It was a Wednesday evening. I had waited patiently until 17:00 in the hope of seeing the doors of the Golden Lion, which sits on Helperby’s Main Street, swing wide open. Five minutes passed. And then another five. There was two hours until kick-off; the pub better be open. With trepidation, I approached the front door – which was now slightly ajar – and performed my hardest knock, hurting my knuckles in the process. Was this what prohibition in 1920’s America looked like?
After my first chorus of knocking, I heard the faint movement of footsteps behind the door. I tried again; this time shouting a friendly, “Hello!” which seemed to do the trick. A huge, deep groan and what appeared to sound like slow shuffling across wooden boards followed. I didn’t know what was going to greet me when the door opened. It was like Naked Attraction, but with pub landlords from rural Yorkshire. It soon became apparent why I could hear slow shuffling and groaning. I was greeted by the landlord who had not one, but both of his legs in protective casts.
“Are you open?” “Of course! Do you want to sit inside or outside?” he politely asked me, to which I of course chose the latter, with the rain still just about holding off on this deceptively chilly evening. It was warm enough to sit outside but woolly hats were still recommended. “You’re braver than me!” the landlord quipped. “Not as brave as you,” I replied, looking at his legs wondering why he wasn’t just sat at home watching Emmerdale Farm.
Service was strictly orchestrated by shouting orders at him as he stood in the doorway. Unable to traverse up and down the steps which lead into the pub, it was down to customers to then collect their drinks from the entrance as he handed them down. Considering the state he was in, his welcome and hospitality was wonderful, even offering me a blanket to take up to the match with me if I wanted.
Helperby has a population of around 500 and I was soon joined by around 2% of the local population, who were now arriving in their droves for a pleasant mid-evening pint. Life here seemed easy. Not much traffic passed through and the locals all bantered each other as they passed on the Main Street. Helperby made Boroughbridge to the west and Easingwold to the east seem like sprawling metropolises.
For such a small village, a stroll around Helperby reveals a intriguing collection of architecture. Originally this was a Danish settlement but all signs of it’s Scandinavian past disappeared during the ‘Great Fire of Helperby’ in the 17th Century, which one would imagine was nowhere near as ‘great’ as the fire in London.
Opposite the pub stands the village’s iconic centrepiece; a drinking well. It was erected in 1897 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was finished two days before the event. I’m sure she appreciated the gesture. These days, the well – as far as I could find having had a brief fiddle with the tap – doesn’t offer a running water supply. Instead, it acts purely as an obstacle for the local bus route to navigate around. I’m sure punters were sat outside the Golden Lion purely to witness the incredible skill of the bus drivers. Also, it is worth mentioning that the well features prominently on the club crest of the local football team, which I liked.
Paul had now joined me and after another pint of London Pride, which seemed an odd choice for this part of the world, we strolled up the the ground. We followed behind one of the Helperby players who had decided to leisurely walk up to the game. On the left hand side, as we headed up the hill, an older couple were purchasing some asparagus from the driveway of a house, where a cute little duck was excitedly quacking at us. Perhaps the duck was just a ploy to flog more vegetables?
Helperby United FC play at the same venue as the village cricket club, with the facility dutifully manned and protected by a flock of large sheep who glare with cynicism at spectators as they arrive. One sheep, the unelected leader of the flock, kept barging it’s abnormally large head against the food trough, clearly getting far too excited at the prospect of witnessing this York League Junior Cup – Second Round – Second Leg tie against Wheldrake.
Helperby had already beaten Wheldrake 4-0 in the first leg, so the odds were stacked against the visitors. For the neutral, all hopes of a tight contest were extinguished after just 52 seconds when the Wheldrake keeper spilled a cross and James Mannion was on hand to stab the ball goalwards.
The home side raced into a 4-0 lead with further goals from Steven Walkington, Jake Porter, and Steve Ferguson. By this stage, it was 8-2 to Helperby on aggregate and they were more than certain of booking their place in the semi-finals. It didn’t matter too much when Wheldrake pulled a couple of goals back through Chris Verzi; the contest was over.
Helperby is one of the more pleasant York League venues to spend an afternoon or an evening at. The cricket pavilion – that was built in 2008 – forms the only real infrastructure of the facility but its smart wooden cladding and pristine playing surfaces make it a rare treat at this level. Even the undulating curves of the football pitch disappear from conscience as you become distracted by the nature that surrounds you.
Helperby United would lose 4-2 at Pollington in the semi-final, bringing an end to their season.