Here are the unfortunate club who only managed to stage seven matches at home this season. It’s a tale of ambition, excitement and frustration. I don’t tend to have sympathy for many football clubs but all that changed on this cold Tuesday night in Huddersfield. As I left Longfield Avenue for the drive back over the hills, I genuinely felt sorry for Golcar United.
In the past few years, Huddersfield has once again become a thriving hotbed for football. At the top echelons, the town’s professional side had risen up from League Two to the Premier League, eventually spending two seasons in the top flight. In the lower depths of the game, Shelley and Golcar were both allowed to move up into Step 5. They joined Emley AFC who had recently received a parallel move across from the NCEFL to the NWCFL as the latter league underwent expansion.
I hadn’t watched football in these parts for five years. My trip to Huddersfield Town came during freshers at university, when Craig (who studied there) managed to wangle me a ticket for their match against Nottingham Forest for just £1. A month later was an infamous bus journey across to Emley where I found myself dressed in a shower curtain adorned with rubber ducks.
My attempts to watch a game at Shelley the week before this trip had proved futile. I arrived at their Storthes Hall ground to find it devoid of life. Even though they tweeted that their match against AFC Liverpool was definitely on and had told their opponents to travel, it had been postponed by the time I got there. A waterlogged pitch. It looked completely fine to me. It was the first time I had ever been caught out travelling for a postponed match and to say I wasn’t happy was an understatement.
Imagine my reaction when I woke up the following morning to read an article about Shelley being awarded Grounds Team of the Year. The irony.
Having been left so angry and disappointed with my wasted journey, it seemed a daft idea to head back to Huddersfield just a few days later. Not only because the weather hadn’t changed much during the week but because Golcar United had only managed to get six of their home matches on so far this season. For some context, we were now at the end of January. A truly astonishing record.
In brisk conditions, I picked up Bristol Rovers fan, Lucy, as she was also in need of an evening out at the football. Leaving the M62 at Junction 23, we headed for Golcar, a large village which lies just to the west of Huddersfield. On a map, it looks a considerably easy journey. In reality, there are narrow country lanes and steep roads to combat before you get anywhere near the place.
We passed through Longwood where on the left hand side stood the Dusty Miller pub. It looked like it would have been good for a pre-match pint had we had more time. Around the corner, to the right, was a sheer drop down a place that I will never forget; Dodlee Lane. Teasingly, so close to being named Doddle Lane, this narrow residential road was fully cobbled and ran at a ridiculously steep angle downhill. I had serious doubts as to whether my fragile Corsa would make it to the bottom or whether it would disintegrate quicker than a Red Bull soapbox.
Dax, the bloke who runs the barbers close to my house and loves horse racing is from around here. I had told him about my adventure as I sat in his chair having a trim. He found it hard to fathom that someone from Atherton would drive over to Golcar for a match. The club though, had undergone a transformation in the past few months to allow them to make the step up to this level.
Up until a year ago, Longfield Avenue was simply an open pitch in the middle of a vast estate. The entrance, which was a low gate that prevented vehicles from driving around the facilities, sat in between a bungalow and a semi-detached property. Only a white railing which ran around the perimeter of a pitch signaled where the village’s first team played.
Since then, a huge amount of work has taken place. Perimeter fencing was installed, to make it a secure ground. Floodlights were erected to allow the staging of night matches. A clubhouse was been built, complete with a small bar. Hard standing has been laid. Also, the pitch has been leveled making it flatter than before.
I can’t remember a club getting so much done in such a small amount of time. It really is admirable. There is, quietly, a huge amount of ambition at Golcar United and if they could share this energy and drive with other clubs, non-league football would be in a far better position because of it.
Despite all this, something can always go wrong. On entering the ground, it soon became apparent why so many matches had been postponed this season. I’m no architect and have never claimed to be an expert where it comes to drainage but I know for a fact that if you plonk concrete on top of a raised mound, the water will run off it and collect at the bottom. What was at the bottom? The pitch.
Some attempts at retrospectively installing drainage clearly hadn’t worked. The release pipe simply diverted water towards the corner flag. To compound matters, this boggy area of the pitch was also subjected to the most footfall as the changing rooms were found in this corner of the ground.
Vast amounts of sand had been thrown down in an attempt to get the match on. We half expected the Team GB triple jump athletes to emerge for a spot of training. As my Dad has always said to me, “You can’t polish a turd.”
Nelson coach, Guy Heffernan, who I knew from his time at Holker Old Boys, was deep in conversation with the match officials. Over the commotion, I caught a sight of Blackpool fan Andy who was staring forlornly into the sandy depths that surrounded the corner flag. We had spent a lot of time together at Kendal Calling over the summer. I arrived back home from the festival with a bout of trench foot, his daughter Grace with a broken wrist. Surely the players in this match were going to head home with something more severe?
As a final decision was made on whether it would still go ahead, I wandered around to the small clubhouse area which was named The Bank. Three picnic benches outside had some spectators – braver than me – perched on them. They were drinking from the small choice of canned beers that were available from inside. I had a Tetleys. The place was cosy. You wouldn’t get this ‘converted portacabin feeling’ down the road at Huddersfield Town.
