Saturday 9th March 2019 ko 19.45
North-West Counties League Division One North
ST HELENS TOWN 1 (Diggle 49)
GARSTANG 3 (Coar 12 Sailor 60 Hothersall 75)
One of the advantages of the day’s first 3 games all being so close together was that I still felt reasonably fresh as the coach pulled into the wide expanse of the Ruskin Drive Sports Ground. As with Lower Breck and Litherland Remyca earlier we’d be visiting a ground new to the league, but here was a club with a long history of membership.
The issue for the club was a home to call their own. They’d long been thought of as the club that gave former German former POW Bert Trautmann a chance in 1948 when post-war politics meant that others wouldn’t. He wasn’t there for long, just over a year, but the club’s gamble was an astute one, the big goalkeeper went on to play 508 times for Manchester City, including playing much of the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck.
St Helens gave their Hoghton Road home to St Helens RLFC for sale for housing in 2002. In return they got an 80 year groundshare, and shared at Knowsley Road for a decade, then when the rugby club moved to their new stadium at Langtree Park in 2011 the club found themselves frozen out. The club barely survived as tenants at Prescot Cables Ashton Town and Ashton Athletic.
Salvation eventually came from the local authorities, with the multi-sport Ruskin Drive facility. The club was due to move here in 2016 but issues over ground grading and the height of the pitchside barrier saw the club have to wait until the start of the 2017/18 season to move in.
The local authority connection is important. The football ground has no clubhouse as such, there’s a cricket pavilion around 50 yards away and a couple who called in were told there was an hour’s wait for hot food. It wasn’t unexpected for us at GroundhopUK, hop games and council-run facilities often aren’t easy bedfellows; anyone remember the local council’s reaction to a groundhop game at Grimsby Borough?
Thankfully no bouncers were hired here, although the tea-bar was swamped, and sold out virtually completely just after kick off. None of this was under St Helens Town’s control, and they have, finally, a home of their own, and that home was able to cope easily with a far larger than normal crowd. That said, both here and at Lower Breck I did wonder why the grounds were built without access to all 4 sides of the ground? In both cases I would have thought there was sufficient room.
But as municipal as Ruskin Drive is, St Helens have certainly made the place home. The signage of their history and hall of fame players is more important than simply breaking up the lines of green metal fencing. To one side and behind the stand the hospitality area is beating heart dispensing tea and town pride in equal measure.
But to see Ruskin Drive as an Arena Stand and a caged 3G pitch is to miss its point entirely. St Helens are back in town, and with a home they can call the own, and can finally build for the future. This season has been a struggle- this win against Garstang was a real filip for them, but as the coach headed back to Warrington for our overnight stay it was time to reflect on the fact that St Helens Town have drawn a line under their troubled past and are now building for the future.
All the very best to them.