Monday, 25 April 2011

Colne 1 Barnoldswick Town 1

North West Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 216

Colne and Barnoldswick are five miles apart on either side of the Lancashire/West Riding of Yorkshire border so I suppose you could call this match the Pendle derby or, if you really wanted to big it up, a war of the roses. In all other respects, though, there’s no escaping the fact that the encounter was a bread and butter step five fixture. Pretty hardcore in groundhopping terms, in fact.

So why go? Well, the Colne ground sounded worth a visit from this recommended blog, it was a nice, sunny day, and I fancied a walk with my boy around nearby Wycoller Country Park. That done we proceeded to the match.

From outside the Holt House ground looked worryingly plain: just a low-level corrugated iron compound but inside it has idiosyncracies aplenty. You enter via a single turnstile that looks older than all the other fixtures and fittings put together. The first thing that then strikes you is the pronounced slope of the pitch. The highest corner flag is 15ft higher than the lowest. The accommodation is the usual combination of rickety mismatched wooden stands some echoing like staging blocks when you walk through them. The main stand has numbered seats which you can’t quite imagine people fighting over and is so enclosed that it feels a bit like being aboard a boat.

The nautical theme is echoed by the obligatory shipping containers around the touchline, one housing the bar. There are plenty of opportunities to watch matches for free by looking over the fence and you can pass through it via a little door to spend a penny (as we saw one lad do). My favourite features, though, are the entrance to the home dressing room which looks like a sentry box and garden bench fixed to the top of a short section of terracing.

The views are great too. Roofs of terraced houses stretch into the distance on the diagonal behind the downhill goal while St Bartholemew’s Church and the clocktower of the Victorian town hall poke above the main stand and below the imposing Boulsworth Hill. Through binoculars on the far side of the valley I could make out Walton’s Spire near the summit from which (on a bike ride last month) I’d first espied Holt House.

The match was as keenly contested as you might expect from such local rivals next to each other in the league table but, in the first half, there were very few chances. The main action was concentrated in the final quarter. Barnoldswick failed to break the deadlock when a penalty was blasted over the bar and out of the ground. Shortly afterwards on 74 mins, Colne took the lead when a corner was cleared only as far as the edge of the box and Heyes shot home in front of the sheep (and I got my best goal pic of the season, below). Barnoldswick deservedly equalised six minutes later when Jordan knocked a cross in and should’ve won it at the end when Hollindrake was clean through but committed the classic ‘head in hands’ miss.

My last match of the season was very similar to my first: low-key but, as ever, providing the core of a pleasant day out. None of that protracted play-off nonesense for me (unless Reading reach Wembley, of course). Summer starts here.

Programme notes: Five new(ish) babies are announced on p18 – in a spot titled ‘Colne crêche’. Guess that’s what you call a family club. The programme also reports how two ex-players are now competing in the US for New Orleans Jesters and West Virginia Chaos, both seemingly named for the benefit of headline writers.

The rise and fall of Colne Dynamoes: Talking of great names, Colne’s previous club (which also played at Holt House) was called Colne Dynamoes. In the late 80s, backed by millionnaire chairman Graham White, they won the FA Vase, reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy and – fielding ex-Liverpool European Cup winner Alan Kennedy – secured the Northern Premier League. They were (to use my favourite football cliché) knocking on the door of the Conference but it didn’t open because the ground was inadequate. That summer White closed the club amid suspicions that the money had run out. Crawley Town take note. For the full story click here.

Breakfast with the stars: I followed local Pendle hero Chris Eagles down to breakfast on Saturday. My family and I were staying at the same hotel as Burnley FC ahead of their 4-2 win at Derby.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

AFC Emley 7 Brodsworth Welfare 0

Northern Counties East League First Divison
Attendance: 122

On my last football outing I saw the third best team in England, Man City. Today I saw the worst team in the top six steps of non-league football, Brodsworth Welfare. They are firmly anchored to the foot of their division having accumulated, before today, a measly two points from 36 matches and a -103 goal difference. When I first spotted their plight I earmarked a match in spring in anticipation of witnessing a double-digit hiding but, in recent weeks their fortunes have improved marginally with some fine one and two goal margin defeats and the attraction of today’s fixture was increasingly the possibility of seeing Broddy’s first victory.

