I’ve never been a miner and nor to my knowledge have any of my family, but I was brought up close to coal country and witnessed some of the vitriol that surrounded the strike in the 1980s. Naturally I have an opinion on that which I needn’t necessarily share with anyone but I do recall one of the customers in my Leicester pub at that time being christened ‘Tony the Working Miner’ for obvious reasons. It was a status he comfortably enjoyed until one day members of touring folk-rock legends Lindisfarne – political animals to a man – called in for a lunchtime pint and gave him some serious grief.
The rights and wrongs of it all are still debated today, but the net result is that the UK coal industry has all but disappeared and we rely largely on imported fuel to keep our power stations pumping. We have a legacy, however, in a number of football clubs based in former pit villages that have survived all of the turmoil and continue to preserve the proud names of their industrial past. In general they are based around ‘welfare’ social clubs and although the players are no longer plucked from the ranks of off-duty tunnelers, their role in perpetuating the community spirit is maintained.
I have a bit of business to do in Sheffield today (another publican to de-brief after a hectic weekend) so the lad and I make it an early call so we can quickly negotiate a tricky cross-country route to the first of two Yorkshire ‘pit’ clubs, Nostell Miners Welfare. Based in the village of New Crofton to the east of Wakefield, Nostell have decided to make their Bank Holiday Monday game against Parkgate a midday kick-off, and I suspect a lot of ‘hoppers’ might be eyeing this up as the first of a double-header – just like us in fact! When we eventually track down the ground amidst all the houses, we are then directed through the ‘Spectator’ entrance, which runs all the way thorough the impressive clubhouse complex, out past the bowling green, and into the ground.
Just inside the clubhouse is what can only be described as a museum, with informative displays and artifacts celebrating the thousand-plus years of life and subsequent Thatcher-era death of Nostell colliery and its role in promoting the ‘welfare’ of its workforce. Further along, a comfortable lounge bar sports a full-size snooker table but sadly no decent ale, whilst a snack hatch nearer to the exit offers the usual meaty fayre along with chip butties, on which me and the lad gorge.
We enter the ground in an elevated position above the immaculate pitch – which has apparently been levelled in recent times – and negotiate our way along a couple of rows of covered seating high up on the bank, which serves as the only covered accommodation in the ground. A proliferation of pesky wasps in this area means we head off behind one of the goals where the lad, of course, earns his corn fielding stray shots as they sail wide of the goal net.
With both teams having freely scored and shipped goals in equal abundance during the early part of the season, we are prepared for a contest of no great quality probably featuring a large amount of goalmouth action entirely due to inept defending, but to a large extent we are to be disappointed. Nostell do take a first half-lead when the visiting keeper decides on a suicidal short goal kick, but there is generally an effort by both sides to play some possession football on the ground, their bold intent only sabotaged by a lack of ability on the part of most of them! The game swings on the brandishing of a straight red card to the Parkgate centre-half on 55 minutes. Suitably indignant, his team-mates decide to take the game to a hesitant Nostell and score twice from rebounds to bag the points.
Like a couple of flying pickets, we drive from here to Armthorpe, to the east of Doncaster, hampered only be an inadequate map, and when we do eventually find the home of the local Welfare FC, it’s five minutes to kick-off . We do, however, manage to purchase the last two programmes, which is something of a relief. There’s just time for a quick look around before the game commences, and we check out the refreshment room which while not on the grand scale of Nostell, nevertheless boasts a welcoming interior with actual tablecloths on the tables. There’s no alcohol of any description to be had but they do a good line in (sadly meaty) pie, chips and gravy for anyone interested. Spectator accommodation consists of a low-slung piecemeal main stand with very uncomfortable bench seating – the lad sits here for ten minutes before deciding its more fun standing up – and a ramshackle covered terrace behind one goal.
Armthorpe emerge in their unique purple and grey hooped kit and would seem to be the form team of the two, residing in 9th compared to the lowly 18th of visiting Barton Town Old Boys. The latter however haven’t read the script, scoring two in two minutes as the home team scratch their heads and wonder how this could be. Welfare continue to be profligate for most of the game, despite seemingly having the sharpest strikers on show, and although managing to eventually pull one back, surrender the game to their Humberside opponents, who lose a man to a straight red in the process.
Unfortunately another Barton man – a fat opinionated oaf of a supporter who seems familiar with all of their players and spends much of the second half foul-mouthing the referee and most of the Armthorpe back-line – can’t be consigned to the sin bin and we secretly hope that the home team can find the extra goals to put a cork in his mouth. Perhaps a shift down a pit might teach him some respect for others. Right part of the world, sadly the wrong era.
Programmes: Both £1, Nostell on the turnstile, Armthorpe from a table just inside. Both badly stapled. Whilst Nostell at least try to fill it with some relevant information, the up-to-date information in the Armthorpe prog is an 8pp section badly stitched into 40 pages of pre-printed adverts.
Floodlight pylons; 6 of the modern type at Nostell, 3 of the more traditional type at Armthorpe supplemented by a giant telephone mast
Parakeets: The pit canary is the honoured avian species in these parts.
Club shops: None seen
Toilets: None apparent in the ground at Nostell, but access back into the clubhouse is easy enough. At Armthorpe, despite some confusing signage, there is a modern toilet block beside the refreshment room.
Players run out to: ‘Black and Yellow’ by Wiz Khalifa at Nostell. Didn’t clock anything at Armthorpe
Kop Choirs: None at either ground. A good smattering of away fans at both games, mostly well-behaved….
What’s in a name: Nostell’s Toby ‘The Stag’ Rutter and Barton’s James ‘YourOvett’ Mycoe. Interesting to see Leo Fortune-West making the bench for Armthorpe. At 40 he’s still banging in the goals, scoring in his last game for Welfare.