Our glorious chancellor George Osborne was recently mocked and grilled having failed to meet targets that he had set himself a good few years back. There is nothing wrong with setting targets. As a trainee teacher, my life currently revolves around targets. However, targets can become problematic when the setter is flamboyant, confident and ultimately setting themselves up for a fall.
In football, every club has ambitions and targets. Some may aim for promotion while others will consider survival at any cost a success. Some are even just happy to be involved; these are the real heroes. Then, once in a while, a club bursts on to the scene who present outlandish statements, promising to jump up a number of divisions within a similar number of seasons. Fleetwood Town are arguably the most successful example of this.
Just last week AFC Fylde announced that they will be full time next season and they will soon be moving into their third ground within a decade, as they aim to reach the Football League by 2022. In my opinion, they will meet this target well before then. They will of course be hoping they don’t follow the same fate as Leigh Genesis who went full time when they were competing in the Northern Premier League only for it all to crumble down as quickly as their old Hilton Park home. For those interested, Leigh currently compete in the South Lancashire Counties Football League on a Sunday morning at a local high school against teams such as Wigan Cosmos.
Mention Hull United to football fans in years to come and many won’t have heard of them… and those that have will have most likely forgotten about them. Why? They lasted just one season in the Northern Counties East League before being booted out; despite bursting on to the scene less than 12 months earlier.
The football club was formed in 2005 as St Andrews Police Club and they were founding members of the Humber Premier League. They won promotion to the Premier Division in 2009 and then went on to change their name to Hull United FC in 2014 as they prepared to make the step up in to the NCEL. All pretty normal so far.
Following their rebrand they moved to Dene Park, the home of Hall Road Rangers who were already competing in the NCEL. Rangers had played there since 1959 and other than a brief dispute in late 2013 they had played there continuously. Once Hull United had moved in and made themselves feel at home they then purchased the ground and Hall Road, for one reason or another found themselves effectively kicked out and found themselves a brand new facility at Haworth Park.
Hull United then started the season at Dene Park before it all started to unravel after just three months. Their former chairman, Jamie Waltham, who had helped to form the club many years ago was told he was no longer wanted at the club. Former Hull City favourite Ian Ashbee was now in charge of the club having replaced Waltham a few months earlier.
Waltham – who had been told to leave the club – owned the Dene Park ground and discussions on a lease for the venue between the former owner (who had not even been allowed to remain at the club in a committee role) and the club rumbled on. Unsurprisingly, things turned a bit sour and neither party could agree on terms. By October it was announced that Hull United had been locked out of the ground.
Two weeks passed and United then announced that they had found themselves a new ground; Craven Park, home of rugby league side Hull Kingston Rovers. It now meant that a football club who had been playing in the Humber Premier League less than six months ago were now playing their home matches in a stadium that can hold up to 12,000 spectators.
I had a slight inkling that if their recent volatile and unstable history was anything to go by the club may not be at Craven Park for long. It wasn’t just me who felt that way as fellow groundhoppers Paul, Ben and Haydn were also keen to tick this place off while we definitely could. We arranged a month beforehand that we would get down to the ‘Ull Classico’ where they would take on Hall Road Rangers in a fixture that in my mind offered a lot. I imagined burly men from the streets of Hull hitting each other as they fought for their respective local teams. Add into that the ground situation and all the narrative around the fixture I expected blood, sweat and tears.
It was a rain soaked, cold Tuesday night in December when we set off for Hull. The stuff of nightmares. It wasn’t as nice as my visit to the city earlier in the season when I went to watch Hull City take on Blackburn Rovers. That was the day Ollie and I both had 16 pints and can’t really remember arriving home after a spot of karaoke in the students union. For this adventure I had my Christmas jumper on as it was the first day of the festive period and I had opened the first door on my advent calendar earlier in the day; the perfect breakfast for a student before early morning lectures. Did I feel like a wally with my rudolph jumper on? Nope. Not at all. I have worn far worse. Just a weeks ago I attended the Atherton Charity Cup Final between Prestwich Heys and Ladybridge in white jeans before then being roped into taking down the goalposts at the end… it didn’t end well!
