9 Grounds, 28 goals, 10 pubs and 8 badges makes for ground hopping Easter madness in Yorkshire!

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April 5th-7th 2012. Location – Yorkshire, Northern England. The goal – 9 Games and grounds in three days!

The Northern Counties East League Easter Hop mean anything to you? Probably not, so I’ll explain.

Over the last twenty years or so, 200 or so football following ground hoppers have come together at Easter to visit various parts of the country with the sole intention of ‘ticking’ or should I say watching a game at non league football grounds, the ‘tick’ meaning that they have not watched a match at the selected venue/s previously. The hop weekend can vary from 7 to 12 games/grounds over 3/4 days depending on the location of the hop.

The organiser, which in the past has generally been an official from the respective leagues,  has arranged with the clubs involved to move the kick off times for the convenience of the hoppers so that they can either be transported (a coach is usually organised), or they transport themselves between venues to the games.

The initial, and now considered to be ‘legendary’ very first ‘organised’  hops were spent in the North East watching games in the  Northern league in the early 1990s. After that league was completed the attention switched to the South West of the country and the Devon League, before the hop morphed into the South Western League (also covering Cornwall) and then the amalgamation of the two, the newly created South Western Peninsula League, and also for a brief sojourn at Easter in the Central Midlands League.

I didn’t dip my toes into the murky experience of a hop weekend until it had reached Devon and Cornwall, when I attended for the first time in 2001 , watching my very first hop game at Wingfield Park between Heavitree United and Exeter Civil Service, result 5-2, attendance 308.
That first year I travelled with my friend ‘Leeds Phil’ (Phil having travelled from Norway), and we booked on the organised hop coach. Not really a happy experience for either of us, both of us being independently minded, we didn’t enjoy the strictness of departure times and that the coach drops you directly at the ground. Most club bars serving keg rubbish rather than real ale and that the University accommodation was not really up to much. So subsequently I’ve always taken my own car giving more freedom to roam between games, and more recently drop my wife at places of interest to her between games (sometimes a logistical nightmare, but has worked quite well so far.  Having said all that hop organiser and SWPL secretary Phil Hiscox is a legend amongst hoppers for getting these weekends arranged.

The Easter hop has pretty much become one of the football highlight of the year for me, and it’s a rare occasion when many hoppers are at the same games together, as by nature hoppers are not overtly sociable animals.
Of course, hoppers being hoppers, and because there is a very strong culture of ticking the ground and then moving on, if the club or clubs have already been visited, many hoppers will have no interest in those fixtures where they have already ticked the ground. So quite a large number of hoppers will possibly just bag the grounds they need and perhaps watch other games in the area.

When Chris Berazai of GroundhopUK volunteered to set up an Easter hop in 2012, to replace the Devon/Cornwall version there was some disquiet amongst the hopping fraternity. This seemed to be based around the idea that hops should only be  organised by the league themselves (as had happened previously) or that the hop should return to its spiritual home, the Northern League and not the Northern Counties East league. This league roughly covering parts of the  North East Midlands, Yorkshire, and an area around the Humber. Although as Chris has successfully ran hops in August in south and mid Wales for many years, I’m not sure what these gripes were/are founded on.

Anyway, whatever the arguments for an against, for me personally I was happy with either of these two leagues. Both of these being at Non League Steps 5/6  and were unchartered territory for me. So when I saw the 9 game NCEL Easter schedule of 9 ‘tick’ grounds, my cheque was soon winging its way in the post to Chris. The nine game schedule was to start on  ‘Maunday’ Thursday with a 19:45 KO at Yorkshire Amateur FC, a club based in a Northern district of Leeds playing at the quaintly named ‘Bracken Edge’ ground.

So this is where my blogs begins…..

Thursday 5th April 2012, KO 19:45, NCEL Division One at Bracken Edge.

Yorkshire Amateur 1-3 Hemsworth Miners Welfare, ht 1-2, attendance 179.  Game rating 3/5.

Just days before this trip parts of Yorkshire were under a few inches of snow. Thankfully the thaw happened quickly and so braving the heavy M1 traffic, and via a quick pub stop for lunch in South Normanton/Derbyshire (spying South Normanton Athletic FCs ground on the way out, so another added to my hit list!), we eventually reached our first overnight billet in Otley/ NW of Leeds shortly after 5pm.

