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….Knaresborough

Result: Knaresborough Town 2-1 Washington (FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round)

Venue: Manse Lane (Saturday 31st August 2019, 3pm)

Att: 106

The FA Vase quest began for many clubs and I reckoned it’d only be right to join them on the first stop along the “Road to Wembley”. As I mulled over the rather extensive fixture list and narrowed it down, there was one venue that continually stood out; a long-time target of both a ground and town that I’d been looking at visiting. That ground and town was Manse Lane, home of Knaresborough Town and a day out and about in the scenic, historic town centre was all the encouragement I needed. After heading up through Manchester and Leeds, an earlier than planned train looked as though I could arrive into Knaresborough a good half-hour than expected – too good to be true, I thought to myself.

I awaited for things to unravel, which they then did, as the train from Leeds ‘broke down’ due to, and I kid you not, lighting failure. As a result, I was forced onto the service as far as Harrogate, but avoided a fairly lengthy wait for the next train along by grabbing a regular bus service from the neighbouring bus station up to the entrance of Mother Shipton’s Cave at the foot of Knaresborough itself. However, the various No.1’s did cause some confusion later in the day, as only one stops at the ground entrance – the others following the main road. Anyway, having disembarked after a twenty-minute journey, I made my way to the first pub stop of many during the day, that being The World’s End, just the other side of the bridge over the River Nidd. The clock had just passed midday, and as I sat down with a pint of Poretti(which I learned is Carlsberg’s £4.50 effort at a Moretti clone), I decided to check on the progress of the train I’d have otherwise been on. Delayed by at least 7 minutes? Good decision.

Arriving at Mother Shipton’s & the World’s End

Incline or flat-line?

The Mitre

The rain began to fall just as I exited the pub and began to get rather heavy as I reached the foot of a steep incline that led up to the station and the town centre area of Knaresborough. I had to take this route anyway, but with the weather going on as it was and me not exactly in conducive clothing for it (a t-shirt and jeans alone) meant I decided to take up the option of popping into one of my planned post-match pubs – The Mitre. Upon entering, the bar staff there fairly easily saw my predicament and just why I’d made haste in getting there – I needed some cover! A pint of Black Sheep Pale Ale (£3.50) kept me company here until the rain abated and I could continue onwards into the centre itself; whereupon I discovered another public house I’d not known about prior to that point. Good job the rain had come in when it had!

Anyway, I continued to walk towards the castle area, which itself had been recommended by numerous persons for the views out over the town below, stopping off in The Groves as I did so, as the rain returned once more. I opted for a pint of the REAL Moretti (somewhere around £4) in this slightly modernised, yet still old-looking hostelry, before exiting out into bright sunshine and blue skies rolling in as the clouds dispersed. A cross and a number of statue characters populate the centre, along with many a-pub to choose from. I began with the nearby Blind Jack’s, where I opted for a pint of one of my fave beers, Erdinger (£4.85), before taking a seat in a small room alongside a Union flag – in a new role as a curtain. Really.

The Groves, ft. wet lens

Knaresboroughs Market Square….ft. wet lens

Blind Jack’s ‘different’ curtain….ft. wet lens

Knaresborough is a market and spa town, as well as a civil parish within the Borough of Harrogate in North Yorkshire. It lies upon the River Nidd and was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenaresburg, meaning “Cenheard’s fortress” within the ‘wapentike’ of Burghshire which would be renamed the more New Zealand-sounding Claro Wapentake in the 12th century. Knaresborough’s castle dates back to the Normans and around this, through the 11 and 1200’s, the town grew up to include the market (from around 1206) with traders being attracted to service the castle and those within, although the royal market charter wasn’t actually awarded until 1310 by Edward II, with the market continuing to take place today. The parish church of St. John was also built around this period whilst a Lord of Knaresborough was first identified around 1115, with the Honour of Knaresborough being bestowed upon Serlo de Bergh, by the King.  However, it would be the 1158 Lord who would go down in infamy, as the constable of Knaresborough, Hugh de Morville, was leader of the four knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Beckett within Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The knights would later return to the town’s castle and enter hiding. Rather cowardly?!

Hugh de Morville would be forced to forfeit his lands three years after the murder, but not because of that deed, but instead due to his involvement in the plot of rebellion against Henry the Young King, according to Early Yorkshire Charters. King John would later take on the mantle of Lord of Knaresborough for himself during the 1200’s, with Knaresborough Forest to the south of the town reputedly one of his favoured hunting grounds. He also distributed the first ‘Maundy Money’ in the town as part of the wider Christian celebration. The castle was later occupied by rebels against Edward II during his 14th century reign, and the invading Scots also burned much of the town during their 1328 raid. Since the death of Queen Philippa, Edward III’s wife, the town has belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster beginning with the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, though the castle lost national importance soon after, though remained strong regionally. After the Civil War’s 1644 Battle of Marston Moor, the castle was besieged by Parliamentarian forces and fell with the Roundheads ordering its destruction in 1646, though this was delayed for two years, with much of the stone being looted and re-used in the town’s buildings.

To the castle….

…and from the castle

A commuter town nowadays, the railways arrived in Knaresborough in 1848, and the current station replaced to the original one at Hay Park Lane after just three years. The town did link-up with Boroughbridge until the line’s closure in 1950 and its subsequent dismantling during the 1960’s. In 1974, the re-organisation of the counties saw Knaresborough move from its historic placing in the West Riding of Yorkshire and into the newly-created area of North Yorkshire, and hosts an annual bed race, because why not?! The town is also home to the “Oldest Chemists in England”, dating from 1720 and has landmark caves like the aforementioned Mother Shipton (an early ‘seer’) and St. Robert’s (from the Middle Ages). Incidentally, both the Mother Shipton and the earlier mentioned ‘Blind Jack’ names don’t even appear in the people in question’s names, with the former being named Ursula Southeil and the latter John Metcalfe, whilst other alumni include ex-Simply Red member Tim Kellett, ‘Allo ‘Allo’s René Artois, the late Gordon Kaye, and my personal favourite due to the description – ’18th century scholar and murderer’ Eugene Aram. Not a usual combination!

