The Christmas Holidays had finally arrived. Teachers up and down the country, myself included, breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had got through the most difficult term that the majority of us had ever faced. Working in packed classrooms with little ventilation, mixing with hundreds of other bodies – while not being able to see our own families – and also trying to keep everybody safe has, it would be fair to say, been a tiring addition to our already extensive list of job roles. I’m not looking for sympathy, none at all. I just wanted to illustrate how much we were looking forward to a few days away from the ‘front line’. After sharing a bottle of Bucks Fizz in the staff room, it was time for me to say my goodbyes as I move on to a new school in January.
The following morning, back up in York, I’d had a quick look at the fixture list and opted to stick with one of my favourites, the York League, following the previous weekend’s entertainment at Duncombe Park. With Christmas shoppers piling into the city centre in their droves, clogging up all the narrow streets, I was left questioning two things. Why didn’t the Romans who built these streets foresee congestion in the city centre in years to come and also, which match should I pick out of an extensive fixture list?
My approach to selecting matches at the moment, according to a friend, is an exact science… but if we should learn anything from 2020, it’s that even science can’t always guide us to do the correct thing. To summarise, my thought process on finding matches through these dark, winter days is fairly straightforward. Try to visit places that you would struggle to host a pub crawl in.
I’m sure you’d agree that there’s not much point in heading to towns that are awash with pubs and bars if we’re not allowed to enjoy them. Imagine the disappointment, peering through shutter after shutter, net curtains upon tatty net curtain to find a similar scene at each window. Emotionally, gawping through at deserted taprooms where the last activity to take place wasn’t a round of shots after last orders, it was a tearful landlord placing pint glasses on top of each hand pump, emptying the tills and leaving them open to show that no money was left on the premises.
A short drive west to the village of Tockwith was both the ideal and most suitable choice. Two pubs, the only ones around, sit opposite each other on the main through road and the sporadic bus service between York and Wetherby only stops here every couple of hours. This certainly wasn’t the kind of place where you would arrange to have an all day session and hope, more by luck than judgement, to catch the last bus home. You would need to be organised. You would need to be prepared. You would also have to be willing to bounce between The Spotted Ox and The Boot & Shoe Inn, switching venue after every pint in order to feel a true ‘pub crawl experience’.
After a downpour overnight, I awoke to see the York League website gradually turning an alarming shade of red as games succumbed to the weather. Fortunately, Tockwith would definitely be on as their pitch is considered to be one of the best in the country, at least for this level. This claim was confirmed when upon mentioning Tockwith to a colleague at my new school a few days earlier, they drew a sharp intake of breath and nodded in an approving manner, in a similar vein to how most people would react to a mention of the Camp Nou or the Maracana.
By midday, I was in an excitable mood as I set off on the 20 minute drive across to Tockwith, a village which offered very little but promised so much. With a population of just over 1,500 it sits eight miles west of York and just four miles north east of it’s nearest neighbour, Wetherby. The population of the village will increase in the next year or so, with a couple of large housing developments taking place close to the Tockwith Sports Field where this match was taking place.
On my peaceful drive across, I suffered a bit of an unexpected delay, as at Marston Moor I was made to wait while a train rattled through on its way around to Leeds. The only car to be caught, I sat pondering whether the local population knew what times the trains pass. Did they strategically plan their movements around the Northern timetable? I imagined conversations in nearby houses, such as, “Look at that silly lad in his green car. He’s definitely not from around here! Imagine getting caught out like that!”
Setting off two hours early for a match where I knew there was nothing to do in the village, on the face of it, may seem excessive. However, on the way there, I knew that there was quite a significant site of historical importance that I could visit and learn a bit more about. Just a stone’s throw from Tockwith, lie the fields of Marston Moor where in 1644 the largest and bloodiest battle of the English Civil War took place.
The Parliamentarians, led by Lord Fairfax, defeated the Royalists who were led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine as they vied for control over the city of York. Over 4,000 men lost their lives on the fields bordering Tockwith, with the Parliamentarians claiming victory with their cavalry guided by the leadership of Oliver Cromwell.
