As long as I haven’t completely messed up my A-Levels, I should be moving to York on September 15th to embark upon three years of University. If I have messed up then I’ll either spend a year catching up on my blog, or doing a degree in pies and beer at the Univerity of Wigan.
So, with this possible move to Yorkshire in mind I thought it would only be right if I could go along and acquaint myself with the local rugby league side. Only four matches remained at the Huntington Stadium before the club moved out, so I was keen to tick the ground off before it was too late.
Found in the north of the city, The Huntington Stadium was built in 1989. It was originally named the Ryedale Stadium after the local council helped finance the facilities. The stadium has a capacity of 3,428. This comprises of a seated main stand and a terrace called the Popular Stand. The rest of the ground is simply a pathway which curves around the athletics track which surrounds the field of play.
I had travelled up to York on the Thursday, straight after I had completed my last ever A-Level exam. Two and a half hours of writing about Sudan, Scotland and Bolton had taken it’s toll and I was looking forward to leaving education in Wigan. It was an emotional journey back home, knowing that I never have to travel through Wigan town centre again in my life. I nipped back home to Atherton before I headed to Manchester to catch the train to York.
York was in a sporting frenzy when I arrived. The World Cup was about to kick off, the Tour de France was due to set off from Yorkshire in the coming weeks, and they were still gloating after beating Lancashire in the T20. Three nights of constant drinking, football and partying followed before we went to the rugby on the Sunday. I was really looking forward to the rugby, as I hadn’t had time to get to a match since I went to Leigh Centurions v York City Knights the previous season.
Waking up at around 12:00 on the Sunday morning after a late night, Joe and I set off to the city centre where we picked up one of our non-league mates Ben. You might remember Ben from our trip to Ossett Albion last Christmas. He’s come a long way since cheering on the Albion, and is now working on the media team at Knights. We had Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album on, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Huntington. Weaving in and out of all the new shops which had recently been built, we somehow made our way into the car park which served both the rugby ground and the leisure centre.
Joe was moaning at the size of the speed bumps, but I, still recovering from the night before misheard him and wondered why on earth there were huge speed boats in the middle of York. It was an easy mistake to make. After all there were water slides winding around the car park and the distinct smell of chlorine filling the air.
As we had arrived early there weren’t too many people around as we entered the leisure centre. Ben led us up a flight of stairs, where he was greeted by a lovely woman who asked him what he wanted for his lunch. He guided us through the rabbits warren until we reached the bar and director’s lounge. Joe and I got dumped in there, whilst Ben went for his dinner and set about doing his various matchday tasks.
We had a full view of the ground as a lone triple jumper finished off her morning session in front of the players who were warming up. I couldn’t decide whether the woman was part of the athletics club, or whether this was the pre match entertainment which had been laid on for the spectators. Overall, I’d have to say she was no Jonathan Edwards, but she certainly entertained us and it provided some alternation to the football and cricket which I had watched in recent days. It was great to see the Olympic legacy was alive and well in deepest darkest Yorkshire.
More players began to arrive, including a few who weren’t even in the training gear of either side. Gateshead have a strong link to Hull KR this campaign, meaning there are dual registration players in abundance in the Thunder ranks. This however caused much confusion when the teamsheets were first printed as Gateshead had named six dual reg players, when league rules stipulate they are only allowed five. Various people were consulted before a corrected team sheet was released.
By this stage, Joe and I had enjoyed a pint of Kingstone Press and had flicked through a matchday programme which was quite a good read and was well presented. We commented on how nice the away shirts looked and when we saw that they were buy one get one free, we just couldn’t stop ourselves from buying one each.
We headed down to the club shop which was in a small cabin by the side of the main stand. Unfortunately, Joe couldn’t fit into a small mens, whereas I could, meaning he had to settle for a large home shirt. This should serve as a lesson to Joe who has constantly ridiculed me about my petite figure since he met me a few years ago. With our shirts now purchased and put on, we felt the part and began to feel more confident as we mixed in with the home fans. Another one of my Twitter friends had turned up, this time another Ben, who I had last met at York City v Leicester City last pre-season. He told us that he tends to stand at the back of the Popular Stand so we followed him, and set up our perch for the afternoon.
The view was slightly obstructed from the back of the Popular Stand, but it was nothing too drastic. The two teams emerged on to the field of play; York in their blue home kit, Gateshead in a white and purple number.