Around the corner from Blind Jack’s were two neighbouring pubs by the names of Six Poor Følk and the Castle Arms. Whilst the former looked like its beer options may be the more wide-ranging, I decided to go traditional and, of course, I was going to the castle as it was. So the latter it was for a pint of Amstel (£3.90) whilst a black dog near the bar decided it fancied a bit of someone’s drink at one point, though was unsuccessful in its efforts! From one castle to another I went and a brief visit to the former stronghold’s exterior lands, whilst the aforementioned views out over Knaresborough really were quite something. Anyway, with time beginning to run down into the last hour before kick-off, I returned back into the town centre and continued on with the royal theme by stopping off in the Old Royal Oak for my designated “refresher” pint of a Dark Fruits, this setting me back £4.

In The Castle. The pub, that is

Old Royal Oak

Arriving at Manse Lane

As I finished off, it was high time to grab the bus up to Manse Lane. However, this would be easier said than done, as the No.1 confusion set in. I first popped onto the first one (no pun intended) and was genuinely unsure if this was the one I needed, as the bus I was due to catch was due out in a couple of minutes time and there was no other in sight. The driver said it wasn’t his variant I was after and told me to try the one alongside which had just pulled in. I was pretty sure it wasn’t this one, and was soon proven right, as I was directed towards the 1C, which was just pulling in. Finally and safely on board, a short journey down to the ground followed, the stop being pretty much directly outside the gates. Speaking of the gates, I handed over my £6 entry fee, bought a programme (£1.50) from the table at pitchside and turned my attentions to the clubhouse; well, the food bar to be more exact – for pie, peas and gravy. Lovely stuff.

I was just finishing up the last of the pre-match feast as the side’s assembled and began to make their way out onto the field. I joined the exodus from the clubhouse too and exited out into Manse Lane once more. The ground is tidy enough, but without too much to blow you away in truth. It is home to a pair of stands, both of the more modern, kind of at-cost variety, with a covered standing area (and some benches) behind the near-end goal and just next to the turnstiles, whilst a small seating stand is located on the far side, around the half-way line. The remaining facilities are all located in the corner on the other side of the turnstiles to the stand, whilst the near-side is open, hard standing for the two-thirds that are accessible, whilst the far-end should be also, though is rather overgrown at this point, to put it kindly! That’s Manse Lane in quick form and this is the story of ‘the Boro’ from Knaresborough….

History Lesson:

Knaresborough Town Association Football Club was founded in 1902, going on to join the York League and becoming champions at the end of their first season and then retaining it on both of the next two seasons. A fourth title in 1908 led to Knaresborough taking the step up to the Northern League in 1909, before becoming a founder member of the Yorkshire Combination the next year, whilst still competing in the Northern League too. However, these two stints would be short lived, and after finishing bottom of the Northern League in 1911, the club returned to the York League Division One before pulling their side out of the Yorkshire Combination two years later. Things didn’t improve and after a bottom finish in 1913, the Boro were suspended from the league for the following campaign. Harsh!!

After WWI had ended, Knaresborough were readmitted to the league and won it again in 1925, retaining it the next season and lifting it once more in 1929, but success fell away quickly, leading to the club resigning from the league at the end of the 1930-31 season after a second-bottom finish; but their sojourn would be brief and they returned for 1932 whereupon they again lifted back to back titles in 1934 & ’35. However, they would again leave in 1938, not re-emerging again until the 1950’s, with the club taking a place in the York League Division 3B for 1951. This and the Division 2B were both immediately won at the respective first attempts and the Boro were back in the Division One for 1953-54, spending three more seasons there prior to a move to the West Yorkshire League in 1958.

KTAFC

Teamboard

Benched

Their start was a bit yo-yo, with promotion from Division 2 being attained straight off the bat alongside the Division 2 League Cup, but the drop was suffered come the end of their first WYL Division 1 adventure. This was repeated again soon after when, after achieving promotion & the Division 2 League Cup again in 1961, their Division One stay lasted just the solo campaign once more. This time, rather than return back to Division 2, the club took the drop into the Harrogate & District League and in 1965 won the Premier Division which was then successfully defended the next year and was joined in the trophy cabinet by the Harrogate & District League Cup. A hat-trick of title wins was secured the next year and after a second League Cup triumph in 1968, Knaresborough returned to the West Yorkshire League, winning its Division 2 in 1970 and its own League Cup the next year.

But, despite these successes, a return to the Harrogate & District League was just around the corner and this time the Boro remained there for a good while, only in 1993 would they eventually depart once more. They again joined the West Yorkshire League, winning the League Cup in their first year back, though it took some time for further success to return to Manse Lane,  with the Premier Division title being won in 2009, and a runners up placing in 2011 was also secured, with cup successes in the West Riding Challenge Cup and West Yorkshire League Trophy in 2010 being followed by the lifting of the West Riding Challenge Trophy in 2011. However, it would be 2012’s 3rd placed finish that would see Knaresborough finally promoted to the Northern Counties East Leaguen’s Division One, where the club remained until 2018 when they won title and were duly promoted to the NCEL Premier Division and Step 5 for the first time. As an aside, the club have also won the Whitworth Cup on no less than 21 occasions – the first in 1907-’08, and the last of these coming in season 2009-’10.

The game got underway and, if I’m totally honest, it had to be one of the more one-sided, yet close games I’ve seen quite some time. Knaresborough dominated the majority of the contest, but never could fully shake off their Northern League visitors. Their first real chance came from a corner, when the cross was punched wide when under pressure by the away ‘keeper, Ryan Lumsden. However, the Boro really should have gone ahead when Steve Bromley was released, but he proceeded to produce a quite awful finish in putting his shot wide.

Lumsden with the punch

Match Action

Match Action

The Washington’ keeper remained the busier of the two glovemen and he had be sharp in tipping a low shot from Andy Cooper wide, before he then made another good stop to deny Luke Harrop, with Harrop then setting up Dan Thirkell, but the defender could only fire over. Then, just before the break, Cooper was desperately unlucky when his fine chip hit the underside of the bar and bounced out, with the rebound directed goal wards by Brad Walker, though the Washy stopper was again equal to the task. Half-time arrived in a rather cagey first half, though Knaresborough would surely have been wondering just how they had failed to take a lead with them.