The drive across to Bracken Edge from Otley was very easy and only took about 20 minutes. On arrival at the entrance to the ground, which was situated in quite a nice residential area, I was verbally accosted by a car park steward, who suggested to me not to leave my car outside their car park, “it’s an estate mate” he told me.
This comment encouraged me to do an exaggerated 360 degree turn, and all I could see were fairly decent houses. But he seemed quite keen to assure me that I “parked at my own risk”.
Now I’ve been to some fairly rough-looking areas around football grounds in my time, and the likes of Thamesmead Town and Tilbury could certainly be considered as being located on rough-looking  ‘estates’, Yorkshire Am did not!
Anyway, now neurotic that my car would be without wheels after the 90 mins of footy (not good for hopping around 8 further grounds) I went back to the car to move it into their (turned out to be) spacious car park, safe in the knowledge Mr Car Park Security would fight off the rampaging estaters during the game 🙂

A big problem with watching 9 games over such a short period of time, is that the fine details of the match tend to become rather foggy in the mind’s eye by the end of the weekend.
In fact the first game of a hop is usually spent meeting up with hoppers one has met over the years, exchanging greetings/gossip etc.
Outside the entrance I met up with my friend Dave Lewis who’d travelled up from Sutton/Surrey for the weekend, and then inside I also met up with Shaun from Selby who I’d met at a game at Croft Park/Blyth the previous September and who’d called me pre match to advise that he was on his way to York Am.

Of the game itself, it was clear early on that York Am, 3rd bottom were going to struggle against what looked a physically stronger and older looking mid table Hemsworth team who attacked from the outset, and took a 2 goal lead after 22 minutes, one goal coming from Robbie Crapper 🙂 Justin Bowler pulled one back before ht, to leave the score at 1-2, few believe the AM’s would seriously get back into this game.

Hoppers get their first taste of weekend action at Bracken Edge.

At half time I bumped into Oxford based hop helper (N Berks hop organiser)  Laurence Reade (http://laurencereade.wordpress.com/). Laurence looked like he was already into a relaxed hop weekend mode with a pint of ale in one hand and a mars bar in the other! Laurence introduced me to the programme pack, not something I was expecting. As surprisingly all clubs over the weekend had got their match programmes produced very early (I heard later on, by Tue) and all pre-paid hoppers got their little pre-ordered pack, so taking out the potential stress of a programme sell out. Also Laurence introduced me to the hop organiser Chris, who was sitting with the NCEL league officials, who I guessed were keen to monitor the success of the weekend.

The second half continued in a similar pattern, with Hemsworth looking a little too strong for AM’s and adding a third to complete a 3-1 win, in what had been an enjoyable opening game. Bracken Edge itself was nicely enclosed by housing, had enough low slung cover to keep the usual crowd of 30-50 well protected from inclement weather, and was a nice if not spectacular venue to start the weekend.

It was later whilst reading the great little programme, one of the best of the weekend by the way, that I read of their history pre-war as a top Amateur side to rival the best in the country, and that Bracken Edge saw some substantial crowds during that period, such a shame that the Leeds public now give them such short shift with average gates of 35 or so, hopefully then the 179 who attended the hop game helped to swell their coffers a little.

So onto Day Two (Friday) And afer a few beers in Otley the night before  (a lovely little town by the way). We set off early to drop Ros at RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate, this being her prefered choice for the day. Ros believed she could spend a good 4/5 hours there, then easily wend her way down to Brighouse by bus/train to our pre-booked overnight billet there. So by way of some very pretty countryside north of Otley, I made it in good time there and then back south to Bradford, and to the home of Eccleshill United FC for Game 1 of Day two.

KO 10:45, NCEL Div One, Eccleshill United 2-3 Dinnington Town, att 253, at ‘The Rapid Solicitors Stadium’, Kingsway. Game Rating 4/5.

KO 13:30, NCEL Premier, Thackley 1-1 Long Eaton United, att 327, at ‘Dennyfield’. Game Rating 2.5/5.

KO 16:45, NCEL Premier, Liversedge 0-1 Arnold Town, att 318, at the ‘Clayborn Ground’. Game Rating 2.5/5.

KO 19:45, NCEL Premier, Brighouse Town 5-1 Barton Old Boys, att 288, at the ‘Dual Seal Stadium’.

Left to right, Eccleshill United, Thackley, Liversedge and Brighouse Town programme covers.

