Hemsworth Miners Welfare v Tadcaster Albion
Fitzwilliam Stadium / Preseason Friendly / 10th July
I had spent my whole week preparing a whole host of puns based around the Cheshire village of Styal. Gibbo was probably right when he stated that I would be insufferable on the upcoming Saturday with crappy lines like, “My trainers are in Styal” or “Is my flat cap in Styal right now?” or something about the ‘turn-Styal’. Such shit jokes were prepared as we had planned on heading to watch Styal FC take on Prestwich Heys at Styal’s rather quaint looking ground in the leafiest of leafy Cheshire suburbs.
We made it to Styal (I almost added ‘stylishly late’ before realising I’m trying too hard and the saying is ‘fashionably late’) and headed for the village’s only pub, The Ship Inn. The diminutive village was as charming as we expected and we forecasted a pleasant day of ale, a quaint football ground and a stress-free preseason friendly. The ale turned up and the quaint football ground was discovered – the problem was that there were no football teams at the ground and it was the ale that had turned up there instead. It seemed a local beer festival was to be held in Styal the following weekend and they had begun setting up at the football ground already. To our dismay, we soon learned that Styal FC and Prestwich Heys were going to be playing on some random 3G pitch miles away on the other side of Manchester Airport. Now stranded in a small village in the Cheshire heartland, we were left to drown our sorrows back in the Ship and write off our Saturday as a football-less one. We weren’t happy.
Sunday morning saw me wake early and carry on lamenting our failed footballing trip. However, I decided that I was going to defy the football gods who had denied me Saturday football and instead convert the Sabbath into my football day. A quick scroll of the preseason fixtures and there was one that stood out amongst all others.
By 9.30am I was sitting in Starbucks in Manchester Victoria, researching how to get from Leeds to Fitzwilliam – the small Yorkshire commuter village where I would find Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC and today’s footballing destination of choice. I had heard of the North Counties East League team before, but knew virtually nothing about them. I was relieved to learn, as I quickly researched on my phone, that their ground was easily accessible from Fitzwilliam train station and that my spontaneity hadn’t led me en route to some sequestered ground. Plus, the club were even advertising that for the £5 entry to their ‘Champions Day’, I would not only get 90 minutes of preseason football, but also a Madness tribute band post match. Welcome to the house of fun indeed.
After another one of those lovely train journeys crossing through Lancashire and into rural Yorkshire, accompanied by Einstök lager (everyone loves Iceland now right?), Arctic Monkeys in my ears and Jonathan Wilson’s Behind the Iron Curtain, I arrived into a surprisingly sunny Leeds. Of course every time you venture into Leeds its obligatory to chant as fast as possible ‘LEEDS! LEEDS! LEEDS!’ and despite being by myself I was not going to shun this duty (admittedly I said it quietly to myself and didn’t exactly belt it out).
I’m a big fan of the city of Leeds and I still feel I’ve not taken advantage of it enough with it being a mere hour away from my northern home. Sadly, I didn’t have an abundance of time to delve into ‘dirty Leeds’ today, but I couldn’t complain as this meant that I had an excuse to stay near the train station and frequent the utterly superb ‘Tapped’ – a bar that we discovered the last time we were in Leeds, after attending Yorkshire Amateur v Worsbrough Bridge Athletic.
Tapped is a monumental and plush hub of world beers and ales. In such an establishment you can expect the usual knowledgeable bar staff and here was no different, so to start me off I relied on his recommendation of a pale ale I’ve already forgotten the name of; it did the job though. It would be on my second trip to the bar that the real excitement would unfold.
My heart somersaulted as I scanned the fridges and spotted the multi-coloured packaging of a beer that has proved incredibly elusive to me for the past 3 years. On the eve of Swansea taking on Malmö in Sweden, we found ourselves out partying on the streets of Copenhagen, but we did sensibly ensure that we ate properly at a restaurant before being too extravagant with our drinking. Accompanying our meal was the brilliantly named ‘Hipster Ale’ – a powerful, heavy pale ale which, for all its small can glory, knocked us for six. It was brilliant though. I have surveyed every well-stocked bar fridge for its vibrant packaging ever since and I had given up ever seeing it again; but, here it was, flashing gloriously in front of me in a fridge in Leeds. The barman seemed a bit bemused with my reaction as I excitedly ordered. I was not to be deterred by its ridiculous £5 a can price and even bought a 2nd can for the train.It didn’t quite have that brutal taste of that time in Copenhagen and I’m sure its flavour and strength had slightly altered, but, if anything, it tasted superior because of it. Below is me in Copenhagen 3 years ago…and my reaction on rediscovering Hipster Ale 3 years later.
