Guiseley AFC – Nethermoor Park

Last year, after a clear out of the cupboards in the living room a tower of family VHS tapes gradually rose from the floor and scaled towards the ceiling. Hours of memories were recorded and stored in these black plastic cases. It was nice when we managed to burn all the films on to DVD’s. A machine capable of playing the tapes was evicted from the Gibbons household many years ago. Come to think of it, we no longer own a DVD player either.

Analysis of the footage from my formative years revealed strengths in my development as a human being. I appeared to be built with a determined attitude. Dogged in possession of toys and despite my chubby stature, I was surprisingly nimble on my hands and feet. Speed and agility were assets I had in abundance.

One morning, I graduated from shuffling along in my nappy to crawling without much thought. But what was it that enticed me to make the step up a division? It was the distinctive yellow blur of Sooty on the television. Gazing in curiosity, I carefully made my way from the bench and made my way across the living room, moving closer to the yellow puppet who was considered to be my closest friend.

It was the start of a deadly partnership. Alan Shearer moved to Newcastle United from Blackburn Rovers before the start of the 1996/97 season but the most important transfer of that period had been overshadowed. In a semi-detached house in Atherton, Sooty had made a big money move from the local toy shop. Further successes were on the cards.

Walking and talking were welcomed to the arsenal of skills and boosted the youngsters confidence. The latter was signed on an initial loan deal while it was decided if the accent would fit into the family dynamic. It wasn’t to last though; all good things come to an end. A pre-season family holiday to Lanzarote saw Sooty disappear. He became embroiled in an affair with a local maid and was eventually tracked down in the hotel’s basement, ready to be thrown in the washing machine. He had been hung out to dry. I cried for hours.

It seemed rather odd and lonely as I arrived in Guiseley without a companion who had served me so well. This sleepy suburb of Leeds was, after all, Sooty’s spiritual home. On a trip to Blackpool in 1948, Guiseley resident Harry Corbett purchased a teddy for his son Matthew and the rest is history. 

Harry was an electrician by trade but also enjoyed playing the piano. In the days before Sooty, he would often be found playing tunes in his uncle’s fish and chip restaurant. Harry Ramsden’s at the time was just a small, family run chippy. Much like Sooty, it would go on to become well known across the country. 

To tell you the truth, it was always my plan to take Sooty along with me to Nethermoor Park. Not wanting to attract strange looks, I thought I could smuggle him to the game in my bag or down my jacket. Despite wanting to relive my childhood, I decided against taking him for another adventure. The risk of losing him once more brought flashbacks of Lanzarote that proved too harrowing to contemplate further.

On top of this, I was heading straight into Leeds after the match to watch Shed Seven. The last thing I wanted was for the stewards to pull my wand out during a search.

The journey across to Guiseley was an easy one; for years I had saved this visit for a time when I needed a quick getaway. Setting off from York, I caught the train south, one stop. As always, the Leeds side streets that I slipped down provided opportunity for a couple of pints before heading off again.

Out of the city, towards Leeds Bradford Airport, Guiseley lies underneath the flight path. It wasn’t too busy; only a handful of the services were operating from here. On my only visit to the airport, when I flew out to Slovakia, I suffered an embarrassingly long bout of stage fright as I stood at a urinal next to the towering figure of Adrian Morley. The former Leeds Rhinos player ducked as he left the facilities. On a daily basis I am reminded of this event, as his photo hangs in our school corridor due to us having a house named after him.

As the train pulled into Guiseley, the station approach was alive with locals, all dressed up and heading the opposite way for a day out in the city centre. Women, in high heels, were trying their best not to be the cobbled streets next victim. Their partners were blissfully unaware to the danger, glued to their phones, nervously checking the latest score from Huddersfield as they entertained Leeds United in the early kick off.

An inconspicuous pathway opposite the station led me in the right direction. A polite notice hammered into the fence reminded pedestrians that this was a public footpath. Morton Terrace provided an immediate quintessential welcome to a northern town. Sacrilegiously, a mismatch of cobbled stone had been covered in a thick, tarmac blanket. Gardens, sporadically laid out on the left hand side accompanied the row of houses which had all been carefully crafted out of local stone many generations ago.

Turning the sharp corner, on to Otley Road, provided me with a view towards Nethermoor Park which was only a short stroll away. Opponents for the afternoon, Brackley Town, had already arrived and their team bus was parked up on the kerb, acting as a traffic calming measure.