A large monument, peeping out above the neighbouring shrubs sat beside a layby on Tockwith Road. It marks the site of the battle. If you face the memorial, the field in front is where the Royalists lined up while on the other side of the road, up the hill is where the Parliamentarians gathered. Perversely, I wondered whether somebody was slaughtered on the spot where I had dumped my Vauxhall Corsa; they probably were.
With plenty of time to waste before kick off I decided to wander through the fields, putting myself at risk of being chased by a farmer with a shotgun. Undertaking a quick survey of the landscape I opted to change my footwear and for the second week running donned by football boots. The path up to the Parliamentarian side of the battle field was treacherous, waterlogged and hard to navigate. My boots proved to be a master stroke and soon my attentions turned to wondering whether Cromwell would have used blades, moulds or studs had he been given such luxuries during his time on this hill.
These days, the full field was being used to grow crops. It was either beetroot, turnip or parsnip plants that were growing. I wasn’t sure. I won’t claim to be an expert. I’ve always said if there’s one flaw in my knowledge, it is the identification of root vegetables. It’s just never been one my strong points, with the category as a whole sounding more like something that would be asked in the picture round on Pointless.
Being respectful to the farmer, who kindly still hadn’t shot me, I made sure not to tread on any plants as I clambered my way up to the crest of the hill where a few trees stood in isolation. It’s claimed that it was under these trees that the leadership of the Parliamentarians gathered, organising their tactics for the battle from this viewpoint. Known as Cromwell’s Clump, I stood here for a few minutes hoping that this version of events was true and that I was indeed following in the footsteps of a true historical figure. What made the short walk all the more remarkable was that I was the only living soul around, enjoying expansive views that stretched as far as the Kilburn White Horse 25 miles to the north, while York Minster could be easily seen to the east.
Jumping over more crops and trapezing through crop lines (or whatever they’re called… I really should pay more attention when Countryfile is on), I clambered my way back over a ditch and to the comfort of my car. By now, a couple of cyclists were perched by the monument, using this historical setting as a stopping off point before heading off through the moors. It was my time to press on myself, driving a mile further up the road until I arrived in the centre of Tockwith.
After weaving in and out of parked up vehicles and oncoming traffic, I dumped my car in the newly extended car park at the football ground. Both teams were still warming up, so I decided to go for a wander. Strolling back up Kirk Lane, towards the centre of the village, I passed a couple of dog walkers. Neither of them said, “Hello,” or stopped to smile at me, which of course is totally fine. It just informed me that I wasn’t as far out into the countryside as I believed.
The Spotted Ox, the local pub who sponsor the jumpers which the Tockwith players were warming up in, was open this afternoon but only for those who also wanted a ‘substantial meal’. The Boot & Shoe was shut, as expected. With little time to enjoy a full meal, I headed further down the street for about a minute before realising there really was little to see pr get excited about other than a red telephone box. I’m not sure what else I was expecting really.
Worrying that I would soon begin to look a little suspicious, standing outside some lovely little cottages, I headed down to the other side of the village. The only other people knocking about were nipping in and out of the Costcutter, which served as the main shop and Post Office. Which, in a way, brings me on to talking about the darkest day in the village’s history when in 1945, a Stirling Bomber crashed on the main street as it attempted to land at RAF Marston Moor. Six crew members died, including York City footballer Albert Bonass. On the ground, the village postmaster was killed.
In total, the majority of shops and businesses on the main street were lost and 19 houses were destroyed. Included in the fire ravaged debris was the oldest house in the village, a thatched property where Oliver Cromwell was reputed to have had his wound dressed following the battle on Marston Moor. It didn’t stand a chance as the row of buildings were set alight. Standing in the village on this quiet Saturday afternoon, it was impossible to imagine the level of destruction that hit on that Tuesday morning.
