194 miles separate Guiseley A.F.C.’s scenic Nethermoor Park ground from Boreham Wood’s modernised Meadow Park, but the two sides battling for points on this bright autumnal weekend have much in common. Both clubs have belied their small stature to reach the pinnacle of the English Non-League. Both are part-time clubs with modest attendances, and each triumphed via last year’s playoffs, vanquishing more fancied opposition – including Chorley and Havant & Waterlooville respectively – along the way. It’s also the first year at this level for both The Lions and The Wood. So, with just 4 points dividing them before kick-off, could either team come away with a priceless victory?
I arrive in Guiseley just after midday, and am instantly enamoured with this attractive corner of West Yorkshire. Resplendent with handsome brick and stone buildings, dotted with tranquil green spaces and imbued with a resolutely laid-back feel, Guiseley may be just 10 minutes from the bustling heart of Leeds, but its peaceful, traditional vibe feels a world away.
My first stop is the Station, a lovely pub and pizza bar, with strong ties to the football club and located a stone’s throw from the ground, on Otley Road. The food is – with no exaggeration – fantastic. I enjoy a sumptuous pizza, as fans of both teams congregate in number around the pub, preparing for the crucial clash. Involved with sponsoring their local team, the Station’s doors and walls host posters beseeching fans to go and support the Lions. I hardly need the encouragement.
Nethermoor Park – shared with the town’s cricket club and, erm, a childrens playground – is less than half a mile’s walk from Guiseley railway station and the appropriately named pub across the road. It’s a quick and straightforward stroll through the pleasant surrounds of this picturesque Leeds suburb.
I head in through the turnstiles to the sight of Guiseley’s players milling around, chatting to early arrivals on the terraces and beginning their warm-up. The Boreham Wood squad wander into the club bar, a few of them stopping to chat with the hardy Hertfordshire fans who’ve made the long trip and are enjoying the gravy-heavy cuisine on offer here.
Keen to get an insider’s perspective on Guiseley’s first season at the National League’s top table, I speak to Brian, a veteran Lions fan ahead of the game. “Reasonable” is his one-word summary of the year so far. He credits the team having “not lost too many”. “Too many draws” is his main issue thus far, but he’s “confident we’ll stay up”, predicting his side to finish in mid-table. As a neutral, it seems optimistic, but this is a club which has repeatedly upset the odds to achieve success, having been Northern Premier League stalwarts until as recently as 2010.
Due to being slightly under-the-weather, I stick to the soft stuff, but there’s a good range of drinks on offer in the ground’s Clubhouse – all at a reasonable price. The place is roomy, full of snug sofas and there’s lunchtime football on TV screens. All in all, a pleasant spot to pass the time before the serious business on the pitch begins. I flick through the match day magazine, where Lions boss Mark Bower candidly seethes about last weekend’s penalty decision at The New Lawn. Overall it’s a good read, though at £3 perhaps a touch steep.
I take a pew in the Main Stand, one of only two seated area within the ground – both running along one side of the pitch, with a combined capacity of 500. Across the other side, the unusual, covered terraces of the JCT600 Stand are also split, with two cameramen located perilously between on a makeshift gantry, presumably hoping that the wind doesn’t pick up. There’s no formal setup behind either goal, but a handful of supporters of both sides are crowded by the fence at each end. Ground ‘improvements’ are set to take place in the coming months at Nethermoor, and whilst some roofing at either end wouldn’t go amiss, one hopes that any changes don’t spoil the likeable, low-key feel of this picturesque venue.
As the game begins, the home side look much the brighter. Within the opening few minutes, a good passing move gives Guiseley captain Adam Lockwood the first chance of the match, but the experienced defender fires his effort well over the bar. Buoyed on by their early dominance, the home side look to have taken the lead after a goalmouth scramble, but the Boreham Wood defence somehow clear the ball to avoid an opening goal – and it’s as close as either side come for the majority of a quiet first half.
