Manchopper in….Walsall

Result: Walsall 2-2 Darlington (FA Cup First Round)

Venue: Bescot Stadium (Saturday 9th November 2019, 3pm)

Att: 3,283

The FA Cup always offers up options for cheaper visits to league clubs and, as such, I usually have a look a little further afield to try and get the most out of it. As such, I did have a slight flirt with a long trip out to East Anglia and Portman Road, before deciding it was probably a little close to the time, and I’d be better off waiting and planning this one out properly. Then, I figured there was a game that was a little under-the-radar and that was at the Bescot Stadium, one of the few grounds I needed to get to “properly tick” off Walsall’s home by watching the Saddlers’ first team. You see, I’d visited quite a few years earlier for a youth team game which featured a few players who’ve gone on to feature in the senior ranks, but this can’t really go towards the true ’92’, can it? Regardless, I say no and to the Bescot it was.

In addition, a possible cupset was on the cards too, as re-emerging Darlington were the visitors and seemed to have a decent away following in the offing, judging by the bus numbers and requests from all around the country. As such, when I was propositioned by Darlo fan Charlotte to “get in the away end”, I thought it’d be rude to not back the non-league side I’d once seen play Northwich Victoria, away, at a mixed blue/green/white-clad, half dilapidated Valley Road ground in Flixton, back i’t’day. Ah, the joys of the non-league system! Anyhow, I grabbed the train out of Manchester (after securing tickets for a trip North of the border in a couple of weeks) and was en route down to Birmingham’s New Street station, where I’d connect onwards from. Well, that was the plan, anyway, and all seemed to be ok….until I arrived.

Delayed. Delayed. Delayed. “This train is delayed by approximately 36 minutes”. All these met my eyes and ears as I traversed the walkways of New Street, attempting to sort out my best options for the short hop out to the north east of the city. Eventually, it turned out that one train, that itself was delayed by 25 minutes, was actually due to leave about the same time as I should have done anyway and within all the madness, calm soon descended and I arrived into Walsall, bright (well, ok, not so bright) and early, at a little after midday. Drizzle hung over the town as I arrived, and I hoped this wasn’t a precursor for what I was about to witness a few hours later. With that in mind, I felt like I needed a drink or two…or three – you get the picture – to calm my nerves!

Finally arriving in a soggy Walsall

Red Lion

The Red Lion was first up and it was something a little special inside, a spiral iron staircase jutting out into the midst of the bar area, which added some fine character to a place that already looked interesting enough from the outside beforehand! A pint of Stella (£3.80) began the day here whilst I sorted out my acca (which, shock, horror, went awry swiftly) before I headed off back past the dulcet tones of a sole singer outside and through the precinct area and to a few pubs that are grouped in together. How thoughtful. First up was a small seemingly sports-centric pub by the name of the Old Bailey, where my curse of picking the beer that’s not on returned, and so, after being offered the hell-in-a-glass that is Carling, I was forced to settle for a Coors – though the £2.40 price tag went some way to easing the pain.

Next up was a pair of pubs just in behind the large, dominating St. Matthew’s Building that houses the Wetherspoons – these being, namely, the Registry and the Tap & Tanner. The Registry seemed to have been a chain or something in a previous life judging by its wide, open-plan layout, but it was ok enough and a pint of Heineken went down well. The Tap & Tanner lies just across the walk from the Registry and was really rather busy. Indeed, it took a fair bit of time to eventually get served due to there only being two on (I think, anyway), but eventually I was in possession of an Amstel which, at just the £2.70, was a fair bit more economical than Cambridge’s city-spanning offerings from the week before! Having lost track of the army cadets that I usually like to purchase a paper poppy from as they likely headed to more weather-protected selling areas, I instead bought one from here. It proceeded to last me no more than half an hour before parting company, though I did find another that had made a bid for freedom and decided to repurpose it and cut my losses!

Visiting the Old Bailey

Heading on to the Registry and Tap & Tanner

Walsall is a market town and administrative centre within the West Midlands area, sited some eight miles to the North East of Birmingham. Historically a part of Staffordshire, it is part of the wider Metropolitan Borough of Walsall which also encompasses the likes of Bloxwich, Darlaston, Willenhall, Pelsall and Brownhills. It’s name is thought to derive from the words “Walh Halh” (valley of the Welsh speakers – these being the Brython peoples) and is first referenced under the name ‘Walesho’ in a document dating from 1002, though is omitted from the Domesday Book, despite many surrounding areas, such as those referenced above, are included, though this could be down to an administrative error, as it’s thought a manor was held in the area by William FitzAnculf. By the 13th century, Walsall had become a market town – introduced in 1220 – and was later visited by Queen Elizabeth the I and queen consort, wife of Charles I and mother of his successors (if we ignore king in all but name Cromwell) Charles II and James II, Henrietta Maria.

It largely remained as a small market town right through until the Industrial Revolution, when it swiftly grew by over 85,000 people and trades of chains, buckles, plated ware and, of course, saddles, became focal points. It received gas lighting in the early-to-mid 1800’s and more improvements to the market area and required drainage systems were introduced, whilst the railway arrived in the town in 1847, some 48 years after canals had first linked Walsall to the larger cities surrounding it – though, incidentally, Bescot had been served by the Grand Central Railway for almost 10 years previous. It also has good, regular bus links to surrounding areas and easy motorway access, though lost it’s tram service and aerodrome during the early-to-mid 1900’s.

Walsall

Old and Older

During the First World War, Walsall lost circa 2000 men in combat, whilst the cenotaph they are commemorated upon is located upon damage caused by a German Zeppelin bomb which killed three, including the mayoress of the town, whilst the damage can still be seen on the corner of a town centre club. The war also saw two local men – John Henry Carless and Frederick Gibbs – receive the Victoria Cross, the latter of which was a flying ace that, when World War II broke out, gave up his officer’s position in favour of returning to the ranks. Post-war, the first Wurlitzer organ in Great Britain was installed within the town’s New Picture House and the town would later become more transformed in looks as the slums were replaced by estates and tower blocks whilst, from 1980, The Saddlers Centre has become a focal point in the centre of Walsall, located next to the station, though it was tested by the appearance of a tornado a year later!

Aside from a number of religious-centric people, Walsall has been home to successful business men such as one-time chairmen and Chief Executive of Ford and the NHS, actors Frank Windsor, Corrie’s Audrey (Sue Nicholls), Eastenders’ serial killer Lucas Johnson (Don Gilet) (as well as real Cannock Chase serial killer Raymond Morris), Meera Syal and Jeffrey Holland and actress/model Erin O’Connor, whilst also counting musical alumni such as Fleetwood Mac singer Dave Walker, Slade’s Noddy Holder, lead Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford, DJ Goldie and, more recently, Connie Talbot and Jorja Smith. Sporting-wise, Walsall is/has been home to the likes of Paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds, sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis, UFC and Cage Rage MMA fighter Vaughan Lee Harvey, England Test cricketer David Brown and in football; former referee Terry Holbrook, former Wolves, Celtic, Derby and Cardiff man Lee Naylor and former Walsall player and manager, Dean Keates.

Walsall

The Black Country Arms

My final pre-game stop was to be at the Black Country Arms which, like a pub I’d visited in Halesowen on a far better weather day earlier this season, terms itself as a ‘real ale speciality’ pub. Indeed, as I entered, the bar was far more modern than the building itself – you’d not really have much of a clue from the outside décor if you hadn’t done any research I’d say. Anyhow, I opted to play it rather safe and go for something a little weaker – and so went for a pint of Longwood Pale Ale (£3.20), before returning to the strange shopping centre/station entrance combo that Walsall is home to. Unfortunately, the trains here were delayed too, but not by too much to threaten my getting to the Bescot for kick-off luckily, although the automatic voice on the train caused some panic for some fellow match-going fans from Darlington, as it announced the next stop as being the one further along the line.

I arrived at the Bescot in good time and grabbed a programme off of two guys just before they so happened to head for the newly-arrived coachful of travelling fans in search of some bonus sales. The rain continued to fall all the way through the queuing phase and didn’t really go off whatsoever throughout the whole game. Luckily, the away end is rather sheltered from the elements, especially towards the rear of the stand where I’d, for some reason, been freely told to head! The Bescot is quite a nice ground in my opinion, it’s large two-tiered end (which sadly no-longer features dinosaur advertised tiles) dominates the remainder of the stadium, all of which consist of pretty similar one-tiered, all-seater stands. A food bar is located in the corner of the away end and the Main Stand, which looks a bit more traditional in appearance than the rest. The tunnel and dugouts jut out in front of the Main Stand too – though all home stands were, at best, sparsely populated for today’s game – whilst the away end made up about half of the total attendance. Good effort. Anyway, here’s the story of the Saddlers….

History Lesson:

Founded in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts, after an amalgamation of Walsall Town (1877) and Walsall Swifts (1879), the club began life at the Chuckery, which had been home of both clubs prior to the merger. Their first game was a Birmingham Charity Cup Final against Aston Villa which ended goalless, though Villa would be awarded the trophy after a disagreement over the venue for the replay and after playing a couple of friendlies against Football League opposition, the new Walsall club began playing in the Midland Association, their first game there against Crewe Alexandra ending in a 2-2 draw – with Walsall going on to finish 3rd at the end of the season. After three years in the Football Alliance, Swifts were admitted to the Football League in 1892, Swifts became a founder member of the new Second Division and moved to West Bromwich Road after complaints from residents local to the Chuckery after a sole year there as a league club.

The change wouldn’t prove lucky and they failed to gain re-election in 1895 and moved again to long-term home Fellows Park. Their first pieces of silverware came around this time too with the Birmingham Senior Cup being won in 1897 & 1898 (along with another almost a century later in 1994) and the Walsall Senior Cup lifted in 1889 (added to in 2015 & ’17). Upon their joining of the Midland League after relegation, the club dropped the suffixes in their name and moved into the Midland League as, simply, Walsall F.C. and again spent just the one year there before returning back to the Football League’s Second Division ranks. They finished 6th in 1899, which actually remains the club’s best league finish to date, though this success soon faded and relegation was suffered via non-re-election again just two years later. The club played the next two seasons back in the Midland League prior to a switch into the Birmingham League in 1903, where they remained for fourteen years, alongside a two-year spell with a team in the Southern League, following their election as founding members.

The Bescot – just visible from the station

They would stay in the Southern League until after the end of World War I, when they again returned to the Football League, upon its expansion to becoming a three-division competition in 1921. They took a spot in the Third Division North and have remained a league club ever since. Success remained rather thin on the ground for the Saddlers though and a 3rd placed finish and first Staffordshire Senior Cup win in 1923 (added to in 1927, ’29 & ’68) would be the closest Walsall would come to promotion prior to World War II, though did upset Arsenal 2-0 in the 1933-’34 FA Cup, a season in which the Gunners would go on to become league champions. The next year saw another decent cup run, as Walsall reached the Third Division North Cup Final, though would lose out to Stockport County at Maine Road.

Post-WWII, the Saddlers competed in the pre-league resumption Third Division South cup and reached the final of this too, but suffered a repeat of their North final appearance, with AFC Bournemouth running out 2-0 victors. 1948 saw Walsall come close to promotion, ending up in 3rd place, before the 1950’s signalled troubling times for the club, re-election being required just to remain in the league on four consecutive occasions – finishing bottom from 1952-’54 and second bottom in 1955. Strong attendances went a fair way to ensuring that Walsall maintained their place as a league club, though would have to be happy with becoming a founding member of the Fourth Division in 1958 and, in doing so, had the distinction of being a founder of each of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th divisions. However this preceded a strong run for the Saddlers, a run which saw successive promotions lead to the club being in Division 2 for season 1961-’62, with Walsall lifting the Fourth Division title (their first league title in their existence) and ending up as 1961 Third Division runners-up.

The Bescot’s frontage, later on

Just two seasons would be spent back in the Second Division though, before Walsall would be relegated back to the Division 3, a final day defeat to relegation rivals Charlton Athletic condemning the club to the drop, with the Addicks surviving. Walsall remained in the third-tier until 1979 when they suffered the drop back into the 4th Division once again. The Saddlers would spend just one year back in the bottom division though, prior to returning to Division 3, upon which they went on to consolidate their position at that level over the next few seasons. 1982 saw Walsall narrowly miss out on a cup final appearance and place in Europe, when a run to the semi-final of the League Cup (which featured another victory over Arsenal, this time at Highbury) saw the club take Liverpool all the way after a 2-2 draw in the first-leg at Anfield. However, it would prove a bridge too far for the Saddlers, as Liverpool eventually saw off their stubborn opponents 2-0 in the second game. 1988 saw the club reach the Third Division play-offs and achieve promotion via this method – overcoming Bristol City in a replayed final at Fellows Park by a thumping score-line of 4-0.

Walsall’s return to the Second Division was again brief, lasting just one campaign, though this paled in significance when you consider they almost went out of business altogether soon afterwards, but despite seeing the danger off, a second consecutive relegation again saw the club in Division 4 by the turn of the decade, and this drop coincided with beginning life at the Bescot Stadium: the club’s new home following their move from their almost century-long home, Fellows. After a few years of re-setting the groundworks, Walsall were promoted to the newly-designated Division 2 in 1995 and 1999 saw them secure the runners-up placing in Division 2 and promotion to Division 1. However, they would last just the one season in the second-tier, being relegated again on the final day, although they would return at the first attempt after overcoming Reading, after extra-time, in the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium. 2004 saw the drop back to Division 2 come around once again, a horrible loss of form seeing them go down by just a single goal. Agonising, but it would soon get worse, as poor form under Paul Merson saw him out of a job and the Saddlers relegated to League 2 in 2006.

WFC

Once again, the club spent just one season in a division, being promoted from League 2 as champions, securing the title on the last day via a last minute Dean Keates strike. The Saddlers then embarked on a run of seven seasons of largely mid-table finishes, with little threat of league movement either way, although they came mighty close to relegation in 2011, escaping the drop-zone by just a sole point after a fine upturn in form under Dean Smith. 2015 saw Walsall make their first Wembley final appearance, as they reached the Football League Trophy’s final tie, but were on the wrong end of a 2-0 score-line at the hands of Bristol City. Smith left during the following season, with Walsall eventually just missing out on that year’s play-offs, though the loss of much of the playing staff from that team led to three years of struggle, culminating with relegation at the end of last season back to League 2, with Keates replaced as boss by Darrell Clarke for this campaign.

