It was Tuesday 14th January 2014. Parts of the country had been deluged by the worst levels of rainfall since records began in 1910. Skipping through the puddles, I had travelled up to York having wrangled a day off college to attend yet another University interview in a city which I adored. I hadn’t looked around the campus of York St John and hadn’t even viewed any accommodation… all I knew was that I wanted to live in a beautiful city renowned for it’s plethora of pubs.
Joe, who was living in York at the time, dropped me off at the gates of York St John and I rather timidly stepped foot into the holding area with the other candidates. There were loads of us and it quickly became like a scene from The Apprentice but fortunately I was interviewed by a wet lettuce from a local Primary School and not Claude Littner. I spoke about how my vision of a classroom was to have glitter everywhere, a rainbow on constant show over the playground and unicorns galloping through the school hall as a reward. Obviously, it went well and a few weeks later I was offered a conditional place on the Primary Education course and I duly snapped their hands off.
With the pressure of the interview over, Joe and I had further plans. His beloved Curzon Ashton were playing the now defunct Wakefield FC at Belle Vue, the home of the town’s rugby team. Aquaplaning down the M1 we arrived in once piece and saw Curzon beat Wakefield 3-2 in front of a crowd of around 50; months later the club was extinct.
Three and a half years later I have finished my degree and had just over a week left living in York. I honestly hadn’t planned to finish my time up in Yorkshire by visiting Wakefield again but it felt like it was a fitting way to wrap everything up.
I had seen Wakefield play at Leigh Centurions the previous month and listened with interest to an interview with Trinity chairman Michael Carter. There were 20 of us from Atherton Collieries invited as guests of honour for the afternoon after we had won the NWCFL Premier Division. Carter congratulated us and much to our surprise began to talk about when he had “kicked up the slope” at Alder House during his playing days in non-league football.
He then obviously proceeded to talk about the match itself and more interestingly the future of Wakefield’s Belle Vue home. Opened in 1895, the ground is now the second oldest in SuperLeague, only five years younger than Headingley in Leeds. While the ground is undoubtedly one of the best venues in the sport, it is ageing and totally unfit for a club who need to rely on a more consistent income stream if they are to be competitive in the top flight.
By the end of the interview it sounded nailed on that Wakefield Trinity would be moving out of Belle Vue in time for the 2018 campaign due to their inability to redevelop the ground. It has been rumoured that they will look to temporarily groundshare with Dewsbury but with work on a new ground looking like it won’t start for quite some time, if indeed it ever does, it looks like Trinity could be in for a number of years of being on the road.
With this local derby against Leeds Rhinos being a Saturday evening kick off it allowed me a full day to explore and relax around a city that I knew little about. Other than my fleeting visit for the football three years earlier, I had never stepped foot in the place. Neither had my companion for the day, Rob, who was with me when we watched an entertaining scrap between Batley and Leigh a year or so earlier. Wakefield was, arguably, slightly more cultured than Batley.
I caught the train from York at 13:40 and had arrived in Wakefield around 40 minutes later. Some of my fellow passengers looked a bit weary and it wasn’t hard to see why as the service had left Aberdeen at 08:20 and was due to reach Penzance at 21:40; of course, this is still quicker than it is getting from Manchester to Wigan on a Friday afternoon.
Rob beat me into Wakefield having travelled from Sheffield and I found him perusing the collection of tourism leaflets that were available in the foyer at Westgate interchange. We had a good few hours to waste so we agreed, sensibly, that it would be useful to our development as human beings to at least try and do something cultural as opposed to drinking all day, again. Unfortunately the National Coal Mining Museum was just a bit too far away, although I argued that I would find it more enriching and fulfilling if I could one day drag my mum there. Other than that there wasn’t much going on in Wakey other than The Hepworth.
The Hepworth is a large art gallery which is named after Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor who was born in the town in 1903. It opened in 2011 at a cost of £35 million and it proved popular, attracting half a million visitors in its first six months. The locals however, apparently do not like the building’s ‘brutalist design’ and Wikipedia says that the appearance of the project ‘is not universally popular with local people’. I find this somewhat bizarre as Wakefield, with the greatest of respect is hardly a shining example of architecture as signified by the rows of dereliction and 1940’s red brick monotone that we traipsed passed on our lengthy walk to the gallery.
