College Grove, Featherstone Rovers, Football, groundhopping, NCEL, Non League, northern counties east, Post Office Road, Rossington Main, Wakefield, Wakefield and Emley, Wakefield-Emley
Saturday 1st April 2023 ko 15:00
Northern Counties East League- Division One
WAKEFIELD AFC 3 (Morrison 14 45p Mole 62)
ROSSINGTON MAIN 3 (Wilson 22 Kianga 43 Harrison 90)
Entry £5 (but pay what you like for this game)
I’d very nearly left it too late; this iteration of football for Wakefield had announced they were leaving Featherstone Rovers RLFC’s Post Office Road, to “return” to Belle Vue, home to Wakefield Trinity RLFC. In footballing terms, they hadn’t been around for long, being formed in 2019 initially playing at the Dorothy Hyman Stadium, in Barnsley. They moved to Post Office Road for the start of the 20/21 season, but this was to be their final game in Featherstone, so Robyn and I made a beeline for it while we still could. But the history of Wakefield and the round ball goes back a lot further than 2019.
Many will remember Emley AFC who were formed in 1909 but found village life rather restrictive and moved to Belle Vue in 2000 renaming themselves Wakefield & Emley in the process. They’d reached the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League but that proved to be a high point for them. They changed names again in 2003 to Wakefield-Emley but the club’s reserves still played back at the Welfare Ground in Emley. When they folded in 2005 the fans formed a new club, today’s AFC Emley. Metaphorically it felt that Wakefield had burned their bridges.
The Emley suffix was dropped, as then being superfluous. The club were relegated to the Northern Premier League’s first division, but changed colours and moved to the former Wakefield Rugby UNION FC’s ground, College Grove. They were to stay there until 2011; I visited in 2008. Sadly when the football left, College Grove was converted to hockey, so the pitch is now water-based astroturf- unsuitable for any code of football
The club were evicted from College Grove in 2011, and spent a season sharing at Ossett Town, before returning to Belle Vue in 2013 when I visited them but by then they were in serious trouble. They resigned from the Northern Premier League at the end of the 2013/14 season and looked to return to Emley, this time to be tenants of the club that replaced them, but never took their place in the Northern Counties East.
It is worth commenting that Wakefield AFC make no claim on the history Wakefield FC, technically the old club’s history is deemed to be held by AFC Emley, so this still new club should be seen as a well-resourced way of trying to get the round ball game established in a rugby league stronghold. It also would be tempting to see this as a new club trying to buy its way through the non-league pyramid without the expense of building their own ground.
But the truth is far more nuanced, the club have plans for their own ground, the move is to allow a Wakefield club to play in Wakefield, and they were extremely keen to make it clear that the move should not been seen as any kind of slight on Featherstone Rovers. Put simply this is a move about geography and nothing else, my suspicion is that Wakefield AFC will have their own stadium sooner rather than later. Take that as a hint to pay them a visit quickly!!
So this was the final opportunity to watch Association rules at a stadium used to hosting Rugby League Championship games, but fit for the Super League- Featherstone have made the last two “Million Pound Games” after all. There was also the opportunity to see the game played in front of two stands that originally were built for the old home of Scarborough FC, the McCain Stadium. When that club were bankrupted and the ground demolished Feathestone Rovers’ fans bought two stands, and they now sit either side of the scoreboard. I must admit, I did rather regret that I didn’t use either stand on my one visit to the McCain Stadium. I suppose I made up for lost time!
Wakefield certainly ended their tenure here with an excellent game, one that either side could have won, but Wakefield will undoubtedly feel they should have. Hindsight being what it is, the two sides were destined to meet in the NCEL’s playoff semi-final. Rossington Main won 1-0 at Oxford Street then beat Horbury Town in the final, and so will pay Premier Division next season. As for Wakefield AFC, I’m sure the disappointment will be fairly temporary.