After a minutes silence of remembrance,- we got going on this wet, dull, overcast West Midlands afternoon. Grabbing a hot dog (all that was left) from the food bar, I headed up into the away end for the beginning of the first half, prior to re-locating more into the middle as I said earlier on. A fairly slow start came and went during the first quarter-hour, before Darlington began to threaten the far-end goal guarded by Saddlers’ keeper Jack Rose. Omar Holness was denied by Rose on said 15-minute mark, before the same duo again met in duel, but this time Holness would come out on to – rifling a low drive beyond Rose from close range to spark jubilant scenes within the massed away support.

Silhouette

Match Action

Darlo celebrate their opener

The travelling Quakers didn’t exactly have all that much to worry about overall either, and instead it was the non-league side who would go close to doubling their lead half-way through the first period, Stephen Thompson seeing a long-range drive kept out by the busy home ‘keeper. Indeed, it took until around ten minutes before the break for Walsall to really work Liam Connell, the visiting stopper denying Liam Hardy in fairly routine fashion on a couple of occasions in quick-fire time, with the Saddlers going closest to levelling the scores on the stroke of half time, when Wes McDonald’s initial close-range effort was kept out by Connell, before he then rattled the crossbar moments later. A let off for the visitors, perhaps, but as it was, half-time arrived and the “cupset” was well and truly on at the Bescot.

During half-time, Charlotte introduced a guy to me (who did tell me his name, though I couldn’t make it out over the noise, so will be mentioned as either Gary or Dave from hereon) which I’m sure he immediately regretted happening as I likely bored the crap out of him for the next 40 minutes or so – though hopefully I did go someway to lessening the nerves (though my match-reading wasn’t quite on point!)?! Anyhow, back out in the elements, the players were soon back playing and Jarrett Rivers immediately went close for the visitors, whilst Walsall’s dangerman Hardy headed wide down the other end moments later. Joe Wheatley saw an effort tipped onto the upright and the experienced Mat Sadler also went close as the pair traded chances at either end through to the hour but, from then on in, it was all the Saddlers, as Darlo sat back on their slender lead; a decision I immediately commented on as something that might just come back to bite them…

Match Action

Match Action

With the outstanding Will Hatfield covering every blade of grass in the meantime, to try and negate the space being afforded to Walsall, the hosts saw numerous chances come and go and it looked as though Darlington’s back-line might just hang on to advance directly within the ever descending gloom. Elijah Adebayo went close on a pair of occasions, before he somehow failed to convert into an open net from just a few yards out – the ball falling to his feet around the six-yard line, but the forward could only shovel the ball clear of the crossbar and into the two-tiered stand behind. He stood there with head in hands, the scene mirrored by a number of home fans facing him.

As the game entered its final minutes, Dan Scarr was sent off for a fairly needless second yellow and it well and truly looked as though that could be the final nail in Walsall’s coffin. But no. A comeback of WWE’s Undertaker proportions followed, as the Saddlers first drew level, a ball back ran into the path of Caolan Lavery, just perfectly for him to place a low shot beyond Connell and into the back of the net. A brief, stunned silence fell upon the away following upon this strike, and moments later it looked as though it was curtains for the visitors, when Connell failed to get a good connection on an Alfie Bates corner – the ball deflecting in off his attempted punch and seemingly going down as a goal from a corner.

Entering stoppage time, the scoreboard read 2-1, and it looked as though Walsall had clinched victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat. This especially seemed the case as Ben Hedley was dismissed, again for a second yellow….but this is the FA Cup after all. On (at least) the 97th minute, Darlington won a corner and everyone was thrown forwards. I’d already escaped the massed ranks crammed in the stand just above me and watched on from pitch-level for the final few minutes. As such, I was hovering around the exit in expectation of a swift exit upon the now imminent home win; but then in came the free-kick, won by the aforementioned, impressive Hatfield.

The moment of the equaliser. Honestly. It is!!

Connell was up there. Everyone in black-and-white was up there. Everyone in red was back there. The ball soon joined them and after a bit of pandemonium in the box, it ran loose and into the path of Joe Wheatley at the back-post and Wheatley, totally unmarked, rammed the ball home to spark absolute *ahem* scenes within the Quakers faithful. What a finish! What a game! What a result of Darlington. If you can’t win, get a home replay on live TV. The magic arrived early at the Bescot, and just like the trains during the day, returned very, very late on. 2-2, full-time.

After the game, I beat a hasty exit into the chilly evening air and left the jubilant Darlo fans to their celebrating as I did so. I’d already figured I could break up the walk back to the centre with a couple of pub stops which were nicely located to do so. The first of these was the Sir Charles Napier, just off the main road itself and was quite full as I entered ahead of the majority of the rush. I was asked by a guy if Walsall had won – despite Final Score being on – and responded by saying it finished 2-2. “They won?” came the reply. I can only try my best! A quick Coors and a welcome warm was had in a very traditional, bench-seating lay-out, before I continued on towards the Bradford Arms a short distance away, I first opted for a pint of the lesser-seen Cobra, but the (I presume) landlady wasn’t happy with the quality and so I was given the cheaper options again; and once more it was Coors that won out. Coor blimey.

Sir Charles Napier

Bradford Arms

‘Spoons

Finishing up shortly after Germany’s women had netted at Wembley as Phil Neville’s fall from grace continued on, I returned back down the main road and into the town centre once again. With time very much at a premium, I paid what was planned to be a swift visit to the aforementioned Wetherspoon’s for a Hooch, before returning, once again, to the station – this time though I had seen that delays were still on the go and so had a little more time than first expected, which was welcome as it cut down my wait back in Birmingham. Once on the go, the journey back went smoothly and that was that and the Bescot was finally, and properly, done. It was a good day out despite the weather, the Darlo fans creating a great atmosphere and the late action at both ends was something else. Pubs were good value and the only shame was how sparse the rest of the ground was attended. But anyway, both sides must do it again up at Blackwell Meadows. Attentions turn to the draw and, first, next week’s action. It’s got something to live up to….!

RATINGS:

Game: 9 (bonus points for mad ending)

Ground: 7

Programme: 6

Food: 5

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Barrow

Result: Barrow 0-1 Solihull Moors (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)

Venue: Holker Street (Saturday 19th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 1,523

It was a late call on venue for this, the final round of FA Cup qualifying of the 2019-’20 edition of the old competition, though it wasn’t without a bit of unintentional swapping and changing. You see, having agreed at some point during the week to visit Tamworth’s Lamb Ground with blog-regular Dan, I’d later worked out a plan with another regular accomplice, Paul, to head a little more northwards – to the Furness Peninsula no less! As such, after a quick bit of working out during Friday, things were all set for the following morning; the three of us were off to Holker Street!

I was due to meet Dan on the train at Manchester, but ticket machine issues for him meant I began the journey alone, meeting Paul en route at Wigan. The remainder of the trip up to Barrow went without little incident, outside of passing the now familiar line-side grounds of Galgate and Lancaster City, before a strange excitement arose with a brief sighting of Dalton United’s home nearer to our destination, which we reached after bypassing Furness Abbey; of which I’d wanted to grab a swift picture of but ended up on the wrong side of the carriage to do so, being left with only a brief view of “a little bit of the abbey”. I told you I’d get that line in, Paul!

Picture of Paul taking a picture of Emlyn

The Harbour

Arriving into Barrow at a tick before midday, and via a quick visit to the Emlyn Hughes statue just across the way, we headed off towards the far side of town where the Harbour Inn is located, with the intention of working our way back ground-wards, whilst Dan would meet us a little later on….but not before a tour of the town! Anyway, as it was, we decided on a brief stop-off in the Robin Hood en route, just to ensure we actually were on the right track. We were and with this stay here yielding a Coors (£3.60) each in a traditional boozer-type, we continued on to our original destination. The Harbour was a decent little place too – as I’d earmarked it during planning – and it even came complete with zombie-butler-fied Roy Hodgson; and another Coors (£3.20). With this lack of choice, I wasn’t sure which was the scarier!

With Dan’s arrival nearing, Paul and I returned back centre-wards and popped into the first of two neighbouring pubs across a roundabout from each other. The Globe was first up and was solid enough and the second consecutive place to already be decked out in Hallowe’en décor, though Coors (£2.80) continued to be a mainstay – though things could have been oh, so different, had we actually took the time to recognise that Staropramen was hidden behind a price sticker. For the same price as Jean-Claude’s favourite too. Bloody hell.

Zombie Woy

Heading to the Albion

Barrow-in-Furness in a town and borough on the tip of the Furness peninsula in Cumbria. Historically part of Lancashire, Barrow was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1867 and merged with Dalton-in-Furness Urban District in 1974 to form the municipal borough of Barrow-in-Furness. The area has been settled, on-and-off, for several millennia, with evidence of Neolithic settlements having been found on Walney Island, though despite wide-ranging Roman activity within Cumbria, no evidence has, to date, been discovered to suggest they ventured to the peninsula themselves. However, the Furness Hoard discovery of coins and various other artefacts in 2011 gave evidence of a 9th-century Norse settlement; indeed “Barrow” and “Furness” have their roots in Old Norse language. The Domesday Book recorded the local areas of Hawcoat, Roose and Walney.

In the Middle Ages, Cistercian Monks founded the Abbey of St. Mary of Furness – more commonly known as Furness Abbey – that now stands ruined in the old Vale of Nightshade area on the outskirts of present-day Barrow. The abbey was constructed on the orders of King Stephen during the 12th century and the discovery there of iron ore laid the foundations for many centuries of economic growth for the Furness area. The mining of this, along with the fishing and agriculture there, saw the abbey become the second richest Cistercian abbey in the country, with only Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire trumping it. A wooden tower was built by the monks on Piel Island, though this was raided twice by the Scots during the 1300’s, before a motte-and-bailey castle was approved by King Edward III in 1327 to replace it. Growing from a hamlet in Dalton-in-Furness, Barrow benefitted from the founding of the Furness railway by iron trader Henry Schneider and the first section opened to aid in the transportation of ore.

Barrow, close to the Robin Hood

Barrow

The railway later purchased the link across Morecambe Bay between Carnforth and Ulverston to allow for further expansion, from the Ulverston and Lancaster railway and docks grew up between the mid-to-late 1800’s, with Devonshire Docks being the first to open in 1867, with PM William Gladstone stating his belief that Barrow “…would become another Liverpool”. The Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch aided in keeping the iron ore business running smoothly and the improved links to the Cumberland mines meant steel industry became prominent for the town to become a main area of shipbuilding and rails, as the Industrial Revloution took hold. Indeed, at one point, the steelworks of Barrow Hematite was the largest in the world during the 19th century. Barrow became a planned town to accommodate the influx of workers into the area, with settlements planned out and added around the existing sites during the later part of the 1800’s, making Barrow one of the oldest in this respect.

The shipyards continued to grow in importance and construction increased, meaning it was later bought by the Vickers company before the turn of the century and they constructed Vickerstown on Walney Island – based upon Cadbury’s Bourneville. The shipyard became an important stage for the Royal Navy, the first submarine built in 1901, whilst Barrow/Walney Island airport was also added; but, whisper it, the ill-fated airship debacle also took place here, with the first one being wrecked by winds. Vessels such as the Russio-Japanese war flagship Mikasa and HMS Invincible were constructed here, as well as the later nuclear-powered subs beginning with HMS Dreadnought, though this led to Barrow being targeted during WWII by the Luftwaffe, with heavy damage and losses suffered, a Vickers ammunition factory giving out many armaments for the army and navy during both world wars. With the subs etc., BAE systems remains a focal point of Barrow. Alumni include Dave Myers, of Hairy Bikers fame, Glenn Cornick, of Jethro Tull, ex-England and Liverpool football skipper Emlyn Hughes, the Gardners of Rugby League, cricketers Mike Burns (ex-Somerset captain), Len Wilkinson (three Tests for England) and Liam Livingstone (Lancashire & England) and William Forshaw VC.

As we were finishing up, Dan eventually appeared from the complete wrong direction than he should have, later informing us that, for some reason only beknownst to him, he’d followed a bus app to aid him in his walk – thus adding a good twenty minutes to his trip. Just to rub it in, I showed him that all he had to do was to pop up the road from the station and he’d have been there in around five minutes tops….because I’m nice like that sometimes. Anyhow, Paul and myself could finally break the hold that Coors had on us, as I opted for an Amstel (£2.60), which made a more than pleasant change!

King’s Arms

The Kill One, next to Barrow RLFC

From there we continued ground-wards, though dropped Dan en route as he preferred to grab a bus there and arrive in safe time. As such, it ended up being just the pair of us once more that came up to the final pre-match stop, that being the rather different appearing (and named) The Kill One. Just one? Damn….oh, er, ignore that! Inside what seemed to be something akin to a small office-like building the bit of it that was now a pub appeared to be more like a social club, though we were soon back on familiar ground with a pint of Coors (£3) in hand. Absolute scenes aplenty. Catching the final throes of the early kick-off between Everton and West Ham here, including Sigurðsson’s late beauty, it was eventually time to truly make our way to Holker Street.

Heading on around a nearby park and past a large, strangely-placed coat of arms, we arrived at the turnstiles where Paul, who’d sorted out our tickets online for £13 apiece, arranged our entry, after he’d been spurned at the clubhouse bar pre-match. Despite the set-back, we still had positive thoughts for the tie going ahead. I headed to the food….lodge(?) at the top of the bit of open terracing in the corner of the ground, before being directed to a programme seller hidden away behind the stand on that side where I bagged one for each of us, not knowing Dan had already sorted his out. We eventually met him near the Main Stand opposite, where he’d made it to despite having somehow managed to enter in the away end, an away end that we were lucky had segregation to keep the wild 26 Moors fans in check!

The coat of arms thing

As I’ve alluded to there, Holker Street is a true throwback ground and it is bloody brilliant because of it. From the clubhouse end where we entered, there is a small-ish amount of open terracing that runs off around the right-hand corner of the pitch and around to where a cover meets it to make a covered terrace running the majority of the side, before further uncovered standing runs right around from here and behind the far end goal. The opposite side houses the all-seater Main Stand, with flat standing flanking either side, whilst the tunnel, changing rooms and clubhouse are all squeezed into a small area alongside the aforementioned entrance we had made use of. That’s Holker Street in short and this is the story of Barrow’s former league club….

History Lesson:

Barrow Association Football Club was founded in 1901 and spent their first eight years of existence playing at the Strawberry, Ainslie Street and Little Park grounds. During these times, Barrow had begun life by being accepted into the Lancashire Combination’s Division 2 in 1903 and would win promotion to Division One five years later, prior to moving into Holker Street, a year later, in 1909. They would remain in the Lancs Combination through to the outbreak of World War I and returned upon the end of hostilities and resumption of the sport, whereupon they would win the league title there in 1921. This title win came just at the right time for the club too, as it made their placing in the newly-formed Football League Third Division North all the more likely for the following year.