The West Yorkshire side’s dominance of possession continues throughout the first period, but to no avail. The inconsistent Tom Craddock – in a particularly poor display – wastes a golden chance after Liam Boyes’ fantastic build-up play, just beyond the 15 minute mark. George Maris produces a scintillating run a little while later, but he too fails to trouble Wood stalwart James Russell, between the sticks. Amidst an overly whistle-happy refereeing performance and a defensive Wood side seemingly happy with a point, the first half seems set to be petering out.
Then, in first-half injury time, talented teenager George Maris receives the ball on the wing. A blur of movement, against the rich autumnal hues of Nethermoor’s grand trees, and the Guiseley A.F.C. flag flapping grandly in the wing, he skins the Wood defence, cutting inside with a dexterous flair. He locks his eyes upon Russell and curls a shot past the helpless Russell. It rolls inches wide, and a collective sigh rings out as the patrons of the Main Stand (myself included) head down the steps to seek some comfort in a cup of tea. So close to delight, we stand unified, resigned to the reality that Boreham Wood may not be so wasteful – if they ever create a chance, that is.
And they do. Boreham Wood begin the second half with a newfound tempo and slickness. They have a goal ruled out for a narrow offside, before Conor Clifford fires wide after some sumptuous footwork. Then, the visitors get the breakthrough. In the 59th minute, a soft free-kick is awarded on the right wing, and the imposing Clovis Kamdjo heads home smartly. His distinctive dreadlocks breeze through the air as he races away in triumphant celebration. After back-to-back home defeats against Lincoln and Macclesfield, the Lions have to pick themselves off the mat against a Wood side growing in confidence.
‘Give him a BAFTA!’. The Guiseley support are annoyed by a piece of perceived play-acting. It’s an oddly moderate shout, as if this isn’t Oscar-worthy fakery, but still deserves a less prestigious award. But to brand the Wood as time-wasting would be unfair. For the most part, they continue to push forward, looking to extent their lead. Steve Drench – superb in the Guiseley goal today – produces two excellent saves in quick succession to deny the tireless Jamie Lucas.
Then, against the run of play, Guiseley strike a leveler in the 90th minute. But referee John Brooks has already blown for a Lions penalty, chalking out an equaliser, at least for the moment. Joy turns to fury. Fury turns to anxiety, as Nicky Boshell places the ball on the spot. Then joy reigns again, as Boshell slots home with perfect placement, to bring Guiseley level. As injury-time begins, the Wood push forward frantically. They miss a couple of good chances, and as with Guiseley in the first period, the Herts. Side are left to rue their profligacy. The whistle rings out. The points are – fairly – shared.
Overall, Guiseley has offered one of, if not the best matchday experience I’ve had in the National League. It’s a lovely place not only to watch football, but to enjoy a warm autumn afternoon. Just before reaching Nethermoor Park, I passed a chap walking in the opposite direction, clad in a Leeds United tracksuit. Some people, man. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Guiseley – 1 (Boshell, pen ’90)
Boreham Wood – 1 (Kamdjo, ’59)
3pm, 17th October 2015
Nethermoor Park, Guiseley (Att: 749)
Travel & Ticket Info:
Ticket Prices: Adults (£15), Concessions (£10), 12-18 year olds (£5), Accompanied u-12s (Free) – prices the same for seated and standing areas.
Travel: Guiseley is well served by rail, with regular services between Leeds and Ilkley, as well as services from Bradford Forster Square (also terminating at Ilkley). Buses also run to Guiseley from Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate. The station is 0.4 miles from Nethermoor Park.
By car, the football ground is along Otley Road/A65 and very close to Bradford Road/A6038. The main car park is on Netherfield Road. There is limited parking at the Otley Road End of the ground, but much of this is reserved for players, club staff and officials.
This was a day of firsts at Aggborough. Lively midfielder George Porter grabbed his first Welling United goal, Jordan Tunnicliffe saw red for the first time in his career and Antigua and Barbuda international Zaine Francis-Angol wore the historic red and white of Kidderminster Harriers for the first time. But the most hotly anticipated first – a first victory of the season – continued to elude Harriers. Despite a decent display, backed by the vocal support of the Aggborough faithful, it was another frustrating afternoon for Colin Gordon’s charges.
