Saturday 10th April 2021 14.30 Staffordshire County League Division One Shenstone Pathfinder 2 Audley Reserves 1 HT: 1-0 Att: 16
from Shenstone Pavillion
Of all the teams I’ve seen Shenstone’s has to be one of the best suffixes. The sort of suffix you only get in the county leagues.
This was the second Saturday of the resumption of the minor leagues, after the easing of lockdown. The offshoot of the bizarre ruling about only being able to watch a game if it’s on a public park, was that groundhoppers were probably looking at games and grounds that wouldn’t normally be on their radar. The choices now for us weren’t just step seven and below but step seven and below AND grounds accessible by the public. This required a bit of research beforehand. Although the Hope Valley League is always a good shout in these circumstances, fellow groundhopper and car-sharer, other Dave, suggested this fixture on account of the overcast weather rendering a scenic Peak District venue wasted. It was a good strategy, backed up by his Google street view of Shenstone’s ground that showed a wavy path round the pitch, that had local council written all over it. Dave was the pathfinder.
Saturday 3rd April 2021 Hope Valley League Premier Division Youlgrave United 2 High Lane 6 HT: 1-2 Att: 16 (headcount)
from Youlgrave Cricket Club
Finally, football returns with spectators, but not officially. This is where the Peak District has come into its own during Covid times. During the last spell of miscommunication and mass confusion regarding fans, the Peak provided some great football and wonderful views, to boot.
The reason for heading out this way is that the grounds are remote, open spaces and there is none of the urban-angst over covid, where club officials might waver between common sense and ‘the rules’. The Hope Valley League isn’t one I’d really looked at for options until last year, simply because there were always other bigger grounds on my radar.
I shouldn’t have been so dismissive, because most of the grounds in this league are set in idyllic locations, and what is lacking in football furniture is more than made up for in views and bucolic grandeur. And despite being a league that isn’t even registered as part of the non-league pyramid, the standard is as good as I’ve seen in county leagues and the matches entertaining and competitive.
Something I’d also failed to appreciate was just how near the Peak is to me, with today’s jaunt a mere 26 miles. Admittedly they’re slow miles, but the scenery is magnificent, and should there be any issue with the game taking place, the drive alone would be worthwhile. Today was no exception as I headed for Youlgrave United, past Leek and the Roaches and the quiet scenic villages of Longnor, Crowdicote and Monyash.
Youlgreave is one of the most misspelt names in England, with 60 recorded iterations since it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Giolgrove, meaning yellow grove, referring to the yellow ore mined locally. Today two spellings vie for dominance in roughly equal measure. Most maps go for Greave. The Highways Agency is on the fence, referring to it on signposts as Youlgreave but on the village sign as Youlgrave. Local businesses use both, the church goes for Grave, as does the football team.
Youlgreave is one of the larger villages in the Peak, but not as openly touristy as nearby Hartington or Bakewell. Of prominence is the church dating back to 1130, with a norman font. Walking through the village, it was eerily peaceful and quiet; I’m unsure if this was the norm for Saturday afternoons or exacerbated by the pandemic. This area of the Peak is worth the visit, without the football. If you’re a collector of Stone Circles you have the impressive Arbor Low, three miles west of Youlgreave.
I think Arbor Low is better than Stonehenge. For a start you’ll probably have it to yourself, there’s no visitor centre or barbed wire or entrance fee or hundreds of people taking selfies. A little further afield you have the Nine Ladies stone circle, accessible by a woodland walk. Having already ticked off these stone circles, I plumped for doing a 5k on the Bakewell Parkrun route. As official Parkruns are still prohibited, this was like a ground tour with no game, or a bracketed Parkrun tick.
The route starts at Hassop Station, a visitor centre, café and bookshop on the former railway line, that is a now the 8.5km Monsal Trail, popular with walkers and bikers. The course is 2.5k out and back along the trail – it was a fast route. After a bottle of water and coffee I made the short trip to Yougreave.
The ground, the Youlgrave Cricket Field lies off the main road through the village, on the left before the centre, if you’re approaching from Bakewell. There is a car park just inside the wall of the ground and a small wall from which to stand, which gives you the best backdrop of the countryside beyond, where the river Bradford winds around the village.
This was the resumption of the League games, with visitors High Lane FC (who hail from a borough of Stockport) having a 100% record with five wins in five, but second in the table to Furness Vale, who had played one more. Youlgrave were sitting second to bottom, having won just one of ten games. As there are only 11 teams in the division, finishing off the league fixtures is not such a squeeze as other non-leagues.
The first half was quite even and competitive, with High Lane showing touches of why they The first half was quite even and competitive, with High Lane showing touches of why they’d dropped no points so far. A defensive error led to them taking the lead midway through the first half. Youlgrave equalised after a soft backpass was leapt on eagerly for a good finish. High Lane then re-took the lead immediately to go into the break 1-2.
High Lane then turned the screw in the second period, scoring some well worked goals, with the hosts picking up one themselves, through a rebound after a deflected long shot. The game was clean and played in a great spirit, with respect shown to the ref. I was also pleased to hear no mention of Covid. The 15-20 supporters just enjoyed an afternoon in the sun watching footy.
Sunday 8th March 2020 15.00 Belgian Second Amateur Division (ACFF Section) RAAL La Louvière 2 Acren-Lessines 0 HT: 2-0 Att: 300hc Malela 21, Renquin 38p from Stade du Tivoli
After glitzy Pro League Belgian football in the Dutch-speaking region, it was now time to sample a more pastoral lower league vibe in the French-speaking region.
This was fourth tier Belgian football – zut alors!. Their fourth tier is regionalised – this was the French speaking ACFF league and there are two Dutch speaking leagues, the VFVA and the VFVB. The Belgian pyramid is a bit odd in that the top flight and third tier have 16 teams, but the second tier has just eight. From what I can gather the First Division B play each other twice for a 14 match season before Christmas, then play another season after Christmas and the two winners have a play-off for promotion at the end.
Tuesday 15th September 2020 19.45 United Counties League One Lutterworth Athletic 1 Northampton Sileby Rangers 2 HT: 1-0 Att: 150 (hc) Atkinson 17 : Koriya 55p, 65 from Hall Park
In the space of eight days Dave and I had done a brace of Lutterworths. Town last week and Athletic this. It was very much an aptly named Groundhog Day for us. Same pick up time, same fast uninterrupted journey, same Fish and Chip shop, similar comments about the town’s anchor tennant – Angel’s Touch Massage. Did this signify a new style of ruthless efficiency in our groundhopping. Would the Wellingboroughs be up next? Whitworth and Town?