This duly came about and Barrow would begin their half-century-long stay in the League system as a founding member of said division, however they would become somewhat (and I’m sure unwanted) notable for achieving very little in the way of overall success throughout their first tenure through to the starting of World War II; their best result being a 5th-placed finish in 1933. As a result, post-war, Barrow remained in the Third Division through to re-organisation winning only the Lancashire Senior Cup of 1955 in the meantime, whereupon they placed in another newly formed bottom tier, this time the nationalised Fourth Division, in 1958. That season saw one of Barrow’s most notable ever results, however, this coming in the FA Cup, as the Cumbrians defeated Football League champions Wolves 4-2 at Holker Street.

Barrow’s clubhouse entrance

1967 finally saw another Barrow promotion come around, as the club made the move up into the Third Division, after finishing up in 3rd position in the Fourth Division table. The following year saw the club achieve their highest league position to date, 8th place in the third-tier, and also topped the division for a day during the campaign, this being the highest position ever held by Barrow. Sadly for them, the success wouldn’t be sustained and they were relegated, after just one more season there, in 1970. By now, Barrow were beginning to struggle financially and these issues saw them require re-election in both 1971 and 1972, and despite being given a stay of execution first time around, they weren’t so lucky in ’72, and they were replaced by Hereford United after 51 years as a League club. Reasons such as strong United showings, geographical locations and ground issues (Barrow had installed an ill-advised and short-lived speedway track which had gone by 1974) were noted as likely influences.

The club returned to the non-league ranks and took a spot in the Northern Premier League for 1972-’73, on the basis that the track be removed, which it duly was in the year mentioned above. They would struggle initially as financial woes continued, but these eventually abated enough to allow Barrow to join the new Alliance League in 1979, the first nationwide non-league divisional competition. 1981 would see Barrow lift another Lancashire FA competition, this time the Junior Cup, but league disappointment would follow in short order, with relegation from the Alliance League suffered in 1983; and despite returning at the first attempt as Northern Premier League title-winners (and winning the league’s league vs cup winners Peter Swales Shield), the drop would be suffered once more in 1986.

After a couple of near-misses and losing out after two replays in the semi-finals of the 1988 FA Trophy to Enfield, Barrow were promoted back to the newly-titled Football Conference in 1989 and under boss Ray Wilkie and record scorer and appearance-maker Colin Cowperthwaite, went on to enter a strong era. They would achieve their first major non-league silverware in the form of the 1990 running of the FA Trophy, defeating Leek Town in the shadow of Wembley’s twin towers, and they were rewarded for the 3-1 success with an automatic placing in the FA Cup first-round for the following season’s competition. Here, they would take advantage to reach the Third Round, where they bowed out to Bolton Wanderers. 1991-’92 saw Wilkie forced to step-down due to health problems, before he passed away later that year aged just 56. He is remembered and celebrated with the road outside the ground now named in his honour.

Arriving at Holker Street

Following involvements with some much-maligned owner(s), the club entered administration and liquidation proceedings commenced in early 1999 and despite remaining solvent, the club was expelled from the Conference at the end of the season, though to their credit, did avoid on-field relegation. Eventually allowed to return to the Northern Premier League after much wrangling, Barrow welcomed Winsford United on the 30th December 1999, a game which is recognised as the last ever game, pro or semi-pro, in the UK during that millennium. Continuing to maintain their place in the league despite their continuing off-field issues, fortunes slowly began to turn with promotion narrowly missed out on in both 2004 & 2005, and Barrow celebrated their upturn with a pair of NPL President’s Cup wins, their second in 2004 (following their initial 2002 success) coming over local rivals Workington, following an enthralling 6-6 aggregate draw, over two-legs – Barrow lifting the cup on away goals.

Missing out on the 2005 promotion the Conference National meant a place in the new Conference North was taken by Barrow instead. 2008 saw the club promoted, a change of management seeing a rise up the table ending in a fifth-placed finish and a place in the play-offs; during which wins over Telford United and Stalybridge Celtic in the semis and final respectively saw them promoted back to the Conference after nine years away. The next season saw them achieve their first win over League opposition since their own exit from it, a win over Brentford in the FA Cup’s 2nd round seeing this fact recorded. They bowed out in the 3rd Round to Middlesbrough at the Riverside, and did so again the next season away at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. However, the FA Trophy would prove a fruitful path and 2010 saw the Bluebirds lift the trophy for the second time, overcoming Stevenage Borough to become the first and only, to date, club to win it at both Wembley stadia.

Things would suffer on field fairly swiftly afterwards though and after staving off the drop in 2011, 2013 saw Barrow relegated to the Conference North but a change in ownership saw things take a turn for the better once more and Barrow were back in the, now titled, National League as North Division champions of 2015. A few swift changes in management have followed in recent times, but under current boss Ian Evatt, things seem to have settled down somewhat, the boss having signed a new contract just before this tie. Last season, Evatt guided Barrow to a more-than-solid 10th place in the National League.

Not much of interest early on

The game got underway fairly slowly, with the first ten minutes or so only seeing an early chance for the visitors created, this being when Lee Vaughan’s curling attempt was comfortably kept out by Barrow stopper Joel Dixon. Down the other end, Lewis Hardcastle fired wastefully over from the edge of the area and John Rooney saw a free-kick tipped over the crossbar by Moors ‘keeper Ryan Boot, as the hosts well and truly began to assert themselves as the dominant side in the game. Although, having said that, it wasn’t as if they were peppering Boot’s goal non-stop and the game wasn’t all that exciting for us neutrals.

However, the Bluebirds really should have been ahead before the interval, when, from the resulting corner following Rooney’s free-kick, Sam Hird was denied by a quick, reaction stop by Boot after the loose ball had fell kindly at his feet. It began to feel as if it might be one of those days, and the remaining minutes passed by with little in the way of true action, before, on the stroke of half-time, Hardcastle came the closest of anyone. The forward rushed through the Moors defence and fired low, beyond Boot, only to see his effort rebound off the upright and the ball was eventually cleared by the Solihull defence.

Match Action

View from the covered steps

Controlling his area

The half came to a close and I headed out back through the turnstiles and to the bar to meet Dan and Paul, who’d exited early to beat the thirsty rush. The second half was soon upon us, heralded by the sight of players through the glass overlooking the field and we quickly returned pitch-side to see what it had in store and who would be still in the hat come Monday evening’s First Round Draw. Our first signs of an answer came along just over five minutes into the second period, when the visitors won a corner and the resulting ball was delivered into a scrum of bodies, where it was met by the head of Liam Daly, and he planted the ball home from close-range. 1-0 to the Moors, last season’s National League runners-up.

They almost went two-up immediately afterwards, when the ball escaped the grasp of Dixon and fell at the feet of Danny Wright, whose shot was brilliantly blocked on the goal-line by a defender, before Barrow, their fans, and ourselves, thought they may have got a leveller, when a cross from the left-flank drifted into the hands of a stretching Boot, whereupon he was forced over the line by a challenging Dion Angus, the ‘keeper’s body – complete with ball – ending up over the line. Cheers went up, confusion reigned for a few seconds, before it became clear the decision was NO GOAL!! Usually, these things only go one way – the keeper’s, but this did seem a real 50/50, though the ref was probably right to play it safe.

Match Action

Grey skies over Holker St.

What sport again?!

Barrow came on strong as Solihull looked to sit back on their lead in the final 20 minutes or so, Hardcastle firing over into the clubhouse exterior wall, Rooney seeing another set-piece kept out low down by the impressive Boot, who must have pleased boss Tim Flowers with his performance, and late on, they almost forced the equaliser from close range when Josh Kay was denied by the ‘keeper, the rebound falling to Hird, but he could only shovel the ball over the cross bar. Moors would hold on to secure their spot in the First Round to the delight of their twenty six-strong away following!

Post-match, Paul bid us goodbye to make a swift return to Liverpool for some boxing later in the evening, whilst I dragged Dan back to a few drinking holes close to the station. Well, that was the plan anyway, though Dan ended up being side-tracked just after leaving the Furness Railway Wetherspoons – where I’d opted for a draught Strawberry and Lime Kopparberg (£2.49), to be able to squeeze in the remaining planned stops. The first of these was the Derby, where I got lost on entry, finding the bar populated only be stools lying sideways in some kind of reflection of how some peeps must end up leaving! As it was, the girl smoking at the door pointed me in the direction of the other pair of doors, whilst looking at me like I was a bit of an idiot which, to be fair, I was if you’re used to the layout! The closed, fairly solid doors soon gave way to a rather colourful bar area, and I opted for a Dark Fruits which broke the cheap record of the day – a prediction that Paul had made and was proud of keeping up; his departure leaving it, pretty much, intact.

Furness Railway

The Derby

Duke of Edinburgh

Polishing off the Dark Fruits (£3.70) in quick time, I made my way a few doors down to the station neighbouring Duke of Edinburgh, though I’d rather overestimated the time I had remaining and had Dan awaiting me outside, with phone calls leaving him a bit hamstrung and deciding to play it safe and cut his losses. A smart move in hindsight, as I only really had time for half-to-three quarters of the Amstel (£4.25) I’d got in before I had to cave in to the pressure of time and grab the train to Lancaster, where we’d change onwards back to Manchester. A fairly well-trodden path.

This all went without any problem and we were back where we’d set out in good time for my connection on home for a couple more ‘nightcaps’. The trip on the whole had been solid, if unspectacular. Barrow itself is ok, though the Coors-centric (don’t even mention Carling, Daniel) choice didn’t help their causes in myself and Paul’s eyes. However, Barrow’s ground is brilliant and has to be on anyone’s must-visit list – it really is a throwback to times gone by and, as a bonus, still maintains one of its old floodlight pylons, which seems to now be used for a signal mast. Sadly, the game was pretty terrible but that’s the case sometimes, and you can’t really fault Solihull for going up and doing a job to near perfection. Their success meant a place in the First Round “proper, where their reward is another tie they’ll likely see as winnable – away at Oxford City.

DISCLAIMER!!!! MINI RANT INCOMING!!!! It was probably a good job that they didn’t get the bye and so avoided the vitriol Chichester received for celebrating their “luck”, as to most unschooled “fans”, they haven’t earned it. Have a look at their fixtures – they have. These so-called fans well and truly piss me off; do a little research and get some actual knowledge on the competition. It begins in August, not November. I’ll leave it there before I go off on a proper rant; it’s not about being high and mighty and saying “ooh, look at these places I go, you’re not a REAL fan”. It’s more a case of do yourself a favour, before having a go at a hard-working club who’ve earned a break. All the best to them, and the others, in their remaining adventure….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 9

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 5

 

 

Manchopper in….Buxton (2)

Result: Buxton 1-2 York City (FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Silverlands (Saturday 5th October 2019, 3pm)

Att: 901

The FA Cup inches ever closer to, what is for many clubs, the promised land of the First Round and all the possibilities that come with it:- TV coverage, boosted gates, increased coffers and all the extra publicity amongst a number of other bonuses. For Buxton, a few of these would come a little early in the shape of the former Football League stalwarts York City, the Minstermen now plying their trade just a division above the Bucks. However, a home win would still be seen as something of a giant-killing – and with Silverlands now having a 4G pitch down, this had the possibility to be another added wrinkle to proceedings.

I headed off towards the Derbyshire spa town fairly early during this first Saturday morning of the first weekend of October, with the intention of hopefully getting around any kind of mass congregations of support and perhaps the introduction of the dreaded plastic pint cups. They send shivers down my spine just thinking of them….but luckily, the journey on through Manchester was silky smooth and I passed on through towns including the likes of Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith (yes, I’ve been to both in these silly pages) before arriving into Buxton station, the end of the line, around 50 minutes after leaving Piccadilly. Not bad.

Big train, little train, plastic box.

The Fan Window

Buxton

Having got in for a little before 11.30am, I decided to go on a sight-seeing walk around the town early on. As such, I paid visits to the rather grand fan window at the station itself, the famous Buxton spring, opera house, pavilion and its gardens and the hill on which the war memorial stands upon before heading back on down station-wards to my first stop of the day – this being the Buxton Brewery’s Tap House. A really nice setting that mixed the normal tap house setting with a kind of Mediterranean feel, it was a great place to begin with and the German-style Kellerbier wasn’t bad either, and the choice to play out the full track listing of Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid album was another tick to their boxes!

From there, I decided to head back towards the steep incline up to the higher part of town, where the square hosts a number of drinking holes, but first you come up to the 53° North café/bar in one of the buildings towards the top of said hill. Given a welcome on entering and getting an Estrella (£4.30) from the bar, though the highlight was given by the puppy, Harley, that came in with double-dad (human and canine), as it decided to ‘relieve’ itself in front of the bar. Class stuff, though I thought it’d be looked on differently if I’d have done so. Double-standards, no? Finishing there, I said a goodbye to the dads and dogs and completed the last bit of the climb and into the town square area, which is complete with King’s Arms, New Inn and the Eagle. Now, having been to Buxton twice before and tested the former two on both occasions (along with the Old Clubhouse near the Opera House), I thought I’d miss them out on this occasion and instead go for the Eagle – which proved to be solid, if unspectacular.

Buxton Brewery Tap

53 Degrees North

Looking towards the Eagle

Buxton is a spa and market town within the county of Derbyshire and is known as the ‘Gateway to the Peak District National Park’, although it lies outside of the National Park boundaries. It is the highest market town in England by elevation and was a municipal borough in its own right through to 1974, when it was merged with other localities, i.e. Glossop, to form the district and borough of the High Peak. The Romans first settled in the area, creating the settlement of Aquae Arnametiae (spa goddess of the grove) and coins unearthed around the town indicate that Buxton was inhabited throughout their occupation. However, from where its current name derives is uncertain, though may be from the Old English for Buck Stone or Rocking Stone, though this (to me anyway) seems unlikely.

Having been initially developed by the 5th Duke of Devonshire from profits derived from his copper mines in the area, the town was built in the spa town-style of Bath and would continue to grow up around its geothermal springs, morphing into the spa town it is known as – with the water from the springs being funnelled out to St. Anne’s Well, a medieval shrine that stands opposite the Crescent and Bath House. Victorians were drawn due to the alleged healing effects of the waters and the later Dukes of Devonshire did little to discourage them travelling there! Earlier, in 1569, their ancestor, Bess of Hardwick, took her husband (one of four no less), the Earl of Shrewsbury, to Buxton to “take the waters” after becoming the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, who herself was taken to the town five years later and stayed at the site now taken up by the Old Hall Hotel. Mary noted Buxton as ‘La Fontagne de Bogsby’.

