Tue 2nd Sep 1997
Leek Town 2 Hereford United 2 The Conference HT 1-0 Att: 1,132
Sat Mar 25th 2000
Leek Town 3 Lancaster City 1 Unibond Premier HT 1-1 Att: approx 300
The first time I went to Leek was their first ever season in non-league’s top flight, The Conference. They had earned the right in 1993/4, finishing 2nd in the Northern Premier, but were denied promotion due to financial irregularities. To make things worse, due to geographical redistribution amongst the three feeder leagues, they were forced to play the next season in the Southern Premier, which crippled them financially.
Fortunately, that only lasted one season, and then in the season 1996/7 they won the Northern Premier by 10 points, and there was nothing lurking to stop them ascending to the dizzying heights of the Conference. I remember thinking that they seemed like a very small club to be mixing it with the non-league big guns, and wondered whether vertigo would set in. The first game I saw was against Hereford, who just a few months previously fell through the league trapdoor: consigned there on the last day of the season thanks to Robbie Rienelt’s 62nd minute equaliser for Brighton at Edgar Street!
I had a surreal few seconds of extreme paranoia and disassociation, when Leek fans started singing We love you Brighton, we do…We love you Brighton, we do…at the start of the game. It took me a while to realise they were taunting the Hereford fans and it wasn’t some elaborate practical joke on me.
It is thought Leek Town played matches as early as 1876, but records are hazy until about 1946, where they played as Abbey Green Rovers and then Leek Lowe Hamil in Leek & Moorlands and Staffordshire leagues. They changed their name to Leek Town in 1951/2 where they joined the Manchester league. In 1989-90 they got to the FA Trophy Final at Wembley, losing 3-0 to Barrow. It was an amazing achievement as at the time they were in step three of non-league. However, they did finish as Champions of the Northern League Premier division that same season.
As mentioned, this season was their highest elevation in the pyramid. As their Harrison Park ground is prone to flooding, and it was a particularly wet season they had a mammoth backlog of games, come the final few weeks of the season. In the last eight days of the season they played six matches, all the while needing points to avoid relegation. I think in the last week they played on Sat, Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri and then Sat. Their week was covered by a broadsheet with the headline ‘Leek Town’s week of Total Football’.
They did survive the drop, amazingly, but despite a great start to their second season in the conference, the vertigo got to them, and they were relegated back to the Northern Premier, where they remain(albeit one step lower, due to pyramid reorganisation).
They share Harrison park with another, lesser known club; Leek County School Old Boys (Leek CSOB), formed in 1945. They have played in the North West Counties League division 2 (step 6) since promotion from the Staffordshire Senior County League in 1996. They have had plans for their own ground since 2003 that have met with resistance from the Staffordshire Moorlands Council. They do enjoy a fairly convivial groundshare with Town, and even helped their landlords out financially recently. (Although, how, on average crowds of about 35, I don’t know!)
Leek, the place, is a quaint old mill town. It has an olde world feel to it, and lies on the western edge of the Peak District and next to the Staffordshire Moorlands and the wonderful Roaches. As such, it is very high up. It is also very isolated, with all routes single lane traffic and no railway station. It’s this isolation and insularity that gives it a sort of cosy charm and a certain eccentricity. If hobbits really did exist I think they would be happy settling in Leek. It claims to have more pubs per head of population than anywhere in the uk (but, let’s face it, every quaint little village in England seems to have made that claim, so I’d take it with a pinch of salt). The pubs there are good, however, and an excellent crawl can be had in the town centre, most being real ale houses.
The match against Hereford had a great atmosphere, with a 1,000+ crowd, virtually unknown at Harrison Park. The fans sing a lot and and the low roofs of the behind-the-goal stands give it a good resonance. I believe that even now, with crowds between 200-300, they still make a bit of noise. They took the lead shortly before half-time, and then again with about 5 minutes to go, but Hereford headed an equaliser deep into injury time to spoil what would have been a famous victory for Leek. I went with my Father-in-Law, who lives in Leek, and used to police matches there.
The second time I went was with a friend from Leek who supported them a bit, having lived there a while, along with Port Vale, his childhood club. We arrived two minutes late to the ground and missed not one, but two goals! They were playing Lancaster City in the Unibond League. We were enjoying ales in the pub up the road until 2.57 (well, it’s only a 2 minute walk to the ground and I’d been before). 80 or so yards from the turnstile we heard a roar, followed by clapping. We looked at each other and cursed our luck – Leek had scored from the kick-off. 50 yards later there was a smaller roar followed by clapping. We thought it must be some pre-match penalty shoot-out thing rather than goals. No; we got in at 3.02pm and it was 1-1. I pessimistically thought it would finish that way but I did get to see two other goals – it finished 3-1.
The pictures I took were from the New Year this year, as I wasn’t taking pictures when I attended the two games. Luckily, the road that skirts the side and top of the ground gives you a view of all four sides, and is actually a better vantage point than inside. The recent snow made it more picturesque.
These are two shots of the main stand that holds I’d guess 300-400 seats.
This is behind the goal, with a road running above it, from which a pretty much full view of the pitch is had. (you may have to poke your head through the trees. I had to to get some decent pics.
This is the side terrace that the Hereford fans were placed. There was no segregation for the Lancaster visit.
And finally…the other behind the goal stand. Behind both goals were very similar simple stands, with two or three steps of terracing and a low roof. They were of the bus-shelter variety, but made for a good atmosphere even when there are just a handful of fans in.
I had asked my wife to stop by Harrison Park to take these snaps, before going shopping in Leek, one Saturday. I got back in the car to my two and four-year-old sons taunting me (having been prepped by my wife) with cries of Daddy’s a mentalist, Daddy’s a geek!! What can I say?