Saturday, 19 December 2015

Penistone Church 3 Knaresborough Town 0

Northern Counties East League, first division
Attendance: 80

Peering up to the floodlights in the gloom my son and I could see the rain sheeting down cinematically and it barely abated the whole match. Showers rattled the roof of the stand where we cowered and  the subs and the lino squelched in front of us in the touchline mud. The conditions when you visit new grounds have a great bearing on the experience and that was certainly so today. The weather was grim.

Pity because Penistone’s ground (near Barnsley) would make for a good trip on a sunny day with a bike ride along the nearby Transpennine route into the bargain, perhaps. (Click here for pics by a chap who had the sense to go to Penistone on such a day last August for the club’s debut in the FA Cup). There is a Pennine backdrop to the far touchline while the church tower appears behind the near touchline with roofs of terraced houses visible behind the single stand. It has just two rows of seats and PCFC painted white on black on the wall at the back.

A smart, proud club sporting Juventus livery, Penistone is enjoying only its second season in the pyramid. I was confused on arrival. A sign in one direction said pay kiosk’ and, in the other, over 35 spectators and players’. I thought that the Church may have instigated an admission scale according to age and I might be in for a sort of pre-pensioner discount. But it transpired that the latter sign led round to a veterans match on the pitch behind the ground.

There was no getting away from the fact that today’s match was a very run-of-the-mill league fixture. The interest for us was visiting a new ground, getting out of the house on a dull day and seeing our local lads into the bargain. (I last saw them at Hall Road Rangers). Town went one down in seconds and were played off the park thereafter. A woeful performance by Knaresborough, in fact. My son joined me in anticipation of an away the lads vibe but it seemed that we were the lads’ and we weren't exuding much vibe come the final whistle. I like to go to church at Christmas but the village chapel on Christmas Eve will probably be easier to enjoy.

Programme notes: Among the pen pictures was reference to Alvyn Riley who has a wand of left foot and James Young who has a cultured left foot. They’d go well in that Daniel Day-Lewis film ...

Off the rails: Lincoln Moorlands Railway, also in the NCEL first division, are taking some tonkings. They’ve conceded 11, 12 and 14 goals in matches so far this season and are only one defeat or so away from a minus 100 goal difference. An end of season trip to see them trounced at Yorkshire Amateur (long wanted an excuse to go there) is in order. New Mills are struggling too having lost all 19 matches to date in the Northern Premier League first division and scored only 11 goals in the process.

Rub-a-dub-dub: Great write-up and pic, below, in The Guardian about when Bournemouth played Man U in 1984. Ah, those were the days ...

Cup runners: I've come across a couple of blogs of lads on FA Cup trails, both southern based. One blog is here and the other here.

A spot of egg chasing: I experienced another new ground in vile weather last month: Harrogate RUFC’s new enclosure with clubhouse. I watched the match against Preston Grasshoppers (15-5) in the fourth tier of English rugby.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Rochdale Town 2 1874 Northwich 4

FA Vase, first round
Attendance: 142

For the first time in 11 years I don’t have an FA Cup first round tie to go to. No ties within striking distance tickled my fancy. In fact I’ve pretty much done all the clubs that are ever likely to reach the proper rounds which led me to look further down the pyramid for an alternative fixture a week in advance. Today’s Vase tie caught the eye even though it was at a stage of the competition that’s so premature it’s hardly ejaculated. Why? I’ve long wanted to visit Rochdale Town having seen pics and 1874 Northwich are well supported (as I found out at Nelson two years ago) which meant the match would have the semblance of an occasion.

As soon as I arrived at the Mayfield Sports Centre I knew I was going to enjoy myself more than, frankly, as a neutral I ought. This is a cracking little ground, oozing character, and right up there with the manifold delights of its league rivals from other Lancashire mill towns, Nelson, Padiham, Bacup and Colne.

