Result: Pontefract Collieries 4-2 Belper Town (Northern Premier League Division 1 East)
Venue: Beechnut Lane (Saturday 12th January 2019, 3pm)
Another weekend with no plans set out came about and I arrived into Manchester still looking at where my fate may lie. Heading into Piccadilly station at around 11am, I popped up to the Hourglass bar for a pint of Shindigger Pale – which gave me a shock at £5.85 – before the twitterverse’s decision was given. Well, sort of. Despite putting it to a vote, the poll would come back level-pegging but a bit of positive feedback from fellow ‘hopper the Wycombe Wanderer, Russ, saw me off to the old Yorkshire mining town of Pontefract and Collieries’ NPL East game with Belper Town. Both the ground and town looked pretty interesting, so I was rather looking forward to my visit as I caught the Hull-bound train to Leeds where I’d catch the connection over to Ponte.
Actually managing to find a Northern service running on a Saturday (shock, horror, I know) the short half-hour hop to Pontefract was completed with little issue and I was soon paying a brief visit to the town’s castle, though it was under a fair bit of reconstruction work meaning it didn’t look quite as classic as it usually would, I supposed. Anyway, with the castle not at its full glory, I continued back down towards the town centre and first came across the appropriately named Golden Ball. However, upon entering, it appeared that the golden ball in question was more egg-shaped than round. A Strongbow in here sufficed for a quick one before I continued up the high-street and through the pedestrianised centre, bypassing a few hostelries I made a note of whilst heading right to the other side of the town and to Russ’ recommendation – the Robin Hood.
It certainly was a good pointer too as it was probably the most craft/real ale centric pub I visited during the day, opting for a pint of London Fields Brewery’s Pale Ale (£4.45) whilst watching some of the early kick-off before returning back towards the centre and, more importantly, the ground. Incidentally and more than helpfully, the next few pubs were right up next to each other, though I had the time to visit just the two pre-match at that point, and even then it would have to be a quick in and out task, though time was aided by the fact two were actually next door. Nice. First up came the Ponty Tavern where I opted for a pint of Dark Fruits before popping next door to the Green Dragon for a Desperados prior to cutting through the nearby car-park and over the road towards the lights illuminating the surrounding, overcast area.
Pontefract is a historic market town in the West Riding of Yorkshire and is one of five towns within the metropolitan borough of Wakefield. The area has been inhabited since Neolithic times and the modern town is located upon an old Roman road from Doncaster known as the “Roman Ridge”, likely used as an alternative route to the main road over the Humber to York in times of bad weather. Around the time of the finely named Viking king Eric Bloodaxe in 954 AD through to the arrival of the Normans, Pontefract was made up of two townships known as Tanshelf and Kirkby. Known as Tateshalle (or something alike) within the Domesday Book, Tanshelf is first mentioned in 947 AD when King Eadred of England met with the ruling council of Northumbria to accept its submission to him. This wouldn’t last long, and the aforementioned Danish king Bloodaxe would soon become King of York. Kirkby, meanwhile derives from the latter’s language being given the tell-tale suffix “-by”.
After the Norman Conquest, the area fell under the control of William the Conqueror and Tateshale (another name Tanshelf was called) was given to an ally by the name of Ilbert de Lacy who constructed a castle there. The wooden motte and bailey castle dated from 1086 before being rebuilt in stone, the family remaining in situ until 1348 and the death of Alice de Lacy. It is also infamous in English history as the site of King Richard II’s murder (or starvation), though the exact reason for his demise is unknown. Pontefract is also the apparent site of the legendary Robin Hood’s death, it being stated he died in Kirkby. The town was also mentioned in both of Shakespeare’s plays – ‘Richard II’ & ‘Richard III’ under the name ‘Pomfret’ as it was known in Tudor times.
During the English Civil War, the castle was put under siege by the Parliamentarian forces of Oliver Cromwell who called it “….one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom”. An eventual three sieges were suffered by the Royalist-supporting town, leaving it impoverished and depopulated, with the remaining residents calling for it to be knocked down, in fear of a fourth. The remaining ruins show what the outcome of that, as the castle was deconstructed from 1649. The All Saints church was also damaged during the conflict, with a new one built within the ruins of the old, whilst the priory had already fell during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.
Nowadays, the town continues to host a market as it has done since the middle ages, and is known in jest by locals as “Ponte Carlo” (I’d like to see that track). The former General Infirmary is also infamous as it was the place Harold Shipman began his murder spree, whilst beneath this building is an old hermitage. Its barracks currently house a recruitment regiment of the Rifles, whilst the town hosts three railway stations (Tanshelf, Baghill and Monkhill), which would have been handy when the town (allegedly) held the record for most pubs per square mile in the country.
Passing underneath the neighbouring railway line via a small tunnel, you head round past a couple of warehouses and down a dirt track before arriving at the turnstiles. Handing over my £8 entry, I initially thought the programmes were sold out, before being helped out by one of the guys on raffle duties who pointed me back in the direction of the gate. £2 lighter, I made my way into the main stand ahead of kick-off, which was just moments away at this time, the seats within are some of those that previously resided in Maine Road back-in-t’day.
