Shaw Lane Aquaforce v Kidsgrove Athletic
Shaw Lane / Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South / 16th April 2016
In the opening weeks of 2015, I made the arduous journey from Manchester to Crawley to tick off another ’92 ground’ on my pursuit of getting more southern Football League grounds ticked off that season. My guide that day would be Crawley fan Craig Bratt, a lad I had briefly met, along with many others, at Notts County the previous season. Through our shared love of football and football shirts a close friendship was forged that day, also probably helped by the rollercoaster game of football we endured that day with the Crawley v MK Dons game that has firmly secured its place in Lost Boyos folklore. However, there was one other thing over the coming months that we would share a mutual love for…
Shaw Lane Aquaforce. Bear with me on this one.
A few Sundays before visiting Crawley, I stumbled upon a team on the fixture list called Shaw Lane Aquaforce, who were playing in the NCEL Premier Division that very Sunday. That name! What a name for a football club! ‘Aquaforce’ for god sake! To me this sounded more like some sort of fictional scuba-based superhero collective. I had to go watch them. A quick bit of googling told me that they lived in Barnsley. That Sunday morning, I quickly began gathering my things together ready to rush off to this beautifully-named football club. However, I was halted in my tracks at the final hurdle: trains. Trains were shit that day it seemed and it looked like getting to Barnsley in time for kick-off would prove tough. My trip to see the Aquaforce would have to wait. No worries – I had all the time in the world.
Weeks later, having uncovered the name on Twitter himself, Craig was texting me that he’d discovered this amazing-named team called…Shaw Lane Aquaforce (he compared them to a water-based theme park ride rather than my superhero comparison). I explained how I had also discovered them a matter of weeks before too and had even almost gone to watch them. Craig was going to be moving to Huddersfield for uni 6 months down the line and was already excited about his trip to Shaw Lane in the future. Our conversation continued about this club neither of us knew virtually nothing about, until the phrase ‘AQUAFORCE ASSEMBLE’ was created to go with the superhero theme of the club name. Eventually, I stated that I’d save visiting Shaw Lane until my southern pal was an adopted northerner like myself. I was not going to ‘Larkhall’ him either. I should explain the verb I invented ‘larkhall’ means…
Larhall – verb. to promise to save going somewhere with someone, only to sneak off there without them. For example: Gibbo promised to save visiting Larkhall Athletic until we could both go together and even stopped me going by myself on numerous occasions, before larkhalling me and going by himself without me.
Yes, me and regular companion Gibbo had talked of visiting the magical looking Larkhall Athletic near Bath for ages, only for him to slope off without me one Saturday afternoon. The phrase ‘larkhalling’ someone was invented. Not that I’m still bitter. Anyway, enough of that tangent…I basically promised I wouldn’t ‘larkhall’ Craig.
After that much hype, you’d think me and Craig would have headed off to Shaw Lane almost immediately on his arrival in the north. Not quite. In fact, we delayed our visit constantly and all of a sudden we were in the closing months of 2015/16 and we still hadn’t gone. Then news unfolded that would mean that we’d have to visit the club pronto.
As of 2016/17 Shaw Lane Aquaforce will no longer be called by that beautiful name and instead they’ll be called by the more bland Barnsley Town FC. Heartbreaking. This was not the club’s decision however. In March of this year the FA challenged the club about the use of the word ‘Aquaforce’ in their name, as it breaks the FA’s kit and advertising rules which state that the name of a sponsor must not be in the title of a club at Northern Premier League level and above. Sadly, ‘Aquaforce’ is not a term for a band of aquatic superheroes, but merely the name of a local plumbing company and the club’s sponsors, Aquaforce Plumbing Solutions.
You may have read that me and Craig finally tried to go to Shaw Lane this veryTuesday night, but weather put that idea to death and we ended up at Guiseley v Wrexham instead. Due to their fixture pile up following that postponement, Shaw Lane then played Wednesday and Thursday night and we just hoped that their rather temperamental pitch would survive for one more game on the Saturday.
