temporary and unofficial member of the away supporters’ club. But I like to back the underdog too which is why I wore Padiham’s colours today. (They were Reading’s colours actually but I’m a great believer in multi-scarfing).

Darlo controlled the match for long periods and looked much the stronger side as if they were playing at home which, with their away following, is how matches like this must feel. They took the lead on 14 mins when a long pass found Dowson who shrugged off a Padiham challenge to fire home. Padiham had a purple patch early in the second half and forced two super saves from the Darlo goalie. The Quakers wrapped things up on 68 mins when a free-kick from deep on the right was played back across the six-yard box and stroked home by Fisher. The visitors thus recorded their 1oth consecutive away League win going back to October while for Padiham it’s their straight fifth defeat. On this form these two sides will be a division apart next season.

After the final whistle I went for a closer look at the folly by crossing the adjacent cricket pitch (built, like the football ground in 1949). The clock on the pavillion showed five to six. Hardly worth turning it back now especially as its for cricketers. Thank God: we’ve made it to March. Spring is here, meteorologically at least.

Programme notes: Padiham’s nickname is The Storks. Don’t know why – but perhaps it’s something to do with the victory in the NHS Bird Cup in 2011 …

Folly footnote: Built in 1794, the folly close to the ground is Arbory Lodge. It was once the entrance to Huntroyde Hall, the drive to which is now bisected by the A6068. For me follies have much the same appeal as non-league football grounds because of their individuality, novelty and the fact that few people know about them. The only other folly I’ve seen from a ground was Culloden Tower at Richmond.

Alternative internationals: The Essex Senior League is positively cosmopolitan, as I became aware while scanning the back pages of the NLP as you do. Among the clubs are Sporting Bengal United (comprised of Bangladeshis), London Bari (another Asian side), FC Romania (made up of Romanian immigrants) and Greenhouse London (formed in 2000 as Mauritius Sports and now linked to a sports development charity). Somewhat fittingly the league also includes two clubs based very close to an international airport: Stansted and Takeley. Bengal play Romania on March 23. What a great novelty fixture. Equally appealing up north is Matlock Town v. Minnesota United on March 10. The alliteration adds to the quirkiness. It’s a pre-season match for the US visitors, their previous opponents being LA Galaxy.

Lots of scope for good pics today. Too many to fit in the blog, in fact. For the full album click here. Below are the highlights courtesy of the Darlington website, these days among my favourites.

1 comment:

Stretch said...

Enjoyed the write up, glad you enjoyed the game and are becoming even a tiny bit of a darlo fan!