A long weekend of international football, starting with France’s disgraced World Cup flops – or some of them – being welcomed back by Laurent Blanc and continuing with perfunctory success for England, holds no joy for Pete Sixsmith. So off he went on the sort of mission he regards as heavenly, others might consider grounds for having him certified …
It’s 7.15 on a Friday night. After a busy week at work and a bout of unpleasantness with rumbling gall stones, I am parking the car next to a small football ground in a South Yorkshire village called Kinsley.
Situated between the liquorice fields of Pontefract and the (former) coalfields of Barnsley, this is not the most prepossessing of places. It’s only a spit and a throw away from Grimethorpe, immortalised as Grimley in Brassed Off and, like many similar towns, it seems to be made up of boarded up pubs, kebab shops and places selling anything and everything for 99p.
What is it that has attracted me and another 200+ souls to Kinsley? Nothing sinister, nothing macabre, nothing perverted – it’s a Groundhop.
Kinsley Boys FC are hosting the first game in the Central Midlands League Bonanza – five games spread out over two days in Yorkshire, Notts and Derbyshire. The CML is a Step 7 League, the equivalent of the Wearside League and has two divisions, the Supreme and the Premier with teams from small commuter villages on Humberside, Miners’ Welfares from Yorks, Notts and Derby and inner city clubs in Sheffield and Nottingham. It’s a well run league and they have been running the Bonanza for seven years.
This is the final one as most of the grounds have been ticked off by the assiduous hoppers. It started at Kinsley on Friday and then moved on to Yorkshire, near Rotherham the next morning, south to Nottingham Saturday lunchtime and finished off with two in Derbyshire, the final game being an 8pm kick off at South Normanton, just off Junction 28 on the M1.
I have been on four of the hops and enjoy them. It’s a chance to catch up with casual acquaintances and exchange notes about games seen, grounds ticked off and experiences had. It’s almost exclusively male, predominantly middle class and as white as the upper echelons of the BBC. There are programme stalls, badge sellers and magazine vendors, all tempting the wmcms (white middle class males) to part with a few quid and go home with the latest Wythenshawe Amateurs badge or a bundle of Phoenix Sports and Social Club programmes.
The first game isn’t bad. Kinsley are playing Harworth MI, a club who hail from the very tip of South Yorkshire and whose claim to fame is to being the home village of the British cycling hero, Tommy Simpson (although he was born in Haswell and was therefore a Sunderland fan by default). Kinsley win it with a penalty given when the Harworth keeper brings down a Kinsley player. It’s probably a red card, but the referee reads the situation well and issues a yellow.
There are certain things you notice as you descend the pyramid. First of all, the skin tight, made to measure kits used in the Premier League don’t apply here. The Harworth No 8 is a dead ringer for Billy Casper from Kes. The shirt comes down to his thighs and the shorts are surely the ones that the brutal PE teacher threw at Casper before forcing him to play in goal with a ball that was as “hard as a stone”.
Secondly, Step 7 is the last home of the proper knee bandage. The Kinsley No.9 (no boy, he) has an absolute beauty that covers his knee and could probably be made into a small marquee. He’s a decent player despite the yards of material protecting his cartilage. No fancy dan knee supports in South Yorkshire …
The game ends and a whole gaggle of hoppers depart for Fitzwilliam station to catch the last rattler back to Doncaster. Do they realise that they will be in the home village of Sir Geoffrey Boycott, the new Sigmund Freud? I head back to the Travelodge at Meadowhall, a fine example of the 21st century Bed Factory school of architecture.
Saturday morning dawned dull and chilly and the next game is less than a mile away in Yorkshire, near Rotherham. Alas, neither team was called Rovers nor was there anybody called Spencer playing, but both Phoenix Sports and Kiveton Park put up a decent show.
The early morning game is an opportunity to compare breakfasts at various Travelodge’s Premier Inn’s and assorted Band Bs. The Premier Inn at Barnsley ran out of food at one stage due to the ability of Groundhoppers to e like locusts at the breakfast bar. Phoenix Sports put on good tea and even better bacon baps, to assuage the hunger of the wmcm.
The game finished goalless, causing consternation amongst the massed ranks – a 0-0 is the footballing equivalent of prawns behind the curtains or milk spilt in the back of the car. Notebooks were consulted to see when the last scoreless game had been and grown men were seen to weep as their record of 38 games or whatever since the last one was shattered.
I passed on the next two games at Edwinstowe and Clay Cross and headed south to Coalville for the FA Vase semi final between The Ravens and Kings Lynn. Malcolm Dawson lives nearby, had obtained a couple of tickets (according to the Coalville secretary, Lynn had asked for 1500) and met him for a very pleasant lunch on the outskirts of town.
The ground was behind the former Ravenstone Colliery, now a small museum with the pit head winding gear still intact. The small ground was full to the brim, with those unable to get tickets (either that, or they were real cheapskates) stood on the old slag heaps, now grassed over, that encircled the ground.
Coalville had put Shildon out in the Fourth Round and Pete Horan had commented on their strength and the power of their two forwards. He was right as they won 3-0 at a canter, with Jerome Murdoch netting twice. Lynn fans trooped home disconsolate – a big club marooned in a small league because of financial irregularities.
There was good news from Poole Town, where Whitley Bay (managed by a Sunderland fan, Ian Chandler) had netted twice in the last minute to go 2-1 up in the first leg but this was tempered by the English disaster in Columbo and the fact that Darren Bent had scored for England. He should get lots at Barnsley, Doncaster and Middlesbrough next season.
From there, it was on to South Normanton for the final leg of the hop. The hardy Hoppers were looking tired and weary after a 1-1 and a 5-1 on a very cold afternoon. The evening game promised more goals as South Normanton were top and opponents FC05 Bilborough were rock bottom.
They gave the leaders a good game for 70 minutes and then the goalkeeper lost his concentration and let three real softies in. Farewells were exchanged as the wmcm shuffled back to their cars, loaded down with badges, programmes and fond memories of a Grand Day Out. Who needs the Premier League?
* And if you wondered what on earth Pete was on about when talking about Spencers and Rovers and Rotherham, catch this live performance of Spencer the Rover (who indeed visits Rother-Ham, as the delectable Cara Dillon pronounces it) …