Based on colleague, Ellie Dalglish’s excellent series of articles, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect as I headed to Fitzwilliam to cover yesterday’s Toolstation NCEL Premier Division clash between Hemsworth Miners Welfare and Athersley Recreation at the Yorkshire NuBuilds Stadium – not least a warm welcome from their fantastic band of volunteers. I’d promised to meet Ellie at around one o’clock ahead of the game, so I was sure that I had set off in plenty of time as I headed up the A61, writes Colin Muncie for the Bootiful Game.
I drove slowly and respectfully past Hillsborough where thousands – well at least ten – had gathered to pay tribute to the Owls fantastic goalless draw at FC Barcelona on Friday night; or maybe they were just going to the Megastore – and headed across the M1 towards Barnsley.
The A61 briefly became Park Road, the home of Worsborough Bridge Athletic FC on the banks of the River Dove, and clearly visible on the left next to the Mill. The Briggers were off to Green Lane and a clash with Parkgate in Division One.
In my working and voluntary life, I have always found the folk of Barnsley to be friendly and helpful. It’s difficult to outstay your welcome in the town; which is just as well, as that sentiment certainly seems to have been a consideration for the guy who sequences the traffic lights around the Alhambra Roundabout. It was FA Cup day, of course, with Notts County the visitors at Oakwell, and the roads were busy. As I sat in the seemingly interminable queue, my mind wandered away from the bloke in the car behind – practising for the semi-final first leg of the European Gurning Championship in his rear-view mirror – to the Metrodome on the horizon to the right, our car park of choice on away days at Barnsley FC. I contemplated the state of Brexit negotiations and wondered if the bloke who had thrown a plastic pig at Sam Winnall on my last trip to Oakwell had ever got it back. And did the traffic lights ahead have any green bulbs…?
Red eventually changed to green, and I was on my way again. Up through Royston, past the beautiful Baptist Church on the right and the former Hargreaves drift mine on the left, and into the village of Havercroft, just a mile or so from my intended destination. Then – disaster; a road closure diverted me close to Nostell, meaning that it was almost twenty past one as I passed the post office on the right and pulled into Prince Road leading to the car park at the Yorkshire Nu Builds Stadium.
No sooner had I parked up than Athersley striker – and Bootiful Game contributor – Chris Wood arrived. We exchanged greetings and he headed off into the away dressing room. I collected my notebook and my complementary Bootiful Game biro – which looked suspiciously like one that I had lent editor Craig Kendall eighteen months ago – and set off to the entrance. Immediately, I bumped into Wells’ Chairman, Richard Norman, who was his usual welcoming self as he talked about the clubhouse extension under construction on the cricket club side of the clubhouse and his great work in the local Community. Richard had a word of playful encouragement for referee Danny Guest as the match officials rocked up, all immaculately dressed and businesslike, ready for a busy ninety minutes or so.
Richard asked if we could publish a different photograph of Well’s Manager, Wayne Benn in our articles, as he had seen enough of the head-scratching one and would like us to ‘retire’ it. We couldn’t agree more!
I paid my fiver to gateman Tony Benson and bought the match day magazine. I was delighted to see that Wells had incorporated all of our ‘HEM-ATH 360-Action All Areas’ pieces as a pull-out in the programme, for which TBG is really grateful. The 56-page edition also carried a fascinating biography of Rangers and Scotland full back Eric Caldow, a hero of my dad’s.
I grabbed a couple of quick pictures and caught up with our Ellie, who had arrived earlier in the morning to witness a floodlight bulb change. As she wandered off to grab some lunch, I reminded her of the Bootiful Game’s strict expenses policy; specifically, there aren’t any, so don’t bother claiming.
As I went into the already-busy clubhouse, Richard and Wayne were sitting at a table with a couple of members of Richard’s family. Richard explained that the guys were ground hoppers par extraordinaire and had travelled the length and breadth of the country watching football. Mental note to self – contact them for a special feature in due course.
With the warm-ups well under way, and armed with a cuppa, I was delighted to catch up with Darren Bell from the Rec-In Crew. I’d first met Darren over a year ago on a Parkgate away day at Sheerien Park and he and his colleagues were brilliant hosts. Darren was, as he always is, in great form. Off on holiday shortly – with his beloved, not the Rec-In-Crew – and being Darren, he’s already clued up on the football clubs in his holiday destination. Also, being Darren, he thought he knew the bloke who’d thrown the Plastic Pig at Sam Winnall. Darren was optimistic about his side’s chances today, and when Ellie joined us, the two Barnsley supporters quickly engaged in their favourite subject in an odd dialect; ‘Tarn talk’ I think they called it.