I met up at the ground with my friend Dave Lewis, who was to accompany me in the car for the next 2 days whilst we shunted around the hills of Yorkshire, and boy was Bradford hilly! With some really serious up and downs, such that even though Dave was overnight only 2 miles from Eccleshill, and having left for the ground on foot, he soon realised this to be madness without walking boots a compass and an oxygen mask (none of which he travelled with), so quickly hot footed it back to hotel to order a taxi!

At Eccleshill before KO there was a nice touch, as the visiting captain Andy Sykes from Dinnington was given an award on the pitch to mark his 10 year career and 400th club appearance, a lovely gesture from Eccleshill to allow this to take place.

First impressions of the ground were very favourable indeed,  with the main stand built into a natural bank, with a few options to stand either side of the stand looking down at the pitch, this ground was definitely a step up from York Am the night before.

And we were treating to a cracking game played at a good tempo at what I shall call the RS Stadium (when does a ground become a stadium?). In actual fact this was probably the best game of the weekend, as the game ebbed and flowed from one end to the other, although MOM Michael Trench for Dinnington already looked like the match winner such was his stand out performance and excellently taken 11th minute goal. Eccleshill levelled from the penalty spot before half time, before Dinnington pushed ahead 3-1, with another from Trench. On another day this game could have finished 7-6 to the home side, as both teams were guilty of missing some obvious open goals, but Eccleshill probably just having the edge in their ability to miss the target from 5 yards, in what is known in the trade as a Ronnie Rosenthaal moment! :). Instead it finished 2-3 as Eccleshill managed an 88th minute 2nd.

The 'RS Stadium' ! Eccleshill United. Should be renamed 'I'll take the high road stadium'.

So breathless and happy, the hopping gang moved onto the next fixture, a massive 1.6 miles down the road to Dennyfield, the home of Thackley FC. Some, including us, broke the short journey in ‘Idle (bone? yes probably) with a brief  stop at The Symposium Ale and Wine House, which was conveniently sited between both grounds for some ”liquid’ refreshment, this being one of two Good beer guide listed pubs in Idle, the other down the road, strangely not open until 4pm. This frustrating a few hoppers who wanted to bag both between games. Ten or so hopped across from Eccleshill to the Symposium, a fine-looking pub with some good tasty ales.

Although sited in Bradford, Thackley’s Dennyfield had really rural feel about it, with horses and cows being apparent in adjoining fields. Although the ground is pretty nicely developed, with a decent seated stand, and good amount of terracing opposite, for some reason it didn’t rock my boat.

The 'Dennyfield' home of Thackley FC

We decided to take up a position on the half way line on the terracing, where either the club or a local trader was selling old programmes and badges from a couple of trestle tables. None of the enamel badges were on my ‘ clubs required’ list and I’m not interested in programmes for games I haven’t attended, so the stall did not detain me for long. But I’d noted one middle-aged guy with a face like a kid in a sweetshop who pawed over the programmes like he’d just discovered p*rn for the first time! And didn’t come up for air until a good twenty minutes into the game, of which he’d spent with his back the game, taking no interest what so ever, strange behaviour in my book, but each to their own I guess, he seemed so happy with the old programmes he had tucked under his arm, perhaps he had a classic 1975 Penthouse also tucked amongst them?

The game had none of the tempo of the earlier match, and although I’d never got to stage of being bored, I was hardly excited by the fare on offer. Moving to the stand in the second half, sitting in front of Laurence who’d sat next to, as it turned out (from ear wigging the conversation) a ‘Norwegian’ silver haired late middle-aged guy who travelled over specifically for the hop (we had a smattering of Germans also), proving it’s not just the Brits who are crazy obsessionals! I heard later that he was chairman of the Norwegian branch of the Scarborough FC supporters branch, and that there is infact thirty members!! The game finished 1-1, probably a fair reflection of the play, but the game had none of the entertainment of the two Div One games we’d seen up to this point, I wondered that hopefully, this wasn’t a sign of things to come?

Another view of Dennyfield

And so onto game3 of the day, and the 11 miles to Liversedge FC based in Cleckheaton. And our first bit of the traffic of day, seemingly all the locals had decided to come out for a drive, and the  journey was a little tedious. But we still arrived in good time to scribble the team line ups down from a hastily and badly positioned team sheet in the foyer to the clubhouse (blocking exit/entry), and for myself to purchase a club enamel badge to add to my expanding collection, and also to consider eating more hop food to sit atop the tasty burger I’d earlier purchased at Thackley. The long snaking queue soon dissuaded me from bothering with this venture, vowing to myself to return at half time to snaffle some treat or other.