Pavilion & Bandstand

Boardwalk

As the years rolled on into the 19th century, Buxton continued its growth in the Victorian-era, gaining recommendations from philosopher and Grandfather of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin, who pointed Josiah Wedgwood I (founder of the Wedgwood potting company) in the direction of Buxton and would then regularly visit with his family, before two of the later generations of the Darwin family would move to the town to reside there. Of the early settlement, only St. Anne’s Church remains of the majority limestone-build town, whilst most of what now stands is made of quarried sandstone from the 18th century and a nearby River Wye-carved limestone cave known as Poole’s Cavern contains unique ‘poached egg’ stalactites, as well as the largest stalactite in Derbyshire. It was handed its title due to a local, notorious highwayman of the same name.

St. Anne’s Well

Opera House Area

The town has also hosted the Buxton Festival since 1979 and its allied ‘Fringe’ festival, as well as being widely known for its bottled mineral water. Meanwhile, Buxton counts the likes of footballers Les Bradd (all time leading scorer for Notts County), Frank Soo (the first mixed-race professional player to represent England) and Mark Higgins, motorcycle trials champion Mick Andrews, BDO darting siblings Lorraine & Dean Winstanley, DJ Dave Lee Travis, Disney director Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins etc.), as well as ex-Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley, or Todd, as most may be more familiar with!

With the “new” Carlsberg being pretty cheap at £3.10, I plumped for that to cut my prior losses before moving on through the neighbouring market area towards the Ale Stop; which was also complete with doggo action in the form of Obi – a lovely thing he is too. After sitting with me for long enough for a regular to remark that he was quite happy with me, he soon abandoned me for crisps. What betrayal….though if I had that choice, I’d go for the crisps too, to be fair. In a state of despair, I polished off the last of my half of Tatton Brewery’s Best (a half, who’d have thunk it?!) and despite planning to pop up to Silverlands then and there to grab a programme early doors (I’d missed them on both previous visits), a quick calculation found it better to have a quick one in the neighbouring The Vault first.

Vault & Ale House

Cheshire Cheese & first post-match stop, The Swan

London Road Inn

Opting for a Strongbow (£3.60) in here, I saw the toilets sign near the stairs, but also near enough to the rear part to cause a bit of confusion and give flashbacks to my unintended trespass in Mill Hill a couple of years back. As it was, it was fairly obvious when getting there and having all that cleared up, I made haste up to Silverlands to grab a programme at £2 though, for whatever reason, I kept trying to pay more than that – first £3 and then £2.50. “I’m too generous sometimes” I said to the guy on the gate, before being handed said bible and returning down the road and back towards the far end of the town’s main thoroughfare. Here, I found the London Road Tavern that had been closed minutes earlier when I passed en route to the ground, was now open and fairly well populated, and so I made the decision to pop in there on my way back after visiting my intended stopping place, the Cheshire Cheese.

With time becoming a factor and wanting to pretty much complete Buxton centre’s pub offering, I decided to go on bottles and a Corona and Peroni in each of the two named above (at £3.00 and £4.00 respectively) saw me having spent up all my pre-match time and so it was back to the Bucks’ home once more, this time for a fairly more extensive time. Arriving to a decent amount of queues on the gates, I handed over my £10 entry and entered into the ground in one corner, between the raised, all-seater (formerly of Maine Road) Main Stand and clubhouse building. A food bar actually sits between the stand and turnstiles, with a sizeable covered terrace located right in front, behind the near-end goal. The far side is populated by a long, covered largely standing area, though also has a small amount of seating available, though it is at a premium, whilst the far end is open, hard standing – as are the corners of the ground too. That’s the highest ground in England, Silverlands, in short and this is the story behind the Bucks of Buxton….

History Lesson:

Buxton Football Club was founded in 1877 as an offshoot of a local cricket club and played their first match later that year. After spells groundsharing with the cricket club at the Park, before venturing out on their own to grounds on Cote Lane, London Road and Green Lane, they moved into long-term home Silverlands in 1884 – the first match there being a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie against Bakewell that Buxton came out of as 2-0 victors. The club later joined the Combination in 1891, though didn’t experience much success and indeed finished bottom of the league table in 1896 prior to leaving the Combination altogether in 1899. Switching to the Manchester League for the new century-spanning season, Buxton finished as 1904-’05 runners-up but spent most of their initial time there in the lower half of the table prior to its 1912 disbanding. Re-joining the League upon its re-forming in 1920, the club considered applying to join the newly-created Football League Division 3 North the next year, but thought better of it.

This led to them edging up to being title contenders in the Manchester League as the years went on – including winning the Manchester League’s League Cup consecutively in 1926 and 1927 – and after finishing as runners-up in both 1929 and 1930, they finally lifted the title in 1932 and joined the Cheshire County League for the following season. They remained there with little in the way of silverware success (though did win their first Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1939) through to World War II, and post-war they re-joined and finished as 1946-’47 runners-up and lifted their second Senior Cup, winning both the last pre-war and first post-war tournament. 1951-’52 saw the club’s first notable foray in the FA Cup, as the Bucks made the First Round for the first time, whereupon they thumped Rawmarsh Welfare 4-1, before going on to face League opposition in the form of Aldershot Town. The Silverlands would see a cup shock as the Shots were, ahem, shot down 4-3 with Buxton’s third-round reward being a tie with Second Division side Doncaster Rovers – who put an end to any fairytale in a 2-0 win at Belle Vue.

Arriving at Silverlands

Two Cheshire League Cups were won in 1957 & 1958, before 1958-’59 saw the First Round reached again, though they this time experienced polar opposite results when, having defeated Crook Town 4-1, they were thrashed by Accrington Stanley 6-1. 1962-’63 yielded a third first-round outing, this time ending at that stage in a loss to Barrow, and the season saw some more slight disappointment in the Cheshire County League, with the club finishing as runners-up. Despite winning the League Cup for a third time in 1969, it would take Buxton a decade from the runners-up placing to finally lift the Cheshire League title, 1973 seeing them achieve promotion to the Northern Premier League and they remained there through to 1987, winning the 1982 NPL President’s Cup along the way, when the NPL gained a second (First) division, with Buxton handed a spot in the Premier. Their spell there lasted another decade, fending off the drop in 1996 on goal difference alone, before being unable to stave it off the next year, after finishing bottom of the table, and things only got worse for the Bucks the next season, as their first outing in the First Division of the NPL ended in a second consecutive relegation.

Being placed in the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division, Buxton found it a rather difficult task to haul themselves back up into the NPL ranks, but 2006 finally saw them achieve promotion as NCEL champions, along with successfully defending their NCEL President’s Cup title (won in both 2005 & 2006), following this up with an immediate promotion from the NPL Division One the next year, in a pretty much complete juxtaposition to the seasons that saw them drop out of the league’s sphere. They also won the that year’s NPL President’s Cup to cap off a fine season in 2006-’07. They finished their first campaign back in the NPL Premier Division in a strong fifth-place, which saw them qualify for the play-offs; beating Witton Albion on penalties in the semi-finals, the Bucks were vanquished in the final by eventual Conference side Gateshead.

Clubhouse

They have remained in the Premier Division right through to the current day, with some seasons being more of a ‘hit’ and others a rather sizeable ‘miss’; last year was more of the former, with a 5th placed finish again seeing a play-off place achieved but, alas, this again ended with Buxton missing out on a Conference North place. On this occasion, the Bucks instead were defeated in the semi-finals 4-2 by South Shields up in the North East. They have gone on to win a total of ten Derbyshire Senior Cups to date, spanning from their first in 1939 through to 2012.

After a visit to the food bar for some chips and gravy, the game got underway with York coming out the stronger early on, though both sides would create little more than half-chances during the early skirmishes – Buxton’s Liam Hardy looping a header onto the roof of the net and York’s Kyle McFarlane driving an effort straight at Bucks stopper Grant Shenton. But it would be the hosts who would grab the first strike of the afternoon on eleven minutes, when the exotically named Diego de Girolamo, a former City player, nonetheless, pounced upon a knock-down in the area to slot home at the back post. 1-0 and the shock was on!

Match Action

Match Action

View from the Main Stand at ‘Tarmac Silverlands’!

More glimpses of goal would come and go, as the sides looked to extend and level up the scoring respectively, and went close through Warren Clarke’s fizzing drive, before Ryan Whitley had to be alert to keep out Bucks hotshot Liam Hardy when one-on-one with the hosts’ main scoring threat, following a long ball over the top. The half ended off with Adriano Moke testing Shenton with another effort from a fair way out, but that would be that as the sides headed in for the break. However, I’d seen enough to suggest that York would turn it around in the second half, as I’d stated to City fan Ben, so my reputation was on the line!

Indeed, the second half began much like the first, with an early strike seeing City duly level in similar circumstances to Buxton’s opener. After around five minutes of play, a ball into the area caused mayhem around the six-yard line, the ball eventually deflecting into the bottom corner. It looked as though York’s #9 may have got a touch en route, but it would be later credited as an own goal. With momentum at their backs, York now looked to assert the dominance their league placing should suggest. #5 headed over from a corner, before Buxton responded, a pair of shots from Hardy and the #9-clad de Girolamo (as opposed to, I assume, brother Nico) kept out by Whitley, with this enabling a swift counter down the other end, where a brilliant double save by Buxton ‘keeper Grant Shenton kept his side level. Keeping out the initial effort, with the loose ball meeting the head of Jordan Burrow, who looked destined to score, only for Shenton to fling himself across goal to block out the effort. Tremendous stuff, and it’s important to focus on the brilliance that goalkeepers pull off sometimes, as they certainly take the flack for the smallest of errors.

From the terrace

Match Action

Match Action

York continued to press onwards, though after #9 had seen his free header once again brilliantly saved by Shenton, it looked as though the Bucks were on course to at least secure a replay. But with ten minutes left on the clock, disaster struck for the hosts as a cross to the back-post was met by young full-back Nathan Dyer, whose looping header came back off the woodwork but fell kindly for a team-mate, who knocked it back his way, and this time the defender made no mistake – opting for power and thumping the ball into the roof of the net. The Buxton players looked broken, though their spirit was not and, with some sorts of trouble beginning to kick-off in the stand behind the goal, seemingly involving ‘fans’ of both sides, they almost got a late, late leveller.  Just after Nico de Girolamo had headed over, and introducing Martin Pilkington surprisingly late in the day, a clever low free-kick by Aaron Chalmers looked to be rolling into the bottom corner, but agonisingly came back off the foot of the upright, the Minstermen’s defence clearing the ball and securing their face in the final quali round.

CORNERS!!

As the authorities and ambulances began to arrive at the gate and enter the ground, the final whistle blew with a fine on-field contest being unfortunately overshadowed by the antics off the pitch. If the sparse info is indeed correct, I wish the young girl who was struck by an object the very best and not to be put off returning back to the terraces quickly. Buxton look a very strong side, and I expect their rise up the table to start quickly and them to be challenging for the higher places come the end of the season, if they continue these performances. York, meanwhile, look to have the steel they have seemingly lacked in recent times to grind out results, which should stand them in good stead as they seek to get back, firstly, into the Conference. Dyer looks to have all the attributes to go far as well; I was surprised to find he’s only 18, as he seems far older in his play and build.

Post-match, I joined the rush of people heading out of the ground as the sirens wailed around (it wasn’t quite as dramatic overall) and was soon back where I’d ended my pre-match tour, but this time on the other side of the road at the Swan. Having been unable to peruse the offerings overly in here, I opted for a pint of Stella (£3.50~), which I wasn’t planning on at the time – but having been informed that my parents were out and about back in their bar, I reckoned “free” drinks were better than me paying and decided to hop on the train back an hour later – meaning Spoons was sacrificed. It mattered little in the long run and so, after brief visits to the nearby Old Sun and Queen’s Head for more bottled goodness (at a surprisingly costly £4.20 a pop), I returned back down the steep hill (much more favourable) and back to the station in good time for the train back, which was about to pull in ahead of its return trip.

Old Sun

Queen’s Head

The remainder of said journey went smoothly and, making the connections in Manchester easily enough, I was back home by 7.30pm, which isn’t bad all things considered. As for the day, it had been a decent trip overall, despite the shenanigans from a few fools who blighted the names of both clubs – regardless of their following….though I doubt highly that either are anywhere close to being a fan of either in the real sense of the word. Silverlands is a great ground to visit (though the 4G does take a little of the essence off it) and Buxton is a brilliant town. The game itself was a highly watchable tie and Buxton were unfortunate to not grab a replay out of the contest right at the end, with York not at their best. Anyway, it was the Minstermen who took their place in the hat for the final qualifying round, where they drew fellow League former members Stockport County. What a tie. As for me, I likely won’t be at Bootham Crescent for a final visit that day; but I will be somewhere….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 8

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Matlock

Result: Matlock Town 1-2 Kidsgrove Athletic (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

Venue: Causeway Lane (Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Yet another FA Cup weekend came up on the footballing world and with summer biting back for likely the final time this year, I reckoned I might as well make the most of it and join the tourists in one of the more popular inland areas up in t’hills. This would entail a rather irritating journey to get there, but I figured it would be worth the while in the end. As such, Matlock was the chosen destination and, having only visited the Gladiators’ ground once some six years back, I was looking forward to the trip.

Passing through Manchester on the way, I caught the train to Alfreton where I would make a change of transport method for a bus onwards to ex-New Zealand Test Cricketer Iain O’Brien’s abode, Matlock. The bus, helpfully, leaves from the station’s front entrance and so allowed for a small delay, though I did only have around seven minutes or so in hand, or I’d be stranded for a couple of hours and looking for alternatives on the fly. Luckily, these wouldn’t be needed, the bus arrived in good time (£5.30 day ticket) and I was soon rolling onwards towards Matlock Bath, though the journey wasn’t exactly peaceful – a couple of excitable kids putting paid to that – and that’s coming from someone who deals with this on a daily basis!