As I wandered off to catch up on the teams, Wayne arrived for his photo call and a chat. Wayne explained that his side’s up and down form so far this season has its roots in a long sequence of injuries and suspensions, but he has massive belief in his players, and is still clearly loving his job at the Nu Builds. Thoughtfully, he left reference to my last visit to the NuBuilds until the tail end of our conversation. On that day in April of this year, Wells and Parkgate had shared nine-goals in an absolute thriller in Fitzwlliam.
Danny Critchlow scored for Parkgate.
Photo captured, Wayne headed off to the dressing room for his final words with the players, as Luke Potter would be doing the same with Athersley across the corridor. ”With all this build up, I hope it’s not going to be a boring nil-nil,” Wayne chuckled, almost prophetically. More of which later….
There was just time for raffle guy, Steve Poulson to entice me to buy a ticket by reeling off an incredible list of potential prizes, including a melon. I took his picture with the intention of passing it on to serial prize draw winner, Maltby Main Chairman Wilf Race. I didn’t win, but then he didn’t promise I would. No harm no foul.
With Ellie in position in the grandstand on the far side, Danny Guest and his colleagues led the two sides onto the pitch ahead of a beautifully-observed minutes silence ahead of Armistice Day.
The game kicked off and immediately clicked into the rip-roaring encounter we had expected, with Hemsworth anxious to impose their passing game on the contest, and Athersley, really well–organised, just as keen not to let the home side have too much possession in dangerous areas. Sam Jones jigged through early on, but fired wide from the right-hand side of the box, and centre-half Andrew Higgins had a header kicked clear at the far post.
The banter was pretty much in evidence from the start. A local collected the ball after a clearance from a Rec defender and left it by the touchline, as a replacement ball was already in play. “Watch me fall over that,” said the linesman on our side. Under his breath, my fellow supporter quipped, ”I know he’s a liner but his eyesight can’t be THAT bad.”
The officials were at the centre of everything for a twenty-minute spell in that first half, with referee Danny having words with Chris Wood (probably about their respective TBG articles) and the benches, before reaching for his pocket to caution Athersley’s No 8 for an over-exuberant challenge. The volume from the crowd on the Clubhouse side was steadily increasing, mostly in Danny’s direction, and a delay to treat to Wells Jack Wakefield prompted my new buddy to make an unfavourable comparison with a 999 call. The game settled down after that.
Half time – and a catch-up with Darren – came and went, and as I took up position behind the goal at the cricket club end, Wells TV cameraman and club media man Pete Murden, was exchanging greetings with the visiting players, hinting at a perceived lack of entertainment in that first half. “Colin’s got now’t to write about,” Pete concluded. Great guy.
The second half quickly assumed a similar pattern to the first, with the home side getting the ball to their creative men, especially Brad Dockerty and Nash Connelly, with a resilient Athersley back line giving nothing away, and looking to threaten on the counter without manufacturing a real chance.
Former Parkgate keeper Dan Morton said hi. He was having a splendid afternoon between the sticks for the visitors, but as the game neared the finish, it looked as though Dockerty had made the breakthrough with a beautifully-struck right-foot volley; a raised yellow flag at the far touchline silenced the cheers, however. Minutes later, Morton made a super save high to his right, and I was pressed into ball-boy action as another effort bounced over the wall onto the cricket pitch.
Wells thought they had a legitimate penalty shout as time ticked down and the 16.44 departure from Fitzwilliam station headed for Doncaster, but referee Guest waved the appeals away, and oddly, Athersley offered a last gasp threat of their own with an added time series of corners; and Chris Wood’s mazy run and shot cleared almost on the line.
By this time a freezing Ellie had joined me on her way to a post-match meal and interviews with some of the main protagonists. There is indeed no such thing as a free lunch here at TBG.
Referee Danny’s three blasts on his whistle brought a blood and thunder clash of local sides to a goalless conclusion, and as the locals – in the best of season crowd of 154 – headed in to the clubhouse, I said my farewells to Richard, Pete and Ellie and headed home, this time via the A1 at Ellie’s suggestion. The Neptune fish bar was already doing a roaring trade opposite Prince Road as I made my way out of the hard town for hard men.
I’d seen twenty-two of them today. But I never found a plastic pig.
Darren Bell and his Rec-In-Crew colleagues were pretty happy with a point. “From the sidelines, it was a nervous watch at times – but I enjoyed the game in a strange kind of way for a 0-0!” Darren told us. ”Hemsworth have always been a team who like to pass the ball around and try to pull you out of position – but I think we kept organised and frustrated them at times.”
Darren is happy with Rec’s new-found defensive resilience. “Two clean sheets from the last two away games is great to see – so credit to the Management and Players today,” he said. “We could have got all three points near the end, when we had our best spell attacking the Hemsworth goal; but in fairness I think they would have felt very hard done by if we had.”
