Sunday, 20 March 2016

19/03/16 Review: Harrogate Railway Athletic vs Clitheroe

Harrogate Railway Athletic 1-3 Clitheroe (Evo-Stik First Division North)
Station View

A match that was originally scheduled for the 28th December last year, this was a game in the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate which allowed me to catch yet another afternoon of non-league football. Marking my 24th ground visited, Station View was one that took my fancy as it was a place I could make a detour to on my travel home to Stoke-on-Trent after visiting family in Bridlington. With my favoured Conference North side Harrogate Town playing away at Aggborough, a ground I'd visited earlier in the season, I was still looking forward to watching the Rail instead.

Station View, hopefully a sight for more goals than trains
My need to grab a bacon, sausage and egg butty prior to setting off to Harrogate proved to be a costly mistake, as we arrived at Station View at 3:05pm and therefore missed the opening five minutes of the game. By the time we had parked up and headed for the ground it was 3:10pm and upon approaching the turnstile we heard the announcer read out that the home side were 1-0 down after Louis Mayers scored what has since been called "Goal of the season". Typical! Rail 0-1 Clitheroe.
Missing the opening goal is not cool
Nevertheless, we entered the ground and hoped that more goals would follow. The last two matches I had attended with my girlfriend had both finished 0-0, so the temptation to ask her to wait in the car was always in the back of my mind. Even though we had missed ten minutes and a goal, I couldn't help but take a look around the ground before taking a seat to watch the game. Station View is a small stadium, even for this level, and compared to Queensgate Park and Cantilever Park it certainly looked to need a little bit of love. The Rail sit 21st in the League, with only New Mills (still with only one point all season!) below them. With a goal difference of -53 and time running out to pick up the points HRA were within touching distance of survival, but they would have to get a win to leapfrog Ossett Town who are two points clear of them and the relegation zone. Despite this level of football being the highest the Rail have ever played at, it must be noted that they have twice made it to the FA Cup Second Round Proper. In the 2002/03 season they incredibly beat eight teams to make it to the stage which is still one short of Premiership and Championship entry to the competition, which is where they would eventually come to the end of the line at home to Bristol City. And as if that wasn't exciting enough, they repeated this feat in the 2007/08 season as they yet again made it to the Second Round. Their reward for the success in this campaign saw them face Mansfield Town live on TV and they were this time unlucky to lose 3-2. Within this run, it is also worth noting that Railway Athletic played and won the Harrogate derby against Town!

The FA Cup tie with Bristol City was a proud day for the Rail
Back to reality though, and after popping into the club shop to buy a scarf we took our seat by the Clitheroe goal. It was at this point that I spotted a feature of the ground- a pitch that slanted catastrophically from right-to-left. The first half, what we saw of it, was okay and in fairness was also pretty even. History of Evo-Stik matches wasn't in my favour, with a 0-0 bore draw between Scarborough Athletic and Glossop North End and a 1-0 match at usually exciting Warrington Town being my other experiences of this level. 

It doesn't look so bad if you tilt your head slightly
This match offered much more attacking intent though, and I was certain that I wouldn't have missed the only goal. On my way to the match I had studied the table and made a prediction that high-flying play-off chasers Clitheroe would win 2-1. And as half-time drew close, we were treated to some action. A good run from the Rail had originally had me and many of the fans frustrated, with a player showing great skill to run into a great position. A lack of willing to shoot had led to me shouting out "have a dig!" before he was eventually brought down for a penalty. In fairness, it was a great run and the lad showed excellent skill- still, it would have been so annoying had he not at least had a shot on goal. Alas, he won the penalty and up stepped Amar Purewal, labelled as "the Goal Machine" by the announcer, to slot it home. Rail 1-1 Clitheroe. A much needed goal for the home side saw them go in level at the break, meaning we could continue to check out the ground and grab a brew in the process. The announcer spent the first few minutes going through various random score lines from the other games, naming just a couple from each of the top leagues, before concluding his speech by reminding everybody that they could grab "a glass of your favourite tipple" at the end of the game. Very fancy.

Decent little Club Shop and Refreshment stall
Half-time soon passed us by and even the odd train. We took our seat and had a scout of the Clitheroe subs having some shooting practice and then the two sides rejoined the pitch. I actually have to admit that the Rail's kit colours, Red and Green, really took my fancy and even reminded me of Christmas slightly. The away side played in all Blue and started the match on the front foot. They pressed forward from kick-off and within a couple of minutes the ball found its way into the host's goal. A cross came in and a messy interaction in the box eventually ended with Mayers floating the ball into the net for his second of the day, despite a failed attempt at an 'off the line' bicycle kick clearance from the opposition defence. Rail 1-2 Clitheroe. From then on the game became very open, as both sides looked to get an important goal. Harrogate pushed down the left wing and a decent ball into the area was met by a volleyball punch clearance from the keeper. With a poor home record, the Rail have had a few heavy defeats this term and have been frustrated with three 3-1 defeats before this match already. Surely enough a fourth was on the way as a second penalty of the day was awarded, this time to the away team, just after the hour mark. In search of his hat-trick, Louis Mayers slotted the ball into the net and won the match ball and the game for the Blues. "E I E I E I O, up the Evo-Stik we go!" was belted out by half a dozen of the away followers who were all but guaranteed a fourth league win on the spin. Rail 1-3 Clitheroe.
Harrogate Railway Athletic will need to dig deep to stay in the division
With more doom and gloom for the home fans this afternoon, I wondered how many of them would be back again in two days time to watch their side take on another promotion chasing side in the form of Burscough. Frustration in the crowd started to kick in, with one player being verbally ushered off as he was subbed off to a fans plea of "Come on we're losing, get off the pitch". Following this, the anger turned towards the typically bad officials and at one point the linesman was hit with the repetitive slur "Lino, your guessing!" every time he called an offside. 

Same again on Monday?
With ten minutes left there was a long stoppage as Clitheroe's keeper bravely ran out to an on rushing challenge which ended his afternoon. The away side had no more subs to use which meant that the most dreaded thought in a footballer's career was about to become reality for someone. The manager shouted out from the touchline "what are you like?" to his players as he hoped to gain a response from anyone to stand between the sticks for the last part of the match. Eventually the begrudging left-back James Walker walked over to try on the gloves and shirt before planting himself in the goal. Unfortunately the home side couldn't really test him and even when Harrogate had a chance from a free-kick they opted to cross unsuccessfully rather than have a pop at the stand-in. A few counter attacks from the undermanned away side could have added more goals but as the ref called for full-time there was to be no more.

Not the result that the home team needed
A good game, the best I'd seen in the Evo-Stik on my third outing, meant that I could continue my trip back to Stoke with another ground checked off my list and another match stored in my memory. The hat-trick hero was by far the stand out player for me, and I can only say that I was gutted to miss his opening strike. On my way out of Station View I popped in to see the clubhouse and I was nothing other than impressed at the quality facility that unfolded as I entered the upstairs bar. If I was to rank the ground on the whole as being small and undernourished, I would have to say that the clubhouse was spacious, well decorated and well above the standard of others I'd visited at this level. Well done lads, a shame I couldn't stay for a pint!

"I need a jar or two after that" said one fan on his way up to the bar