Arriving in Matlock Bath

Fishpond

Toads & Tails

The journey included a hareum-scareum trip down a narrow road as a diversion, though this did mean we encountered a convoy of a few Caterhams and an old, mid-1900’s bus on the approach to Crich – the latter complete with one guy and a huge, life-size panda teddy as passengers for some ungodly reason; I prefer not to consider too hard. I eventually arrived a good twenty minutes later into Matlock than planned, meaning my stay here was forcibly truncated due to bus timings and the like, as mentioned earlier. I did still have time to have a couple of sunsoaked pints on the pleasant-looking main street through it though – first in the Fishpond freehouse just across the way from the spa building itself, and an interestingly named alehouse called Toads and Tails. Both were fine and I decided to go local in my ales, opting for a Derby Pride Pale Ale (£3.70) in the former and a Matlock Brewery Illuminations (£3.40) in the latter. I preferred the Derby personally, though that’s not to say the Matlock one wasn’t good.

Soon enough, it was time to grab the bus up the road and to Matlock itself, sadly having to bypass the Cottage and Midland pubs as I did so. I originally planned to get off at the stop that would allow me a cut-through to the Duke William, but missed this due to not being attentive enough – the stops aren’t exactly easy to spot if you’re not used to them. However, this allowed me to instead head straight into the centre of town and proved to be a far better way of doing the day overall – well, if you don’t count not finding the aforementioned cut-through and getting lost in a churchyard, but more on that later. The Remarkable Hare just opposite the bus stop was first up for a pint of Atlantic Pale Ale (£3.30), whilst I went about setting out a tour of Matlock’s, surprisingly few, hostelries.

Outside the Remarkable Hare

Matlock

Matlock

Matlock is (apparently) the county town of Derbyshire (yes, I thought it was Derby) and is located at the south-eastern edge of the Peak District, and is part of the Derbyshire Dales district. The former spa town has the resort of Matlock Bath lying just to the south and Matlock’s urban district is considered to take in Wirksworth, Darley Dale, Tansley and Hackney. Its name derives from the Old English mæthel, meaning assembly or speech and āc meaning ‘t oak tree’ – so Matlock or ‘moot-oak’ is ‘oak tree where meetings are held. Recorded as Meslach in the Domesday Book, by the mid-1100’s it had become Matlac. Built upon the River Derwent, the town’s industries were thus taken from this, with hydrotherapy and cloth milling growing up along it and its tributary Bentley Brook.

Originally a group of villages within the Wirksworth Hundred – that of Matlock Green, Bath, Town, Bridge and Bank – until the 1698 discovery of thermal springs, the hydros that were being built became ever more popular and so the area grew with both residents and tourism eventually leading to the villages pretty much linking together. The Derbyshire County Council HQ currently resides in the largest hydro that was built and lasted over 100 years until closing its doors for a year in 1955 before re-opening in its current guise. The town council of Matlock also takes in Riber, Starkholmes and Hurst Farm as well as its ‘Matlock’ grouping.

Matlock Bath

Former tram cover

A cable tramway was used until 1927 to get around the issues of Bank Road, with the area’s earliest settlements around Bentley Brook at Matlock Green, eventually growing up the hillside, though the tramway was eventually usurped by buses and cars. The rail line through to Manchester (via Buxton) was closed in 1968, with Network Rail’s subsequent thoughts of re-opening the route not yet coming to fruition, though the line has been kept free of overgrowth with it still possibly having a new re-purposing. The town centre’s Hall Leys park houses a Victorian bandstand, an old tramway shelter, sports areas, café, a footbridge over the Derwent with river-level markings (its part of the flood defences), as well as a miniature railway and boating lake. The bridge and war memorial neighbour it, alongside a wishing well. Matlock is also one of the smallest towns in the country to host two bus stations. Exciting.

Bandstand

Bridge & Flood Heights

From there, I took a stroll on over the bridge and through the neighbouring gardens (no market as there was on my previous visit though), passing by the Wetherspoons before arriving at the modern, and kind of showroom-looking Tipsy Toad. A very modern/craft-style place, this was all very rustic inside and a pint of Rattler cider was had to fit in with the theme. Rattlesnakes and taverns go together, right? The pint here was £4.50 and is always a good one (though it had been a fair while since I’d sampled it – since Exeter, in fact if I remember rightly) and set me up nicely to brave the ‘Spoons. With time beginning to run a little on the short side, I opted for a Kopparberg Mixed Fruits (£2.75) before again taking a slight detour to the gardens and paying a brief visit to the ground to grab a programme on my way over to the Red Lion, just beyond the cricket ground at the far end. Again taking advantage of the outdoor seating in the sun here, I decided to milk a Dark Fruits for the twenty-or-so minutes through to kick-off time.

Tipsy Toad

Heading to the ‘Spoons

Red Lion

Returning back to the gate, I paid my entry dues of £10 and was allowed into Causeway Lane for a second time. The ground hadn’t changed from what I could remember, with the near side being populated by a covered terrace/seating dual stand that runs the length of the pitch and a covered terrace area at the near end. The Main, all-seater, Stand is located on the opposite side and straddles half-way, whilst the clubhouse area and food bar flank it to either side, the clubhouse standing between it and the off-limits far end, which is the cricket outfield. There is also a small amount of uncovered terracing just between the food bar and the covered standing area too, making for a super little ground. That’s Causeway Lane in a nutshell and this is the story of Matlock’s Gladiators….

History Lesson:

Matlock Town Football Club was founded in 1878 as Matlock Football Club and initially played at a ground on Hall Leys before moving into Causeway Lane. They began entering the FA Cup from 1885, though wouldn’t manage to win a game in the competition until 1890, the year when the club joined the Derbyshire Senior League as founder members. They would win the inaugural championship that year and defended it successfully the next too, this preceding a switch into the Midland Amateur Alliance for 1892. However, this would prove to be the Alliance’s final season – the league disbanding and leaving Matlock to return back to the Derbyshire Senior League once again. They would later attempt to move up to the Midland League in 1894, but this would prove to be something of a disaster, Matlock recording a bottom-placed finish at the end of their first season, before somehow managing to go one worse the following year, losing out in each and every one of their 28 league games.

This horrific campaign led to Matlock returning back, once more, to their safe haven of the Derbyshire Senior League, but things hardly improved on the field, and the club finished bottom of the league here too, in 1898. A period of un-noticeable seasons leading up to World War I came and went and, after the end of hostilities, the club returned to the field as Matlock Town; the club clearly hoping to start afresh. They would move from the Derbyshire Senior League to the Central Alliance in 1924, but the club again proved to be something of an ‘Alliance grim reaper’, as they competed in a second alliance league’s final season (1924-’25) before, yet again, finding refuge in the familiar surroundings of the DSL. They finished as league runners-up in 1927 before moving to compete in the Central Combination for two seasons from 1933, seemingly folding.

MTFC

However, Matlock Town would return once more as a post-war side, joining the Chesterfield & District League in 1946 for a season prior to the Central Alliance also returning. Upon a divisional split in 1950, Matlock maintained a place in the top division, Division One, though avoided the drop two-seasons later, despite finishing bottom. This happened again in 1956, but the club were benefactors of further league re-organisation – this time a regional North/South Division One split. This proved to be for the better as Matlock won the Division One North title in 1960 and also reached that season’s FA Cup First Round, losing out in a replay to Crook Town, by the odd goal. Their league turnaround would continue the following year, with the Gladiators successfully defending their league title and thereupon again decided to try their hand up the leagues; their destination this time coming in the shape of the reformed Midland League.

The club lifted the league title at the first attempt (1962) and took their second championship in 1969, which subsequently saw Matlock promoted to the Northern Premier League. 1975 saw a second FA Cup First Round appearance for the Gladiators end in a 4-1 reverse to Blackburn Rovers, but a Wembley appearance would be forthcoming that same season; Town making it to the FA Trophy Final where they thumped Scarborough 4-0 to lift the prize – a feat which also saw a bit of history in that three of the Town side were brothers; the only occasion this has happened in a final at either the ‘old’ or ‘new’ ground. This success would lead to an automatic qualification for the FA Cup’s First Round for the next season, but they would again be bested by 4-1, this time by future Cup winners Wigan Athletic.

Clubhouse

Before Wigan’s future heroics though, Matlock would get their revenge in the next staging of the famous competition – besting the Latics 2-0 – and beating eventual Third Division champions Mansfield Town 5-2 at the Stags’ home, taking their first Football League scalp in the process, before eventually bowing out to Carlisle United in the Third Round. An NPL Cup double would be achieved in 1978, as the Challenge Cup and Peter Swales Shield arrived at Causeway Lane, and Matlock entered the 1978-’79 Anglo-Italian Cup, finishing a creditable 2nd in the English section. The Gladiators finished as NPL runners-up in 1984 and three years later, became a member of the NPL Premier Division when the league gained a First Division too. They remained there through into the new decade, winning the 1989 Floodlit Trophy, whilst 1990 saw yet another First Round FA Cup appearance end in a 4-1 loss, this time at the hands of Scunthorpe United.

Causeway Lane, MTFC

Despite starting the decade with the 1991 Floodlit Cup, Matlock would suffer relegation to the NPL’s First Division in 1996, finishing bottom, and would remain there for eight seasons before finishing as runners-up and earning promotion back to the Premier Division. They followed this success by winning the next season’s (2004-’05) NPL Challenge Cup, the second time they had won this silverware, and 2008 saw Matlock earn a shot at a place in the Conference North when making the play-offs; Witton Albion would, however, prevail 4-2 in the semi-finals, consigning Town to another year in the NPL. They have since finished a best of 7th (coming in 2010), whilst consolidating themselves as a solid mid-table outfit, year-on-year, finishing last season in 15th place. They have also lifted the Derbyshire Senior Cup on a total of ten occasions – their first in 1975, and most recent coming in 2017.

The game got underway as I got talking to Matlock and Leeds fan Gary, about all and sundry with regards to different things in the world of football and the like. It was a good job there was something to distract me (at least from my perspective) from the on-field action…or the lack thereof; it was bloody horrendous early doors. It really isn’t a stretch to say that the first twenty minutes or so saw next to nothing in the way of goal-mouth action – or 18-yard action even – truly be created – a shot from over the half-way line being the closes we came to an opener. Even then, it wasn’t really that close. The first real chance eventually came the way of Matlock’s Dan Bramall, his shot being deflected wide, before Ant Malbon responded for Kidsgrove – however he could only tamely hit straight at Jon Stewart between the Gladiators’ sticks.

View from the dual stand

Match Action

Footie & Drink!

That would pretty much be that for the first half it seemed, but, right on the stroke of half-time, the hosts grabbed a slightly deserved lead on the overall balance of play. Having just visited the food bar for something that involved chips (I can’t remember what else – its been over ten days…), I headed over to the clubhouse entrance in anticipation of the whistle, when a free-kick was met by James Williamson at the back post and his header nestled in the net. 1-0 Matlock at the break, a break which was spent watching the half-time scores come in from around the country, as a rather sizeable queue formed at the bar.

The second half was soon on the go and Kidsgrove came out like a house on fire, intent on getting themselves back on level terms, clearly having been stung by conceding so late in the first-half, Malbon volleying over the bar in their best chance early doors. Having said that, this approach gave Matlock the space to attack too and they also went close, Marcus Marshall firing narrowly wide in search of a second goal that would have likely clinched Town’s place in the next round. Kidsgrove, however, would have other ideas and the impressive Kingsley Adu Gyamfi went close on a pair of occasions as Athletic strove to get back level.

Through The Crowds

From The Stand

Terraces

They would achieve this goal with around twenty-five minutes left on the clock; skipper Ant Malbon latched onto a loose-ball, after James Butler’s header had been cleared off the line but no further, and he calmly finished – showing all his experience in doing so. The wind was well and truly in the sails of Kidsgrove now and, with their band of supporters in the terrace behind the goal still coming to terms with their leveller, their joy became jubilation moments later. All but straight from kick-off, the quicksilver Gymafi picked up the ball just inside the Matlock half, beat a couple of challenges in advancing forward, before lashing a drive across goal that flew past Stewart and into the back of the net. What a strike it was and Gyamfi enjoyed it just as much as the Grove faithful did!

A stunned Matlock did seem shell-shocked by the sudden turnaround and despite seeing Williamson and Luke Hinsley denied by Kidsgrove ‘keeper Kieran Harrison, even the coming up of Harrison’s opposite number Stewart for a final minute corner couldn’t force an equaliser and the NPL South visitors held on to seal a “Cupset” and head into the Third Qualifying Round, the magical First Round place and all the possibilities that come with it edging ever closer. However, I’m still left with just the one ‘keeper goal live – Greg Hall’s place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ (NB: a note) as sole member in that category is safe. In fact, I’ve seen him score as a ‘keeper, midfielder and striker. So, yeah.

Late on…

Small bridge & stream. Quaint.

After the game, I made haste up the steep incline to the Duke William, which should have been my starting point upon my arrival into Matlock proper. This had also been the scene of one of my rare darts wins which, I must admit, came in my more sober days!! Upon entering into this throwback public house, I plumped for a pint of Heineken (£4.30~) and wasted away a fair bit of the hour-and-a-bit or so I had until the bus back to Alfreton. This was all going well until….well, you remember that “getting lost in a churchyard” bit, yeah? See that and add ‘a private road’ and could I find this place? Could I hell. As such, I decided to follow the paths from whence I came and got back to the Remarkable Hare in good time for the bus….which was then delayed by a good twenty minutes, meaning a later train back was now on the cards. Walking through Alfreton, I decided it was time to employ my ‘trump card’. What was that, you ask? I think you know….!

Duke William

Back in Alfreton at the Prospect Micropub

Since visiting Alfreton with fellow hopper Paul a few seasons back now, a small micropub in an unassuming side road has opened up judt a few minutes walk from the station entrance. Going by the name of the Prospect Micropub (on account of said road it is on), it was always going to be a place of refuge is something went a little awry, and so it came to be. Unfortunately, for some reason, I sounded like a pure drunk on my arrival there and could barely string the sentence I wanted together, though maybe wasn’t as bad as I suspected, as the guy there seemed to know what I was on about. Or maybe he guessed?! Either way, I ended up choosing another Rattler at £4.70 and wasted away the remaining time lazing on a couch. Lovely stuff.