Elsewhere, Beechnut Lane is a great little ground. Its quirky, ramshackle nature is highly appealing to those who like places with character to them, the Main Stand retaining the style that seems fairly commonplace in and around the Ridings and has a mix of seats and a small area of benched seating towards the middle. Behind the near-end goal is a covered terrace that runs most of the width of the pitch, whilst both the far side and end are open, hard standing, though the far side does host a small grass mound with a stream right behind and the railway embankment above it, featuring a number of passing choo-choos for those into grounds featuring the two! The hospitality area is between the terrace and entrance, tucked back from the pitch and is adjoined to the food bar. The dressing rooms and bar, meanwhile, are located within the stand. That’s the ground in a nutshell (get it….ok) and this is the story of Ponte Colls….
Pontefract Collieries Football Club was founded in 1958, though the town is known to have been home to a football club since at least the 1890’s, when a side comprised mostly of soldiers from the garrison stationed in Pontefract played in the West Yorkshire League as the imaginatively named Pontefract Garrison. Unfortunately, there is a dark period with regards to information from this point through to the current club, though it is known the Garrison side reached the higher Yorkshire League by the end of the 1920’s but would not being able to finish the 1929-’30 season. However, 1935 would see the Pontefract name return to football as Tanshelf Gems became Pontefract United after moving to a ground on Ackwith Grove. They would dominate the local scene pre-WWII, but were joined post-war by a side under the name of Pontefract Collieries. This Colls side would go on to have slightly the better of the fortunes on the pitch, with both being competitors in the West Yorkshire League. However, 1960 would see the Colls team fold with the name being rekindled not too long after as United merged with a local youth team and adopted the name for themselves.
The new club quickly asserted itself, returning to the West Yorkshire League and gaining a fair amount of success before again joining the Yorkshire League in 1979 and winning its Division 3 in 1982. This would prove to be the last season of the old Yorkshire League in this guise as it would then merge with the Midland League to form the Northern Counties East League. Colls became a founder member and would remain in the league for the next 36 years. They started life there well, two successive promotions in both the first two seasons saw the club finish as Division 2 runners-up and Division 1 champions whilst making the top-flight and remaining there for the next decade whilst continuing to improve their Beechnut Lane home.
The club would add cup success to their honours list, winning two NCEL Floodlit Cups whilst also making losing appearances in two West Riding County Cup finals and in the 1994 NCEL President’s Cup. However a change of manager saw a turn for the worse with the club relegated in 1995, yet this would only be brief, with a further change in the hot seat seeing Colls return to form and a runners-up finish saw them make an immediate return to the NCEL Premier, whilst also lifting the “Wilkinson Sword” Trophy to secure a 1995-’96 double. Unfortunately they would miss out in the NCEL League Cup final the next season before again suffering the drop to Division 1 in 1999, just missing out on survival on goal difference alone.
Things would stagnate for a while before again taking a turn for the worse after the millennium. Losing out in their second Wilkinson Sword Trophy final appearance in 2000 to Goole on aggregate, they would go on to finish bottom of the NCEL Division 1 two years later. Things would recover though and Colls would again make the Wilkinson Sword Trophy final in 2003, finishing as runners-up and made a good recovery in the league in finishing 4th. However, the recovery was brief and Colls would be forced to seek re-election in 2004 whilst also being affected off the field by fires in the main stand and tea bar, whilst the loss of the nearby Prince of Wales Colliery also hit the club hard as they also lost electricity supply to their home. On the pitch, meanwhile, things looked bleak as the club were saved from dropping out of the “pyramid” system on more than one occasion thanks to league restructuring and happenings higher up the divisions. Things reached their trough in 2007-’08 as, despite winning their first game, Colls would go the rest of the season without a victory, finishing up with just nine points. Again, restructuring would come to their rescue, saving their place in the NCEL.
Under Simon Houghton, things drastically improved over the following two campaigns as early runs at the top of table were enjoyed before eventually falling away. Houghton would depart and former Leeds United skipper Brendon Ormsby was installed as his replacement, though things didn’t go to plan and he would be replaced by joint player-managers Nick Handley and Duncan Bray, who suffered just the one defeat in the last ten games in securing a third straight 5th place finish in 2013. A ninth-place finish in 2014 preceded a successful year as they finished as Division 1 runners-up to return to the NCEL Premier Division for the first time in 16 years.
The club’s return to the NCEL’s top-tier wouldn’t be a successful one and a bad run saw a new management team of Craig Parry, alongside assistants Craig Rouse and Nigel Danby brought in, but they couldn’t save the club from an immediate return to Division 1, finishing up third-bottom. But, they would again bounce back at the first attempt – again finishing as Division 1 runners-up to return to the Premier Division. This time, the club went on to go straight on through the division, taking the title after reeling in AFC Mansfield’s 21-point lead in making up their games in hand on the Bulls, after bowing out in the last 32 of the FA Vase to ensure full focus was on their league campaign. Ponte passed 100 points in taking the Premier Division title and, as such, are playing Northern Premier League football for the first time in the club’s history this season.
