Thursday, 30 March 2017

Playing Table Tennis With The Trojans

Staveley Miners Welfare  5  Harrogate Railway Athletic  1

Northern Counties East League - Premier Division

Despite several choices this evening, including the prospect of Vase Finalists and Champions elect Cleethorpes Town playing at Maltby, it was without hesitation that I made my way to Inkersall Road, the home of the Trojans from Staveley.

Working in the Peoples Republic does offer a plethora of options when it comes to midweek games, but on several occasions this season, despite potentially more attractive games taking place elsewhere, I've homed in to see the boys in blue and white.

So what is it that keeps taking me back? I have no affinity with the area, I care little about the teams results, and I don't mean that in a disparaging way either. What keeps taking me back is the club itself, and how they have gone about creating something that from an aesthetic point of view, can only enhance the match day experience.

Stripes - Everywhere!
Arriving in the car park, the first thing that strikes you is the blue and white striped clubhouse, now I like stripes, so that was always going to push my buttons, but the ground always opens nice and early, which means the club room offers a warm and welcoming retreat from the elements. The club house is always a buzz of activity, Chairman Terry on his laptop, Manager Brett talking tactics with the committee, the match officials sipping coffee, the range of edible treats being prepared, it's great! Sky Sports on in the background, lager at £2.70 a pint, home made chicken curry, dancing girls, a free monkey on every table, you get the gist......!

The locals are great, if you choose to stand behind the goal with the old boys, the wit and banter is both comical and acerbic, you can just imagine it as a modern day replication of the coal face at Ireland Colliery, where many of the elder generation will have grafted in years gone by.

The ground itself, for a club at Step 5, is superb. If you want a seat on the half way line, you can have one. If you like to stand behind the goal, you can do that on a proper terrace with a roof on it, and not just one goal, both goals! If you like an elevated view from the touchline, you can stand on the terraces that flank the stand. If you want to video the game, you can do that from the tower, if you are a lazy sod, you can even sit in the clubhouse and watch it from there.

But not only is it good, it's ever developing, and also a little bit on the quirky side. The elderly and disabled section has been refurbished and looks splendid in the corner of the ground, while this season we saw something that I've never seen before at a football ground pop up. A Table Tennis Centre was built behind the goal, but not only that, I only spotted tonight that next door to the aforementioned is now a big outdoor pool table, that looks like some kind of foot-pool game. Inkersall Road is not just a football ground, it's a man cave!

Seats and Terracing - Catering for all tastes
Cynics will probably be gnashing teeth right now, of course, without the backing of Terry Damms, who also supports local youth football as well via his business, much of this would not have been possible, but I would throw that back. How many other clubs have got wealthy backers, and how many of them see all of the investment pumped into the team, with the ground seeing little or no investment? Precisely my point, at Staveley they have invested in the facilities, possibly to the detriment of the team, but from a building the future perspective this can only be a good thing.

The game tonight pitched Staveley, who are looking for a top six finish, against a Harrogate side that have struggled this season and indeed shipped eight at Hemsworth on Saturday. Harrogate Railway Athletic is a really interesting one, how many Step 5 clubs have appeared twice on live television?

I can't think of any, but Rail have. Twice in the Noughties they've reached the Second Round of the FA Cup, firstly playing Bristol City at home in front of the Sky cameras, and then a few years later playing Mansfield Town, also at home, in front of the BBC.

A spell in the Northern Premier League didn't yield any league success and now they find themselves in the lower reaches of the NCEL. But, they've had their fifteen minutes of fame, twice, and those present and involved will always have those memories.

Staveley gave them a first half gubbing, racing into a 4-0 lead and missing a penalty in that for good measure. Rail did pull on back on the stroke of half time, but you did wonder just how many the hosts were going to get.

Only one more goal came in the second period, but they did hit the frame of the goal twice as chances came and went. Fair play to Rail though, they never gave up, and heads didn't drop. But to be honest, the end of the season probably can't come quickly enough for them.

As for Staveley, where next? Well with the off the field very much in place, the big question is whether they can push on and gain promotion? That is going to be a massive challenge because the NCEL with only one promotion slot available, is something of a bottleneck. When you look at it objectively, Handsworth have the funds, Worksop the fan base, Bridlington the experience, Pickering the momentum, and whoever else decides to 'go for it' also in the mix. Just throwing cash at it is certainly not a given, and Terry Damms will know that. But in Brett Marshall he has a Manager who has been there and done it, notably with Retford. His young side have certainly got the potential, and I would suggest is probably two or three experienced heads away from being a real challenger.

But, whatever happens on the field, I'll be back again next season, on more than one occasion, and I might even take my table tennis bat next time, perhaps Terry will be up for a game?


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