While the city centre is well sign posted it gave no indication whatsoever that it would take around half an hour to reach The Hepworth from our starting point. Naturally, we tried to weigh up our opinion on the place as we walked down the main street past The Cathedral. It struck us just how many European nationals were lounging around on benches in large groups simply drinking. One crowd had clearly assimilated into the local culture as they shared a large keg of Old Speckled Hen, opting to drink it out of fine bone china on saucers. It was no surprise looking online that Wakefield voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union in last years referendum. Only Hull and Stoke voted more in favour of leaving. We rarely heard a local accent during our first hour or so in the town and this only began to change when we went to Wetherspoons.
Approaching The Hepworth we were sceptical about what we were going to see. I had dragged Rob to The Tate in London en route to AFC Wimbledon v Bradford City back in October and we knew that this was obviously not going to live up to those heights. Our main concern was that we would be the only art-goers in Wakefield on this overcast afternoon. This usually leads to a ‘helper’ talking you through what the art symbolises which is an aspect of the culture we really can not be bothered entertaining.
I could see for myself what the art really was. Take for example, the wooden crocodile – no larger than an average sized carrot – that was in situ in a glass cabinet with a laughing gas cannister balanced on its torso. What was that? It was a wooden crocodile with a laughing gas cannister balanced on its torso. Nothing more, nothing less. The exhibition with lots of scarves draped from the ceiling was, as you’d expect, a room full of scarves draped from the ceiling.
You could pay to be a patron at The Hepworth. With such an endorsement you could then reap the benefits of being able to purchase some of the exhibits at a lower price. Rob dug deep into the pockets of his well loved navy blue jeans but couldn’t quite raise the figure needed to take home our now beloved alligator with laughing gas cannister balanced on torso.
Having walked around the gallery for around an hour, we departed, discussing what we had just seen as we trudged back over the bridge towards the city centre. Not many positive words were exchanged. Much to our bemusement, just weeks after our visit the attraction scooped a lucrative award; The Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017 which is described as “the world’s largest and most prestigious prize for museums, rewarding the museum that has shown exceptional imagination, innovation and creativity in all areas of the business.”
Twenty minutes after leaving we were in the safe sanctuary of the Wetherspoons. A bit of research online beforehand and I knew that this would probably be a bit of a dive; but that never swerves my determination to have a drink. One man of TripAdvisor labelled this pub “One of the worst Wetherspoons” before then declaring that he walked in and straight back out again, so just how qualified is he to make such a claim I wondered? We eventually found a table and we spent a while in here eating and having a pint before heading next door to the wonderfully named, Wakey Tavern.
I put a photo of the pub on Twitter and a local swiftly informed me that far right nationalist marches usually depart from the pub, or at least the surrounding area, so where better to watch the England v Scotland match? The jukebox was in full swing as the Three Lions stormed to a 2-2 draw at Hampden Park. Other pubs such as Hogarths were ram packed full of drunken football fans, with many spilling out into the street at half time.
The match had restarted by the time we reached The Hop, found back up towards the town centre. “What’s the score?” I decided to ask a bloke who was walking around hitting people on the head with the foam wrapping you find on scaffolding. “It’s a Geordie with it’s brains kicked in!” he replied almost immediately. “No, what’s the score? Not a Scot” I tried to explain as he walked out in front a taxi, yellow foam in hand.
The Hop meanwhile is a pub chain I am a massive fan of. Operated by Ossett Brewery, they have a small collection of them around Yorkshire. I once spent 8 hours drinking in the one in York, having a momentary break to nip back to my flat for a coffee to keep me going. This version was again brilliant and it seemed to have a host of various different rooms including its own kebab shop. Rob commented on how the pay box that leads into the beer garden, obviously used on club nights, was actually better than the turnstile at Abbey Hey and how the pub could probably gain ground grading for Step 6. At the top of the stairs was a large mural painting depicting Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis.