The train ride from Leeds to Fitzwilliam was a brief one, as we zoomed through Wakefield and arrived in the fairly non-descript Yorkshire village. The name Fitzwilliam doesn’t mean Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC are out-of-place here though with the village falling within the town ward of Hemsworth, made up by the small town and surrounding villages.
The area’s mining background was alluded to immediately on leaving the station, as I was greeted with a small colliery wheel sticking out of the ground; although the nod to the village’s pit culture was slightly tarnished by the illiterate hoodlums who had scribed ‘Mooy the peodo’ on the wheel.
At the top of the walk way up from the train station, I found fellow groundhopper Anthony, who had informed me on Twitter that he’d probably be rolling into Fitzwilliam the same time as me. Both of us had decided fairly spontaneously to head over to the game today, so neither of us had really undertaken the sufficient research to understand where we were going.
Fitzwilliam felt like one big, new, glistening housing estate and a rather dull affair to be honest. I had received good reviews of the Hemsworth clubhouse via Twitter en route to Yorkshire, so I was not too worried at the apparent lack of prematch amenities (pubs) in the village. Now we just had to find a way to the ground – a task which proved more taxing than expected.
We could see the floodlights of the Fitzwilliam Stadium (stadium may have been a bit of a ‘grand’ word to describe it I felt), but with the place totally engulfed in the labyrinthine estate, we were set the onerous task of finding the entrance. We misjudged a local’s directions and ended up in some allotments, whilst another groundhopper drove around the streets near us also in search of the elusive entrance. A lot of backtracking was done until we eventually spotted the crucial signs for the ground, which we followed around the estate to the entrance to Hemsworth’s footballing abode. Greeting us at the entrance was a sign advertising MRI scans in the trailer next to the ground, but we decided we’d see how we felt postmatch before checking our health.
£5 got us into the Fitzwilliam Stadium complete with fancy HMWFC stamps on our hands. “Got them off eBay,” proudly declared the lady stamping our hands as I nodded in appreciation of such commitment to club branding.
As for the ground itself, it was very neat and tidy and a pleasant affair. The main hub of the ground is the large clubhouse that dominates the one side of the ground, housing changing rooms, club offices, the food hut and the bar. Opposite is a couple of sheltered seating areas with the rest of the ground open and only protected by some surrounding trees.
The club are relatively new having only been formed in 1981, after the disbanding of Hemsworth Colliery. There’s been cause for celebration recently too with the club now sitting in the NCEL Premier Divsion (Step 5) after winning Division One last season; hence why today was dubbed ‘Champions Day’ – a day to celebrate such an achievement. The name was also a celebration of the fact that today’s opponents Tadcaster Albion had won the NCEL Premier Division the previous season and will now play in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier leagues.
We made a beeline for the bar and although being relatively small, it was great. As long as the bar has beer and a bit of character, I’m happy, and here there was beer and definite character. The character came in the form of the memorabilia adorning the walls with many of the shirts being signed shirts of Yorkshire’s bigger clubs like Leeds, Barnsley and strangely Darlington. As well as this, a host of scarves and pennants – from league, non-league and the continent – dangled from above the door.
Whilst I enjoyed my pint and Anthony his diet coke, talk turned to Slovakia v England in September. I move to Trnava mid-August (not sure if I’ve mentioned it) and a month after my move my future home city will be hosting the game. With Anthony being a keen follower of the England national team and a regular part of the England travelling support, we began making arrangements for his trip over, which we hoped would include a two game weekend with the Slovakia v England game being played on a Sunday. I made it clear that I definitely wouldn’t be frequenting the England away end though.
On the arrival of fellow England away day man and Leeds fan Paul with his young son, we headed out pitchside just as the teams were heading out. Much love to the club though for making today a plastic cup afternoon meaning beer was allowed to join us pitch side.
