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Saturday 10th August 2013 ko 15.00

Northern League Division 2

WHITEHAVEN AFC 2 (Donald 23 64)

CHESTER-LE-STREET TOWN 1 (Grant-Soulsby 77)

Att 208

Entry ?

Programme £1

Badge £2.50

It was very much a case of “Gentlemen start your engines,” as the match finished at Celtic Nation. The road out from the ground was narrow and congested, and I knew from experience that Carlisle city centre can be a nightmare to negotiate. Hop organiser Harvey Harris looked frustrated. sat in the courier seat of the coach as a stream of cars passed by, his coach blocked in by a single pesky, inconsiderate car. He finally got away about 10 cars behind me, but once out of Carlisle it was a straightforward enough drive west to Whitehaven.

The coastal town is possibly best known for being the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe. Its layout with streets in a right-angled grid, is possibly the blueprint for the New York City street grid system. It’s also the home of Jefferson’s Rum, an industry very much built on the Caribbean sugar plantations, and inevitably, slavery. The museum “The Rum Story,” is well worth a visit even if like me, you’re not a rum drinker.

I pulled into the narrow road that links the constituent parts of the Coach Road Sports Complex, and apart from wondering why all of the days grounds featured narrow access roads (!), wondered if Whitehaven had kicked off early. It transpired that this was Whitehaven Miners Social FC of the Cumberland County League. I drove further along the lane and the ground in front of me took my breath away.

Sadly that ground is the Recreation Ground, home to Rugby League Championship Whitehaven RLFC. Whitehaven AFC’s ground is tucked in behind as if sheltering from Atlantic gales, and is an altogether a more humble affair, just 2 sets of modular stands and a clubhouse. With the club letting Harvey Harris down by not delivering the pre-sold programmes in advance and the fact that there seemed to be few on sale. I snapped up one of the last a good 35 minutes before kick off. It turned out to be a good move as those arriving later had to go without.

More concerning was that the club didn’t appear to be charging to get in. My advance ticket cost £15, implying a £5 admission fee. (most hops include the programme for free for advance tickets as an incentive.) If clubs don’t stick to instructions then what is the incentive for people to buy in advance? The advance ticket gives both organiser and club a steer as to how many to expect, invaluable to get such things as volumes of programmes and catering correct.

I wandered into the clubhouse and purchased a steak pie that turned out to be delicious but meat and potato, and exchanged photographic ideas with Stuart Clarke. I stopped in my tracks, there’s nothing I can teach him! I saw the plans for a new ground, all angles and clever architecture, on the Miners’ Social side of the rugby ground.

Just after Harvey and the coach party arrived, later than they’d hoped as someone had parked in the lane, making it impossible for the coach to get through. Still, Whitehaven had finally delivered their programmes but was the rumour correct that the bloke tasked to get them to Harvey had decided to have a day at the races instead? The scrum for the packs was unwelcome, and better suited to the larger stadium next door so I waited until just before half time to pick up my pack.

The biggest change from the morning was the attendance. From my own experience having a 3 o’clock kick-off as a part of a 3-game line-up will mean some will leave the hop for the middle game, but I’ve never seen roughly half the attendance disappear for the middle game. Chris and I make no secret of the fact that we will schedule games to defend the middle game, and this example rather proves our point, particularly as most returned for the Penrith game in the evening.

Unquestionably, the place where Whitehaven AFC were the strongest was on the pitch. They were the better side on the day and man-of-the-match Darren Donald was class above anything else on view. Chester-Le-Street deserved a goal, Andrew Grant-Soulsby fired home to give them that consolation, but they deserved no more than that.

The attendance was announced by word of mouth, and at that time I sold my spare programme to a well-known midlands-based Irish hopper. I wonder if he’ll buy a ticket for a subsequent event?

The final whistle blew, I headed back to the car and found that lane a good deal easier to negotiate than the one in Carlisle!