I am fortunate enough to have never wasted a day heading to a match only for it to be postponed at short notice. Okay, I’ve been to a couple of matches at Atherton Collieries where we’ve set everything up only for the referee to trot on and call the game off due to a partially frozen square metre of grass, but on the whole, I’ve always been very lucky. Even when matches have been called off, we’ve always managed to dash to another ground in an attempt to salvage the day. Call me mad, or determined, I don’t mind.
This Saturday was another one of those close shaves, and it was probably the closest one yet. The experience put me under more stress than I encountered during my GCSE’s and A-Levels combined. Originally, I was due to revisit Staveley Miners Welfare with Tadcaster Albion. However, a snapchat I received from Jay at 10:00 in the morning notified me the match was off due to a waterlogged pitch. I was gutted, but at the same time I realised the whole of northern England was now my oyster.
As I lay in bed with a cup of tea (that still tastes crap with Yorkshire’s hard water) I started punching in random destinations on my phone. I even contemplated whether I could make it back to Atherton in time to join up with our away trip to 1874 Northwich; a meeting between the two form sides in the NWCFL Premier Division. I phoned my Dad to seek some inspiration and he was the one that informed me Matt was off to Frickley Athletic.
I knew Frickley was in Yorkshire somewhere, so surely it wouldn’t be too hard to reach. Soon, I was rushing around my house gathering my belongings before heading down to York railway station to catch my train. It was only when I was on the Cross Country service to Plymouth with a hen do did I realise that my day had already become spontaneous.
Hopping off the train at Leeds, wondering what the day would hold for me I wandered up the platform where I met up with Matt and Craig. Apparently they thought I was on something as I appeared to be very happy and energetic when I greeted them. An electric Northern Rail train (they do exist) pulled in and we were soon on our way towards Doncaster. When we reached South Elmsall our little friend Rob was already on the platform waiting for us.
South Elmsall is only a small town, found to the east of Hemsworth in the district of Wakefield. We made our way up the road towards the ground and stopped in the Pretoria Sports Club, which was plastered with signs saying “Members only”. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and the locals were more than happy to allow us into the club. It was a setting typical of many social clubs in the north, but this was special as it had Taddy Lager.
We were close to finishing our first pint when I decided to have a flick through Twitter to see which matches were on and off. The weather had been awful, but the pitch was dry. Not for one moment did I expect to see that our match at Frickley was postponed. At first, nobody believed me, and why should they? It wasn’t raining and the Nantwich coach had just driven past the window towards the ground. Unfortunately, despite both teams wanting to play, the referee claimed the strong winds were a danger to life.
We were in the middle of nowhere, in a working mens club surrounded by people who spoke nonsense. With just under an hour to find a replacement match, it looked bleak. Every possible side we looked at were either away from home or postponed. Matt was for giving up when out of the blue our favourite Doncaster based groundhopper, Tony tweeted us telling us to catch the next train to Doncaster getting off at the next stop. From there, it would be a quick walk to the ground and we would miss the first few minutes. Who were we to argue the wisdom of a local groundhopper? Certainly not us, as we downed our drinks and prepared to dash to somewhere we had never even heard of: The Welfare Ground in Woodlands which is home to Brodsworth Welfare FC.
Brodsworth itself is a village in the suburbs to the north west of Doncaster which has a population of around 400. Yes, just 400. I had more people around at my student house for pre drinks the other week. The club itself plays next door to the Adwick Leisure Centre in Woodlands which is around three miles to the east of Brodsworth. Essentially, as we sat discussing our options whilst eating a packet of out of date crisps (that were on special offer) in the Pretoria, we decided it would be best to call a taxi.
I put myself in charge of proceedings and marched to the bar to ask for some taxi numbers. Some companies didn’t answer, while another one told me they didn’t have anything available all day. In the end, I had success with the seventh company I rang who initially said “Where is South Elmsall?”, to which I responded, “I don’t know, I’m not from around here, are you not?”, “No. I am from Wakefield love!” came the irate shout from the other end. That’s just down the road isn’t it? I don’t have a clue. All of Yorkshire is the same to me.
