Goole 2 Barton 1

Goole AFC 2 Barton Town 1 (16th February 2019)

When I was young and completely ignorant of football outside of the Football League, I used to watch the scores come through on Grandstand or World of Sport, and when it got to those non-league clubs who’d often grace the lower part of the football pools coupon I’d be struck with a kind of wonder. Just what were these clubs like? It felt a different world, somehow in my mind’s eye, in perpetual darkness, as I’d hear these names…Worksop, Oswestry Town, Gainsborough, Marine…  Where were these places? What were they? What would a match there be like?

I wouldn’t say they appealed as such. In fact they were the antithesis of exotic. Of all of those mysterious names, I think no name felt more un-exotic than Goole. If felt like the one-syllable name had been dropped into a bucket of grimness, where all joy would be sucked away like light entering a black hole.

Spin on 30 years or so, and I’m in a car on a bright sunny day heading in the direction of Goole, and pleased to be going there. In truth, the place isn’t in any way exotic. The 100m street which appeared to be the town centre was an array of charity shops, tattoo parlours, vaping shops and bookmakers. A curious number of cars around the ground also seemed to be missing sections of bodywork, but on the plus side, the town centre pub we found, The Old George, was cheap and friendly, and places do always look a lot more positive in sunshine.

The club was welcoming too, not least because on this day Goole were doing a £10 deal which got you admission, a programme, a £3 drink voucher, and a £3 food voucher. The chatty staff seemed pleased that people had turned up, and the offer no doubt helped swell the crowd to 50% higher than normal.

Sadly, they need it. Being at Goole might not be the grim dark experience by 1980s mind imagined, but the club wasn’t enjoying its happiest days. Goole AFC was formed in 1997 after the original Goole Town, stalwarts of the Northern Premier League, folded. The reformed club battled up through the divisions to Step Four in the Northern Premier League Division One, but was now heading for what looks likely to be a 2nd consecutive relegation. I arrived to see a club that with only one home win all season, having lost twelve of the other fourteen games.

The previous week had seen me at a game in Runcorn, where the hosts conceded an early goal and looked likely to be heading for a heavy home defeat, until two quick goals out of the blue midway though the half turned the match on its head, and the previously dominant away team could quite ever get back into their rhythm again.

This game was almost a carbon copy, albeit without a sending off. Visiting Barton Town, from 25 miles away at the southern exit of the Humber Bridge, arrived with a pretty modest record, but were well on top from the off, completely overpowering the red & black shirted hosts. When they took the lead, bundling in corner on 14 minutes, the only surprise was that it had taken than long. Goole hadn’t really done anything, and you couldn’t see anything other than an away win.

Eight minutes later though, things started to change. On what my not entirely reliable memory records as Goole’s first proper attack of the match, an attempted clearance was blocked, or maybe just hit against, a Goole player. This caused the ball to deflect sideways, absolutely perfectly for a loitering player in red & black to tap in beyond the exposed Barton keeper.

Five minutes later, a 40 yard effort was lobbed towards the Barton goal. The Barton keeper was again not where he’d have liked to be, and the ball dropped in to give Goole the lead, to the astonishment of almost everyone in the ground.

From there the game settled into a pattern of Barton controlling the game, but being too rushed in everything they did, and not creating the clear chances they ought to have done, while Goole played mainly on the break. Backed by a youthful “shed army”, and fans on the other side under the bigger roof, Goole hung onto their rare lead. “We are staying up!” sang the youths, as these three points did put them within touching distance of the two teams above them.

The travelling Barton contingent were less impressed. One older guy went past muttering that he’d had enough of going away and watching his team, albeit said with rather earthier phrasing. Seconds later, the final whistle was greeted with a cheer far bigger than one you’d expect from 208 people, and the Goole players went over to applaud their fans in the setting sun. Whether this will be a rare moment of joy, or whether they can push on and get the points to survive come May, remains to be seen.

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