Junior Team Star
- Dec 7, 2019
Sheffield United, Sheffield Eagles & Kendal Town
Also one of the meagre attendees at Donny Andrew.Rare midweek double, garnering a nostalgic revisit and a ‘tick’…
Tuesday 31st March 1992
Doncaster Rovers 1 Barnet 0 (HT 1-0)
Football League, Division Four (2.0)
Programme 90p (24pp)
Belle Vue provided my first experience of live sport. My family lived on the outskirts of Doncaster for three years, 1970-73. Once I’d reached six, in 1971, Dad decided I was old enough to accompany him to football. A keen rambler, Dad wouldn’t drive anywhere he could walk. For games at Belle Vue (though Dad grew up in Sheffield and as a boy followed Wednesday, he had a ‘support the local club’ policy), we’d walk to the ground from our Bessacarr home. Must have been at least two miles. Dad figured the exercise kept us “warm until half-time”. Unless it was raining (or worse), we’d walk home, too!
One of Dad’s customers at the Doncaster Nat West had some sort of stewarding role at Belle Vue. On hearing I would be joining my dad from now on, he advised: “If you arrive at least an hour before kick-off, I’ll get Andrew in for nothing.” That’s how it went. For the couple of seasons before the family relocated to Calderdale (Mum and Dad were SO glad to escape Doncaster!), I entered the ground via a door in the back of the main stand. It accessed a kitchen. I remember vividly the smell of hot dogs. Handed a gratis programme (thereby a collecting habit launched!), I’d duck under the folding counter and join Dad (who paid, like a good ‘un) on the paddock. He’d stand on the top row; I’d go down the front. At six, I was just tall enough to rest my chin on the perimeter fence. In 1971, Belle Vue hadn’t fallen victim to the ‘wasting disease’ which, in later years, saw many of its facilities either halved in size or demolished. A sad end for a decent ground with a lush pitch renowned throughout the game.
After a few home matches (we never went away, possibly because all were beyond walking range!), I could recognise most of the Rovers players. Those prominent in my memory include goalkeeper Kim Book (along with his balding understudy, Glen Johnson), full-back Ian Branfoot (later to manage Reading, Southampton and Fulham), midfielder Archie Irvine and striker Mike Elwiss (30 goals in 97 league outings for Rovers and later a Preston North End stalwart).
Rovers used to run out (from a separate tunnel to that used by the opposition) to a rather catchy tune I enjoyed listening to at every home game. It was only some years later, when my designated departure time for bed was much later in the evening, I realised it was the iconic Match of the Day theme.
Unfortunately, the ‘admit-the-child-free’ arrangement set in motion a good-natured conflict unresolved until Dad’s death in 2000. Ideally, he would walk into the ground (any ground, any sport) just as the game was kicking off. I, on the other hand, had become accustomed to arriving much earlier. I enjoyed watching the crowd build and the players going through increasingly orchestrated warm-up routines. In later years, when I’d left home and would pick up Dad in the car to attend various games, he’d mutter to Mum about “Andrew wanting to be there before the players”. I had to remind him my habit was his fault!
Anyway, long after 1973, I’d make occasional nostalgic revisits to Belle Vue. Twenty years on, I was living at Great Ayton (near Stokesley). This Rovers-Barnet fixture, chosen because I could ‘tick’ Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park in the evening, was arranged for a midweek afternoon because Belle Vue’s floodlights were out of action. The Football League, fearing Barnet might gain an unfair advantage, had refused permission for a switch to Oakwell, Barnsley.
In his programme notes, splendidly named Rovers manager Steve Beaglehole remarked: “I would certainly doubt whether any professional football match has taken as much time and trouble to be played as this one. Playing at this time of day will have a dramatic effect on our gate.” He described as “bleak” Rovers’ financial situation but added: “I am confident that we will survive.”
Humdrum contest, I recall, watched by a small crowd. In an atmosphere akin to a reserve game, Rovers scored the only goal in the first half to record one of nine league wins that season. The home line-up in the programme included Colin Douglas, Brendan Ormsby, Grant Morrow, Max Nicholson and Shane Reddish, with Geoff Cooper, Duncan Horton, Mark Carter, Gary Bull and Carl Hoddle down for Barnet. I daresay fellow posters attended. Rovers were to finish third-bottom, Barnet seventh (a play-off spot).
And so to not-always-sunny Scunny, via the A630, the M18, the M180 and the M181…
Scunthorpe United 2 Chesterfield 0 (HT 1-0)
Football League, Division Four (7.30)
Programme £1 (32pp)
First encounter with Glanford Park, depressing crinkly tin/DIY superstore template for new grounds of the Eighties and beyond. Several revisits were to follow between 2005 and 2008, when I lived in North Lincolnshire’s so-called garden town. Not one of my better decisions. I was as glad to get out of Scunny as my parents, three decades earlier, had been to escape Doncaster. Somehow, annoyingly, I managed to miss Scunthorpe’s former home, the Old Show Ground (now a supermarket). From pictures I’ve seen, the OSG was everything GP isn’t. All together now: Britain’s first football stand with a cantilevered roof!
