Match Details: Penistone Church 2 – AFC Emley 3 (NCEL Div 1)
Destination: The Memorial Ground, Church View Road, Penistone, South Yorkshire, S36 6AT
Competition: Northern Counties East League, Division One
Admission: £4 (Programmes £1.20 / Pin badges £3.00)
Pre-Match Build Up: Formed in 1906 out of the merger of two existing local teams (Penistone Juniors and Penistone Choirboys), Penistone Church FC spent its early years playing in the local Sheffield Amateur League, Penistone League, and the Sheffield Hatchard Cup League. Subsequently they joined up with the Sheffield County Senior League, where they remained until recently. An application to join the NCEL was accepted in the 2014-15 season for a team which has a solid community set up, and facilities which have enabled them to make the move to Step 6 of the non-league pyramid fairly seamlessly.
Directions: The club is easily accessible by train, with Penistone railway station (on the Huddersfield – Sheffield line, trains hourly throughout the day) a few minutes walk from the ground. By road, Penistone village itself is pretty easy to get to, though I didn’t see any signs till we were right on top of the ground, so unless you have a sat nav be prepared for a bit of map reading / collaring a local ne’er do well. Parking is either via a small car park or a grass verge just outside the ground, with ample street parking in its vicinity to cope with all but an un-naturally heaving crowd quite easily.
Off The Pitch: A lot of clubs north of Sheffield in the South Yorkshire catchment area suffer from waterlogged pitches round this time of year – no such issues for Penistone Church though, who sit so high up in the hills that only a complete deluge of water would render games in doubt. This does mean that it’s open to the elements though, so take some warm clobber with you unless it’s cracking the flags.
Ground facilities include an excellent clubhouse with bar and hot / cold food available, and a nearby covered enclosure (see above) which runs around half the length of the pitch at one side. Around half of it is taken up by two narrow rows of seating, which I’m guessing have been added more recently to satisfy the ground graders.
Today saw Penistone’s highest league attendance of the season for the visit of high-flying Emley.
On The Pitch: The odd goal in five saw Emley come through today, in a hard-fought game that saw mid-table Penistone push them all the way. This was after Penistone had taken an early lead through Alvin Riley following a breakaway and a coolly lofted finish, with Emley pegging them back through a scrambled Reuben Jerome goal following a corner, and then a well-taken strike courtesy of Ash Flynn seing the visitors go into the break 2-1 up. A handball decision then gave Penistone a lifeline, with Riley again scoring, this time from the spot -kick to make it 2-2. Emley were not to be denied though, and when Sykes rose highest at a corner, a slight deflection off the home side’s John Whitehead was not enough to prevent the ball going in the net and ultimately sealing the win for the visitors. Although there was still a third of the game to go at this point, Emley held out fairly comfortably thereafter. The game was played in a good spirit, and credit to Penistone for fighting till the end despite having nothing to play for beyond seeing how far up the table they can finish in their inaugural season in the NCEL.
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Match Details: Wetherby Athletic 0 – Bardsey 2 (WYL Prem)
In which Bardsey are reunited with the West Yorkshire League championship trophy, having been pipped last year by Beeston St.Anthony’s and a three-point gap.
Destination: The Ings, Lodge Lane, Wetherby, West Yorks, LS22 5HA
Competition: West Yorkshire League, Premier Division
Admission: No charge (Step 7 of non-league)
Attendance: 80-100 (head-count)
Pre-Match Build Up: That the West Yorkshire League title had come down to the last day, made today’s choice of game an easy one. By the river on Wetherby Ings, Wetherby Athletic were home to league leaders Bardsey, with Bardsey simply needing a win to be sure of winning the title. Elsewhere, Oxenhope Rec played host to Leeds City, with Oxenhope needing to better Bardsey’s result to secure the title themselves. Meanwhile, a win for Leeds City would see them finish runners-up.
