2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 21 – Tuesday 04 February 2020: Shelley v Garstang

Matchday programme cover

I moved up to York from London in 1996 and then to Huddersfield in 1997. I wasn’t a bad footballer, I played for the school team and a Sunday Catholic Boys Team which is probably the highest level I played at schoolboy level. We reached the East Midlands Regional Final and I was playing for a Catholic School St Peter and St Paul in Lincoln, although I attended a different school, I qualified being a Catholic. At this time there was a Catholic schools national football competition where any Catholic school could enter a team at various age groups, and we reached the Regional Final. The reason for my “ringer” status was that I was a fairly decent centre half, over six feet tall and very quick, a better option than their incumbent centre half. My school team was pretty good too, I played with Dave “Diddy” Gilbert who made it to the professional game and played second tier football with Grimsby Town, Julian Rose who was a’ keeper on the books of Coventry City before he had an accident, along with a couple of players who had played for Lincoln Boys, Vinny Morris comes to mind. Back to the final, we were playing a team from Derby (East Midlands was Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Rutland) and they had an extremely quick centre forward who had scored a lot of goals during the competition, he was on the books of Derby County, he was short and squat and had a low centre of gravity.  He tried to turn me in the first 10 minutes, so I gave him a knee to the thigh and a dead leg.  That was the only time I have ever been booked, but he fairly anonymous throughout the rest of the game, he moved out to the wing and I swept up behind the full back a few times.  Sadly, we lost the game 1 – 0, we just couldn’t put the ball in at the other end and they scored from a goalmouth scramble following a corner.

So back to moving to Huddersfield…The one sport I was quite decent at was cricket, I was a fast bowler and an opening batsman (although the lads in Huddersfield wouldn’t have known that). In the 80s I had started wearing contact lenses and had damaged my right eye which affected my depth of vision and perspective. I was okay if the ball came at me at speed as it was more of a reaction but anything medium pace or below, I just couldn’t read the flight. So I ended up just being a rapid opening bowler. When I moved to Huddersfield, I wanted to find a cricket club and a colleagues husband played for Shelley Cricket Club where I ended up and enjoyed ten years of cricket through to 2007 before I moved to Leeds. The football club used to play in the field next to the cricket field, so on Saturday’s during April, May, August, and September often saw cricket and football played side by side. The players had to change in the Social Club, cross the road, walk up a hill and a ginnel to the football ground (Shelley Village isn’t very flat, nor is much of Huddersfield). The pitch was on a slope which always reminds me of Bostocks Cup run and the sloping pitch, strange that the game where this journey pauses at Pontefract. Seriously, if you played up hill against the wind then it was difficult to get it out of your penalty area, let alone your half of the pitch. The same could be said of bowling uphill into the wind, which fortunately I didn’t have to do too often.

When thinking about going to watch the football club as part of my journey, I couldn’t believe that Shelley still played on that sloping pitch but that is what I had in my mind. The reality is that where they do actually play is quite mind blowing. I’d seen Shelley play earlier in the season at Nelson, one of the reasons for going to Nelson that weekend was because of my cricketing connections. This Shelley fixture against Garstang was another game with my fast becoming best pal, certainly my regular footballing companion, Paul who I picked up at Huddersfield Railway Station. Two nice pubs at the Railway Station, although goodness knows what they are like at this moment in time as they emerge from lockdown. The Head of Steam is more well-known but the better of the two is the Kings Head, resplendent with a pub sign featuring an image of Jimmy Hendrix, as you turn left out of the station entrance.