I doubt this spectacle was any more riveting than Rovers versus Barnet. A goal in each half secured the Iron maximum points. In action for the hosts were Paul Musselwhite, Dean Martin, Ian Hamilton, Dave Hill and Ian Helliwell, with the Spireites fielding Mick Leonard, Paul Lemon, Steve Norris, Trevor Hebberd and Jamie Hewitt. Couple of ex-Halifax men in there. Scunthorpe went on to finish fifth, making the play-offs, Chesterfield 13th. Jimmy Mullen’s Burnley, six points clear of Rotherham United and Mansfield Town, secured the last Division Four championship to join Wolverhampton Wanderers as the only team to top all four divisions (factoid courtesy of Wiki; is it correct?)
Plenty of bespoke content in the programme. Two crackers from its Did You Know? section:
When Chesterfield visited Darlington for a Division Three (North) game on 29th December, 1923 the frozen ground was unfit for play. The match was completed on the adjoining cricket pitch with the referee obtaining both clubs’ signed agreement before kick-off that all parties would stand by the result.
On 30th March, 1946 Stockport County and Doncaster Rovers played out a Northern Section Cup tie that lasted 205 minutes. Many spectators went home for tea [for any southerners reading this, that’s dinner] and returned to find that the weary players had still not managed to produce the winning goal. The game finally ended in a 4-4 draw.
A handful of others worth a mention:
Threave Rovers 5 Mid Annandale 1 (2009, South of Scotland League). A very foggy evening. Fortunate to escape an abandonment, especially in the second half. Very nice set-up at Meadow Park. Dominant Threave were 4-0 up before the visitors' consolation. Danny Dunglinson bagged a brace for the hosts. 95 your crowd. Accompanied by my future wife on our first holiday together. I recall, earlier in what had been a sunny day, we took the rowing boat over to the superb Threave Castle, built on an island.
Caistor Rovers 0 CGB Humbertherm 0 (2007, Lincolnshire League). Tempted to this one chiefly because Caistor were issuing programmes, partly because I was halfway through three years living in North Lincolnshire. During the warm-up, strong wind suggested a goalless draw was inevitable. It never abated. Rovers' Gary Nimmo shot over from four yards in the first half; Humbertherm's Robbie Beecroft contrived a similar miss after the break. Otherwise, dire. The programme was a 40-pager.
Haverfordwest County 0 Total Network Solutions 1 (2006, Welsh Premier League). Hardly anybody beat TNS, though an enthusiastically supported Haverfordwest gave it their best shot. Top scorer Marc Lloyd-Williams, a prolific marksman at various Welsh (and other) clubs, sprang the offside trap to hit the visitors’ 32nd-minute winner after earlier striking a post. Tim Hicks (60) squandered County’s best chance. Victory moved TNS to within eight points of retaining the title. A wet, windy Friday evening - part of a rain-ruined Laugharne cottage holiday mentioned in earlier threads - attracted 301 to Bridge Meadow. TNS duly won the league championship, 18 points ahead of Llanelli.
Sutton Coldfield Town 1 Boston United 0 (1999, Southern League Cup, Semi-Final, Second Leg). Last-minute winner for the hosts, who went through 3-2 on aggregate. The evergreen Paul Bastock (naturally) in goal for Boston. 275 at Coles Lane. The Royals later lifted the trophy.
Heworth 8 Rochdale Mayfield 13 (2001, rugby league, National Conference League, Division One). In ‘tick’ mode at one of amateur rugby league’s finer grounds. Elmpark Way has a stand, grass ‘terracing’ and floodlights. Little did I know I’d relocate to York eight years later! Mayfield edged a cracking game between teams at opposite ends of the table. The visitors were grateful for three points in the last 10 minutes from the boot of scrum-half Chris Wilkinson. Struggling Heworth dominated the first half but were left to rue scrum-half Carl Potter fluffing a straightforward penalty and two drop goal attempts.
Middlesbrough Bears 64 Sheffield Tigers 32 (1994, speedway, British League, Division Two). I reported on Middlesbrough Speedway, for the Evening Gazette, Teesside’s newspaper, during the club’s last three seasons - 1994, 1995 and 1996 - at the Cleveland Park circuit. Best sport I’ve covered: no hulking egos, the Press welcomed with open arms, easy access to any and every rider and team manager. I can recall only one rider (best not name him) in three seasons who was uncooperative.
This was Bears’ first home league match of the 1994 campaign, for which hopes were high. But March is way too cold for the tapes to rise on a summer sport! Skipper Graham Jones, a high-profile winter recruit from, IIRC, Wolves, and Bears team-mate Paul ‘Banger’ Bentley contributed five-ride paid maximums. Captain Shawn Moran (paid 10 from six), the stylish Californian, top-scored for Sheffield. Moran’s Tigers team-mate Roman Matousek died earlier this year.
Unfortunately, a serious back injury sustained by Jones a couple of weeks later at Long Eaton pretty much ended the rider’s career. Bears’ 1994 season was effectively over before it had begun. I can still see the ‘coming-together’ on Station Road’s back straight of Jones and Invaders favourite Neil Collins. In the jargon: a racing accident. The site of Cleveland Park, opened in 1928, is now occupied by college buildings and synthetic five-a-side pitches. Such a shame. The speedway track, always prepared superbly by curator Tony Swales, permitted overtaking, both inside and outside.