There was talk of rain the Friday even before we set off for Shaw Lane and even snow hitting Yorkshire, so my hopes of seeing the Aquaforce were lowered again. However, joy filled my heart as I woke up the next day to find clear blue skies over Manchester. I prayed that Yorkshire was the same. It was.
The same as on Tuesday, I bought a train ticket to Huddersfield where I planned to rendezvous with Craig, who was on driving duties again. I’d arrived into Huddersfield early and so headed to the Cherry Tree Wetherspoons for my first Punk IPA in two weeks (that’s a long time without BrewDog for me!) But, being a considerate soul, I thought this wouldn’t be the most practical place for Craig to pick me up, so after one Punk IPA, I headed back to the station and the brilliant Head of Steam pub so Craig could pick me up in the station car park; I say, I was being considerate, I may just bloody love that pub.
I sipped away at my Oatmeal Pale Ale, whilst I waited for Craig to turn up with Paddy (his Fiat for those who’ve missed out on the lovable car on his previous Lost Boyos conquests). I soon spotted Paddy rolling through the car park and it was finally onwards to Barnsley.
Unlike Tuesday’s car journey, there was a lot less Europop today (thankfully) and instead our journey was actually soundtracked by some good tunes and Craig’s best Jeremy Clarkson impression as he hailed verbal fury down on the driver towing his caravan ahead of us. We also kept ourselves entertained with Four Four Two‘s monthly football quiz, which we did very well with too thanks to our combined knowledge of League one Scottish football grounds and Arsenal’s goalkeeping rota during the 2001/02 season; although I was furious with myself for not solving the anagram of a Premier League striker A PHALLIC BOOSTER – Swansea’s Alberto Paloschi. Call myself a fan…
As we entered Barnsley, a street sign saying ‘Shaw Lane’ confirmed we were practically there and we were soon heading into the Shaw Lane Sports Complex. The complex not only houses football, but a whole plethora of sports: rugby league, bowling, squash and cricket – with the cricket team that resides there once having Dickie Bird and Michael Parkinson on board the same team we would later learn.
After parking up, and shouting ‘AQUAFORCE ASSEMBLE!’ a lot through the streets of Barnsley, we headed into Barnsley itself with the town centre a mere 10-15 minute walk away. In town, we were planning on meeting up with a man once dubbed on these pages as a ‘Yorkshire non-league guru’, Tony Greenall – I don’t plan on taking that title away from him either. I’d not seen Tony since I attended Sheffield United beating his club Doncaster back in September of this season, although we still needed to thank him in person for guiding us, via Twiiter, to Brodsworth Welfare weeks later, after Frickley Athletic postponed a game an hour before we planned on arriving there. Tony was to be found in a bar called ‘Old Number 7’, apparently located next to Wetherspoons. It took us a bit of time to find it though, as we initially headed to the wrong Spoons – it seemed that Barnsley has two very close by each other.
Eventually, we got ourselves into Number 7 and indeed within we found Tony sipping away at ale. A brilliant pub! A whole host of ales and ciders are on sale here and at a low price too. I took Tony’s initial recommendation of some Butcombe Pale Ale, before moving onto the blonde ale from the local Barnsley brewery Acorn. Beautiful.
I noted that exactly 7 days before Craig showed me the many sights of Crawley back in January 2015, me and Gibbo met Tony as he took us on a tour (pub crawl) of Doncaster. At the time, I’d even challenged Craig to top Tony’s effort as tour guide. I’d say they tied in the end. It was good to have probably the two best tour guides in Lost Boyos history around the same table talking the usual nonsense that comes with prematch drinks, before opting to head on over back to the club bar at Shaw Lane. But not before one last task…
Weeks before, Gibbo had frequented the same bar as we were in now and via Twitter he pressured me into taking on one of BrewDog’s more potent drinks, just as he had done weeks before me…
“Can I have a ‘Sink the Bismarck’, please?’ The barmaid chuckled and soon brought out the bottle before only pouring a small amount much to my dismay. I’m glad it was a small shot now and I was glad I’d been practicing my shot drinking out in Slovakia the week before, as this stuff definitely packed a punch. Anyway, challenge accepted and completed. Onwards to Shaw Lane.