The ramshackle main stand, with painted wooden benches and an assortment of individual backs, is a gem. It comes in two parts that are held together in a linked arms sort of way by an uncovered new steel frame. Perched precariously on top and looking decidedly decommissioned is what looks like the upper saloon deck of a steamer and a static caravan. (There was one of those overlooking a corner). The stand is flanked on either side by giant dugouts easily mistaken for further spectator accommodation.

The smaller stand opposite follows suite being surmounted by a sort of bird hide shed, similarly unpopulated. The fragility of the structure is belied by the grandeur of its name: the Rochdale Fusiliers Association Galipoli (sic) Stand. Marvellous. Town used to have an equally fabulous monicker: Castleton Gabriels, which dates back to when players had to belong to the nearby St Gabriels Catholic church.

Behind the stand stretch the Pennine hills, today shrouded in a mist penetrated by a church spire and electricity pylons. The sole colour in the backdrop belonged to the red coat of a grazing horse which had been dulled by a very damp week. Later a sub warming up squelched with every step. One of the ends is covered and the other has three open terraces, hinting, as they always do, at bigger crowds in bygone days.

The khazi at the terraced end has a smirksome slogan inside and a great view to boot meaning you need not miss a moment of the action as you widdle. Judging from the stench and leaves clogging the drain this isn’t one of those conveniences that is inspected on the hour with the results recorded on a log.

“Problems with the lights?” I asked a geezer in an orange tabard in the gathering gloom as he investigated the interior of a steel cabinet immediately to my right. “Yes,” he replied, before explaining that the rugby league side that shares the ground hadn’t left the gadget that’s needed to open the cabinet to access the floodlight switch. “All they’re thinking about is their big semi-final today,” he griped. He found a solution a little later, though, although the lights behind one goal remained off throughout. As my gaze returned to the action, I put my hand onto a barrier and into contact with the remains of a meat pie merging with the rust.

What about the action? Well, “’74” (as the away fans addressed them) went in deservedly two up at the interval, in keeping with their status a step higher than their hosts in the North West Counties League. Town rallied earlier the second half and got one back only for ’74 to reinstate their leading margin soon after and seal victory with the best goal of the lot, a mazy run and drive from the edge of the box. Town got a consolation with the last but two kick of the match. (Click here for 25 mins of highlights).

Last season ’74 reached the third round of the Vase and this time I can see them sticking around until after Christmas when the competition really hots up and I hope to return for the main course. As for today I can’t think how I could’ve got better value from a fiver. Loved it.

Not up for the cup: Had I waited to see Rochdale Town in the FA Cup I may have been waiting a long time. They’ve qualified for the competition just once in the last 14 years and lost that tie, last season, 0-6 to Runcorn Linnets. (I had planned to go to the match before it was switched). They lost all six preceding ties between 1994 and 2001. Northwich Victoria, 1874’s parent club, contest the first round proper of the FA Cup against Boreham Wood on Saturday. For more about the internecine recent history of clubs from Northwich see this feature from When Saturday Comes.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Harrogate Town 1 Grimsby Town 4

FA Cup, fourth qualifying round
Attendance: 1,920

Harrogate Town’s home can seldom seemed more inviting. The autumn sun was glinting across a pristine pitch, a band of home fans chanted and drummed non-stop unlike anything I’d heard here before and the stands were very full. (Harrogate had allocated the main, new stand to the 800+ Grimsby fans like hosts surrendering the master bedroom to house guests). The pre-match atmosphere was crackling; this felt like a big match in a proper stadium and a million miles away from the FA Cup replay that I saw on a very wet October evening just three years ago.

Sitting third in the National League North, Town have the feel of a club on the up. They took an early lead when the ball was checked back from the byline and Daniels woofed it into the top corner. The joint was jumping. Relegated from the Football League five years ago, the Mariners were much quicker and more dangerous than lowly Burscough, Harrogate’s visitors in the previous round, and predictably equalised on 34 mins.