An uneventful 15 minutes came and went and we were soon back playing once again. Knaresborough maintained their dominance early doors, with centre-half Gregg Anderson heading over unchallenged from a corner and Harrop firing a long-range drive straight at the visiting ‘keeper. It really did appear as though it was going to one of those days for the hosts as both Bromley and Cooper again saw chances come and go, but finally, just before the hour, the deadlock was finally broken when a ball through found its way to Bromley and he slotted home to give his side, finally, a richly deserved lead. But this still didn’t seem to rouse Washington from their long-time slumber, and after I’d made the acquaintance of Dylan the dog and his dad, they went down to ten-men – Alex Ramshaw was given his marching orders due to something happening off the ball.

From the seats

Match Action

It then got even worse for the visitors when Knaresborough made it two; Harrop got clear down the left, cut inside and coolly finished. By this time, Washy really looked even more out of it than for the previous 60+ minutes and this was almost shown in footballing terms as a try from his own half by dangerman Harrop fell just wide of the post whilst the Lumsden again pulled off a good save to keep his side in with shout, even if it was more akin to one of someone losing their voice. A number of Knaresborough chances to seal the tie would follow each of Ben Cohen (not the ex-rugby player as far as I’m aware), Gregg Kidd, Thirkell & Luke Stewart all went close but they would then be given a setback that would set their nerves rattling.

Both teams would end with ten men when Bromley was sent from the field for, apparently, a challenge on the ‘keeper (though my initial Chris Kamara impression of not even seeing the red was bettered by me then seeing the player walking off and thinking he’d been subbed; the new Anthony van den Borre is now in Knaresborough) and this would then allow Washington a way back into the tie as some good work by Chris Pattinson allowed him to set up fellow substitute Lewis McGeoch, who calmly finished to set up a grandstand last 5-10 minutes.

They then almost grabbed a late, late equaliser but Boro ‘keeper Dom Smith, who’d largely been a spectator throughout, pulled off a great save to tip the ball behind and a counter from the resultant corner saw his side to swiftly head right up the other end, where Cooper had the chance to confirm Knaresborough’s place in the next round, but placed his shot against the post. However this would prove to matter little, as the referee blew up (not literally, of course) to signal to close of a rather strange game which could have been a hammering, but ended with nerves jangling.

Match Action

Manse Action

Post-match, I made haste back up to the main road and the Marquis of Granby pub that is located pretty much halfway between the ground and the town. Upon entering, I discovered the place was a Sam Smith’s place which used to mean only one thing – CHEAP PINT!!!! But no longer, dear reader, oh no! Now it means three: cheap beer and, at the other end of the spectrum completely, no mobile devices or swearing. Honestly. Or, as I was to be informed, the place can be shut down if someone from the brewery was to walk in and see someone breaking this rule. Bloody hell – how pathetic….yet worryingly dystopian at the same time. Oh, the Taddy Lager was £2.80.

From there, I exited into a less dictatorial atmosphere and returned to the town centre square and the Market Tavern for another Dark Fruits (£4 again) before continuing on station-wards and back to the Commercial that I’d only discovered existed when setting eyes upon it. I entered what I later found out is the oldest pub in the town and….oh for God’s sake, it’s a bloody Sam Smith’s. How quick your viewpoint on something can change eh?! Just to show how outrageous the rules are, I actually got my camera out to have a quick check of the pics I’d taken today and was challenged to ensure it wasn’t a mobile device. Really. I do feel for these publicans who have to put up with this shit. Luckily for Samuel, the pint of Arctic Lager was just £1.49….you have another chance Smith; though you’re about as popular with me as your Aussie namesake at this point (not really, I prefer Steve)!

Market Tavern (excuse the blur)

The Commercial & The Crown ‘Spoons

With my train’s arrival getting ever closer, I popped into the town’s ‘Spoons – The Crown Hotel – for a bottle of Hooch to keep me company on the first leg of the journey back home. It did just that and I finished off the last of it as the train pulled into Leeds, whilst the connection over for the service back to the Manchester was comfortable. Unfortunately, a slight delay on the way back cost a half-hour, but on the whole, this was only a small set-back on a fine day out. Knaresborough is a fine town and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. The ground was fine too, despite being generally unspectacular, with the food and programme therein both being decent offerings too, for their respective prices. It’s back onto the FA Cup circuit once again next week and I reckon I’ve got a venue ‘nailed’ on….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Salford Quays (Ordsall Leisure Centre)

Result: Beechfield United 3-2 Bolton County (Manchester Football League Premier Division)

Venue: Ordsall Leisure Centre (Tuesday 27th August 2019, 7pm)

Att: 45 (hc)

A rarity on these pages, a midweek game isn’t seen too much as it is, never mind one that is played at a non-regular venue a short distance from my abode. But that is just what this game was and the Ordsall Leisure Centre, just beyond its larger neighbour in Old Trafford, would be the host. The ground is within the small area of Ordsall in Salford, but stands just across the road from the plushy Salford Quays area of the city and, as a result of this, it gave me an excuse to sample a few of the pubs and bars the surround the numerous old docking areas.

I set off for this 7pm kick-off at just after 4pm, grabbing a couple of buses which allowed me to journey on over the swing bridge and to the Quays themselves. I would bypass the old Ordsall Hall mansion in doing so before hopping off my second service of the trip just outside the Quays House Beefeater – located right alongside a Premier Inn, perfect for those who like a tipple or two before bed! Incidentally, the most interesting parts of the journey both happened on this second bus (the 79 for those interested) which included a radio station onboard which meant my ride began with Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” soundtracking it, whilst the “bus stopping” sign was illuminated by an unseen hand, as it was only me and the driver on board….Whooooooo!! Spooky.

Ordsall Hall

Beefeater from across the water.

Matchstick Man

As I said, my day began with a visit to the Beefeater, which offered views across the quays towards the Old Trafford side, a nice enough place to sit with a pint of San Miguel, especially in the final throes of the warm, kind weather the bank holiday was allowed. From there, I back-tracked a little to the Matchstick Man, a Hungry Horse pub, where a pint of Boddies kind of reflected its surroundings, coming in at £3.95. Not a whole lot to report in here despite setting off in the direction of a non-existent door for some reason on the way out before again making the walk back towards the Lowry theatre and the neighbouring Craftbrew and Harvester outlet. I gave a miss to the Alchemist, though, as it looked a little….highbrow.