Both Dave and I immediately took to this ground, as did many other hoppers I spoke to. The big plus, was that the pitch was in a natural bowl, with most facilities placed down the left on a high bank with a great view. The Clayborn ground reminded me of a few other venues I’ve visited other the years, specifically the ‘Dripping Pan’ at Lewes FC and Falmouth Town’s charming ‘Bickland Park’ ground which has hosted two hop games over the years. The rather grey weather showed no signs of shifting, and it looked like the whole day would pass without the sun warming our backs, but we were grateful it hadn’t rained (up to this point).

The marvellous 'Clayborn' home of Liversedge FC

However this was another poor premier league game, won by visitors Arnold Town, the Eagles 🙂  with a 44th minute goal by James Leggitt. The first half passed by quickly as we slowly took up different vantage points around the pitch to appreciate what a lovely little ground this was, with excellent views down the valley, with a small town perched on the horizon, which strangely some locals who I spoke to could not identify!

Raised covered terracing at the Clayborn, clubhouse behind.

At half time, being true to my rumbling stomach I joined a very slowly moving tea bar queue, the tea bar itself frankly looking not much bigger than a sentry box, but room enough for a couple of northern lassies to be cooking up perfectly formed fatty products to satisfy the average hopper, whose general idea of a square meal, is a visit to Burger king, with a couple of mars bars for pudding! Eventually I reached the front, and ordered a cholesterol banging, and artery blocking warm pork pie and chips. Then returned to sit in the stand to snaffle slowly my heart attack inducing treat, the pork pie being very nice although luke warm, the chips having been sizzled to within an inch of their life in a deep fat fryer, and were of the ‘french fries’ variety. It was the most unhealthy meal I’d eaten for a while, but it hit the spot 🙂

Another view, Liversedge in sky and navy blue.

But, even by this stage of the hop weekend I was a little disappointed by the lack of ‘pies’. Everyone knows that Oooop Naaarth means pies! Where are they I thought, who had eaten all the pies? I suspect as most of the ‘9’ game hoppers would be Southern, that perhaps I was not alone in expectation of pies, faggots and all the other northern delicacies that seemed to be very thin on the ground, bah!

So onto Game 4, and a shortish drive to Brighouse (silent h – Brigouse). Before the game we had time to check into our hotel, The Waterfront hotel, chosen for its central location and proximity to a couple of pubs I wanted to visit later.  Ros had already checked in, and was happy to stay there, rather than enjoy the delights of the ‘Dual Seal Stadium’. Clearly the NCEL clubs are keen on calling their homely venues stadiums, rather grand I think, stick to more homely names I say, I guess the sponsorship comes in handy though!

On arrival at the ground, it was clear this venue was not as enclosed and developed as some others we’d seen, and was not that dissimilar to York Ams, with the only shelter being down the one side of the ground. By now the grey day had turned into a grey drizzly evening, which was a shame as it appeared on a clear evening one may have had views down the valley to the town.

We took up a position opposite the low slung stand, but soon the light drizzle became heavier and I moved around to the comfort of the cover behind the seats. Here, under the roof with the floodlights shining bright, I thought this little ground came into its own, and so did the game itself. The Amber shirted Brighouse took a two goal half time lead, and then really hammered home their superiority with a splendid ten minute hat trick from Danny Nadiole, one a peach of a strike from some distance, with only a solitary reply from Barton Old Boys, who competed well in the first half, but were outplayed in the second. Town ran out winners 5-1 in what had been an enjoyable game, and I enjoyed chatting to fellow southern based hopper Steve Jackson. (see his blog page here – http://musinganorak.wordpress.com/

Covered stand at Brighouse Town

Quickly returning to our hotel, Dave was also staying at the same billet for the night, we visited two good beer guide pubs very close to us, the very lively The Old Ship Inn, where we fell into a conversation with a ‘Northern Monkey’ his words not ours, proud of his day out to Manchester for 12 quid on the train “to get pissed”, fair play I thought, especially as he reeled off a couple of decent ale houses from the Northern quarter.  his mate seemed to have lost the power of speech, it sounded like a hell of a crawl! Anyway leaving there, we sauntered 200 yds up the road to an excellent Wetherspoons pub, The Richard Oastler, which is a converted church, with pews and organ still in situ above the seated area.