Soon after the re-start a Harrogate defender lunged recklessly at a Grimsby attacker and the ref awarded a penalty. It was saved but the rebound headed in. Two minutes later Grimsby broke through to score a third. Game over. The inflatable cod were flying and Harrogate had had their chips. The scoring was complete with a fourth goal for the visitors on 73 mins by which time everything had long gone flat, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and an autumn nip was in the air. The stage deserved a better final scene.

Ah, well. My nephew and son companions and I always have the number of our other local lads, York, to anticipate in Monday’s draw. (It’s being staged at Thackley where I went in the first qualifying round).

Photo credits: I didn’t take any pics today since I covered the ground in the previous round. Pics are pinched from the websites of Harrogate Town, Advertiser and Informer and the Grimsby Telegraph.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Harrogate Town 3 Burscough 0

FA Cup, third qualifying round
Attendance: 513

I’d been holding out for a home draw for Burscough as I’m really want an excuse to visit but it was not to be. Instead the step 4 side from near Wigan were drawn to play just down the road from me – against Harrogate, two divisions higher up. Tardily I hadn’t seen them since the big Hastings tie and several subsequent ground developments so I guessed it was high time I got down there anyway.

The CNG Stadium is an object lesson in how to make the most of where you are and remove the need to relocate. Inevitably plain though they are, two new stands, one with a crest proudly on either end (see below) improve the ground tremendously. The southern end still needs attention but I rather like its higgledy-piggledlyness. The changing room block is decidedly Sunday league while a new outdoor hospitality area (see above) looks very chic with its bistro-style chairs and a floral display that wouldn’t be out of place at the town’s renowned autumn flower show. In the old stand (still with its scaffolded video gantry) a woman held her newborn baby next to a pram. Silver Cross, of course. This is Harrogate after all.

Town took the lead with a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner by Swain. A Burscough player was sent off for a bad tackle just before half-time and, from that point onwards, we kinda knew where this tie has heading. That said the visitors rallied for the third quarter of the contest before The Sulphurites (great nickname that no-one actually uses although The Sulphurite is the name of the programme) ended it when Knowles lobbed the keeper following an up and under (got to get at least one rugger reference in here for topicality). Harrogate sealed the win when a cross was headed into his own goal by Devine of Burscough.

“A good day’s work,” was how Harrogate gaffer Simon Weaver summed up the match on BBC Radio York. Indeed. Job done. The tie turned out exactly as you’d have expected from the clubs league rankings and form.

The Sergio Ag├╝ero of Mansfield: Hats off to AFC Mansfield of the Northern Counties East League. They banged in six with no reply against Grimsby Borough on Sept 26 and doubled their tally four days later in a 12-2 caning of Lincoln Moorlands Railway. Dean Rick bagged seven goals, five in the first half.

Hopping mad: Here is an interesting blog post (and pic, below) about a match in the local Bucharest league in Romania featuring a goalkeeper with one arm, a pitchside kennel and rusty, post-industrial setting. The piece is well written and the blogger certainly gets around a bit.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Newton Aycliffe 0 North Ferriby United 0

FA Cup, second qualifying round
Attendance: 254

While walking around the cricket pitch that adjoins Newton Aycliffe’s ground I passed two boys tossing sticks into a horse chestnut tree to knock down conkers. (The game seems rather quaint in this iPod age). I hadn’t been able to park inside the ground because of the crowd. Ah, yes: we’ve reached the second qualifying round.

For Newton Aycliffe (in Co Durham) this was their first time at this lofty stage and, even though, they were still three wins from the first round proper the match still heart-warmingly qualified as the biggest in their 50-year history according to their chairman and ex-manager writing in the programme. Today’s visitors, step 2 North Ferriby, know a fair bit about big matches having won the FA Trophy at Wembley just four months ago. Newton’s managerial duo – the Brian Clough and Peter Taylor of the Northern League, Peter Dixon and Paul Foster – have twice recently been at Wembley too with West Auckland in FA Vase. (Seven of their starting line-up today had followed the duo from West Auckland since their appointment a year ago).