The game got underway and the first real chance of the game produced the first goal. Within the first ten minutes, the strong starting Belper outfit were awarded a pretty clear-cut penalty for a push, with skipper Craig Nelthorpe taking responsibility from the spot and making no mistake with a confident finish. I would leave the relative comfort of the stand at this point, proclaiming to the Belper tracksuit-clad guy next to me that I “was off”, making him think I was there for just the solitary goal and that was enough!
Belper continued to be on the front foot and were well and truly dominating the early phases of the contest and would see further chances for Danny Gordon and Nathan Curtis go off-target as the Nailers looked to push home their apparent advantage. By the time I’d completed my lap and gotten back around to the food bar – ordering some cheesy chips as the half drew to its conclusion – the game had settled down a little and become more competitive, though there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of action as a result bar a scramble in the Belper box that saw Leigh Overton keep out the initial free-kick, the loose ball eventually being cleared by the visiting defence.
But then, on the stroke of the break, Belper would double their advantage as Pitou Crouz sprung clear and advanced upon the Pontefract goal, where he fired across the home ‘keeper and into the far corner to secure a two-goal advantage heading into the dressing rooms, although I had missed most of the action for this strike whilst queuing, my view obscured by the stand. Ah well, what can you do? It was little more than Belper’s first-half showing had deserved and I returned back to the clubhouse for a bit of a warm.
The second-half was soon underway and if you wanted a proverbial “game of two halves”, then this was the one for you. It couldn’t have been any different from the first from both sides’ perspectives as, after a fairly inconspicuous start, Ponte would come on strong. Overton would deny a header early on in the half in something of a precursor of what was to come, before the hosts did pull one back on the hour, a cross eventually finding its way to the feet of Chris Jackson, who knocked home from close-range.
With renewed vigour and belief, Ponte came at Belper straight from the resultant kick-off and found themselves level just seconds later when Michael Dunn was found on the left flank and he cut inside prior to firing above Overton and into the roof of the net, sparking some scenes. The blue-touch paper had now been lit and Belper almost hit-back themselves, Louis Danquah striking the upright soon afterwards, but this would only prove to be a false dawn for Belper’s hopes of recovering their position and the hosts’ comeback was completed with around twenty-five minutes to play, when a corner from the right was met by the head of Spencer Clarke – the ball nestling into the net to spark jubilation in the Colls ranks.
As the clock began to wind down to the game’s end, the Nailers began to throw caution to the wind somewhat and commit more bodies to their attacks it seemed. Nathan Curtis again went close, as did right-back Isaac Assenso, but it was to be in vain and things would end on even more of a sour note for the visitors from Derbyshire, as Curtis was given his marching orders for a second yellow for a rash challenge and Pontefract would add a fourth late in stoppage time as Eli Hey was felled in the area and, in some ways summing the game up, he would convert Colls’ own pen to complete the scoring. Full-time, 4-2 and a quick exit was made through the ever more cold evening air.
Post-match it was back from whence I came, with me giving a lad on a bike a cheap laugh by splashing through an unseen puddle in the increasing darkness. Unscathed by mud somehow upon inspection, I carried on undeterred and to the Windmill Inn back in the town centre. A bonus of this place was that it was that it was a Sam Smith’s pub and, if you follow my blogs regularly, you know what that means. Cheap pint alert!!!! A Taddy Lager (£2.30) was most welcome as I warmed up in the cosy, traditional bar area prior to continuing to head more towards the station for the last train back to Leeds…..at half five. Jesus Christ.
Next on the tick-list was a choice of two – either the Beastfair (from the square it stands on) or the interestingly named Liquorice Bush (later I found it’s due to the fact the town is one of a rare few in Britain that can grow liquorice in its soil) – deciding the Malt Shovels was a little too far to bother with. I chose the latter on account it was open when I passed earlier in the day and with time conspiring against me ever quicker it seemed, I chose to stick on the weaker stuff. A Dark Fruits in here (£3) was followed by another in the Horse Vaults (£3) just past the Town Hall before a quick stop in Pontefract’s Wetherspoon’s, the Broken Bridge – coming from the town’s derived name – where a bottle of Hooch sufficed for the five minutes I had before returning to the station for the train, nodding off somewhere along the way back and being awoken at Leeds. Cheers to the guy who saved me a possible trip to a depot!
The remainder of the journey back to Manchester and onwards home was completed without issue to end off the day which, again, had been good fun despite having been up in the air approaching midday. Pontefract as a town far exceeded my expectations on arrival, whilst the ground was one of those that appeals to me for sure, in many an aspect. The game was brilliant too, the food decent and the programme a good read. Complaints? Nada. Just the fact I was hamstrung for time could be a small gripe, but that’s not really anything I’m too concerned about. Anyway, onto another week and its off to Staffordshire once again to get one of the more tricky North West Counties grounds out the way. ‘Shall we….?!
Value For Money: 8