One slight problem was that it had been lashing it down since dawn in the Wakefield area. Checking the fixtures for the first time at 10.30am, Rothwell’s game against Field already bore the ‘Postponed’ addendum. A spot of shopping in Leeds around midday was laced with frequent checks of the full-time FA website to make sure, though thankfully the further north we got, the less the rain got. News filtered through that Oxenhope’s game had been moved to Marley stadium in Keighley, but luckily one of our party had also heard from one of the clubs involved at Wetherby, and the pitch up there was expected to be absolutely fine. Hurrah!
Off The Pitch: Wetherby Athletic are a recent addition to the ranks of the West Yorkshire League’s Premier Division, having been promoted from Division One at the end of the 2010-11 season, finished 11th last year and sitting in roughly the same spot this season. Based next to the River Wharfe’s banks in the centre of the town, the Ings are a sprawl of open playing fields, two of which have been roped off and tended for football and rugby use. Each pitch is railed, but with no cover. A distant view of the football pitch can be had though from the nearby Sports Association clubhouse, which was build around 10 years ago and comprises changing rooms, kitchen, snack bar and a a nice spacious function room/bar area. There is also a medium sized car park for road travellers. Access by public transport is a little more tricky, as there is no railway station in Wetherby. Best bet is probably the X98/X99 bus which runs to and from Leeds every half hour, and takes around 40 minutes travel time. the ground is then less than five minutes walk, heading back across the canal bridge, and turning right by the sign marked for the Sports Association. Wetherby is a nice little town with plenty of pubs and food shops, so worth spending a bit of extra time in for a pre or post-game wander.
On The Pitch: A good crowd had gathered today – a mixture of partisan supporters, friends and family members, WYL officials, neutrals, groundhoppers, passing ramblers, local newspaper reporters, and a few curious locals such as the one who asked me ‘Who’s playing, is it a cup final? As we don’t normally get this many people watching.’ When the game kicked off, a quick head-count suggested around 80 spectators champing at the bit, with this peaking around the 100 mark at various times during the game. From the whistle, Bardsey got to work, attacking down both flanks and with today’s front-two of Robert Dickinson and Daniel Maw like a pair of ferrets on speed from the off. The breakthrough goal though came from a corner around ten minutes in, with returning stalwart centre-half Micheal Mills getting the final touch after his partner Stewart Berry had seen his own header come back off the bar. Around the 30-minute mark Bardsey doubled their lead, with a through-ball from Robert Dickinson finding Maw on the left hand side of the box. Maw cooly rounded the keeper before slotting home ahead of two onrushing defenders. Relaxed, but never complacent, Bardsey pressed to further increase the margin, Dickinson going close on a couple of occasions, but for once he was not able to get his name on the scoresheet. For their part, Wetherby had a couple of close-calls in each half, but overall the result had never really looked in doubt and Bardsey ran out 2-0 winners. Elsewhere, Oxenhope got done 4-0 by Leeds City, so it is Leeds City who take the runners-up slot, with Bardsey champions by three points this season. After a short speech by a representative of the West Yorks League, captain-for-the-day Robert Dickinson, and club captain Jamie Thomson (sidelined today through suspension) were presented with the silver trophy, and given at least a fortnight off by their gaffer. Just rewards.
Number 4 Michael Mills bundles in the opening goal for Bardsey
Daniel Maw rounds the Wetherby keeper to put Bardsey 2-0 up
The goal’s that way, Wetherby!
Championes: Based at Bardsey Sports Club which was opened in 1974, and having entered the West Yorkshire League in the 1990s, Bardsey have now won the league title four times, including three out of the last four campaigns. They were promoted to the Premier Division for the first time in 1996, and have remained there ever since, with a runners-up slot in 2003-04 signalling the start of their association with the top end of the table. With their pre-season starting even earlier than most professional clubs do, you can be sure that they’ll be taking the matter of defending the title next season very seriously indeed. – And no wonder their manager Lee Barraclough only allowed them to celebrate with three cans of Fosters and a bottle of cheap champagne between 14 of them! That they also play some of the most entertaining football to watch around the local non-leagues, makes them doubly worthy winners of today’s silverware in my book.
Meanwhile over in the West Riding County Amateur League, Huddersfield-based Bay Athletic sealed their sixth title in eight years. Bay will be moving to a new ground at Northfield Hall next season, which boasts a snack bar, new clubhouse and new changing rooms.