The match was of note to me in that it was the fourth time I’ve happened to see North Ferriby in 12 months. I first saw them at the same stage of the Cup last season at Cleethorpes, then away to Warrington  (they just keep getting Cup draws away to small teams I’m interested in) and finally in the Trophy semi-final against Bath. Any more of this and I’ll have to join the supporters’ club.

There isn’t much more to say about the match than about Newton’s tidy but very basic ground. (It consists of two small, modern stands and some cabins but I suppose you can’t have a grand old ground in a new town). It was a tight, tense encounter with relatively few clear cut chances but some good saves from the home goalie. The closest we came to a score was just after the three cheers on the rugby pitch over the fence when a header from Denton of North Ferriby hit the base of the post.

Soon afterwards Northern League legend Matty Moffat (“Matty Moff”) of Newton found himself alone against four yellow shirts on the edge of the Ferriby box. Was he about to go on a mazey run to grab a dramatic late winner, cause the upset of the round and give me a little more to write about? Sadly not. Unfortunately, in the final reckoning this Cup occasion didn’t have much to get excited about. (It was the only goalless tie in 80 matches in this round).

Face in the crowd: Father Christmas, aka Salty, and a great peripatetic Northern League supporter, put in an appearance. I lost spotted him at Norton & Stockton five years ago.

Quote of the day: “You definitely got bullied at school!” shouted at the ref by a fan.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Thackley 2 Abbey Hey 2

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 86

I don’t like to overgoogle grounds before I visit them so when I went down to the woods today I was sure of a big surprise and what a pleasant one it was. Thackley’s Dennyfields – named after a long-serving groundsman George Denny and located in northern Bradford – is a gem and one of the most appealing grounds in Yorkshire.

The wooded, rural setting with grazing horses just visible between trees on the far side along with a main stand with wooden bench seating were reminiscent of Esh Winning. A tower on a slight hill catches the eye. It’s the top of a ventilation shaft for the Skipton to Leeds railway line. While nipping out to get a panorama pic (and missing the third goal, damn it) I came across an old turnstile in the bushes which I guess must provided access to the ground in a previous configuration.

The sound of church bells drifted over the arena for much of the match. The noticeboard beside the tea bar had just two notices: one about the half-time draw and the other reading: “Honey for sale. See Geoff (gateman).” It’s that kind of of place, dearly cherished and with a strong sense of community. “I’ve been looking after Andy’s ferrets all week ...” I overheard a fella saying on his phone.

The Lancashire versus Yorkshire angle to the game was part of its appeal. Both sides came into the match having achieved good wins in the previous round: Thackley away to Northern Leaguers Ashington and Abbey Hey (from Manchester and step 5 like Thackley) knocking out last season’s top Cup giantkillers, Warrington Town.

Abbey Hey took the lead following a goalkeeping slip and went two up just before half-time when a winger jinked his way skilfully to the byline and checked the ball back for Hardy to whack in from close range. Two Abbey fans whirred their rattles. Yes: rattles at a football match albeit apologetically small ones. The retro, Northern League-like feel of the occasion got better and better. The pair later unfurled a banner. Always good to see the first one on the FA Cup trail: ‘Abbey Hey: Isle of Man 2015’, it read with reference to the club’s pre-season match.

To their credit Thackley stuck at it and were rewarded with a headed goal by Garrod on 69 mins. The Dennyboys equalised eight minutes later when the Abbey keeper spilt a cross and Bentham stroked home. Thereafter both sides went hell for leather for the winner but it didn’t come. A string of fine saves by the Thackley goalie kept them in the tie. Great game, great ground, great afternoon. (Abbey Hey won the replay 1-0).

Famous old boy: Thackley's star alumni is ex-Bradford City beanpole, Ian Ormondroyd.