Eventually I had to rouse myself from the sunken sofa and back out onto the streets of Alfreton, which by now were bathed in darkness and illuminated only by the streetlights glaring down upon them. Hello darkness, my old friend. Winter is coming. Any other puns; I can’t see me thinking of anymore. Sorry. Anyway, no other problems were seen and via a welcome doze on the train back into Manchester, I was there in quick time, though wasn’t in the mood to stick around the best part of an hour for a train; instead I opted to part with a couple of quid extra to grab a bus and get home a half-hour earlier. I fair trade I think. That ended another good trip to another lovely town. Of course, I knew what to expect out of Matlock (less so its pubs), but I hadn’t been to its Bath-y neighbour before and that was the bonus. Both were great and, of course, Causeway Lane is, as I’ve already said, a top ground – even without the dramatic backdrop up to Riber Castle. Next up….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 9

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Belper

Result: Belper Town 1-0 Alvechurch (FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: Christchurch Meadows (Saturday 7th September 2019, 3pm)

Att: 329

The FA Cup rolls onwards through its rounds and as it does, I continue to follow its path. The best part about the Cup is that it springs up some intriguing contests that would otherwise not be possible in the short term. Case in point being today’s game at Christchurch Meadows in the market town of Belper. The home of the Nailers has been a long-term target of mine and a cup tie always adds an extra intrigue to proceedings and, as a result, once the draw had thrown up a home tie for Belper, there was little choice that had to be made.

I headed on through Sheffield and Derby, with twenty minutes waits at both – the latter of which yielded a group of guys riding leprechaun suits – the train for the short hop to Belper came in and I was walking down the High Street within 20 minutes of leaving Derby. The high street leading up past the memorial gardens and to the cenotaph area is a fair incline, but is nothing on the bit of road between there and the Nags Head, the small traditional pub at the end of the town centre. This is a true locals place but, that’s not a slight on it whatsoever. Its a lovely, snug place and the pint of San Miguel (£3) was probably one of the fizziest I’ve ever had. Good signs!

Finishing up in the Nag, I backtracked the short distance to the cenotaph but where three drinking holes sit in close proximity to each other. Namely, these are the Angels micropub, the Cross Keys and the Black Swan. The former is a small, real ale-centric place and seems to be in some kind of former church building of sorts. I might be completely wrong, but the Oakham brewery’s Citra beer (£3) certainly wasn’t! The highlight here had to be the picture above the bar of a group of angels, all with pint in hand. My idea of heaven.

Belper

Nag’s Head

The Angels Micropub

Belper is a market town and civil parish within the Amber Valley area of Derbyshire, around 7 miles to the North of Derby, with its name thought to derive from the word Beaurepaire – meaning ‘beautiful view’ – which itself was the name given to a local hunting lodge, mentioned in a 1231 charter. This would have been owned by the 1st Earl of Lancaster and its chapel still remains and is thought to be the oldest building in Belper. The town stands upon the River Derwent and counts the village of Milford and nearby hamlets of Bargate, Blackbrook and Makeney as areas of its parish. At the time of the Norman invasion, Belper was part of the land centred on Duffield and owned by the family of Henry de Ferrers, whilst the Domesday Book states that the manor of “Bradley” was located in the area, thought to be now near Coppice which, at the time, was likely within the Forest of East Derbyshire that covered the county east of the Derwent.

The area was disafforested in 1225 and became a part of Duffield Frith. The coal deposits at the time were associated with ironstone being important to the de Ferrers family, who were ironmasters back in Normandy and by time King Henry VIII had come to the throne, Belper had grown and prospered quite significantly around nail-making and the selling of these to surrounding textile mills, although it was still considered a lesser area near to Duffield. This remained the long-term industry of the town through to the late 18th century and the building of the world’s second-only water-powered mill by Jedediah Strutt and the expansion of the textile industry saw Belper become a mill town. Further followed, with the North Mill and ground-neighbouring East Mill still standing – parts of the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site.

Belper square and Black Swan

War Memorial Gardens

More floral niceties

The construction of the North Midland Railway in 1940 saw Belper connected to more wide-ranging areas and allowed the town to become the first place in the U.K. to gain gas lighting, with textiles and hosiery remaining the core industry into the 20th century, whilst iron-founding also grew up. A ‘Poet’s Trail’ was added to the town in 2009 and features well-known and local talents, whilst Belper won the ‘High-Street of the Year’ award in 2014. Local alumni include Commonwealth Games double gold-medallist swimmer Ross Davenport, the “father of the American Industrial Revolution” Samuel Slater, colonial ruler of Malaya Frank Swettenham, ex-Derby County footballer Ron Webster and none other than James Bond!!! Well, Timothy Dalton.

From there, it was to the Black Swan, what with the Cross Keys not being open until later. The Black Swan was instead and this is one of the slightly more foodie places, though not overly so. Anyways, I opted for a pint of Estrella (£4.60) here, prior to making my way down the other side of the gardens, slightly away from the centre itself. Here, I came to the Old King’s Head, another of the more local, traditional pubs in and around the place. A Strongbow (£3.25) was had here, whilst I battled a bout of the sneezes, which aren’t quite the thing you want to have come upon you in a queitish place!

Old King’s Head

Heading to the ground

Cutting back through the gardens afterwards, I made headway for the Green House, one of those ‘Wetherspoons-without-being-a-Wetherspoons’ type of places. They had the ill-fated (from an England perspective) Ashes test from Old Trafford on, where the hosts were batting to avoid the follow on, the legendary Jack Leach’s glasses and lens cloth aiding the cause gamely. A Dark Fruits – at a pricey £4.05 -was had before going groundwards to secure a programme early doors before returning to the surrounding roads of Christchurch Meadows for one final pre-match drink.

The Rifleman’s Arms was the venue for this, and a pint of Strongbow (£3.65) was milked to wile away the good 45 minutes through towards kick-off, with the programme purchase now no longer an issue. Again, this was a pleasant enough pub and was well worth the visit, prior to heading the short distance back to the Christchurch Meadows turnstiles, whereupon I paid the £9 entrance fee and entered inside. I reckoned it’d be best to seek out the food bar first, though the first place I came across didn’t sell any other than soup. As a result, I ordered some tomato which, thanks to the ladies there, was eventually made despite their unyielding saucepan task. Thanks for the efforts and it was fine nonetheless!

Rifleman’s Arms

Arriving at the ground

Christchurch Meadow itself is a tidy and pleasant ground. It houses two stands; the covered terrace is located just in front of the turnstiles, and runs the third of the touchline on the near side. Running the majority of the far side is a seated stand, whilst the clubhouse (and actual food bar as I would find out) is situated directly behind it. Both ends, and to the sides of the stands are all open, hard standing, with the neighbouring church and mill providing an interesting back drop. That’s the ground, and this is the story of the Nailers of Belper….

History Lesson:

Belper Town Football Club was founded in 1883 and after playing both locally and in the FA Cup initially – reaching the First Round in 1888 and losing out to The Wednesday (before they added Sheffield to their name). They later became founder members of the Derbyshire Senior League in 1890, finishing as runners-up in 1896 before moving into the Mid-Derbyshire League around the turn of the century and winning the title there in 1905 and finishing as runners-up two years later in the final year of the Mid-Derbyshire League before its re-naming, now being known as the Derbyshire Alliance. However, the league only lasted a sole season before merging with the Nottinghamshire & District League in 1908 to form the Notts & Derbyshire League, with Belper again becoming a founding member. Unfortunately, their stay would be brief, and after leaving the league during the 1911-’12 campaign, the club folded shortly after and wouldn’t return until post-WWII.

1951 saw Belper Town eventually return to the field and this came in the Central Alliance’s Division One – where the ‘new’ club took over the fixtures of the departed Mansfield Town ‘A’ side. The league was restructured five-years later to become more regionalised, with Belper being placed in the Division One North and after finishing runners-up in 1957, they won the Division One North title in 1959 and then added to this success with a first Derbyshire Senior Cup too. When the Midland League was re-established in 1961, Belper would join the new league but despite lifting their second Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1962, didn’t begin life there all too well, finishing bottom in 1970. However, they did stabilise somewhat after this, but upon the league’s split into a two-divisional competition, Belper’s tenure in the Premier could’ve ended with relegation in 1979; instead the drop didn’t come their way and the following year saw another league and cup double attained, with the Premier Division title and the club’s third Derbyshire Senior Cup won.

A Hidden Welcome

BTFC

1982 saw the Midland League merge with the Yorkshire League to become the Northern Counties East League and Belper were again placed in the Premier Division. The Nailers would win the league in 1985, but wouldn’t be promoted, and success soon became harder to come by. Indeed, it took a decade for the club’s next silverware to arrive, this finally coming in the form of the 1995-’96 NCEL President’s Cup. They would follow this up with a runners-up placing in the NCEL Premier Division the next year and this was enough to secure Belper promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One. They would remain there through until the league’s re-organisation and the regional split of the Division One in 2007 with the Nailers being placed in the South Division. 2008 saw a fourth Derbyshire Senior Cup won too, their last to date.

The club would finish runners-up in 2009, missing out on the title on goal difference, and so had to make do with a place in the play-offs. However, they wouldn’t manage to end their season on a high, losing out to Stocksbridge Park Steels in the play-off final. Belper won the NPL President’s Cup in 2010 and 2013 saw the Nailers back in the play-offs, but again their run here would end in disappointment with a 4-2 defeat to Stamford in the semi-finals being suffered. But it would be third-time lucky for the club the next year, as they vanquished Leek Town and Mickleover Sports in the play-off semi and final respectively to secure a spot in the NPL Premier Division, though their first foray into Step 3 would be brief, lasting just the one season prior to the drop back to the Division One South. Since this drop, the club have spent two seasons in the First Division South, one in the re-designated Division One East, and have started this in the now-named South East Division.

The game got going, well….that’s a bit of a lie – it really didn’t ever get out of first gear in truth! The visitors from the catchily-named Southern League Premier Division Central – a step above Belper’s current placing – began ever so slightly on top, but never really looked threatening, whilst the hosts largely mirrored this. An early header by Kyle Rowley flew high over the bar for Alvechurch, whilst experienced forward Danny South and Riece Bertram had efforts down the other end, but there was little to choose between the teams.

Match Action

Match Action

Just after the half-hour, the hosts’ Nathan Curtis volleyed narrowly wide in what was the closest we had come to a goal, but there would only be a few half-chances at either end in the remained fifteen minutes or so of the first period, before Phil Watt went close for the hosts too, but he couldn’t force the ball over the line from a narrow angle. George Milner then fired over from the edge of the area with a couple of minutes to play ahead of the break, before the whistle blew to signal the halfway point of a rather tepid, turgid game. The visit to the food bar for a decent portion of chips was probably the highlight for me!

The second half started with even less in the way of true goalmouth action and all I could say is, from a neutral’s point of view, thank God it was a decent day weather-wise! However if I was to look at it a little more positively, a closely-fought game does at least keep all results possible and that is a good thing on the whole. It took until around the hour for a first real sight of goal to come the way of any player – that player being Javia Roberts – but his shot would only drift over once more.

From the seats

Belper celebrate their winner

Match Action

The tie meandered onwards towards its conclusion with little to suggest that an opener was on the cards. However, as I made my way around to the far-end of the pitch to head around for the exit, something of a divine miracle occurred which, with the church as a back-drop, was perhaps always going to happen. Having not really troubled their visitors in the second half, a long punt forward was met by the lanky frame of South and his flick-on fell perfectly for the on-rushing Charlie Dawes, who hammered the ball past Lloyd Ransome between the Alvechurch sticks to send the home support (and, I have to admit myself) into rapturous cheers. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite at rapturous levels, but I was bloody relieved.

The Nailers duly saw out the remaining five minutes or so with little alarm and deservedly booked their place in the next round, though if ‘Church had taken it, you could say they’d have deserved it too; it really was that kind of game. Anyhow, post-match, I made haste to the nearby George & Dragon, where I decided to play it safe with a Kopparberg Mixed Fruit (£3.90), prior to returning back station-wards for the neighbouring Railway, where I indulged in a Dandelion & Burdock (£2.50) prior to the train home.

George & Dragon

Railway

Poem

Incidentally, the station at Belper is home to a copy of a lovely Robert Stevenson poem, which rings true across all eras. That would end a fine little trip, one that almost ended in a 0-0 disaster, but resulted in a cup upset. The game itself was a bit middle of the road, but the town itself was really pleasant and great to visit. Programme and food (plus the efforts soup-wise) were both great and appreciated and, all in all, a highly enjoyable day was had. Back on the road we go….

Manchopper in….Halesowen

Halesowen Town 3-1 Bedworth United (FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay)

Venue: The Grove (Monday 26th August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 377

Having missed out on an FA Cup tie on the Saturday, due to having executive tickets at Old Trafford (though I wish I hadn’t, having been subjected to the tosh served up by United there), I thought I’d missed my chance to continue along on the “Road to Wembley”….or in my case “Road to the 4th or 5th Round at Swindon” or something akin to that. Indeed, having woken up on Bank Holiday Monday morning, my intended destination remained to be my previous night’s choice – Barrow vs FC Halifax Town up at Holker Street. But, come a check of the weather, I began to doubt my choice a little; 19ºc seeming something of a waste of a, supposedly, rare balmy day out. A quick peruse of the fixtures again served up a pleasant surprise in this very tie I’m writing about and the high 20’s were definitely more attractive too.

As such, my FA Cup quest could continue on and I could enjoy the likely final day of true heat Britain is likely to see this year! I set off into Manchester at a little after 9am and having passed through there and to Crewe, headed further south and into the Midlands where I would hop off at Smethwick Galton Bridge for the brief journey a couple of stops down the line to Old Hill. However, on my arrival at Smethwick, I’d decided to try and get a plusbus ticket added on (and I was bloody happy I did looking at the hills!) and so jumped on the first train to Rowley Regis, a stop earlier, instead. Having eventually gotten the ticket safely bought and once again being a ticket guy’s first (sale of one I mean, God) I instead grabbed a bus from the foot of the road and down towards Halesowen.

The Loyal Lodge – first stop of the day

Arriving in Halesowen

Halesowen is a large market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley in the county of the West Midlands, around 9 miles southwest of Birmingham, and is one of the largest towns in the U.K. to be without a railway station directly serving it, though one did exist as a meeting point of two separate lines, but the vast majority of pointers to this have since been removed. Historically a part of Worcestershire, Halesowen was previously a detached part of the county of Shropshire until 1844, when it was incorporated into the former and remained there until 1974 when it and neighbouring Stourbridge became a part of the West Midlands. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as being bigger than Birmingham and the manor and town was originally known as “Hala” from the Anglo-Saxon ‘halh’ meaning nook or remote valley, until it was gifted the Welsh Prince David Owen by King Henry II and became Halas Owen.

