Match Details: Askern Villa 1 – Pontefract Collieries 5 (NCEL D1)
A Breath Of Fresh Air: People slag Ken Bates off a lot, but I’ll tell you something – he’s currently making an invaluable contribution to the growth of grass roots football in the Yorkshire region. You can’t go to a non-league game these days without coming across at least a few disaffected Leeds fans who’ve recently discovered that they much prefer paying a fiver to watch lower league football, and knowing that their money is being put to good use rather than propping up someone’s bank balance or funding the building of empty executive boxes in the name of ‘property development’. From the fella in the bar of the Welfare who declared himself an ex-Leeds season ticket holder that vowed not to return to the club while Captain Birdseye was in charge, to those such as myself and the couple in the Leeds scarves passing on updates from the Palace game, we all salute you Ken for helping us see that there is a brighter future out there for Leeds fans, and that it comes in venues like this and at a much, much lower cost to our wallets. Besides, I was more bothered about how Frickley were doing against Chorley than I was about the Leeds/Crystal Palace scoreline – hey, does this mean I’m cured?
Anyway, I digress – this is a report on Askern Welfare versus Pontefract Collieries, so enough about fantasy football and forward unto reality instead…
Destination: The Welfare Ground, Manor Way Askern, Doncaster, South Yorks, DN6 0AJ
Competition: Northern Counties East League, Division One
Kick Off: 3pm
Pre-Match Build Up: Not much choice of games today, due to freezing temperatures overnight and a lingering frost at most grounds in the region. Fixtures nearby at the likes of Armthorpe, Dinnington, Nostell and Glasshoughton had already been called off, but the game at Askern for the visit of Pontefract Collieries was passed fit at around midday. Askern is around six miles north of Doncaster, and though Adwick and Bentley are nearer rail stations, unless you know the area well then so far as public transport goes you’d be better off getting a bus from Doncaster. The Journey Planner at www.travelsouthyorkshire.com will assist you in this, with the 405/7/9 buses all taking around 20 minutes from Doncaster to Askern. You can get off on the main A19/Doncaster Road, close to the juntion with Sutton Road/Manor Way (by the Askern Hotel pub, which appears to be shut at the moment), which is a couple of minutes walk from the Welfare Ground. Or alighting in the centre of town makes it an extra 5 minutes walk away.
Also unless you know the area, you might be surprised to learn that unlike most mining towns in the Doncaster area, Askern contains a giant lake in its middle, complete with much feathered wildlife, rowing boats for hire, and a riverside cafe – which shuts bloody early at 2pm on a Saturday! (in winter at least). All the water malarkey dates from the pre-mining days, when Askern was a thriving spa town. So if you don’t fancy going straight to the football, you can marvel at the picturesque watery gubbins, such as is shown in the top picture. It’s also a useful get-out clause, if for some reason the missus is more inclined to give the nod to an afternoon basking lakeside than one sat pitchside – even though the latter does have the added bonus of a Welfare club with multiple tellies showing Sky Sports.
Off The Pitch: As well as the aforementioned aspects of Askern which go a long way to belying the stereotypical image of a former South Yorkshire pit area, the football club is also managing to follow suit – which is often no easy task in an area which has seen several of its local clubs suffer from the dreaded vandalism over the past couple of decades, so I suspect a lot of hard work must have gone on behind the scenes here of late. With a history dating back to approaching a hundred years now, in its previous guise as Askern Welfare FC, the club has spent the majority of its past in various local Doncaster Leagues. Things have progressed at a steadily upward rate since the 1990s though, as following a 15-year stint in the Central Midlands League, securing the CML championship in 2008 meant that the club was eligible to join the Northern Counties East League. Accompanied by a suitably tongue-in-cheek name change to Askern Villa, ‘the Welfare’ (as they’re still mainly known of course!) have matched their on-pitch achievements with improvements to their ground facilities and other related aspects off the pitch, meaning that this little corner of North Doncaster is currently well equipped for Step 6 football and above.