The Salford Quays area is within the area the City of Salford which itself is in the larger Greater Manchester area. It was formerly the Manchester Docks and, upon their 1982 closure, it then became the scene of one of the first and largest urban redevelopments throughout the U. K. The docks were owned and built by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, with Salford being the larger of the two – out sizing its neighbour Pomona. The docks were opened in 1892 by Queen Victoria and would go on to be, at its height, the third busiest port in Britain for a time, but the rise of container transportation and larger vessels meant the docks entered into a decline through the 1970’s, ahead of their eventual 1982 closure.

The Quays

Around the old docks

Heading on over to the Lowry area

The docklands were bought the next year by Salford City Council and renamed Salford Quays, with the area being steadily redeveloped from 1985 onwards to include many living areas, bar, restaurants, hotels, the Lowry Art Gallery, Theatre and Retail Outlet and the Imperial War Museum North. These were linked up by roads, a promenade and bridges, and were later joined by the Metrolink extension through to Media City, with the BBC and ITV having a large presence nowadays.

The Craftbrew was probably my favourite bar of the day beer-wise and had many a real ale on offer. I opted for a Hawkshead Pale Ale and it was bloody lovely too – very happy with that choice and the £4.05 price tag wasn’t bad at all considering its position bang centre within the Lowry complex. Finishing off my pint outside on the small outdoor area, I headed the short distance to the Harvester, which was only a small place and I felt more than a little out of place within the dining peoples, as I seemed to be the only person in there having a drink alone. Ah well, what can you do?! Upon finishing off the 61 Deep of Marston’s here, it was time to head towards Ordsall and a planned brief pop-over to the nearby, famed Salford Lads Club just around the corner. From there, I had hoped to get to the Welcome Inn a few minutes from the Ordsall Leisure Centre itself, but this proved to be impossible.

The reason for this? Well….bus. As I was setting off on my planned 25 minute-or-so walk, I spotted the #50 service popping in a little late. “Bonus!”; I thought to myself as I caught it, but this proved to be a fatal flaw in my plans, as it seemed to take an age to get around, whilst the walk from the stop itself seemed to take far, far longer than the phone map suggested. As a result, having reached the Lads Club, the heartbreaking decision to wrest myself away from the Welcome Inn was enforced and so direct to the ground I was forced to be. I’m sorry to have had to subject you to such scenes. Trust me, just be happy you weren’t there to experience it.

Lowry Area

Craftbrew

Harvester (on the left) at the Lowry Outlet

Ordsall itself is an area of Salford, historically in Lancashire, that is currently undergoing a large amount of redevelopment….kind of. It was first mentioned in an 1117 tax payment by Ordeshala and derives its name from the personal name in Old English ‘Ord’ and ‘halh’ meaning corner or nook, which accurately reflects the location of the Manor of Ordsall, with its boundary on the south Bank of the River Irwell featuring a large bend. However, it could also be from the Saxon primeval word ‘ord’ and ‘hal’ which, together, combine to become ‘very old den’ – the reasoning lying at the existence of a cave in the area known as Woden’s Den. This cave was located on a road that ran to Ordsall Hall and included an ancient, paved ford across the Irwell and is thought to have served as a Christian hermitafor local Kersal-based monks, or an area for early travellers to leave offerings to Odin before attempting the crossing.

Ordsall Hall itself dates back to the times of the Tudors and was the home of the Radclyffe family for over three centuries. It has also been home to a varied assortment of tenants, including a church for clergy, the forerunner of the Manchester Theological College and a working men’s club, and is said to be haunted… so that’s where the bus ghost was going! There is even a plausible, if unsubstantiated, rumour that the Gunpowder Plot was outlined here. The Salford Lads Club (made famous by the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead album) and musical themes continuity alumni of Ordsall including Peter Hook of New Order and Tim Burgess of the Charlatans. Football-wise, Busby Babe Eddie Colema was born in Ordsall, though was sadly one of those killed in the Munich Air Disaster, aged just 21.

Salford Lads Club

Arriving at Ordsall Park

I arrived at Ordsall Park, in which the Leisure Centre’s 4G pitch is located, to find the teams waiting around for the pre-booked training session before their game to finish up. It duly did and we were underway around five minutes late, by which time Dan had arrived and was pleasantly surprised to have made the beginning of the game. As for the ground, there’s not a whole lot to say about it, apart from it being a typical affair of its type, just this one has its spectator area running the full length of the park-side of the pitch, whilst some raised areas behind the far-end goal and the spectator area give a little more watching space, but the cage is an issue, of course; not that this was a problem this evening, unsurprisingly. The history part of Beechfield United can be found within my Salford Sports Village blog to watch their home game there, here, but let’s get straight on with the action of this contest….

The game eventually began once the pitch had been cleared of all and sundry and it was the visitors who came out of the blocks the stringer with #3 firing wide of the upright, and #9 seeing his attempted drive well blocked by a defender. However, they would be made to pay for their early misdirections, as Beechfield soon went ahead themselves. After winning a corner out on the right flank, the resultant ball was whipped in perfectly for the lanky frame of Beechy’s #5, Michele Fresneda, to climb highest and thump a header into the back of the net. One-nil Beechfield!

Match Action

Match Action

One quickly became two as well, when Kurtis Lee’s smart finish found the bottom corner, and they really should have gone and put the game beyond doubt shortly thereafter, but #2 guided his header wide and, down the other end and just before the break, #7 was unlucky to see his low shot fly narrowly off target, as Beechy held on to their lead through to the break, despite a scare when County had a goal ruled out for offside. Incidentally, the one thing I really do love about this level is the break times as, within 5 minutes, we were back up and running for the second half. County again began the stronger, and Matthew Leadsham spurned a fantastic chance to level soon after the restart when some fine work and a superb touch by #9 allowed him to be able to pull back. The goal was there, but the finish, alas, was not.

The ‘great chance, poor finish’ theme then continued right down the other end, as #11 broke clear to deliver a good low ball to the back-post, where the arriving #7 blasted into the side netting only. To be fair, it was a tight angle on this occasion, but nonetheless, they would be made to pay by County after this and two swift strikes from the visitors pegged them back. First, Leadsham made amends for his earlier faux pas by slotting in at the near post from a corner, before he himself then became the assister moments later, as he beat a challenge and pulled back to #8, Liam Short, who fired home from the edge of the area. 2-a-piece and all to play for in the last half-hour or so!