Before we continue, let’s get one thing out of the way. You are right. It is totally and utterly ridiculous that Brackley, a team who play their home matches closer to Callais than they do to Gateshead are in this ‘regionalised’ division. If any more evidence was needed for this argument, one shout from a home fan in the terrace summed it up, “Shut up number five! You shouldn’t even be in this league with an accent like that!”

Nethermoor Park has been home to Guiseley AFC since the club’s formation in 1909. Back then, The Lions competed in the Wharfedale League. Flirtatious spells, going back and forth – like an indecisive lover – between local leagues followed until they became founding members of the Northern Counties East League in 1982.

A miraculous ascent up the divisions, for a town with a population of 20,000 was to follow, culminating in promotion to the National League for the 2015/16 campaign. They would spend three seasons in non-league’s top division, constantly battling against relegation – which was nothing to be ashamed of.

It was uncharted territory and allowed strange and unthinkable rivalries to be built. Fixtures against clubs far bigger than themselves were to be staged at Nethermoor. Take for instance a midweek league fixture against York City where despite falling behind, Guiseley would thrash the Minstermen 6-1. The 700 disgruntled away supporters were crammed into the tight terrace behind the goal and tempers threatened to boil over when the floodlights failed, causing a 37 minute delay to proceedings.  

While at times the infrastructure at Nethermoor struggled to cope with the step up, it was adequate. Additions had been hastily added to the ground with each promotion up the pyramid and this was apparent as I completed a stroll around it’s perimeter. The place possessed a certain charm not normally found at clubs at this level.

Fans were gathering in the bar which is joined to the local cricket club. As I entered, I confidently nodded at the steward on the door; it usually does the trick. Leeds had won 2-0 at Huddersfield thanks to goals from Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernández, catapulting them back to the top of the Championship, which appeared to boost sales of alcohol. You could even take your pint out into the ground here at Guiseley; they knew what fans wanted from their match day experience.

In front of a crowd of 405, the match kicked off. Brackley, in their red shirts and white shorts were attacking the end of the ground where a shiny new electronic scoreboard had been installed. There wasn’t much danger of the operator being called into action any time soon.

Hamza Bencherif, who had previously been at York, was a stand out performer for Guiseley in defence. He was responsible for a couple of important clearances off the line and we went into the break goalless.

As the half wore on, chaos ensued off the pitch as the older gentleman next to me dropped his phone over the fence and on to the sidelines. In this situation, there are of course a number of actions you can take to retrieve your belongings. Least likely to work is trying to attract the attention of the linesman during a break in play, they naturally just assume you’re going to berate them. You could hurdle the fence and jump back over before a steward lunges towards you. Or, like this bloke did, you can choose to lie on the cold, wet floor and stretch your arm underneath the fence.

I have been guilty of dropping my phone over the fence at Bootham Crescent when Portsmouth were in town. Fortunately for me, one of the lads in my Y5 class at the time was a ball boy. Imagine his sense of pride at school the following morning when he was telling everybody he had rescued Mr. Gibbons’ phone at the football. 

“I only wanted to check the Bolton score!” shouted the bloke. He couldn’t quite believe it when I opened my wallet to show him my Wanderers season ticket. “My mate lives here, so we try and get to most Guiseley matches so we can spend time together,” he went on to explain. 

For the second half, I left my Lancastrian friend and stood behind the goal that Guiseley were attacking. If they scored, there would be scenes of jubilation. It wasn’t to happen though, as the visitors prevailed in what became a physically bruising encounter.

Brackley took the lead on 59 minutes and from that point, never looked like losing. Their right back, Shane Byrne, who I remembered from his time at Bury, whipped a deep ball in. It was bundled in by Glenn Walker.

They would go on to double their lead in the closing stages when Lee Ndlovu broke through the Guiseley defence. By this stage, they were playing with a one man advantage following the dismissal of Lions captain Scott Garner. He lunged into a challenge with Wes York. Just as the referee looked to be pulling out a yellow card, he produced a red.

Garner, who would leave the club a month later for Boston United, made his way down the tunnel in the corner of the ground. In doing so, he had to pass the Brackley substitutes who had become involved in arguments with the Guiseley supporters. They of course, struggled to understand each other.

Before the final whistle sounded, I made a swift exit and made it back to the train station just in time for the next service back to Leeds. It wasn’t long before I was able to catch up with my mates at the Roxy Ball Room. Here, we crammed in a few pints before we would head off to catch Shed Seven ably supported by The Twang and Reverend and the Makers. Subjected to a thorough search heading into the arena, it was a good job I didn’t bring Sooty along with me.

When the 2019/20 season was ended, Guiseley were in ninth place and four points off the play-off places. Brackley Town were in third place, six points behind league leaders York City.

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