“That said, we have been on the end of some results like that in the past,” Dean added. “I was really pleased watching the game as the lads all stuck together to bring home a good point.”
Safe travels, Darren.
Wells Manager Wayne Benn was left disappointed after the game. “Yesterday was another frustrating game, and if I’m being brutally honest, a very poor-quality game,” Wayne reflected. ”It is such a shame after all the build up and the focus on the teams leading up to it, but it was rubbish with no real quality on show from either team. Athersley came to defend and make life difficult and they have every right to do that. It was up to us to break them down and we didn’t. Despite not playing well we had several chances to win the game, a great chance for Sam Jones after the best move of the match, an even better chance for Seon with a header from 8 yards out, plus a couple of decent saves from the keeper.“
“There were more chances in the second half, with an excellent save from their keeper and some wasteful finishing,” Wayne admitted. “Our lads feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty – but again that shouldn’t have been needed if we were more clinical in front of goal. It’s probably one of the worst displays of shooting that I’ve ever seen from my side and it’s simply not good enough. My attacking players were poor yesterday – and have been for three or four games now. If they can’t do the job required of them, then others will have to come in that can.”
Wayne is concerned by what seems to be becoming a worrying trend at Hemsworth. “We can’t keep dominating games and not getting the rewards we should. Despite being far from our best – it’s a game we should have won,” he warned. “Our keeper hasn’t had a shot to save and I can only remember one chance near the end from a header, which tells its own story.“
Wayne had words of praise for the visitors, who were clearly delighted with the draw. “Credit to Athersley; they had a game plan to be hard to beat,” Wayne acknowledged. ”They celebrated their point like they had won the game, which tells us we are now seen as a scalp for everyone. That’s not the first time teams have reacted in that way – which tells us that most teams in this League see us as a good side.”
“It’s about time the players started to play, and think, like a good side because we have been nowhere near the levels, we are capable of recently,” Wayne insisted.
“I’d like to thank Craig, Colin, Ellie and all the team at TBG for all the media attention this week. You guys do a fantastic job and it’s much appreciated by everyone at Hemsworth MWFC,” Wayne added.
Ellie caught up with match referee Danny Guest after the game, and started by asking him about his assessment of the game as a whole. ”It was a good battling performance,” he told TBG. “Played on a good pitch they were two fully committed sides in a kind of a local derby. It set off, for me, quite tetchily. Both sides were wanting to win everything, get every decision, but then it finally settled down after about twenty minutes in with some good football played in the first half.”
Commenting on just that one yellow card, Danny felt that – although the one was warranted – he preferred to keep his pockets buttoned up. “It was relatively well-behaved,” he noted, “as I said, pretty much everybody was fully committed. There were one or two challenges that could have possibly been carded. I think I yellowed the one that warranted it the most. It was a two-footed lunge by one of the Athersley lads. I said to him at the time, although he took the ball completely, it still warranted a caution for the way that he went in.”
“There could have been other yellows, you know.” Danny went on, “A couple of minor things; kicking the ball away, stuff like that – which I’d rather manage in this sort of game than throw cards around. If you start throwing cards around in a game like this, you’re going to be coming off with eight, nine, even more cards, which nobody wants.”
“Both dugouts were fine,” Danny reported. “Both can be quite vocal in their own right – but ultimately they both want to win. I had to explain a couple of things to Wayne, which I hope he took on board. He might not have at the time but, if he’s looking back, I’m hoping he’s realised what I was trying to do and why.”
“I know he wasn’t happy with my decision not to award a penalty. I’ve explained it to a couple of other people at the club,” Danny revealed. “My thought process behind it was that I felt that it was a genuinely good tackle. And we’ve also chalked off one for Hemsworth for offside. They may feel genuinely hard done by, but, from our point of view, I think we’ve called both decisions right.”
Asked if he was happy with his own performance and those of his colleagues, Danny left Ellie in do doubt. “Yes, absolutely! We’re a team that have worked together before so we know each other, we know what each other is about,” he explained. “I do like to let the game flow as I’ve already alluded to before, although it didn’t quite pan out like that to start with during the first half and it also didn’t quite pan out like that at the start of the second half. Once I got on top of it and the lads started to respond, I let the game go and just let them play football.”
“I think on the whole it worked.”
It’s always a pleasure to visit the Nu Builds, and the Bootiful Game would like to thank Richard Norman, Wayne Benn and all the brilliant volunteers for their kind welcome. Thanks also to Chris Wood and Darren Bell, and all at Athersley Recreation FC and the Rec-In-Crew; and of course, referee Danny Guest.