Under the lights

Match Action

Caged

Bolton then almost turned the match completely on its head as #11 got forward but did a little too much, and in giving possession back to Beechfield, indirectly allowed them to retake the lead, as they went right down the other end and sub Jordan Jones-Waite, who had been on the field a matter of minutes, slipped his shot across the ‘keeper and into the far side of the net. 3-2 and, unfortunately, the grandstand finish never quite arrived, despite pressure from both teams and a late header flying just wide was the last chance to get something from the game for County, as Beechfield held on for all three “home” points.

After the game, it was straight out of the park gates and to the bus stop a few minutes away for the first leg of the journey home. I bid goodbye to Dan back in Old Trafford and caught a second bus, only to narrowly miss my planned (yet very hopeful) connection by a few minutes. This wasn’t particularly a problem and after a 15 minute wait, I was on the way home to round off this rare midweek venture, and it had certainly been a worthwhile one. Both sides had put on a very entertaining game, with the surface being far better than I had expected it to be (no idea if the players think the same!), and it had been decent to have a few hours in and around the Quays for a change too – though I’m sure those who make their living around there may not be too enamoured. Back onto the norm Saturday games this weekend and the beginning of the FA Vase’s road to Wembley….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 3

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 9

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….Marple (Mellor FC)

Milton fc

Result: Mellor 1-1 Milton (Lancashire & Cheshire AFL Premier Division)

Venue: Wood Lane (Saturday 17th August 2019, 2pm)

Att: 11 (hc)

A week without Cup football rolled around early on in the season and, as a result, I didnt have much of an idea of where to head for. This feeling was exacerbated by the, at times, torrential downpours in the days leading up to Saturday, meaning games further down the leagues could be in a bit of bother. As a result, it was better to head for somewhere that had a confirmatory twitter account etc., correct? Well, this is me you’re on about….

As I said earlier, with not having any concrete plans laid out, I headed into Manchester during the morning and allowed my own feelings to guide my decision. To be bold and travel a fair bit yonder, or be lazy and remain close to home. Well, after asking for a few ideas and coming across some myself, I narrowed it down to a couple of options – Heywood St. James of the Manchester League or Mellor of the Lancs & Cheshire League and the opening day up in Marple. One had a good, working account and it was there I wasn’t headed. I balanced risk for reward and plumped for it, after a, Hyde was there as a fall-back!

Finishing off my wait-covering pint of Boddies in the Hourglass within Piccadilly, I paid the due visit to the ticket office for tickets to the Rose Hill station that Marple plays host to, with this being a short walk away from the ground. You see, I’d decided to be my own match official for the day and carry out a personal pitch inspection….yes, I really am that sad! However, the train journey overall showed that the rain and ground wetness had greatly reduced to next to nothing – that is until we arrived into Marple, where it was puddle central. Either there’d just been a brief downpour just before my arrival, or the place doesn’t drain overly well. Whatever the case, I was beginning to think Hyde’s plastic offering would be on the cards.

Marple Park

Marple Park, ft. Stocks!

Making my way along the Middlewood footpath that takes you from the station to the ground and beyond, I dodged many a manure pile and more than enough puddles to get to the ground and *squelch, squelch, squelch*. The grass around the pitch was sodden but, to my surprise, the playing area itself was pretty solid and I expected football – after all, there was still 2 hours to kick off…well, one actually, as it turned out it was a 2 o’clock start, which I only found out in checking the full-time site as I settled in at the far end of town with a first pint. Brilliant scenes. At least both the Navigation was a decent boozer to begin with and I opted for a pint of the Robinson’s Helle Lager, though the price tag of £4.50 was quite surprising. Having said that, the £4.70 Stella in my second stop, the Bull’s Head, was similar but, again, it was a nice enough place to wile away the remaining time.

Marple is a small town in the Metropolitan Borough of Stockport in Greater Manchester and lies just to the south east of the hat-making town. Historically a part of Cheshire, it lies upon the Peak Forest Canal which hosts the Marple Aqueduct and Roman Lakes lie to the North. The Middlewood Way runs along the old rail line from Rose Hill Marple to Macclesfield, some 9 miles away. The first time Marple was mention was as Merpel – believed to be derived from the Old English maere pill. meaning ‘the stream at the boundary’. The area is believed to have been inhabited for several millennia, with nearby standing stones and tumuli and further excavations around Mellor proving this.

However, despite being within the Macclesfield Forest area for the most part, it was not mentioned in the Domesday Book and wasn’t until an 1122 land deed. It remained rural through to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, with farming, linen weaving and hat making being the larger industries, before Samuel Oldknow brought in lime kilns and mills in the late 1700’s. Around the same time, by the English Civil War, Marple had become the dominant force in the area, with the Lord of Marple Hall and Lord President of the High Court of Justice, John Bradshawe, being one of the first signees of King Charles I’s death warrant.

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Bulls Head within the precinct area

These, in turn, led to the growth of Marple through terraced houses for workers and a village centre with private businesses springing up within it. Oldknow also introduced aspen trees to the area and was influential in the building of both the Macclesfield and aforementioned Peak Forest canals, whilst the 1800-built Aqueduct carries this over the River Goyt and was the work of canal and railway building pioneer Benjamin Outram, but cost the lives of seven workers. These fell into disrepair as a result of the railway’s later arrival and growth in the 1920’s, but have since been restored as part of the Cheshire Ring, for narrowboats etc. Frequent bus routes from the cotton centres of Stockport and Manchester continued Marple’s growth as an urban district, and it annexed the Derbyshire parish of Ludworth and Mellor in 1936 into its Cheshire-based location. It has also been home to the late Manchester music mogul Tony WIlson, as well as Timmy Mallett. The more you know.

Speaking of Mellor, the village lies between the Marple Bridge area and New Mills. It, along with its fellow Marple Urban District members, joined the Metropolitan Borough of Stockport in 1974 and, in turn, Greater Manchester. Its name is uncertain, though may come from the Celtic dialect for ‘bare (or rounded) hill’ and wasn’t listed in the Domesday Book, despite nearby Ludworth (as Ludeourde) being so, and it is possible both were part of the same settlement before splitting at a later date. The Iron Age settlement there saw a 7th or 8th century Saxon church added to the south and St. Thomas Church has the oldest wooden pulpit in Britain (possibly the world), dating from the early 1300’s, whilst its font is 12th-century too. Local legend has it that Mellor Hall was built upon pre-existing foundations of a Norman nobleman and a 13th century hall was found during Iron Age hill fort excavations. William Radcliffe, a name in textile machinery industry is from the area, whilst Mellor superseded its neighbouring Moorend whilst growing from a few houses in the Victorian era to encompass it as a part of itself.