By the time we reached Craven Park (0r the KC Lightstream Stadium to give it the full title) it was just a few minutes before kick off. If memory serves me correctly it cost me just £2 to get in and a further £1 for a programme which included a full page photograph of Ian Ashbee in a suit. The bloke is quite obviously a bit full of himself. Meanwhile, the next page had a topless photo of manager – and former boxer – Curtis Woodhouse with a host of inspirational quotes crammed in alongside his pre-match notes. All very odd and very un-non-league-ish.
There was an awful lot of narrative explaining how the club is constantly building both on and off the field. Sandwiched within this was a match report from their 2-1 home defeat to Penistone Church; not quite yet a club who will one day reach the Football League. Having said that, I am never one to knock ambition and the fact the club were sitting in fifth position halfway through their first campaign at this level was a decent achievement.
They arrived into the NCEL with a bang when they gave away a free car to a supporter during their first home match of the campaign and also promised anybody who turned up a ‘ticket for life’. Would it last? Of course it wouldn’t. Not only did league and FA rules put a spanner in the works but the incoming chairman declared that all tickets for life were no longer valid. In short, a Tesco bag for life lasted longer than Hull United’s much talked about tickets.
Crowds of around 400 had been attracted to Hull United in weeks leading up to the match so I had high hopes for this local derby. Admittedly, most of this hardy crowd on a miserable Tuesday night were groundhoppers, so there were notepads, plastic bags and flasks of coffee in abundance. A few had made the short journey from Hall Road and I decided I was cheering them on for the night as they – in my opinion – were a proper club. Plus, I had seen them on a number of occasions since moving up to York so I had a bit of a soft spot for them.
Only one side of the stadium was open, so we stood on the open terrace affectionately known as The Well for the majority of the first half.
The first real chance of the half came midway through the opening period. Jordan Harrison played in Brett Agnew – who was in acres of space – but he fired his shot straight at the goalkeeper and the subsequent double rebound came to nothing.
It was an end to end first half but neither side possessed the ascendancy. Hall Road perhaps had some of the better chances having won countless corners and squandering opportunities in front of goal. The hosts also had their fair share of the possession but Agnew’s early chance was easily the closest they came to a goal.
At half time I decided to have a walk around the ground, ending up on the grass behind the rugby posts that were up. It was only from this angle that you realise just what an impressive venue Craven Park is. The whole experience reminded me very much of when I headed over to Belle Vue in Wakefield to watch Curzon Ashton take on their now extinct football team. That was a rather spontaneous night following my University interview in York, so I didn’t have a camera or any of my groundhopping tools meaning my memories of Wakefield FC are a bit blurry.
Just like Wakefield, I spent the second half sat inside watching from a hospitality lounge as it was far too cold outside. It was a bit surreal watching football from a pitch black dark room but it was enjoyable at the same time; in hindsight I don’t think I should have been allowed in there as it was definitely off limits for football matches.
The second half had barely started when Matt Plummer found himself in on goal for the home side, however his effort went just wide to the right. United spurned many chances throughout the game. They were arguably on top but just couldn’t find that first goal. Agnew shot straight at Hall Road goalkeeper Jordan Douglas once again.
Hall Road almost took the lead on the counter with ten minutes remaining. Callum Harrison tried to lob United goalkeeper Phil Dobson – who came out to try and get it – but his shot trickled just wide.
Just as the game was heading for a draw, United found the winner. Nicky McNamara headed home a cross to send the hosts home with bragging rights in the ‘Ull Classico.
Fortunately, it was soon time to drive back to York. This match was purely a tick as none of us were convinced this experiment of a football club would last. We couldn’t have been more right. Within weeks of this visit they had to leave Craven Park and were left homeless, meaning all of their remaining league fixtures were played away from home. Following on from that, they were then deducted a further 12 points for fielding ineligible players, taking their tally of deducted points up to 15. This ultimately knocked them out of the play-off places and by the end of the campaign the league booted them out for failing to have a ground in place for the 2016/17 season.
Managerless, no ground and having been thrown out of the league it remains to be seen whether the club will carry on. Competing back in the Humberside Premier League alongside the likes of Driffield Evening Institute and AFC Rovers is – in my opinion – a bit of a come down from this time a year ago when they were dishing out free cars and season tickets for life. Hopefully, if Hull United to decide to continue with their first team they can regroup and build the facilities needed to compete at a higher level and we will see them again in the future.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 40 miles from York
- ADMISSION: £2 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2