Covered terrace and bench seating

We drove out to the ground as the sun was setting, it was in a part of Huddersfield I didn’t really know, and is based what feels like a student campus, in Storthes Hall Park. We turned out of the campus onto an unmade road, well track, would be a better description and drove through the woods for what seemed like quarter of an hour and then the lights of the football ground appeared in the distance. Quite a surreal approach to the ground. The pitch itself is surrounded by trees and set out on a plateau. It is also the home of Huddersfield Ladies Football Club and the clubhouse is modern and well set out.  It was a re-arranged game and they hadn’t managed to print the programmes, so we arranged to have the artwork emailed to us and Paul has a friend who can print off batches which he kindly sorted. It’s a ground we will be visiting again at the beginning of the season, we think that it will be quite a spectacular ground in the summer sunshine. The visitors, Garstang had been held up due to an accident on the M62 but the game was still on, and I think we got kicked off around 8:30.

At least the pitch was flat, not like the sloping pitch in the village, but it was windy, with primarily a following crosswind. Garstang had the conditions in their favour in the first half but you could still see that Shelley were the stronger side. However halfway through the first period Daniel Squires caught the defenders square and slotted the ball past the ‘keeper in the twenty-fourth minute to give the visitors the lead. Garstang were rallied by the goal and put more pressure on Paul Day the Shelley ‘keeper but the Shelley defence held out and finished the half the stronger.

Shelley ran out for the second half with the wind at their back and it had started to rain. They dominated possession from the start and their pressure was rewarded when Mathew Waller scored eleven minutes after the break with Antony Brown slotting home a second on sixty-six minutes. Garstang fought back and Hothersall and Squires both hit the woodwork.  As the game wore on, Shelley laid siege to the Garstang goal but couldn’t put the ball in the back of net, the closest they came was hitting the woodwork. Garstang were valiant losers and played well on the counter on a few occasions, but Shelley, the better team won, and probably should have scored more.


Tuesday 04 February 2020

North West Counties First Division North

Shelley 2 (Waller 56’, Brown 66’) Garstang 1 (Squires 24’)

Venue: The Stafflex Arena

Attendance: 54

Shelley: Day, Pownall, Leech, Greenwood (Daffern 69’), Alderton, Waller, Dyson, Keane, O’Keefe (Magida 78’), Billington (Brown 45’), Awty

Unused Substitutes: Bradshaw, Tinker.

Garstang: Kitchen, Hanslip, Richards, Rossall, Basterfield, Joyce, Maddox, Squires, A. Coar, Murphy (Hothersall 68’), Salisbury

Unused substitutes: Dickson, Hartley.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 6 – Saturday 24 August 2019: Nelson v Shelley

Matchday programme cover

A trip to Wembley, Little Wembley in fact, also known as Victoria Park, the home of Nelson FC. As you can imagine there is a bit of a dramatic difference between the two Wembley’s, trust me! Capacity wise, whilst the home of the England team in North West London can hold 90,000, the North West England version, holds a mere 2,000.

Here’s a football quiz question for you. Can you think of the club that was the first English side to beat Real Madrid away from home? A side that also won away at Old Trafford in the same season. A side that played in the Football League for ten seasons and has played competitive games against 34 of the current sides in the top four divisions. A side that has played many FA Cup ties in the competition proper with a record home attendance of over 14,000. The answer? Well, all this, and more, has been achieved by ‘The History Boys’ of Nelson FC, also known as ‘The Admirals’.

The origins of Nelson FC can be reputedly traced to a group of townspeople who in 1881, on witnessing a local football match between Burnley and Blackburn, were inspired to form their own team. However, it wasn’t until 1889/90 that they competed in a senior competition.

When football resumed after the First World War, Nelson embarked upon the most remarkable adventure of their history. In 1921 the thirteen non-reserve teams of the Central League were voted into the Football League`s newly formed Third Division North. The first league match, on August 27 1921, brought a record attendance at Seedhill of 9,000.

The next season, 1922/23, saw the Blues lead a close race for much of the season, and five wins in a row during April saw them romp away to the title. On the back of their title triumph, and in preparation for life in Division Two, Nelson took the remarkable step of an overseas tour to Spain, in May 1923. They performed with some success, winning two of their four games, a 2-1 success against Real Oviedo and a 4-2 victory at Real Madrid.

