Saturday, 11 October 2014

How low can you go? Desperately seeking pitches at step 7

I’m getting slightly worried. My late father, a retired livestock auctioneer, used to stop when we were driving around on holiday to admire herds of cattle. None of the rest of the family could understand it. We sat in the car and waited for him. Now I’m the father and my wife and kids are similarly silently bemused when I insist on stopping on our holiday travels to take pics of any scenic football pitches I spot. Somewhat eccentric and nerdy interest, I know, but heh, I’m not drowning kittens or anything …

I’m also currently  sufferering from ground envy. Other bloggers have been revealing the delights of pitches in corners of the the South Pennines, Snowdonia and Cornwall while I’ve been making do with a modern sports centre ground at Cleethorpes.  So, after considerable  Googling and today shamefully shunning the FA Cup (actually there were no suitable ties for me which is why I was up for the Sheffield & Hallamshire Cup instead) I threw my anorak in the back of the car (just as rain protection, honest) and set off for on a step 7 southern Yorkshire double-header packed with pictorial promise.

A real find in more ways than one, Shelley’s home is the former sports pitch buried deep within the woodland of the former Storthes Hall psychiatric hospital that operated between 1904 and 1991. You approach the pitch by passing through student halls of residence and proceeding down a lane. Before checking out the pitch I went in search of the old tennis courts (couldn’t find them) and also got a distant view of the clock tower of the main building of the old hospital. The references on the signs on the fence to the guide dogs “not being vegetarian” successfully dissuaded me from further exploration.

The pitch – actually let’s call this a ground  – is an utter delight. If you don’t feel like playing football looking at it then you must have a serious malaise. The playing surface is immaculate (grass routes don’t come much greener) and enclosed by trees which make the ref’s whistle echo. The dug-outs are pristine too even benefiting from guttering. A splendid backdrop is provided by the Emley Moor TV transmitter which I’d previously enjoyed from AFC Emley but the undoubted jewel in this particular crown is the redeveloped and extended, Edwardian cricket pavilion. Inside is a smart café, flat screen TV and small office area with laptop. (The security system for his place must have cost almost as much as the build). There are further tables outside.
Steps lead down between eight rows of bench seating (for up to 400) which have been cut into the embankment, an arrangement and the setting that gives the ground a Scandinavian feel like I’d encountered at Gallstads. Floodlights were recently added and excavations have been made for a pair of cantilever stands that will shelter the back four rows of the two outer blocks of seats. The ground –which includes two other pitches – opened in summer 2013 since when Shelley have hosted pre-season friendlies against a Leeds United XI and FC United of Manchester.

What an absolute gem that’s destined to become a groundhopper’s rite of passage. To experience the ground in its full glory I’d recommend waiting until a golden summer’s evening, late autumn when the leaves are turning or perhaps even until Shelley ascend to the Northern Counties East League which with the impetus provided by this sort of set-up can’t be far away. The club’s president and benefactor is entrepreneur, philanthropist and ex-Huddersfield Town chairman Graham Leslie (his son is chairman) who sourced funding from the Football Foundation. Town used to train at Storthes Hall and its ladies side play there.
I left at half-time with Shelley one up against Bentley Colliery in the aforementioned cup (they went on to win 3-0) and the game about as one-sided as England v. San Marino last Thursday to head to Horbury Town. The least said about that visit the better. Suffice to say that what I judged from Google Earth to be a football pitch with tow-tiered grandstand was, in fact, a bowling green with small pavilion. Easy mistake to make (see below) although, with hindsight, the squareness of the grass is a giveaway.
Furthermore, I hadn’t examined the coutour lines properly and what I thought was a bank that would’ve given an elevated view of the ‘ground’ was actually a downwards slope. And as for the railway lines either side of the ‘ground’ which, I’d imagined, would provide some locos to add to the photographic interest … Well, one line was at the bottom of the aforementioned slope and the other was hidden from view. “D-. Could do better,” is how my old geography would’ve summed me up.
Horbury were, indeed, playing my local lads Boroughbridge (in the West Yorkshire League, 6-2) but on a roped off pitch with dugouts about 150 metres away on the far side of a hockey pitch.  Ho, hum. Such are the hazards of step 7 ground hunting.
Programme notes: The point of note about the Shelley programme was merely that there was one. The attendance was 30-40. Given that entry is free at this level I was more than happy to part with my pound.
Further reading: For more amazing pitches check out this slideshow from The Guardian.

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