Saturday 7th January
Evo Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 North
HARROGATE RAILWAY ATHLETIC 2 SALFORD CITY 0
Tea Hut Stuff: Tomato Cuppa Soup and a Kit Kat
Weather: Gusty breeze, turned cloudy and quite chilly
Parking: On Station View just outside the club car park
The Match Shed trundled past the Blackstone Edge Reservoir high up on the Pennines a gusting wind was blowing sheets of water across the road, the Match Shed duly copped for it. The scenic cross country journey also took in the highlights of Hebden Bridge, Addingham and Blubberhouses, there was plenty of standing water in the fields as the tributaries gushed down from the fells. An hour and a half later I was in Harrogate taking the A59 Knaresborough Road to nearby Starbeck the home of Harrogate Railway on the suitably titled Station View. Todays chosen game was from the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 North, I've not been to the Harrogate Railway ground before and the visit of Salford City (one of the better footballing sides in the division) provided the ideal opportunity. A friendly chap in the turnstile bunker took my admission money and I was immediately surprised at the apparent scarceness of facilities.
The end I had come in at had a bashed tin fence and little else, across the pitch was perhaps the smallest Main Stand I had ever seen. The far end of the ground did have a stand which was half shallow terracing and half seats but the rest of the ground seemed to be made up of a few weather worn dark green portakabins. My target was the Tea Hut and I eventually found it set back from the portakabins near the exit gates adjacent to the car park.
It was a long white building with a big kitchen taking up half its length, the other section was set out as a sit-in eating area. I was pretty hungry, my breakfast was hours ago. My food choice today was somewhat hampered by the fact that I was having a big home made 'gut-buster' steak and ale pie with chips and mushy peas for my supper (once I got home). I decided to plump for a burger, or even a hot dog if need be (even I can't eat pies all day). I entered the tea hut which was already full of greedy looking Salford supporters huddled over steaming trays full of pie, chips and gravy. I approached the lady at the food counter. "Do you do burgers" I asked, "no" she replied, ok, "what about a hot dog" I asked, "oh no, we don't do hot dogs" came the response, my worst fears came to fruition... today of all days when I (for once) didn't want a pie, I end up at a tea hut that does pies-only and bugger all else! I realised I had to set my sights a little lower "alright, i'll just have a bag of crisps then". The woman smiled back at me "oh we dont do crisps here" she said. Bloody hell, this was one hell of a limited menu! I eventually ended up with a luke warm tomato cuppa soup and a kit kat! I scowled to myself as I trudged out the tea hut past the tables full of slavering pie monsters. That pie the wife was making had better be a good one. As I slurped the soup my attention focused to the sloping pitch in front of me, my concern was not so much the slope but the uneven, cut up and muddy look of the playing surface. It looked like they'd just had a 3 day Horse of the Year Show on it.
Salford are a side who like to play fast, pacy, passing football, this gloopy field of mud did not look good for their prospects, especially when you added a strong gusty breeze blowing towards the Starbeck railway station end.
Salford had been doing well over recent weeks and had picked up quite a few points, the opinion on the street was that they were not far from play off form, a win at bottom four Harrogate Railway was just what they needed to strengthen such lofty aspirations. However 'Railway' have always been an unpredictable side and they are well capable of upsetting form calculations at the best of times, never mind playing on a mud heap with a wind behind them. I got my scarf and gloves on, it was going to be a chilly afternoon. As kick off arrived it was disappointing to see such a poor attendance, only 78 souls turned out for the game, ok Harrogate Town were playing Histon in the Conference North just a few miles away but it was still a poor turn out from the locals, especially as more than half the gathered crowd had made the trip over from Salford, they brought the big orange and black banner with them which they proudly plonked behind the nets in the first half before cheekily putting it up in the locals Main Stand after the half time break. I wonder if the Salford fans were as surprised as me at the line up for City, there seemed to be some new faces and a few youngsters being given a game, I suspected injuries had forced a slightly unfamiliar line up. I knew one of the new faces, Lloyd Rigby the goalkeeper who'd done a bit at Rochdale AFC, I think this must have been his debut?
The game started very niggly and very scrappy and got steadily worse. There was plenty of commitment from the home side and naturally they seemed more at ease with the conditions (it is their pitch after all). Salford didn't like it. They struggled to get their normal game going and it wasn't long before player boss Rhodri Giggs was throwing a wobbler in the nearby dug out. After 15 minutes he shot out from the bench and threatened to take legendary hit man Gavin Salmon off the pitch if he didn't get more involved in the proceedings, Gavin was very much 'a fish out of water' today. To give Gavin credit he did get a bit more stuck in following the bollocking.
Railway had the wind behind them in the first half and forced Salford back into the mud. There was no way that football was going to be a winner today. Railway went 1-0 up when a corner swung in with the wind and overshot keeper Rigby and his defenders, despite a goal-line last ditch attempted clearance by Alex Mortimer the ball ended up in the roof of the net.
All 21 of the attending Railway supporters went mad. The rest of the first half was crap, the only winner was the terrible uneven pitch. It looked like a football match being played in treacle syrup for the most part. Half time I followed a gang of pensioners to stand outside the semi steamed up windows of the Director and VIP Hut, I wondered why they all eagerley piled off to do this? Perhaps they had some saucy strippers on or something, a couple of the old blokes did seem genuinely quite excited? Then I realised what all the commotion was about... the half time scores on Sky Sports, you could just about make out the screen between a couple of fat bast*rds sat inside the hut scoffing jumbo sausage rolls.
In the second half Salford had the wind behind them and there did seem to be a bit more 'go-forward' about them. It all went pear-shaped for the visitors when one of the growing number of Railway counter attacks came up trumps, Luke Durham got forward onto a cow poke from the back and edged it past the Salford keeper to make it 2-0. We then had a festival of defenders performing a cultural ritual of end to end hoofing and old time toe bunging. It had got colder and colder and the football seemed poorer and poorer, Salford had a last push at it when Rhodri Giggs came on for the last 15 minutes but despite hitting a post the 3 points went to the Railway, in all fairness they just about edged it but to be honest... it had been a pretty poor game of football.
I was glad to get back in the Match Shed and get the results on the radio. Harrogate is a nice place and it was looking mighty fine all lit up in the dark, there look to be some nice eateries and pubs for those inclinded to spend an hour or two sampling it.... I had to get back across the pennines for that Steak and Ale Pie!