The Richard Oastler, beer and religion, a good mix!

Richard Oastler (20 December 1789 – 22 August 1861) was an English labour reformer, “Tory radical”,[1] and abolitionist. He fought for the rights of working children in the Factory Act of 1847, and was also a prominent leader of the Factory reform and anti-Poor Law movement. A statue of him stands in Bradford. An all round decent chap by the sound of it.So an enjoyable couple of hours was spent with Ros and Dave to finish off what had been an excellent Hop Day 2.

Day Three meant an early start and a 48 mile drive south to South Yorkshire, and the day was to begin at the Rotherham suburb of Malby, for the local derby v Parkgate FC.
Maltby Main, Staveley Miners Welfare, Hallam and Worsbrough Bridge Athletic Programme covers.

Kick off 10:30 – NCEL Premier  – Maltby Main 3-1 Parkgate at ‘Muglet Lane’, attendance 253. Game rating 3.5/5

Kick off 13:30 – NCEL Premier – Staveley Miners Welfare 0-1 Pickering Town at ‘Inkersall Road’, attendance 270. Game Rating 2/5.

Kick off 16:45 – NCEL Div One – Hallam 1-0 Teversal, at ‘Sandygate’, attendance 212. Game Rating 2/5.

Kick off 19:45 – NCEL Div One – Worsbrough Bridge Athletic 4-0 Rossington Main, at ‘Park Road’, attendance 273. Game Rating 3.5/5.

The drive south went seamlessly and we made it in good time to drop Ros at the nearby Roche Abbey. Malty Mains ground was situated on the edge of a housing estate, and of the grounds we’d visited up to now, this had a real northern feel, with its unusual floodlights and Heath Robinson stands, coal mining has been the local industry here, and this ground and area felt a million miles away from the Chertsey’s and Wantage’s of my part of the world.

On arrival at the entrance an official from Main told us “local derby today chaps, plenty of blood on shirts” ! So we were anticipating a keenly contested Derby game, and that is exactly what we got.

Action from Muglet Lane, Maltby in Red.

Again taking up a position opposite the stand, the game started at a frantic pace with some crunching tackles flying in. Main needed the points as they were fighting a potential relegation battle and Parkgate from the other side of Rotherham were comfortably in the top half of the table. This was the most vocal crowd we’d heard at any of the hop matches so far, with a number of Main locals creating a racket in the covered terracing to the right of the stand. The noise levels increasing when Thomas Foylten- Brown (a  most un northern name we thought) gave them an early lead before Parkgate levelled before HT, 1-1.

During half time whilst waiting at the tea bar I snapped my third ‘hound at the ground’ of the weekend, the marvellous ‘Maltby Mutt’ as I named him (see my blog under ‘wildlife’), who sported a jacket in the red and black colours of Maltby Main. This led onto a conversation with Dave’s friend ‘Bournemouth FC Vinnie’ who was most amused by the existence of a website dedicated to non league dogs, funny enough, called ‘Non league dogs’ which is indeed a work of art :).

The second half continued in the same vein, but Parkgate did not seem to have brought their scoring boots with them, and Main scored a superb goal in the 60th minute by Rob Branagan, who met a cross from the right, 10 yards from goal he smacked an audacious over head kick into the back of the net, this was a Premier league finish, and creating a strong  ripple of applause right round Muglet Lane, a cracker. An amusing incident occurred when a Parkgate player went to take a throw in, hesitated and then said loudly to the ref  “It’s got dog sh*t on it”, not a comment I’d think you’d hear at Old Trafford! Hopefully it wasn’t the Maltby Mutt? Surely he wouldn’t sh*t on his own patch?

View towards cricket field side of Muglet Lane

After a circuit of the ground, I saw Craig Gladwin add a third in the 81st minute to round off a deserved if unexpected win for Main, and keep the noisy home fans happy, this had been an enjoyable game in a venue that was less developed than many but had a homely charm.

Main Stand and covered terracing at Maltby Main FC.