New kids in town: I heard on the radio that none of the players in todays Man U/Liverpool match came from the city they were representing. Football without tribalism is barely football at all.

Dennyfields is very photogenic and the weather was superb today so the pics were very good, though I say it myself. Too many to display within the text, though. Click here go to the full album.

The nappy pin that’s part of football history

Before the Thackley match today I checked out the remains of the former home of Bradford Park Avenue. The club dropped out of the Football League in 1970 and the structures were demolished 10 years later. Unlike the sites of most other former grounds it hasn’t been built over since there’s a covenant that specifies that it should always be use for sporting purposes.  Today one half the old pitch is currently occupied by a gym and the other, open half is used by the University of Bradford Archery Club. There are clearly no limits to construction on the opposite side of the road where today a giant mosque stands.

The old ground is being excavated by archaeologists from the University of Bradford prior to its acquisition and likely alteration by the neighbouring cricket club and will subsequently be interpreted by artists for an exhibition next year at the National Football Museum in an initiative also part-funded by the Arts Council. It was open to the public this weekend as part of the annual Heritage Open Days programme.

Man with his arm down a goalpost hole.
Along with three other curious visitors I sheltered from a downpour under a gazebo on what would’ve been the edge of the old penalty area while our guide explained what the archaeologists had found. I love this sort of thing but, in truth, there wasn’t a vast amount to see. (I felt like a mother struggling to be impressed when her eager son shows her an unusual bug he’s found in the garden). There were the goalpost holes (one of which has had a plastercast made of it), some net pegs, red cinders indicative of the running track that once surrounded the pitch and coins. Apparently, fans would toss coins into sheets behind carried around behind the goal to raise funds for the club. The first coin archaeologists found was a 1966 penny.

The dig took place in front of the covered stand in the lower middle of this pic.
One visiting fan this week told of how during a match the elastic snapped in the shorts of the Bradford goalie and, to the amusement, of the crowd, he had to use a nappy pin to affect a repair. The following match the fans threw nappy pins at him in jest. To the archaeologists’ delight within hours of being told the story they found one of the pins. No doubt it will be the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Excavation of the dug-out areas hadn’t revealed anything. The terraces, now largely overgrown with trees but partly cleared as part of the current project, were clear to see and walk up, though. I passed a bent over crush barrier on my way to photograph the urinals (not normally something I’m in the habit of doing, I assure you). I also checked out the old turnstile entrances with a five shillings sign still painted above one of them. I’m sad I missed the old turnstile itself but you can see pics of it and read more about this initiative on this recommended blog.

What about the art? Well, a “mad Italian” called Giorgio has been visiting the site at 3.30am to make recordings as part of the art initiative. “What? Of birds and other animals?”, our guide had asked him. Oh, no. The fella had put his microphone down the old goalpost hole! He intends to create a montage starting with this sound, then leading into the sound of a coin being tossed and finally into the recollections of supporters. Simply barking – or have I had some sort of weird dream?!

Another artist has collected leaves from the nine species of tree that grow around the pitch (in daylight, I assume). Other creative endeavours included photographing a group of Park Avenue supporters chanting on the terrace (above) and a recreation of the final goal at the League ground, a match in which a youthful Kevin Keegan played for Scunthorpe. Watch this space – and goalpost hole. For more information on the dig see this recommended blog.

Salts FC, Saltaire (see below).
Another ripping yarn: Also on my way to Thackley I checked out the ground of Salts FC which forms part of the sports complex originally built for the workers at the Victorian Salts Mill in Saltaire. It’s claim to fame is that it was a location for one of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns TV comedy dramas in the 80s. The ramshackle old stands that were presumably the reason for its selection are still there but have been considerably shored up. Earlier this month the club opened new changing facilities in a formidable, windowless concrete building on the opposite side of the pitch. Never mind being vandal proof; it looks like it could survive a sustained nuclear attack.

Michael Palin at Salts for filming in 1979.