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 cafĂ©, 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.
 
 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Cleethorpes Town 1 North Ferriby United 2

FA Cup, second qualifying round
Attendance: 321

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside especially if there’s a tasty cup tie on offer. And on paper this one was as tasty as fish and chips on the beach: Cleethorpes, lowest ranked side still in the competition, against local rivals, North Ferriby, who made the Conference North play-off final in May. There are currently 74 (count ’em) places and a large river between the sides. The Battle of the Humber, I call it.

The build-up to the tie started inauspiciously when Cleethorpes had their goalposts nicked on the day of the draw. A benefactor soon stepped in to pay for some new ones. That’s far from the club’s only FA Cup story. In the previous round they were 1-1-2 down to Carlton Town then got an equaliser in the 84th minute and the winner deep into injury time. Similar scenario in the preliminary round against Gresley. Cleethorpes scored in the 90th minute of normal time to make it 4-4 and then grabbed the winner in the last minute of extra time. Their extra preliminary tie (4-1 against Borrowash Victoria) was notable even before from the kick-off as it was the club’s first ever outing in the FA Cup. So the portents were there for a sizzling encounter.

Cleethorpes actually play in Grimsby while Grimsby famously play in Cleethorpes. The geography gets more complicated for me when I’m diverted on my way to the match through the petro-chemical town of Immingham. I enter Grimsby behind two coaches of supporters heading to Grimsby’s match against Chester in the Conference. (Cleethorpes tried to get their match switched to Friday to avoid the fixture clash but Ferriby wouldn’t have it). The road is lined with pawnbrokers, boarded up shops, tattoo parlours, tanning salons and gloomy, grey pubs. Bet it got a bit feisty in the days when Hull City came to town. I have an ice cream on Cleethorpes pier then head to Bradley Park which is shared with Grimsby Borough, also of the Northern Counties East League.

The place looks like a sports centre and inside I expect to see a couple of groups of lads in bibs playing five-a-side on astroturf. Entering through the single turnstile what I find very much has that feel. The pitch (there’s barely a stadium as such) is surrounded by a rail, enclosed by a wood and steel fence and has two small, flatpack stands beside it. That’s it. The playing surface is immaculate and the facilities look first rate but for the football grounds enthusiast Bradley Park has absolutely no features of interest. It reminds me of recently reformed Dinnington Town.

Ferriby are clearly the stronger side right from the off. But, completely against the run of play, Cleethorpes take the lead when a clearance from the edge of the box by the Ferriby goalie is swiftly lobbed into the net. Tragically for the hosts moments later another goalkeeping aberration puts Ferriby level. A Cleethorpes defender scores a superb own goal as he nods back a cross to his goalie not realising he’s already come out for it. The Cleethorpes goalie, Beattie, plays very well throughout and keeps his side in the contest on several occasions.


Ferriby get what turns out to be the winner on 54 mins. Jarman cuts in from the left and after a twirling, rubber-legged run fires home from the edge of the area.  Great goal (see clip, above). Cleethorpes continue to battle but I can’t remember a single shot on goal in the second half.
 
“Daddy! Daddy!” calls out a young child held by her mother who is standing next to me as the players leave the pitch. Over comes Dad, the Cleethorpes gaffer (love that lingo). He has a chat with her and kisses her head. A lovely tender end to afternoon of macho cut and thrust in the spirit of Ossett Albion in the last round. Didn’t quite live up to the billing for me, this one. Still, I enjoyed a tiddly-om-pom-pom on the prom beforehand.

Star turn: Ferriby included in their line-up Adam Bolder, ex-Derby and QPR among others.

Faces in the crowd: Batman and Robin put in an appearance today. Seven spectators watched the match from outside the ground over the fence. For goodness sake, lads: it’s only a fiver to get in and the money goes to a community club! Mention also to the Cleethorpes physio who looked like he needed treatment himself as he traversed the pitch to tend to a player like a limping Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards.

Player of the round: It has to be Iyesden Christie of Halesowen banged in a remarkable double hatrick at his side pasted Ellistown & Ibbstock 7-1 away. Brings to mind Ted MacDougall’s nine goals for Bournemouth in their 11-0 win over Margate in the FA Cup in 1971.

In the picture: My favourite sports pics are those which show the action in context with the spectators and environment. That’s what I try to capture for my blog – and what Tom Jenkins so expertly captured in this pic from the Ryder Cup published in today’s Guardian.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ossett Albion 0 Droylsden 4

FA Cup, first qualifying round
Attendance: 116


Wakefield must be the biggest settlement in Yorkshire never to have had a club at steps 1 or 2. What’s more the city’s club folded at the end of last season after a somewhat chequered and nomadic history. A few miles to the west is Dewsbury which isn’t much smaller and doesn’t have a side. All of which makes it curious that the small town between them, Ossett, has two clubs both well established in the Northern Premier League. I saw Town in 2005 but have never had the opportunity to visit Albion until today.