Halesowen had gained a market fair by the early 1200’s and attracted many women migrants to the area who proceeded to set up businesses (rather progressive!), whilst the area is renowned in history as being an area of conflict when seeing a 13th century peasant’s revolt crushed and the leader and wife of another prominent member murdered by Abbot-hired thugs at the abbey. It remained rather rural, though did have a coal industry from the era of Edward I, right through to the 18th century, when it grew quickly around the Industrial Revolution growing even more as a coal hub. This was added to be nail making, iron production and slitting within mills and its growth took in Oldbury in 1829, before changing from a rural district (a title given in 1894) to an urban district in 1925 and then a municipal borough in 1935, prior to its aforementioned switch to Dudley and the West Midlands in 1974.

Halesowen

Halesowen’s “Precinct”

The 1960’s saw redevelopment in the centre, and a precinct (imaginatively named “The Precinct”) was created and the high street pedestrianised. The town centre was further improved in the 1980’s, with a large part becoming an indoor shopping centre, though was usurped somewhat in the late 80’s by the nearby Merry Hill. Upon the original site of an Anglo-Saxon church, a fair amount of the Norman part of the church’s creation still stands too along with abbey ruins, whilst a medieval cross (which was actually defeated by wind at some point) stands within the churchyard. Leasowes Park is noted as one of the first natural landscape gardens in the country and was designed by William Shenstone, who is remembered as many would like to be – via Wetherspoons, whilst the town also counts the likes of presenter Bill Oddie, comedian Frank Skinner, footballer Lee Sharpe, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton amongst its alumni.

I jumped off the 9H service outside a car dealership just short of the town centre itself and took the short walk across the road and around the corner to the Loyal Lodge, which is well worth seeking out. A lovely and somewhat hidden hostelry, the Lodge was a cozy place that I reckon comes into its own on colder days, though thankfully there was no raging fire in the fireplace today! A pint of Heineken (£3.90) was had here, whilst I planned out my onward trip uphill to the centre. I found I could just about catch the next bus from the stop I’d just debussed at and so I returned there, only for it to not make an appearance for a fair while. As a result, I got a feeling that fate was trying to deal me a bad hand and began walking – only for said bus to rock and roll around the corner, but not before I’d caught it in time. Called your bluff, fate-masters.

Olde Queen’s Head

Pick’s

Taking the ride uphill and past the town-centre church, I disembarked at the bus station and circled the neighbouring ASDA store (other supermarkets are available) and arrived at the Olde Queens Head, where a pint of Blue Moon (£3.95) was had, whilst the locals about inside were complaining about other locals, who had been complaining about the noise from an outdoor event that was on, which they had a complaint about. Follow? You don’t need to, it doesn’t add to the story. I continued on my tour of Halesowen, cutting back on myself a little and back into the precinct area and paid a visit to Picks, which had clearly been a pub for quite some time looking at its traditional exterior. A pint of Amstel (£3.60) was the choice here, whilst I was asked if I was ok by a couple of different guys in here. They were either very friendly, or I looked very rough. You be the judge!

As kick-off began to near a little more, I reckoned it was best to make my way up towards the ground and save the Wetherspoons outlet, and another couple of smaller places for later, as at least one appeared to not be open at this time. The George on the corner has seemingly shut its doors for good and so it was to the Waggon & Horses around a half-way up the road to the Grove, the Yeltz’s home ground. This pub proudly exclaimed itself as “A Specialist Real Ale Pub” and so I reckoned it’d be rude to not have a dabble into one of their numerous choices – I think there was 15 ales and ciders on the go, plus your few lagers. Anyway, I played it pretty safe with a weak-ish Kinver Light Railway pale ale (£3.65) which wasn’t bad; not one I’d overly shout about personally, but would have again.

Waggon & Horses

King Edward

Through the HTFC gates once more

It was then I came up with the decision to pop to the ground early for a programme, as I’d been told by the club that they were in small numbers and I suspected a pretty big crowd would be on. What followed was a failed attempt at coercing the guy at the near turnstile to grab one for me (though I did assure him I wouldn’t be on the rob), before I was informed I may be more successful up the other end. This I was – though the hurdling of the turnstile was a little uncomfortable. Jeans would have made it a little more questionable. Thanks to the guys on both gates for their help!

I back-tracked around the ground via the perimeter path and to the neighbouring King Edward pub, decked out in bright yellowy-orange paint, which ensures people are unlikely to miss it, I suppose. I waited out the remainder of the time pre-match in there over a pint of Stella (£3.60) before passing back through the impressive, old gates that guard the Grove stoically and returning back to the main entrance at the far-end with the queues being rather large at the sole entry. I paid my entry dues of £8 and was allowed, and counted this time(!), into the ground – and what a fantastic ground it is, straight into my favourites of all-time. Along the near side is a sizeable open terrace (which hosts a media gantry) that runs the length of the pitch, whilst more of the same covers the far end. The opposite, far side is home to a seated stand that takes up the vast majority of that side and between it and the covered terrace known affectionately as “The Shed”  at the near end is, what I guessed was, hospitality and the dressing rooms. The remainder of facilities (i.e. clubhouse, bar and shop) are all congregated around the main turnstile block. That’s the Grove in very shorthand, and this is the story of the Yeltz of Halesowen….

History Lesson:

Halesowen Town Football Club was founded in 1873 as Halesowen F.C. and have played at The Grove ever since, the ground being steadily built over the shared cricket ground over the years, prior to their sole occupancy. They joined the Birmingham & District League in 1892 but finished up bottom at the end of their first season and upon doing so again in 1905, left the league for a season before re-joining. Things weren’t all that much better on their return and the Yeltz finished bottom once more in 1911 and so took the decision to move into the Birmingham Combination – but this move only saw things get worse, with their three season pre-war stay only yielding finishes of last in both of their first two seasons, and second bottom in 1913-’14 saw their tenure end.

They would return after the war in 1919, returning to the Birmingham Combination and were renamed as Halesowen Town in 1926. However, the name change didn’t change their luck all that much and another bottom finish was recorded in 1927, but remained in the league right through to the outbreak of WWII on this occasion. Come the end of hostilities, fortunes began to change for Town and 1947 saw the club finally record their first league title, as they won the Birmingham & District League at the end of their first season back there. In 1954, the league was split into Northern and Southern sections with Halesowen being placed in the latter, though this change only lasted a season, prior to the league splitting into a less regionalised Division One and Two.

Arriving for a non-hurdling entrance!

Into The Grove

1955-’56 saw Halesowen reach the FA Cup First Round for the first-time where they eventually lost out to Hendon at The Grove, and further disappointment followed with relegation to Division 2 suffered the next year, but their exile from Division One was brief, as the Yeltz returned after finishing third the following season. In 1960, the Birmingham & District League returned to consisting of only a sole division and would go on to be renamed the West Midlands (Regional) League two years later. They finished as 1965 runners-up and when the league gained a second division for the following year, were duly placed in the Premier Division. They won the title in 1982-’83 and reached the FA Vase Final, but lost out to VS Rugby by a single goal at Wembley.

The league proved to be a fruitful hunting ground for Halesowen, as they retained the title for the next three seasons (through ’83-’84 to ’85-’86) to record four-straight successes, whilst the FA Vase then also caught the success bug when it came to the club, as they won both the 1985 and 1986 editions – defeating Fleetwood Town and Southall respectively, whilst that fourth successive league title preceded the club’s move up into the Southern Premier League’s Midland Division for 1986-’87, whilst the final league title season also saw the FA Cup First Round reached once again, but Halesowen fell to defeat at the hands of Frickley Athletic after a replay. Further 1st Round appearances followed in both 1987-’88 & ’88-’89, but both also ended in defeat, the latter at the hands of a Football League outfit for the first time, in the shape of Brentford.

In the Clubhouse

The Shed

First Round appearances became the regular over this period, and after the Midland Division was won in 1990 and promotion to the Premier Division duly followed, ties against Cardiff City, Tranmere Rovers and Farnborough Town also all ending in defeat in consecutive years through to 1991-’92. Their First Round regularity broke after that latter game and, back in the league, it took until 1996 for Halesowen to get close to promotion from the Premier Division, ending as runners-up in 1996 and missing out on the Conference by 3 points. Instead, Halesowen would instead drop away from the upper reaches after this brief shave with the Conference and yo-yo between the Prem and ‘Western Division’ for the next few years – relegation in 2001 was followed by an immediate return as Western Division champions, only for the Yeltz to then be immediately relegated again after a sole season….before being promoted once more at the first attempt. Blimey!

Their league status settled down upon their return to the Premier Division, and yet another First Round appearance in the FA Cup followed in 2004-’05 – but their somewhat cursed run continued with defeat to Yeading. After some re-organisations of the pyramid, the club’s league campaign in 2007-’08 also saw disappointment, with defeat to Team Bath in the final of the play-offs coming after having defeated Chippenham Town in the semis to get there. 2011 saw the Yeltz relegated into the South & West Division of the Southern League for a year, prior to being switched into the Northern Premier League’s Division One South, which the club won in 2014 and thus were promoted to the NPL Premier Division. Here they remained through to 2018, when they were switched to the newly-created Southern League’s Premier Central division upon further restructuring, but would be relegated to the Division One Central for this season.

After a pre-match visit to the food bar for chips, peas and gravy he tie got going with an early chance for the hosts’ Lewis Wright, but his effort was kept out in fairly routine fashion by Bedworth stopper Adam Harrison, whilst Harrison’s opposite number between the Halesowen sticks, Brad Catlow, also getting an early save in as Josh Steele fired straight at him. However, the opener would arrive just a couple of minutes after this, and it was the Yeltz who would grab it. An initial attack saw a first effort blocked out, but the ball fell to striker Jamie Molyneux, and he pounced upon the loose ball to slot home. 1-0 and a perfect start for the hosts.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

With around twenty minutes played, Molyneux would add a deserved second for Halesowen, as he beat ‘keeper Harrison to a loose ball after some questionable defensive communication, and was left with the simple task of finishing off into the unguarded net. A true poachers pair of strikes. However, Harrison would go on to redeem himself with a string of fine stops as the game went on, and these began to be instrumental in keeping his Bedworth side in the tie up to half-time, as he denied the unfortunate Robbie Bunn a pair of times within around ten minutes. First, Harrison was equal to an effort and palmed it behind for a corner, before keeping out another two drives, one from Bunn and the other Molyneux, just before the break, each of which looked a good bet to nestle in the net – Harrison flinging himself away low down at both – had other ideas. Half-time and it remained 2-0 to the Yeltz.

After meeting Flo the dog on my way around for a brief visit to the clubhouse, I spent up the time spanning the break in there before the sides were back out again to compete in the second period. This started off rather slowly, with little in the way of true chances being made in between the regular breaks to take on water. The usual start of the half storm from the side behind did see a clearance off the line to deny Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls and Bedworth a way back into the tie, with Catlow gratefully falling upon the ball and thus end the danger to his clean-sheet, whilst Lewis Wright was denied for a second time in the game by Harrison.

On the chase

Molyneux nets his and Halesowen’s 2nd

From the seats

The ever dangerous Molyneux then crashed a drive against the crossbar as he searched for his hat-trick, and was kept out by the feet of the impressive Harrison, but he wouldn’t be denied for long and, on the hour, he would complete it. Receiving the ball just outside the area, he raced through and beyond the United back-line, before coolly slotting beyond Harrison for 3-0. A fine showing for the #10. Unfortunately for Catlow, he would be denied the clean-sheet mentioned earlier when, in the 89th minute, Bedworth grabbed a consolation (or set up a possible famed come-back if you were of a Bedworth and positive persuasion, I suppose) when substitute Ashanti Pryce got in on the left-hand side of the box and slid a fine finish across the home ‘keeper.

Town’s Jamie Lucas, Molyneux’s strike-partner, missed a fine chance to add gloss to the score-line, when failing to find the net late on, but there would be no miracles for Bedworth despite this, though they had a fine chance to set up said miracle when skipper Elliott Parrott somehow spurned a tap-in from a few yards out, right in the centre of goal. As it was, Halesowen deservedly held on to secure a place in the First Qualifying Round, where they will welcome Lichfield City to The Grove.

Ashanti Pryce pulls one back

‘Spoons post-match for an express one.

Britannia to round off the day before the train

Post-match, buses were few and far between on this route and so I took the slightly downhill walk back to the Wetherspoons, where I demolished a bottle of Hooch (£2.69) in around 5 minutes as to get that one in, though had to kindly refuse the offer of “same again” by the barman. The bus was due shortly and despite the ‘Spoons only being a couple of minutes away, I didn’t want to risk missing it and getting back any later than I had to. As such, I had about a five-minute wait before my carriage pulled in, though this time I got off a little earlier – just outside the Britannia which proclaimed itself as a “free-house” outside and looked very pleasant, decked out in flower baskets and the like. Upon entering, I was struck by a familiar logo….yep, it was another ‘Spoons, one in disguise, if you want! A pint of Bud Light (at £1.99) did the trick here, prior to making the ten minute-or-so walk back to Rowley Regis station for the train back to Smethwick once more and, from there, to Manchester via a brief changeover in Wolverhampton.

So ends the first Bank Holiday weekend of the season and, removing the Old Trafford fiasco from the equation, it had been a decent one, with this game rescuing it (plus the bonus Manchester League fixture the following evening backing it up). I enjoyed Halesowen and found the area a really friendly place, with its pubs and the ground all showing this in abundance. The game was good considering the overall conditions and the ground, as I said earlier, was brilliant in my eyes. Programme was decent enough with it being a rushed issue, whilst the food at the ground was also up there. All in all, a good trip, and one that will take some beating, even at this early stage of the season. But, it’s back to local stuff for the Tuesday, as I alluded to, and a small hop over to Salford Quays. You’ve gotta love it!

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 10

Programme: 4

Food: 8

Value For Money: 8

 

Manchopper in….Harrogate (Harrogate Railway Athletic FC)

Result: Harrogate Railway Athletic 1-10 (Ten) Whickham (FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round)

Venue: Station View (Saturday 10th August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 102

My competitive campaign was to get underway back on the FA Cup trail once more, having missed out the World’s oldest cup competition’s opening round last season on the quest to “tick” a few of the south coast league clubs ahead of uncertainty over railcard availability – something that is highly similar to that surrounding the Brexit farce. Anyway, with little overall attractiveness in a tie, I left my fate in the hands of the twitterati via the voting method that has become something of a regular occurrence recently, with my fine followers (it’s ManchopperBlog if you’re interested, btw) coming up with Harrogate Railway vs Whickham, a Northern Counties East vs Northern League clash, and so a return to Station View was pencilled in – my first under a neutral banner, having visited many a-time with Trafford in a past life! I got out of that in the nick of time, but that’s a story for another time and place….

