When I was 15, I attended my first Atherton Collieries away match. A feisty 1-1 draw at AFC Darwen. It’s remembered by the few who traveled for our contentious last minute equaliser and for it being Grand National day. After tempers had simmered, we all gathered in the clubhouse at the Anchor Ground and we watched Neptune Collonges claim victory. Brad Cooke, who is now manager of Colls, was sent for an early bath moments into the second half. He claims to this day it was so he could be nice and relaxed for the big race.
Yes, while trips to Darwen and Chadderton were exciting and I enjoyed them for the first two to three seasons, it soon started to become a bit repetitive. Visiting the same pubs, eating the same food and watching the same players season in, season out. It got to the point I was on first name terms with a lot of opposition players.
Our annual highlight was always the long journey up to Holker Old Boys, who play at the top of a hill in Barrow. Oh how we laughed when the coach didn’t turn up one Saturday and we all had to pile into cars. Players driving fans; fans driving players. Five bodies squeezed into a three door car wasn’t the ideal pre-match routine in order to pick up maximum points.
We appointed a new manager, Michael Clegg, in time for the 2014/15 season and what followed were three league titles in five seasons. With each jump up the pyramid the catchment area from which our opponents were drawn from grew wider and wider.
Trips to Chasetown, Market Drayton Town and Morpeth Town were all logistically challenging journeys to undertake on a Tuesday night. We couldn’t complain though. These were real adventures. We were being spoilt. We were now travelling to towns that actually had national chains on their high streets; some even had shopping centres and retail parks. This was big boys football.
Whitby Town had been part of the fixtures and fittings of the NPL top division since 1998 while Atherton Collieries were a small, ambitious club who never in a million years would have thought they’d be enjoying days out such as this one. Along with fixtures such as Scarborough and South Shields away, this was the one I was looking forward to the most.
As luck would have it the rugby fixtures had fallen perfectly for this jam packed weekend with Leigh Centurions playing at Dewsbury on the Friday night. It meant I could leave work in Salford, catch the rugby and then stay in York for the night before ploughing on across to the coast.
It was an early start as I made my way to York train station. Paul had kindly agreed to make a quick escape from his Park Run, allowing him to pick me up from Thirsk at around 10:30. We passed through his old stomping ground of Stokesley and Great Ayton (where Whitby’s adopted son Captain James Cook lived) before dipping into Lythe and Sandsend where we enjoyed stunning views of the coastline and Whitby in front of us.
There’s more to Whitby than meets the eye – with its connections to Captain Cook and Dracula, its quirky narrow streets and bustling harbour overlooked by the striking Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey, Whitby is a fascinating town, unlike any other.
The Colls supporters had only just left the M46 region when we arrived, which meant we had plenty of time to explore. When I say explore, what I mean to say is that Paul had ample opportunity to give me a guided tour which he had personalised based on my interests. It included all the main sights, a pit stop at a brewery and a pub and ended up with some proper fish and chips.
Starting off in the West Cliff area of the town we walked past the large statue of Captain Cook and through the Whalebone Arch which commemorates the towns whaling heritage. I wondered how long it would be before a group of students who wanted to make a name for themselves would start an online petition to have both of them torn down, citing ethical reasons. Sigh.
On the railings in front of the beach was an advert for the upcoming ‘Whitby Steampunk Weekend’ which was the following weekend. What a shame. It seemed exactly the kind of thing that a group of football fans would like to gatecrash. It boasted musical interludes, an alternative retail emporium and tea duelling. Personally, I had never heard of tea duelling before; it didn’t sound as fun as cock fighting or bear baiting.
Tea dueling is the art of gracefully dunking a tea biscuit into a “Cup of Brown Joy”, soaking it for five seconds, and then lifting it and cleanly “nomming” on it – all without dripping tea, losing biscuit fragments into the tea or on the table, and doing so after your fellow duelist.
While I was tempted to come back the following weekend for a duel, I was already engaged with a mouthwatering trip to Birmingham to watch Coventry City v Bolton Wanderers.
The gale force winds in West Cliff didn’t bode well for the afternoon of football that was due to follow. We continued our stroll down into the harbour area, walking down Pier Road where locals and tourists were pottering about among the various fish and chip shops and amusement arcades.
I was amazed at how pleasant Whitby became when venturing through the narrow cobbled streets and alleyways on the other side of the harbour. It’s a place I hadn’t visited since I was very young. I only possess one vague recollection from my trip back then, that vague in fact, I didn’t realise it was actually from Whitby until I discussed it with my mum recently.
From what I remember, I walked up an awful lot of steps and became both fascinated and scared by archaeologists who were excavating skeletons on the left hand side. Of course, as a child of about four years of age I didn’t quite know what to make of seeing skeletons buried in the ground in real life.
Looking back now, it would make sense that I was walking up the 199 steps to the Abbey and they were carrying out some work on the graveyard that is found at the top. Little did I know I was following in the steps of Dracula who raced up the famous steps heading to the Abbey and then hid in a grave.
As we made our way up, Paul told me to count how many steps there were as apparently it’s the thing to do. He explained it used to be a lot more exciting when he was younger and the steps didn’t have roman numerals drawn on them to give away the answer. Despite the fact I have had to teach roman numerals in Year 4 mathematics, I was still none the wiser.
At the top of the steps is Whitby Abbey. Built in 657AD on the edge of the headland, it was founded by Anglo-Saxon king Oswiu. If he had been born these days, he would have been called Dexter and would have had a degree in human resources from Northumbria University. We weren’t forking out to go inside the English Heritage property, so opted to head around the back and peer over the wall which allowed me the chance to snap a postcard perfect photo for Instagram.