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Match Details: Lincoln Moorlands Railway 0 – Retford United 3 (NCEL Prem)
Pre-Match Build Up: For the final Saturday of the NCEL season, I was looking for a fixture which still had something riding on it and a ground I had never visited before. The only game that fuilfilled both requirements was at Lincoln Moorlands, with the visit of Retford being Lincoln’s last chance to finish outside the bottom two and be sure of avoiding relegation to Division One.
Destination: Moorlands Sports Ground, Newark Road, Lincoln, LN6 8RT
Off The Pitch: Formed just under 25 years ago in 1989 under the name Lincoln Moorlands, the club began life in the Central Midlands League. However, after three years here, the CML introduced stricter ground-grading regulations, meaning the Moorlands were forced to drop to the more local Lincolnshire Leagues for a few years, returning to the CML in 1998. Having won the CML Premier Division (aka its second tier) at the first attempt, Moorands then followed this by winning the Suprme Division at the first time of asking in 1999-2000. A runners-up slot teh following season coincided with them being accepted into the Northern Counties East League, being promoted from its Division One to the Premier Division in 2007. That same summer saw the club merge with Lincoln Railway FC and become Lincoln Moorlands Railway. This season has seen the club in danger of dropping back down to Division One though, after a poor campaign which saw them begin this game second-from-bottom.
Directions: Situated about 2.5 miles south of Lincoln City centre, the ground is walkable if you’re reasonably fit, and took me just under an hour at a fairly leisurely pace today. You might prefer to get one of the frequent buses which run close to the ground though.
Inside, the ground has a solid wall round the pitch, and three covered structures. The most pleasing on the eye is undoubtedly the above stand, with green wooden surrounds and two rows of plastic seating within it. This sits close to teh halfway line at one side of the ground. Meanwhile, opposite it are a covered terrace and a covered seated stand. These are located at either side of the dugouts, with a two-stepped terrace, and four rows of seating in them resepctively. The rural setting and ground layout gives the location a nice homely feel, augmented by the presence at the entrance gate of a lovely turnstyle block painted in the club colours of claret and sky blue. There is also a small snack bar, with a larger social club located just outside the ground.
On The Pitch: Having won the league last year but been able to qualify for promotion to the NPL on financial grounds, this season Retford have had to rebuild somewhat. This was the first time I had seen them play in the 2012-13 season, and the squad is much younger now, with most being products of their youth set up. Nevertheless they had some obvious talent on display today, and were far too good for the home side. Retford were 2-0 up within 15 minutes through Richard Medcalf and Bobby Johnson – definitely no summer flipflop mode in play here! Sadly, Lincoln never really looked like scoring, meanwhile. You couldn’t fault their players for effort, but there seemed to be no real gameplan or pattern to their play which was likley to yield any result, and their league campaign sadly ended today with a whimper rather than a big last-ditch effort. When Retford bagged a third midway through the second half through Richard Medcalf again, it was game over for Lincoln.
Though some margin behind the top three, Retford have finished the season in a very creditable fourth place. Given all the uncertainties surrounding the club at the beginning of the season, I think this is a tremendous achievement, and something really promising to build on for next year. Lincoln are the ones who will spend the summer making some readjustments, and for a really friendly club with a nice set up I wish them all the best and hope it doesn’t, er, ‘derail’ them too much.
Post Script: Despite Lincoln MR fearing that today’s loss would see them relegated, it looks increasingly like only one team will go down this season, and they may well begin the 2013-14 campaign with their Premier Division status intact for another year.
