Huddersfield Ladies v Derby County Ladies
Storthes Hall / Women’s Premier League North Division / 7th February 2016
“So, do you want to visit the mental asylum?”
Now I thought this was a tad forward on Craig’s part (I immediately thought of the ‘sectioning’ episode of Peep Show). It transpired that Craig wasn’t politely suggesting that I may wish to be institutionalised, although he had good to reason to make such a suggestion, since I had undertaken an arduous journey from Shropshire (where I been watching football at Whitchurch Alport FC) to Huddersfield the night before just to attend a second tier women’s football game on the outskirts of Huddersfield the next day (admittedly, a night out in Huddersfield had appealed to me too). However, it turned out that Craig was merely suggesting that we go visit an abandoned mental asylum minutes away from today’s football destination. Obviously.
After some late night gallivanting in Huddersfield, I awoke at Craig’s student accommodation, Storthes Hall. The area where the student village is located is a largely woodland area located a few miles south of Huddersfield itself, but before housing students became the area’s main function, Storthes Hall was more renowned for Storthes Hall Mental Hospital – a facility that was operating between 1904 and 1991.
Aside from students and disused mental institutes, there is one other inhabitant of Storthes Hall: Shelley Football Club. Huddersfield Town FC had once trained on the site, but when they moved to their new complex closer to Huddersfield, Storthes Hall was football club-less until Shelley FC, who play in the West Yorkshire League, moved from the small village where the club takes it name from to Storthes Hall in the mid-2000s (more on the impressive work undertaken at the site later). Sharing the home with Shelley FC is Huddersfield Town Ladies and the team we would be watching today. But first…
“This feels like the start of a horror film,” I declared as we circumnavigated the former mental hospital and the broken fencing adorned with ‘KEEP OUT’ signs. As the wind swept through the trees around us on this clear, but cold Sunday early afternoon and I looked out over the derelict building, I began to feel like I was in some sort of Victorian gothic novel (I was half tempted to break into Kate Bush’s “Out on the wild and windy moors…” in ode of this surreal setting, but I resisted – nor do I have the vocal range for such a song either).
On completing our Sunday afternoon lap of the grounds of Storthes Hall and with about 45 minutes to go until kick-off, it had begun to dawn on me how strange a place this was for a football club to be located. I speculated that not much of a noteworthy football club or ground could reside up here, isolated in the hills, but how wrong I truly was.
We walked down the lane, past another couple of football pitches, and we were soon at the home of Shelley FC and Huddersfield Ladies. Straightaway I thought it was awesome. As I said to Craig at the time, it felt like we had walked into one of those Swiss training camps you always see on Sky Sports News during preseason, where Premier League clubs and Europe’s elite go to sun it up and enjoy some warm weather training (admittedly, it definitely wasn’t warm here and the sky was a lot greyer than those preseason scenes). The whole area is engulfed in woodland with the one open area looking out on the valley below and Emley Moor and it’s huge tower in the background; the same tower I became utterly fascinated with when we visited AFC Emley back in October (it’s bigger than the Eiffel Tower you know).
The sports facility has within it several football pitches with Shelley FC housing 26 junior and senior teams, Huddersfield Town Ladies, 4 of the Huddersfield University’s football teams and the Under-7 academy squad for Manchester City FC. Impressive. One of the junior teams were playing on the pitch to the right of the entrance on our arrival, but we headed straight for the main hub of the ground and the impressive clubhouse and patio area that looks out on the main pitch (once again, with the raised patio area, I was thinking it added to the ‘fancy holiday home’ feel).
There was one thing I noticed more than anything else today and that was how community-orientated the whole place felt. Everyone seemed to be wearing something emblazoned with the badge of Shelley FC, even though they weren’t even playing today, and everyone seemed to know each other. It was nice to see. This community feel permeated from the very impressive clubhouse. The true magic of the clubhouse though was unveiled with the ‘before and after’ images of the structure on the wall. This building was once aging badly and not fit for purpose, but a lot of investment and hardwork over the past few years from those involved with Shelley meant that the place was glistening clean and an excellent facility today. With renovation complete, the ground was even re-opened by Sarah Duchess of York back in the summer of 2015.
We headed outside to enjoy the Yorkshire air and we were instantly confused by the fact that Huddersfield were heading out with a Blackburn Rovers Ladies team when we were fairly sure that they were supposed to be playing Derby County Ladies; the mystery was solved though when the two teams headed over to the far pitch – clearly these were reserve or youth teams of some sort.
When the ‘real’ Huddersfield and Derby teams emerged, the whole community vibe shone through again as several people in attendance today went over to speak to some of the Huddersfield players and, once again, it felt like everyone knew everyone here. But soon the teams began their walk down the steps and onto the pitch for today’s 14:00 kick-off.
The stand – if it can really be called that – is another quirky feature of Shelley FC with it running across the majority of one side of the pitch with it mainly consisting of large concrete steps, with wooden benches placed on top, and a small sheltered area at the one end. It was here we stood for the opening moments of the game – although the use of the plural ‘moments’ is probably not needed for the opening goal which literally took just one moment.