Nestled within the largely green and tranquil Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire, Kidderminster is an unremarkable but fairly pleasant town, best known for its carpet-making heritage and as the home of the county’s only ever Football League club, Kidderminster Harriers. The town’s Wiki page also informs me that it was formerly the home of ‘80s TV chef and UKIP candidate Rustie Lee. Heady stuff.
Today’s time constraints mean that the usual pre-match meal in town is scrapped, in favour of a bacon butty (lukewarm – hopefully the football won’t follow suit) and a pint of Hereford Pale Ale (delicious) amidst the bustling environs of the Final Whistle. This pub, based inside Aggborough, is one of several spots in and around the ground to settle down with a pre-match pint and bite to eat. With a social club also in the ground, and several good venues nearby, the only lack of options around here is in the Harriers strike force.
Here in the Final Whistle, blokes of every age pore over this week’s edition of The Harrier match program, where striker Reece Styche answers fan questions, in the process revealing his love of Leonardo da Vinci and describing why he wouldn’t want to be a slug. As someone who has long objected to the lack of surrealism in Non-League matchday publications, I’m delighted.
The mood around the place is surprisingly optimistic. The playing budget at Aggborough has been slashed in half for this campaign, and much-needed cutbacks have been made in other areas too. Right now, Harriers fans may just be happy that the lights are still on here. And there’s plenty of us home. Despite four defeats in the last five home games, there’s 1,438 of us in attendance – including a small but hardy band of Welling fans huddled together upon the South Terrace, proudly tying their flags onto the stand.
It’s one of two terraced stands at Aggborough – the North Terrace lying behind the other goal, and housing Kiddy’s most vocal support. I opt for the traditional main stand – the C&S Solicitors Stand – which runs along one side of the pitch, opposite the modern and smart Hire-It! Stand (which, confusingly, is not available to rent). The fairly smart interior of Aggborough belies the fact that this ground is 125 years old, though its largely corrugated exterior evokes either unpretentious tradition or Soviet Russia, depending on how kind you’re being.
The teams kick-off, backed by an upbeat home support, and in the early stages, this good feeling seems warranted. Kiddy’s Joe Clarke has the first half-chance of the game, but his 4th minute free-kick lands safely in the arms of Welling’s young ‘keeper Tom King. The home side look the livelier outfit throughout the opening 15 minutes, but struggle to turn possession into good chances. Harriers also look nervy in defence, and only the reactions of ‘keeper Alex Palmer stop a goalmouth scramble from putting the visitors ahead just before the 20-minute mark.
The hosts continue to play some neat passing football, and the talented Jordan Jones blasts an effort just wide after superb play on the wing. Too many of their moves, though, are breaking up in the final third, against a strong Welling defence who haven’t conceded more than once in any game since August. Tahvon Campbell’s effort – another comfortable stop for King – is the final act of a tight but intriguing first half.
At half-time, fans queue for Aggborough’s famously good food as the theme from The Great Escape booms out over the tannoy. But any plans to escape from 24th spot today are thwarted in the early minutes of the second period, as individual errors enable the skillful George Porter to make his mark on the game. First, his curling free-kick sneaks under Palmer, who should probably have kept it out. Then, a misplaced ball from Hodgkiss allows Porter a clear route through on goal. Jordan Tunnicliffe trips the Welling man, and though the contact is slight, the Harriers’ last man receives a straight red. From then on, the home side’s task looks momentous.
Amidst a continued cacophony of chants from the passionate Kiddy fans upon the North Terrace, George Porter continues his role as today’s pantomime villain. The speedy midfielder oscillates between producing exciting moves and rolling around petulantly to try and win free-kicks. Indeed, whilst Welling put in a solid and disciplined footballing performance, a few of The Wings players hope to gain the referee’s sympathy with some rather questionable ‘injuries’. Cynics might suggest that some members of Loui Fazakerly’s side have failed to learn the lessons of the embarrassing and costly Sahr Kabba debacle.