Having moved onto these greener pastures, Harrogate had previously adorned these pages with my visit to Railway’s ever improving neighbours Town (which you can read here if you fancy) for their 1-0 last-gasp win over Brackley Town, a day which ensured Paul Thirlwell’s place in the “Manchopper Hall of Fame” – for which you get…well, nothing but pride and I’m sure that suffices!! Anyhow, back onto Railway and I was on said tracks during the early-ish morning, and having transited through Manchester and Leeds in good time, was able to catch a slightly earlier service up to Harrogate. I arrived before midday and so was allowed a nice walk around the town in a strong, but not overly so, North Yorkshire wind prior to diving into the town’s fine Wetherspoon’s offering, the Winter Gardens, where the staff were, almost literally, falling over themselves to serve those punters waiting. Good stuff, guys and gals.

Arriving in Harrogate

Harrogate

The name of Harrogate derives from its titles around the 1300’s, when the area was known as Hawregate, Harrowgate and (my personal favourite as it kind of sounds like Hadouken, I’d imagine) Harougat. The origin of the name itself isn’t certain, however, though may come from the Old Norse horgr (‘a heap of stones’) cairn + ‘gata’ (street), in which case the name meant ‘road to the cairn’. Another theory is that it means, more simply, ‘the way to Harlow’ – the form Harlowgate dates from the early-16th century and, apparently, the court rolls of King Edward II. Medieval times saw Harrogate situated on the borders the township of Bilston with Harrogate in the ancient parish of Knaresborough and the parish of Pannal – known in places as Beckwith with Rossett.

The area in Bilston would become known as High Harrogate and Pannal, Low Harrogate and both were in the (since 1372 and Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt) Duchy of Lancaster-ruled Royal Forest of Knaresborough. From then, the town’s development is largely down to the chalybeate and sulphur-rich spring water as found in 1571 by William Slingsby, who found the area’s water was akin to that of the Belgian town of Spa (also famed for the great racetrack Spa-Francorchamps, the most famous corner at which is spa-derived and named Eau Rouge – literally red water), which gives its name to Spa Towns. Further springs of both kinds were found throughout both High (chalybeate only) and Low communities during the 16 and 1700’s and many inns were thus opened for the increased tourism boom.

More gardens

‘Spoons

Old Bell

The Royal Forest was enclosed under the Enclosure Act in 1770 and areas became more clearly owned and some communal, such as the open expanse of The Stray, and developments continued to arise around this area of the town, with the mile-wide area between High and Low Harrogate was also developed through the 19th century. The current town centre was created to link the two – whilst water gas technology and the effects of adrenaline on circulation was first used here during this time. Harrogate began to decline in popularity with the elite by the end of the First World War and the Second World War saw many hotels etc. being repurposed as homes for the many government offices evacuated out of London and thus Harrogate became an important commercial, conference and exhibition centre. The town hosts four rail stations (Harrogate, Hornbeam Park, Pannal and Starbeck) and has links to London, York and Leeds, and had former lines to Wetherby and Ripon that no longer exist – though the Ripon line apparently stands a good chance of coming back in the future.

I settled in for a while over a Punk IPA (£3.49) whilst trying to come up with some kind of linear route around a few hostelries that would allow me to return to the station in good time for the short hop over to the ground-neighbouring Starbeck station – which Railway’s home used to look out onto before the creation of some flats in between. Alas, such is the way and, for now, let’s get back onto Harrogate’s watering holes for now and I returned off down the steep-ish decline of Montpellier Hill towards the pairing of the Fat Boar and the Old Bell. Upon arrival at the former, I spotted a few wedding guests outside and, having crashed one wedding celebration in the White Rose county previously (see Ossett for that!), I didn’t fancy risking it on this occasion and so gave best to my experience. In the latter, I opted for a pint of Stars & Stripes Pale Ale, which was decent enough at £3.50), before undertaking the short walk to the slightly hidden entrance of the Corner Hause located, as it is, below a hotel and in a corner down some steps.

Corner Hause

Down to Hales

Little Ale House

It was worth seeking out as, despite it being pretty empty at this time in the day, it had a fine selection of Belgian (and the like) beers – I opted for a Flensburger (£4) and ales on and also provided a timely cover from the steady rain that had begun to fall from the leaden skies above. The dullness wouldn’t really relent for the remainder of the day, and so I then tried to miss the heavier bursts that fell whilst making my way from door-to-door and was successful at the first time of asking in getting to ‘Harrogate’s Oldest Pub’, Hales’ Bar. It didn’t seem that it had anything to do with the England opener Alex, who seems to enjoy a tipple about as much as I do, however, and instead was decked out with many a stuffed animal and maritime paraphernalia which I didn’t immediately understand being, you know, quite some way from the sea. Amstel (£4.60) in and swiftly dispatched, I continued on my trip, heading back uphill whilst trying to seek out the whereabouts of the Little Ale House. It’s name was a fairly accurate description in this regard, though I eventually got there for a half of Weihenstephan (£2.75). I can be sensible on occasion!

Wheeling back around on myself a little, I continued on uphill station-wards along the road but only a short way before popping into the Harrogate Arms and watching a bit of one of the early kick-offs over another Amstel (at the more recognisable price of £4) and finished up my pre-match lap of Harrogate with a visit to the Alexandra Hotel, which I’d earmarked to be my final stop during my pre-drinks walk earlier. I don’t do regular, actual pre-drinks, you see, because what’s the fun in that….when you’re alone *whimpers*! With the match on in here as well, this gave a welcome distraction as I sipped at a bottle of Corona whilst the Leeds fans near me got a little worked up with their side’s display. Eventually though, the time had come to get over to Starbeck and Station View itself; and this time I wouldn’t quite avoid the rain.

Harrogate Arms

Alexandra

Arriving at Station View

The short journey takes just a handful of minutes and I was soon making the five-minute walk from station to ground, arriving with around fifteen minutes to kick-off. Paying my £6 entry (plus £1 for a programme) I paid a swift visit to the smart clubhouse, which unsurprisingly hadn’t changed too much since my previous visits, since it replaced the former one which stood about a half-mile away across the fairly large expanse of open grass pitches. You can see the pitch from up high in the bar too, if you so fancy but, for me, it was down to pitchside as the side’s were making their way out onto the hallowed Station View surface. The ground is a pleasant one, with a covered seating/terrace behind the far end goal, and another smaller seating stand on the far side, around the halfway line. This is flanked by a fair amount of uncovered standing steps which run around the corner from the turnstiles to said stand, whilst the near side is flat, open, hard standing. That’s Station View in a nutshell and this is the story of ‘The Rail’.

History Lesson:

Harrogate Railway Athletic Association Football Club was founded in 1935 by workers of the Starbeck depot arm of the London and North Eastern Railway and the club initially rented out Station View from the LNER for £1,500 before paying this off and buying the ground outright thanks to workers ‘donating’ One old penny a week. On the pitch, HRA went on to join the local Harrogate & District League and, as a rail works outfit, took part in the British Railways National Cup – which the Rail won in 1945-’46. Soon after, Harrogate Railway took the step up to the West Yorkshire League and ended up as 1952 runners-up before winning the league title two years later. A year later saw a third-placed finish attained, with Railway again looking to progress up the levels and so joined the Yorkshire League, taking a spot in Division Two and achieving promotion to Division One in 1958 after finishing up 3rd by the end of that campaign.

Incidentally, 1953 had seen Railway reach the FA Amateur Cup Second Round, where a “special train” was run for supporters down to Harwich & Parkstone for a 3-2 loss and another train was run, this time northwards, in 1961 for a First Round Amateur Cup tie at Whitley Bay, but this too, unfortunately from a Rail perspective, ended up in defeat.

HRA

However, their first foray into the Yorkshire League’s top division would be brief, with Railway relegated after just the one season and they mirrored this upon their return in 1964 after another 3rd placed Division 2 finish gave up just another sole season in Division One. The year had seen cup disappointment, though, with Railway losing out in the 1964 Yorkshire League Cup final to Farsley Celtic. Things didn’t improve for the Rail in all facets and after they were relegated to the newly created Division Three in 1970, the Rail found themselves taking the step back down into the Harrogate & District League once more in 1973. They would return to the Yorkshire League’s bottom division after seven years away and spent two years there before the league merged with the Midland League in 1982 to form the Northern Counties East League. Harrogate Railway were duly placed in the Division Two North, which they won in 1984 and so were promoted to the Northern section’s Division One.

Re-organisation of the NCEL in 1985 meant the club were placed in the non-regionalised Division One and a fourth-placed finish in 1987 saw promotion to the Premier Division attained and the NCEL League Cup was added to this success too via a dominant 5-0 win over Woolley Miners Welfare in the final. They would remain in the Premier Division through to their relegation in 1993, their absence totalling five seasons, with the Rail returning to the Prem in 1999 after taking the Division One title and this time the club would go on to greater strengths, including fine FA Cup runs which peaked in 2002-’03, which saw them finally make the “proper rounds” – reaching the Second Round after a triumph over Slough Town in Round One. Their Second Round tie took place at Station View (which I remember watching and found it interesting a club had ‘Railway’ in the name – ah, the ignorance of youth and lack of non-league knowledge!) where the club battled, but eventually fell to, Bristol City in a 3-1 reverse in front of a club-record crowd of 3,500.

The Rail

They did see cup success in a more regular fashion that year though in winning the NCEL President’s Cup, defeating Bridlington Town 7-2 on aggregate over two-legs, and a third-placed finish in the 2005-’06 Premier Division campaign saw the club secure a promotion spot to the Northern Premier League Division One for the first time. They would be placed in the Division One North in 2007 upon restructuring of the pyramid and 2008 again saw Railway go on a fine Cup run, defeating Droylsden 2-0 in Round One and, as a result, reached the Second Round once more. Again, and this time on live TV, welcoming Football League opposition to Station View in the shape of Mansfield Town, Railway would go out to a narrow 3-2 defeat. The club remained as a NPL Division One North side through to 2015-’16, when their declining on-field form over most of the preceding years ended with the drop back to the NCEL Premier Division being suffered and they again were victims of the drop last season, as Railway returned to the NCEL Division One after two decades away.

After visiting the food bar for a fine portion of chips, peas and gravy, the game got underway in quick fashion and Whickham quickly asserted themselves as the dominant force, with Carl Finnigan forcing a good early stop out of the Railway ‘keeper Joe Wilton. However, he would be beaten shortly afterwards as the Northern League side went ahead via left-back Sam Hedley’s cross drifting over his head and into the far corner. The lead was then doubled as Finnigan squared for his strike-partner, former Newcastle United, Norwich City and South African international striker Matty Pattison, to fire home and give the visitors the dream start to this season’s opening Cup foray.

Winger Kelvin Thear then fired wide as Whickham continued on all guns blazing, but they would be pegged back by a game Railway side when a ball through split the defence and James Healey coolly lifted an effort over the ‘keeper to half the deficit. Healey then headed over as Harrogate looked to level things up in their first, and only true, spell on top as Whickham again seized the initiative around the half-hour, but couldn’t quite manage to get the goal to re-instate their two-goal advantage. They did see a shot fly wide and Conor Newton made the home stopper work once again to tip his shot wide, before Harrogate caught Whickham on the break, only for the attack to just about be cleared before they could get an attempt on goal away.

Fans, food & footy

Match Action

Watching from the sideline

Harrogate’s Healey nets

That seemed to awaken Whickham well and truly and, soon afterwards, they had an effort cleared away off the line by a Rail defender, but they would re-instate the two-goal lead when Pattison tapped home from close range after an initial headed try by Dale Burrell had come back off the bar. This seemed to take the sting out of Railway and they suffered the fatal blow just before the break when, having just seen Wilton pull off a brilliant double save to deny both Pattison and Burrell to keep his side in the tie, Pattison was played in on the left and fed Finnigan to slot home – returning the favour from earlier in the half. Half-time; 1-4.

An uneventful break came and went before I was back out of the clubhouse for the beginning of the second half, as the rain began to fall. Whickham again came out on the attack and after Pattison had twice gone close, the Lang Jacks netted their fifth through Finnigan’s header, before another attack down the flank just moments later saw success and the ball in was finished off by Finnigan for his third of the afternoon. Harrogate tried to respond with a rare foray forward, but the shot went awry, whilst Whickham continued to make regular chances, but Finnigan, for once, had his targets set wrong in firing wide. The rain began to throw down ever heavier, quite akin to the weather during Railway’s famed 2008 Cup foray match at home to the Stags of Mansfield Town.

Here comes the rain!

Eyes on the prize

Late on….

This wouldn’t be as close of a contest though and Thear would add a seventh minutes later, sliding across the GK after another slick build-up move by the North-East outfit, before Finnigan then grabbed his fourth by unleashing a crashing drive into the top-corner for goal number eight. Sub Max Cowburn tried unsuccessfully to add to Railway’s woes, firing over twice in quick succession before the rout was completed, firstly, through Dale Burrell who tapped home after being played through and Pattison, who netted the rebound after Cowburn’s initial shot was denied by the rather unlucky Harrogate GK Wilton who, it has to be said, had a decent game in conceding double-figures. Only in football, eh?! The full-time whistle arrived through the deluge; the weather reflecting the feelings of the hosts come the end.

Post-match, I headed back through the rain and under the small underpass under the railway and to Starbeck’s one and only pub, the Prince of Wales, for a pint of Strongbow (£2.50) where I took the decision to walk on back to Harrogate via a couple of stops en route – namely Bertie’s, which was far better than expected by its name (half of Estrella £2ish) and The Empress, the latter being on the large, open area the town plays host to – The Stray. Unfortunately, after finishing a Dark Fruits (£4.30) in the planned event of squeezing the nearby Swan in too, the wetness had took its toll and I didn’t feel overly like it, with me instead opting to head back to the station. I eventually made it, despite a couple of faux pas; with these including passing the same restaurant twice. Nope, no idea how either, but I bet you aren’t too surprised knowing my history in this area!

Starbeck- The Star is no longer, sadly.

The Prince of Wales is though!

The Empress

Anyway, that would be the last drama of the day as the rest of the journey back passed without issue and in good time, and I was back indoors for around 9pm. It had been a decent day and, having waited to see a team net ten in a game for years, I had now seen it twice in a month. Nuts. The game, therefore, meant a bit more than usual thrashes, which tend to bore me silly and it still was watchable, to Railway’s credit. Aside from that, the ground is always a good one to pay a visit to and the people there are all nice, friendly peeps too. Food and programme good and it’s always decent to visit Harrogate, despite the weather! Onto another week we go and a local game somewhere before continuing on the cup trail once more….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8