Today’s opponents, AFC Emley, have already made plenty of history of their own. In 1998 this club from a former Yorkshire pit village reached the third round of the FA Cup. They played away to West Ham – Lamps, Rio, ‘Psycho’ Pearce, ’Arry and all – and lost 2-1. (Emley play, rather appropriately, in claret and blue). At the time they were riding high in the Northern Premier League. In fact, they were punching too far above their weight. Ground grading requirements led them to merge with and relocate to Wakefield from 2000. Reluctant bedfellows, Emley de-merged and returned home five years later. They were promoted from local football in their first season and have trundled along in the Northern Counties East First Division ever since. No sprint back up the table for them like other reformed clubs.

You’d think that finding a football ground in a village with a population of 1,900 would be easy – but not for my son Bertie and I. We did a couple of laps of the place and then finally spotted a narrow, unsigned passage between two buildings opposite an old market cross which ushered us through to the Welfare Ground. (You can’t rely on a torrent of fans to lead you to the ground at this level). We parked at 2.57pm and were inside the ground just as the players emerged.

On a fine spring day Emley is a pleasant, peaceful place to be and provides the best facilities in the division. The ground is three-sided, the fourth side being a fence to the adjoining cricket pitch. The view and the weather both bought the change of the sporting seasons to mind.

A crowd of a “magnificent” (to quote the PA announcer) 122 included a couple of boys in Huddersfield Town shirts, a chap sporting a wooly hat with the slogan ‘Emley – Simply the Best’ and a lady with the finest home-knitted scarf I’ve ever seen. I didn’t spot any away fans but then the crowd at Broddy’s last home fixture only exceeded the number of players on the pitch by two. Most of us sat in the large grandstand. To the right we could see Emley’s claim to fame, the Emley Tower (which we’d bagged earlier). At 330m, this is the largest free-standing structure in the UK and provides TV pictures to viewers from Darlington to Lincoln.

Coming into the match on a run of six wins and two draws, Emley were clearly the stronger side from the start but Broddy had about three good chances at the other end and went in at half-time just one goal behind and very much still in the match. Emley killed any chance of an upset with a second goal on 55 mins and at the end were – to coin a phase – scoring goals for fun with four in the last 13 mins. Broddy reminded me of kids on the beach who have built a castle to hold back the waves. To start with it’s all hands to the pump when a wave laps over the defences but, in the end, they just didn’t care and let all their earlier hard work wash away.

The Emley sub somehow missed a sitter when clean through at 6-0 then made amends to get the seventh but, tragically, hit the post with the last kick of the match. Tragic in that 8-0 would’ve been Broddy’s greatest pasting of the season and something truly to behold. Ah, well. 7-0 and a gentle afternoon with my boy in the sunshine: that’ll do nicely.

Programme notes: Botterill of Brodsworth “started pre-season on fire”. Sounds painful. I get the impression that his club’s profile was supplied as long ago. “The long-term future of Brodsworth is finally looking bright,” it concludes. I like the way that the ladies in the café were billed as “hospitality hostesses”. A hand-painted sign on one of the dug-outs (right) shows them sporting their Marigolds.

Another Wembley way?: Today Whitley Bay continued their love affair with the FA Vase (think that’s the footy lingo) by reaching a third final on the trot. I expect some fans will give another Wembley run a miss and you can hardly blame them. Bizarre for the supporters of such a low-ranked club to be in such a position. On the same topic it’s not often I agree with Fergie but I’m with him when it comes to the nonesense of staging the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley. As he points out this season that means four sets of fans are carting down there from the north-west the same weekend as well as Liverpool fans going to Arsenal and the London Marathon traffic. Moreover, having the semis at Wembley further castrates the climax of the competition. You’ve basically now got three finals.

In the club: I’ve joined the Northern League Club. For just £10 you get a fab monthly newsletter and colour magazine, a bundle of back issues, ground guide and badge. This is better than the Tufty Club! Talking of things northern there was a great story this week about a lad who started the season with a Walker Central (who play at the level below the Northern League which is outer-space in non-league terms) and is now on the bench for Newcastle.

Name of the season: This one’s going to take some topping. Rudy Funk, appointed manager of Scarborough Athletic last week. He lost his first match 5-0.