Soapbox: ripping yarns from Barlick

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Pete Sixsmith does not feign interest in mere internationals. he seizes a Premier-free Saturday by the horns and seeks out some real football, though first there was the sad business of bidding farewell to Squinny – friend, fan and all-round good fella …

The first weekend of the season without a Premier League game. The first weekend of the season where I have the opportunity to delve into the lower echelons of English football looking for a decent game, a day out, a couple of pints and to continue my search for the perfect pie. No worries about whether Richardson will do the business or will the defence buckle; just football for fun.

I had hoped to take in an FA Vase game involving a Northern League team, but there was little to interest me. I decided to visit a club straight out of “Ripping Yarns”, the prosaically named Barnoldswick Town FC. They play in the Vodkat! North West Counties League, at The Silentnight Stadium. They were at home to Atherton Collieries from the Wigan/Leigh area. The names are redolent of non league at its best.

For those who are geographically challenged, Barnoldswick (or Barlick, as the locals call it), is a small industrial town in North East Lancashire equidistant from Skipton and Burnley. It has a Rolls Royce Aerospace factory and they make Silentnight Beds (the ones with the hippo) there. It has a brutalist concrete shopping centre, rows of terrace houses and a canal. It is served by proper buses and has a park called Victory Park where the Town play, along with the cricket and Rugby Union teams. A little gem!!

Not that I spent much time there before the game. I stopped in Skipton, which I consider to be an almost perfect Northern market town. The market straddles both sides of the long main street, with stalls selling clothing, cheese and crockery. It has a good selection of shops, a flea market, where a copy of the ’73 Cup Final programme was on sale for £10, and copious eating places and pubs. It only lacks a football team and a cinema or else it would be the perfect bolt hole for retired teachers.

The restaurant critic in that morning’s Guardian had given The Bull at Broughton, a couple of miles out of the town, a good review, but I did not follow his advice and I ate in The Woolly Sheep in Sheep Street, which suggested that Skipton might have had a teeny-weeny bit to do with the wool trade in the past. It advertised Yorkshire food, Yorkshire beer and Yorkshire staff, so I chose that well known Tyke delicacy Swordfish and new potatoes, served by a dour waiter in the style of Mr H D (“Dickie”) Bird and washed down with a splendid pint of Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild. Milds are virtually unknown in the North East – we have missed out.

Barlick was twenty minutes away and then another twenty to find the ground, tucked away as it was on the western fringes of the town. It has a grand setting. Stand behind one goal and you can see a real, live, working mill chimney. Stand down the uncovered side and you g can see the Pennines rising behind the town and the only hill in East Lancashire that does not have a memorial to Sir Robert Peel stuck on top of it. From the covered side there is a cracking view of the North Pennines and what I think mat have been Pen-y-Ghent. Better than the municipal incinerator seen from The Britannia last week at Stoke.

It was a decent game as well. Barlick have just been promoted to this league and have started well. They play football, much of it through the Steve Agnew lookalike who ran the midfield and who was on the end of some muscular and manly tackling from Atherton. The Colliers goalkeeper made some fine saves, but Barlick ran out 2-0 winners, on a day when the weather fluctuated more often than a ministerial statement on Libya. And guess what…. Atherton had TWO players called Atherton playing for them. This made my day as I cannot recall any Football League/Premier League clubs having had a namesake playing for them. We never did get round to signing Alan Sunderland, and although Dave Barnett did play for Barnet, the pedants amongst us know that it is just not the same.

Friday saw Stephen Wilson’s funeral at St Mary’s RC Church in Bishop Auckland. I thought I knew Stephen well, but I did not realise how many people of different backgrounds and generations that this kind, gentle and lovable man had touched. The church was packed to the rafters and broke into thunderous applause after the most moving and heartfelt eulogy by his friend Brian Neill. It is a measure of the man (Stephen and Brian) that Stephen befriended a Mag and that the Mag became his best friend. Brian spoke lovingly, wittily and profoundly about Stephen, and did it in a Sunderland shirt – a lovely, lovely gesture. Afterwards in The Cumberland Arms, there was much laughter as hundreds of people squeezed in to talk about a real human being who cared for and was cared for by so many people.

What a waste.

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