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Match Details: Worcester City 0 – Chester 1 (Conf North)
FAREWELL TO ST.GEORGE’S LANE
Pre-Match Build Up: And so to the last of my end-of-season trio of farewells to much loved football grounds. Having visited Cambridge City’s Milton Road a few weeks ago, and attended the final match at Barnet’s Underhill stadium the previous week, today it was time for a bittersweet journey to St.George’s Lane in Worcester, home to Worcester City for the previous 108 years, and soon to be yet another housing development which had once payed host to the hopes and dreams of the local community via a football team. Worcester’s ground is/was a lovely 15-minute walk from the town centre, with a choice of either a canal path route to get you there, or else a main street with terraced-house style hostelries every few dozen paces – a perfect combination of picturesque and pubesque. On this occasion the canal approach was chosen for the outbound treck, and the main road for the return after the game. Arriving outside the ground at soon after 1pm, already the travelling Chester hordes were starting to arrive and mixing with local fans down early to soak up the atmosphere, which was set to be an uneasy mix of party and wake. With City’s future looking very uncertain once they depart their current home, it was with fond memories and a heavy heart that most homesters bid farewell to their old location today.
Destination: St.George’s Lane, Worcester, WR1 1QT.
Admission: £14 (Main Stand) / £12 (Terracing)
Programme: £5 (Special edition – brilliantly put together!)
Off The Pitch: In the run up to this game I’d read one person’s description of Worcester City’s home for the past 108 years as a quintessential classic English non-league ground. So that got me thinking as to what that meant, and whether it deserved such a tag. Hmm, probably along the lines of the following ingredients then:
Must have at least one old stand which can shows signs of upgrading in order to fit in with ground grading requirements, but still contains a good amount of wood, dust and bird feathers.
Must have a structure somewhere which looks brilliantly out of place, yet fits in perfectly to the stadium.
Must have something such as a clock, scoreboard, etc. which last worked pre-decimalisation, but has never needed to be replaced.
Must have a ridiculously cramped office/shop/changing room/bar (etc) building somewhere within the ground.
Must have at least one feature which you reckon the ground graders have quite sensibly turned a blind eye to, but would firmly shake their heads at if found in a new-build stadium.
Must have some traditional-style terracing, and an overall capacity which can just about hold a First Round Proper FA Cup tie against a league side when fit-to-bursting.
Must have at least five items of signage which you reckon would look fab in the back garden if you could get it past her indoors.
And Worcester City certainly ticks all the above boxes, anyhow.
Just to expand for anyone who’s never been, once walking through the turnstiles past the big metal gates, on the left is what looks like a small house that contains on the ground floor, the kit/laundry room, and upstairs various sponsor rooms. Opposite this, across the forecourt is a social club, outside toilets, and a club shop.
The stadium layout pitchside then comprises of the Main Stand which runs most of the near side and also contains a small amount of terracing in front of it; two stepped end terraces; and a far side with a mixture of covered and uncovered stepped terracing. The latter is known as the Brookside/Shed area, where next to ‘The Shed’ another seated stand once stood but is now long gone.
No-one would ever design a stadium with this kind of layout, which makes it brilliantly unique and yes, a marvellous example of what an English Non-League Ground looks like at its best.
On The Pitch: Before the match kicked off, we were treated to a military-sytle band and guests including a surviving member of the Worcester team which beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup Third Round in 1959 (see above). Then Chester spoiled the party somewhat, when their captain George Horan scored from a header after meeting a cross inside the box within 10 minutes. Worcester performed valiantly, and gave the game against the champions a right good go, playing some good football throughout. Sadly though, they were never quite able to get a goal back, which would have at least given the home fans something tangible to celebrate on this last day. And so the curtain fell on St.George’s Lane, and English football lost another great football ground, but one that will live on forever in the memory of those who visited it. I can only conclude by wishing the club and its fans all the best in their search for a new home, and hoping that a brighter future is not far round the corner.
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PS Also just to give a quick mention for a post-season farewell match which is being staged at St.George’s Lane on Sunday June 2nd 2013. This will feature a visiting ‘Liverpool Legends’ team, and more details can be had at the link below:
Match Of The Day
Match Details: Brighouse Town 0 – Scarborough Athletic 2 (NCEL Prem)
Pre-Match Build Up: In the week that Brian McDermott took over at crisis-hit Leeds United, and with Dave Jones’ fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday the opponents for his first game in charge at Elland Road, there was only one place to be in West Yorkshire today: Brighouse Town’s Duel Seal Stadium at St.Giles Road, for the visit of Scarborough Athletic and what was to all intents and purposes the potential title-deciding game in this year’s Northern Counties East League Premier Division. Bring it on, Brighouse…
Destination: Dual Seal Stadium, St Giles Road, Hove Edge, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, HD6 2PL.