And so onto game two of the day, in between scooping Ros from Roche Abbey (good apparently but without sun not ideal for photos), and then dropping her, at not far from Staveley at Renishaw House and Gardens and still making it back to Staveley in plenty of time. Now the immediate impression of their ground at Inkersall Road was that blue and white stripes were dominant everywhere, even from the car park outside the back of the club buildings looked like a tesco bag! In fact, you could tell immediately this was a step five club on the up, on entering the ground, this was probably the only venue all weekend that perhaps ‘could’ call itself a stadium, with cover on three sides, and brand new terracing all around, this really looked like a project in motion. Pie and chips went down very well pre-match (A pie at last!), and we took up a position behind the far goal, only to find it a long way from the pitch, and then we moved and stood next to the stand on the fairly steep terracing, and waited for a game to break out, and waited, and waited. What was very apparent was that Staveley were suffering hangover from their FA Vase S/F defeat the previous Saturday, to Dunston UTS, and were struggling to make any impact on this game against a very resolute and organised Pickering Town side.

View towards clubhouse end at Staveley.

 The second half was little different to the first, with high in the division Staveley huffing and puffing but creating very little, so it was no surprise that Russell Parker scored a break away goal to steal a 1-0 win for Pickering in what had been a very poor game indeed.

Main Stand at Staveley.

Perhaps I was just suffering from match burnout?  

And so anyway, onward, to game 4, and going back North to Sheffield, scooping Ros from Renishaw, which she rated highly, but again “needed some sun really for some quality photos”. We passed through Sheffield, within a baseball hit distance of Brammall Lane, as it was half time during the game v Bournemouth (which Vinnie was at).

Then to the western area of Sheffield to ‘Sandygate’ the very famous home of Hallam, the second oldest football club in the world with the oldest ground – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallam_F.C. is well worth a read, a fascinating read.

Because of their history, I suspected this club has been well visited by ground hoppers over the years, especially those in the North, this was reflected in the gate of 212, a little disappointing maybe, but as the main afternoon game, they were many 3pm options around the area, which probably impacted the gate.

A brief sojourn in the pub across the road pre-match, probably did for me in only getting the ‘8’ badges over the weekend, as on entry 10 mins before KO, Hallam had ‘sold out’, how many there actually had been not apparent, as my question about how many they had only elicit the answer of ‘quite a few’, I think ‘few’ was probably the most important word, disappointing. But when I got home, ‘Terry Badges’ came up trumps, look up his website it is very good 🙂 .  Because of this I had little pleasure in enjoying their spanking new clubhouse which I learned later was open for the first time for this game.

Then, moving across to the tea bar,  we had to make do with 3 smallish sausage rolls, rather than the 4 we wanted (between Ros and I), as they had ‘sold out’ hmm, a theme developing here I thought.

Anyway, the ground is fabulous, with a ridiculous sloping pitch downhill AND side to side, it drops from the goal at the top of the ground, where you enter to the far end, see below.

A tidy little stand on the half way line, and a view to rolling hills on the horizon at the lower end of the pitch, with some small patches of snow still apparent, and the side opposite the main stand an open cricket field, enclosed by a very old-looking stone wall, and a little bit of cover at the top/road end, made for a very pleasant little ground.  And with the knowledge it had been here since 1860,  it was certainly a joy to visit this venue. And suprisingly, like many big city grounds, it felt quite rural, even though it was hemmed in by housing at one end of the ground.

Ros had the pleasure of this game, not by choice, but because there was nothing of interest to her in the vicinity and the plan was to drop her at our overnight stay in Wortley/Between Sheffield and Barnsley before the onward journey to game four of the day at Worsbrough Bridge Athletic FC.

What usually happens when Ros attends a  non league game with me, is that it is an absolute snore! This wasn’t quite as bad as the Staveley game earlier, although perhaps that was because I preferred Sandygate as a venue maybe?

View across towards cricket field at Sandygate.

But this wasn’t a thriller and had the potential to be the first 0-0 of the weekend, which always goes down like a lead balloon with ground hoppers who are goal freaks, many keeping a record of games ‘since the last 0-0’. So not much happened in the first half, neither Hallam or visitors Teversal seemed to have the nous to break through each others defence. In the second half Ros and I decided to wander for differing views and angles of this unique ground, and after lingering behind the bottom goal for a while I followed Ros towards the cricket field side, and it was when walking round this side I noticed a big sign declaring ‘no spectator access on this side of the pitch’. Ah I thought, problem was Ros was already 30 yards up the touch-line, so even though a club official was lurking on this side of the pitch, presumably to gather over hit balls, I risked joining her, and took some sneaky photos whilst there 🙂

Snow in the distance, the bottom end of Sandygate, 'down the hill'.