Unfortunately, Nelson`s time in Division Two was to be short-lived, lasting just the one season in which they finished second-bottom of the table. It was clear early on that they were struggling both on and off the pitch, but they achieved some remarkable feats on the way. They had a home victory over Champions-elect Leeds United, one of only nine league defeats for the Yorkshire side and their first away victory came at Manchester United. Few non-league clubs can claim to have won away at both Real Madrid and Manchester United!

A return to Division Three North brought a drop in attendances, though big games saw new records established, such as 13,500 for the visit of table-topping Darlington. That first season back in the third tier of the Football League saw a second-place finish to the North-Eastern side, hence no promotion, and was to be the last time the Blues seriously threatened a return to the national stage.

The next season brought a new and never beaten record attendance at Seedhill of 14,143 for the visit of leaders Bradford Park Avenue. The home team went two goals down but came back to draw 2-2. Two seasons later Nelson became serious strugglers, finding themselves £6,500 in debt. A rock-bottom finish meant a re-election application. They had conceded 136 goals during the season, and all the problems seemed to be down to insufficient gate receipts during difficult times for the area. Re-election was granted in 1928, but three seasons later Nelson were back in the same situation, and 1930/31 was to be their final season as a League club. Nelson struggled on in the Lancashire Combination without winning any honours, and things became much bleaker in 1936. A big loss was incurred that season and the club disbanded on 7 August. The club reformed after the Second World War and entering the Lancashire Combination League, playing in the league until it merged with the Cheshire County League to form the North West Counties League in 1982.

Action at Little Wembley

The current Nelson side still ply their trade in North West Counties First Division North and their visitors for this fixture were Shelley from Huddersfield – my connection to Shelley will be revealed later on in the season.

It was a lovely sunny day and barely a breeze, only a hard pitch to contend with. It’s a quaint old ground which has seen better days with a small stand along one side of the pitch. Attendance on the day was nothing like the 14,000 they attracted back in the 1920s. In fact, the crowd was 55 and I was able to count every one of them. Of the game, it was two very evenly matched sides and I was impressed at the standard of football, this being tier 10 of the pyramid. Both defences were much stronger than their own and opposition attack with Ryan Blackburn being outstanding in defence for Shelley, who also showed touches of pace up front with Israel Johnson. Nelson were equally stoic in defence well marshalled by Daniel Fagan. Shelley manager, Ash Berry, was his ebullient self on the touchline in a game that ended as a draw, which on reflection was a fair result but deserved goals.

A final interesting fact about Nelson FC, following their return to act after the war in the Lancashire Combination. They were involved in some terrific tussles for the title with Wigan Athletic over the next few seasons, winning it twice in 1949/50 and 1951/52. In those three seasons of 42 league games apiece, Nelson scored 125, 120 and 139 goals, respectively. The first title season also saw Nelson clinch the Lancashire Combination Cup to seal an historic ‘Double’ in what was at the time one of the premier leagues in the country outside of the Football League. The men at the forefront of this period of success were two young player-managers. Centre-half Bob Johnson moved from Burnley for the start of the 1949/50 season and, when his contract expired, the Blues landed a young man from Manchester City, 30-year-old Joe Fagan. The team built by ‘Uncle Joe’ romped to the title in his first season in 1951/52. Joe left to join Liverpool`s boot room team in 1958 and 25 years later he was the manager who took the Reds to a European Cup, League Championship and League Cup treble.


Saturday 24th August 2019

North West Counties Football League – First Division North

Nelson 0 Shelley 0

Venue: Little Wembley

Attendance: 55

Nelson: Parkinson, C. Lloyd, Grice, Dickinson, Fagan, Wynne, J. Coop, Sharples, Hill, J. Lloyd, Knight.

Substitutes: Close, Townsend, Dewhurst

Shelley: Day, Leech, Andre, Daffern, Blackburn, Keane, O’Keefe, Broadbent, Billington, Pownall, Johnson

Substitutes: White, Robertson, Bradshaw


Steve Blighton