Anyway, with 15 minutes until kick off we were still sat in the Pretoria when our taxi arrived. I rounded up the troops, we said our goodbyes and we piled in. “Postcode please?” barked our foreign driver. “I don’t know, you’re the one who is meant to know where we’re going!” I really was now wondering why on earth we were bothering. We didn’t have a clue where we were, where we were going, who we were watching or if the match was even on.
I managed to find the postcode and we were soon on our way, with around seven minutes until kick off. “I shall get you there on time my friends! Can I speed? Are you happy with me speeding?”. Before we even had time to respond we were zooming around country lanes, overtaking another car at 80mph on the wrong side of the road. “Smile for the speed camera boys!”
We started saying our goodbyes to each other as we were convinced we were going to die on the roads of Doncaster. By this stage, I had managed to convince the driver that I was from Rotherham and began to have an in-depth discussion with him about the suburb of Parkgate. Taking a left turn like Lewis Hamilton, we ended up on Welfare Road, our final destination. Our mate – who was nearly selected to be part of the extensive new Top Gear cast – was driving too fast so initially missed the ground, but after a two point turn on somebodies drive we were there in one piece.
It was a very peculiar entrance to the Welfare Ground, with the football pitch found towards the back of a vast development. We weren’t sure whether there would be a turnstile in operation due to the level of the football; I can’t recall having ever paid to watch a match at Step 7. It transpired there was and it cost me just £1 to get in as a student along with £1 for a programme. Honestly, I felt like I had robbed them and wanted to give them some more.
The match had just kicked off as we entered the ground. We arrived knowing absolutely nothing about the club, so were surprised with the quality of facilities. There were signs up that suggested they had recently received funding from the Olympic legacy fund, meaning the changing rooms were modern, there was a fantastic clubhouse area, two stands and even floodlights.
Having now done some research, all of this is to be expected. Despite now playing in the Central Midlands League North (the 11th level of English football), Welfare were playing in the Northern Counties East League up until 2011 when they resigned. Of course, playing at that level means the ground would need floodlights and stands etc. Added to this, FC United of Manchester played an FA Vase tie here in 2006 when over 1,200 spectators flocked to the Welfare Ground.
The club was founded in 1912 as Brodsworth Main Colliery and they initially entered the Sheffield Association League. In 1963, the club was renamed Brodsworth Miners Welfare before the ‘Miners’ was dropped in 2006, which is a bit of a shame as Brodsworth Miners Welfare fits into quite a few songs. Welfare joined the NCEL in 1988, and gained promotion into the Premier Division in 1999. The club peaked at this level and stepped down in 2011.
I don’t know whether there are any plans for a club playing at this venue to re-apply for membership to the NCEL at some stage, but I would assume it is on the agenda as the ground has obviously undergone some work in the last couple of seasons. Many Evo-Stik sides would be envious of the clubhouse and changing facilities. There’s a great seated stand which straddles the halfway line and this is accompanied by a sizeable shed behind the far goal.
The fierce wind, which had postponed the match at Frickley had covered the whole of the Welfare Ground in autumnal leaves, and the roof, in all fairness, did sound like it could lift off at any stage. Despite this, the match went ahead and it was quite a decent one.
Brodsworth moved up to eighth with these 4-3 victory, while Retford remained in fourth place, nine points behind league leaders Glapwell. Like Brodsworth, I had never heard of Retford FC before this match. This is because Retford were only formed over the summer, and was born out of Retford United development squads. They claim there is no official connection between the two clubs, but there is, and players will make the step up into the United side if they are deemed to be good enough.
According to the programme notes, Retford won the reverse fixture comfortably earlier in the season and made ‘good use of the wind in the first half’. Today, it was the other way around.
I missed the first goal of the match as I was in the clubhouse towards the end of a pretty uneventful first half. We did wonder whether we would be witnessing a stalemate, but there were sighs of relief when we saw Brodsworth take the lead through Josh Bowkett.