Mellor church

A still functioning, independent cinema!

I began the journey over to Wood Lane early as to ensure that there was actually a game and, as I began to approach the Marple Tavern just up the road from said footy stadium, I could hear what I thought (or more likely hoped) were the distant shouts of footballers. Question was, were they 5-a-siders at the nearby college, training or actually getting ready for a game. I approached the gates with a degree of trepidation…only to see two teams decked out in kit and going through their pre-match routines. WE HAD FOOTBALL! To the Marple Tav to celebrate!!

This pub does seem as an estate-looking type from outside, but is more pleasant and open within, and a decent offering on the go too. As such, my celebratory drink was a pint of Hop House, but before I had it in hand, a guy at the bar informed me that the barmaid had gone to fetch a ‘keeper’s jersey for “that big game up the road”. I then informed him that it was to there I was bound for, though did assure him that it said a lot about myself rather than anything else!! I finished up shortly after and made my way back to Wood Lane for a third and final time – but this time safe in the knowledge the journey, and money, hadn’t been wasted.

Marple Tavern

Arriving at Wood Lane

The ground itself is part of the Marple RUFC grounds, though for some reason it is only to football ground that hosts any furniture, being barred off on three sides, with dugouts on the far side of the field of play. It is also closer to the clubhouse building too than it’s slightly larger counterparts and has a fair grass banking running along the pathway side opposite the dugouts, though watch out for the boggy surroundings if it was anything like today! Also, the area immediately around the clubhouse is flat, hard standing, with the roof providing some slight cover behind the near end goal you enter from behind. That’s Wood Lane and this is the story of Mellor FC….

History Lesson:

Founded in 1923, Mellor Football Club was the brainchild of members of the Hambleton family, who hailed from the village just outside Marple, where the club currently find themselves at home. They have played at a number of grounds over the years, having originally come out of Gibb Lane, Mellor, though spent many a-year at Brabyns Park within Marple, prior to a link up with Marple RUFC and a local 6th-form college in the 1990’s, which allowed a move to the club’s current Wood Lane home. After originally having to change within the college campus, 2002 saw the clubhouse/changing rooms building added, allowing for a far easier time of things in that respect.

On the field, the club moved out of local competition and to the Lancashire & Cheshire League in 1962 and have since remained there to this day. However, success has been somewhat few and far between on the silverware front, with the mid-1980’s proving something of a “golden era” for the club as they went on to win the 1986 & 1987 ‘double’ – winning the Division 3 & Division 2 in successive years, whilst also lifting consecutive Rhodes Cups alongside their league successes. However, little else was to follow and, despite having reached the semi-finals of the 1999 Stockport Senior Cup, Mellor almost folded in the close season, but a merger with local Stockport League side Friendship Romiley – who themselves had ambitions to reach the Lancs & Cheshire League – was agreed, with the Mellor F.C. name continuing, with the proviso that the ‘Friendship’ name continue to be emblazoned on the shirt, alongside a new badge.

In the clubhouse

This merger would be short-lived in some ways, as some ex-Friendship players departed to create a new side and so Mellor F.C. continued on further into the new millennium and achieving greater success as they did so. Mellor would lift the Stockport Senior Cup in 2005 & 2014, the Rhodes Cup in 2012, 2015 & 2017, the latter ensuring another ‘double, as the club also lifted that year’s Premier Division title for the first time, having finished runners-up the year before and despite having spent a number of years away from Wood Lane, at the Stockport Sports Village & Newall Green in Wythenshawe. Last season saw them finish in a rather underwhelming 9th place in the table (out of 12) and lost out in the Stockport Senior Cup Final to High Lane.

We got underway and both sides shared early chances:- a header flying over for the hosts, whilst a fine last-gasp challenge denied a Milton forward an effort at goal. However, Mellor would grab the lead fairly early in proceedings; a fine bit of ‘keeper distribution allowed #9 in down the left and he advanced on goal before sliding across the visiting stopper and into the far corner. He then almost made it two, but was denied by a good save with feet by the ‘keeper this time around, the rebound being headed harmlessly over the bar. Milton would respond around the half-hour mark with their best chance of the half seeing a big goalmouth scramble around the six-yard line, with the visiting players just unable to force the ball into the net and it was eventually claimed by Mellor and cleared from danger.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

This missed really ought to have been punished just before the break when a poor back-pass was latched onto by the home #2 and he advanced to be one-on-one with the ‘keeper, only to horribly scuff his attempted shot and the ball was gratefully clutched by the Milton gloveman. Half-time duly arrived a couple of minutes later and after paying a quick visit to the clubhouse (showing the England-Wales rugby union game but with nothing on the go) for a look around – whereupon I met a very friendly large, black dog – it was back out for the second half.

As in the first half, I was again heading off on a lap of the ground, whilst Mellor started brightly and again ought to have doubled their lead early in proceedings, when some good play allowed a low cross to be sent across goal, but the effort at the back post was fired into the side-netting. Milton again responded, #3 firing off two efforts – the first a fizzing drive from 25 yards which flew straight at the home GK, before his second narrowly avoided the crossbar on its way into the car-park. The preceded what could quite possibly be the worst throw in I’ve ever seen live when a Mellor player attempted to take said throw, only to send it backwards in throwing it forwards. Brilliant stuff.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The second-half wasn’t the best of halves it has to be said, but the visitors would grab an equaliser around ten minutes from time, as a loose ball eventually rebounded its way into the path of #14, Sam Johnson, and he finished from close-range to set-up a grandstand finish that never came to pass. In fact, neither side really created a winning chance, the only one that did come would be from a free-kick AND would end up in the net, #10 knocking in from a couple of yards, but would be ruled offside. To be fair, this was nothing more than the original save the rebound came from deserved, the Milton GK pulling off a superb stop to deny #15’s hooked effort. Full-time and a fair 1-1 draw saw a point a-piece to begin the season for both teams.

