It had been 85 long days since we had last attended a match. Shivering, completing numerous laps of the pitch to keep ourselves warm, the snow swept surroundings of Crayke United provided us with our last sniff of action before another lockdown was brought in. Fast forward three months, the coldest nights of the year have now passed. The daffodils are out. Clocks have gone forward. Better times are now on the horizon, especially in and around York where the league have announced a League Cup in place of another curtailed season. So, with the competition beginning on April 3rd, sides were left in an odd position where they had five days in which they could arrange friendlies to help with match fitness before it all started.
The most proactive of these clubs were York League Division 2 side Wheldrake who wasted no time at all, arranging four friendlies in the two days following the lifting of restrictions. In fact, on this Monday evening they sent a side to play at Haxby Town and another to take on Poppleton United meaning we had a choice of two fixtures to pick from on what turned out to be a pleasantly bright spring evening, although it was still deceivingly cold with some in attendance wearing gloves and hats and others (including myself) opting for shorts.
After much deliberation, which was still happening a couple of hours before the 18:00 kick off time for both matches, we eventually settled on the game at Poppleton, which sits to the north west of York city centre, just over the boundary of the ring road. Rather confusingly, Poppleton isn’t actually a place in it’s own right, with the two villages of Upper Poppleton and Nether Poppleton seamlessly amalgamating into one another to create the area referred to by locals as Poppleton. The local train station, which is one stop from York also operates under the name of Poppleton.
With our minds made up, it was time to figure out where the game was actually being played. Conflicting postcodes, similar sounding ground names and misguided tweets all ensured we turned up at the wrong venue and were left racing through the streets of Poppleton to make kick-off in time. Poppleton, despite being relatively small, is actually home to three different football clubs, with two of those being York League sides. Poppleton United are joined by Sporting Knavesmire, who moved to the village to groundshare at the impressive youth setup of Poppleton Juniors.
It was quite clear when we arrived at the Poppleton Community Sports Pavilion that we had chosen the wrong venue, arriving at the home of Poppleton Juniors. But it wasn’t all bad news. I now knew exactly where this place was for when I wanted to catch Sporting Knavesmire in action. Tonight’s match was actually taking place a few minutes further down the road at the Poppleton Centre which was found four minutes further around the village in the Nether Poppleton area.
As kick-off approached, we eventually made it to the home of Poppleton United. A full car park showed there was an appetite for live sport after nearly three months away. The ground sits in quiet surroundings, right at the back end of the village. Pleasant suburbia abruptly turns into rolling fields once past the far goal line. With the sunshine out, the pair of shorts that I was sporting for the evening, made me a delicious meal for the local midges, who had made the short fly over from their breeding grounds on the River Ouse which flows through Poppleton before reaching the city centre.
The airborne biting machines weren’t the only pests in the area. In recent days, local youths had found entertainment in vandalising the limited facilities in place at the ground. It resulted in one of the dugouts being smashed to ruin, with a pile of green breezeblocks being left lying yards from the pitch. Groups of local teenagers, who it was suggested had cycled up here from less affluent places within the ring-road, were circling around the pitch as the game kicked off. The lads within the group were probably disappointed that there would be no chance being able to smash up the remaining infrastructure this evening, presumably doing so in a brainless attempt to impress the girls present.
Poppleton United, nicknamed The Tigers, have played in Poppleton since being founded back in 1903, making them one of the oldest clubs in the York League. Over the past few seasons they have been consistent, spending the majority of the time in the Premier Division. Tonight they were hosting a Wheldrake side who play two divisions lower. Given the fact the away side were fielding an experimental line-up, it was somewhat predictable that Poppleton would prevail in this friendly encounter.
Stood by the partly demolished dugout, it was nice to catch up with Paul and Kizzy who had been with me at our previous match all those weeks ago at Crayke. Also joining us tonight were Tony, who had stopped at his favourite – The Wetherby Whaler – en route and adopted Poppletonian, Adrian, who had cycled down to the game from his house. Together, we made up the majority of the crowd who had gathered for some fresh air and a brief return to normality.
Tony still hadn’t finished his fish and chips by the time Poppleton opened the scoring after just 51 seconds, when a striker burst though and slotted into the bottom right hand corner. Six minutes later and it was 2-0 through a fierce effort which flew past the Wheldrake goalkeeper and into the roof of the net from long range.
Wheldrake’s experimental line-up, which boasted players wearing numbers such as 77, 31 and 33 found a way back into the game on 19 minutes from the penalty spot. The referee, after weeks of being unable to give a controversial decision was raring to get stuck back into the thick of the action, with his whistle being sounded almost instantaneously after a Poppleton defender had turned away and the ball had inadvertently struck his arm.
That was to be as good as it got for Wheldrake with the home side racing into a 4-1 lead before the interval. Lots of substitutions were made at half-time, not just on the pitch but off it. Adrian left to take his daughter to work and he was replaced by fellow Poppleton native, Dan, who also lived around the corner. Unlike us, Dan had actually been to a match in recent times, with him being one of the voices behind the commentary for York City matches. He downplayed the facilities at the new stadium, which he had been fortunate enough to be able to test out, probably in an attempt not to make Ben extremely jealous.
A few more ‘dog walkers’ had joined the ever growing crowd ahead of the second half and they had to wait 12 minutes before Poppleton extended their lead to 5-1 when a striker rounded the keeper and was afforded a simple tap in. As the match wore on, Poppleton really started to settle and play some great football, adding more to their tally and eventually running out 8-1 victors. The final goal, seven minutes from time was a thing of beauty, with the Tigers forward delicately chipping the ball over the Wheldrake goalkeeper almost reminiscent of Eric Cantona beating Sunderland stopper Lionel Perez in 1996.
It was one of ‘those’ non-league goals where everybody screams and ‘whoops’ in excitement, it was that well taken… or perhaps we had just really missed the game we love? Full time arrived and the sun began to set. It wouldn’t be too long before we were at another game, with LNER Builders hosting Wheldrake the following night in the village of Newton-on-Ouse.