The match had been labelled a must win by York boss Gary Thornton, with the Knights sitting handsomely in the Championship 1 table. Despite losing their last match 24-22 against Gloucester All Golds, they sat just one point behind leaders Hunslet Hawks after smashing them 40-0 the week before. Gateshead meanwhile found themselves in sixth place, having won five of their ten matches so far this season.
Jacob Blades scored the first try of the match for the visitors when he gathered a kick through the Knights defence. The home fans gave the officials endless amounts of abuse for allowing the try to stand – I didn’t quite see what the problem was – and this carried on right through to the final klaxon. Matty Beharell converted to give Thunder an early 6-0 lead.
The home side responded immediately, and went about drawing level. On 14 minutes Jack Lee set Austin Bell who was able to storm over the line. Benn Hardcastle added a further two points, and the score stood at 6-6.
Despite drawing level and looking the better of the two sides, Knights soon found themselves behind again. The restart went out of play after beating Ed Smith, and Gateshead were able to score from the next move through Sonny Esslemont.
Five minutes later and York were level again. Brad Brennan tried to power through the Thunder defence, but was stopped at the last. He offloaded to Hardcastle who passed to Colton Roche who was able to slip through and ground the ball before Hardcastle recorded another conversion.
Jack Lee put York in front for the first time on 33 minutes. He managed to wriggle his way over the line from close range as the Gateshead defence were still organising themselves. Just two points separated the teams at half time though as Jason Payne grabbed a try. The conversion was subsequently missed.
At half time an argument erupted between the Gateshead photographer and a large group of York fans who had been abusing each other all of the first half. The photographer – who didn’t have the most athletic physique – spent the whole half jogging up and down the athletics track keeping up with play. Chants such as “You’re just a white Mo Farah” went down well, whilst others resulted in a steward who looked half asleep having to calm matters down.
Finding the whole situation rather embarrassing and cringe worthy we opted to walk around the ground while the crowd in the Popular Stand had time to calm down.
Less than a minute after the interval, York had gone over the line again. Hardcastle’s hard work and intelligent play allowed Tyler Craig to go through one on one with the fullback, before beating him. Two minutes later the lead was extended to 14 points when James Haynes helped Jack Aldous grab a try.
60 minutes and Ed Smith was the next player to go through the Gateshead defensive line. He was the first to meet a Hardcastle kick that was weighted to perfection and he dived in ahead of the Thunder players to touch down.
The scoring was rounded off a minute before the end when Joe Pickets latched on to another great kick. The victory saw York stay second in the table after Hunslet Hawks beat Hemel Stags 26-6, whilst Oldham Roughyeds sit in third place – level on points with York – after their 58-2 win at home to the South Wales Scorpions.
We headed into the bar upstairs after the match, where a lot of the fans and players meet after each home match. The bar area was very nice, and had some beautiful sofas which would look fantastic in any front living room. The smell of leather was however soon overwhelmed by the Gateshead players who chose to stand near us. They obviously hadn’t had a shower after the match and as a result, stunk. I of course wouldn’t say it to their faces as I doubt I’d have lived to tell the tale, but as a small suggestion, Gateshead players, please shower after your next match. Thanks.
The highlight of the post match entertainment was when the upcoming “Hawaain beach party night” was advertised. You didn’t have to come in Hawaain dress, but there are prizes for people who make the most effort. I did wonder whether the sandpit which had been used for the triple jump earlier in the day would be the setting for such an event. I once dressed up as a hula hula girl when on a trip in Naples, so I am sure that my dress would fit in just fine. Count me in.
Leaving the ground, I took some more photographs before it’s imminent demolition. I quite liked the place. It had it’s charm, and it served it’s purpose, and more. At 25 years old however, it was showing it’s age when it really shouldn’t be. The plans for the brand new York City and York City Knights stadium do look fantastic, and should certainly bring some new life to a rugby club which has seen a dip in attendances over recent years.
If I am at University in York come September, I will be just a five minute walk from Bootham Crescent, so will definitely be down there watching some rugby league. Who knows, they may even be in the same league as my local side Leigh Centurions, meaning I could have an away day just minutes from my own bed?
Anyway, it was back to the world cup and further drinking in the streets of York. Where better place to finish this piece than at the Kings Arms on the banks of the River Ouse, where I enjoyed a few pints of Tadcaster whilst soaking in the sunshine.
A big thanks to Ben Hall for making the day enjoyable!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 83 miles
- ADMISSION: Free ticket
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2