Sunday, 20 May 2018

Bitter Sweet Rawdon

Alwoodley  0  Rawdon Old Boys  2

West Riding County FA – Challenge Cup Final

For some inexplicable reason, I’d never managed to visit the impressive West Riding County FA ground in the South Leeds village of Woodlesford.

It’s probably because I tend not to go to Cup Finals, and consequently I’ve never been to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff (except to see Madonna!), nor have I been to Moorways Stadium in Derby, or indeed the Lancashire FA Ground in Leyland. I did once go to Holmes Park in Leicester, but that was by accident rather than design when another game I’d set out to see was postponed and I happened to stumble across it.

So why now? Well, I’d heard it reported that Bradford based Route One Rovers had made an application to move to Step 6 at the end of the current season, and as part of that application they had stated their intention to move to Woodlesford as their facilities in Esholt were not up to the required standard. It was enough to tempt me off my backside and go and have a look at it.

With a plethora of finals to choose from, I opted for the Challenge Cup competition, which to my understanding is the second most senior of the competitions in the County. The highest ranked of course being the Senior Cup, which is competed for by sides from Step 6 upwards, and has already been won this season by Farsley Celtic.

Rawdon Old Boys, who have won the First Division of the West Yorkshire League and move to Step 7 next season, were playing Yorkshire Amateur League side Alwoodley who were based in North Leeds. Alwoodley had already accounted for Ilkley Town, Golcar United, Aberford Albion and Horbury Town who all in theory play at a higher level, so clearly they were certainly no mugs. Golcar in fact could still win the West Riding County Amateur League so that victory was a major turn up.

The ground at Woodlesford is certainly impressive and clearly the money from player fines has been well spent! A decent sized car park leads to some turnstiles, and to the right of the entrance is a large seated stand that runs the full length of the pitch. Opposite is a grass bank that provides an excellent elevated viewing position. While behind the goal are the dressing rooms, offices and a large clubhouse area. Clearly it’s a facility used on a daily basis, and with a further area upstairs (presumably offices), it’s very smart indeed.

The Business End
The pitch is a 4G variety that was installed in the last close season, while of course it has powerful floodlights. If Route One Rovers are to decamp here, and money to hire it appears not to be a problem, then they’ve got themselves a very impressive home indeed. That should all be revealed in the next week or so.

The bar and the cafeteria were doing a roaring trade on a clear yet cool evening, with what I would estimate as a crowd of around 300 inside the ground, equally split between both sides and a good 
sprinkling of neutrals and blazers!

The first half was pretty even, with little in the way of clear cut chances, but early in the second period Daz Nicholls put Rawdon into the lead with a close range header from a corner that gave the Alwoodley   goalkeeper no chance at all.

Bank Siders
Minutes later it was 2-0 when some excellent passing football opened up Alwoodley and found Chris Softley on the edge of the six yard box. He manged to squeeze the ball past the goalkeeper, however, joy turned to tragedy as it became instantly clear that Softley had injured himself, badly, in scoring the goal.

Stood behind the goal, I could see the sickening extent of the injury, with the bottom half of his lower leg hanging at forty five degrees. Clearly it was broken and badly, in two places it was later reported. 
He was very quickly attended to by members of both sides as an ambulance was called.

Forty five minutes later and Softley had very carefully been lifted into the back of an ambulance and was on his way to hospital. It was an awful injury and it’s not nice to see a man in such distress and pain, but the way he was cared for and re-assured was first class. The round of applause from all sides of the ground as he was lifted into the ambulance must have been heart-warming for him.

Part of me expected the game to be abandoned if I’m honest, but with it being a prestigious Cup Final and with both sides seemingly determined to play on (as I’m sure the stricken Softley would have wanted), we got back underway.

I did think the remainder of the game would have been played with a lack of competitive edge given what had gone before, but I was wrong. To both sides credit they gave it their all for the last half an hour, and while Alwoodley threw everything at Rawdon, they couldn’t make the breakthrough.

Is That Bez From The Happy Mondays On The Right?
At the final whistle Alwoodley sank to their knees, they had put up a superb fight, while Rawdon celebrated a League and Cup double. While there was clearly every reason to celebrate, the celebrations were overshadowed somewhat given what had happened to their team mate.

Many of the after match messages of congratulations on social media also included plenty of well wishes for the man that was quite rightly named Man of the Match, Chris Softley.

I hope he makes a full recovery and returns to playing football sooner rather than later. A player of his quality will be a huge asset as a very good Rawdon Old Boys side pits itself at Step 7 for the first time.

Alwoodley can certainly play at a higher level, but I guess in their case we need to wait and see what move they make next. They would certainly be a great asset in the West Yorkshire League.

The Sad Sight Of Chris Softley Leaving The Field

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