Opposite was a converted barn which was home to Whitby Brewery. There didn’t seem to be much sign of life as we ventured across the road but we gave it a go anyway, what was the worst that could happen? Their advertising line was, “Brewed in the shadow of the Abbey, perched on Whitby’s iconic cliff top. this is no ordinary brewery, this is Whitby Brewery.”
A small bar manned by one of the brewers and bottle shop greeted us as we entered through the door. Having entered through the Whalebone Arch earlier in the morning, I opted for a pint of Whitby Whaler which was a fruity bitter. Seating was available in the brewing hall itself. We perched on used beer barrels that had a thin cushion on top. Our drinks were balanced precariously on a wooden crate on which somebody had drawn fantastic versions of the Derby County and Brentford crests.
With lots still to see and do it was time to continue our loop and descend back into the town centre. On the gentle walk down we came across the site of a landslide which resulted in five terraced houses being demolished back in 2012. Overnight their gardens slipped down the hill towards the harbour. It wasn’t quite as precarious as Birling Gap down near Eastbourne, where each summer I used to check to see which houses had disappeared over the cliffs since last year.
Paul and I were now on the hunt to find Oz and Rob who were waiting for us at the Wetherspoons in the harbour area. The Angel Hotel is a huge offering from the nation’s favourite pub chain. Keeping it local, I had a pint of Saltwick Nab which had made the same journey that we had just made down from the brewery.
A few doors away, opposite the train station, was Trenchers fish and chip shop where we decided to grab our lunch. I am not being dramatic when I say it is the nicest fish and chips I have had the pleasure of eating. It was a massive portion too, which kept me accompanied on the walk all the way back to the Turnbull Ground, home to Whitby Town.
Upon arriving at the ground I headed to the clubhouse which is found underneath the main stand. It received a complete renovation a couple of years back and as a result is now a cracking place to have a pre-match drink. So much so, I missed the first few minutes of the match as I supped on a pint of Turnbull’s Tipple. Kick off is over-rated.
The Turnbull really is a fantastic little ground. The main stand is a thing of beauty; such an imposing structure for this level of football. Floodlights stand tall, showing off their figure. These are proper floodlights. Sturdy and built to last. A wise engineering decision as the wind was that strong that the ball hung in the air for an eternity after every goal kick and numerous seagulls were seen abandoning their attempts to fly.
When you can’t kick the ball high due to the wind, you can always revert back to passing it along the floor. This also wasn’t happening as Whitby’s pitch had more bobbles in it than Claire’s Accessories. I’m never one to complain about pitches, as long as the match is on that’s the main thing but this really was atrocious and it meant that football – as we knew it – was never, ever going to happen on this blustery afternoon.
Colls were up against it. Whitby were used to these conditions, just as Markse were when we travelled there a couple of years earlier. They also had the advantage of having a local referee and linesmen, who were on first name terms with the Whitby squad and management team. I gave up all hope of getting anything from the match. I found myself wondering if the seagulls would have to walk to their nests or catch the bus.
Young defender, Jordan Boon, was making his debut for Colls. He had joined on loan from Bolton Wanderers earlier in the week. What a bruising introduction to non-league football it was for the lad. The defender had been part of the infamous Wanderers side that started the 2019/20 season when the Whites had no first team players as they were on strike. Part of me wanted to thank him for jumping in when needed, the other part of me wanted to ask him for a full refund for the 5-0 defeat I had to endure at Gillingham when he was at left back.
As it turned out, this was to be his one and only appearance for the Colls. Following the match, he questioned where his towel was after his post-match shower, not knowing he had to bring one for himself. He wasn’t being big time, he just wasn’t used to this level. A month later he signed for Swedish side IFK Ostersund.
Back on the pitch, Colls were incensed when an out of control Jassem Sukar challenge looked like it could have broken Kris Holt’s leg. As the midfielder received lengthy treatment the production of a get out of jail free yellow card elicited a cocktail of anger, incredulity and derision from the Lancastrian minority. The only person in the ground who thought it was anything other than a red card was the referee.
The hosts played with the wind behind them and took advantage when Adam Gell arrowed a neat shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Their lead was doubled Dale Hobson sent Paddy Wharton the wrong way from the penalty spot. Was the foul outside the box? Was he in an offside position? We didn’t care by now, it wasn’t going to make a difference.
We retired to the bar for another pint of Turnbull’s Tipple. All were in agreement, it was imperative that Colls started the second half the brighter team. They needed to pull a goal back. By the time I returned we were 3-0 down. Callum Patton punishing woeful defending.
On the plus side, us Colls fans did have at least one goal to celebrate when our other debutant Dylan Glass smashed the ball home from a corner on 83 minutes. By the end, we were just happy to hear the sound of the final whistle and get back into some form of shelter.
We didn’t stick around. It was time for me to head back over to York so I could catch a gig. It was being held at The Crescent which is a bit of a hidden music venue in the city. Over the past few years, the main venues, Duchess and Fibbers have both disappeared, making The Crescent now the most logical place to hold a gig. It’s a shame as one of my University highlights was going to watch Buzzcocks at Fibbers on Toft Green before Pete Shelley sadly passed away.
In town tonight were Afro-Fusion outfit K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade who offered their “interpretation of genuine African music fused with energy and laced with funk reggae jazz and music from all corners of the world.” The lead singer is Jamaican while the rapper is Ghanaian and they are backed up by a load of white lads from Sheffield who play an arrangement of brass instruments. I had seen them perform at Kendal Calling in the summer and had been totally mesmerised by the energy they gave out on stage.
It was the perfect way to end what had been a proper day out. Whitby Town are a decent club and are one I’ve always had time for mainly due to being mates with Paul Connolly. He had done a lot of media work at the club over the years before he took the decision to move out to Gibraltar for work earlier this season. He owes me a pint of Turnbull’s Tipple or a Chardybomb next time I see him at a Courteeners gig.