Directions: Nearest rail station = Brighouse, 2.5 miles from the ground (around a 40-minute walk including a bit of an incline, or else the 548/549 bus stops outside the pub, a couple of hundred yards away).
Off The Pitch: Saturday afternoon, two hours before kick-off time and we’re a stones throw from Clog Sole Lane, just past the Enchanted Cafe, in a pub five minutes walk from the ground. They have three good real ales on tap, and the beer is flowing fast. Mid-pint, across the room I spot Scarborough’s gaffer Rudy Funk. Even in rural West Yorkshire, that moustache is unmissable. I go over to wish him well for this afternoon’s game, but something isn’t right. I cotton on once I see the stockings and suspenders he’s wearing, up close. It’s not Rudy Funk, but infact a bloke in a dress on his way to see the Rocky Horror Show. There’s also some similarly burlesque-attired women in the party, but one old timer who’s just popped to his local for a few afternoon scoops is mightily confused. “You can’t tell the men from the women” he bemoans, and returns to his silver tankard.
Brighouse Town started out in the 1960s as works side Blakeboroughs FC, and have come via the Huddersfield Works League and the West Riding County Amatueur League to their current home of the Northern Counties East League. Although they’ve been steadily progressing, its fair to say that they have been the surprise team of the season, coming into the final furlong neck-and-neck at the top of the Premier Division with Scarborough Athletic.
Scarborough fans have been proclaiming this as the biggest game in their history to date, and from a slighly different perspective you could say the same for Brighouse. For them, it’s a bit of an unexpected bonus; a shot at the big time they maybe weren’t expecting, but want to grab with both hands now it’s here. A reward for all the hard work that has been put in this season. On opposing teams, today’s game pitches the division’s two top goalscorers against each other too: Scarborough’s Ryan Blott has 36 league goals to his name, while Brighouse’s Tom Matthews has scored 30. Team-wise, Brighouse have won all of their last five games, while Scarborough have won four and drawn one. Brighouse Town’s official capacity is listed on the NCEL website as 1,000. Today there are a whopping 1,059 spectators inside the ground. The 150 programmes they’ve printed are like golden wonka bars, and all have sold out by two o’clock. Meanwhile, the 100th car enters the car park, and the Brighouse team of stewards and volunteers are doing a sterling job keeping everything ticking along while mainitaining a warm and relaxed atmosphere. Inside the clubhouse it is still possible to shuffle sideways and order food, and the pie and peas goes down a treat.
The travelling Seadogs have an air somewhere between joyous anticipation and bricking their keks, while for the locals its more akin to an arms folded and a ‘thou shalt not pass on thy way to promotion if our boys have any say in the matter’ stance. Despite what’s at stake, the opposing fans stand side-by-side on the terraces as orange mingles with red all around. Brighouse have done themselves proud today as hosts, and as the teams take to the field, attention turns to the small matter of a chance to move up to the Northern Premier League this summer.
On The Pitch: The weather is fine and not too hot, with the pitch looking perfect for a decent game of football. For the first quarter of the game there’s really nothing to chose between the sides. Scarborough force a couple of decent chances but can’t convert them, while Brighouse look ever-dangerous on the break. Defences are on top though, with the real battle going on in midfield. Scarborough have an added air of steel to them since the last time I saw them play, while for Brighouse it’s the first occasion I’ve caught them in the flesh this season. Home fans’ favourite Leon Henry is a familar face to me as an ex-Frickley winger, today turning out at left-back and looking dangerous every time he breaks forward. Brighouse can’t seem to get a real clear site of goal though, and the Boro defence is keeping danger man Tom Matthews quiet. Things continue in the same manner thereafter, nip and tuck as the referee blows for half-time with the scores remaining at nil-nil. During the break, many fans muse over weather the occasion is going to point towards a goal-less game – something virtually unheard of in the NCEL in games involving any of the top teams.