The time had already crept past 2pm and instead of stopping at one of the more ropey-looking pubs near the ground, we headed straight back into the sports complex and the bar housed within. Predictably, not much on offer here apart from the usual bar stalwarts of Fosters, John Smiths and Strongbow on tap, but we were content with its excellent facilities and Sky Sports News playing on the screens above us. One person who’s excitement was brimming though was Craig’s and soon he was rushing us to get into the football ground. He just couldn’t hold out for some Aquaforce action any longer.
We exited the bar and headed right and towards the ramp heading up to the football ground – although not before posing next to some Aquaforce Plumbing Solutions vans (some free advertising for you there folks). And then we were there – we were finally at Shaw Lane Aquaforce. It was a big deal. I gave Craig a hug as we entered the ground paying £5 to enter – cheaper than the usual rate at this level.
On walking through the turnstiles, we were immediately greeted by a sort of shed acting as the club shop and it was here we purchased our half price Shaw Lane Aquaforce scarves; obviously, we wanted scarves emblazoned with ‘Aquaforce’ before the name died and the club wanted to get rid of everything with the ‘Aquaforce’ name on as it headed towards extinction – hence the half price sale. Craig went a step further and along with his scarf bought himself a wristband and a ‘Shaw Lane Aquaforce’ sticker for his car, which has been lovingly placed on Paddy’s back window to add to the car’s Crawley scarf, Valletta FC pennant (a Maltese football club) and, of course, a Lost Boyos #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker; Craig now claims that Paddy is becoming a football hipster in his own right.
The ground itself is decent enough and better than I expected it to be honest, after reading some negative reviews from other groundhopping folk. Tony had joked that one side of the ground is a bit like a ‘mini-Braga’ with a raised, inaccessible banking looming over one goal. Behind the other goal is a pop-up seating stand and down one side is a rather interesting looking stand with room for standing and seating underneath an elevated roof. But we found ourselves on the opposite side and standing in front of the changing rooms and room selling refreshments. In we went and noticed that this wasn’t a typical club bar with the place looking more like a local library computer room than a place for food and drink at a football ground. Nonetheless, cans of beer were bought for £2 each and we headed outside with beer in plastic cups.
A form of the club has existed since the early 90s, but the current guise of Shaw Lane Aquaforce has only been around since 2012.Amazingly, in that time, Shaw Lane have completed 3 successive promotions from Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League Premier Division, through the North Counties East Leagues and now into the Evo-Stik Northern Premier Leagues. A few weeks ago, I saw Shaw Lane win at Stafford Rangers in a game between the top 2, but it seems since then that Stafford have pulled well clear at the top and instead Shaw Lane are left to battle for a play-off place. Another promotion would be a heroic effort for the club.
Today’s opponents would be Kidsgrove Athletic – a club I visited just two weeks before – so the home team were favourites against mid table opposition. The opening exchanges were not the most furiously paced, so I did try to offer encouragement with a shout of “AQQQUUUAAAFFOOOOORRRRCCCEEEEE ASSSSSSSSEEEMBLE!” – but it made no difference. Instead we continued to amuse ourselves with the linesman wearing glasses; no, ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ jokes for us today, as the linesman had clearly already been.
The Ducks (Shaw Lane’s nickname by the way, adding further to the aquatic feel) had the better of the opening 15 minutes, but it would be the away team who grabbed the opening goal after about quarter of an hour with an easy header at the far post.
However, it would only take 6 minutes for the Aquaforce to assemble themselves and get back in the game. Once again, the goal would come via a header, this time scored from a freekick being aimed to the back post. Now, I am definitely no fan of goal music, but if you are going to do it, do it properly. So I applaud Shaw Lane for their effort: on scoring we were greeted by The Real Things’ Can You Feel The Force? booming over the PA system. Brilliant. I guess the loss of their ‘Aquaforce’ suffix will see them lose this genius piece of goal music too.