Back on the corner of Kirk Lane, it was nice to see an older gentleman sporting a bright green Tockwith AFC hat, making his way down to the ground with his grandson. Even in larger towns and cities, it’s sometimes impossible to find people who are heading to the match. My attentions were diverted when an ice cream van slowly drove past, proudly chiming its music through the leafy streets of the village. I forgot for a few seconds that we were in the depths of December and it had been snowing in parts of Yorkshire the previous weekend. Unsure of how many ice creams he actually sold, I respected his efforts.
Back at Tockwith Sports Field, I cut through a gap in the bushes and noticed that the two sides had completed their warm ups. We were ready to start the match. Visitors for this afternoon were Brooklyn AFC, who had travelled over from Malton and not New York, despite one bloke wearing a Brooklyn Nets basketball hat. If I was a Brooklyn supporter, I too would be making the most of a decent selection of merchandise from across the Atlantic.
The referee, who was extremely strict with the players from the outset, commanded the respect shown towards a scary headteacher. He took absolutely no nonsense while also managing to let the game flow, despite some wreckless challenges flying in from both sides. “Respect the conditions boys!” were the orders barked out by the Brooklyn coach. Exactly what conditions was he asking his players to respect? It was sunny yet cold. It was dry but the pitch was wet. It was festive, yet there was an ice cream van driving around. Totally confused, I arrived at the conclusion he was just shouting out things that he’d heard on TV.
I also thought it was great that there weren’t any professional football managers knocking about to hear him shouting things like, “Seconds!” and “On your toes!” That was until I headed towards the corner flag and spotted Phil Parkinson, who I immediately recognised following his spell as Bolton Wanderers manager. Up until a few weeks ago, he had been manager at Sunderland and now he was watching on as the Brooklyn manager encroached so far on to the pitch I thought he was going to get his head on to a set piece.
I spoke to Parkinson, introducing myself as a Bolton fan. With a wry smile, he asked me what I was doing watching Tockwith. Following a nice chat, I thanked him for his efforts at Bolton. While – in large – his tenure will go down as a disastrous time in the club’s history, I always maintained that he was managing with his hands tied, working with no budget and owners who should never have been allowed near a club. He always had my full sympathy and I’d like to think he was happy that I didn’t moan at him at all. His son, Jack, was playing on the left for Tockwith.
An initial attendance of 19 had swelled to 32 by the start of the second half and they were treated to one goal before the interval, with it arriving in the 31st minute. Tom Richards capitalised on a loose ball and slotted it into the bottom right hand corner past the Brooklyn goalkeeper.
Half time lasted just six minutes, so by the time I’d headed back to my car to keep warm the action was already back underway. Tockwith, in the green and white hoops, were impressive this half and doubled their advantage after 65 minutes when Parkinson swung in a corner which was met by the head of Richards for his second.
With the three points seemingly in the bag, conversation amongst those watching drifted away from the football. Three individuals, who had popped down to see how their local team were getting on were stuck in the middle of a fierce debate about how long you should cook a turkey for. They couldn’t decide between 4 hours and 4 hours 15 minutes, before they were distracted by a further goal for the home side.
With 20 minutes remaining, Chris Fairhurst smashed the ball into the roof of the net to make it 3-0 following a strong initial save by the goalkeeper. By this point, Brooklyn had two players on the pitch wearing a 7 shirt, which got past the eagle-eyed referee. I wouldn’t have noticed this myself if it weren’t for a Tockwith fan who kept shouting, “Psycho Seven!” at the Brooklyn left winger during the second half.
It was a strong win for Tockwith who went to the top of the table, level on point with Osbaldwick having played two games fewer. They’ll be hoping the season reaches a conclusion, as they have a real shout of gaining promotion into the Premier Division.
On reflection, the most refreshing part of the afternoon was the use of the much loved and desperately missed Adidas Tango football. Tockwith didn’t just have one either, they truly spoilt us by having a full multi-ball system which consisted purely of Tango balls. It was almost like travelling back in time. I wonder which football Oliver Cromwell liked the most?