Post-match, I headed back on the same way I’d travelled to the ground, but this time took a detour out through the surrounding suburban area to find the cut through to the canal side. This was done without issue, until I got there and found it was actually a steep incline up to the towpath and not flat at all. I gambled on scrambling it and, for once, this went well and a couple of minutes later, I arrived at the Ring O’Bells, just the other side of the bridge across the canal itself. I took advantage of their beer terrace too, though seemed to quickly empty it upon arrival – I must be gaining a reputation or something – but nonetheless, I sipped away at an Amstel for a while in the warm mid-afternoon sun before heading back into the town centre itself, just a few minutes down the road.

Along the canal

Ring O’Bells

Samuel Oldknow

Once back there, I sought out the Samuel Oldknow which is clearly a Wetherspoons-type place, right? Wrong! Instead, and this is how I completely missed it the first time around, the pub is a tiny ale house with a downstairs area too though, having unknowingly order a Seacider at 7.3% (I thought it’s “Hardcore” tagline was a different drink I consciously avoided), I thought I’d best not attempt to explore down them! Following on from here, I continued the short distance back towards the train station for a visit to the I did plan on also popping into the Beer Traders place on the High street but couldn’t spot it quickly (I’d have had to backtrack slightly) and with time running down to my planned train home, I instead made haste for the station-neighbouring Railway back at Rose Hill.

Hatters Arms

The Railway

A quick Sol was enjoyed before grabbing the train back for the short journey to Piccadilly and the onward connections were, of course, no issue – though the conductor on the way back got me just as I was about to get off and couldn’t find my actual ticket quick enough. “Make sure you have the right one next time he said, clearly thinking I was bunking paying. Alas for his thoughts, I came across it seconds after he’d returned to his office and so could flash him on the way off. No, not like that, honestly….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 4

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 5

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

Manchopper in….Cardiff (Millennium Stadium)

Result: Manchester United 2-2 AC Milan (5-4 pens) – (International Champions Cup (Glorified Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Millennium Stadium (Saturday 3rd August 2019, 5.30pm

Att: 65,982

The final weekend of pre-season finally came around to signal one of my most anticipated trips in quite some time. I’d been looking forward to getting back down to Cardiff for another visit, what with my trip to City being a rather rushed, short one, though I was expecting my return to be a watching brief at a Cardiff Met Welsh Prem game. However, when this “International Champions Cup” contest was announced for one of my long-term and fairly unlikely targets, I was in no doubt from that moment that I would be there – a bonus being, of course, that I could watch United whilst finally managing to ‘tick’ the Millennium Stadium.

Having had to miss out on my previously intended game – when Spain were the visitors – here a few months back, this was quite the pleasant surprise and I was upbeat and ready to go by the time I’d caught the 9.30am departure from Manchester through to Cardiff Central. It was a good job I’d pre-booked a reservation too, as the train down was absolutely packed and, indeed, by the time we got to Cwmbran, no one could manage to board. Having said that, a two carriage service at that time was something of a joke though, knowing the old Arriva service well, it seems that TfW are following the same mission statement.

In the square

Duke of Wellington

Cardiff (ft. seagull on his head)

The journey down was spent opposite another pair of lads travelling down to the game. I only really got talking to them in the last hour as they were working through the final few train beers each had in tow, though I was given a can of Coors on account of our shared journey-suffering. Dylan and Tom, cheers lads and hopefully your return journey was a little more restful than mine ended up being….but more on that later. For now, I arrived into Cardiff for just after 1pm and after the lads and the rest of their travelling party headed off on their way into town, I did the same but on my own pre-constructed itinerary. Starting off with a visit to the Callaghan square (where a number of things around there are named after politicians), I back-tracked slightly and headed for my first planned stop for the day – the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately, the Duke was serving in plastics only and, to my immense horror, this became the norm throughout. Amstel down and I continued on my merry way.

I continued on along past an island of stalls and towards a church and rather grandiose museum where I came upon both the Old Market Tavern and, just across the way, the Owain Glyndwr. In the former, a pleasant surprise was had initially as I saw that they had Punk IPA on draught – but then I was brought crashing back down to earth by the £5.05 price tag. Ouch! After spending my time here watching dual TV’s showing both the First Ashes Test and Salford City’s league debut (see both of my blogs here and here for both versions of that ground), I headed for The Owain Glyndwr, hoping for a cheaper time of things. Sadly, this wasn’t the case as the Mephesto IPA came in at £5.25 and was something of an acquired taste, but still decent enough nonetheless. A welcome bonus was that the F1 quali was added to the former two sporting events here, so I was in my element. Lovely stuff.

Cardiff

Old Market Tavern

Owain Glyndwr

From there, I made my way up towards the castle end of the city centre and popped into the Goat Major, the place being packed full of United fans outside. Inside it was a little more spacious and I opted for a Heineken (£4.05) in here to get back onto more familiar ground! A few lads here had the unfortunate happening of trying to start off a song, only for no-one to join in; though they took that well at least! Anyway, upon finishing up there, I began to back-track towards the stadium, coming across the nearby Tiny Rebel (kind of) taphouse as I did so. Entering inside, it was again a popular stopping point and with many a beer to choose from, I reckoned I’d play it kind of safe and go for the Clwb Tropicana (£4.95) owing to my liking of tropical stuff and the back-of-my-mind feeling I’d had it somewhere before.

A final stop was made in the neighbouring City Arms (actually a revisit following my brief terminated one a half-hour earlier) before I reckoned I’d make an early-ish entrance to the ground. This proved inspired as I initially headed in for some food having not seen any programmes out and about, before spotting someone with one as I was queuing for a bite to eat. Asking where he got it, he said “outside the ground”, to which I took he meant before coming in….not the obvious answer of OUTSIDE. A failed attempt to playfully bribe a security guy to find me one followed before I eventually found a steward who could point me in the correct direction which, it turned out was just around the corner which I took to be blocked off. Idiot. Panic over and with a £5 (decent sized A4 issue) bible in tow, I returned to my block once again and returned to the queues for a steak pie. Worth the wait too; piping hot it was.

Castle Walls

Breached!

