When I moved to York in September 2014, I claimed that by the end of my studies at University I would managed to watch a match at all of the clubs who make up the York Football League. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, I came nowhere close. Not only were there a lot more teams than I expected but I found myself travelling around towns and places that were a bit more exciting.
Comprising of brilliantly named clubs such as Wigginton Grasshoppers, F1 Racing and Bubwith White Swan there are currently four divisions that make up the York Football League. If you’re in need of some context, as I’m sure a lot of you are, the York League Premier Division acts as the 11th tier of English football if you consider the Premier League to be the first.
Admittedly, the vast majority of these matches are staged at very basic grounds in small villages. Dotted around York and Malton, many are even in places I’ve never even heard of. One such club are Church Fenton who were hosting Huntington Rovers in this Premier Division match back in 2017.
Back then, the football club was known as Church Fenton White Horse FC. They took their name from the village pub, The White Horse. Having served the community since 1881, the pub was in a sorry state as I strolled past it. It had shut up shop.
It was sitting there, knowing soon it would be demolished or turned into something else. However, the local residents managed to club together to save their local having borrowed £355,000 from the Public Work Loans Board. Despite it being saved, the football club had by now removed the pub’s name from their title. They now proudly boast to be, ‘Just a former pub team from Fenton’.
Many people will have been through Church Fenton but few will probably know of it’s existence. It sits on the main train line between Leeds and York, with most services hurtling past as they head on up to Newcastle and Edinburgh. Blink and you’ll miss it. With a population of less than 1,500 it has been a quiet little place since the RAF base that is here closed in 2013.
It had been another torrid week of weather, so I decided to leave it as late as I could to decide which match I would be off to. At this level clubs don’t tend to be that responsive on social media as a lot of the accounts are kept up to date by a player who is roped into doing so. Obviously on a Saturday they have more important things to do than reply to messages.
“Game on sir,” was the message that popped up on my phone from the club as I sat in the York Tap wondering where the day would take me, if anywhere. A very efficient and personal service I felt. With a spring in my step, I jumped on the 13:18 Northern Rail service which is infamous for it’s ability to trundle all the way from York to Preston calling at every conurbation en route. It takes forever. Even Michael Portillo has swerved it. Thankfully for me, I didn’t have to endure the full journey. I was one of the lucky ones. Church Fenton was the first stop in 11 minutes time.
Upon arriving in Church Fenton, I was the sole member of the train to disembark. Nobody else was around. There were four platforms here, which seemed to be an unusually high number for such a small village and number of passengers. Perhaps one day they imagine the place could become a real commuter hub for both Leeds and York? I noticed the ticket office had been turned into an Indian Restaurant. It’s always nice to have your ‘failure to pay’ notice handed to you with a side of mango chutney and poppadoms.
As I explained earlier, the White Horse pub had shut up shop, so that scuppered my plans for a pre-match pint. The village post office lay abandoned and up for sale while the Village Hall was a volunteer ran effort, hiding away in a green metal shelter off the main road. A noticeboard designed to showcase upcoming events was practically bare, with three weather ravaged sheets clinging on to the wooden backing with rusted drawing pins.
The only highlight of my short walk through Church Fenton came as I wound my way around Main Street. I noticed a bloke had made his semi-detached house accessible by building a ramp to the door. On either side were the words, ‘Geoffs Ramp’. I wondered whether, with the help of some allies, I could covertly make this the villages top attraction on TripAdvisor.
Opposite his house was a small wooden bridge. Perhaps it had been created by the same person who created Geoff’s ramp. It was no longer than a social distancing exclusion zone. It served a purpose. It led over a small brook which formed a boundary to the football and cricket grounds.
The village’s sports clubs both share the same facilities on Busk Lane, with a clubhouse and changing rooms straddling the two pitches either side. The football side of things is basic, with two dugouts and three sides of railings. Of course, it is all that is needed for this level but it wasn’t perfect for when it starts to rain.
Occasionally when you head to a game, you’ll notice that the home and away side may warm up in different areas. While many sides are respectful and provide equal facilities, some use this as an early opportunity to try and seek an advantage. I’ve seen it where away teams have had to warm up in the car park while the home side use the pitch. Here it was Huntington who drew the short straw and found themselves trying to pass the ball in amongst a collection of mole hills.
As they tried their best not to roll their ankles I headed into the clubhouse for a cup of tea. Served in a proper mug (with an owl on it) the lads who jumped behind the bar were rushed off their feet with the number of people grabbing a warming brew to help see them through the first half.
Kick off approached and Church Fenton emerged. They were in their yellow shirts with white shorts and socks. With parts of the pitch looking suitably boggy, I really feared for the person responsible for washing the kit afterwards. We’ve always said at Colls, you need to be very brave, stupid or have a good washing machine to get away with wearing yellow.
It was an entertaining game with Lewis Beecher scoring for the home side while Joe Milner grabbed the equaliser for Huntington. Maybe the home side could have kept a clean sheet had their goalkeeper concentrated on the match a bit more. Towards the end of the first half he decided to leave his line and urinate off the pitch. I was his watchman, ready to shout him back into action if Huntington were able to break quickly. He later apologised for putting me under such pressure.
Beyond the far goal was an expanse of flat land that stretched as far as the eye could see. On the horizon was the former RAF Church Fenton base. It had been re-branded Leeds East Airport in the hope it could become another airport for the region but it had it’s licensing application rejected, blocking proposed flights to Europe in the process. The aircraft hangar has since been turned into a film studio called Yorkshire Studios and ITV drama Victoria was filmed there.
The match ended with no further goals. A draw a fair result. I beat the non-existent rush and headed just over the hedge to the Fenton Flyer. As I sat at the bar, being kept company by a variety of local cask ales, I couldn’t help but being fascinated by the number of ‘tabs’ that were pinned up. Presumably they were from the night before. When would Natalie return to the Flyer to cough up the £24.45 she owed? Or the woman whose name was obscured by the optics, who had spent £58.05?
Some tabs were even pinned in place, with names written in chalk. Perhaps these were the true regulars who had earned themselves a spot; a Church Fenton hall of fame I imagined. A man – or a woman – named Rick had quite a few till receipts behind his name. I wondered if his partner knew? They wouldn’t have to be Poirot to hunt down where he was spending all of his money.
Being from the contactless payment generation, I had never seen tabs used in a pub before. It was all too much for me. It was time to catch the train back to York. I didn’t know when my next delve into the York League would arrive but I knew that when it did, it would be another pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Church Fenton White Horse finished the season in 8th place while Huntington Rovers finished in 3rd, two points behind Old Malton St Marys.