With that said, Welling also show some of the game’s best flashes of quality. A superb move is almost finished off by the lively Xavier Vidal with a quarter of an hour remaining, but he can’t quite provide the strike needed to double their lead. In the closing minutes, 10-man Harriers surge forwards, but neither Reece Styche’s curling effort nor Kelvin Langmead’s close-range header in injury-time hit the target. The points go to the club from Park View Road, who make it four wins in four. The contrast between the fist-pumping, cheering Fazakerly and the dejected Colin Gordon could not be starker.
This has been a decent performance from both sides, in a tense and hard-fought game. But for Kiddy, positives in defeat are hard to take after a 14-game winless run. It may have been a narrow and nervy win for Welling, but Kidderminster would give anything for one of those right now. Already five points from safety, Tuesday night’s game against fellow strugglers Boreham Wood at Aggborough could hardly be more crucial.
Kidderminster Harriers – 0 [Tunnicliffe Sent Off, ‘52]
Welling United – 1 (Porter, ’49)
3pm, 3rd October 2015
Aggborough, Kidderminster (Att: 1,438)
Ticket & Travel Info:
Ticket Prices: Terraces (North & South Stands) – Adults (£14), Over ‘60s/Students/Young Adults (£8), Under-16s (£5), Under-5s (Free)
Seats (C&S Solicitors & Hire It Stands) – Adults (£17), Over ‘60s/Students/Young Adults (£11), Under-5s (Free)
Travel: Kidderminster can be reached by direct train from Worcester, Smethwick or Birmingham’s Moor Street and Snow Hill Stations. The ground is also located close to the convergence of the A448 and A451 roads.
Ground Location: Aggborough lies 0.5 miles south-west of Kidderminster Railway Station, and the same distance south-east of the town centre.
The Southern League Division One Central match between Kings Langley and AFC Rushden & Diamonds on Tuesday night was bizarrely abandoned with only seconds remaining by referee Mr Morrison.
Kings Langley took the lead with fourteen minutes to go, but AFC Rushden equalised in the final minute, and it is this goal that sparked the controversy.
The reason? Rushden scored from a throw-in following the ball being kicked out of play after a Kings Langley player went down injured. The home side felt that the ball should have been kicked back to them, but instead Scott Joseph crossed from the right, and Dan Quigley scored the rebound after the Kings’ goalkeeper spilled the ball.
The goal sparked furious scenes, and a member of the home management team was dismissed. Once this fracas had been calmed, the game restarted, but not for long. A foul on a Langley player sparked more fury, with most of the players and both benches involved. The confrontations lasted several minutes, and the referee eventually called the game off in minute 90+5.
It has been confirmed that the referee abandoned the game, meaning both clubs now face a nervy wait to see whether they will be sanctioned for the incidents, and more importantly whether the result will stand or the match will be replayed. The match is hugely vital to both clubs, as both are chasing promotion to the Southern Premier.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the video by now. After all, it went viral within hours, garnering national and international attention for both Holbeach United and their goalkeeper Ricky Drury. But it’s so good, it’s worth watching again and again! Read the rest of this entry
It’s no surprise that Darren Williams has made a splash as manager of ‘The Catch’. Now four years into his tenure as Whitby Town boss, the friendly and genuine Teessider has seen it all during more than two decades in the game. In a storied career, Williams has played in the Premier League, every division of the Football League, and earnt his stripes as a veteran defensive rock and acute manager in Non-League football.
Discussing everything from playing in York City’s famous 3-0 triumph over Manchester United, to scoring his first goals for Sunderland, his respect for the hardworking professionals of the Northern Premier League and much more, Darren talks me through his fascinating journey, with honesty and heart. Read the rest of this entry
Brotherly love went out the window on August Bank Holiday in the match between St. Neot's Town and Biggleswade Town.
Hampton & Richmond Borough Press Officer Rob Overfield reports on a dramatic local Bank Holiday derby between Staines Town and Hampton.
The latest episode of the podcast is now available to download. Read the rest of this entry
The latest Non League Podcast is now available for download. The season is back! Read the rest of this entry