The interval also sees the rain begin to lash it down though, and it feels like the elements have decided it’s time to up their game too. Ten minutes after the restart, Scarborough have a corner, and from the resulting mellee Ryan Blott cushions the ball on his chest before volleying home from six yards out. He’s scored many harder goals in his Boro careeer so far, but none more important. Delirium ensues and Brighouse regroup. Still though, there’s a lack of decisive edge in the home attack toady – although to give credit where due, Scarborough’s back four and goalkeeper have performed admirably all afternoon. Check-mate ensues 12 minutes from time when Boro’s Jimmy Beadle is played through in the inside-right channel, and with only the Brighouse keeper to beat, finsihes confidently. The away fans can now all but relax, and although Brighouse throw all they’ve got into a last-ditch attempt at going forward, they can’t break through the Scarbough rear guard today. After four minutes of added time, the final whistle blows, Rudy Funk throws his arms into the air in delight and Scarbough go home knowing they’ve got one foot in the NPL. It’s been a day their fans and players alike will remember for a long time to come. Now, with two games left, all they have to do is finish the job. Luckily, the road back into Brighouse is downhill most of the way.
Match Details: Wakefield 0 – Garforth Town 2 (NPL D1N)
Destination: Belle Vue Stadium, Doncaster Road, Wakefield, West Yorks, WF1 5EY
Competition: Evo-Stik (aka Northern Premier) League, Division One North
Attendance: 57 (official attandance; though there seemed to be around 100 people actually watching the game)
Programme: £1 (a tad thin at just 12 pages plus adverts – but at least there was some welcome original content to read)
Pre-Match Build Up: This was a real bottom-of-the-table West Yorkshire derby. With Garforth propping up the league having gone down 6-2 at third-from-bottom Goole last time out, but their hosts being in even worse freefall and having got tonked 10-1 at Curzon in their last game. Only 1 team gets relegated this year, which meant that Garforth had 7 games to claw back the 6-point gap between them and Ossett Albion who sit directly above them.
Off The Pitch: Having been forced to move out of their now bulldozed and rebuilt College Grove home two years ago, and groundsharing last season at Ossett Town, 2012-13 has seen Wakefield FC relocate to Belle Vue – better known as the regular home of Wakefield Wildcats Rugby League Club. It provides a bit of a surreal atmosphere when sub-100 crowds are the norm in such a big stadium, but I kinda like the freedom it allows. All four sides of the ground are open to spectators, so it also provides a nice opportunity to wander round this ground when near-empty (though some of the main stand seats are roped off). Not sure where Wakey are hoping to play next season though, as I forgot to ask. The only real downside is Superleague-prices for food and drinks, with tea and coffee kicking in at £2 a throw. Mind, at least you get a nice plush bar area with windows and patio overlooking the pitch to eat and drink it in.
Directions: If travelling by bus, then any Wakefield bound, or Wakefield leaving, bus which travels up Doncaster Road will stop right outside the ground (less than five minutes’ journey time from the bus station). Otherwise, the nearest rail station is Sandal & Agbrigg on the Leeds-Doncaster line, which is about a five minute walk from the ground and has trains roughly every half hour serving it. There is also a club car park which has ample space for non-league football sized crowds. The stadium is set slightly further back from the road than the adjoining Superbowl building.
On The Pitch: The first half was very evenly matched – neither side looked like obvious relegation fodder, although Wakefield in particular did seem a bit aimless and lacking in confidence. With no goals yet as the second half progressed, Garforth seemed to be the side who realised it was shit or bust time, and started throwing on subs and trying to force the game. It worked, and two well-taken goals – the first from skipper Chris Kamara and the second from sub Dan Sherrife) combined with Ossett Albion losing mean that they are now just 3 points from safety (or 2 points and a minus 47 goal difference!). Wakefield themselves are only 9 points above Garforth so aren’t out of danger yet either, and need to get their act together if only to give their increasingly disgruntled regular supporters something to cheer about. Garforth grew in confidence and played some nice football towards the end, while I suspect the home side wouldn’t have scored if they’d gone on till midnight. Probably around half the crowd was made up of away fans (including a small group of young lads who single-handedly made up the atmosphere by singing throughout the whole game), and they certainly got their rewards for travelling today.