Goat Major

Taking my pastry-based snack up to my seat, the impressive expanse of the ground opened up in front of me and I have to say, what a ground it is – made all the better by the closed roof, meaning this would be my first “indoor” match. Yes ok, that’s a stretch, but let me have it?! I took my given seating entrance, but this turned out to only mean that I disturbed the whole row I was joining as I continued right on over to the far side seat….right next to the next set of steps up. “Oh, but of course” I muttered to the guy next to me, a fellow United fan who I’d soon come to know be named Dan. A relative local, I talked to him throughout the majority of the game (though he may have wished he’d chose one of the other 65,000+ seats at points!) which, as it would turn out, would be a highly enjoyable affair.

As I said a little earlier, the Millennium Stadium really is an impressive structure – from both outside and in. It is a bowl shape with all corners filled in of course and is the same size the whole way around courtesy of the roof system. Each of the stadium’s sides made up of three tiers, with the bottom tier appearing to be a fair bit smaller than those above it, especially the top level, though this may be skewed somewhat by the large square-like areas behind the goals where both middle and top tiers merge. The dugouts, dressing rooms and tunnel are all located straddling the half-way line and were just to the right of the corner in which I was sitting. Not much else to say, really, so let’s get straight on with the action!

City Arms and Tiny Rebel to finish up

To the Millennium Stadium (no sponsors here!)

Welsh (and German) flavours

The game got going as United began the stronger and they were ahead within the first quarter of an hour when Marcus Rashford cut inside and fired low beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, their lead would last only ten minutes as former Liverpool prospect Suso, who had curled just over moments earlier, this time made amends – adjusting his sights to find the top corner, leaving David De Gea grasping at thin air. One-a-piece!

Following their equaliser, Milan began to gain the initiative and almost – indeed probably should have – gone ahead when the energetic Suso provided the impetus once again and delivered a fine ball for Krzysztof Piatek to attempt a diving header, only for his attempted…er, attempt to almost become the perfect dummy, but De Gea was alert to fling himself and divert the ball away. Piatek then had another chance on the stroke of the break, but his lob was palmed over by the Spanish gloveman to ensure the sides headed in level at the break.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

An uneventful break which saw a venture down into the concourse for no apparent reason came and went and we were soon back underway. Piatek again spurned a chance when he failed to shoot with any conviction during the early stages. United responded with chances for Victor Lindelof and Andreas Pereira, but either truly troubled Buffon’s second coming. In fact, Lindelof would prove more potent moments later but, unfortunately for him, his side and the majority of those within the Millennium Stadium, it would end up with the ball nestling into his own net.

Another direct Milan attack led to a ball in being met by the head of Samu Castijello and his header deflected off of the head of the Swede behind him and Lindelof was fairly unfortunate to be awarded an own goal to his name. The usual glut of substitutions followed, one of which saw Donnarumma replaced by former Liverpool stalward Jose “Pepe” Reina – who proceeded to become the pantomime villain for the majority of those in attendance, being booed upon each touch of the ball he was afforded.

Match Action

Off-target

However,he would become a little more liked when he was beaten with around 15 minutes to play, when Anthony Martial played in sub Jesse Lingard and the Warrington native fired a blistering low drive past Reina to level up the scores once more. A number of youngsters were introduced to the fray for the final ten minutes or so – Angel Gomes, Dan James and Mason Greenwood for United and the likes of Daniel, son of the legendary Paolo, Maldini for Milan. Despite a large amount of pace and trickery from them, there was no more goals despite a late Lingard chance, and so we headed for penalties.

The first eight penalties all hit the net mark – Hakan Calanhoglu, Lingard, Giacomo Bonaventura, Ashley Young, Andre Silva, Mason Greenwood, Rade Krunic and Angel Gomes all finding the net, before the young Maldini was the unfortunate player to miss, the 17-year-old seeing his spot-kick kept out comfortably by De Gea. This left the new signing Daniel James, back in his “homeland” (he is English-born, after all), to win the game and he did just that, converting the fifth United penno to win possibly the most pointless shoot out of all time – Benfica had already taken the tournament. BENFICA!!!

James converts the winning pen

Post-match pubs via blurred vision

After the game, I had a good amount of time before the train home (ha, famous last words) and so I popped into the stadium-neighbouring Zerodegrees Microbrewery and the neighbouring Queen’s Vaults but, being mindful to get to the station with time in hand, I opted to have just a half of Czech Pilsner (£2) in the former, which was interestingly showing Lancashire’s T20 clash vs Nottinghamshire on a big screen behind the bar, and a can of Dark Fruits (£3.25) in the latter, purchased from a separate, little side-bar. With a good twenty minutes or so until the train, I left for the station just up the road, only to see a kind of organised mayhem, with queues here and there heading in all different directions. I was initially pointed into the Birmingham queue where I was assured I’d be placed on the train back to Manchester (I did have the reservation, after all) but I felt a little iffy after ten minutes waiting and no movement of said queue. A further five minutes of nothingness in terms of help meant the train came and went and wouldn’t you know it, I was stranded. Superb stuff. Clusterfuck.

I was eventually allowed to enter the station after actually getting it through to security what the situation was (though my initial joking denial to move for a family to get through could’ve gone wrong had I not thought on about it!) and, to be fair, the lads in the station building itself did do their level best to try and sort me out a way back. Of course, there was little they could do and so I was left with one option and one option alone. Crewe: end of the line. God, there’s something about that bloody place! Assured that I could claim back money for my troubles (watch out for it whomever is at fault here), I boarded said train which did have one bonus to it – it was empty as anything, meaning a far more peaceful journey back was had than I’d have endured on the Manchester service. Also, my cousin had offered to be my personal taxi for the evening to drop me home from there too, meaning that, all in all, the whole furore had cost me about half-an-hour. Crazy. Back in at just after 1am and with that horrible tiredness pain you get inside your brain itself setting in, that was that until a little later on Sunday morning!

Aside from all that shit at the end, the day as a whole couldn’t have gone much better. The game was far better than expected, the ground superb, Cardiff was fun (despite the plastic crap) and getting to meet some good guys during the day’s events was a pleasure too. Back to competitive action next week for the FA Cup’s Extra-Preliminary Round and with a number of ties jumping off the fixture list, I’m spoilt for choice in where to head….that is as long as the journey back is easier than this one!

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 10

Food: 7

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 6 (Marked down due to the obvious)