By now, I had finished my beer, so me and Craig went for a wander of Shaw Lane with not much happening on the pitch, apart from the referee having a bit of a nightmare and slowly losing control of the game.
Half-time: Shaw Lane Aquaforce 1 – 1 Kidsgrove Athletic.
Me and Craig took to enjoying the Lane’s music some more with Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova (AKA the Austin Powers theme song) blaring over the speakers. We had a bit of a dance behind the dugouts before we headed back over to the bar, whilst we explained to some Kidsgrove fans how excited we were to be at Shaw Lane. They seemed far less excited and confused by a Swansea and Crawley fan being here.
We met back up with Tony and I purchased some more beer along with a hefty sausage roll for £1. More beer was needed as Swansea were losing 1-0 to relegation threatened Newcastle – although, admittedly, I did just shrug my shoulders for now, with Swans’ status in the Premier League already all but confirmed.
The ref’s performance was continuing to fall part in the second half and you could now begin to sense the players’ frustration with the young ref. However, it was soon 2-1 to the home team as another header, this time from close range, put the Ducks ahead.
Apart from Tony’s Doncaster, who were beating top of the league Wigan, me and Craig’s teams slowly fell apart with Swansea getting battered 3-0 at Newcastle, whilst Crawley went 1-0 down in their ‘derby’ against Wimbledon. As adopted Ducks for the day, even our team for the day went on to let us down, as with 90 minutes on the clock, Kidsgrove equalised. Damn it Aquaforce!
Full-time: Shaw Lane Aquaforce 2 – 2 Kidsgrove Athletic.
We had been told repeatedly beforehand that Shaw Lane have a friendly club and that definitely came across today. I’m a big believer in the idea that non-league clubs should fully embrace social media to bolster their appeal and status and no doubt Shaw Lane did this. The club’s Twitter even messaged me the next day to see if we had enjoyed our visit and then went on to invite us onto their supporters’ coach for the week’s following game away at Rugby Town.
We said our goodbyes to the ground and headed for the exit.
Back at the bar, we caught up on the scores around the country (I turned away every time the Premier League scores came up, as I was still embarrassed at the Swans losing 3-0 at St. James Park) and enjoyed one last beer. Well, me and Tony had a beer, Craig purchased what has to be the poshest-looking hot chocolate ever seen at a postmatch drinking session.
Soon, we were back in Paddy and soaring past Emley Moor with me now seizing control of the music for the journey home with Feeder’s Just A Day proving a particularly well-fitting tune as we propelled ourselves across rural Yorkshire. However, undoubtedly the tune of the day would be New Order’s Blue Monday. For those regular followers of my adventures, you may recall that me, Gibbo and Craig once delivered a superb acapella version of the song on the train back from Brodsworth. This evening was no different and me and Craig verbally performed a good chunk of New Order’s 7 minute musical odyssey (those who have me on Snapchat would have been lucky enough to enjoy it too).
Paddy had successfully completed another Lost Boyos mission as Craig dropped me off at Huddersfield train station. My original plan to delve into the Head of Steam for one more beer was curtailed by the fact that I noticed a train heading to Manchester was arriving in a matter of seconds. Instead of the Head of Steam, I opted for the tried and tested Mancunian combo of pint in the Piccadilly Tap, kebab from Spices of Kashmir to finish my evening.
The clock was ticking on the name of Shaw Lane Aquaforce and after so much of a buildup over the past year and a bit, I’m relieved that we finally fitted them in before the Aquaforce named died. A great club and I wish them all thr best in their play-off/promotion bid and for next season – even if they don’t have a cool name next season.
So, one last time…AQQQUUUAAAFFOOOOORRRRCCCEEEEE ASSSSSSSSEEEMBLE!
Highlights: finally getting to see the Aquaforce – one of football’s best club names, Old Number 7, cheap entry, half price scarves, friendly club,
Low Points: Aquaforce not being Aquaforce much longer, last minute equaliser.
See all my photos from our trip to Shaw Lane Aquaforce here.