At half time, I indulged myself by buying a pie, chips and gravy along with a cup of tea in a mug. The whole thing cost just £3 and it was the nicest pie I have ever had a football match. Served on a plate with a proper knife and fork, it felt a bit like Thursday afternoons at school when we would be able to have pie. That’s right, much like war time rationing we would be restricted to one pie a week. I always maintained this was a harsh decision from school; especially as we came under the Wigan authorities. Even more controversially, lobby was removed from the menu despite the fact we were on the outskirts of Leigh.
Enough of my diet when I was at school and back to events in South Yorkshire.
With a 1-0 lead to defend, and with the wind behind their backs, Brodsworth looked to be favourites to win this match. Brad Heaps and Bradley Maddison then sent the hosts into a 3-0 lead. The third goal being one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. On the edge of the area, Maddison volleyed the ball towards goal. It looked to be flying over the bar, but a huge gust of wind slowed the shot down and it dropped over the goalkeeper into the net. The people of South Elmsall were missing out.
The Retford manager was a bit of a psychopath on the touchline and his encouragement soon helped his team pull a goal back through Luke Tong. The visitors then scored again to set up an enthralling last twenty minutes; Ben Marro finding the net on this occasion.
Tackles were flying in, the wind was strong and the pitch was heavy. This was football for the purist. That was until a Brodsworth player dived and rolled around on the floor screaming to win a free kick. Possibly the most embarrassing dive I think I’ve ever seen, and the player knew he had cocked up. With the angry shouts of the Retford manager falling in his direction, the Brodsworth player dusted himself off, stood up and smiled towards the Retford bench blowing them a kiss in the process.
Any hopes of a Retford comeback were quashed ten minutes from time when the score was made 4-2. There was still time for one further goal though, as the visitors scored late on to make it 4-3.
As the final whistle sounded, news filtered through on Twitter that Atherton Collieries had just gone 3-1 up at 1874 Northwich in the league. I was absolutely ecstatic as we had failed in all attempts to beat the Winsford based side since they were formed a few years ago. The Brodsworth committee probably wondered what I had taken as I skipped out of the ground shouting Jake Kenny’s name, as it was him who scored the goal.
The journey back to York was pretty simple for me, which was fortunate as the weather had taken it out of me and I couldn’t wait to climb into bed. We made the relatively short walk over to Adwick train station; with ease. This was despite a local at the football ground telling us that it was a very long walk and it would take us well over half an hour. People really are just lazy (and thick) these days.
Matt, Craig and I did an acapella version of New Order – Blue Monday to pass some time on the journey back to Leeds, while Rob headed the other way back to Sheffield. From there, it was a simple 20 minutes ride north before I got home and reflected upon my day in areas of the north that I had never heard of before our adventure.
In the end, this match was a good fall back, although Matt seemed to enjoy himself more than me. Even three months on he keeps talking about his magical time at Brodsworth. The place didn’t particularly excite me, but I was just happy to see some football. The club felt dead, but there was obviously a lot of work and effort going on behind the scenes and this had to be respected. Sponsors were still visible at the club, as was a small crowd which is encouraging. The facilities were decent and arguably deserving to be back in the NCEL.
Unfortunately, a couple of months after our visit the club was evicted from their ground. Seemingly, it looked to be the end of the club. However, in early March it was announced that Brodsworth would be moving to the Miners Welfare Ground in nearby Bentley where Bentley Colliery had played up until December when they themselves resigned from the Central Midlands League. To coincide with this move, Brodsworth will also be changing their name, to AFC Bentley, suggesting the two clubs are merging. I have also seen rumours on social media that the junior section of Brodsworth Welfare will create a senior side next season, but it is all very confusing and with not much coverage, so I apologise if I am incorrect.
In essence, the future of the club is up in the air, much like our day out. It’s not as windy though.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 38 miles from York
- ADMISSION: £1 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1