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Friday 25th March 2013 ko 19.45

Northern Counties League Division One

ATHERSLEY RECREATION 8 (Bennett 15 45 80 85 Harban 40p Thornton 70 Bentley 72 86)

ASKERN VILLA 1 (Brown 45)

Att 507

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

On the face of it, Athersley is a fairly unremarkable estate in the northern suburbs of Barnsley. Sheerian Park is easy to miss too, tucked away as it is between the houses. Even the welcome sign is attached to a house, and I suspect that if I’d have turned up on a typical Saturday afternoon I’d have written the place off as a boring new-build with its prefabricated stands and portakabins. Amazing things happened there last Saturday, and amazing things are happening at this vibrant club.

We arrived around 30 minutes before kick-off and as organisers Chris and I were whisked away to hospitality. We discovered that the club is right at the centre of its community. Former Athersley, Birmingham and West Bromwich striker Geoff Horsfield put up half the cost of buying the lease, everything else you see was raised by the club themselves. They’re rightly proud of what they’ve achieved and so are the Sheffield and Hallamshire County League. Athersley won the league last year, and it was good to see some of their officials present to see their graduate on their big day.

It was clear that with Athersley being new to the NCEL and the fixture being the final fixture of the Friday’s line-up we knew they’d get a good attendance. What we didn’t expect was just how many! We walked to pitchside 5 minutes before kickoff and the sheer volume of people took my breath away. I remember whispering “This is bonkers,” a few times and wondering how on earth the club would cope (they were expecting 200 hoppers), and how we going to count everyone! The Italian stew ran out, but further supplies were rustled up, and we counted three times, just to be sure! Beer supplies were sold from a trolley, the club printed team sheets for sale as fast as the printer could produce them, and people queued up to have their pictures taken with the mascot. It was bonkers, mad even, and there was no place to escape from it in the bitter cold. Perhaps it goes without saying I loved every minute!

The fixture was completely predictable. Athersley are top, Askern bottom, and the visitors looked a long way from the vibrant side that featured on a Central Midlands Hop a few years ago that featured organiser Rob Hornby spectacularly returning a loose ball! The goals came at regular intervals, with the Askern reply on the stroke at half time something of a surprise. That said, it took until the 70th minute for the rot to really set in, the 4th to 8th goals coming in blistering 16 minute spell.

By any standards 8-1 is stunning result, but when Chris and I thanked Athersley’s officials, that wasn’t what they were most pleased about. It was clear that they’d made the most of their bumper crowd, and the email we received a few days later from club secretary Peter Goodlad confirmed this. He commented,

“Can I say a big thank you to yourself and all concerned at Groundhop UK, and all the groundhoppers who attended. As a small club who rely heavily on community volunteers the money raised on the night is very much appreciated and helps us keep improving. I would also like to thank you for choosing our ground and giving us the opportunity to let people see how hard we have worked and see what goes off at grass-roots level.”

He mentioned how much money they made, which amazed even Chris and I. Emails like this are why we do what we do, and its fair to say that the time I spent in Athersley I will never forget. Of course the praise should mostly go to the club, for understanding completely the opportunity.  But what an evening it was……bonkers!