As Askern have gradually added bits to the set-up in the last few years, the ground has kept a nice spacious feel to it, while also being able to offer enough in the way of facilities to satisfy ground-grading requirements. The most recent improvement though has taken place outside the football’s perimeter walls and beside the cricket pitch, where the former collection of unwanted potholes has been replaced by an all-new luxury car park (well, relatively speaking). Inside the ground are two spectator stands (which face each other across the halfway line), and a couple of portacabin-type structures just inside the turnstile, which house the office and visitor reception area facilities, and a small snack bar serving teas, coffee, soup, and a selection of cold snacks. No hot food or alcohol is available in the ground, but the aforementioned Welfare is just a stone’s throw away if you’re in need of some slap up nosh or a pint before watching the game.
Groundtastic: The newer stand (above) contains four rows of tip-up seats, and is a good ‘un. Not only is it of solid construction, with side panels to protect from the wind and rain, it also gives spectators plenty of room to see over the rows in front – courtesy of the seats being fixed to every other step (rather than every step, as some clubs have to do in order to cram them in to meet grading regulations) and so on a good incline. There is also flat space at the sides and front which would be ideal for wheelchair users. I would guess if the stand was expanded then the bits at the side may be filled in with further seating, but hopefully they won’t have to change the spacious aspect too much in order to fit more seats into the ground in the future.
On the opposite side of the pitch, near the dug-outs, is a small amount of covered terracing. Hardstanding round the pitch is also at least twice as wide as the minimum requirement says it has to be, which again is nice for wheelchair users and general ease of getting around. Askern have made good use of the extra bit of room they have surrounding the pitch, a luxury not afforded to some clubs who are more ‘boxed in’ by their surroundings.
Elsewhere, a two-storey pavilion by the entrance doubles as the cricket and football changing rooms, with the far end backing directly onto the cricket pitch, and the near side opening out onto the football one.
On The Pitch: Ponty made by far the better start this afternoon. Whereas Askern seemed a bit sluggish and were slow to get going, with a result that the away side were all too easily two-nil up within just nine minutes, thanks to clinical finishing from James McDaid and Greg McGrory. The first goal was a calm sidefooter from the edge of the box, and the second an easy tap in following an initial shot-save by the keeper and quicker reactions from the away attack than the home defence. At this stage the game as a contest looked to be hanging by a thread. However, Askern then came to life and following some to-ing and fro-ing in the game, managed to deservedly get a goal back on the counter attack courtesy of Jay Rollins, meaning that with less than a quarter of the game gone it was 2-1 and we now had a the makings of a good game on our hands. Sadly though, on the half hour mark and following what looked to me like a fairly bog-standard tackle by Askern captain Ryan Watson, Mister Refreee had other ideas and held up a red card, meaning that the home side would be forced to play the remainder of the match with ten men. Unsurprisingly, Ponty had the majority of the possession again up to the break, but were unable to capitalise on the numerical advantage they now had, and add to the scoreline.
Following the interval, against all the odds Askern came out for the second half looking totally invigorated, and played some really good passing stuff which managed to put them on an even keel with Ponty during an impressive 10-15 minute spell. Unfortunately for the home camp though, they were unable to score during this period, and as the game wore on, Askern inevitably seemed to gradually run out of steam and Ponty were able to finish them off with a couple of close-range finishes on 67 and 70 minutes from Steve Lyon, who had just come on as a substitute. Finally, as the game peterred out, the away side finished the job off with captain Liam Ormsby gliding through the mist then executing a cool finish to bag his side’s fifth of the afternoon, three minutes before full-time. Final score, Askern 1, Ponty Colls 5. A deserved win for Ponty, Askern are down to the bare bones in player numbers already, which has seen them hovering close to the bottom of the table of late. They won’t be helped by the sending off today (and presumably a further ban for their skip?), but will hopefully be able to build on the team spirit they showed for 20 minutes today early in the second half, where with ten men they all-but outplayed the current league leaders.