Leeds fan Paul led us over to stand in front of the large Leeds flags with one proclaiming ‘Poey is innocent’ – I was never to learn who Poey is/was. Instead of the flags I found myself more preoccupied with the lovely kits on show. Tadcaster were in their usual yellow kits, but I was more in love with Hemsworth’s purple and white hooped strip. Anthony stated that the purple was a sort of aubergine colour – which he mentioned was perhaps why I liked the kit so much…
The game was a bit of a slow burner, although my attention was caught when a bearded player began strolling towards the corner flag in front of us.
“Is that Jonathan Greening?” I asked incredulously, although I immediately knew the answer. It was indeed the former Manchester United, West Brom and Middlesbrough midfielder. I recalled immediately on asking the question that he had played for Tadcaster previously, before taking on a brief player/coach role at York City. It seemed he was back with the mighty Brewers again. As lovely as Hemsworth was, I can imagine it was a far cry for Greening, who infamously made the bench at the Nou Camp in 99 when United sealed that famous treble (admittedly, he would go on to say that he “felt a bit of a fraud” for picking up his winner’s medal).
As we circled the ground, the home team took the lead when Jason Yates took aim and fired home into the bottom corner. 1-0 to Hemsworth.
Me and Anthony got around to the end of the ground housing the Tadcaster fans and their flags and headed back towards the clubhouse when Taddy grabbed their equaliser in the 35th minute. A superb, 25 yard, curling left-footed freekick effort coasted into the bottom corner leaving the keeper with no chance.
With the half dying down, that was my cue to head back to the bar.
Half-time: Hemsworth Miners Welfare 1 – 1 Tadcaster Albion.
The first half had been a fairly even contest, but Tadcaster definitely started the better in the second half. By now Greening’s experience and class was shining through and even though Taddy were putting in a good team performance, Greening stood out. Greening non-chalantly shrugged others away whilst they tried to retrieve the ball off him, as well as controlling things from the middle of the park – a sort of non-league Pirlo.
It seemed we also had a true football hipster on the pitch for Tadcaster in the form of Tom Corner. Corner’s footballing journey had taken to him the lower league Spanish team Racing Portuense, after going through the Grimsby youth system. Well, today it was sunny Yorkshire where he was shining and not sunny Spain. Corner made a good opening for his team after taking the ball around the keeper, but Taddy failed to convert.
Eventually Tadcaster would take their deserved lead when a long throw fell in the box to Adam Baker, who controlled and finished well. That second goal would wrap up the scoring for today.
Full-time: Hemsworth Miners Welfare 1 – 2 Tadcaster Albion.
With the game finished, a big dilemma had arisen: to stay for Madness tribute band, Complete Madness, or not? I once saw the real Madness play live at V Festival and loved every minute, so any other time I would have definitely hung about for some Baggy Trousers; however, this evening was the evening of the Euro 2016 final and trains back from Fitzwilliam were sparse. Ultimately, if I wanted to be home for the final I would have to leave shortly after the final whistle and that was the option I went with. It was a shame really as this Complete Madness seemed a big deal with them driving a stage/truck onto the pitch to host them. Plus, I’d rushed home for a remarkably bland final between Portugal and France (also, for my fellow Swans fan, Eder scoring the winner in a European Championship final?!? How did that happen?)
An hour after the final whistle had gone at Hemsworth, I found myself back at Tapped in Leeds. I decided to leave the Hipster Ale this evening and instead go for another one of Lost Boyos’ greatest hits: Jupiler. The fridge was full of the beer that was ubiquitous on me and Gibbo’s 2014 summer Belgian football weekend and it was a perfect way to round off my day in Yorkshire; some more Jupiler was even purchased for the train journey back to Manchester.
After the sucker punch of Styal the day before, Hemsworth Miners Welfare and a day out in Yorkshire had been the perfect antidote. Although there wasn’t much to Fitzwilliam apart from the residential area, who needs more when you have a pleasant football club like Hemsworth there. It ticked most boxes from what you want from a non-league club and ground and I’d recommend the place anyone. I wish them all the best for their new season in a new league.
Highlights: Tapped, HIPSTER ALE! (finally), nice ground, good club bar, Jonathan Greening.
Low Points: missing Complete Madness.
See all my photos from my trip to Hemsworth Miners Welfare here.