We didn’t get accosted, but even so quickly made our way to the small piece of covered terracing at the top car park end. The game continued to have all the makings of a dreaded 0-0, that is until Hallam’s Craig Getliff hit a good 15 yard strike into the bottom corner in the 87th minute. This goal was met with more than the average ripple of applause from all and sundry, as nil all was once again avoided 🙂 

At games end, Dave headed home, with a cab back to Sheffield before journeying onward to London, and so his weekend finished before the finale at Worsbrough Bridge. Dave later reported a sign outside the ground saying, ‘dogs not allowed’, perhaps the Maltby Mutt had visited previously and left his mark on this sacred ground! either way ground hopper Mr G Retriever was allowed entry (see hounds at the grounds under wildlife).

Ros and I had time to check into our overnight digs in Wortley, a lovely little village, equidistant between Hallam and Worsbrough, which is just outside Barnsley. Before I jumped back into the car for leg 9! The end was in sight. I was immediately struck by the Park Road ground of Worsbrough Bridge Athletic FC, and how apt, that a bridge ran over back of the ground giving a good view down the playing area, as shown below.

The 'Park Road' ground of Worsbrough Bridge Athletic FC

The large clubhouse and bar was sighted to the right of entrance and was another multi purpose facility ‘apparently’ shared with the cricket, although later I noted that to the left of the main stand it appeared the cricket people had built themselves a fairly new facility, so it looked like the rooms near the football pitch were probably now shared with the villagers as a social club.What was clear, is that they were prepared, a number of different rooms housed a bar, a kitchen cooking up nice smells, and a small hall where someone was selling old sports books, programmes etc, and of course what I sought, the club enamel badge. Pre-match it was a hive of activity, full marks to WB, it was nice to finish at a club who it seemed not only expected the hoppers but welcomed them! I took up a position in the stand, in the back right of it, and found myself sitting near a large group of well-known Southern based hoppers, Steve Jefferey, Adrian Swann, and plenty of other faces I recognised by sight if not by name. It was almost like a Sunday fixture of old at Kingstonian, rather than an evening fixture in South Yorkshire.

Main Stand at Worsbrough Bridge Athletic FC

This game followed a similar pattern to the match at Brighouse the night before, where the first half had been pretty end to end (0-0 at Ht), before the Bridgers took control and ran out 4-0 winners in what had been a very entertaining second half, and I enjoyed chatting with Steve, and listening to the general banter of the other hoppers who’d obviously enjoyed the weekend as much as I had. 

View to covered terracing at Worsbrough

At games end, I quickly shot off back to Wortley, and Ros and I were sitting at a table in the GBG listed ‘Wortley Arms’ by ten fifteen.  Actually I found this place to be rather ‘foody’ and the beer quality moderate to poor. Whilst sitting supping and listening to some of the contented locals who’d obviously had just enjoyed some good gastro pub food (the kitchen now firmly ‘closed’). It made me think, that the only downside of watching four games in a day when away from home, is it doesn’t allow time to enjoy a meal in the evening.  Personally I’d favour three games, with the evening game maybe kicking off at 18:30. Thus allowing that evening time to enjoy some food and a couple of leisurely pints.

The upside is with those extra games, the league is completed more quickly, swings and roundabouts I suppose. We had tip-off from the bed and breakfast billet to check out the ‘Wortley (working) mens club’ a hop skip and jump from the Wortley Arms and with real ale available. On a busy, but late Saturday night, there was no one on the door, so no need to sign in, and with ale and W cider available, this was a very decent establishment, which apparently was built as a drinking club by the owner of nearby Wortley Hall in the last century.It was very plush, with nice decor, fancy chandeliers etc. We were a little confused, it didn’t look like a working mans clubs at all. Over breakfast our misapprehension was corrected, not a ‘working mans’ club at all, but as mentioned a mens drinking club!

Whatever, I finished the Yorkshire weekend drinking strong ‘Welsh’ cider, marvellous!!!  And we very much enjoyed a Sunday roast lunch on the way home in Oxfordshire at the shepherd’s crook in Crowell. Our first decent meal since before the weekend. 

For any ground hoppers, or just fans of lower level football, I can’t recommend these weekends highly enough. Dip your toes and try, you might get hooked like me !  Roll on Easter 2013!

Shaun, April 2012.

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