Moving on the from The Hop, I persuaded my companion that I had seen a dodgy looking back street boozer earlier in the day when we had walked to The Hepworth. Fernandes Brewery Tap is found on Avison Yard, just off Kirkgate. It advertises itself as a Continental Beer Hall on the outside but also has an Ossett Brewery logo emblazoned on its second floor. Through a dingy doorway we entered and walked up a small flight of steps. We turned right and entered a large bar area where one man sat drinking a pint with his dog. It was all a bit odd and quiet but I liked the mysterious nature of it and my feelings were only strengthened when I asked for a pint and the lad behind the bar informed me he would have to nip upstairs to the other bar.
I further enquired whether it would be easier for me to go up there and order, purely because I was now so intrigued and wanted to see what else this labyrinth had to offer. So, we went back out of the door and carried on up the next flight of stairs; the sound of people became louder as we approached and we found ourselves in an even larger bar. There were Wakefield and Leeds fans everywhere, with standing room only. It felt like we had entered some form of an illegal meeting in the roof of a random pub and it was fantastic. Looking on the internet, the place only seems to attract rave reviews and rightly so. One such review was a bit below par however, with one punter stating: “I like this pub but last night there was 3 southern softies in there… one thing I don’t like is southern softies! Please can we have doorman to stop this happening again!”
We wanted to stay in the Brewery Tap for longer but kick off was fast approaching and we set off on the sizeable walk up to the Belle Vue area of the city where the ground is found. Walking down Doncaster Road, you are given a clue that you are near the ground when confronted with a large crowd of rugby fans drinking at the Conservative Club which is next door. It did surprise me to see so many people happy to fund a Conservative club in an area that would have been devastated by austerity not just in recent times but in the past, with pit closures. Perhaps these generations simply couldn’t care less as long as they can down a pint of toxic tasting chemicals in a plastic cup?
Welbeck Street forks off from Doncaster Road and at the end of this small cul-de-sac are the turnstiles which lead into the main terrace area of the ground. Once you have squeezed through the turnstile itself, a small dog leg to the right and up a flight of yellow painted steps guides you into the ground at the bottom corner. The view immediately takes your breath away, with a sea of colour and fans of all ages clambering up and down staircases, barriers and alleyways to gain the best vantage point ahead of the much anticipated Yorkshire derby.
There was anticipation and expectation about this derby in front a packed crowd at Belle Vue, with both sides locked on 22 points coming into the game.
Leeds in the end edged out their hosts in a thrilling encounter to climb up to third place in Super League and leave Trinity fifth. Wakefield led at half-time, Mason Caton-Brown and Kyle Wood tries put them 10 points up before Stevie Ward and Tom Briscoe replied to go two behind.
Briscoe’s second and Joel Moon’s score put Leeds in front but Liam Sutcliffe’s missed goals kept Trinity in it. Ben Jones-Bishop’s late score set up a nail-biting finale, but Rhinos held on.
During the match we managed to do a full lap and found a mix of different areas. There was the main terrace behind the posts that housed the vocal home support and on the other side of the ground there’s the infamous hospitality stand. As you can see from the photographs, it looks like an HMRC building from the 1950’s but I’m sure the view offered the plethora of balconies is superb. Rumour has it you can even see Blackpool Tower from the very top floor.
The rest of the ground, if you’re not got your wits about you, can easily be a moment in life where you nearly kill a child. It seems most parents in Wakefield come down to the match and let their offspring run riot around various parts of the ground. They tend to run along the straight walls a bit like a rat would do. It is very hard multi-tasking, trying to find a spot to watch the match from while making sure a young Wildcat doesn’t headbutt you at full speed in the groin.
Fortunately, both Rob and I lived to tell the tale and we made the journey back into the city centre. Rain started to descend upon us as we traipsed back past The Hepworth, well closed by now. Wetherspoons had changed it’s clientele; now full of women on a collection of hen does that had merged into one. Hogarths was packed and the nightclubs were preparing for what looked set to be a lairy night in the depths of Wakey. As for us two, we headed back to the train station and made our respective ways back to York and Sheffield.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 32 miles
- ADMISSION: £15 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3