It was a squeeze. The whole ground was. Everywhere you turned, there was somebody else jostling for space. I wondered how they had managed to accommodate a bumper crowd of 556 when they had hosted Shelley in a local derby a couple of months earlier.
Back in the corner, near the entrance, was the refreshments area that we decided to stand in front of for the first half. It sat above the ground on wooden decking, offering a great view down the touchline.
The sight and smell of the vast number of pies that were being served up behind me proved too much to resist and I buckled before the first free-kick had been awarded. These weren’t just any old pies, these were warm meat pies. Sourced locally, they were brimming from crust to crust and were topped with peas and mint sauce.
I’ve found that mint sauce is more of a Yorkshire thing when it comes to football snacks. Back at Atherton Collieries, I am ridiculed for putting the green gooey substance with my pie and peas. They believe it’s a treacherous practice reserved for those folk from over the hills. Thankfully I have always had one woman on my side, and that is Carole who volunteers behind the tea bar. She keeps a special jar of mint sauce hidden in her cupboard, just for me. Of course, guests can also make use of it if they ask politely. Pontefract Collieries used about half of it last summer.
I know I’m in danger of turning this into an entry about pies but it’s not a topic I talk about regularly. It’s been exhausted elsewhere and it’s such a subjective topic. Anyway, despite the fact I kept mentioning how nice the pie was – falling more in love with each bite – there was one man I couldn’t win over. Shrewsbury fan Lee just wasn’t convinced at all. He was sticking to his stance that meat pies should only be eaten cold. This was before he proceeded to insinuate that the snack looked like it could have been constructed out of human flesh; League of Gentleman style. In the end, he enjoyed it.
The Golcar players trudged cautiously down the sodden embankment. They were followed, against their will, by Nelson. Last time this slope had been dealt with competitively was three months earlier. It simply hadn’t been deemed fit to play on since and this proved to be the final match at Longfield Avenue that season. Future home matches were moved 23 miles west to AVRO’s ground, the Whitebank Stadium in Oldham. A huge loss of income.
What followed was one of the matches of the season, with a 5-3 home victory and an almighty paddy from the young Nelson goalkeeper. The ball often got stuck in the large pools of mud and it created all kinds of chaos for both back fours. From a neutrals perspective, it was just so entertaining to watch.
Golcar had the luxury of having Mike Fish leading their line. A man of many talents, having once appeared on Britain’s Got Talent as a drummer, he had joined the club in the summer. He was the experience that Golcar required for their first season at this level having had spells at a number of clubs higher up the leagues. It was at Mossley where he enjoyed the most success, scoring over 90 goals over four spells at Seel Park.
Nelson opened the scoring through Gareth Hill but they found themselves 3-1 down by the interval. David Conway, Alex Hallam and that man Mike Fish with the goals.
As the two sides left the pitch, the Nelson goalkeeper Ben Parkinson took it upon himself to start shouting a lot of abuse at the referee in front of the hordes of Golcar fans. He was trying to convince the officials that the match should be abandoned. We didn’t hear him complaining when they were 1-0 up after 12 minutes.
It sparked quite a heated war of colourful language between fans, volunteers and players at the entrance to the changing rooms. People were held back and there was a great deal of slamming. We couldn’t wait to see how the second half would pan out.
Within a minute of the restart, Nelson had pulled a goal back and the scoreline now stood at 3-2. Harley McAdam with the finish. Aaron Hollindrake then grabbed another for the Admirals to bring things level. The goalkeeper who had caused the commotion at half-time celebrated enthusiastically in front of us. He was even beginning to test my patience now, so I joined in by shouting a few obscenities at him.
Both sides created ample efforts to win this end-to-end encounter but it was the home side who kept their heads and went on to score twice more. Dan Stocker with a great striker on 66 minutes before Fish added his second ten minutes from time.
The pinnacle of the night’s entertainment came when the Nelson goalkeeper, who had behaved like a spoilt teenager all evening, was finally given his marching orders. Fish was through on goal, aiming for his hat-trick. Out rushed Parkinson, tripping the striker up outside the box in the process. He was jeered off in a ‘passionate’ manner by the Golcar fans. He could do nothing but keep his head down as he trudged up the slope. A chorus of “Bye bye bye bye!” greeted him as he arrived at the changing rooms.
The match ended, with Nelson having a defender in net. It was time to head home which was a shame. I wanted the entertainment to carry on for a little while longer yet and it did on Twitter, with both club accounts arguing over apparent damage to the away changing rooms. I gave experienced groundhopper and Manchester music guru Alan a lift back to Huddersfield station, which allowed me to dodge the treacherous journey back up Doodle Lane on the way back to the motorway.
At the close of the 2019/20 season that was null and voided, Golcar found themselves sitting just outside the play-off spots in fifth place. Joint managers – and brothers – Ash and Gavin Connor would move quickly to sign former Bury, Rotherham and Oxford defender Joe Skarz. Off the pitch, they built the Brook Johnson stand with the help of 100 of their fans who bought a seat each. The future looks bright for Golcar United.