Craig had evidently given Huddersfield’s goalie the kiss of death by proclaiming before the game that she “looked like she was a good goalie”. I would say it took all of 10 seconds for a through ball forward from Derby to end up at the feet of Natalie Reay, who hit straight at the home keeper, who then sadly let the ball bobble over her and in. 1-0 and what I reckon must be the fastest goal in Lost Boyos history. Me and Craig didn’t speak and instead just looked at each other and began to laugh as we realised that we could well be in for an utter goalfest here. The goal was also the cue for the gentleman in the large Derby jacket stood at the front of the stand to go mental and begin his attempts of becoming a one man Derby Counties Ladies Ultra(s).
The forecasted ‘goalfest’ took its time and me and Craig found ourselves getting a bit cold and bored and so off we wandered for a nose around the ground. From the other side of the ground it became even easier to appreciate the humble yet modern facilities of Shelley FC with the clubhouse and stand making a great backdrop to the action.
On the pitch, we were both enjoying the showing of Huddersfield’s linchpin Sarah Dobby, who at one point I dubbed ‘Huddersfield Ladies’ Pirlo’. It would be Dobby’s team who would score next and get themselves back into the game on the 28th minute, as Emily Heckler burst clear and scored to make it 1-1; apparently, her 28th goal in 17 games (I’ve tried for a few minutes to come up with a ‘heckle’ related pun, but I’ve tried in vain – suggestions on a postcard welcome).
Before the half was out, the score would eventually reach 2-2 with Huddersfield taking the lead when Bianca Ross scored following a deft through ball, followed by Derby equalising right before half-time when a shot from the edge of the box flew past several players before hitting the back of the net. Derby County Ladies Ultra man went suitably crazy applauding and cheering for ‘The Ewes’.
Half-time: Huddersfield Ladies 2-2 Derby County Ladies.
By the time the half was finishing, we had made our way around the stand to where Craig’s fellow sports journalist student Matt was making his notes on the game, as he had the task of writing the match report for the club website. So, whilst Craig and Matt chatted about all things sports journalist-related and where they were watching the Super Bowl that night (I still really do not get American Football), I headed back to the warmth of the bar and the chill of a can of beer.
For the second half, we remained at the top of the stand (under some shelter) with Matt. It would take until around the hour mark for the next goal and it would be the away team who reclaimed the lead with a powerful shot from out wide which arrowed into the top corner. This was the cue for the flood gates to open upon Huddersfield Ladies.
Goal 4 for Derby was scored from a free header from a corner and after a couple of good chances for Huddersfield, Derby added a 5th and easily best goal of the game. Melissa Johnson channelled the spirit of Diego Maradona and began a jinking run past the Huddersfield team from her own half, before scoring with a simple finish past the keeper.
Derby County Ladies Ultra man was still the only voice really resonating around the hills of Storthes Hall and it seemed he was well-experienced in resonating his voice; we were told that this was in fact the guy who speaks over the PA system (‘Tannoy’ is a brand name remember) at Pride Park for Derby County games. Quite the celebrity (if this information is indeed accurate).
We knew there wasn’t long left in our game when the Huddersfield v Blackburn game on the other pitch came to an end. It seemed like quite a game had transpired on that pitch judging from the wild celebrations of the Blackburn team. More impressive though was the fact that the Blackburn Ladies’ appeared to not have a single bit of mud on them; even we had more mud on us.
Eventually, Derby finished their scoring for the day with their 6th. Once again, the home goalie should probably have done, as Grace John’s effort from the edge of the box rolled under the diving keeper.
Full-time: Huddersfield Ladies 2 – 6 Derby County Ladies.
The proximity of the student village to the football ground can best be summed up by the fact that 10 minutes after the final whistle had blown we were back in Craig’s flat. Absolute madness ensued there as we ended up watching episodes of Channel 4’s ‘Bed and Breakfast-off’ Four In a Bed, before I then engaged in a debate with his Hartlepoolian housemate Alice about whether I was actually Welsh; I assured her I was and eventually she decided to agree. This student life was too manic for me and I needed a drink.
Craig kindly dropped me off in Huddersfield town centre and I believe it’s not a trip to Huddersfield if you do not visit the train station pubs – that’s right, plural. A quick ale in the superb King’s Head on the one side of the station and then over to the far cosier (and better of the two in my opinion) Head of Steam. I wandered in and found myself in the midst of a 4 team pub quiz and just in time for the music lyric round it seemed. With one gentleman at the bar doing the quiz by himself, I informed him of my prowess in music rounds in pub quizzes and I was soon recruited to the one-man team simply known as ‘Nick the Cobbler’. My knowledge of the lyrics of the Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, Snow Patrol and Avril Lavigne, as well as some George Orwell knowledge later on, proved essential in rocketing ‘Nick the Cobbler’ up the rankings and eventually earning him a runners-up spot. The prize? One packet of Galaxy Minstrels. Nick the Cobbler didn’t even offer me one for my efforts and off he went into the Huddersfield darkness, followed by me heading for my train back to Manchester with a bottle of Goose IPA in tow.
I’d left Manchester Saturday morning and eventually stumbled back into my home at 10pm Sunday night (I may have also got distracted by my beloved Piccadilly Tap on arriving back in Manchester). It had been a fun-filled weekend of random football, lots of train problems, a night out in a shitty Huddersfield club, a mental asylum and a last gasp pub quiz. A classic. Random football weekends spanning Shropshire and Yorkshire are fun.
Highlights: scenic location, nice clubhouse, community vibe to the place, lots of goals, late evening pub quiz.
Low Points: ground is in the middle of nowhere, not getting any Galaxy Minstrels.
See all my photos from my trip to Storthes Hall here.