The attraction of Albion’s ground begins with its name, Dimple Wells, which sounds like a location from the Vicar of Dibley. You approach it via a narrow lane from a residential area and pass car parks for the bowling green and cricket pitch (busier than that for the football club). The ground reminded me of Tow Law in some respects. Facilities are clustered around the corner entry point, the pitch is sloped and there’s a good view past one of the touchlines across a valley, in this case of the River Calder. Directors’ accommodation (see lead pic) consists of the uppermost of a pair of shipping containers. The lower storey is a programme and souvenir shop, issues meticulously arranged with dividers according to the opposition like racks in a record shop.

The club history is on sale – in 10 volumes priced at £1.50 each and written by the club historian and shopkeeper. He wore one scarf and displayed another proudly above the counter. I should add that today’s full colour programme as every bit as immaculate as his premises.

The shop and a disused turnstile block (pictured below) each has a domestic front door and the press box (empty, above) has similarly house-like glazing, all features which add to the ground’s quirky, jerry-built appeal. The director’s box (also empty) consists of dirty old bucket seats with ‘director’ stencilled on them. Love it. The dugouts are substantial brick-built affairs. The brickwork extends to the surround to a pair of giant steel doors which seem out of place in a ground where there’s seldom need to provide rapid egress for a large crowd.

Droylsden have had a torrid time since I last saw them on that unforgettable pre-Christmas night in 2008. Two successive relegations partly caused by debt problems now see them plying their trade at step 4 and just six years after a season in the Conference National. In 2013/14 they shipped 182 goals. Things are looking up, though: last week they won their first back to back league matches for 2½ years. Their small knot of fans provided the welcome and entertaining first chants of this season’s FA Cup trail.

Their version of Anarchy in the UK is a cracker: “I am a Droylsden fan/I am a Mancunian/I know what I want and I know how to get it/I wanna destroy [Stalybridge] Celtic and Hyde/’Cause IIII wanna beeee Droylsden FC”. Then there’s the old classic about Dave ‘Mr Droylsden’ Pace, the sort of hard nut northern manager you wouldn’t want a bollocking from: “You’ve got Mourinho/We’ve got Dave Pacio”. The Okey Cokey has been adapted to suit Fernando Moke. Apparently, Fernando asked the manager if he could tell the fans to stop singing this song as it was irritating him so much. Perhaps they could switch to that Abba number … Completing the repertoire is the inevitable: “Wemberley, Wemberley/We’re the famous Droylsden FC and we’re going to Wemberley”. Part of me admires these sorts of fans for their dedication and part of me feels sorry for them.

The Bloods, to give Droylsden their great nickname, scored twice with short range shots from low crosses and then ended the contest with another similar effort immediately after the re-start. Albion improved but it was far too little, too late. The visitors extended the lead at the end and should’ve made it five when a forward missed a sitter. Had it not been for several fine saves from the Albion goalie the margin of victory would’ve been much greater.

“I'll come to yours later,” said an Albion player to his girlfriend over the barrier at the final whistle. “Are you having tea at mine?” she asks. “Yes,” he replies. They kiss and he’s off to the changing room while I exit via the boundary of the cricket pitch.

Programme notes: Albion president Neville Wrigglesworth strikes a plaintive note and underlines the importance of the Cup to non-league sides when he writes: “My second major aim when taking over as chairman [in 1979] was to be at the helm when Ossett Albion reached the first round proper of the FA Cup. I remained chairman for a period just short of 30 years but never actually managed to fulfill that ambition though we have come agonisingly close of a few occasions.” Ah, well. Maybe next time, Neville …

Beard of the day: No sign of Father Christmas this time but there were still some fine in vogue Edwardian whiskers in evidence courtesy of Albion’s Ben Grech-Brooksbank.

Match of the day:
Not often you get minnows versus Cup legends in the first qualifying round but that was the case today when the wonderfully named Ellistown & Ibstock United (from Leicestershire and today playing at Coalville Town) took on Hereford United. The hosts, who play at step 5, were formed through a merger a year ago while the visitors were demoted from the Conference last season for debt reasons and now compete in the Southern League. Ellistown & Ibstock came from two goals behind to win 3-2 with Hereford missing an injury time penalty. Lancaster (aka The Dolly Blues) are on fire. They won 5-0 at West Allotment Celtic today having beaten Washington 7-0 away in the previous round. A mention in dispatches too to Maidstone United who pasted Littlehampton 10-0. Best sounding fixture of the round: London Tigers v. Brightlingsea Regent.

Recommended viewing: Couple of websites with some very arty pics of football grounds for you to enjoy. Firstly, a selection of floodlit grounds, mainly non-league and in the south, photographed from outside and, secondly, some pics of the old Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh. To finish here’s a gratuitous pic of Georgie Best turning out for Cork Celtic in 1975.