Spennymoor 5 Ashton United 0 (13th October 2018)
I can’t say I enjoy getting up at 6.30 on a day off, knowing I have to drive 40 minutes to the house of a friend even before starting a five hour drive up to the north east. Resisting the urge to succumb to the morning darkness and say “sod it” and stay in bed, I got up hoping the trip would be worth it. Thankfully it was.
Laughing in the face of terrible weather forecasts for the north, the decision had been made to go to one of the last two grounds my mate needs to visit to complete the set of all grounds in the top 6 levels of English football. The other one, Guiseley, hiding behind Leeds’ outer fringes, was hardly just round the corner either.
Spennymoor isn’t a remarkable town. It’s most notable citizen, according to its Wikipedia entry at least, was the creator of the Teletubbies. It did, on the other hand, offer a decent Wetherspoons pub, in an old converted cinema. I’m not one of those people whose love of Wetherspoons pubs is only beaten in intensity by lovers of Apple gadgets, but it did offer a much needed proper meal, at a cheap price, served up by a couple of fine young waitresses.
Other pubs in the vicinity either just offered “bar snacks”, and a packet of crisps doesn’t cut it after five hours in a car, or looked the kind of pubs inhabited by life-beaten old men whose stories are etched into their faces. Alternatively, very near the ground was an “old fashioned sweet shop” selling sweets from jars, but again, something hot and cooked was the need of the hour.
Google streetview shots of the exterior of Spennymoor’s ground show somewhere in need of a little TLC, and thankfully now it’s had some. Smartened up with black paint and some large pictures of their FA Vase success, it looks a rather more welcoming venue.
Inside, it’s not a great ground, but it has character. The main stand is a rather bland modern affair, with fair-sized marquee to its side, looking on the verge of blowing away in the strong winds. Blackened terracing, looking like kerbstones in places, lined two sides. Annoyingly, the back step of the terracing behind the goal, the most sought after step and any such ground, is just the “perfect” height for any person of average height to have the near crossbar completely obstruct the view of the goal at the far end. The rear of this terrace forms a very irregular border with the vegetation behind, as if it had made a series of night raids to claim small portions of the vegetation’s territory.
The other end used to be a covered terrace, but has since been converted to seats, presumably to meet ground grading regulations, and wasn’t hugely popular, even of a day when rain often threatened. The remaining side contained a few steps of terracing, as well as a tea bar, and also a bar in the corner. The first aid hut also sold sweets in jars, like the shop down the road. Little kids, bored after about 15 minutes, beat a regular path to this first aid sweet shop. Even some adults were seen to be fighting each other with long chewy snakes bought there, which is one way to spend half time, I guess.
With the dugout on this side, Spennymoor had taken the unusual step of creating a raised area behind them, which had the impact of creating decent vantage point, but also meant the fence to the gardens behind seemed now exceptionally low.
One thing that also becomes apparent is that Spennymoor’s Brewery Field as has a pretty significant slope from one end to the other, and with the strong wind also blowing down this hill, I presume the hosts won the toss and decided to start kicking off downhill.
The game actually started pretty evenly. Ashton had the first decent chance of the game, hitting a shot from the edge of the box which was well-struck, but close enough to the keeper to be a routine save.
Come the 9th minute, and Spennymoor get their first corner of the game. It’s swung in, and unmarked, the classic “big fella’s” header is flicked into the goal, with the keeper having almost no chance.
Ashton are still well in the game though. A curling shot is only just turned over for a corner by the Spennymoor keeper, and the Ashton fans must have been thinking if they can get in at only 0-1 down, they’d certainly have a decent chance of getting something from the game, with the slope and win in their favour on the second half.
With just over half an hour gone though, the hosts get only their second corner of the game, and again Ashton didn’t seem to think marking was hugely important. This time the corner dropped lower, and even though it went at about waist height, in was again headed in from close range.
If Ashton had been thinking 0-2 made it difficult, it got worse just before half time. Again, another set piece, but this time a shot was just placed around the wall into the bottom corner.
After a brief rainy interlude, the clouds raced across the sky enough to allow the sun to shine down on the home side’s performance, which improved as the away team’s spirit weakened. Maybe their last chance of salvaging something came and went with a free header put wide about a quarter of an hour into the second half. Had that gone in, then with the slope, the wind, and a bit of momentum, they couldn’t have been written off.
Instead, within a minute or so, Spennymoor put the game to bed. They broke away down the left, got into the box, and another fine finish found the far corner of the net, and all but confirmed three deserved points.
The game understandably dropped in intensity, and for the remainder was played out in the struggling sunshine on this blustery, but weirdly warm, afternoon. Spennymoor still had enough in the tank to add another a few minutes before the end. Again, another tidy finish, with the keeper barely bothering to move. The Ashton fans and players might feel the scoreline a little harsh, but Spennymoor looked dangerous every time they were in the box, while Ashton looked ponderous.
The win leaves Spennymoor third, and dreaming of a rise to England’s 5th tier, when as recently as 2005 they were in the 10th. For Ashton, it was more a day of nightmares. Despite being lower mid-table, they’ve let in far more than any other team in the division. I’m no coach, but learning how to mark just might be a start.