Sunday, 29 October 2017

Nice Badger

Retford United  0  Knaresborough Town  1

Northern Counties East League – First Division

When I was a youngster I had a bit of trouble distinguishing between a badger and a beaver.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that in the space of a couple weeks in the hugely memorable 1984-85 season, Belper Town played both Eastwood Town and Rhyl. Why did this not help I hear you say? 

Well, Eastwood are nicknamed the Badgers, but Rhyl, at the time, were nicknamed the Beavers, and in fact turned up at Belper for an FA Cup tie in their own bus, with a sign on it proclaiming it to be the ‘Beaver Bus’.

Of course, also as a youngster I saw the iconic clip from Airplane when Priscilla Presley is stood on the step ladder and Steve Martin makes his famous comment from below. Any confusion was quickly banished at that point, I knew my badgers from my beavers!

Rhyl changed their named to the Lilywhites pretty soon after, can’t think why, maybe the Beaver Bus died a death and it just didn’t seem right any more, or maybe they were just tired of the comments.

From a footballing perspective, I’ve never come across a beaver since, but I have encountered a few badgers, and in recent years one of the more prominent ones has been Retford United.

My first badger related incident took place in the pre-season of 2003-04, the club had just finished fourth in the Supreme Division of the Central Midlands League, this after having won the Premier Division of the aforementioned league and the Notts Senior League before it. They had developed a ground on the outskirts of the town and the noises being made were audible.

Food & Drink - In Equal Measures
Retford United were seemingly a club on the up and they had no plans to stop in a hurry. I remember going to watch them play Blidworth Welfare in a pre-season friendly, they smashed them, and some of the players were clearly far too good for the league in which they were competing, with all due respect of course.

Mark Shaw was pulling the strings in midfield and no one could seemingly touch him, Michael Hennesey on the wing was unplayable at times, and then upfront they had the jewel in the crown, the goal machine that was Vill Powell. I went to see them a few times early on in the season, taking Mr Hatt Senior at one point to a game, and we both said that Retford United were not long for this league.

Crowds were 200+, the supporters web forum was buzzing, life must have been great for the fans of the club that were being backed by a gentleman called Dean Vivian. But, if someone had told a Retford United fan at that time, what the future was going to look like, then I would love to have seen their reaction. Life was going to get very turbulent indeed.

A Bit Of Cover
Promotion naturally followed, but the first season in the Northern Counties East League was more of a consolidatory one, they finished eighth, but the following season a runners up spot took them into the Premier Division.

Season 2006-07 saw them win the Premier Division, and suddenly Northern Premier League football beckoned for the town that had got something of a chequered history when it comes to football.

Retford Town were always the biggest club, playing in the Midland Counties League in the seventies and early eighties at their River Lane ground, but the club went by the wayside and the ground was eventually swallowed up by a large Morrisons, which was a shame as some development had taken place and an impressive two story club house built on the ground.

BRSA Retford and Retford Rail were the lesser of the clubs, playing at Babworth Road, but again, both disappeared from the map, although the recently formed Retford FC are now playing on the ground adjacent to the railway line.

Some Seats
A new incarnation of Retford Town did appear, playing in the Doncaster Senior League, but again that entity fell off the radar, but now, United, they were THE team in Retford, playing at a level the town had never previously experienced.

Ex Sheffield United front man Peter Duffield took charge, and the expensively assembled team cantered to the league title with a massive 99 points. But, controversy followed, Cannon Park failed the grading for the Premier Division, and that created a stink, it was unfair, the club had been singled out, victimised, it was a conspiracy.

However, undeterred, Duffield went again and won the league the following season, this time the ground passed the grading, just. But, rumours abounded, and I will state just that, there were rumours that players had not been paid for large parts of the season, and Duffield had allegedly had to battle to keep the side together in very difficult circumstances.

The rumours continued in the clubs first season in the Premier Division, and a sixth placed finish saw them just miss out on the play offs. It was a tremendous effort, but the wheels were about to well and truly come off.

The club finished bottom the following season and ultimately resigned from the league, opting to drop a further division back to the NCEL. But, it all got somewhat bizarre again as Brett Marshall steered the Badgers to the championship at the first attempt, but promotion was not forthcoming, Marshall moved on, and the club remained in the Premier Division for six full seasons before finishing bottom last season and finding themselves in the First Division.

The Car Park End
And this is where we pick up the story, prior to the game against Knaresborough, the Badgers sat next to bottom in the league, the goal for them surely must be avoiding a return to Step 7. The visitors though are flying high at the top of the league, and many have already suggested the top spot is all but in the bag.

An intriguing game was in prospect, but sadly it was not to be anything other than unremarkable as a spectacle. The first half was pretty even but creativity and goalscoring chances were at an absolute premium. If a game ever had 0-0 written all over it at half time, then this was indeed it.

The second half was little better, although Knaresborough did manage to grab the all-important winning goal in the 73rd minute from Will Lenehan who steered home a lovely header. We also had time for a bit of a flare up in the closing ten minutes which resulted in a red card for each side. The points headed back to Mother Shipton’s Cave, and what I would say, if a side can win away from home, keep a clean sheet, and not play especially well, yet dig in all the same, then you can sort of see the credentials of a side that could go on to win things.

I suspect Knaresborough can play an awful lot better, but, credit must go to Retford who battled extremely hard, and with that kind of effort week in week out, then staying up should not be an issue.

142 turned up to watch it, which is pretty impressive for a Tuesday night, the support in Retford has remained very loyal through both thick and thin. What the next chapter for the Badgers holds is anyone’s guess, if history is anything to go by.

But, it's better to be a badger than a beaver I guess? 

The Seats Again

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